When You’re a Grown up

  

My daughter and I were at the frozen yogurt store the other day when we overheard a boy about five years old say to presumably his mother, “I can’t wait til I’m a grownup!” Not exactly sure of the context, but I believe his mother had just conditioned his frozen yogurt choices on being old enough to know what was good for him.

Though the exclamation produced a smile on my face, my 19-year-old-off-to-college-this-week daughter quickly turned to the boy and said, “Don’t rush it, kid. You don’t know what you’re asking for.” And she laughed so as not to terrorize the boy.

I turned to her and asked, “Is it that bad?” She nodded, yes.

I know the anxiety of living away from home for the first time preys on her nerves, playing a checklist of to-do’s and what-if’s in her mind on endless repeat. I feel her.

She and I differ that way. When I left home, I had no thoughts. I left on the sheer will of want: whatever I wanted. It was only after I left that I began to worry as I realized I had no idea how to write a check let alone balance a checkbook. I had only one experience with a bank: a savings account my mother opened for me when I was in junior high, one with a little blue, firm-covered, palm-sized bank book in which to register deposits and withdrawals. I remember how grown up I felt then. But that bank book, regulated by my visions of large purchases and the change in my mother’s purse divided by four, did little to teach me about pooling money in time to pay rent, feed myself and pump gas into my car. 

I learned, especially after a few months of barely living on graham crackers and cottage cheese or peanut butter. A visiting uncle, a psychologist  from Texas, remarked to my mother at one family gathering during that time, “Does she have anorexia?”

Burning by my own mistakes was my way. Still is. So long as they were mine. My mother did little to prepare any of us five children for the world as she protected us–wittingly or unwittingly–from the responsibilities of grown-ups, cocooned as we were in our middle class suburban neighborhood.

Maybe it was the time too. She stayed at home and cooked for us, washed our clothes and poured our milk for us. I remember telling her one day in sudden astonished awareness, “Mom, I’m 12. I can pour my own milk.”

My children did not grow up the same way. Their parents worked and so had to fend for themselves more. Even when I worked from home when they were small, I advocated for their independence. As soon as they were old enough to complain about what was for dinner, I let them know they could make their own if they did not like what was on the menu and then showed them how to use the stove. 

I am not suggesting my kids are not over protected or spoiled in other ways, however. While my parents had no means to buy their children things we nevertheless asked for, my kids have had more money given to them than I had. Growing up in a one-wage factory laborer family, we became accustomed early on to the idea that any material items we wanted would have to be purchased by our own means. I worked mowing lawns, helping my brother deliver newspapers and babysitting from the time I was 8.

My daughters, on the other hand, were raised to believe their grades and sports were their jobs, that they had too many years ahead for the paying jobs that they would eventually have to report to daily. “Don’t rush into working,” I always said.  

So my 19 year old has had a job for a year now; she worked part time while attending the local community college to pay for her car, books, concerts and clothes. I know it has been a stretch, the responsibility, though I know it hasn’t been a shock. She is used to budgeting her time and her resources, having been over-scheduled since she was 6 with soccer practice, piano lessons, school, and whatever the day’s playdates or parties brought.

But it is not the practical how-to’s or what-to-do’s that have her worried about moving out. I know it. She can figure things out, and it isn’t as if she is completely cut from the cord. Smart phones have kept us connected for years now anyhow, near or far. I group text my daughters to come down from their upstairs perches (more like second-story caves) to dinner (when I cook).

Nope. What she fears, I imagine, is what we all do. Doing it herself–whatever it is. The psychological state of being on her own, which prefigures the time when she will be truly on her own, no parents to call upon for a word of advice or a few bucks (or few hundred) to carry her over til payday, is the foundational fear–of death, first others and then her own. 

Not to be too dramatic, but Freud did not get everything wrong. Death and sex are primary human motivators. Everything that drives us is rooted in either or both. 

When my daughter goes off to college, it will symbolize that eventuality (hopefully far down the line) of being on her own without the umbrella of parental love. She will experience it as a mix of anxiety and excitement. And even as she will be making her own love, whether parenting or not, which will occupy enormous space in her mind and heart, she will one day yearn–even if it is just for a moment—for a time when the burdens, seemingly too heavy to bear, were barely perceptible just as they were lurking, unnoticed, above her childhood, as she splashed in an inflatable pool in the backyard and wondered what was for lunch and if she would ever not be bored on endless summer days.

I know I have.

And perhaps my mother, sitting among us near motionless in the skin of a fading light, silently reminds her, also symbolically, that connections run deeper than the physical–etched like the voice that called her to dinner at night all those years of play and idle dreaming. Even when the voices are silenced into memory, beginnings and endings forge life forward even as they fall backward in the marching on. 

Nose for Flight

  

Resounding pounding booming voices,

we walk as tribe towering through town–

big women, muscular and thick.

Known for our beakish noses and long necks,

the women in our family walk tall and short

thin and squat, spoon and saucer, some

tea and coffee drinkers, sweet and savory,

all manner of political persuasion, religions

zealots and atheists all, strong and quiet

loud and soft, self-realized and delusional,

married and single, childless and family’d,

but we share too bountiful brows and thin

lips or thin, hairless arcs with thick bottoms.

No one escaped freckles, some splotched

others speckled like paint splatter, touched.

Hair painted blonde, brown, blue, red or rust

from birth or bottle, we live color and light.

Our faces trace aspect of notable signature

only ours and fragmented chromosomal bits

of all those big feet that marched soils’ exile

from Siberia to Spain’s royal anti semites

of centuries past onto gypsies roaming free

dancing to the colors of a rhythmic breath

breathed in noses shaped for soaring flight.

The Hunger

  

Silent morning crashed by knuckled knocking–

“Do you want breakfast?” he asks like clockwork.

A man who eats to fuel his quest for the next meal.
 

I remember the bed and breakfast crawl we made

visiting New England in late fall of the festival trees

the first snow of Vermont outside a barn-turned pub.

 
The magic peppered with the strafing questions like

“Do you want pizza? Are we getting soft serve?”

And we just finished breakfast not even an hour ago.
 

We laughed and sighed heavily too mocking the man.

Mom was herself then and could join in the jeering.

This man she married from birth delivering herself too.

 
Broken windows, airless in vomitous heat of rat breath

this sweat shop he worked in nearly all of his adulthood

feeding too many mouths that barely spoke to his image.
 

He convinced himself from so fateful a day–stay boxed

when only he tripped on the rug pulled under his feet

by friends joy riding days to sweet steals, jobs or dying.

 
A mind goes empty in the cabin of fear dank and dark

communing with foreign tongues, solemn shells of skin.

Like solitary confinement for 48 years, no one remains.

 
So we dwell on the asking, the feeding, breaking bread

we two who watch our center fold in on herself slowly

eking death out slow-steady for lack of a conversation.

 
“No, I already ate,” he hears expectantly but undaunted.

“Come on. You’re too skinny and you need to eat more.”

Words endlessly cut and pasted on a screen of our lives.

 
Other words fly scatter shot red-orange like those trees

the ones in New Hampshire that year we traveled miles

from my rage-ful grimace, head banging steering wheel.

 
Remind me of a father’s daughter teetered on seesaws

lifted by the weighted desire dreamed in obedient love

and grounded earth bound to shackled birthright chains.

 
Invisible strands heated like electric coils of metallic sin

knit our knotted ties seemingly eternal yet dust shallow

as we journey the branches we are and make complete.

 
The insatiable consumption of air heats the moving parts,

wills an engine movement to carry bodies across lands  

upon which fathers and daughters feed the mime of time.
 
  

If I Could Savor…

  

If I could savor all the bits and pieces of love I have shared

–with or without someone else–
and store them in a capacious safe place 
such as a warehouse, 
a bank vault 
and my heart, 
all in one, 
to draw upon on days like these after a night of angst and tremor, 
there would never be a moment of worry, 
of terror or dread, 
no steam of regret or anger, 
for all would be washed away in the oceanic amour reservoir. 
I have loved so much so often, 
it is a wonder there is any room for other invaders to besiege my mood, 
disrupt my sleep or daytime dreaming, 
none to spare for jealousy and greed, 
envy and hate. 
Love has filled all the cracks, 
poured off in excess to inundate the floor of my soul, 
completely submerged in pooled good will and heart offerings that bind. 
Or so it would seem on sheer mathematical principles alone. 
So many loves, so many times.

Is there any fiercer love in so fragile a bundle than the adoring eyes of an infant 
following and studying her mother’s face? 
No matter the need, 
there is brimming love un poisoned by desire 
and machinations of how to get that in my pocket, 
in my bedroom, 
or in my bank account.
No matter the illusion, 
the source is there in wide open hazy eyes 
studying the mystery of the powerful impulse 
to forego sustenance in order to drive nearer the object of an overwrought mind 
and wretched will to be in the presence of the beloved. 
The road is endless until a fluid destiny culminates. 

I asked a friend, 
and me, 
on occasion: 
How could there ever be a lonely-cold day of wondering where she’s gone, 
who she loves now, 
when she gave up so much of her herself, 
her ambition and freedom, 
the dream job and impassioned call to the city’s illuminating sights, 
to be with you those many years? 
Did you not collect those trillions of minutes and safe-keep them in your house, 
hidden in the darkest corner of your room, 
the moments of her bottom lip brushing yours in tender, 
have-spilled surrender to the night, 
your heat enveloping her breath, 
deepening her sleep to the pallor of death’s neighborhood? 
Where did you send those beats’ resounding 
if not through that mighty pump thrusting it off 
to venture through the veins of your mind’s nettings? 
Draw them now; 
paint the joy of that brush of your mother’s thin fingers through your hair, 
your grandfather’s whistling from the smokey yard, 
giant barbecue tongs in hand, 
your toddler’s honey sticky fat thumbs on your cheeks, 
your lover’s call in the late night longing, 
your sister’s tearful embrace, 
the memories of moving childhood laughter pinched in her arm’s muscular grip, 
and the first step in the door of the home and hearth 
you have craved for trillions of minutes endured away.  

Love is strong. 
I have heard of her lifting a car to save her baby 
and her loss heavier than the bloated body at the bottom of the lake. 
It does not dissipate for the air cannot carry such weight. 
The heart cannot contain it all, 
and the mind cannot grasp it. 
Love must reside in the thick rubbery green of the rubber plant 
hanging above my porch, 
or in the orange of the sky at dusk, 
or in the olive and pink sheen of my daughter’s freshly showered skin, 
or the ancient brown of the spots on my mother’s cheeks 
or the muffled sound of my father’s cough from the other room, 
or the musk of the classroom still lingering even after long summer months  
or the squeeze of my hand just before I approach the podium for my closing argument, 
or the earth of an emerging bordeaux on my tongue, 
and the thought of growing old with the world.

OMG, nooooooooooo!!!

  


Yes, it’s tragic. I can tell by the frequent wailing and gnashing of teeth around here. Zayn is leaving.  My daughters are heartbroken.

When all the eye rolling is done, I have to ask myself if this phenomenon, the three, four, has it been nearly five (?) year love affair my children have had with this boy band (now man band), is something to deride. Perhaps the resistant nod to the importance of this group on my part comes from the force feeding I have endured over the years, trapped in a car with screaming teens and pre-teens, windows rolled down as they shouted along with the blaring music,”You don’t know you’re beautiful!!”, at passersby, laughing, arm-waving and car-seat dancing. 

While I have maintained the appropriate role of music critic, one of many as a mother, explaining to my daughters with aplomb that cuteness is not one of the criteria for musicianship, I must confess to knowing most of the lyrics to at least two of the albums and have been caught singing a 1-D song while cooking dinner in the kitchen a time or two…or five. The truth is, I like the band, and my daughters have been warning me that this day was coming, the breakup of the band. 

They would know as they follow every word ever uttered by mouth or in print on Twitter, Snapchat, Vine, text or telephone from fellow fans befriended while waiting in line for tickets, movies, and concerts, or at fan sightings and school about these adored entertainers. My 16 year old has told me during more than one car ride to school or a friend’s house with grave admonition and dread that their five-year contract, made when the band members were her age, is almost up and it is doubtful they will re-up given their rigorous touring schedule lo these many years. She suspected burnout all along.

And now it is slowly unfolding, the story of Zayn’s quitting–or was he fired? My 19 year old gave me the lowdown this morning about how it may actually be a firing from the slave master, corporate, money-grubbing, greedy-bastard managers (her characterization, my words), when he dared to walk off a tour after publicity of Zayn’s cheating on his fiancee, or so it was made to appear by the evil media. She explained that Zayn was the more sensitive one and just got sick of the twisting of his life with all the fan-dom gossip and media lies. 

So says she, who somehow coaxed me on more than one occasion several years ago to drive all over Los Angeles chasing these boys for a possible sighting. One time, I flipped out on her and her friends after a six-hour chase that made me question my sanity–truly. There is a limit to a parent’s indulgence of teenage fantasy addiction, and I had exceeded that limit by legions.

The truth is, I will miss these boy-men should this signal the beginning of the end. All those car rides–and there have been many–with four or five girls screaming in my car every word to every song, windows down, wind whipping through us, and even my steering wheel banging car seat dance in full swing, have been fun and meaningful, girls having fun in music fantasy, me witnessing. My younger still insists only half ironically that she will marry Harry, so there is no need for any other boys in her life.

These singer-musician cuties have played an important role in our lives, in theirs particularly, and not only as an obsession or a place holder until something bigger and better and realer comes along. Their devotion, waiting for hours to glimpse them, purchase tickets, see them in concert, find the latest about their lives, has been not only the commitment of love-sick, crazy teens with no reality that can compete with the fantasy of them, but of the true commitment of fans, caring fans who love something bigger than themselves, something to hang their hopes on for a future relationship with someone truly special, someone with greatness, ambition, good looks, talent and caring for an adoring heart.

For me, these guys have given me opportunity a’plenty to not only serve as taxi driver, crazy mom, and sage adviser about everything from music to love to addiction, but also as friend and adoring fan to these girls, all beautiful in their youth, purity and zealous affection and enthusiasm in their devotion to a lovely even if sometimes embattled over the rights to the story world, something that could be a lot worse than wholesome 1-D. If they have to be addicted, I am okay with it being a handful of benign cutie patooties. 

And quite honestly, it has been interesting to watch these boys grow, musically and personally, amazingly in sync with my daughters’ growth in the same fashion. The music is less bubble gum, evolved, adding a layer or two of musical and lyrical depth and diversity. Similarly, both girls have developed diverse musical tastes over the years that I deem mature and sophisticated, even as I question the talent of some of their selections. 

My car rides are now infected with a wild array of cynical, political songwriter-singers, not so fresh and innocent as 1-D, more so overly whiny, sardonic and anti everything socially accepted, like the Front bottoms–their rebellion phase, kind of like their mom’s Dylan, Doors and Led Zeppelin phase decades ago. But despite their clear evolving musical tastes way beyond the pop pablum of groups like 1-D, or their predecessor Justin Bieber oh so many moons ago (comparably “my” David Cassidy in the 70s), they hold Harry and the boys near and dear, laughing at themselves while seriously loving them too.

But we all move on, even 1-D dudes. Zayn is right to quit. Why not end at the top? Why not try to regain the semblance of a sane life at the ripe young age of 22? It will take another five or more years to get over the post-traumatic effects of rising and sinking so far and wide as unknown to super-star to used-to-be. Although, I somehow doubt the residue, the fractured band, as Brad Nelson of the Guardian dubbed them, “four goofy white guys shouting“, will make it and not only due to the dent in the multi-textured sound that Zayn contributed to creating. 

The fans may not be so forgiving of the Simon Legree (or is that Simon Cowell?) managers they may see responsible for the breakup or may not be able to let go of what was–the perfect quintet of dreaminess. A beloved will always be missing.

In any event, there will be the press stories and the fan stories, the truths of which may not coincide. The best part of the band for most fans is not even the music but the constant back story and just the story making itself, constantly winding in and around the social lives of imaginative teens and pre-teens flexing their minds and hearts into the vast landscape of love, music and social media. What else is there, after all?