Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
— Kahlil Gibran
I’ve neglected to finish at least seven blog posts in the last few weeks. Posts about BlogHer. About New York City adventures and feeling at home, or not feeling at home. About recovery meetings and Refuge Vows. About work and changes and possibilities. But it was all leading to this week. The week that I haven’t stopped thinking about for months. It sneaked right up on me while I was looking at staircases and feeling subway steam and kissing friends I hadn’t seen in decades on the cheek.
I’ve said the words “he’s going to start Kindergarten” quietly, firmly, loudly, confidently and weakly. I’ve heard “he will be great, and I promise that you will be okay, too,” kindly, from many people who know. I’ve cried almost every time I’ve heard it. I do know this, I know.
I knew it when we arrived on the playground yesterday for orientation. He held my hand, reluctant for a few moments, but he made a friend quickly. When I returned two hours later, it took me several minutes to find him, he was so immersed in his play. His dad and I dragged him from the playground as he told us about fraction puzzles and designated quiet spaces and blocks — more about those two hours than I ever heard about a day at preschool. This morning, in his first half-day of school, he returned to his new buddy’s side immediately in the circle as one of his teachers pulled out a thick magnifying glass and said “it looks like almost everyone is here. Let’s talk about magnification.”
I walked over and kissed him goodbye. He kissed me back happily, whispered “bye,” and fixed his eyes right back on the teacher.
I have a lot of confidence that he is in a good and caring place, but that doesn’t make this any easier.
I am going to miss him so. During every crappy thing that has happened within the past five years, his large-heartedness, his curiosity and his light have been my refuge. He’s changed my perception of the whole universe, literally. He’s helped me see the better parts of people, including myself. It stuns me when I think about the things I was overlooking, or not appreciating, before he arrived. It would be greedy for me not to share him. Like every crying mommy I saw in the hallways and classrooms today, I’m just prayerful that the world will be gentle with his precious, precious heart.
It’s a funny thing, this business of living through periods of chaos. A long term illness ends. A person dies. You’re insanely busy getting a funeral together and somehow after that, you think that things are going to get easier, that the natural rhythm of your life will return.
But chaos and I had made peace. I had gotten used to waking up in a house that isn’t my own, bracing my son, my mom or my stepdad in whatever ways I could, then carving out deliberate chunks of time for myself to make sure that I didn’t collapse beneath the constant weight of things. Crisis was this thick brush I could cut through and then look back on. There was this satisfyingly clear path behind me, slivered with grace.
But things got harder when I expected them to get easier. Grief has been itchy, with shooting pains. Sleeping has been harder. I’ve polished off a bottle of Zantac and my right foot has done a lot of tapping in the middle of the night. Another friend died. The idea that I had that I would have a real 40th birthday party for myself later, on a day when we weren’t asking “is he still breathing?” every half an hour didn’t pan out.
But nice things have happened. I’m an honored blogger at BlogHer ’10. On Friday, in New York City, I’ll find out how some visual artist or photographer has interpreted this post. I have found the organizers that I will be working with as a volunteer to be utterly gracious and accommodating to a mom who is traveling on her own with a 5-year-old son. When I went looking for a place to stay, I found a truly generous and kind roommate. I became an aunt for the fifth time to an early but healthy boy on Friday.
And when BlogHer is over, I have plans to reconnect with surrogate sisters, childhood friends, family, college friends and past colleagues. Best of all, I have plans to play with my son in the city I identify with my best childhood adventures. We will climb onto a plane today.
I haven’t had time to fret or obsess over who I’m going to meet at this conference. I’m going wit my heart open to people, not products. And I expect little, other than a mallish form of chaos, and I’ve established that I’m good with chaos.
I will try and tweet the links to the liveblogs as they happen. I’ll also obviously be at the gala on Friday night. Wave your arms at me if you’re one of those people that isn’t too keen on smalltalk. Hope I find you there.
I’ve run along the periphery of Columbus music for 16 or 17 years, and sometimes right through its center. I’ve written about it, talked about it, consumed it, even married and had a child with one of its central stewards.
Let me tell you, it’s a world full of dudes. Dudes who play, editorialize about, promote, gloat over or criticize, but ultimately love music. Several of those dudes have only ever referred to me by my initials. Why call someone Tracy when you can call her TZT? I’m okay with that. It makes me feel like an honorary dude.
In this scene, there are jerk dudes, frustrated genius dudes, drunk dudes, well-meaning dudes, lecherous dudes, armchair comedian dudes and awkward dudes. And then there are the kind ones. The ones who are generous of spirit and might play in the realm of dudes, but you quickly discover that they are also good, decent men. They are the ones who don’t run away from you when they hear you lost your job or that your grandfather died. They see you out in the city and they walk toward you. They put an arm around you and acknowledge your loss openly, thoughtfully. They say something encouraging or offer a listening ear. The whole thing may last all of five minutes, and you may not see that person again for weeks, even months, but you walk away from a man like that and you just feel happy that you know him. Happy that you walk in the same circles and will surely see him again soon.
The city lost one of those good men this weekend. A man who gave body-crushing hugs and radiated warmth. The news broke last night that Andy “Andyman” Davis – a veteran of local radio – drowned Saturday while on family vacation, and the more that I sit with that fact, the harder I find it to accept.
I’ve seen a lot of friendships made through music. You find out that someone loves what you love, they relate to what you relate to, and suddenly, you are connected. You may drift apart or even have a falling out, but if that person introduced you to a song or artist that’s continued to keep you company, their dearness is never completely lost. Andy is that kind of friend to countless people that he hasn’t even met because he’s been the face and voice of one of our only local, independent stations for so long.
To me, he was a local media colleague and a social friend – someone I probably saw and shared words with weekly to monthly in my twenties and early thirties at my husband’s clubs, Andy’s bar or some other show in the Columbus universe.
He had been a dad for a while by the time I became a mom. Once I made that transition, I only saw him once or twice a year, but our casual conversations shifted. When I saw him at Comfest last year, I got one of his bear hugs before he held onto my hand and stood with me, looking at my son the same way I do – like something miraculous and joyful. He pulled out the pictures of his two boys and told me about his third baby coming. I don’t remember the words we shared exactly, but that feeling of belonging you get when you relate to another person about music? Change that to two music-bound people talking about being parents and the feeling is amplified by a zillion. I love being a mom. I know he loved being a dad. That’s what has my heart caught today.
I’ve been through a fair bit of grief and loss lately, but please don’t feel the need to console me for this one. There are certainly hundreds, likely thousands, who are feeling this loss. Between social media and the airwaves, you can sense our community grieving. My hope is that every one of us who has felt that warmth from Andy, be it first-hand or through the airwaves, can reflect it back to his family — especially his wife Molly and their three sons — and surround them with it for years to come.
You can find information about a memorial fund that’s been established for them at the CD101 web site.
Growing up, I remember the phone ringing at the butt crack of dawn on every one of my birthdays. Once, as a teenager, I grouched a little at my mother as she came in and nudged me out of sleep to answer it.
“You won’t have this forever,” she warned me, whispering. “You will miss it someday.”
Early this morning I woke up, squeezed my eyes shut and listened for the sound on that phone line – the sound of my grandparents, their voices chipper and full of the rural Ohio upbringing that makes every R sound like a sharp turn while the Gs in ings go awol and yous come out as yas. They always wanted to be the first to wish all of their children and grandchildren Happy Birthday. And mom was right. I miss that. I do.
Today my mom sang to me while Declan held my face and waited to tell me, intently, that on Ni Hao Kai-Lan, the children sometimes travel inside of floaty bubbles. My brother called and sister-in-law called sang while their son punctuated each line with an aggressive “CHACHACHA!” Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, I’ve already been flooded with messages and I’m starting this day feeling loved and hopeful.
Two things guaranteed that today would be a quiet celebration. First, the biggest fireworks in the city happen downtown, which would be like asking friends to sit in traffic gridlock if I wanted to, say, meet them for dinner.
And then there’s my stepdad, who has passed the point of speaking or eating or doing much in the way of responding to this realm. We’ve been bracing for the impact of his passing for a couple of years, more intensely in recent months, and round-the-clock for the past several days. I’m well past dreading the idea that he could pass away on my birthday. Instead, if I could take some of the good juju and love I’m receiving for this birthday, I’d pour it into the wish that he finds whatever love he needs within himself in order to let go peacefully.
I’ve decided to honeymoon with 40, and celebrate it with a crowd of people that I like soon because I want to and I actually think I deserve to. But today, this is how I want to do it. I want to be mindful and prayerful through the day and to pretend that things are brilliantly exploding in celebration of my future and my stepdad’s past through the evening. I want to meditate on passages and new beginnings and eat crab legs and be hopeful.
Earlier this week, Dec gave me the best possible birthday gift I could have asked for. He’s been reading individual words for a long time, but worried over trying to read a book by himself and often refused to try. I gently reminded him on Monday night that I still learn a lot of new words, and that lots of things that he thinks are easy, like astronomy, are things that many people would consider hard.
He slept on it, and the next morning, started reading some of the Bob Books at the breakfast table as though he’d been doing it all his life. And as silly as those short, confidence-building books are, it’s one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard.
My stepdad’s life has been filled with books and I know that he would be so proud of this. So Declan read “Fun in the Sun,” to his Grandfafa before bed that same day, and I talked out loud about how many books were in the house, how avid a reader his Grandfafa had been. My stepdad tried very hard to say something in response, so I know that he heard and received this gift as well.
So far, 40 is birth and death and new language and hope and memory and a pain in the pit of my stomach. It’s Buddhist mantras wrapped in silver around my thumb as I dive through this zero, sheathed by reminders of our impermanence. It’s a call to live well and let things happen, make things happen, to live by the serenity prayer and be more open, more loving.
This song came up on my iPod on my way to my son’s camp this morning, and it strummed every nerve in my body: Calling All Angels.
Listen, be well, have a beautiful weekend and if you’re into prayer, say one for my stepdad, ok?
I wish I felt comfortable writing my way through this time.
I’d like to tell you about the fact that my son and I have been living at my mother’s since February because I needed to separate from my husband. I needed things to change. It was excruciating for a while and it is still not easy. We’re at a crossroads. We take things day by day. Sometimes I’ve only taken them moment by moment. We still plan on doing another radio show together. We are still family, connected by this amazing person we created — this person that I wouldn’t want to deprive of his father’s love or the ability to know who and where he comes from. One way or another, a new life will be built. I just have no idea what that life will look like.
I’d like to tell you about the remarkable meetings and support groups I’ve found for the families of addicts and alcoholics. About the evenings when I find myself in a room with people I never imagined knowing, let alone being vulnerable with, and how they humble and lift me. How this 78-year-old woman heard me state the facts of my life, asked to hug me, and, once I agreed, whispered “that is one heavy load you are carrying.” She closed her eyes and pressed her hand over my heart with a prayer. Her warmth thawed my many years of cynicism about Al-Anon meetings. She helped me to hear what I needed to hear, to take what I needed, as they are so fond of saying, and leave the rest.
I’d like to tell you what it’s like to live with a stepfather who is dying and has Lewy Body Disease, which combines the debilitating physical symptoms of Parkinsons with dementia. About the things I can’t see that are apparently here, like cars that keep pulling into the house, dead dogs lying around, men moving freezers, people with scissors and family members that have long since passed. How, before he stopped being able to walk a few weeks ago, he showed up in my room one morning because he couldn’t find my mother. He thought he had to hold his breath for as long as she wasn’t in the room with him. As I watch my mother try to manage each day, I see just how brutal the business of caregiving can be.
I’d like to tell you what a house feels like after hospice swoops in, about the book they gave my mother that details what to look for in the last weeks, days, hours and moments before a person dies. About how strange and refreshing it is to experience health care that probes a family about its mental, physical and spiritual well-being and looks for ways to help. About being the bearer of bad news to my stepdad’s sons with each clear and dramatic decline, especially the brother who has been my close friend since I was 19 and has a baby on the way this summer. About how generous the heart of my stepdad’s paid caregiver is as he shows up every morning and evening (on the days he’s not working) to carry him from the hospital bed to a recliner in the family room and back.
I’d like to tell you how vulnerable my son was before all of this. How frighteningly perceptive and unfairly aware he is of the world around him, of cells and stardust and disease and disaster. Or how often I feel like I’m on a razor-thin line, some days thinking that this experience, this period, could be a profound opportunity for him to understand more about life, relationships and death, other days terrified that all of this will screw him up, scar or emotionally maim him because it’s all so, so much for someone who is freshly five to carry.
I’d like to tell you about my uncle who passed away this past Sunday after his years-long battle with cancer. And I do mean battle. He fought for every moment he had on this earth, and didn’t fail to live each one that he could. During one early remission, he traveled to Africa and nearly got himself killed by leaving the tent when hippopotamuses were around. I would know so much less about what a strong, loving family man looks like if I hadn’t known him. I would know less about what a self-actualized, truly indefatigable person looks like. I also wouldn’t know how hostile to humans and dangerous a hippo can be. While I’m not planning a safari, that seems like an important thing to know.
So I’m telling you.
It’s been months now that I’ve felt like a person walking around with an oozing, emotional gunshot wound on her chest, visible only to those who know me or know what’s been going on because even as I avoid writing about it here, I say these things out loud when I’m out a lot. I have to. Friends — especially so many beautiful, generous, supportive moms — cautiously ask me about how things are going, and I keep disappointing them with clammy, sad facts, because I’ve become lousy at sugar-coating things. I had started to feel like I’d suffocate if I didn’t say what felt true today out loud, so I do it, and almost always immediately feel lighter because there are so many people who can understand or relate to some piece of what’s going on here, no matter how small. They honor me by listening and offering help and I feel totally selfish each time they do because I am so overloaded with my own stuff right now I don’t listen the way I usually do. I usually pride myself on my ability to listen.
Life feels inverted. I cry the most when good things happen. Each offer of help is a salve. Each small solution that I see hospice offer my mother chokes me up. Joyful moments make me so, so grateful. Each expression of love and friendship, each person who has said “you are doing better than you know” to me, each person who looks at me like I’m hemorrhaging but knows she isn’t a surgeon and offers some small kindness to me anyway has been a gift this year.
I’m turning 40 in three weeks and I don’t remember a more difficult or uncertain time. I also don’t remember feeling more blessed or more open-hearted. On bad days, I feel very alone, but on the good ones, I am less alone than ever. I am more grateful than ever.
A couple of Sundays ago my stepbrother put my little, strangely nonfunctional family unit on the guest list for his big music festival. The three of us saw Michael Franti and Spearhead, who we’ve loved for a long time. The band brought little kids onto the stage for the encore, “Say Hey,” and my son danced, jumped, pranced, twirled, sang and ran next to Franti, apparently without an iota of fear or apprehension in his body. He told me looked for me but couldn’t find me in the crowd, where I was smiling so hard that my face should have cracked open.
When he came down from the stage, he asked, “could you hear my little tiny voice up there? I was singing as loud as I could so you would hear me.” And while I couldn’t literally hear him, I could hear him, and see him, and feel him up there, so fully himself, there to enjoy more than perform, so full of energy and faith and confidence that he is, in fact, loved. That he was certain his mother was out there somewhere listening for his voice made me feel like a pretty good mom.
The next morning, I woke up with him clinging to me the way he has every morning since we’ve been in this place — like a life preserver. He snuggled up to my ear and sang the song, punctuating each line with a hug around the neck: “I love you. I love you. I love you.”
You are five today. That is a little bit of a relief because I can’t remember the last time you met someone new who would have guessed that you were only four. Between your tall physique and your extensive vocabulary, I’ve had more than one person look at me like I must not remember the actual day that you were born.
There is no doubt that you are growing up quickly. And that I can barely remember the time before you were able to talk to me, when you were a babbling bundle of roly–poliness with ticklish, chubby folds on your legs.
These days I’m reading A Wrinkle in Time while you pick words you recognize off the page and ask me to tell you when I reach them. You work out math problems on your fingers. You close yourself in the storage ottoman and tell me you’re headed through a black hole, out a white hole and into some other part of the universe. You mix up magic fairy dust in a little tin and whisper wishes into it. You love dogs and babies. You laugh hysterically at mispronounced words and plastic dinosaurs that bite. And no matter how much you rationalize that they can’t hurt you, you seriously cannot stand bugs.
I’m grateful to Stephen Hawking because he reasoned that the imperfection of the universe is what made us possible. Now, when you make mistakes, I have a higher authority than your mother to invoke, which helps to keep you from being too hard on yourself. Sometimes this works for me too. Beautiful things can come of mistakes, now we know what to look for when we mess up. “Perfection is not possible,” is your new mantra. I made this point to you once. You’ve made it back to me at least a dozen times since, probably because I’ve really needed to hear it.
You’re also growing up in ways I wish you didn’t have to. Your preschool experience has taught you, and re-taught me the value of going through our feelings instead of around them, so maybe we’re at least better prepared for several of the challenges that are right before us.
Hospice workers, with all their loving care, have just descended on our family. And as much as I don’t want you to be burdened, as much as I want to protect you from feeling that you have the obligation to help, that obligation lives in you. You like to push your Grandfafa’s dining tray in so he can reach his food. You pick up things that he drops. You ask him what he needs when he calls out for help and you help him adjust his chair. Most of all, you do what a lot of us have more trouble doing around him – you laugh, you talk to him about all the science dancing around your brain. You impress him with ballet jumps and happy energy and provide him with little glimmers of pride and joy. You snuggle with his wife, my mom, your Giga. You are one of the best caretakers I know.
A few days ago you asked me not to put you in any summer camps for a while. What you want, you told me, is for us to have our own adventures, to do projects, to be together. You know you’re starting Kindergarten this fall, and they say a summer filled with shared experiences is the best preparation for this transition. I’m hopeful it will prepare me too, because I’m pretty sure you’re going to soar in school. I’ll be the one who is a wreck, having less of you in my day.
I wrote this thing after you were born. And every day you give me new answers to the question I asked that day in Delphi. I have been privileged to have a lot of amazing teachers in my life, and you are one of the greatest. I am so proud to be your mom.
I love you as brightly as a quasar, as infinitely as the stars in all of the galaxies in the heavens and as powerfully as a hypernova.
Ten-ish years ago, one of my best childhood friends and her husband split up. Being engaged, rounding 30 and kidless, I can’t say I at all understood how difficult her decision to venture forward on her own with two young daughters really was. But I did what I knew to do as a long-time friend — I simply spent a lot of time with her. We regaled her daughters with stories about the things we did when we were girls: the songs we liked to sing until 2 am, the way we seemed to be perpetually rearranging each other’s bedrooms, our gullibility in thinking that we could be “discovered” by a Hollywood agent on the way to buy milk for her mom in suburban Ohio.
And we laughed like crazy. We laughed with her girls the way we did when we were girls together. I accompanied them on mundane trips to the drug store. They liked to brush and braid my hair when we talked. Like their mom, I began to count the girls among my best friends.
“You should have a baby, Tracy,” her older daughter – six or seven-ish at the time –told me while thumbing through stickers at a craft store. “So we can be friends with her and play with her.”
Soon enough, I told her, reminding her that a baby is a long way from a kid. That a baby could also be a boy. A baby would be okay, she told me. Maybe not a boy, but… well, she could babysit him. Maybe.
Her younger daughter was four or five-ish in that time. I liked to read Shel Silverstein poems to her at bedtime. A born comedian, she was already delivering jokes punctuated with “I’ll be here all week” and cracking me up with nonsequitur statements like “I’m weak without light” when I had a mouthful of food. I told her mom that she needed to investigate whether there was any such thing as a kids’ comedy camp in the Catskill Mountains.
I realized in that time what perfection childhood can be. How deserving every kid is of an appreciative audience now and then, how happy and privileged I felt to be in the front row of their lives, how fun it is to make sense of the world through play. They taught me that there’s something about the way of seeing things when you’re around five that’s utterly spectacular well before I had my own almost five-year-old.
Their mom was in the hospital with us when my son was born, and the girls both held him in the first days of his life. They are teenagers now. And as their social lives grow, I don’t always see them when I see their mom, but when I do, I see that they both have the patience for and joy in play with Declan that their mother had with them.
We spent the whole day together about a week ago, doing the same kinds of simple, everyday things we did a decade ago. Declan was talking about the sizes of different breeds of puppies at lunchtime, so we all went and looked at some. We did household errands, made infinitely more interesting because we were all doing them together. The girls asked my son for hugs and tickled him and their mom bought him a $3 ball.
Before we left, we sat on the floor of their house, playing “Hot Potato,” but no one was really ever out. Declan held onto the ball every round, hitting my still deadpan comedy-inclined teenage friend with it at the last minute while laughing hysterically.
Lately, I’ve been testing the elasticity of many of the friendships I’ve collected in this life and finding that they can snap back into shape more easily than I realized. A week ago I had a day that, on paper, may look pretty unspectacular. But it was a great day.
My blogging has been lighter than usual because a couple of weeks ago, I saw my doctor and she told me that my right shoulder is so much lower than my left, she would have thought that I had a severe curvature of the spine. My typing has been slow, my sleep has been poor and and my breaks have been many. Unless today’s snow dump somehow derails it, I’m going in for an evaluation with a physical therapist early this afternoon.
The last couple of months have been a revolving door of reminders about mortality and health. We’ve been second-hand witnesses to the passings of three people, one far too young, the other two simply too young to die. I’ve interviewed young people who know too much about things like homicide and psychological abuse (for projects I am working on). I felt helpless as I stared at images of the fields of bodies in Haiti, keeping the television mostly silent because my boy already spends too many bedtime hours resisting sleep, trying to solve the puzzle of death.
In a little over a week, the Year of the Tiger begins, and it feels far more like a ritual time of reflection and reassessment than January 1st this year. I’m making lists, trying to finish projects and clearing away clutter. I’m ready to do whatever it takes to bring my physical, personal and professional carriage back into alignment. I want to be on the tiger’s side.
And I would be oh so grateful to see her clear our collective house of fire, thieves and ghosts.
I wish I could say that I came into this year, this decade, with rosy optimism and a warm blanket. I tried. I did yoga. I took a hot shower and sang along with Irma Thomas to expand my cold-ravaged lungs. I took a cinematic ride through the universe with my boy and remembered our teeny-tininess, but when midnight came I was just agitated, unsettled, unreasonably angry.
But it’s the first Monday of the year, and even though my son and I argued on the way to school in the car today, even though my chest is still sore, I don’t feel rested and the cold outside is far too bitter, I feel strangely unburdened and optimistic. I want to clean up and put things in order. I want to make appointments and to-do lists. I want to roast vegetables and cut fruit and find a place to run inside. I want to listen to depressing music until I feel light again.
I hope your first Monday is pleasantly complicated, that your sinuses are clear and that ushering in this new decade feels like watching the sun rise.
This is me in all of my three-weeks-from-17, just-graduated glory, standing next to my brother on a commuter ferry that took us from central New Jersey to South Street Seaport, right in the shadow of the World Trade Center.
In the 1980s, we made most of our treks into New York with our dad. But on the occasion of my early departure from high school, we went back to visit a few childhood friends with mom.
Mom and I unearthed these pictures this summer. Andy and I look so damn serious, which probably has something to do with the fact that it’s early in the morning on an overcast day and neither of us has discovered coffee yet.
I know we’re anxious to get there because we were always anxious to get to Manhattan. At least I know that I was. I was always anxious to be in the thick of crowds and inconceivable buildings and art and celebrities walking around like ordinary people and giant fiberglass whales and taxi cabs and attitude and Fifth Avenue store windows and Broadway musicals.
It seems so much more mortal to me now. But my childhood and teenage memories of this city are the ones that I carry. I remember it this way. I remember this skyline. It was everything in the universe that I could imagine on one little island.