The desert speaks legends

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Through a desert with sun settling atop the mountains and semis providing relief from the piercing glare while traffic crawls, except for those lawbreakers riding the emergency lane, speeding the sides dangerously, we travel, mother, father, daughter, and teammate. The weekend of games has ended. Reality drags itself in like a legless dog, leaving a flattened path in the sand behind it. Tumble weeds pass us by deriding us with snarly twigs of derision. “Ha, ha lemmings.” 

Traffic breaks, we speed on, and I keep my eyes on the passing blur of joshua tree and sand.

The landscape whirs with murmurings; the desert speaks legends.

Mountain silhouettes remind me that space is illusion as the peaks look like painted playing cards.

How many times have I passed through Baker?  Have I seen the signs with cowboy aliens before?

Aliens on horseback, now that would be a thrill. 

Perhaps they’ve already passed through,

nodded and kept on going to greener pastures.

 (A writer sighs and no one looks up–eyes glued to phones)

“We should have known,” his parents ruefully remarked to the reporter (I say out loud). 

“He always insisted on painting the moon brown. His teachers complained, tried to steer him right, but he insisted on brown. He was 8. He should have known.”

Daughter glances up at me and grunts, “Huh? You say something?”

I shake my head.

The rising moon face winks.

Soccer College Showcase in Vegas

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The sun and wind, whistles and screams.
The engine roar of passing planes muted by vast, absorbent sky and grass,
dirt and plastic.
Baby chuckles and exasperated sighs,
“Oh God” and the like,
reactions to the terror of play,
a mother’s fear,
a father’s glory.
And the ice cream jingle floats atop the astro-turf swelter,
a complementary note to children at work.
The song sings of promises and earned rewards:
ice pop, pat on the back, handshake and a wink,
and maybe a letter, informing

“We accept your excellence this day,
this very warm, breezy winter day on the playground of risk and fortune.”

Soccer is Life

  
Soccer squeezed the last drop of child connectedness present in me since birth, the longing to be with children, entertain them, love them, nourish and teach them, whether they were mine or others’. Soccer helped me prolong that self-nourishment, extract and exercise every morsel of that longing up til and beyond the passing of my children through the soccer loop. 

My youngest is a year or two away from concluding that endless year in year out schedule of life around soccer, that sharing of time that we all could communicate and commune through the participation in it. As the end nears, a clear cut picture of its termination in view, coinciding with the embrittling of my bones and calcification of my mind, enervation of my drive and lust, I see that soccer was my destination and destruction, a pattern of life that breaks along with reputation, image, doplegangers self-created. I build a monument to my image and then swung a sledge hammer at it in my sleep walking state. Only, now I select the salvageable pieces and so limp along until the chosen pieces re-integrate, grow like regenerating brain tendrils to form the new old me.

In which we witness a prayer

  

 

 I’ve looked into the eyes of this movingly tender and beautiful photo of my daughter fifty or more times since discovering it. She allows me a glimpse of her social media life in but one place: Instagram. I am grateful for it. There I can peek just a little to see what others see of her, what she allows to leak. I know her and don’t know her.

But this picture is poignant for several reasons. It is the one picture I believe I have a leg up on all of her friends, acquaintances and public, maybe even a significant other. I know the look in her eyes. I have been fully immersed in the practice of recognizing what lies behind the surface of her expression since she was born. It was a method of survival for both of us. Is she hungry? afraid? frustrated? Anger was always obvious. But differentiating between shy and reserved took some deciphering, some investigative study, and close observation on my part.
 
I had to discern between what I read–over-read really–in books about personality traits and behaviors from what my gut told me silently, wordlessly. Motherhood is the scariest ride at Disneyland times 100. It’s often a matter of life and death. The twists and unexpected turns cannot always be calculated or anticipated.
 
I have grown to recognize by an unconscious alarm in my head when my daughter is sad or slightly afraid or both by nuances. Her veneer always seems collected, polished plain and emotionless when she is settled into herself. When she is playing or performing, her face is a farcical mask of glee or humor or goof. She lets it out all hang out.
 
But this subtle look behind her eyes is sad sorrowing pain, one from prolonged stress of doubt and fear, standing on the edge of the fall balanced to the very brim of standing it. She abides. But she slides down into the “feels” of it sometimes.
 
I never set out to steer her into college sports. It took me along as it took her. One day I was her coach among all the other six year olds, trying to entertain and teach, and the next I was helping her decide whether to accept a college offer to play the game in another state. Recreation soccer blossomed into a competition that could only be sated by club ball, which always sold parent hopefuls on the steep price of a scholarship.
 
I cannot say that a scholarship was the lure for me. I figured out the math early on. For all the years of paying for trainers, club fees, equipment, travel and this and that peripheral fees, I could have paid her and her sister’s college by investing the money in passive income yielding ventures. But the lifestyle of soccer promotes health and the outdoors, hones the coping skills of competitors and educates the athlete to her own limitations, desires and nature.
 
I don’t regret the time and expense of it all. What else would have driven us as a family to places we visited–together–from hotels in deserts to hell holes to luxury digs in gorgeous cities? The drives alone provided family time we would not have scheduled otherwise. And I often ask what will bring me to lay myself down on the grass of an open field on a Saturday sunny afternoon in the breeze, imbibing the disparate smells of trees, wind and turf, when my children no longer play?
 
But watching my determined, ebullient, driven and light-hearted child-woman as she steps through her days of doubt and illness, waiting for her brain to heal, I wonder why I–we–wanted this. Of course, no one picks a course thinking something terrible will happen, something will go wrong. And even if we ever think about the possibilities of injury, failure, or loss, we gloss it over with a deferment and hope: think about it if it happens. Such is life lived as us.
 
She will survive a concussion that has driven the joy out of her first time away from home experience and exacerbated the hardship of that transition (something she has not managed too smoothly since I can remember) in school and life. But will I survive her Instagram pictures that freeze-frame the story of that grief and turmoil? Yes. With the faith and prayer of the priest and scientist, I watch.

Burned by Tragedy’s Strike

  
Only trying to help, he reached—

with his arms, without his wits, without intention, pure reaction, 

like an impulse, he flew.

And then he landed, crashed.

He came to the rescue but then needed help, 

so much more than anyone could believe, could expect.

Just trying to lend a hand…stop the ball going over the edge, keep the game going, 

everything for the game, the kids, his granddaughter–playing.

Unthinkingly, he, trim-fit-tall and lean for his age, stepped a few, 

lunged, stretched, caught the ball out of bounds, out of the air, 

without hesitation, without strain or struggle, without looking, 

not knowing where he was, how close to the edge, the precipice.

And before the paramedics came, as the game continued, 

the girls playing with wonder, big worried question marks hanging above their heads, 

I slowly, tentatively, nervously peered over the side, 

caught a glimpse.

His crumpled body, or a part of it, I don’t know, 

being too afraid to see what was down below the field, 

down the embankment, he lay there.

And all I could do was shrink back, away, 

and rush to my daughter on the field at the end of the game, 

steer her away, not to go anywhere near there; don’t look.

But whatever I saw stays, 

like destiny or fate or a horror movie scene that really scares the shit out of you, 

so realistic, and yet

this was real, 

his dis-animated figure lying there in some ball or sprawl or head over heels, 

like a toppled monument in the grass, 

Sadam Hussein’s giant statue with the stoic expression on its face unchanging 

as the stone body keeps teetering by the shoving hundreds of hands, tipping, 

and then crashing again and again on replay in the news reels;

I cannot see, can’t summon it up as true, 

like a cartoon soccer grandpa looked frozen in mid-lunge, 

body angled shot from a cannon in goal keeper’s dive for the mid-air ball,

toward the pendulum arc his outstretched arms and the soccer ball configured

against the backdrop of space, sky, 

downward sloping grass and lower-down-the-slope trees,

and then as I saw him there motionless, suspended, 

he disappeared, 

popped into another universe.

A stranger’s shell broken below, 

still and ever so, 

no longer ambulatory, though alive but forever stilled–

his arms, legs, pelvis, neck, chest and heart, 

except for the abysmal ache of regret and enormous question mark:

how to live now, between oh so close to dying and not dead.

Too fucking unfortunately bad for him, the dumb mother fucker, 

his mind still moves–and remembers and remembers. 

Like mine–branded burnt.

And they–lawyers, relatives, investigators, insurance adjustors, soccer fans, and the projectionist

behind my eyeballs–will not let you die in me,

you, a mere artifact, statistic, flattened newspaper clipping, docket number, 

now a symbol, airy thin and translucent like a story never told, 

ancient as memory itself–a living tragedy, chaos confirmed .

Motherhood on Mother’s Day: Let it Be


My Dear Daughters:


   No letter, especially one to daughters, should begin with I’m sorry, but this one does. I’m sorry. Though regrets are a waste of time, I must apologize for your inheritance. No, I don’t mean money. In all likelihood, your fortunes are your own to make. And I know of no genetic medical challenges in store for you in this lifetime. No, this apology comes upon seeing the two of you drive off to lunch together, one tight-lipped and tense, the other tentative and earnest.


You see, dear daughter number two in birth order, you have inherited the portion of your mother’s temperament that ruffles easily when you convince yourself that another has acted poorly or unjustly or incompetently. You do not suffer lightly the effects of others’ actions on your life, irritated at the shortcomings of your fellow beings. You stew. 


To make matters worse, you can’t shake it off. When you decide to change teams and find the coach knows little more than the last one and your teammates are no different, no more skillful or intelligent or cooperative than the last, you simmer, aggravated after a game where the forwards hardly ever anticipate your serves from mid-field and so miss scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity, while the coach fails to instruct and the defense fails to adjust for the deflected offense. 


So you grouch for the rest of the day, angry at your teammates, your coach, but mostly at yourself for having chosen the team, or for even playing soccer in the first place.


And you, daughter number one, I owe you an apology for both your inability to fix your sister and your desire to do so. Like me, you feel discomfort when others display unpleasant emotions, even if  they are mere facial expression. Your sister cannot hide what she feels, though she speaks not a word or a sigh. Her face tells the story–sorry again, second born, for yet another trait passed on. 


And you feel responsible when you are not completely oblivious. Sensitivity is not your strongest attribute. You need to be hit over the head, spoken to directly, told what someone feels, unable to intuit. I gave you that obtuseness. Then when you hear the complaint, the source of woes, compassion turns to anxiety to solve the break, the mood, or problem. 


That anxiety leads to paralysis. Your mind turns foggy with the pressure to create, find an idea. And so you retreat, get disinterested and frustrated. You have no idea what to do to please her, though you try: bribe her with first choice of music in your car or chocolate or a trip to the mall. You try teasing and joking but the list of sorry-I-gave-that-trait-to-you includes stubbornness on her part as it does cluelessness on yours. 


But you know she unwinds in time, flexes her tension and exhales in release when she does, so there’s no rushing through it. The two of you cleave to one another as the best of friends, so you know.
  


Daughter born first, the days ahead bring many lessons about letting go, acceptance and boundaries, yours in relation to others. Your compassion will hold you in good stead if you never swallow it down in futility rather than acceptance: you can offer but no one has to accept. Perhaps she cannot. That is not your fault. Give, nevertheless, without the expectation of receiving. Help others because others need help, not to get results. You are not here to fix but to try.


Daughter born second, when you too learn to accept yourself, mistakes and all, your moods will calibrate, even out. Your expectations so high for yourself, you project those on to others who cannot meet them. If only you can merely see people, observe them without judging, and accept your strengths and weaknesses realistically without judgment, you may be able to do the same for others. 


The expanding pressure contracts and recedes in the exhaust of toxic release, the poison of fear–of disappointment, not measuring up, and not succeeding–whether aimed at you or others.


You both have a lifetime ahead of procuring patience, and if you get the jump on everyone else, you may discover the secret, the jewel of existence, of slowing down just as time speeds up. If you can, if somehow in cinematic slo-mo you can envision your two hands grab the big hand of the clock, just like when you were little we learned from that interactive picture book with the brightly colored spinning clock hands (blue for the big one and red for the small one) and hold that big boy back with all your might, you better the odds at beating the odds against you–your inheritance. 


Take time, my daughters, to be and let be. She who came after you needs time to work the inarticulable undulations of anger mounted on uncertainty overlaid on the foundation of fear that shift and morph like sea kelp ebbing and flowing with the tide. If you, my first born, breathe slowly, let every drop out before you sip another slow breath in, the extra seconds may allow you the focus, the time it takes for the words to come, the ideas to set you free:  “She is who she is, and I am who I am. Nothing more.”

I am sorry but have no regrets. You two embody the best I have to offer–and more. 

With all my love…
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I know you know.
  

The Beauty Myth–Think About it.

  
While I’m in favor of encouraging women to feel confident and happy, I worry that today’s body positivity focuses too much on affirming beauty and not enough on deconstructing its necessity. Spreading a message that everyone is beautiful reinforces the underlying assumption that beauty matters.


So writes Lindsay King Miller in Taking Beauty Out of Body Positivity. While she lauds the ever inclusive embracing of all female body types, she believes that reinforcing beauty as a value criterion is detrimental. She discusses what “body positivists,” those trying to change the accepted notions of beauty, are currently doing to change current conceptions but cites the dichotomy of beautiful versus ugly as problematic to such a cause, how beauty always implicates ugly. Ultimately, however, she finds the expansion of beauty beyond Victoria’s Secrets models refreshing, and as a mother of two teenage daughters, so do I.


Raising girls in 21st Century America is complicated. Raising girls probably has always been complicated, but in this world of consciously and commercially reinforced stereotypes about body imagery, where young girls are vulnerable to the obsessive compulsion to conform to culturally dictated beauty standards, it is particularly troublesome. 


Unquestionably, there is too much emphasis on the female body as artifact of beauty and sexuality. It is also undeniable that many walk the earth unconscious of their inherited values and aesthetics, what culture has produced in them:  their tastes, predispositions and prejudices. Historically, women have been treated poorly as citizen bodies, practically erased representationally in the arts, for instance (See Syreeta McFadden’s The lack of female genitals on statues seems thoughtless until you see it repeated). So women grow up in a vacuum of realistic body portrayals to challenge social “norms.”


In my early mothering years, I didn’t want to raise two daughters without at least attempting to defy norms. When they were little, I bristled at the pink and purple princess culture vulturing girls on commercial television, so I attempted to shelter them, feeding them a steady diet of commercial-free Public Broadcasting educational television. However, living smack dab in the suburbs of Southern California, I found I could not blind them to imagery that I did not agree with or even downright feared. And though I wanted to run counter culture, I was actually driving home the very ideas I wanted to avoid. 


I knew what I vociferously avoided would be the very thing to lure my children. By avoiding princesses, I was drawing the curiosity of princess-dom to two children not living in isolation but among blossoming princesses.


So I decided the best tact was to expose them to all that I believed would indoctrinate them, commercial television and radio, the internet, Justice clothing store ads and other girly-centered media, and then use the exposure as opportunities to discuss options and causes. 


I have always spoken to my children with words to make them reach rather than me sink. I would often remark that the store Justice was painted in colors that draw prebuscent girls of their age, pinks, purples and pastels, and then ask them who decided those were girl colors. They may not have understood the questions then, but now as teenagers, they are vocal feminists and advocates for the non-conformists, especially defying normative behaviors expected of them as women. Their dress and actions do not always affirm their words, but there is a consciousness of the conspiracy that captivates their style impulses.


I remember the trickiest issue of parenting two girls was body referencing and diet. To tackle the thorny body image issue, I steered them early from identifying anyone by body type or parts, skin color or size. I modeled pointing someone out by location, i.e., that guy in jeans and a tee shirt next to the cereal boxes–not by body traits–that tall white dude down there, explaining that no one wants to be identified by something that marks them at birth, something they did not choose. I thought it was the clearest path to disassociating their body as their only avenue of identity–at least as a starting point. Of course it was more complicated than that.


Before my children could think and prefer, I had them enrolled in classes:  art, dance, gymnastics, soccer, science, theater and whatever else I thought would expose them to opportunities and practice habits and hobbies healthy for them, a path to learning. It was no surprise that two daughters of a soccer playing mom would love soccer. 


With soccer they learned about their bodies’ needs, dietary, sleep and exercising. It was a no brainer to let them eat a begged-for donut before a game and then ask them how they felt during the game compared to say a pre-game banana with peanut butter. They figured it out. They also learned about competition and their bodies, fueling for better performance. We never talked about their diet but fueling choices. We talked about what they ate as promoters of good feeling and health, not body shape.


As a result, neither have been overheard to speak of one another’s weight when the taunting insults fly in their daily needling and razz-rationing. I don’t know what they say when I am not around, but I suspect they rarely judge beauty on the basis of weight, at least. I have witnessed their scolding their peers for doing so.


When they were young, my message about body-intensive focus would be lost, I feared, in a society that prizes beauty as exceptional whether the craze is body shape svelte or zoftig, Twiggy or Marilyn Monroe. The tidal wave of social stigma was too forceful, I thought. They would find out winning the lottery of a culture’s beauty award, one has to have the right metabolism and bone structure, the right chromosomal admixture. One has to measure the self against others on arbitrary dice rolls of anatomy. I desperately wanted them to understand that where body beauty is often the goal for young women, intrinsically achievable happiness is sidestepped or forsaken.


I’m troubled with using “beauty” as a synonym for feeling valuable and powerful and magnificent. It’s not far removed from nominally inspiring, but ultimately shallow, slogans like “Confidence is sexy” and “Nothing is more attractive than happiness” that treat emotional well-being as an accessory. I seek happiness because it feels good, not because it makes my hair shinier. Happiness, confidence, self-esteem—these things should be ends, not means.


Yes, and so how do we teach our daughters about the relationship of beauty and happiness, ends and means? How do we keep the word in our vocabulary without having it used as a weapon or a criterion for worth?


It is not enough to say that “everyone is beautiful in their own way,” to quote an insipid, grammatically inferior Ray Stevens’ song lyric. Some “body positivists” would have media drilling the empowerment of all body types into cultural consciousness.To do so, expands the definition beyond meaning, dilutes its aesthetic etymology and weakens it as a tool for evaluation of non-humans. Beauty is not merely in the eyes of the beholder as there are objective criteria for evaluating beautiful art or poetry, for instance.


Miller offers another conception:


Instead of insisting that beauty is necessary for everyone, more body-positive activists are working toward making beauty optional—something we can pursue if it matters to us, but also something we can have full and satisfying lives without. We should affirm our bodies for what they can do, how they can feel, the tribulations they’ve survived, and the amazing minds they carry around, without having to first justify their existence by looking pretty.


This is not merely a manifesto for those perceived as old and ugly to feel better about themselves. It takes a body fullness that does not need outward validation, a self-sufficiency that manifests contentment and dispassionate awareness of cultural tagging. Critical thinking skills help to distinguish self from selling, what is sold to and through women.


Whether or not I have succeeded as a parent in a myriad of ways from teaching them to clean up after themselves to balancing a bank account, I have given it my all to encourage my children–all of them (daughters, nieces, nephews, students)–to think. And why I love my careers as teacher, writer and mother–for the seemingly insignificant but wholly critical contribution I attempt daily at raising awareness, teaching analytical skills by which to destroy the inherited, constructed world. It’s the least this world citizen can do.