I have just read the Rhyme of The Ancient Mariner. I got somehow lost in the metaphors. I felt sorry for the albatrosses till I got them all combined around my neck. I am exaggerating; they call it a hyperbole. Usually one albatross gives me a stiff neck. My mom is sort of an albatross. I guess all parents are. They keep hovering around us and pouring their sweet soft and sour paternal/ maternal love in those long tirades that sometimes not only stiffen the neck but make the blood boil as well. Often times, after I had added one to one, I said: “Oh boy, it’s meningitis;” especially when my legs cramp because I had had a long walk. Today, I just grabbed my satchel and headed towards the beach. She had me read nearly all the classic books she herself did not read until college. However, there was no way I would finish Faulkner’s book. All her reasoning, threats and temptations did not work. I covered my body with a blanket and refused to talk to her. She ended up allowing me to read a Harry Potter; her black beast. I read the longest book to impress her. We came to a deal; I will read a book she suggests on one condition that I will read a Harry Potter after each book she suggests. It was my kind of coping. My mother’s arguments against Harry Potter were that it detaches the kids from reality. I saw her recently reading one: “you got me hooked,” she commented on the defensive. Kids, in my situation, who are lonely children to single parents should form support groups or associations to find out ways how to find space for themselves. But again support groups would be similar to AA meetings where people do much talking and listen to ecach others’ problems; in other words, mom in disguise. Dad has left us when mom was pregnant. I envy him sometimes. Had he been around, he could have absorbed all this extra love. Would a brother or a sister have been helpful? I do not think so. Without the presence of a father, it would have been worse. A single parent who is raising a single child can be a flock of albatrosses around one’s neck.
I pulled my sketch book, charcoal, crayons and pencils but drew nothing. It was a chilly morning. Seagulls, albatrosses and other birds of the same breed were scattered all along the beach and the sky. Two albatrosses hovered not very far. I watched them with extreme interest. All birds use dynamic soaring, I learned it in Physics. I actually had a pilot-controlled-glider toy that my mom bought me from the science museum. As I watched the birds glide and soar in the air; I started drawing. “It is all about balance,” I repeated to myself. They dive in the air, criss-cross between the air masses, and flan straight head up, cut in the air vertically with both wings symmetrically lined up, plummet nose down with wings spread then glide laterally and re-soar upward. “It is all about balance,” I repeated as I tried to capture the birds’ movement. I soon finished a few sketches and I smiled to myself in satisfaction. “It is all about balance,’’ I said again as I looked to a swarm of birds that have formed a cloud in the sky. The birds suddenly formed a very interesting portrait; they got closer to each other and formed what looked like a huge albatross in the sky. I felt pampered by nature as I saw the birds that joined the wings to point upwards, the tail aligned itself to the exposed belly and the head and nose rose up proudly. I gasped in disbelief. They became all one big bird. Coleridge would have written an anthology in this one. At that very moment, a plane which was flying very low nearly hit the birds who dispersed in a very loud fracas and became small stains scattered in the sky.
I presume this is how invention strikes a person; it happens by accident. I wish I could invent something. That would be very helpful in two ways. First, mom would give me some space. All she would think: “My son is a scientist, he needs calm,” she will shower me with all ‘’ the goodies,’’ She will leave them at my door as if I were a tenant in a hotel. Second, an invention would make us both rich and she would stop worrying about saving money because the more she worries the more speeches I hear, the more serious and stricter she becomes about involving me in financial planning. Many times she forced me to keep ‘books’ of the expenses. She believes if she gets me worry about the finances I will study more. The headache from keeping the ‘books’ was worse than the readings of Steinbeck and Faulkner combined.
I looked at the sketches anew. I re-examined the drawing of the birds and decided to sketch down the portrait that nature inspired me this morning. I drew all the birds combined in one, then scattered in the sky. What would have happened if the plane had hit one? I remembered that I have seen more than once a bird run over by a car or track. Those birds like all dead bodies go through the process of decomposition. They become worms, flies and mix with the other tiny particles in the earth and the air. A process all creatures undergo, it can be also be called reductionism. The birds formed a big mass then scattered in tiny masses in the air; a bird would have been divided into multiple tiny pieces then tinier ones that would have transformed into other tinier creatures or dissolved in the soil or water. A human being, just like the other creatures, is made of billions of cells. Each cell is a life on its own. In science, we studied that the cell is the smallest functional entity in the body. It produces energy, it synthesizes and breaks down nutrients, it communicates with other cells, and it divides, and grows. The whole body is a composite of multiple systems that are able to communicate with each other thanks to the transmission and connection between those cells. I decided to ask my mom to buy me a microscope. I decided to create a bigger life from those cells. I will experiment. I will have my own little lab in my room. In order to convince my mom to buy me the microscope; I will have to convince her that I am capable of actually inventing or have the imagination of an inventor. My chance to impress her will be the spring science fair.
My first idea was to use vegetables to create energy. My mom when I shared with her the idea thought I was naïve and laughed to tears. I resented her very much for doing so and I locked myself in the room. She told me she would help me with my project. No matter how hard I tried to convince her that I had to work on my project on my own, she would not hear me. All parents help their children with their projects, she repeated again and again. This is how scary and bothersome to have a one parent and be a single child. She wanted me to have an “A,” and she did not want me to feel humiliated because all what was important was my well-being and success. She did not know that I had to do it on my own. So, I decided to prepare my science project about cells. I would not ask her much money and I would do it on my own. I filled a bowl with juice and carved some green beans to have them resemble the cellular structures, filled them with m & m (s), cut twizlers into tiny filaments, sprinkled the suspension with some ice-cream toppings, suspended some candy beans along with them in the juice. My mom was not comfortable with the idea. She thought the juice would spill. I had to explain all the cellular structures and their functions such as the cytoplasm, the mitochondria, the organelles, the smooth and the rough ER, the lysosomes, the colgi apparatuses, the centrioles… etc. My project got me a pass to the science museum. I showed her my proud smile and she was relieved.
My mother’s concern about getting me a microscope was that it was too much unwarranted money to spend. I rode my bike to the sea. There were a few people lounging on the sand and some runners. My sketchbook was full and my inspiration was dry. No albatrosses were in the horizons. I took it as sign from nature: “you were lucky enough to witness a miraculous inspiration and all you did was to bury it inside a sketch book nobody even knows about!” I rode back home and I decided to keep nagging my mom about the microscope. I will do it her style. I will ask gently and throw some jokes crossing my fingers she will find them funny. Then, I will reason with her and finally I will resort to making her feel guilty. “Do you think my Dad left us because I was bad?”
“No, honey!’’ she would answer with tears about to jump out of her eyes. “You were in my womb when he left!” I‘d soon regret it as she’d start a bitter angry speech about my irresponsible Dad. However, I will have the microscope in less than two weeks. She even would start planning about moving to a house with a basement. She will get a second job if need be on one condition that I should not go outside, answer phones, or let friends in.
I soon got disillusioned. My mom’s answer was: “I will get you one when I can afford it.” All my pleas and schemes were in vain. She however asked me to look for a job. “A job,” I wondered. “Yes,” mom answered. “I will ask my friends or maybe your uncle and see how we can help you.” My plan counter-fired as it turned out to be my mother’s perfect scheme to get me more involved in the household financial planning and of course make a responsible man of me. Her plan worked for both of us.
Working at a Chinese Laundromat, three dollars an hours, was my first earned cash money. I had to fight the temptation to spend the money that I tossed in my piggy bank. I got my three hundred dollars in two months; the owner replaced me with her grandchild. My microscope was soon in my hands. I had to create a space to make a small lab in our kitchen. My first experiment started with dissecting a mouse and analyzing some of its tissue. I cut myself in the process, so I decided to analyze my own cells. The similarity was striking. We all belong to the kingdom of animalia, don’t we? I will clone cells, I decided. I will mess up with the DNA or the mice and see what I will end up getting. I forgot to get rid of the mouse whose remains I tossed in the kitchen’s trash bin and soon the smell of decay filled the house.
My mom strictly emphasized the importance of sanitation under the threat of confiscating my microscope; she also prohibited the use of mice or roaches. She had me read The Plague because of that and also because Albert Camus was one of her idols. “A scientist or not you still have to have good grasp of the language to be able to communicate your thoughts to others,” she tells me when I argue with her. “ You can also read about Pasteur ; but the authors I have you read asked great questions about the human condition and being; the impetus for all inventions,” she adds in argument. I feel relieved as I hear the phone ring and I hear her discuss her ideas with her friends.
To view it from a very simplistic way, my mom’s attitude towards me was her way to share her life with me, the life I did not know about. I admit that I liked some of these books. I even found some of the stories she tells me very funny and I many times asked her to reread them or retell them to me as I was about to sleep. Nonetheless, I have to confess that I stopped liking to listen to bedtime stories at the age of seven; yet, to maintain the pretense that I am still my mom’s little cute baby I sometimes beg her to repeat those stories.
I needed supplies and I needed more money than what the allowance could afford and was unable to manipulate my mom into buying them for me. The job I got this time was helping my uncle at the store on weekends. I started to spend more time in the library and in front of the computer. I bought two mice for my experiment. I had them in a box and promised myself not to dissect them
Illustration by Jamila Ouriour