These Yet Unanswerables

Posted: March 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

13 years of parenting has taught me more than any other thing I’ve ever done in life. No matter how prepared you are you aren’t ever quite prepared enough. 13 years. Whoa. My baby child is shedding a time of life that we can’t regain. Ugh, so brief— childhood only a pause in the on-going mixed tape. 13 years of parenting has been exceptionally challenging, although, not in expected ways.

I’m supposed to be more prepared for this moment, more self-reflective, a better role model. I’m supposed to be everything I expect of myself and twice more and elated and strong and healthy and, and, and. Instead I find myself questioning all of my belief systems: is this way of living good enough for my kids? What am I passing on? How will they look back on this time? Do they get enough time in the wild? No. Have I set them up with the best possible opportunities for the future? No. Do they eat well enough? No. Do they love themselves? ________.

Do they love themselves? Do they listen to their own needs? Do they have self-worth? Do they feel loved? These yet unanswerables keep me up nights. If I only accomplish one thing, please, let it be that they enter adulthood with a deep sense of self-worth and love.

13 years to gear up for these next seven crucial ones.

I imploded in adolescence. At this distance, I see all too clearly all the uber hard choices I made along the way. I can’t fail my kiddos. Yet, at the same time, I cannot—I repeat—I cannot weigh my self worth based on how they turn out. I have spent 13 years enmeshing the fibers of our beings to one another, tending to their everything; and the next 10 will be a process of uncoiling, of holding space that I’m not invited into. As if the first decade of parenting is an extended welcoming, an on-going getting to know each other and the second decade of parenting is the drawn-out au revoir, the disentangling.

This next chapter of my family’s story is not yet written and, damn it, what has passed does not have to dictate what will come. Everything will be different. No matter how prepared you are you aren’t ever quite prepared enough.

Z is a good person. She is smart and motivated, determined and huge hearted. I am seriously effin lucky to know her. Bringing her into the world was the hardest work my mind and body had ever had to do. Watching, feeling, supporting her in creating ever widening circles away from me catches my breath and with it my soul. Happy Birthday Z, love. Here’s to many more years of deep, deep breathing.

G  E  N  D  E  R                                        Written by: my 11-year-old daughter

Gender is above and beyond our imagination. The meaning of “gender” has been questioned for a very long time. That’s the question I’m going to discuss.

A lot of people (including people in this class) might think you don’t get to choose your gender. Some people think you are born with your gender, which matches your sex organs.

If you are somebody who feels the same gender as your sex organs this term is called cisgendered. For example, if your sex organs are female and you feel that you are a girl then you are cisgendered.

That’s not all gender is though. Maybe you have or maybe you haven’t heard the term transgendered. People, who identify as transgendered, feel their gender differently from the sex organs they are born with.

Other people (including people in this class) might think gender is what you decide it to be for yourself. For example, if you are born with male sex organs but you feel that you are a girl so you choose your PGP (preferred gender pronouns) to be female pronouns, this could be called transgendered.

Ok, enough talk about boy, girl, male, female. Have you ever thought about if someone doesn’t identify as a boy or a girl? People who don’t identify as either of these genders sometimes identify as, what we call, genderqueer.

People who do identify as transgender/genderqueer have the right to have their beliefs, feelings, and properties respected whether you believe in the spectrum of gender or not.

Even if you don’t believe something that other people think about gender it doesn’t mean that your thinking is wrong or that their thinking is wrong, everyone’s opinions about gender are valid.

Poem X

Posted: January 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

Let me tell you about the letter X. How it marks the spots I have left behind me. Long lost treasures for others to have and to hold. Wow, some trails can express remarkable colors and patterns. If you wave the past in front of your face over and over again it repeats itself in stunted intervals. I would like to throw all these tenacious traces over my shoulder and shove off into my nearest future. Let’s burn every map to ashes to resist crossing over the same paths. I’m telling you repetitions happen without permissions, without excuses. No X I’ve written or read felt the same until I turned round and round three or four times and spun back and looked again and see only X X X X X lining up in reckless nonlinear orders—as if order matters when each looks like the last and next. Let me tell you, the letter X has the shortest section in the dictionary, the fewest words inspired from it. Let me tell you how not all Xs are created equal yet once you’ve rolled it around in your mouth they all taste and sound the same—or don’t say a word. So many words don’t start with X. And those that end there, well, I’d rather not start that sort of litany. I already feel sprained in those places. Let me tell you, when explaining the rights and the wrongs Xs cross over the wrongs and also fit onto forms to mark yes, yes that’s mine or is me. Xs have a slew of uses and misuses and make a sharp sound that tickles my throat. Let me tell you, X keeps cropping up when I’d rather it not. X marks attempts I work at erasing, erase where an X could go. X don’t go here, don’t go there, don’t sit in my rearview and make faces, don’t follow my lead or be a reflection of me. Me and my X X X X Xs looking all smug but not saying a word. If they don’t talk and I don’t talk then no listening will get done. Well, like I said, very few words start with X. And those that end there—sheesh.

My daughter is a pleaser. She’s always concerned for other people’s states of mind, always doing what she can to make folks happy. On the one hand this quality brings remarkable capacity for empathy and awareness; on the other, it can strip the self of boundaries, tear away a person’s personal ethics as they go further and further away from their own truth to live up to someone else’s. Children can be so so pliable, they bend and flex and cartwheel on behalf of making their parents pleased. Sometimes this bending stretches the supple muscles too far, asks too much of the body.

The other day I held my daughter’s growing-fast body while it shook and clenched and spasmed with grief. She screamed, “Why can’t he work at making things better, why do I have to do all the work? Why can’t I just be a kid?!” Three years after the fact, she still feels her father’s abandonment deep in the very core of her sensitive being. She tries and tries to make sense of her father’s leaving, of his disengagement from her life, her feelings. I did all I could think to do, I empathized as best I could, repeating back to her all the frustration and anger and disappointment she expressed. I gave her what she only wanted to receive from him. I stroked her hair and bit my lip and waited.

I couldn’t say, “don’t worry, it’s not so bad,” for that would only dismiss her sorrow. I couldn’t tag-a-long to her anger with, “yeah, what a jerk he was for baling on you,” for that would discredit my position as space holder. But I tell you what, I wanted to cry along with her, yell at the top of my lungs too, “how could he!” Somehow, I didn’t speak an ill word of him, focused on her suffering and solutions to it.

Are there solutions? How else to dispel disappointment other than just getting over it, resigning yourself, accepting the lesser version of a dad than you had hoped for. How do you account for a loss when the person you’ve lost is still technically there but also totally and completely isn’t. I ask this for her as much as I ask for myself.

I never wanted to parent solo, shit I barely wanted to parent at all. But after our separation, which was necessary, the co-parenting set-up really worked great. He had them for a week then I did then he did. Back and forth and we would communicate about big decisions, hell even little ones. We worked as a team, a family, albeit an alternative one. Though we didn’t live together, and we didn’t parent on-site together, neither one of us was alone in our parenting. We had the other to consult with, vent with, and make plans of action to tackle the latest developmental phase. So when he completely severed the co-parenting relationship–going from half time to barely ever time, to living in a different state time–we all were devastated. Yes, I’m using such a dramatic word even though this word can mean so much more in much more drastic situations, I recognize this. But I am using a large word for a huge gaping feeling in me, in my children, in the very center of my family’s pathos.

To lose the camaraderie of the other parent, the solidarity of two heads, the relief of pressure from sole responsibility, this is a type of devastation. When you are on a team going through life everything feels surmountable. To find yourself suddenly without compass or landmark, without burden sharer or reassurance, and to see infinite forks in any given direction–this arrests all movement forward. My essence was blindsided.

All I could think was how do I spare them hurt, how do I protect them from, well, from his leaving? How do you explain to a child that a father leaves but not for any fault of theirs? How do you convince a kid to believe they are his priority even while he is turning away, moving miles and miles and miles away–both physically and emotionally? You don’t. No words work. If bell hooks is right, if love is an action then, well, what do you call the inverse?

Every cell in my being shifted when he abandoned his children for a new life, with a sudden new family, and new rules and new ways of relating–or not relating. My certainty suddenly gave out and my ass got real sore from the fall. When he abandoned our pact to raise these kids, not as a nuclear family, but as an equally important type of family structure, I lost all faith in people’s ability to stay, to push through for each other. If a man cannot stay for his own children, how is anyone to stay for someone unrelated? Everyone knows the old saying about blood and water.

I lost a co-parent and very soon after, no surprise, lost my partner of that time. Loss atop loss, like dominoes shoving into each other. My kids lost their dad and then they lost their step-parent. So much heart loss in the span of a couple years. A couple years blow by, get swept in the current of flipping light until the winter comes and one parent and two kids alone together are grappling around in its dark. How am I to forge a strong healthy family bond? How do I remain present for these children when everyone else leaves, can’t I just leave?

My parent-self wasn’t fully formed until I was completely alone with it. Only once I didn’t have the other parent’s input, a partner’s input, or care, did I truly realize that everything I do in my life weighs on my kids tremendously. My every move is under pressure; my choices are not mine alone to contend with. To make good choices for a good self, working your way through a good, albeit difficult, life is already crazy making. Add to this difficulty the fragile lives of two un-autonomous beings and impossible becomes an active noun. Or rather, I feel impossible. The sensation that you are alone in deciding on behalf of three people weighs like a suffocating fog that blurs the landmarks, conceals the destination point.

“What exactly is most important for my children after basic needs?” “Is love a basic need or a bonus?” “How do I fill the void of their loss when I too feel lost?” “What do I need? And does that even matter at this point?” “How do you mend a broken family when some of the pieces have gone missing?” “What does family even mean if members leave and don’t look back?” All these questions to ask myself and answer myself. Or not answer.

You know I used to scoff at and feel angry towards the phrase, “a broken home.” But I agree now, our home is broken: we are distrustful of others and alone with each other and only one leg to balance with, we don’t let people in anymore, as if our threshold has shrunken to an un-findable proportion. Once a thing’s been broken there’s only fixing left to work at. I guess naming a home broken begins the long process of making a home repaired. Whether I like it or not, I must get to it.

Everything boils back down to just me. Just me and my two kids. And I don’t like it, and my kids don’t like it. No one ever says so, not at least, until my daughter is a flooding street on the living room floor. And then grief presents itself as if it was there the whole time, underscoring all the small moments. Each of us grieves differently but for every spell the time stops to kaleidoscope past events into the present while sucking the future down in. Every time one of us is taken by our grief I naively think it is the last time. Every time, I think it is the last time.

Ultimately, I would like to raise a whole person–two whole people actually–and I realize, of course, that I cannot protect them from hurt or abandonment or worse even. So how then, do I guide them through to the other side? And if I too, am not a whole person how then do I pass on something to them that is bigger and better than I am? I want more for them. I want them to grow believing in the fantasy that I rejected over a decade ago: I want them to believe that love is the greatest thing; believe that love and loving is what saves us all from despair. How do you pass on a tool you do not yourself wield? And how do I convince them that love is everything when it wasn’t enough to keep their dad near and engaged and actually parenting?

I don’t have an answer. And though it’s unsatisfying to not have an answer I do keep staring grief down thinking if it gets enough airtime eventually it will tire of surfacing. I suppose, at the least, I pass on resilience simply by making it through every time. And though I don’t let people in yet, at least I am fortifying myself, my home. And raising a self, or two or three, really takes it out of you. And building a home out of guesswork and trial and error and miniscule hope growing and letting the past out the back door repeatedly and waiting and waiting–the future is bound to show up whole someday. Let’s hope I’m done flipping off grief by then.

Post for a New Year, Yes, New.

Posted: January 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

This year comes a full circle. 1. Nearly two years post grad school; post my last decent job, post the break-up of a long meaningful relationship, this long awaited year feels full with potential. Tangible potential, this year the future becomes a present tense in a way I have been waiting for. The slow unraveling of a self imposes a limbo built mainly of waiting. My last thread pulled out from its knitted place in order to begin again in a new form. Flip turn.

I like circles: their completeness, how they encompass whatever they surround, that they are found in nature, in recollecting, in my daily swimming practice. I swim in circles, long rhythmical circles. Daily face water, give myself over to it’s conditions. Lie face down and forge headfirst against its yielding. Flip turn 2, extend and reach with my triangle hand, rotated shoulder against my cheek, and my ears full with liquid, hips twisting to further my reach. Stroke, stroke, stroke, neck turns for a breath. Ear empties to fill again. Exhale in strings of bubbles, bubble, bubble, bubbles. Legs straight and long and kicking and kicking incessantly. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breath; a rhythm I cause eagerly. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breath. Flip turn.

I pay close attention to my every movement when I swim, stay aware of each muscle and how hard or not it is working and whether my form is efficient. I taught myself to swim mainly through youtube videos, podcasts, and the occasional living room chat with fellow swimmer friends. When learning mainly on your own improvement takes a lot of time. Flip turn, 3. And I have a long history with impatience. As a kid coming up I wanted to be older than I was, faster at everything I did, already done with what I was starting. I wanted the outcome before I put any time in. My focus always on what comes after instead of what I was in. Flip turn. Swimming face down through deep water where breathing must occur in a timely synced fashion causes this hyperactivity of mine to stop its flail-skipping. Time doesn’t say a word while I swim, the future doesn’t taunt me. Time only measured in how many strokes my inhale will last. My thoughts dappled with numbers I recite as I go, flip turn, 4.

My orange tinted goggles fog up after three laps, this fucks with my depth perception but I adapt and keep kicking and reach and keep kicking and reach. I am calling this my creation year. Year I find fulfilling work, year I exhale grief and loss and carry on with starting something, and then finishing it. This year I make and sell mini tunnel books. Year my son turns nine and my oldest turns twelve this year, turns a corner she can’t unturn; my daughter already seen by men. Well in this year of full circles, I keep swimming. Flip turn. Twelve-hour work day—I swim. Kid home with chicken pox—I swim. Wake at dawn—I swim. Eviction notice—I swim. Frustration from break-up—I swim. Accept a humiliating job—I swim. Bank fiasco—I swim. Another job rejection—I swim. Thank you water for having all of me. O, this new year I welcome full-heartedly, as a relief from the past two years. Watch my dive full frontal into.

Flip turn, 5. I need to improve, am constantly driven by my need to improve. I keep swimming, past impatience; through the urge to forward think over critical steps, I keep swimming in long slow circles. I need to succeed in water, in my body of water. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breath; stroke, stroke, stroke, breath. Surface tension breaks easily when I dip my limbs down into the pool yet how easily those parted molecules become a force that resists my kicking and strokes and tires my muscles as I work to move faster through circles. Flip turn. Arms rise to arc over my head and slip back into water to grab at nothing. I reach with each stroke to pull that buoyancy under me, pull it all the way through behind me. Push the last of what I caught in my s stroke back behind my propelled form. Push my trouble with the tomorrow or the next day away from what I face in this next stroke. Right now. Reach to grasp again for the invisible resistance of water.

Numbers are too easy to lose track of amidst the repetition of movements and inhales and exhales. Flip turn, 6. My breath suspended in the Gaussian blur of sunlight lying down with water. I want to stop dead in this reflective spot but cannot. Am I living life right? Nearly two years of [un]settling down, down, down into resignation. I’ve shaved off the nearest and dearest to me, voluntarily or forcibly doesn’t matter which now. I live certain that dependence on others is mythical. I resist the touch of invisible connections with people but allow water to engulf me completely. Yes, I need to swim for all those lost years [I mean loves] behind me, you see? Flip turn. Now, I’ve heard good folk say, “ask for what you need.” And I say, “how [dare I].” How do you ask to be cared for, to be loved? When your only need is for nurturing and care, how do you ask for such a thing? Love me, ok, even if you’re busy with whatever we’re all busy with or if you barely know me—or if you tire from loving, if you tire from caring, what, how, who to ask for then. Flip turn, 7.

Can you see how I swim? Can you see how hard I work to get going, to get anywhere? My heartbreaking a sweat, the bubbles of exhale, the scshlock of my hand cutting through, the soundless pull and push of my arms dancing with resistance. Flip turn. I share the pool, sometimes my own lane, with the other bodies in this body of water. Some bodies push me to work harder or boost my sense of accomplishment, “well, if I am faster than him, than I must be excelling, I must be great.” Other bodies stir up self-criticisms and disappointment, “why can’t I go any faster, why am I weak.” See how I swim, see me at the start of myself. Flip turn, 8. I want to be seen. I want to be seen through water, my horizontal feet, the back of my head, my arcing arm reaching to gain on this unmoving liquid.

A completely transparent opposition resists my progress—this has a dizzying effect. I am circling the same force repeatedly, indefinitely. Only movement and light make this visible. I can see everything through water: dropped hair ties, band-aids, a lost gold chain, shed skin. Oh the water is mine, every invisible molecule of it and I am of it entirely. Perhaps I too can be seen through. Yes, I have been long practicing my invisibility. Once crossed into Canada as a hitchhiker in a car of strangers without the border police asking for my story, purpose, name, I.D. or anything. The border cop looked right at me; I was sitting with my green card at the ready, in the back seat behind the driver, nearest the little booth he was leaning out of to interrogate our company of strange. Flip turn. Many a kerfuffle my existence somehow blotted out of. An avid conflict avoider, I am quick to raise my hands and walk away, or up and move. Though I suspect I’m being followed. But this year, after Pluto’s crossing shadow flees, this year I’ll spend training to become a conflict mediator. Yes, I will sit at every table with conflict. I will look and prod and question conflict until it buckles under the pressure of speaking and listening. And until I exhale the held breath of my unmet needs. Flip turn, 9. This year for coming full circle.

These last difficult seasons I somehow held onto a blind faith that the seemingly unmovable would falter, would break and give air back, give movement and light to the invisible so my pulling against all the unseen resistance would finally yield. Flip turn indeed.