Refeathering

Sunday, November 11, 2018

I was laying in the bath this afternoon. It is one of my weekend treats - baths in the afternoon, soaking in epsom salt and french lavender oil. The decadence of it - the time it takes to draw a just right bath, then submerge the whole of my body down into it. I have no where to be and so I move slowly in my domain.

The windows in my bedroom are wide open so I can hear the geese calling as they depart for the winter.

At 48, I am perpetually hot. Thus, my windows stay open for the winter, leading my family to declare my room the Arctic. I glance up when they say this, in my tiny camisole and yoga shorts. I am not hot at all. The fan above my bed sees constant use.

With Emily away at college, the house is deeply quiet. While others may be rattled at this sort of lack of movement, I am not. I relish it. I've said before that I should have been a hermit, and I still think this is true. Terrance and I have returned to moving slightly closer in each others orbit but there remain wide swaths of space between us. Not angry space, just space. We are the moon and the earth, attracting and repelling one another in turn. As such, the integrity of our planets stays intact.

Emily declared, upon her return for the summer in May, that we are more "couple like" and I think that is true. Without the perpetual tsunami of parenting her, we have been able to unearth long buried facets of our relationship - things I wasn't sure remained under the detritus of time and parenthood.

We love our daughter - this fierce, fragile soul that came from us - but she exhausted us, both  individually and as a couple. I do not know how people parent more than one child, because the cost to us was massive.  I do not speak in financial terms, but on the cellular level. The level on which you feel you have been broken, cracked open and your marrow laid bare.

Motherhood did that to me. Speaking as a person who hates showing her vulnerability, motherhood felt like exposure more so than marriage ( which was it's own raw fragility for me). This exasperating human I created demanded all of my energy, all of my attention, while having the boldness to walk around daring to be hurt.  On which front do you fight?

As we watch her navigate, at a distance, the stuff of life, I relish my space from it while delighting in her triumphs.

My occasionally empty nest has afforded me the opportunity to re-grow my own plumage. 

Test Flight

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


I wrote this on August 14th. She is home now, having survived and begun to thrive during her first semester at college. Her grades are good and she likes her 2nd roommate (that is a tale for later...)

Her return is shocking - the hurricane strength of her Self on the household, a household that had grown peaceful, tidy and orderly is blown back apart again.  As she has done from the moment she arrived on earth.


*****************************************************************

So. Here we are.  The day before I fly my kid to college.

That kid I started writing about in 2006? Yeah. That's the one.

5 year old Emily and shockingly young mother















She's going to college in a place that is a plane ride away from me.  As such, my apocryphal dreams have kicked into super high gear with dreams so bizarre and so stress inducing that I wake after 3 or 4 hours of miserable sleep sweaty and disoriented.

Dreams of:

Being dropped into the ocean inside a suitcase, then having to pretend I am a dead body?    Check

Getting stuck in line in a Kmart, hedged in by dude bros who make me late to pick up my brother AND sneak something in my cart that I don't want to pay for so I end up leaving everything that I shopped for behind in order to find my - now lost- brother?      Check

Being forced to take a bus to a conference only to realize that I left my luggage behind and now have to give a professional talk in a terrible outfit THEN being made to wait an hour to check into a hotel by the staff who have all decided to go on break and are staring at me...then when one DOES help me, he forces me to watch a slide show on STD's before he will tell me which room is mine THEN having to walk a gauntlet of teens who mock my hair and makeup?

Abso-fucking-lutely.

Over and Over, every night for a week.

Emily never actually appears in these dreams, but they are all about her, of course.

 &&&

Motherhood wasn't easy for me. I thought it would be - I honestly did.

(I'll give you all a minute to laugh and then shake your head in amusement - poor sweet child, think you.)

There are a multitude of reasons that I have one child - but the main one was that one child almost broke me.  The having to split your consciousness so that you are tending to the child and attempting ( usually poorly) to set boundaries for yourself so you don't end up a Stepford Mom who only lives for your kid?

And I'm not talking about the external pressure that you internalize about what a good mom is and isn't - I mean the internal survival stuff.  The realization that your partner, while well meaning, has not given half of his brain in service to this mass of flesh and feelings and needs in front of you...and that half of your brain given over to someone else is sometimes TOO much.

I have often said that it was the constantness of parenthood that ate me up.

And now the prospect of that constantness is in retreat. I am overjoyed. I am terrified.

It feels like a trap.

Inside Dawn's brain









So while I will kind of miss someone dabbing at me every time I look at them and yelling "BABASHOOK!!!" at 80% of my questions, I also see a glimmer of getting a full brain almost back - even as I know that it was the Faustian bargain I made when I said "Hey let's have a baby".

I will, however,  enjoy the hell out of a dry bathroom floor and non-sodden towels.


&&&

The feeling is similar to watching her learn to ride a bike. 

You knew she was going to fall. You had her padded as well as you could, and you were close by to brush her off and insist she get back on the damn bike and do it again

You don't want her to hurt. You know she has to get hurt and then you force her to stand up to get hurt again....until she doesn't.

You hope you have given her all the tools to figure it out and brush herself off. Roots and Wings, right?

She has not watched the news from Charlottesville because it feels too dangerous for her. Too big, too scary. Her nest, where her father would punch the shit out a Nazi and her mother would click behind in a terrifying outfit to issue strongly worded demands in clipped language meant to cudgel, is being left behind.

Not forever, just out for some test flights, but still. Soon.

&&&

"What are you afraid of?", Terrance asks me.

Everything. 

Neo-Nazis targeting her, her first love and first heartbreak, her first not good grade, whether she and her room mate will like each other, the first time she is sick and away from me, drugs, sexual assault on campus, her mental health, my mental health, paying for all of this, him up and randomly dying leaving me alone to manage all of this, a plane crash to or from the college - Jesus, the list is endless.  

It all sits in a hollow space under my heart, towards the back of my rib cage. 

I do not show her this. I am funny and upbeat, telling her how much she is going to love it all - how much I loved it all.  We launch them into the world with smiles, knowing that the person who comes back will be changed. 


Helicopter? More like laser guided bunker buster.

Thursday, June 08, 2017


I've become that mom, ya'll. The one who calls people and demands things.

Well, I mean I was always kind of that mom but my justification was that she was still in K-12! She needed me! I had an obligation!

This all started over a month ago. Em - now a high school graduate - got her orientation notice from her selected school. The selected school wasn't MY first choice because I am all snobby about my own alma mater and how superior it is to all other schools and why didn't she want to go to UVM when she was accepted there???

Ahem.

So she selected a different school and I had to let it go since these are her decisions and my job is to empower my fledgling adult.
The fledgling adult




















Fair enough.

So we get this postcard about orientation and we say, collectively, "We are not flying you out East for a one day orientation since we are about to plumb new depths of household poverty starting July 1."

I ask her to call the First Year programs people, who shuttle her over to Advising who gives her the most convoluted run around I have ever had the displeasure of listening to second hand.  As it was May, she couldn't make an appt to speak with an advisor because she had to wait until June. Once June came she *could* try to make an appt but it was doubtful since all the advisors were working with the orientation groups.

Through that conversation I glared at Terrance who kept saying "What? Why are you looking at me like that?" in a nervous way.

I held my tongue. I did not intervene, although I immediately knew that this was bullshit and if my kid didn't register she would have Zero classes come whenever the advising office got around to calling the "didn't come to campus for orientation" students.

I waited until June. I asked if she'd heard from anyone. Nope. They sent her an email with the helpful (not) instructions to attempt to schedule an appt with an advisor.

This morning, we sat down and tried to schedule the appt. To the surprise of no one, there were no appt's THROUGH JULY 28TH.

Through the attempt at scheduling, I continued to glare at Terrance who, once again, repeated "What? Why are you looking at me like that?" in a nervous way.

My nostrils flared. "That's it. I'm calling the advising center myself", I declared.

Emily got off the bed and perched on a chair across the room. Terrance simply exited to the downstairs.


The advising center staff attempted to give me the "You have to schedule an appt. and yes, they are all busy with orientation so you'll have to wait..." spiel.

"So, what you are saying is that because she is not on campus to attend orientation, she will have to wait until August to register because no one plans on students not attending this not mandatory orientation? What you are telling me is that a student who is local is privileged over a student who CAN NOT FLY THERE to attend your one day orientation and no one has made a contingency plan for this?"

The advising center person cared not one iota. "No one has ever brought this up before", she lied directly to my face.  "I suppose you could talk to the Dean's office."


Ya'll recall the moment in the movie 300 when the Spartans laugh and go kill 4 million more people before their own deaths? Yeah. Punting me to the dean's office felt exactly like that.  

"Oh. Yes. Transfer me to the Dean's office." 

Emily shifted nervously in the chair across the room. 

The Dean's admin assistant was calm and collected. She handles a million parents.  She listened to my question and said "Oh, let me transfer you to the Advising center."

"Wait." I said, firmly. "They just transferred me to you because they claimed that no one in the history of orientation has ever expressed a concern about their child's inability to register and that we would have to wait until August to get an appt with an advisor. I do not think transferring me back to them would be helpful."

It had to be something about my tone that shook little alarm bells. Not even a raised voice, but a subtle rattle of danger alerted her to the fact that I had the potential to unleash a minor Kracken. 

"Just a minute...."

And just like that I got the Dean's academic coordinator who assured me that the Head of Advising would call my kid tomorrow to help her pick out classes.

He was cool, he was funny and he handled me beautifully. As we were ending our conversation, I confessed "I've become that mother. I'm sorry. I should know better, I'm a professor at UWL..."

He laughed and reassured me that it was all right, he understood. 

Em came over and hugged me. "I'm sorry", I said, "sometimes I can't help myself. My instinct to fight for you is deeply ingrained and I have to remember to let you do this for yourself."

Later Terrance ( gently) chides me, reminding me that she has to solve this stuff and I agree. 

Some parents do these things because they believe that their child is a special snowflake and all should recognize their genius. Some do these things because they, themselves, are bullies. In my case, it is a deeply ingrained habit of having to fight for her right to have educational opportunities with every IEP renewal, every honors or AP class.  

It is hard to shed that role, although I acknowledge that I must.




The real reason

Sunday, March 05, 2017


Em: "Hey Mom! You've got like three episodes of Walking Dead on your DVR!"

Me: "Yeah. I can't bear to watch it right now."

Em: "Why not? You love Walking Dead."

Me: "Because if I want to see a sadistic manipulative bastard ruin the lives of everyone around them I can turn on the news and see what is coming out of the White House.  I don't need pretend. It is happening."

That, my friends, is the reason I no longer watch The Walking Dead.


Mel ankh o lee

Saturday, February 18, 2017

My rabbit died Wednesday night.

I held Jackson, first as I tried to warm him and syringe feed him, and later as he had seizures that left him gasping for air in between. His death was far more gentle than that of Coco who fought until the end. He just...stopped. As my last living tie to Montreal, I mourn him deeply.

Jackson did not love me, or rather his love came only within the last six months of his life. He loved Coco, his bonded partner, and he tolerated the humans. He was depressed after her death and I worked hard to gain any semblance of acknowledgement in the months and years after. He ignored me. He turned his back and fled. He hid. I'm persistent if nothing else and I kept at it, luring him out for treats...which he would take and then hide under the bed.

Over the last six months, however, he became a different rabbit. He would greet me as I woke, demanding copious nose rubs before his breakfast. His demands for affection became so great that Mischa, the cat, would run over to insert himself in between us fearing that I liked Jackson more than him.

I've often described myself to my students as a "small annoying stream that will wear you down until I reshape you". I feel that this was my approach with Jackson. After 7 years of living with me, he finally liked me.

***

In January I broke my finger. Like every accident of it's kind it was stupid and fast and happened when I was thinking about something else - getting to the grocery store to buy salad for Jackson, actually. I was leaving the dentist's office on one of the only snowy days of this winter. I was thinking about all the things I needed to do and tromped to the back of the SUV to get the windshield scraper. With the scraper retrieved  I stood on the side of the vehicle and reached up with both hands to close the back.

The finger was done for as the metal came down. My first thought, after "holy fuck", was that I'd taken the tip clean off, but as my hand was still in my glove  I considered whether to take out the hand to look OR try to clean off the car so I could drive myself to the hospital. That amount of pain indicated hospital. I couldn't walk what ever was or was not  in the glove off.

We Yankee ladies are nothing if not pretty fucking tough.

In the end, I figured that I needed to assess the damage and pulled my hand out of my glove. As I glimpsed the bone I shoved my hand in the snowbank in order to consider what to do.  I sat for a few minutes and decided to keep the hand raised high to minimize blood loss and try to get the windshield clear so I could drive. That lasted until I realized that I was bleeding *far* more than I'd anticipated and I couldn't quite remember where the emergency room was located. This precipitated the decision to wander BACK into the dentist's office to ask for gauze.

GAUZE. Why gauze? I have no idea.

I got to the desk and kept my hand well out of sight because it was a bloody gross mess and why worry others, right? I leaned in and said in the calmest voice, borne from years of working with small children and not wanting to freak people out: "Excuse me, do you have any gauze? I may have taken off the tip of my finger."

Those, my friends, are words of magic. Dental folks poured from all corners of the office. I was sat down - which was good because I was perilously close to passing out - and they did an elaborate pressure bandage.  My phone was retrieved and I hilariously realized that the print from the now partial mangled finger was the one that opened the phone.

Super long story short? Open fracture on the distal tip of my index right finger. The one you use for EVERYTHING. Not only did I break the bone in half? I crushed the entire top part of the bone.  Six weeks later and the finger does a funny, but horrifying, wiggle when I manipulate it. It will, it seems, take four months to heal.


***


Emily is hearing from colleges. She is 2/2 at the moment, with eight more to come.  My votes are for her to go home to Vermont as I know she will be safe(r) from emboldened racist homophobes. Maybe not entirely, but far more than here in the MidWest.

I am coming to terms with my 1) Joy,  2) angst, 3) worry, and more 4)joy at the idea of her launching into the world.  Motherhood has been hard and while I love her fiercely, I am not built for this.

Watching her struggle through changing friendships as she metamorphoses into an adult this past year has been brutal.  I crave silence and the lack of the percussive rounds of her emotions.  I keep telling her that her people are out there and that she will find them - as I did,  and as so many of my friends have done. But fuck me, is it ever brutal. I'd happily break a finger every 4 months if I could ease this for her. 



***


It is February and like every other February before it, I am melancholy.








Yep, we were there

Monday, January 23, 2017

Still I'll rise

Friday, November 11, 2016


I don't really have much to say about the election that hasn't been said by people more eloquent than I.

In our home, we have had to comfort our child. An openly gay black young woman who sobbed in my arms at 1 a.m. on November 9th. "Half of the country hates me", she whispered.


Later when Terrance and I talked about this, he gently soothes my outrage. He reminds me that I have the outrage of a liberal white lady who has been raised to believe that things will fall on the side of the good and just and kind.  He, as a black man in America, knows this to be not true. Bad shit happens. All the time. Racism abounds.

America has always been aspirational. From our founding documents forward, we've talked a good game. Hell, a GREAT game. Rarely, however, have our words matched our deeds. We talk about equal rights, while denying them to many citizens. We talk about freedom and safety and deny that to many of our citizens. We demand the BEST but we slide the cheap stuff across the counter.

As the adults in our dual racial family, we have done our best to hide the ugly from our child. We have taught her that kindness is better than cruelty. We have taught her that she is beloved and worthwhile. We have taught her the aspirational parts of what makes America unique; that she can be free to marry whom she loves, that she can be free from being sexually or racially discriminated against, that she is free to be who she wants to be.

Terrance says to me,  "It hurts her so much because she now knows we lied to her." My tears return anew.

The election has forced me to admit that I have lied to my child about America.

*

On Wednesday, I tell my students what my crying daughter said to me: "Half of America hates me."

I tell them this because I know some of them voted Republican. I tell them because they need to see that their decisions impact people they know, that it isn't some random "other" living in the far away - that it is THEIR teacher's child. It is my family who is affected when something like "Go Home Ni**ers" is scrawled on the door of 4 students of color.

It is my child who thinks about her civil rights being removed, including her right to marry. It is my child who will endure unwelcome sexual comments or actions, spurred on by a President elect who openly suggest that we grab women by the pussy.

It is my child who will endure racial hatred emboldened by a President elect who is openly endorsed by the KKK.

I suspect I will get some negative comments on my evaluations, but I don't care.

*

Last night, as I was holding my child again, soothing her I quoted Maya Angelou:

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you? 

Why are you beset with gloom? 
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken? 

Bowed head and lowered eyes? 
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you? 

Don't you take it awful hard'
Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you? 

Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs? 

Out of the huts of history's shame

I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise. 
 
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