My art room is overwhelmed with paper and stuff. So thinking I would begin to declutter, I approached a shelf. I still need the paint and brushes and vases so my eyes just glazeover them but in a container I find an old essay, maybe written for McGill by my very grownup son. Rather than just trashing it, I began to read the three doublesided pages. Back I am thrown into his earliest memories, to grade school, his confirmation, friendships…
He writes, “ Most of my earliest memories are not my own. By that I mean that I do not remember them myself, but rather, have reconstructed memories based on stories friends and family have told me…apparently my nursery school teacher confided that I told jokes that only an adult could appreciate…”Incorrectly he ascribes this anecdote to his father although I clearly recall his teacher pulling me aside to share it.
His well written, thoughtful, searching piece reminds me about what is best in him: that gentleness, creativity and even – very occasionally, the sardonic wit . In it, he reflects on hating to practice piano until he surmises that the piano might actually be fun to play popular songs.Eventually he embraces his musical soul with serious forays into the trumpet and the guitar. Will we ever forget his group , Jordan and the Jordans?
He ruminates on being sent to the principal’s office for chasing girls in the yard in Grade 2, being under-estimated by his best friend’s father, his love for the Blue Jays. Again he ponders “I had two goldfish. One was named Swimmy, and the other I never bothered to name because I assumed he would die shortly. Combined, the two fish lived for 15 years. Swimmy died first and we buried him in the backyard. The un- named fish lived alone for another three years, and then was flushed.”. A small snapshot of a boy now father, husband and man.
He delves into boyhood embarrassment .When at his bar mitzvah, recalling his loving relationship with his grandfather recently dead, he is overwhelmed by his tears and cannot finish his after lunch speech to the guests. He writes,”…the next week in school [I] withdraw from friends. Afraid they have seen too much of [me].” Too cognizant and sensitive to having exposed an inner life, he decides to” build a wall around himself so he will never again have to endure the humiliation of his thirteenth birthday.”
This is the way of youth, hoping that a cool exterior will obscure the bounding emotions of adolescence.
Yet with the wisdom of age, he can eventually contribute in his essay that there were no lies in his speech. And “his tears said more than any words…The boy[ I was] does not know this, …it will take him years to figure it out.”
It gives one pause—and a reason to stop making order in my messy art room. How do we organize and make our lives tidy, to put into place what we deem unwanted at inauspicious times when we feel we have betrayed ourselves, but later realize what is truly important. How long does this process take?Perhaps a lifetime.
He concludes his piece with “ I was happy and loved…”
I’m not sure exactly who the audience was, or why he had written this, and if he was being careful to expunge any too personal details, but just the same, it was an overview of a life, a certain grappling with a sense of self and identity: that consisted of family, friends, being a middle child, being curious , funny, alert and observant as he saw himself caught in the crosshares of his mind. It certainly caught me off guard and I was awash in feelings.What more does any parent want than to hear than his words at the conclusion?
In a book on Mindfulness, the author, Dr.Mark Epstein, discourses on forgiving ourselves, to understand that we did the best we could do at the time, and to move on. For we are all human, exploring paths that we may regret along the way, our emotions occasionally overtaking reason. And yet, what makes us human, what touches us in a meaningful way is in deed significant and essential en route to self knowledge.
I think of myself too convulsed with emotions , grabbing away the words I would prefer to express calmly rather than with an outburst. But I suppose this is how I am, for the most part, wired more into emotions than rational thought. And although having attempted to modulate my expression, I value the truth which it connotes Accepting the uneasy combination, that what perhaps makes me most special also damns me. Yet in the end, I do prefer the intensity and honesty compared to superficiality and even blandness.
What comes to mind as I consider the alternative is written in Macbeth, ” False face must hide what the false heart doth know.” So I prefer my sloppy emotional messiness, especially at my age. Still I hear Ralph Waldo Emerson’s warning to follow the middle way- a balance. The Buddha, too, thought this best.
I think, at least, hope, my girls would agree with their brother, the middle child’s concluding sentiments.
Howard and I tried to expose them to the beauty of the arts in music and museums. We travelled extensively with them, forays to Europe several summers and for one extended sabbatical, staying in gites and rambling in castles and churches and tasting the local cuisine, especially in open air markets. We loved hearing the kids switch into almost perfect French in Provence and Paris, dazzling merchants as we prompted them to ask prices or enquire for directions to a monument or street, knowing our bastardized accents would give us away as tourists. I think of the pizza on Sundays at Il Castillo outside Montbuono in Italy, but also swatting flies as huge as golf balls near the ponies by the fence nearby. And Erica wildly jumping up and down on her bed, yelling Jolliflex, only to dive beneath her covers so her sibs could take the blame on those hot impossible- to- sleep nights when all three shared a room. And the birthday cake almost all heaps of glorious crema and a glinting crocheted gold top given Ariel for the celebration of her birthday by Mrs. Joseph, ex- patriot builder of our small villa.
My memories leak out as I write this.
For the sake of my own reminiscing, I descend into Howard’s office and peruse the photobooks from that trip. Charter, Ambois, Lago di Garcia, Venice, Montecarlo. It is hard to consider how quickly time has flown as I view the pictures that document my children as sweet smiling faces with the backdrop of international landscape. They certainly look happy, relaxed enjoying the sun on their faces and the artistic and architectural diversions arranged by me but thankfully for them punctuated by trips to the beach. Jordan wisely writes in his piece, “ Can you guess what happens next?” The boy he describes at his bar mitzvah cannot . Nor could we.
From the images could I guess what the future would hold? Unlikely. And although we planned for schools and lessons and family outings, we could not know what trials and triumphs lay ahead. That all three grew up to be successful, fulfilled( I hope) in their professions and contribute to society in a positive way is reassuring that the building blocks we attempted to put in place produced a solid foundation.
But as my wise mother used to annoyingly remind us in a crackle of voice, “ You never know.” You do never know where a stick will bend, what influences will mound, warp or redirect the sapling. You might water, feed and care for your bud, but sometimes the gods will alter your plans- no matter how carefully you have sown the seeds. So it is with our offsprings.
When I was young, we all read Kahlil Gibran, most later scoffing at the vacuous platitudes, but I seem to recall a verse on wings and roots that stated “There are two things children should get from their parents: roots and wings. …. “ And in the end, I agree.