Friends, Living in the Moment, Music

Dance Myself to Sleep

The remarkable sifter and curator, DMF, over at SyntheticZero posted a comment to Everything is Music with a link to Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Paul Simon playing Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes.

On the eve of an unwelcome anniversary and bracing for another night fighting off the devils that eat sleep, here I am in bed now, singing and dancing — yes, dancing alone in bed! — with the warmest thrill from smile to toes.

Now this word from Ernie & Bert:

Thank you for the most buoyant lullaby a girl could hope for, DMF. (And thank you, lambies.)


 

 

Change, Determination, Poetry

Every Glove

Diana with Dog

Each time I think I’ve made contact
sleep ducks away. I stumble
back to night,
dazed. Bedstand, light
Rise Up Singing, 1992 edition
my name a blue wave
from an eager hand
across an arena packed
with years. The water
stained pages crack open
to Men, a section all its own:
He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother
and Hard Lovin’ Loser
and the one I tucked against me as His
pocketful of mumbles
such are promises. I sing
as I would for my restless son, sway
like the heavy bag
matching its pace, this rhythm I know
by heart. When I left
my home and my family
I was no more than a boy, now
I lay wide the unwrapped
knuckle, throat
bare as palms
I swing
to meet the solid
object I thought
on loan from some
other, and fall
through to a core
so supple and familiar
it is certainly my own and
it will certainly
burst. Momentum
splits a seam, tears
off the skin,
and as with all things
through
is the only way
out. Where I land, stars
spill across sky
in this clearing
stands a boxer and a fighter
by her trade
and she carries the reminders
of every glove that laid her down
or cut her til she cries out
all the anger and the shame
I am leaving I am leaving
and the fighter
rises
up
here, singing
her own name
 

Music, Parenting

Last Night, I Couldn’t Sleep

We are a little late getting to bed. Bug has just returned from a long New Year’s winter family camp weekend at the Frost Valley YMCA in the Catskills. His dad reported that Bug actually sang a Justin Bieber song at Karaoke in the dining hall in front of everyone. This, in addition to rocket-making and going down the tubing hill 13 or so times.
 
When my kid returns from these camp weekends, he has adopted funny new mannerisms. Tonight, he makes a little tchk with his cheek and cocks his head while he chatters at me. While he builds legos, he sings, “We are never, ever, ever, getting back together” under his breath. Also, his face is smeared with blue, his hands are purple, and he smells. Hygiene is not a top priority at camp.
 
After bath and jammies, we settle into his bed together. I finish the last book and set it on the floor. Bug is deep into his drawing of some complex set of ladders and pulleys again. I rub his back and start to sing. I don’t get one line into “Baby Beluga” before Bug stops me.
 
“Don’t sing, please.”
 
I stop rubbing. This is new. “Do you want a different one?”
 
“No.” He is coloring hard with dark blue marker. The work of our bath is quickly being reversed. “No songs. Just cuddles.”
 
I stoke his back again with a little more care. He colors in silence.
 
Is that it? Did it just happen? Did my little boy cross over? Someone once said that you will never know when read your child Goodnight Moon for the last time. We step blindly over milestones as if they are just cracks in the sidewalk.
 
I think back to our Christmas week together in Texas. On the first evening there, we sang from our caroling songbook. The second night, Bug asked me not to sing. I thought this was some combination of the laryngitis making me sound like a geriatric goose and the general overstimulation of our lodgings. The final three nights of our visit, he asked me not to sing. This was fine with me because even speaking had become a burden.
 
Are we finished with bedtime songs? Was it over the night before Christmas? Surely, it can’t happen like this. Boom, a kid enters a new stage and there is no looking back? Doesn’t he understand how momentous and heartbreaking this is?
 
“No songs at all?” I venture. “Not even ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’?”
 
“No, thanks,” he says.
 
I watch him add an extra ladder. Adapt or die, as they say.
 
“What are you drawing?”
 
“Guess,” he says.
 
If I can’t sing, I can at least have a conversation with him. In the split second it takes him to enter adolescence, he may well become more irritated by my existence than indulgent of it. I suppose I better get with the program. I look at his drawing more closely. He inks a line from the ladder to a platform where a smiling person stands.
 
“A zipline?”
 
“Yep,” he says. “It’s a high ropes course.”
 
We talk about this for a few moments. He points out what is what. Our exchange is pretty spotty because he is still focused on his composition. The side of his hand and the wristband of his new digger-truck jammies are smeared gray-blue.
 
“Alright, Bud. I’m going to get everything ready for school tomorrow. Finish up the picture and lights out in just a minute, okay?”
 
“Mmm-hmm.” He starts on the higher element at the top of the page. The Flying Squirrel? The Postman’s Walk? He doesn’t give. I kiss his head and go downstairs to finish the dishes. I have almost finished loading the dishwasher when I hear the plaintive cry from the landing. “Mommy? Mo-o-o-mmy?”
 
“Yes, baby?”
 
“You forgot to put the cool water by my bed.”
 
I grin and come upstairs. “We are out of practice after a few days away, huh? I filled it up when you were brushing your teeth but we both forgot to take it to your room. Here.” I help him find the cup. He has not stayed in this house for eleven nights. I have to remember that these transitions take some adjustment. He gulps deeply and crawls back into bed, picking up an orange marker on the way. I stroke his head. “You need to finish up so you can get some sleep for tomorrow.”
 
“Okay.”
 
I lumber back downstairs to finish packing snack and putting away laundry.
 
“Mommy? Mo-o-o-mmy?”
 
I walk to the landing with a sigh. “Yes, buddy?”
 
“I need to go potty.”
 
“So, go potty.” He smiles big, wrapping his arm around my shoulder as I climb the stairs. “Let me guess. You took a nap in the car on the way home from camp today, didn’t you?”
 
He bounces into the bathroom. “What do you think I’m going to say?”
 
“I think you’re going to say, ‘yes’.”
 
He makes a silly face then nods. We goof with our faces going from stern to giggles. “Do you want to come in and see what I drew after I go potty?”
 
“Sure, baby. Then it’s bedtime.”
 
He digs out a pile of sketches that he has produced in the few minutes I was downstairs. This one shows an elaborate series of ladders and several emergency vehicles including two medi-vac helicopters. “It’s an underground hospital,” he tells me. “That’s blood. All full of blood. And that’s the thing with the wheels they take the people out of the helicopter on.”
 
“A stretcher?”
 
“Yep. And this is an ambulance. And here is the X-Ray machine.”
 
“Baby, it is so far past your bedtime, it’s not even funny.”
 
“Okay.”
 
I go downstairs to make copies of his paperwork to start the new before-school program.
 
“Mommy? Mo-o-o-mmy?”
 
I take a deep breath, round the foyer, and mount the stairs. “Bedtime,” I say quietly. “No more coloring.”
 
“But why aren’t you in bed?”
 
“Because I can’t finish my chores with someone calling me upstairs every seventeen seconds. Here. Hop into bed. We’re done.” I take away the clipboard and set it on the floor and put the sack of markers in the drawer. He pulls the blanket up.
 
Gently, gently, I make the offer. “How about a song to help you get to sleep?”
 
He nods and wiggles down under the blanket. “Okay. Will you lay down with me?”
 
“You bet.”
 
“And maybe do all three songs?”
 
“Sure thing, buddy.”
 
He smiles his dozy, droop-eyed smile and presses up against me. As the tune leaves my lips, I hear every word of every verse much more clearly than I have in years.
 
Tonight is probably not the last page of this chapter, but how could I know if it were? We just never know how close we are to the end. There is no way to flip ahead to see. I sing him the whole of each song well past his bedtime and deep into slumber. I add a free fourth tune for good measure just to make up for all the ones I will never hum into his drowsy neck again once he says goodbye to the lullaby for good.
 

Let’s not talk about fare-the-wells now
The night is a starry dome.

As long as this moment lasts, I sing my boy to sleep.
 

From Joni Mitchell’s “Carey” off the forever twilight album, Blue.

Growing Up, Parenting

Happy 100 Days: 34

I climb in and wrap
my arms around the boy I know
is forever mine
and forever
my only.
I use these secret lies
to balm the places
that will be pruned
without  my consent
and without fair
warning.

He is still fidgeting, clicking his tongue’s metronome against the verses of the song.
 
“Shh, baby. Take a deep breath.”
 
“Why?”
 
“Because we are helping the little whale get ready for bedtime.” I speak in a whisper. Bug turns, his pajama top riding up over his belly. I tug it back down, stroking my fingers against his back and side as he rolls yet again. He is a porpoise, rifling through the sheets and leaving a storm of tangled linen in his wake. He shivers. “Shhh.” I take in a deep breath and let my chest rise before easing the air out. I watch him do the same. “That baby whale is gliding in the dark water under the starry sky, slowly, slowly, until it’s just the waves bobbing him to sleep.”
 
Bug presses backwards into me and sighs. His lungs flutter like fins before finding the rhythm of the lullaby. He is half awake and then not and then he has slipped down below the surface where I cannot reach. I finish out the final verses. The song is a treasure chest I have to close so nothing precious escapes.
 
With the morning sun
Another day’s begun
you’ll soon be waking. . .
 
I breathe the tune down low, voice vibrating out through my ribs and into his.
 
In the face of these legacies his daddy and I leave him to bear (the poor eyesight, the tempest heart) at least the lyrics I have stashed away in those underground caves will be there if he chooses to seek comfort there. With song, even the deepest places will retain one small portion of light. He will learn, should we not fail him completely, that this will be more than enough to find his way.
 

Uncategorized

Happy 100 Days: 90


 
While we are brushing teeth at bedtime, I somehow manage to elbow Bug in the face. I feel the crack, and immediately pull him into my soft belly. A split second passes and then he is wailing. Hot tears and even hotter anger seep through my shirt.
 
“I’m sorry, baby. Goodness gracious, that must hurt. I’m sorry.”
 
He howls into my side. “It’s your fault, Mommy!” Choking sobs. “It’s all your fault!”
 
I call down the stairs and ask my mother to bring us the ice pack from the freezer. She hands it up to us and I talk softly to Bug, finding a pillowcase to wrap around the pack. Bug is still clinging to me, yelling, “It’s your fault!”
 
“Yep, it is,” I say. I help him press the ice to his cheek then have him put on his jammies. I fill a mug with cool water for his bedside table. “It was an accident. I am sorry.” He keeps crying and scowling as the spot under his eye puffs to an angry pink. He reminds me about two dozen more times that I am to blame for his misery. I concede this fact.
 
Here is tonight’s small victory: My son does not hit me. He does not bite, kick, spit, or butt me in the face with the back of his head.
 
“Can I have paper for writing?” He asks. I dig up a clipboard from the clutter in his room. We crawl into bed and I begin to read as he writes on his paper with a thick red marker. Halfway through the first book, Bug interrupts me. “That’s you, Mommy.” I look over and see he has drawn on the far left of his page a frowning stick figure with a distressed look. I am impressed with the expressiveness of the eyebrows.
 
“That looks like a mean mommy,” I say.
 
“It is,” he says. He returns to drawing. I keep reading. After the next book, I look over again. He has filled in the page with two more stick figures. “Now you are sad,” he tells me, pointing to my double.
 
“Is that you with an angry face?” I ask.
 
“Yeah. I am punching you.”
 
“Oh. I see now.” He marks in little teardrops falling from the mommy’s eyes. “She seems pretty upset,” I say. “And he looks mad.” He draws the two faces again at the top of the page. One is crying and one is scowling. When he puts the cap back on the marker, I tap the page. “You know what you did, kiddo? You told your feelings to this picture.”
 
Bug reaches over and gives me the gentlest of swats on the shoulder. “Now I did the same thing to you for real,” he says.
 
I let it go. So does he. He pulls the page from the clipboard and drops it off the side of the bed. He starts practicing his letters. I start on the third book.
 
After we are finished reading, I tuck him against me into a full-body hug and sing “Baby Beluga.” My son’s new favorite approach to cuddling is to slip his arm under my neck and pull my head down on his chest. He wraps his hand around my shoulder and strokes my hair. It is an odd juxtaposition, my son holding me against him the way I have held him for so many years. I feel small and safe. I feel gigantic and cumbersome. I feel the echo of my voice off his fragile ribs and his unbroken heart.
 
Downstairs, I hear Giovanni come to drop off the dog. Her nails tippy-tap on the kitchen tile, a staccato counterpoint to the thundering footsteps of my parents as they wash up the dinner dishes and stash away the pizza stone. Bug’s schoolwork is on the kitchen table awaiting his teacher’s smiley-face sticker. A truck roars past on the muggy street outside. The air conditioner hums to life. The presidential debates begin.
 
I sing “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” and Bug sings along, his voice fading.
 
There’s a lake of stew and ginger ale too,
you can paddle all around it in a big canoe

 
He is under before I reach the end, but I finish anyway. I stay there for a few moments. His hand is against my ear, fingers tangled in my hair. He holds me as close as he can even in his sleep.
 
My son was angry at me. For the first time in 5 years and 363 days, he told me about it with words and art instead of with his hands.
 
So often, I sense the hugeness of the task ahead. Survive, save, support my child, teach him well, build a future. It is daunting. It can be very lonesome.
 
Tonight, I can feel my son’s strong pulse against my cheek. All around, the world goes on. It sometimes happens that in all that going on, people help. Sometimes, someone takes care of something that need taking care of. Someone walks the dog. Brings the ice pack. Pays the mortgage. Teaches the kids. Runs the country.
 
Sometimes, I can whisper my boy through his storm of feelings precisely because I am not alone.
 
What a revelation.
 
Sometimes, I am not alone.