Wednesday, March 23, 2016

On 30

Today my son is 30.

At 30, there is no hiding from the idea that you're an adult, that the torch has been passed. It's the last "interior" milestone. Subsequent age milestones are exterior, relative-- a co-worker who doesn't have personal recollection of a significant historical marker outside of history books, a president your age, a president younger than you.

Your oldest child turning 30.

It's not a Chinese milestone. The Chinese acknowledge just three birthdays: 1, 10, and 60. The ones in between are just time you spend figuring it all out.

Seng started trying to figure it out before he was even born, dipping a toe in and pulling it back. After four false labor starts, the goddess took things into her own hands and broke my water. It still took him almost a day to get going.

Once here, he still wasn't convinced it was a good idea. He cried for 5 months. And then that was it. He pretty much had it figured out by the time he was 10. You never met a sweeter toddler. He's spent the subsequent years as a cautious and sweet-hearted child, youth, and man.

At 30 you are who you are. I wish I had realized this when I was 30. Of course, when I was 30, I became a mother, which throws everything you knew about yourself into chaos.

What is Seng like, or more to the point, what does he think he is like? A little cautious, with an unconventional view of ambition that means he wants to do what he wants to do. This might make him famous, or rich, but if it doesn't that's okay. He's loyal and loving, but now finds himself navigating this idea that love and loyalty might not work the way he thought they worked.

I don't mean to be sad on his birthday. All my children's milestones make me sad these days. It's hard to know if that's because it's so bittersweet for your children to grow up, or because he'll be reaching new milestones with a family he's trying to figure out all over again.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

On grieving

Grief is a selfish emotion.

My grief for Jack Kearney is so interwoven with my grief for my marriage, for my mother.

It's tinged with guilt because I was not able to be there for Jack, due largely to the nature of illness, but also to the paralysis that serious illness imparts on the well. It's tinged with guilt because of my envy for his family, whom I also love. It's tinged with guilt because some of that love is pride.

Grief brings out your flaws.

The Kearneys treat me as much like family as one can do for someone who is not the family. But here I'm the outsider, the uncomfortable one whom they want to accommodate, except in this most family of times, I don't belong.

Grief should be shared.

The fact that I can't share it makes it feel false and self-indulgent. It adds a tinge of anger, not the typical anger at the loved one for dying, but at my loved one who isn't here to make my grief a public thing.

Who am I

I have four names.

Sandy. Xan. Alex. Alexandra.

I can tell how people know me by what they call me.

Sandy is the child. I was not supposed to have a nickname. The story is when my mother saw me, she said that I was so small it seemed awful to hang such a long and grand name on me. My grandmother was horrified. "Why would you name a child after a dog!?" (Sandy is the name of Little Orphan Annie's dog). I was Sandy from birth until I was 17.  I really think having this name warped me, because I was never much of a Sandy. Sandy is fun and cute and compliant. Sandy's pretty mainstream. She dreams about her wedding and gets a degree in English.

Xan, ironically, is the name my mother always called me. I look at it now and I don't recognize myself in it, even though it's the name I used the longest.  I tried to change from Sandy when we moved to Illinois when I was 14, but my brother sabotaged the effort by telling everyone I was lying; my name was Sandy. Meantime, he changed his use-name from Andrew to Drew. When I got to college, without him, I left Sandy behind. There are still people I'm fairly close to who never knew she existed. Xan fits me well- hard to pronounce, absolutely unique, short and difficult. But Xan is part of Bill, which makes it tough.

Alex came about when I tried to have an art career. Sick of explaining "Xan" and unable to get a hearing as Alexandra, I masculinized it. Presto- art career. That's another whole blog, right there. Only one person still calls me Alex. Alex did not make much of an impact on the world.

Alexandra is what my father always called me. It's interesting that they gave me this nickname, Sandy, which never really suited me, but then didn't use it themselves except in public. I brought it back because Xan felt like "Bill and Xan"-- in a way she doesn't exist without him. So I killed her. I chose the name I was born with, who I was never allowed by the world to be.

I wonder who she is?