Big Hat Mama

Perhaps another mother, pulls out a storage box of her child’s preschool art and looks with affection at the figure-paint swirls, the hand-shaped turkey, and the foot shaped chick, the stick-figure drawings (obviously an aide helped guide his hand on that one) and tissue-paper leaf collage, and the last-remaining kidney bean or pasta shell glued to construction paper, and reminisces about the years that have flown by. But I see no difference between the art my son made in kindergarten and that which he makes now, at 10, much like there is little difference in him, his abilities.

Except that’s not true–at least back then, he made a novice’s noble effort at the figure-paint swirls, the hand-shaped turkey, and the foot-shaped chick, the stick-figure and tissue-paper leaf collage, and the last-remaining kidney bean or pasta shell glued to construction paper. Then, art was new, and not just one more thing that is hard to do. Some might say he regressed; I think he’s bored of his own limits, like I’m so often bored by them too. Now I’m lucky to get a markered line from top to bottom of a blank notesheet pad.

Though I do have a scribble drawing hung on my refrigerator, like any other mother would do. White paper with indecipherable swirls, a free-form Spyrograph. On it, my son’s teacher translated the circles. I would have never been able to tell, but she drew arrows, labeled them: Big. Hat. Mama. She says he told her what he had drawn, and who am I to argue. Though I know my son, and I know, sometimes, the words he says are not the words that are in his head. But it’s the only portrait I have from his hand, so I hung it up because it means that he was thinking of me when he was away, at school, making art, no matter his level. And maybe nothing else matters to me or to any other mother.

I am a Woman

If I were a man, maybe I’d be the kind of man who hits women, who snaps and shakes a baby, who drags his child by the arm across a parking lot. If I were a man, maybe I would have left my son by now. Dead-beat dad. No ties to bind. No evidence to cover up. No silvery stretched skin bearing the proof. Maybe I’d be the kind of man who leaves because staying means feeling, and feeling means staying.

My emotions come on too fast and strong. They gather in my chest like an itch. I feel a pillow over my face. A cover over my coffin. I feel the tingle of adrenaline in my hands and fingertips. I feel a punch in my fists. I want to lash out, just to slow everything down, quiet it all, perhaps shock myself into silence. I feel an urge in my thighs to stretch, expand, put miles between me and what I might have done if I’d stayed.

My love for Noah is combustible. Powder and strike. The intensity of my love threatens to stoke my gasoline-soaked heart into wild flames, and I want to beat it to the punch, fight and flight. But it’s no good. I am a woman. And I am his mother. Presence or absence could land the final blow, scrape against flint, phosphorus and sulfur smoke. I have no choice but to wrap my arms tightly around him, prevent the distance that allows for a leak of oxygen to snake in and fan my fears, and, against my better judgment, I stay.

Amputations

Last fall, I visited a friend and we went to meet her lover. We found the woman squatting over her sidewalk like a clam, using her fingers like pincers to pull tiny weeds from between the slabs of concrete. She looked up with red, wet eyes as we approached, and she swiped at tears with a bent wrist, keeping her dirt-blackened fingers away from her damp and florid face.

“I miss my father,” she said to my friend, and since I didn’t know her, I pretended not to hear. During the visit, I pieced together that this day was an anniversary of his death, and that her father had died many more years ago than mine.

I have never been overcome by tears in the middle of the day while thinking about my father. In fact, I’ve never been overcome by tears at any time when thinking about my father since his death. Then and now I wonder what is wrong with me. I loved him. I had love for him.

My journal entry on the date of his death was this:

182lbs.
My father died.

I can’t be certain that I wrote down my weight early that morning and then learned of my father’s death later in the day. I can’t be certain I didn’t note that my father had died, and then sometime later that day, got onto the scale, and then entered the numbers at the top of the page like I did every day. I can’t be certain I wasn’t, as I always am, still thinking about my body’s weight, even under the weight of knowing, knowing my father was dead. I can’t be certain I didn’t grab a fold of skin and wish I could just trim it off like I might my bangs, or the fat off a roast. I can’t be certain that I didn’t just carry on after he was gone.

Last week I dreamed my father was a homeless man, strumming a guitar on the I-94 freeway leading out of Milwaukee, and I was afraid he would be killed.

Of course it was a dream because my father was dead, died of a bleeding colon. We donated his eyes to science. And he never lived in Milwaukee, nor did he ever play guitar, but I have spent the last six days since the dream wanting to rush out of my life and go looking for him, like a lost dog, like a missing limb.

Self Talk

Nobody talks about the fat girls. Well, sure, they talk about the fat girls, but that’s all they have to say, that they are fat girls. Not that the fat girls are also just girls. Girls who are fat and who think about that fat all the time and think that others think about their fat all the time, because everyone talks about the fat girls.

Ad infinitum / Vigilance

Ad Infinitum

The first time it happened, we got out the books. Each one of them said this was likely to happen. Well, maybe not likely, but possible. Babies have seizures. They just do. Most of the time when there is a fever; and he had one. No one talks about it, but it’s more common than you’d think. That’s what the nurse in the ER told us after his second one, and his third. They gave us a DVD and a booklet. Our doctor told us her brother had had seizures as a child, and he was just fine. So we tried to believe we were normal. That what was happening was normal. That the panic was normal. Oh it was there, that fluttering bird, like Millay’s but with less hopeful feathers. But we talked ourselves down each time, like a negotiator on a bullhorn shouting to the suicidal that everything would be all right, that bailing out was not the answer, that we should just back away from the ledge. We convinced ourselves that as long as we didn’t panic, this very abnormal thing, this thing no one talks about, would move along. Nothing to see here but a dark cloud briefly obscuring the sun. The brain, like a hard drive, just needs to reboot sometimes. But after the next one came a CT scan and an appointment in neurology. It’s difficult to convince yourself that that is normal. Then the blood tests, the MRIs, the medications, the therapy, the special classrooms, the emergency phone calls. That time on the plane, already taking its place on the runway, and the pilot and all the passengers forced to return to the airport: that felt nothing like normal.

At no time in my fantasies about parenthood did I predict this sort of dissonance. Isn’t that why I took vitamins and said yes to those screening tests? A co-worker asked one day, “What, had you thought it was all going to be perfect?” And what do you say to that? No? Yes? Maybe? So we lived in a kind of maybe for a long time. That maybe things would be ok. That maybe babies grow out of these things, even though the DVD and booklet warned us that a child who has one seizure is more likely to have another, and so on. We would have to be watchful. We would have to be diligent. One of us would sleep with him at all times. We would keep our phones near us at all times. By the fifth, I suppose the likelihood of his having more had grown so exponentially I should have known then that the panic would soon find a place to perch, it’s tiny talons clutching on my aorta, its beating wings drowning out the beat of my own heart.

***

Vigilance

The night is quiet, the hum
of the air-conditioner in the window
is like no noise at all. I watch your chest move
rhythmically beneath the thin sheet, the sheet
pulled up over your thin arm, your arm
pulled up alongside your cheek. I can’t
see your eyes. Your small foot twitches again, against
my leg, and I stop, don’t move a muscle, don’t
take a breath, the quick rhythm of my heart
beats loudly in my ears. Slowly,
lightly, I press my leg against your leg and wait, wait
for the next rhythmic twitch, but the next
doesn’t come. I should reach over, put my finger
in the soft crook of your arm—at 8, still
more meat than sinew—, and slowly, lightly
pull your arm down from your cheek. I should look
at your eyes, see if your lashes beat rhythmically
against your cheek, a sight that sounds
an all too common alarm so quiet
you make no noise at all in the night.