Hearts Pierced by Swords

I went to high school (grades 7 through 11) in a high school that consisted of two buildings.  Like many of that time, it had originally been one building, then the new one was built, but the second was still in use.  It was an all girl’s high school until my year when two boys were admitted.  One of them was gay, the other must have had immense force of character.  (Well, if I’d ever had the slightest inclination towards women – I didn’t – seeing that many women that up close and personal and what they did when they thought no guys could see them would have cured me.)

Anyway, the older building (for a while the carriage house) housed the gifted forms.  The gifted forms which didn’t exist (by decree passed after the revolution, it was illegal to sort students by ability levels because all animals were alike or something.  However, teachers isolated kids they thought were trouble or so far ahead they were trouble, and threw us together into two forms.  Between which a deadly rivalry immediately developed.)  In the last year we were together, (10th grade most of them went to science, so I lost them) we were in unofficial classrooms (so small if you sat near the window – I did.  Mildly claustrophobic – and wanted to go to the bathroom, you had to walk on top of other people’s desks.) past an attic filled with broken furniture and discarded stuff.

In eighth grade, though, we were in a classroom past two other classrooms – before the building was a school, it was an earl’s palace.  It was confiscated in the great glorious revolution.  No, not that one.  The one that deposed the king – facing the window, with French windows to two small balconies.  It was a lovely room and I’m sure it was someone’s bedroom or private parlor or something.

At the back, behind the teacher’s desk there were a series of doors which were locked.

You might as well unleash a monkey with a wrench on your average suitcase as thirty two gifted teen girls, (well, thirty one.  There was also me) with a rebellious disposition (except me, of course, I was good) in a classroom with locked doors.  We made it our business to open them and look in there.  (To this day I can’t understand what ninny livered people were there before that the doors remained locked.)  It took us a little while, but since Portugal doesn’t have substitute teachers and when a teacher didn’t show up we were told to stay put, alone, in the classroom (Yes, of course, half the people went down the street for a coffee and a croissant.  Not me.  I was chronically broke.) eventually we managed to open the doors.  They were rather unexciting.  There was a closet (we later used it to suggest to our overwhelmed biology teacher she could go in there to escape us.  She thought we were possessed.  Don’t ask. After her we got a fatherly middle aged man with army experience and he didn’t have any trouble at all.)

I think the other one was a sort of dressing room and I don’t remember what the third was.

However, in our exploits, while we were being little (or in my case big) monkeys, we shoved at this big cupboard that looked built in, and which was used for school supplies.  Okay, there was a fist fight (me?  I was more likely to kick.  Honestly I don’t even remember if I was engaged, because what happened next wiped it all out of my head) and one or more people fell heavily against the cupboard, which swung away, creakily, on hinges and long-disused wheels, revealing… a passageway.

Did we go down it?  Are you kidding?  Wild horses couldn’t have stopped us. For one, they wouldn’t have fit into the passage.

We went into it, and found ourselves in this sort of box high up on the side of one of the most magnificent churches I’ve ever seen.  I’m not sure what was the point of the secret passage, unless someone didn’t wish it known she prayed a lot.

The church was all in ruins, of course, and smelled strongly of mouse whee.  No, actually not “of course.”  Considering the school had mandatory classes of religion and moral taught by a priest and getting out of them was trouble enough that most parents never tried, I’m surprised that they didn’t use the built-in-church for mass. (I had to be excused due to getting in arguments.  This involved my father getting a notarized document saying he objected  and getting a lawyer involved (mostly he objected to my possibly killing the teacher.  I was fairly sure Catholic or not, the little red book should not be confused with the Bible) so I spent my time studying with the four protestant girls and three Jewish girls whose parents cared enough to get them out.  Since two of the Jewish girls and one protestant girl was in my form, I’ve since wondered if the reason the parents cared enough was that they had similar experiences to my family’s.  My form were generally trouble makers.  I’m surprised in all the years since I’ve only seen ONE of them in the news linked to a crime.)

In retrospect, I think that the people from the great glorious revolution – no, no, the anti-monarchist one – which was strongly anti-religion sealed all other accesses to the church so well that, barring a drawing of the building by an architect, no one suspected it was there.

Anyway, the church had been decorated in the baroque style (yes, RES, they were going for Baroque) which means that it had enough gold everything that even in a corroded and tarnished condition it looked like Donald Trump’s wet dream.  It also means that the various saint statues were in positions of martyrdom and had expressions that could be either of extreme pain or orgasm, and it was best not to look too closely.  Saint Sebastian, pierced by however many arrows might have seen heaven close, but the smile was still disquieting.

Anyway, to the right of the altar, directly facing the box we were in was the best statue of Senhora das dores that I’ve ever seen  “Lady of the Pains” is the straight translation, but I think in the States she might be known as Madre Dolores, thereby giving rise to a number of women named Dolores.  Her chest is pierced by seven swords, and she looks up to heaven with an ecstatic/painful expression.

This long (good golly, two pages?) preamble is because when I thought of writing of motherhood today that was the image that came to mind.

In one of Patricia Wentworth’s books, I found the definition of motherhood as “A pain over their teething, a pain over their schooling and a pain over their lurvering.”  When I read it, I had only experienced the teething pains, and right now I’m into the schooling, though the younger has made incursions into the lurvering, even if nothing serious yet – but I see no reason to doubt that definition.

By some strange alchemy, their pain, even when they’re as stoic as my older son or as close mouthed as the second, reverberates through me much more strongly than pains I experience myself.  And the emotional pains are the worst.  For the physical ones, I can take them to the doctor, or I can apply bandages.  But for the emotional, even when I can give good advice it usually isn’t the type they can take right then.

And that is a pain, because you bring them into the world, but then… but then they’re their own.  And while I never wanted to control them, I wish I could give them, wholesale the knowledge that I have, that would make their way easy.  But that’s not how humans work.  (I always thought that was a good touch on the part of Anne Rice – yes, I read the vampire series until Queen of the Damned when I judged she’d gone off the deep end.  Even before a feeling had been growing that after reading one of her books I should take a shower on the inside.  That book was the final straw – to make the “child vampire” and the “parent vampire” deaf to each other’s thoughts, because that’s a great part of parenting.  Of course, I’ve known them all their lives.  Of course I should be able to read them.  Weirdly, it doesn’t work that way)

Not that motherhood is all reflected pain and frustration.  There’s also terror.  The first instance of terror was when I found myself massively pregnant with Robert thinking how in heck this thing could come out.  I decided there and then that he wouldn’t.  He could very well go to college in my stomach.  I still find it was uncharitable of Dan to laugh himself sick over that one.

The second moment of terror – and the third – came as I held my newborn son, and realized I was completely and utterly responsible for this creature and his existence in the world.  (Yes, with Dan’s help, of course, but you know what I mean.)

The third comes and goes and is best expressed in the phrase, “I should have stuck to cats.  They rarely grow up to be ax murderers.”

However, through all this, there is the ecstasy.  There are the moments of grace – and most of them are moments of grace – reading their first story, tasting the first dinner they cooked, listening to Robert play piano after he taught himself, watching Marshal as Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew.  Or even (just) our conversations around the dinner table, or when they’re helping me clean the house, or pretty much every moment of their existence.  It is a partaking of the divine joy of creation “Look, look what I made and sent into the world, independent and autonomous, full of the same heartbreaking imperfection as all humans, and the same glorious potential.”

They’re pretty great young men.  They couldn’t have done worse for a mother, but I couldn’t have done better for kids, so as we know, it’s all in perfect balance.

Happy Mother’s day everyone.  You either were one, served as one to someone, or (I’m fairly sure most of you, though some of you – waggles hand –) had one.  Enjoy the fact that humans’ prolonged helplessness as children gives us a chance at a relationship as baffling as it’s fulfilling.  Freud was right.  Most problems start with the mother.  He missed that so do most blessings.  And often they are one and the same.

And all we can do is do the best we can, then hold our breath, give thanks where they’re due and ignore the bad — and keep faith in the future.

May all your troubles be little ones.

95 thoughts on “Hearts Pierced by Swords

  1. > Okay, there was a fist fight (me? I was more likely to kick.

    The word “footfight” is a proper parallel, but it seems irredeemably silly

      1. There is a ancient English fighting style called “purring”. It is sort of the noble arte of kicking each others’ shins to jelly.
        This is what you get up to between scritching bees, when the cows prove to be too boring to watch, I expect

      2. > Though my attitude as a juvenile was best described as

        My attitude as a juvenile was “you may be bigger than me, but if you start a fight, I’ll make sure you’re bloody before it ends”.

        Needless to say, I discovered Heinlein a few years later, and libertarianism a decade after that. 😉

        1. Well, I was BIG, but I had it stuck in my brain (I think dad was afraid that I’d DO it.) that big kids who abused/terrorized little ones were despicable. So I was a playground Joan of Arc. In High School I got involved in political brawls, too. A nice, staid person I was NOT.

        2. My attitude was generally that “to defeat me you will have to kill me, and then I will haunt you forever.”

      3. I was very small until I hit my growth year. The year the one group thought they could bully me I was the almost the smallest child in the class (one smaller than me). However, I had a huge spirit and I was prepared to ambush (whether it was collecting a group of girls together or get the teachers involved.) Yep– I turned out to be the person you left alone for your own good. 😉 Then I was suddenly taller than anyone else–

  2. My neice is at 9+ months on her pregnancy, and the baby is expected daily. My sister is parked in my side yard in her RV to be on hand for the event, and to help out afterwards.

      1. Fortunately I don’t have to do a thing. Not even show up. In fact, the absolute minimum is to give the neice a baby ring, and send a card when the baby graduates high school

  3. ” I’m surprised in all the years since I’ve only seen ONE of them in the news linked to a crime.)”
    I submit that it isn’t surprising. You have implied that most of these kids were mentally above average. I have found that those who are mentally above the norm only commit criminal actions when necessary or when the chance of getting caught is minimal. In other word they do not play unless the game is worth the candle

    1. It is unfortunately a statistical fact that an inordinate number of Mensa qualified folks are in prison. Superior intellect sometimes creates an unsubstantiated and ultimately erroneous feeling that you won’t be caught.

      1. Mensa membership doesn’t indicate high intellect, it indicates superior test taking ability, not the same thing. I say this even though I quaify. I know the difference

    2. There were 130 people in my graduating class, and only ONE of them was ever imprisoned for a crime they committed. That one person was imprisoned for vehicular manslaughter — drunk beyond the legal limits, in a three-car crash in which two people died. While we had plenty of smart people, we also had our share of “below the threshold” folks, too. I don’t attribute their law-abiding nature to intelligence, but to the fact that out of all those kids, only one came from a single-parent family (and not the one that went to jail!). Moms are essential to good family life, and they do a heck of a job, but it takes two people to bring children up in a way that they respect rules and live by them. It also helps that most of the people I grew up with went to church on Sunday, and took what they heard to heart.

      1. If only it was that simple Mike. Luck has a huge component. My youngest brother spent time in prison. He’s clean and straight -now- and an honorable person, but boy he didn’t start out that way. Now, he grew in a very different family than I did. Four years makes a hell of a difference and the Mom I had wasn’t the Mom he had, but still…..

    3. The cop who attends the local SF/F con has pointed out a fact more than once: The group of people with the highest-recorded self-esteem on the planet? Serial Killers — people who have successfully “othered” the mass of humanity to where they can self-actualize (in the “Maslow’s Hierarchy” sense) their sense that “other bipeds are nothing more than Prey”.

      Now, couple this to to what most kids these days are being taught in schools, and if you are not shitting your pants in utter fucking horror at what the Left is unleashing on civilization, you are deserving of the knife you will feel in your gut when an entire civilization of sociopaths comes for you.

      1. Self-esteem is positively correlated with crime. Boosting it is negatively correlated with academic achievement. (If you boost academic achievement, you get it boosted on its own.)

  4. “They couldn’t have done worse for a mother”
    i don’t believe that for a minute. I’d like to hear what Robert and Marshall say about that.

      1. Having been blessed with a notably not-normal mom who still fusses over how she wasn’t girly enough and wasn’t this or that enough– when you’re different, it’s really nice to have a mom that is, too.

        It also cuts down on the crazy results.

      2. They could have had a liberal or, worse, a progressive, who taught them to always turn the other cheek and to steal from others on behalf of oppressed masses.

        I don’t want to start a list of worse mothers who don’t sink to physical abuse, but … Yoko Ono, Gwynneth Paltrow, Cher, any Kardashian …

  5. I’ve pretty much raised/ been father to my sister’s 3 girls. Some memorable conversations:

    “I want, I want….”
    Me, “If I cared about what you want I’d give you my whole paycheck.”

    “That’s not fair and you’re mean.”
    Me, “Life isn’t fair and I’m not here to be your best’us friend. “I’m a benevolent dictator and I’m here to make sure you turn out to be a civilized human being and not a barbarian.”

    I knew I was influencing the girls a bit too much with my somewhat brusque attitude when they were walking their little brothers to school one morning and the one was whining about how he was tired, didn’t want to walk, and wanted to go back to bed.

    The oldest girl snapped at him “Shut up and walk! You can sleep when you’re dead.”

    And yea, above average IQ criminals are the worst. There was a time when my sister pretty much ran the northern half of Sacramento county. The list of what she did would give you grey hairs, it did to me. She didn’t go to prison until she just got plain tired of hustling and hiding.

    1. And just, pray tell, is wrong with growing up to be a barbarian? That was my highest calling, and I’m glad I succeeded. However, I also explain that I’m an EDUCATED barbarian, and have learned when it’s time to hide the vicious streak and when to let it show. I refuse to say anything about what I’ve DONE as a barbarian, but lately, it’s been hard — very hard — to keep from running amuck through today’s “civilized” society.

        1. What we got was “This family is not a democracy.” Also, “When you’re an adult you can do what you want, but as long as you’re under my roof….”

  6. Tangentially, your description of the passage (and how you found it) reminded me of the frisson of vicarious discovery I got while reading Gormenghast for the first time.


  7. Happy mother’s day!

    And the box got here– thank you very much! The blanket is adorable, and I’m stealing the design of the booties to try to make with scrap felt.

    1. You’re welcome. Glad it got there! They should be doable. I have a couple of designs, but I need to have my sewing machine repaired. However I remembered with Marshall how difficult it was to keep his socks on, and he hated hard shoes, so…

  8. I am insanely jealous that you got to discover a secret passage and a whole freaking hidden Baroque church. Hey! You could have set up a supervillain lair there! (I mean, seriously, how do you misplace an entire church? That’s up there with the “Guide to avoiding Large Ships” that gets such hilarious reviews on Amazon.)

              1. Yeah. Although I’d be curious to see who bursts into flames when they cross the threshold. 😉

    1. The USS Enterprise misplaced an entire motor rewind shop for five years. They forgot to install the doors and it wasn’t until someone noticed there was a space that you couldn’t get into that they cut through the bulkhead and found it.

      1. That is hilarious. When I was a Mad Scientist in training, the building I worked in (old and convoluted) not only had a basement, but a sub-basement. Wherein lay the grad student machine shop (antique mil-surplus metal lathes!), the cryo labs, all sorts of good stuff. And a huge honking section of sewer pipe, raised up about four feet, that went the length of the corridor. (I forget what it was allegedly used for, but it was vacuum sealed and may have been connected with hush-hush satellite testing dohickys). This effectively blocked all the doors on that side. During my tenure they removed said honking big sewer pipe, and lo! There were labs from the ’30s and ’40s behind those doors. (which used lots of mercury and asbestos and Wood’s metal and probably arsenic, but that’s another story). I do love secret rooms….

        1. Just imagine all the nifty stuff we’ll find when we start cutting her up in a few years.

        2. When I was stationed in Germany, I worked in a tiny compound called Schierstein, just two blocks from the Rhine. It was built as a barracks for a calvary outfit prior to WW I. The French occupied it from 1919 to 1923. The Germans used it for the Wehrmacht from 1937 through 1945. There was supposedly a tunnel from the main building to the Rhine river, and the unit was supposedly engaged in clandestine river submarine work (yeah, but don’t forget — Hitler was insane, and he just might TRY to do something like that). There were two levels of basement, and stairways leading down even further that had been blocked up. The entire second floor, except for a small area where the Exchange maintained a cafeteria, was a Secure Compartmented Intelligence Facility — essentially a huge Faraday cage. I enjoyed my time there all three times I went there.

        3. It was rumored at Flat State U that a first year architecture student had been sent on an errand to the other end of the building and still wandered the halls, utterly lost. The four floors (basement, ground floor, first floor, not really there but quite busy second floor) had almost no interconnections, and not all the floors extended the same distance from the “front” of the building. They’d been added on over 90 years or so in bits and pieces as needed. Only the geography profs had full and correct maps to the complex, or so one of them averred.

          1. Funny. Similar rumors surrounded the old IBM site in Endicott. It had been converted to a munitions factory during the war, and tunnels had been run underground between the buildings. They were ill lit and not for the faint of heart, especially at night and alone. I only had to brave them twice and with a more seasoned guide who (of course) had to tell me stories of those who had lost their way and were still wandering…

            1. Ooh, I’ll have to ask my brother about those rumors. He worked at IBM in Endicott for a few years.

        4. When I was in 7th grade my dad did a remodel on our house. We discovered that behind one of the built in bookshelves there was an closed-off closet, and I think it was closed off because of where they put the oil heater. I think the only things in there was a coat hanger and a theatre ticket stub, but I thought it was a lack of imagination not to have put something in there, like a calendar or a hideous jacket or something.
          Since then I have been trying to come up with a list of things to put in a place you plan to seal up for good behind panelling like that.

          1. In our other house, when the handyman broke through a hidden space, to expand the laundry closet, he found that the space had been insulated with newspapers. OLD newspapers. One of them had news of an Indian raid.

          2. At the very least it would have been courteous of them to put up a sign reading “This space deliberately left blank.”

            1. Maybe nail a silver quarter to the wall and paint: 20 paces NNW. Dig down 8 feet.
              (You should never accept a treasure map from me.)

        1. Never made it aboard the Enterprise, but I did spend twelve days aboard the Kitty Hawk (CV-65) while I was in Vietnam. I was “helping” the Navy with a sensitive project. They actually bunked me and another Army grunt on the project in what had essentially been a storage room across the hall from the Intel center. Loved working with the imagery from the RA-5 (not to be confused with the Vietnamese AF RF-5, a modified T-38 trainer).

    2. Well, there was also the moment (immortalized in the ceiling of the symphony building in Goldport ) when they moved us to a large room (must have been the ball room) to administer a standardized English test to every student taking English.
      I got stuck in lay/lie (I always do) and looked up to think. And there above my head, in glorious color were Roman gods and nymphs cavorting with all manner of strange creatures and beasts, including some (giraffes) that never figured in Roman myth.
      No one else seemed to look up, not even the teacher, but honest, it was pretty hard to concentrate after that 😉

      1. Trying to picture what could be attractive about a giraffe, and the only thing I can come up with is that some of the gods are purported to be incredibly endowed; so possibly the really long throat is attractive.

          1. So there is. T his fresco was probably 18th century and gives me a very odd idea of the Earl’s ancestors. They were either total pervs or had a bizarre sense of humor. Or yes.

            1. We’ve got some kind of hidden tunnel under the bookstore/warehouse. We made the mistake of calling in spelunkers to explore it, they apparently didn’t think it was safe to go too far, and these guys turned out not to belive in wiping their feet!
              Happy Mothers’ Day!

        1. Because I wander strange places and have a great memory for useless references, you reminded me of this, which is probably the third or fourth most disturbing thing Gabe and Tycho have ever created.

  9. Happy Mothers Day. May your pains be little and temporary. May the Grace be large, fulfilling and have permanence. Lastly may your children really understand how lucky they are and make allowances for all the temporary annoyances that come from having a writer as a mother,

  10. First, YOU FOUND A HIDDEN CHURCH!!! How cool is that!?!?!?!

    Second, of course, because english are wimpy, in english it’s “Our Lady of Sorrows”… classically “Mater Delorosa” How “dolor” which is clearly pain in latin becomes “sorrow” in english is one of those “I hate languages” things that mathish people like me will never get.

    but most Marion art seems merely to depict Mary as sad, with her hands clasped. Wimps.

    1. Maybe it’s an Irish Catholic thing, but most of the Marian art I know of– when she doesn’t have Jesus on her lap or otherwise is being motherly– has her heart on freaking fire. (With a crown of thorns and sometimes a cross through it, depending on how much room they had; also sometimes roses, for a feminine touch.)

      1. Well, yes, that would be the Immaculate Heart’s burning love.

        In older versions, Jesus’ Sacred Heart is also shown on fire, but for some reason the fire gets very pale-looking in modern works. (Such as the picture of Jesus I got for First Communion from our otherwise-liberal archdiocese and archbishop. For some reason, I seem not to have noticed the fire during most of my childhood, although the thorns are fairly obvious.) Spanish stuff shows it BURNING.

        Also, it’s hard to get those seven swords in, whereas fire is pretty easy to draw or sculpt.

      2. That’s not a cross, that’s a sword. “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted — and your own heart a sword shall pierce — so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

        She’s Our Lady of Sorrows in English by the way.

        The crown-of-thorns heart is usually the Sacred Heart of Jesus, not the Immaculate Heart of Mary — at least in my experience.

        1. No, my grandma’s Immaculate Heart painting was very definitely a cross. It looked like barnwood.

          Still, getting way off the (humorous) point– which was that the icons of Mary around when I was a kid are definitely not whussy, even if there aren’t as many full sized swords sticking out of her.

  11. Happy Mother’s Day, Sarah. And all the rest of you Mother’s out there.
    The women – this is not a perjorative.
    Sadly, my own mother went to her Savior several years ago, so I can’t call her up and wish her a blessed day. But I have a mother-in-law that I cherish. The only fault I find in her is that I have no reason to tell any of the MIL jokes I know!

    1. You can borrow my ex-wife’s mother if you want to. She’ll not only let you use all of the jokes you know, she’ll be an excuse to invent more.

  12. Hubby and I were exploring Pyramid Lake area today. Did you know there are Pelicans in Nevada? Yep– I as shocked too. Happy Mother’s Day–

  13. Happy Mother’s Day to you, Sarah. I am so jealous of you being able to find a totally hidden church! I did get to play in the organ loft, touched all the pipes and everything, in 1944 when I went to school in a church building because the schools were so crowded. It was a wonderful time.
    I do have to tell something you probably suspect, motherhood and terror for your children never ends, it just extends to the grandchildren and great grandchildren as you grow older. And they are all blessings.

  14. Oh God bless you. I miss my Mom. She was a terror and a wonder for me too. Thank you for reminding me. Happy Mother’s Day.

  15. Happy Mother’s Day!

    My sister in law and her mother came over today and I wished the s-i-l “Happy Mother’s Day!” and of course, reflexively, she wished me one back. I sort of laughed and then said, “Well, considering I just finished a book last night – I guess I’ll take it.”

    It’s odd, though, how I understand a ghost of what it’s like through writing and roleplaying. Having my characters’ children get hurt by the very things their parents try to protect them from. Like I said – a ghost. I know the pain I feel for the characters is nothing to what I’d feel if it were really my child; etc.

  16. “The second moment of terror – and the third – came as I held my newborn son, and realized I was completely and utterly responsible for this creature and his existence in the world. (Yes, with Dan’s help, of course, but you know what I mean.)”

    This reminded me of one of my favorite photos of my son holding and looking down at his newborn son just moments after birth. You can almost see the WOW going through his brain as he looks at his son. I had to find that photo on the PC and look at it as I write this. That newborn is now a teenager.

    Children & grandchildren are both a blessing and a responsibility.

    Happy Mother’s Day to you and all the other mothers here!

    1. I was able to skype with my husband shortly after giving birth to our first son.

      I still have to look for metaphors involving major brain trauma to describe his expression when he actually saw our little Baron….

  17. To be perfectly honest: I rather expect my mother (and indeed my whole family) would be thrilled to be able to forget I ever existed.

  18. Anyway, the church had been decorated in the baroque style (yes, RES, they were going for Baroque)

    I am hurt and offended that you would suggest I would make so bad a pun when they had obviously gone Baroque. I can sympathize with them.

  19. M is for the monsters she gave birth to
    O is for the ogres they’ve become
    T is for the trolls that they hang with
    H is for the heck that they have raised
    E is for the evil they get into
    R is for the riots that they’ve caused

    Put them all together they spell mother, she’s the source of half the DNA

    1. It’s too early in the morning for this– Good thing I was drinking coffee because I would have been spewing the same beverage.

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