somewhere, in a box that has gone through four or five moves unopened and unsorted, is a picture. a snapshot of a woman – a girl, really – in a Kodachrome red polyester mini-dress, hugely pregnant. her hair is black. her smile fills the photo. on the back it says, Christmas Eve, 1971.

i was born exactly a month later. the film must have been developed afterward, because under the date in my father’s idiosyncratically beautiful handwriting, the snapshot notes, “Bonnie Elaine has gotten so big!!” they did not know i was a girl, did not choose my name before my birth – i have always known this. but when i found the photo a decade or so ago, cleaning out my grandmother’s apartment in preparation for the final move to the nursing home, i cried. because there was so much i did not know, had no memory of. the intact family, the young father writing my full name with pride, the way my mother smiled, curtains yet undrawn.

by the next Christmas they had torn each other apart in ways that we are all, thirty-seven years later, still trying to recover from, and it was irrevocably over.

the picture shocked me, when i found it. the girl in the picture – my mother, impossibly young and shyly deferential, hopeful – broke my heart. i could see the script, knew what came next. what i hadn’t known, until that moment, was how much got lost in the unravelling of it all.

i grew up in a family that did not speak of rupture. my mother was a canon of propriety, a brave one-woman show of sacrifice, the two of us a rigidly upright single-parent family in a town where the term usually connoted stigma, even trash. she bought me a pass out of lowered expectations, and out of sentimental longing for a past i couldn’t remember. we were what we were, and a bright and shining – if threadbare – face was the mask worn to the world. but the facade balanced on a carpet beneath which much destruction and mess were swept, much confusion and woundedness pre-processed and handed down as truth. the divorce and its betrayals i knew too much about too early, but no one had heard of therapy, not here. the disintegration of my family of origin and of my parents as non-embittered entities was presented not as my own loss to grapple with but something in the past, sterile and at safe remove. “my parents divorced when i was an infant but i have a good relationship with my father,” i was instructed to write in my fourth grade autobiography. i do not remember having any idea of how to articulate such a thing publicly in any other way. only nearly twenty years later, holding that photograph in my grandmother’s empty apartment, did it occur to me that i’d been sold a line…that maybe i had a right to feelings and thoughts on the subject, after all.
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i started this blog two weeks before Oscar was born, less than a year after Finn died. i was struggling with the fact of my feelings on a subject that would have made me profoundly uncomfortable to discuss aloud…with whether, on the cusp of Oscar’s birth, i had the right to feelings about Finn at all, at least feelings not as tidied and safely neutered as those i’d learned about my parents’ divorce…or later, my own. the blog offered sanctuary from a lifetime of self-silencing, of living an internal reality different from any external indication of identity. it became a place where i could make up my narrative of parenthood as i went along, and weave both my sons in.

i think it saved my sanity. i think you all did.

but i am not in that place anymore: there is a sea change at work in me, a transition i do not yet understand. i look ahead to 2009 and the blank slate of it baffles me, leaves me nervous. the primary goal of 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 is finally shelved…we have our family, are blessedly, quietly triumphant in the two Christmas stockings that we stuffed for little people last week. after five calendar years with highs and lows marked out almost entirely by pregnancies, i do not want to be pregnant in 2009. the lifelong fantasy of my children yet-to-be has been retired, wistfully but with finality. but what now?

Posey talks to me, these days, soft little coos and the sweetest giggles my ears have ever heard. i am allowed to say this, i think, because Oscar was neither cooer nor giggler, his vocalizations late and sparse. but lately the words tumble over each other in complex pronouncements of will and observation and imagined delights, even his brief stutter suddenly overcome, left in dust. he mimics what i say, how i act.

and i am more and more uncomfortable in the skin i see reflected. i am strained, i am tired, yes. but i am also too quick to carp, to judge, too easily made anxious by departures from whatever script i’ve concocted at the time. my household ego is fragile, particularly with my partner. and lately i have found myself puzzling ’til my puzzler is sore about where it all goes from here, about how, now that we have these wanted children, to raise them. i have no model for doing that in partnership with anyone…the children or their father. yet i do not want to beat my head against the same walls of authoritarianism and appearances my mother beat hers into with me. i do not want to teach my kids that their feelings matter only if externally validated.

i mean no indictment of people i love, people who did well to survive. i just feel at sea, shamefully unprepared for this business of living, even when i’ve been at it all these years. tired of feeling like i have to work everything out from scratch, and certain that i don’t know how to talk about any of this in ways that are publicly appropriate and still honest. we remain children of our upbringing, often in ways invisible to us, long after we’ve left childhood behind.

hence my silence. i am here. blogging may be dead, proclaim the pundits rounding out the year, but i am not particularly done with it. it’s just, to quote Leonard Cohen, that i can’t speak.

my words lie dormant, taut and jumbled under a cocoon, as i drag myself through the metamorphoses of whatever is struggling, slouching into being, and i hold my breath at all this crazy unknown ahead and hope that this year’s Christmas photos do not someday make my children well up with tears at all that could have been if pride and patterns learned and stubborn foolheadedness had not gotten in the way.

because it feels like a precipice, this new year looming, waiting to be born.
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what do you see in the tea leaves for 2009? what do you hope for? and what do you do when the words fail you?