Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Three Sizes Too Big

Hawks have nested in our trees, and each morning when I sit out with my coffee on our deck I hear their insistent screeching. I gather that I am supposed to find these birds of prey majestic, broad of wing, cutting clean, graceful swaths through the hot July sky, but I do not. I find them ugly, heads too small for their bodies, and they always seem to be fighting with each other, for dominance, I presume.

And this, their real offense: killing all the pretty songbirds who used to visit us until I begged my husband to stop refilling their feeders, because we were only accelerating the killing time of the rapacious hawks. He gave me a look (he often does), as if to remind me that nature was never once kind, that the ecosystem abides by the law of big preying on small, which I know (I am not stupid). My heart, however, is stupid.

"Have you found dead birds?" I asked him the other week.

"Oh, yes," he returned, rather too cheerfully for my taste. "One every other day or so."


I have been most consistent in my life about rooting for the underdog. Even as a very small child my brain would undergo contortions so as not to leave anyone or anything out. I rotated through my dolls so that none would go unnoticed. I ate everything on my plate so that no food group would feel left out. My mother derived great mirth for years over my worrying about the peas on my plate. "No pea left behind!" she'd chortle, and when she did I'd wince, and remember anew that her heart, while adequately serving its purpose of beating her through life, had not grown three sizes that day, or any day. Which was not a bad thing, to my mind: I would have preferred to possess a more regular heart.

I used to wonder if my sensitivity to tiny details would preclude focus on what really mattered, but now I do not. As it turns out, there's room enough to care about everything.

Times like these cause me real pain. This summer has been an awful one, the ascent of Trump beyond all reason, the racism in my country that has heated up along with the weather to a fine, sharp point, the needless deaths of black men and police officers (all races) alike. I feel powerless to fix what's wrong; I'm not even sure where we'd start.

Hell, I can't even fix what's wrong in my own back yard. I'd banish the hawks if I could. There's a hornets' nest growing under one eave of our garage. Some local beekeepers will remove it, but only when the nest has grown large enough (volleyball-sized) to allow them to take useful numbers of hornets. Each day I check the size of the nest, and frown. It is still baseball-sized. My husband has been stung once: will my children be stung? 

I sip my coffee, listen to the whine of the hawks, glance over at the empty birdfeeders, no nuthatches or cardinals in sight, and not for the first time I curse my stupid heart.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Late July Haiku

On breezes sheets sail
Bound for the crescent moon, bound
By their clothespin jail.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Packing List

I stare at the list, which is absurdly long. I did not bring half of these items when I started college. Is the list ridiculous, or sensible? I don't know the right person to ask, and anyway, I would feel embarrassed requesting assistance in figuring out something so trivial. I have worried the page by creasing it back and forth: folding it down, unfolding it, folding it down again.

All I know is that I do not want to do this. By this I mean think about what to buy and how to help my son pack for college. Or maybe I mean let my son go. I liked how things were at our house. I enjoyed parenting two teenagers. I know!


I've been thinking about what makes a good life. Is it doing no harm, or it is more than that? Is it sharing the best part of yourself with other people so that you can leave the world a bit better than it was when you arrived on the scene? With the graduation of my older child from high school has come, daily, the panicky breathless feeling that accompanies your stomach dropping out when you are surprised by a quick descent on a roller coaster, or on a plane. The loss of an identity that has shouldered the past eighteen years. (Yes, I know I have another child. Truly, I have not forgotten him.)

Perhaps more than others I have needed this identity, because for the longest time my life's ambition was to reverse my own childhood, to make it right, as it were, by showing myself that despite not being properly parented I could be a proper parent. Despite.

Being faced with the slow leak of the role that may have saved my life has left me unmoored, at the very least, and, yes, sad. No matter how much I want my son to fly away on sure and steady wings, I cannot deny this profound sadness its space. Nor can I deny the insistent whisper at my ear: "What next?"


The anxiety around the packing list is only a mask for the real question, that "What next?" My son will start college, and if we have forgotten something, I'm quite sure that he will let us know. As we live two or three miles from his freshman dorm, it will be no hardship to get him whatever we missed on move-in day.

But still I sit, folding this paper, making it smaller and smaller, willing it to disappear.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


The ballerina in the music box
Was never graceful; she twirled
In jerks, like the hands of a clock
Threatening to run late, until that
Last mad dash to timeliness.

She was homely, too: Red paint
Missing the mark of her lips, she
Looked the old woman persisting
In applying makeup once blind, when
Effect comes round to thwart intent.

Anyway the music sounded tinny
To my ear, immature as it was,
And not at all my favorite piece -
Russian-balletic, flirting with death,
Too conscious of itself by half.

The mirror glued crookedly
Onto gum pink crushed velvet - 
(Which should have been maroon) -
Served no one, not even the
Ballerina, reflected off-kilter.

I was meant to feel renewed surprise,
I gathered, when opening up the box. 
Instead I felt crushed as the velvet.
The plastic dancer's life was more, 
Not less, tragic when my godlike hand
Drew back the curtains to reveal it.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

What a Neighborhood Knows

When you walk twice a day taking more or less the same route for six months and through two seasons, you notice a lot. You notice the new coat of paint on a garage door. You notice the deepening greens of the foliage, and of course you notice the spring and summer flowers. You notice the children, and which houses they belong to, or more properly which houses belong to them. You notice the two older men, neighbors who are also pals. They meet every day between three and four o'clock to stroll and update each other on the news, which there's never much of. (They talk a lot about the state of their yards.) You notice the runners, each one with a distinctive gait and speed. You notice the indoor pets gazing longingly out of windows.

Certain folks smile at you, and sometimes say hello. Others do not - no matter. A few people, a very few, eye you with suspicion, and each time you are surprised to encounter an outlook on life that is so defensive; then you think to wonder what unpleasant life circumstances led them to such defensiveness, and in the wondering you gain compassion.

On one humid evening in June you are walking when a gaggle of teenage girls bursts out of the exit to the community pool and half-walks, half-runs to the house of one girl you peg as the birthday girl. The next morning, when you are walking in the other direction, two or three of the same girls are being picked up by their parents, and you see that your guess was an accurate one: slumber party. Do they still call it that? "No Cheetos in the back seat; you will RUIN my car," implores a mom.

For a person who loves other people's tales, walking in a neighborhood is quietly fulfilling. Stories float down the stairs of all the houses and escape through windows or doors. They very nearly introduce themselves in their eagerness to be known.


I am glad that the landscape changes incrementally day by day on my route. Otherwise I might grow bored of the circuit I walk. But yesterday, a little boy of no more than four years old beamed at me and thrust toward me his new toy, a water gun. He waited until I complimented the toy, and once I did he looked so proud. And a week or two ago, an elderly woman using a walker was approaching me ever so slowly when she stopped, waved her arm high, and cried, "Keep it up!" I wasn't entirely sure whether she was talking to me or to herself, but I smiled and waved back. I will keep it up, I will.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

In the Middle of June

Funny, I did not cry. All week I had fought off tears, but when the time came for my son to graduate from high school, I watched the ceremony with dry eyes and a calm countenance. As in so many other areas of my life, I did my most emotional work in anticipation of the day.

And now here we are on the other side of graduation, and life is more or less normal. There is an eighteen-year-old staying up too late, sleeping too late, eating at very odd hours, playing video games, and halfheartedly looking for a summer job.

There is also a younger boy whose interests and concerns I have neglected lately. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, he has thrived this year. High school agrees with him.

My work is finished until the fall. The long summer days stretch before me with little caretaking to do on behalf of my children.

And so I will spend the time taking care of myself. To my ear that sounds indulgent, but why should it sound so?

Maybe I will write here. Maybe I will not. I will walk, read, write, garden, walk, read, write, garden, walk, and only later in the summer remember that the first day of college for the high school graduate is on August 17th.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Your Orlando, My Orlando

There was a halcyon time, last week in fact, when I thought my role as a parent was perhaps not ending but certainly shrinking. Then yesterday a 29-year-old, still a boy from my perspective, killed fifty people in Orlando for no accountable reason. Well, he had his reasons, incomprehensible as they may be to me.

And I started thinking about all these men - boys - in their twenties who start out disaffected and then, with a timely injection of hate from some powerful and nefarious source, be it ISIS or another organization, their alienation turns bitter and hard and finally morphs into something unrecognizable, something evil.

Did the Orlando shooter's mother recognize her son in the year leading up to yesterday?

I shouldn't have to tell you that I am not Adam Lanza's mother. But was Adam Lanza at the time of Sandy Hook recognizably Adam Lanza? When his mother closed her eyes at night, was it her boy at six, ten, or sixteen years old she imagined?


No, I will be checking in frequently with my boys when they are twenty-somethings. Orlando has me feeling as if I ought to toss out my fear of being a helicopter parent and err if anything on the overbearing side. I want to know whether my sons have friends, whether they go out at night, whether they are busy and happy in their work, whether they have girlfriends (or boyfriends!), and if so whether they treat their partners with respect and love.

I want to know that they do not stare with vacant eyes, that they do not develop a fascination with and inclination to buy weapons, that they do not start to insult minorities of any stripe.

But in this I will need help from all of you: in today's world, in this crazy country where assault weapons are as easy to come by as candy, you too will need to watch over my children and let someone, anyone, know if there is something wrong. Until and unless legislators come to their senses, it will take all of us to ensure that we do not allow another at-risk young man to duck out of our circle. It will take that village politicians love to bring up in order to score points. But once there were such villages. They are not theoretical; at least they do not have to be so.

I still believe in the notion of a village. I saw a village yesterday when I watched images on the television of seemingly half of the city of Orlando lined up on sidewalks to donate blood to critically ill survivors of the shooting. I saw a village in the tears spilling down Lin-Manuel Miranda's face as he cried, "Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love... cannot be killed or swept aside."

Of course fight first for gun control. Yet as you do that remember to embrace the most vulnerable among us - boys in their twenties, whom the older folks among us know to be not-men, not quite - with the love Miranda reminded us to revere.

Because no, I am not Adam Lanza's mother. I do not want to be her. God help me if I become her. God help us all.