Category Archives: Augusten Burroughs

This is How I Roll: Some Parents Need to Grow Up

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Look, I’m not going to sugar coat this: I’m grossed out by people who think it’s funny to have kids and then bitch about them, or habitually talk about needing booze, or a line, or a joint or a valium or whatever to get through the day.

It’s all over the Internet. Apparently it’s what sells. “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”- Henry Mencken. I prefer to not engage with the “foolish consistencies [which] are the hobgoblins of little minds.” -Emerson. I guess I will never hit it big. That’s OK, drunk people can’t read very well.

What those people need is a few moments alone and several deep breaths. That’s all. Oh, and likely therapy, which they are probably avoiding.

Ask anyone who knows me or who has interacted with me, and they will tell you, I’ve got a sense of humor, I am resilient, I can roll with punches. But just not this one. Not about parents who get their drink/joint/whatever on to cope with their holes, fears, inadequacy issues, mommy issues, daddy issues, shitty childhoods or whatever that are being activated by triggers that parenthood presents. I’m not talking anxiety, we all have that. I’m talking deep, real, soul-wrenching stuff. Oh, and regarding those who habitually make jokes about it? Grow up.

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So, here’s the deal: I grew up with crap like that happening to me. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “You drive me to drink” as a kid. It’s sick as hell. Those days, and my decisions to talk about them are prickly. It’s partly my story to tell, in terms of how it affected me, but I can tell you this: if you need a drink, or think it’s funny to crack wise about being a mom or a dad who needs *needs* NEEDS something to “get through your day” I have a proposal for you: get fixed.

No, not with a shrink, that’s later, but tie your tubes, clip the lines, get your act together before you victimize your kids with your so-called, “I was just kidding” banter and jokes and Facebook groups and blog titles, and all that stuff. Because what you do to your kids, in the end, when they’re like me: 45 and wondering where the hell you were all their life, it’s not gonna be so funny then. You will be “Granny needs a drink” then. And that’s even sicker.

This is real. Kids are not saints, they are micro versions of me and you, and they have memories, and they have feelings and they have access to the Internet. If you find yourself turned off by their behavior, I have a suggestion: look around and look in the mirror. They learn from us, peers, teachers, siblings, but mostly from us, their parents, who appear godlike in their eyes. They believe everything we say, they don’t understand sarcasm until they’re about 15, despite our insistence that they get it beforehand. We are their go-to resource, unless we are half in the bag, spending the night at the office, on a little yellow pill, or pulling a toke.

But I’m just joking. Right? Because we all are. We’re all just trying to loosen up, have a little fun, don’t be such a stiff, Mol…

This isn’t our second shot at being in the cool group in high school or being popular with the pretty people. If you (like just about everyone) have some weird torch you’re holding for the glory days of your youth and you’re pinning your hopes on your kid to Make It this time… Wake up and smell the music. It’s pathetic. Get your act together and behave.

Maybe if you’re lucky, when you’re old and decrepit they will just feel sorry for you. Maybe if when they’re in a state where you will need them, when they have to take care of you, they will do the right, honorable and human thing: respect you and help you age and eventually die well. Or maybe they’ll get drunk and make jokes about it. You know, because it’s all in good fun, right?, crapping on the concept of being there for people who need our help. Or maybe they won’t resent the hell out of you for putting yourself first all. the. time. Or maybe they will do their best, numbly go through the motions, but be unable to give back what wasn’t given to them.

As a parent, I’m all for cutting loose and having fun, but not as a brand, not as an identity, and certainly not as a thematic function for who I am. Life’s hard enough sober and single. Marriage adds a whole new dimension. And then kids?! Innocent people who are legitimately needy and completely dependent on us for everything until they aren’t anymore?! Holy cow… I can’t imagine life drunk and with kids. And I certainly can’t imagine it being clever or glib or witty to make jokes about needing a mind-numbing substance to get through the day.

I can’t stand that stuff, it makes my blood boil. I have moments, trust me, of when I wish I could run away, or of when I wish I could be more resilient, more aloof, but no… This is life. When you get it on and make a baby, it’s not only all about you anymore. It’s about doing your best, everyday showing up mentally and physically and doing two very simple things on paper, but hard as hell to practice at times: love them with all your might and protect them. Love and protect. That’s all.

Therapy is cheap compared to how our glibness affects our children.

I’m dealing with my own set of challenges: I’m the PB&J in my family sandwich. My parents are getting reeeeally old and my kids are almost all teenagers. I will need every ounce of presence and sanity to navigate these waters. I could do the easy thing, do what my parents did: get drunk and avoid my responsibilities, but that’s not who I am.

If I’ve pissed you off, it’s okay. We aren’t right for each other. Just being real.

Thank you.

perfect mother? no. not even close.

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Yesterday in yoga, I got a gift. I didn’t ask for it; it came to me. The preceding evening, I posted on my facebook walls (GrassOil and my personal wall) that day’s events:

“So it has been a long day. Thing 3 bumped his head hard enough today in P.E. to warrant an ambulance ride to Inova Peds Unit, which I will happily leave all my money when I die, for multiple tests, including CT scan, xray and EKG. He was released around 1pm with a favorable & cautious prognosis: no sign of concussion, but no stunts either. An hour ago, I was hugging him, gratefully, and he said, in his dry way, “Mom, it’s late. You need to go now. Turn out my light and close my door.” I guess he’s better already.

The gift in yoga came from my teacher, who is also a fb friend and a physical, touchable friend offline, on the actual planet we share (I can’t go there: “IRL / in real life” – to me, this is all real life).  She openly asked me how I was doing because she had read my status about Thing 3. Her knowing eyes bore through my façade of panache and I said, “OK, now.” She explained to the other yoginis (this class is awesome, populated with all manner of women in all walks of life) my status and then paused, with a knowing and loving glance at me to close with, “Molly is the mother of three boys. It’s a busy job.”

The women collectively, “ohhhh’d” at my experience, lovingly and without the fruitlessly competitive and dismissive, “been there done that” patronizing tone. They all visually hugged me and graced me with gentle smiles.  With a small smile, I hugged them back and said, “Yes, I am a mom of three boys. I’m a lucky girl,” and I meant every syllable of it.

RANT: Being a word freak, I hate that “been there done that” and “it’s all good” response that people make automatically toward other peoples’ circumstances. It’s so dismissive and isolating. I want to say and believe that people mean no harm, but I have also say, that most people mean absolutely nothing when they say it. In fact, they’re saying, “I don’t care. Don’t tell me your problems because they’re not my problem.”  In my personally invested mind I say, “No, actually, you haven’t ‘been there or done that’ because you’re not me. Your child is not my child. You are not in my shoes and it’s not ‘all good.’ The fear or sadness I felt then, even though things are OK now, have stripped a layer from my confidence; have stolen minutes from the restful sleep I will have in years to come. That my son had to experience a CT-scan which apparently can create conditions where 1:1,200 children can develop some form of cancer is not really… ‘been there done that’ for you unless you’re me and he’s yours. Granted the sun and TV can do the same thing, but that’s part of a regular existence.  And that ‘it’s all good’ because he didn’t have a concussion is really not ‘all good.’ The kid was terrified of this gigantic machine, so don’t go dismissing me with your been there done that it’s all good  garbage. It’s not that simple for me. I’m clearly still too close to this incident to be totally rational about “it’s all good.” May I never be too far from it. RANT OVER.

The gift was that my yoga teacher Saw Me. She gets me. She Knows What It’s Like.

That same day, I met with my therapist and she heard me recount this yoga experience and what happened with Thing 3.  She wrote down something.  I hate it when she does that. This post is the closest I’m likely going to come to a public indictment of my mother for her parenting style (which was very unique): she was a mix of Augusten Burrough’s mother in Running with Scissors; “All in the Family’s” Edith Bunker and “Roseanne”‘s Roseanne.  My mother (who is still with us) suffered from some pretty heavy mental disorders (which were unknown about in the 1960s and 1970s) and her own mother’s parenting style. While those disorders and her history do not absolve her of her special brand of caregiving because many of her flaws were avoidable, they help me recognize that her particular style of childrearing was not because of anything I did (this is something that I’ve only recently begun to accept).  As a result, my style of mothering has been to sorta ‘wing it’ in reverse from what she did. While I made it and am here, there are parts of my person that are woefully undernurtured and as such, I am attuned to feel exquisitely inadequate, perfectionistic, insecure, snarky and defensive about any error, real or imaginary, I manifest.  To fight those urges requires vigilance.  What’s even more ironic is that I am both at times gullible and distrustful, go figure.

So, when someone Gets Me or Gets You, regardless of your maternal status, it’s no small gift. They Get Us because they Too Have Lived.  They know how hard we’ve worked to Just. Get. By.

I asked my therapist what she wrote down. She gladly told me: “She fears turning into her mother.”  And that’s why she earns the big bucks. That concept is nothing new: I’m sure many women reading this very word right now are guilty of desperately hoping they are not like their mothers. I feel I’ve cornered the market on that sentiment, but I know in some ways I am very very similar to my mother. It’s the anger; anger from neglect as a child.

this is my mom and me in 2008

Then, what my therapist said to me was this: “You Are Not Your Mother.” I’ve suspected that but it doesn’t mean I’ve quit trying. Running a “how not to turn into your mother” crusade has an ugly underbelly: it’s all-out war against myself and my femininity. I am the only daughter in my family, and thus I am the most similar to my mother in my family.  For me to win this war, I became my anti-mother: tough, hard, self-neglectful, realistic, honest and true, stable, openly self-critical and vigilant.  Y’know what? It has been exhausting! My mother embraces her softness, almost exploits it at times and I’ve wrestled with it: I’ve considered softness, femininity to be a waste of time. This is wrong. So I had to reframe it.

We’re all overcompensating for something…

My war meant that I’m totally interested in health, exercise, laundry, cooking, playing with my kids and sorta neglecting mySelf.  I don’t do the aforementioned with the intention that it pleases me, I do so in the spirit of service to my family because it was so lacking in the world where I grew up. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the efforts; my motivations are skewed.  When I exercise, it’s to stay fit for my family because my mother never did.  When I run myself ragged running errands it’s because my mother didn’t.  When I show up somewhere 15 minutes early to pick-up my kids, it’s because my mother didn’t and sometimes she didn’t even show. Or when she did, she was altered.  When I am self-reliant it’s because my mother wasn’t.  The good news is that I’m finally am OK with what I’ve become despite it all.  And since beginning therapy, I’ve learned to loosen up a bit on myself and allow myself to be OK with just being OK.  I’m reading a book, The Emotionally Absent Mother: A Guide to Self-Healing and Getting the Love You Missed by Jasmin Lee Cori, which has been very helpful.

In keeping with the inadequacy theme, I posted someone else’s blog on my fb wall last night, “9 Quick Tips for Keeping Your Home Feeling Serene and Organized.” It wasn’t fiction.  A friend from high school, a great gal whose two younger children are close in age to mine commented, “I need to work on #9” (making your bed). She and I went back and forth for a couple rounds because I sense we both share the same space of trying to figure this stuff out: that a mess in the house means the kids are having fun (really? that’s ok?); that dishes on the table mean the family has been fed (doesn’t it also mean lazy?); that an unmade bed means someone had somewhere safe to sleep (not that they’re getting back in it real soon?); that a dining room table covered with homework means minds are being challenged (not irresponsible from not cleaning up?)… OK whatever you say. (My inner anti-my-mother mother is cringing.) I’ve got to prepare for the cleaning ladies


I grew up with a fair amount of chaos — our house was forever disheveled but for entirely different reasons than those cited above.  My mother seldom cleaned the house, our cleaning lady, Betty Sortino, did.  She was awesome.  She had tobaccoffee breath, jiggled her leg to rock me to sleep on my bed, shared her Hershey’s bars with me, read me bedtime stories and taught me lyrics to “I Shot the Sheriff.”  So, the optimistic proposal of a messy home being a happy home leaves me twisting my neck like a confused labrador retriever unless Hershey bar wrappers and Clapton are part of the picture.

Like me, my friend is a Stay At Home Mother (SAHM), which is a misnomer if I ever heard one. I am not a stay at home mother. We are a collective runerrands keeptheenginerunning dashinforasecond todropsomething offgoingtothemarket thekidsforgottheirhomework canicallyouback inanhour gottatakethekidstochess tennissoccerbasketballguitar orthodontistfillthetank dogneedsshots sodothecats gethimtotutoringgottagotothedoctor –oh yeah, what about lunch and a potty break for me?– mother.

On the FB thread, my friend said someone she knows suggested that we SAHMs treat our SAHM-ness as a job: that we shower, dress as though for work, do our hair and apply make-up and all the rest, so that we will see our domestic experiences as … Oh God, what is this the frigging 1950s?! Someone finish this sentence! I am stumped! Can this be true – a female recommended this?! I guess we’re supposed to do even more to somehow bring more vapid value in what we’re doing to look good when we’re doing it even though we may be miserable or lost or battling the feeling that what we’re doing is not good enough.  Hey, ladies, if you’re gonna go to war with yourself, don’tcha wanna look great?! So the take-away is to lie: to look like we’ve been at the office all day even though we’re not bringing in any extra money because clearly staying in our yoga pants with crazy hair in a ponytail is unacceptable. People can get fired for that.  My friend, like me, also tries to get her exercise in so any attempt at that means the hair and make-up has to wait and exercise for me happens when I make it because I’m not totally organized (in that way, I’m a carbon copy of my mom). 

I said to my friend, “I don’t garden, clean, fold laundry, drive all over and workout in pleated khakis and pearls and a double-breasted jacket or workout in Anne Taylor” so, um, her friend’s well-intentioned (and completely unrealistic) advice made me feel even more inadequate. I can’t imagine a bigger waste of emotional energy, time and effort than to dress for success when you’re just gonna go to the grocery store (although living in Fairfax County, I must admit I’ve seen it).  Maybe I’m wrong. 

  

I added that there are those of us who like to be with kids and are super domestic and eagerly play “tea party” or “army men” under the dining room table with the kiddos. As much as I love those -moments- I’ll be honest: I never aspired to engage in them. Does that make me a bad mother? I don’t know.  I’m a big believer in a child’s need to develop “independent play” as well as group play and by golly, if I’m gonna be playing, it better involve dice, cards and tokens and cash not tea cups, teddy bears or army men and sandboxes. 

A couple years ago I clipped a Daily OM meditation for the day called “Tending the Hearth.”  It quells my nerves and helps me remember that what I’m doing –even if the house is a mess and the clothes are clean but not always put away– is of value. It puts the brakes on my inner argument that I’m inadequate for the five minutes after I read it until something breaks or crashes and snaps me back to first-responder reality. 

A joke my friend once told me: “I was a great parent before I had children.” 

Motherhood, parenthood, whateverhood is tough, regardless of your circumstances. Granted, I’m not a mother in Africa suffering from famine or disease, but stress is stress is stress. I’m not diminishing my stress if I honor the stress of my sisters in Africa. Even though I like my first-world existence, I’m not so sure an African mother would want my problems. Wayne Dyer once said, “you can never make anyone richer by making yourself poorer.” I dig that; that’s why I haven’t given everything away. 

When you are a parent, your unrivaled unbridled love for your brood can only be equalled by the same degree of protection of your sanity and your precious wisftul recollections of the life you had Before Children. Nothing makes a mother or father crave the life they had Before Children than the screaming fights and unrelenting repetitive verbal waterboarding of an insistent 11-year-old child feigning illness and fever who wants to stay home from school because a test is on that day’s docket.Nothing will make you second guess your decision to not put whiskey in your morning coffee sooner.

So am I a perfect mother? Hell no. But I’m trying to be less-than perfect. I’m figuring out that I’m doing OK and that book I mentioned above is telling me where I’m screwing up because I see where I’m repeating patterns I learned and observed.  I’ve also learned to appreciate the parts of my mom that are good because if I don’t figure out some good things about her, I’m sorta screwing myself because I am 50% her…. I’ve become better about liking pink but I’m not a girly-girl and that’s totally OK. 


No one’s asking for advice, so I’ll tell you what works for me: tend the sadness and sorrow from your childhood, allow it because it can’t get better unless you honor it; don’t dwell, but don’t bury it. But if you’re a parent, stay aware.  Read books, blogs (here’s a blog, sorta sad, but it’s clinical about unattentive parents) and learn.  Your kids will forgive you if you ask and honor on your commitment to them to make it up to them.  They won’t however, ever trust you if you lie to them about it. Remember: their big brains have a ton of bandwidth and they’ve got memories like little elephants.  Do the best you can and be the best you can be. Put aside your fears of your inadequacies and remember you can learn a lot from your kids if you let yourself hear them.


Kids didn’t ask to be born into our baggage, our inner wrestlings and inner battles. They didn’t say to God (or whatever you believe in), “Hey, gimme that really awesome person down there. Yeah, the one in the Porsche.  She looks like she’s had no troubles or sadness. Oh, a person without disappointment, sadness or troubles doesn’t exist? Oh. Well, how about that one? She looks soft.” So by virtue of that, we must do our utter best by our children.  We must put down the phone, step away from the computer, be patient, be clear, be honest, express our needs, put down the drink, slow down the car, get out of bed, smile when we speak to them and be that person they know we can be.  Be that person they need us to be.  

this is my mom, me and my gramma in 1969.

If your person wasn’t there for you to begin with, become the person You’ve Been Waiting For. 

Thank you. 

who am i? well, here’s a start:

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i’m really winging it today; something is telling me to talk about this and something is telling me to not care if anyone reads it or likes it or relates to it. but i always tell people to tell their stories because we all have one and so how can i actually tell people to tell their stories when i still keep mine packed away? after all, my kids know the mom they experience and i am doing this blog for them too so they have a sense of who i am and why they are and so it’s a necessary part of the process for me to do this for all of us.

before you panic, chill. i’m not about to blow the cover off some sacred family secret or share my well of woes with you. that’s private and personal and while it’s part of the 21st century definition of my story, it’s really no one’s business but mine. i may watch YouTube but i’m not a lay-it-all-out-there-in-all-its-nakedness type of person. most of that is because of my breeding, i’m certain. and don’t go all “she’s totally repressed! busted!” on me because well, that’s absurd.

what i’d like to write about and sorta get off my chest is a feeling of disconnect that i often experience with people whom i actually love very much intellectually but feel ambivalent about emotionally. these people inspire me, they stir me, they throw mirrors in my face and they vex me but they are the ones who day in and day out, no matter where i am or the distance apart physically, they are on standby. and i dig that. i am blessed. these people know me deeply, they should know who they are and the safety i feel with them nourishes me. so it’s because of them that i’m here and i’m writing anything online. i hope they’re here too.

i’ve recently taken to having pen and paper near the bedside because i’ve been waking in the middle of the night for the past few months almost with an urging, tender but persistent, to get up and write. i wake with these fabulous ideas, give my muse, God love her, a pat on the fanny and tell her to go back to bed and that i’ll get on it in the morning. come the sunrise: the ideas are vapor.

i have faith they’ll be back, and while i don’t mean this to sound lazy, i just do have that faith because we are all creatures experiencing renewal all the time. if we forget that we have thrown in the towel. i woke this morning with the phrase: “i grew up with a fair amount of chaos.”

part of my story obviously involves my parents who made me and are still with us, thank goodness. i’m not the best daughter. i have bristle issues when it comes to my parents and i think the fact that i’m even admitting this shows a little bit of growth. there are things i’d like to do for my parents, be more a part of their lives but i’ve gotta get to peace with some stuff before i can really do it. helping them grows my heart, that is for certain. we had a situation a couple years ago where my brother and i were able to really assist them and it felt great to do. i didn’t like the circumstances that engendered the assistance, but we do these things when we can. so there is a part of me though, deep inside, that resists. and being a “couch time” veteran, i know that what we resist persists. so i’m trying to step into it a bit. babysteps.

so, i grew up with a fair amount of chaos.

i read with great relish about 5 years ago Augusten Burroughs’ Running with Scissors which reminded me at moments of my own days. but mine weren’t quite so woo-woo and despite the chaos and the real problems in that world of ours i was infinitely safer than Augusten and am thus slightly more stable. his writing is outstanding though so if you get a chance, read about him and try him.

i read some time later Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. that memoir also spoke to me. she’s fantastic and  inhabits a world with her parents (her mother survives; i believe her dad has died) that appeals to me: it’s a sort of “love them how you can and let them live they way they want” method and at times i feel as though i am exquisitely close and then intellect steps in and i’m out.

i read Broken by William Moyers, son of PBS journalist Bill Moyers. this book helped me from the standpoint of being an observer of what he has experienced and the gift it gave me is perspective and a modicum of patience for those circumstances.

if you know these books, you know their central theme.

my parents are brilliant people. i mean off-the-charts IQs and abilities that astound me even in their late 70s and almost 80s.

my mother can recite Shakespeare’s sonnets off the first two words if you happen to be quoting within earshot. and you best know your shit because she will correct the mistake playfully but with the confidence of a pit shark in vegas. she can play Gershwin, Porter, a little Beethoven on the ivories by ear… both hands. she can illustrate and catch the subtle nuances (which are super subtle, by the way, so they seem even more esoteric to many) of life’s inconsistencies. her two senses of five i suppose are what power her: hearing and sight. they fill her mind and imagination with the gifts she shares. they also can crowd her mind with darkness and fixations. she grew up in the 40s and 50s; a teenager by 1950. that black and white world we only see through magazines and old TV / movie clips. college educated, catholic and artistically gifted she was forced to use her right hand in her catholic school (how i got away with using my left in the same type of institution escapes me) and i believe all the stigma, crap and paranoia that surrounds left-handedness has also shaped her in an intractable way. she is the oldest of her siblings and like i am, the only daughter of her parents. she has survived two brothers’ deaths, along with her own moments of profound loss as a mother. in those moments however she is fierce like a lion and has a strength she pulls from somewhere deep inside her. i wish she would access it more often because i believe she has many more years in her and that strength could help her physically thrive. she has illuminating and flawless skin (i have more wrinkles than she) thanks to her collection of wide-brim straw hats and her physical beauty is without peer. her classiness tacitly reminds me that silence is always an alternative and usually the finest choice. she’s witty and charming too. but she thinks she can sing better than she can and to the expectant delight of many of my cousins and the curdling chagrin of her children she sings anyway with panaché at weddings and family events. she introduced me to “Auntie Mame” and many Judy Garland films and often calls when a good one is on TCM. she is a champion of anything i write (we’ll see about this one) and she taught me to not use parenthesis because if it can’t stand on its own, don’t write it. i agree with her on that, but i still like (). her softness, something i used to repel and have a hard time reconciling with, is her finest feature but has also been her undoing at times.

my father is a classic strong guy who is a prime example of the self-made man but whose weaknesses despite his many strengths prove the adage “we are only as strong as our weakest link.” despite all that, he’s really quite amazing as well and he inspires me daily with his bootstrap attitude. super bright, the product of a top-tier education whose tuition was paid by an unknown donor along with his recommendation to that school, he has an efficient no-nonsense demeanor save for his occasional and apropos lapses into his gift for mimicry, song and literature. his sense of humor is cultivated and ranks among my favorite things about him. many evenings as a child i would waft to sleep hanging on the notes from his tinkering on his classical guitar or piano meanderings, which he also taught himself.  masculine in his exterior but very tender hearted for those he lets in, he’s an example of trust then verify. he chose rowing as his sport although i recently learned that he favored baseball more but didn’t play it because of his size and abilities when interested. given that testimony and the fact that rowing was his default sport i can’t imagine how he would have excelled at baseball when considering the following: rowed in the ’56 Olympics in Melbourne (i’ve been corrected, i thought they were in Sydney… wonder who sent the correction?). i’m still not clear on the issue that brought his boat, a 4+cox, to its fate of missing the final races but true to his nature he didn’t let that end his love of the sport as he went on to successfully coach crews for many years. one of the spurs that comes along with a successful bootstrapper attitude however is the tendency to tell your own tales of greatness, of which he is often guilty. children love to hear about their awesome parents from observers. he is a writer of difficult and controversial things as he got started in investigative journalism and while i am proud of his excellence in that genre i can’t help but wonder if that world fueled a sense of extra vigilance and distrust in the bigger world as well as his need to break his own stories with the lede on A1. he has at least one fellowship under his belt and spent some time in the hippie heyday on the campus of a northern California university in the late 60s. as an emotionally conservative person honed from the granite of the new england education system being in California must’ve been quite a paradox for him. i relish to think mom rather enjoyed it being the free spirit she is. nonetheless, he and my mom made it back to the east coast with me and my older brother in tow without many effects from the hippies’ second-hand smoke….

i was born in 1967 in buffalo, ny. yes, it’s cold there. yes it snows in the winter. yes the springs last 4 weeks and the summer another 8 and then it’s cold again. but it’s a lovely town with eye-popping architecture, cultural outlets and history gilded by America’s explosive growth during the industrial revolution of the 1800s to the mid 1900s. people like my hero F Scott Fitzgerald and Mark Twain hail or spent many years in buffalo. Frank Lloyd Wright built a few landmarks there and many members of my childhood family are still there helping that place hum despite its economic straits. i sailed on the best lake in the world, Erie. i peed, nearly drowned, lost a mary jane (one of several lost i assure you), soothed a melted marshmallow burn, psyched the bejeesus out of myself after “Jaws” (which i never saw until i was much older), waterskied and frolicked in those beloved waters every summer. they are in my blood. during the winters i stood on the nature-made and wind-shaped ice sculptures that harken the “fortress of solitude” in the movie “Superman.” we could walk to get groceries, and often did. as we grew older we would walk to the penny candy store and get our fix of those spicy soft cinnamon coins, bittersweet non-pareils, shoestring licorice and fake gum cigarettes that emit “smoke” powder when you blow just right between the wrapper and the gum. our dog toby would pull a sled with our small brown paper bags, one of them holding chocolate for him that we didn’t know he shouldn’t have. i still refer to buffalo as home because my heart and blood and spirit are from there; i left when i was almost 14 and the effects of leaving that town was probably the hardest time my family has ever endured.

in my awkward, confused and attitudinal 14-year-old female self: that moved really sucked.

we came from a fantastical victorian on buffalo’s west side. you couldn’t get more west really. the house had a turret, cedar shaker siding shingles (say that again!) and a tenacious ivy that mocked my father’s attempts at its extinction thriving on its south side, arabesque terracotta chimneys, servants’ bells, a pile of coal in the “coal room” in the basement and a photographer’s dream: a dark room in another basement room, tall big windows, a 70-foot wooden flagpole, a carriage house, inlaid wood floors, tiffany globe chandeliers, massive mahogany pocket doors, a back staircase, hand-turned cherry banisters and spindles gracing its open 5-foot wide main staircase, stunning architectural details and 4-inch thick doors bolstered by 1/4-inch brass chains and hasps facing my beloved, the greatest Great Lake that boasted Canada every morning. i wasn’t afraid of that attic.

i still dream about that house.

we moved into our next house, a “Kleenex box” as my mother described it. i have to say i agreed with her when compared to our fortress on the lake.

being a teenager i was just excited the new place was clean and orderly; it made sense in the era it was built as did the home we left. it had an ice maker, touch tone phones, a deck, a garage, a basement that wasn’t scary, a dishwasher and an in-the-house washing machine and dryer. in buffalo we sent out for a laundry service.

we moved in on a Monday. it was hot as hades because it was mid-June. i remember sweating as i stood still on that inward-sloped asphalt driveway of the house i’d never seen until that day. waiting for our giant Mayflower truck with all our belongings wrapped in musty horse blankets and humidity-leaching cardboard boxes labeled “PBO” or other codes i didn’t understand at the time to arrive. i remember being so, so terribly and weakly hot. how buffalo is cold in winter is how the DC suburbs are hot in summer. each near water but only one is built near a swamp.

we moved into that house on mom’s 47th birthday exactly. i still sorta physically waver and am overcome by emotional exhaustion when i recall that unfortunate coincidence. i don’t remember much from that day other than the heat and seeing my mother as a ghost.

i have to believe somewhere in my mind that my dad actually got my mom’s approval to formally install her person by moving her from: her parents, friends, the academic and civic relationships her family heritage afforded her and then her brothers, sisters in law, aunts, uncles and all those cousins we all loved on her actual birthday. i mean, couldn’t it have waited a week? this is a discussion or agreement or privileged treaty between them i may not ever know. as a child, i never really considered that fact: that we moved on her birthday. i mean i knew it was her birthday, that was sort a point of celebration for me actually. but now as a mother, in my 40s with a teenager actually (and as i write this i just realized that my mom and i had our kids at relatively similar times in our lives give a month or two difference) i think i would too have checked out emotionally as she did if that happened to me. i see this experience in my family now, with adult, maternal eyes and heart as a defining moment in my family’s history.

i remember the way i found out we were moving: i was watching TV and my father’s promotion / new assignment was announced by a broadcaster and the feed was live and he was being interviewed. i was standing in our little butler’s pantry amongst the golden oak and glass cabinetry with their brass latches and hinges. my left hip leaning on the patina’d handle to the flour bin beneath the built-in, slide-out cutting board my mother used for her illustrations. i can recall with clarity the awe of seeing my dad on TV but confusion from the announcement. i believe my mother was on the phone with one of her myriad cousins, one of the sisters of broad-smiled, auburn-haired, tall, smart and powerful dutch-irish beauties who would float in and out of my consciousness as a child.  

there was no dramatic pause. she didn’t gasp, i remember that clearly. it was january or close to it and the news being announced was that he would start soon and move after the school year ended. my older brother was wrapping up his senior year of h.s. and i would have begun my first, but apparently not in buffalo.

despite its clear indications for internal familial challenges, the move was a very good idea. my father started a new job in the same field; one that brought him to the center of it all: Washington DC. the axis of the political universe in the 80s or so it seemed and he was excited to meet new people. being in the army at the same time as elvis he says, traveling with his sport and all the doors it opened meant he had a different outlook. my mother lived in buffalo all her life, was educated there, learned her arts there and moved out from her parent’s house when they married. the schools we were leaving in buffalo were pretty good and private but in DC my younger brother and i’d be going public. the namesake of my eventual high school in Virginia was considered a traitor by any self-respecting yankee. 

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that’s it for now. i’ll write more later. i hope you enjoyed it. let me know. but i’m gonna do more even if you don’t like it.

thank you.