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Category: emotional rescue

stitching the homesick blanket

dispatch from 02139…

here on the banks of the charles river, it’s seeped in, that one thing i knew was coming, that one thing i prayed might be kept at bay.

but of course, it couldn’t, wouldn’t be.

not when traveling with young soul, tender soul, boy on the brink of those tumbling years, those years when friends mean everything, when the familiar is lifeline, is equilibrium.

and so, at the dawn of most days lately, and past nightfall, when the bedclothes are tucked up around his chin, that’s when i hear the sigh, the deep, deep hollow sigh. the boy misses home, misses friends, feels unmoored.

please, can we go home?!?!” he asks, begging and insisting in the same short breaths.

are there words in a mother’s lexicon that cut more sharply against the vessels of the heart?

one morning, not so many days ago, when i’d dried the tears, whispered words meant to stitch together the tatters, when i’d coaxed and promised and pleaded, at last he climbed down from the top of the bunk bed, surrendered more or less to the school day up ahead, and as he stood there, calm by then, bravely slipping arms through soccer jersey, he asked:

“mom, has there ever been a time in your life where you wished you could go back to a decision and make it over again?”

and i knew, of course, before the last word of the sentence rested on my eardrum, that the decision in mind here was the one back in january, around the dinner table, when we’d asked that fifth-grade boy what he’d think of up and moving to cambridge for a year, and he replied, without missing a beat, “sounds great. i need to see the world!”

and here, standing on the hard-planked floor of his little room on franklin street, in cambridge, in the heart of 02139, he was wishing with all his might that time was silly-putty, could be pulled and twisted, turned back, re-formed. that just maybe he’d said nope, no way, i’m stayin’ put.

but fact is, we’re here. for a mere nine more months.

and i know, deep in my mother heart, that he’ll be all right.

that this hurts, absolutely. (after all i’m the girl who sat on the garage stoop for my whole kindergarten year, every sunday night, oozing emptiness and sorrow as i watched my papa pull down the driveway, turn and fade into the darkness, gone again till friday, week after empty week, for most of that whole year.)

the thing that keeps me steady are the words some wise soul said in passing, just before we packed up all the boxes back on maple avenue, when she said: “a parent’s job is to teach our children to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.”

well, it’s uncomfortable, all right. for him, at least. for this kid who travels to a school where he claims just one friend, though when i pick him up on the basketball courts after school, he’s amid a thicket of ball players, all smiling, jostling. and they call out his name in a way that drips with honey, pure sweet, our little scrapper of a hustler on the court. and with that big ol’ smile to boot, he seems to be the proud owner of a formula for instant affection.

if i didn’t believe, deep down, with all my soul, that this year was in fact a trip through the accelerator, that shake-’em-up-machine that can’t help but infuse life knowledge, heart, a deeper wider understanding of the world, whether it comes from sitting on my lap while i read a story from our south african journalist friend about the 1,802 footsteps it takes along a muddy mountain path to fetch a jug of water (twice, each day), or whether it comes while kicking around a soccer ball with four kids, not one of whom speaks english, i would never have emptied out his dresser drawers, stuffed it all in duffel bags, and squished them into the back of the little black sedan that pulled out of our alley back home, and kept chugging till it got to the curb here on franklin.

but that doesn’t mean i’ve not, once again, pulled out my mother bag of implements and tools for stitching back together the tattered heart of a boy who’s been stricken with a nasty case of homesick blues.

and once again i’ve come to that blunt line, the precipice, where words run out, where there are only so many ways you can whisper hope, promise deliverance from this heartache.

and so, as always, i’ve turned to the alchemies of comfort.

i am simmering cider and spices in early morning hours so that even before he flutters open an eyelid, he’ll have breathed in a comfort note, a pungent autumn mix of cinnamon and clove and apple orchard.

i’m frying sausages and bacon. making whopping batches of french toast on weekends, so all week long he’ll start the day with a platter that tries to whisper: you are loved. you’re not home, but home is here, is where the ones who hold you up promise to sustain you, to keep you from being swallowed whole by the rocky waters of your achiness.

i’m snatching samples of hard-rock candy from the white house pastry chef who lectured to my “science and cooking” class, so that he knows, without words, that even in the thick of my dailiness, he is front and center in my mama brain.

last night, dashing out of a mind-blowing talk from five journalists who covered the arab spring, from egypt to liberia to yemen and tunisia, five journalists who barely missed bullets, and didn’t escape arrest, dashing out because i had to get to the soccer field, to fetch my homesick boy from practice, i spied a vat of goldfish crackers, and scooped up a whole cup because even when my head is swirling with images of war and foreign correspondents, i remember that little boys’ tummies growl when they are empty, and the drive home in cambridge traffic is always longer than it should be, and so there i was dashing along the cobbled streets, weaving and darting between college kids plugged into iPhones, with my plastic cup of bright orange goldfish.

because mamas never stop the art, the craft, the hope of being mamas. our one true work is nestled deep in that cord that forever connects us: we are, if we choose to be, the beginning and the end of someone’s belonging to this holy earth. we are womb. even when it’s emptied.

and our prayers are without end. our prayers, without words when we come to the place where no vowels, no consonants exist to capture the whole of what we ask, what we beg for.

dear God, please fill this child’s heart. please stitch together the gaping hole, the oozing-out place where it hurts so very much, where it feels like you’re falling, spinning, down a big black tunnel. where you think you’ll never again get home. where the comfort of your big old bed, the wallpaper that you know by heart, the sounds of the creaking at the top of the stairs, it’s all you long for. that and the footsteps of your friends, tramping in the door, encasing you in the whole cloth of friendship and familiar that you so miss.

dear God, pass me, please, the spool and the needle that i need here. as i try mightily, morning after morning, bedtime after bedtime, to stitch the homesick blanket. so i can tuck in the boy i love, wrap him in the holy cloth of comfort that only angels bring.

chair people, if you’ve an extra word of grace to spare, perhaps you might send up vespers for all the children in this world who don’t quite feel that they belong wherever it is they are.  and if you’ve tricks in your sewing kit, or recipes tucked into files, please do tell: how do you stitch comfort for the ones you love when they are aching, oozing, and wholly at a loss?

dashing to send this off because any minute now, the power’s going out for the whole day here. i’ll have to nip and tuck later. but for now…..my morning’s meander….

love at the grocery store

there were tears at the breakfast counter this morning. oh, not because the flakes got soggy. not because of bad news on the sports page.

no.

it was the news that the big brother, the one who’s far away this week, won’t be home in time for tomorrow’s all-star game.

the little one, you see, is on the team. got voted there by the ones he slugs beside. the lineup of little stars who watch him leap and stretch and tumble, all in the name of making a TV-ready play.

the little one lives for games with balls. has far less patience when it comes to words and numbers. even less if there’s a pencil on the scene.

but give the boy a ball and he takes to it like he was born to make those muscles stretch, the synapses connect, the catching hand signaling the running leg at DSL speed.

i tell you, the kid is wired in ways that baffle me, his mother who could barely walk across a room without finding something there to trip on.

and the kid is utterly deflated that his all-star hero, his big towering eight-years-older brother, can’t be there in the bleachers.

he’d had hopes, he said, sniffling through his almost-tears, that his brother would be the one to call out his name, into the plug-in microphone, over the scratchy loudspeakers, as he approached the plate.

at the little ball park where the game is played, they go for schmaltz like that. good schmaltz, the best schmaltz; they play it up in pure old-fashioned ways.

glancing toward the breakfast bowl, once i saw the scrunched-up face, knew the tears were on the way, i did what any mama would: i dropped the spoon i’d just picked up, wrapped my arms around his shaky little shoulders, buried his soggy face into my fresh white t-shirt, gave no thought to the strawberry bits i would now be sporting in the bull’s eye of my belly.

i held him tight, and wished like anything i could rent a helicopter to get his brother home.

i tried talking so-called common sense, explained that no one knew, so long ago, that he’d be on the team, back when his brother made the summer plans, back when we penciled in the one short week away.

he blew his nose, the little one. slapped on sunscreen, shuffled off to camp. but as i drove him there i heard the sigh, asked, “what’s wrong?” he answered in two short syllables: his brother’s name.

i knew what that meant. i caught his face in the rear-view mirror. the boy was deeply sad, in one of those ways he’ll not soon forget. i can hear it now, 30 years away, the little one will rib his brother, remind him, how, when it mattered, he wasn’t there.

egad. dial ET, for emotional triage.

once i dropped him off at camp, i headed straight to the nearest first-aid station: the grocery store.

it’s often, at our house, the place to turn for makeshift reparations. end-of-a-long-week. half-birthday. any holiday from halloween to little easter. like a madwoman, i comb the shelves, find all sorts of bells and whistles to mark whatever is the moment. you’d be amazed what you find stocked at the all-purpose store. it’s where i spend my paycheck, with nary a second thought. long as it fits in a brown paper grocery bag, it’s hardly an indulgence. just a mama’s fix-it for whatever is the urgent need. and, besides, it’s open all night long, a convenience that’s downright essential when you’re someone who cooks up schemes at all hours of the night. and often on the fly.

i roamed the aisles, searched for all the balm and anti-sting cream that i could find. i started in the cereal aisle. found a limited-issue summer crunch, one with bats and balls to pour into your bowl. stumbled over to the streamer aisle, grabbed red and white and blue.

we’ll do it up, this all-star theme.

called the bread shop once back home (because i forgot to steer the car there), ordered up a loaf of cinnamon swirl, his breakfast favorite.

if i can’t bring on the brother, i can at least supply the band-aids.

it’s all we’re left with, sometimes.

too often.

and in the million other times a week when we flub it up, fall short, run out of steam, chase the little bugger back to bed (with nary a note of tenderness), well, we try and try again. most especially, when we think it counts.

we fill our grocery cart. we tuck away the treats. we scheme and hope.

we picture the little all-star, waking up to festooned room. sitting down to all-star slugger cereal, and swirls of cinnamon and sugar.

we’ll take pictures. tell stories. cheer our lungs out and our throats till they’re scratchy.

we’ll try to fill the stands with all the love we can muster.

and, yep, the seat beside me will be empty.

because sometimes all the wishing in the world won’t bring back the one you long to have there.

anyone else patch together a broken heart this week? what were the balms that worked for you?

heart to heart

the little red heart is the size of a button. so is its twin, the other half of its whole.

when the sun peeks in his room, when he bounds out of bed and into his school clothes, he’ll slip his into his pocket. so will his mama. i promised i would.

a heart in your pocket is a very good thing. especially on the very first day, the very first long day, when the time between saying goodbye at the school door, and climbing off at the bus stop, way past lunch in a lunchroom, and scrambling all over at recess, way past standing in lines and marching through halls, past sitting in chairs and reaching in desks. way past finding your name on all sorts of supplies, and even a locker you barely know how to use.

a heart in your pocket is a very good thing.

you give it a squeeze when you need to. you give it a squeeze when you’re sad. or you’re wobbly. or lonesome. you give it a squeeze when you’re certain its powers will work like a cell phone, connect you in magical ways, without even dialing. and the heart on the other end of the line will be there, will know that you’re calling, really she will.

because hearts in the pocket are like that.

they connect you.

and when you are six, and going off in the world, for the very first time really. for the very first time where the lumps in your tummy, and the ones in your throat are so big you think they might choke you. or send you flying to the boys’ room, way, way down the hall, before it’s too late.

the need for a heart, the need for a something, became wholly apparent last night in the dark.

that’s when your heart’s bared. that’s when all that is hiding comes out of the shadows. that’s when your room and your bed get overly crowded. that’s when the things that behave all through the day come haunting. they decide in the nighttime, they want some air time. they want to romp in your head.

that’s when the feet came. tiptoeing down the stairs, around the corner, right to my side, that’s when the words came too: “mama, i need to talk to you about something really serious about school.”

and so, of course, i stopped what i’d thought was important, scooped him onto my lap, and i listened.

“ i think i’ll be homesick.”

that was round one. before it was ended we’d talked, re-climbed the stairs, re-tucked into bed, re-kissed that soft head.

then came round two.

again, feet shuffling.

this time i was not far from his room. this time the words came in whispers, barely audible whispers there at the top of the stairs, where i promptly sat down.

“i’m nervous about tomorrow. i’m afraid i might vomit.”

the child goes straight for the heart. cuts no corners. softens no blows.

in a word, he took me right back. took me back to the weeks, there were two of them, one in kindergarten, one in first grade, where i too got so sick, so dehydrated, they twice tossed me in the hospital. i remember it vividly. remember the little pink puppet they sent me home with. but i remember other things, too, that weren’t quite so nice. things that still give me shudders.

i know what it is to be so afraid, so rumbly inside that you can’t hear a word, and the room feels like it’s swirling.

i took my boy by the hand. we had us some digging to do.

“we need a heart,” i informed him, as i led him. as if i knew just how to fix this. as if i was a sorcerer and i held the potion that would cure whatever ailed him. sometimes even parents play pretend. because they have to. because sitting there falling apart would not help. would not do a thing.

so we pretend that we’ve all sorts of lotions and potions and balms. we dab cream on a cut, make it feel better. whip up concoctions to take out the sting. we do voodoo and rain dances, for crying out loud. whatever it takes to get over the bumps.

the bump last night called for a little red heart. or a little wee something. something he could slip in his pocket, and know i was there. not down the street, around the corner, four more blocks south.

we dug through my top drawer, the one where i stash all my treasures. there was a rock shaped like a heart, a tarnished old ring, a bunny the size of a quarter. and the two red see-through hearts.

we sifted and sorted. i let him decide. i told him how his big brother, too, used to go off in the world with me in his pocket. explained how it worked. how you give it a squeeze and you know that i’m there. that i’m thinking. and loving. and waiting. for the end of the day when he’ll be home again.

i told him i, too, have him in my pocket. how i too would carry a heart. give it a squeeze. send a signal. all day, back and forth, little hearts would be flying. would be defying all logic and sense, and even some science.

but they’d not ever quit. would not break. not run out of batteries. they are forever.

good thing when you’re six, you know things by heart. and you believe, most of all, the things that your mama, she tells you.

especially at night, especially past bedtime, when all of your insides come tumbling right out. when the house has no noise, and the moon guides your way down the stairs.

that is the hour that’s blessed. that is the hour that mamas and papas and all the people who love you pull out their needles and thread, and even their little red buttons, whatever it takes to stitch you and your heart all back together.

now go to sleep, sweetheart, and when the day comes, just give me a squeeze. and i’ll do the same. we’re as close as two hearts in a pocket.

that’s a promise i’ll keep. i promise.

any butterflies and rumbly tummies at your house? what magic spells and secret potions do you have to chase them away? do you remember your first long day away from home, tucked in a school desk, when you thought your heart would pound right through your chest, and the flip-flops in your tummy nearly did you in? did someone you love soothe you? make you believe you could get over the hump? do you still get butterflies? i do…..

after-school cookie therapy

the little one had his hand deep in the cookie bag when i walked in.

“hey sweetie,” i said, launching into the kitchen. “hold on. let me make something healthy.”

that’s when he started to cry. words followed tears. tears followed words. “but i had a hard day,” said the boy who is 5.

that’s when i kicked the after-school snack into super high gear. “oh, boy, let me make something special,” i said as i grabbed for the bag and the boy and a red splatterware plate. while i gathered my wares—orange, dried strawberries, banana, and, yes, even reclaimed bag of pepperidge farm brussels–i turned up my ears, cranked open my heart.

“tell me what happened,” i said, slicing orange into juicy-spoked wheels.

something about dominoes, it turned out, was the source of the tears. something about dominoes not being shared.
by now i was sprinkling dried strawberries like rain on orange puddles.

that’s when his big brother walked in. “you need a hug, little buddy? looks like you need a hug.”

as they squeezed, the big brother therapist added this: “the best way to fix a bad day, little bud, is to talk. talking fixes bad days.”

while they wrapped up the squeeze, slid onto chairs at the old kitchen table, i reached into cookie bag, pulled out buttery-crisps that the little one had already determined would sop up the hurt.

laid crisps on the plate, tucked in between orange wheels. making it pretty. some quirk in my brain thinking that pretty sops up hurt better. maybe because really it soars to a place beyond words, says someone cares, cares enough to make the plate pretty. and, sometimes, you’ll do anything—words, pretty, pepperidge farm–to sop up the hurt.

sopping up hurt.

some days that’s what after-school snack is all about. i am an ardent believer in after-school snack, depend heavily on its medicinal powers. i still remember, more clearly i think than any other food of my childhood day, the apples in wedges, the pretzels in twists and stirring the chocolatey powder into deep earthen ooze at the bottom of my green glass of milk. i don’t remember the talking. but i do remember the after-school rite.

and i distinctly remember a smart lawyerly friend, a mother of two in that smartland known around here as hyde park (home to the university of chicago and iq’s off the chart, for you who dwell outside the land of 606-something). i distinctly remember her telling me she worked part-time hours just so she could be there for after-school snack. mind you, this was one tough cookie making time for, well, milk and cookie.

some things stick with you forever. that one sticks with me.

all these years later it defines the minutes from 3:30 on, ’til the talking is done. no matter the stacks on my desk, no matter the deadline, i practically always lift my head long enough for snacks and the news of the school day.

little people have hearts, they have hurts, they have sorrows. some days they have triumphs. or just a good knock-knock that makes them laugh silly.

today it took oranges in wheels, sprinkled with strawberries. then the boy who loves cheerios thought a handful of o’s might make it more better. so we nibbled, we talked, we indeed made it all better. more better, even.

they pushed in their chairs, i rinsed off the plate. we are back to our days now. our tummies are filled, and so are our hearts.

you needn’t be a parent, nor have little birds still in your nest, to partake in the patching together of a broken heart at the end of a long day. this was our story, our story from yesterday. tell us your story of a heart being patched all together again….if you care to, of course. only if you care to…