Archive for July 2009

A Glimpse Within

July 28, 2009

My child is filthy.  His clothes hang disheveled, covered with mud and soot.  I can smell him from several feet away.  His face and hands are nearly black.  His shins are covered with blood from bug bites and brambles, sweat drips from under his baseball hat.  He’s smiling as I walk toward him. 

I ask him about his day.  I expect to hear about building camp in the woods, about making a fire without matches, about whittling a bowl from a log.  He is a Forest Scout and this is his first day of Earth Skills camp.  On other such days, he’s talked of juniper tea and eating roadkill.  He has built himself a shelter of branches and snow and spent a February night there.  He has talked of hiking to the middle of the Maine woods with only a compass and some cryptic directions back to the path: left at the big mossy rock, straight through the blueberry patch…The stories of his adventures in the woods tumble out, his words almost faster than his mind as he races from highlight to highlight. 

These are not the stories I hear now. Instead, he tells me he was annoyed all day.  He struggled with his group and isn’t sure how he’ll participate with them the rest of this week.  Though the activities were fun, there were kids in his group who “put a damper on the day”.  I ask him to begin at the beginning.

One boy came to camp wearing a fedora.  My son inquired about his choice of head wear and this boy responded that he’s Jewish and that all of the great rabbis wear a fedora.  This satisfied my child’s curiosity.  Throughout the day, however, other boys in the group would make comments to this boy such as “you can’t play this with us, you’re Jewish” or “we’ll fight you, you’re Jewish”.  The boy would laugh along with these others but my son was deeply offended.  He asked the boys to stop speaking this way.  He told them their words, while not aimed at him, were hurtful and offensive.  Once in a while, the counselor would also ask the boys to rein in their comments, though it didn’t last for long. 

My son and I consider the options.  He can deal with it as he did today.  He can ask to switch groups. He can try to find remedy through dialogue.  He decides to speak to the assistant program director since his counselor has already left for the day.  He tells her he’s uncomfortable in his group with this kind of atmosphere.  She agrees that it is unacceptable and assures him that she will speak to the counselor and help him to resolve the issue.  My son feels better and begins in earnest now to describe the ember he created to hollow out the center of his cedar-log bowl.  For a moment, all else is forgotten.

This boy, my first child, is a student of history.  He knows World War II the way other boys his age know baseball statistics.  He can rattle off campaigns, dates, military leaders and strategies, weapons, outcomes.  He is fascinated with Nazi propaganda.  Sometimes it is disturbing, this knowledge.  I try to encourage him to fill his mind with peace- as balance.  I required he read “Talking Peace” by Jimmy Carter last school year.  I banned war books for the summer.  I limit the amount of conversation focused on the military.  It is my own discomfort.  It is my own hope that my child not absorb the terror, hatred, brutality of history.  It is my dream that he be an instument for peace in the world. 

I see now that I need not worry.    The program director meets the kids in the woods.  He speaks to them of tolerance and awareness.  There are fewer remarks and the kids respect my son’s request that they refrain from anti-Semitism, even when “joking”.  Are these boys truly anti-Semites?  Probably not.  Is the boy who is Jewish offended?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that my child  has demonstrated strength of character.  He has proven his integrity.  He is sensitive to inherent wrong.  He has shown leadership in his intolerance of the language and actions of his peers.  He has been proactive in seeking resolution.  I know he can use a compass to navigate the woods and now I realize he has tapped an internal compass as well.  I am so proud of him.  I am so grateful he is in this world, as he is.  He is all boy: filthy and disheveled, bruised, smelly and physical.  Yet he is more and I have caught a glimpse of him in truth: strong, principled, peaceful.  Amen!  I am a lucky momma, indeed.



July 20, 2009

He speaks of rage with a soft voice.  A voice which occasionally cracks with anguish and shame as he leans against the wall and stares at the ceiling.  It is as though meeting our eyes would grant him permission to sob and so he avoids that intimacy.  He was sixteen when he worked as a camp counselor.  That was the summer he first smoked pot.  That was the summer he beat the kids–one so badly he chipped the boy’s tooth.  That was the summer he realized the power of his anger; released now and binding him to addiction. 

Now, perhaps ten years later, he speaks–whispers–of throwing his two year old into his crib when the baby wouldn’t go to sleep.  He speaks of screaming at his five year old daughter.  His suffering is not a physical need for substance.  His suffering comes of being controlled by rage.  His substance abuse is not an escape, rather a spark to engage the all- consuming fire of abuse within him.  He suffers.  As he speaks, he flogs himself with words of repentance, shame, grief, self-hatred.  He pleads for help–God, inner strength, resolve, magic, release.  

Several listeners speak after he is finished.  Advice from others who have seen their own demons manifested in the wounds they’ve inflicted.  Kindness from strangers who suffer.   Acceptance without judgement softens him, allows him to meet our eyes for a moment.  Go back and meet that sixteen year old boy.  See that he is a child himself.  See what has wounded him so badly.  See him make a choice to escape into substance.  See with compassion as he seeks relief and release and finds rage and rage and rage.  Hold that sixteen year old boy.  Soothe him with words of acceptance.  Rock him in strong arms which contain him for a moment.  Whisper forgiveness to him for hurting those children.  Love him enough to release his grip on now. 

Rage keeps him running.  He spins and spins inside his thoughts.  He’d rather be anywhere else than trying to lull his daughter to sleep.  She is not cooperating.  His frustration swells as his chest tightens.  He shakes with effort trying to rein in this familiar terror.  Fear, consequences, madness, shame, guilt, torment, heat, hatred: tornado within.  No substance fuels this.  There is no will to conquer.  Exhausted. 

He surveys this moment.  What is happening?  His wife is downstairs with a friend.  He feels cheated by the demands of this child who will not go to bed.  She wants a story.  They are on vacation.  He wants adult companionship, wants to win, wants compliance.  She wants comfort, wants a familiar bed, wants him. 

Surrender.  He chooses a book, climbs onto the bed with this little girl he loves.  Surrender.  He reads, controls his rage-tight voice.  Surrender.  She responds to him with gladness.  Surrender.  He is not hurting her.  Surrender.  They laugh together at a silly part.  Surrender.  She snuggles into him.  Surrender.  He holds her, strokes her hair, whispers to her.  Surrender.  She falls asleep.  Surrender.  He is calm.  Surrender.  He finds the address for a meeting in the morning.  Surrender.

One day at a time.


July 18, 2009


Bing cherries surprise me every summer

I forget the profound perfection

Of fruit in season


October’s stunning blaze

December’s wood-smoke

May’s green intensity

July’s cherries

Returning gifts: new, familiar

Present, home.


Seasons changing these two years past

Moments of surprise

Joy, Beauty, Contentment


Fleeting presences which have yet to



In a moment of profound perfection

I bask in the absence of

Grief, Fear, Loneliness

Questions long holding my heart

So tightly

I have forgotten what freedom feels like


Until a basket of cherries

Brings me into this moment of


Red, sticky, sweet, firm

Returning gifts: new, familiar

Present: home.


Time heals all wounds.


July 16, 2009

It’s hot but the pint of ice cream I’m holding is still rock hard.  My four year old and I are taking turns digging around the softer edge for scoops of chocolate and chips.  He is fully engaged in this process, which means he’s no longer whining and sniffling, thank goodness! 

We’ve come to the third floor of town hall to hear live music.  It’s an old dance hall space in a former school turned town offices and police station.  Our neighbors’ daughter is singing with a friend, trying to be heard above the crackle of the sound system and the din of small children running about.  It’s threatening to rain which is why we are packed into this tiny auditorium in the heat of July.  The music doesn’t interest my child.  Ice cream.  Chocolate with white chocolate chunks.  A treat meant to distract; works like a charm for the moment.

He has cried for the past hour.  Sincere tears born of frustration at misunderstanding. I finally agreed to order his “favorite” transformers costume from a mail-order catalogue.  He’s been looking at it for weeks, the pages of the mailer crumpled and worn.  He has no idea about transformers beyond what he’s seen in the magazine he cherishes.  He’s never watched them on TV and doesn’t play with them at home.  He’s fascinated by the blues and reds and silvers of the jumpsuit.  He’s smitten with the full face mask and helmet and the armour along one sleeve.  So, I agreed to order it for him.  He sat in my lap while I spoke to customer service.  He could hear her asking me my address.  She could hear him asking when she was going to drive it to us.  She told me to tell him she’d tell the driver to hurry, but that it would be here by Monday or Tuesday.  After I ended the call, I showed him the calendar and tried to explain Monday or Tuesday.  He understood only that it would not be arriving this very day.  And so, the tears began.  He told me we should just go sit on his bed to wait for the delivery truck.  I told him we should just do our regular stuff while waiting.  The tears came harder. 

We walk into town and for a moment  he is distracted by the maple tree “helicopters” he finds on the sidewalk.  He doesn’t greet our neighbors.  He doesn’t smile.  Every few minutes, he sobs a bit and starts in with the questions–“why isn’t it coming today?”  We walk to the market for our ice cream and he scowls at the cashier.  He drags his feet along the sidewalk, wallowing in his Optimus Prime induced misery.  We arrive at the show and soon he is engaged in scooping and swallowing. 

What is the lesson here?  As a parent, I am annoyed by the whining though I am compassionate, too.  He just doesn’t understand mail-order.  He’s four.  He wants it now.  I am patient.  I tell him to use big boy words.  He does for a moment or two.  I am enthusiastic with distractions.  They work for a moment or two.  It is not my boy’s behavior in this moment which is under my skin.  It is the nagging sense of entitlement and gimme and consumption.  My frustration is how to teach him that this costume, for which he longs and about which he cries, is a luxury?  How does this moment reflect my own need for simplicity and gratitude?  It doesn’t; thus my conflict, thus my annoyance. 

And the solution?  One of my dearest friend’s sons owns this very costume.  When I tell her about my son’s drama, she offers his costume to us.  Her son has outgrown it.  He is happy to pass it along.  In a moment of serendipity, my child gets “instant gratification” and I can cancel my order and reduce, reuse, recycle…Optimus Prime lives on.


July 6, 2009

It’s eight o’clock on a Sunday morning.  It’s the first truly warm, sunny day after almost an entire month of gray, cold, rain.  I’m sitting on metal bleachers, eating a bagel and drinking too-sweet iced tea.  I imagine myself as a solar battery, absorbing the sun and feeling my energy restored. 

Somewhere in the dugout to my left, my 12 year old is waiting for his turn to play.  I cannot see him from where I am.  His teammates are on the field, looking worn out after a weekend of tournament play.  They aren’t chatty and look a bit rumpled this morning.  It’s a different story on the bleachers!  I am surrounded by smiles, friendly greetings, mutual appreciation for the turn in the weather.  There are moms and dads, siblings and grandparents surrounding me.  A dad in the front row yells to the left fielder to move in a couple of steps.  Another dad is assessing the position of the scoreboard and whether or not the fence should have been extended beyond the bleachers where we are sitting.  Moms sip coffee and spray their kids with sunscreen and bug spray.  As the game gets started, the kids on the field begin to perk up.  They banter.  They chatter.  They sing “G-O-O-D- E-Y-E: good eye, good eye, good eye” as a teammate waits for that perfect pitch.  The teams are well matched today and despite an out-of-the-park home-run by their star player, the kids have to work hard to earn their 5-3 victory.

I stand to walk to the concession booth for some water.  I can’t walk more than a few feet without stopping to chat.  Hi Chip, Hi Sara, Hi Dana…The conversation doesn’t matter.  I know these people only in the context of these moments; parents sitting together, cheering “our” team, waiting through yet another inning.  We talk of plans to find last-minute lodging in the middle of July near Sebago Lake for the State tournament.  We talk of double elimination and double plays.  We talk of ways to get the damp, locker room smell out of cleats.  We talk of the weeks of sacrifices–plans rearranged in order to have our children here on the first sunny day of summer.  We understand the meaning of this time in our kids’ lives; how All-Star baseball shapes this present into future nostalgia. 

I smile all the way to the concession stand.  It is one of those moments of recognition of the perfection of life.  My child, loving the game.  Me, loving my child–bringing us into this community, in this moment.  It is joy.

My Remaining Sister

July 2, 2009

This is a poem I wrote last year, posted here by request. 

For Jennifer

She is here-sarcastic and funny
As ever
But darker, too.
Lost, faithless, hurting
Grief compounded by grief
Yet still loving (me)
Still calling to say
“What’s up?”
A simple act of hope and will
This reaching out
We collect the mememtos
Of ourselves
From the rubble–
As if that rare New England tornado
Touched down
In the midst of our benign dysfunction
Clinging to familiar pieces
Among fragments of a
Former, which no longer
Makes sense.
To discover
We’ve weathered the storm
Intact: Together