Family

I’m taking one last lap around the pool. Writing a third iteration of blogs inspired by the books in my Weepy Memoir trilogy. Riffing off the chapter illustrations by Michael Swearingen. This time I’m playing with the second book in the trilogy. Determined Weeds is an eulogy for my mother.

The scribble above introduces chapter twelve. A small house beneath a collection of stars. An innocent half-moon. Two weeping cats focusing their attention on a baby cat. A halo of consciousness around their heads. Waves of energy drifting up from the sleeping baby. Sheltered life in an enormous, complicated universe.

Chapter twelve is, in part, a rumination on bringing life into the world, especially in relation to the emotional carnage of my childhood. The chapter contains dreams and demons, visions of my mother, and the story of my son Solomon’s birth. The chapter ends with my wife Katie and Solomon asleep in a rocking chair on a cold, winter’s night. I finished the chapter by writing that, regardless of what had come before, I would do my best to be a good father. To build a family.

I like that Michael included tears in the cat’s eyes. There’s something so nostalgic about being a dad. About moving forward with all the heaviness, love, and sadness about the past. That’s part of the move towards experience, I think. We bring our hurt with us into adulthood and, while the acceptance of that hurt offers some redemption, we never really leave it behind.

***

“Samson’s just so innocent, Sam,” Donna told me a few weeks ago. “It’s funny to remember that innocence like that exists.”

Our friend Donna spent Mother’s day weekend with us. She played with my two sons Solomon and Samson. We talked about politics and drank strong coffee. Donna has become a surrogate grandmother for the boys. A surrogate mother for me.

I laughed at her comment about Samson’s innocence. “He’ll lose it eventually. We all do.”

Donna laughed too. “That’s very true.”

It’s been five years since I wrote the final words in chapter twelve of Determined Weeds. An innocent statement: I hope that I’m a good father.

These last five years have moved quickly. Solomon is five and Samson is almost four. Raising these two boys has taken its toll. There’s rarely a moment of quiet in my house, a moment of peace. The frenetic energy of my two rambunctious sons leaves this poor introvert gasping for breath. Couple their activity with four years on the tenure-track, a move to State College, Pennsylvania, and my impending 39th birthday and you’ve got a recipe for exhaustion. There’s gray hair in my beard, my belly is softer, and I’m often in want of a nap.

But, I’m happy too.

The boys are infinitely creative. Solomon often closes his door and performs Suessical the Musical in its entirety. He watched my the production I directed in May twice and has most of the songs memorized. Samson loves to run around the house putting out fires with a hose attached to an imaginary firetruck. Katie’s brother and father are firefighters. It must be in the genes. Kurt Vonnegut, my favorite author, once wrote that the most stirring symbol of humanity he could think of was a fire truck. Or something like that. The idea is that people who choose to risk their lives to help other people for no benefit to themselves represent something pretty profound.

Anyway, it’s May and Pennsylvania is green. My boys are healthy, strong, and creative. Sure, Katie and I are exhausted and often at our wits ends from sharing a house with such exuberant energy. And Solomon tests boundaries with the gusto of a thousand winds. But we are a family.

I’m proud of this family. It is good.

***

These blogs mark a transition for me. I put so much into writing a trilogy of memoirs. I’ve spent the last few months sifting through the books, musing on them, and conjuring some energy to move on from the project. I’ve got a science fiction novel in mind. We’ll see what comes of it. I’m improvisational in most of what I do. Open to what comes next. That’s part of redeemed innocence, I think. Accepting that I can’t dictate my circumstances, my experience. Making peace with my limitations, my histories.

Improv is about moving forward with whatever happened last. Words build on words until something else emerges. I think that’s how I write. Even my academic writing feels that way. A path opens up as I move further down the road, but the path is always a response to what came before. And the trick is making the journey with some discipline. I honor and accept what came before and attune myself to what is available to me next. There’s spiritual implications of this kind of traveling, I think. A philosophy of choosing life instead of death, of being open to the creation. There’s anxiety too. What the hell am I doing?

I always joke that I should write a self-help book. I was a self-help teacher, for sure. Listening to students, talking with students, being with students. Helping students so that they could help themselves? Maybe. The genre of self-help makes me laugh. If I could stop laughing, I’d probably make a killing on a book. Instead, I’ll write these strange things that feel like the right things to write – royalty checks be damned, friends.

All of this is to say that returning to chapter twelve this morning reminded me, in part, what went into conjuring the family that is alive and well in Central Pennsylvania. And it reminded me that this family is a good thing.

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