Dear Son,

Christmas is coming, you’re 14 and I find myself feeling a bit melancholy about how fast the years have filed past. Mornings with you tend to be rough, joyful moments in general feel few and far between and I long for the easy connection that we used to have. I know in my heart that what we are going through is normal, I can see the same natural and seemingly baseless discontent in all of your friends. And their parents wear the same stressed expressions that your father and I do as we sit back and watch you all stretch into adults. There is only so much we can do to help you through this transition and we worry that you’re not happy, that you are suffering and sullen. School functions for your younger sisters turn into therapy sessions for all of us parents, we are all so lucky to have sat next to each other in the bleachers for nearly 20 years. While you and their sons sit together, and as far away from us as possible, we seek solace in our common parents-of-teenagers strife and experiences.

Here’s the thing. The growth that is happening right now in both of our lives is crazy. When you were 10, I realized that half of the time that we are legally obligated to each other was gone. 18 years is less than 4 sections of 5 years. If you are  reading this now, as a parent looking back at your child no matter what their age, you will understand how terrifyingly quickly that time passes. We really have very little time with you in the span of our lifetimes before you could just walk away.  I hope with every bit of my soul that we’ve done things with you well enough that we won’t ever ever see that day. I know how very painful it is to have a dangerously strained relationship between parents and children. What’s going on right now isn’t like that, and I am grateful.

Often, your frustration is released on the household. I don’t want to gross you out because I’m your mom, but let me just say- I am a female who has been pregnant and I well understand the power of hormones. It’s likely that you won’t recognize their impact on this time of your life for several  (or more) years and I try to keep this in mind. I know that in your conduct outside of this household, there isn’t one thing I would change, son. You are good person. I know this and so do many others. It brings tears of pride to my eyes that you do so well in so many of your choices. Everyone makes mistakes, but you are kind-hearted and honest, despite what seems like a constant struggle with your sisters and us. As parents, your dad and I remind each other that home is the only place where you vent, or express unreasonable discontent. You are learning to manage your experience with the world beyond our home, getting ready to make your own way. Adjusting to your independence is going to be hard for us too, people joke about teenage years for a reason. Humor tends soften the impact for both parents and kids after they’ve made it past those years. 😉 Is a winky face appropriate here? I’m not sure, but I’m doing it anyway.

Your growth is plainly obvious, mine maybe not so much. Sometimes I don’t handle your moods so well, I get frustrated and tired of being patient. I am human. Often, I’m scraping to do the very best I can to make whatever situation we’re facing the best it can be.  I make a concerted effort to just move past the insecurity that someday I’ll look back in regret at my choices as your mom. I hope with every fiber of my being that each day, each moment, now and for the rest of your life- you will know how very much I love you and that I will always strive to look beyond my own emotions towards your best interest. That’s not always as easy as people think it should be. I have to learn to let you do your own thing over the next few years and there is a little bit of grief in that.

Why do I write this to you now? Well, it’s because with how fast time goes and the fact that the element of chance never allows us to know exactly what will happen in our lives, there are tiny little moments from your babyhood that I want you to know I will always cherish. Looking back, even at 35, it seems the years rip by like shotgun blasts and I just want to write these words for you. Just to have them somewhere, in case you ever need to know how very, very much I treasure you and the memories that you have given me.

*When you were very tiny, as an infant, I could see your pulse in your top lip. I was amazed to watch your little, perfectly shaped lip swell with the rhythm of your heartbeat. If you read this as a parent, that will not seem creepy at all. It will seem beautiful, because your child’s heartbeat is incredibly important and simply astounding to you.

*You used to call tacks, or similar small sharp objects no-nos.

*One time, shortly after you began speaking in full sentences, you farted and then looked up, all surprised and said “My butt popped!” Once again, as a parent this will not seem gross. It will seem hilariously clever.

*If you want to break mine or your father’s heart, just remind us of the time we cut your hair ourselves and you screamed, “No mama-dada, no!” the entire time.

*Your cheeks were always rosy, and you drooled a lot. To me, it was pure vitality and complete excitement about everything you came across.

*You have always been really, really smart

*We used to undress you in the living room and then walk you down the hallway to your bath, each of us holding one of your hands to steady you. We were so young, but looking down at you in your little diaper, walking along between us, so happy, so beautiful, loving, and completely perfect, we knew that we had chosen the right person to have babies with. Again, if you are reading this, and you are in love…. that won’t seem weird or gross.

*The first real mess you ever made was when you pulled a plant onto your walker. You thought it was incredibly fun, and it was also the first time you ever made tracks in the dirt. For a bike enthusiast like you, it will please you that you did so before you could walk.

*You were terrified of grass for a short period of time.

*The first time you got hurt, it was a pinch from an action figure. I broke it to bits and threw it away, of course not in front of you… but I totally went mama bear on it’s ass.

In closing, it must be said that there is a countless store of these kind of moments in my head.  They bring me joy, soften my heart when I need a little cushion, and make me stronger when I need a little solid ground.  You have strengthened and improved me as person with your very existence, I thank you for that.  Words can’t express the magnitude of hope that I have for you in my heart, nor the amount of belief I have in your ability & talent.  I love you so much, son.

Now…… please go dig your dirty socks out of the couch cushions, dammit.

For my soon-to-be-not-a-kid-anymore

Burned

ImageI sat there on the cold concrete, stunned. Somewhere under the black expanse of sky stretched above, I could hear a dog barking. Some sad, flea-bitten Reservation dog no doubt lamenting it’s patch of dirt in this God-forsaken place. I hadn’t even understood what God-forsaken was till I got to the Rez. We had rolled up into my Grandfather’s driveway… all five of us stuffed into the cab of my dad’s ailing pickup. We were exhausted after a 700 mile trek to the corner of Montana,  to the middle of nowhere. Nowhere, we found, would also be the place we had to seek solace once we got there. My Grandfather had snapped his curtain closed upon seeing his eldest son returning, with 4 children, no money, and no warning. Grandpa was busy with the second family he had started, no room left in his heart for the first of his first. Dad hadn’t wanted to eat humble pie anyway, and turned on his heel after his knock on the door went unanswered. We had stayed with one of Dad’s old buddies until the tribe could furnish us with our very own government house. Their kids didn’t know what to think of us, so they simply ignored us, solidifying in our minds that we were indeed transplants, misfits. Betrayed by our own speech inflection (or lack thereof), we knew. And they knew. I had to ask my dad why I had been called an apple. He choked a little and then told me in a few short words. “Red on the outside, white on the inside.” The house we got into was like most of the other government houses in Ft. Peck, complete with laminate flooring in every room.  Noises were amplified as they invaded my thoughts. I hated the laminate, it was always cold, always looking and feeling unnatural. It was hard, and unforgiving.

Now, I sat there on my porch in the dry summer air, holding my smoldering ankle. My only friend on the whole Reservation had just stubbed her match out on the contoured line where my foot joined my leg. It hurt, that’s for sure, but I was stunned for an entirely different reason. Ismay had been a neighbor across the street, the only girl who had been friendly to me that summer. She came over every day, her arrival announced by a knock on the glass of my bedroom window. She wasn’t a pretty girl, but she wasn’t ugly either. Her black hair was long in the back and cropped on top.  She sculpted the top into a 3 inch plateau and plastered into place with mousse every day. I had never seen anyone wear their hair like that, but it went along with her basketball shorts, black tennis shoes, and what seemed to be an unhealthy infatuation with Michael Jordan. She was rough. She cussed. She smoked. She drank. She knew how to fight. She could make her face hard, kill all the emotion. She was stoic. She was everything that I wanted to be, everything that I thought I needed to be. I was soft, easily hurt. I was reeling in the wake of my parent’s bitter divorce and sudden abandonment by my mother.  I felt like a flower whose petals had been torn off to measure whether someone’s love was true. I was tired of being a “she loves me not” indicator and I wanted to be as savage as everyone off the rez had expected me to be. I wanted to show everyone that they had no idea who or what I was. The fact that I no longer had any idea of who or what I was stood directly in my way. I watched her every move, I knew I had a lot to learn before the school year started. My Uncle would cringe when he heard her knock on the window. Dad would allow such an improper summons to pull me from my room, afraid that his only daughter was actually being absorbed by the walls.
I hadn’t been ready when she leaned in close to me. I hadn’t known she was closing her eyes, inhaling, preparing to venture into a world where she hoped she would belong. I didn’t know that as I intended to use her, she intended to use me. She had wrapped her heart around me and fastened it up as a confirmation of who she was; a reservation teen lesbian with glass dreams desperately shattered, doomed to be scattered shards under the feet of everyone who knew her. She had fallen in love with me, her lean was an advance, she was trying to kiss me. And I was a stupid 15 year old girl trying to smoke a cigarette with a friend while some annoying dog heralded the night with sorrowful bales. When I realized what was happening, I jerked away. She just lit her cigarette, promptly mashed the burning match into my skin, and extinguished both of the flames she had been burning.

I sat still and fell backwards at the same time while I watched the glowing cherry of her cigarette fade into the darkness as she stalked away. I felt like I was watching my only chance of learning how to be Indian fade away as well.