Monday Is So Not Tuesday

Let us begin again…

So Monday has become a crazy confluence of work, home and family predicaments. Many of which are anxiety-inducing, so much so that I’m contemplating calling my doctor for Xanax. My prescription ran out years ago, and I cannot even find an expired little orange something around here. I’ve already looked.

My “cup runnething over” in real life today looks more like “my toilet running over” in the literal and metaphorical sense. A business colleague is reneging on a deal in a calculated, venemous and hostile way; a certain special someone has been particularly unpleasant in relation to his own relocation; I am up to my elbows in a project that I really like, but I feel as though I’m juggling about 17 flaming torches and I’m anxious not to burn any structures down in the process. My dammit doll is getting a serious workout; unfortunately, I am not. Meanwhile, I’m carrying all the standard-issue maternal anxiety related to children in various stages of dependence and independence. All those things happening separately might even be tolerable, it’s just that all of everything is happening at the same time, and it’s making me crazy. My head is spinning with details and my chair is swirling with activity.

As if on cue, my college student calls. He is up to his own eyeballs in alligators and asks for help proofreading a paper. Of course, I say yes. Nothing is more important to me, not because I love writing (although I do), but because I love him. I’m in the middle of spreadsheets and proposals and emails, and I stop all of it to review his work. It is, in fact, my highest priority of the day. In about the time it takes me to take a deep breath, he sends me a text message: “You’re the best.”

In that moment all the noise fades to the background, because I love my son and he loves me, and we have a relationship, flawed and beautiful and real. And it’s just wow.

The other stuff will work its way through, and some of it may well be toxic and disagreeable, but I will hold to this one little light to carry me through today.

And Oh! I remember something else. On the top of my list of tasks for today is to mail graduation announcements for another of my sons. Two lights.

And just like that, with one little interruption and a burst of gratitude, one light has become two, and the day is looking better. Just bright enough to make it through until Tuesday.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And one little interruption.

Tears, Baptism & Teenage Brain Damage

Whose child is this anyway?

Some things don’t get easier, no matter how many times I’ve done them before. Teaching a teenage boy to drive, for example. Or saying goodbye to my son heading back to college. I cry every time. I even burst into tears when my sons’ friends go back to college. Pathetic. But that’s the kind of mom I am.

I am just so stinking proud of each one that my delight wells up in my eyes and runs down my face. It might be genetic. My own father used to tell me frequently, with tears in his eyes, “This is my beloved daughter, in whom I am well pleased.” He undoubtedly said that to my sister as well. And he meant it every time. Each child brings a unique light into this world. Lord knows, this world needs light in all the darkness.

Our youngest son suffered a concussion in the fall that kept him home from school for a month. Lest you think he enjoyed this forced hiatus, bear in mind that the healing process required minimal light, minimal sound, no reading, no screens of any kind, no iPad, no iPod, no computer or television, no video games or movies – just a month home with no entertainment other than his mother. Sounds like a prescription for a special form of torture to a 14-year old boy.

It’s not exactly a walk in the park for the mom either. But the worst part for me is the fear. Certain phrases, such as “head trauma,” “permanent memory loss” and “brain damage” send me into a tailspin. I drag the boy with me to church one morning in an attempt to get a grip. I promise him 10 minutes or less. I bribe him with lunch afterwards. I just need to breathe in a sacred space. I’m on my knees. I cannot think of anything eloquent to say. My prayer amounts to begging, “Please, God. Please, please, please.” I am just so afraid. Tears flow, of course. “Please, God, please. He is my son.” And somehow, in this sacred place, even with my self-imposed time limits, even gripped in the throes of fear, I hear an answer. It is part admonishment, part comfort, part sarcastic humor, because I believe that Truth speaks to me in a language that I can understand: “Charlotte, don’t you think I love him at least as much as you do?”

Oh. Right. I suppose that’s true.

Sometimes, I need to be reminded whose children they really are.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. And if parenting is a challenge, step-parenting is downright harrowing. As a mother, and as a wicked step-mother, I find Mary and Joseph’s example particularly helpful. When Mary said “Yes,” she had no idea what she was signing up for. Parenting is like that. My children didn’t exactly arrive the way I might have expected them to, formed in my own image and likeness. It’s not like they landed on my doorstep looking like they did in the catalog, complete with tracking information (and a return label) from the shipping company. Sometimes, I stare at my son (pick one, any one) and that whole stork business seems a plausible explanation. Where on earth did he come from?

Joseph, of course, said nothing at all. Often the only reasonable approach.

I think about Jesus’ own baptism and God’s declaration that “This is my beloved son in whom I am well-pleased.” Were Mary and Joseph even there? I asked my friend in seminary where Jesus’ parents were, and she told me that Mary and Joseph were touring medical schools at the time. Which makes a lot of sense, because mom and dad are really good at making exceptional plans for their kids, and then the actual kid shows up with ideas of his own and all those parental plans are shot to shit. But then the kid makes his own way and becomes more amazing than even the people who cherish him most in the world could have predicted. Who knew?

I think about the baptisms of our sons. The older two were baptized when they were very young, long before I ever knew them. The younger two were baptized at the Easter Vigil mass when they were 11 and 13. This was a path that the younger boys chose themselves. Needless to say, my husband and I were delighted; the boys wanted their own connection with God. In the course of the service, it was my step-sons who poured the water into the baptismal font that their step-brothers would be baptized in. It was a beautiful, unifying moment for our nuclear family, and yet, each baptism also puts me in my place as a mother. It reminds me that all four of my boys are, in reality, God’s own children.

I was home alone the December evening in 2012, when I heard about the tragic school shooting in Connecticut. My husband had a late meeting, college boy was still at school packing to come home for the holidays; high school boy was in Pasadena with friends, junior high boy was in town on the boulevard with some buddies and elementary school boy was at a friend’s house for a Christmas party. I sat stunned, paralyzed with fear. I had this desperate urge to collect all my children and put them in bubble wrap on the sofa – I would even let them play xBox as long as they wanted. These are the moments when the baptismal reminders are critical for me. I do my part, but I’m not in charge. I lecture them. I impose deadlines and curfews. I teach table manners. I buckle up seatbelts, strap on helmets, sautee vegetables. But the most important thing I can do for them is to get on my knees and pray. They are God’s very own children, after all.

My son taps me on the shoulder. It’s been ten minutes. He’s hungry. The boy is starting to act like a normal teenager again.

I whisper thank you. I feel privileged that Life has entrusted this boy to my care. And then I take my son to lunch.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your parenting path. And healing.

Help!

If there was a way to walk the so-called hunting dog this morning without my having to get out of this chair, I’d be all about it. It’s drizzly and chilly out there, and I’m tired. The dog is curled up snugly in his crate, even though the door is wide open. He is giving absolutely no indication that he intends to move. This might be one reason we call him defective. I confess that I’m a little grateful, because I don’t want to move either. I am vehemently slumping into this chair and planning which tasks I can postpone or avoid altogether. I suspect that forward progress will require more than another cup of coffee.

There are times when a silent sit is exactly what I need, and in general, I need to slow down more than I need to speed up. Unless, of course, we are talking about my actual running speed, which starts off slow and seems to decrease over time. On the other hand, I have a preternatural fear of inertia, which sometimes clouds my ability to see clearly.

I pause. I sit. I think. I definitely need to move. It has become evident to me, however, that I’m not going to get there on my own. I need help. I need a companion to jump-start today’s journey. It’s time to send up a smoke signal.

Asking for help does not necessarily come naturally to me. I like to think of myself as capable and independent. I can be as maddening as an adamant two-year-old who insists on putting her own shoes on her two feet, climbing up into her carseat without an assist and buckling herself, even though the process will take at least twice as long. My inner toddler does hold a bachelor’s degree in literature, as well as a graduate degree. Surely, I am not without personal resources. I also have children, who in and of themselves provide an education in psychology and emergency medicine, along with a healthy dose of humility. I have learned, over the years, that sometimes a girl just needs a little support on those first few steps before she can go the rest of her way.

I wish I were better at keeping a journal. It is hard for me to remember those early days immediately following Sam’s suicide. I know that I didn’t sleep much. I ate even less. I have a beautiful collection of journals with inspiring covers. Unfortunately, most of the pages are blank, other than random chicken scratchings on a few pages. I also saved several miscellaneous emails. Four days after Sam’s death, at 2:54am, I sent this email to a select group of girlfriends:

So among the many weird things that have been happening, today a cousin says to me “Charlotte, I want you to consider moving closer to us — we would love to see you every day — but I know you have that amazing community.  And I would like to think we could offer you that… but those women put on a good game.”

Keep your game faces on, girls. I need you.

I so get the urge to scoop up my loved ones and keep them out of harm’s way. I do not fault my cousin for wanting to whisk us off, but as soon as the thought was verbalized, I knew I wanted to stay put. If I were going to move, it would be a deliberate shift toward a better opportunity in our lives. For now, I would stay in my amazing community. I would not run away. Or throw up the white flag. I would stand on my own two feet.

But first, I would need to dress in black. And I would need to be propped up by a few faithful friends. There are times when asking for help can demonstrate more wisdom than attempting to go solo. Keep your game faces on, girls. I need you.

They began to rally to my side. One contacted the local papers and drafted the obituary. Another created a website to disseminate updated funeral logistics and to provide a virtual touchstone for our concerned friends and family, too many to speak to personally in those initial days. One contacted the County Coroner’s Office to arrange for the release of the body. Another drove me to the rabbi’s office. And to my therapist’s. My dear friend and family photographer cropped a picture, taken just two weeks prior to his death, to frame Sam alone. One designed the program for the funeral; another made a collage of family photographs for display. Somebody arranged for a limousine. A team coordinated the reception following the funeral.

One friend brought my favorite of Sam’s suits and ties to the funeral home to dress him. Several furnished suitable black dresses to my doorstep for the occasion. I have a vivid memory of the surreal moment when “Tracey” sat on the side of my bed as I tried on a dozen suits and dresses. It was oddly like going to a bridal salon with my maid of honor, searching for just the right wedding gown. Only the dress was black. And the groom was dead. When I tried on a simple sheath dress with a matching knee-length jacket I turned to look at my attendant for her approval. She smiled, and sighed, and she said, with tears in her eyes, “It’s beautiful. He would have loved it.”

On the day of the funeral, she fastened the pearls at the back of my neck, and accompanied me in the limousine. Together we sat and inhaled silently as Rabbi Daniel began the service. When it was time for me to speak, Tracey squeezed my hand and let me go. I took a few steps forward, and I gasped. From the alcove where I had been sitting, a privacy curtain blocked my view of those in attendance. From the podium, I could see that the largest chapel at the cemetery was full beyond capacity, with people standing along the walls and spilling out into the courtyard. If there was one definitive moment when I knew viscerally just how many people I could turn to and depend on, it was now. My game face girls sat front and center.

I wished desperately that Sam could have felt the presence of all these people who would have helped him. If only he had asked.

I wrote the eulogy myself. I delivered the eulogy with the aid of just half a Xanax beforehand. And the promise of the other half afterwards.

I know how to mobilize a team when I’m facing a challenge I cannot handle alone, even when this means getting up and out the door instead of crawling back into bed and pulling the covers over my head. Because some days this is no small achievement. We all have times when we need encouragement to face the day. Some days more than others, of course, but every day counts.

It is my experience that help is generally available when I ask. I call my neighbor. As it turns out, she and her dog need momentum, too.

I love when Life works this way.

Three miles later, all four of us are in a better place. We have conquered a steep hill together, we have shed a few communal tears, shared some laughs, uttered a couple prayers for our collective children, and we are equipped to face the day with renewed optimism and energy. The sun is breaking through the cloud cover, and we are on our way.

Now I’m ready for that second cup of coffee.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And help when you ask.