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  • Stefanie Cohen

Turned Inside Out



I had begun this writing, actually, earlier this fall, at the click of the door behind my husband and I as we left from having dropped our younger child off in her first apartment in Chicago… as our car rolled through the neighborhoods, to the freeway, and all the way back to Detroit. 

Honestly, it started out a little lighter back then. “WTF?!  Where Did My Kids Go?” was the cheeky working title, at the time.


But over this past six weeks, writing and speaking emerge from my mind and heart as though from within a viscous substance.  Like that which a caterpillar becomes, deep inside its chrysalis, in its process of transformation. A butterfly is not simply a caterpillar that has sprouted wings, but a creature that has become undone.  That has turned itself inside out, become unrecognizable to itself, fully yielded its form in order to become this new being.

 

I write from a raw place, quite honestly, of not-knowing myself and what to do with myself, at times, in light of the horror in Gaza.  A horror that feels even closer to home as it is people with my heritage who have both been on the receiving end of recent and a multi-millennial history of brutality, but whose government, importantly, is now enacting it on an unfathomable scale.  I can’t not name that as I write this, bombs continue to rain down on other people’s children.  That these children are being displaced, becoming orphaned, and are dying at a rate of one every 10-15 minutes.

And that everyone, of course, is someone’s child.

 

Our older kid, turned adult-ish now, at 23, has long since broken us in to the idea of his living far away.  Having attended and graduated from the University of Oregon, he has claimed Portland as his home for now; a land of epic physical beauty, (albeit with a little too much rain for his liking), similarly outdoorsy friends, and great restaurants.  But somehow, with our younger one gone as well, in her sophomore year of art school, the reality of my own, uncomfortable changes of identity makes me squirm.


No one prepares us for this stage of parenting; for this stage in our own adult development.  For the too much quiet at a dinner table.  For the ways in which our bodies — having been carved and sculpted by the manners in which they orient towards our children, arching over in protection, ears extending outward, attuning perhaps to the sound of the door when kids return at night — must re-organize and re-form themselves.  For the awareness that we have now become those insufferable people who tell the parents of young children (for whom each day can feel excruciatingly long at times), that “they’ll be grown before ‘ya know it”.  That the time will move faster with each passing year.


Back when I gave birth to my son — when the days felt indeed endless, though the months went by in a blur —I realized the way in which becoming a parent had brought me into instant connection, instantaneous shared experience, with people with whom I may have little else in common.  Except, of course, our inherent shared humanity. Though I have not been without judgement of others or my own parenting choices, my empathy knob has remained turned up to 11.  And the heartbreak at the losses of and for others’ children feels bottomless.

 

I acknowledge the unbelievable privilege of my kids having the experience to go away to college.  To go to college, at all.  Offspring springing off… to study what and where they wish, and to fly out and return, fly out and return, as they get their bearings in the skies. I acknowledge this paradox of bereft-ness paired with the genuine delight in their living their independent adventures.  Watching them from a distance, out in the world, amassing the experiences, both wondrous and uncomfortable, that continue to shape them in their lives to come. 


In a performance rehearsal a little while back, with my partner Corey, we worked with a body mapping drawing and writing exercise from British performance duo Methods.  Tracing the outlines of our own bodies on rolls of brown paper, we imagined them as cartographic sketches.  For me, my body became an island, at a distance from any mainland; my heart a spring from which two rivers sourced, flowing their separate ways:


Climbing to the highest peak, overlooking the rest of the island, one can glimpse deep into the mouth of a giant cavern from which two distinct milk-fed streams, nearly intermingling at the center, flow their own bright ways out into the surrounding ocean. 

Given their temperatures, their temperaments, their particular and peculiar iridescence, they visibly glow in their journeys through the big waters. 

 

From the top of the ridge, peering out a good distance,

on a clear day one can see them for miles and miles.  The rest of the island settles and bobs gently, as moons bring the tides closer and further away.  The water lapping quietly and gently at her shores.  The next island is a day’s distance by ship.  A week, by raft.

  

It is by no means a given that all who sire or even raise children will indeed allow themselves to feel this, but as a saying goes: “becoming a parent means wearing one’s heart on the outside of your skin for the rest of your life.”  Certainly, over the past more than two decades, my own heart has come to rest, sometimes reluctantly at times, right there as an outer garment — sometimes a glittery gold lamé, at others, as a frayed cotton, thread-worn…nearly transparent.


Everyone is someone’s child.  We can all stand to allow our hearts to soften, to break, to bring us in to the inside of the chrysalis - - the inside of our hearts where the amorphous goo that holds what we are to become, jiggles and vibrates with our undoing and our redoing.  May this allow us to see and to hear one another.  To see and hear others’ children as our own, and to stand up to prevent their suffering at all costs.


This post was included in A Bright DrewTopian Future blog on 11/17/23


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