Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Dirty Laundry



Two weeks is a long time to go without doing laundry in our house. Because our European machines are so small and take a few hours for each load, I only dare let it go for that long when I am sick, very sick. And I had been sick. I still wasn’t healthy when I finally made my way down the two flights of stairs to our basement laundry room, but then I am no lily-livered man, am I? I had my iPhone 3, which is little more than a glorified iPod these days, and my new Flip 2, portable speaker (christmas present), and let Meagan Trainer fill the room with rhythm and a list of expectations of her future husband. Pretty ironic as I was sorting dirty underwear into light and dark piles. Good luck with that, Meagan! After a while of sorting, spraying, scrubbing, bopping, singing, shaking, taking bows and blowing kisses to my fans, my phone rang.

“Charis?” 
“Mom, where are you?”
“Charis, can you hear me?”
“Mom?”
“Hello?”

bad connection, so I opened the basement door and leaned my head outside for better reception, and yelled into the phone, “Hello, Charis? can you hear me now?”

“Mom!! There you are!” my middle child yells at me from the other side of the garden gate.
“Where have you been?” she hurdles at me with the indignity of someone who has just been ditched at the alter.

She had forgotten her keys and had been left out in the cold for several(!) minutes, while I was having the time of my life spray-n-washing collars and treating blood-stains.

My hot headed daughter, who in this respect has really cashed in on my family’s DNA, was still venting, blaming, fuming when I went upstairs to let her in. As I reached the door, I had had enough, and sent off some fumes of my own. 

With her hot potato successfully shoved over onto my mood, I returned to the enchanting world of dirty textiles and detergent. By the time my second daughter was home, and I reappeared from the dungeon, I had sprouted several additional hot spuds of my own, which I proceeded to mete out to anyone in my path, all the while demanding an apology from my first daughter. 

Later, when the three of us were eating at the dining room table, I was lost in thought regarding a long distance conversation I have been having with someone about my own foster-mother. Something I have been thinking a lot about over the last several weeks, trying, again, to understand what the fundamental dysfunction was/is of our relationship, of our whole family actually. Why was I so miserable living in that house? What was it that suffocated the love and kept us all so isolated and distant from each other? Why does it feel so lonely to be with them, even lonelier than being alone? 

And as if I knew I had needed to latch on to something grounding, before I drifted too far off from the docks, I absentmindedly asked out loud,

“I’m a good mother, aren’t I?”

My two beautiful teenage daughters, looking goddess like in their long hair and perfect features, with their amiable manner, their caring, tender hearts, didn’t miss a beat, and belted out in chorus, 

“Not today, you’re not!”

Then we all burst into laughter, bellied over and grabbing our sides.

The evil spell was broken.


And they all lived happily ever after.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Back to That Girl

If I had a crystal ball, a magic wand, a time machine
if I could fly a carpet
click my heels
wrinkle time
I’d go find that little girl
with ratty brown hair and hazel eyes
such a tiny thing
and all alone
with scrapes on her knees
and bruises on her arms
who did not hurry to school
nor hurry home

I’d go find her at her favorite spot
outside the window, in front of the shop
standing there in her dirty, yellow-stained dress
awed by the tall plastic ladies 
     in their pretty new skirts

I’d get down on one knee
gently tuck her hair behind her ear, 
softly stroke her cheek with the back of my hand,
kiss her forehead and whisper to her heart
“What a precious child you are!
How brave you have been!
What promise you hold!
And one day, when you are as grown as those ladies in the window,
you won’t be afraid anymore, 
nor need linger in the in-between places.

Because you will be in charge of yourself.”

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Adopted Parents

When you grow up as a foster kid, adopting people becomes second nature, a kind of superpower. Or we could call it the stray-cat syndrome. Since you have no real parents, you conscript other people to fill that gap. Not like a stray dog, begging for something here or there, but really like a cat. They have a way of making people feel responsible for them, and that without ever really attaching themselves to any one exclusive relationship. There is an orange cat that comes and goes in our garden like she owns the place. She has “adopted” us as the people who provide her with a large, luscious green kitty litter. 

So, I have an assorted collection of “adopted” parents, people I have elected to fill in the gaps left by mentally and socially shipwrecked biological parents and the debilitatingly dysfunctional foster families my brother and I were placed in.* I guess my collection began with concerned teachers, principals, and social workers, moved on to the concerned aunts and uncles and grandparents in my last foster family, and in the past 20 odd years has extended simply to other people’s parents. Most recently I have adopted the parents of our close friends here in Augsburg, the Balzers. Since we rarely get visits from any relatives State side, I make sure to get a slice of Colin’s parents when they come to visit all the way from Vancouver. I speak quite openly about this adoption and about the fact that his parents are the parents I always dreamed of having. Before that, and I guess the only legal adoption of my entire life, are my parents-in-law. Over the course of my 20 year marriage the “in-law” part of that title has slowly faded and blurred as I found ways to snuggle further under the “parent” part of the title like a warm protective blanket. And even before my in-laws, there was Christl, the mother-in-law of my husband’s best friend, or Claudia’s mother. I lived with Christl for the year and a half that I was in Munich before I got married and kept her through all the years since. Never was being mothered so delicious nor so eagerly lapped up.

But the other shoe has started to drop in this provisional arrangement. Having so many surrogates means that I have also more than my fair share of parental farewells. It seems that I have already had to say a thousand goodbyes: to my biological parents, the divorced foster parent, beloved teachers/professors, my grandfather in 2005. Now the next row of protective nurturers is beginning to fall like soldiers on the frontline. Christl is losing a long and grievous battle with dementia that is torturous to watch. My father-in-law, next to my grandfather, the most faithful and there-for-me-father I’ve ever known, is dying of thorax cancer. And I know that the abandonment will not end there. It never ends.

Emotionally I find within myself a large cavernous space and my inner canid wants to fill it with a loud lunar howling. But I will indulge it only for a short while, and then I will hurry back to my spot on the front line. For as much as I would like to ignore it or pretend it has nothing to do with me, there is still a great deal of mothering left to do in this world.


*Redacted