Monday, June 21, 2010

But I Said No, No, No, No

I'm driving north this morning on I-15 to spend three hours in continuing legal education classes. Today we'll be discussing capital murder case litigation. On the seat next to me is a pregnancy test. If I'm brave enough, I'll pee on it during one of the breaks. I don't think I'm brave enough though.

I've been awake since four this morning contemplating the meaning of the oily roll of abdominal muscles that I feel. Are these cramps? But no bleeding--yet. And these tender boobs--period tender or pregnancy tender? I'm not tired. Not the tired like I normally get when I am pregnant. Then again, the last time I was pregnant, I was in my first year of law school and working. I should have been tired, extraordinarily, head hitting the carpet while trying to study for Property Law final tired.

Can I even remember when I last had my period? I have the day the American Express card and the mortgage payments are due engraved on my heart. All the others are entered on my phone, three days in a row, to keep me on track. One would think that I would remember the day of my period. But I don't, not accurately anyway. Hence the slow-building panic that is spreading cold across the bottom of my gut.

I always thought IUD's were 10-15 year propositions. Somehow I am remembering the conversation between me and the physician's assistant who inserted it as her saying, "So this will last you about ___ years," and me thinking, "Great, I'll be about 42 and surely I'll be done menstruating by then." I don't really remember the actual year number she gave me.

Standing along the third base line fence yesterday evening, Monique informs me, upon hearing of my ruminations of a possible pregnancy, that "Yes, I love my IUD," and "No, they're only a seven to ten year deal."

"For real?"

My heart sinks a little lower than it already is. I'm realizing that perhaps IUD's are not the same as water filters in the fridge. The red light is more than just a suggestion. My African-raised brain sees the red light on the filter and thinks, "We get our city water from a mountain spring. Why does it still need to be filtered?" I make mental note to call OB-GYN in the morning, for first visit in ten years. But, I fully acknowledge this might be a little bit like shutting the barn door after the horse has already bolted. Or whatever that simile is in reverse. Raising the drawbridge once the Trojan horse is already within the city walls?

Kevin grabs me this morning, asks if I have started bleeding yet. I shake my head. There's a gladness in his eyes. Almost a giddiness at the prospect. He would shout Hallelujahs from the rooftop. His hands grip both my upper arms, he's leaning into my face, our eyes are only inches apart. "We could be having a baby." If he giggled, he would be giggling.

I don't want a baby. I've just uncovered what I think may be my hipbones, or at least the subcutaneous fat that was covered by the extraneous fat, both of which lie above the hipbones. I've been able to sleep through the night for the past 2 years without children in my bed. I have a really cute, polka-dotted purse from South Africa which doesn't accommodate diapers and wipes. I've been dying my hair for the past 10 years. If I went white, like I am underneath, I would look obscene: a pregnant, wrinkled, white-haired crone--somebody who shouldn't be having sex, let alone be getting pregnant. I'm 44. I'm afraid of Down Syndrome. Have been since a child. Paranoia, straight up and rampant, but real nonetheless.

On the other hand, I'm strong. I can bench press. I can do lunge to one-legged stand with 25 pounds in each hand. I can do ball bridge and side bridge raises with 20 pounds tucked into the hollow between my hipbone/hipbone fat and ribs. I can dig clay soil and clear irrigation ditches for hours. I'm unemployed. Julia just moved out. We have an empty bedroom. Maybe Kevin's dream of twins will come to fruition.

My mind swings back. I don't want to play Solomon to my own dilemma. I don't want one baby. I don't want two babies. We're done. Perhaps I will miscarry--like I have before. Even knowing the emotional suffering in the the aftermath of miscarriage, I hang my 44-year-old hat on the hope of a possible miscarriage for my possible pregnancy. Because I have actually been in this panicked state before, I know that I won't get an abortion. I've thought long and hard and decided that I probably wouldn't be able to carry through with that procedure. I know Kevin would find it hard to live with a wife who could and did. But, there is always the hope of miscarriage.

One of the most pregnant lines used to describe Mary is she "kept all these things and pondered them in her heart." "These things" were, of course, the news that she was pregnant, and would give birth far outside the normal order of things, that angels attended the birth, that shepherds traveled miles to see the child and then returned spreading the news. Most people view her silence as the indication of her humble nature, her devotion to God, etc., etc., etc.. I'm thinking there are other explanations.

One, she's not sharing her thoughts with Luke writing decades later. Had Elizabeth been given page-space in the New Testament, between Luke 1 and Luke 2, to write a journal of the discussions the two strangely-pregnant women had in the three months they lived together, there might be other ways to skin this particular story. Two, Mary kept these things and pondered them in her heart because her world as she knew it, as she had imagined it, the future as she had planned it had just been blown to shreds. What could she say, without casting her lot with the unbelievers?

It's an interesting philosophical place to be, contemplating what to do where there is really nothing to be done except wait and see, or pee. But, of course, this isn't philosophy. It's simple biology, physiology, with a very complicated result. My body is suddenly more than just my body. It's a receptacle, a safe harbor, a waiting place--mine and perhaps somebody else's.

Perhaps by design human pregnancy is nine months long. Nine months is a long time. Almost long enough to get a heart into the same place the body has been for three trimesters. It's long enough to feel the hiccups, to get to know a child's nature, to see whether she pushes back in a game of womb-tag, or if he rolls over, twice a day, like a walrus changing painful, lumbering position. It's long enough to grow fond of the little intruder and intrigued enough to meet it. It's long enough to get so large, so inflated, so swollen that you'll do almost anything to get it out. Long enough to realize that the clothes at Old Navy are so much cuter now than the one's available at Mervyn's 20 years ago. Long enough to finally give yourself up, the Lord's handmaiden--to chip away at the disbelief, the amused absurdity that a child could result because you forgot to change the water filter. And certainly long enough to find your own Elizabeths with whom, in the sanctuary of female space, you can scream and cry and quiver and waiver and move beyond that to some kind of bewildered faith, so that when the official story is written, it will say you "kept all these things and pondered them in [your] heart."

That's what I'm hoping anyway.

Title: from Katie Tunstall, "Black Horse & The Cherry Tree"

Monday, June 14, 2010

Wish I Could Keep You Much Longer

One of my larger neuroses that I've carried with me like a hump on a dowager's back since I gave birth to Julia almost twenty years ago is that I am not really a "real mother."

Perhaps it has something to do with me working, part- and full-time, since before they all were born. Or maybe it's because real mothers don't fall dead asleep in their own beds hours before their 16-year old son returns home. They prop themselves up on the edge of the couch and wait, in fitful dozing. Or real mothers don't flinch when they hear Andrea Westley say that her favorite time of day is that 3.30 hour when the door slams and the children pour through to eat the freshly baked cookies. And a real mother certainly wouldn't say to her child, who, also having heard Andrea Westley say said statement, asks, "Why don't you do that for us, Mom?", "Well, make friends with Danny Westley and go home with him."

Whatever the reason, I have always felt a little deficient when it's come to mothering. I enjoy my kids; I actually enjoy being with them, talking to them, watching them. But, just this afternoon, during a third- and fourth-grade Little League game, Adam stood with the bat on his shoulder while the umpire called an inside ball his third strike. And, mother-of-the-year-me, shouts from the bleachers, where I am sitting with my sister, "That's why you just swing on the third strike." Never mind he's catching for the second time in his life and hit a two RBI double during his last at-bat and then stole home, and the pitch was so inside, it would have hit the edge of his cup, if he were wearing one.

Just before that, Laura had just confessed to me, as we talk about adjusting to the hours of summer that sometimes she thinks that just a little baby would be quite fun (She's just turned 41, and her youngest is 7). I think about that same prospect of "just a little baby" (while I shout at Adam), "Just take me out behind the shed and shoot me." (I'm 44 and my youngest will turn 11 in a few months, but every few months I panic because I think my IUD is about worn out and my eggs are obviously not).

So, there are times when I just think I'm not quite into it enough. I feel that other women feel so much more deeply about motherhood than I do. I'm sure they are overcome with paroxysms of joy and delight at the sheer contemplation of motherhood, in theory and in actuality. They dream of babies, theirs and others, and feel to fly to Haiti to adopt, legally or otherwise, all motherless children. I'm surrounded by professional mothers. Sometimes I feel like I'm the one who got hired for the night-shift at 7-11.

Nevertheless, there are four people who call me mother, and sometimes "Tessa" or "Tess-dog," if Christian is so inclined. My first and most fabulous recipient of my mothering faux pas (what is the plural of pas?), Julia Rose, moved out just before Mother's Day. Yes, it's only to an apartment three blocks away and she still comes grocery shopping at Julia's Mother's Pantry after her mother has gone grocery shopping at Costco. But, she is not here when I wake in the morning, and the molecules in the house don't vibrate as much without her presence.

However, I hadn't actually cried about her absence. I hadn't pined for her, gone off my food. Life went on. Sometimes, when I would drive up the driveway and her car wouldn't be there, I would think, "Oh, Jules isn't home yet." Then I would correct myself, almost like Goldilocks, and say, ". . . and she's not coming home." But no tears. No heart torn from my breast by her absence. I had wandered at my rather measured reaction to her departure. Was this, yet again, another small sign in a series of small signs, that I didn't have that pure, Vitamin D enriched, mother's love running through my veins?

The first Sunday after she moved out was Mother's Day. My first Mother's Day without her on the bench. Understand, she is my bookend, the warm body that sits to my left and does up the hook-and-eye that is invariably left undone as my dress is thrown on at 10. 45, 15 minutes before the opening hymn. She's the wet finger that wipes away the mascara flecks that come to rest on my cheekbones after having been applied in the parking lot at 10. 57. She's the other girl in the family, part of the female bulwark against which all the maleness comes to crash. Yes, she had called me earlier that morning from Texas where she was playing softball for her university to wish me "Happy Mother's Day." But, it was at that particular moment, halfway through the opening hymn, I noticed, in my marrow, she wasn't there next to me. For this first time, on this geranium day, Julia Rose wasn't next to me.

I started thinking about her, about the Julia that has filled our lives, that we have watched and wondered at for nineteen years. I thought about the things I did to her that I have never done to any of my other children, because I learned, through her, that they did not work and never would. The reading I forced her to do before she knew the words, the cries I told her to swallow so I wouldn't have to hear them, the soccer camp I signed her up for at which she made no friends and sat, alone for two hours each dinner time, waiting for the next sessions to begin. These are just a few of the more flagrant fouls I have committed.

I thought of all these things. Then I thought of the conversation that we had had just a few days before talking about her studies. She told me she wanted to major in Business, with an emphasis in Entrepreneurial Studies--just like her father. Then she said something which dazzled me: "Mom, I just really want to be a mom. I think that would be so much fun. I can't wait."

Can I admit that I looked at her with wonder? That I let go of the breath I seemed to have been holding since she entered the world, the deep breath that I took at the beginning of the venture and forgot to exhale. My worst efforts notwithstanding, this young woman, this first child of mine, actually wanted to be a mother. Now perhaps it was to provide her children with all the things I haven't, like baby books, and cute outfits (none of which will, she swears, involve overalls) and coordinated frames for school pictures, and make-up and hair-styling lessons, and mixers and Kitchen Aid appliances in cherry red that actually get used. Even so, that she wanted to mother, having experienced my mothering of her and her brothers, was the sweetest benediction.

So, I sat on the pew, thinking these things, marveling at the munificence of that child's heart. I thought of my efforts: fierce, flippant, short-tempered, wide-armed and tolerant, analytical, generous, sharp, always with some kind of distance, to allow them to almost-fall on their own first. And yet, despite all this, she was not scarred or scared. I felt my being fill with longing for her. I would not have kept her back. Yet I missed her, missed her, missed her. Was that really all we got with her? Just those short few years? We talk of fibers of being. That day I knew what that phrase meant. The longing welled up from I don't know where, but came swelling through my gut, breaking out through my shoulders, and, if I had looked with capable eyes, was flowing through every row to fill the chapel. A church filled with my mother-longing for my child whom I cannot keep with me any longer.

Title: from "Keep You Much Longer," by Akon.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Here's My Heart

The issue under discussion was whether the three boys needed to attend an evening devotional last Sunday evening put on as part of a Father's and Son's Camp my four men were attending that weekend, at which Chad Lewis, former Philadelphia Eagles tight end, was speaking.

The boys didn't want to go because they had already had three hours of church that day. Kevin wanted them to go because he wanted them to go. I didn't really care whether they went or not. I was just there in the cafeteria eating an awful meal with them that I thought for sure was the dregs that got pulled out because the chef underestimated the sheer amount of food 200 aging ex- and wannabe-jocks and their male offspring could pound away on a Sunday evening. (On checking the menu online for curiosity's sake, I discovered, to my horror, that they really had planned to serve Wonderbread rolls, shiny roast beef and chemically-derived brightly yellow anbd viscous cheese product at that particular station.)

Like a parody of sage Deborah, I inserted myself into the words going back and forth between Christian and Kevin: Why? Because? Why? Because? Why? Because? I made things worse: "So, let's hear you articulate why you think the boys should go? Kevin looked at me in dismay, sort of like, "Are you kidding me? Are you even going to make me go there?" And I smiled wisely: "Yes . . . Because 'because I said so' isn't a very good reason."

So, he tried, "Because we signed up for this camp. Because this is what we do as a culture. We go to firesides."

"But why?" This time coming from me.

Christian: "But I already went to church . . . with a smile" (one of our particular requests of a child who can darken any classroom he cares to if he decides to pout). "I already hung out with these people for 2 whole days, and I have to hang with them tomorrow. I just don't want to go." The two younger boys, who were jumping through the rock garden outside the cafeteria with their cousins, didn't really have an opinion. They were just copying Christian's attitude and would do whatever he decided.

Kevin added, "Because we seek further light and knowledge. Because I want to go and I want our boys to go with me." Tessa aka Deborah decided, "Okay. Those are good reasons."

After some rather tense moments, parental authority decided that the 3 boys would be attending the devotional, in their church clothes, which were probably lying on the floor in their bedrooms at home. They went home to change while Kevin and I walked to the ballroom where the devotional would take place. On the way, Kevin told me bluntly that part of the reason we don't have children who take piano lessons, or voice lessons, is because I let them have a say in everything. Everything is open for discussion. "If I had said I wanted Christian to go, he would have just gone. No discussion. Not everything has to be open for discussion."

"Well, I didn't think they HAD to go."

" But if I said they needed to go, they would go. No debate."

"But I think the debate is good. I think Christian should choose to go because he wants to honor you. He doesn't have to want to go. You can't force his attitude. You can't force him to want something."

"But that's the problem with our kids. . . they just do what they want to do and not what they don't want to do. That's why they don't play the piano or any kind of musical instrument. We let them out of hard things."

"But they're going to the fireside. They are going, and they're doing it because you asked them to, not because they have to." I hadn't wanted to share this with Kevin, but I didn't want to go either. I had thought I was going to join them for dinner and then go home to a quiet, twilight house. The thought of attending the fireside never crossed my mind, until I was in the cafeteria and realized that Kevin was assuming I would go. (I thought it better not to raise that point in front of Christian.) "You know, " I said in a tentative voice, "I don't want to go to this fireside. It's not how I would choose to spend a Sunday evening. But I want to spend time with you so I'm going to the fireside."

"Well, go home then. You don't have to be here."

"I know I don't have to be here. But I'm choosing to be here because I want to spend time with you. I don't care about Chad Lewis or what he has to say."

'Well, go home then. You don't have to be here."

"I know I don't have to be here. I'm choosing to spend time with you, which, means I attend this fireside. So, I'm here. Christian can choose that too--to spend time with you. He doesn't have to want to go. He can just want to make you happy. That's a good enough reason to go."

We ended up at the meeting. Kevin and I sitting together, for the first time that weekend. The three boys came back, dressed in church clothes, and sat behind us with their 6 or 7 male cousins. We all listened to Chad Lewis, who was personable, told a good story, talked to the boys at their level (which isn't my level at all). At the end Christian said, "Thanks Dad, that was great" and I got to have Adam sit on my lap halfway through and to smell that warm sweaty curve behind his ear. Kevin got to have all his boys with him, while he sat with his brothers and listened to Chad Lewis. So, all's well that ends well.


As I've thought about this exchange we've had, I've thought about a question Kevin asked me that revealed, as we talked and walked, a philosophical divide I wasn't completely aware of between the two of us. It revolved around the concept of "have to." I don't believe "have to" is a reason to do anything, even a fireside. So, I was explaining to Kevin that I didn't think that just because you belonged to a community, you had to act in a certain way: "There is no have to, Kev. That doesn't work for me."

"You mean, there is nothing that we have to do in life?"

I thought for a moment. Silence. Thoughts ran through my head: baptism, marriage, temple, obedience, white shirts, nylons, flip flops, food storage, fidelity, tithing. He repeated the question into the silence. "I'm thinking . . . . Yes. There is nothing that we have to do in this life."

"You're wrong. At the very least, we have to get baptized."

"No, you don't. You only have to get baptized if you desire a certain end result. I don't think there any any actions in this life that are mandated."


"Nothing. It just depends on what you want and where you want to end up."

"I think you're wrong."

"I might be . . . but that works for me. That thought process allows me to feel as if I am choosing my end result. Feeling like I am choosing is important to me. It allows me to feel like my life is mine, that I have chosen it."

I've never been a joiner--which is strange because I've always looked at groups and wondered how people got to be a part of them, and wanted to be a part of them, almost. I look at the women who lead our the women in our church and commiserate to myself that I will never be one of those women because I'm not "pink." Not soft, not twinset, not flowers on the left breast, not carefully styled and modulated. But do I really want to be? Part of me wants to be accepted by this culture and counted as one of them.

On the other side, there is a part of me that doesn't like a wall, doesn't like a given, a set or a series of musts. Rules don't make me feel secure. I feel hemmed in. So, to hear my husband say that my children "have to" attend something that to me seems marginally profitable makes me narrow my eyes and cock my head, an old crow about to fly down off her telephone wire to interfere in a fresh mound of roadkill.

I don't know what it is about me that bridles at the language of "have to, "must," or "only way," for example. I'd like to think that it's my fierce commitment to the principle that God will force no man or woman or child or horse to heaven. But, at the same time as I commend myself to that principle, I can hear Neal Maxwell's rasping whine describing some who are "so afraid of being taken in that they remain forever without." It's been at least 25 years since I heard that phrase and I have never forgotten it, perhaps because it sings up against an aching tooth in my soul.

I suppose there are others for whom the challenge is to comfortably stand apart. They are made differently than I am. Their way is a no less valid way, and their refining process is perhaps the other side of the pendulum from which I swing. To get around this thing that is hardwired into me, I've come to think about situations in ways that allows me to feel like I'm freely participating: I choose this fireside because I would like to sit next to my husband for an hour and do nothing but feel the air-conditioning and his leg pressing against me. I will provide white shirts and ties for my two older sons because one of them doesn't want to stick out and one will wear it because he's been asked to.

I also try to parent the same way, trying to explain things so that my children are able to consent at some level. I know there are risks to this way, as there are with all ways. My children might think everything is negotiable. They will have a hard time with people who don't talk to them like they can think. They won't understand the wielding of authority like a club. But, I hope we are providing for them a way to participate in their world, to act and not to be acted upon.

Is it acceptable for Christian to attend church because he has to? Not really--for me. But can he choose to attend because his parents want him to and because he is trying to be the kind of person who honors his parents. Yes. Honoring the wishes of your elders is a good reason, in any culture, to participate in an activity. Can he choose to attend because his mother has promised him that if he listens with an attentive heart, he will hear something in the space of that quiet hour? Yes. Does it matter that he goes to honor his parents or because of his morbid curiousity to hear a voice than because he really wants to? No--not to me. Because, just as happened last Sunday evening, I have learned that when we are in the right place (either by choice or by commandment), our presence and participation is counted unto us, blessed by providence if you will.

After all, what more could a woman ask for than the still-willing weight of her ten-year-old son on her lap and the smell of his hot hair in her nose, the press of her husband's thigh against hers, the prospect of Rocky Road ice-cream in a while, and the "Thanks Dad" coming from previously recalcitrant lips. An hour is a small entry fee for such things.

Title: from "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," by Robert Robinson.