locked my car keys in my trunk two Sunday nights ago while we were visiting my
parents. It was my son’s bedtime and he was going to fall asleep in the car and
we were going to get home before our own bedtimes. Instead, we waited two hours
for the locksmith and everybody remained calm except for me. To properly
express my regret and apologize for my idiocy, my subconscious thought it best
to spend those two hours marching from the driveway to the porch to the living
room wildly and purposelessly, bursting into tears, refusing water or snacks,
and shouting things like, “I mean, I THINK they’re in the trunk! I DON’T KNOW!”
and “PEOPLE DO THIS, RIGHT?” and then repeatedly miming the trunk slam that
happened seconds before I realized what I’d done.
For your information, these exercises do nothing to better a bummer-but-not-dire situation. Because the thing is that my keys were there, right there, in the trunk and all we needed was someone to get them out. And, after an hour and a half, that someone called from his car and said he was 20-30 minutes away, according to the GPS! When I read about the refugees in Syria, their stories captured maybe most humanely and breathtakingly by Humans of New York, I see that there are no hidden keys and there is no locksmith, there is only horror and bravery and the sort of tenacity many of us will never have to locate inside ourselves.
The day after my own very minor non-crisis, I had the
thought that locking your keys inside the thing that you need the keys for is a
metaphor for the keys to your own LIFE being inside yourself. And, I thought
excitedly, you sometimes have to troubleshoot them out, the way our locksmith
did by changing course halfway through his silent effort and instead of trying
to unlock the door through the window with his bendy rod claw, he used the bendy
rod claw to pop the trunk instead! You
just have to find your locksmith was a sentence I wrote in the notes
section of my phone. It’s so cheesy, so hokey, and for that I’m sorry, but it’s
also true and lately, with my child slowly steeping in the big bad socialized
world and my own self tentatively returning to the great self-involved grown-up
world from whence I came, I am finding it to be helpful.
for example, today, when I dropped Sly off at school, two girls, both a year
older than him who were eating their breakfast in the kitchen, turned to him
and called him the name of another younger boy at school and then a different
boy and then giggled to each other. They knew his name. They were just being
clever and silly but of course I was overtaken by post-traumatic stress from
the entirety of my public school experience and I had to escort myself off the
premises before I started sob-yelling at those girls to BE FUCKING NICE,
GODDAMNIT. It washed over me then, like a case of shingles, the reason why I
was afraid of being pregnant with a girl.
if I gave birth to a mean one? Or worse, what if I gave birth to one like me?
One who had a hard time sticking up for herself, more and more as the years
went on, one whose name other kids might’ve easily pretended not to know? I’m
not saying this mired in self-hate or self-pity. I love where I’ve ended up,
I’ve had a charmed journey, and I really like myself. But dear god, being an
adolescent and teenage girl was a kind of endlessly confusing hell. And I
experienced it buoyed by every advantage. What must it have been like for girls
without the open-armed family at home and the nice house and the white skin?
husband just last night read parts of an article to me about emotional
resilience in children and I get it that we cannot and should not fight our
child’s battles and that this tiny little moment is not even any great battle
and that the world is often not nice and the sooner our kids know it, the
sooner that first early trauma is over, and the sooner other traumas can be
better weathered by these newly inured little people. I have heard all that
responsible parenting talk and I know that my son and I both have to find in
ourselves the good sense to figure shit out on our own. So I am here writing
this down and not yelling at two-year olds to call my son by his proper name
and thereby REALLY traumatizing him forever.
I was on the subway while Sly was at school earlier this week and I was wearing a dress with a flouncy skirt and checkered Vans and I did not feel like a mother. My body felt as light as it ever had. It isn’t that having a kid turns you into some kind of ogre or troll, it’s that kids are so often on you, holding your hand, in your arms, attached to your body like loving/flailing burrs. Or they’re magnetizing you from halfway down the street or from the top of the slide and no matter how laissez-faire you swear you are, you feel their falls, their almost-falls, their propulsion away from you, if they are in your sights. But he was not in my sights. Someone else was bearing the sweet weight of him.
so I was on the N train during the day, dressed for an audition, listening to
First Aid Kit, feeling young and vaguely cool. And then I saw two young actors
reading sides from a script, one in a suit and the other in tall lace up boots
and a lot of denim. I felt so endeared to them, so embarrassed for them,
cringing and proud at the same time, like half-self, half-mother, feeling for
them in all the ways somebody could, that I shrunk into myself like a paper bag
and tried not to stare. Instead, I started writing this.
can only imagine that the bristling vulnerability unlocked in me by two
PRE-pre-school girls will just keep showing itself, rising up like reflux, and
just as unwelcome and uncomfortable. I also imagine that it will get easier for
me, as it will for Sly, but that he will be toughened and I, softened, as I
relive all the uncomfortable memories of thirty years ago from above instead of
on the ground. When I watched “My So-Called Life” a few years as a
soon-to-be-mother, all I wanted was to say to Angela’s mom, Patti, “I am so
sorry I was so mad at you. You poor, caring, loving, overwhelmed human. Your
daughter is being ridiculous and you are doing the best you can.” I should say
this to my own mother. If you’re reading this, Mom (and Dad), which I know you
are, I am sorry I didn’t understand until now. It is hard to be a person and it
is hard to be a mother. But mothers have to be both.
driven only a few blocks down the dark road from my parents’ house in New
Jersey back to Brooklyn when my brother-in-law realized he’d left his apartment
keys at the house. When we pulled back in to the driveway, my mom was there,
running up to the car window, telling us to drive safely, and we were on our
There are locksmiths everywhere, I am sure of this. Sometimes, we are our own locksmiths, or sometimes they are people we love or they are strangers in t-shirts carrying bendy claw rods who appear in the night like gruff saviors or they are little kids with good senses of humor who will indirectly show my little kid that he also needs a sense of humor. Stay close by, locksmiths. I need you. Even when my keys are in my hand, I need you.