Friday, May 25, 2012

What Happened Last Night


It was about 11:00pm. I was taking out the trash. Lori comes out in mild panic, “How long have you been out here? I thought you were upstairs with Adam – he’s crying really hard!”

It’s that time. That in-between time. The time between “going to bed” and “falling asleep.” It’s when the mind starts to imagine things, create things, and remember things. It doesn’t happen every night. Not even most nights. But it happened last night.

I ran into his room. “What’s wrong? Are you okay?” I asked knowing the answer.

“It’s Mom.”

I held him best I could and let him cry. Then I started to cry like I usually do in these moments. His existential pain I can only imagine. I’m 45 and my mom is still alive. And then I start to wonder which is worse? The grief-pain I feel having lost my life partner, or the transfered grief-pain I feel helplessly witnessing my child’s. Both vie for my attention but now my son’s grief-pain wins.

I hold him and rub his back. Our crying eventually subsides to sobs. I get tissue and we wipe our noses and eyes. Then it’s quiet and we just lay there for a few moments listening to the ceiling fan.

“What was it that made you start to cry?” I ask hoping to start a conversation of some sort.
“It was Mom! You know, M-O-M? Your wife?” he responds indignantly.
“Yes, I know, I’m sorry. What I meant was, was there anything specific that made you think of her?”
“No, just Mom.”

And we start to talk about her. How great her smile was. How he can still see her face. How we both think of her every day. I ask if kids in school talk about it. They do, sometimes, but he tells them to stop. He doesn’t like to talk in public about it and wants to keep it in the family. He feels alone in those moments, I imagine.

And then I realize that it is the night before his birthday. He turns 10 the next day. Maybe it’s just this day and some deep body-awareness of this anniversary that brought it to the surface. The day, 10-years ago, he decided to be born and Amy’s contractions started. In fact, it was about 10 years nearly to the minute when Amy’s first signs of labor started. And my mind takes me back a full decade and lingers there for a while. I take a big deep breath and let out an audible sigh.

I choose not to tell Adam of my memory, but instead re-position his blankets, hug him one more time, and say good night.

It’s now about 11:45 p.m., and past my bedtime too but I can’t go to bed right now. I need to finish taking out the trash. And I know my night demons are nearby and would rather avoid them the rest of the night. So I sit in front of my computer and stare at facebook and youtube and email for a while. Just long enough for fatigue to claim the upper hand so can I amble off to bed.

That is what happened last night.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Littlelunchalong

This is part 2 of a 10-part series on a small book of sayings from Amy's grandparents: "Wise Words from Eleanor and Eugene Becker."

“Mom, do you have a “littlelunchalong?”

The first time I heard Amy speak this, I tilted my head sideways with a furrowed brow like a dog hearing a strange noise.

“Yes, I have some cheese crackers,” was her mother’s reply.

I cleared my throat.
“Um, excuse me, but, um, what was it you asked for?”

And in unison, they both turned and said, “Eleanor always said to bring a little lunch along,” with the ending spoken as one word: littlelunchalong. And so began my schooling of Eleanor Becker.



The Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared.” Bringing a littlelunchalong is, in its essence, just a specific variant. A very essential variant. That is, if you are heading out, you might get hungry, or someone you are with, particularly a small child, might get hungry. And you might be in a place where food is not easy to find or is expensive or not what you want. And if that happens the hungry person is going to be less effective as a parent, as a partner, or a child. And if that happens, misery soon follows.

Food is basic. If you include water with food, it’s number two, right after air. Air, for now at least, we don’t have to bring along. Water and food? Better bring it!

Here is the scenario: Running late, grab the kids from after care, get stuck in traffic. No food, no water.  Outcome? You start praying for the asteroid to take out the planet.

Here is an alternate scenario: Running late, grab the kids from after care, get stuck in traffic. You grab the gold fish crackers and juice boxes you always add to your lunch container. Outcome? Global peace and communion with your higher power!

If you have kids you know what I’m talking about. The asteroid is only a slight exaggeration, but I think it helped make my point.

I asked Bonnie, my Mother-in-law, about all this and she shared:

Yes, parental self survival is a major component and frequent benefit of Eleanor's admonition always to take "alittlelunchalong" for "you never can tell" when it might be needed.  But thinking about it more it also speaks to a level of self-sufficiency, about caring about the well being of those around you, an ability to plan and think ahead.  Having a reputation that other people can depend on you and not be disappointed. Feeling of being needed.  Eleanor definitely had all those qualities.  It was probably her expression of the atavistic desire to protect ones loved ones.

Bonnie is a smart woman – I even had to look up “atavistic!” However in listening to Bonnie’s recollections I began understanding that a “littlelunchalong” was as much about being dependable as being prepared. It was about protecting loved ones. It wasn’t only about carrying food with, but to have some basic essentials for travel. A band-aid, tweezers, lip balm. Her daughter shared these qualities too. After Amy died I became aware, very aware, that I was not equipped for everyday occurrences.  I couldn’t reach into my purse and pull out a small plastic bag with a needle and thread for the loose button.  It’s not that I didn’t have a purse – I didn’t even consider the need. Carrying that gear had, by default, been relegated to Amy. She happily took on that responsibility. Due to gender or lineage, I can’t say for sure, but that was one of her responsibilities in our family.

After my recent, forced stint as a single dad, I see the wisdom of a littelunchalong. Perhaps someday I'll not have to worry about it anymore:

Siri, where is the lunchalong?
I have found one location near you with lunchalong. Would you like me to call her?

Until then, I’ll pack water and crackers.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dear Mom


Dear Mom,
I remember the time I was riding my bike, fell and cut my knee wide open. I ran home with blood streaming down my leg. How old was I? 7, 8?
You were there.

I remember the time the neighbor’s cousin hit me with a plastic boomerang (it was an accident) and gave me a bloody nose. And the time the (same) neighbor and I set up a mini-golf course in his backyard and he hit me the forehead with a golf ball (another accident) and I got a concussion.
You were there.

And I vaguely remember when I was really young and was awake coughing from allergies and bronchitis and you where there. You’d take care of me and read me stories.

Fevers, and broken bones; aches and pains.
You were there each time.

And I got older and awkwardly tried growing into my skin. I guess like many adolescents I was excited and afraid. I was happy and lonely as I slid into becoming an adult. I remember the time I broke curfew and had been drinking. It was not a happy or proud moment. But I’m glad you were there then, too.

I went off to college and fell in love. A little too quickly, perhaps. You stayed quiet, mostly, and, I now imagine, prayed I’d be okay. I was afraid to tell you we were having troubles, then getting a divorce. Afraid you wouldn’t understand. Afraid you’d be disappointed. But when I did tell you, you only held me and told me you loved me and I began to wonder why I had been afraid.

And then I found love again. Wonderful love. I was happy. I could tell you were happy for me. You told me so. And when she, the mother of my boys, died so soon and so suddenly it was you who answered the phone. Heaven knows what would have happened to me if you hadn’t. But you did – you were there.

And now, having children of my own, as a parent, all the times I doubt, or second-guess. The times I wonder how they are doing without really ever knowing. Wishing I did know and wanting some certainty. The times I look into those young boys’ eyes and begin to see the men inside them starting to peek back and realize how little power I really have. And then I imagine the times you looked at us, at me, wondering and seeing and realizing the same things.

I know what you’d say. You’d probably say something like: Oh, Johnny, these things we can never really know. You’d tell me something about: that is why we have hope and love and faith. We want to be perfect but who really knows what that is anyway. You just have to do your best. Follow your heart. Then you’d probably tell me a story about someone or something you read in the paper or heard on the radio. I wouldn’t quite understand the relevance until sometime the next day.

You may not have been a perfect mom; I know I wasn’t a perfect son. But it hardly matters. With everything that has happened in my 45 years, with all the times I’ve wanted to give up on hope and love – when I’ve lost the faith – life shows me otherwise, and you’ve been there. And that is perfect enough.

I love you,
John