Archive for October, 2011


birth marks

October 7, 2011

It all began innocently enough, when we were little.  But there is something about turning five that genetically turns this year of life into the witching age in my family.  And, let’s be honest, by ‘my family’ I mean me, and now, Cole and Eleanor.  Some secret whisper of DNA turns us into sprites and imps, creating mischief and mayhem that well exceeds our own benign intentions.

It all began innocently enough.  It was the mid-1970’s and I was in kindergarten.  My mom was on a long-distance phone call.  Remember telephones from waaaayyyy back then?  They were tethered to the wall by a cord measuring, at most, six feet.  And long distance meant you had to work to both listen and hear the person on the other end of the line.  I (in boredom?  In subconscious awareness of my mom’s inattention?) meandered through the house until I came to my parents’ room.  The mysterious place you were allowed into, but never fully understood.  I stood in the center of the room and slowly turned around, assessing each object in my view.  Bed.  Dresser.  Bookshelf.  Books.  I examined a few.  Binding held tightly, covers arched so that as I flipped through I could hear the dull slapping of one page softly striking the next.  What is this?  Inside one of the books was, well, I had no idea.  It was about the size of my fist, flat, dry, molted-brown, with crispy small pieces attached to a center.  I could break parts off, and they would crumble into dusty shards in my hand.  And this is how my mother found me.  Sitting on her bed with the book labeled H-O-L-Y B-I-B-L-E completely forgotten at my side.  In my hands were the remnants of a flower.  Not just any flower, though, the one gardenia she had saved, dried and pressed from the lovely plant that grew next to the headstone of her dad, who died when she was 13.  I had, in my few minutes of five-year-old freedom, silently shredded the symbol of her memories of the day they buried her father.

It all began innocently enough.  It was the mid 2000’s and Cole was five, Eleanor an infant.  We had a friend and her children over for dinner.  Cole and his buddy were using cell phone car charger cords as pretend water hoses.  Great imaginative play, right?  All seven of us were together in the living room, yet out of the blue I heard ‘Mom, is it ok if I write my name on the piano?’  Write?  Name?  Piano?  My great-grandmother’s baby grand piano?  I could only gape in disbelief when I noticed, already carved by the hard tip of the car-charger, on the side panel of the piano C-O-L-E-L-O-C.  A palindrome of insult to the nearly century-old wood.  It was a moment of stunned disbelief.  It wasn’t possible that he had just carved his name into the piano, was it?  It was.  He had.  The surface of the wood was compressed inward and the finish removed.  My mother’s furniture pen (who knew such a product existed?) returned the tone and color, yet the topography was permanently altered.

It all began innocently enough.  Last spring Eleanor was busy at the sink doing another round of her favorite science experiments.  This time it involved mixing bold food coloring hues together to see what secondary tones she could create.  I moved in and around the kitchen, glancing her way, appreciating her focus.  The phone rang.  Long distance.  My attention was diverted.  Capable Eleanor had an accidental spill, and, without asking for help, got out lots and lots of dishtowels to wipe up.  Wiping.  Wiping up red, blue and green food coloring.  Wiping up…spreading around.  Red.  Blue.  Green smeared on walls, cabinets, floors.  Finally I descried.  And it was too late.  We labored together.  Then I toiled alone, after bed time.  Walls clean.  Floors clean-ish.  Cabinets?  Stained.  Stained with dark rivers of color.  I scoured the internet for ideas, scrubbing with all sorts of homemade science experiments of my own.  And when none of those noble tests worked, I measured cabinets throughout the house hoping I could swap doors with ones in less high visibility places.  Finally, failing to find identical options, I turned to the social network.  And it brought me a chorus of suggestions for the magic eraser.  And erase it did.

The gardenia?  Immutable destruction.

The piano?  Indelibly indented.

The cabinets?  Still slightly flecked.

Birthmarks.  Some are on our bodies when we enter the world.  Some are those we create in the world.  Shredded.  Dented.  Blotched.  The birthmarks our children leave behind.

And the ingredients in the magic eraser?  Love.  Compassion.  Forgiveness.  My mother taught me that morning, while we sat on her bed, that in moments of incredible emotional distress, if you quiet the soul, there is grace.  She perceived my handiwork as a small piece in the big arc of a family story.  And so as Cole left his letters and Eleanor her spots, they shaped new birthmarks on my heart.  And mine on theirs?  I hope, when they retell their own stories, they will inherit the lesson of abiding forgiveness and grace.  Will it stay on their hearts?  I’ll keep you posted.

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