Last night, I had a big talk with my mom, the one I think she needed for us to have before I contact my father. Mom seemed okay, or at least, ready-ish. I got his phone number easily from Aunt Jolynn, who said “he’s looking forward to hearing from you. Call him.” So all that’s left is just to go ahead and call him. Right?
I am on hiatus from all other worries while I solve this problem that is: my absentee father, and all the complicated baggage that he brings along. Well, probably not solve, but at least, a little bit, resolve. I need understanding, forgiveness, and hope in my situation asap. I have some solid information, and a vague idea of what I want, a few limited but trust-worthy resources and a very supportive network of friends. I can do this.
To my friends who have recently faced their deepest struggle, that big hurdle that kept them from truly connecting with their loved ones in a meaningful way without guilt or loneliness, and you know who you are, I commend you and admire you.
Today, I raked out the soil and marked off some of the sections of the garden. I also realized that whoever built my fence did not build my plot into a true rectangle, and it’s over a foot narrower than I’d been planning for. I hoed the row for peas, and installed the tomato and pole bean trellises.
I spent the afternoon at my garden plot on Wednesday. It was Judah’s birthday, and he played at Grammy’s house with Irene while I listened to Ben Folds and picked rocks out of the plot. Then, my grandfather and I raked and twisted in some mushroom soil and leaf compost. He said “If this doesn’t grow a terrific garden, nothing will.”
I’ve been thinking it over, and I think I can say that the day Judah was born was the best day of my life. It was the peak of my life, you see, the absolute most Syreeta-day there could be, for me.
What that represents to me, because of over-thinking or whatever, is that the part of my life that I’ve been looking forward to all of my life has happened. I’ve always wanted to become a mother, and now I have and all my kids are here and that time is in the past. It happened so fast. It began so fast, Richie said, and he’s right and I totally appreciate that, I really do. But I can’t help noticing that now, as a woman, I am really not young at all and from now on, I’m basically just preparing myself for the time when my children leave me and I have to/get to entirely shift focus.
I mean, the reason for that, of course, is the same as the thing that keeps you from focusing on anything else in the first place and that is raising the kids and preparing them for life on their own. It’s a full-time job, and it is the kind of work that you will ponder and second-guess for the rest of your life, even if you’re mostly circling your work and admiring the payoff. How could you not? I mean, at least, how could I not? And you know, I love the challenge and experiental element of that, I love it. It’s my ideal project. Trying to reach enlightenment myself, and prepare my kids for it?? I mean, talk about tough. But I’m tough, you know, at least relatively speaking. I mean, of course I wouldn’t survive one second in an even slightly harsher environment, in any way, but that’s another tangent altogether. My point is, at this point, that no matter how not-abrupt it is to send your kids off into the real world and be forced to face your empty nest, it’s still probably pretty abrupt. I already feel sorry for myself!
What I really want to spend time on is not my own pity-party, but the miracle that is Judah. He was conceived about a week before I was diagnosed with a benign (thankfully) ovarian tumor the size of a tennis ball. In fact, I received the diagnosis of pregnancy and of the tumor on the same day in the emergency room at BBurg Hospital. We, the three of us that we used to be, were at a friend’s birthday party, swimming in the pool and jumping on the trampoline. A good friend of ours, of everyone, had recently passed away, and there was a certain pall over the day, anyway. I started feeling a really nasty feeling in my lower abdomen, and less than thirty minutes later I was puking out the car window while Richie rushed me to the ER. (I have to proclaim that living in my hometown has been an absolutely wonderful idea when it comes to childcare needs, emergency support, etc… We didn’t even have to worry that my mother would be at our house to scoop Irene up about 5 minutes after we called her.)
The emergency room doctor told us the news that we were about a week pregnant, and that I had this large tumor that would have to be removed. It was a hard night, and an even harder few weeks. We were planning to do the surgery at about 20 weeks, supposedly the “safest” time, but when the tumor transformed itself from “tennis ball” to “cantelope” in less than three weeks, and I was feeling the kind of pain that even multiple doses of morphine injected directly into my veins couldn’t relieve, we all decided surgery was prudent. I went in on August 16, when I was just six weeks pregnant. The anastesiologist did her thing, and she was kind, but she had to explain the risks. There are big risks. Right now, vital organs are being produced. And you won’t know until birth, really, if this surgery has caused this baby to have birth defects.
This is the point of the story where MAD props have to go out to: Richie, and my friends, Erin, Nicole, Martha, and Alex. In what felt like the longest pregnancy of ALL TIME, they listened, patiently, to my worries, complaints, fears, panics. I was very concerned about the well-being of the baby.
And I was feeling another mysterious feeling, too. It was that feeling that happens during pregnancy, sometimes, I assume, where you start to know your child before you’ve even seen him. I started really loving the baby, and feeling so very connected to him, in a more concrete way than I had when I was expecting Irene. Somehow, I remarked, I got the distinct feeling that this baby was meant for me, whatever that means.
The pregnancy was tough, but the labor and delivery were beautiful, and when I saw Judah for the first time, the sense of relief I felt at his absolute perfection was worth the months of worrying and fretting. I’d never felt such a sense of gratefulness as I did when I saw Judah, squirming and wailing in my arms, marked a little on his head with one lovely peach-fuzz birthmark, strong and blonde.
But, you know, the day after Judah was born was also the best day of my life because on that day, Judah met Irene. And the next day was my favorite, too, because that day, we came home from the hospital and it was so wonderful having Martha with us and Richie had a whole week practically totally off and Judah was so small. And then there have been about three hundred simply wonderful days since then and it’s really hard to imagine that the best day of my life won’t be happening again and again and again.
And watching my relationship with the kids develop, and their relationships with one another and with their dad is so satisfying, and brings me to tears of joy, you know, almost daily, and I am also just so grateful that I am in this situation and that I am able to appreciate the beauty of my life every day, every moment. And bad things happen, and hard things, and once in a while I throw a gigantic pity-party for myself and that’s okay. I don’t think I would be me if I didn’t feel stuff like sooooo hard, and I truly think life is only worth living all in.
The best part of all of this, of course, is the kid Judah turned out to be. He is fearless and funny and subtle and deliberate, and quiet and tender and loving and hungry. And, I know this is over the top but it’s true: it’s an absolute honor being his mother.
So, today, I will allow myself a little bitty bit of pity- for my body, which has borne all its babies, and for my future self, who will be sending two beloved ones out into the big bad world. But tomorrow, it’s back to the grind, the daily task part of this whole thing, and I will welcome the distraction.
These photos were taken during my first day of work at my Community Garden plot.
On Sunday, my grandfather and I will put down the mushroom soil and till properly. That is, if the snow has melted.
Although the weekend was all spring all the time, today we are due for another wintery mix. This is it, the long goodbye. The next phase here in Pennsylvania is usually the sweltering summer heat, which lasts (with tiny moments of autumn thrown in at the end there) until the first snow. There’s a j0ke about Pennsylvania and four seasons: Almost Winter, Winter, Still Winter, and Construction. They forgot Heat-Stroke, which is July and August, and Probable Flooding, which is June through September, honestly.
Ah, but time does go by, doesn’t it? In eight days my little Poodah will be one which, you know, hardly seems possible. It hardly seems real, sometimes, that I have a husband and two children and that I am living the life of an adult. A spoiled adult, really, because, you see, I do not have to get dressed and go to work, scrambling. Now I live a life of restrained leisure, and I never freak out about my own schedule.
Now, if I could just teach myself to be as understanding toward my husband’s demanding schedule. For another entry.
Yes, things are a little simpler here, but still so complicated. There is something about me, inside, that desires a certain complication here and there, and maybe I just create drama, or maybe it follows me. Anyway, at any given moment, now that I’m an adult, you see, I’m faced with a certain responsibility that I like to refer to as dealing with my shit.
I’ll just spare you all this mystery and cut to the chase.
I never met my father. My mother left him when I was still a baby, and told him to bugger off. From my perspective, that was a pretty easy decision for him because, these last thirty years, he has never tried, not once that I know of, to contact me in any way.
You know, growing up, despite nearly nightly dreams about my father and the incessant urge to lie to my school friends about my circumstances and his whereabouts*, I thought that it didn’t bother me. My mom and I had the sort of close more friends than mother and daughter relationship that my friends envied, and so I thought, what am I missing, really? Awkward visits with some deadbeat who treated my mom like crap and whom my grandparents have labeled GIANT LOSER? Thanks, but no thanks. (*One of the best ones was in 5th grade when I told my Jewish best friend that my father was a lawyer named Joe Diamond who lived in New York. My friend, Jill, said “Oh, Diamond, that’s a Jewish name” with a note of skepticism and, just like that, the jig was up and I developed a reputation for lying, something that I didn’t shake for quite some time. Of course, it was exacerbated by the fact that I was a liar, constantly making up background for myself that simply did not exist.)
Even as an adult, I’ve managed to mostly sweep my feelings about him under the rug. There are a few standout moments, mostly shrouded in humiliation, like when my mother called security at Hollins, convinced that, after 18 years, now that I was alone at college, I was in grave danger, and my father would try to steal me away. Or the way I shamelessly threw myself at a certain college professor, a father-figure substitute that I hadn’t really noticed I’d been chasing for quite some time. But, for the most part, I don’t talk about it because I don’t think about it.
But, it manifests itself in different ways. Sometimes, I feel myself actually getting jealous of my children. Really. And, if I feel even slightly irrelevant to my husband, I freak. And then there is the anger, the useless kind that rises up in me at the weirdest times. All of this together is starting to become pretty noticable, like, maybe I really need to deal with this.
And then, out of the blue, almost two years ago, I received a letter. A letter from my father’s baby sister. The first contact of any kind that I have had from that side of my family. Ever.
And, suddenly, I’m seeing photos of my cousins and my paternal grandmother. And tears flow, regularly. And questions and feelings surface that I haven’t dealt with in forever. And my mom feels very insecure and worried and angry. And I feel pressure to be someone, to make something happen, to get to know her.
And I just shut down. I couldn’t handle it. Despite her regular check-ins and friendly emails riddled with emoticons, I feel as though I cannot go on. There’s a big part of me who wants to know more about her and about my family. But there is this obstacle, this hurdle. Do I really want to know why my father hasn’t contacted me? Like, ever? Is he in jail? Is he dead? Or does he honestly not care at all that I live and breathe, and have done so, every day of my life, with no dad?
This is hard to write. I do not want to deal with this. I want to hear that he died, tragically, right after my mother left him, and, of course, that’s why I never heard from him and that’s why I won’t ever hear from him. Any other information about him- I’m just not sure I could take.
But snippets from my aunt (oh god, my AUNT) lead me to believe he’s alive and well. It’s obvious that she doesn’t want to talk about him- she actually said “I’m afraid if I tell you about your dad, you won’t want to talk to me anymore” whatever the eff THAT MEANS!- and I appreciate her situation. When my mom left my dad, my Aunt Jolynn was 12. She’s not responsible for whatever happened between them. Hell, she doesn’t even know. From her perspective, my mom leaving was a very unpleasant shock that she’s been trying to understand for 30 years.
So, although Jolynn has been patient, she’s been persistent. She really wants to get to know me, eventually meet and introduce me to her parents, my grandparents. She believes, strongly, in family, and she once loved my mother, like an older sister. And, I guess in a lot of ways, I feel like I owe her. I mean, she sure held on to hope for a long time, waiting until she thought I was surely ready to be contacted. And it’s definitely not her fault, any of it, but especially that I have yet to truly confront my feelings on this topic.
So, that’s what I’m doing this summer. I’m raising kids and a garden and getting to know my long-lost aunt. I’m VERY concerned about what will come out of this. I’m very concerned.
I’m writing her a long letter, today, and laying it all out. I want to get all of the father-info out of the way so that Jolynn and I can get to know each other and so that she can be released from the burden of conveying information about him.
I hope she’s open to that. I hope I’m open to this.
But the day to day takes over, as it should. Cooking, cleaning, raising seedlings, washing, playing, singing, chasing. I’ve put myself on a three day rotation of hard work, light work, and rest to prepare my body for the rigors of gardening. So far, I’ve managed to get quite a lot done in my yard and around my house. Today is my first day at the garden, prepping it for tilling, which should happen on Sunday. I have to admit, I am unaccustomed to hard physical labor. In fact, the last time I worked hard everyday was in Americorps in 2003! Needless to say, it’s going to take me at least a few weeks to really prepare for this endeavor, but I am determined. In fact, I’m ecstatic. A few hours of hard work in the hot sun, every day, alone, is just what I need. And how.