Tag Archives: motherhood

…Right in the Jungle

“I gotta hurry back upstairs to the television!” I told my son as the screen door closed behind him.  “It’s the final fight scene in Kill Bill.”

“Omigod!  It’s so cool you have it on, too!” Aaron yelled, jogging behind me.  “That’s why I’m late.  I was watching it at Chris’s house!”

“Did you lock the front door?” I asked rounding the corner to the stairway.

“Shit!  No!” he answered, frozen in his tracks for a moment, weighing whether the lock could wait for the end of the movie.

I could launch into a diatribe about the themes of Kill Bill Vol. II and how much this martial arts mom relates to them.  I could present a laundry list of the traits my son and I have in common and how similar our tastes are in art and music.  In fact, I could fill pages with both subjects.

But as my first born and I sang the soundtrack tune “Goodnight Moon,” watching Beatrix Kiddo drive off into the sunset, my mind centered on a collection of facts that had strongly shaped the moment and that are more important than commonalities with my child or my love of a movie:

  • I had to become a mother to care about my character.
  • I had to quit living like a frat boy to learn what character really is.
  • When my son started living like a frat boy in my house, the character that motherhood made me care about compelled me to show him the door.
  • Showing him the door now brings him back through it with a level of respect and love that I’ve wanted us to have from the day he was born.

The rest of the afternoon’s visit consisted of chowing down on hard shell crabs that Aaron brought with him, chatting about his job, friends and flirtations, and waxing philosophical about the best first career choice for a talented young man who’s bound to have more than one.  It was an afternoon that made the week, if not the season.

“The lioness has rejoined her cub and all is right in the jungle.”  That’s the final statement in Kill Bill… and it’s the truth.

Advertisements

Teeth and Tattoos

I’ve spent four months away from writing, and with each day that I’ve been away, it’s been harder to make the time in my perpetually-sleep-deprived days to return.  But with two young Kung Fu Sihengs weighing heavily on my heart these last weeks, one of whom I just finished speaking with on the phone, the re-entry point is clear.

My son is boarding a plane to Texas tomorrow morning to visit his grandparents for a week.  When he returns, he’ll have one day to dot his “i”s and cross his “t”s before heading down the highway to Georgetown University, which is also my alma mater.  I was scared shitless, as they say, when I found out this child was on the way.  I don’t think the fear was evident to anyone but my therapist – a man who knew enough about me to gently suggest that motherhood might not be the best choice at that point in my life.  My marriage was the epitome of dysfunction, which, given the emotional and physical messes we both were, was all it could be.  But to my therapist’s amazement (and my own!), I consciously chose and gave my all to getting my act together for the sake of the boy who’ll be boarding a plane to Texas tomorrow morning.

He’s getting on that plane missing half of one of his front teeth.  That fact infuriates me for two reasons: first, because he injured himself doing something thoroughly irresponsible and thoughtless, which wasn’t particularly legal either.  ‘Nuff said on that.  Second, the fact that he’ll be taking off for college with this new look, despite having the means and opportunity to cap the tooth, tells me it’s a look (persona?) that he prefers, and it will likely be with him a long time.

So, the mom who stopped being self-destructive in order to enable her child to become exactly what he became – the sought-after valedictorian, scholarship student  – will, for the foreseeable future, be reminded every time she sees her boy that it’s now his turn to be self-destructive.  And he’s taking it.  Repeatedly.  If only someone had chipped his tooth in a sparring match!  I’d still want him to cap the damn thing, of course, but it wouldn’t actually hurt to see it missing.

allofus-profile IMG_1605

The visuals that half tooth gives me, both of my past and of my son’s possible future, are probably nothing compared to the imaginings in the minds of the parents of a young man with a brand new tattoo.  The adolescent who taught me how to make a long staff give me gold medals is entering his last year of college – and counting down the days to his commission as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

Siheng Bad-Ass, as I affectionately refer to him, recently returned from an ROTC training mission in Fort Knox that cut him off from the rest of the world for a month.  He was excited and proud as he talked about repelling down walls, while taking practice shots with a machine gun, and I knew before I asked what assignment he’d be requesting ten months from now.

“Oh my God, your poor parents!” I said aloud before I could catch the words.  I was imagining him ducking bullets in Iraq or Syria.   “You’re going in as an officer with a great record.  You can pick anything you want.  You don’t have to choose the infantry,” I said as if I were his mother, telling him what he knew better than I did.

“It’s my calling,” he answered with a big smile.

A week later, he walked into Wushu class with a tattoo on his forearm that reads: “For those I love, I sacrifice.”  I’m not sure I’d be able to read that on my infantry-bound son’s arm without crying each time I saw it.

I worry almost as much about the future of the boy-Siheng who was my teacher as I do about the future of the boy that’s mine.  I haven’t seen the future soldier’s father in months, because my schedule at the store has kept me out of his Saturday class.  But I wish I could give him a hug of commiseration.

We get them ready to walk into the world on their own two feet, then, we have absolutely no control over the size, sound and rhythm of their steps when that walk begins.  At the end of a job well done, what remains is watching and waiting.  Please, God, please…give us a good and happy show.


Long Lines and Loss

I come from a long line of women who won’t take no for an answer – even from God.  When people told my grandmother she didn’t have the constitution to eat whatever she wanted and continue breathing, she ignored them for thirty years, until thirty feet of her intestines had to be removed.  When my father told my mother he would never marry her, she simply changed her last name to his and waited years – for nothing.  When the doctors told my aunt that an epileptic with sickle cell could not carry a child to term, she miscarried five times before menopause permanently decided the issue.

So begins a compilation of autobiographical short stories I wrote a while back.  That opening paragraph has been popping into my head for almost two weeks now, when the last of the three women mentioned in it died less than seventeen days after her ninety-sixth birthday.  That long female line of mine is down to me and my daughter.  I knew that was coming, of course, but I still wasn’t ready.

FromNellietoAva

I thought my grandmother would make it to triple digits.  Her older sister made it to 101.  But perhaps becoming the last living member of her birth family made her more ready to join her husband and half of her kids.  The longevity of the generation once removed from my own was a source of hope when the early deaths of my mother and three of her siblings made me anxious about my own mortality.  That sporadic anxiety is back.

It is now Good Friday, about a week after I first started this post.  I would love to claim that phenomenal success of the shop has occupied too much of my time to finish writing.  But mama drama is the better explanation.

My son has regressed to his 14-year-old self.  That was the year he acquired new friends and the first real girlfriend and became so out of control that I was ready to ship him to his grandparents in Texas.  Now, a lack of consideration and respect, on multiple levels about multiple big-ticket items, need not lead to a plane ticket purchase.  After all, he is legally – and financially – able to sign a lease.  While my love for him is unconditional, his ability to live in my house is not.  But that fact doesn’t keep the mama bear in me from wanting to keep him safe – especially from himself.

Loss is a natural part of life, occurring in unexpected ways, like sudden illness and teenager confusion, and expected ones, like old age or the end of childhood.  I state the obvious simply so that I can better accept a fact that sucks so profoundly.

Easter weekend was the most important three days of any year to my very religious late grandmother, the woman whose apartment was my second home when my mother was at her second job, the woman who taught me the most about baking and let her daughter provide the finishing touches.  As I receive a host of orders for end-of-Lent goodies, the absence of my baking teacher, who dealt with more loss (four children alone was enough!) with as much grace as possible, leaves me with pain both piercing and acute.

Nellie Mae made chocolate pie once a year for her youngest daughter, my aunt who couldn’t have children.   She taught me to make the ninety-something year old recipe she’d acquired as a child herself on a summer visit my family made to her house, not long after the death of my aunt.  That recipe is my most popular pie and a component of my most popular cupcake.  As long as my shop is here, my grandmother will be with me every day, even more than my mother, whether I like it or not – as will her example of how to handle child-related wounds with grace.

 


Gratitude and Grief

“I guess I better stop bragging,” he said. “You were a big shot, and now you just work retail.”

“I’m still a big shot,” I responded between gritted teeth to the man who’s supposed to love me more than any other.  But in 46 years, he’s never gotten the memo.

Ironically, the apparent loss of bragging rights, from the realization that his talented multitasker of a daughter couldn’t quite pull off a full-time job in television production while running a business that operates seven days a week until 11 p.m., happened in the middle of the most euphoric period of the shop thus far.  From mid-January through the Valentine’s Day/Presidents Day weekend, business was booming more than a two-month-old endeavor probably has the right to enjoy.  Then came the blizzard and restaurant week.

Those who aren’t hunkered down in their layers of sweatpants and sweaters saving up to properly celebrate St. Patrick’s Day for the entire month of March (at least that’s how it goes in Baltimore) are braving the cold and ice right now to go out to dinners that they can only afford one week out of the year. Either way, the end of February has brought with it my winter doldrums.

I’ve now spent a week wondering if the previous month was a figment of my imagination.  It doesn’t help that Lent has started.  I don’t even want to think about the number of folks in Charm City that have given up sugar for the next six weeks!  Calmly navigating the rollercoaster of retail may be a greater mental challenge than surviving black sash training.

Speaking of kung fu, I miss my kids – those who aren’t mine and the two who are, as well.  This unwanted hiatus from the adrenaline rush of being busy comes while I’m in between teaching sessions at the gym.  I awarded four sashes at the end of last session – one white, one yellow and two green. My first green sashes mark a transition for me as well: I’ll be teaching my first intermediate-level class, starting this Sunday.  That will include intro instruction in staff work, the very thing that has attracted students to me in the first place and the part of kung fu I love the most.  I can’t wait!

I can however wait for my daughter, who is days away from the fourth of her six black sash tests, to finish growing up.  Leaving a training session at the gym last week, I had the horrifying experience of watching my little girl get checked out for the first time.  The guy who couldn’t take his eyes off of her after saying hello twice (she didn’t know he was talking to her the first time) was wearing a college lacrosse shirt.

Even if you’re only a freshman, you’ve got five years on this girl, which makes you a virtual pedophile! So move it along!!

That’s what I wanted to scream at the perfectly normal looking, red-blooded, athletic man waiting, like us, for an elevator to the parking lot.  But I managed to simply step between him and Ava, silently.  And so it’s in the winter doldrums of 2015 that I’ve first come to miss that little girl of mine who couldn’t possibly have been mistaken for a woman.

As for the child who’s already wearing black around his waist, I can’t remember the last time we were in a kung fu class together, and that used to be our quality time.  We don’t know when they’re getting on our last nerve complaining about eating the broccoli or brushing their teeth that we’ll wind up wishing those days were on a loop.  My son dropped his gym membership (which was the second place we spent the most time together) and has a new-found social life that, frankly, fills me with dread.  I’m being well-prepared for his departure from my daily life at summer’s end, if not sooner, and I’m caught between gratitude and grief.

For seven years, I knew with certainty the bulk of what the day would bring.  I had obligations to fulfill as a producer, a mother, a kung fu student and a spouse, and most of those obligations had predetermined, expected outcomes.  Now, I wake up with a head full of questions on the day.  How much will I make? Can I get her to train harder? What will he realize? How much can she help? Almost everything feels out of my hands – at least until I create a new recipe, hit the gym with my staff or both.

I can control the quality of my food and my kung fu, and I don’t yet have to miss either.  Those facts will always make me feel big – hold the shot – even in winter doldrums.


No Longer Fine

I could hear it in her voice.  It was more than fatigue.  So I asked again if anything happened during her school day that was out of the ordinary.

“I messed up my math and got upset with Mr. White.”  I asked what she meant by “got upset.”  There was a time in her life when an emotional outburst at school was an almost daily occurrence that prompted phone call and email notification.  There was a time when everyone in the neighborhood knew when she was upset because they could hear it through the stone-covered walls of our house or the bricks of the school.

“Well, I had to take a moment to go to the bathroom and calm down,” she answered, sounding chagrined.  It was a strange sound that brought me up short.  I paused for a moment and asked if she and Mr. White were okay with each other.  It was my way of trying to find out if she’d been disrespectful in her outburst.

As a child on the spectrum, she’s been through all sorts of techniques and suggestions, from parents and professionals alike, to control her emotions better, and she’s made continued progress over the years.  Though I’ve been notified multiple times this school year about mandatory study hall assignments because her homework wasn’t as done as she said it was, the last in-school outburst I heard about was a year ago.  Did I now need to expect an email from Mr. White about my daughter being rude?  I wondered.

“Yeah.  We were fine after I calmed down,” she answered.  There it was again – the sound of something totally new in my thirteen-year-old, emotionally and socially-challenged girl.  It sounded like embarrassment, perhaps even shame.  I had a sudden confusing twinge of completely contradictory emotions.  I hurt for her and was elated at the same time.

Through a lifetime of being told and taught to better control her reactions to situations and information she dislikes, Ava’s always acted as if the people upon whom she inflicted her outbursts were the ones with the problem.  As she saw it, we just needed to let her flip out and happily live with the completely inappropriate behavior.  But as she told me about this incident during her daily afterschool phone call, it was clear  that she was the one who was bothered by her own lack of control.  She’d gotten used to reacting well, and she was disappointed in herself for going backwards.

I was so proud of her I had to keep from crying, as I sat in the cubicle I’ll be leaving in less than a month.  I told her not to feel bad, that it sounded like she got it together pretty quickly and was still on good terms with Mr. White, so there was nothing to worry about it.  I told her I love her and gave her what my family calls a psychic hug.

IMG_20140730_174409

Ava started testing for her black belt a couple of weeks ago.  She’ll be getting her braces off a couple of weeks from now.  The application process for public high school selection (a unique ritual in Baltimore, as far as I know) begins next month.  In short, my girl’s going through a lot of changes this season, but none more significant than being disappointed in herself for behavior she once thought was fine.


Family Trait

The landlord for my storefront encroached upon my personal space and time every single day for a week.  I finally had to send a gentle email requesting that he give me space.  Perhaps I should have shelled out for the more expensive property on the other side of the park….

Middle-aged, longtime plumbers can be incredibly insulting and condescending when one is simply trying to obtain an estimate for the installation of a sink.  My life experience forces me to wonder if being both African-American and female didn’t fuel his lack of manners and professionalism….

One hundred pounds worth of flooring is showing up at my house today for carting down the street to the store, and it’s a complete toss-up as to whether someone will be home when it arrives.  Being forced to trek to some far out postal facility looking for the floor to my backroom two days before the health inspection is not my idea of a good time.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

IMG_20141026_182335

Meanwhile, on the kung fu front, my boss at the gym is on her way out the door to another job, and her boss doesn’t care enough about the kung fu program to properly promote the next session.  The new flier is great.  The problem is getting it out of the company computers and in view of the gym members!  Call me crazy, but I’m fairly certain that’s the best way to attract students.

Last night, my son was intentionally mauled by a Siheng who outranks him for having the audacity to land a good punch in Sanshou class.  Now, there’s a new measure of bad blood in the family relationship with the guan.  I’m just glad I wasn’t upstairs to see the fight.  My mother bear alter ego (or is that my primary ego?) might have turned it into an all-out brawl.

I have to admit I was happy to hear that Aaron recovered from the beating to ultimately win a fight that was only supposed to be a sparring match.  That’s kind of how I felt going through my whole week of remodeling and regulatory madness.  It must be a family trait.


Force of Nature

I am not a big fan of time today.

This girl..

..is now this teen.

IMG_20140924_190121 IMG_20140924_175147

And she is, quite simply, a force of nature.  Her smile is infectious, and her bad mood can disappear on a dime.  She’s a talker with no filter and a math whiz who hates math.

IMG_20140826_181230 IMG_20140918_174716

She throws a roundhouse that feels like a log and talks smack about sports better than a middle aged man. She’s made me proud and pissed off in the same moment on several occasions in her short life, and she’s sure to do so again.

Today, my youngest became a teenager….  I couldn’t be a more thankful and hopeful mother.  I couldn’t be less of a fan of time.


Dead White Guy Favorites

It used to be called the canon – the must-reads of Western literature that allegedly represent the best in creative writing and exploration of the human condition.  At the very least, they represent the books and plays most written about by those who study literature.  These books and their glaring absence from my children’s curriculums weighed heavily on my mind Thursday, after a fantastic kung fu workout in which I realized that I’m much more mentally aware of how to fix what I’m doing wrong in a form than I’m often conscious of.  This incredible “Aha!” moment was juxtaposed to the awakening just an hour earlier that, academically, my kids don’t know nearly as much as I did at each of their ages – at least as far as literature is concerned.

It all started at dinner out with my son earlier this week.  As we scarfed down Polish fare, he asked me to name great books for him.  He hadn’t read any that I mentioned; more disturbingly, he hadn’t heard of a number of them either.  I expressed my concern at the time, but concern turned to a mild form of ire yesterday when discovering that the syllabus for his senior year doesn’t include any canon books either.  Silly me, I thought his teachers would patch up the curriculum in the final year.

My son attends a Jesuit school that’s geared toward providing a better education to children of urban, working class families who can’t afford private school.  Now, I understand that there’s been a move in the last decade or so to get away from caring about the perspective of dead, white men and thereby make reading more appealing to the largely non-white student bodies of most of the public schools in America’s largest urban centers.  However well-intentioned, this move seems to have all but eradicated from those same schools any trace of what used to be required reading no matter where one lived and what one looked like.  If administrators remove from literature curriculums all but a few of the dead white guy favorites, we’re going to end up with a generation who, ten years from now, will immediately recognize and understand any reference to the “ice bucket challenge,” but who won’t have the slightest idea what grandma is talking about when she compares Johnny’s ill-advised pursuit of a person or thing to Ahab’s quest for the great white whale.

I remember as a kid watching a Bugs Bunny episode I’d seen dozens of times, listening to Bugs go into a riff about an apartment number that started with “2B or not 2B; that is the question” and understanding for the very first time that the Hamlet allusion is what made it funny.   Something about that realization felt good, especially since I could go on to finish most of the monologue, at the time.

Does it matter in the grand scheme of things if today’s youth understand literary references?  I can’t answer that.  What I know is this: my children have excellent grades.  But I’m not sure if their grades accurately reflect how much they know.

Not getting the joke may be no big deal.  But not knowing what their grade point averages suggest they should could be huge.

 


Seems Like Minutia

My son doesn’t believe in free will.  He’s a philosophy buff with strong analytical skills that serve him well most of the time, but he may be overthinking things on this one.  By contrast, my daughter acts as if she thinks free will is the end all and be all, and there should be nothing but personal choice.

IMG_20140817_161042

Sitting in front of the flower stand in Philadelphia’s South Street today, scarfing down a snack before an author interview, I was feeling pretty philosophical.  That’s what got me thinking about my children and choices.  I wondered if the very campus I was headed to for a work assignment would be Aaron’s home by this time next year.  He would then spend a fair amount of time in the very station I was sitting in, catching trains home for… kung fu.

IMG_20140825_124347

IMG_20140825_122138

Will he be chosen by the school(s) of his choice?  What will he choose to do if not? I wondered.

What if my own first and second choices for colleges had been reversed and I’d gone to Boston instead of D.C.?  I wouldn’t have been in D.C. to choose to help a co-worker drive from Washington to Austin for graduate school.  Aaron and Ava wouldn’t be here, then.  I wouldn’t have met the Texan ex-husband without those choices.

Choices and the consequences thereof can be wild and crazy things.  Even the ones that seem like minutia can be game changers. I thought as I sipped from a soda.

As I gathered my equipment to head to the taxi stand, I could feel a headache coming on.  It was time to give philosophical musings a rest.  So I chose to do just that.


The Only Variable

I took a night off from kung fu last night, which always leaves me anxious to get back a little faster.  My mind’s already in the guan. But there’s a lot besides kung fu going on in my head today; so I’m going to let things tumble as they may.

A third member of the family has begun black sash testing.  Here’s Merle post sparring practice with me, sometime last week.

IMG_20140814_193142

Our girl has decided that she’s not thrilled about being the only member of the family who’s not yet eligible for testing.  All of a sudden, Ava’s stepping up her game and executing some of the better kicking combinations she’s ever put out.  Today will tell the tale on whether she’s really pushing for eligibility. Today, she has the sparring practice that she dreads, and I want her to do well.  I want her to be deemed eligible for testing if she wants to be.

In her favor is the absence of a brother who’s normally a thorn in her side whenever the sparring gear goes on.  Tonight, he’s going to work.

This fact was a bone of contention of sorts last night, as I always seem to be the last to know when his plans change.  Now that Merle is testing, that can be inconvenient, with one car in the family and three people who often have different places to be that are 10 to 40 miles apart or the same place to be at different times.  I’m apparently supposed to “just chill” when a conflict arises, even if it could easily have been avoided by a sharing of information – and even though I’ve requested info sharing ad nauseum.  Such is the plight of parenting a teenager who, by definition, thinks he should be in charge of all aspects of his life at all times, legal liability and severe financial restraints aside, among other things.

Every once and while I have to stop, take a breath and say aloud, “I’m sorry, Mom,” because what goes around truly does come back around.  My son has become just as good at telling me what he thinks is wrong with me as I was at telling my mother.  And that’s just the way it is.  It’s his turn.

Here’s what I know about parenthood, regardless of how my children assess me, each other, themselves: “You’re only as happy as your unhappiest kid.”

I can’t remember where I first heard that, but I remember feeling socked in the gut with its undeniable truth.  I was so moved by it when I first heard it a dozen years ago that I repeated it to half a dozen friends and co-workers, all of whom visibly had the same reaction that I’d felt.  This fact is the reason my son probably hasn’t heard the word “no” from me more than a half dozen times in his 17-plus years (and my daughter’s heard it a lot less than she should, given behavioral issues not entirely in her control).  It’s also the reason I make myself nuts getting them to where they want and/or need to be.

I am unhappy when they are.  Period.  The only variable is the extent.  I can chill all day long if all I have to care about is me, but I doubt there’s a good (custodial) parent on the planet who lives that way.

I have children living near downtown Baltimore, going to underfunded public and parochial schools, with peer influences that haven’t always been good.  But today, I’m not worried about drugs, sex, gangs or bullies – just whether my girl can get eligible for testing if she wants to and if my son can get into and afford the college of his choice.  I’m still moving slowly at becoming a duck (explained here), but I’m surely doing something right!


Drive Time

Twice a month I drive to work.  That’s about an hour and fifteen minutes of one-way driving in rush hour traffic.  Unlike driving to and from the grocery store or kung fu or college visits, that bi-monthly drive has become the time that I listen to music that’s special to me without the interruption of family conversation.

Driving up the highway last night, on my way to kung fu training at the gym, I just had to hear a song from a CD my son gave me for my birthday.  It’s a great collection of tunes I loved back in my twenties and songs he loves today that are similar to the old Nineties “alternative music” hits.  My need to hear the song was a direct result of a cool photo of the extended family that he sent me from his grandparents house, where he’s the photographer for a change.

Courtesy of YouTube, of course, here’s the song the picture put in my head.  The studio version is one of my new favorites of 2014, thanks to a kid who knows me pretty well, but the live version is pretty good, too!

 


Foot-cramped and Kid-Free

My beautiful babes were in a goofy mood as they waited to get through airport security.  I’m in the middle of day one of nine without my loquacious Minecraft and Warriors-loving girl and my ear buds-donning, bilingual boy, with arms full of self-made bracelets.

IMG_20140808_121342

 

He held up the security line for a good five minutes getting them off and back on.  I’m fairly certain he’ll pack some of them on the way back.

IMG_20140808_122207

All four family members sweat together in Saturday’s upper sash class.  It’s the only hour of the kung fu week that we’re all guaranteed to be together.  So, of course, I missed my kids today — particularly as my beleaguered glutes started screaming for relief somewhere around the forty-fifth outside crescent kick.

Misery loves company.  In this Saturday of seemingly endless kicks and horse stance holding, my daughter would have commiserated and then some.  “Batman” might have asked to kick in another rotation or two.  Then, I would’ve wanted to kick him. 🙂