Thursday, November 7, 2013

7 March 2013, Introduction to The Uses of Pretend

7 March 2013

I am rewriting a series of vignettes about Trevor and Josh. These slices of my life are from an earlier time. They were gathering dust in a blue three-ring binder at the bottom of a box of old papers. I came close to recycling the whole shebang without examining the contents. These short histories emerged from my past and into the light like a time capsule, something I wrote long ago in a mindset I am now wholly unfamiliar with. Was it me?

The voice I used to tell the tales is oddly squeaky, oddly Pollyanna-ish. I think the original intent for the snapshot writing was as a contribution to a support newsletter for parents like me, parents of children born with a craniofacial disorder. I wrote them during a midstream period of parenting when Cub Scouts and spelling tests demanded my attention along with weekly visits to the doctor and developing a network of people I could call when I suddenly needed to stay overnight at the hospital. Life with a child impacted by complex medical needs included a surgical team, hospital stays, and many other health-related necessities. The stories are entitled, “The Uses of Pretend.”

I am struggling to tighten them up. I feel like shaking the writer of these tales, grabbing her by the shoulders and slapping her. Was I so upbeat? Was I that person? Me? Or was it artifice? “Oh fa-la, my kid is in the hospital again, not to worry: I am super mom.” Here’s the deal: I wasn’t. Maybe I fancied myself as super mom in a Walter-Mitty-alter-ego way but when my kids were making their way through elementary school, my present-day memory tells me I was a rumpled wallflower. Yes, I was deeply involved in my children’s education but I was far removed from the belle of the PTA mommy ball. I was the tired bifocal-wearing, scruffy-jeaned, and un-styled-hair-type mom driving the old Volvo station wagon with a barking beagle in the back. My writing dreams were only that then: dreams. I kept my journals hidden and secret and filled them with grousing and longing and, yes, my own brand of pretend.

My tone in the newly discovered pieces – written to share - is, by and large, upbeat, reassuring, and steadfast. At least this is what it sounds like to me today. When I first came across them I thought I’d somehow find a place for them in my current major project – wait, spell it like it is, all caps: MAJOR PROJECT. This project, currently absorbing the majority of my writing time, purports to chronicle my life, my growing years – a memoir drawn from my journals. I sit down to transcribe the new stories and find myself not recognizing myself. Was I that person? Gooey? Sappy? It was a long time ago. My writing chops were undeveloped. This is certain. I wasn't crafting and playing with words, fashioning them to my own ends.

It is the nature of this early writing I find a little frightening. Part of it is not acknowledging, during the darkest hours, that I was caught in a dark vortex: scary parenthood coupled with marriage to the wrong person. That should be in all caps, too. I wouldn't and didn't share the struggle with any of the other players in my life then, the teachers, doctors, and other mothers populating my life. Did they know? No matter: I pretended. I was pretending. The title “The Uses of Pretend” colludes with that notion. I keep on looking behind these little stories – these brief snippets from the whirl of my life back then, thinking about the shadows, the unstated, and the barely mentioned.

Was I writing myself out of my life? Was I creating something to hide under? My first reaction to these simple, declarative narratives is: this isn't me at all. Where am I in this picture?

I look through the lens of intervening years, knowing the tough times ahead for the optimistic mom, den mother, cupcake chef, and vacuum-er of Legos. My old journals are so constantly a part of my life these days. I work daily to transcribe the labored writings of a person worried about the future and worn from the constant duties of parenthood, the duplicities of a fractured marriage. Perhaps my diaries, the ones forming the arch of my story project, don’t tell me everything.

Truth be told: I never nurtured a dream of motherhood. I never featured myself in a fuzzy golden light swaddling a fussy baby, coaxing mushy carrots into a toddler, or quizzing a third grader on all the state capitols. My youthful aspirations focused on traveling the world, exploring cultures, art, language, theater, music – and writing. Getting pregnant changed everything, although, when it came along, I embraced motherhood. I was surprised by my babies and intrigued. I fell in love with them. Helping children to grow, guiding them, was a big adventure, far more than anticipated in some ways.

Still, I scratched away at my journals, late at night or early in the morning before the alarm sent me to the kitchen to pack lunch boxes. The upbeat mother who wrote glowingly of pretending to fish in the sky and making up stories with my children as the conquering heroes wrote also of longing, fear, and unhappiness. She never let anyone read the dark stories.

All the writing, all the college-ruled notebooks I filled over the years, comes together now.  I unearth each sentence and, like an archaeologist dust off the person buried there. Considering it again after a period of brooding, I am glad I was hopeful and engaged. I put on my happy face. I am glad I was writing articles to be read by others and writing in privacy to console myself. It made all the difference. The time capsule holds surprises: a repressed version of me, someone I hardly recognize, perpetrating a cheerful ruse on those around her. From a long-ago scary place I wrote my way forward, through the difficult years and into the present as a more confident, clear-eyed writer.  Gradually, imperceptibly, my two writing personas merged. Now I emerge, as ever gathering my courage as I strike out, word by word, sentence by sentence. Writing to save myself, writing to make sense of my world, writing to live my dream.