Life with Teenagers

Archive for the ‘mothers’ Category

the writing life

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desk
I love to read about how other writers and artists do what they do. When Zsofi McMullin asked me if I wanted to participate in a blog hop, I didn’t hesitate. I think it’s important to reflect on the creative process, because it often gets me unstuck and moving again. I left my job the other day on a whim and drove to Portland Maine to hear Kate Christensen talk in a library about her latest book and why she writes. It proved to be a good jumpstart for me to get back to my own work.


1. What am I writing or working on?

I write an autobiographical blog about living with my teenagers. When I first started it, I wrote several posts a month. But lately as they get older, and as I get older, I write a little less often in that format. I’m focusing more on writing essays and poetry with the goal of having more of an established background (meaning published) when I approach editors with a finished novel. I’m working on that, too.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I guess my blog fits in with the genre of “mommy blogs” although I write about parenting teens and not babies. I also write about food and the conversations that happen at the dinner table, and the little moments that are worth noticing in a life. My blog is also about my same-sex marriage and having a blended family (shared pets, an involved ex-husband down the street) and midlife for me at the intersection of my teens who are embarking on their own adult lives.

3. Why do I write what I do?
I am trying to find my own writing voice and having a blog about daily experiences as a parent helps me stop being too earnest and just write stuff. I like the way a blog post is just a slice of the now, a chance to find a little hook or arc of an idea, but not something to agonize over. On the other hand, the novel I’m working on is sheer terror and pain. Sometimes I get in a groove and characters and chapters seem to be making some sense and appear to be carrying me somewhere, but other times I have to put it aside for long stretches and hope I will remember what I’m trying to say when I come back.

I didn’t set out to be a writer in college. I wanted to be a visual artist and I made “film poems” with a super 8 camera in the 80s. I do web and print communication work now for my job, and have theorized about feminism, romanticism, and female masculinity in grad school. Now somehow all of this makes total sense to be showing up in my novel.

4. How does my writing process work?
I don’t have a process right now that works for me all that well, which is one of the reasons I love to read how others juggle their creative work with their lives. I struggle with balancing a demanding job, a long commute, and a lot of harsh voices in my head that are worried about making enough money to pay for two teens in college and who say constantly: “you are getting older, you know” and “why haven’t you published more than this?” and “you really don’t have the luxury of being a writer.” Ha, that one is my favorite. As if it’s a luxury to be writer.

But whenever the writing is going well for me, it’s usually because I have realized again the importance of filling the well. I can’t write at all when I haven’t made space for music, for art shows, for weeding my garden, and for reading about and talking with other creative people.

***
And now to pass on the baton…

Julie Silver is one of the most celebrated and beloved performers in the world of contemporary Jewish music today. She tours throughout the world, and has been engaging audiences with her lyrical guitar playing, her dynamic stage presence, and her megawatt smile for over 25 years. “As a songwriter, I just write and sing what I feel and hope it resonates with people,” she says. [Kris writes: She also writes a blog called On My Mind and her facebook posts can make me literally laugh out loud.]

Cheryl Perreault is a poet and spoken word artist. She is also executive producer and host of a monthly poetry and music venue at HCAM TV Studio called Wake up and Smell the Poetry which takes place before a live audience and is aired on HCAM cable television in Hopkinton. In addition, she co-facilitates the monthly Women’s Art Forum, a program of the Hopkinton Cultural Arts Alliance in Hopkinton. [Kris writes: Cheryl is a real force for the arts in the Metrowest and an inspiration for everyone who has something to say. ]

Written by kmguay

June 10, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Posted in dinner, mothers, teenagers

Tagged with , , ,

wrap me in a blanket

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hot-soup-bowl-md

It’s the end of another weeknight train commute home and J and I perform the same ritual as always. Both of us stand at the open hallway closet, only moments since entering the front door through the garage, and we take off shoes. Mine are complicated tonight. They are new and stiff and have a zipper on the back of the heel that only seems to be working on the left one. I stand balanced on my right foot with my right hand yanking at the zipper and with my free arm I simultaneously haul my orange leather handbag onto the kitchen counter. J has managed to stretch over me to slide the brown paper Hang Tai bag onto the counter at the same time. It sits at eye level with my contorted body- a neat compact square with the top folded over and stapled shut. I can smell the contents and I’m ready to rip it open right now, only the house is cold and we haven’t changed out of work clothes. I pry free both shoes and whip them into the closet and immediately open kitchen cabinets to find our yellow oval plates and place them side by side near the microwave.

“It’s here,” says J still standing in the doorway.

I see the Amazon box on the floor. It’s our third coffee maker in a matter of months. The recent Mr Coffee sits like a sentinel watching over the kitchen table. One of the teens seems to be using it, even though the addicted adults in the house have long since given up in disgust. I sometimes check the filter compartment in the morning and I find drying coffee grounds from the day before and a half full pot of cold coffee.

“Do you have high hopes?” J asks me as she starts tearing at the top of the box.

I don’t answer because I’m busy looking for our deep bowls, the ones specifically made for ice cream or cereal that are adorned with ornate Turkish or Indian designs on the outside. We don’t have any Chinese dish ware, but I want something to make this meal feel more important than one that is hastily dumped out of plastic containers.

I pour the silky contents into each bowl. Sliced mushrooms bob around in the shiny brown liquid next to tough fibrous matchsticks of chinese root vegetable. A heady, fragrant steam rises from each plate. There is just enough room for me to add a squat brown tube glistening with fryolater grease next to each bowl. I fight the urge to take the meal into the bedroom on a tray and plop it down on top of the comforter while I burrow like a mole beneath layers of sheets and cotton blankets. Instead, I heat up the plates in the microwave and set them on our glass-topped kitchen table that has a view to the garden. I arrange three wire candle holders with tea lights in the center of the table, grab cloth napkins from the basket and dim the overhead lights.

I sit at the table and wait for J to return from changing to join me. The heat has since kicked on in the house and the Native American dream catcher with the long eagle feathers that J has hung from the ceiling begins to undulate in and out. I stare dismally out the window. It’s late May, post Memorial Day weekend, and it’s cold, gray and freezing outside. A raw rainy mist hovers over the perennials which have started to burst forth from the ground but keep to themselves in contained bundles, not yet daring to stretch and collapse over each other in their usual tangled and languorous mess of color. The plants look as skeptical as I feel, like they just can’t bring themselves to trust the air and instead recoil tightly, stretching only upward toward the fickle sun, exposing bare circles of earth around themselves in a protective ring.

The teens are both home. I can see their cars in the driveway just beyond the garden, and if I listen intently, I can make out some muffled voices and the low rumble of a bass guitar. Both are already well into their summer lifestyle that consists of sleeping until the outer edges of the afternoon and driving away to places unknown after their work shifts. If they bring friends home, they all stay below and I usually regret later my awkward pajama-clad mom greeting at the basement entrance to a roomful of strange large male bodies and an occasional lithe female one in a very small shirt, lounging on the couch surrounded by amps and guitars and various open bags of fast food purchases. Better to stay in my sphere tonight, I think.

When J returns to the table, we slurp our hot and sour soup in silence, sniffles being the only sound as the steam and spices fill our nostrils.

After a while, J asks again, “So, do you have high hopes? We can’t keep buying our coffee at Panera every morning and just barely making the train. This is nuts.”

“Why don’t we try making a cup tonight?” I say, eyeing the hulking mass of coffeemaker number three looking imposing next to the sink and hanging over the silverware drawer.

J immediately gets into action grinding beans and I turn to the laptop I’ve left on the chair, grab it open, and start mindlessly liking posts on facebook, changing my profile picture for the millionth time and checking my gmail account. I anxiously resist the pull of the bed.

I’ve largely spent the last three months of late winter into spring under covers. I’m happiest in the safe realm of our large kingsize bed, surrounded by pillows, my computer and cellphone nearby, and with a book on the nightstand. J has been non judgmental in her cheerful delivery of oversized paper cups of Panera coffee to me on a tray on weekend mornings. I manage to stand up eventually, close to noon, just long enough to scramble us eggs and slice avocados and bring the plates back to bed. The robins dive-bombing at the window screen and the spring sunlight dancing on the newly unfurled vine leaves are no deterrent to my slothful non agenda.

“Remember this day,” I said to J last weekend as she was gathering up the Sunday paper, dishes, used napkins and coffee cups strewn about on our large expanse of mattress. “This is the day I never get out of bed again, the first day it happens.”

“Cut that out,” she said.

It has become a running joke with us. It started from my habit of watching too many late night reality TV shows over the winter when I couldn’t sleep. I watched alone in rapt attention as morbidly obese people were airlifted from their bedrooms and transported to a hospital for their miracle surgery, suddenly hopeful for life after years of eating themselves numb and comforted under debilitating fat.

Now as J starts brewing us a cup of coffee, I flip through my text messages to see if my ex has answered the ones I sent him on the train.

Have you seen the kids? I typed.

Nope. Not in a while, You? he typed back.

We are getting hot and sour soup and an eggroll tonight. screw the gym. too cold out. I texted back.

sm. veg. delight. sm white rice. jumbo fried shrimp. harry potter dvd. Under quilt. WTF? isn’t it almost June? he texted back.

J interrupts my cellphone perusal and hands me a coffee cup.

“What do you think? she asks.

“I don’t know,” I say after taking a small sip. “Seems a bit thin. Might be ok. Let me try it again.”

But I’m distracted and taking too long. I’m thinking about the yoga class I’m planning to attend the next day, where I will once again make an effort to listen to the little voice inside that I have squashed down to barely a whisper. Lately, just as the plants have no real choice but to tentatively emerge from the ground, my inner voice of unrest and suppressed action is starting to speak a little louder. I can almost hear it. I might even be ready to pay attention to it finally. But not tonight.

J takes a another sip and dumps the coffee into the sink.

“It’s going back,” she says.

“I’m going back too,” I say. “To the bed. I’m cold. Come wrap me in a blanket.”

Written by kmguay

May 31, 2014 at 5:36 pm

i can’t put it into words

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toothbrush-clipart3

I can hear the low rumble of the harley starting up in the garage. It’s late morning, almost afternoon, and I’m still in my oversized pajama bottoms and a wrinkled t-shirt. I’m gathering up supplies from the kitchen to take with me to the basement. I’ve got a roll of paper towels, the antiseptic wipes, and a couple of dry dish towels in one hand and my cell phone in the other. The older teen left the house hours earlier. I watched him shuffle out to the car – barefoot and in boxers – while I quietly stood at my usual spot in front of the kitchen sink in full view of the hummingbird feeder and the driveway beyond.

“I’m worried about him,” I said to my partner who was sliding by in socks on the kitchen floor carrying her motorcycle boots in her hand. I hadn’t shifted my locked gaze from the tiny whirring wings and iridescent green hovering outside the window, my hands on the edge of the sink, my feet fidgeting around in my flip flops.

“I think he will be ok. He is the one left behind. Just give him some time,” she said, opening up the closet and grabbing the gloves from the top shelf before exiting through the kitchen door.

I’ve been walking around with my smartphone for the past 24 hours, leaving it to rest on counter tops or tables and picking it up to carry it with me from room to room. And sure enough, there’s another text.

“Did you find my calculator?” the text reads. I slide it open to the keyboard and begin to type back.

“Yes. Your father is bringing it with him tomorrow when he comes with your brother. What are you doing?” I don’t expect another text for hours but instead it’s instant.

“I’m going to look for my classrooms today.”

“Good.” I text back. “Try to have some fun too, ok?”

The dog is now barking, the harley is slowly making its way down the driveway, and I snap the smartphone shut. On my way downstairs, I grab a pile of folded laundry from the washer top and carry it with me. In the teen’s old bedroom, a shaft of light from the half window way up by the ceiling shines a small square onto the edge of the bed. I get to work stripping sheets, dusting shelves, gathering up socks from the floor, gathering up discarded soda and ice coffee plastic cups, pulling shoeboxes down from the bookshelves. On my knees, I reach way behind the headboard and pull up three empty bottles one at a time that were wedged out of view. Raspberry Bombay Sapphire. Jack Daniels. And some kind of diminutive lemon vodka thing now line up in a row on the bed. I empty the contents of the shoeboxes, too. Bubble wrapped glass blown bongs and pieces of flat colored glass fill one. Old empty cigarette boxes, clear plastic baggies, toothbrushes, and various flotsam and jetsam fill the others.

Well, at least it all was left behind at home. I say this out loud to nobody. I was there when we unpacked his dorm room. I was there when he piled his books in a neat pile on his desk, when he unpacked his toiletries in a row on his closet shelf.

The smartphone buzzes on the top of the bureau.

“I had a bag of stuff from Orientation and it had a book about the history of Lowell and I need it for my writing class.” reads the text.

“I will look for it but I think I threw it away over the summer,” I text back.

I snap the smartphone shut and get back to work vacuuming, arranging the older teen’s books and awards onto the empty shelves, hanging up movie posters, making up the bed. A large bag of trash is ready to be brought to the garage. The younger teen’s paraphernalia is boxed up and hoisted into the back room. I stand back and admire my work just as the older teen makes his way downstairs carrying a pizza box and a large drink container with a straw.

“Hey, check out the room, what do you think?” I call out from the open door. He peeks his head in and looks around quick with a blank expression.”See, I moved your film stuff and your posters too.”

“Yeah, I’ll probably move that one.” he says. “I like Daniel Craig but I don’t want to wake up every day looking at him.”

“Ahh, yes,” I reply. I catch him looking quick at the framed photograph of the two brothers on the beach that I left on the bureau. Now it’s his bureau. I see him wipe his eye with the back of his hand and turn away from me.

“You don’t like the room? Now you get the good bed,” I say trying to sound cheerful.

“It’s good mom, but… I don’t know. I can’t put it into words. My best friend left for college and I’m still here. It’s hard,” he says as his voice cracks.

“I know, honey, but its…” I stop myself before going any further. He’s already into the other room now. Headphones are on, pizza box is on the coffee table, video game joystick in hand.

“Thanks for cleaning mom but can you go now?” he says and his face is fixated on the TV screen.

Yeah. I can go now, I guess. The younger teen has gone, and the older one has yet to find his way still, but I hope that one day soon he will. And I feel like a chapter has just ended and I’m not ready for it to be over right now, or something like that.

I just can’t put it into words.

Written by kmguay

September 2, 2013 at 2:31 am

capstone

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“Hello Mutha,” the younger teen calls out to me as he spots me walking toward him. He is standing in a circle of friends at the end of the hallway near the blue painted doors to the auditorium. He is wearing his black skinny jeans that sag in the back and a black wrinkled t-shirt with a stain at the bottom. I stifle a frown.

Couldn’t he have dressed a little better for his capstone performance?

Instead I say cheerfully, “Hey, there he is,” and I run my hand through his thick wavy hair. “You nervous?” He doesn’t answer and turns to face his girlfriend who is standing close beside him twirling a piece of her hair around one finger and shifting her hips. I notice that she is wearing her cotton-candy pink short shorts. “I guess this is the dress code,” I say under my breath.

On my way in earlier, I grabbed a black and white copier paper flyer from the wooden podium and scanned its contents.

Great, I left work early and he is the last person on stage tonight. The absolute last one.

A few scattered family members, a couple of grandparents, and mothers holding the hands of toddlers mill about near the temporary gallery walls that have been positioned in front of grey painted cinderblock. They stand stiffly viewing the gouache painted skulls with blood dripping from the orifices, and flat watercolored self portraits of moon-sized blank faces.

Oh look, there’s one of my teen’s 2D projects.

I walk up closer to it and turn my head to the side and earnestly study the technique he used. It’s been a long time since I’ve stepped foot in his high school and that critical voice inside that doesn’t ever let up on me is now jabbering on full force about the subpar artwork hanging on the subpar school walls. Clearly nobody is planning to go to art school from this class.

Oh cut it out, they are only juniors! Don’t you remember your own high school portfolio?

I shush the voice inside. I do remember it. I gave myself only mere weeks before my application needed to be sent in and I rapidly went about the business of drawing everything that was directly around me. I got right to work on creating an oversized charcoal drawing of the corner of my unmade bed. And when that was finished, I grabbed colored pencils and opened the closet to startle all my shoes from whatever they were up to on the floor in the dark. There they were, laces undone, tongues hanging out, caught open mouthed and exposed to daylight. I drew them right then and pronounced it a finished work. The pleasure of hindsight is that I now get to say that I didn’t over think it, and it wasn’t that I waited until the last minute without a thoughtful plan and just got lucky. Not at all. I really do think, hindsight or not, that I purposefully didn’t give the censor inside any time to do the nasty work of chopping me down to size.

“I’m going to go in now for the performances,” I say to the group of teens. They follow behind me but keep a respectable distance and find their places off to the far right side. I squint around in the dark. A half dozen or so people sit in chairs spaced as far away from each other as possible. The room could easily hold a couple hundred. I pick a chair in the middle back row. As I survey the room, I see my ex walking in through the double doors. He is wearing jeans and a black sweater and black boots and looking every bit like a musician or an art student himself, I think. I pull at my Ann Taylor Loft maroon sweater and slump a little lower. I motion for him to sit down, but the wooden chair next to me is missing it’s seat.

“Where’s the J dog?” he asks me as we both move over.

“She will be here about halfway through. She is on the train still,” I say.

The room darkens to a pitch black and the first performance of the night begins. Humorous skits, a long and involved hip hop dance routine, a young girl singing her heart out at the piano. My ex and I perform crude sign language, giving a thumbs up or down or fist bump and catch each other’s wide-open eyes as Taylor Swift-esque song number five turns to six. By the time intermission is over, the auditorium is at least a quarter filled and my partner has since arrived. My teen is on after the Gypsy Blue Band performs a few electrified riffs. My partner sits beside me in my ex’s vacated seat and he is now pacing in the corridor behind us. “God, I’m so nervous,” I whisper to her in the dark.

During intermission, the teen and his growing entourage of supporters stopped to chat with the parents. “Honey, don’t forget to spit out that gum before you get on stage,” I said to him. “You got this, babe,” comforted his girlfriend with her hand on his back. “I’m going to get backstage now and get ready,” he said while walking rapidly away, his girlfriend taking a couple quick steps to catch up, shooting us a nervous glance back.

I grab my partner’s hand now and squeeze it several times in the dark while he is being announced. The audience grows silent while he calmly enters with his bass guitar and a stool to position himself center stage. A stage hand pushes an amp behind him and I let my mind wander a bit as he quietly starts hooking up to the amp. How many times had we listened to the same three pieces of music in the living room? Me, leaning back into the couch with my slippered feet on the coffee table, waiting patiently while he would stop and say, “Hold on” and start again, trying to make it through one flawless pass of his three song medley — a Victor Wooten piece that was supposed to seamlessly morph into a shortened version of Bach’s Cello Suite Number 1 Prelude and end with a piece he wrote himself. Overall, it was an unusual, six-minute long but oddly exciting percussive arrangement for solo bass guitar my teen had simply titled BASSic.

Athletes talk a lot about being “in the zone” and it happens for artists too. I think I finished ten new pieces for my art school portfolio over a period of days when I was clearly in that zone. And if you’ve ever experienced what it feels like, it’s not hard to miss it when it is happening to your kid.

“Wow, he is really doing this,” says my partner. “He is on.” I can feel my body relaxing a bit as the medley is near over. I turn back to look at my ex who is standing in the back to the room perfectly still and straight with his body tensed, his eyes closed, and a slight smile on his face. When the last note is played and my teen finally lifts his head up to survey the crowd, the entourage of friends on the right burst into loud applause and whistles. I can hear his brother’s voice hooting above the dull roar of the clapping.

I still have my own dreams of being in the limelight again, of experiencing the thrill of the printed byline, the book jacket, even the glossy exhibition brochure. And some of this I may very well realize still. But most of it I won’t. And as I get older, the disappointment over what I haven’t done is starting to sting a bit less. Because being a parent means I will have many opportunities to experience moments like this one, when I sit in a darkened auditorium and listen to my kid performing his very own creation and feel firsthand right along with him those sublime seconds of greatness.

And these are the real capstones in my life.

Written by kmguay

June 9, 2012 at 4:19 pm

what is wrong with my hair?

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The December sunlight streams through the slatted shades. The dog lies curled on his blue blanket. My youngest teen is sitting in the easy chair by the window with a macbook on his lap.

“Mom, it’s going to be $54.95 for more ram. Can I use your credit card?” he asks.

“My wallet is in my black bag,” I say, shifting my slippered feet onto the coffee table and pulling the wool blanket over my legs. The light in the room is exquisite and I don’t feel like moving except to maybe adjust my ball cap one more time and gather all my hair, pulling it through the half moon of the back into one curly ponytail while tightening the strap.My parents matching black wheelie-bag suitcases line up against the white wall. From where I sit, I can see the remains of our breakfast- a half-eaten apple, cherry and cheese pastry ring, and coffee cups still littering the dining table.

“It’s called the Elephant Bar,” says my father sitting in front of the PC on the desk in the dining room.

“Oh, the one we were thinking of was called the Elephant Walk“, I say.

“Yeah, I thought it wasn’t that big of a chain,” says my girlfriend sitting beside me on the couch. “I know there are few in the Boston area, but not Florida.”

“Pat, it’s called the Elephant Bar,” says my father again to my mother as she walks by the computer desk to stand in front of the large wall mirror in the dining room.

“What is wrong with my hair?” she asks the room. “It used to be thick like A’s,” she looks directly at the three of us flopped over the couch and chairs in the other room, “but now its feeling thin all of a sudden.”

“Patty, they have sushi style tuna for Barbara,” my father says again.

I take my ball cap off and let my hair fall in front of my eyes.

“What do you want to do today?” I ask my girlfriend and start listing the possibilities.

“Why don’t we wait until your parents leave,” she says.

“Mom, is the shipping address the same as the billing address? asks my teen.

“Yes,” I say to him.

“And what is the security code?” he asks.

My girlfriend gets up off the couch to show him the back of the credit card. I grab all of my hair in one fist and hold it above my head.

“I need to get this hair cut,” I say. “Maybe I should call the salon and see if Anthony can fit me in today.” I get up off the couch and take the cordless phone with me on the way to the bathroom. I put the phone down on the sink and peer into the bathroom mirror at my roots.

“Oh my god. Look at these roots!” I say.

I grab a swath of hair from my head and hold it in the air while returning to the bright light of the dining room again, passing my parents still huddled over the restaurant menu displayed on the computer monitor.

“Will you look at this hair?” I ask my girlfriend, bending over the couch with a fistful held high so she can see.

“Wow,” she says. “It’s a straight line.”

“I’d be completely white if I didn’t color this hair.”

“What’s wrong with that? asks my white-haired smirking father from the computer desk.

“I’m too young for this,” I reply disgusted and flop back down on the couch. I let go of my hair again and let it fall around my face and into my eyes in a tangle.

“You look just like you did when you were a little girl and you just woke up,” says my mother joining the conversation.
And to my girlfriend she turns and says, eyeing my feet that are now back on the coffee table “Do you like her slippers?”

“The thing is, I just did them. 70 bucks. And now I have to do them again. I should just pay the teen over there,” I say motioning to him still on the easy chair with his head fixated on the laptop screen.

“Mom, I can’t do your roots. I have to keep my dignity,” says my teen.

I look over at my girlfriend.

“Well… ” she says.

“Honey, you’d do my roots for me? How romantic!” I whisper while jabbing her in the side.

“Well, I can give it a try.” she says.

“I’m worried about Grandpa,” says my mother now walking over to the mirror again. “He’s not coming to Florida. He says he is comfortable being at home. Staying right where he is.”

My father gets up from the computer to stand next to my mother.

“Poppy, will you look at my hair? What the heck happened to it?” she asks.

From my spot on the couch I can see the computer monitor which has just switched back from the restaurant website to the family slideshow flipping through the very recent photos of Thanksgiving day dinner. Fifteen people at my dinner table and nearly four generations. And how is it that my youngest child can barely fit on the chair anymore? That my parents are on their way back to their golf course in Florida? That I insist on a little plate of black olives, celery and carrot sticks in the middle of a beautifully set table at Thanksgiving to help me remember my grandmother, that my own teenage self is more and more a distant memory?

“We had a nice visit,” says my mother gathering up some things from the table to add to her bag.

We did have a nice visit, I think to myself as I soak in the moment, the light, the laziness of a Saturday afternoon on the couch in December with a houseful of family.

“But now its time for us to go back to Floreeeda where it’s warm.” says my mother. “Poppy, we have to go back where its warm.”

And it is time. Time for the older teen to come home from drivers ed class. Time for me and my girlfriend to plan our day. Time for me to get the house back in order, to get ready for the coming week, to do a million things that adults have to do.

But first, I really need to take care of this hair.

Written by kmguay

December 9, 2009 at 2:54 am

Posted in family, holiday, mothers

away we go

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movie
“I’m going to take him out one more time,” says my girlfriend crouching down in the kitchen fastening a leash to the dog’s harness. I catch a glimpse of them on my way by in the hallway that connects my bedroom to the TV room. I’m carrying my square red kilim hassock over my head and twisting my body sideways to fit through the doorway. I do a quick scan of the teen TV room as I plop the hassock down in front of the couch. Piles of school books lean against the leather chair in the corner, glasses are strewn about on the floor. I count seven. The quilt I just washed is bunched up under the table by the window. And two grayish popovers, that at one time were socks, balance on the outdoor lawn furniture tables the older teen has been using as a catch-all for used tissues, red riccola wrappers and toenail clippings. I clear off the tables and carry all seven glasses to the kitchen sink.

“Mom, I’m going to go skate,” says the younger teen now materializing from out of nowhere and zipping up his black and multicolor hooded skateboarding jacket with the fleece lining and peering into an open refrigerator.
“It’s dark out and it’s cold. Where are you going?” I ask, my back to him, turning the flame off under the teapot on the stove.
“Just to Horace, mom, we don’t have school tomorrow and I already did all my homework.”
“Be back at 10pm,” I say and away he goes, breezing past my girlfriend now back in the kitchen with a spinning dog at her feet. I pour boiling water into two cups adorned with green wrappers hanging by strings that read sadaf. I place two small cookies that look like cake mounds coated with shiny white icing and tiny rainbow colored balls the size of kosher salt sprinkles on a plate as my girlfriend stretches over my shoulder to grab the dog treats from the cabinet above me.

I take a cup and a plate and lead the way into the TV room. “What shall we watch?” I say, pointing to the remote control, covering the two of us with the quilt as we flop on the couch. I flip open the cellphone that is buzzing in my pocket. The text reads: “What time do I need to be home and can you pick me up?”
“I’m watching a movie,” I text back. ” When it’s over.”
“Ok.”
The credits start but I’m still looking at my cellphone, scrolling through the unerased messages. Earlier in the day, my friend called me at work to say that one of her friends had just died.
“What? but we just found out about the hospice. How could this happen so fast?” I asked.
“Yeah, I know. I thought I’d have more time to talk to her,” she said. “Now she is gone.”
I stare at a text of the details now on the tiny lit up screen in the dark. It reads: The wake is Friday. The funeral is Saturday. I read the text a few more times and look over at my girlfriend on the couch beside me.
“This is the best cookie ever,” she says to me. I grab her hand under the quilt and flip the phone closed shut with the other.

Soon the younger teen is back opening the door a crack. “You’re watching a movie?” he says.
“Looks that way doesn’t it” I reply.
“Mom, Greg’s sister is 18 and she has her license.” He has moved into the room fully and sits across from us on the leather chair. “So tomorrow a bunch of us are thinking of going into Boston and”
“No,” I say.
“Mom, why not? We’re going to go skate.”
“You are too young for Boston. Just no.”
“Time for popcorn!” my girlfriend says pausing the movie.
“Yes, good idea,” I say. “We’ll talk about it later.” And away we go, teen storming out of the doorway putting his jacket back on, me off of the couch heading in the direction of the kitchen with the dog following behind.

I pour oil in my big dutch oven pan and listen to a rainfall of popcorn kernels hitting the bottom as I cover it completely, turn the flame to high, and leave the lid on askew. I search the cabinets for salt and melt a pat of butter in the microwave in a plastic measuring cup with a spout. My cellphone vibrates again and it’s my older teen.
“Mom, her mom says I need to leave at 10:00 and if you don’t get me I have to walk.”
“I don’t want you walking.” I say. “Why can’t she just drive you home now?”
“She’s in her pajamas and she wants to go to bed and she can’t leave us alone downstairs.”
I look down at my own red flowered flannel pajamas and dump the popped corn from the overturned pot into a big metal mixing bowl. I look at the clock on the wall. 9:35.
“Ok, I’ll pick you up at 10:00. Be ready.” I shake salt, pour the butter and carry the bowl back to the TV room.

My girlfriend reaches for the bowl and unpauses the movie. On the screen the main female character is sitting next to the main male character and she is saying something like:

“I think we might be fuck-ups.”
“No we are not fuck-ups,” he says back to her gently.
“I think we might be,” she says back. “We might be fuckups.”

I look at my girlfriend and grab a handful of popcorn. “Do you think I said no to him too fast? I didn’t let his brother go into Boston alone until this past year though.”
Through her crunching it sounds like she says, “I don’t think you handled it wrong.” But I decide not to ask again because my cellphone is vibrating.
“Mom, I think you should come get me now. She doesn’t want me here anymore.” reads the text.
“I have to go pick up a teen,” I say to my girlfriend. She pauses the TV again and gathers cups and plates while starting to rise from the couch. I pass the younger teen on my way to the front door searching for my keys. He is brooding in the dark on my couch and texting on his cellphone.
“Is everyone going to Boston tomorrow?” I ask.
“Don’t know” he mutters.
I stand in the dark waiting for something more to say but realize that no matter what he decides to tell me, my answer will still be no. I can feel my resolve as palpable as even his brooding silence.

Finally I say, “I have to go pick up your brother now.” And away I go.

Written by kmguay

November 15, 2009 at 4:56 pm

what just happened here?

with 3 comments


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“What just happened here?” My girlfriend shuts the front door and stands in the entryway still holding the dog leash and wearing her leather jacket. “I just saw a teen run down the street in his t-shirt,” she says. I’m sitting on the couch looking straight ahead at the other teen pacing in the dining room.
“No, I’m not talking to you until you calm down,” I say.
“Mom! we are talking right now,” the teen bellows.
“No, I’m not,” I reply.
“I’m not moving mom. You are going to talk to me now,” he says, flailing his arms and and trying to remain in a tough guy posture.
“Stand there all night then. I’m not talking,” I say again.
“Right now mom, right now,” he says. He paces back and forth in the dining room. I look over at my girlfriend who is still standing frozen in the entryway. I give her that I’m drowning look and say nothing to her as I start pressing my finger into the apricot pastry crumbs left on the plate on the coffee table. I take one of the empty tea cups and stack it on top of the other. I crumple a napkin. My girlfriend continues to stand in the hallway in her jacket.

“Do you want me to go look for him?” she says. It’s pretty dark out and the temperature has dropped.”
She lets the dog off the leash to sniff around and walk in circles. He stops to lie on his blanket near the couch, but after two minutes, he is back up again. “What just happened here?” he seems to be thinking as he wanders the new surroundings. One minute, I’m on a farm in Georgia and the next minute I’m here with all these strange yelling people. He travels from room to room, his little nails clicking on the hardwood floor as he passes.
“Yeah, thanks,” I say back.

When she leaves, the teen sits beside me on the couch with tears in his eyes hyperventilating.
“So how is this suddenly my fault, huh?” I ask him.
“Mom! you know how he is, you shouldn’t get mad at him,” he says.
“Im tired of you both right now. It’s Sunday. You’ve been playing all weekend. You both know the computer isn’t working right and you wait till 9pm to start your homework. What do you expect? Your brother is mad at himself, not at me,” I say. “So what just happened here?”
“He slammed the door in my face! So I pinned him to the ground,” he says.
“Did you hit him?” I ask.
“No, I pushed him and I pinned him. He was swearing at me,” he says.
“I know, I heard you,” I say. “And another thing,” I start to launch into a lecture. “I haven’t seen you do any homework lately. Want to know what I think? I think things are slipping in your world. There will be no drivers ed classes until I see your grades this semester. You want to be in clubs, want to have a job, want to see you girlfriend all the time? Well, something has to give, bub.”
“You are making too much of my grades mom!” he yells.
“You are damn right I am, it’s a priority.” I say.
“Well its not mine! Fuck this!” he yells.
“You better watch your language right now if you know what is good for you,” I say, my voice starting to raise. The teen loses all self control and punches the coffee table with his fist.
“And I don’t have any money for your broken hand either!!!” I yell back. “Get out of here right now!”

The teen slams his way into the tv room and I remain motionless on the couch staring straight ahead. I take a deep breath and recall the morning brunch with friends. November sunlight streaming through the windows, illuminating the colored candle holders in the center of the table, the four of us sipping port from tiny amber colored bell-shaped glasses and spooning into dense chocolate raspberry triangles, listening intently while our good friend choked out the words to describe an approaching dreaded birthday. “I’m going to be 45,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion, “and I think to myself, what just happened here? How is it that I’ve missed all that time in between?”

I pick up my cellphone and call my girlfriend. “Did you find him?” I ask.
“No, I’m headed back,” she says.

I walk into the tv room and tell the sullen teen on the couch that his brother is missing.
“He’ll be back mom,” he says but he sits up with a worried expression and starts tugging at his bottom lip.
“Well it’s dark, I don’t know if he has his phone, he didn’t answer. I don’t even know if he wore his shoes,” i say.
The teen gets up and grabs for his jacket.
“We’ll go back out again, I know where to look,” he says, just as my girlfriend enters the house again. He takes off out of the tv room with a shot.

I decide to do what any good mother does in a crisis. I walk into the teen’s bedroom and start to pick up laundry off the floor, start smoothing the sheets on the unmade bed, adjusting the curtains, and pulling down the blinds. I pick up the cordless phone from the floor near the desk and dial my ex-husband’s number and get his answering machine. I leave him a cryptic message saying “something just happened” and he should call back when he gets the message. And I think to myself, as I bend over to grab damp towels from the bed and start to hang them back on hooks behind the door, what just happened here? How did I go from having it all together, to the best laid plans for my son’s junior year, for my personal trainer this fall (I notice the exercise elastic with handles strewn across the dryer in the laundry room, the one I bought a month ago and never even touched) to this?

My cellphone starts to buzz in my pocket and it’s the younger teen on the line.
“I’m coming home,” he says.
“Do you realize everyone is out looking for you?” I ask.
“I’m on my way home” he says.
“Call your father from your cell, ok? I’ll let everyone else know. Are you ok?” I ask.
“I’m ok, mom, I’m on my way home.”
“Ok, don’t forget to call your father,” I say. “And tell him what just happened.”

Written by kmguay

November 4, 2009 at 2:04 am