Poems & Essays

09 Nov

A Tale of Two Premies

General/Column No Response

It is impossible not to compare my twins. They are fraternal—I can’t even look at them without confronting their differences. James is average height and weight with plump legs and chubby cheeks. He takes after my father and is much browner than the rest of us. Langston is light-skinned like me and my husband, short and skinny, with little wiry chicken legs he likes to tip-toe on in circles around the floor.

Just as immediate as their physical differences, so is the gap in their development, despite the fact that they both came into this world the exact same way: prematurely, at 25 weeks gestation.

For example, recently, James sauntered into my bedroom, his “P,” a pacifier with a stuffed dog attached, dangled from his mouth like a tiny pipe. He popped it out and lectured on the whereabouts of daddy (the bathroom), and on his conclusions regarding identity, about which he declared, “I’m Games. You Mama.” When given an opportunity, I asked, “Do you want eggs for breakfast?” He answered, “Yes” with a nod for added clarity. James, after getting dressed, tossed his “P” back into his crib and toodlersplained some more before settling down with a bowl of scrambled eggs and silently contemplating Doc McStuffins’ most recent diagnosis.

In contrast, Langston padded quietly into the room. His brown face floated along the bed’s edge. We made eye contact and then he loudly exclaimed, “Hi!” Not too long ago, I could not truthfully write the sentence you just read. According to the developmental clinic he visits, he should’ve been able to articulate that word at twelve-months. It’s taken him almost two and a half years. In response to my question about breakfast, Langston acknowledged his hunger with a concise, “eat, eat.” There may have been other noises from him, maybe even words spoken, but they were less articulate, less frequent, and less varied than his brother.

In the preemie world, age is a conundrum of measurements. Doctors and professionals often use a preemie’s corrected age, their age based on their due date, to determine whether or not they are delayed. My boys’ corrected age is 26 months. Their actual age is 30 months. James is developmentally on par with his actual age. Langston is delayed, at least six months or more behind his corrected age.

My emotions mirror their polarity, yet there is always an underpinning of guilt that never goes away. I feel blessed to have a son exceeding all expectations, especially considering his traumatic birth. I bleed pride every time James announces he is happy or uses his spoon correctly eating yogurt with hardly any mess or makes up songs about cars on the road in full and eloquent sentences. And then I’m immediately paralyzed with guilt, as if I am betraying my other son or excluding him from this joy because these are things Langston doesn’t do.

It is even hard for me to rejoice in Langston’s progress. Recently, he’s been humming the melody to the ABC song. In fact, he can recognize and speak several letters and numbers when shown flash cards and match colors and shapes, even if he doesn’t say the words for them. His speech therapist got him to “oink” when showing him a picture of a pig. And he now says “bye” when he or other people leave. This is amazing progress for him.

But if I relax and allow myself to be happy in his achievements, how do I avoid complacency? These tiny increments of growth, when matched shoulder to shoulder with his brother, still don’t put them on the same level. And I cannot rest until there is no space left between them. Every minute is a teachable moment, a moment to reinforce his speech skills or to help him hold a pencil or to give him the extra care I don’t need to give to his brother, although I know James wants that care too. And again, I cannot avoid feeling guilty because it is not only my attention being pulled in separate directions, but it is my mind, it is my heart that is torn raw and straight down the middle every single time I look at them.

Although twins, they are just brothers and they will never be the same. And I may never stop comparing them. But, this morning as they ate breakfast, I stared at them, searching for a link other than their DNA. They both love being chased and hate having their diapers changed. Both have abnormally stinky feet and think I’m hilarious when I scream over just how stinky those feet are. They both love books and being read to. Each night before bed we ask them, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?” And, under the large board book in our hands, they point at the big brown bear on the page in front of them and roar in unison.

 

Tyrese L. Coleman is a writer, wife, mother, a lawyer, and a master’s student in the Writing Program at Johns Hopkins University. Her writing has appeared in PANK Magazine Online, mater mea, a website that celebrates black women at the intersection of career and motherhood, and elsewhere. You can reach her at tyresecoleman.com or follow her on Twitter @tylachelleco.

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06 Nov

Rapunzel

General/Column No Response

It used to be
that you and I
were about
Goodnight Moon
and Peter Rabbit

First I would read
and you would listen
then you would read
and I would listen
we both enjoyed the story.

But now we share
another interest
your hair
and cannot agree
if it should be washed
once a week
or thrice,
blow-dried from above
or below
straightened
curled
teased
cajoled
worn up
or down

It has become
a tower
from which
the view beckons

and one of us
must surely leave.

 

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.

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06 Nov

Break

General/Column No Response

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
the toothpaste
spatter on windexed
mirror, the toilet
paper trailing the floor
nor even the laughter,
binge-watching one
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
scurvy-promoting
diet, the Redds
chasing away
the blues.
But the moment
I most dread
is the one that arrives
as you do,
welcome goodbye,
that makes
its presence felt
in the smell of
your skin, the sound
of your backpack
hitting the floor
carelessly, filling
the room with
unquiet, disarray
the wallet, the keys
on a string, the phone
charger, all clamoring
leaving
leaving
leaving
even before
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.

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02 Nov

Plus, It’s a Lie

General/Column 8 Responses

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.

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