Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Pirouetting

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.


Friday, June 3, 2016

Graduation, Commencement

Here's what I know: That this time, with my son graduating from high school in a week, feels like an ending. That I am reflecting on what as a parent I did well, and what I could have done better. On things I wish I had told him, but the moment has passed, and on things I want to tell him, but the moment is not yet right, and may never be. I am revisiting old report cards and other school documents that have been released to him, and thus to me, because he doesn't want them, and is not even remotely interested in looking back.

Here's what I know: That he is not even remotely interested in looking back. And why should he be, why would he be? The desire to look back, to reflect, to make sense of accumulated experience, that comes later in life.

+++++++++++++++++++++

On the same day yearbooks were distributed, he lost his. He has since found it, but only at my prodding. He does not care about yearbooks or mementos or tassels turned to the right or the left.

Ceremonies are always more for the audience than for the participants, aren't they?

While I view graduation as an ending, a time to revisit his childhood as a way of understanding it -- and my part in it -- he views it as a beginning, the unlocking of a door to the rest of his life. I see graduation, he sees commencement: the start. The start of adulthood.

Both perspectives are valid, of course, but how little they overlap.

I feel sadness, nostalgia, pride.

He feels excitement, anticipation, fear.

Between us we are covering the entirety of the emotional spectrum.

+++++++++++++++++++++

"Does it really go that fast?" asked the parent of a first grader, after I told her that my son's last day of high school was today. "Yes," I replied, and smiled. With her fingers she mimicked the course of tears running down her face, and then she looked meaningfully at her first grader, and at his younger brother, visiting his older brother at school so that the two might eat lunch together.

I realized then that I have crossed a line and become a caricature, the older woman in the supermarket who taps young mothers on their shoulders with no purpose other than to inform them of how quickly it all goes. I used to think that people who did that were somehow judging me, or my parenting, as one or the other of my (then little) boys was squirming in the shopping cart, whining, or worse, throwing a full-fledged tantrum.

But now I believe that these strangers were just remembering their own days raising children, and wishing to have back some of those odd days that taken one at a time seemed to last years but taken together lasted mere minutes. These strangers, they were not in fact talking to young mothers in the supermarket but rather to themselves.

As I will now do, as I must: the circle of life, and all that. As my son will do what he must, because he has arrived at the beginning of that part of his life where he gets to (or has to) choose nearly everything for himself. It is not unlike the moment when you are jogging alongside your small child as he pedals awkwardly on his brand-new bike. You've got one of your hands as a support on the seat of the bike, but then you and he, you make an unspoken decision that he is ready, and you raise up your hand. Both of you are equal parts surprised and giddy to see that he continues on, wobbly but less so by the second, and then his back is to you, and he is going, going, gone.

If you're lucky enough to have remembered the camera, you take a picture, and that picture never fails to make you smile at the memory. It is only much later that you realize, with some bemusement and more pride, that after you removed your hand he never checked to see whether you stayed there, watching him, waiting for him.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Ocean Blue

"Ocean blue," he said, with a note of hesitation. Was it because he couldn't quite remember what she had told him, or because he was imagining, as he spoke, the color ocean blue might be?

I swallowed, and felt foolish, as I do so often lately, to discover the thick rise of tears.

Tomorrow he will attend his first and last prom. He will take a girl wearing ocean blue. I think that I would have liked to have a daughter so that we might together find a dress that recalled the ocean. But then the ocean can be so many shades of blue. Perhaps the dress is iridescent, not one blue nor another but all the blues at once.

+++++++++++++++++++++

Today he carried home a little package containing his cap and gown. We hung it up. I calculated: a month and a handful of days until he wears it.

And yesterday. Yesterday he was a little boy drawing a boat, a boat trailed by an improbably large anchor and an active smokestack. That drawing he composed in crayon. It is framed simply, in lucite, and lives on a bathroom wall. I see it every day, and yet: how long has it been since I really looked at it?

As I study it now, I see that the boat rests somewhat awkwardly on, not in, the ocean. Its hull teeters on top of the water. Oh, but the artist was all of four years old, his imagination not yet constrained by the laws of physics.

The water, though, that water. There is no doubt. What else could it be but ocean blue?


Sunday, April 3, 2016

All The Months Have 28 Days

When I planned for this, well
This wasn't what I planned for.
It was that, or maybe even
Something else entirely.

However oddly it's come out,
The dailiness of life prevails.
Funny, for such seeming triviality
To rule a life, if always kindly.

Hundreds of months gone by
Marked by little more than
The tearing of a page, and coffee.
Absent pomp, if not circumstance.

The dry, colorless grass
Becomes a green so bright
It stains everything in sight.
It's very nearly gaudy.

Can it really be spring again?
(What of last year, what to say?)
I grow tired of the very thing
That is supposed to wake me up.

Let me then go away, far.
Where the faces are bold.
Like Picassos, noses
Where ears should go.

Let me brush by the strange
And embrace it, heedless 
Of germs, bombs, and warfare.
Let me go there. Let me go.