Thursday, March 29, 2007

Listen for Life's Whispers

A week ago, the whispers of grievances cascaded around me, heaping both pain and joy. Walking through the week felt like the slush on a cold rainy March day: pleasurable only because my warm boots kept me dry. My co-workers were caught up in the drama, my boss pleased and reassuring. All in all, I'd rather it were June.

A man I have never met sits across from me at coffee, his eyes welling-up as he describes his back yard. He tore out buckthorn by the bushel, and replaced it with yellow ladies' slippers, native sedges of red and green, queen anne's lace and spring beauties. He and his ex-wife have struggled to keep that yard for their boys through the pain and economic strain of their divorce. In my head I see my parents' house of my childhood. A carpet of trillium spread between our garage and my grandparents' cottage: may apples, jacks in the pulpit, skunk cabbage, violets, false solomon's seal, anemones and mosses. We ran through this fiesta each day, our yard five acres of hardwood forest.

My father, overjoyed at his first walk from his new apartment to town, describes his sudden desire to learn to throw a pot, and wants to make a mug for each of his children in time for Christmas. "Ceramics are forever," he says, and his laughter turns to soft sobs. "This is a good place to spend my last . . . the end of my life," he says as he lays his head on the table.

I am trying to let go enough to let him hear his own whispers, trying not to drown out his voice with my own advice and reassurances

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Big Kid Underwear

Well, we are in day three of big kid underwear. While we were getting dressed Monday, Ben took a good hard look at me, and pointing to my crotch said, "Momma, you pee?"

I explained that, yes, I pee there. "You got a penis?" he asked, hands on his hips.

"No, I don't. Boys have penises and scrotum, girls have clitorises and labia," instantly nearly regretting dishing out these terms to a three year old, but I am determined to raise a child unafraid of anatomy. And it didn't seem right to just say that a girl lacks a penis, without taking credit for what girls have--we're different, not deficient.

"Oh," says Ben, the subtlety of my political stuggle completely lost on him. Then: "Wear underwear, Momma?" as I was taking mine from the drawer.

"Yes," say I, thinking he means mine.

"Ben's big kid underwear?" he asks, and runs to his room where they have been just waiting for this moment of conscious mind. So off we went to Peachtree in our Lightning McQueen underwear. It's been a mixed success, but the good women of Peachtree and I are determined to continue down this path. We now have Incredibles, Thomas the Train and Cars underwear (well, sad to say, not me, just Ben.)

It makes me wistful, and proud, and reflective. Where did my baby go? When did we start talking in words? When did he stop being small enough to easily hold all of a piece, instead of gangly legs hanging down to my knees?

It was two years ago I wrote this about my diaper-wearin' toddler:

War Cry

Wooden spoon held aloft,
Ben shouts “Yala bada !”
A sly grin plays across his sweet face.
The toddler’s wooden scimitar
lands squarely on the dog's haunch.
The canon shot of my “No!”
makes both Ben and the dog jump.

Ben begins his studied reaction.
Eyes fastened on mine,
the corners of his rosebud lips turn down,
he opens his mouth just enough so
those darling new white teeth shine.
He tilts his plump-cheeked head back.
His chin quivers. Brow knitted,
he half closes his eyes.
A low moan, meant to be crying,
escapes his artful mouth.

No tears come.
“Don’t hit the dog,” I say
and take the spoon.
He throws himself
across Sam’s back,
wailing increases
to perfect pitch.

I put my hand under his chin
raising his face for my inspection.
He pretends to look away,
rolling his eyes to the very
edge of my face.
Still no tears.

“You know you shouldn’t
hurt poor old Sam.” I say,
and take away my hand.
Ben reaches for the spoon:
I hold it aloft.
The wail continues,
still no tears.
“No,” I say,
more softly than before.
“You can’t have the spoon
if you’re going to hit the dog.”

He hits my leg.
“And don’t hit your momma,”
I say sharply.
The wail increases.

The dry-eyed cry of a toddler
is perfectly designed.
Soon, I scoop him up.
His wailing ceases instantly.
His head rests so sweetly,
so warmly on my shoulder,
I can’t help but smile,
enjoying the weight of him,
resting after our skirmish,
his trusting body limp beneath my hands.

Peace returns to the house.
Sam goes back to sleep.
Ben squirms to be let down
and heads for the kitchen
and a rubber spatula
he left near the door.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Love, war, and a kid with sunglasses

The New York Times this Sunday seemed to burst with pieces that spoke to me. The article on the young woman who had herself tested for the Huntington’s gene was astounding and moving. The magazine piece on today’s women vets from Iraq was devastating and sad. Then, there was the Modern Love piece on the couple so much joined even though they had been divorced 40 years they died within days of each other.

This piece described how two people, not able to be together because of basic differences, were so in love they remained convivial friends long after the divorce. Their children stood as witnesses to the long years during which they continued to converse and communicate, all the while denying real attachment which was so evident. I often said during my years of practice as a divorce lawyer that some couples are never able to really divorce because they are so attached to the relationship they continue the fight which used to be their marriage. Now in my work, I see the evidence of such relationships everyday.

In my own life, there was one relationship I experienced that changed me forever. I often think it should have been enough that I offered my heart and he loved me for a while. It isn’t. I wonder sometimes if that loss will define me the rest of days.

And then my son puts on his bright blue sunglasses in the dusk and reaches for my hand because he can’t really see; looking up he says, “Mommy, cool glasses.” I realize there is no loss that could ever really define me, so long as Ben’s hand touches mine.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Good War?

In writing class tonight, our instructor brought objects for us to look at and write about. His mother was a Red Cross volunteer in England during WWII. The objects: A pass for the victory parade in New York 151 days after the end of WWII, led by the 82nd Airborne; a silver pocket watch, and a champagne cork. Are there ever any good wars?

19 January 1946

Winter’s wind blasts
between brick canyons,
my feet numb in my pumps,
a reviewing stand pass in my pocket,
I wrap my arms round me
and watch the 82nd march,
their smiles gaping wounds,
white bone where flesh peels back.
Ticker tape, like bomb’s detritus,
falls around me.

The lieutenant gave me your watch,
the hands frozen at 6:02.
Last January, near the Roer River,
he found your broken smile
and brought home what he could.

Tonight, I take our bottle
from the icebox
where it waited
since you rose at dawn
and I feigned sleep,
your bomber jacket groaned
as you bent to promise
our toast on your return.

I fill my glass
and raise it
in my still silent goodbye.