Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Midweek Musings

Good afternoon,

Half my life has been squandered in coffee shops.  I have written essays,  poems, and pleadings, with a yellow pad, laptop or a tablet propped on the square of a wooden table, a slick formica surface, or the heavy, shiny counter while I precariously balance on a rickety bar stool.  I have eaten muffins, and scones, and sandwiches, from Boston to Denver, and many points between.  So I feel no surprise at finding myself in another coffee shop, on another afternoon, with another ceramic mug at hand.

I tried to explain the premise of my blog to the most recent iteration of my fledgling writers' workshop.  I told them that I start with the present, digress to a memory or a description of something that's recently happened, and end back in the present, in the intimacy of my bedroom, or the porch on our home, or my little nook.  I explained that the blog entries have two lines, one being the events that I describe, and the other being some theme or concept that I am trying to illustrate.  I don't much care if anyone gets both, as long as someone, somewhere gets one of them.

I found myself, today, standing on the steps of my Brookside home, watching a small black Kia pull away from the curb.  Patrick, my only-born son, left for Chicago.  I suppose adventures await him.  One friend offered lodging; another tempted with the chance of a part in an improv film.  He felt unsettled in our home.  I remember when my friend Diana Howell told me about the moment when her daughter Pia's room became not-Pia's-room.  The moment when she knew Pia would never live with her again.

That moment has not come -- I don't think.

I never expected Patrick to go to college.  Europe, perhaps; or Mexico.  LA, even.  I could see him, guitar in one hand, laptop under his arm, with a bundle of stuff in a canvas bag slung over a shoulder.  I remember arguing with his first stepfather about the difference between "cooperation" and "obedience".  He asked me then if I didn't want to get Patrick to obey me, and I shook my head in such haste that I truly thought I heard my teeeth rattle.  Hell, no.  I just want him to cooperate.

Cooperation takes different forms, with different motivations, at different ages.  But at any age, the person whose cooperation you seek must understand and accept your goals and how what you want them to do will aid in the attainment of those goals.  They must also be persuaded to want to assist in the accomplishments that you value.  This doesn't always happen in real life.

The virtue in teaching a child cooperation rather than obedience lies in the depth of contemplation that you cultivate.  The child taught cooperation really evaluates each situation.  I'm laughing here.  This parenting style can result in some extraordinarily annoying behavior.   I had an early warning.  As a toddler, Patrick did something to irritate me one day, and I instructed him to sit on the couch.  He did so but quickly rose again.  I snapped, "I told you that I wanted you to sit on the couch!"  He replied, calmly, "Mother, I'm 2-1/2, do you really think I care what you want?"


On the other hand, despite the occasional blip in the road, the ultimate result has been the development of an independent thinker.  While he lacks a few skills -- budgeting, the bane of my own existence, chief among them -- and insists on leaving dirty dishes in the sink, nonetheless, I would stand him against nearly anyone for patience, kindness, and courage under fire.

I always wanted a big family.  I certainly tried for one.  From the ashes of several failed pregnancies arose this Phoenix, this guitar-playing, vegetarian, playwright, a sometimes scattered, handsome young man who throws his belongings and his shoes into the back of his car and takes off: to Indy, to Asheville, to Chi-town, to LA, to Nashville.  He was born under the sign of Cancer, and for what it is worth, he should have been a Leo but he couldn't wait.

I've had a few chances to provide some parenting to other young folks.  I took in strays. I've had, and currently have, stepchildren.  I fostered through the state.  I've held the crack-addicted baby of a street-dweller, the child's sweet smile beaming into my face as she clutched my sweater.  I've cranked up the heat on an electric blanket for a wandering teenager whose mother lashed his back with a hanger.  I've taken a pregnant teen to an adoption attorney, and waved goodbye as she left the courthouse steps for parts unknown.

I've been accused of coddling my son, and of catering to his weaknesses.  I've been praised for letting him fly.  I've squeezed my eyes shut and thrown him back into the pool when he nearly drowned at age 3.  I've surrendered him to doctors, teachers, nannies, girlfriends, and the kindness of strangers.  I've made mistakes, playdough, Schmarren, veggie burgers, appointments, reservations, and promises.  I've bargained with the devil, the universe and God.  When the doctors gave me six months to live, I stubbornly rejected their prognosis, saying, "I'm the single mother of a six-year-old, I cannot die until he graduates from college."

He's walked me down two aisles and up three or four mountains.  He held my hand through Carlsbad Caverns and stitches.  He drove me to the emergency room twice before he turned seventeen.  He once stepped in front of an angrily thrown soup pot for me.  He's hailed ambulances and offered to face my sister's drunk boyfriend who threatened to disrupt my son's high school graduation party.  He moved bedrooms twice for new family members that I drew into our circle, ultimately landing in the room where he started, as a two-year-old, with an old Singer sewing machine table for a desk.

I am one of the lucky ones.  I have loving family and friends.  I have a professional license even though I've never figured out how to use it to get rich or even rise above middle-class.  I have a car, a house, a mortgage and a library card.

And, my friends, it must be said:  I have the greatest kid on earth.  There are a lot of people I love: my husband, his children, his parents and sister, my siblings, and that lovely cadre of my family-by-choice who stand beside me through tears and triumphs.  Will I ever love any of them as much as I love my son?  As much, perhaps; but never quite the same.

So if a little black Kia with Missouri plates passes you, somewhere, anywhere, on a city street, a gravel road, or the Interstate outside of Austin, give your horn a little honk and wave.  That's my kid, driving to his next destination, squinting through his broken glasses, with a guitar on the back seat and Shakey Graves cranked up loud.

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.