Friday, May 28, 2010

A Separate Peace

Jude comes in our room at night. We send him back to his room, but it doesn't work. It frustrates my husband, he wants, understandably, just a little time to ourselves. The trouble is, there is a magnetic pull, calling to Jude, willing him to pad down the hall and open our door.

It is me. I will him to come down here, for one more kiss, one more sleepy snuggle.

In my mind, I have had to sacrifice so much, what with sending them off to school, teaching them to do things without me. It is especially hard with Jude, who for so long could not speak. We have this connection, this way of communicating without words, a soundless understanding. It is hard to give that up. In a sense he is my last baby, my last child who understands my wordless love, who is comforted by my smell and the beating of my heart.

There is a part of me that wants to consume the one I love, to be enveloped in them, to breathe them. Separation is the hardest thing to face, but perversely it is my greatest responsibility as a mother. How messed up is that? My whole purpose in life was to bond and nurture, bond and nurture, and now my greatest calling is to send them away?

The bible addresses the idea that children become idols in several places. The godly (Abraham, Hannah, Mary) hand them over willingly, while the ones who cling hurt themselves and their children. I see it. I want to cling tight and never let go. I see how wrong it is, too, the selfishness, the needs I want to meet through those whose needs I am meant to meet.

Love is sacrifice, love is letting go. Love is teaching you to tie your shoes and not having to know what you did at school today. Love is sending you and your fuzzy head that smells like summer back to your room, to dream your own dreams, not mine, separate and well defined.

I love you. And that's the truth, that is what is real. I don't have to sacrifice my dreams, my plans, my wants, my desires.

I just have to let go of you.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Impulse Control

Every family has one, and in our family, it was me. Impulse control was not my very best thing growing up. I was the one stepping in the mud puddle that filled up my shoes, touching the light socket, and once, famously, feeding the dachshund a big piece of taffy that sealed his mouth shut and sent him to the vet.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

My parents despaired. I had a pristine, well behaved older sister who never even got her clothes dirty. It would never occur to her to overflow the bathtub or put beans in her ears. This made my exploits seem even more outrageous by comparison. As an adult I still struggle with this, firing off outraged emails I regret moments later, or making a joke that seemed funny in my head, but rings highly inappropriate as it leaves my mouth. It's a work in progress.

My oldest son is well behaved. He doesn't talk back, has a kind demeanor, and is very truthful. The thing is, though, is that poor impulse control seems to be genetic.

We have gone to the hospital for swallowed pennies, party favors in noses and falls off detergent bottles. (It was a game that ended badly.) We have discovered the hard way that some things do not flush, no matter how hard you try. Last September he jumped out of a playground tower, breaking both feet, in spite of being keenly aware of a bleeding disorder and thin bones.

"But, why?" everyone asked.

Everyone but me.

Two nights ago my sweet, creative son decided to practice using his epinephrine pen that he has for allergy emergencies. When he came into my room, bleeding and hyperventilating, gasping, "EPPY PEN, EPPY PEN!!" I thought he NEEDED the eppy pen. No. His heart rate was through the roof and he looked like he might pass out.

On the way to the hospital, in the ambulance, I had a hard time not laughing. Sage was fine and I felt giddy with relief and the thought of telling the story at family dinners for years to come.

"Why aren't you mad?' He asks.

"Because you make sense to me," I say. I know that the humiliation of the neighbors seeing the ambulance and the pain of the needle that went through his thumb is a powerful lesson, just like the casts he wore on his feet. I want him to remember that instead of ranting and yelling from me.

He and I sit in the waiting room for about an hour, and his heart rate is fine, blood pressure, too. The nurse is mean, and there are a lot of sick and broken people waiting, so we walk home down city sidewalks in a companionable silence that only happens sometimes, rarely, with someone you truly, truly understand.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Deliver Me

In 1996 I wanted kids. Several. Immediately. After one miscarriage I had not been able to get pregnant, and was told that with the mild bleeding disorder that ran through my family I had a high chance of not being able to carry a child. All my friends were getting pregnant and giving birth to pretty, healthy babies with ease. My fury with God, who I had, along with my husband, committed to serve in an inner city intentional community, was ruining my life.

While my friends were having baby showers, I was at Cook County Hospital getting my tubes cleared.

Thanks a lot, God.

My religious commitment only ran so deep. I guess I felt He owed me, after all the things I had given up, mostly things that were bad for me, like my crazy family and getting high with strange men in trailer parks. Or I felt like He owed me because I thrown myself into working with the homeless, particularly elderly homeless, with a fervor, seeing myself as selfless, but looking back I guess frantic activity was the best way of not thinking about stuff that made me want to get high in trailer parks, like my family.

Over a decade of being a Christian , and this was it for me as far as personal growth.

So, the day I took a pregnancy test to make sure it was safe to take yet another round of hormones that made me want burn down the public library, and there were two lines, I was thrown. I called our doctor, a very attentive guy with a ponytail who had been amazingly patient with my threats and demands. (At one point he put his hand on my husband’s shoulder and gave him a look of sympathy. This offended me so much I paged him repeatedly at 3 a.m. the following morning and punched in a made up number.)

“Well,” he said,” now that you are pregnant, we have to keep you that way.”

And so it began. Nine months of bed rest, vomiting, bleeding, scares, and finally the docs just put me in the hospital for the duration.

It is hard to describe what Cook County was like in the nineties. Suffice it to say I was Dr. Chronopoulos’ only patient that was not an inmate in Cook County Jail. The other ladies on my floor were either homeless or from rehab. Actually, that did not bother me as much as the endless medical students and doctors coming in to prod me and talk about me like I was a show on the Discovery Channel. I had three weeks to go and I was not, as they say,
a happy mommy.

The ladies there helped me pass the time by inviting me to watch slasher films and crank call poor Dr. Chronopoulos, who was very handsome and was so nice he gave all his patients his home pager. We would take turns waddling down to the pay phone and paging him and when he would call back everyone would cat call him from the lounge. He always returned his pages, though, and he never got mad.

His best friend, another resident of Greek descent with equally good looks and a very nice disposition would come up to see me on the floor. I liked Dr. Michael but it was hard not to make cynical cracks about fraternities and trust funds when he and Dr. Chronopoulos were around. The truth was, Cook County was the place to do your residency, and you only got in if you were good. They were so kind to me. I think they knew I was scared.

Finally, thank God, my water broke. No turning back. I was so overdue I looked like a Volkswagen and I felt positively postal. Dr. Chronopoulos showed up in the wee hours of the morning to deliver my baby, kindly ignoring the threats coming from my spinning head and working with my absolute refusal to push. And my baby was out. I held out my arms, but a lot of people were in the room and they were all working on him. A boy. The room was silent.

Dr. Chronopoulos jumped up on the table and started shoving his fist into my belly. I protested but he told me to be quiet and do what he said. Apparently I was hemorrhaging. And I had not heard a single sound from across the room.

 Later that night, back on the ward, the nurse woke me up to take my vitals. “How is my baby?” I asked, and she patted my shoulder. “Just another opportunity for God to do a miracle,” she said.

Yeah, I thought. Please God. Just this one more thing. A miracle. My belly felt like wading pool at the end of the summer, deflated and sad, and there was no baby,
He had been taken to the NICU across the street.

No baby.

The next day Don and Dr. Chronopoulos showed up with a wheelchair. Let’s go, they said, and I put my pillow over my head and sang “Guantanamaro”, pretending I was at Burger King.

“Rebecca,” said Dr. Chronopoulos in my ear. “Let’s go see your baby.”

I let myself be bundled into the chair and pushed through the massive underground tunnels that connect the buildings of the County Medical complex. When we arrived at the NICU I looked at my husband. “I can’t,” I said. I was so scared to see my baby; afraid he would be in pain, afraid to love someone who would die. I just couldn’t.

“Is he hooked up to tubes?” I asked. The NICU doc who had joined us laughed. “He was, but he pulled the vent tube out and started breathing on his own.”

“Really?” All the doctors were standing around, smiling.

“Really,” said my husband. And I got up, and walked over to the isolette, and there he was, looking so peaceful, so wise, like he knew the answers to all the things that troubled my heart, and we pressed out faces against the plastic, my husband and I, and we named him Sage.

 Dr. Chronopoulos gets a picture of Sage every year, and so does Dr. Michael. Dr. Michael has a private practice out in the suburbs and he delivered my next two babies. He has threatened to leave the country if I get pregnant again.

Dr. Chronopoulos works at a big hospital in the suburbs, with a successful private practice, and I hear his patients love him, and that he has children of his own. I hope he is enjoying fatherhood, and that his answering service weeds out all the crazies who try to call him at three a.m. for absolutely no good reason at all.

 Happy Birthday Sage.
I came alive the day you were born. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


The theatre, she would say, is ephemeral. Whatever, I thought in my fourteen year old brain. This is I Remember Mama, lady, and Alabama is pretty freakin far off Broadway. But my tweaky drama teacher had a point, it was just a moment in time, never to be again. That is a hard concept for an adolescent, not taking things for granted. You are pretty much trying to ignore everything because you are waiting for your real life to begin. This is just a dress rehearsal until you get a driver's license.

Ephemeral. Not a bad word, though I don't get to use it much. Working it into a sentence would make me sound all farty and pretentious like the drama teacher. I think about it a lot, though. In fact, it is the key to parenting kids whose futures are kinda iffy, in the sense that who the hell knows where we will be tomorrow, much less ten years from now? Nothing like precarious health to remind you to live in the moment. That and giving up on expectations, which is actually a good thing, a really, really good thing.
Every smile, every hug, every kiss is just a bonus, a windfall, like winning money off a scratchy ticket.

I am writing, right now, listening music on my earbuds and Jude is home from school, recovering from the migraine he had last night and dancing in front of the tv, worshipping Bert and Bernice the pigeon in an interpretive dance sort of way that goes surprisingly well with the Ting Tings, and it is ephemeral, a moment in time, a perfect, sweet moment that only comes from releasing what you thought you wanted and letting yourself be carried away by joy, by what tastes exquisite on your tongue right here, right now, and knowing not everyone gets to let go like this. My teacher, not the drama lady with her delusions of grandeur, but my teacher with blond hair, a too small Tigger shirt and a way with words has so much more to teach me, and here I am, ready to learn, not looking forward but satisfied to sit and learn at the feet of the master.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Use Your Words

We all want to be heard. We all have a voice. If you can find your voice, you can live. Speak, my counselor says, speak. The pain we hold close, like foxes beneath our coats, hidden but clawing us to death.

Jude needs to speak, he screams and we say use your words, love. Tell me why you are screaming, why are you angry, what does it mean?

Use your words. There are no words sometimes, just something primal that must come.

If we can write it, we live. We can breathe.

Jude is screaming, BEACH BEACH over and over and over. He has his bathing suit on,  Red faced. Gasping and sobbing. How can get him to understand, the beach is closed, it is 55 degrees, I wish I could take you, but I can't.

I get out paper. I tell Jude to draw a picture of the beach. I write underneath, Jude wanted to go to the beach, but it was closed. He was sad and mad. May 21 is beach day. the end.

Quiet. Jude allows me to hold him. He holds the paper in his fist.

We just want to be heard.

If I can speak it, I can live. It cannot hurt me now, what was done to my body, years and years ago, yet will kill me if I hold it. I will use my words. I kiss his head, salty and sweaty. I hear you, love. It is just that simple. We all have a voice, and we all have to use our words.