Friday, December 5, 2014


I transition from road trip aftermath into Thanksgiving mode. Both of the two families who usually join us are elsewhere so our event is scaled down. Nevertheless, I make the same stuff I always make in smaller portions and the week is absorbed by cooking and shopping. Spuds spends the holiday with a friend's family in New York. He describes a bustling houseful, including a high maintenance toddler. I am tempted to pry from him for every detail of the experience. The exact menu. The layout of the house. The guest list. He has been at home for eighteen celebrations. I am nervous that the food might not be very good or that there might be an awkward family scene of the sort that it is not uncommon this time of year. Perhaps this first elsewhere Thanksgiving is not as monumental for Spuds as it is for me. But, there is a tiny pang of wistfulness in the boy's voice so perhaps he too senses the shifting sands.

I soften now when I remember my mother watching me set out myself into the world. At least I have Himself. My mother had intermittent boyfriends and intermittent contact with my sister but I was the only constant. She watched me travel alone to Mexico and Europe back before cell phones, e-mail and ATM machines. I always interpreted her worry as a lack of confidence in my ability to navigate the world. Such a misplaced fear, as I knew everything and more. In guilty hindsight, had she known my actual travails she should have worried even more. She was cowed by the force of my will and my demand for, what I perceived in the day, as freedom. Now I see that I was just another fat girl trying to create allure and mystique. I was hellbent, relentless to mold an image that would combat my real sense of myself. I even manipulated Mom to bankroll some of my adventures. How often did she lie awake fretting about where and how I was? Yet she never discouraged me from traveling off the beaten path. When I think back on all the trips I made my memories of scenery and people are scant. Returning I recounted wild adventures but I see myself sitting cross legged on a bed in a crappy room in London or Guatemala or Amsterdam and feeling desperately alone.

Unlike my poor mother, I have instant contact with both of the kids, and can put money into their accounts via my phone. Still I am ill at ease when they are in transit or somewhere that is unfamiliar to me. They create and amass indelible images that I am no longer a part of. I changed their diapers and now they are the captains of their own fate. Except for cellphone, health and auto insurance and tuition. Sometimes they gang up against me and recount something awful I said or did that I have no memory of. My own mother plays the heavy in many of my own memories but as I watch my own kids and experience their different phases I suspect that the woundings have historically and unfairly been given more weight than the warm and fuzzy. Sorry Mom.

Joe College returns with some friends for the holiday. He is graduating from college in May although we are not permitted to discuss this and I guess I don't blame him. Nearly forty years ago I was in the same predicament and my recollection is of very little mirth. Joe College is visited by a smart kid who graduated last year from a school better than either of my kids could have gotten into. Now he's settled in Brooklyn where he has some sort of gig that involves music criticism and undoubtedly hefty subsidies from home. He and Joe College drink beer and sit on the couch and converse for a couple of hours while I cook. They go back and forth trying to best each other with uber-obscure bands. Both however appear to have heard everything worth hearing and most artists are proclaimed as being,“tight.”

It sort of makes me want to slap my own twenty-something self. It was not relevant how my opinions were formed. They just had to be the right ones. I'd find an attraction that synthesized the aesthetic I could only vaguely sense but was unprepared expound upon. Everything overlapping in the Venn Diagram of the admirable talent was added to the list of that which was “tight.” But perhaps this was not shallowness, nor laziness but the right instincts minus the maturity required to give voice to gut feelings. I can't remember any of the bands that are mentioned as they go on and on well in my earshot. I am unsure of how my presence registers to them. Are they performing to remind me that I am an anachronism or am I completely invisible? I take a bit of comfort from observing that the friend, despite being a year ahead of Joe College and having a more prestigious alma mater, seems to possess no greater gravitas.

The fondest wishes my depression survivor parents had for me was to lose weight and marry well. I endured a lot of self destruction coming to realize that for all my hippie college aspirations, my own hopes for myself were more in line with my parents' then I could bear to admit. I do spend a lot of time imagining where Joe College will land post-baccalaureate. I am somewhat ill at ease as I recall the weird, and sometimes profoundly unhappy, places I slogged through in my twenties. Perhaps my eldest will learn earlier down the road than his mom did that the satisfaction of being curious is equal, or greater, to that of being an authority. I know that he has to make his own way but maybe having parents who root for him discovering who he is and what it is he does best, rather than becoming who we think he should be, will be to his advantage. Maybe though it's inevitable that kids perceive any parental input as controlling or belittling. Certainly, I will become more and more hands off and perhaps it will be a challenge to find the right place between indifferent and control freak. Having two kids who can be categorized as “creative types” I wonder if they are particularly susceptible to glamorizing angst. I guess kids of any generation are at the risk of succumbing to the affect of disaffectedness. This dark for dark's sake can sully what, particularly when you look back from your fifties, should have been a fucking fantastic time of life.

I guess it is unfair to the kids to expect that they'll inevitably flounder like I did. I do the sprats and myself a disservice by indulging in fixation on their futures. They are smart and resourceful enough to thrive without my micromanagement or perhaps despite it. The nest has been empty now nearly two years and I would have expected the fog of purposeless to have subsided. Indeed, there's been some amazing kids gone off to college travel, which has been satisfying and wonderful and lightyears from the lonely expeditions of my teens and twenties. The house however, is huge and quiet. It is not as clean as it would be if I didn't spend so much time playing Scrabble on my Kindle or watching tv. I make lists of things to do but accomplish only the bare minimum to keep us fed and clothed. I grouse bitterly when writers I deem lesser are published or win awards but I binge on crap TV or trolling Facebook instead of writing, or reading. I can tick off the phases and milestones the sprats pass through but as I approach sixty I am unsure whether I'm supposed to take a last grab at the gold ring or just enjoy my dotage and make sure there are fresh batteries in the remote. Back in my twenties I felt like I had become the person I would always be. I had no inkling as to what my 50s would feel like. I write this post oral surgery and all puffed out like a pumpkin and knowing that my teeth will continue to plague me and inevitably other body parts will start crapping out too. But for all my griping, it is better to be 57 and not giving a rat's ass what the world thinks than 22 or 19 and a slave to public opinion. I do not know if the next year will bring a magnum opus or a couple more HBO series binges. I'm old enough to know better than to make ambitious proclamations. As my memory goes sketchy and the body shows wear and tear, I know that whatever course Life: Part Two takes it is good to in a place where I can cultivate myself and not the image I present to the world.


My own Damn Blog said...

Go for the gold ring. Never mind the sneaking limitations of the body, grab it and don't let go.

John L. Murphy / "FionnchĂș" said...

I recall telling a student, when I was in my early thirties, that I did not care anymore what other people thought concerning my appearance. This amazed her, somebody who appeared very much to care in terms of her own presence and attire. I wonder how long it takes for people to realize this, and if some (or many?) never do? Is that the definition of maturity, or is it a withdrawal from community, a social refusal?

The turn inward may be feared or nourished. I hope our boys cherish some of their memories growing up, after all, in the same house and often with the same sets of pets for many years. I hope this stability enriches their inner lives, too, giving them composure. As you note about your globetrotting adventures, many of us carry around loneliness and that feeling of being in a room far more than among others or having frenetic adventures.

The dominant recollection of much of the time before I met you is sitting in a room, bed or dorm or both, not reading and listening to music (the two largely coincided from the age of eight or so, which may be why I recall so many more crap Top 40 songs than I do book contents), but brooding.

I find myself doing this much less, even if it seems like a lot. I suppose long car rides encourage this tendency, the same old commutes with a car that plays (well all I can stand) only classical radio (or if desperate or in a pledge drive, a switch to, NPR!) I hope that our companionship, quiet as it may be, sustains you as it does our sons, and our pets. xxx me