Amy Lemmon's 26-Minute Memoir

385px-California_26.svgThe 26-Minute Memoir is back! I have a big backlog of wonderful 26-Minute Memoirs that readers of Writing Is My Drink have sent me over the last two years, and I’m going to start posting them here again. Here to start us back up is a beautiful twenty-six minute piece from Amy Lemmon.

If you’d like to write one of your own, you can read about the 26-Minute Memoir project here.

Amy Lemmon’s 26-minute memoir  (a self-portrait)

I am a mother, a writer, a college professor. I am a caregiver, an amateur cook, a wanna-be tidy-upper, a control freak, a decider who is often indecisive. I am on the run from myself because I am afraid I am not the person everyone thinks I am—a long-suffering parent of a child with a disability (and one without), a passionate reader and writer of poetry and prose, a committed educator always available to students and colleagues. Recently I have added “middle manager” to my self-description and that is one of the areas of which I am most ashamed. I make mistakes, the kind often made by someone whose passion outweighs her power, whose vision overreaches her limits, who refuses to take no for an answer without a reasonable explanation and who does not consider “because _______ says so” to be reasonable.

I am often subjected to the misplaced admiration of friends and acquaintances, along the lines of “I don’t know how you do it”: How do you keep up with scheduling deadlines, respond to emails within 24 hours, manage the care and coordination of fifty-plus teachers of English and Communication Studies, only a handful of them full-time? How do you mentor colleagues new and old, meet with students, field endless complaints and requests from all of the above, go to the endless meetings, meetings, meetings required at every step? And then they see the photos, sadly outdated, of my son and daughter on the corkboard above my desk. “I forget you have this whole other life,” a coworker once said. Sometimes, nay, often, in that office with its view of ever-under-construction Midtown West (aka Hells Kitchen), so do I.

My whole other life is an exercise in stretching, of spreading one layer’s worth of buttercream thinly enough to cover a double-decker cake. There are bare spots and even places where a chunk is missing. I do not have enough for a “crumb layer” and so must cover as best I can, trying to comfort myself with the knowledge that the icing is made with the freshest ingredients, all organic, from scratch. The metaphor crumbles, since my children’s lives and education and health and happiness are much more complex than any cake. My son Bobby entered the world on the last day of November, with Bach playing in the background and the scent of lavender massage lotion overpowered by the smells of a birth, in all its unmedicated messiness. They laid him on my belly, a long lizardy creature the temperature of my own insides, still connected by a still-pulsing cord. We have a blurry photo of this and others of his blurry father blurrily cutting the cord. His father’s unconditional love for him was never in doubt—he wrote “He’s killin’” (a jazz musician’s term) as P.S. to our birth announcement email. For me, that level of commitment came later; it took me a week or two to fall in love with my little son, who cried and cried and would not latch on. We hired a lactation consultant and took the baby to her home in suburban Queens, where she would not let me rest until he nursed. She wrote a plan: If Robert is frantic, calm him first. I persisted despite the pain and we eventually became a “nursing pair.” I pumped at work and he chugged down bottles while I was away.

The story of my son and me is ordinary to the point of boredom; my daughter’s story was different. I have written elsewhere of the birth a scant three weeks after 9/11/01, of the same midwife being on call, of the knowledge of her diagnosis of Down syndrome almost as soon as she was born, of the heartache we felt and the surgery she needed to repair her own heart at age nine months. What I have not written about is the third baby I wanted so badly, the baby their father did not want, the decision that ended a life and, later, a marriage. For it was this decision, or rather the predicament of pregnancy, unplanned at age forty-three, that more than any other pulled thread unraveled the tangled mess we had become.


You can read more from Amy Lemmon on her blog here:

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