Saturday, April 10, 2010

Saturday Musings, 10 April 2010

Good morning,

The heady, heavy air of spring rushed into the house when I opened the door to get the paper. I stood on the concrete pad of my porch and gazed upward, into the steepness of the cathedral ceiling with its carefully angled strips of oak and car siding. Through the openings to the south, I see the neighbor's roof and an early-rising squirrel watching me, while at my feet, the black cat signals his intent to enter, feast, and commence yowling to be set free again.

I've clad my feet in thick grey socks that once belonged to someone else. Around my shoulders, I've snuggled a small robe, pale coral in color, tied at the waist. I stand for a moment, plastic-clad newspaper in my hands, and listen to the twitter and chirp of the other living beings who share this first burst of day. The sun rises to my left and the neighbors, not yet aware of the dawn, sleep in their sturdy houses, under their light blankets, with their children in other rooms, dreaming of summer.

My week passed almost without incident and ended with a mildly satisfying trip to Joplin and a more pleasant dinner in Lee's Summit. Now I am faced with the demands of the weekend -- breakfast with a friend later this morning, if he remembers; house-work; grocery shopping; and finishing my taxes. I close the door against the morning air and listen for the three short tones that signal the readiness of my coffee, and place the paper on the table.

As I move about the house, I am unable to ignore the signs of age. My left knee, the only one I have which came to me at birth, has developed a bright pain that I suspect is arthritis. Its metal twin is making what I perceive as a clacking noise, but which surely cannot be audible. A knot resides between my shoulders with smug insistence; in the small of my back, those pesky Tarlov cysts seem to wrench themselves every time I bend to tie my shoes or fold laundry.

That I can do these ordinary chores, with or without pain, still comforts me. In four years, I will be the age at which my mother died. On Easter Sunday, I had an idle conversation about ironing handkerchiefs -- which I still carry, lest my mother suffer post-humous restlessness -- and found myself breathless at the memory of sitting beside my mother, with a small toy iron that I warmed by placing it against hers, pressing handkerchiefs, and linen napkins, and other small items, on a folded towel laid over something -- a table? A wooden box? I close my eyes and strain, but I cannot recall. Something child-height.

A few days ago, I sat in juvenile court across from two drug-addicted parents and beside my client, the paternal grandmother of two unrelentingly adorable boys both of whom tested positive for amphetamines at birth. With downcast eyes and flagging bodies, the parents listened as their lawyers stood, one after another, to agree, on the record, to the latest allegations of continued drug use. Desperate to hold onto even a slim chance of reunification, these two had purchased hair from a salon and sent it to a private facility for testing. But their conduct had been discovered, and the juvenile officer's attorney had used the unspoken threat of prosecution for fraud to strong-arm the stipulation into which they silently entered. They are incorrigible, the Court had been told. Oh, the word did not appear in the amended pleadings, but others did, and the meaning could not be mistaken.

I had been called incorrigible just days before this sad tableau unfolded. A host, gesturing me to sit while others set the table, chastised me with a twinkling eye and upturned mouth. You are incorrigible! Sit down, I told you! We'll get this done! And sit I did, though not without the occasional foray for a vase, or to put ice into the goblets, or to straighten the table cloth. Each time I crept across the living room to lend a brief hand, the laughter of those present sent me scurrying back to my perch. You are incorrigible! they cried. It became the day's gleeful mantra. License to label -- liberty to laugh.

How very different from the incorrigible tendencies of parents who faced the potential, permanent loss of their children and, seemingly oblivious to the risk, still used the drugs with which they had poisoned their children's systems from conception. I shifted on the chair as the judge spoke her sharp words of condemnation, words tinged with disgust, flavored with a mild confusion, edged with anger. We were here six months ago, she snapped. What happened? Why are we starting from square one? Neither parent raised their eyes. I watched the bodies of their lawyers. I saw their muscles tighten; they shrank into their chairs, away from their clients, away from the stench of failure that hung in the windowless courtroom.

Later that day, I got a message from my son. What would you think if Little Girl lived in the House next year,he asked. "Little Girl" is our pathetic brown epileptic dog. "The House" is the fraternity house of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, which my son has pledged. Do you think that's wise, I answered, with the rapid clack of keys that characterizes our conversations now that he lives so far away. Maybe not, he admitted. But wouldn't that be cool? Indeed. I stared at the green indicator beside his name on my G-Chat window, and thought of the difference between my life and the life that I could have led. Let's talk about it this summer, I hedged. Now, about Winter term. . .and our discussion turned to the impending deadline for selection of next year's off-campus adventure. We talked about the upcoming performance which I am traveling to see, and the impending "workshopping" of his acting monologue, and whether he needed new shoes. Then he signaled the end of his present tolerance for our mother-son communion. We said our goodbyes, and I watched as his green light faded to grey.

Whether the bright hope of our children's birth fades or grows depends upon our relentless pursuit of our parental obligations. I do not know -- cannot say -- what pulls one person in the direction of the kind of incorrigibility of which I am guilty rather than the doggedly destructive behavior that results in the quiet filing of a petition to terminate parental rights. I close my eyes, and once again, I am lifting a small tin iron to the hot surface of the Sunbeam, and my mother's liquid brown eyes, with all their love and confidence, encourage me to take the heated toy, and press it gently against the fragile linen of her embroidered handkerchiefs. And I do so, not fearing the knock on the door, or the stern voice, or the face of justice.

Now the sun is higher in the sky. Outside, the neighborhood dogs have begun their roll call, and the mockingbird calls to the robin. One cat sleeps behind me in my small wooden chair, and the other lies in his customary sprawl in a patch of light that warms the vinyl of our kitchen floor. What surrounds me is modest, but compared to the emptiness of a one-room flat in which the voices of children no longer resonate, my home is a palace, and I am its astonishingly contented queen.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.