Tag Archives: grief

Preparing for the Push Off


I’ve been in denial about this for months.

It’s almost here. Three weeks from this past Thursday will be it. The day my first, my oldest son pushes off for college.

It started out subtly enough, the departing. In May, he had his final soccer game of his pre-college life. The U-19 league. So, soon after that last game I found myself repressing a lump in my throat as I confronted a simple thing. Just a swipe, really, but it felt as though my hand were made of iron and it was dragging along a magnet. Trying to move, trying to get my finger to drag over my laptop’s touchpad to deliberately press the “delete event” prompt from my family’s calendar and alerts for his soccer practice reminders.

I shouldn’t be so maudlin. I hadn’t been driving him to practice for months. He was a late-blooming driver. It was my pleasure to take him to practice or ride shotgun as he drove. Our conversations in the car varied from laughing about a Ben Bailey stand-up routine to talking about his friends, class work, or social disappointments. Sometimes it was just silence. Or really loud Kanye West. But those days are over. I no longer need to see the alerts on my phone about his practices. So I drag my right hand with my left hand to click “delete” on the alerts.

I don’t want to click “delete.” It is really hard to click delete on that alert.

I couldn’t possibly be prouder of the young man he’s become. He’s handsome, funny, really smart, creative, clever, sensitive, caring… all the things I wanted him to become. I didn’t do it though; he came with that software already installed. I suppose I helped him learn to use it, but we all know our kids are pre-formed before we get them.

I met him in the middle of the night more than 18 years ago. He was just eight pounds and almost 21 inches long. I remember, he was so quiet, the doctors thought there was something amiss. Perhaps he wasn’t breathing well. Maybe his brain was misfiring. But his eyes… his father knew he was just fine. His eyes were bright and blue-green and so serene. So calm and observant. “I knew those eyes the minute I saw them open,” his father said. “They were your eyes. They were just like yours…”

They put him in the “french fry warmer” as we called it, to keep him cozy. They invaded him with their suction devices and wiped him of his vernix. Soon he let them have it, a robust and brief goat-like bleat from that enormous head. It was just after midnight when he was born and I was totaled. I’d been dealing with dormant but annoying labor for about 25 hours. I wanted to see him.


They did their tests and pokes on him. They were stupid, I think now. “Haven’t you ever met a mellow baby?” I remember thinking about them the next day. “Look at him, he’s perfect…” I would sigh and stare at this beautiful son… “Connor. Hello.” I met him in the morning, around 4. It was dark and he was hungry, so I learned to try to breastfeed him. It took a few days, but we figured it out.

Look at him now! 5’10” and 150. Hair almost as dark as mine when I was his age and his big green eyes.

“You should write Batman’s in My Shower now, Mom,” he said about a month ago. Batman’s in My Shower is the title I decided to give to a memoir back when my boys were 10 years younger than they are now. I wanted to write about becoming a mother and how it’s changed me.

The title comes from the truth that in my bathroom shower for years was at least one Batman action figure for my sons to play with while they bathed. The book would be about how my life melded with theirs and how my space became theirs as we grew into one another and gradually apart from one another. I remember holding one of the boys while he played with the doll and I washed his hair and cleaned his little squirming body as he would have Batman and a squirting goldfish battle it out under the Water-pik shower head typhoon.

Washing a child in a shower is like trying to wash a hairless cat that won’t scratch your face off because it actually likes the water spraying in its face. The cat is animated, no doubt, but it’s not deadly and it’s writhing and hissing joyous coos of delight as the baby shampoo (remember that smell?) lathers and runs down their faces.

The sole remaining Batman has a layer of soap scum in his armpits and crotch; his cape is hard and stiff like a chamois that’s been hung in the sun. He’s covered in a layer of dried soap and hard water residue from years of torrential cleansing. He’s perfect.

I haven’t dared to write more than a page of BiMS because that would mean that I’ve crossed over a benchmark, that the “memoir” is activated because the moment is past; that the “mothering” is over. So I sit here, in wait. Wondering when the feelings of the intensity of his impending departure will pass and I will feel light and airy again.

“Raise your hands if you have a student who will be living on campus and you live in the area…” said the admissions person at new student / new parent orientation last week. Her eyes scanned the ballroom. At least 30 hands, including my own, went up; some sheepishly, some defiantly.

“Make no mistake. If it’s five minutes or five hours or across the street or across the country, your child is leaving home,” I almost broke out into tears at that moment. I had to keep it together. She was right, that hag. My kid is leaving home. He is about a good run’s distance, 4 miles, from home, but he’s not going to be here every day when I wake up. Nor will he be here when I avoid making dinner.

You see, Connor has been my wingman for better part of a third of my life. He has grounded me, helped me chill out, provided a better reason than a paycheck to get up every morning, and has generally made me a better person. He has made me a better mother for his brothers. He has made me a better friend to my friends and he has made me a better daughter to my parents. I don’t want to foist too much upon him because that’s not fair. I’ve done a lot of Work too, he just made it a fantastic reason to do it.

I’ve prepared him a bit I hope too. I stopped washing his clothes for him about four years ago. He’s got it down — brights with brights. He’s good at it. That transition began subtly enough too, and I will own that I’ve relapsed a few times. Like a junkie, I’ve slipped back into Mom-mode for him and folded his t-shirts or even turned them right-side-out when they come out of the dryer. I have to stop myself sometimes from unbending his jeans from of the mind-boggling twisted rebar-like clump they’ve morphed into as I heave the next crate of wet clothes into the dryer. Some articles are easier than others to let go. Socks for one… I would rather eat McDonald’s, no. I take that back. I would still sort his socks over eating McDonald’s.

My father said to me about two weeks ago that what I’m about to experience, my child leaving home for college, is in his estimation one of the most emotionally arduous and profound experiences in my parenting. “I don’t know what it’s like to watch a child leave for college from such a deeply loving and supportive home, so you’ll have to excuse me as I soak all this in vicariously,” he admitted during that conversation. “My own mother, she was difficult. I couldn’t wait to get out of there, but she made it awful hard on me. I never looked back,” he added, “when I left for school.”

I never left home for college. I went to university locally. It was part of my life I suppose: my mother needed my vigilance. I would’ve loved to have lived on campus. I remember visiting my friends who lived in the dorms. Music, “The Cult” was always playing and the halls smelled like popcorn, pot, ramen, vanilla body spray, coffee, patchouli, Dr. Pepper, Finesse shampoo… beer…  I promised myself that if my kids ever wanted to live on campus — even if they went to school locally — that they would live on campus. I’m really glad we have chosen this.

I asked Connor about his own thoughts and impressions; if he’s ready to go, if he’s looking forward to it. “I’m excited. It’s nice though, to not want to leave, too. I’m lucky to be going, to be able to attend college, and I’m lucky to be not terribly ready to go… That it will be hard to go and nice to go… Does that make sense?”

He couldn’t have said it better.

I know I haven’t been writing here or personally anywhere is because of this. How do I go from being a hands-on, non-helicopter Mom of three to this? It is really perplexing. I bought a comforter set for his bed; sheets, pillows, all the towels and textiles. A 28-oz size bottle of Pert (his favorite) is in a bag and waiting for that first pump somewhere in his shower. Without a Batman, likely. I thought I was finished shopping and then I caught up with a bestie today who’s oldest son is also heading out soon for the first time (he’s very tight with my son) and I realized I don’t have pens for him. I didn’t buy pens or notebooks or a stapler. WHAT KIND OF A MOTHER SENDS HER KID OFF TO COLLEGE WITHOUT PENS??

I’ll tell you: the mother who really doesn’t want her kid to leave. Sure, he’s got a computer, but who needs that? We all know learning happens with a pen and paper. No. The “real learning” my son will experience will not be contained between the end papers of a textbook or in the hushed whirr of a hard drive. It’s waiting for him in the dormitory, in the lecture halls, at the dining hall, and in the random conversations with exhausted students in late-night study groups and eating fests.

Really? Did I just write ‘the real learning  … will not be contained between the end papers of a textbook’? Someone shove then trip me when I leave this room. I deserve it. Who knows where the real learning takes place? I hope it’s been taking place all along.  

I expect I will be an emotional disaster worthy of FEMA assistance when I leave him on the 25th. Every time that damned song from “Narnia” comes on my playlist, “The Call,” I start to blubber and sob, really deep ugly crying. It’s not ok. When he walks in the room, I’m all super sunshine and smiles! No, I’m not, and he gets it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from witnessing my mother, it’s that “the show must go on, kid” mentality is a one-way ticket to Xanaxia. I expect the music at the dorms on drop-off day will be Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” or some unknown genre which will pulsate and grind and moan. It will be played at a precise megahertz to annoy the shit out of aging parents and get them the hell off campus tout de suite.

There’s a part of me which needs to go for a drive, a long drive to, say, Charlottesville or somewhere similar so I can process the reality that he’s out. If he were a challenging kid or obstinate or disrespectful or basically horrid, this would be so much easier. He’s not. He’s a GEM of a human. I’ll be real with you, we argue at times, and I think it might be happening more a little now than it ever did, and I wonder if that’s because we know what’s coming.

Is it like one of those “distancing-prep” dynamics wherein people begin to isolate and curl into their corners before a big departure? I am not sure, we are pretty real with each other. He’s all-too ready at times to tell me I’m the reason we are SPEAKING LOUDLY AND CURTLY AT EACH OTHER.

Maybe not Charlottesville… Maybe  I’ll go to the parking lot of his college and stalk him.

My youngest asked me the other day, “Do you think Connor will come home, Mom? You know, just to hang out…?” I honestly didn’t know what to say. I have no expectations. My youngest and my oldest are very similar in temperament. Five and a half years rests between them; we refer to those two as “the bookends” because they are so grounded and rational.

Connor needs this though, to have his own experiences, and I’m so happy for him that he will have them. I’m equally happy that my other sons will miss him a lot. My middle son is excited for him, and he’s really bummed out. “It will be weird around here, without him,” he said. “Like, for every morning of my life, he’s been here to play with or annoy or learn from. He’s taught me so much…” he turns away, stops talking and leaves the room. I start to well up. I know he’s welling up. It’s a frequent occurrence, these bloated, trailing-off conversations about Connor leaving for college.

We talk, we parents, about how we’re robbed of time with our kids. How they grow up and change so fast. How the days drag on but the years fly by… All the clichés and adages and truths. In the end though, we don’t want them here when they’re 33. We want them out and about and falling in love and starting their own families maybe or going to graduate school or getting married… we don’t want them in our basements. We don’t want them in their footie pajamas all their lives — EVEN IF we could have them at cute and floppy, sticky-fingered, sweet-smelling 22 months, all their lives, we wouldn’t want that. Not ever. Don’t tell me you would. “Just one more day… like this…” No. You want them to grow and learn and thrive and shave.

Another friend and I were talking last week. Her son who is Connor’s peer is her youngest of four. He and Connor “played soccer” together when they were five. He is leaving too, for a college five hours away. She was telling me about their conversation they had about his “drop off” at school. She said she asked him if he thought it would be like hers, when her parents helped her unpack her room and they made her bed, and put her posters on the wall and hung up her clothes in the closet… they met her roommate, and then they all went to dinner and walked around the town a little… then her parents spent the night in town and had breakfast in the morning together before they left her alone with her “new life.” She asked him if it would be like that for him or would it be the type of situation where they unpack their car, drop off the boxes and leave him in the dorm to figure it out. No lunch together, no walk around town, no overnight at the local Marriott. She waited, she said, her eyes uncertain, a twitch betraying her calm.

“He said, ‘It will be the second one, mom. Dump and drive. I’m ready. You’re ready. I’ll be back…'” and she sighed after she told me what he said, and we laughed about it, because it was so “him” to say that.

“But I’m not ready…” she said, quietly, her lips pursing as her eyes gazed around her roomy kitchen. Empty of chaos and crusted mac & cheese pans.

And the friends are leaving too. That’s a part of this gig that no one really tells you about: that when your kid takes off for college, his friends are likely doing that as well, so all those faces and sounds and cups you cleaned up and backpacks you danced around won’t regularly be in your way again, either. We’ve been blessed to know lots of his friends, and his girlfriend? Don’t even get me started. Every time I think of her leaving too … it’s not good. I am like Mike Myers playing Linda Richman and having to take a break during “Coffee Talk” and ask you all to tawk ahmonst y’seves becawse I’ve becohm verklempt.

Right now, it’s late. I’m up writing and he’s in the other room watching “Bob’s Burgers” and I can hear him snorting and giggling. It’s really late. He should be in bed.

I’ve got 20, shit, 19 days before my father watches my son eagerly leave his home reluctantly. God help me. If it’s so good for him, why does it hurt so much?

Thank you.


When I Miss My Mom


I was reading a post the other day written by Candid Kay who shared her memory of her own mother, which was ushered by food: the preparation, scent, cooking and savoring of a sauce, into a wholesome meal. The sensorial combination evoked the tenderness of the past to transmute a challenging moment in the now.

I’ve also been reading Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club, which is her first memoir, and a bestseller. Karr writes a lot about her mixed feelings about her mother, the fear and chaos she encountered as a child at the hand of her increasingly unstable mother, and her identification with her Nervous mother as she ages. Karr’s ability to be honest and yet nonviolent in her recollections is not only a gift to me as a writer to witness, but also a gift to me as a child of similar steps who also treads those hallowed spaces.

It’s Christmastime. My memories of Christmas as a child are what I call “uppy-downy”; we had some pleasant times which I can only describe as being sprinkled with Mom’s eccentricities and idiosyncrasies. Sometimes those moments were flurries or squalls.

One certain memory of Mom is her truly vexing requirement that we were to gently peel back the tape and never tear through the wrapping paper. Once we managed to extract the gift from the wrapping paper, akin to a “Hurt Locker” scene, she would request that we hand it back to her or gently fold it back up for her to use again.

There were also more than a handful of times when we also had to wait for her before Christmas could “begin.” One year, I said the hell with it. I tore into my wrapping paper and crushed it into a ball. I think she almost had a stroke. Her horrified gasps and frantic reaches to end my blind yuletide debauchery were cartoonish. Over the years, she managed to dial it back a bit. We also decided we weren’t always going to wait for her to get out of bed. Karma.

I found myself missing my mother, after reading Candid Kay’s post. Due to the urgency of the holiday season, Mom had a way with glibly waving off controversy or panic (yet she could stir it up without notice). Often these dismissals would materialize in a clever cartoon, a quote from Neil Simon, “Cool it, Mimsy!” something from Moliére, Shakespeare, or her own observations about the “virtues of being beige,” or her frequent recitation of Julie London’s “You’re Blasé” … “You’re deep just like a chasm  / You’ve no enthusiasm / You’re tired and uninspired / You’re blasé / Your day is one of leisure in which you search for pleasure / You’re bored when you’re adored / You’re blasé.” I suppose in her own way she was venting off the nervousness she was fighting. I find myself doing that now, only my song is “Bohemian Rhapsody.” MaaaaMaaaaa OooooOooooo… I didn’t mean to make you cry… 

She had tons of energy when she was spun up into a cause she admired. I’m involved these days in the crafts for my youngest son’s winter holiday edutainment party. I missed skipped the meeting about how to run these parties because I’ve been at this for 13 years. Because I abstained from the inanity, I missed the running commentary about how our craft was not only too ambitious, but also likely to be poo-poo’d by these erudite 12-year-olds. (This from the primary grade moms.)

There is a reason I don’t attend many of these meetings. I simply don’t have the bandwidth to appease Other Mothers. When I’m volunteering at school, I’m there to work with, for and on behalf of kids. I hear Mom reminding me to be beige when serving the kids, it’s for them… If the Other Mothers can do it better, they may be my guest.

The moms in our class are thrilled with the level of intensity and ambition being applied to this craft. What is the craft? Snow globes.

“SNOW GLOBES?! WHAT?! WITH SIXTH GRADERS?! A CRAFT?! JUST GIVE THEM COOKIES AND A GAME FOR PETE’S SAKE…” a couple of them apparently snort-laughed and nod-chanted a lá “Am I right or am I right?” Should I get them cigarettes and a couple beers while I’m at it? How about some power tools or some Dylan Thomas? These kids are so advanced and jaded. I’m so glad I blew off the coven meeting. (I’ll write about making the snow globes later.)


I get our craft is sweet and fun and a little complicated. In that way, it’s a lot like I am. I also get that our “choosing” something “for the kids” also requires that we put aside our needs and wants, and consider their fancies. I don’t have 28 iPod Touches to bring to the classroom. I don’t have 28 Hover Boards for them all. I don’t have to. I have an idea which I think the kids will enjoy and it’s a keepsake, should they decide as much.

Could it end up in glittery shards, sparkling the macadam on the pathway home? Totally. Might they end up on the floor of the bus? The little fir trees and snowmen crushed and sullied? Completely possible. But I don’t really care about that. Once we give up the craft, it’s up to them.

What I won’t submit to, however, is the supposition offered by Other Mothers that the kids won’t enjoy a craft or being creative. Might this project get shot down by the snarky sarcastic kids? That’s entirely realistic. However, I also warm, very sincerely to the smiles and kindnesses offered by both of my older children when they say they wish they were making snow globes. (Read: I blew it with them when they were in sixth grade.)

But I miss Mom right now, because she would absolutely cheer this on. She would absolutely make fun of the Other Mothers with me; she would absolutely lap from the saucer, and sharpen her claws and wit on their banal brains and their pitiful propositions and likely envious eviscerations. She would make cartoons and puns and tell me, “The hell with ’em, Maal. You know what’s right. They’re just piffle.”

And she’d be right.

She’d also tell me to have a PB&J sandwich, reminding me that I’m at my worst when I’m hungry and feeling misunderstood.

I’d attempted to make a Peanut Butter and Jelly the way she used to: starting with the end of a loaf, a smear of butter, then peanut butter on that joined in holy deliciousness with a spread of raspberry jam on the other slice of rustic whole wheat bread. A fresh glass of cold milk on standby.


The sandwich filled my belly, but left my heart yearning for her wit.

What I also realized while enjoying this sammie, is that I understand her better now. It’s one of the worst traps of losing someone you love: when you’re with her, she drives you batty. Now that she is gone, and safe, I find myself commiserating with her. I find myself saying to my kids, “PLEASE ASK BEFORE (or return when) YOU TAKE THE SCISSORS!” or “WHERE IS THE ELMER’S GLUE-ALL?” I find myself on the brink of panic: WHATSFORDINNER? WHATSFORDINNER? WHATSFORDINNER? WHATSFORDINNER? — truth be told, I’m not sure she ever sweated dinner…

I find myself not wanting to come down at the break of dawn for Christmas. I find myself wavering on that one most of all: the space between giving them all they want after buying them what they want… can’t they just be a little more patient? Where are my glasses? Where’s the coffee? Why won’t someone at least put a K-cup in the machine, find a clean mug and press the damned button while I put on my robe? IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?!

Am I being greedy? It’s such a delicate balance. I know, I know… Santa came last night. It’s a big deal this morning… ooooooooh look at the presents!…. Coffee….

I find myself lowering my glasses, looking for better lighting and leaning in to objects to see them better. I find myself taking my time, a little more, “WHERE’S THE FIRE?” which she never asked, she simply just didn’t walk too quickly.

I fear that my best time with my mother wasn’t supposed to be during my youth, which was fraught with so much chaos. Apparently I was made to deftly handle those times. But it’s my older years, these years, when I could call her and say, “HOLY SHIT, MOM, I’M SAYING THINGS YOU SAID TO ME!” and she would gently laugh or sigh or rattle on about Katie Couric (I know).

My kids got my mother’s best years. I was too bitter to see that then. To them, she remains a silly and sort of wispy older woman, a kind person and a gentle soul. They saw her as she likely wished to be. It wasn’t meant for me though; the water was too turbid and the filter was clogged with my memories. Just a recently as a couple years ago though, I would tell her something about how I found myself being like her, and she’d say some entirely random thing to me, and I’d lose the fugacious grasp I had on her.

So I have my PB&J. And the memories of her midnight puttanesca sauces clinging to al dente fettuccine, their aroma would waft up the back of the house, to my room above the kitchen. And I’d wake, like a starving cartoon mouse rousing on the vapors from a wedge of cheese. And I’d get out of bed, following the scent like that mouse, but knowing I needed to stay low. I’d hide in the back staircase and smell and listen for her to walk by to the front room. Then I’d leave that staircase and go to the main one, and sit on those dark green wool carpet steps, and rest my face between the thick, white-painted, hand-turned spindles. I’d wait for her to her power up the TV and retire to the green club chair to watch whatever was on Canadian television, likely Columbo. The picture would sometimes be static, but her silhouette would eclipse its blueish glow. And I’d just sit there, while everyone else was sleeping, and just be with her, in the quiet of the night. Even though she didn’t know I was there.

Maybe she’s like that now, with me. Visiting us overnight, checking in on her families. I like to think she’s hovering, watching me cook fajitas, or whispering “more garlic, more oil” during my own attempts at home made Italian sauces, or even helping me to glue the little snowman onto the painted cork pedestal on the center of the lid…


everything is going to be just fine.

Thank you.

Frosted Memories


This morning, before my son and I ventured out for his walk to school, my husband called me down to get his camera phone so he could take a picture, “I think there’s a red-tailed hawk on Tommy’s front yard…” By the time I got to him, it was gone.

“I think it was… It was just sitting there, it was so strange. Like it was looking for something…”

“Like its keys…? I asked, adding, “Where is Gandalf? or Beezer?” referring to our cats. He said they were inside.

Back to work, nothing to see here.

I went to the kitchen and wrestled out a bag of trash to go in the cans by our driveway. The sky was very clear, still a little dawn-ish outside, so no real sunshine, just its rumor. It always amazes me in some really weird way how the sun just hangs out and does her thing. It’s automatic. She doesn’t move at all, there is no sunrise or sunset; it’s just the Earth turning.

Lined up across the street from my house were four tall bistro chairs, upholstered in some form of black bonded leather (essentially vinyl), sitting in wait for the maw of the garbage truck which would come soon enough. Because they were out overnight in the sub-freezing temps, frost had settled on their seats.

My husband was on his way back into the house from running some trash and he mentioned to me as we passed on our walk-up that we should write something in them.

Given the news lately, and my anxiety, bad dreams, poor sleep and general low-grade PTSD from being a 34-year resident of a neighborhood serving as a bedroom and home to top brass in the military (including General Powell back in the day) and other people who work for the government, my thoughts were not rational. My initial ideas about what to write on those seats were puerile, humorous, shocking and primitive.

I’m not sure what my husband was thinking of writing, maybe Peace Be With You or Have A Great Day or I Like Your Smile, because he’s a kind and decent human being. But because I come from different stock, I had all sorts of low-class possibilities in my head. I like one-word hits. My brain is pretty fast at calculating opportunities like that: how to get something impactful done in a broad stroke.

Two nights before, the night of the San Bernadino attack, I woke stunned from a nightmare of black-clad, balaclava’d, and jackbooted thugs opening fire on my family and me in our own backyard. Given this dream, and my apparent anxiety that has been feeding my subconscious, I knew that I have been in dire need of some laughter. Some air in my lungs, the numbing in the lips that comes from the deep breaths of laughing hard.

So when my husband went inside to fetch his gear to push off for work, I scampered up to the seats and scrawled on the seats with my fingernail to cut through the frost.

I saw space or opportunity for four letters: S-H-I-T, I thought, first… well, only after thinking F-U-C-K, but SHIT was right there as a swift shame-driven alternative, right on the tip of my fingernail, I swear. (Remind me to tell you about the first time I said “fuck” in 8th grade in the earshot of the Gray Nuns of the Order of the Sacred Heart…)

Prouder than a peacock with his tail feathers at full spread, I ran in to grab my camera phone to snap a pic. “I wrote on them,” I squeaked to my husband as he went back to his car. “Oh?” he said, bemused, concerned and curious.

He walked over and this is what he saw:


And it made me laugh. Emission (snort) accomplished.

He giggled. “Funny,” he said, slightly relieved I’m sure, at its relatively G-rated content. It could’ve been so much worse, trust me, I wanted to say.

Last night he was the one with the home invasion dream. “Lock all the doors…” he said as he squeezed me in to give me a smooch before driving away. “Take care of Ma,” he said to Murphy and Charlie, our dogs who bark at things that are not there and he was off to save the world from bad mortgages.

I wondered about how a harpie might feel, a rush of anxiety that comes as the sky brightens. I knew the “art” would be like the methane it represented: vapor, as soon as the eight-minute-old sunlight hit the dark reflective surface.

Taking that childlike risk of writing a taboo word (even though it was ephemera) on someone else’s property (even though it was headed to the landfill), was exhilarating. It felt like I was free from fear and that at that moment, everything was just as it should be.

And it was. At that moment, everything was as it should’ve been.

I went inside to show my son, “Look at what I did,” I said, eyebrows up and biting my lip like Bill Clinton.

He was confused. “Fart? Did you do that? Why would you write that?”

I sort of deflated, defended, “Because why not? It’s not super offensive; the chairs are headed for the trash… it will evaporate in a nanosecond once the sun hits it…” I thought of all my kids, he would think it was funny.

“Oh. Ok. Funny. F-A-R-T… that’s pretty clever. You could’ve written far worse… ” he said, and I stopped him from giving me ideas. He’s the youngest of three brothers and he’s in 6th grade, so he’s got plenty of source material and I need to preserve the illusion that he’s still a young baby.

He finished his breakfast, gathered up his stuff and I zipped his jacket. As we stepped down to walk to school, the frost had burned off. “It’s gone, Mom,” he said, a little sad that he wasn’t able to see the actual letters anymore. “I’m glad you took that picture of it.”

I almost wasn’t going to write this post today. I thought that people might consider it lowbrow in light of all the sadness in the news. But I know that I can’t change other people nor can I cater to them, or else I’d never get any writing done. Each of us is on our own journey and we all process grief and fear in different ways. I can’t let myself be consumed by fear.

Given those processes, I know that if I let it, fear can take over me. Sirens blared past my house an hour ago and I went searching for my phone to run a police scanner app I uploaded after the Paris attacks. I opened my local emergency response channel and went to Urban Dictionary to look up police codes. I heard that a building needed to be evacuated because a media room was likely exposed to a gas leak.

Just before Hallowe’en there was an explosion in a science lab at a nearby high school, so I lost myself. I was about to text my son at his high school to see if everything was alright, but he still had an hour to go, and my inquiry could set off a complete meltdown for him. I had to think about him first. I got back in the Moment. I fought the fear: I put down the phone and decided to write this post instead.

My writing “F-A-R-T” in the frost on the chairs is not a nod toward denial and complacency but rather a step into vulnerability in order to own and then release my fear. … emission accomplished. 

Thank you.



Love The Sinner, Hate the Sin


Today is the second anniversary of my mother’s death. I’ve written extensively here and privately about my experiences in grief. I’ve written about her death two years ago being the final somatic death which followed so many other of her deaths I felt I had grieved over my recent lifetime.

Last night, when going over photos of her, the one below in particular, I wept silently while my husband slept beside me, oblivious and recuperating from a sinus infection.

This photo was taken about six years ago in my parents’ house in Canada. A place we used to joke about having in case there was another military draft. Now it feels like a good idea to hang on to in case Donald Trump becomes president.

Mimi and the boys, summer 2009.

Mimi and the boys, summer 2009.

I wept for many reasons. I feel now / today / this moment and felt during that moment that I weep because I will never have that sweet older lady in my childrens’ lives any more.

She wanted so very much to be present in their lives. She was, in her way. I got in the way. I see that now. I sort of robbed them of her sprite-like ways because I was so hurt by it, her lack of an anchor, as a child. I wanted to protect them from that, but I see now, that by just being their mother, I was protecting them from that. They weren’t going to be with her 24/7, as I was, yet I couldn’t really unplug from those memories, at least not then. I was aware of it too. What I mean by that is that I was aware that I was in the way and yet I wanted to be out of the way, and yet, I wouldn’t be out of the way. I was and am so hell-bent on providing for them a healthy life that I suppose in some ways I’m stifling an unanchored life…? that doesn’t make sense. I sense now that I’m becoming my own judge, jury and executioner. Breathe. 

Mom used to say, “Jesus said to ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ or something like that…” and I’m being a little flip in my treatment of that memory, but she did often say something very similar to that, depending on the tenor of our conversation and her state of mind.

As I wept last night, my throat hardened and tightened and I knew that it was because I was and have been disallowing a truth for almost all my life: that I loved her and needed her so very much and that as much as I wanted to hate the physical incarnation of her addictions: her, I know rationally that doing so limits my exposure to her, even now in her death. So I thought and mostly felt some more (even though it was reeeeeally difficult to feel the feelings) and said to myself, “I do love you, and I always did and I guess I always will, even though I hated how things went down between us.” And my throat softened.

I always have to allow that reality, that caveat (that she was messed up too). I’m not one to paint a dead rose as one in bloom: shit was hard between us. We were each others’ teachers, of this I have no doubt. I am easily able to say now, that I am grateful for her being my mother and that she taught me the most important lesson of all: to get real with yourself, because she had such a hard time doing it herself.

I realize that Mom was an instrument of God for me and my brothers and that her mission was to teach us, in one way or another, about the dangers of addiction and alcoholism. And to live as an example, as harsh as it was (and it was harsh) so that we would be able to break a cycle. So that we would be able to live consciously and as deliberately as possible.

Mom was such that there was no patois of our dynamic, after all, she was an actor and an illustrator. As good as she was at stringing words together, Mom really seemed to fail at times in speaking and writing… it sometimes devolved into a bathos and her notes to me could cut like a backhanded compliment. “It was the booze talking…” I remember her saying one time. In vino, veritas, I would hiss back. In a way, she ended up unduly sacrificing herself for our sobriety. The tenor of our relationship was mostly mistrust, which really … sucked.

If my mom existed so that I could spare my sons an alcoholic mother and hopefully influence their own lifetimes in awareness of alcoholism and their genetic predilection, then her existence and my forgiveness of her is not for nothing. That’s the lesson I feel I’m steeped in right now. That’s where I can step into forgiveness. For me, right now, forgiveness has to be or at least look like a transaction.

I have actually begged for her to appear in my dreams. She does, sometimes.

The current book I’m reading, A Manual for Cleaning Women — Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin, is an emissary of sorts for me right now. In it, Berlin writes clearly about alcoholism, witnessing her mother’s and her grandfathers’ own travails and also her own. The shakes and delirium tremens, the self-loathing and mental anguish. Through her, I have a glimpse of my mother’s struggles and demons and I am leaning toward “forgive the drinker, hate the booze.” I suppose I could’ve used this book a few years ago. But it is what it is. Mom and I were as good as we were going to be around the time she died, we’d had several real adult and womanly conversations. Berlin has also made me a little braver in my own writing. Life is too short to have to fear what other people (through their own filters) think of anything I do.

When Mom aged, she softened, as so many of us do. Gone were the harsh and defensive edges of projected self-recrimination and doubt. At least around my kids, they were softened or completely worn away. She still had her self interest, poised above all others, but her kindnesses toward my children were absolutely sincere. In a way I was envious of them, their ability to be so at ease with each other. She had no worries about failing them and they had no fears of not living up to her expectations. It was like a little team of back-patters. I am happy that they all had those moments together.

I recall a day when she wanted to be with us, but logistics made it difficult (or maybe just I did) and so we all played Monopoly with her on the speakerphone. One of the kids would roll dice for her, the other would move her token (usually the thimble) and the other one would deal with her bank (that was usually my oldest son). She just liked being on the other line, hearing us all play together. I remember wishing she’d had an computer or iPad or something so that the boys could play online Scrabble and Pictionary with her; she would have loved it.

The day she died is different from today. Two years ago, it was Labor Day. Everyone in my family was with their own families, no one was alone to have to hear the news. I remember, clear as it happening right now, that when my father called that day, I was on my deck with my husband. I just knew. You know — how you just know? I just knew. Dad’s voice was unsure, but upbeat, like he was calling me to tell me that he’d cracked up my car but that everyone was ok… “Your mother has collapsed in the driveway. She’s in an ambulance now… the officer here wanted me to call you…”

….  ‘Officer…?’ …. 

We went over to their house as soon as we could. I’ll never forget it. The angle of the sun. The heat of the day. The wait in their front hall for an update. Then the update from the officer, “Mary didn’t survive…” and I thought he had the wrong person… “Mary? Who is Mary… ” … “Your mother, I’m sorry… she didn’t survive…”


Then the drive to the hospital. And the phone calls and texts to brothers — where was my younger brother?? — and cousins and in-laws and close friends from the back seat of my own car as my husband drove and my father sat, granitic, in the front passenger seat. It was about 4:30pm at that point.

So tonight, I will have another root beer float, as I did that evening when I’d found out she’d died. She was on her way to get one that day. I got mine from the Baskin-Robbins down the street from the hospital. I remember for weeks after that, just telling people that my mother had died. I told my cleaning ladies. I told people I barely knew. I always got a hug for it. The freshness is still there, of that moment. I feel like that’s the greatest gift of being sober and in touch with your feelings: that joy and pain and all the others in between are right there, just beneath the surface teeming to leak out. We should let them every once in a while, it keeps us real. If your mom is still around, give her a hug for me. If she is not, think softly of her for yourself.

Thank you.