So She Wouldn’t Forget

At no one’s urging, my daughter sat at our piano and sounded out the simple tune of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” practicing it over and over until she could play it quick and smooth. I joined her to add a couple of complimentary chords, so that she would understand the potential of a song.

She wanted more. I dug out my son’s first lesson book. He’d taken piano and voice at a private music school, then picked up cello and guitar in his public middle schools, but no matter how hard I’ve tried, I’ve yet to convince my daughter to take lessons to learn to play an instrument. She doesn’t want to set a timer for thirty minutes of daily practice or be required to perform in a recital. She flipped through the first few pages of my son’s old book and began asking questions. Where do my fingers go? What are the keys called?

I showed her how to identify the notes A through G, how patterns repeat over and over on the keyboard, how to move her fingers through a scale. I walked away as she began randomly striking keys to hear how their notes combined. She called me back when she discovered a pleasing riff she wanted to share.

I explained that the notes she’d chosen were a portion of a chord, then demonstrated how she could create some easy chords herself. She added two she particularly liked to the end of her riff and decided this was a song. She asked me for paper to record where her fingers had gone so she wouldn’t forget. I printed off a few sheets with keyboard diagrams she could color. She kept at composing for the better part of an hour, asking me to listen each time she added a new progression to her song. She had no purpose besides pleasing herself, no motivation to continue besides the sheer joy of creating.

When I was my daughter’s age, I spent hours alone in my bedroom spinning records over and over, memorizing lyrics and melodies, learning to sing by imitating what I heard. I wrote song lyrics out on paper, studied the forms they took, tried to mold my own words into similar shapes. Those days continue to resonate.

We grow up and we require better reasons for spending our time. We seek measurable results, quantifiable benefits, proof that the outcome of our lives will be worth the cost of our days. My daughter doesn’t want the applause of an audience or an award of excellence or royalties from publishing her song. She is content hearing the harmony she has made. She has not yet learned to need anything extra for her effort.

I sit here shaping these words against an imperative to defend every minute I spend. I fight to remain faithful to the pure impetus of creation, to serve as a reliable witness, my daughter’s student in this lesson.

 

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I’m participating in Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge. This is #17 of 52.

 

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Correlations

On a recent episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Erika had a full-on meltdown during dinner with the other ladies. Unlike most of the housewives, she has been very reserved—not unfriendly to the other women but not chummy either. Throughout this season, she’s clashed with a newcomer to the cast, though she kept her feelings mostly to herself until this particular evening. In a deluge, all the hurt she’d held inside came rushing out. When another cast mate tried to say something helpful, Erika overreacted, lashing out at her, too. She reminded me very much of myself.

Forty-five-year-old Erika Girardi joined the cast last season. She’s a self-described homebody and tomboy who’s married to a high-powered lawyer, but she has an alter-ego—she performs as the dance club musical artist Erika Jayne, wearing ultra-sexy, ultra-glamorous outfits during her somewhat risqué shows. It’s a seemingly crazy contradiction: quiet, shy Erika Girardi vs. flamboyant Erika Jayne.

Recently on the show, she revealed that her mother had been hard on her while she was growing up. She called her mother a “disciplinarian” and said her mother had been very critical of her. She pointed to her mother’s treatment of her as the reason why she seldom cries and finds it difficult to connect with other women. Others have described her as cold, but she sees herself as tough. She was forced when very young to buck up, to handle things on her own, and she’s carried that directive inside herself all this time.

I can’t help wondering about the link between the child Erika not having a mother who was a solace to her and the grown Erika who tries to conceal her vulnerability from other women. This makes sense to me. It’s something I’ve recognized that I also do. Vulnerability often feels to me like a weakness that shouldn’t be revealed, and other women feel the most unsafe to me, probably because I want to avoid experiencing again the pain of motherly criticism or rejection. Continue reading “Correlations”

I Told Myself I Would Be Real

I never felt known as a child. When people looked at me, I felt they saw the shell but nothing underneath. I became what people wanted to see when they looked at me; in this way, I created the shell of myself that no one could see beyond.

I hid inside the shell. Instinctively I protected my tender core, the real part of me that I felt was not known. I wanted to be known. But being known felt dangerous. Yet over time, not being known also hurt me. I felt intensely lonely. Alone in the world, as if no one could understand my language.

I believed that my real mother would understand me. This was the story I told myself: My real mother somewhere out in the world loved me, and one day she would find me. She would know me without my having to explain anything at all about myself. She would know the colors and flavors I liked, she would know why I needed to have long hair, she would know why walking barefoot outside was the best thing and why I couldn’t see the world the way the people I lived with did. She would just know.

I didn’t have to create a fiction for myself because I knew somewhere in the world there was a woman inside whom I had become real. It was just that we weren’t together. I told myself we would be, and then I would become real again. I didn’t come from thin air, I couldn’t have, because I couldn’t fly. I came from water, just as everyone did, and I would swim again.

I didn’t want to be this mystical creature inside my shell. I wanted to be normal. Normal seemed good to me then, desirable. Born of a body. How odd I must have seemed, without a solid form. Without matter. I wanted to matter.

I knew my mother was somewhere out in the world loving me because I could feel it. We had a bond that could not be broken. And if I was with her, she would care about the core of me, the real me that no one cared enough about to even miss. I would be important to her, I told myself over and over, and this story gave me hope, and hope kept me going all the way out into the real world.

 

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I’m participating in Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge. This is #9 of 52. 

 

 

Mother Love

Last week I got sick with a nasty cold, and I wanted badly to check out of my life for a few days. There were things I should have done that I didn’t do, as happens when one is sick. The hardest thing about being sick, though, for me, as a mother, is letting down my kids. I got to thinking about this after I blew up at them one evening when I was feeling particularly sorry for myself and wanting to be the one cared for instead of the one who always has to do the caring. The incident itself was unremarkable, but for days afterward, I ruminated on our relationship to each other, on the roles of mother and child.

Mothering is more difficult than I ever imagined it would be before I became a mother. The first few weeks after my son was born, I remember being in a state of shock over the fact that I could not go anywhere ever again without either taking him with me or arranging for his care while I was gone. This should have been expected, but it was something I’d never contemplated previously. I had been a singular, independent being, then suddenly I was one half of a conjoined duo. Another being was completely dependent on me for survival. Yes, sure, I had help from my husband, who is a very hands-on dad, but that didn’t change the fact that primarily it was me who had the responsibility of making sure our son’s needs were met.

It is still me, the mother, that my now teen and preteen kids depend on. Nothing is right in the world if I do not listen to their stories, if I do not help them with their school projects, if I do not counsel them on their friendships. I am expected to provide them food and remind them to eat it. I am the one they need to take them shopping when they outgrow their clothes and shoes. I am the one who calls the right doctor and gets them the right medicine and holds them close no matter how contagious they are. My husband is still the hands-on dad he’s always been, but I am always the one my kids need above all others.

I am the mother, and mothers are supposed to care for their kids before anyone else, including themselves. I know that my kids love me, but I understand also that their love is based on my satisfying the need they have for a caring mother. Last week they knew I was sick, and I know they cared that I was sick, but that didn’t stop them from needing me to care for them. When I lashed out in protest, they experienced, for a brief moment, the despair of not having a mother who cared about their needs. Shortly thereafter, I apologized to them and, within a few hours, they had recovered from their brief despair and our relationship was back to normal. That was only possible because I have proven to them repeatedly, through our daily interactions, that I do care about their needs. Continue reading “Mother Love”

Family Secrets

There are things we do not discuss openly in every family I’m part of. Things that have happened, things that have been done, things that are going on now. There are whispers, meant to be confidential, then more whispers, until the whispers become sighs we all perceive but never mention out loud.

We hide things, because we fear the repercussions of revealing our secrets. Someone might be hurt. Someone might be exposed. Relationships might break down. We drift past each other in silence, too afraid to open our mouths, not wanting to cause pain. We cannot say what we actually feel, what we really mean, so we say less and less of any consequence to each other. We talk about how the job is going, what we watched on TV, how hot it’s been this year. We avoid words like angry, hurt, lonely, lost, afraid. We learn which questions never to ask.

The mention of a specific person can cause pain. The one in jail. The one who left. The one who died. The one who is sick now. A person becomes a secret. The utterance of a certain name carries shame.

The secret child who was given away. That’s me. I was that secret, and I am a secret now. Continue reading “Family Secrets”