Phases of the Moon

It’s complicated. Predictable. Like phases of the moon.

The other day my second baby turned 43. The night before her birthday, I couldn’t sleep.

I kept flashing back to the morning she was born, how after our water bubble burst I tried to squeeze my legs together outside our 524 Juanita Avenue apartment to no avail; how angry I felt—but was too occupied to express—at her father’s reckless Mr. Wild Toad Honda Civic ride to the hospital; how glad I was he wasn’t in the delivery room to witness the birth of our daughter (he was in the parking lot doing who-knows-what for more than an hour). 

I was glad he wasn’t there: It was a sign: We did it. The two of us–with the help of Dr. Claire McCann–giddy-upped a speedy, 9-pound 13-ounce delivery. Baby girl couldn’t wait to be born! 

It was a glorious, triumphant accomplishment for me, a 23-year-old mother of a newborn girl and 2.5-year-old son. 

Three weeks later, I put everything I could stack upon stack upon stack atop the snazzy-new brown-plaid tandem stroller and wheeled my babies to my parents’ home where they offered us refuge for the next two years. My heart was broken; life as a single parent wasn’t what I imagined for myself and my children, but it was clear I couldn’t fix the man or the marriage. 

Like other pivotal moments throughout my adult life, change scared the bageebees out of me. I had no clue how I’d survive; I had no money, no job, no medical insurance, and still had a year left of college to finish. Leaving my children’s father was the hardest thing I ever did. But revelations about my ex’s secret life gave me no choice; for the sake of my children, I had to set a different course.

It was a struggle. Financially. Emotionally. I wasn’t equipped to raise two babies by myself. But I did the right thing, the hard thing, for the sake of my children. 

While most moms have fond memories of those precious early years raising their kids, not me. While I loved them with all my heart, dealing with a bad dude ex-husband and the stress of finances, housekeeping, career, school, was just too much. I did my best to hold it together, but my patience often grew thin. I snapped. Too often.

In the middle of the night, on the eve of my daughter’s birth, regret consumes me, blocking out happy memories, of which there are many.

After collecting Welfare and Food Stamps for a month, I got a night shift at the local newspaper typing legal ads. My parents and sister, bless them, took care of my babies so I could work. They are safe. They are loved, that’s the most important thing, I told myself.

While my dream of a white picket fence, Ozzie and Harriet life vanished, my dream of becoming a journalist, even if it was a local one, was still possible. I was hired by a snaggle-tooth #MeToo lecherous managing editor and taken under the wings by another #MeToo slimy reporter-colleague. It was all creepy. Ask women my age what it was like living during the 1980s and chances are they all have stories about the price of “getting ahead”. It was shitty for women. Enough said.

I earned my journalism degree during my baby’s first 24 months and spent a semester interning at a couple of Los Angeles TV “news” stations, while holding down a full-time job, living with my parents, and tending to my brood. I was in my mid-20s, overwhelmed with single parenthood, but pieces of the puzzle started falling into place. After two years working at a small newspaper in San Pedro, I wangled my way onto the staff of a more prestigious newspaper where I worked with supportive editors and talented photojournalists who helped me discover my potential. Those were fertile, productive years in which I won a half dozen journalistic honors for stories about heroic individuals dealing with daunting challenges.

The gig was fulfilling. But after a decade, it was time for a change. I fell in love with a photographer colleague, got married, had baby girl No. 2, and experienced what it was like to raise kiddos with a kind-hearted spouse. 

The fairy tale, however, was short-lived. My eldest daughter was just about to go into middle school. Regrettably, my focus was on the baby not my preteen, so expected jealousies ensued. I didn’t handle sibling rivalry well. The baby wasn’t sassy, but my eldest daughter was. She became harder to manage. Fights with her brother were explosive. I tried to seek family counseling, but such services were hard to find and expensive. It was all a gigantic mess.

The summer before high school, having failed 8th grade Reading Comprehension—a subject I would later teach—my eldest girl was diagnosed with dyslexia. Summer tutoring didn’t help. She was stubborn, resistant. Somehow, no doubt through her bubbly personality, she found a way to deal with her academic challenges and earned decent grades. But I blamed myself. I dropped the ball, didn’t identify, and rectify in elementary school, her learning challenge. How could I not realize that this immensely social girl was struggling in school?

That’s what kept me awake at night before my daughter’s 43rd birthday. All the ways in which I failed her. How, for more than 20 years, our relationship has been complicated, strained; it’s been hard to find an in-road, a path to healing, a way we can both be ourselves, thrive, and forgive. 

Perhaps some people are unforgivable. Perhaps the crimes we do while being raised and raising others are so hurtful that there’s no room for redemption. I think of all the ways I hurt my children, parents, friends, former students, neighbors, ex-husband, the Nation, and sink into a state of worthlessness. So stupid. Why didn’t I know? Why didn’t I stop? Why didn’t I do better?

Then I wonder: Is this how my mother felt? Do other parents feel this way? Do our adult kids know how much we regret, feel sorry, wish we could take it back? Love them?

On the morning of my daughter’s birth, Jesus’ words fill my soul: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Feeling overwhelmed and grounded, I sit up in bed, open my eyes, and know that a burden has been lifted. Because, if this glorious man, this teacher, in His darkest hour, was able to transcend hatred and blame, so can I. I can show up, pray, listen, be thoughtful and kind and forgive others as I do unto myself.

Pretty profound. On the day of my daughter’s 43rd birth, I am determined to shake out the tent, pull out the stakes, and hit the metaphoric road. Bon voyage regret. This flawed, ruddy sojourner has miles to go before I sleep, which I intend to do, like my baby girl did the first time we met.

Complicated as our mother-daughter relationship has been, forever and always my baby she’ll be. As Willa Cather said, “Where there is love, there are miracles.”

Recently, I discovered this poem by Wallace Stevens. Hid images express my spiritual connection to the moon so well that I wanted to share it with you. Whatever phase of life you find yourself in, may the brush strokes of his words bring you hope and solace.

Lunar Paraphrase by Wallace Stevens

The moon is the mother of pathos and pity.

When, at the wearier end of November,
Her old light moves along the branches,
Feebly, slowly, depending upon them;
When the body of Jesus hangs in a pallor,
Humanly near, and the figure of Mary,
Touched on by hoar-frost, shrinks in a shelter
Made by the leaves, that have rotted and fallen;
When over the houses, a golden illusion
Brings back an earlier season of quiet
And quieting dreams in the sleepers in darkness—

The moon is the mother of pathos and pity.

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