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In this issue:
What if we could be strangers to our children they way they are to us?
A really embarrassing story I told in a bar one night
People You Happen to Know
From the story, “Axis” by Alice Munro, a conversation between two middle-aged adults on a train:
"…But you're okay, I guess. You've got your kids."
“Well, after a point," Avie says, "after a point, you know, they're just people. I mean they're yours, of course. But they're really -- they're people you know.” God strike me dead, she thinks.
About eight years ago, I flew to Colorado to visit my son, then thirty-six. I saw him before he saw me and I paused just outside the sliding door of the tiny Grand Junction airport to consider the man leaning against his black pick-up, cell phone to his ear. His profile was blurred in the evening shadows but I recognized his voice. How could I not? It has been the one constant in all our time together and apart. Mostly apart.
From behind came "Excuse Me's" as other travelers brushed past to find their families or their cars. My son glanced up but didn't see me so he continued to fire instructions into the phone and I guessed he was talking with one of his employees.
In those moments before I walked out of the shadows towards him, I saw my son as those people passing me might have seen him, a white man verging on middle age, trying to get a little business done while he waited by his truck, the kind of person I might make up a little story about as I waited for my ride.
If I noticed him at all. Would that be possible? Yes, of course. If we weren’t related, I very likely would have passed on with no more than a glance and a swift impression that I might or might not file for later. We would just be two strangers breathing the same air for a few moments. Or, maybe I would have stopped, asked directions, gotten into one of those fun conversations that you can have with strangers, the kind that go to unexpected places.
I felt a sense of detachment that was, just for a moment, liberating. Then, scandalized, I rushed towards him. I wanted to get close enough to smell him, to feel the scratch of reddish stubble on my cheek when he kissed me hello. I wanted to claim him as mine, to feel the order of the universe restored.
I’ve got to tell you, though, the universe has continued to shift. My son is in his mid-forties, I’m in my sixties and our stories have long-since diverged. We love each other without question and for this I will always be grateful because love between parent and child is not a given even if the bonds are strong. On the other hand, we live very separate lives and have for a very long time. More and more I’ve caught myself looking at my son as a stranger — an interesting person I’d like to get to know. Sometimes I imagine my son asking me about who I was before him and what my life is like now, without him.
I think that’s what I’d like for Mother’s Day, a chance to encounter my kid in the wild, one stranger to another, unburdened by the past, our roles, and expectations. Un-mothered. Just for a while. Just to see what it would be like if we were not mother and son, but people, just people.
But I’ll take a phone call, flowers, or a card. Those are good too.
The Mother We Will Never Know
The flip side of my fantasy is to go back in time and meet my own mother as she was before she had any of us kids. Turns out I’m not the only one. I came across this small paragraph by author of The Mothers, Britt Bennet. She found a photograph of her mom at 19 and wondered about the young girl her mother was before she became a mother. Her thoughts turned into one of the essays in this intriguing book edited by Edan Lepucki: Mothers Before: Stories and Portraits of Our Mothers As We Never Saw Them.
A Few Words From My Mother
I’ve written before about my mother, sometimes with happy results, sometimes followed by one of those chilling emails or messages that lets me know I’ve crossed a line. There are a couple of stories, though, that she enjoys and so, for her, and for anyone who may not have read or heard these before, I give you these in celebration of the complex, honest, brave, fun, constant, and fiercely loving woman who is my mother (she is also the beautiful woman holding my sister in the photo at the front of this newsletter).
“Happy Monday. Hope between you and the numerologist you had a good weekend.”
So begins a letter from my mom written on a Monday in 1980. It is one of thousands she has written over the years to all of us. Here is a short piece about the correspondence that followed me out the door when I left home.
Then there was the time I made the mistake of going shopping with her. I’m still mortified about what happened. She still laughs. I tell all about here in You Hold I’ll Pull.
Okay, now, tell me what you are reading now and what you’d like to read next. I want to add your recommendations to our list at bookshop.org so we can help raise money for literacy and for independent bookstores.
Tell me other things too, like what you are doing this week and how you feel about Mother’s Day. It’s not an easy holiday for many people, for many reasons. In this time of social distancing and worry, it may be even more difficult. Here’s a hug, the safe kind, and wishes that the day passes in peace and love for you.
P.S. Here’s your moment of Zen…
My husband and I have been watching reruns to soothe us over the past few weeks. The main reason we keep coming back to Everybody Loves Raymond is Doris Roberts’ Marie Barone who can, with a single arched eyebrow, slay.
Calling for Your Contribution to “Moment of Zen”
What is YOUR moment of Zen? Send me your photos, a video, a drawing, a song, a poem, or anything with a visual that moved you, thrilled you, calmed you. Or just cracked you up. This feature is wide open for your own personal interpretation.
Come on, go through your photos, your memories or just keep your eyes and ears to the ground and then share. Send your photos/links, etc. to me by replying to this email or simply by sending to: firstname.lastname@example.org. The main guidelines are probably already obvious: don’t hurt anyone -- don’t send anything that violates the privacy of someone you love or even someone you hate, don’t send anything divisive, or aimed at disparaging others. Our Zen moments are to help us connect, to bond, to learn, to wonder, to share -- to escape the world for a little bit and return refreshed.
I can’t wait to see what you send!
(And if you’ve gotten here, liked something, and still haven’t hit the heart below, now’s your chance! )