I went to the storage unit yesterday. I’d bought a hammock stand and wanted to find the hammock. It’s also past time for the girls to change over from winter to summer clothes. In our shuffling and looking I noticed two things, one I haven’t seen for nine years and the other I didn’t know I had.
Early this spring, my college friend contacted me wanting to get her hands on some tomato plants my parents sold at their nursery. It was a type of tomato they had propagated themselves, it was trendy in their town in Idaho. They sold thousands of tomato plants every year. I told her I didn’t know if they existed anymore. Mom didn’t sell the seeds, and I didn’t know if the Witch has any at the house. I spent a moment being annoyed over losing yet another thing of mom and dads then let the feeling go and forgot about it. Until today, today, I looked through an old Tupperware container filled with bags of seeds. All the wildflower mixes we once sold at our garden center. A quarter pound of only Dames Rocket seed! I’m a serious flower child. I sorted out packets of sunflower seeds (I was going to grow sunflower playhouses for my kids when they were young, never happened.) California poppies, Hollyhocks, and Sweet Williams and then, right there, just lying in the bottom of the mostly empty box I found this.
I remember the day mom handed them to me like it was yesterday. I was waiting impatiently at the kitchen counter as she scraped a few seeds off the parchment paper where she was drying them. As she dumped them into the tiny bag and carefully labeled it with a permanent marker, she admonished me. “I don’t give these to just anyone!” She smiled at me.
“I know mom.” I bounced my tired eight-month-old on my hip. I was thinking about the long drive and even longer flight in front of me with my two kids.
“Start them in a south-facing window in March, maybe February. You could probably get away with that in Pittsburgh.”
I never got around to it in Pittsburgh.
To be honest, it’s the handwriting.
It gets me every time.
Other things on the list-
I bought myself some Chanel No 5 because my birth mom preferred it. Every time I spray it on, I smell the subtle (cheap?) notes that they must have used to make the perfume Charlie. I’m pretty sure Charlie was some kind of an attempted knock off of Chanel No 5. Charlie was mom’s favorite perfume growing up before she became unable to tolerate scents. It’s like wearing both their favorites.
Facebook memories, ugh. I don’t use FB a lot, but when I do, it remembers. Her messages were like bits of conversations.
You didn’t stay long enough! I wish you lived closer! I love you!
How did you manage to forget the box of jams I set out? Dad and I will bring them to Christmas.
This reminds me of you.
You have memories with Arlene.
Strawberry Milkshakes. The only food that makes chemotherapy tolerable.
Uncontrollable swearing, Shit for spiders, shit shit shit for fast spiders, Hell for snakes (the rubber ones she hid in her own strawberry patch to scare away birds), Dammit to Hell, ED! when he pretended he couldn’t hear her.
Today I partook in an unanticipated bit of spring-cleaning. It started out as a straightforward cleaning of the kitchen and dining room. The kitchen was a snap, and I moved quickly to straightening and sorting the accumulated piles of papers on my dining table, which led me to the family computer desk and the massive pile of papers to be dealt with later. Later turned out to be today, and this led to cleaning out the single file drawer I have because there were a few papers I needed to file and not sufficient room to do so. In the end, I filled two kitchen garbage bags stuffed to the brim with shredded paper.
This little piece survived the massacre.
I pulled it from somewhere in or possibly behind the file drawer; it’s at least five years old. I was sorting quickly but my own handwriting caught my attention and the words at the top, I saw you, stopped the movement toward the shredder. I shifted it aside, into the file again pile before giving myself too much time to think about it. Finishing the job, I barked at my son when he asked a harmless question and ran away to my bathroom to hide and take it down a notch.
I’ve come back to my computer this evening and pulled it out of the slim file sitting by my open laptop. Surrounded by chocolate eggs, writing notebooks, scraps of papers I’ve scribbled on at work, my Ipod and other detritus of writing, it appears harmless. However, this hastily scribbled page requires a little bit of back-story.
I was adopted when I was two days old. I have seven siblings, also adopted. Of the eight of us, six were adopted at four months of age or younger, the other two were four years old and eight years old. We were purchased in two sets, the first four adopted in the early seventies, the second four in the early eighties.
Any discussion about adoption between siblings is a mixed bag of emotion best served with much laughter, tears, strong drinks and some crunchy comfort carbs. My mother’s death sixteen months ago has managed to both intensify and simultaneously free the discussion. You see, most of the stories revolve around her, as do the scribbles on this paper.
My sisters and I have spoken more than once about writing the truth about adoption, as we lived it. Partially in response to a novel, my father wrote, of the life he enjoyed which none of us recognized and partly in hope that somewhere there are adoptive parents that might read it and recognize the need to ask for professional help. What follows is a stream of consciousness, written after one such discussion. It’s harsh, hard for even me to read, almost feels like speaking evil of the dead. However, you see, sometimes it’s important that shameful things are spoken.
I saw you, banging a child’s head against a wall in rage and I learned that children aren’t safe in their own homes. I heard you scream obscenities at your husband and slam doors in his face and learned anger is more powerful than sanity. I watched you break a hairbrush over my brother’s head, a wooden spoon across his back and a yardstick across his bottom and learned that childish frivolity was bad. We stood by as you smashed a stack of plates on the kitchen floor and then demanded we clean up the mess you blamed on us and I learned the truth didn’t matter if you were big. You left my defenseless younger siblings at home with a known child molester and I learned that religion meant more than common sense.
My mother did her best in later years to make amends, in some cases, for things she could not even remember. In the months since her death, I have thought more and more of telling our story, the children’s story. It is a real story, with laughter and pain, joy and sorrow, suffering and release. It is not a re-telling of the highest peaks in a life but rather a diary of the slog through the ruts, across the rivers, up the hills and down again, with some pleasant stops along the way. Crossing paths with these scribbled thoughts, I am once again caught in the boiling river of memory, the fast moving water, some bits over my head, other shallow places and rocks to break against.
Today is Mothering Sunday or Mother’s Day, in the U.K., an event that might have escaped my attention except for, well, Madonna. The headline from this morning’s Daily Mail proclaimed Madonna bereft after losing custody of her son and conceding defeat to her former husband Guy Ritchie.
The article, you can read here, included a link to her cringe worthy performance of La Vie en Rose in Auckland, New Zealand Friday night which she dedicated to her fifteen-year-old son, Rocco.
She stood in front of a cheering crowd of thousands of strangers that brayed all the louder when she spoke of her son, tears shining in her eyes. Does that mean all those people had been following the story and were cheering for her loss? Maybe they were chomping at the bit to have the childless Madonna back again, after her mommy years of sweats and cheerios in her hair. Perhaps the venue was filled with intoxicated people who’d paid an eye watering sum to watch a fifty-seven year old woman cavort about on stage in fishnets and heels, all of them wishing to escape the weight of poor choices and forget their adulthood for a time?
While we’re on the subject of poor choices, what is wrong with this kid, anyway? I mean his mother is a freaking rock star! He lives in million dollar homes around the world; his friends are the who’s who of this planet. Musicians, actors, sport stars, he has access to all of them. He wants for nothing. Between his pop star mother and movie directing father, there is nothing he cannot have.
Or is there?
Since the boy decamped his mother’s tour and fled to Britain, what has he been doing? The paparazzi have snapped him riding bikes with his dad in London, texting deftly with one hand and steering with the other. He’s also been seen hanging out with kids his age at a skate park, and, gasp, participating in underage smoking. That last bit apparently really riled his mom. I’m sure he did nothing so detrimental to his growing brain while touring around the world with her, all those hours back stage and on the tour bus/plane. Pretty sure he passed those hours with Geometry homework and nature programs. Like any good mom, she surely banned him from MTV until he finished his chores. Why, why would he leave her? I think I’m about to make myself cry.
Wait, nope, just the cat hair. God bless me!
Sigh, so, here’s the thing, I have a sixteen-year-old son.
He is most definitely the reason this story hurts my heart.Why I think women around the globe look at this situation and shake their heads. The universal truths about teenage boys. I’ll speak about mine, because he’s the one I know. He wants his space but still needs security. He wants excitement and fast cars and to try that cinnamon whiskey, and for now, if I pay attention, I get to weigh in on all those things. Why? Because he still wants to lay on the couch and have me bring him food and fund his PS4 wallet. Because I can make him laugh when he tells me, he wants a Bugatti Chiron, but really, in the winter in North Dakota? I’m not going to be towing his sorry butt out of the ditch every time he hits the gas pedal between October and May. Because he wants to hang out on the soccer pitch, kicking goal after goal with his best friend and he knows if he texts me I’ll let him stay until it’s just dark enough he can’t see the ball anymore. You see, even now on the cusp of adult independence, he still needs me.
He needs me, not on my timetable, on his.
He needs me to listen when he’s ready to talk. He needs me to be alone sometimes, so he can casually ask that question burning a hole in his spirit.
You see, he’s waiting for that quiet Sunday morning, when the girls are gone and you’ve slept in. You come out to the kitchen in your pajamas and make yourself a cup of coffee, look out the window at Central Park, or the Missouri River, or just the Wachter ditch. You are still a little hung over from the absolute glut of sleep and the prospect of the laziest Sunday so far this month.
His tousled blonde head pops up over the back of the couch, “Mom?”
“Yah?” you mumble, hoping he wants nothing more than to clarify that it is not a serial killer using the Keurig.
“Can I have a dollar for a Coke?”
“Yah.” You’re glad it’s nothing you have to put any effort into.
He gets up from the couch and stretches, all long, lean, and taller than you. He walks over and rests his forehead on your shoulder. You do that shrug thing you do that bounces his greasy teenage boy hair against your cheek. “Eww, you ever gonna shower?”
You smile into your coffee cup as he leans a little more heavily on you.
“Penny’s mom wants her to go on birth control if we’re going to keep hanging out together.”
This, this is the part where modern mothers fall down. The quiet spaces that our boys feel comfortable filling.
Back to Madonna, just to be clear, I’m all for mothers taking care of themselves, for feeding their souls, for letting their talents burn and light the world. But I wonder how many Sunday mornings she gives herself? And how she finds the spaces to share? I don’t mean share with all of us, but the intimate sharing, the safe, soft places where teeth aren’t brushed, no make up is applied, you know, hairbrush optional places.
Children are beautiful, fascinating, maddening things. They are ours, our very own, for such a pitifully short time. I wonder if Madonna has just realized that. Just come to understand that now, when he’s fifteen, he’s so perfect, so funny, so loving, so active, so independent, so needy, and so very far away on the other side of the world.
I would like to think if I were in Madonna’s situation, my song dedication to my own son would have been a little different. I like to think I would have grabbed my guitar and gotten on a plane, right behind him, not three months later with a team of lawyers. And after I’d successfully stalked him to my ex’s house in London, I would have sat on the end of his bed and serenaded him. And if he were my son, he would have been the one crying, pleading with me to stop; he’d give me anything, no more singing! I would have had to sit on him and listen to the gagging sounds he made as I sang about my heart and soul and pressing his heart to mine.
“Gross, Mom,” he would groan with what little breath he had left.
I’d bounce a little on his back; hear the satisfying crunch of a couple of vertebrae.
“That’s right boy, I’m your mom, and I’m gross, get over it.”
I’d say it with a little smile because tomorrow is Sunday.