We just returned from a weeklong family vacation to New England. We haven’t been to the ocean, when it was warm enough to swim in, in a year. The last time we were on the coast, was in January, when we visited Hilton Head Island, SC.
I inadvertantly published a poem today on this blog. It has been at least a month since I’d written anything. Summer is a difficult time to write, these days. My children are growing faster than I’m liking. Time waits for no one. I remember reading last week something by someone brilliant like Maya Angelou, about being on the lookout for when we cease being amazed. When that happens, we’ve started to die.
We must be dilgent in our protection of our naïveté; to disallow jadedness and to actively fight feelings of blasé.
I recall the days when I first started writing publicly, calling the boys Thing 1, Thing 2, and Thing 3, to do what I could to protect their identity. That was 2011. They are 17, 14, and 11 now. Their advancements alternating between the feeling of sand sifting through my hands, and the feeling of walking through cold porridge.
The oldest has taken his time learning how to drive, carving his independence, and venturing into the world. Getting his first ride home from school in May with a friend, something that seemed as natural as walking, was spent by me here at home pacing the house awaiting his safe arrival. I am betting I stepped as many paces as he could have to come home by foot. When he entered the doorway, I was all casual, “Hey! Have a good day?” as though I narrowly escaped being busted rifling through HR files. He turned to drop off his backpack and get a glass of chocolate milk as I raced to the window to make sure his driver wasn’t some drug-addled ne’er do well driving a rusty van with blackened windows and satanic bumperstickers piecing it together. Do people still say ‘ne’er do well’? He wasn’t. It was one of his best friends, a classmate who is a French horn virtuoso and who will likely attend the US Naval Academy next fall. He was driving a tidy little Jetta.
Inside, I felt exhaltation, like when Kristen Wiig’s Target Lady character fist-pumps and shouts, “Approved!” when a customer’s charge goes through. That I’d instilled in my son a sense of ambition, a sense of seeking a tribal identity with growth and progress. The feeling of his belonging to a “good” group.
Then I recall the myriad articles in the New York Times about student suicides, kids being drugged at parties, date rape, and I have to sit myself down and remember: those are the ones that stand out; those are the ones that sell newspapers; those are the ones that are cautionary tales; those are the outliers… he will be alright. It is out of my hands.
Just like when Dr. Tchabo, my obstetrician very intentionally reminded me when my sons were in my womb… He held up his stubby index finger from that gifted hand and looked at me between his reading glasses and his eyebrows, smiling in kindness and wisdom. He said to me, in his thick Ghana accent, as we listened to my son’s heartbeat at 13 weeks, that watery wha-wha-wha-wha-wha coming through the doppler, “D’ya hear that, Mommy? He tellin’ you, RIGHT NOW, he is his own guy. He is not you. He will have his likes. He will have his days. You are together, but he his own guy. Always he is his own guy.”
He is. It is a bittersweet conclusion: he is smart, sensitive to energies, quiet and observant. Not much gets past him.
He also forgets to look right one last time before slowly turning into traffic. That. “I just died. We’re in an ambulance now. The other car is up in those bushes, near the ditch. I loved you. I will watch you from heaven always. Go to law school…” I’ve said that a few times, half joking. I think it’s sinking in. I don’t care if he goes to law school.
I am glad we are in our Sequoia. He prefers it because he can see everything. Its engine, a very powerful V8, is quite responsive and that takes some getting used to. “You’re commanding a 2-ton death machine.” I say, like a member of Darth Vader’s imperial guard. “Stay in your lane on those turns and don’t change lanes in the middle of an intersection. Idiots cross lanes like that.”
We bought a new classical guitar for him a couple weeks ago. A model made by Córdoba. He was playing numerous models in the guitar store classical studio. Searching for his One. He was plucking around on the most expensive one — a $2400 model — and I looked around, thinking, Which one hasn’t he played? And this will sound crazy, but The One drew my eyes to her and whispered, “me. me. he hasn’t played me yet…” So I picked her up and patiently waited for him to end and I said, “How about this one?”
The moment he started to check its tune, I felt electricity in my body. Like how it feels when a Spirit passes through a room. After about 60 seconds of playing a bit of “Blackbird” he calmly said, “I really like this one.” He continued, in his studious and exacting ways, about five more songs, some Bach, Cassini, and Clapton. I was amazed. I didn’t want to leave. I did all I could to keep frm crying like a sappy mother right there. So I pretended to look at other guitars. It was no use. He sensed it. “You ok?” he asked, lightly self-conscious (one of the few times I’ve embarrased him in public, even though we were totally alone) and I said, “Yeah. Just feeling the feelings. I’m really proud of you.”
Buck up, soldier, I said to myself.
An hour later, we were out the door — the guitar in an upcharge-free, upgraded plush-lined travel case because someone in the shop (THANK YOU!!) sold the proper accompanying case to another customer who bought a lesser guitar. It brought me back to the days when my parents bought me my first violin with its own fur-lined case that was like all the other cases of the kids at school. I didn’t feel like a poor kid anymore with the tattered case. Image is everything when you’re a teenager.
I asked my dad if he remembers teaching us, my brothers and myself, to drive. He does. I officially learned on a silver 1981 5-speed Honda Civic hatchback. That was the first car I’d been in with air conditioning. In Buffalo, you just didn’t need it. I started actually “learning” during the daytime in our driveway, however, at late 15 I think, by “parking” our family station wagon a silver 1977 Chevy Impala (later called “The Bentley,” due to an accident my mother caused) in different positions in the driveway or in front of our house. I recall those experiences as being adrenalized, probably because it was secret and completely verboten. It happened almost daily, and over time, I was driving around our street, a suburban cul-de-sac (that was a word I’d never heard until I left Buffalo) lined by little trees, newish unimaginative houses and pristine poured concrete sidewalks. I accomplished this “driving school” by two feats: my mother a) ignored me due to my insouciance or b) just gave up and was ripping out her hair, likewise due to my insouciance. The bottom line is that kids will pull shit on their parents.
I was NOT an easy child, and having my second son, also a middle child like I am, has absolutely confirmed for me that karma exists. My middle son is ALIVE in every sense. He feels everything largely and without hesitation. He is a mirror of all my flaws and I love him for it. Intuitively, I absolutely love him for it. Practically, I want to run and hide from all he reveals to me, but I know there’s no payoff in that. This guy “goes there” with me. It can be a moment of utter mirth and hilarity, sincerely experienced by both of is in a dear and safe place, or it can be a red-eyed duel of two dragons, willing to maim and be emotionally maimed for their cause. We are intense. Or, as my therapist said, “avoid the empirical, use the conditional: We ‘can be’ intense.” And that’s about right: we can be intense.
He sings. His voice is grainy, smoky and breathy. I used to think it was an a lá mode affect, but it’s not. He likes to sing ballands, and he does them well, but I called them dirges. I’ve since stopped because it’s not nice. That’s what I mean about his being my mirror — he just lays the cards on the table, and I have two ways of responding: by being a jerk or being nice. I’m learning. He’s an excellent teacher. He has two vocal coaches now. He argued about getting the second one, whom his father and I secured because he needs a much stronger foundation, something we sensed he wasn’t getting with his first coach. He likes it now though, this second one pushes him, makes him sing opera, and he can already hear its influence, and the ballads continue. And he puts that stuff up on the Internet!
He amazes me. He has big dreams, this one, and all of them achievable with a shit ton of dedication. He has the focus and the chops, but he’s young, very green, so we will see. His father and I will support him as long as he pushes himself. He had what I guess is a typical middle school experience socially: horrid, so we are hoping he’s learned enough to hit the books and ask for help. We also think that dragging him along to big brother’s college tours is a good idea, as his older brother said himself that he’d wished he’d looked at these schools sooner (oops).
The youngest is cherubic still. His 11-year-old face, belly and arms rounding in preparation for a growth spurt. He rides his bike, super fast, without any awareness at all up and down our street, selecting the steepest driveways in which to turn around his 10-speed. He moans about having to wear a helmet, “I’m right here! You can SEE ME RIDE!” and I insist. He knows the drill, and he complies, but not without an icy glare and volcanic sigh. He’s a scorpio. Go figure. We have allowed him and his best friend to ride their bikes to the pool, they are both “red dots” which means they don’t need adults to accompany them as they have performed the water tests required by the life guards.
Two weeks ago, he and his friend rode to he pool. When he was ready, he called me using out family’s floater phone to let me know he was on his way home. About a minute later, he called me again. Through the phone’s tiny hi-fi speakers, I heard screams and crashing sounds. My heart fell through my body and landed on the floor in front of me. “Your brother … Who’s screaming?!” I screamed, shouting his name, more screaming… “OMIGAAAD!” I cried, and his older brother, the one who gives him the hardest time of all, took off and ran to the pool, a mile away, barefoot. He beat his father to the pool who drove. Everything was fine. The screams were peals of laughter, and delight from happy pool-goers. I watch too much “Dateline,” apparently. “I was fine, Mom. I butt-dialed you.”
He dreams about programming, space and Jupiter. Standard academics bore him tearless. We worry about him getting lost in the cavernous middle school halls next year and having to use a locker with a combination. It’s a massive place, one of the largest schools in Virginia, and despite the school administration’s traditional insistence of “keeping things small feeling” for the youngest students, I know my little man will just get washed around. He already has been, somewhat at his elementary school. “He’s very bright, he tests strong, but he gets overwhelmed… So that’s why we don’t place him in the advanced classes…” Here’s me: you keep coloring inside those lines and cite your standardized algorithms, you savvy 21st Century educators. My son and I will be lying on our bellies on the floor looking at NASA videos and astronomy books.
If we’re not looking at space from inside our house, we are lying on our backs, looking at apps in the nighttime, holding up an iPad to the sky. We did that a lot in New England, where the light pollution was absent. Getting to our destination at night meant we had to cross this:
Those voids flanking the road is 6′-10′ of water, depending on the tide. “So you drive real slowly, with both hands on the wheel, but slightly loose, so the wheel can play a little and the car can correct itself,” I hear myself say to my eldest, who is barely listening from the backseat.
It’s been a great summer. I have judiciously used my phone to chronicle it, being mindful to not confuse the chronicling –that one step removed– from actually experiencing it. I’ve purposefully left the phone in the glove box or on the dresser, asking myself and reminding myself of the phone’s actual use: Do I need to communicate with from anyone right now? No.
I’ve been rowing a few times, and it’s been glorious. I’m off from teaching yoga now until after Labor Day, which is really nice. The dogs are doing great and my husband is nursing a cold today. In May I did something to my left knee, my MCL, which is a bit frustrating because I can’t run terribly long on it. I’ve promised myself I’ll look into PT tomorrow, because I’m not getting any younger and I’m competitive as hell.
Being away from this blog has been good and bad — I’ve been able to slow down and enjoy things instead of thinking about ways to share them on the blog; but it’s also made me lazy, I haven’t practiced much, and I do find myself censoring myself about things I’d like to share. There’s a lot of strange self-consciousness that permeates through a writer: we think you want to know everything about us, or what we have to say, yet we have a hard time actually believing that anything we have to say is the remotest bit interesting to you.
I’m about to start a new book, reading one, that I read about in the NYT on vacation. “A Manual For Cleaning Women” is a collection of short stories by a now-dead writer named Lucia Berlin. She’s widely hailed as a “writer’s writer” and I’m enjoying the introductions so far. Reading her, and Anne Tyler, and Dorothy Parker has made me start thinking that the short story is where it’s at for me. I really like to write, but I know myself well enough to know that I will get lost in my own verbal morass if I don’t keep things tight and fluid. I overpacked so much for the vacation (I wore MAYBE 12% of what I packed and bought a couple other things) that I know if I started a book, I’d just get lost. Like my youngest… in the Milky Way, but mine is made up of words.
My father asked me recently if I edit myself. I said no. I don’t have a space requirement, no copy editors.
I suppose I could consider it editing. I do know this, when I know exactly who will be reading what I write, say a person for whom English is not native, I will break down my content and be very precise in how I say things. Invariably, I’m reminded of my days in college when I worked at a bank, and I would speak louder and slower to a non-English speaking customer, because I thought that would help him better understand me.
Well, I’m out… I want to thank you, as always, for reading. It’s an uncommonly beautiful day in August here, and we have a few more weeks before school starts, so I’ll go now. Remember to keep being amazed. Write it down, that which amazes you.