T is for Tardy

by Kelly Salasin

This morning when my six-year old arrives late to school for the zillionth time this year, I consider paying off his pigtailed classmate who passes us in the hall, attendance slip in tow. “Oh, you’re here!” she sparkles, holding the fate of his permanent record like a flag in hand. “I’ll just erase ‘absent’ and give you a ‘T’.”
Another T, Damn it! I rant internally as I walk my son more swiftly toward his classroom.

“What does a ‘T’ mean?” he asks each morning as I rush him into the van and onto his booster seat, oblivious to the patterns of ice crystals he’s been trying to show me on the windows.
“It means ‘tardy’,” I say, knowing it’s going to take the entire drive to school to explain, and that he’ll ask the same question tomorrow.

The hard thing about all these ‘’T’s’ is that I was a teacher before I became a parent. In those days, being on time and coming to school- every day- was a given, an essential truth, a prerequisite to upstanding citizenship. I stressed punctuality and attendance with parents, and assessed them on their commitment to these principles. Part of me still agrees with it- theoretically- and that’s why I feel guilty. I really don’t want to be the kind of parent whose kid gets a lot of ‘T’s.
But I don’t want to get out of bed either, not when the baby has been up ALL night. And I certainly don’t have the energy or creativity to find new ways to keep my highly distractible six-year old focused on ‘getting ready’ for school when he just doesn’t ‘get it’.

“What’s the big deal about a ‘T’, anyway Mom?” he asks when I tell him there’s no time to read a story or play with his brother or listen to the birds. “Why do you want to yell about putting sneakers on ?”
Great! He’s a Zen master, and I’m the ignorant pupil. Now my failure comes at me from all sides. I’ve failed to support my son’s education properly, while simultaneously failing to honor his sense of time and play; and worst of all, I’ve failed my own sense of the kind of parent, and person, I want to be on both accounts.
I once heard a quote that I now know to be true: I was a much better parent before I had kids. (At least before they outnumbered me!)

What’s the answer, I ask myself? Home schooling? No, not for me. Not for my son either. Not now anyway. There’d still be places to get to, and there’d still be our differences in the understanding of what it means to ‘get ready to go’; the perennial parent-child struggle.
Occasionally we have a breakthrough. The other day when I was fretting over being late for swimming lessons (the instructor actually scolded me!), I shared my own childhood with my son; how when I was a kid, my family was always really late for things, and how there’d be lots of yelling and tension. He listened attentively from the back seat, and then like a light bulb had gone on, he said, “Oh, now I know why you get so stressed out about being late Mom. You gotta let go of that.”
The Zen Master again! And I thought he was going to ‘get’ the whole point of staying focused to get out the door on time. Instead, it’s I who promises to begin working on ‘letting go’.

The next school day, when I hadn’t yet eaten breakfast or showered and there were only 15 minutes left for take off, my son sweetly asked if I could read one of the many library books that had lain neglected on the coffee table for days. (I imagine other families always reading the books that come home from school.) I began to list all the reasons why I couldn’t, and then… I just sat down on the couch in my pajamas and began reading to my boys while the clock ticked away. It was a blissful family moment and with a breakfast-to-go, we made it to school, only five minutes late. Another ‘T’. Damn It!
But on this day, a miracle happened. No one had rung the school bell. When we arrived, the children were just leaving the playground to go in- 5 minutes late. No ‘T’! It was like the sun streaming through the clouds after a terrible storm.
For a moment, the dark shadow of the perenial, parental guilt reappeared: I felt a pang of deep sadness that I never got my son to school in time to play with the other children on the playground. It’s so easy to find failure as a parent if you’re looking for it. So much of parenting, like teaching, is a hands-on job. You can read lots of good stuff, form your opinions, your theories, make your plans, but you really have to step into it to know it and to know yourself.
I never thought I’d be the kind of parent I am some times, never imagined such uncouth, careless moments. But here I am, for better or worse, and some days I get it just right.

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REST!

by Kelly Salasin

Home sickI’ve been called to write for days, but excepting posts on Facebook & Twitter, I’ve rebuked the call. “I don’t feel good and don’t want to write,” I hiss at my muse, but the pressing doesn’t stop.

The truth is that I know I’m on the cusp of recovery because last night I moaned and complained “about” being sick (as opposed to just being sick)—and this morning, I’m ranting and raving about it. “I’m DONE!” every impatience screams.

The older I get, the more I sense that illness is a rehearsal for dying. In fact, I can apply Kubler-Ross’s stages to my simple case of strep:

DISBELIEF-Sore throat? I just got over the flu last week!

DENIAL-I’ll just have an extra big glass of wine.

BARGAINING- I promise to rest tomorrow.

GUILT-Wow, I shouldn’t have gone to that baseball game, gallery walk, the cow parade, that party…

ACCEPTANCE-I WILL stay in bed until I’m better!

DEPRESSION- I can’t do this anymore. I’m tired of feeling terrible.

ANGER-Enough already!!!

Actually, the idea of the stages is that they’re supposed to “end” with acceptance and hope—not with anger– which is where I’m stuck. Needing to ‘reorder’ myself brings me to this morning’s reluctant writing as I add another pillow behind my neck as an olive leaf toward  surrender.

Birth is the other metaphor that comes to my mind during illness. And certainly we cycle thru the same stages during labor. I remember that exact moment of despair in the eleventh hour just before my son was born—which itself lends “hope” that there is something ready to be born in this week-long labor too.

There was once a gift born of a single virulent summer flu that I’ll never forget. As the fever burned through me, I came to the realization that I needed to leave my new job. I resigned there right from our plaid couch with great clarity and peace of mind.  In exchange, I finally conceived our second son that fall.

I have no job to resign now—but maybe that, in and of itself, is what requires my resignation.

My dreams this feverish week have been plenty. One found me removing an outgrown child’s sweater from my closet. Woolen and pale, it hung misshapen with moth eaten holes throughout.

Days later, this rich image continues to speak to me. First it tells me of the winding down of my role as mother to young children. At 13, my oldest graduates this week from elementary school and my youngest, at 8, has begun the bittersweet dance of moving both toward and away from me.

In another dream that same fitful night, my chest of belongings is destroyed by fire and all the letters that I was to read for my memoir are gone. The next day, in “real” time, I find out that my great Aunt Sue has died—one of the last vestiges of my magical childhood at the ocean.  This dream of loss continues to burn in my heart.

Perhaps it was Aunt Sue then, who came the night of her death in my most comforting dream of that evening—delivering delicate skeins of just spun yarn in brilliant hues—placing the soft pile of color on the bookshelves that surrounded me.

“Let things come,” is the quote that serves me of late-  which itself “came” on a bag of green tea. Quotes arrive like friends, emissaries of light, and stay—sometimes for days or even weeks, but never as long as this one–which has continued to teach me through the seasons.

“Let things COME,” I breathe deeply, resisting my urge to strive. I have been striving for as long as I can remember. I see myself as a character in one of those war torn films where a scrappy youth survives the odds by her own tenacity.

In The Empire of the Sun, a young boy makes it through bombings, refugee camps, exile and war’s end surviving by the dogged persistence of his spirit and will. As a Social Studies teacher, I used this film every year, and each time I felt the closing scene in my bones.

Finally reunited with his parents (against all odds), the boy-turned young man–falls into his mother’s arms and finally, FINALLY, closes his eyes.

This DEEP need for “rest” is one that screamed out at me just a few years back when I left my roles in education to take a three-month writing sabbatical. A few years before that, I met “Rest”, face-to-face, in the ending of my mother’s life. The deep exhale of her travail permeated the house as she left her wrecked body.

Why do we “work” so hard at living, I wonder? What is that for which we “strive”? Are illness–and ultimately death–the only ways to truly surrender to our deep need for rest?

“When the world is too much with me,” sings Wordsworth and poets through the ages. No matter how enlightened we may be, we are not spared this weariness. Even Jesus on the cross moans, “My God, my God, why hath thou forsaken me!”

My ultimate rest is dreamed inside a mother’s fleshy arms, warm and brown–my head on my husband’s chest–just like it was last night with our boys wrapped around us.

One cannot force a birth–at least not from home–for the hour of telling–is it a boy or a girl–must come of its own accord. And thus, I wait—and hope—to know what it is hath come of this week’s suffering and surrender.

Now knowing, that if nothing else, the scene of my family in my bed–like a renaissance artist’s rendering- is worth this tiny rehearsal of death.

And remembering too, when in her last weeks in a home re-filled with family, I asked my mother, “Don’t you hate lying here in bed; waiting for someone to get what you want?” To which she responded with the smile of one who has loved 7 siblings, 9 children, 4 dogs and 2 husbands:  “No Kelly, I kind of like it.”

Maybe that’s the whole point of these striving lives we lead… so much are we in need of rest–that whenever our time comes–we’re ready.

in memory of Sue Ramagosa, in her eternal rest & rebirth