Mommy, I love you.
Even when I am angry, I still love you….
…Even when something is broken and I am really angry,
I know you are here.
And that is beautiful.
Mommy, I love you.
Even when I am angry, I still love you….
…Even when something is broken and I am really angry,
I know you are here.
And that is beautiful.
He stared at the open palm of his left hand for a long time. That ten-year-old girl grasped this hand and hugely changed something inside me, but I can’t give a reasonable explanation of how such a thing could have happened. Still the two of us understood each other and accepted each other in a very natural way in every last particular–almost miraculously so. Such things don’t happen all that often in this life. For some people, they might never happen.
H. Murakami, 1Q84, p. 523-524
Five years ago, for my birthday, I bought myself a ring. I stumbled on it in a tiny jewelry shop in Lisbon. It has several thin, intertwining threads of metal, organically irregular in thickness, with a few small diamonds caught in the spaces where the threads cross. When I saw it, I immediately thought of the ways our paths and lives cross others’ all the time bringing us shining moments of connection. I asked to look at this one-of-a-kind piece and it fit me perfectly, as did the metaphor.
The other day, a friend from my teenage years popped online and said hello. Back in 1989, in an unusual and romantic setting, we had one of those innocent, exciting Summer romances that come with sheltered adolescence and naivete. We had only been vaguely in touch the past couple of years, via FaceBook, after two decades of no contact.
He asked me if I remembered a particular day…when it started to pour while we were swimming in the harbor and we huddled together under the dock to avoid the enormous tropical raindrops which were cold compared to the warm sea water. He said he would never forget that day, that it had stayed with him all these years. “It was beautiful…,” he wrote, “…its funny how that never happens now.”
The conversation touched me and it was more than nostalgia. I happen to be reading Murakami’s latest book, which I received (in hardcover, no less) as a Christmas gift. One of the main story lines is about the pair in the quote above, the pure and unrequited love they carry throughout their lives. As my friend described his memories, his experience of that moment that so resonated with mine, it was hard not to draw a parallel with the fantastical fictional world of the novel I am reading.
It has me thinking of how, most of the time, when those diamond moments occur, we have no idea if the other person shared that experience. In those moments, for me at least, it doesn’t even register as possible that my presence, my small action, my taking the hand of another, could create and impart something they might hod dear.
Too often, I don’t even realize the value of the moment until later, when I pull it out with the leftover change of the latest journey and find, mixed in with the lint and metro stubs, a sparkling gem. These I treasure, imagining that I am the only one who carried the moment away in my pocket.
Every great once in a while, usually when a friend is up too late at night on the other side of the world, probably more than a little drunk, I get a glimpse of something like this and it makes my heart ache a little. If we could know those moments truly when they come, if we could recognize rare magic and give it its proper place, what would our lives be like?
And what price do we pay when we don’t? That thought brings to mind another Murakami piece but I’ll leave my reflections on that one for another post.
For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?
…and so much sadder to be cynical. No one says it like D. Mode. Really, is this asking so much?
I tried to preview this post and got the following message from WordPress:
Thanks, Universe…really effing funny!
That’s not my brilliant title. It’s a memoir by Tracy McMillan. Before you say, “Oh yeah, the one who wrote Waiting to Exhale,” that was Terry. This is Tracy. I like Tracy’s writing better, even though I have yet to see Mad Men, which she reportedly has written for. Waiting for it to be available on Hulu or for me to figure out the online Netflix thing. Don’t have a TV.
Anyway, I Love You and I’m Leaving Anyway is Tracy McMillan’s story as she tells it…or at least the part of her story that is about her relationships with men and her realization that they all (especially the parts that don’t work for her) connect back to her loving but deeply flawed and thereby absent dad.
A friend gave me the book to read…actually, she is on the Board of this little nonprofit I started that’s all about stories and the importance of how we tell them. She thought I would like the way Terry told her story…and she was right. Though she describes a pretty horrific childhood–dad whose career trajectory took him from pimp to heroin kingpin to prison for life, mom and step mom who took what he had to give, revolving door foster placements–she doesn’t feel like a victim. She effectively separates who she is and who she intends to be from the worst parts of her experiences. She is a survivor and this is her truth. It’s exactly what Survivors’ Truths is all about…telling the part of the story that showcases the people and qualities that have allowed her to become who she is and not who she might have been, without in any way diminishing or making light of the difficulties she has come through.
What my friend/Board member might not have guessed is how timely this memoir would be to me personally. The details of Tracy’s journey are quite different to mine. At the same time her story felt so familiar–and not because I recognize each and every place she describes in her Venice/Valley/Eastside/Downtown world (currently one of Los Felizes myself).
It’s the places of the heart, the terrifying territory of first recognizing then freeing oneself from fitting in those fossilized forms created as time solidifies the past into our DNA that struck home for me.
My little guy is just two and a half and (WOW!) has opened my eyes to the reality of gender in a whole new way. His dad was my Paul (thankfully, though he lives in Australia which makes resisting the pull into his orbit a bit easier), my dad never went to jail (but should have) and, as I approach the big four oh–despite having sorted through a hell of a lot–I am challenged to make meaning with more intention, more flexibility, and more compassion.
For anyone who has been reading my ramblings here, you might have noticed that I have been moving toward something recently. I have been feeling it and resisting it…because I wasn’t sure what I was moving toward and wasn’t at all sure I wanted to go there. This weekend, in the pages of Tracy’s memoir, I glimpsed the ‘there.’ It’s a place where I believe I deserve love and, more importantly, I can be in a love relationship that is a really good thing. It’s a place where I can admit (gulp) that I might want such a thing…that I am not better off on my own, forever, as I believe I am destined to be.
Thanks, Tracy, for putting your journey out there. For me, at least, it feels like Anne Lamott’s writing did when I first found out I had been knocked up by an engaged 24-year-old mercenary (who lied about all but one of those factoids). It felt like someone else had gone down this path before and, though I would not put my feet exactly where she had, it would be possible to find my way.
I, too, know I am blessed.
I have received some requests for updates on the visit with the baby-daddy and what it all means for little AJ and I. To be honest, since our return yesterday, I have been blindsided by jet lag and can barely walk around the apartment as unpacking and getting organized have been beyond me. And this state of affairs fairly accurately reflects the state of my head when it comes to what AJ’s dad refers to as “our unconventional family.”
For a family we are. It is strange and wonderful and, in some deep way, painful to acknowledge that but it is true. Together, AJ, his dad, and I are a unit. I am not at all sure how this family will take shape with time, who else will join our motley crew, but we are somehow joined for better or worse.
During this visit, we covered an immense amount of territory including the past, the present, and the imaginable future. In the end, I didn’t see several friends in Sydney, in great part because of the intensity of this process. I felt like I was running a psychological marathon, hitting “the wall” with alarming frequency. At least every couple of days, I was so angry or hopeless that I couldn’t see staying another hour. Then, I would go for a walk or something and calm down and get back to the business of sorting things out. Seeing people and catching up felt akin to a runner stopping for a chat at about how the past mile went.
Now I have crossed the finish line and am feeling the effects of the effort. I am spent.
It does seem worth it, though. AJ is just so happy with his daddy in his life, even from an enormous distance. He really connected with his Gramms, as he calls his paternal grandmother, and one of his uncles. In his words, they are his “Australia flamly” and his dad’s apartment by the beach is his “Australia home.” His life is enriched and expanded by this. I believe mine will be as well but am not there yet.
Because, worth it or not, this visit re-connected me with another side of this lovely coin. While I had in some way “processed” what had happened in the past and how difficult I found coping with the effects of his actions–the sudden change of job, location, and lifestyle–I really had not fully experienced the hurt of it before this visit. When I learned of his betrayal three years ago, I was already four months pregnant. I had to get on with it–get a job, find a place to live, get ready to have a baby. Knowing it was hard enough, I couldn’t let myself feel that I was unloved and cast aside. I also hadn’t really felt the loss in the situation. Though I am a strong proponent of single parenthood and see some real advantages to my state of affairs, I did at one time harbor hopes around being loved and having a child with a partner who really wanted to be with me. Even after having AJ, this hope lived on.
But life is about choices, some we can anticipate the consequences of, others not so much. AJ’s dad talks about choosing to zig or zag. Much of the time, you can’t know which you are doing let alone if you should do the other. In this case, the choice is clear. For at least the next several years, AJ knowing and having time with his dad means me knowing and having time with his dad. Logistics make this a time and energy-consuming activity. There is no dropping the kid off for the weekend or coordinating our schedules the week before. We have talked about longer-term possibilities for changing this, for living closer to one another. This involves one of us moving in a continental way. It’s huge. We have done family therapy, for Pete’s sake, to work toward having a relationship based on trust and respect.
All of this makes the already unlikely possibility of meeting and building a life with someone else beyond improbable, especially before biology makes sharing the process of having a child an impossibility. It is a very personal, very poignant loss. Because it is a choice. I don’t have to participate in this. Yet I am. I simply can’t bring myself to deprive my son of the joy and meaning that his relationship with his dad can bring him to keep the dream of the possibility of a happier ending for me alive.
So, even as I strive for this rich, complicated, surprisingly loving family for my son and greet its arrival, I am letting my dream go, letting it die, grieving it’s gone-ness, it’s never-been-ness.
And I am sad.
A re-post from two years ago…which will put the next post in context.
Friday, May 16, 2008
The Black Sheep as Shepherd—and a bit more on forgiveness
I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We’re here to know God, to love and serve God, and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature. You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don’t have time to carry grudges; you don’t have time to cling to the need to be right.
-author Anne Lamott, in a recent interview. (Source: The Washington Times)
So, I say prayers with my three-month-old son. We have this bedtime ritual that starts with a bath (or at least a wipe down), clean diaper, pajamas, a special song (“My Darling Child” by Sinead O’Connor), prayers, and the day’s poem from the aptly named “A Poem A Day.” Most people who know me would think this was all fairly in keeping with my style. That is, until they get to the prayer part.
I was raised in an evangelical Christian family. So evangelical, in fact, that my parents carted my sister and I off to the mission field when I was fourteen. I dutifully swallowed every lumpy bit of their contradictory religion until university, when I began to question. A lot. What I have come to at this point of a long journey is a spirituality that is not grounded in a religious affiliation. I would call myself a Christian. Most Christians would not. Why? Because I don’t believe that the Bible is literally true. I do not believe that anyone who does not accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior is going to hell. I don’t believe that God created the universe in seven of our days. I am not even sure that Jesus was a real person. What I do believe is that the Christ that is described in Christian scripture, more than any other person I have read or heard of, articulated what I see as the essence of spirituality–maintaining humility, standing against injustice, not discriminating against the poor or socially unacceptable, acting in a loving way toward even those who treat you badly.
Oh, and I also believe that God is a woman. Or at least as much a woman as man. And I believe that the correct answer to the question of “Is God a woman or a man?” is “Who cares?”
I digress a bit but only to establish that I am, in my family, a black sheep. I say “a” black sheep because they are several of us. I think, on the surface at least, my parents would probably say I am more of a grey sheep or spotty or something. But, certainly, I am no spiritual leader. I don’t yearn for a religious community–I am happy to sleep all morning on Sunday. When I am desperate, I don’t cry out to God and doing so (I have tried it, thinking it’s what I should do) brings no relief.
And now I am a mother and, oddly enough, I feel this desire, a responsibility even, to incorporate prayers into our bedtime ritual.
How does that work, you ask? Well, it’s a bit odd because I feel uncomfortable with the traditional “Dear God” or, worse, “Our Heavenly Father” approach. The first gives me images of God opening her email to find it filled with spam. The second, well, I would refer you to the fourth paragraph of this ramble.
Still, I want my son to get that he can reflect on his activities and thoughts and feelings and connections with others and turn his worries over for the night. I want to help him connect spiritually, at the level of his deepest longings and joys with other people and with something bigger than himself.
But many of the metaphors I was raised with feel so contrived to me. They make me uncomfortable. To utter them feels like cheating on a test at school.
So I kind of stumble along, spotty mama sheep leading sweet little lamb. It is really interesting, because he seems to get that this is a time that we are coming together to focus intentions. Like tonight, he was playing around and when I said, “Do you want to say our prayers?” he smiled and grabbed my hand. It was kind of weird, actually. Maybe he is leading me.
Without address or preamble, I jump in, like this: “Hey, today was a good day. It was really nice to see our friends and mommy got some things done. I am sad for our neighbor whose daddy died. That must be really hard. Please help her to not feel too lonely. And I hope Mary who is sick feels better soon…”
We just put it out there. I say it because he can’t talk yet.
And, every day, I say, “Please be with Addison’s daddy, keep him safe and give him everything he needs to be happy.” I want to start now with my son to focus on his dad in positive ways.
Because I, too, believe that joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. I don’t want my son to waste his precious life carrying grudges and clinging to the need to be acknowledged as right. I want him to learn that, no matter what another person does, he can choose what he brings to the table. I want him to know in his bones that he can be mad at someone, and protect himself, and be strong, and still choose to act out of compassion.
I think Christ would approve.
It all started with a game of hide-and-seek.
Lately, AJ has been really into hide-and-seek. He hides, say, behind the living room curtains, seated on the floor, little feet sticking out. “Hey, are you hiding?” I call. “Yeth,” he answers. “Where are you? I can’t see you.” I say. “Tee hee hee,” he giggles. The curtains move as do the little feet. He can hardly contain himself. Neither can I. Who could in the face of such innocence, such pleasure in play?
One of his favorite hide-and-seek games involves sitting on the couch and putting the green chenille throw blanket over his head. He looks like a green lump. Or a teddy bear in a green burqa. His head is still quite large in proportion to the rest of him. Somehow, this game has progressed. Now, once I have found him, he wants me to join him under the blanket.
It is dark in there, with pinholes of light. He is adamant that the blanket not be lifted along any edge. “Close it,” he barks.
I don’t particularly like this. Even as a kid the ‘tent under the blankets with a flashlight’ was brilliant as an idea and miserable as a practice. It is stuffy. I don’t have time for this.
But when I go sit under the blanket with him, his eyes light up. “Mama!” he exclaims and launches into an explanation/exposition/celebration speech that makes up for its un-intelligibility with length and expressiveness. He gestures, babbles, waves his hands around, chortles to himself. He is sharing his experience, his story, his perspective in a way that he doesn’t do in other places. We laugh a lot under there. I find myself wanting to fix these moments in my mind. I want to remember this sweetness and fun.
This has me thinking about how important it is to be willing to go into another’s space, another’s preferred perspective, to really hear them, for them to really feel heard and seen and felt.
In other musings, I have written and thought and struggled (hopefully not always in that order) with the inherent challenge of parenting, the Catch-22 all mommies and daddies who give a shit deal with–that we must somehow stay connected even as we give our children space to have their own experiences, to move away from us. From the beginning, we are letting go. Yet we also strive to maintain the connection, to strengthen the bond–the ‘attachment’ that gets so much air time.
I have pondered how to negotiate this dichotomy. To accept, to understand, to balance.
I think this chenille tent is a clue, a hint at how this can be done. If I can allow him the freedom to explore and find and create the places where he is comfortable. If I can be available and willing to go into this space, even if it is uncomfortable for me. If I can take time for his ‘nonsense,’ listen to his incoherence, attend to his experience.
Perhaps, then, perhaps, he can really know how to have both love and freedom and autonomy and care. And, if not all that, at least we will have had some giggles and good memories.
This started as a bit of a rant. With the following disclaimer:
If you read this and think it is about you, it’s probably not. On the other hand, if the shoe fits, I suppose you can put it on and dance around a bit. It is a sad commentary, I suppose, that it takes more than both hands for me to count the exes, close friends, and current interests whom this could be about.
I was annoyed. Yet again, I found myself dealing with yet another self-consciously angsty guy who feels the need to remind me that they are not ‘ready for a relationship.’ The assumption being, of course, that I am just dying to hitch my cart to their pony and ride off into the sunset.
I was annoyed with this whole class of men–most of my generation–who have been studied and written about because of their overwhelming lack of maturity. ‘Late starters’ who are described as a group. I know them as a bunch of individuals. Each one thinks that they are unique, that they are a lone wolf in a world of packs. Sorry to break it to you, boys, but this just isn’t the case. Instead of something special in your carefully-crafted fucked-upness is a total cliche. If I come across one more guy who tells me how he really wants to go off to a monastery as he interrupts a meal to respond to a text or email on their phone, who is always re-reading Kerouac or Hemingway or whoever, who pretentiously positions himself as an unpretentious outsider, who tells me he is a loner but then spends every other night in a bar just to be around people, who is all up in my shit and then reminding me that they need their space, I may seriously consider shooting myself in the face.
But it’s not, really, about them at all. This is about me, about being a single woman–a single mother–in a larger cultural context which rewards men for remaining functional adolescents, punishes women for growing up and–naturally–fosters some really fucked-up dynamics between men and women.
Today, I went with a friend to a meeting of a group called Single Mothers By Choice. I first became aware of this group in October 2005, when a male friend sent me an article that featured this group for women who choose to have a child without having a partner. I am going to hunt down and post that article at some point, but my favorite line in it was about how an increasing number of women in their 30s are subscribing to the ‘something is not necessarily better than nothing’ theory of marriage. I love this.
I actively made the choice to be single. I left a long-term relationship and marriage in 2001 because I knew it would be better for me to be alone than to continue.
I also actively made the choice to be a single mom. When I got pregnant, and knew that my baby’s father was not going to be involved, I considered all of my options. I decided to go it alone. I went through the pregnancy alone, the delivery with the support of some phenomenal women but sans partner, I am the sole parent and breadwinner.
Now, I choose to try to date men without compromising these choices. I think that I am giving and caring in all of my friendships. Boys tend to confuse this with my falling in love with them and wanting them to step in and parent my son and plan a life together. They are so wrong. By ‘date,’ I mean uncommitted companionship, fun, and friendship. I do not mean Relationship-with-a-capital-’R.’ That’s not even on my radar. I just don’t think that it is in the cards for me. And this is all right.
I am not saying that I am rigidly tied to flying solo forever. Given the right circumstances and a remarkably tenacious individual, I might be convinced to re-consider. I might even fall in love.
But, for now, this is the deal:
If you are lucky enough to have me share a bit with you, enjoy and appreciate it. Otherwise, take your bag of angst and issues and hit the road.
There are no posts in this category yet. Does this mean I am not dating? That I am not brave enough to talk about it here? That my heart is a shriveled raisin that cannot feel love and so there will be no romance for me ever, ever again? Guess you’ll just have to wait and see…
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