with apologies to Brian Kershisnik - his unadulterated picture may be seen here
Son, on his way out the door in the morning: "Bye! You're the best mom in the world - no matter what anyone else says!"
What exactly is it that anyone else says? And who are they? His sisters? His dad? The neighbors, his teachers? The word on the street? How far exactly has the rot spread and how much damage control am I in for this morning?
Okay, so maybe I'm not the best mom. A truth unpalatable, but especially so when my hair's still sleep-matted on one side and fuzzed-up in back and when breathing my own morning breath, wearing rubber garden clogs with stylish flannel and scraping out the burnt-oatmeal pan.
Lighten up. It’s a joke, says the voice inside my head that speaks in my husband's tones.
Right. I know that.
The trouble is, it’s not just the twist at the end - even the first part chafes me, that part about best. Because best I’m not, not right now, not ever, certainly not when I’m battling the inner spider so hard.
Let him have “the best mom in the world.” Allow him that. Doesn't every child deserve to have the best mom in the world?, says that other voice, the one that sounds an awful lot like my mom in WiseWoman mode.
Oh, yeah, Inner Child puts her two-cents in, like how whenever I said "Mommy, you are so pretty," how you’d say, “Pretty ugly and pretty apt to stay that way”?
The inner spider, of course, has no voice because it has nothing to say because there is nothing to say because there is nothing to do but throw out filament, filament, filament out of itself, wrapping up the world in absence and paralysis.
The best I can do is sometimes forestall my son.
"Best mom in - " he begins.
"Best mom you'll ever have. Have you got your lunch? Your backpack?”
Or on the better mornings, "Best son in the world. Now run, your dad's waiting."
But I know it's coming, the morning I'm too slow - the morning I'm the best mom in the world - no matter what anyone else says.
And I'm having too many of these days lately. Days when I have to flog myself to get up, get dressed. Days when getting a dinner on the table is cause for celebration.
Part of this is just the darkening weather. Part of it the accumulated craziness of the girls' marching band schedule (which will be over after the first of November!).
And part my anachronistic need to grieve for my grandpa who died hardly a month ago. I think it would do me good to live in a society where subdued behavior after the death of a close connection was expected. I'd feel protected and guided up out of sadness by the wearing of black, then gray, then finally lightening into lavender. Here, though, and now, it's as unmannerly to keep grieving once the funeral is over, as hot pink flounces at a funeral used to be a hundred years back.
Maybe I should move to Spain. I was reading this week the intro to a book on Spanish poetry:
The Spaniard, says Julian Marias, constantly thinks in terms of final things . . . he broods in a way that the humanist or rationalist would not, on the insult of death.I don’t think it’s the insult of death that drags me down. It’s not even that I’m sad, really. I don’t feel sad. I laugh. I smile. I make my way through the day. It’s just that having the people I love die, makes an emptiness in me. Like the best guests leaving a party that falls flat suddenly and pointless. Or like the silence that meets a vapid remark, echoing, re-echoing how stupid, how vain . . . Okay, maybe it is the insult of death.
But death’s insult is that I’m left back in the mortal eddies while others swirl out into a wider eternity. Like the way it feels when my children go off to school each September, with their new books and new clothes, ready for new friends and teachers. I feel left behind.
I’m trying not to brood. I’ve been through this process enough times now that I know the arc, the downwards rainbow through dark water. It seems to take me about 9 months to a year. I always come out again into the sunlight, once again a citizen of day. Which is a good thing for – as I was reminded in that Spanish poetry introdution –
But death, to use the ironic phrase of Marias, has never been granted citizenship in the United States.
This isn’t the entry I was planning to write this week. This writing is meant as a way of charting my way up and out of the cave, constructing a scaffold over what sometimes feels like misery, though it is shallow of me to call it so.
When I was young, my family moved from Ohio to the Bay Area, California. “I bet you’re glad you moved here,” were the first words I heard from a Californian. And heard over and over, in every possible permutation.
Everyone I met was sure as could be that I was basking in the sunny California glow, reprieved from Midwestern propriety and the certainty of winter, glad to trade flaming maple and sweet gum, buckeyes and Osage orange, hot chocolate at Friendly’s after football games, ice skating, snow days, snow-topped mailboxes, and the first green mist hovering over rich, black, new-plowed fields, for this sullen sky, this bland barrenness crowded over with identical suburban houses. They were sure. And I was sure that glad is what I was not.
And so, to get me through, I made myself find and see, each day, one thing worth seeing.
Those images are still strong in me - small, safe clearings of peace in my mind - even now I can bring them sharply to my inner eye: a willow tree in rain, the curve of a gingko leaf against the sidewalk, the muscular hand of an oak tree’s branches standing alone, the sun twinkling faraway on Sausalito Bay from our tiny kitchen window.
It’s become a lifetime habit of observation and meditation and salvation.
Trouble is I’ve lost the little notebook I’d been carrying around with me, full of daily notes of stories and scenes and, this week especially, notes from something Dieter Uchtdorf said very insightful and inspiring about being willing to something and how it would open us to “inconvenient, but life-changing” something.
I did try this week. When the phone call came I pushed back my half-valid excuses and gave up other busy-ness, made re-arrangements to my Wednesday schedule so I could drive an older friend of ours into the City for a full day of doctor’s appointments. The trouble is, like everything this week, even that good intent came to naught – our friend called and cancelled her appointments. So no extra life-changing inconvenience - and I’m stuck still with the same old life.
Let’s see what else this week . . . no, let’s not . . . my memory of Friday, for example, so blank I had to ask my daughter.
"Harvest party?” she offered.
Oh, right. How could I forget? I spent the whole day trying to figure out how to make an Alaskan Indian costume out of some pale brown burlap for the son who was rashly counting on me. This is not what I spent several years of graduate school preparing for.
At the Harvest Carnival that evening, I sat, supervising my young women's class run their doughnut booth, still pulling out threads to make the fringe so he could wear his costume at least for trunk-or-treating later on in the parking lot.
The dullness and domesticity. Where are the roaring motors and cavalcade?
The trouble is what I do remember is a litany of things I forgot, meetings I was late for, meals I didn’t make, times I felt like an interloper, stupid things I said, silences and emptinesses.
Here’s something else: Cleaning off some extra papers, I found a note from my eldest daughter written some years back on the eve of Girls’ Camp (when I was sick with panic, dreading a week of babysitting teenagers as Camp Mom).
Daughter Dear had written, “MOM upside down is WOW” – a nice thought and then the kicker: “Think how awesome she would be right side up!”
Amen to that.
Trouble is, which way is up? and how do I get there from here?