This is it

So, tonight I woke up at a cocktail party and thought, ‘this is it; you have grown up and this is your life.’   So different from the way I grew up.  But which is worse? to grow up again and again in new worlds with their own particular customs and rules, or to grow up in the same place, again and again, with the tiny group of people you have always known.

So many people choose the latter, it seems, for safety.  I guess.  But I could never make that choice.  There is so little time left to me, I fear, and so much more to do, to see, to share.  In this brief existence, surely we are meant to learn as much as possible from as many different people and cultures as we can.  Surely we are supposed to try to understand and love one another.  So we should travel, and converse with, and learn to love, as many different people as we possibly can.  We should seek them out, and listen to their stories, and recognize our common divinity.  We should learn to experience one another with our hearts open and not closed.  I love to be on a bus or boat or train or plane in some place that is not home, and to encounter a person I would never have meant in my tiny little home world.  Sometimes  I resonate, admire, and even come to  adore, as in love, that person, or the person whom that person led me to.

What more matters, after all, than to have a good friend in life, someone you can truly count on.  A genuine friend who counts very few people amongst their real friends.

We don’t often meet people who, a) see us and b) respect us and c) call this and nothing other than this “love.”   Not that it has to be a sexual love.

But how could you love someone who can’t or won’t really see you, and whom you don’t respect?   That person might be in the category of just-met-and-really-fabulous, but you can never really love a person you don’t respect.   And you can’t really become available to be loved until you respect yourself.

So you have to do some diving.  You have to go down deep into what you call yourself and find out what it is that you really want, and how you really want to go about getting it.  You almost always really want peace.  But not death.   So there is this problem, this paradox, from the very beginning, and you have to sort it through.


With my son, Princeton, circa 1992

With my son in Princeton

My son, my only child, was born months after my mother succumbed, fighting, to colon cancer.  She was 55.  I was 30.  When the doctors diagnosed cancer, I immediately got pregnant.

I had spent a lot of my life up to that point doing everything I could not to become my mother.   I looked down on her “bourgeois” life-style as the tennis-playing, Saks-shopping wife of a successful surgeon.   She never finished college, because she took a job to pay for my father’s medical education.

With my mother

I finished college, spent two years studying in Germany, and then completed an M.A. in Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley.   I had married, yes, but was working as the press secretary for a liberal Congresswoman in Washington, D.C., while my husband finished his dissertation.   Later I took a high-paying job as the director of State Relations as NYU.

Suddenly she was dying and all I wanted to do was experience motherhood with her.  I wanted, needed to bond with her.  I wanted to learn everything she had to teach me.   Nothing mattered more to me.  She bugged the heck out of me but she was still my best friend.  She had cancer.  I set about getting pregnant with the same determination I had directed to getting work.

Shortly after I conceived, I found that she had only a few months left.  I quit my fancy job and moved home.  She lived long enough to see an ultrasound of my son while he was still in a frog-state, bouncing himself off the sides of my womb.  I remember the day.  We had gone from the gynecologist to the oncologist, and the news was good and bad.  Shortly after that, the doctor put her on oxygen.  She died on October 2, 1990.  My son was born May 3, 1991.

My Son in Santa Barbara, circa 1996

Six and a half years later, I left my marriage.   I managed to win joint custody of my son, but the only job I could get in my field was in a different state.   At the time, I never imagined that the separation would last so long.  Ten years.  I came to regret many decisions that seemed at the time to be best.  I made every choice with my son’s best interests in mind.  I didn’t think enough, in retrospect, about my own.  I didn’t realize how poorly I would endure the time I lost with him.

With my son in Pittsburgh

Long-distance mothering sucks.  It requires a huge amount of effort, patience, endurance, and love.  Love in the face of countless setbacks and awful, heart-breaking partings.  Love for another person makes it possible to turn the keys in the engine and drive on after you have just pulled over to the side of the road to weep and wail and rage.  Love bends you like the willow in the storm and keeps you alive for the long road ahead, when your children are older and still need you.  I, after all, still need my mother.

This year my son is living with me under my own roof, and the best part of my day comes at 6 am, when I rise to make breakfast and to pack a lunch for him.   Sometimes I also help him get to work, at 7 am, on time.   I cannot begin to describe how good this is for me, how my heart heals a little more with each sandwich I make.  Being able to be here for him is the best thing about life now.

Becoming a mother without your own mother to talk to is hard, because it isn’t until you have actually had your own children that the questions you need to ask occur to you.  You see your own children doing things that you think you might have done, or that may or may not be normal for someone in your family, and you want to know.  But mostly you simply want to share the experience of mothering with the woman who brought you into the world.

If I spent my young adult years running away from my sometimes suffocating mother, I spend my middle years yearning for her arms around me.

I was born blue.  The umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck and was choking me.  A metaphor for the future, perhaps.  Our mother was Norwegian, so she was powerful, domineering, and sometimes intrusive.  She was also outspoken and smart and capable and beautiful and funny.

Friends, my sister and mother in Santa Barbara

After she died, our family fell apart.  Dad self-destructed and completely neglected my sister.  I was, as I had always been, at least since she was six, far away, unable to help her.

It is a terrible thing to have a relationship with someone whom you love and want to help, someone who needs your help but who does not know how to ask you.  It is especially difficult when that person is still so young that she or he does not even realize what trouble she or he is in, and therefore does not perceive a need for help, and doesn’t ask.

So this is a strange posting for Mother’s Day.  The message I set out to convey was that this annoying holiday is for once a very happy day for me, and that is for all kinds of reasons.  The foremost reasons are my son and my sister and her twins.

I am also really tremendously grateful to my new friends, so many of whom are mothers of my age or so.  I am thinking of my partner’s sister, who has just lost both her parents, and of my sisters in AM, each of whom could tell a poignant story about loss and mothering, and of my dear friend in Poughkeepsie, who has also lost her mother.  Mothering is painful and rewarding, suffocating and renewing.  I’m lucky to have so many wonderful, vibrant mothers in my life.

The tea-party gift that keeps on giving

In an election season where Democratic strategists are rightly worried about the Democratic base being less energized than its conservative counterpart, the State of Arizona is the gift that will keep on giving.

So begins Dante Atkins with scathing irony in a recent post on Daily Kos.   It’s a good piece.  You should read it.


Happy Beltane, Everyone.

The ancient Celtic people celebrated the beginning of summer on May 1, or thereabouts, with feasting and celebrations.  Check out “veritas curat’s” interesting blog on the festival here.

Dani McClain writes fiercely and well about the ideological aims of what she represents as a particularly nauseating ABC special about black single women.  As she notes in “Unmarried Black Women: We’re Here, We’re Fierce, Get Used to it”:

Nothing about the tone of or approach to these stories tells me they’re actually for me or other unmarried black women. Just as I can’t imagine 19th century black women flocking to catch a glimpse of the Hottentot Venus, I don’t imagine that I’m the target audience for these contemporary public humiliations. So for whom are these stories being produced? What’s causing editors to green-light the inane pitches that develop into these media train wrecks?

The Mission Statement of the fabulous project, Girls Write Now:

Girls Write Now provide guidance, support, and opportunities for New York City’s underserved or at-risk high school girls, enabling them to develop their creative, independent voices, explore careers in professional writing, and learn how to make healthy choices in school, career, and life.

Michele Obama honored GWN’s receipt of the prestigious 2009 Coming Up Taller Award:

Maya and Tina w Michelle