This is Your Reward
If you have sufficient self-control in a time with little of it
From my Instagram
A poem by Fay Zwicky
Tell the truth of experience
they say they also
say you must let
go learn to let go
let your children
and they go
and you stay
letting them go
because you are obedient and
respect everyone’s freedom
to go and you stay
and you want to tell the truth
because you are yours truly
its obedient servant
but you can’t because
you’re feeling what you’re not
supposed to feel you have
let them go and go and
you can’t say what you feel
because they might read
this poem and feel guilty
and some post-modern hack
will back them up
and make you feel guilty
and stop feeling which is
post-modern and what
you’re meant to feel
so you don’t write a poem
you line up words in prose
inside a journal trapped
like a scorpion in a locked
drawer to be opened by
your children let go
after lived life and all the time
a great wave bursting
howls and rears and
you have to let go
or you’re gone you’re
gone gasping you
till the next wave
shreds you to lace—
When you wake
your spine is twisted
like a sea-bird
inspecting the sky,
stripped by lightning.
This is Your Reward
If you let go well enough,1 then your child goes out into the world and becomes part of it. She comes back.
She flooded the bathroom in the hostel, getting all her clothes wet, and so had to find a laundromat. And Mama, she lost her keys in the dark and retraced her steps all the way to the beach. Then, she discovered she was the only one there who had been taught to cook.
The funny stories, the gratitude, the good mood, the wry observations, the thrill of adventure, the fresh plans. The recognition that, with all this love for travel, she is just like you and her father2. More than that, it is watching the world receive her. That is your reward for letting go.
I always feel like I am being passive aggressive when I make the bed and the cats are still sleeping on it. Like I am in a huff because I have found my two house guests still in bed at this hour.
Wiping dust off the bedspread, pulling it tight. Some of us have a whole house to clean and meals to make, while I guess others are visitors on holiday, hmm?
Because I was a single mother for part of their childhood, my kids have a fairly mature acceptance of financial constraints. Even now - and I am on a much better income, as well as being re-partnered - when they ask for an iced coffee and I say nup, can’t afford it, they do not question me, but only shrug pleasantly.
But they are distant from money too, as children can be, when they grew up with some financial insecurity and their mothers were protective and shielded them, perhaps too much, from the mathematics of budgeting. They saw the anxiety and understood its strength in me, but they did not know much about the calculations behind it.
You haven’t cleaned a toilet since 2019. That’s the level of privilege in this house3, I tell them.
My 12 year old son wonders what day of the month his pocket money will arrive and borrows the vernacular of my husband, who has experienced ‘down to your last dollar’ previously in his adult life. When does my pay come in? my son asks. (Like he is strung out or has the rent to pay and a baby on his young hip).
Things That Cause Much Excitement in the Suburbs
A load of rocks (or dirt or composting straw). Landscaping breaks our middle-aged backs but it does mean watching one another sweat, which is hot.
Husbands building us raised vegetable gardens the way boyfriends used to make us mix-tapes.
Returning people’s escaped dogs to them.
Self-sown plants (herbs, especially).
A neighbourhood bar opening.
Meeting the bartender on a dog walk and swapping recipes for cooking on an open fire.
The Dogs Speak Italian
My friend calls out to his dogs in Italian, which is only one of his languages, and from across the dog park, in a sea of exclamation points, our dogs look up in recognition and run towards him.
He is often the tallest, and always the Blackest man in any given area when we walk our dogs together. He greets all the white Australians boisterously, who are equally divided into groups of nervous and wary around him. I very much appreciate the way he refuses to take up less space. My friend knows they are watching him from the corner of their eyes.
It must take a lot of energy to move so decisively. But, of course, it must take more to try to be smaller for people.
There’s an episode in Gomorrah, an organised crime series set in the poverty of Naples, that my husband and I are devouring, where one of the gangsters has relocated to Bulgaria in self-imposed exile. He now does low-level bidding for a couple of sociopathic local gangsters in an act of personal penance4 for the shattering regret he carries about losing his family. The pair push him around. Mostly, they do this because they are cruel to everyone. But also, they do it partly out of some kind of curiosity about this tightly wound man who is fixed on abstinence, when they are pursuing the most depraved hedonism.
The scenes remind me of men who beat aggressive dogs, forgetting the dog could kill them. The entire time, while watching these scenes of humiliation, you are reminded of what this Italian gangster is actually capable of, and how patient and restrained he is being about the underestimation. You feel an anticipation of danger.
And then, there’s this enormously cathartic release when finally our Italian expatriate erupts and, in a matter of screen minutes, kills both local gangsters without warning or difficulty. A pool of blood seeps out around the heads of these dead men. Consequences be damned.
I watched it thinking, that’s what perimenopause feels like. You could kill them. You try not to. And this time you are holding back, not because you might lack the power, but precisely because you do have the power, and you know you are trying to do better.
Middle-Aged Women Villains/Women Who Did Not Hold Back
Cruella de Vil
Having a Teenage Daughter is Like Chasing an Avoidant Lover..
Was There a Purpose to the Broken Heart?
I know I said last time that you need to fill your life, now, in preparation for this stage of transitionary parenting that is coming.. where your job is to let go and the teenager’s job is to become too independent…
But maybe I will revise that to ask have you also experienced enough heartbreak in your life yet? If not, fit a quick one in now.
Because, I suspect evolution had a purpose with those youthful heartbreaks you endured in your twenties. Not because your teenage child will break your heart, unless you’re very unlucky, but because you need to perfect the art of the brave face for this.
You need to perfect, shall we say, stoic denial? I am speaking of the art of composure when receiving the withholding, withdrawal, rejection, dismissal. Thumbs down, nope.
If you’re the sort who texts exes first, go back to the start and do not pass Go.
You Have Mail to Collect
I love these letters by Tracy Crisp, and recommend you consider subscribing to another newsletter. Like:
Wandering around facebook these days, it’s like being a stayer at a party, and you’re staying not because you’re enjoying the party but because you can’t quite find the energy to call yourself a taxi.
You’ve drunk not so much that you’re falling over, but enough that you’re feeling grubby. You’ve stopped drinking, but you’re still holding your glass made cloudy by the oil from your palms. You need to do a wee, but you’re not going back in the bathroom, because my god, the light in there. Really? Is that how old you really are now? You’ve been at this party for the last ten years?
It was a good party as far as parties go, I mean the place was full of people you hadn’t seen for ages, and you had a couple of decent conversations. But everyone’s been leaving for the past hour, and now ninety-five percent of the conversation is stuff you’ve already heard (surely there’s something new been said since you last scrolled through this room) and the other five percent is right wing wackery you wish you could mute but there’s something wrong with the hinge mechanism and every time you close the door it opens again.
On Mothering One’s Parent
Looking after an ageing parent is not something I have experienced. (Perhaps I should say, yet). But if it is in your experience or if you are wanting to understand better tenderness in all forms of caring work, then I strongly recommend the @momofmymom account on Instagram. It is a millennial Black American woman’s diary of caregiving for her mother with dementia. It can be profoundly moving. But more than this, it is engaging. Like I used to find certain parenting blogs interesting, I also enjoy this woman sharing the minutiae of her life as she puzzles over aspects of care for her mother. And maybe, because her mother is someone retreating into a persona both charming and irreverent, and therefore not unlike a toddler, the visual journaling of this woman’s life as a carer feels similar to mother blogging days.
This was always the little feminist secret behind particularly good mother blogging, wasn’t it? Like any job, it can be interesting when thoughtfully examined.
Thank you for the lovely messages and for sharing my newsletter. I am very grateful.
See my previous newsletter, The Existential Crisis of Parenting a Teenager.
We have a cleaner come fortnightly.
Of course, it is all very Catholic, the series is intensely Italian and no other country should ever try to reproduce this series, however good it is.
She’s my current style board.