31 August 2012

The First Day

Prelude: Lydia is now a high school student. :)
Over the years, various friends have made very kindly observations about Pete's and my parenting style, and our family unit being cohesive and happy. I'm always appreciative, but I don't always feel I merit it. So I thought I would share a moment in my mothering continuum that highlights my imperfections.

With Lydia's first day of high school looming, I began asking questions of her a couple of weeks ago...about style choices, comfort level, growing up. As I had done with Zoë before her, I bought Lydia Teen Vogue and Seventeen so that she could see some of this year's fashions. A Maine island is not exactly the locus for up-to-the-minute teen styles, and besides, when I was her age, I was obsessed with knowing what was popular. I didn't necessarily emulate those things (mostly because I couldn't afford it), but I just.needed.to.know.

Freshman year of high school was also my moment to begin using makeup. Horrific, not-right-for-my-skin-color make-up (viva los 70s). Those of you who know me well, know that the Makeup Era for me was exceptionally short-lived.

I offer these reminiscences about me because they highlight my mom choices. So, back to that: I bought the mags. Lydie read them over, or so she said. I asked if she'd seen anything she liked, or that she might want to buy in a similar style next time we shopped.

"Nooo, not really," said my 14-year-old daughter.

Urgh! I thought to myself. Usually Lyd loves spending time with me, talking about stuff we both like. She's not in any kind of rebellion stage here. She just plain was not interested.

Fascinatingly, Zoë is now living back at home and serving as a secondary mom voice. She's different from me, and has her own completely personalized sense of style. Apparently, colors-matching is a huge must-do for Z. She has critiqued Lyd quite a bit lately for not matching—and, bizarrely, for wearing basketball shorts instead of cargo or cloth shorts. (This is definitely in the WTH realm for me, but they're sisters, so I let them work it out between themselves.) But take note: neither girl will a) wear makeup or b) show skin. They're adamant. And sometimes teenage Nessa is totally baffled.

Okay, here's where I turn into a kinda villainess. One of my least-appealing maternal hallmarks is my strident voice. I get impatient and I do not typically yell or demand, but I do cut right to the chase and expect back-and-forth conversation. My children, accustomed to a pretty serene and laissez-faire home environment, sort of freak out when I go for the sharp-focus on an issue. Who blames them, I guess. But maybe it's a Queens holdover for me. And in this instance, when I've spent two weeks dropping hints about first-day-of-school attire, and I get a distinct lack of action back for my troubles, and it's the night before the first day...I'm gonna go strident.

Thus, last night when we got home, I asked Lydia if she had done her laundry and selected an outfit for school. "Yep, I did the laundry," she answered.

The outfit, I pressed. What did she choose?

"Oh, I dunno, just...jeans and a T-shirt, I guess."

I drew a resigned breath. Then I launched into a strident (told you!) explanation of.... First impressions. And big changes in one's life. And opportunities to maybe change one's image a little bit when one moves from a class of 15 kids to a class of, say, 70-ish. People judge a little more in high school, I lectured on. And you don't want to be wearing, say, a T-shirt that might look childish, or something that just doesn't look right. Because teenagers remember stuff like that.

[I am not pleased with myself for this stream-of-rapidfire-consciousness that I released last night. But look, I had one hour to take her shopping if she didn't have something that would fit her, and given her growth curve, that was a distinct possibility.]

"So please go upstairs and choose something," I ended it.

First, she came down with a long-sleeved shirt of Zoë's. An entirely inoffensive item, but a little heavier than the weather requires. I'm sure I looked crestfallen, because here I'd just blathered about style and change and reinvention, and she delivered ehh. But I didn't say ehh...I merely explained that the shirt she'd chosen was too warm and maybe too plain and--

This was where she began to weep a little. "What? What is it?" I asked.

"I-I don't want to disappoint you! You-you said not childish!" she sniffled.

[Commence my self-hatred. Sigh.]

So, I re-stated everything, softer and less accusatory. And sent her back upstairs, hoping I sounded kinder, to try again.

A few rummagy minutes later, she came down with a red Snoopy tee and a pair of Zoë-handmedown jeans. Hmmm. Zoë, I should add, was sitting across from me in the living room, making acerbic comments—which I enjoyed, truly: her participation, and her relative maturity. She added the occasional observation about the way MDI High School rolls, which greatly helps me—I don't have a clue. 

Collectively, we tried to figure out if a Snoopy tee was right for MDIHS. I asked Lydia if she liked what she had chosen, was comfortable with it. Yes, she said.

What can I say, a former New Yorker who thinks people should dress up for the first day? Nothing, clearly. In fact, acerbic Zoë mentioned something about how I'd encouraged her to dress up for the first day, only for naught, since no other Island kid had evidently gotten my urbanite memo.

I share this vignette because Lydia chose her own way despite my strident leanings. And I am so, so proud whenever that happens. Moreover, she reported after school today that two different girls had complimented her on the sweatshirt she decided to add this morning: Zoë's Totoro character. So that made me doubly proud: my girl rocks handmedowns by choice and gets props for it.

The moral: she knows what's right for her. She's smarter at that, in fact, than I am. Which is, ultimately, my best parental goal. I'm just sorry that sometimes I don't reach it with my best self forward.

28 April 2012

An accidental poem

My friend Tavie wrote a heartfelt note earlier this week about accidental poetry centered on the topic of elder care. It reminded me of this poem I drafted circa 1995...for years I've worked and reworked it, and have come to the conclusion that the ending will, sadly, never satisfy me. And I also worry that it's murky (a sure sign I've stared at it too much.)

Leaving Room 107

Leaving Room 107 (Leta’s Room)
and cross over to other side
and go to other side down to
end near kitchen and then turn and
go up to Fred’s room and go in
and wait. Then go up to other
end and turn and come to
table to eat

I found these instructions
after he died.
folded into pants-pocket
shape, red ink fading to pink,
they were my grandfather’s compass
around the nursing home
that never was familiar.
No matter how hard he tried…
no room in his brain.

Leta was his one true friend.

Four years older—her mind intact,
her body tentative—
she did the thinking
while Grampy, still strong,
gave her his arm.
Widow and widower
walking together.

After three years
Grampy was asked to move.
(Something vague about
needing more care.)

Soon after,
Leta had a stroke,
robbing her mind,
taking her speech.

We visited,
and she cried
harder than I’ve ever seen
anyone cry—
wailing, unable, alone and afraid.
Grampy stroked her cold hand
and said, “Now, now,
that’s okay. Old Fred’s here.
Remember me?”

One week later, Grampy fell,
dizzy from flu.

He never walked again.

In memoriam:
Leta B. Chisholm
May 16, 1900 – March 22, 1993 

Fred H. Arnold
January 23, 1904 – May 21, 1993

19 January 2012

A poem from my NYC foray

Scribbled with a golf pencil amidst the restless, peopled din of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's main entry hall, as I sat on a time-smoothed wooden bench and pondered my churning emotions. This poem so demanded to emerge that I had to buy an appointment book at the museum shop (on clearance!) just to get the blank paper for it. (An appointment book full of NYC artwork, bien sûr.)

Metropolitan Life

New York makes me stride,
pound pavement with purpose,
inhale deeply of fume and grey,
see what is not here in a startling overlay:
people who guided, places that shaped,
conversations that mattered, touches that linger.
I am at once teenager and remainder.
I have to be here. I want to be here.
I must create. I keen just to be.
Sidewalks unending...tonal layered sunset
only the beginning...
lights will not sleep. Silver transit perpetually
lurches. Emotions sharpen.
Dear God, I finally know what Mom lived.
The invigorating snap of everyday,
the intoxicating promise of better,
a now of swirling senses
limned with a bright edge.
A deeper, richer home.
An intentional life:

the sweet, brute unknown.

NBR 1/7/12

1/7/12: Self-portrait at the Temple of Dendur, Metropolitan Museum of Art.