Tag Archives: mothers

Free Dumb Reigns

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I have never been afraid to fly

At nine, I flew in a

150 year-old stunt biplane

Open cockpit,

Leather helmet

Flowing white silk scarf

 

My second flight ever

Was at age 17

In the pilot seat

Of a Cessna 172

My dad was the co-pilot.

I flew …

before I could drive.

 

As I got older

I started collecting stamps

On my passports,

And riding elephants

Through ancient cities

and up Asian mountains

People share pictures of their

Grandchildren at birthday parties

And their pets sleeping

I have pictures of my preschoolers

Eating meat on a stick

And giving Santa directions

To our new flat in Shanghai.

 

So when you tell me

I don’t fit your definition of what

a divorced, middle-aged, American,

cancer survivor, teacher,

single mother of two

(Insert label here)

You are right.

And I’m ok with that.

Adding Insult to Injury

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Adding Insult to Injury

He waited there

in all black

With a copy of Burrough’s Naked Lunch.

He didn’t read it.

It was a prop.

I, in my best work dress, came in

With every pay stub for the past six months

In chronological order,

Proof of insurance, day care bills,

Government assistance,

My lease, birth certificates, social security cards,

And a host of other documents

That I was threatened to have.

When we were brought in

to see the magistrate

She complimented him

For showing up.

She asked him about his unemployment issues

Then likened him to her own son

Who had to move back home with her.

She opened our case folder

With the big red “Domestic Violence”

Stamp across it.

“I really sympathize with your situation.”

She said to him.

“I hope it gets better for you soon.”

She didn’t look at my folders

Painstakingly gathered and formed

By my O/CD and fear

That I didn’t have every required document.

Finally she looked at me.

And awarded me

$50 a month for our two baby girls.

.

I don’t want to be the one

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I am at this place in my career

My life,

My motherhood,

Where I am at a loss.

I’ve been a teacher for 22 years

And a student my whole life.

I love research.

I love history, anthropology, religions, literature….

I love digging deep into people’s lives

And how they live or lived.

What was it like?

I don’t read —

I DEVOUR books!

Especially history.

I wrote a paper once about how awful it was

That Bloody Queen Mary beheaded Lady Jane.

I mean, everyone knew she was just a teen-aged puppet

And had no interest in the throne.

I sited 10 sources on the injustice.

And my professor wrote,

“You’re too sentimental”

across the top of my paper.

I hated him.

To me, history wasn’t dead and removed.

They were living, breathing people with experiences

I could share,

understand,

empathize…

And I’m home-schooling my girls now

–which I love.

–which I’ve dreamed of

–which I’ve planned for

–in my head –

for years.

But I am at this point

After 22 years, that…

I don’t want to be the one

Who tells them they are different.

That they have a different history than I do.

I find that I avoid certain movies and TV shows

Because I don’t want them

to question why

people don’t like them because

God colored them with a tan crayon.

(That’s what my little one says).

You see, to them,

It’s not black and white,

it’s shades of tan and peach.

I don’t want to explain

Slavery

The underground railroad

The Trail of Tears

Reservations

Jim Crow

segregation

Freedom Riders

Trayvon Martin

Oppression

Suppression

How arbitrary it is that our last name is Womack

Just because it is the last name

of the last white man

Who owned their great-great grandfather

Before the Emancipation Proclamation

And he didn’t bother to change it.

This name,

handed down through years and generations

Means nothing!

We live in Thailand and China

And they are different

Because they have curly hair.

They are different

Because they are foreign.

They get their pictures taken by strangers

20 times a day.

They are like movie stars.

When we buy groceries,

When we eat out,

When we walk around,

“Stop a minute, this lady wants a picture.”

“Stand next to his daughter there, he wants a picture.”

“The waiters want a picture before we go, girls.”

Mostly, the Asians just want an excuse to touch their hair.

So “different” to my girls, means “Special.”

It means beauty.

It means people love you for how you look.

–Shallow, I know.

But I don’t want to be the one to tell them otherwise.

I don’t even want to put the idea into their head

That there IS an otherwise.

I don’t want to be the one to tell them

That once, they could have been killed for how they looked.

Once, they could have been taken away from me.

That before 1967,

their father and I couldn’t even get married.

That even now,

Especially now,

In this second Civil-War-divided country,

people might think

Or say bad things about them

Even though they don’t know who they are.

That not everyone thinks they are beautiful.

I don’t want them to be naive.

And I have ALWAYS been honest with them.

But, I don’t want

To be the one

To teach them this.

12 Letters

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“Can we call him?”

“He doesn’t have a phone, sweetie. He lives in a small room with just a small bed and no window.”

“We can’t type on the computer?”

“Nope, there are no computers.”

“Can we visit him?”

“No, he’s very far away and you aren’t allowed to see him.”

“Well, can I send him a picture?”

“You know what? I don’t know. I think maybe you can. Let’s look it up….Yes, there is an address right here.”

“Can you send him this one? It’s a mermaid with wings. Can you tell him what a good swimmer I am, but I wish I could fly. And tell him I miss him.”

“You got mail!”

“I did? What does it say?”

“I miss you too my beautiful daughter. I think about you everyday, my beautiful daughter, and I love your beautiful art. I taped it to my wall. Your beautiful mother tells me…”

“Mommy? Why does he keep ‘apeating himself?”

“I don’t know. That’s just the way he writes.

“Mommy, I want you to tell daddy that we are moving to Thailand, and tell him that we have to fly on a plane for a long time far, far away, and it will be very hot there. And when it’s morning for him, it will be night time for us. But I don’t want to send him a picture this time.”

“Ok. You don’t ever have to send him a picture, and you don’t have to write if you don’t want to.”

“I know.”

“We got a letter.”

“What does it say, mommy?”

“It says that he is happy that we are going, and that we will have a good life there, and that it will be every good for us.”

“Where’s his letter to me?”

“I guess since you didn’t send one, he didn’t send one back.”

“I want to send daddy this picture of a prison, but look, you’re in our kitchen in Thailand making potato soup, and the police smell the soup, and they leave the door open to come here, and daddy escapes, and he comes here too because he can smell the soup…see? But I don’t think you made enough soup for all of those people!”

“That is really sweet! But let’s find a picture of what prison doors look like. You can’t just escape.”

“I was just pretendin’”

“But it was a good story though.”

“This time I want to send him a picture of my birthday. See, I put 5 candles on the cake. I don’t think he knows it was my birthday last week.”

“Sweetie, he was there when you were born.”

“Oh, really? Do you think he just forgot, then?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, send him this one and tell him I had a mermaid pool party and it was fun. Tell him I love Thailand and I can swim everyday, but I still wish I could fly. My fairy wings don’t work. They are just pretend.”

“We got a letter from daddy! I wanted to call you at work, but Pi Mon wouldn’t let me…What does it say, mommy?”

“…It doesn’t have any part for you this time. It just says that he doesn’t want to write anymore, and goodbye.”

Perspective

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I have been “accused”

Of living in a Utopia

–as if that is a bad thing.

Here’s the thing,

I wake up with dry mouth so severe

That it takes about an hour

of brushing, rinsing, and drinking

Just to begin regulating it for the day.

I can’t eat a snack on the run.

I can’t eat a sandwich, French fries, chocolate…

It takes me about 2 hours to eat a simple meal –even soup

Coughing and choking all the way through it

And drinking an average of three cups of iced milk

–Yes, iced milk to wash it all down.  Because

It hasn’t been a year yet since I was declared “cancer-free.”

It hasn’t been a year yet since I got my feeding tube out.

It hasn’t been a year yet since I got my voice back.

It hasn’t been a year yet since I felt like a holocaust victim

From the intensive chemo and radiation treatments

For tonsil cancer

Yes, tonsil cancer –who knew, right?

It was stage four by the time I got my neck slit in surgery.

I still have nerve damage from my right ear to my shoulder

PLEASE, don’t touch me there!

And then there was the day I did get my feeding tube out

And I thought, this is the moment

The moment true recovery begins

Not a remnant of this hell left

I don’t have to look back, just move on…

“Are you sitting down?”

“Yeah,” I lied.

“That man you were married to,

the one who beat you,

left your children,

stole your credit cards,

Who had the high education and the vocabulary

That put your English Major ass to shame,

Who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, or didn’t find a job for over two years,

Yeah, he’s been arrested for two violent felony charges.

He’ll be gone until your girls are grown.

You’ll have sole-custody,

but you won’t get a penny of support.

Happy Mother’s Day!”

And then, “Wait a minute, what?”

Yes, I have taught university students for six years.

Yes, I have created and copyrighted curriculum.

Yes, I have published research.

And yes, I qualify for food stamps and daycare vouchers.

But, wait a minute, what?

You canceled my assistance because

I was on a feeding tube, and couldn’t actually eat.

And since my parents had to take care of me and my girls

And my mom was too honest to use my card for them

You just boot me out of the system, without asking me why?

Because you DO understand that I am bringing in only 50%

Of my previous below-poverty level income?

So let’s do some math.

Now I need to pay $800 a month for daycare

And $750 a month for rent

On my $732 every two week paycheck.

The “check engine” light has been on my car for over a month now

And I still have to feed my children?

Thank you WIC,

because at least we have milk, eggs and cereal.

And so, my angel of a friend lends me the money

To go to the third-world country where I served

In the Peace Corps 12 years ago.

For two painful days, my girls watched

All of their things leave the house.

We left our family and friends,

And our way of life,

Because I was pretty sure I could get a better life for my girls there.

I make half the money I did in the states,

(the same as the oncologist I tutor)

But I can afford a cute little house

And a nanny/housekeeper –which helps A LOT

Because being a single, working, mother of two pre-schoolers

AND recovering

Is crazy hard!

I still feel sick or tired sometimes from the effect of the treatments.

I’m told that can last up to two years.

Yes, I still lose my hair,

and what I have now is not growing as fast as I would like,

When I go to a store or work,

I cross a 10 lane highway and pay about thirty cents

to ride on a bench on the back of a pick-up truck.

Then I walk about a half mile in 100 degree heat

With my umbrella

Because if the sun touches my radiated neck

It will turn black and burnt and itch

And it takes a lot of Noxema for about a week

To get it back to normal.

And, I get these migraines that incapacitate me

For about 8 days out of every month,

Either from carrying my heavy backpack,

Or sleeping on a rock hard bed.

I can’t find a good school for the girls,

At least one I can afford,

So I home-school them,

Because I am a teacher, right?

And I tutor and edit on the side

For extra money, so we can

Visit family and friends.

We don’t have English TV programs,

Or a car.

Cream of Wheat,

bras in my size,

and gyros

Not available for thousands of miles!

Oh, but wait!

You’ve never heard any of this before,

Because I don’t whine, complain,

Blame others, or

Air my problems in public.

What you hear is:

“Had a great dinner! –Ate every bite!”

because that is such a big accomplishment.

“The girls had a wonderful time swimming with their friends,

while I got to take a nap.”

“I just got a massage, and I feel so much better!”

“We have such generous and helpful

friends and neighbors here.  I am so thankful!”
So yes, I guess I do live in a Utopia

Because I chose to.

I created it.

 

Recreating…

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I’m going to tell you something that I have learned to keep a secret for a very long time now.  In 1997, I was in a college class called, “Personal Transformation.”  (Probably the best class ever invented) and we were talking about our childhoods –specifically overcoming things and letting go.  The question was, “When was the first time you remember someone ‘raining on your parade?”  This was eventually followed with horrible stories of abuse, neglect, pain and problems that made me want to hide under my desk and crawl out of the room.  Even though I was 27 years old, each story seemed unimaginable to me.

The only thing I could think of was in fifth grade when it came time to separate our music class into band, choir and general music, I wanted to play the drums.  I wanted to play them so bad, but my parents wouldn’t let me and I had to chose choir.  This was the worst thing I could think of.  This is when I learned to keep my ideal childhood a secret.  Of course things weren’t perfect.  I’m sure some things were unfair and mistakes were made.  I remember my dad lost his temper with me once.  But my childhood  kind of resembled The Wonderyears.  I had good friends, we played outside a lot, my family took big vacations, and we always ate dinner together at 6pm.

But, the most memorable part of my childhood was our cottage.  We had a little cottage up on the shores of Lake Erie, and it is where we spent practically every day of our summer vacation.  I swam everyday, played in the sand, rowed the rowboat, had lots of kids to play with, climbed trees, explored, had picnics and bon fires, it was just pure fun for a kid.  In the same little cove as us, were aunts and uncles, great-aunts and great-uncles, my grandparents, and neighbors who had been there forever.

My little brother was known for eating breakfast at our house, then going to my grandma’s and eating there, and then going to my great-uncle’s, and then starting all over for lunch.  Sometimes the men would go fishing, the women would make potato salad, corn on the cob and deviled eggs.  Then they would take the picnic tables and actually line them up on the little road between the cottages and we would all eat together.  Sometimes, my dad would get out the ice cream maker.  All the kids would take turns turning until we thought our arms would fall off.

There was no phone.  We never watched TV.  My grandparent’s might have their small black and white on an Indians game but that was the extent of it –background noise to their card playing.  When we slept the adults would gather outside and talk, drink a little, play cards, whatever.  It was soothing to listen to.  If my parents had to go home, they could leave us behind if we begged, because there were 10 other adults around and it was really no big deal.

Now, as Bill Cosby would say, “I told you that story, to tell you this one.”  I had such an amazing day yesterday that I actually got chills.

Yesterday, I asked my neighbor Fred if he happened to go to the store any time this whole weekend, could he take us.  I didn’t realize I was out of bread and jelly.  I had just been to the store, but didn’t know.  I had read Rumi and Raine a Frances book about bread and jam and I guess Rumi took it seriously all week, because I had two loaves of bread on Monday.  Anyway, I thought if he were free at anytime, just let me know.  He IMed back, “I’ll be there in 5 minutes.”

Then, when he gets there his friend Pierre (also from Norway) comes out of the car.  He says, “I’m back!  –For good.  I’m going to be your neighbor!”  Yeah!  Then we go do a little shopping.  We go out for pizza, and since we had just had pizza, the girls and I decide to split some spaghetti and salad.  Well, they were out of meatballs so Fred talks us into Carbonara.  I had never had it before –he has a way of getting me to try new things that I end up loving and craving –this is definitely on the list.  Then we talk about all these things, having barbeques, hanging out, they’ll watch the girls if I want “me time.”  My head starts swimming with possibilities.

After dinner, we all had a few groceries to pick up, and let me tell you, 5 adults to 2 children is the most amazing ratio!  I never had it so easy in a grocery store!  Both men pushed the carts, so the girls just thought that was awesome, because they knew how to play and make them giggle, and race around.  Fred’s girlfriend Boo is the one who takes the girls swimming everyday, and she did my laundry when my nanny was gone.  Well she’s also a masseuse, and when I was getting the beginnings of a migraine last night, she came over with Pierre’s girlfriend and they gave me a massage, during which, I seriously began to wonder and question how did my life get so good?

And then this morning I realized, this is kind of like my cottage summers, except my house is the a supreme cottage, but the sense of community, exploration, comfortableness, perpetual summer…I’m kind of reliving it as an adult, and giving such an amazing gift to my girls.

Identity Crisis

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–Not one of those

when you look in the mirror

and see your mother looking back,

No.

It’s when you look in the mirror

and don’t recognize that person

at all.

This is not the person I grew up with

When My four year-old says,

“Mommy, I don’t like your hair.

I miss your Rapunzel hair.

When will it grow back?

My wedding dress,

My claddagh ring,

my favorite shirt,

my underwear

are all way to big

to even be passable as baggy.

My cheeks aren’t full like a 20 year-old’s

but sunk-in like a 60 year-old with botox.

“Mommy when are your scars going to go away?”

“These don’t go away.

They were made by a doctor’s knife.”

I’m healthy.

I’m tired.

I’m recovering.

I’m cancer-free.

But who the hell is that in the mirror?