For eighteen years I was involved in an interminable cycle of guiding, probing, cajoling, punishing, cheering and forcing my son to grow up. August 7, 2006, I apparently finished.
It was only the other day that I dropped him off at preschool, such a big boy with his new backpack, hair combed in a little blond Elvis wave. I had to yell to get him to turn and wave good-bye. When I picked him up later and asked him how the day went, he stonewalled me.
“What’d you do?”
“What do you mean nothing?”
“Did you color or paint or play or sing songs?”
“Did you like it?”
“Did you learn anything new?”
That never changed. He was never into reportage like his younger siblings who exhausted every detail with color commentary and editorial opinion. The perennial struggle for information stretched into his school years and resulted in countless “incomplete” homework assignments, neglected permission slips, and missed parent teacher conferences. He didn’t tell me anything, and I don’t think that was a symptom of rebellion; it’s just the way his brain was wired. I learned to improvise, investigate and pull information out of places that mothers with “normal” children didn’t know existed.
The only way I knew he wasn’t going to graduate high school on time was by running reconnaissance missions to the school.
“He says he’s caught up,” I would tell the teacher.
“He’s not turned anything in all semester,” was a common refrain.
So it was with desperate abandon that I took control. I stayed up nights and nagged during the day to make sure homework was done. I threatened, bribed and pleaded to get him across that high school graduation stage. And then it happened. He did it. He graduated high school, and even though I felt the diploma was more mine than his, it had his name on it and that meant it was over, he didn’t ever have to go back. Which meant I was done, didn’t ever have to deal with those awkward parent/teacher conferences or embarrassing moments of misinformation that pigeonholed me among the “bad” parents who don’t care what happens to their kids.
After graduation, he quit his grocery store job. Then he started gallivanting around to rock concerts, dating a girl with a one-word “awesome” vocabulary, and chasing after the carnival. I worried that he’d wander off into obscurity, and I’d never know where he went because he’d forgotten to tell me.
In his defense, he knew his days were numbered. Six months prior he’d enlisted in the Marine Corps delayed entry program, so he was spending his pre-boot camp days as foolishly as he could manage. At this, he was quite successful.
His entry date loomed for so long it seemed like it would never come. It was a thing to admire from a distance, never having to fully reckon with it because it hung there, sparkling like a promise. Then it drew closer and began to take the shape of a threat, and then a hole.
When the day arrived, it was like closing the book on motherhood. A college parent could say it’s like leaving for college, but it’s not. Leaving for the military is a whole other beast. College parents don’t think about their child dying in a desert. They think about them making friends and growing their minds and finding mates and careers and heading out into the world to seek their fortunes. Military parents think, “Iraq is so far away.” And then, of course, there are the daily reports of roadside bombs, and body counts, and all of the arguing about the rightness or wrongness of the situation, and more bodies. Always more bodies.
We were standing in the yard when the white car pulled up. I thought, “I suppose if a military car ever pulls up to my house again it will be black.” But this one was white, driven by Sgt. Kalbow, my son’s recruiter. He was taking my son away, to boot camp, where he would get beat up and beat down and turned into Uncle Sam’s definition of a man.
I tried to hold it together. I really did. But there was a point that holding it together no longer mattered. It was more than him leaving home, and more than him going into the military. It was a transition out of motherhood. It felt as sudden and irrevocable as an amputation. He was leaving, dammit, and the immensity of the moment, of this sudden, painful, five-minute transition strangled me. It was like swallowing an elephant. I couldn’t not cry. It wasn’t that I didn’t want him to go. I did. I wanted him to find himself, to be successful, to latch onto something that would take him places, to see the world, to experience every new thing. I wanted him to come home a Marine, in uniform. I wanted him to know the experience of being at his lowest point and slogging out of that hole to the reward that waited at the finish line. I wanted him to be successful. But the leaving…dear God, no one could have prepared me for that.
I thought back to the day that he was no longer my only child. I was great with his sister, three days past my due date, and it was time for another doctor’s appointment. I didn’t know that my backache was early labor and figured I’d see him again in an hour or so. I drove away with his 20-month-old face looking at me from the front door. He was waving bye-bye when another contraction gripped me, and I realized that I wasn’t coming home alone. I sobbed all the way to the clinic.
In an instant, it seemed, he was the one leaving me standing in the door waving bye-bye while he headed off into the wide unknown. I loved him with my whole being and tried to press that into him with one last hug. “Let’s hit it,” Sgt. said, and I had to let go. I watched him fold his body into the car. He looked at me one last time and waved with two fingers. Then he fixed his gaze straight ahead, and I watched as the car drove away, paused at the corner, and then turned, out of sight.



It’s rare to shop with one of my kids but I had two of them with me, having fun knocking around Farm King. I find it surprising that life’s pleasures creep into places like this, wandering around a large warehouse looking at everything from boots to chain saws to chicken feed. But there we were, and it was one of those things I had the good sense of mind to enjoy as it was happening, not after, when it was too late.
The clerk at the checkout was killing my buzz. She was crabby, even though the boys were chatting about things I thought any normal person could at least crack a smile over. She refused to relax her frown muscles or even acknowledge their efforts. I paid for my stuff, and even while I was swiping my card thought about how a few minutes from now, in the parking lot, I would complain to the boys about miss crabby pants.
Robb had to pay for his stuff, so I stepped out of the checkout lane to allow him to step in. That’s when I heard him to say to the cashier, “Been a long day?” She wasn’t his type, so I knew he wasn’t hitting on her.
“I’ve been here all day, and I was supposed to leave in 30 minutes, but now that’s not going to happen.” She went on for a minute about tired feet and being nonstop busy all day.
Of course she was crabby. I probably would be too. Before Robb was done with her, she was smiling and telling us all to have a good afternoon.
In the parking lot I said, “I admire what you did in there, son. I was ready to complain about her.”
“She’s just tired,” he said.
And this is why I love being a mother. Because that wasn’t my voice coming out of his mouth. It was his, reminding me of things I’d probably tried teaching but apparently haven’t completely learned myself.


IMG_0083The peepers around the pond out behind my shed are the John the Baptists of spring. They begin trilling every March when the ice thaws and continue on for a couple of weeks, day and night, heralding the advent of a season we have heard about but not yet seen. A season’s coming that is capable of far more than the cold prison of winter we know. The frogs admonish me to prepare myself. Pay attention. They chirp with insistence through sub-freezing nights, and despite the lingering raw, cold days of winter’s last stand. I love them for being hopeful when all looks brown and bleak. Their singing will continue until about the time spring makes its full robed appearance, and then they’ll mature and quiet their song. I won’t hear them again until next March.

Ushered in after The Big Thaw are red-wing blackbirds and robins whose distinct calls send me back to childhood, tumbling through grass, sifting dirt to create pretend worlds, my existence confined to a small, safe cosmos. All of the birds I grew accustomed to feeding through the winter – juncos, cardinals, finches, titmouses (or titmice?), come by less often and soon I’ll stop buying seed until it frosts again.

The grass is slowly greening, but I read somewhere that it won’t fully explode until the first thunderstorm. Something about lightning releases the nitrogen in the air priming the ground to better absorb the atmospheric gift which ignites the explosion of life we see after that initial jolt from a cosmic battery.

Even with my aging eyesight I can see little knots on each tree’s bare branches. I know buds are expanding, their casings growing tighter and tighter until one day the only room left will be out in the open. When my lilac is in full bloom, I can smell its heady aroma all the way across the yard and into my kitchen.

It won’t be long and the hummingbirds will return, zooming overhead like little Jedi fighters, jockeying for position at the nectar bar. I never tire of hearing the helicopter whip of their wings, or seeing the glint of their iridescent feathers in the sunlight. Sometimes, one will light on the post just outside my writing window. I marvel at the pulse of their quivering little bodies, the tension contained in that compact space, looking as if its little body might explode from excitement.

No part of me understands why spring isn’t everyone’s favorite season. Fall depresses me. Even though it’s beautiful, everything is dying. Winter is a thing to endure, though living in the country helps me appreciate the muted colors and sounds around me. Summer’s a fabulous time, especially for a college professor who doesn’t have to ‘work’ during June, July or August. But summer is the kid everybody likes.

Spring starts the world again and something about being new and getting another chance speaks to my sensibilities. It’s all coming, though not here yet, and one thing I’ve learned in my time on this planet is that the anticipation of a thing is often just as good, or even better, than the thing itself.

On Turning 50

IMG_4472October 8, I turn 50.

That doesn’t even sound real.


I might be half way to dead, but I’m probably closer. I’ve joked with my kids that I’m going to reach 105. I aim to make their lives as fraught with my presence as human will allows. Besides, it will likely take me that long to render paybacks for all the gray hair they’ve given me, times four.

I’m not ashamed of turning 50, nor am I depressed by it. I’m rather delighted with the achievement and think of it more as a beginning than an ending.

Here’s something — my birthday lands on the day of a full blood-moon lunar eclipse. It’s the second in a four blood-moon succession, a “tetrad” in science-speak, that began last April. Before the 20th century, three hundred years passed between tetrads. That means Sir Isaac Newton, Mozart, Queen Anne, George Washington, Napolean, Abraham Lincoln nor their contemporaries ever had a chance to witness this type of thing. The event will peak in the early morning hours of October 8, the very time of the very day when I was born 50 years ago.

There’s more — my birth name, Cynthia, was an epithet in its Greek origin for the moon goddess, Artemis, born on Mt. Cynthus. In fact, the Greek Selene and Roman Diana, personifications of the moon, were often called Cynthia. Even the Christian meaning suggests moon-ness with its “reflector of light” translation.

I don’t know what all of these coincidences imply, but I find them fascinating.

I’ve also been thinking about how, in Leviticus, the Bible speaks of the practice of Jubilee, the every 50 year observance when slaves are freed, debts are forgiven and the mercies of God are particularly manifest. In commemoration of my 50th year of life, this is a celebration I can get behind.

In a way, my Jubilee may have already begun. Life has arrived at a stripped down place. My kids are grown and mostly on their own. I’m single again and on my own. People I loved have died or disappointed, fallen away. I’m making good progress in my quest to become debt-free, and as I sit on this precipice of time looking back 49 years at a wildly tumultuous and disadvantaged past, it occurs to me that it is just that — passed. I ache a little for the sadness and the loss and the travail, but I am the sum of my experiences, not the victim.

What lies ahead? Maybe I’ll feel like writing again. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll find love. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll go on solo adventures of discovery where I unearth far more than I ever dreamed. I might even stay put here on my little acre in the trees, doing as I have been, waking each day to the marvels and beauty of an ever-changing creation, grateful for the solace and balm this heaven affords.

But I’ll live this next year spying life through the lens of Jubilee. Every moment will pass through that filter and I’ll be searching to spot the good. October 8 this year is a big one on the celestial calendar, and it’s a big one for me too. I’ll set out to chart new territories, map the landscape of this ever-evolving self, and I’ll be flying solo — finally, finally, finally feeling as free as I’ll ever be.


It is not made of glass…

“Work in the perfect confidence that: 1) it is going to be harder work than you have ever done; 2) it will not yield its secrets easily; 3) it will drive you a bit crazy until it surprises you and even then the surprise will have other complications that will drive you a little more nuts; 4) it will open with perfect simplicity like a flower in sunlight in the first fresh morning of Spring, and then close on you like an iron door manned by six guards of the inquisition–and, 5) all of this being true, you cannot truly hurt it. You can only make it necessary to do it again, get into its little dark grottoes and work it, and let the opening and closing and the secrets and the falterings take place knowing that you cannot hurt it. You absolutely cannot ruin it. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. You cannot permanently harm it. It is not made of glass, but of LANGUAGE, that sweet and glorious possession, that is there like a guiding spirit, wanting to give you everything. Just be worthy of it and don’t expect it to dance on command. It needs to be courted, gently cajoled and caressed. Trust the beauty of it, and don’t over worry it. It WANTS to yield its treasure. You only have to be patient, and quietly stubborn.” ~Richard Bausch