Saturday, December 10, 2011
December 8, 2011 I apologize in advance. I'm having technical difficulties and the paragraph breaks won't work. Makes the reading a pain, I know. My husband left for Greece yesterday to hang out with snaggle-toothed farmers to learn how to make tsipouro, a rot-gut moonshine version of ouzo, the focus of his last chapter of his book on food-adventure travels in Greece. A book dedicated to the elements of the traditional Greek table: bread, beans, honey, pasta, octopus, tsipouro. Ironic considering my struggles with anorexia, purging, and alcohol. Ironic, too, that I am married to a man who savors food; who can dip his fingers in honey and taste it on his tongue; who coddles his own sourdough starter and then bakes his own loaves, one after another, as if he is some wizened crone feeding a nation; who, out of love and concern for my own continued recovery while he is abroad, in his frenzy of pre-departure packing, takes time to cook from scratch ready-to-eat meals that I can defrost: vegetable soup, spanakopita, pomodoro sauce, and ravioli. Now the challenge is to actually defrost these meals and eat them and not cave into the ascetically skimpy bowls of yogurt, blueberries, and decorative toppings of GoLean Crunch. The bigger challenge, though, of being solo-Momma is, well, being solo-Momma. This is the first time in several years that I have been left on my own with the kids sans babysitter. A babysitter left in charge of me, not the kids. Nobody has felt that I was stable enough to be left on my own. Nobody felt that I could be trusted to be left on my own. Certainly I would use the opportunity to drink or not eat or if I ate, purge all of what went into my mouth, or cut up my arms, or disintegrate into a manic-depressive mess. And that being the case, I couldn’t be left alone with my children. Or myself, for that matter. But here I am, sitting at my computer, the kids at school, an entire empty bowl of GoLean Crunch with craisins finished, have already seen my psychiatrist who said that I am looking “healthier” and seem“good,” (no small feat) and am soon going to head out to see my therapist to continue work on body image issues related to anorexia and past sexual trauma (“No kid gloves,” I told him. “I’m a big girl. I need to work through this. I want my body back even if it means diving back down into that dark, shameful, terrifying muck. And no, that doesn’t give me an excuse to not eat or cut myself, however painful. I’m stronger now. I have an obligation to live.”) Being responsible, following my plan, trying to remember that I am not listening to IT because I want my life back. No, that’s not right. I don’t think I have ever really had a life without IT. So “back” isn’t what I’m asking for. I want my freedom from IT. In the words of the ancient, esteemed, philosophical songwriter George Michael, “All we have to see, Is that I don’t belong to you. And you don’t belong to me. Freedom!” (Try to imagine me in hot leather pants belting this out. Okay, maybe not.) But I do have an obligation to stay strong while diving into the muck. Take last week for instance. My daughter and I were at the Humane Society doing our volunteer work, which involves cuddling kittens and romping with dogs. There's a boy, I'll call Ben, who volunteers in the same hour as us, one year older than Sophia. He is terrified of dogs, so only works in the cat room. He's funny, quirky, and adorable--a mop of blonde hair, big blue eyes, and has strong opinions about the way we should be handling cats. He often takes offense at the way Sophia mishandles--manhandles--the kittens; to be fair, she's often a bit rough and tumble with them out of her exuberance; her joyful volume tends to scare them and her running pellmell around the room makes them take cover. Ben usually plays with the older cats, the ones that have been abandoned because they're "unwanted." He gets pissed off when potential adopters come into the room and only want to look at the kittens, cooing at the fluffballs. "Don't they know that the older cats need homes? Don't they know how long they've been waiting in these cages, that they need love, too?" He glares at these people, shakes his head at me. I shake my head back in solidarity. It's funny. Ben has taken a liking to me: he sits beside me on the bench with one of the adult cats in his lap, stroking it, chattering away about his week in school, about his little brother's pain-in-the-assness, about the book he's reading. But last week, nonchalantly, he said, "Kids at school think I'm weird because I only like cats and not dogs. They call me gay." he whispered the word "gay," looking off at the cats in the cages as he said it. "That's stupid," I said. "Some people are dog people and some people are cat people." He shrugged. "I just like cats. But they think that's gay. And they call me gay because I don't like hunting. We live out near the woods. I like that. I get to watch the deer. But I would never want to kill them. I like to look at them, you know? But my friends, they go out hunting with their dads and shoot them. So they call me gay. And video games. I like video games, there's this one I want for Christmas, but I don't like the violent kinds. So they call me gay for that, too. But I don't care. Really, I don't." His face remained placid throughout all of this, but I could tell he did care. It must be a running theme for him and perhaps a question he struggled with. On the cusp of adolescence. Hormones. Sex. Does loving animals, cats in particular, make me gay? Does not wanting to kill animals, in this macho, back woods corner of Western Pennsylvania, where you actually get a day off from school, a holiday called Deer Day, to go hunting, make me gay? Does not wanting to kill people on video games with sub-machine guns make me gay? Maybe I am gay? I read books--am I gay? I volunteer at the animal shelter and pet cats--am I gay? You're a nice mom and I can talk to you and you seem like you don't want to kill animals or people--could you tell me if I'm gay or not? "You know, Ben, these friends who call you names? Don't listen to them. I know that's easier said than done. But they really don't matter. There's a bigger world out there waiting for you--filled with people who love cats and don't kill animals. Maybe you'll grow up to be a wildlife biologist--study animals in their natural habitat, like deer out in the woods. You are who you are and that doesn't make you gay. It just means you like cats and not dogs. That you like deer alive and not dead. So what? You just happen to live, for now, in a town where a lot of guys like their dogs and like to shoot deer, and like to bring their dogs along when they shoot deer. If cats make you happy, that's all that matters. Besides, I think you're pretty cool." I felt like the Inept Caring Adult on an after-school special. But I wanted him to know that his small town and the small town idiots in it weren't the sum total of the entire world. And I wanted him to know, too, by my "so whatness" to his gay possibility that being gay was okay, too, and that in some parts of the world, being gay was okay, too. I'm not sure I did a very good job at any of it. Ben sighed. "I hate turkey leftovers. My mom's making turkey tetrazzini tonight. I HATE turkey tetrazzini. I begged her to let me use my own money to buy a sub but she said 'No.'" And then he got up, put the cat back in its cage and reached for another. But this is why I have to stay strong. To be around for conversations like this. Maybe Ben can't talk to his mom about being teased for being gay or liking "gay" things. I'm pretty sure he can't talk to his dad about it. Maybe Ben felt safe talking to me because he recognized for some reason that I have--okay, sorry for the saccharine phrasing here--an open mind and heart. Or maybe in listening to Sophia speak her mind on any number of subjects--people who mistreat animals, girls who talk behind her back, the absolute, nonnegotiable coolness of her Chinese water dragon, the fact that she can belch freely like a sailor (though excuses herself like a lady)--maybe he understood that she lives in a home that promotes tolerance, values self-assertion, and believes in freely expressing who you are meant to be--maybe he felt that I would be able to listen to him. I don't know. I just know that it was necessary for me TO BE THERE AT THAT MOMENT, to be able to listen to him, to hear him, to offer him my ear. That is part of my purpose in staying alive. And if that is what I can offer a boy who is not even my own? By extension, I know what I can and must offer to my own children as they navigate the difficulties in becoming who they are meant to be in the years to come. they need me to be on that bench listening to them. So while Christopher is away, Momma will stay on the right and true path. Minus the hot leather pants. Those I'll save for when Christopher returns.