Not My Baby Anymore

Last night I participated in a wonderful group where we got to share stories based on the subject “The Wild Unknown.” When I was invited to speak I had recently spoken with my youngest son. At some point in the conversation between the now very adult and I, I was reminded of when I realized he was not my baby anymore and what an oddly emotional blow it was.

I remember I was sitting on the front porch as my youngest son, then in his mid-teens, was walking up the block from school. I noticed his walk had changed. It used to be something of a bop, this bouncy gait as he used to just short of walk on his toes. This young person coming towards me now had what could only be called a swagger. This was not the walk of the carefree. This was a strong, measured stride with purpose. This was a man’s stride.

“Man! He walks hard!” My eldest son who was on the porch with me apparently noticed this change in his little brother brother as well. Though they are only eighteen months apart physically, there was a subtle, unspoken my baby brother is growing up touch of pride to his assessment. Yet, all I could think was…

What broke my baby?

Both of my sons are very much like me. It had been their chagrin most of their young lives that I was sometimes one-up on them, able to predict some of what could get them in trouble and put a stop to it. It was generally my chagrin when they did something I missed and though I knew exactly why it happened, because it was something I did or would have done as a kid, I had to disciple them regardless. Sometimes I let them make mistakes, because it really is the only way to learn some hard lessons. But this did not fall into one of those categories.

My eldest took it hard when my mother died. Very hard. I knew the loss of the woman that tried her best to spoil him rotten, had broke him and changed him. I saw it happen and did my best to guide him through it and he was much better by this point, but I was cognizant of that change. I felt I had dropped the ball with my youngest as I watched him approach.

How did I fail to protect him? Where the fuck was I, who saw him every single day, while whatever this was was going on that it hurt him, broke him, and changed him without my noticing? What the hell had happened in his young life that ripped his spirit, his innocence to the point it had changed his very walk? What else have I missed? Could I find out? Should I find out?

I found myself once again into the wild unknowns of parenthood. Yes, there are guides and plenty of people who can give advice, whether you asked for it or not. There are some givens we all go through as children and as adults raising them. In the end, each child is unique and wild unknown and how one raises that child will be unique to that child.

I realized, they both were of the ages where the shift in dynamics of how we relate to each other changes. They will always be my children, and though they were not yet men, they were not in fact children. It felt like just last year I was teaching them to tie their shoes and only last month we had the condom talk, not a few years ago. I was losing them into the men they were going to be, another wild unknown…

When he saw his brother and I sitting on the front porch, he broke into this beatific smile (both of my sons really do have great smiles), and greeted us. More perceptive to my moods, than I had been to his, he looks at me at questioningly for a moment.

“What?”
“You okay, Mommie?”
“I’m fine baby boy, you okay?”
“I’m GREAT! I’m having a great day!”

He then proceeds to regale us on just how great his day was. Naturally, with two teenage boys, the conversation eventually segues to video games and smack talk reigns.

I listen to and watch the both of them, but mostly my youngest for a long moment. Tall, though still a couple of years from his eventual 6’3″ height, his once high-pitched voice now very much a tenor. My silly little boy was very much still in there, but this man-child, now bounding up the stairs with his big brother, was anything and potentially everything, but he was not my baby anymore.

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It’s Day 28 of the 2020 Slice of Life Writing Challenge – come see how others are slicing it up this Saturday.

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30/30 – 16 | Card

The only thing I ever got off my old man was a birthday card when I was like, twelve. He’d run off when I was six. leaving me, Mama and Sis to fend for ourselves. He had stayed in my life just long enough to make memories for me, but not solid ones.  Mama never talks about him, but being a few older than me, my sister remembers him.

“Tell me about Papa.” I remember I asked Sis a few years back.

“Huh?” She looked at me, pushing her dank hair back from her eyes.  She was already small in build, but looked down right emaciated in the wife beater that was way too big for her frame.   The strap slid and I saw a little too much of her breasts as she took the near empty bottle of vodka from between her legs and leaned forward to put it on the table. I move my eyes to look look at her arms instead. The inside of her forearms  by were scabbed from all the scratching she did and I noticed she had two new perfectly mean looking fresh ones to match all the rest.

“I said, what was Papa like?’

She smiled at me, her eyes not really seeing me at all.  I realized then just how drunk she was, again, and should probably ask later if I can catch her sober.

Anyhow, the only thing I ever got from him was a birthday card when I was twelve. I remember it was addressed to me, it was the first piece of mail I received that was not junk. It said “Happy Birthday Son!” on the outside it, with some little boy younger than me wearing a grown man’s suit and carrying a brief case. Printed on the inside of the card was a sad little rhyme:

You were once so small, I know
Now look at you, so big and strong now!
Though you’ve got more growing to go,
until you’re a man, won’t be so long now.

The excitement of my first mail crashed immediately as my first thought was how would he had even known if I’d gotten big or tall.  It’s not like he had ever come by to see me or Sis. But the killer was, at the bottom of the card, below the rhyme, he wrote:

Keep your chin up and your back strong, see you around.
Pops

I studied the card on several occasions, trying to work out the meaning to what he was telling me. To this day, I still didn’t know. I showed it to Mama who looked at the card long enough to verify the writing before she drowned herself in Jack Daniels for the day.

“What was Papa like?’ I asked again a few days later. I

I had caught Sis at the sink washing dishes, trying to be being the dutiful daughter.  That probably meant she must have needed money, again, and was sucking up to our mother.  She looked up a little, thought about my question for a moment and then said, “Strict.”

 

“Strict?” I prompted her when she fell silent.

“Not strict as in mean, just like you know rigid. He had his way and that was it. His way was usually right, but I remember wishing he would at least listen sometimes first you know. Listen to see if I was right because I was right, not because he was.  Come to think of it, it where you get being so headstrong from when you think you’re right.  Only he was better looking.” She winked at me and smiled that lovely smile she only had when she was happy and sober.

Mama had kind of folded in on herself when Papa left. She crawled into her own bottle and never really came out. Only doing just enough to keep a roof over, fridge partially filled and clothes on. Sis was really my my mom and my pops.  All the important things I learned, I learned from her. Sometimes by good example stay in school and get good grades, or by horrible warning, don’t drink, don’t do drugs. I’m still trying to work out how Sis who was once smart enough to be class salutatorian in middle school, was too messed-up to listen to her own advice by sophomore year of high school. Then again she is my mama’s daughter. Sometimes, I see a strange man sitting at the kitchen table and I honestly won’t know from which bed he crawled. And going by age don’t help none. Mama was once dating hah! a guy who wasn’t much older than me and I was all of sixteen then. And hell, if sis is almost twenty-seven now, then she could not have been more than seventeen that time she had to give her man at the time the dentures he left in her bedroom so he could eat breakfast. And me? I’m twenty-two now, transferring to State on scholarships just to get the hell out of this town. I got a good future ahead me, so they say. Though they been saying so for years  now and I haven’t seen this good future yet.  But I digress…

Anyway,  I got that one card from my pop. I found half of it while I was cleaning my room as I was packing. I had forgotten I had ripped it in half in anger when I was fifteen or so I was so angry with this unknown specter that somehow had more a presence in our lives in absentia than he probably would have had were he there.

Keep your chin up and your back strong,

Like this was some sage mystical wisdom passed down through the ages.  I didn’t know who he was, or where he was  or what he did or anything much beyond a name. But he knew where I was to send the card.  Why couldn’t he have actually been a father for one extra minute? Or better yet, had taken one extra to think about it and not send this shit card in the first place.  We don’t hear a thing from him for years, until he sent this shit and I haven’t heard jack shit from him since. So what the fuck was that about anyway? I was twelve years old for fuck’s sake! I was his son! Was it easy for him to just keep going the fuck on like I didn’t exist? I remember raging to Sis just before I let her rip, literally. The riiiiiiiip was loud in the immediate silence following my tirade as I threw the pieces to the floor. Sis took the torn pieces, taped it together and gave it back a couple of days later. I was grateful, then. But that was then.

A nearly full year sober Sis was sitting on the bed helping me pack. She smiled a sad little smile and chuffed me on the arm as I reached for the other half of it, then held the two pieces together to read it once more.  I spoke to the specter one last time.

I spent years, years,  waiting for another sign of your acknowledgement of my existence that never came.  Do you know how long that fucked with me?  No more. 

I let the pieces fall into the garbage bag on the floor.

30/30 – 11 | Three Litte Words

I’ve rehearsed it all in my head for days now. I still wasn’t ready to face her. I mean, it’s not like I didn’t have an idea of what her response would be. It is just three little words to the most important woman in my life.

Carla D’Scalia – the world knew the single mother, put herself through college, achieved her masters and then her doctorate all the while raising two children. Now an ordained minister, she was well loved and respected in her church. But I knew Carla D’Scalia the woman. For instance, I am one of maybe three people maximum who know, reverend or not, she can cuss up a might fine blue streak in the privacy of her own home, to relieve tension on those rare occasions she gets majorly upset. My love for her and all that she has done for herself, her children and her community, knows no bounds, yet I’ve been ducking her for a while now and considering how close we were she’s understandably confused and upset by the distance I inexplicably put between us.

But I can’t do this any more. I need her in my life. I had to be honest with myself, with her, that this is the path I wanted / needed to take. She knows how I feel, I know she knows, but I still need to say the words aloud. And once I do – well, that’s on her. After nearly six weeks of being chicken shit, I finally called her up for dinner at my place. Ate some serious crow to get her here, but I had it coming.

So here we are sitting on my couch face-to-face. The only sign of her nervousness of the moment is the rapid tapping of her pinky against the stem of her wine glass as she patiently waits for me to get on with it.

It’s just three little words I had to say right? So I take a deep breath and say them…

“Mama I’m gay.”

Knowing Sometimes My Best Won’t Be Enough

I have two children, sons, though at 26 and 28 they can hardly be called children anymore. Like any mother of more than one child I love them differently, but equally and completely. Despite being surrounded by gangs and drugs, my late husband and I somehow managed to raise two healthy males into adulthood, who avoided both, with only one major broken bone between them and the usual assortment of teenage boy issues. Maybe we didn’t quite raise them with a deep enough fear of God; but I absolutely raised them to not only respect Him, but anyone’s Him/Her/Them. I damn sure put the fear of Mom in them; tempered with a lot of humor, tenderness, and discipline in as proportionate amounts as I deemed needed for them together and individually. I did the best I could then and now always knowing, sometimes my best won’t be enough.

This is one of those times.

While this is my blog, please understand, I feel the details of my son’s lives are not mine to freely broadcast here and hopefully you can forgive my choice to be to cryptic, even as I try to talk about it. My oldest is going through a tough time right now and I know it’s going to get worse for him, for a long while, before it gets better. No, he’s not in jail; and those who know me well know just how ridiculous a notion that is, but it’s really not a good time for him right now. And I can’t do a damn thing about it; not I won’t I CAN’T.

I do not have the means to help him. I do not have to means to even ease some of the minor discomforts for him, to help make dealing with the major shit he’s going through a little better. This is killing me, because I am his mother and even though I know he knows, I am doing everything I absolutely can under the circumstances. I know it isn’t going to be anywhere near enough.

I war with myself. Were we too hard, too soft? Where did things fail as we raised him that his situation has come to this? The tough love part of me (he’s a grown man, he made this hard bed of his, and now he must lay in it), battles with the part of me who only sees that my child hurting in a bad way and all I want to do is throw my arms around him, and comfort him, and make it better now, and that’s where I feel like I’m failing him most. After all, I’m Mom. I’m the person my sons should be able to come to when things truly get fucked and I should be able to at least be able to help ease the burden, if I can’t (or shouldn’t) out right fix the problem.

All I can really do right now is be his emotional support; his personal rah-rah team. Even as I truthfully tell him on one hand how hard this is going to be for him for a long while, while on the other hand reminding him, as fucked as things are for him right now, he can and will get through this. That with prayers and luck, a year from now this will be a very unpleasant memory in his past, but it will be his past. The words sound empty and trite even to my own ears as I say them to him, but I have to say them. I have to keep his spirits up, keep showing him that silver lining ahead even as the Fates monsoon on him right now. As he walked out of my door, the resignation on his face as he continues to face the bullshit he’s going to have to be dealing with for God know how long before it gets even a little better, just broke my heart. For the first time since my sons were teenagers, I cried over one of my children.

This is one boo-boo Mom can’t instantly fix with a simple kiss and some ice-cream.