02 April 2008


Page one: I am a mom. I look at any one of my children and my heart immediately fills with warmth and reaching, nurturance and ridiculous pride. This particular page has been written four times, in the whirling effort of labor and delivery. It was forged under fluorescent hospital lights, where a tone of worry and protectiveness was overlaid. It drives me like no other compulsion. On a weeknight, weary from the working world, it pushes me to stand at the stove, and when my children eat with gusto, this page’s work is momentarily done. It is the hunter-gatherer seeking affordable clothing that will be just cool enough.

Page two: I am an authority figure. More to the point: I’m like a football coach. In my head at all times is a game plan for each child (maybe not with all those x’s and o’s and arrows—though it would be cool if their lives were diagrammable like that). Strategy, rationale, the urgent need for success: all of these are in my mind with every parental mandate I deliver. And I’m not an easy coach, I know that. Sometimes my dictates seem far too frequent and pitched for my liking: I mean, fussing over fourth-grade homework assignments? Page three (see below) really does not want to care whether a kid achieves dominance over tricky mathematical word problems. Lord knows I never did. But it’s all part of the plan, isn’t it? What gates must my child go through before s/he can be deemed whole, successful, ready for adulthood? Which scouts does s/he need to impress? Which linebacker might take my child down? (See, this is where the football analogy may crumble, because I can’t say for sure if linebackers are those massive tackle-delivering guys, or what.)
Page three: I am a friend. Each one of my children’s faces inspires automatic, companionable devotion. I pine for their happiness and their satisfaction, and above all—because this is a guiding principle for me—I want them to seek joy and eschew strife. I love spending time with them as a friend would—you know, at the beauty salon with a daughter; at a museum with a dinosaur-loving son; on a train with every one of them (because we’re all train geeks). I love that we laugh at the same goofy things. I love that my iPod reflects their musical tastes as well as mine, and that there’s more overlap there than I ever imagined possible. I will offer advice as a friend whenever and however asked. I believe that each one of them knows this, but I understand that not always can they take me up on it. So in a sense, this friendship has vulnerabilities and potential pitfalls, because rejection is entirely possible. I am not deterred.
Page four: I am a writer. I watch the lives of four young people take shape, emerge, shift and grow, and as with everything else I encounter (literally), I am constantly taking notes. These people fascinate me. I know the genetic legacies they’re carrying—the personalities and appearances that resonate up from previous generations—and I’m just watching it all unreel with amazement and interest. The previous pages all lean on this page, though. They demand that I attempt to intervene and help lead these four stories. And with tearful intensity, they desire a happy ending for each. I wish they understood that once I sit down to write, I have no idea what will happen to my characters.
Page five is the person I was before these children were born. Before I met their father, even. It’s less a page than it is a film of places, people, times, and motivations that are quaint and nostalgic, now. The ill-starred fashion choices! The bumbling attempts at romance! The conversations with people I don’t see anymore! In a number of cases, in fact, those people are dead now, and I’m left to change and adapt. Thus, all of the above pages now lack the backup of some of my closest advisers and loved ones. I am forced to draw from reserves of strength that, in my youth, I had no reason to believe I would have.
All of this reflection has been prompted by a rejection letter from a college to my treasured oldest daughter. Every page of my being is challenged and affronted by this turn of events. Even more so, because the college decision and its implications for my daughter’s future—well, it’s not my game. It’s hers. I have to sigh and hope and believe (and I'm experienced in all of these). But there are tears in my eyes, regardless.

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