Browsing Tag

son

Guest Posts, parenting, Sexual Assault/Rape

The Conversation We’re Not Having With Our Sons

March 26, 2017

By Amy Hatvany

I don’t remember my parents talking to me about sex, other than making it clear that opening my legs to a boy before I got married was a sin. What I do remember is thinking that I was a lesbian because I masturbated—I knew girls who touch other girls were gay, so if I touched myself, didn’t that mean the same thing? I was confused, ill-informed, and scared, so I shoplifted a Penthouse Letters magazine when I was in middle school, desperate to understand my own body and if the raging, hormonal urges that sometimes took me over were normal. But instead of validation, what I found were graphic stories of women who submitted to men’s forceful, probing mouths, fingers, and dicks. These women protested at first—some of them even said no—but soon found themselves swooning, powerless to resist the “pleasure” of violation.

Years later, I would wonder if what I learned about consent from these descriptions—that it was a man’s job to make a woman realize what she really wanted; that her “no” was simply waiting to be turned into a yes—was part of what kept me from telling anyone about the boy who unzipped his jeans and jammed his erection into the back of my throat when we were sitting together in the front seat of his car. I was on the edge of fifteen, and he was older, someone I knew, someone I’d had a crush on, and so I didn’t fight, I didn’t try to stop him. I only endured, waiting for the pain and paralyzing terror of what he was doing to loosen its vice-like grip on my chest. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

The Lesson Leaving Taught. (No Bullshit Motherhood Series.)

October 8, 2016

Note from Founder Jen Pastiloff: This is part of my new series called No Bullshit Motherhood. Raw, real, 100% bullshit free. If you have something to submit click the submissions tab at the top. You can follow us online at @NoBullshitMotherhood on Instagram and @NoBSMotherhood on Twitter. Search #NoBullshitMotherhood online for more.

By Chris J. Rice

My ten-year-old son stood beside his father in the front yard of my now empty house. My son had a scowl on his face. Looked away from my packed car, down at the ground.

Dark-eyed boy with a skeptical furrowed brow.

“Come here,” I said. Called him over to my driver-side window.

He stuck his head in for a kiss, and I whispered in his ear: “You’re going to miss me. And that’s okay. It’s okay to have a dream. Never forget that.”

He nodded as if he understood. “Bye,” he said, then turned around and ran back to stand with his father.

I put my Datsun in reverse and took off. Moved to Los Angeles to attend graduate school. And I didn’t take my child along. I left him with his dad for the duration. I told them both it would only be a few years, though I knew it would be more.

I sensed it would be forever.

A formal acceptance letter came in the mail and I made a decision. Put my books in the post, my paint box in the trunk of my yellow Datsun B210, and drove headlong into whatever came next. Sold most of my stuff in a big yard sale: the vintage clothes I thought I’d never wear again, the leather couch and chair I’d bought dirt cheap off a moving neighbor.

I didn’t have much left after the divorce.

I said it. My ex said it too. I love you. But he didn’t mean it. And for the longest time I didn’t get that. Just picked up the slack. Made things happen. That’s how it was. Okay. Just okay. He would get angry. Couldn’t seem to manage. Fury popped up like every other emotion. Yelling. Disparaging—things like that.

I missed my son like mad. We talked by phone regularly. I flew back on holidays. He came to visit on spring break, and for a few weeks every summer.

Seven years passed. Continue Reading…

courage, Guest Posts

A Letter To My Son

August 25, 2015

By Susan Rahn

Dear Son,

You just turned 16.

It seems like I blinked and you went from a curious toddler to a handsome, bright young man with such a bright future within your grasp. I so excited for you and can’t wait to see what path you choose for yourself. I’m confident you’ll choose wisely.

There is so much I want to tell you but I know how much you hate ‘mushy’ letters. This will not be one of those. This includes important things to remember for when you choose a partner to share your life with.

You’re probably shaking your head at me because of how things didn’t work out with me and your Father. I may not seem like the best person to be doling out advice but I have a very unique perspective that I didn’t have before.

Obviously, you’ll want someone who loves and respects you. You’ll want someone that you can laugh with and share memories with. Everyone does. You’ll also want someone who drives you a little bit crazy with the particular way they do things. It’s OK. It will remind you of why you fell in love in the first place.

You’ll want someone who shares some of your interests. It’s OK if there are some differences. If you both liked all the same things life would be boring.

Now pay attention because this is important. This is something few are told and even less consider when choosing a partner…ready?

Be very, very certain that if your partner or you ever have a significant health issue that both of you will be committed to each other. That you’ll support each other emotionally because that’s so important. Neither of you can ‘check out’ emotionally because things get scary. Be sure that you’ll both dig your heels in and support one another. Don’t be so selfish that your feelings become more important than her’s regardless of who is ill. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Mental Health, motherhood

My Son of the South

June 20, 2015

By T Hudson

Ben—whose name in Hebrew means the Son of the South—has thick chestnut wavy hair, hazel eyes like mine, and a strong prominent nose. He believes that his friends are not his friends at all, but rather members of the Mafia or the CIA or the FBI out to imprison him, harm him, or poison him, that helicopters and motorbikes are instruments of surveillance, dispatched to spy on us all, and that our computers and telephones are bugged.

He is nineteen when it starts. The doctors call it a psychotic break, but the words seem all wrong, because for something to split or tear apart, it should be brittle or weak at the seams in the first place. My son is whole. He takes a surfboard into the ocean each weekend, heaves his lithe body onto it and glistens with the elements. My son writes. He plays Rachmaninov’s piano concerto by ear, and he has a scholarship to one of the most prestigious public universities in California. That’s why it can’t be right that he has schizophrenia. Can it? Can it really?

We live in a prized home with sought after views in the oldest and quaintest part of Hollywood. Ben is going to be a doctor and I will proudly join the ranks of British immigrant Yiddisher mamas. I’m just waiting for it to happen, so when it doesn’t I blame myself. Maybe I haven’t loved him enough or maybe I’ve loved him too much. Either way it is my fault.

 

It begins in the laundry room in the early hours of the morning. I find Ben cold and alone tracing the wires of the telephone circuit board.

“This is how they are monitoring us,” he whispers, his face stricken, his breath sour.  “We have to cut some stuff out, change the receiver, I can do it.”

“Who?” I ask. “Who is monitoring us? And why.”

Ben puts a finger to his lips, and quiets me. His eyes look a shade darker with him framed as he is against the white plaster walls. He begins rifling through the tool kit, although he doesn’t seem quite sure of what he is looking for.

“Don’t do anything yet,” I say, my voice barely audible.

I look at my bike hanging from the rafters, the spokes still muddy from my off-road ride. The room contains everything we want to hide away from the neat order of the rest of our lives, eight years worth of clutter, and a washing basket of damp smelling clothes. It is frigid, especially at this late hour. Built into the hillside, carved out of the bedrock, we are underground. I need to sweep the floor as if to make room for us. It is imperative.

I take the broom and work it around Ben’s size nine feet, buying us time—time to hope he has a fever-induced delirium, something that might pass with a couple of Advil and a good night’s sleep.

Ben has never rerouted wires before in his life and, besides that, we have suspended our landline in favor of cellular phones. These wires that my child is obsessing over are part of a defunct apparatus from a bygone age.

“Let’s go upstairs,” I offer, swishing the last dust motes across the grain of the old hardwood floor.

Ben agrees albeit reluctantly, and walks behind me with a languid gait, one I hardly recognize. Once seated at the dining room table I take his temperature, smooth my palm across his forehead as I have countless times before.

“98.6,” I say. “Normal.”

The dining room boasts large sash windows that open to a hefty forty-foot drop. Ben stands against the pane and with the first light I see how thin and pale he has grown in recent weeks. I feel my throat tighten as denial gives way to fear.  “Did you take drugs?” I ask him. “Hard drugs?”

He stares at me and shakes his head as if I am the one who is suffering from delusions.

Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Meditation, motherhood

Medea: A Mother’s Day Meditation

May 7, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Lily MacKenzie

When I realize that many parts of myself haven’t reached consciousness or been fully realized, it’s like saying goodbye to aborted children. The tragedy? There aren’t enough years ahead of me where I can accomplish what I haven’t done so far, making me a kind of Medea.

***

She visited me recently. Her two dead sons were not trailing behind, seeking revenge. And Jason was nowhere to be seen.

Medea herself seemed redeemed, her face unlined, a calm serenity in her manner. She wore a stylish red dress trimmed with floral piping. Her shapely body reminded me of full-bodied Italian women. She seemed built not just to give life but also to enjoy it. Her black hair coiled around her neck, a mysterious river that beckoned.

If I were to take off on that river, what would I find at the end? A heart of stone? A pyramid of possibilities? A woman who had used her power in the only way she could?

***

When I saw Euripides’ play “Medea” many years ago, I was already in her spell. Her myth resonated for me as it still does for many women. She is our Medea, our savior. A woman unafraid of accepting her power and acting on it as necessary. One of Lilith’s symbolic daughters.

***

According to legend,

Adam tried to make Lilith lie beneath him during sexual intercourse. Lilith would not meet this demand of male dominance. She cursed Adam and hurried to her home by the Red Sea. Adam complained to God, who then sent three angels, Sanvi, Sansanvi and Semangelaf, to bring Lilith back to Eden. Lilith rebuffed the angels by cursing them. While by the Red Sea, Lilith became a lover to demons and produced 100 babies a day. The angels said that God would take these demon children away from her unless she returned to Adam. When she did not return, she was punished accordingly. And God also gave Adam the docile Eve. (Encyclopedia Mythica)

I talked to my sister this morning, and we reminisced about our mother who died when she was 101, trying to focus on her positive attributes: the insatiable zest for life; the curiosity and willingness to travel well into her 90s; the compassion for those in need; the ability to somehow communicate her love while also abandoning us at times.

We mothers are all Medeas in some way, wounding and even killing parts of our children. Sometimes we destroy the whole child, forced into this behavior by our own limited lives, constrained either by the culture we grew up in, by our families, or by all of the above.

My grandmother was one of those women. She left Portree, Isle of Skye, after WWI ended to join her husband, a Scottish schoolmaster, in Canada. He fled to the new world before the war to find a better life for all of them. Seven years later, she and the children joined him, arriving in Calgary during a snowstorm.

To go from the warmth of the family womb in Portree (uncles, aunts, cousins, friends), a charming village, to this frigid climate on the barren prairies, must have been a jolt. Was it revenge at being forced to leave her home that encouraged her to abandon husband and kids after a year and find work for herself with a family in the Mount Royal district? She must have been furious with my grandfather for making her join him. He also was a difficult man, his tongue stinging as much as his slaps. She refused to tolerate his abuse any longer.

In the 1920s, it took guts and daring for a woman to desert her husband and kids. It took even greater nerve to travel to Mexico City with her lover—her employer. Some might claim she had a psychotic break, but I think this interpretation is too clinical. Menopause madness? More plausible. But why do we need to assert a woman is mad or unbalanced if she chooses to leave her kids and an inattentive, abusive husband? Some children drive their parents to drink. Some aren’t lovable. What if she just got fed up with the whole mess and wanted a life for herself before it was too late?

Or did she have a premonition she would die young (four years after she arrived in Mexico) and decided to do as much living as she could in the meantime?

***

And what of the Nigerian girls that have been abducted from their school? What kind of life had they imagined for themselves after books opened doors to them that had previously not existed? Their minds and imaginations no longer could be confined to the rigors of rural life and the demands of women in those societies. They might speak back to the men in their lives and refuse to follow the traditional path. They might find in their hearts a desire to be independent—full human beings.

***

“Why are fanatics so terrified of girls’ education? Because there’s no force more powerful to transform a society. The greatest threat to extremism isn’t drones firing missiles, but girls reading books.” Nicholas Kristoff, New York Times, 5/11/14

***

The day I dropped out, there was no eclipse of the sun or moon. The color didn’t drain from the expansive prairie sky. No one rushed up to me and shouted, “You’re making a serious mistake you’ll later regret.” At the beginning of Grade Eleven, during mid-November snow flurries, I fled Calgary’s Crescent Heights High School. No more three-mile treks each way in sub-zero temps. No more rising at dawn and shivering through the morning rituals of dressing, eating, and fighting with my two younger brothers before leaving the house.

It was 1955, and I had my first taste of freedom.

Okay. Stepfathers are easy targets. Mine was no exception. But he earned my spleen. He had made it clear for some time that women didn’t need an education. He pointed out that he only completed the eighth grade, claiming an education was wasted on a girl who would just get married and have kids. I believed him. Heaven forbid that kids might have mothers who could read, write, and converse beyond a few grunts at the dinner table.

I was too young and naïve to realize that his lack of higher education locked him into a laborer’s life, first as a farmer and then as a rock crusher at the local rock-crushing plant. On some nights, he came home so exhausted he couldn’t eat dinner. He crashed on the floor, later arousing himself long enough to crawl into bed and do it again the next day. That should have set off rockets in my mind, signaling his life lacked something.

It didn’t.

Not then.

It seemed normal to live a proscribed life.

And Mother’s response to me dropping out of school? She had dropped out herself, though not from school. A few weeks earlier, she had fled to the Coast—Vancouver—to join her lover. Would she have wanted me to continue school? Theoretically, yes. She believed in girls being educated, though she didn’t go beyond high school herself. So did her father, my grandfather, a schoolmaster before he left Scotland for Canada in the early 1900s. But neither was around then to cause me to reconsider.

After Mum left, I had the crazy idea that my two younger brothers needed me at home to cook and clean and iron. I had some noble Florence Nightingale image of myself caring for the needy, not realizing I also was deprived. I would devote myself to my brothers and stepfather, using them as an excuse for dropping out. Stepping into the caretaker role assuaged my guilt for letting myself down and pre-empting a future.

My sister, six years older than I, may have tried to dissuade me from jumping off the deep end. But there was a wide gulf between us at that point. We had shared a bedroom until she married when I was thirteen. I not only stole money out of her hope chest, but I also borrowed her clothes without asking and returned them to the closet soiled. This behavior didn’t endear me to her. She wanted me out of her hair. She also was deeply involved in her own life by then, working as a secretary for an oil company while her husband articled as an accountant through a correspondence course.

For all of my good intentions, I wasn’t ready to become an instant mother, another example of letting myself down—and others. I struggled each morning to drag myself out of bed. Actually, it was a struggle just to wake up. My immediate impulse was to silence the alarm, plant the pillow over my head, and go back to sleep.

Sometimes I did just that, not wanting the responsibility for waking my brothers, making their breakfast, packing a lunch for each, and sending them off to school. Quickly my justification for quitting school was dissolving. So was the notion I had of rescuing my stepfather and brothers. I failed yet again. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, motherhood, parenting

You’ve Got it All Backwards.

January 27, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Sarah Kurliand.

The other day I was driving to the Franklin Institute with my 3 ½ year old son, X. Our windows were down to let in the crisp, fresh air per his request. As I slowed to stop at the corner, I noticed an older man standing there. We locked eyes for a moment and I smiled, as I do to everyone. And he went on, “Heyyyy guuuurl. How you doin? You lookin’ mighty beautiful today” , and I went on my way. In total, it lasted about 5 seconds.

I looked in my rear view mirror at my beautiful son, as I waited for the questions to come flooding in. I racked my brain thinking of interesting ways to spin this so he could understand it. I could see his wheels turning… 

X: Ma, who was that man? Why he say ‘Hey gurl’ like that? You know him?

Me: I don’t know who that man was X.

X: Then why he call you beautiful?           

Me: I guess he just wanted to tell me what he thought.

A few silent moments went by. I have learned through my few short years of motherhood that this is his processing time and to just be quiet because more was on its way. And then like clockwork.

X: It’s very weird Ma, his words sounded like nice words but he was not a nice man.

And there it was. The biggest truth bomb anyone had ever laid on me. Without even seeing this man, my three and a half year old little baby could tell simply by the tone in his voice that even though yes, he may have used kind words, he was not indeed, well meaning.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Continue Reading…

Anonymous, courage, Guest Posts, healing

Shame to Love: Learning To Live Again After Rape.

August 24, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black

Trigger warning: rape/stalking.

Note from Jen Pastiloff: This essay had previously been anonymous. I woke up and got this email this morning,”Dear Jen, Can you re-post the rape essay I wrote and change it from “Anonymous” to my name? It’s his shame to carry, not mine. I’m ready to be brave.”

So, here it is again. Angela Marchesani is no longer anonymous. I am so proud of her.

By Angela Marchesani.

On our second date, he raped me.

It wasn’t “rape” like I had imagined rape would be. I intended to have sex with him- when we first met, the chemistry was amazing. He was tall, fit, handsome, and charming. Plus, my aunt set us up, which in my mind made him safe. We danced to that stupid “Pina Colada Song” after drinks on date two, and going back to his place might have even been my suggestion.

But there we were, in his bedroom, and my condoms were in my purse downstairs. When I tried to get up to one, he pushed me back. I tried to explain what I was doing.

He called me a slut and held me down. I pushed against him, this 6-foot tall kickboxer, to no avail. I begged him to get a condom, but he wasn’t even hearing me any more.

Oddly, I remember saying to myself, “It’s not rape if you don’t fight back.” Maybe that should have been my nudge to fight this beast. Instead, I resigned.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, parenting

You Are Not Alone: A Message From a Mother To a Son.

April 28, 2014

You Are Not Alone: A Message From a Mother To a Son. By Amy Roost.

I received a text from my son in the middle of the night. It read, “I love you.” My first thought was to text back are you okay?!, but then I remembered he’s on mile 26 of a marathon. He’s delusional.

In a week, he’ll take his GRE. In two weeks, he’ll turn 22. In four weeks, he’ll ceremoniously drop the rough draft of his senior thesis (entitled “Graviton in Type 2a String Theory Quantum Chromodynamics”) into a bonfire, then hand the final draft to his advisor. In five weeks, he’ll take finals. In six weeks, he’ll walk across a stage and be handed a diploma. In eight months, he’ll begin a PhD program in theoretical physics.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. If you’re reading this, son, do as I say, not as I do. Proceed one equation at a time. Take in each moment as it comes appreciating it all the more in light of the moments you rode in on.

***

When you were nine weeks a fetus, I rejoiced to hear your heartbeat. When you were 11 weeks a fetus, I sobbed when that heartbeat went radio silent and an ultrasound showed no sign of your embryonic self. The obstetrician offered his condolences. He advised me to go home and have a margarita and if I didn’t miscarry you over the weekend, to come back on Monday for a dilation and curettage.

I didn’t follow any of his advice. Instead, I held on. Correction: We held on. Two weeks passed before my next appointment. The ultrasound technician and I both took deep breaths as she placed the cold doppler wand on my belly. She waved it back and forth searching and searching, then, magically, there you were, heartbeat and all.

It wasn’t until you were born that we discovered what that early fuss had been about. You had birth defects, several of them. A nine-hour surgery followed by three weeks in intensive care addressed the most serious one. There was another surgery 9 months later, followed by another and another and another. There were the hospitalizations for one pneumonia after another; and a pulmonary embolism; the trips to the ER for anaphylaxis. The calm. And then the storm — two brain surgeries, a cranio-cervical fusion, traction, pain, recovery. Of course you remember all of this better than I do.

But do you remember that warm summer day at Trap Pond in Delaware? You were 17 and had recently shed your body cast. We woke early and set off for a morning of canoeing. As we glided across the glassy surface of the pond and wended our way through clumps of cypress trees, we saw a Great Blue Heron balanced on one leg, a family of turtles sunning themselves on a rock and a bald eagle soaring overhead. It felt as if we were looking at the world through 3D glasses, so intense was the life force around us.

Do you remember how on our drive back to the beach house that day, we blasted the car stereo while listening to our favorite Mumford and Sons CD? How when the song “Timshel” played, there was that one lyric — death is at your doorstep and it will steal your innocence but it will not steal your substance. You are not alone in this. How when we heard this, we cast each other knowing glances. And how I then started to cry. And you did too. And you reached over with your left hand and placed it atop my right hand. And you left it there while we drove. Not speaking a word. Do you remember that day?

I do. Every moment.

***

Now might be a good time to reread the poem “Sonnets to Orpheus Part Two, XII“. It was one of those–along with the Mary Oliver and Wallace Stevens’ poems–I gave to you when you graduated high school. Do you remember Rilke’s advice?

Pour yourself out like a fountain.

Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking

often finishes at the start, and, with ending, begins.

Every happiness is the child of a separation

it did not think it could survive. And Daphne, becoming

a laurel, dares you to become wind.

In other words, when you finish this marathon, you will end at the starting line again. Therefore, it is pointless to evade the full intensity of this process you’re going through. Embrace it. Dance with it along the time-space continuum you know so well.

‘Enough with the poetry and the spiritual’, you say?. Okay. Then let me offer you something tangible: It’s the middle of the night. You’re there. I’m here. At this moment, your life is gritty. And you’re feeling alone and think no one gets what it is you’re going through.

So, do me this favor: Place your hand over your heart. Can you feel that? Me too. In this moment of self doubt and exhaustion, know that I am with you. You are not alone in this.

*This essay originally appeared on The Huffington Post

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Her multi-dimensional suchness, Amy Roost, is a freelance writer, book publicist, legal and medical researcher, and vacation rental manager. She and her husband are the authors of “Ritual and the Art of Relationship Maintenance” due to be published later this year in a collection entitled Ritual and Healing: Ordinary and Extraordinary Stories of Transformation (Motivational Press). Amy is also Executive Director of Silver Age Yoga Community Outreach (SAYCO) which offers geriatric yoga teacher certification, and provides yoga instruction to underserved seniors.

Click here to connect with Amy.

*****

Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, Modern Loss, xojane, among others. She’s the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen’s leading a weekend retreat in May to Ojai, Calif as well as 4 day retreat over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing for all levels. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up is Seattle in May and London July 6. (London sells out fast so book soon if you plan on attending!)

Guest Posts, Letting Go, The Hard Stuff

Waiting for the Grassy Drop. By James Claffey.

April 21, 2014

                                         Waiting for the Grassy Drop

“Oh, he loved his mother / Above all others” (“The Great Hunger” by Patrick Kavanagh)

We drive the seventy-five miles to my father’s grave and my mother barely says a word. Through towns and farmland once so familiar she’d list each one and its inhabitants, the names dropping like musical notes. No more. Today, all she says is, “Ah, I don’t remember any of this. I must be addled.” My heart cracks a little more.

We pick our way back from the grave, treading carefully to avoid someone else’s resting place. Clouds scud by over the mossy, bird-shit stained gravestones and my mother stumbles as she navigates the grassy drop to the path. I catch her fall and bear her weight, realizing the next time I visit this blasted patch of earth might be to bury her beside my father. “God bless you, Son. You’re very good,” she says.

No. Not really. I’m not very good at all. Far from it, if I am honest with her. I left home and twenty-one years later return to witness my mother’s descent into a childlike state of bewilderment and uncertainty. The signs were there eighteen months ago when she tripped over a trouser press in her bedroom and gashed her hand. It was three days before she had it looked at by a doctor. An accident, she said. No, she didn’t lose consciousness, she said. No, she didn’t lose consciousness, she insisted when the doctor pressed her on the matter.

You’d have to have known my mother to know her strength. Raised four boys and a husband who was, for all intents and purposes, a fifth boy. He couldn’t boil an egg. Mow the grass? No problem. Domestic duties? You must be joking. After raising us, she took care of him in the aftermath of a terrible car wreck. Started a small business selling apple tarts and cakes to local shops, until some jealous neighbor shopped her to the health department. She marshaled our father through his medical appointments, his drinking, and his flailing nightmares.

Since my father died of a stroke fourteen years ago she has lived alone, independent, taking care of herself on her own terms. I call her every Sunday. The conversation rarely wavers from a well-oiled script—the weather, “How are the family? How is work? The words turn in on themselves, repetitive patters of paisley print. She asks, “Are you happy to be back teaching?” And three minutes later, “Are you happy to be back teaching?” And again, “Are you happy to be back teaching?” The repetitiveness is ominous. Her short-term memory is in tatters.

She no longer cooks: this, the woman whose baking and cooking was the talk of our friends and relatives for most of her lifetime. The cousins and aunts and uncles who’d show up every year just before Christmas to collect their cakes and puddings and couldn’t stay for tea because of a million excuses are long gone and never visit. The fridge is a museum of hard-caked milk in jugs, of meat gone off, of bread with mold, of decay and ageing.

There is evidence she no longer bathes, either. The week I’m home, the shower in her room never gets used, nor the bath in the landing bathroom. I sneak into her bedroom and check her washcloth for dampness and use. Best I can figure is she’s dabbing her body with the wet cloth every few days. Her clothes, too, are dirty, unwashed, recycled. I do three loads of laundry for her, making sure to dry them on the rickety clotheshorse in the spare bedroom. The fastidious woman who took so much pride in her appearance has been shut inside another version of my mother, a living Babushka doll.

For as far back as I can remember, mother solved with alacrity the Sunday Observer Crossword for forty years. Every time I arrive home we pass the paper back-and-forth, solving the last few clues together. This time the grid is a blank slate. I fill in a few clues to get her started and pass the paper her way. Two days later only my handwriting is on the checkered grid.

I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. The phone calls from my brothers warned me, “You’ll be shocked at what you see.” Not really, as my weekly phone calls, or Skype time with her tip me off to the changes afoot. I ask her what she had for dinner at my brother’s house. “Chicken,” she says. He interrupts and corrects her. Not chicken. Chorizo. Her once-strong mind, her sharp-witted remarks, her caustic comments on various topics are now faded tapestries in a room no longer accessible to her.

I see myself in my mother; the genetic code of her side of the family is strong in me. I have her family’s famous ears, as do my son and daughter. I put my daughter to bed each night, reading her a bedtime story, giving her the “double cuddles,” she asks my wife and I to bestow. My toddler cried her eyes out when I got on the bus for LAX and my heart gave way. “You go see your momma?” she asked me before I left. “Yes, my love, I go see my momma…” I didn’t finish the sentence. I wanted to say, “Yes, I go see my momma, and it might be the last time I get to see her alive.”

What I see when the door to her house opens is not my mother. Is my mother? My mother is not my mother. Not the mother I want. Where has she gone? She has been replaced by this diminished, bird-like imposter. I try to draw her into conversation about her life, my brothers and their families. She sits in her armchair, smoking cigarette after cigarette. A distant look on her face. She is there, but not there. I am bereft; witnessing her withdrawal from this world, seeing this woman who used be the rock our family clung to, reduced to shards.

The truth is unknown. Over coffee with my brothers we speculate. Willful decision to withdraw? A series of mini-strokes? Dementia? We don’t know. Tests on Thursday: brain scans, angiograms, EKG, MRI, the lot. Maybe there’ll be answers. She has an inhaler for the emphysema and smokes like a fucking chimney. Did the doctor tell you to cut down on the cigarettes, I ask. “Ah, no, he didn’t.” Of course, the doctor said cutting back would be a good idea, but that cutting them out at her stage of life might be depriving her of one of her few pleasures in life. Irish doctors, I suppose they know what they’re doing…

She tells the doctor at the Royal Victoria Eye & Ear Hospital when we go in to have her eyes checked that she’s addled, too. She also tells the Romanian receptionist we make her six-month check-up with: “I’m addled.” Code for bewildered, confused, unsure, and unable to remember. All I want to do is go home to my wife and daughter and cry. I’m addled, too.

Her pills are displayed on the kitchen counter. Seven boxes, and three bottles of eye drops in the fridge. The names and the directions confuse me, so I can only imagine what they do to her. “I don’t know whether I’m coming or going,” she says. Several times a day I ask if she’s all right and she answers the same each time, “I don’t know if I’m coming or going.” She sits in her chair, smoking. Silk Cut Blue, the long ones. The cushion and the carpet around her feet bear the burn marks that have us so worried she’ll burn the place to the ground one of these nights. Grandchildren refuse to enter the house because of the smoke, and one tells my brother to shower immediately he returns from her house.

We meet again, my brothers and I, at a local coffee shop, to have a conversation we never imagined having. Talk of living power of attorneys, of long-term care, of nursing homes, of unimaginable scenarios we surely only thought happened to other people. Amazingly enough, for a quartet that rarely agrees on anything, we are in consensus about how to move forward with my mother’s care. We all agree that maintaining her independence for as long as she is able, and of reasonable sound mind, is what is best. If, or when, she becomes a danger to herself, well, that’s another conversation to be had.

My mother and I sit in front of the television; her breathing a shallow wheeze of short, swift inhales and exhales. I picture her lungs, 80-90% useless, blackened from seventy years of smoking. The specialist spotted her breathing issues straight away, declared her to have “emphysema.” Strange, how her regular GP never said a word about her breathing. Bloody nationalized medicine and its inept purveyors.

At night, her bedside alarm clock beeps incessantly, the snooze button malignant and disruptive. I try to fix it for her, but she shepherds me out of her bedroom. The alarm keeps going off every ten minutes, and after two nights of this fiasco, I take the batteries out and hide the clock in the spare bedroom.

Two weeks later, back in the smoke-free house on the avocado ranch in Southern California, I realize it’s as if the alarm clock was displaying the same repetitive pattern as my mother does when I speak with her on the telephone. If only the answer to her problems were as simple as replacing the batteries inside the clock. There’s no replacing her batteries. All that remains is to tell her I love her, ignore the repeated questions and answer them as if each instance is the first time of asking. If we’re lucky we’ll travel home at the end of the summer so her grandkids can have a few memories of their Irish grandmother before she deteriorates further.

I see my mother in my children, I hear her voice on Sunday phone calls, and I write my stories and novels with the love for words and literature she gave me when I was a young boy. She is in all my stories, standing over the actions of my characters, a witness in a manner of speaking. And I too am a witness, to the playing out of her dénouement. All I can do at the end of the day is bear witness, say, “I showed up.” All else is beyond my control.

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Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA, with his family. He is the author of the collection, Blood a Cold Blue. His website is at www.jamesclaffey.com.

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Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, Salon, Jezebel, The Nervous Breakdown, among others. She’s the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen leads The Manifestation Retreat/Workshop: On Being Human all over the world. Next up: a weekend retreat in May to Ojai, Calif as well as 4 day retreat over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif.  She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up is Seattle and London July 6 and Dallas. (London sells out fast so book soon if you plan on attending!)

Grief, Guest Posts

A Moving Letter From A Mother To an Insurance Company After They Denied Her Brain Injured Son The Care He Needed.

April 10, 2014

Beloveds, Jen here. This was a submission sent in yesterday to my site and I felt I had to get it up as soon as possible. I am sitting here in tears. Such love. Such love. Let’s make this viral. Thank you to Demetra for being the daughter you are and sending this in. 

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My mom wrote this today and posted it to her Facebook account. I think it should be shared with the world so I stole it and am sending it to Jen. My brother, Damon, was in a car accident two years ago and lives with a brain injury. She posted this as a pretend letter to our insurance company… I think it is a good reminder to just be really compassionate and to think about how all of our actions affect others, plus I think it’s beautiful. I hope you like it. I put her bio in with the article and also attached a photo of her and my brother. Thank you, Demetra Szatkowski.

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I’d like to meet you. I’d like to understand better. I’d like to know who you are.
 I’d like to know if you have legs that work, a body that responds, a fully functioning brain. I’d like to know if you think twice before standing up, before walking to the bathroom, before reaching up and opening the kitchen cabinet. I’d like to know if you go for a run after work, ride a bike, hike, or just stroll through the woods. I’d like to know if you know what it would be like if you couldn’t do any of those things. I’d like to know if you have ever remotely known anyone with a disability and if you have ever felt even one ounce of compassion.

I’d like to know if when you slammed the rubber stamp of total denial down on our request for the power chair that offers the option of standing and seat elevation for my son, providing so many degrees of independence, you thought outside the box at all. I’d like to know if you even tried to come up with a solution or a compromise that would be in the best interest not only of your company but my boy, as well.

Your words: “Denied completely because based on the medical director’s scientific and/or clinical judgment, the documentation shows this service, group 4 power wheelchair and accessories, is not medically necessary. The power standing feature and power seat elevator are noncovered because they are not primarily medical in nature. THESE ARE CONSIDERED CONVENIENCE ITEMS. Therefore, this request is denied.”

I’d like to know why standing and reaching and living more normally are a convenience. I’d like to know why weight bearing on those legs, independently, without needing the help of an outside person, helping them to regain function, is not at all medical. I’d like to know if you think using your legs is just a convenience. Do you think that wanting a multifunctional higher end chair is the same as wanting a high-end sports car? Do you think we are greedy in asking?

I understand that the chair costs as much as a new car. And we are more than willing to fund as much as we have to. I just don’t understand though, if you are willing to pay for any type of wheelchair at all, why those funds cannot be used towards the purchase of this chair, with us making up the difference. I am not even asking you to spend a dime more than you would on the other type of chair. I’d like to know why when you saw the chair model you immediately denied it and will not compromise. Why not price the lower end model and offer us that amount toward the chair? I am naïve to your reasons. Please help me to understand.

Your use of the words, “convenience items” honestly makes me sick to my stomach. There are other words….there are other ways.

I’d like to know if you know that if we based our outlook on other doctors’ “scientific and/or clinical judgment” a couple of years ago, our son would not be here today?

No matter what we have to do, my son will get the chair that is best suited for him. We won’t compromise. I wish you did.

I have no respect for your “scientific and/or clinical judgment.”

 

Never mind. I don’t want to meet you.

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Karen Pyros-Szatkowski is a full time caregiver, nurse, cleaning lady, cook, and the best mother in the world all in one. Her 19-year-old son, Damon Szatkowski, was in a car accident a little over two years ago and lives with a TBI (traumatic brain injury.) She is also the mother of two beautiful daughters (can you tell her daughter wrote this bio?) You can follow her story or contact her through

Facebook, or at kpszat@aol.com.

mom and damon

 

Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane. She’s the founder of The Manifest-Station. She’s leading a weekend retreat in May to Ojai, Calif as well as 4 day retreat over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing for all levels. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up is Dallas, Seattle and London July 6. (London sells out fast so book soon if you plan on attending!)

Abuse, Addiction, Guest Posts, Things I Have Lost Along The Way

Shameful Little Secret.

December 22, 2013

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By Janine Canty.

My son is a drug addict.

I’ve taken to practicing those words in the mirror. They feel unreal. They sound foreign, no matter how many times I repeat them. They taste bad. They actually taste bad. They smell like sour milk and unwashed skin. They feel like a snowstorm in July.

I love him enough to die for him. I love the part of him that named a gerbil “Blub Blub”, when he was three. I love the part of him that ran a gentle finger across my swollen abdomen, and quietly whispered “Baby Brutha”, when he was four.  I love the part of him that wrote a journal entry for his first grade class. He wrote:  “My cat, Mittens, has fleas. Mommy had to give her a bath.  Mommy swore a lot.”

Maybe it was because I dropped the F bomb in front of him. Maybe it’s because he was conceived in the backseat of a blue Dodge Dart with broken seat belts.  Maybe it was the tinny rendition of “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” blasting out of cheap speakers. Maybe it was the sound of clothes slipping lazily off of skin. Maybe it was the boxed macaroni and cheese I let him live on when he was six. Maybe it was a cold night in November. When he watched me climb into a police cruiser without him. I didn’t look back that night. I didn’t see him standing there in a pile of brittle, dead, leaves. I didn’t need to see his face, to memorize it’s every pore.

Maybe it was bad luck, caffeine, or even a faulty gene pool. Maybe it was Bazooka bubble gum and beer. I remember when I was seven, how the rotary phone rang from it’s spot on a kitchen wall. My mother played with the pushpins on a cheerful bulletin  board, while she listened.  Her voice got smaller and quieter. Her body slowly folded in on itself. Assuming the fetal position. Protecting herself from the words.  My cousin, Jackie, a solemn boy with big eyes and soft curls, had been found laying on a Boston street. His blood staining the cement underneath him. His life light extinguished by a strangers dirty knife.  Drugs the adults whispered with red rimmed eyes. Drugs . They lowered their voices. Jackie was reduced to a shameful little secret, with that one word: “Drugs.”Life went on. Family barbecues resumed without him. Jello cake, sweating soda cans, and half smoked pall malls littered a picnic table. While my aunt sat in the shade, with her broken heart hidden behind a pair of  Walgreen’s sunglasses.When I was 23 the phone rang again. This time death had come on a beautiful summer day. My cousin Stephen silenced his demons with a piece of plastic tubing,  He ended his life on top of a mountain, with one push of a hypodermic needle. He was found among soft grass, and sharp boulders. His face looked peaceful. He didn’t leave a note. Whether it was on purpose was never decided.  Whether it was on purpose was irrelevant.  “Drugs”. again, it was “Drugs” Guilty whispers.  Shameful glances. Red rimmed eyes, and a closed casket. Stephen’s life reduced to it’s tiny, sad, ending.

Many, many, years have passed since those events. Rotary phones have been replaced by fancy cell phones. My son has grown into a scabby looking transient. His hands shake. His once beautiful face is cracked,, and covered in tiny sores. He hides his eyes behind an oily string that was once healthy hair. The world looks at him and judges him for what he has become. Someone you wouldn’t leave alone around your pocketbook, or your child. When I hear “Ballroom Blitz”  start playing from my fancy cell phone, my hands turn to heavy ice.

While I rummage through my purse, grapple on top of a crowded bathroom vanity, or reach blindly in the dark to silence one of my favorite 70’s songs. I wonder if this is the time I’ll have to go identify the remains of my child in a freezing cold room while bland professionals  offer me horrible coffee, and whisper Drugs.

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My name is Janine Canty. I have been writing since age 11 when a teacher told me I had “talent.”  Writing has always been a tonic for me. Being published is a pretty little dream I keep tucked away in a safe place. I am not a professional writer though the passion for it has stayed with me like a campfire. I make my living as a CNA- Med Technician in a busy nursing facility in a tiny Northern town almost no one has ever heard of. I dabble in blog writing, and all things Facebook.  I fail at tweeting.

Jen Pastiloff is back in London for ONE workshop only Feb 14th. Book by clicking poster. This is her most popular workshop and space is limited to 50 people.

Jen Pastiloff is back in London for ONE workshop only Feb 14th. Book by clicking poster. This is her most popular workshop and space is limited to 50 people.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above.

Contact Rachel for health coaching, weight loss, strategies, recipes, detoxes, cleanses or help getting off sugar. Click here.

Contact Rachel for health coaching, weight loss, strategies, recipes, detoxes, cleanses or help getting off sugar. Click here.