Posts Tagged ‘family’

What it Means to Be a Mom

May 16, 2013

Untitled-1The quintessential highs and lows of being a parent and the flux of emotions that a mother may experience with regard to her children tend to happen over months, weeks, even days. Until you have a teenager. Then, they tend to occur by the hour.

SHAME


As Doug and I came in from dinner at La Campagnola, at exactly 6:58pm, I saw my son Julien in the dark, waiting by the door to be let in. I quickly apologized for not being home on time to let him in, although he usually gets in a little after seven on a Tuesday, so I didn’t think I’d be late. He smiled and said, “That’s OK, Mom.” And yet,  I still felt bad for not being home. “Were you waiting long?”

“Twenty minutes!” he said, with so much emphasis as if twenty minutes were actually 20 days. Ugh. I hugged him and apologized again. After we were inside, I quickly turned to him and said, “Where’s your brother?”

He replied, “I don’t know.”

FEAR

“Well, what do you mean you don’t know where Dani is? It’s seven at night. Wasn’t he over your dad’s with you?” I am divorced and practically remarried, and on Tuesdays my kids go to their father’s until seven. At seven, on the dot, they return home to me. Every week.

“No, he never came home.”

My head grew hot. It was seven at night. That doesn’t make sense.

Usually, Dani comes home on the late bus at 4:30pm and comes here. Now that he’s older, he doesn’t even go to his father’s on Tuesdays.

“Well, did he tell your dad where he was?”

“Yes, he called around 3:30 and let him know he had to do something with the camera club, after school.”

That made me feel slightly better. And yet, that usually meant he would be taking the late bus home. He’s never stayed at school past 4:30, save during soccer season. Despite the fact that he’s been a Freshman for a few months, I still sometimes feel like I have no idea what’s going on. I scurried and made a few calls. I called Dani’s cell and it rang and rang, then went to voicemail. I texted. Twice. “Where the heck are you?” I called their father and asked him to tell me exactly what Dani had said when he spoke to him. Just that he was with the camera club for something happening after school. Well, how long after school? I wanted details and no one could give them to me. And then, I called Dani’s cell again, only this time, it went immediately to voicemail. As if someone turned off the phone, or it went dead.

My stomach took a plunge, and yet, I was trying not to panic simply based on technology. Cell phones fail from time to time. Right? But, oh, the stock we set in them.

“Come on, Julien, we’re going to the school.

It was not like Dani to not contact me or text me or simply not let me know where he was. And yet, it was Dani. He was prone to forgetfulness. I tried to stay calm and not over-react but a mother sometimes can’t help herself. She needs to know where her kids are at all times. Hell, in the span of two months the news reported nothing other than children being abducted.  While I drove, I had Julien search through his list of contacts. Anyone who Dani might be hanging out with. Julien diligently put in a few calls, sent a few text, but no one responded.

Once at the school, we walked through the halls of Shawnee, stopping people along the way. “Excuse me, is there any camera club event going on?” The response was inevitably, “Not that I know of. Are you looking for someone?”

“Yes, my son.”

I always feel so pathetic when I say that. Like I’ve lost my keys, or my purse. Like I can’t keep track of my things. And then, the mommy-guilt kicks in, and the negative self-talk takes over…What mother loses her kid? A bad mother, that’s who. I should have paid more attention to who he was hanging around with. I don’t even know the names or phone numbers of any of his friends. What an idiot I am.

After about ten minutes of self-degrading and worry, the logical brain takes over. I decide that maybe the camera club is filming or taking pictures of another event. There’s several going on. It’s just a matter of which one. I eventually make my way to an event in the auditorium. A pinning ceremony. I scan the crowd, searching for that young person who is essentially an extension of myself. When you cannot find your child, lost in a crowd, it’s as if you’ve lost a limb.  Lo and behold, there he is behind a video camera propped on a tripod, filming a couple of giddily happy girls on a stage receiving their pins. His techie friends are dispersed around him. I exhale at that moment of instinctual recognition of my child; he is safe and good and alive—it’s the kind of moment that changes a mother’s chemistry, like breastfeeding. At the very moment the infant latches on there’s a hormonal flood within the mother, a wash of oxytocin, which tells her, “this is pure pleasure,” despite the cracked and bleeding nipples. Ah, bonding.

I wanted to kill him.

ANGER

Julien and I walked down to the front row, and sat right behind where he was working. I zoomed in on the back of his head like a hawk about to dive for her prey, a scowl on my face. I could sense his uneasiness. He knew I was angry as hell. I whispered, “Where the hell have you been? I’ve been worried sick. Why on earth didn’t you call me?” In secret I was thinking, Boys! How can they be so insensitive? So in their own world that they never in a million years realize that they have the power to rip your heart to shreds.

“But, I did contact you. I sent you a text!” he said, pleading.

I reached into my pocket and looked at my phone. Nothing.

“Nothing.” I said.

He quickly pulled out his and showed me the text he wrote, slightly redeeming himself. There it was, at 3:30 p.m. It had never been sent from within the auditorium.

RESIGNATION

“Look, enough with the texts, OK. You need to talk to me and I need to hear your voice. You can’t just assume I’ve got your message…” Secretly, I’m thinking, You owe me that much, don’t you think? And then, kids are so damn selfish. I’m going to go on Facebook and make a blanket statement that people should not EVER have them if they want to keep their sanity. I remember my father saying this to me and I never quite understood what he meant. I do now.

CALM

We drove home quietly. After an hour of decompression, and me doing the usual meditative ritual of going onto the computer and reading mindless posts, trying to get my sanity back, Dani came upstairs, almost as if nothing had happened.

“Hey, mom, did you see this video that’s going around now? Oh my God, You’ll love it.”

“I don’t know, show me.”

He sat on my lap. Yes, my almost 15-year-old son who weighs more than 150 pounds at 5’8″ still sits on my lap, much like I did with my own grandfather well into my 20’s, even when he’d yell, “You’re going to break my legs! Get off of me.” It runs in our family. This is how we love.

He put the youtube video “To This Day” on, and we watched. It’s about bullying. I had seen it before, but I sat still, and watched it again. It’s one of those videos that has gone viral and every time you see it, you can’t help but tear up.

When it was over he moved across the room and sat opposite me and said how much he loved this video. His eyes were red and wet with tears. It wasn’t often that I saw him cry anymore, like he used to, when he was little.

“Maybe because you were bullied as a child, ” I said, and my heart ached a little remembering some of the horrible things kids did to him because he was different. Chasing him on their bikes, threatening to beat him up, hitting him, laughing at him. In seventh grade he came to me once, when I asked him why he never hangs out with anyone anymore and said, “I have no friends, mom. None. No one likes me.” A mother is paralyzed when she hears this kind of stuff. How is it possible that your kid has no friends? Don’t others see what you see? How can I make it better, you think. How can I make people love him.

You can’t. You can only love your child and by virtue of that love, you can give him strength.

“Who me?” he said.  “Nah. I never cared about people making fun of me. I never believed them. I like myself too much.”

He smiled.

We sat there for a minute. I guess he was right. He never really cared if kids picked on him. Or if he had no friends. He always let stuff roll right off of him. He had a rich imagination that could keep him busy for hours. I always envied him for that. I always depended too much on the opinions of others for my self-worth. I was proud that he did not make the same mistake I did.

“Well, something in this video must have touched you,” I said, not needing to point out that his eyes were as wet as mine.

I thought for sure he would say the usual, that he felt sorry for kids that had to go through a life of bullying. I, myself, was bullied as a kid too. Spit balls in the hair, called a dog, tripped, kicked, spit on. The whole shebang. I had told the story to both my kids many times, and how it strengthened me and made the person I am today. Whether they were listening or not, wasn’t exactly the point. It was in the telling. In hoping to give my kids the necessary tools to deal with whatever came their way. In fact, in the video, there’s a segment about a girl who was bullied as a kid and grows up to be a woman who doesn’t believe in herself and still thinks she’s ugly because of a mark on her face. And yet, despite having kids of her own, who love her, she is insecure.

LOVE

I turned to Dani, “What do you think it was that touched you so much, then?”

“I guess,” he said, his eyes growing a little redder, “I loved the part most when they say, ‘..and they’ll never understand that she’s raising two kids whose definition of the word beauty begins with “mom.'”

Mom. A word that means beauty. How could it be? How could it not be? I guess he was listening.

I hugged him tightly, and told him I loved him. He smiled, said he loved me too, and off he went. Back into his world of being a boy.

If you haven’t already, watch the video.

 

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How Ed Did It

October 25, 2009

Old_boxes_by_servale

This is part of the Meeting Mary Jane series.

When I was about eight and lived up in New Hampshire my dad typed up and printed out about 100,000 copies of a book he wrote and entitled, “Money.” It was a flimsy white book, eight-and-a-half by eleven in size, not much to look at; and, at seventeen cents to the dollar, a wise investment on my father’s part.  But it was simple and to the point. Each page, in fact, was its own chapter, with titles such as “How to Furnish Your Home for Free,” and “How to Live Like a Millionaire with Less than a Hundred Dollars in your Checking Account.” I can’t say I remember the book verbatim, and surprisingly there is no trace of the 100,000 copies anywhere to be found. What I do remember, however, was the last page.

At the end of the book there was an offer. In small print, it said, “To order Ed Taylor’s second book ‘How Ed Did It,’ please send $15 dollars to P.O Box 123, Bedford, NH 03110.” What I remember most was not so much the actual printed offer, but the fact that there wasn’t one. My father had never written a second book. It was a scam, and a brilliant one at that. In his mind, if he only got ten percent of his readers to send in fifteen dollars for the second book, he would have earned himself fifteen thousand dollars. It was always a matter of numbers, he’d say. But more than numbers it was that my father knew that people, for the most part, were stupid; and that in their desperation and hope to become something less unfortunate than what they were, they’d do something even stupider, like send their hard-earned money in an envelope to an unmarked PO Box, all for the promise of making a little money and becoming a better person.

And some of them did. Who, I’m not sure, but in the end, my dad earned about forty-five dollars; just enough to pay for the PO Box. After that, the ninety-nine thousand or so leftover books sat collecting mold and dust in every garage or attic we moved them to, throughout the years, causing expense and undue stress to my mother each time she had to figure out where to stash them, until finally, they dwindled in number and disappeared.

What this says about my dad is not the obvious; that he was a victim of his own stupidity and desperation, that he tried to make a buck and failed, or even that he had a pretty severe case of OCD when it came to paper products.  Rather, it illustrates the foundation on which he built his entire life and the senselessness into which he dragged his family—all of whom went willingly. In that sense, not only was my father a victim, but a genius.

ÎÌÍ

It was in the spring when I decided to visit my dad at the farm and bring my kids up for lunch and to run around the place as they usually did. My boys loved “Grandpaw” and his farm. He’d take them for tractor rides or build mazes and forts with haystacks in the barn.  Sometimes he would take them down by the creek at the front of his property line and pitch a tent. He’d tell them the story of Sacagawea and how her spirit was still roaming around the place, looking for lost ancestors and whispering secrets to my father in Shoshone about hidden treasure—as if he could understand the language; in his mind he probably could. But my kids loved him and he loved them and despite occasional drunkenness or passing out inside a chicken coop or a hayloft, visits to the farm had become pleasantly uneventful.  One afternoon, however, just as we were getting ready to sit down for lunch with my dad and grandmother, who lived there as well, the phone rang.

My dad was a rather soft-spoken man. He rarely yelled unless he was doing business on the phone, in which case, he always yelled because that’s how he did business. In fact, I grew up for the most part thinking that “Jackass, you owe me the fucking money,” was a sort of vox populi of the corporate world.  So, my dad grabbed the phone and took it into the other room and started yelling, saying things like, “Well, tell them I’m out. Tell them I’m in the fucking hospital then.” My children, who were then only three and six could hear this and so I got up and went over to my dad and told him to shut up. “Your grandkids can hear you.” I strategically used the word “grandkids” so that he’d remember to act more like a grandfather. And yet, I knew this was asking too much. Without acknowledging me he slammed the phone down and said, “Shit” and immediately ran upstairs to his room.

I went back into the kitchen where my grandmother was sitting with my boys. She was reciting a poem she had written sixty years ago, about being a little girl in a frilly white dress. It was a typical Little Bo Peepish sort of poem and the kids were getting a kick out of it. We, meaning my entire family of Aunts and Uncles and cousins and brothers, were always so amazed at her ability to remember these things that on holidays we had a special “Watch Grandma Do Tricks” hour in which we had her recite some of her old poetry or sing old songs from her youth in her signature wobbly, shaky grandma voice.

As I was wiping peanut butter and jelly from the boys’ faces and reciting the poem myself, my dad barreled through the kitchen with an overnight bag, grabbing a few items from the kitchen; artificial sweetener, powdered milk, breakfast bars, and shoved them in the bag.

“What are you doing?” I said.

“I’m leaving.”

“Leaving? Like, packing a bag and leaving town?” I thought that was clever, never suspecting it could be true.

“Yes,” he said. “I’m going to spend the night in a hotel in Philly. I can’t really explain right now.” When the bag was zipped he looked over at the kids and said, “Grandpaw’s gotta go right now, little guys,” and he patted them on the head and gave them kisses.

My grandmother became flustered and stopped reciting.

“Where in god’s name are you going? What about the animals? Why, Ed, you’re supposed to take me to Gail’s tomorrow for our hairdresser’s appointments.” As he whisked his way through the kitchen and wound his way out the front door, pretty much pacifying his mother with an “I’ll call you from the road,” bargain, I ran after him.

“What the hell is going on? Who was on the phone?”

“My attorney,” he says.

“Dad, we drove an hour and forty-five minutes to see you, what the hell are you doing? It’s right in the middle of lunch.” He was obviously perturbed that I was slowing him down with all my questions, so he tossed his bag in the back of his car, hopped in and rolled down the window.

“Look honey, I must have forgotten to show up for a court date or something, you know, parking tickets, and well, I think the police are on their way here right now to arrest me.”

“For parking tickets?” I say.

“Yeah, can you believe it.” He says this as shocked as me. “That’s why I gotta get the hell out of here, honey. We’ll talk later. Tell the kids Grandpaw loves ‘em.” And with that, he did a sloppy K-turn and sped down the driveway, kicking up dirt and rocks all the way to the road.

I immediately ran back into the house and decided to pack up my kids and leave. There was no way I wanted them to be around when god knows who showed up to cart my father off to jail, or wherever. For all I knew it wouldn’t be the police, but more likely loan sharks or, as my mother always referred to them, “shylocks.” I was no stranger to picking up and bolting. It was the way we grew up. We lived in over fourteen different homes across the country within a span of fifteen years. We were always on the run for one reason or another (fear of law enforcement, fear of kidnapping, fear of what a loan shark might do if my dad didn’t pay back his debts). And so, with my usual speed and agility, I threw my boys in the car, kissed my grandma goodbye and went home.

It wasn’t long after that I learned the truth surrounding my dad’s getaway. And, as usual, it had nothing to do with parking tickets. I didn’t believe that old excuse anyway. In fact, any time my dad ever had a problem with the law he always said it was because of parking tickets (no surprise that I would grow up to be an adult who only used public transportation).  And while it was true that he had over seven thousand dollars in unpaid parking violations to the City of Philadelphia, no one ever showed up at his door with a warrant for his arrest on parking ticket delinquency alone.

To be continued…