“Well…what happened was…I was looking for something to count and nothing was very exciting, not my animals or da blocks and my fingers are boring…so, um, I made deez. Deez lines are exciting for counting, aren’t they mama?”
Mo (age 4)
The nature of elections is that there is a winner and a loser. Someone has to win and sometimes one (or many) people have to lose. And the nature of American presidency is that after two terms, the president must transition his or her office to the winner of the next election.
That’s the way it works. But it’s not just the nature of elections, it’s the nature of nature too. One season must pass on to the next.
We have had a summer like no other. A long summer that gave us cool beach breezes, glorious sun-drenched October weekends, and tremendous progress–gay marriage, greater access to healthcare, much needed attention paid to sexual assault on campuses and the enduring effects of discrimination and bias. Wages began to rise and equal pay was, at least, considered. This summer we saw two terms of a brown-skinned president who made my children laugh with his easy smile and left me in awe of his civility and steady hand during turbulent times.
The season brought the end of a century long drought to the Chicago Cubs and increased visibility and acceptance for people who previously lived frightened or shamed into the shadows, afraid to let the sun kiss their faces or for their stories to be heard. This summer, this long summer, their faces shone and their stories made many of us see life in a different way.
My three children will always be children of summer, children of this particularly spectacular summer. They understand that we are all different in so many ways but equally deserving of love and fairness and respect and justice.
The nature of nature is that summer must end, but also that summer will return. What remains of fall is to be seen. The winter with its stinging winds may be long or short…hopefully it won’t last 108 years. But no matter what summer will be back, just as it always is. And I can’t wait to see the sun again.
Until then, I’m going to huddle for warmth with the ones that I love and think the warmest thoughts I can muster about those that chose anger and fear.
I promised myself I wouldn’t mark the day of her passing anymore. That I would celebrate her birthday in absentia. That I would whisper a Happy Mama’s Day to the universe and hope it finds its way to her. That I’d take a couple minutes to prepare thoughtful questions before teacher conferences and always remember to express my gratitude to the people who devote their lives to making my kids wiser, more empathetic some-day adults. That I would sit with her memory on Christmas Eve after everyone else was in bed and quietly count gifts to ensure fairness and count blessings to remind myself of just how freaking lucky I am.
And I’ve done all of that, except the first. I’m marking the day.
It’ll be 6 years tomorrow. 6 whole years since we held her hands, kissed her face, and told her it was okay for her to go when absolutely none of us thought it was okay.
It will never be okay. If she had been 115 years old it would not have been okay.
So I’m marking the day because I have to. Because ignoring it doesn’t work. I’m marking it because a lot of wonderful and awful things have happened in this past year that she missed. Because Michigan footfall is fun to watch again. Because her grandkids are big, and fast-witted, and telling stories she’d love to hear, and challenging their mothers in ways we’d love to discuss with our mother. Because a man of limited vocabulary, humanity, foresight, Constitutional knowledge, historical perspective, restraint, respect for others, and glove size (which, in this case, is a euphemism for grasp on reality) wants to be President and I’d love to hear what she’d have to say about it. Because there is a new Harry Potter book and I almost didn’t read it because she would be so mad to have missed it. Because I’ve made some big, hairy decisions about my professional life, and broke my knee in a fluke slippery tomato accident, and am turning 40 next month, and I still need my mommy.
I’m marking it because it reminds me that all of it–all of this wild and magical and inexplicably terrible and brilliant life is infinitely better when shared with someone you love, who loves you, who loves even your harshest edges.
I’m marking it because I’m lucky to have had her love for almost 34 years. And because even though it was an awful day, it was a day with her and I didn’t get enough of them.
I had a mother who loved me. Yes, mothers are supposed to love their kids, but mine–she took that supposition to next level heights. I grew up with an unwavering sense that the ground was firm below me and that I was capable of reaching great heights. She was strong and soft, brilliant and silly, fierce and kind. Unapologetic and effusive in her love and belief in the potential of her daughters.
She told me I could be a doctor or a teacher or pilot. She told me I could write books or be an artist.
She told me I could be a mom or could be a lawyer. I became both.
She never told me I could be the leader of the free world. Not that I remember. But even if she had, I would not have believed her. This is a missive being thumb-typed as I listen to the Democratic National Convention so I don’t have time to cite the numerous studies that point to the importance of seeing is believing. But we all know it is.
Seeing is important.
You really have to see some things to believe. Gravity, God, Bigfoot, the tooth fairy…the list of big but largely invisible things people believe in is incredibly short. Lots of things are theoretically possible. But very few important things unseen are easy to believe.
A woman president was theoretically possible my whole 39 years and 9 months of life. Tonight the theorem is one important and penultimate step closer to proved.
When I heard the news of her official nomination driving home from work I started to cry. I felt like a door swung open and beyond it was everything. Every last bit of anything that was formerly impossible for me as a girl, for my girls in the future, was now every bit possible.
My girls’ lives will be different than mine. This was a door that could not be opened by the love of a mother. Not by the belief of a mother in the potential of her girls, but by the belief of many in the potential of women and of one woman in particular.
I’m with her for a lot of reasons, but tonight I’m simply relishing the breeze of that open door. And wishing my mother was here to feel it.
By bedtime tonight all was right in his world. He told me he loved me and wished my patellas to feel better soon. He chose one of his sisters to read his bedtime story, snuggled up with a dragon, a jaguar, and a pillow resembling his favorite food group: pizza, and he pronounced that the “next day is going to be hilarious.”
Time in his 4 year old brain exists pretty much solely on 3 planes. Last day, today, and next day. Past, present, future.
It’s beautiful and simple. He moves swiftly past the past and present, and focuses largely on next day which is great. Great because I am the best parent ever in next day.
Next day is where all of my best parenting intentions live.
Sometimes I live up to those intentions, and some days I don’t.
Last day he ran away from home for the first time. Planting himself under an old pine tree across our driveway, he declared that plot of half grass, half pine needle land his new home, and said that he would survive there own his own. He’d had enough of me and his demanding, tattling sisters. He had no use for my rules. Ones like “don’t run over your sister on your bike” and “bicycles are not weapons” and “don’t ride your bike with your finger in your nose.”
Eventually though, he had use for dinner and hugs, and he came home.
My best parenting intentions were fulfilled in this instance. I didn’t yell [this time] and freak out about his defiance–I let him run, let him figure it out on his own, and let him come home to a hug that said he’s always got a place in my arms no matter what.
Today though, I screwed up. Today was the day that his preschool class read the books they “wrote” to an audience of parents. That audience did not include his parents. We didn’t know it was happening today or forgot. The why doesn’t matter so much in last day or today. We simply weren’t there.
Tonight at dinner he told me that he “melted because [we] weren’t there.” I held his melty face in my hands and told him we made arrangements to be there tomorrow. We’d see him read his book tomorrow.
But “melting” was an insufficient description for him. He went on.
Mama, you know how da seats in da minivan are squishering seats? How you pull da button and da seat pushed down? Folded down? Dat’s how I was feeling in my inside brain. Folded down.
Ugh. Just ugh.
I’m going to fix this next day.
I’ll do my best. And I’ll know that if it isn’t completely fixed, I still have the next day to try again.
When my oldest daughter feeds her siblings or dolls, she extends the spoon toward the intended recipient and then opens her own mouth. It’s a reflex. She doesn’t even know that it’s happening. She models the expected behavior to the person/object being fed, the necessary first step to eat. It’s a sweet, unconscious reflection of her nurturing nature. It’s also a sweet reflection of her father.
I first noted this particular quirk when he would feed her as a baby. And then I noticed that his own mother did the same thing when she would feed our children. Sweet, sweet genetics. Learned behavior, perhaps, too–but if it weren’t for genetics the other two mini persons in our family would be opening their mouths when feeding others. And they don’t. I’ve checked.
There are other less, and some more, obvious traits that are traceable through the branches of our little tree. The shape of my middle daughter’s eyes, they are the exact same shape as my grandfather’s.
The way my son crinkles his nose when his smile passes the threshold between I’m happy and Holy shit, it’s amazing to be alive. I do the same, as did my mom.
It is incontrovertible evidence of the power of evolution and science. Evidence that we are each a unique compilation of the As and Gs, Cs and Ts of those who came before us. Evidence that there are some things we can’t fight.
My middle daughter’s Kindergarten class is headed to the Lincoln Park Zoo for a field trip tomorrow. She must’ve asked me about tomorrow’s weather 20 times tonight. I told her it would probably rain but not to worry, she’d still be going to the zoo.
She can’t wait for the zoo. She loves the zoo. She would spend every day at the zoo if she could. This zoo is her zoo. She knows every inch of it and has memorized the most inane of facts about its animals. Not simply species facts, but actual, individual animal facts. Family histories, favorite foods and preferred places to be scratched.
She can’t wait to demonstrate her expertise. And that desire, it’s genetic. Both her father and I are know-it-alls.
After I assured her that despite the forecast for rain she’d still be heading to the zoo, she shook her head and said, “That’s not the problem. I was really hoping for something I’ve wanted for a super long time.”
“What, then?” I asked.
“If it’s raining Caruso won’t be swinging outside and I was hoping that it would finally be nice enough weather for Caruso to…you know…do his thing.”
Then she burst out in giggles.
Caruso is a gibbon. A resident of the primate house who likes to swing inside the outdoor portion of his enclosure and piss on unwitting passersby.
It’s hilarious if you like that kind of thing. And in our family, whether due to nature or nurture, we do. Maybe we got it from that thirty-thousandth cousin a couple times removed we share with Caruso.
Here is video from Caruso’s birthday party last year. The dude is a legend.
This afternoon I slipped on a mayo-slicked slice of tomato. A remnant of an abandoned sandwich in the middle of the sidewalk downtown.
I fell hard.
I got up. I walked. Then stopped when I realized that I couldn’t really walk. Then a friend stood next to me while I oddly answered work emails instead of addressing the fact that I was on a busy sidewalk with an effed up leg and pants covered in old sandwich schmear.
Then he helped me get in a cab–which took forever because I couldn’t walk and was swinging between laughter and pain-induced tears faster than I usually say “no” to sandwiches.
I have always hated sandwiches. Clearly, with good reason.
I’ve had some time this afternoon to reflect. Time is a gift given to you in emergency rooms, if you’re lucky enough not to be mortally wounded.
Upon painful reflection, I have three main problems: (1) despite a recent change in job I am no less of a freak who hides from life in her work than I was 3 weeks ago; (2) my patella is cracked completely in half; and (3) I should really shave my legs more often.
Thank goodness I’ve got a bunch of ready and able pint-size nurses waiting on me tonight. The perfect solution for problem no. 1. The other two problems I leave to a higher power. Like an ortho surgeon who dabbles in laser hair removal.
We herded three kids under 8 off the C train at 81st and headed toward the museum. The line was around the block, hundreds of rain soaked tourists and Spring Breakers, like us, at a standstill. We couldn’t wait.
Our NYC day had been carefully planned. Natural History then lunch at Serendipity, followed by Battery Park and a cruise to Lady Liberty. Then back up to a Times Square much more kid-appropriate than the one of my youth, and dinner before crashing in a hotel room illuminated by the lights of Broadway. There was no room on the agenda for standing idle in the rain. No room at all.
Across the street Central Park beckoned. Not on the agenda, but it was a mere 2 mile stroller-less walk to Frrrozen Hot Chocolate bliss through the park. Why not?
We ran. Up and down rocks and trails and around the pond. We chased pigeons through puddles despite parental admonitions concerning wet socks and much more walking/running to come. We chased more pigeons and then had to stop.
The boy was sobbing. His feet were squishy, he was cold. His 4 year old face was covered in tears and rain and unsanitary park puddle water.
We stood him on a bench and removed his shoes, then peeled his socks from his feet. As we wrung out his–carefully chosen in homage to our first intended destination–dinosaur socks he was still crying and now yelling, “There’s no time to spare…no time to spare!”
Like an end-of-days evangelist shouting on a street corner, he was expressing exactly what I was feeling, there is absolutely no time to spare.
There was and is so much to do, and the most important of those things was precisely what we were doing. Not the pigeons and forced march through the rain, exactly, but the time spent with just the 5 of us. Time together not racing to or from activities or squeezed between work commitments. Real, uninterrupted, loud, messy, and sweet time. There is just so little, too little of that time.
We put the less-wet but still soggy socks back on his feet and headed off to pet horses waiting for carriage riders, chase more pigeons, climb more rocks, and continue on in our now less-scheduled day.
We hit some of our agenda but mostly we roamed. We clocked a ridiculous amount of steps and a glorious amount of time together. We laughed and hugged, and irritated city dwellers with our sidewalk stops to wonder at the sights around us. We took turns carrying exhausted kids on our backs, and my husband and I made a new plan.
Our new plan is to stop. Stop ourselves and each other in those moments of parental and professional overwhelming stress–those times when we can’t see the forest of our beautiful family and life together through the trees. We will stop and remember that there is no time to spare. At least we plan to try.
I texted the dog walker today to ask if he could take our pup home with him for a weekend over Spring break. He responded that my 8 year old daughter had already confirmed the arrangements…a month ago.
She is amazing. So on top of her world, and ours. So concerned about the order of things and the wellbeing of all those things and people. So believing in her own ability to make a difference and set things right.
Last night she asked that I make copies of a flyer she’s drafted. She wants people to know what they can do to protect giant (and red) pandas. She believes that people only need the right information to make the right choice.
Mama, if they know what to do then they will do it.
If only it was that simple.
I knew a month ago that I needed to find a home for the dog for the weekend. But it took me until now, the very last minute, to act.
She wants to talk about who’s running for President and she tells me about the things she hears on the news and on the playground. She’s heard things that scare her. She’s heard things that run contrary to all she’s been told about what’s right and how people, all people, should be treated.
I’m worried about her apparent belief that she needs to take care of things like the dog’s vacation accommodations. I’m worried that a part of her already understands that adults–including her father and me–don’t always take care of things, at least not with the urgency that she believes is needed. I’m worried about the possibility that we adults could elect a President who shits all over the values she holds. I’m worried that she’ll distribute her flyers only to learn that most people will not care about the pandas.
On the other hand, her trust that people will eventually do the right thing when provided the right information is evidence that all hope, all faith in the decency of people, is not lost.
And my eventual efforts to find a weekend home for the dog are a good sign too. I can tell her that I talked with the dog walker today and thank her for being so on top of it. I will assure her that we are on top of it all too and that she doesn’t need to worry. I will give her the copies I made of her flyer and she’ll have them to distribute tomorrow. And I will dish out some ice cream and we’ll dance to Miley Cyrus’s joyous ode to America, Party in the USA, because that’s the best way I know to ensure that the day ends on a high note.
I won’t be a chisel to the edifice of her faith in mankind…and her parents. At least not today.
The lifespan of genetically modified fluorescent fish (as reported by their evil genius creators) is about a year. Today, Bjorkland, Front End Loader II, and Glow-ey left this mortal world, defying the odds and living well beyond what was expected.
They left together, like those stories of sweet old couples who take their last breaths within minutes of each other, except they were a threesome.
Rest in GMO day-glow polyamorous peace you much-loved weirdos.
Thankfully, the kids all seem okay. Just a few minutes of circle of life talk followed by the almost 8 year old fact-checking my lifespan claims via Google, and they were off and interested in other things. Mostly though I suspect that they think the loss of the fish paves the way for a pet caracal. Dream on, my sweet little wannabe zookeepers. Dream on.