It’s the leaving
that’s so hard,
not the being away.
I do not cry
over picked-up floors
or tight-made beds
I do not miss
spatter on windexed
mirror, the toilet
paper trailing the floor
nor even the laughter,
show after another
the lazy mornings
breakfast at noon
pajamas from dawn
till dusk. I do not
fret about the roof
caving in, St. Fratty’s
day, or the missed
periods, the B grades,
the coloreds mixed
in with whites, the
diet, the Redds
But the moment
I most dread
is the one that arrives
as you do,
its presence felt
in the smell of
your skin, the sound
of your backpack
hitting the floor
the room with
the wallet, the keys
on a string, the phone
charger, all clamoring
you bend down
to kiss my cheek hello.
Tina Pocha was born and raised in Bombay, India. She is a scientist by training and a writer by avocation. She is a mother of two and a recent empty-nester who works as an academic in the field of language and literacy. A new and emerging poet, Tina has been published in Cadence Collective, Eunoia Review and r.k.vr.y with more publications forthcoming in Hyacinth Press and East Jasmine Review. You can find more of her writing at www.tinapocha.com.
I’m hanging out at my son’s soccer practice, and I overhear two dads. Their conversation goes something like this:
“Did you play in the tournament this weekend?”
“Yeah. I got a call from the coach saying they needed a sub, so I agreed to play.”
“How’d it go?”
“Oh, it was great! We won!”
Right now, I am pretty impressed. These dads love soccer so much that they not only watch their kids practice three times a week, but they play on their own teams! In tournaments!
At my current undisclosed age, I am a bit amazed with exercise in general. As the years go by, it takes more effort to achieve less impressive results, so I’m a little in awe of the soccer dads.
Then I hear one say, “Yeah, so at the tournament, I played all three games.” Wow, I am thinking. In one day? You animal!
But then he adds, “In the second game my son got injured, so he had to play keeper for the third game.”
The dads speak with intensity—the tiny size of the son, his fierce determination not to let a single goal in, the loud cheering from the sidelines as he made yet another save.
I’m thinking, Wait. It was your son who played three games? Your son who got the invitation from the coach? I open my mouth to ask, decide against it, and pretend to squint at something on the field instead. All my synapses fire as I realize: these dads are using the first person to talk about their kids! This feels really unhealthy. Plus, it’s a lie!
Sometimes, we parents are guilty of hogging the spotlight as it shines on our kids. Though this is the most extreme example I’ve seen, it unfortunately isn’t isolated. I’ve heard some say, “We’ve been playing indoor soccer for years,” when casual observation makes it clear that no, they have not.
But their kids have. Why are we tempted to co-opt that for ourselves? I’ve done it. You might have, too.
It would be comforting, in a snobbish, acceptably stereotyping sort of way to assume that this phenomenon is isolated to certain arenas. Minivans and soccer moms have long been scorned, along with beauty pageant families and parents who show their infants flashcards to improve their chances at getting accepted into Harvard. However, this is not a soccer problem – it is a parenting problem. We all have childhood friends who were under pressure to be class president, and also prom royalty – as well as “Most Likely to Succeed” and valedictorian – all because their parents did those things in high school. My own husband played tennis for seven years because his parents wanted him to, even though he’d rather be swimming or playing viola or cutting his toenails in public – all because his dad played college varsity tennis. Why do we do this to our kids?
I’m pretty sure that, in my diary from high school (right next to where I signed Mrs. Jeff Alberts in twenty different fonts) I had a list:
Things I’ll Never Do to My Kids
Kiss them on the lips in front of friends
Give them an 11 pm curfew the night of Homecoming
Make them into mini-me’s
These rules are universal. So, if basically none of us set out to bend our kids to the iron pressure of our past, why do we end up doing this?
To be truthful, I guess some of us know exactly what we’re doing – and feel justified about doing it. I was confronted by this just the other day. A friend of mine and I were talking with our two sons, who are teammates and classmates. One boy asked a question, made a comment – honestly, I have blocked out who said it and what he said because of the volcanic force my friend’s reply had on my psyche.
She said, “You know, honey, parents like to see their kids do well because we live vicariously through you.”
I had never heard someone even admit to doing this, let alone talk about it like it was a good thing, something to be expected, something to motivate our kids in a positive fashion. Just writing this out is making my nose twitchy.
The thing is, vicarious living is fake living. These are the lies we tell ourselves:
Because we got to do it, our kids should do it.
Because we didn’t get to do it, our kids should do it.
Because we were good at it, our kids should do it.
Because we were no good at it, our kids should do it.
Because we loved it, our kids should do it.
Because we hated it, our kids should do it.
This is an inordinate amount of pressure for any human—especially a tiny one, whose bones aren’t yet strong enough to support the weight of thirty or forty years’ worth of someone else’s wins and losses.
There must be a way to encourage our kids without leaving them the legacy of inherited dreams. Our kids can dream big dreams all on their own, and we need to allow them to do the hard work it takes to get there – and then step back and let them enjoy time in the spotlight all by themselves.
Meanwhile, it’s time for me to go play soccer!
Dawn Claflin has taught creative writing for 15 years at the high school level and is currently embarking on a career as a writer; he two children are supportive of her new adventure. You will find her work in the November 2015 issue of Pockets magazine.
Our street is symmetrical. It has as many brownstones as it does apartment buildings, and they fall into line in opposing pairs across the street from one another. Two large wooden windows of equal size frame two enormous trees that sway gently in summer breezes and lend us the sensation that our front room is a tree house. We have almost total privacy in summer and fall; the trees obscure the view into our nonetheless sunny parlor. In autumn, I wait and watch until the first leaf turns yellow. Once it does, I know a timer has gone off. Within a week, both trees will be aflame in bright leaves, just as our neighbors are putting out pumpkins and gourds on their stoops.
We moved to this apartment in the spring—three years ago. My child was five months old, and at that time, spent three quarters of her day in a carrier or nursing. The other six hours she slept, and in so doing, gave me a little time to dream.
Our back room is as dark as our front room is sunny. It faces an alley, and save for the cooing of two pigeons who have built a nest on our ledge and produce two squabs each May, save for the occasional screams of feuding neighbors and the raucous laughter that drips down from the surrounding rooftops, the alley is quiet.
We didn’t have a bed frame when we first moved, only a mattress. As my husband ripped open boxes, as china, silverware, and towels found their way to cabinets, I sat on our mattress in our dark back bedroom, flashlight in hand. I was reading while the baby slept in my lap.
If there’s anything to spark visions of pursuing quaint hobbies, it’s having a newborn in your arms. And so I read about every topic in which I hoped my child might someday be interested. The books piled up on the floor by the mattress; my husband made weekly trips to the drugstore for flashlight batteries.
Peterson Trees: The concise field guide to 243 common trees of North America.
Birds of New York: Field Guide by Stan Tekelia
Top Cats: The Life and Times of the New York Public Library Lions, by Susan G. Larkin
Imagine Childhood: Exploring the World through Nature, Imagination and Play, by Sarah Olmstead
Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teenagers by Walter Hoving
Secret New York: An Unusual Guide, by T.M. Rives
Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv
The Idle Parent, by Tom Hodgkinson
And so on.
Obviously, I became obsessed with two things: raising a city child and raising a country child. Symmetry colonized my brain as did oxytocin. What did I fantasize about?
Pine cones. Acorns. Rock climbing. The Palm Court at the Plaza Hotel. Mary janes caked in dirt from Central Park. Walking in the famed Ramble, along paths densely lined with maple trees. Holding my some day five-year-old’s hand as we collect leaves freshly saturated in red and yellow pigment. Joining the bird-watching groups run by the Audubon Society; maybe my child having her own nature notebook and binoculars.
It’s funny what we envision as we gaze at our babies—we know that they will have their own peculiar passions, weaknesses and talents—and yet we can’t help but dream that they might like some of the things we love: Holidays. Autumn. Poetry. Nature. Metropolitan skylines and big cities.
My child is now three and three quarters. I look at her and see—what? What I want to see? My influence? My husband’s? Her idiosyncrasies and charms, born of genetic recombination and the novel upbringing that each child has? Yes. I see all of those things. I see her, too, in a cloud of Wordsworthian mist: she is “appareled in celestial light.” But the romantic fog that softens my vision does not obstruct the discrete individual she is becoming, and—in fact—always was.
She is anything but symmetrical; she does anything but fall into my tidy plans. She is messy—her mary janes thoroughly caked in dirt from Central Park. Sometimes as our children thwart our expectations they also fulfill them.
I think we may allow ourselves some fantasies as we read “A Field Guide to Trees,” and while our newborns lie sleeping in our laps, milk-drunk. Society is quick to chastise parents for such indulgence, diagnosing our reveries as projection or vicarious living, or—ye gods, helicopter parenting. I maintain that we can watch from afar while allowing ourselves the right to attempt some influence. I would never force my child to climb a tree or skitter down a rock or read Eloise or Peter Pan, but if I present the opportunities and she chooses to take them, is it such a crime for our pleasures to overlap?
There’s a difference between living through your child and presenting your child with the opportunity to live some of the dreams you never quite realized. It’s a subtle difference—so I walk the line with care. I attempt a symmetrical posture as I walk that divide: always trying to balance my influence and the weight of my daughter’s spirit. The latter is somehow both airless and dense, much like the stuff of dreams.
Leslie Kendall Dye is an actress in New York City. Her writing has appeared in Salon, The Washington Post, Brain, Child, Word Riot, Off the Shelf and others. Find her at https://twitter.com/HLAnimal or at http://lesliekendalldye.net.
This fervent walk
might do us good,
get us away from the fever
of syringe, thermometer, vaporizer,
and serve as my own unwritten prescription
to ease your stifled cure.
I sing through my nerves,
transferring you from car seat to chest pack,
strained lyrics from an enduring lullaby
about longing and loss—fighting
the urge to think the worst.
Slowly, minding every stone and slippery leaf,
I draw you in, finding even footing only
when your brow meets my chin,
and our chests are pressed,
alternating beats of our hearts.
I begin pointing out the prompts
of buds—tiny hands, palms clasped, fingers
poised in a faint green prayer, a scrape
of bark, the rustle of eager squirrels,
a brook spurting its first words,
an arched twig pointing a
crooked way—and then!
one curved twig entwining
with another, nearly braided together,
purely and securely bundled—
tight and frayed with weed—
an entire nest—
nestled and camouflaged—
just a glint of shell at first—and then!
the dappled and blue moody eggs, contoured, whole,
side by each, complete, like fragile promises
smoothing my worry—and then!
I am taken, like a bright page from
a worn storybook, entirely aback by
the vibrant flutter, warm and ruddy,
her beak and wing and claw rising
and descending and rising again—
it is a robin redbreast—
her black eye glossy and piercing
and quick and assured, fierce
in her mission of guarding
this that is her season—
bringing in the spring.
You murmur and curl in
to me as I follow her—
pride and breast expanding,
alighting the top of my head—
my own breath taking flight,
lifting my face, straightening
my neck, pushing my shoulders even—
my arms dropping back and up,
breathing in and exhaling again,
the relief of it, primal, bracing me—
this is how we do it, naturally!
by wrapping, and warming, and rousing, and shielding, and soaring—
nurturing our young through the scourge
of winter, the thorn, the bramble,
from bud to branch to breeze to sky—
clearing in a reflection of myself with you—
my “frost blossom baby”
eternally renewing me
this is where I find it— your recovery, imminent.
Megeen Mulholland received her PhD from the University at Albany, and she is a graduate of the Master of Arts program in English and Creative Writing at Binghamton University. She teaches writing at Hudson Valley Community College where she serves on the Visiting Writers Committee; on this committee, she recently hosted a poetry reading and engaged in a video-streamed discussion with former Poet Laureate, Billy Collins. Among other literary magazines and anthologies, her work has been published in Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined; Roots and Flowers: Poets and Poems on Family, Adanna Literary Journal; and Modern Language Studies. All of these accomplishments pale in comparison to motherhood.