My Son is 18 Today

My husband just reminded me that 17 years, 363 days and 24 hours ago, I went into labor with our youngest, Simeon.  My daughter, Sara, was born via C-section after a night at Ziggy’s motel. (You can read more about that in an October 2009 post.)  My OB/GYN insisted that I’d have to have a Cesarean with my next child as well.  But because my first birth didn’t go according to plan, I was determined that I would have complete control over the next one. (I’m a slow learner!) When we discovered that we would have another child I contacted a local midwife, who was also a good friend, and bartered for a baby.

My new midwife, Siti, was not a fan of western medicine. She was a tiny, cheerful woman with long dreadlocks which reached her hips, and small, strong hands.  She had given birth to 9 children, all naturally and at home, and she assured me that a healthy diet, lots of walking and positive imagery were all I really needed. Siti showed up for home visits armed with jars of kale juice, plates of millet with kelp and an old stethoscope. I’d thank her for the meals, stick them in the refrigerator, and eat ribs instead.  That could have been the problem….

During the early hours of labor I was a model hostess — offering my aunt and midwife cool drinks and being very kind to my husband — but when a whole day had passed with little progress, all my southern training slipped away. By hour 24 I was no longer polite. They could get their own drinks.  I was not in control.  My body was in control and I was just along for the ride. I would doze off  between contractions and dream of drugs only to awaken to find that the nice lady in the white  dress with the needle full of sedatives was only an hallucination. I forgot I was even having a baby.  I began to believe in purgatory. I was sure I was somewhere on the 7th level. And moving down.

Twelve more hours. And then, suddenly, there was the most intense feeling I have every had. It was such a powerful force that it seemed to propel every breath every sound and the very essence of my existence from the center of my being outward. I don’t know why it didn’t shatter windows and break sound barriers and thrust everything around us forward on its wave, shaking the world of its axis. And then it passed. Utter calm followed it. Siti handed me a squirmy messy body with a steeply sloping forehead.  “You have a son,” she said. I held on to him, floating in that welcome peace. I didn’t know his name, his father would give it to him later. I just knew that there had been a reason for all that had come before and I was holding it in my arms.

Later, as Siti was helping me with the aftermath, I could hear Ron talking to his son in the next room as he gave him his first bath. Ron’s warm musical voice welcomed Simeon Othello into the world, thanking God for him and promising to do his best.

Eighteen years later the lesson is still being learned. I am not in control. But I continue to thank God for him and I promise to do my best.  And I still know there is a reason for all that has come before. When I can, I hold him in my arms. Happy birthday son.


The Woman in the Mirror (And she’s not a Tiger Mom)

My children are brilliant and beautiful. They are talented and have great promise.  They are also self-destructive and have the potential for disaster.  And it is the last part that worries me a lot.  It’s not just because of the possible negative effects in their lives. Of course I’m concerned about that, but to be honest there’s another issue. My ego might not be able to stand it.  After all, what do my children’s lives say about the kind of mother I am?  How will their choices make me look? What about ME?

Okay, I’m not proud of this admission. I want to be all altruistic and focused only on them, but let’s admit it.  We mothers have this conceit that if we just do the RIGHT things (and the right things may vary based on our personal values) our kids will be bright and shiny perfect monuments to US.  If we’re just Tiger Mom enough they’ll be valedictorians and concert musicians with doctorates.  Or if we offer them enough creative experiences and positive reinforcement they’ll be creative geniuses, entrepreneurs and trail blazers.  We’re convinced that if we expose them to our religious belief systems they’ll be pious and righteous and embrace our principals.  And of course, tofu snacks and organic whole foods will produce healthy, vibrant vegans who would never put a toxin into their precious pure bodies.  And we’ll look pretty darned good.

Except sometimes the offspring don’t get the memo. Tofu squares and daily prayer not withstanding, they follow drummers we don’t hear or at least drummers we’ve heard and want them to ignore. Sometimes they hurt themselves. Sometimes they hurt us.  We want what’s best for them and we’re pretty sure we know what that is, but they don’t always agree.

The other night my son came home so late after curfew that it was in another time zone.  I was really angry. I wasn’t just angry at him, I was mad at how his behavior would make me look to others. So I gave him an ultimatum: If you can’t come home when you’re supposed to, don’t come home at all.  There are rules to follow! If you’re going to live a good life you’ve got to follow the rules!  It seems like the right thing to do.

But, this morning, when I look in the mirror, what I see is a woman who doesn’t follow her own rules. I tell my children to do what’s right while I, more often than I want to acknowledge, don’t do it myself.  I tell them to avoid addictive behavior and substances, while they’ve watched me lose and gain the same 20 to 30 pounds over and over. I tell them to dream big and work daily to achieve their dreams and yet time and time again they’ve come home to find me sitting in the same place on the couch, glazed eyes moving between the TV screen and computer solitaire, my list of goals having become nothing but notes scribbled on a white board and ignored.  This morning I looked into the eyes of the woman in the mirror and I was ashamed. Then Michael Jackson spoke to me.  Sort of.  The lyrics of his song popped into my head,  “If you wanna’ make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.”

Because the reality is this: no matter how much I want to, I can’t wrap my daughter in my arms as I could when she was little and make everything better.  I can’t put my son in time out until he behaves the way I want him to behave. I can’t MAKE any body do anything.  The illusion is gone. But I can look myself in the face and ask the question, “Am I living the life I want my children to live?” and then I can effect change in the only place I can — in me.

So this is the beginning of a 40-day experiment. What if, for the next 40 days I lived the way I dreamed for my children? What if I treated my body with the respect and love I want for them? What if I followed my dreams and aspirations with the passion I wish for them? What if I nurtured my spiritual life with the dedication I want for their lives? What if I were actually to follow my own advice? Will it make a difference in my family? Or just make a difference in me.  Either way I have nothing to lose.

The Boys are Aiight

It was one of those times when our children left us shaking our heads in confusion.  “I don’t know what kind of good we’ve been,” I said to my husband, “we might as well as just dropped them off after birth to be raised by wolverines. ” Cause sometimes it feels that way.  That after all the healthy snacks, and TV monitoring and morning and bed time prayers and positive feedback, and just plain all around conscious parenting — it’s all for nothing and the children will just be whoever they will be anyway.  We might as well have just sat on the porch and drank tequilas and left them to their own devices.  But then again… sometimes I am so proud of the people they are becoming. It might not have anything to do with the organic whole grains in their lunch boxes or family crafts around the table, the faith we practiced or the lessons we tried to teach. Or maybe it does.  Who knows?  Reading this article was one of those times.  Could be the boys are aiiight…

Follow this link for the full story:

No more lost boys

Saturday the 6th was Coty Hill’s funeral. My son was a pall bearer. Coty had a sweet smile. He was polite.  In middle school he used to hog the ball on the basketball court, but by high school he’d learned he was part of the team. He used to spend the night at our house sometimes, sleeping in Sim’s bunk bead and playing hide and seek in the dark yard at night . He was one of my boys.

The first time I brought Coty back to his home I was confused. “I live here,” he said. “Where?” I asked. I saw a couple of older trailers but nothing at the place he told me to stop. “Here,” he said again. And then I realized that the dark trailer with no front door and no electricity wasn’t abandoned. It was his home.  I let him out. His mom wasn’t there. I never met her. Coty had a hard time when he was little.  Sometimes the police picked him up because he was out just walking around town at 3 or 4 in the morning. He was only 8 or 9 at the time.  The principal of his elementary school took an interest in Coty. No, it was more than an interest, she loved him. She’d let him stay after school and do homework in the library or her office until she was ready to close up. She made sure he had what he needed each day. Even when he moved to middle school she looked after him, checking with his teachers, making sure he was okay.   It was in middle school that Simeon met Coty and they became buddies. I knew that Cindy Duryea would know what was going on with Coty even if his family didn’t.

I hadn’t seen Coty in a while, but would ask about him now and then. Two weeks ago while driving across the bridge, I saw him in the middle of the school day, but he wasn’t in uniform and I realized he wasn’t enrolled. It’s their senior year and I was concerned. I meant to check on him. I didn’t though. And one week ago, on Saturday night, October 30th, he put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Two of his friends were with him, sitting in disbelief.  Simeon had been with him the night before but had decided to stay home that night.  The van he was sitting when he blew his head apart sat in front of his friend’s house for days, the remains of the traumatic event on one side and stuffed animals, toys and notes on the other.

I am crying as I write this. One of my boys is gone. My son is distraught. The boys who were with him are trying to be stoic but I am worried about them. Worried for all of them. I wish I had done something. I wish someone had done something. I wish he’d waited 10 more minutes. 1 hour. 1 day. Maybe things would have looked better.

I recently heard that more young people between 15 – 30 died last year from suicide then from war. And I can’t stand it.  I can’t stand it. We must find a way to save our children.  Please, no more lost boys. Or girls. No more.

My Avatar Epiphany

Okay. I know it sounds like I have way too much time on my hands (definitely not the case) or have watched James Cameron’s movie too many times (well…how many times is too many?), but this morning I had an epiphany and it revolved around images of giant blue beings with tails. See, this past week I’ve had a hard time making myself go to the gym or lace up my sneakers. And, for some reason, the idea of a nice salad with grilled chicken had completely lost its appeal. Particularly when compared to a slice of pizza with sausage and pepperoni. I was hugely obese. I was  too slow. Too old. What was the point. The interesting (at least to me) thing about this struggle is that it occurred AFTER having dropped more than 20 pounds and increasing my speed and strength significantly. I was getting compliments. My pants were baggy. And I — slipped into a self-sabotage mind set and couldn’t seem to think my way out.

Not sure what to do, I rifled through my arsenal: 1) Watch several episodes of “Breakthrough With Tony Robbins”. Check. 2) Listen to motivational books. Check. 3) Whine about it. Check. Check. 4) Pray about it. Check.  But this morning as I was walking (while listening to a motivational book and praying.  Okay, and whining) I had my epiphany.  My body isn’t my enemy. It isn’t even ME.  I inhabit my body the way the characters in the movie inhabited the avatars (stick with me now.) If I WERE my body than I would be less of me if I were to lose a limb or become paralyzed or ill.  And I know that’s not true. After all folk with no legs are still themselves. Folk with only the ability to blink eyelids are still themselves. So I LIVE in my body, but it’s not me.  How cool is that! And my body, wonderful vessel that it is, will respond to what I think, believe and do. Epiphany! So, I moved happily on, walking a lot, running a little, lifting a few weights at the gym.  And feeling quite good.  It’s what I think and believe that determines everything.

Not sure how this ties directly into parenting.  I think it can be filed under, “If I don’t take care of myself, I can’t take care of anybody.”

The Perfect Parent

Several years ago a friend of mine said to me, “I love watching you on TV. You always say the wisest things!” Well, yeah. With a team of 12 script writers it’s easy to say the perfect thing. And, of course, the 23 minute show limit. And song breaks. But in real life it’s not so easy. There are times when I am so overwhelmed by my limitations as a parent that I find myself unable to even talk about it. That’s one reason I haven’t been blogging. Parenting can be hard work. And as my children get older I realize daily how little control I actually have. I love them. I do my best, but ultimately, they are individuals who make their own decisions and are creating their own lives. When they are little and looking at us adoringly, we don’t realize that they are, even then, speeding away from us in their own directions.

But there are upsides. Today as I sat on the couch next to my almost 6 foot son, he said, “You know ma, sometimes you have to sacrifice to get where you want.” I wanted to hug him. I wanted to yell, “Yay! You’re finally getting it!” But I didn’t. I said casually, “Yeah. You’re right. Sometimes you do.” And in that moment I felt like a pretty good mother. Sure he said it was something he learned from this guy on the basketball court, but I’d like to think that what we’ve been saying for 17 years played some small role in his “Aha” moment. We aren’t perfect, but, luckily, perfection isn’t required.

Lost without my computer!

I haven’t been blogging lately. I’ve certainly missed it! But, alas, my computer died the big death. It could not be revived. And, you know how we’ve been advised to back up our data? I didn’t.  So much of my writing, artwork and other materials has been lost in the digital black hole. After complaining and whining for a little while (okay, for a couple of weeks!) I decided that this was just an opportunity to start fresh. There are new stories to write. New art to create.  More things to share. Right now I’m using someone else’s computer. Somewhere out there is a Macbook Pro with my name on it.

The following popped in  my email this morning from ExchangeEveryday at Childcare Exchange.  I love it. Hope you will too.

On January 27, historian, professor, lecturer, playwright, and filmmaker, Howard Zinn, passed away.  In his autobiography, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, Zinn made these remarks about being hopeful:

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.  What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.  If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something.  If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

“And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future.  The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

One Step at a Time

HalfwaySome days I have no idea what I’m doing. I try to be a decent mother, wife, woman, but I’m not always sure how. Take my son — great kid. Handsome. Talented. About as interested in scholastics as my left shoe. And I want great stuff for him. I want him to have options. To make the best of his opportunities. But the thing is, I can’t MAKE him want what I want for him. It was easier when the children were little. They accepted my values for them as their own. Eat this. Sit here. Wear this. Read that. Ahh, the good old days! But sometimes, like now, I’m at a loss. I think I know what’s best for them. But what if I’m wrong? Then again, what if I’m right?  Sigh. So I keep pushing. Okay, nagging. Reminding him of homework. Checking on class attendance. Pushing him to complete chores. It is not fun. But it’s still my job.

It reminds a little of the 5k I just completed (yes — I was coming around to that!)  I was a little intimidated at first. All those folk who were lean and ready just waiting to run off at the starting line. I was trying to stay near the back to keep out of the runner’s way. And off they went, surging around me, ahead of me. But I kept a steady pace and soon I found my niche. There were a couple of older guys walking ahead of me and 3 women right behind me. I decided not to let the women behind me pass me! So I kept moving, pushing myself a bit. Feeling the pull in my muscles as I determined to keep position. And after a while I stopped worrying about who was ahead or behind, and just kept moving. A step at a time. And I finished in 50 minutes, 53 seconds. No awards there, but a little faster than my practice walks and it felt great! I just kept going. Just kept doing what I needed to do. And so I will. Step by Step. Nag by nag. Push by push.

You Gotta Show Up

ball-four-basketballYesterday my son called me before basketball practice. “I don’t think I can make it,” he moaned. “Everything hurts! I can’t even move my legs!”  Basketball season has just started and the coach has been working the guys hard. Drills. Suicides (he’s described them to me, but I can’t remember exactly what they are now — except for that they’re tedious and painful). And running up and down bleachers. Sim has come home for the past few nights groaning like an old man who has fallen with his walker and using two hands to lift his legs onto the couch where he remains until he’s finally able to drag himself up the stairs to bed.  But yesterday he’d had enough. “I can’t make it through practice if I can’t move!” he said.
“Well son,” I replied in my wise mother voice, “if you want to be a starter you gotta show up. Work through it.”  And so he did. When he dragged home last night I had dinner ready (meatloaf, smothered potatoes and broccoli — yes I earned Mommy points!) and a bottle of Gatorade. He ate dinner followed by a couple of Krispy Kreme donuts and was in bed before nine. End of story. Sort of…

This morning my alarm rang at 4:45 a.m. as it always does. I hit snooze, which I also frequently do. Then I hit it again. Then I sat up. Then I put on my walking clothes. Then I lay back down. My shoulders hurt. My neck felt like I had slept on it wrong. My eyes felt blurry. I could be premenstrual. I read a magazine. I decided my body was telling me to take it easy. This was a good day to just stay in bed until I felt better. As I was making a cup of tea to curl up with in my favorite curling up spot I suddenly had a flashback — to the day before. “You gotta show up,” I told my son. If you want something you have to work through it. Oh crap. Another opportunity to practice what I preach. Because I do want something. I want to be strong and healthy. I want to have fun on my first “race” (A 5k bridge run this weekend) in years. I want to be able to enjoy myself for years to come. So — I’ve got my sneakers  right next to my chair. When I drop the boys off at school, I’ll drive to one of my favorite courses, zip up my jacket, and put in a few miles. What I do is so much louder than what I say.

The artwork is “Ball four” from — great image. Wish I had done it!

The Kid who O-D’d

Be LegendaryMy son’s best friend ended up in the hospital last weekend. He’d taken some pill, he mumbled. And then he was falling down in class. Talking gibberish. Having hallucinations. Passing out.  Soon his dad came and he was rushed away. Some pill. Nobody seemed to know what. My son was shaken. Rumors spread. His friend’s father, a police officer, came back to the school frightened and enraged. “Who gave my son a pill! Who did it?! What was it?”  My husband, summoned by Simeon, was also there. Listening. Comforting. Asking questions. Nobody had answers. Or no one  who had them gave them.

This is a good kid. I take him to school with my son almost every day. I know his dad. He calls me mom. And that morning, like every other morning he seemed just fine. I kept asking why. Why did he take it?  What was he thinking? Didn’t he know better? What went wrong? What did my own son know? Lot’s of questions.

But an interesting thing happened.  My husband had come by my job after leaving the school to give me the news. He was distraught. So was I. And as soon as I went back into the office I went looking for cookies. No big deal, right? I was upset. Frustrated. I needed a cookie.  Because I wanted not to feel so bad.  It was a couple of days later that it hit me — when I felt bad I went looking for something to take so that I would feel better. Just like my son’s friend. Sure mine was a cookie and legal. But whenever I look outside of myself for some THING to take to feel better I’m engaging in the same kind of activity.  I know — it sounds like a stretch.  But I’ve been thinking — the best way for me to teach positive choices in the face of  stress, pain or difficulty, is to model positive ways of dealing with them.  Positive actions, not negative ones. So, I’ve determined to pray when I feel stressed. To make a conscious effort to be still and say a prayer instead of reaching for something that doesn’t serve me.  No this doesn’t solve the problem. But it’s a start.  The best way to teach our children that there are positive ways to handle stress is to handle it positively ourselves.

My son’s friend was back in school this week. “How’s it going for him?” I asked Simeon. Any consequences from the administration? ” Sim said, “Mom, he’s not a pill popper! He hurt his shoulder in football practice and he was just looking for something to help it feel better.”  “Oh,” I responded. “Well, what about the other kids?”  “Well,” he said, “They all are calling him ‘the kid who O-D’d”

This is my prayer to deal positively with stress: “May we be filled with loving kindness. May we be well. May we be peaceful and at ease. May we be happy.” Thanks Ifetayo!

The picture is  from Coca-Cola’s 2009 Black History Campaign