Tag Archives: Mother

Boys at Home

Superman (comic book)

Superman (comic book) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I tell my four-year-old on the way home, “Johnny, you have to calm down at Grandma’s: you can’t jump on her sleep-number bed or track mud on the floor, or look at the pork roast and then comment that the gravy smells like poop, or sit on the windshield of her car, and when we have to leave, you can’t cry behind the standing antique mirror you always almost break in your fervor, because she will stop inviting us over.”

I know she won’t.  She smiles baring all teeth, shaking her head, she says, “They’re boys.”  I smile, bearing anything at all.  How does my mother not mind?

Who doesn’t like gravy?

Sammy is two and threw my mother’s butter potatoes to the floor, swept them clear off her table before he began jamming out with his spoon on her new slate-tiled kitchen set.

Last week, a little girl ahead of us in line at Wegmans said, “My name’s Angelina.”

Johnny said, “My little brother’s name is Sam, and he’s not an angel.”  We all laughed, but he didn’t understand what was so funny.

My sons are not devils.  They are ragamuffins.  They are toughies, my mom says.  My mother-in-law says God only gives you what you need.  He forgot to give me muscles.  And many days, patience.

I did imagine that Angelina went home and combed her Monster High doll’s hair calmly and smoothly with attention to snarls and then smelled her doll’s hair and then cuddled her like a good Monster High doll’s mother would.  I imagine Angelina potty trained in two days.  She ate everything her parents put on her plate, with gravy.  She took ballet classes and tiptoed down the stairs after waking, never before 8 a.m.  I imagined.

I have to exert all my power to hold two boys down with force enough to put their shoes on while they spin like tornadoes, but not enough force to hurt them.  It is a hard practice, like yoga, this strict control of muscles.

And yet I see the same restraint in Johnny when he wants to wallop Sammy in return for the bite on his forearm.

They love as hard as they live.

We get home, and Johnny says, “I don’t like to come home.”

So I tell him that makes me sad, that I want him to love our home, to want to be here.  He starts crying and tells me he doesn’t want to leave this house, to move, that he wants to take the “for sale” sign down.

When I am almost in tears, Sammy says, “It’s okay, Mommy.”

At night, we are finally settled, the three of us on the couch, watching Chicken Little, and I’ve finally stopped holding my breath long enough to remind them how much I love them.  We share popsicles.  And if they fight by pushing hard and leaning against each other, growling, it’s over the space on my lap–which is my space, and I don’t mind if they each take it all.

 

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A Letter to my Grandmother Regarding Feminism on Her Birthday

Dear Grandma,

I start this letter on your birthday.

When you were younger, you lost a sister to a milk truck.  I know nothing of her.  I tried to look it up in the news archives and I couldn’t find it.  Her name is Bernice, and her short life becomes a thread now, a dwindling string from a threadbare shirt that you wore and washed and took off and put on and grew tired of and passed on.  I can’t find the article in any newspaper, though I watched her name disappear from the census records.  I know her name because it is your middle name.  I wrote a story loosely based on that pain.  You were smoking cigarettes on a porch with a husband who loved you like Grandpa did, with the kind of love that left him whimpering, in a way that he didn’t even realize he was doing, after you passed.  In the story, you and I are one.  You moved a lot Grandma, but I hate moving.  Your character cries hard for the death of her sister every day, and I am there, in you, crying over losing a house.  The silly things that matter to me.

Had I cared enough at all about these things while you were still breathing, I would have asked you about Bernice during that round of Apples to Apples–the first and only I would ever play with you–but, instead, we talked in code about Hilary Clinton, who, you lamented, shared your first daughter’s name.

I find in this way that I love people much more after they’re dead, and that’s just not fair of me to do.  Last night, Grandma, I spent two hours on the “Find A Grave” website, trying to corroborate a mother and child’s graves with a news article from January of 1861.  The mother was murdered by her husband when she was very pregnant.  The story disappeared after that, and in the following issues of The Brockport Republic, I can’t find a single article that discusses identity, tells who this poor woman and her forgotten child is.  I tried to look them up by death date, but then I wondered:  About the baby, can it have a death date if it was never born?  Can I call it a “forgotten” child if it was never known?

I know you went to college for biology.  You starred in plays.  You had a director’s chair with your name–Jody–on it that has been lost in piles of bankers lamps, and old paintings and crackled glass.  You died on New Year’s Eve.  My father jokes that he cried harder when he lost Buddy, his first golden retriever, but that was a one-time cry, Grandma.  He cries for you every time he breathes whether he knows it or not.

I found out I was pregnant with my first son, John (named after your second son), two months after you died.  I debated telling anyone I was pregnant at first because it was my sister’s birthday, and she already shares her birthday with her son, so I didn’t want to steal it away from her.  But, Grandma, what I wish I could have talked to you about, was this hard thing called motherhood, that pregnancy comes with this guilt that any thing you do for yourself is somehow not good for your children.  I am getting my MFA and spend a lot of time writing.  I spend a lot of time in stories set in tumultuous times when women hid their bodies away from public while they were pregnant.  Back in the day, you didn’t have Ted Talks to tell you how to interpret the responsibility of bearing life.  You did have a bible, but Grandma, how do you know the right answers to a text that has as many interpretations as words?  Is that why you majored in biology, Grandma?  I hate science.

So, I guess what I want to say is this.  This space of being a woman.  For having odds of 1 in 2 to be a woman, why do I still feel like being a woman is something strange?  Something that needs to be managed?  Handled with birth control and anti-depressants and coffee and credit cards?  No matter how far you came Grandma, and you saw so much of it, women still have work to do–mostly amongst themselves.  My mother is the only woman I don’t have an inherent competition with, the only woman I have unbridled admiration of, the only woman who I know, without one doubt in my mind, feels the same way about me.  Mothers are special things.

Women don’t love each other the way they should.  There are fights between sisters and friends and mother-in-laws and what happens is that we’re left in this lonely place.  I am as guilty of this as anyone.  I wish I would have asked you these things sooner.  I know you fought long and hard with your sister.  We hear from her less now.  We are afraid to visit her because we all wonder if she wants to be left alone, or if her house is dirty, or if she’s become a werewolf.  I should be asking her things that I will regret not asking her later.  I am writing to you, instead.

I want a daughter, Grandma.  I feel so guilty typing that, so I backspace it, or I add this in front: “I love my sons, but…” I took that part out because that should go without saying.  Who would ever think a mother would not love her sons with every part of her?  We all worry about this, though.  We all struggle to show how much we love.

I look at your pictures and see my eye color there,  and something else too, but I can’t be sure because I never knew to ask.

When I had my sons baptized, Aunt Hilary and Aunt Jill gave me an old bible of yours.  The Mother’s Prayer had fallen out and was so worn that I could hold it to my face like cotton.  I did.  You had taped it in the middle.  You used it often, and I wonder if it was the act of looking at it that gave you peace or actually reading what it said?  I am a pro at analyzing texts, but I need your help.  I love that where the prayer says: “teach them to love God alone,” you have covered the word ‘alone’ with a thick line of lead.  This, Grandma, tells me more than the prayer itself.

Every night, I cover Sammy, who was born the day after Grandpa died, with an angel quilt that Aunt Hilary made for the boys out of your shirts.

Grandma, now it’s two days after your birthday, and I am many years too late asking these questions.

Love,

Sarah


How Children, and Fiction, Grow.

Auerbach covered the Lindbergh Kidnapping as a...

Auerbach covered the Lindbergh Kidnapping as a reporter/photographer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What I’m writing right now is my worst fear: a story, born from fact, of a woman who loses her son in the Erie Canal, drowned by a really large puppy.  This actually happened, though the particulars are fictionalized.

Stalled, and re-started, and re-stalled on this story, I figured what I need is
actually more emotion because I tend to avoid emotional avalanche in my fiction.

I’ve read conflicting accounts of the story from national newspapers, local newspapers, anecdotal histories, and then corroborated with Ancestry.com, obituaries, and yes, sometimes I feel like a stalker.  I mull through histories that aren’t mine, like shopping at an estate sale, buying photographs with unnamed faces and features that aren’t mine, so I last night, before I fell asleep, I imagined it to be mine.

I listened to the late-summer bugs and scared myself with thoughts about how vulnerable my children were.  My oldest son’s fingers were twitching with sleep, his mouth slightly open, and he was sweating in the humid air, refusing before bedtime to remove his Disney comforter for some sort of security.

Lately, before bed, he’s been asking about monsters and ghosts and something called the “silly silly gumbo” from a cartoon, and THAT scares the business out of him.  He drapes his arms around me, having asked for a hug, and his grip is tight because he’s not letting go.  I refuse to pull away and leave him with his arms open and empty, so I just sit there, waiting for him to say something like, “You know, mommy?  Superheroes protect us.”  And then I say, “Yes, but policemen do, too.  And so do the walls of our house, and Molly, and Mommy and Daddy do, too.”  And then he asks where the naughty guys live, and I tell him they live far far away.  And he says, “In the woods?”  And I think hard, because everything matters, and there are woods around our house, so I say, “No, not around here.  I’ve never seen a naughty guy.”  And I lie like that until he feels safe enough to loosen his grip, to give me his kiss.

God.  And he’s just three.

So my husband was snoring beside me last night, and I thought, what if I were Mabel, the mother from my story?  It is something I hesitated to think, but my mind had already gone there.  What would I miss most?  Mabel is consumed with the Lindbergh baby, and so my mind wandered to that, how the family was unaware their child had been kidnapped from his bedroom window.  When I hear on the news that that’s happened, I turn skeptical, imagine the parents are neglectful, drunk, or involved somehow.

My mind reeled around the conversation I had with Johnny before bed, and then Sammy, my other boy, who’s just learning to sit still while I read him bedtime stories about fireflies, that his thick fingers turn the cardboard pages for me.   How, when he curls up to go to sleep, he still pushes his butt high up in the air with his knees underneath.  For security.

Every night, before my husband and I go to sleep, he peeks in on the boys and latches their doors closed.

I got out of bed before I could stop myself, and tip-toed down the hall to see for myself that everything I’d imagined about my boys asleep was true, that they were there.  And they were.

I left their bedroom doors open, not worried about noise, wanting to hear everything that happened in their rooms, every breath even.


The ‘M’ in ‘MFA’ does not stand for Mother.

 
Play-Doh Retro Canister

Image via Wikipedia

My Vulnerable MFA Adventure

Technically, you could say I’m still in college, right?  I mean, some students even think I’m their fellow student. 

Students older than I am can’t conceive it’s an insult when they say, ” You’re the instructor?  Gawd, you look like a baby yourself.”

No, my nine-month-old is a baby, I think.  But outside, I’m smiling.  It’s an awkward smile, like I just opened the door on a stranger in a public bathroom.  But it’s still a smile.

Yes, I’ve complimented the instructor, they think.

I shouldn’t be complaining.  It’s not that I’m unhappy with my job.  Everyone should be lucky enough to look forward to work the way I do every day. 

This feeling, the need for more–more education, more writing, is an internal tugging at my heels that mirrors my son’s grasps at my ankles.  I can’t shake it. 

There is a place for me still, in this world of motherhood, as long as I occupy it. The young me who needs to write in order to make sense of life, isn’t disappearing the way she might have sixty years ago, when I would have been solely the mother figure.  Mothering, without a doubt, is the toughest and most rewarding job I’ve ever had.  It’s a life demanding of reflection, yet doesn’t offer much time to reflect.

Here’s why I’m writing this:

After years of considering more school, I finally abandoned the notion that I couldn’t.  I am applying to low-residency MFA programs.  Low-residency means I can leave for about ten days every six months, and then work on the rest of my degree from home.

It’s vulnerable to blog this.  Even as I’m typing, I want to delete every word I click out.  There is the chance I’m not accepted to even one of the three programs I’m applying to: Bennington, Goddard, and Warren Wilson.  

People I really care about will know, I think. 

People I don’t even know, will know, I think. 

I am blogging the process regardless, as a promise to myself that I will see it through. 

I almost changed my mind a few weeks ago, when I told my mother.  She wasn’t surprised.  Every time she thought she knew what I would do, I did the opposite.  She always thought I’d do exactly what she would do. 

When I told her, I had to clear my throat and take deep breaths and stutter, all things I thought were clichés of breaking into hard news, the icy sheet we don’t want to touch. 

When I told her, she said, “We are just two different people I guess, Sarah.”

Obviously, I thought.

“What about the kids?”  she asked.  We both looked at Johnny, who was making Play-Doh pizza.  Red caked his nails, smushed up against the pudge of his fingers.  He was oblivious.  His face crinkled.  This blob was the most important fun of his day.

The other morning, I’d asked him what he would do if I had to go away on vacation for a week. 

He’d said, “I’d be sad.” 

I often tell him I love him, and then immediately ask him what it means.  He’s still wading through language.  I want to know when his feet bury themselves in the grain of the sandy floor.  When he comprehends what life is made of.   

“It means you are nice.  It’s hugs,” he said.

That day he said he’d be sad when I left, I couldn’t ask him what that meant.

“Mom,” I said. “Cory will be here.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to watch the boys,” I spat.  I didn’t know where the anger came from.  This is what heartburn feels like, I thought.

“That’s not it, Sarah.  You know I would watch them,” she said.  “You should have thought about this before you had kids.”

 This is the woman who stayed home with me until I went to kindergarten.  She taught me how to (sort of) do laundry.  I still don’t iron.  When I make sauce, I can’t make it any other way than how she taught me–slivers of onions so that my dad doesn’t get chunks, nearly a cup of parmesan cheese, and always more garlic.  She gave me everything she had: brand new sweaters she’d bought for herself from a department store, rings I might never have worn but kept because they’d hugged her fingers for so long, and her nose, I have the wide bridge of her nose, how it flattens slightly as it reaches her forehead. 

 She was smushing her gum, always Wrigley’s Doublemint, against her teeth with her thumb.  She pulled it away, letting it draw out just a little, like mozzarella cheese, and brought it back to her teeth.  This is a habit for her, like biting her nails.  Her other arm bent at the elbow, propping her face away from me. 

“I don’t even want to talk about it anymore,” she said. 

This is how I knew she was really upset.  I’m usually opposed to qualifiers, but I mean really.  I stopped talking. 

My mother is okay with it now, but that’s not the interesting part, so I’m not going to write much other than she’s offered for Johnny to come stay with her when I leave for the 8-10 day residencies. 

In the end, she’d been upset because she didn’t want me to leave for the residencies alone. 

The only time I’ve ever really been alone was when I withdrew into my head. 

I need to do this.

Cory has been so supportive, which is the best part.  He actually is the one who exhumed the discussion from beneath about a million doubts that had sprung up like weeds.  I’d planted them all myself.

So that is the beginning.