Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

When your male children grow old enough, it becomes apparent that they do not understand you. The fact of their gender finally trumps the connection - intense, near reverent - forged in utero. Oh, but they are fond of you, and take care with you, as if you might break. (You might.) They show affection even as they cock their heads to one side, uncomprehending. What they do when they are alone, you imagine, is shrug and allow thin plumes of exasperation to rise up - but never in front of you. You are honored, and will continue to be so honored, simply by having substantiated them. They will not forget that you conveyed them here, even if they forget everything else.

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At Christmas I carry my ghosts, my mother on one side, my grandmothers on the other. From my ordinary family life I am removed, preoccupied with the comfort and care of these people who are not able to be there. I do all that is expected of me, but if you were to take my photograph during the holidays you'd find me pale and blurry, not quite present. I do not think that my sons or husband notice my half-absence. That is for the best.

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I seek out video footage of the city I lived in for the length of my childhood as if I might find myself in it. As if in a crowd of people walking up Madison Avenue I might spy my mother, Audrey Hepburn lookalike, walking with a little blonde slip of a thing fighting to keep the pace. (Children had to accommodate their parents then. Parents did not accommodate their children.) Perhaps my grandmother would have joined us, her red lipstick vivid, her hair done up in a chignon. Elegantly dressed but never dismayed by a child's grubby fingers tugging at her sleeve.

Sometimes I wonder how we go on. I mean this not in a trivial way - of course we go on, one foot in front of the other, all that. More how we lose these people so important that they might well be appendages and then still manage to be fine, better than fine, even, for more years than the years we spent with them.

I do it by imagining that I have lived not one but two lives. There was a life then, there is a life now, and there is only the faintest overlap between the two. The overlap is greatest at Christmas. 

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With ferocity I love my children, even if they don't know half of me or the people who made me. Love is elastic and manages to cover over the gaps and crevices pretty well, I think. When my children look at me across the Christmas table this year, they will find neither my mother nor my grandmothers. But somehow I am certain that those three women will peek around me to see these grown/almost grown boys, and love not the descendants they imagined they'd have but the descendants slouching in their chairs, refusing most of this food -- love them and me as we are, all these years later.


2 comments:

ozma said...

i don't think children ever fully see their parents as people--my daughter, for example, is like a scary replica of my psyche. I'm not happy with this and never wanted it but--she still doesn't get me...she doesn't see me for me...I think it is necessary to develop an independent identity. But strange for a parent watching your kid whom you have the deepest possible connection to really not realize what this connection amounts to in the end. And then they may, which is not even preferable because you want them to feel apart from you in the end.

Parenting is weird for sure.

Veronica said...

It's a puzzle to me, really, the mystery of connections forged, stretched, broken, missing. I am so close to my children and feel my daughter in particular really sees me. But I have no expectation of the future together. I imagine my children getting swept up in their own lives and leaving my husband and me mostly behind. I expect this even though we have always had a close and "cozy" relationship, even though both my son and my daughter are warm and affectionate and express the importance we have in their lives, even though my son has my name and my husband's tattooed on his arm. Maybe it's easier to expect they will be doing their own things and check in with me sporadically and visit once a year. Maybe that's a defense mechanism on my part. Or maybe it's my wish for them to fly free without me, so they won't feel as burdened when our health inevitably fails, so I won't feel guilty when I can no longer be a parent.