My son sorts through grade school papers,
dangling remains of science projects,
eighteen years of collectibles. Picks
up old toys like a diviner, shifts
them from hand to hand pulling out
private dreams with a smile,
as if I wasn’t here or there.
He realigns his history –
short stacks across the bedroom floor
place Legos with baseball cards,
magical dice next to seashells.
Lambie Pie off alone, plastic eyes fixed in space.
He says he wants to be at college already.
Wants this part over. As he raises an old
running shoe with triumphant care,
we both laugh. Then he slips on his headphones and we practice leavings. I go to the window.
Down in the yard the plants assemble themselves
for autumn. Take the temperature of the air.
Count the hours of light left in their day.
Patricia Bollin’s poetry has appeared in print and online publications including: Pearl, The Clackamas Review, The Fourth River, Tulane Review, Oregon Literary Review and Mezzo Cammin. Her book reviews have appeared in CALYX and NW Writers. She is the mother of two adult children.
It is the last day of summer school. He is taking history to get ahead in his junior year. As soon as I wake, he asks me to re-pin the pant legs of his father’s suit. When I am finished, he paces in front of the mirror, back straight. On a normal day, I am sure he never looks into the mirror.
“In the Chinese Army, they used to put pins in the soldier’s collars so they would stand tall,” he informs me.
“That wouldn’t be very comfortable for you.” He has a congenital curvature in his spine that causes him to slouch.
He tries putting his speech notes into the outer pocket of the jacket, wondering aloud why it isn’t a real pocket. I show him the inner breast pocket.
On the way to school, I notice his cheeks, normally a little scruffy even on the days he runs a razor over them, are cleanly shaven. Cued as we pass the vet’s office, he reminds me his cat needs her shots and that she needs more litter. I think about the kind of father he might someday be.
He is still talking as we wait at the last light before I drop him off, regaling me with hockey stats and strategizing about his fantasy hockey line-up. He plans to take his driving test after summer school, and I know to savor every word. He is my youngest, and my days as Taxi Mom are numbered.
“Your group presents first?”
“So in about an hour, you can relax.”
“Yeah, it’s almost over.”
I watch him cross the street in the rear view mirror. He stands tall, gliding across the street in his father’s shoes, while I wait for the tears to subside.
Sharyl Collin practices writing, photography and music. She didn’t realize she was a poet until surprised by the birth of her first poem at the age of 50. She has since completed two chapbooks and a full length collection, Learning to Peel Neapolitan. Her poems have appeared The Intentional, Mason’s Road Literary Journal, *82 Review, Wild Goose Poetry Review, and Lummox.
After the birth of my first son, I left the hospital a strong, proud woman, emerging victorious from a natural childbirth with her head held high and a sweet little baby swaddled up tight as a burrito in her arms.
Seven days later, I emerged from the bathroom in my husband’s paper-thin, blue plaid, old man robe, heavy bags settled in for a long vacation under my eyes. A twenty-minute nap on freshly washed hair had produced a limp, air-dried nest with a flat, matted spot in the back. In my hands, all the milk I could muster from an underproductive and disappointing attempt at pumping breast milk for my now screaming little barracuda who was struggling to latch on and furious when the milk let-down wasn’t instantaneous. (I tried, little buddy, I really did.)
I shuffled towards the kitchen, mopping the dirty hardwood floors with my standard hospital-issue non-skid slipper socks. My sisters were playing with the baby in the living room, sitting pretty in their fitted hoodies and yoga pants, still springy and snug from being freshly laundered. I wore department store pajama pants, too short in length, too tight in the waist, and entirely too loose in the caboose. Beneath my homeless attire—underwear the size of Texas and a nursing bra hanging loosely over my small chest. This left ample space for my one reprieve from breastfeeding torture–frozen cabbage leaves.
I placed a large leaf on each breast and shuffled into the living room. One of my sisters looked up, pity teeming in their eyes. “You have a piece of cabbage sticking out of your bra.”
Two years later, I shudder as I pull my cardigan closed, hurrying past the dewy cabbage heads in the grocery store. My son giggles from the cart as we press on.
Jennifer Free is a freelance writer from Pittsburgh. She enjoys building “couch tents” with her 2-year-old son and going to music festivals with her husband, who has been said to resemble a hippie version of Stephen King. If you’d like to join her at a festival or just want to drop her a line, she can be reached at www.jenniferefree.com.
With the first gentle flutter of new life in her body, a mother begins a lifelong process of letting go. The sublime pleasure of gazing into her baby’s eyes for the first time is tempered with the deep knowledge that the inevitable separation has already commenced. A mother hears, as perhaps no other can, the budding language of independence in every first gurgle, giggle and coo. In that instant she recognizes that henceforth she will simultaneously celebrate and mourn every milestone in her child’s life, understanding that each step forward in a child’s life is a step away from the safety of a mother’s grasp.
I remember firmly holding my daughter’s hand shortly after she learned to walk as we carefully traversed an orchard carpeted with fallen apples. With each step her little ankles would twist and her slight body weight shift to accommodate the undulating landscape beneath her feet. Halfway across, she tried to pull away from me, certain she could do it alone. The more tightly I held her hand, the more firmly she tugged to get away. She finally broke free and crossed her arms closely against chest her in a stubborn refusal to let me grab hold. I gasped as she stumbled ahead without me, afraid she would fall…perhaps more afraid she wouldn’t. I have never felt so abandoned, so utterly irrelevant in my life.
Until now. Standing on the threshold of my daughter’s high school graduation, I feel fate nudging me further out of the picture of her life. I am at a loss to explain how the eighteen years since her birth have collapsed into what registers as mere minutes on my internal hourglass. How, I wonder to myself, did we go from “Me can do” one day to “Where are the car keys?” the very next. From, “Mamma” to “MO-ther!” in seemingly a single breath.
I have investigated several possible culprits, including Flintstones vitamins, iron-fortified bread products and Disney on Ice, all of which I suspect of unnaturally hastening the maturation process. And while a strong case can be made for each of those, I lay the bulk of the blame at the feet of her orthodontist. He may not have struck the first match, but he certainly poured gasoline on the fire.
“What have you done to my baby?” I screamed at him a few years ago when he removed her braces. “Look at her! How could you do this?”
He stood there speechless, his silence a blaring admission of his guilt. It was hard to deny the facts in front of his face. I had brought him a perfectly nice little girl with bright blue eyes, skinned knees and a happy smile full of teeth going every which way. Three years and a few thousand dollars later, he handed me back this young woman. Eyes like azure pools, framed with thick lashes, smooth shapely legs and a perfectly aligned smile that fairly simmered with budding womanhood.
Now, as both my daughter’s budding womanhood and my parental panic threaten to burst into full bloom, I try desperately to remember the lesson learned in the apple orchard so many years ago. I must let go of her hand, let her make her own way, I silently repeat as she and I take a tour of her prospective college campus. I force myself to loosen my grip and, exerting Herculean effort, manage to stay at least two full steps away from her side throughout the day. It feels as if someone is pulling my heart out through my chest. I can’t let her go, I think. The cost is too great. It will hurt too much.
And then, unexpectedly, life showers me with tender mercy. As I am crossing the green with a group of parents, my daughter breaks with the pack of students and makes her way toward me. In full view of other teenagers, she walks up to me, links her arm through mine, puts her head on my shoulder and whispers, “I love it here…and, Mom, I love you too.”
My heart stops. I am afraid to move, afraid to speak, afraid some uncool motherly word or mannerism will betray me and break the spell. Inside I am screaming, “My baby still loves me! Did you hear that?” But on the outside I know I must be the picture of restraint. With all the feigned nonchalance I can muster, I discreetly squeeze her arm and reply, “I love you too, sweetie.”
The pain in my heart eases a little. The sting of separation is at least temporarily soothed. And as I watch her run back to her group, through a veritable forest of Georgia pines, I swear the sweet scent of apple blossoms suddenly fills the air.
Lee Gaitan has worn many hats in her 25 years as a professional communicator, from public relations writer and television host to stand-up comedienne and educator. She is the author of two books, Falling Flesh Just Ahead, and the recently released My Pineapples Went to Houston—Finding the Humor in My Dashed Hopes, Broken Dreams and Plans Gone Outrageously Awry. She has also authored a chapter in the bestselling book, The Divinity of Dogs, and is a blogger for The Huffington Post, Midlife Boulevard and The Good Men Project. She lives in suburban Atlanta with her husband and dog. Connect with her at www.leegaitan.com; https://www.facebook.com/mypineappleswenttohouston; www.twitter.com/LGPineapple.