Tag Archives: parenting

Preparing for the Push Off

Standard

I’ve been in denial about this for months.

It’s almost here. Three weeks from this past Thursday will be it. The day my first, my oldest son pushes off for college.

It started out subtly enough, the departing. In May, he had his final soccer game of his pre-college life. The U-19 league. So, soon after that last game I found myself repressing a lump in my throat as I confronted a simple thing. Just a swipe, really, but it felt as though my hand were made of iron and it was dragging along a magnet. Trying to move, trying to get my finger to drag over my laptop’s touchpad to deliberately press the “delete event” prompt from my family’s calendar and alerts for his soccer practice reminders.

I shouldn’t be so maudlin. I hadn’t been driving him to practice for months. He was a late-blooming driver. It was my pleasure to take him to practice or ride shotgun as he drove. Our conversations in the car varied from laughing about a Ben Bailey stand-up routine to talking about his friends, class work, or social disappointments. Sometimes it was just silence. Or really loud Kanye West. But those days are over. I no longer need to see the alerts on my phone about his practices. So I drag my right hand with my left hand to click “delete” on the alerts.

I don’t want to click “delete.” It is really hard to click delete on that alert.

I couldn’t possibly be prouder of the young man he’s become. He’s handsome, funny, really smart, creative, clever, sensitive, caring… all the things I wanted him to become. I didn’t do it though; he came with that software already installed. I suppose I helped him learn to use it, but we all know our kids are pre-formed before we get them.

I met him in the middle of the night more than 18 years ago. He was just eight pounds and almost 21 inches long. I remember, he was so quiet, the doctors thought there was something amiss. Perhaps he wasn’t breathing well. Maybe his brain was misfiring. But his eyes… his father knew he was just fine. His eyes were bright and blue-green and so serene. So calm and observant. “I knew those eyes the minute I saw them open,” his father said. “They were your eyes. They were just like yours…”

They put him in the “french fry warmer” as we called it, to keep him cozy. They invaded him with their suction devices and wiped him of his vernix. Soon he let them have it, a robust and brief goat-like bleat from that enormous head. It was just after midnight when he was born and I was totaled. I’d been dealing with dormant but annoying labor for about 25 hours. I wanted to see him.

IMG_5980

They did their tests and pokes on him. They were stupid, I think now. “Haven’t you ever met a mellow baby?” I remember thinking about them the next day. “Look at him, he’s perfect…” I would sigh and stare at this beautiful son… “Connor. Hello.” I met him in the morning, around 4. It was dark and he was hungry, so I learned to try to breastfeed him. It took a few days, but we figured it out.

Look at him now! 5’10” and 150. Hair almost as dark as mine when I was his age and his big green eyes.

“You should write Batman’s in My Shower now, Mom,” he said about a month ago. Batman’s in My Shower is the title I decided to give to a memoir back when my boys were 10 years younger than they are now. I wanted to write about becoming a mother and how it’s changed me.

The title comes from the truth that in my bathroom shower for years was at least one Batman action figure for my sons to play with while they bathed. The book would be about how my life melded with theirs and how my space became theirs as we grew into one another and gradually apart from one another. I remember holding one of the boys while he played with the doll and I washed his hair and cleaned his little squirming body as he would have Batman and a squirting goldfish battle it out under the Water-pik shower head typhoon.

Washing a child in a shower is like trying to wash a hairless cat that won’t scratch your face off because it actually likes the water spraying in its face. The cat is animated, no doubt, but it’s not deadly and it’s writhing and hissing joyous coos of delight as the baby shampoo (remember that smell?) lathers and runs down their faces.

The sole remaining Batman has a layer of soap scum in his armpits and crotch; his cape is hard and stiff like a chamois that’s been hung in the sun. He’s covered in a layer of dried soap and hard water residue from years of torrential cleansing. He’s perfect.

I haven’t dared to write more than a page of BiMS because that would mean that I’ve crossed over a benchmark, that the “memoir” is activated because the moment is past; that the “mothering” is over. So I sit here, in wait. Wondering when the feelings of the intensity of his impending departure will pass and I will feel light and airy again.

“Raise your hands if you have a student who will be living on campus and you live in the area…” said the admissions person at new student / new parent orientation last week. Her eyes scanned the ballroom. At least 30 hands, including my own, went up; some sheepishly, some defiantly.

“Make no mistake. If it’s five minutes or five hours or across the street or across the country, your child is leaving home,” I almost broke out into tears at that moment. I had to keep it together. She was right, that hag. My kid is leaving home. He is about a good run’s distance, 4 miles, from home, but he’s not going to be here every day when I wake up. Nor will he be here when I avoid making dinner.

You see, Connor has been my wingman for better part of a third of my life. He has grounded me, helped me chill out, provided a better reason than a paycheck to get up every morning, and has generally made me a better person. He has made me a better mother for his brothers. He has made me a better friend to my friends and he has made me a better daughter to my parents. I don’t want to foist too much upon him because that’s not fair. I’ve done a lot of Work too, he just made it a fantastic reason to do it.

I’ve prepared him a bit I hope too. I stopped washing his clothes for him about four years ago. He’s got it down — brights with brights. He’s good at it. That transition began subtly enough too, and I will own that I’ve relapsed a few times. Like a junkie, I’ve slipped back into Mom-mode for him and folded his t-shirts or even turned them right-side-out when they come out of the dryer. I have to stop myself sometimes from unbending his jeans from of the mind-boggling twisted rebar-like clump they’ve morphed into as I heave the next crate of wet clothes into the dryer. Some articles are easier than others to let go. Socks for one… I would rather eat McDonald’s, no. I take that back. I would still sort his socks over eating McDonald’s.

My father said to me about two weeks ago that what I’m about to experience, my child leaving home for college, is in his estimation one of the most emotionally arduous and profound experiences in my parenting. “I don’t know what it’s like to watch a child leave for college from such a deeply loving and supportive home, so you’ll have to excuse me as I soak all this in vicariously,” he admitted during that conversation. “My own mother, she was difficult. I couldn’t wait to get out of there, but she made it awful hard on me. I never looked back,” he added, “when I left for school.”

I never left home for college. I went to university locally. It was part of my life I suppose: my mother needed my vigilance. I would’ve loved to have lived on campus. I remember visiting my friends who lived in the dorms. Music, “The Cult” was always playing and the halls smelled like popcorn, pot, ramen, vanilla body spray, coffee, patchouli, Dr. Pepper, Finesse shampoo… beer…  I promised myself that if my kids ever wanted to live on campus — even if they went to school locally — that they would live on campus. I’m really glad we have chosen this.

I asked Connor about his own thoughts and impressions; if he’s ready to go, if he’s looking forward to it. “I’m excited. It’s nice though, to not want to leave, too. I’m lucky to be going, to be able to attend college, and I’m lucky to be not terribly ready to go… That it will be hard to go and nice to go… Does that make sense?”

He couldn’t have said it better.

I know I haven’t been writing here or personally anywhere is because of this. How do I go from being a hands-on, non-helicopter Mom of three to this? It is really perplexing. I bought a comforter set for his bed; sheets, pillows, all the towels and textiles. A 28-oz size bottle of Pert (his favorite) is in a bag and waiting for that first pump somewhere in his shower. Without a Batman, likely. I thought I was finished shopping and then I caught up with a bestie today who’s oldest son is also heading out soon for the first time (he’s very tight with my son) and I realized I don’t have pens for him. I didn’t buy pens or notebooks or a stapler. WHAT KIND OF A MOTHER SENDS HER KID OFF TO COLLEGE WITHOUT PENS??

I’ll tell you: the mother who really doesn’t want her kid to leave. Sure, he’s got a computer, but who needs that? We all know learning happens with a pen and paper. No. The “real learning” my son will experience will not be contained between the end papers of a textbook or in the hushed whirr of a hard drive. It’s waiting for him in the dormitory, in the lecture halls, at the dining hall, and in the random conversations with exhausted students in late-night study groups and eating fests.

Really? Did I just write ‘the real learning  … will not be contained between the end papers of a textbook’? Someone shove then trip me when I leave this room. I deserve it. Who knows where the real learning takes place? I hope it’s been taking place all along.  

I expect I will be an emotional disaster worthy of FEMA assistance when I leave him on the 25th. Every time that damned song from “Narnia” comes on my playlist, “The Call,” I start to blubber and sob, really deep ugly crying. It’s not ok. When he walks in the room, I’m all super sunshine and smiles! No, I’m not, and he gets it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from witnessing my mother, it’s that “the show must go on, kid” mentality is a one-way ticket to Xanaxia. I expect the music at the dorms on drop-off day will be Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” or some unknown genre which will pulsate and grind and moan. It will be played at a precise megahertz to annoy the shit out of aging parents and get them the hell off campus tout de suite.

There’s a part of me which needs to go for a drive, a long drive to, say, Charlottesville or somewhere similar so I can process the reality that he’s out. If he were a challenging kid or obstinate or disrespectful or basically horrid, this would be so much easier. He’s not. He’s a GEM of a human. I’ll be real with you, we argue at times, and I think it might be happening more a little now than it ever did, and I wonder if that’s because we know what’s coming.

Is it like one of those “distancing-prep” dynamics wherein people begin to isolate and curl into their corners before a big departure? I am not sure, we are pretty real with each other. He’s all-too ready at times to tell me I’m the reason we are SPEAKING LOUDLY AND CURTLY AT EACH OTHER.

Maybe not Charlottesville… Maybe  I’ll go to the parking lot of his college and stalk him.

My youngest asked me the other day, “Do you think Connor will come home, Mom? You know, just to hang out…?” I honestly didn’t know what to say. I have no expectations. My youngest and my oldest are very similar in temperament. Five and a half years rests between them; we refer to those two as “the bookends” because they are so grounded and rational.

Connor needs this though, to have his own experiences, and I’m so happy for him that he will have them. I’m equally happy that my other sons will miss him a lot. My middle son is excited for him, and he’s really bummed out. “It will be weird around here, without him,” he said. “Like, for every morning of my life, he’s been here to play with or annoy or learn from. He’s taught me so much…” he turns away, stops talking and leaves the room. I start to well up. I know he’s welling up. It’s a frequent occurrence, these bloated, trailing-off conversations about Connor leaving for college.

We talk, we parents, about how we’re robbed of time with our kids. How they grow up and change so fast. How the days drag on but the years fly by… All the clichés and adages and truths. In the end though, we don’t want them here when they’re 33. We want them out and about and falling in love and starting their own families maybe or going to graduate school or getting married… we don’t want them in our basements. We don’t want them in their footie pajamas all their lives — EVEN IF we could have them at cute and floppy, sticky-fingered, sweet-smelling 22 months, all their lives, we wouldn’t want that. Not ever. Don’t tell me you would. “Just one more day… like this…” No. You want them to grow and learn and thrive and shave.

Another friend and I were talking last week. Her son who is Connor’s peer is her youngest of four. He and Connor “played soccer” together when they were five. He is leaving too, for a college five hours away. She was telling me about their conversation they had about his “drop off” at school. She said she asked him if he thought it would be like hers, when her parents helped her unpack her room and they made her bed, and put her posters on the wall and hung up her clothes in the closet… they met her roommate, and then they all went to dinner and walked around the town a little… then her parents spent the night in town and had breakfast in the morning together before they left her alone with her “new life.” She asked him if it would be like that for him or would it be the type of situation where they unpack their car, drop off the boxes and leave him in the dorm to figure it out. No lunch together, no walk around town, no overnight at the local Marriott. She waited, she said, her eyes uncertain, a twitch betraying her calm.

“He said, ‘It will be the second one, mom. Dump and drive. I’m ready. You’re ready. I’ll be back…'” and she sighed after she told me what he said, and we laughed about it, because it was so “him” to say that.

“But I’m not ready…” she said, quietly, her lips pursing as her eyes gazed around her roomy kitchen. Empty of chaos and crusted mac & cheese pans.

And the friends are leaving too. That’s a part of this gig that no one really tells you about: that when your kid takes off for college, his friends are likely doing that as well, so all those faces and sounds and cups you cleaned up and backpacks you danced around won’t regularly be in your way again, either. We’ve been blessed to know lots of his friends, and his girlfriend? Don’t even get me started. Every time I think of her leaving too … it’s not good. I am like Mike Myers playing Linda Richman and having to take a break during “Coffee Talk” and ask you all to tawk ahmonst y’seves becawse I’ve becohm verklempt.

Right now, it’s late. I’m up writing and he’s in the other room watching “Bob’s Burgers” and I can hear him snorting and giggling. It’s really late. He should be in bed.

I’ve got 20, shit, 19 days before my father watches my son eagerly leave his home reluctantly. God help me. If it’s so good for him, why does it hurt so much?

Thank you.

 

Pilot Light of Patience #Parenting

Standard

We were on our daily walk to school this morning. He was quiet. Noticeably so. He almost forgot his backpack, he was so distracted. About halfway down our driveway, I asked him, “You’re quiet, you alright?”

“No.” He said.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“Art. I don’t want to do it. We have a stupid assignment using stupid scratch paper.”

“What’s the assignment?” I asked.

“Abstract art. We have to make something out of nothing. I hate abstract art. I hate scratch paper. It’s all so stupid.”

I suggested that he draw a dog. He loves our dogs.

“No. I stink at drawing dogs.” He said, his voice becoming more pressed and uneven by the syllable; each step we took got us closer to his school. His breathing was shallow. He was in the art room, with the scratch paper, his heart speeding up, his face beginning to pinch in places so it wouldn’t betray his feelings of failure.

Failure before he even began.

Failure before we were even in the school.

Failure before he even considered it.

I could feel my own body tense up. My walls were going up. My brain started down its familiar path of “Oh no. Oh no. Oh no. Can’t do this. Can’t do this. He’s going to get emotional. He’s going to get emotional. Must stop him from crying… I CAN’T HANDLE HIS DISTRESS….” I started to fail him.

I began to fail him before I even spoke.

I began to fail him before I even got in touch with my own feelings of failure and the fear of disappointment.

I began to fail him because I couldn’t face myself and those sticky places in the heart where we feel absolutely worthless.

I said, “Nooooo, you’re GREAT at drawing dogs… why that cat you drew from those books you love… that turned out GREAT! You can DRAW a DOG….”

But before I even finished … I knew that was wrong. I was dismissing his pain. I was failing, even though I had heard him, I was still failing him.

I realized, I had to go back to my first days on the couch. I had to mirror him. Quick, I had to do something that told him I heard him, that I felt what he was going through, that it was OK, and that he was safe. That’s all we need, to feel safe expressing ourselves.

I had to access my pilot light. Somehow, I remembered my pilot light.

I told him to take a breath and I could feel my own body do the same.

“Let it out slow this time… Can you breathe in 3-2-1…?” I suggested as we continued our walk. “Let it out 4-3-2-1…” My body relaxing as I unconsciously (mostly) joined along. I needed to come down from the wall I was building.

We were almost at school. Quietly talking and quietly breathing together.

As we crested the hill, where all the student patrols gathered, and the sun was shining, no longer obscured by the leafless tall trees surrounding our path, I realized: He doesn’t want to fail this assignment. He doesn’t want to disappoint me. He wants to please his teacher, me, his father… his bubble of society.

I stopped us in our walk and I put my hands on his shoulders, gently pulling down to help him unfurl himself.

“Look at me.” I told him.

“Ok.” He sniffled.

“You’re feeling pressure right now. You’re feeling like you have to get this right. Perfect even. Abstract art is not at ALL about perfection. It’s about your perception: how YOU see things in a different way…. There is no RIGHT or WRONG.” I said.

“Mmmmk, but our teacher says we can’t…” He started, and his voice began to tremble again. Fast and shallow breaths fighting their way out his mouth.

I had to think of something else. Another tack. Pilot light… Deep breath. Feel him.

“Ok. I want you to understand something. I don’t care what your final art looks like. I don’t care if your teacher says you’ve failed it or not. I don’t care. You’re twelve. You have a whole life ahead of you. I want you to NOT CARE about this assignment and to JUST get something down. Just start it, and you will be on your way. Can you do that? Can you NOT care about it? I love you no matter what…” I said, defiant. I wanted to protect him.

“Ok. So you think I can just use shapes to make my drawing? That it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t LOOK like what it’s supposed to?” He asked.

“Yes. Remember when we studied Jackson Pollack… That dude DID NOT CARE about ANYONE’S opinion, and people loved it. He was fierce in his art. Be like that. Own your art. Who cares what anyone else thinks?” I said.

“Ok.” He said, standing taller and his eyes a little brighter.

“High five. Fist bump. Be bad.” I said.

I almost blew it. I almost sent him to school with this knot in his belly and a sense of woe and failure before the day began. I almost checked out. It was a balance. I had to check in. I had to hear him, all of him, to help him. In the end he helped me.

We do this all the time, forgetting to check in and remember what it feels like to feel small, worthless, fearful, and so alone. If you’re a parent, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re not a parent, try to remember those feelings and honor them: checking in is the way out.

Thank you.

 

Missives From the Mat 18: When Kids Don’t Like Yoga…

Standard

Below is an actual letter I wrote to a supervisor of an after-school program.  All identifying content has been edited.

For reference, I have the kids bow and say “namaste” to one another for kindnesses AND interruptions; it helps to bring awareness to the habits and personal responsibility for behaviors and it also helps us not hold grudges; it helps us all see that we are connected and we can still be together even if we are disruptive.

This interrupting namaste practice is akin to “careful what you wish for” — in the words of Jerry Seinfeld during a Q&A after “I’m Telling You For The Last Time” who was interrupted by a shout from the crowd, what kind of attention do you want? … It went like this:

Voice: IT’S MY BIRTHDAY.
Jerry: Oh… Well, happy birthday… Which birthday is it?
Voice: I’m not saying.

Jerry: Oh, ok. So you want attention, but not too much attention.

The interrupting namaste bow draws attention and personal accountability to the interrupter in a way that the interrupter might not like. It’s having a positive effect for the most part.

However, if you as an adult JUST LOOOOOVE your yoga, it’s changed your life, and you think it’s what your kid needs, please pay attention to your child, please accept that your child is NOT you and if you still don’t get it, read this first:

“Dear Bipsy,

Disruption prevention initiatives at XYZ school are moving along, but we are at a point where parental intervention is necessary.

All of the children at LMNOP school yoga are wonderful and bright.

As you know, I’ve tried various interventions to bring a sense of personal responsibility and mindful behavior to all my classes, ABC school in particular with mixed results. The sniffing essential oils on the cotton puffs is very popular for most of the kids; they really enjoy it during final relaxation.

Before class at Saturn (Thursday) I went to a craft store to look for more Mandala posters to color. The kids have been working on a poster while we wait for our room to be ready, and it’s coming along. I also wanted to get something to incentivize Bandersnatch and Clementine to lessen their disruptions. I found a rubber hand stamp, a “Sun” for Bandersnatch — so that when she raises his hand (instead of blurting out, shoving students and shouting), the “sun will come up and shine on us all.”

When Bandersnatch walked into the cafeteria to check in, he was energized and defensive, and said in a sing-songy yet robotic way, “Hi. I don’t want to be here.” I suspect it was because she got so upset in the prior class for my mentioning his earning 14 “namaste” bows for interrupting. I showed him the sun stamp and told it I selected it for him, especially. I showed her the other stamps the other kiddos could have — cat, dog, paw, or bee — for their hands. Bandersnatch seemed genuinely enthused about it. She *briefly* joined in the coloring, got interested in something else, and then it was time to line up.

He dashed ahead of everyone and then marched into the room, resuming her defensiveness from 5 minutes prior, and grew agitated and excited chanting “I don’t want to be here… I don’t want to be here… I don’t want to be here…” with increasing intensity again and again and again as she was unrolling her mat. Other kids started to join in. It almost became a mob cry. One time, Bandersnatch hit me in the face with his paw as she was flapping the mat around saying what she was saying; then she RAN to another child’s mat to “help” it with its mat, even though Bandersnatch was not asked.

I get it. She was acting out. But it was verging on dangerous for the other kids and unacceptable in terms of decorum.

I had to stop Bandersnatch, placing my hands on her shoulders and asked him to look at me. “What do you do when you hit someone in the face?”

Bandersnatch said, “Say you’re sorry.”

I said, “Bandersnatch, you hit me in the face when you were flapping your mat around…”

Bandersnatch said, “Sorry.”

I said, “Just like thanking someone for what they’ve done for you, you need to apologize for what you did to someone else; you say, ‘I’m sorry I hit you in the face, it was an accident,’” and so he nodded but didn’t say that and went back to buzzing around like a dragonfly.

I had to look for my chimes, which were a bit hard to find because it all happened so fast, and loudly rang them five times. When Bandersnatch became quiet and we were in circle, she said “I want my mother.” I think he was really afraid of what would happen in class again; that I would count all his interrupting namaste bows like I did last week (when he got to 14) and that upset him. But I promised myself I wouldn’t let that happen again. But Bandersnatch does not like being held accountable.

It’s my impression that Bandersnatch seems to REALLY not like the idea of yoga. Sitting still for him is antithetical to who she is, at this point in his development. But I also get that kids are kids, so I do lots of moving around, but when we do that, she gets very animated and ends up losing his balance / sense of space and her body, intentionally as in “isn’t this fun, let’s fall down! watch me fall down!” way and it’s not good. Her friend Minerva is in the yoga class too, and Minerva is disturbed by Bandersnatch’s disruptions.

Bandersnatch told me his parent meditates and that he wants to meditate too, but his parent says she needs to learn yoga first before meditating. Just so you know, no, that’s not necessary. It’s Bandersnatch’s parent’s preference and likely a learned appreciation based on the fact that yoga was invented as exercise before sitting in meditation … 3,000 years ago. But no, you don’t need yoga to meditate. Some kids just know, and they crave sitting in the quiet.

With the sun stamp, which he was proud of when I placed it on her hand, Bandersnatch was very self-aware and raised its hand. I would smile and high-five him for raising her hand.

Bandersnatch’s “interrupting namaste” score has usually been in the low teens; this particular day, it was at 8, so it’s getting better. It stayed at 4, for about 20 minutes, and then Bandersnatch went a little loopy and blew it… It’s ok, the count stayed at 8 and beat last week’s count by 6, so that’s good.

Clementine is very active and Bandersnatch doesn’t like how she’s very twitchy and makes sounds, regularly gets off his mat, rolls it up, does somersaults when no one else is, and touches / bumps kids and doesn’t pay attention and doesn’t hold poses and simply checks out, so I decided to move Clementine next to Bandersnatch so they can sort of “train” each other. They are mirrors of each other. It sort of works, and so I’ll keep at it. Clementine is sitting next to Percival also, who is very rules oriented, so it’s a peer pressure type of energy.

Clementine’s reaction to the namaste interruption count is laughter. It’s anxiety and I get it. She’s a sweet, optimistic and cheerful child; he wants to have positive social experiences. That said, she makes lots of noises: buzzes, tweets, squeaks, he rocks, he just *won’t* do the poses. He racked up 14 “namastes” on Thursday. During savasana, she made seagull noises (I was doing a visual meditation — they were on a beach) and it scared Teensy, the kindergartener. Then Clementine put her feet in Bandersnatch’s face, so I made him sit up against the wall cross-legged. He’s very compliant, she wants to please, but she’s very animated. Just can’t figure it out.

So the disruption count on Thursday, for a 50-minute class, was 22. Twenty-two times that the behavior was so disruptive that I decided I had to stop what I was doing, lose my train of thought, and had to correct them; 22 times that 6 other kids had to endure.

I apologize for the length of this, but I wanted to give you detail and ask you to step in and communicate on my behalf with Clementine’s and Bandersnatch’s parents to encourage them to sit down with their children, talk to them, and explain to them that their behavior in yoga is unacceptable and that it has to stop. I will text Voldemort the next time it happens and I will ask her to remove the kids; it’s not fair to everyone else.

Thanks for your help,

Molly”

Dear reader: If this letter has helped you see that maybe your child isn’t into yoga yet, your kid, its friends, and a children’s yoga teacher somewhere is thanking you.

Thank you.

Stardust #David #Bowie

Standard

I woke up this morning and did the usual thing: scanned my phone for headlines.

Despite the Redskins losing in a semi-final, the Washington Post chose to lead the morning’s news with an image of David Bowie. No argument here.

I thought it curious and incredible (in the truest sense of the word). The headline words were in an off-kilter, seemingly not-dedicated past tense, “Charismatic singer-songwriter possessed mesmerizing talents” sub head: “David Bowie influenced glam rock, new wave, punk and high fashion with edgy and androgynous alter egos who invited listeners to explore their personal mysteries.”

Read headline.  Hmm. David Bowie.

Look at image. Nice pic. Groovy, hot. Defiant. 

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 8.57.25 AM

Re-read subheadline. … Past tense. He has reinvented himself yet again, new album… it makes sense… but hmmm.

Look at image. He’s young here, looks great. Something’s off… 

Re-re-read subheadline…  Noooooo…. 

Tap on link. Scan scan scan… WHAT?!

I read the article and was summarily seven minutes late attending to my youngest son who was prepping for school.

I was NOT a little bummed out about this.

I don’t expect my dad to understand my sadness. I suppose that this loss is like his generation’s learning the Mozart had died.

In all fairness, I do remember my mother being a little blue when hearing that Elvis had died. She was sort of in a little funk after that. Alternately she would speak of his sexuality and her appreciation of his art as being “terrible music” and a worse actor. “Your father is more handsome than Elvis, and they were in the army at the same time…” She’d often said for decades after The King had died.

I remember being very very sad when the stuttered news of John Lennon had balanced across the airwaves. I was in the living room of our Buffalo house. My brother came rushing into the room after maybe hearing it somewhere else in the house. Or maybe we were together and he heard it there too; he was pretty busted up. All I knew is that the Beatles were never getting back together after that.

Kurt Cobain, another unbelievable loss. I remember exactly where I was when I found out he had died. I was 23 and working as an editorial assistant at a local publishing house. It was my job (and everyone else’s) to scan the bank of our A/P Newswire, Reuters, and UPI dot matrix printers which all seemed to have had a simultaneous seizure attack with the news of Nirvana’s crushingly self-conscious front man.

But for the majority of them, I was young when I’d heard about them. I was still a kid and so hearing that a rock star had died was sort of not terribly sad for me. It was half expected. Even Cobain, he was a contemporary and to me, hell-bent on achieving some horrific end.

But Bowie… Hearing about Bowie today is different.

Bowie was a pioneer, a legend, larger than life, and a fantastically in-your-face pot stirrer. I loved him. I didn’t ever own a lot of anyone’s music, but I really loved him. No matter what I was doing, when a Bowie tune came on the radio years ago or over our iTunes or Pandora in my later years, everything stopped and it was time to groove.

I went downstairs to my husband and mentioned it to him. “D’jou hear about Bowie? He died. Last night.”

“Yeah, Cornelius* mentioned it to me this morning. I sort of can’t believe it. I was just reading about him last week…” he said as he was awaiting the Keurig to urge the last drops of the Cinnamon Dolce into his cup.

“Cancer.” I said. “What a bummer. That was NOT COOL to wake up to.” And that he’d cranked out an album while that sick is just adding to his mystique and überhumanity.

It’s not that people aren’t allowed to die. But some deaths, after initially absorbed, seem fitting — Philip Seymour Hoffman / Heath Ledger and their respective accidental overdoses. Robin Williams’ suicide. All majorly upsetting ways to die. But somehow, when we take off the layers of our own sadness and misdirected mass-cultural appreciation for what these people represented, we understand them a little better and are still very sad about the loss, but it seems to gel.

But for me, right now, I have deduced that I am disappointed or put off in the manner in which Bowie died. I was fully expecting a motorcycle crash, or an airplane accident. Maybe even an accidental drug overdose but never CANCER. That he died in a most human way somehow for me belied his most seeming superhuman and celestial, preternatural existence.

Through all his iterations, incarnations, stage personae and antics, Bowie indeed taught and inspired us to live our art. To be fearless. To take chances and risks which make us feel more alive. I loved that when I felt weird and strange, he had songs about feeling weird and strange. And it didn’t feel inauthentic; it’s like when Thom Yorke of Radiohead sings raw and real in “Creep”: “What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here.”

So in the late 70s I was about ten years old. Gangly, nerdy and dressed in Health Tex likely. I remember being with my much cooler and slightly older (but five years then was half my lifetime) cousins. In their teenage attic bedrooms a lá Greg Brady, and just dancing in the most geeky way to Suffragette City and its ramp-up to “WHAM BAM THANK YOU MA’AM!” and not knowing what the hell any of it was about, but loving it so much nonetheless.

Another cousin, slightly younger than me, has had a lifelong love of David Bowie. She has been very faithful, never wavering in her adulation of him as the pinnacle of her rock star loves. I’m sad for her today.

My older brother liked Bowie enough, but wasn’t like in LOVE with him. He definitely appreciated him for his rebellion and strangeness, but he was more into the Doors and the Talking Heads, the Rolling Stones, and old Beatles tunes. I have no doubt this particular brother is heavily bummed about this death.

In 1981, “Under Pressure” came out and I remember being ABSOLUTELY STUNNED by the power of that anthem. It was released a few months after my move to Northern Virginia from Buffalo, and given my age (14), and the mounting pile of shit occurring in my family and personal life at that time, it hit on the head the exact way I was feeling. I remember pressing “record” on my Panasonic clock radio with built-in tape recorder when it was played on DC-101. Those wonderful 4″ speakers played the soundtrack of my life and got me through some heavy-duty angst and ennui.

But moving to NoVa at that time, despite its proximity to Georgetown, Washington D.C., and the much cooler Annapolis, Maryland, was the land of >gag me with a grody wooden spoon< Southern Rock. Bands such as Lynyrd Skynyrd and Alabama and Molly Hatchett and good lord who cares (no, that’s not the name of a SoRo band although it should be) reigned supreme here. No one I knew in my high school, other than the gay siblings of people I knew and their “alternative” drama and art friends (people I actually should have hung out more with) were into Bowie. Little did I know until much later how very cool those people were and are today. Tim, Michelle and others, you were and still are, the kewlest.

That same fall of ’81, my brother, who was off to college in upstate New York was kind enough to send me (or more likely leave behind) good music on mixed tapes (remember those? I just went out to dinner with a good friend and his new squeeze the other night and we had the best time talking about mixed tapes and college tunes — all to the sound track of some amazing Tom Petty playing in the background — which I had to request of our waiter Bobby to turn down NOT BECAUSE it was it too loud, but because it was too loud that we couldn’t talk about how amazing it was… there’s a difference) from bands like Depeche Mode, REM, Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order, Gene Loves Jezebel and all the rest. Once I started getting into those tunes and I could drive to a record store, Waxie Maxie’s somewhat near home, I was off to the races. In no short order, my brother sort of saved me.

And within a few brief years later, that all hideous Southern Rock was shown the door (or at least the door to the unlit parking lot outside the club) thanks to a little quartet from Dublin known as U2.

My memories of David Bowie, like your memories of David Bowie, are what will keep him forever alive in our hearts, in our headphones and through our speakers. David Bowie got most of the people of my generation through some really hard adolescent days; David knew us, he knew what we were thinking and feeling better than we did.

As a parent, I hear myself playing in my head that gorgeous line from Changes:

And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

(For some reason, I can’t attach a youtube video of him singing Changes — in 2008, and it’s so lovely. But here’s the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbnJo88kuP8)

Hearing that line again and again reminds me to let my kids feel what they’re feeling and that I just need to back the hell off and be a soft place to fall when they get off track.

I don’t normally write about popular culture or celebrity deaths, maybe that’s why my blog is so unpopular, but like Bowie, I prefer to write about what touches me and take risks expressing myself and sharing my world in ways others might think precarious. We have only one life and none of us need to spend it swaddled in crushing self-doubt and insecurity.

Let’s Dance, Modern Love… I could go on and on, but I won’t go on and on. I’ll let you wax in your own memories.

RIP David. You are now truly Stardust.

Thank you.

*stage name