Thursday, June 3, 2010

Kitty City

There are two feral kittens curled up asleep in my office. Which is astounding, if you consider where I come from. Granted, I grew up in a home where animals most definitely out-numbered humans, where several species co-habitated and intermingled, where the Circle of Life was witnessed in all its glory and all its gore on a daily basis. But I wanted nothing to do with it. Ever.

I hated pet hair and pet shit and pet slobber. I hated chewed up toys and books and clothes. Hated the smalls and the noise and that you could never just pick up and go. And that they all demanded (required?) so damned much attention. Attention that I'm pretty sure I thought should be turned toward me.

I swore up and down I would NOT have animals when I was on my own. Ask anyone in my family. They will describe the vehemence with which I proclaimed this.

Instead, I had a kid. And I guess that must have triggered the maternal, nurturing instinct that has opened me up to animals.

You can argue all you want that pets are not like children - and in some aspects, I'd probably agree with you - but the place they inhabit in your soul, and the emotional, physical, mental ingredients it takes to be a mother to a human and to an animal are basically the same, I think.

I've wound up with a dog who's deep and loving soul I swear I can see, but who has made me lose almost as much sleep as my brilliant but difficult child - because she, too, is brilliant and difficult. My work with her and my stubborn determination has prompted people to comment about 'how good I am with animals." This makes me laugh. It makes my mother laugh harder. (Too hard, if you ask me.)

But, I've taught her nothing, really. I'm pretty sure she's taught me a great deal of what I know about staying the course, about commitment, about powerlessness - and about power - about faith and confidence and love. And because she's taught me these things, I'm a better mother to my human child.

Anyway, two kittens. Kittens who would not come anywhere near us when we brought them home - spitting, hissing, growling. They now let us pet them (while hissing), sniff at us, and are almost crawling into our laps.

So far, so good. It remains to be seen how they will do with the other four animals in the house.

Yes. Four. So much for having nothing to do with animals.

Pip and Big Al (I know, I know... but Big Al started out as Blackie - apparently my brilliant child is not so brilliant when it comes to original pet names.)

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Don't know if it's the weather, the fact that I have nothing that I HAVE to do today, that A. is stabilized on his meds for the moment or what, but today I have that giddy, carefree, joyous thing going on.

This may sound a little strange, but I think it has something to do, too, with tank top season. When my 'quetza in a conch shell' tattoo shows, I feel empowered. Not sure if it's the significance of my sister's design, or I just have this idea that it makes me look like a rebel bad ass. In any case, it usually adds to the feeling-comfortable-in-my-own-skin package.

After a rough week of recovering from A.'s episode, of too many deadlines at work with too many people out, of trying to figure out if a certain school is the best one for A., and then how to pay for it, today I feel light. Hopeful.

I know better than to think that this will last too long. And that's ok. If I have learned anything in past several years, it's that I have today. Nothing more and nothing less. And I will take short-lived bursts of serenity and joy over none at all.

This week, I have chosen faith over fear as much as I could. It sounds cheesy and naive, but there is no other explanation for the inner peace.

I used to think this was weak. Turning all of this over to some sort of higher power. I have always believed I could manage all my life problems on my own. I've learned that it takes tremendous courage and strength to let go. To keep walking, to take the leap, to admit that I do not know everything.

And, that, I think, is where my tattoo comes in. I am not alone. I am not in charge of the outcome. But I gain strength and tap into a power of sorts when I turn it all over to the Wind. To Quetza. Seeing my tattoo, it being exposed reminds me of that.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Jekyll and Hyde

My chest is constricted, my throat is closed, I am so past crying, it's a little alarming.

A. threw a rake at me today in anger and frustration. It hit me in the back. Left a cut. Blood on my shirt. It has been a while since he has thrown anything. I wish in these moments that I were a big, burly man. That I could grab him by the scruff of the neck and get in his face and scare the shit out of him.

I feel, instead, like a weak-willed woman, too frightened to stand up to her abuser.

But what do you do when this abuser is your child? Bigger than you, and not yet a man? When it is your heart, out of your body, staring at you, fuming? When you know that his bi-polar disorder and lack of treatment for the past 7 years is partly to blame? When the urge to hold him and get him through it is stronger than the urge to fight back, to call the police, to do the things you probably should?

I get stuck in the guilt trap. In the place where I beat myself up with the "shouldas." I should have insisted he stay on medication after the first diagnosis when he was 6. I should have handled these behaviors different from the very beginning. I should have...

But the fact is this: My boy is troubled. Troubling and in trouble. And some days I feel scared and hopeless. On these days, it's hard to remember the brilliant, quirky, eccentric, interesting individual he is. On these days, fear consumes me, and I see him in jail, or alone, or dead, or addicted to drugs and alcohol.

On these days, I feel completely alone. These things are impossible to explain. How does the afternoon start with A. asking to rake leaves for money, to throwing the rake at me, to threatening suicide, to sleep?

He will wake up emotionally hung-over, but pretty much done. And I am left with whiplash and desperate calls to counselors and doctors.

I am grateful that we hit the crisis we did a month ago so that we can finally get some help. But I am angry and frustrated that it took that. What if it's too late?

I guess, though, that it is like anything else. Left foot, right foot, repeat. Left foot, right foot, repeat.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Revisiting writing

I was going to say that I can't believe it's been a year since I've written anything, but that would be an outright lie.

Here's the thing: since I quit drinking a little over 7 years ago (and then smoking three years ago), it's been close to impossible to write. There are a number of things, actually, that I find hard to do without either of those tools, but the absence of writing is one I come back to time and again. It's one of the things that kept me sane.

I considered taking a creative writing class. (I consider doing a lot of things I have neither time nor money to do.) Someone suggested I just start writing. So here I am.

There is not a lack of material, to be sure. Being the single (gay, recovering alcoholic) mother of an almost 15 year old son provides much fodder. I just can't seem to open the well to put it all down.

But I'm going to try.

Monday, March 23, 2009

thoughts jotted on the airplane

I have mixed feelings about flying home...

Of course I am more than ready to be in my own bed, in my own house, with my own dogs. But I hate the emptiness that sets in after spending a week filling up with the familiarity of my sister and the joyful - if manic - energy of my nieces.

There is something about visiting family that pulls me in opposite directions - so far that it meets back again - some sort of circle of dysfunction.

I am amazed at how well my sister gets me - and how well I get her. It makes me almost cry because it is one of the deepest, least complicated, most fulfilling relationships I have ever had. I am grateful that I did not completely destroy it when I was out there destroying everything else.

On the other side of that is being with my mother and her mother (and comparing notes with my sister) often strengthens my frustration and resentment at how insane my family is.

Just when I really think I'm in some sort of acceptance of this insanity - even ready to embrace it, to own it, claim it as my own - I come face-to-face with it and am alarmed. Shocked. HOW DID I SURVIVE CHILDHOOD?

And yet, I did. I more than survived. I understand that my sisters and I are who we are - passionate, interesting, creative, strong, independent women - because of (in spite of?) the way we were raised.

I know that part of my discomfort lies in continuing to compare my version of childhood/youth/family with what is accepted as "normal." Which makes no sense because as much as I decry the insanity I grew up in, "normal" does not seem like an attractive alternative. It would have been soul-killing, at best.

So normal is not ti. Only that I wish there's been a little more of that boundary/limit thing, a little more of that modeling of adult behavior thing. Too many times, I still don't feel "old enough" to do things because I never saw an adult be an adult!

But again, from that came as many gifts as drawbacks, and it now about which I chose to lean on. I really want to focus on the gifts, but every once in a while, the part that's missing gets so big, it drowns everything else out, and I have to tread water for a little bit until I can swim back to the shore of acceptance.

I always come home from visiting family somewhat changed. I think it is in the knowing that there are people out there who share intimately all the worst and best parts of me, who know me, get me, don't get me but want to, and who definitely speak the same language.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


This is hard. Sitting, Waiting. Watching. Judging. There are so many kids in there for this art audition. Kids who probably spent months - years - took a class to put together their portfolio.

And A - two days.

And here's the thing: I don't know what's supposed to happen or what the "best" outcome would be or how he's going to feel or how he compares to other kids. Even if I did, none of it is anything that I can make happen, make not happen, change, rearrange.

I'm projecting, really. There are so few things anymore that I regret about my own past. But that I did not pursue my art haunts me. That I stepped off the stage because of fear (as much of success as of failure), addiction and laziness still turns me into an abysmal well of shame, self-pity, regret.

That's what's going on here. I want A to do what I didn't. I want him to want to. Without really allowing him to decide for himself what it is that HE wants to do.

I told him this morning as he labeled his portfolio that I was earnestly going to try to back off and let him grow. That I know that I need to get off his back. That I will probably make mistakes while trying to do that. "It's ok. Everyone makes mistakes, mom," says this kid who's huge behind-the-dirty-glasses eyes are level with mine. (When did he get so big?)

I have to remember that he's taken care of. That I have to stop trying to be mother/father/god to this boy. That I need to let go lest I suffocate him and hinder his growth. I kid myself when I think he 'can't handle' it. He has shown wisdom, creativity, depth, humor that surprises me. Usually when I get out of the way.

How many times must I go through this before I finally get it, I wonder? As many times as it takes, I guess. Pretty sure we'll survive, regardless.

I am proud of my boy. Incredibly proud.

This is not my audition. I'm going to let go of his process. I am. Really. Right now. Whew. Breathing. Ok. There. Released. For now. I'm sure I'll have to release it again. And again.

Monday, February 23, 2009

chapped lips, etc.

It's starting to feel like the only time I log in to write anything is when I'm in a really shitty mood. Or maybe that's when people finally leave me alone long enough to do anything.

I need to start carrying a small notebook in my pocket because there have been a few times in the past couple of days when I've said, "Note to self: remember this so you can write about it in your blog." Ha. Ha. HaHaHa. There are too many post-its in my head and invariably, if I don't write something down, another note to self gets plopped on top. I may find the buried reminders someday... but by then I can't remember why I was supposed to remember. Ah.

One thing I do remember, because it made me laugh. A was somewhat recovered from the flu, but still had runny nose and gunk and just leftover misery... and really horribly chapped lips. At one point, I turn around to look at him, and his mousy brown hair is covering his face, and he is sort of slouched and mad-looking and his lips are so chapped that they look like clown lips... and I swear to you, it was like looking at me at around age 10 or so. It was almost surreal. And for some reason, really - really - funny. Sucks to inherit the whole chapped lip thing.

The other thing I remember because it's another one of those moments where I'm reminded how little I really know. How far out of proportion I can blow things. And how terrified I am of things not working out, of people's feelings being hurt, of *gasp* someone not liking me!!! A had a rough morning on Saturday. Woke up late ("It's not my FAULT!!!"), showed up to his Band solo competition without his saxophone ("I didn't know!!!"), was told by his coach not to shoot during the basketball game ("He's STUPID!"), didn't move on to regionals with his Nat'l History Day Project ("They cheated")...

I should pause here to say that we were able to reframe all of this - yes, it's your responsibility to wake up on time - if you don't know, ASK - a coach's responsibility it to ask his team to play in a way that makes sense THAT game against THAT team, it's not personal - be proud that your project got to regionals! Make an even better one next year....

So, bad day (plus, his father is moving back to town and A wants to go live with him again). And for some reason, I pick this day to talk to him about school. He was thinking about auditioning for the Arts Magnet - for music. (Yes, the kid who can;t wake up and doesn't bring his instrument... oh, and never practices.)

We agree to go to dinner and talk about HS, because we're running out of time. We talk about the Arts Magnet, I point out that he's very, very good at sax, but that he needs to decide if he loves it enough to do what it takes. That it's not about being good, it's about wanting it. He decides probably not. I mention to him that the one thing he does ALL the time, that he loves doing is drawing. He say, "I'm not very good." I say, "well. what do you think school is for???" He thinks maybe he'll audition for Art.

We talk about the neighborhood school. Not the best in the world, but consistently in Newsweek's top 100. (or 1000). Has a great fine arts dept, athletic dept, AP classes, etc. In fact, I can't think why he wouldn't want to go... except that his father has made the school out to be festering evil... based on... I don't know.... voices in his head???

Then he says what I knew he would - he utters the name of a school and says, "You know, when my dad moves back, he can move into that neighborhood."

And I open my mouth and shut it. And open and shut it. He looks at me and says, "What? Just say it." I tell him I don't know how to say what I need to say without it sounding mean. "Just say it."

So I scramble for neutral words and find a way to talk about his father's inconsistency in terms of staying in one place for any length of time (I do NOT talk about his inconsistency in everything, though I am tempted). I say, I don't want him to go to a school based on his Dad's address anf then have to transfer out when something comes up. And A says, "Mom, that's not mean. That's the truth."

And there it is. He KNOWS the TRUTH!!! I get so wrapped up in saying it right, so wrapped up in not badmouthing his father, ruining his relationship with his dad... and in some ways, I've known he knows the truth, but that was one of those "you're off the hook" moments. And it was beautiful.

Next post, I'll try to remember to write about the dog R keeps promising he'll get for A. A now has his heart set on a Husky that his father has apparently promised. I think he knows the truth anout that one, too. But he wants it to work so bad - the whole normal dad-son-dog thing. And the truth hurts.