Waltzing with the infinite
A friend of mine doesn’t like reading my blog. He tells me it’s dark.
I thank him for his honesty, and call him Captain Obvious behind his back.
Seriously, anyone who’s known me for more than, say ten minutes, has no problem with the idea that I would have to climb several sets of stairs to get to pessimistic. I like dark. I revel in dark. My natural tendency is for the dramatic. My self portrait is that cool chick wearing all black and sunglasses, regardless of the time of day, with spike heels, smoking a cigarette, and a smile tinged with just the right amount of cynicism. Light and breezy gives me the heebie-jeebies and make my teeth itch.
But to humor him, today is light and breezy, with just a hint of an edge. Instead of the cool chick wearing black, I will, instead, present myself as the kid with the pony tails, swinging on the swingset, maryjanes polished to a high gloss, breathless and laughing her silly head off, just because.
*taps fingers on desk*
*stares at screen*
*types several somethings*
*deletes them all*
*taps fingers some more*
*instantly thinks of Oliver! and the scene where Mark Lester timidly begs “Please sir; I’d like some more,” and the ensuing chaos and sale of said Mark Lester (as Oliver) as a result*
So. Reel it in, I tell myself. Something not dark.
Hmmmm. OK, let’s try this:
When my son was a handful or so years younger than he is now – in another world and a different lifetime – he went into our garage to find his scooter. It had sat dormant for more months than I could count. He couldn’t live without it before we had purchased it for Chanukah a few years before that. After several months, a spring and part of the next summer, it sat and gathered dust in the garage, also known as The Sad Little Room of Lost and Lonely Toys. My car just barely fit on its side of the garage, fighting for floor space with my son’s discarded and disregarded paraphernalia.
Before he left on the newly liberated scooter, I told him he couldn’t ride it without putting on his helmet first. He looked at me, disgust and pity for the Crazy Lady writ large on his face, and dropped the handle, shuffling back into the house, as if I had just informed him that he had to eat a field of dandelions before he could have a cookie. He was so annoyed at the thought of a helmet that he actually preferred the total boredom he faced inside – no electronic stimulation, no scooter, no friends.
I stopped short. Seriously? I just told my son he couldn’t ride the scooter without a helmet; if it has wheels, you’re wearing a helmet. I did a mental double take. A helmet? Where the hell did that come from? I never wore a helmet when I was a kid. Had they even been invented then? Who the hell wore helmets, except for those dweebie, nerdy little kids whose noses ran constantly, asthma inhalers jammed into pockets, chronically underweight and over-smart. And I had my doubts that even they wore protective gear.
So, here’s my question: how in hell did we ever survive our childhoods?
We certainly did not live in the protective bubble that seems standard for the kids of today.
When I was brought home from the hospital (after a week long stay, where mom went into labor and woke up several hours later, presented with a clean and swaddled baby girl, the miracle (and mess) (and pain) of childbirth not even a ghostly memory, I traveled in style on my mother’s lap. In the front seat, with the little triangle window open so she could tap the ashes off her cigarette (Kool extra longs). This was the original car seat: mom’s lap. My older brother sat in the back, perched on the hump, arms dangling over the front seat, moving in frenetic jerks between mom and dad as he tried to capture their attention away from me so that it could be properly be placed on him, the Crown Prince, balancing precariously through turns and sudden stops.
With this thought open the flood gates of memory—
- No car seats, no seat belts, and we fought over who got the middle seat and who got to ride in the front. It wasn’t a question of age or size that determined seating order, but pushiness and sheer volume of calling dibs.
- No helmets or knee pads or wrist pads (oh, my!)
- We walked to school. Alone or in small groups, down crowded sidewalks and across busy streets, not a crossing guard in sight. And if we were early, we played on the playground until the bell rang and we lined up, by age and class, waiting to march and shuffle and shove our way into the building. Rain or shine, hot or cold. Every day.
- We went home for lunch. Bozo and Ringmaster Ned and the Grand Prize Game, coupled with cream of tomato soup and tuna sandwiches, and then skipping back to languish through our afternoon classes.
- We rode our bikes in the street, ran with the neighborhood kids till way past dark, swam in retention ponds and small, delicious creeks that hid behind the school, eating wild strawberries that grew along its banks..
- We drank out of garden hoses. Hell, we drank tap water.
- We got spanked, occasionally. Okay – my brothers got spanked occasionally; I got spanked once and then became The Perfect Child, never to be spanked again.
- Boys played little leagues; girls were Indian Princesses. Paths did not cross. Roles were very clearly defined: X’s went one way, Y’s the other (although, because my father was the team manager, I got to do the stats and sit on the bench with the boys)
- We played with cap guns and watched violent kid shows, like Tom and Jerry or Bugs Bunny. We played cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians. We were politically incorrect (and no one knew it).
- We had Christmas Break and Easter Vacation, regardless of religious beliefs (or lack thereof). We sang Christmas carols and loved them.
- There were winners and losers; learning to handle either was a part of growing up. We knew not everyone was equal, not everyone was special.
And this is just the immediate stuff, the unconscious stuff. I’m sure if I really gave it some thought, I could come up with eleventy-seven more examples of how my childhood may seem so horrifying to the parents of today – me included! We seem so determined these days. So intent on protecting our children, from skinned knees and broken hearts. We want to keep our children safe and watched over. Unscathed by the reality of life.
In the same vein, we seem so much more present for our kids, more involved in their lives. Sometimes too involved, I’d venture to say. It happens – the Little league parent who gets a bit too argumentative and demanding, of the kids and the umpires and the game itself, who looks so foolish and crass, a caveman visiting the 21st century. We push and prod and demand excellence, and try to temper that with humility. We overschedule them and overstimulate them, and wonder why they have the attention span of microscopic flying creatures. We filter where we can and hope the message and the medium don’t provide fodder for some future therapy session – theirs or ours.
We do the best we can.
That’s the bottom line, I think. We do our best, and we love them as best we know how, as fully as we can. In every generation, we find a way to love and watch and teach and sustain.
One more image, one more difference –
My father, like most father’s of his generation, paced nervously in the Father’s Waiting Room, smoking and drinking bitter coffee, awaiting my triumphant appearance on the the planet. My mother was unconscious, drugged to the gills, oblivious to the miracle she was about to produce. Fast forward a thousand lifetimes, to the day of my son’s birth.
I was terrified. I was in pain. I was not drugged. I begged for drugs. I was denied; apparently, you need to dilate to at least four centimeters to qualify for drugs. I never made it past three. An hour. Two. Five. More. More pain that I could ever imagine being in. More fear than I could ever imagine surviving. The monitors lost my son’s heart beat a couple of times. The doctors searched high and low every time it got lost, finding it just on the edge of sight, the edge of a miracle. Finally, one of the several hundred masked strangers (all claiming to be my doctor) came to my husband and me and said “We can continue this and hope for a natural childbirth, but there’s some risk to you and the baby. We’d like to do an emergency C-Section.”
“Do it,” we said.
We were a team, we were united. While my husband could not physically bear our child, he could be as present as possible. He gained weight with me, came to our doctor’s appointments, read and trained and craved and worried and gloried right along with me. And he was with me as they wheeled me into surgery, held my hand as the spinal took hold. He turned an interesting shade of green but did not faint or get sick. He was stoic and resolute and watchful and willing the doctors to not blow it, not make a mistake. He was there, not pacing in an antiseptic and crowded waiting room.
And then our son was born.
And here’s the extraordinary thing – our son was born, squalling and red faced and mottled, pale skin, and my husband took him from the nurse. The boy was barely cleaned of gunk and swaddled in blue, and Don took that small boy-child, all six pounds, one ounce, all eighteen glorious inches of him in his huge hands, so dark against the boy’s pale, pale skin. He took our son and held him high, so that God could see our son’s face all the more clearly, and know him all the better, and love him all the more fiercely. My husband held him high, his hands so big that they nearly swallowed him. And then he brought our son to his chest, cradling him tenderly, more gently than a soap bubble suspended in sunlight.
He cradled our child against his heart, and he danced.
Slow and stately, with a gaze of absolute and unconditional love, my husband waltzed around the operating room, turning and swirling with this small life, this perfect boy, this gift of love. His feet carried him close to me, his lips grazing mine. He showed me our son, our beautiful boy. And I kissed him. And all the fear, and all the questions, and all the doubt were no more, gone in an instant, quick as laughter. In its place was pure light.
We’re divorced now, my husband and I. There was a lot of pain and anger and hurt that went into the divorce. (Now there’s a shock, I’m sure.) Over the years, we have learned to be civil with one another, and kind. It is a gift, a miraculous and stunning gift. We are growing up, and growing together. Woven in and around us is our son, that glorious and frustrating and astounding boy who is loved, unconditionally and imperfectly by his father and me. We are a family still, and will be forever, But these days, I try to remember the beauty of our marriage, the joy and the grace and the absolute love that held us together for a timeless time. I think about our son, and healing, at last.
This is the image that sustains me, that reminds me that there is power in love.