Sunday, August 11, 2019

elementary

Friday night I met with my writing group, had a glass of wine, dug into Auzelle's poems, walked home in the humid dark, and started feeling the sparkly urge to write a poem. About the layers of being connected to and separate from another human being (are there poems about anything else?).

Saturday morning, one of the moms from Dash's new school organized a pre-first-day play date so kids and parents could get to know each other, and it was nothing short of a smashing success. Every parent was friendly and chill, and the kids started a group project of Moving All The Sand From The Sandbox Out Of The Sandbox. Dash hit it off with twin boys who were adopted by two dads, and I can't tell you how excited I am that Dash won't have to do all the queer-adoptive-family explanatory lifting himself.

So we're feeling pretty optimistic, and the blurry unknown is coming into focus. This morning I wrote the poem that took shape Friday night, even though Sunday morning is a different place (and Sunday afternoon, when I'm posting this, in a sleepy post-Dodgers haze, is another place still). But here it is anyway, that moment, a prose poem.


*


Photo by La-Rel Easter on Unsplash
Elementary



1.



I hate kindergarten.



Me too.



It’s so boring.



I know. 



We sheltered in a cinderblock cave and glared at the sun-soaked playground. The endless recess, the smug glee of other five-year-olds. Denise Moretti and I knew better, two wise old cynics in ruffled dresses. We might as well have smoked. 



Eventually I peeled away. Learned to hang like a sloth from a metal bar, turned a grounded rowboat into a prairie cabin. The adventures of Janet and Mark, successors of Dick and Jane, remained dull as sand, but when Denise said--maybe in spring, when the hillside ice plant offered thin-petaled flowers--Let’s talk again about how we hate kindergarten, I told her I didn’t. A betrayal. I left her on that splintery bench and rowed off toward first grade.



2. 



You took to daycare like the frog in the pot. We didn’t boil you, but we made you believe these hand-offs were normal. You learned to walk on indoor-outdoor carpet. You marched to the bathroom in a line. Also: the teacher whose face opened when she saw you, a daisy turning to the sun. Also: the boy you wrestle-hugged each morning, two only children merging into brotherhood. These simultaneous truths: We missed something and gained something, and it is all fine as a box of worn blocks. Smooth wood oiled by many hands.



3.



We are rugged veterans of this village life, and yet. In nine days I’ll wait with you in front of heavy doors for strangers to buzz us in. A security measure, though real estate is the gunman in our neighborhood. Children eat free lunches in the shadow of a crane. 



You: uniformed in navy and royal blue. Me: the doubting general, wondering why my metaphors bend toward war. Knowing what will form in those trenches: the fear, the friendships. Alpha, bravo, charlie. 



You curl on our bed two Saturdays before, trying to name some nameless need. You call it cake, you call it water park. Mama and I form a tent around you, hush your kicking feet. 



I want to go to the water park NOW.



I know. 



I know what is coming, and I send you off anyway. If I could hold your hard days in my calloused hands, I would. If I could save your baby skin. And yet this truth clenched like a forgotten sock: I don’t mind turning my back. Every mother is as kind and ruthless as an ER doctor. Here is your backpack, here is my long nose touching yours, here is my heart, intact.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

some things old, some things new

Sometimes moms post pictures of their nine-month-olds to celebrate "nine months in, nine months out." I've never been sure whether to count Dash's gestation in our lives as two weeks or four and a half years, but here he is, four and a half years out, about to start elementary school (technically "extended transitional kindergarten," but it's part of LAUSD and there is a principal and we downloaded an app, so).

It's late summer--finally hot after months of mild weather, strangely balmy in a way that stirs my sense of possibility. New life phase? I wonder. I'm always a sucker for new starts, even though much is not new: Dash, a veteran daycare kid, will still be away from me for the same number of hours each week.

"Mommy, draw me a Southwest airplane."

My sister got married two weeks ago. Dash cried through the ceremony and acted like a crazy drunk throughout the reception. Her husband is kind and clever and has the kind of dark side that makes me trust him more. He sees her full self, which is what I always wanted for her. They've been together a few years now, and known each other for a decade, so: new and not new.

My work angst has subsided like a tide edging back, slowly returning me to land and revealing a few new shells in the process, their insides pink and pearly.

What will it be like to be an elementary school parent? I love the school we chose--a public school six blocks away with a teacher, principal, and front office person who are warm and enthusiastic. It's not technically our home school, but it has the same demographic makeup, so I think it falls under my umbrella of what's ideologically acceptable. But who knows what needs will be revealed and what decisions we'll make for subsequent years, so I know better than to be smug. I'm just grateful for Ms. Pedroza and her monarch butterfly hatchery.

We're pivoting to elementary life at the same time that we're preparing--so, so slowly--to try to adopt another baby. It'll be a while; don't run out and buy us any onesies just yet. Planning ("planning") this next phase feels like showing up to a baby shower where everyone else is wearing floral sundresses and holding pass codes to the 529 accounts they just started. I am panting and dressed in sweats, ten pounds overweight and too many dollars in debt.

When Dash was born, sometimes I looked at his smooth face and chill demeanor and worried half-jokingly that he was too cool for me, a weirdo who thought about death all the time.

The other day in the car, he said, "Mommy, I have a surprise for you because you listened."

"Oh? Thank you! What's my surprise?" Often it is a sticker.

"It's my fingernail." He handed me a tiny wet crescent he'd just chewed.

While I was giving my toast at Cathy's wedding, he ran onstage, grabbed my forearm like a chin-up bar, pulled himself up, and licked me.

I aspire to be the kind of person who will see the love in this photo before I see my flabby arms, but I also apsire to be the kind of person who has less flabby arms. How cute is my sis, though?
I think he's quite at home in our family of weirdos, and I'm sure our next kid will be too. Everyone is weird because everyone is particular, once they pass the platonic ideal/projection screen stage that is babyhood.

If I bring anything new to this next phase, I hope it's a little bit more gentleness toward myself and others. This past week, I had a slightly odd stomach bug that prompted me to think about cancer a lot. The week before that, I binge-listened to Broken Harts, a podcast about the white moms who drove the six Black kids they adopted off a cliff, leaving behind a chain of half-assed investigations into their parenting and a thread of glowing, well written Facebook posts about raising chickens and creating peace.

Social workers and expectant moms, if you're reading this: AK and I are on solid mental ground and most of my Facebook posts are about how tired I am, so I can't be overselling too much, right? But fuck, that shit shook me up. It seemed to me that Jen Hart suffered from a particular brand of hubris, where she believed that if she couldn't "save" her kids--if she was in over her head, as she and her wife Sarah almost instantly were--they were better off dead than in someone else's care. I think I know when to ask for help. I think I genuinely relish raising Dash in community, and one of my great delights is seeing his agency and personality blossom in unexpected ways (even in the middle of a wedding). But I'm also a recovering perfectionist who thinks everything is my responsibility; I use social media too much; I am prone to crafting imaginary worlds for better and worse (Jen was also a video game addict). So I imagine the tracks veering away from the highway and toward the bluff.

Last week I was on a panel at Book Show about writers with day jobs, which my friend Bronwyn put together for a cohort of summer interns, a diverse and artsy bunch with glowing skin and great clothes, whose general excitement about the world was palpable and contagious. I'm a young enough old person that getting old is still surprising to me. I like that a lot of the pieces of my life have been established, but a part of me is still that college kid who wants to sign up for every extracurricular activity.

The old things: anxiety and PTSD, iffy eating habits, imposter syndrome, envy, a wonderful family of weirdos. The new things: a certain amount of acceptance of the old things, a community that will help raise my kid(s), an appreciation for the fact that (in the half-ironic words of Daniel Ortberg/Dear Prudence) "life is a rich tapestry." Those balmy mornings when the palm trees shake their leaves against gray-pink skies--that old feeling of new possibilities.