Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Wedding Truths

I didn't sleep well on the night before this day, nineteen years ago. The room temperature in my parents' home was warmer than I was used to and I was excited. I was also a bundle of nerves: The next day was my wedding day and I wanted everything to be perfect.

So, "Skip the up-doo," I said, in the hairdresser's chair when the style felt a bit much for me. "Leave it down," I said.

Then, once the make-up artist had spent an hour pancaking my face and outlining my my eyes, I wet a cloth to wash it all off.  I wasn't happy with my elaborate bouquet, either. I'd wanted a handful of daisies tied with a satin ribbon.

When the photography session ran long because I'd opted for three separate shoot locations, I was annoyed because I missed the harpist entirely.  And when Balthazar stepped, with his shiny shoes, on the large bow fastened to the small of my back and cascading the length of my train, causing it to rip off altogether, I became annoyed with him, too.

"The camera sees that you're angry," said the photographer.

The truth is I didn't much enjoy my wedding day.

I was young and stupid and concentrating on all the wrong things and, on some level, I think I knew this. Hence, the last minute hair and make-up changes. Subconsciously, I must have been trying to tone it all down.

Anyway, here we are a full nineteen years later and, finally, I get it. Finally, I understand that it's the little truths that matter most. The simplest things.

Like the way my hand fits perfectly into Balthazar's; the light of his touch at the small of my back, where that pompous bow had no business being. Like the smell of fresh cut grass and the gift of rain. Honey on toast. My babies' hugs.

If I had the chance to do it all again, yes, I'd choose bunched daisies, but more than this, I'd pay attention to the things that really mattered.

Like the complicated love in my mother's face while we ate cereal that morning; the wetness in my dad's eyes when we danced, the importance of the tear he wouldn't let go even as he spoke his blessing in my ear; the meaningful embraces of lifelong friends; and Balthazar's kiss at the altar; the passion and promise in it; the joy in his eyes; and the wedding-sex glint that must have played there all day.

Of course, I can't do it all again, but at least I can fix it for the next nineteen years.

So, Balthazar, hurry home. Kiss me, again.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Google Map Perspective

Once again, Hollywood and I are hanging out in LA. For the last four years, occasionally and sometimes routinely, we've taken the long drive south through the desert in pursuit of his acting career. Sometimes, like this weekend, it's acting classes. Other times it's auditions and callbacks.

It used to be that we came out fairly regularly, several times a week even, but for various reasons we've pulled back from it all and haven't made the trip in a while. Hence, this weekend is really one of analysis: Is this really something Hollywood wants to do? Is it worth the effort? Is he willing to put in the time? Does he even enjoy acting, anymore? Or has he outgrown it all?

His agent in Vegas warned me, a year or two ago, that teenage boys tend to drop out of the business. Peer pressures and stigmas and the daunting task of fitting in, etc. When she said this, I found myself both hopeful and sad. Hopeful because the child acting business is really taxing on a parent--in a way that soccer and ballet never have been for me--and even more so when you live four hours outside of LA. And sad because I'd hate for peer pressure to rob him of his dream when middle-school bullying has already stolen whole chunks of him. (Although, I'm thrilled to say, he's grabbed a lot of it back. And he's ever stronger for it all!)

Anyway, so here we are. Again. In LA.

The class he's taking is right smack in Hollywood, on Hollywood Boulevard, but since we booked late our hotel is in Sherman Oaks, which I want to say is north of Hollywood, but I'm not entirely sure, and that is just the point of this post:

We've been driving to and fro along the I15, for years, our destinations varying all over greater LA, from Hollywood to Van Nuys to Santa Monica and more. For pleasure, we've also visited Manhattan Beach and Malibu, and, of course, Disney Land. And always, always we've had a navigator in the car to get us where we were going. So, never once, have I had to look at a map of the city that wasn't a Google map--a small square of perspective no more informative than the minute-by-minute instructions of the navigator telling me to turn, turn, turn, until finally, "Destination on the right."

This morning, having plugged in McDonald's (Hollywood had a hankering for hotcakes) I found myself recognizing my surroundings.

"Hey," I said to Hollywood. "We know this area. That's the spot we ate at that time."

"Oh, ya," he said.

But, until then, we really had no idea where we were. LA isn't a place we've lived. We don't know it the way the locals do. Not well enough to take short cuts or avoid traffic. We are at the mercy of that automated voice of instruction and the small map on the dash-screen.

And it occurred to me as I dropped Hollywood off, this morning, two years of middle school later; and at least a foot taller than the last time I dropped him off to that class; peach fuzz on his upper lip; gangly arms; the caution in his eyes where once, only love and trust; the protective curve of his shoulders; but wisdom, too, and a well-earned strength..., and, well, it occurred to me that we live our lives in squares as small as those damn Google maps.

Eager to get where we need to go in our busy, busy lives, we take the first road, and the next road, but eventually and most certainly we hit upon a road jammed up by traffic, or stress, or economic worries; we're jammed up because our kids are being bullied at school, or because they aren't making great grades; we're jammed up with insecurities and false ambitions; we're jammed up for a million reasons. And we can't see where to go, because in the moment of it all, our perspectives our as limited as those God-damn Google maps.

Anyway, my point being that it's not a bad idea to sit back and take the time to look over the whole map, once in a while.

...you know, to help you to see where it is you're going.

...and to appreciate where you've been.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Mommy's Favorite

"Who's my favorite?" they all ask. They all want to know. They've always wanted to know.

I suppose the question started forming in their little minds sometime in preschool when these sort of questions started being put to them: What's your favorite color? What's your favorite food? Favorite number? Favorite friend? Until, eventually, each one of them came home to ask, "Mommy, who's your favorite?"

I handled it the way my own mother did: "You're my favorite girl," I said to Sunshine. "And you're my favorite boy," I told Hollywood.

And this worked for a time.

Then The Storm came along to make me revise my answer. I took another cue from my mother's book: "Sunshine's my favorite big girl. Hollywood's my favorite boy. And The Storm is my favorite little girl," I said.

And this, too, satisfied them for a time. Enough so that whenever one asked, another would answer for me: "Sunshine's her favorite big girl, Hollywood's her favorite boy, and The Storm is her favorite little girl."

I imagine it's a question that all mothers encounter at least as many times as they have children. It waits, posed to be posed, right there in the wings of a mother's life. It never goes away. And just like the children who ask it, the question grows more complicated. So that now that they are eleven and fifteen and seventeen years old, my loyalty-inspired strategy has grown weak, flawed and it's failing miserably.

"No, really," Sunshine said, a few months back, "You can tell me. I won't mind. Who's your favorite?"

She's sure that it's not her. She believes it's Hollywood, because he's the one I've worried for most in the past few years. And she's sure that Balthazar favors The Storm. "They have the soccer thing," she says.

Plus, for as long as she can remember, she's been on her own, like on family bike rides when Hollywood rode tandem with me and Balthazar pulled the toddler-trailer with The Storm buckled inside, while our big girl managed her own two-wheeler. I can't recall many other examples, but Sunshine could list off an earful if you asked her. She started to, one time, a couple of years back, when the question arose again.

As for Hollywood, he too feels left out, particularly when Balthazar travels for work and he's the only boy in a house full of girls. He doesn't ask about favorites anymore. He's a teenage boy, he doesn't ask about much, anymore. But, like his older sister, I'm pretty sure he doesn't believe he's made anyone's final cut.

The Storm still asks, though, and she does so with all the fresh enthusiasm of her age. Her eyes still grow bright, optimistic, while she waits for my answer. Her brow lifts. Maybe this time she'll tell me I'm her favorite, she's thinking. Hoping.

"You're my favorite little girl," I say, again.

"But...," she throws me a curve, "I'm not a little girl anymore. You've said it yourself."

"You're growing up fast, that's true. But you'll always be my little girl." Then I wrap my arms around her and squeeze, poor compensation for failing her, for my unwillingness to choose her above the others.

"But...," she says, again.

"There are no buts about it. I love you all. Equally," I say, a bit defensively.

But..., she's thinking (I'm sure of it, I can see it in her eyes,) but your favorite color is yellow; your favorite flower is the daisy; your favorite food is spaghetti; and your favorite man is Daddy. So, surely, you must have a favorite child.

How could she know? How could anyone who isn't a mother know how much I love each and every one of them? How could she know that I would die a thousand brutal deaths for each and every one of them? A thousand brutal deaths times three.

And how could they know that loving differently isn't necessarily loving more. Or less. Just differently.

Because I do love them differently. And the differences in the way I love them are as obvious and as subtle as the differences in each of them: Sunshine's infectious smile; her clever, clever wit; the curve of her baby finger; the surprising firmness of the cartilage that intertwines her delicate ears, ears that I loved to touch while she slept as an infant, before those first curls arrived to drape them; and the way Hollywood's eyes hold histories and worlds, histories of worlds; the irony of his jawline, still delicate and smooth but holding the strength and promise of all the man that he is growing into; the pitch of his sudden laugh; the softness of his heart; and the way The Storm wraps herself around you to hug with her whole being; and the way she loves with her whole heart, like her siblings, but differently, with more abandon, I think, I fear; the deep brown tone of her summer skin pulling taut across her slender back and shoulders; the deep dip of the cleft above her lip, below her nose, that's deeper still when she's just woken and her face is as cottony-full as her voice .

Yes, I love each of them differently. And differently everyday, still. They are complicated. I am complicated. It's complicated.

But The Storm's inability to comprehend this isn't really the issue. The real issue is that I'm failing her. Me. Her mother. That in trying to be fair to all my children, her included, I'm breaking her heart.

The issue is that hope, unfulfilled, eventually dies.

The issue is that those beautiful brown brows may not lift in optimism the next time she asks.

The issue is that Hollywood no longer asks at all; that, having endured enough heartbreak outside the home, he knows better than to come looking for it inside, from his mother.

The issue is Sunshine's recent approach to the question. Her bravery: "You can tell me." And the desperation beneath it. Please, tell me. Please, tell me it's me.

The issue is that my unbending loyalty to all of them is failing all of them, individually.

The real issue is that each and every one of them wants desperately to hear that they are special, the most special. They want me to love them the most. And, of course, I do! Love them the most. Each of them. The most.

So, why not say it? "I love you the most!"

Because it's absolutely true: "I love you the most! And I love you the most! And I love you the most!"

So, I'm revising my answer, again. Staunch loyalty isn't working. Loyalty that twists and reaches and bends over backwards; loyalty as flexible, all encompassing, strong and complicated as a mother's love, that's the loyalty needed to answer this most serious and delicate of questions.

"You, yes, you are Mommy's favorite!" I'm going to say, the very next time I'm asked. And the time after that, and the time after that, and the time after that.

Because they need to hear it.

And because it's so very, very true.