We just ARE who we ARE

When I was younger, I thought we made ourselves into who we are, but the older I’ve gotten, the more I realize that we come into the world exactly who we are, and the world does what it will do to us — but who we are was there from the beginning. And so I peer intently into my grandchildrens’ eyes…..Oliver, there from the start, exactly who he is. Ilan, there he is, I will know him always. Lucy, our delight and laughing glory, present from the get-go. And funny little mannerisms, I notice those too — physical examples of the same inner self that’s present. (And for that matter, my own children are who they’ve always been. It’s the most remarkable thing to realize. They were always there, right from the beginning, and I didn’t quite realize this yet.)

And I have always been who I am. Of course. I could be nothing else. I didn’t choose these things, we don’t choose these things, they just are. We just are. I’ve been reading Anne Carson every morning (Plainwater, at the moment, lingering with my morning coffee), and as she is trained as a classicist, there are references to Sokrates [her spelling], and Sappho, and in other works, Autobiography of Red, Herakles and Geryon. I have to regularly read The Odyssey, and I cannot wait to read An Odyssey. If you want to talk about Dante, I have a fondness for the John Ciardi translation, since it was the first one I read when Katie was a baby, but the newer translation by the Hollanders is so remarkable it’s my favorite.

When I was eight years old (-ish), I saw a commercial on television for a set of records that I wanted SO BADLY. I wanted to claw out my thigh muscles, I wanted them so badly. So I begged my dad to order them for me, with a promise to pay him back out of my allowance — which I did, and it took me a couple of years. When they arrived in the mail I was beside myself with excitement. I ran downstairs to my bedroom and played them on my junkie little record player (not a Fisher Price, but not much more than that) and 51 years later I still remember how that music made me feel. How huge. How outside-of-language. I didn’t know why, I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t know anything about it except how it made me feel.

Somehow, I have NO idea how, I still have the set.

Looks pretty good for 51 years old!
the selections

When I look at the records themselves, I see that I had clear favorites: Beethoven’s Symphony in C; Swan Lake; Peer Gynt (which I would go on to introduce my children to, with a fun game); Die Fledermaus (which I would go on to play in orchestra, on my flute, such a fun little part to play). Those tracks are worn down, and I can close my eyes and remember exactly how they made me feel. I was eight, I didn’t have any understanding of them AT ALL, didn’t know what they were, didn’t know the composers (or that there were “composers”), but they made me feel something big that I couldn’t put in words, and I needed them. I needed them badly enough to endure the cost.

My mother hated me for it, and told me over and over that I was just pretending to like it. That I was just “being that way,” which was so confusing to me because I had no idea what way I was “being” except for myself . . . but it was clearly shameful, and showing off, and acting as if I was something I wasn’t. My love of books was also a shameful thing, and among other reasons she shamed me for it, one terrible thing was that I chose reading over being with her and what pathetic priorities I had. So I became as tiny as I could. I hid my books and crawled underneath my bed with them, pulling myself as far back into the corner as I could, tucking pillows along the edge so I’d have warning if she came into my room so I could hide the book before she found me. Every year I won the school award for having read the most books, and I burned with the shame of that, and was grateful that she never came to the school for those ceremonies. I waited until she left the house to listen to my records, and I felt so much shame. Why did I need such shameful things?

She did her job very well, because it’s something I still, to this day, have to resist. The tug is very small at this point, but it’s always there. When I want to share my love of the kind of books I love, for example, I flinch a little bit at her shaming of me. And then, since I’m fifty-fucking-eight years old and have done a lot of work, of course I talk about them anyway. I don’t care, or judge you, if you don’t like Sophocles and Antigone and Homer. I don’t care if you’ve never read Dante, or Melville. I don’t care if you don’t have favorite passages of poetry, if you don’t have an impulse to name your home after a little phrase from a book by James Joyce. I don’t care! YOU BE YOU!! I just have to be me, too.

I was mindful of this when my kids were little, and tried to encourage whatever they were interested in, but this is a privilege of being a grandmother: I’m that much further down the road with it and now I stare into them and HAVE to encourage them to be exactly who they are, whoever that will be. I want to help them more than anything else in this world. They will be who they are, and that’s the most important thing in this whole world to me. I need them to be exactly who they are. They need to be exactly who they are. It’s not like I’ll be fighting their moms and dads — my kids are absolutely wonderful parents, encouraging their children — and whoo boy do they have an ally in their Pete. The kids are very little right now, all under the age of four, but when they start needing to be themselves more loudly, they’re going to find me grinning at them, begging them to come out and play.

Lucky me. Lucky, lucky, lucky me.

10 thoughts on “We just ARE who we ARE”

  1. Your mother was a master at being a monster. What a damaged human being she is; no, heart, no soul and the ability to know what could hurt the very most and carry it out. She must have been so jealous of who you were/are. She and Trump can share hell together! That witch can’t possibly know what a gift she has given us all – precious, amazing you.

    I have finished reading a book that I just loved – Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati. It’s historical fiction about the settling of late 18th-century New York. I am now reading a sequel to it that, so far, is just as wonderful. Her characters are so very memorable. Are you familiar with Sara Donati (her pen name)? She has also written under her given name which is Rosina Lippi and Rosina Lippi-Green. It’s just heavenly to be reading a good book

    I love you more than the big wide world.

    1. She surely was (and is, as far as I can tell) a monster and damaged person, and I’m ENDLESSLY LUCKY that you took over the role of “voice in my head.” And oh yes, she and 45 can share hell together, long may they torment each other.

      I haven’t heard of this book, or Sara Donati! I totally love the history of New York, what a fascinating place it was. I’ll see if I can download it to my kindle! And now that I’m [mostly] unpacked, I have Snow Flower and the Secret Fan on my nightstand — I always trust your recommendations, you haven’t yet steered me wrong. I love YOU more than the big wide world too, my darling one. xoxoxo

        1. Now I’m determined to start reading it tonight! The book I’m reading is OK but not more, so I’ll be thrilled to jump into this one, especially now. 🙂

  2. I don’t think there’s any bigger gift to give someone than the message – love yourself as you are. Your choice of music is mine too. My son frightens me with his passion for film – it seems so shallow compared to what I had wanted for him – but he lives and breathes this passion. You’ve made me realise, who am I to tell him what he can’t love, and to try to force him down a different path. You are my blessing, Queen of the pillbugs. As always, thank you for the learning. Xxxxx

    1. Oh, dear AM — I doubt seriously that your son will take his passion to a shallow path. Perhaps his passion for film will lead him to change the world……or simply contribute to films that give people delight, that move them, etc etc. But I take your point, we imagine such Big Vast Things for our babies, and then they go and be who they are.

      How lucky you are/he is that he has a passion that he lives and breathes! That’s kind of amazing. I always wished I had a burning passion for something; I just had lots of piddling interests, and moved this way and that with the current. My oldest daughter Katie was GOING TO BE A LAWYER, and she was so certain of it that I was worried: what if she got to law school and hated it, but hadn’t ever allowed herself to think about other possibilities? Would she feel despair, if that happened? She instead became an elementary school teacher and oh how wonderful she was at that. She was a huge blessing to every student who was lucky enough to have her for a teacher. Life is long, passions are motivating and enriching, and who knows what direction he’ll eventually take. Perhaps he’ll do something you have no idea about right now, but he’ll always be that great guy who really knows a lot about movies and is passionate about them. I always love those guys. 🙂

      You are certainly my blessing, you darling one. You’ve taught me a great many things over the years I’ve been lucky enough to know you. xoxoxoxo

  3. It is astonishing to me that my 6 were so distinctly themselves right from the start. Greg and I had spent so many long conversations discussing nature/nurture and things we wanted to do (and more importantly for G NOT do) as parents reflecting on our own childhoods. But blanket rules or intentions don’t seem appropriate when you actually meet your children. Or, at least, they didn’t when we met ours. <3

    1. Yeah, isn’t it just so amazing to watch, Amelia? I only had three, but they could not have been more different from each other….especially the girls. And it was true from the very, very, very beginning, in ways big and small. I understood, after Marnie was born, how people could want to keep having children, if only to watch all the different versions emerge into the world.

      And I think you’re onto something, even more generally speaking — the nature v nurture thing. It’s true for ourselves too, to an extent we don’t like to acknowledge. We think we are independent people pushing the world to be the way we want it, but the world pushes against us and makes us behave some way much more often than we think. This is the essence of social psychology. So nature is there doing its thing while/despite our nurture does its thing, and the social is there doing its thing while/despite our inner boss is telling us that we’re the boss.

      Endlessly fascinating to be a watchful human. <3 <3

      p.s. and I'd say you and Greg figured things out pretty brilliantly, given the glory of your 6 beauties.

Sorry, comments are closed at this point!