I can hardly see the computer screen for the glare, but I refuse to leave the deck now that the sun has finally made an appearance in western PA. I raked dead leaves out from under the mulberry bush, cleaned out the flower beds and found budding perennials underneath, swept the deck and put out a few deck chairs. It’s the same temperature here today as it was a week ago in LA. I needed this peace and warmth this afternoon because this morning was a little rough.
I had to dig through some old journals of mine as research for a writing project. I went back to 1987, when I was 23 for half the year, my daughters were 4 and not quite 3, and I was married to husband #2. I was dieting, as usual, and wrote a lot about my first husband who’d been dead only four years.
Much of this particular journal was painful to read, especially knowing the outcome marriage #2 and the growing pains I endured as a mother. I admit to yelling at my kids, one time telling Carlene to shut up. I wrote about how horrible I felt and how I went to her room and apologized. She hugged me, not wanting to say anything because if she did she knew she’d cry and Carlene hated to cry.
Soon after that entry, I found a poem by Peter Meinke that I copied in my journal. In the margin I wrote “daughter Carly” next to the author’s reference to his son Peter. Here’s the poem:
This is a poem to my son Peter
Whom I have hurt a thousand times, whose large and vulnerable eyes have glazed in pain at my ragings
Thin wrists and fingers hung boneless in despair
Pale, freckled back bent in defeat
Pillows soaked by my failure to understand
I have scarred through weakness and impatience your frail confidence forever
Because when I needed to strike, you were there to be hurt
And because I thought you knew you were beautiful and fair, your bright eyes and hair
But now I see that no one knows that about himself
But must be told and retold until it takes hold
Because I think anything can be killed after awhile, especially beauty
So I write this for life, for love, for you, my oldest son Peter, age 10 going on 11
I copied this poem because it reminded me of Carlene, of my failings as a mother to understand her fears and vulnerabilities. While I didn’t yell often, and not always at my children, when I did, it ruined so much of the good we had. It made them walk on egg shells, not wanting to rock the boat of my inability to express myself more civilly.
I remember clearly the day I hung up the phone a dozen times, shattering it in the receiver, after fighting with my almost ex-husband. Carlene, brave and soft, said to me, “Mommy, it scares me when you yell.” She was 8 or 9, I think. She said her sister agreed. Carlene faced me knowing my response might be more anger. But it wasn’t. I was embarrassed and humbled and so very very sorry for having frightened my children. I was rarely ever angry at them. I was angry at my life. Angry at death and hardship. Angry at myself for bad choices and regret. I promised her I’d never yell again, and I truly made every effort not to. I still had my moments, but at least in the moment I remembered Carlene and her brave voice telling me how she felt. I still wonder how I ever raised such a patient and level-headed child.
Reading my journals is rarely a happy trip down memory lane. I seemed to always write about the bad stuff of me, flogging myself nightly for the things I did wrong and not the things I did right.
So gardening today, getting outside in the sun, is helping me remember that I wasn’t all bad. I didn’t yell all the time. I wasn’t unhappy day after day after day. My children love me. We’re very close. But if I could apologize to them over and over, I would. Because I love them and hate that I ever hurt them. Thank you, Paul Meinke, for writing that poem. I must have been paying some kind of attention to my anger to have copied it in my journal. It took my own daughter’s courage, however, to stop it in its tracks.