Wednesday, December 29, 2010

better

***

Pregnant with girl-one, my cheeks glowed with anxious anticipation.

I remember a conversation with a co-worker sometime near my due date. Her smile smile crept along the grooves so many years had traced into her face.

I can just picture your little one, toddling after you in the garden.

I smiled, too. I liked that image. I would be a good mother.

But as it turned out, our apartment couldn't host a garden and I was so overwhelmed by both the new and the born that I could hardly shower, much less think about planting even a simple window box. I couldn't do anything, really, except hold that baby.

***

Today I'm home alone with just girl-three -- both girl-one and girl-two are overnighting with their cousins and it sure is quiet around here. Girl-three and I are getting things done. I have bathrooms to clean, floors to wash. She has cups to bang, chairs to climb. We are together and separate -- symbiotic, really -- both happy doing our jobs.

I run the vacuum while she squeals and toddles after it. The garden is frozen but I imagine she'd toddle after me out there, too. Suddenly I can't help but wonder: would I be a better mother to just one?

But then I remember how it really was.

With just one, I cried because I couldn't get anything done. Grocery shopping? She'd need a snack. She'd lick the cart. Meatloaf? She'd climb the chair right when I had sunk my hands into that raw meat. Playdates? She was afraid of everyone (Though we did go as often as we could both stand it). We spent a lot of time reading books. Book after book after book. She learned to spell her name early. I was her sun and her moon.

With two, I cried because I couldn't be everything to girl-one anymore. So I read books while bouncing the screaming baby. The book flopped up and down and sometimes I couldn't finish. But I tried. I played in the dollhouse while fighting off the sleep deprivation that threatened to smother me. Coffee helped but I wondered when I'd feel full-steam again. I turned on the TV for girl-one when I tried to get the baby down for a nap, even though I hated leaving her alone. I did my best.

With three, I stopped crying. Girls-one and two entertain each other, and when girl-one is at school, girl-two plays on her own a lot. I engage her when I can, but we all have roles to play. Sometimes I feel guilty for making dinner instead of sitting down to play a board game with them or for writing a blog post while they watch TV, or for the fact that at any given moment, one out of the three might be unhappy -- but for the most part, I'm comfortable with the way we do things. With our version of symbiosis. And I think it's safe to say we're all thriving.

***

So the answer comes in memories. No, I'm not a better mother to one -- or to three. The addition of each girl has evolved my thinking and approach, but I've always followed my gut and just did what I felt was right in each moment. I can look back and label each move as good or hm, maybe not so good, but I'm not sure I see the point in that.

So what am I then, if not better, for the six years I've already been wearing this hat?

Not better. No. Just mother.

A mother with three little souls attached to her hip and heels and heart. They feed me just as much as I've ever feed them.

And that's the image that keeps me going.

Monday, December 27, 2010

in your palm

You're standing at the water's edge when you see it -- a small stone, still submerged where the sand is soft and always-wet. It stands out to you because its your favorite color -- the color you've never seen on any paint stick or color wheel, not perfectly anyway. You saw it once in the sunset but never again.

You hold the stone in your palm. It's still wet and even more beautiful up close, shot through with interesting shades, subtle parts that make up the whole.

You see it sitting on your mantle or nightstand, safe and symbolic. It will catch your eye each time you pass. It will tell you truths like even the imaginary can solidify.

But when you look at it again, resting there in your palm, you see it drying in places. The magic is patchy and evaporating.

Suddenly instinct closes your fingers and you fling the stone far across the water. It makes a very small splash. Gone.

But the waves will pick it up and move it back to this shore someday, tens or hundreds of years from now. You are certain of this. And the next finder won't be its keeper, either. At least not for long. Magic belongs to no one.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

handprint

I'm at ground level, cupping chin in one hand, maneuvering toy lizard with the other. {It's a chameleon, Mama. And he's the doctor.}

Littlest one can't quite play this game, but she's about to make off with a fistful of reptiles anyway. She presses one hand into the small of my back to steady herself and she's off, leaving behind a trail of snakes. She can't carry them all. Her hands are too small.

The fabric of my shirt dents inward just a little, piquing my sense of touch. It's invisible, that hand print, but it presses still into my skin. I close my eyes and carefully pour memory into that hollow, casting this moment into something I can hold.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sundays are for Storytelling: "Long Nights"

Here is a little fiction for you. 

Long Night 

She hadn’t slept in almost two weeks.

Okay, she had slept. But her nights were splintered and broken, a series of fitful naps that added up to nothing but a head full of fog and a body that ached more than it should.

She hadn’t slept well in almost two weeks. Not since her due date came and went, a promise that shriveled and died instead of bearing fruit. She would be pregnant forever.

Happy, sappy advice on the topic seemed to follow her wherever she went. On the phone with her mother, in line at the grocery store, via email from a high school friend – you better sleep now, while you can! It will get so, so much worse, they said between their teeth, bits of foreboding behind their smiles. She would scream the next time someone said it. She would open her mouth wide – to 10 centimeters, maybe – and barf obscenities into a bowl, bring them to a boil, and pour them down their throats. But she always just smiled back and agreed that yes, sleep was best.

Because she wanted to sleep. She really wanted to. Desperately. She wanted to pour restful, dreamless hours into zip-lock bags and stack them neatly in the chest freezer. She wanted to deposit sleep into the bank in eight hour increments and watch her hoard grow. She wanted to start out full.

But each night depleted her reserves. She did all the right things, followed all the pre-bedtime rules, and even dozed off within minutes of her head hitting the pillow. But the dreams kept waking her.

The first time, she dreamed about a baby born with a full mouth of teeth. They fell out one by one and she caught the tiny pearls in her hand. But he swallowed the last one. He choked. He turned blue. And she woke with a scream in her throat.

She told Micah about the dreams the first couple nights. About the one where the nurse handed her the baby all hunkered down in his blankets, and when she angled him toward her breast, a snake’s head darted out and sunk its fangs into her nipple. She told Micah about the one where the doctor looked up from between her legs and announced there would be no baby. She had never been pregnant.

Micah told her it was just nerves.

But when she dreamed of standing on the roof of their apartment building, holding the baby by two ankles, then one ankle, naked and over the edge, she kept her dreams to herself. She told her husband she couldn’t remember what went through her head at night. She figured she was probably going crazy and she wanted to keep that to herself.

So she usually crept out of bed after Micah fell asleep so she could toss and turn solitude. But tonight was the winter solstice. The longest night of the year. She didn’t even bother going to bed.

She lay on the couch long after Micah had said goodnight, paging through the book of baby names. Benjamin. Brandon. Clayton. No, no, no. David. Dominick. Henry. No, no, no. Nothing felt right.

She couldn’t close her eyes so she put on her coat and walked outside. The moon was full and red – the lunar eclipse, she had forgotten. Micah had said it would be too cloudy to see.

Her boots crunched over the snowy cement and she walked a little stiffly, wary of hidden ice. She couldn’t zipper her coat but she was warm and it didn’t matter. Her belly swayed low and heavy.

At the end of the end of the driveway, anxiety gripped her body in a firm vice. What will it feel like? How long will it take? Will I sound like a barn animal? She inhaled deeply and let the cold air singe the tender skin on the inside of her nose. She kept walking. She stopped at the crosswalk to breath into fear. What if he won’t nurse? What if he’s sick? What if he’s missing a leg or a chromosome?  The snot was freezing in her nose but she kept on with the slow breathing and stepping and thinking. At the corner, she turned around, right as doubt washed over her. I won’t be strong enough. I won’t be patient enough. I won’t want to join the PTA. She stopped for a moment and closed her eyes before moving forward once more.

She had her hand on the front door handle when foreboding almost knocked her to the floor. He’ll be stillborn.

She turned, shaking all over, and looked at the moon. The deep red was reduced to an edge-dwelling blush. She exhaled and left it all on the doorstep.

Back inside, she felt tired in a much different way than when she left. This was a deep exhaustion that crackled her marrow. She collapsed onto the couch. For the first time in weeks, no dreams pierced her sleep.

When the baby kicked, she woke with a start, eyes squinting in the morning sun, something warm starting between her legs. She knew. She would be fine. And she would be fine, too.

Diana.  

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

play with me

Mama? When will you play with me?

In a minute, okay?

I'm stalling. Not really interested. Very comfortable where I'm curled. No kid seems to need a nap but I...could......really............use................

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7....

She's whispering right by my head. I'm going to be held to this.

She loses count around 30 but only waits a few moments before asking again.

Mama? Can you play with me now?

My mind was spreading like a slow fog, just about to settle into a cozy, dozy pocket. I gather myself with one deep breath.

Yah, sure.

She hands me one of the toys she had been lining up.

You can be the mother snake. 

It's hard to imagine.

Not my role. No, I can slip into pretend play easily enough if I focus. {Though it's work for me -- I'm sorry to say I'm an adult through and through.}

What's hard to imagine is that day light years from now when I am hardly her whole world. When I have to knock on her door and wait for her to let me in. When she might not want to have much to do with me.

That thought, right there, is what keeps my sign flipped to open these days, even though I'm sometimes more of a sorry, we're closed kind of person. I want to establish come on in as a baseline.

We play for awhile and eventually she allows me to downgrade my status from piece-moving participant to a voice on the periphery of her reptile family drama. I'm doing the dishes but still right here, speaking for the mother snake.

She's satisfied with this arrangement. She knows I'm still paying attention.

Monday, December 13, 2010

there

I haven't known her for as long as some people have. But I think half my life qualifies me to make a few observations.

She won't be the loudest voice at the party. But she'll be there if you asked her to come.

She's always been there. For him. For me. For us.

Like when I was 18 and racing in the high school sectionals track meet with high hopes of qualifying for State in at least one of three events. I had to place second to advance. She was in the stands. She saw me take third in the 800m relay. Then trip tragically in the 1600m run and cross the line third again. Then she saw me sit in the grass and cry -- I knew my last race would be my last. And I felt a little self conscious curled there with my head down, knowing my boyfriend's mom was watching me fall apart. But I was glad she was there.

And that was just the first time.

She was there when I tried on my wedding dress. She was there at some crazy late-night hour to hold our fresh, new baby.  And when the other two were born in the years that followed, she was there for all the false alarms and in time to watch the big sister(s) when the real event finally began. We knew she'd be there.

She was there when we unlocked the door to our first home. She snapped a picture of us walking in -- a moment that would have been entirely impossible without her. And then she deep cleaned the bathrooms and laid contact paper and supervised the little girls painting their bedroom wall. She was there the whole weekend.

And it's not just us.

She's there for so many dear ones, at any time, with a love that's so big she can throw it over us all like some universe-sized blanket she's been knitting her whole life.

I don't know where she found that yarn but it's strong and beautiful and from a skein that never tangles or unravels or ends.  I feel so blessed to have been woven into the fabric of her family.

Today is my mother-in-law's birthday, and it's supposed to be one of the coldest days of the year so far. But all of us who are loved by her feel warm because of her.

And I hope she feels our love and appreciation and gratitude radiating back over the snowy highways and down her street and right through her front door, even though we're not there today. Because we're sending it. All of us. 

Happy birthday, Pat. Thank you for being there. Much love to you today -- and always.

{And I must add that every time she was there, Tom was there, too. He was the one who drove. And who loves just as deeply as she does. Many thanks to you, too!}

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

at the library, quietly clearing my throat

Maybe eventually I'll get good at this. The scheduled-ness of this writing. This out-of-the-house-ness of this writing. Maybe eventually I'll see past the mountainous-ness of this writing and start pinning down little pieces, bit by bit. Then I'll be really writing.

And I'll remember what to bring. Last time I forgot earphones, water. Today I forget iPod, Kleenex. I detour to the store on my way here. Waste of time. Check out a few books before sitting down. Wasting time. Someone in this study area smells like smoke. But it's quiet. And I'm here.

The moon that ushered me in was the clipped toenail kind -- a thick sliver. But you could see the outline of the entire circle in shadow -- the promise of entirety. Fullness. That's me tonight. Maybe my eyes are half mast. Maybe my fuse is half cut. But my face is still lit up. Partial, yes. But there is more. There will be more. Guaranteed.

There. I've cleared my throat. It's time to start. Goodnight.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

melting

I see you at the bookends of the day. Which are not always my finest hours.

In the morning, I make your lunch. My hands move slow through an aura thick with the frustration of fractured sleep.

I'm trying something new. Nutella sandwich! With the edges crimped with this cool crimping thing! 

You wrinkle your nose and declare you won't try it. Because it's a sandwich. 

I am exasperated. You wouldn't try dinner last night either.

Okay fine, you can have plain bread then. I'm sort of sarcastic. And not proud of my tone. But I don't shut my mouth.

Without butter, even? You're plaintive now.

With butter then. Fine. But I don't understand why you won't. Ever. Eat. Anything. You love Nutella. You love bread. I just don't understand. I wield the butter knife with more pressure than it requires and nearly tear the bread. Now you probably won't eat it because it has a hole in it. I pack it anyway.

You're touchy all morning.  So am I.

I walk you to the bus stop. You perk up when that yellow vessel starts roaring up the hill. Your eyes are watering a little because of the cold {they've always watered in the cold}. This morning's obstinance is melting quickly and you tell me to have a good day and that you love me.

I love you, too. Now I'm melting into a shivery puddle.

***

It's bedtime. I put the baby in her crib but she's screaming and I'm pulling my hair out. Your bedtime books are longer than ones I would have picked out and all I can think about is how much work I have to get done after you're finally in bed and it seems like you'll never get there and I'll never get to start so I can finish, too.

I read with less enthusiasm than I would like to hear if I was the one listening. I hope the pictures make up for whatever my voice lacks tonight.

I usher you toward bed and as you lay down you start coughing. Here we go is all I can think. I'm so sick of night coughing. Mine. Yours. Theirs. I kiss you goodnight and close the door. Knowing full well that it will open again.

Fifteen minutes later you're still coughing and I come in to offer you some tea and honey and a cough drop sucker. You're turned the other way.

I rest my forehead on your bed frame for a moment, wondering if you're just coughing in your sleep, and you turn quickly to look at me. Sleep is lodged in your eyes but they're wide and searching my face.

I instantly think of your newborn days. When I would hold you and walk you and rock you but your eyes were big and black in the night. Open. Never crying. Just watching. I'm not sure why I didn't just lay you down. 

Did I wake you?

Yah, I felt the bed move.

You accept my remedies but you remind me of a melted version of yourself. Soft and calm where you usually rail and resist. You also look like a wiser version of myself. Quiet and watching where I would fluster and spin and throw my hands in the air.

You're asleep again in minutes. But I wonder what you're dreaming. What all that watching has etched behind your eyes.

I hope the picture you're recording of me is something warm. Human, yes. Flawed, of course. But I hope you see how much I love you even though I let little things boil my blood and shoot steam out of my ears.

And I hope you see that I'm trying to be better. Trying to melt. For you. And for me.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

birthday speech, not spoken aloud

6
I'm just out of the bath, sick today. I curl up in their bed. Suddenly my breath is all I can hear, whooshing in my ears. I tingle all over, feeling wrong, wrong, wrong. Then I'm against his chest and he carries me to the car and I'm still sick but I know I'm safe.

8
School musical. Christmas play. It's dark outside and I'm lined up with my class. I see him standing in the back, still in his brown work shirt. Here. Yes, here.

11
We're in church. I'm kneeling next to him, aware of what is going on in front but focused on what he's doing. His hands are folded, his head is bowed. This is important. Not because of what's going on up there, but because of what is going on in there. I close my eyes, too.

17
I'm home too late. I peek into their room and they're both looking at me. Waiting. I get the talk. He says something about trains rolling down hills can be difficult to stop. I nod. Swear we just fell asleep. {no lie}. It's too dark for them to see me roll my eyes. But I heard him.

22
I'm in the back of church this time, dressed in white. A Very Big Day. I watch him escort his mother to her seat before he comes back to take my arm. He is literally a beacon of pride.

28
I stand like a guard by his side as he hugs so many relatives. Accepts condolences. His brother was a good man. Best friend. I am silent, a witness to his grief and pain and loss. But still he shines. Not invincible, no.  Human. This I finally understand.

29
There aren't enough seats for everyone. We all have butterflies, waiting. He finally walks into the room. I see surprise and recognition register on his face as we all break out in a happy birthday chorus. Friends and family from near and far. So many long embraces. They pass the microphone and tell stories from then and now. I hear over and over what a great man he is. I know. I know. He carried me. He taught me. Still does. Still does.

He says he's the luckiest man alive. But I am the lucky one. He gives so much to me.

Friday, December 3, 2010

grudge

photo: Cornell University Library collection via Flicker Commons

All hair and teeth and bone,
I ate bitterness with a fork
And washed it down
With a draught of negativity
Thick and metallic,
A goblet brimming with blood.

Gnashing my teeth over all that stuff felt good
But as soon as it hit my gut --
-- Heartburn ignited.
I kept my lips closed
Knowing I'd breathe fire if I spoke.

In the bathroom mirror,
A green scaled monster
Stared back at me
I nodded my head and it nodded back.
Me.
We both shuddered. 

So I did the only thing left to do.
I hacked up the whole meal --
A congealed, mucousy mess --
And flushed it down the toilet.

Leaving me pale
And shaky
But empty --
And whole.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

flowing

I love PMS.

You think I'm kidding. You think there's sarcasm dripping from my words. You think I'm going to write a whole post about the monthly curse and how I hate it and wish I was pregnant again so I wouldn't have to deal with the monthly cycles of zits like a teenager, hormonal moodswings, belt-loosening bloat, cringe inducing cramps, and the sheer inconvenience of the whole thing.

But no.

I really do love PMS. It's what finally solidified the plot of my novel.

You don't believe me.

But listen. There's so much power in the female menstrual cycle. I can feel it. Right now.

I mean, think about it. Every month, the potential is there to create new life.

Create. New. Life. Whoa.

And when the uterus sheds its nice, comfy lining because it has no fertilized egg to nestle and nurture, that potential -- that creative seed -- exits the body. The transition -- internal to external -- creates a heightened state of awareness. Gifting us...mood swings. Crying because there are too many dishes. Blood boiling when a shoe goes missing. Absolute conviction that nothing, nothing, nothing is going right. And never will. Ever.

But that heightened state can manifest itself in other ways, too.

When I was a competitive runner in high school, I performed noticeably better right before a new cycle began. I ran faster. I felt stronger.

I wrote some really pretty stuff in college, under the influence of no substance other than hormones. 

I could never fall asleep the night before my cycle began. I felt awake. Alive. Even at midnight.

And that's what happened to me the other night. I couldn't sleep. My characters were running around in my head, changing stuff around, figuring out their own direction. They were loud, loud, loud. But they said some interesting stuff.

I felt terrible all over the next day, though.

And sure enough, a new cycle began.

I can count on my fingers (maybe throw in a couple toes, too) the number of cycles I've had over the past seven (seven?!?!?!) years because of pregnancy and nursing. And I can honestly say I'm excited that they're back, that my feminine creativity is back, that my body is fertile and maybe my mind is, too.

The other day, I wrote about feeling blocked. Now I'm flowing, literally.

And I have a (rough) outline for my novel. Flowing, indeed.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

blocked

{fiction. metaphor. you pick}

She doesn't need a doctor to tell her. She knows what's wrong. Her heart labors. She can feel it working hard against what has been laid down over all these years of living. Her body is a map of blocked roads.

{today. every day}

She stands begging at the barrier of toy bins across the doorway. I'm keeping the baby in but she seems to think we're blocking her out. I've seen her jump this high, over other things -- she's an agile dog. But she wants me to let her in.

{crunching through morning frost}

On the gravel path, my usual route in my usual woods. Neon tape tied to the underbrush off to the left -- a rough hewn inlet I've never seen. I turn. Water crunches frozen under my feet under the brown trampled grasses. This way would have been blocked for me a couple weeks ago, a muddy marshy mess impassible in these street shoes. But today I get through. And then the landscape opens up and I'm at the edge of the water and the cranes and the geese take flight at the sound of my approach. My breath is frozen but for a second it stops.

{on the road}

There's been construction between home and home home all summer. Double fines in work zones, speed limit down at 55. It's a tiresome stretch of highway that feels slow like a log jam in a once roaring river.

They're not done but I guess they're calling it close enough for now. The machinery is in the median when we travel for this holiday, but they let us go as fast as we're used to. We fly, unblocked. It only makes a few minutes but it feels like we get there faster.

{analysis}

It's me who's blocked, veins full of junk, unable to jump over the smallest barrier. I'm waiting for something to move or freeze or finish and move aside. I can be patient. But I also know how to make my own magic, a medicine I can take. I am an alchemist.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

five times

Five times a day they turn towards Mecca. But they're not the only ones.

I pause at intervals, too. But not to face any north, south, west, or east. I fold inward, finding a new cardinal direction. Center.

1.  Coffee and the sunrise. Two minutes of silence.

2.  Yoga in the baby's room.  On a mat sprinkled with snacks, moving through a sequence that splinters more than it flows. I may not finish but I begin. And then I stand straighter.

3.  Naptime nursing. She's asleep but I sit here a little longer. Still. 

4.  One cup of tea. My soul rises with the steam even though I'm solidly here. In front of the doll house.

5.  Breath before bed. The day drains slowly but drain it does. Drain, it does. 

I don't prostrate myself. I don't recite prayers. But i connect. Rejoice. Give thanks.
We're the same like that.
All of us.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sundays are for Storytelling: "Late"

Here's some fiction. I dragged it out, kicking and screaming. I never wrote a male subject before. He was really quite stubborn. 

***

This was ridiculous. Maddening. Embarrassing, even. But it wasn't unpredictable. Jake could admit that, at least.

He had planned to be late. He could play it off as fashionable and everyone would swallow it whole. But late would mean he could slide into the receiving line and hug her hello with a smile that wouldn't crack under the weight of I do and the kiss that slammed the door in his face for good.

Late would save him.

But he hadn't planned on getting lost. Or at least, not this lost. Passing through towns with names he'd never heard of, names like Tichigan that would make him laugh out loud and bounce one-liners off whoever was in the passenger seat. But exasperation had boiled out all his humor and the empty seat never even smiled at his jokes. But he was used to that by now.

Of course, her new guy never got lost, Jake was sure of that. He was too sensible. Too straight. And he probably always carried a smart phone.

Jake had disconnected his own cell line when he left a couple of years ago. He needed to live life untied, he had told her -- he needed to see things. She wouldn't come. But he understood. About safety and risk and not wanting to blow all that she had worked for. And he hadn't expected her to wait for him. Not really.

But now he was back, approaching her hometown from a totally different direction. He had never come out of the west before. The night felt dense this far from the city but the moon was full tonight. No matter how the road meandered that bright orb was always in view -- now in his periphery, now framed in the windshield. His own companion. He exhaled noisily. He would stop at the next gas station to orient himself. Maybe even buy a map.

The car's headlights peeled back the night. But when they reflected off a pair of eyes, he felt his own grow comically wide and he had just enough time to think deer in the headlights before the impact. And then it was too dark to see the stars, even. But he could feel the moonlight dripping into his eyes and suddenly he was glad he wouldn't get there at all. Late wouldn't have saved him from anything.

Friday, November 19, 2010

not me

morning chaos

pulling on shoes and coats, finding backpacks and gloves. zippering the littles, dog in everyone's way. if she knocks the baby over one more time, i swear...

we may not have time to strap into the stroller today. when i'm anxious i drip with doom. we're going to be late. i hate being late.

the girls are already outside. big sister is bossy, even at the break of dawn. eliza, you can't get in the stroller.

WAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

a very real scream. suddenly i'm certain that i forgot the put the stroller brake on yesterday and i'm imagining eliza trying to get in and oh my god i bet now she's rolling down the driveway, down the hill, into traffic. those high school drivers go so fast, never looking.

i rush to the door.

no.

they're just fighting.

i bark some commands about no screaming and thought someone got their head cut off and we're late and lets get going. my voice sounds so harsh. my edges are raw.

i plow the stroller down the driveway and look past the end of my own nose to see a neighbor standing at the end of her driveway. offering to help.

do you need someone to watch the little ones while you go to the bus stop?

blush rising in my cheeks. i sounded so awesome just now. i collect myself.

no, i'm okay. but thank you. some mornings, you know...

oh, i know. it happens to us all, unfortunately. she gets in her car, off to work. her two grown kids are in college now. i'm guessing she has been here. that her voice sounded like mine did just now. once upon a time.

but i'm still embarrassed. i feel exposed.

i tuck all my harsh edges back into the soft folds of my sweater. pushing them down, down.

not me. not me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

letting go

She's on page one. The very beginning of the book.

Her slippered feet shuffle down the hall. One hand on the wall sometimes, or fingers wrapped around mine. But she's holding on less and less these days. Letting go.

***

She's lost count of the pages by now but they're filled with so many words. Paragraphs of pain, maybe, but the overarching theme has been one of  love. It doesn't take deep literary analysis to see that. I watch her walking down the hall, slippered feet shuffling. She hesitates at the floor transition, one hand on the wall, unsure of her next step. She's holding on more and more these days. Someday soon she'll let go.

And I'll hold her hand once more.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

my own lunch

It's lunchtime.

I quarter grapes and tomatoes, shred some cheese and butter toast. I pour milk and slice apples and cut more grapes to replace what has already disappeared. Then more cheese.

A moment of silence. Everyone is satisfied. {For now.}

An inner voice. What would I be eating right now, if I was alone? If I had all the time in the world?

I usually hodgepodge my own lunch. But I don't want the uneaten scraps from these plates. Not a quick bowl of cottage cheese. Not peanut butter and jelly, even.

Today is dreary and cold and just right for a serving of something warm. Something no one else would eat but me.

Chopping would only take a couple seconds. The saute would be done in no time. And the extra dishes? Would round out this pile so nicely. Just make it. 

So I do. I chop and stir between refills of grapes and cheese. Soon the teapot is whistling and the frying pan is sending up the sounds and smells of a gentle sizzle.

It's done. The chai steams next to a plate of soft russian kale and onions. It looks amazing. I sit.

But the baby is through with her meal {Nah. Naah. NAAAAAAH!!!} so I wipe her down and release her from her chair. She takes everything out of the tupperware cupboard. The mess is fine with me. I'm finally eating and these are bites of heaven. Straight out of a day I lived just for me.

I'm practically licking my plate when it becomes clear that we better head for naptime or no-return.  So I get up, leaving my nearly full cup of tea to cool.

But I don't mind. It can be reheated.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

wait it out

We were playing Monopoly Jr. She had just bought both blue properties.

Mama, I'm almost out of money.

She was disappointed. But her ticket booths covered the board. I could see how this would play out.

We moved through a couple more turns before she got more interested in her cheering section {a line of stuffed animals, all on her team} than amassing money. She drifted away.

The tide was just about to turn. But she couldn't see that. 

Do you have the patience to wait it out?

Monday, November 15, 2010

safe














from the outside, the tumble-down parts glared obvious
and the fixes slid fast from the mouths of anyone who passed by

take down that wall
add a new coat of paint
straighten out the front stairs
new curtains? a skylight?

but through the picture window
i saw a woman curled by the fire.
i didn't recognize the book she was reading
but it held her there
and she looked
safe
even though i thought maybe
she could use a new roof.


*photo credit: ian britton

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sundays are for Storytelling: "Stuck"

I was driving down I-90 last night, headed to my sister's house. My first overnight, away from the family, since Ruthie was born. The radio was playing crap and my iPod was dead. So I thought up a story, inspired by the road and the silence. I wrote it down in the morning, up before everyone else because I'm trained like that. Reveling in the luxury of a pen and notebook in bed, no one asking for breakfast.

***

Cara was never as stuck as the time when she was stuck. And then she was really stuck. Here is how she got out.

It was a January 6th. A new day in the new year and Cara decided she would leave. She had had enough. It didn't matter what time she walked out the door -- he wouldn't be home anyway. So she did what any mom to a young child -- or young children, in Cara's case -- would do. She planned the leaving around the twins' afternoon nap.

In the morning, she packed with purpose -- sentimentality had no say in what stayed behind. She stuffed all the 3-6 month clothing she had been hoarding since the summer rummage sale season into a garbage bag. The plastic stretched against the weight of all that pink and blue. She only had one package of diapers left, but it would be enough for now. A Target run could be on her to-do list there just as well as here. She crumpled a couple of her own sweaters, an extra pair of jeans, socks, underwear, toiletries, etc into her backpack. The diaper bag was always ready to go.

The twins were wailing by the time she was done. The cycle had stopped on both their swings while she was loading the car. They hated to lie still. She never needed to work off the baby weight, what with all the bouncing, walking, swaying, rocking -- times two -- that they required.

She fed them bottles and they both fell asleep. Strapped into their car seats, they were just two more objects to stow into the car. Breathing objects. Fragile objects. The objects of her departure. They were the reason she would finally leave.

She sat in the driver's seat and surveyed her load. She had everything she needed -- for now. She'd come back for the rest when the dust cleared. Or maybe she'd just send David and Annie. They always said they'd do anything for her. She knew they'd make good on their offer.

It was snowing by the time she merged onto I-90. I didn't expect this, she thought. But then, what part of today had she expected? It was all predicted beforehand, but you have to be on the right channel to hear the forecast. She certainly wasn't tuned in. Not back then, not now. That would have to change.

Traffic was heavy. Rush hour. The worst time to leave. But the babies were quiet and Cara could concentrate on the road.

Then -- brake lights like dominoes cascaded down the highway. She pressed hers -- hard -- to go from seventy to stopped behind everyone else.

Cara clenched her teeth, tense all over. Not because of the hold up but because she knew the change of speed would seep into the twins' sleep cycle. And smash it. They would be wide eyed and Chicago was still over an hour away.

She waited, eyes trained on the review mirror and their faces reflected back at her. Sure enough, the boy turned his head from side to side a couple times before scrunching his face, opening his mouth, and squalling -- eyes still closed. The girl might have stayed asleep but you can't tune out a cry like that so she joined in. Cara signed and leaned back against the headrest. This was a chorus she knew by heart. Sometimes she sat -- head between her hands -- and sang along, but right now all she wanted to do was move forward.

But traffic didn't. This was a dead standstill. Seriously? She said aloud. It was like the universe had bunched up in front of her, determined to hold her back with another hurdle. This seemed like the cruelest one.

She only idled for fifteen minutes before her skin started to crawl. She tried comforting the babies one at a time in the front seat -- there was no way she could wedge between their car seats in the back -- but there was only so much she could do. Movement was the only trick up her sleeve. And they were stuck. Right here.

It had been awhile since the last feeding, so Cara dug through the diaper bag for bottles and formula. And that's when she realized what she had forgotten -- there was no water to mix the formula.

Awesome. 

She turned on the radio -- loud, above the crying -- and switched over to the AM station that would feature traffic updates.

...I-90 closed...fatal accident...

There was an inch of snow on her hood. They would be here for awhile.

If only breastfeeding had worked out. But the twins had been born early and they couldn't latch on and she was too overwhelmed by their newness and their two-ness and her marriage and its failure and his drinking and disappointments to work that hard for physical survival. And they thrived. They absolutely thrived.

But right now, they were hungry. So Cara did what any mother would do -- for bear cubs, for baby birds, for the boy and girl in her back seat -- she set out in search of food, one car seat in the crook of each arm.

She knocked on eight car windows before she had any success. Three before someone would even roll down the window. People had their own miseries to nurse. A fellow in one of the last cars offered to help her lug the car seats back to the car, but she declined, her breath frozen in the air. She had come this far on her own and she would make it back.

When she finally mixed the formula and fed the twins, they fell asleep quickly, even though traffic was still stuck. They could adapt. And in the hour of silence that ensued, Cara let herself imagine tomorrow -- waking up in her brother's guest room. In a new life.

Luck had dealt an unfortunate blow to whoever lost their lives at the head of this line of cars. But hers was starting over. She would move forward. The wheel was firm under her hands, the accelerator real under her foot, and the road would open up eventually. She could wait a little longer while they cleared away the debris of a destroyed life. She could sit here and mourn that loss. It was not hers.

Friday, November 12, 2010

where i found you

i was in the bathroom
when your sister's screams erupted
from the other side of the house

i thought you were playing
innocently
with refrigerator magnets

but racing in i found you sitting
atop
the
kitchen
table
next to the scissors

now you're finally napping
and i'm sitting quietly
finishing off
the chocolate ice cream

i better stock up
on silence. on chocolate.
i'll need both to get through
the rest of the day
and the next 17 years.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

not trying

Limbs stretched, supported fully by the floor, I assumed the posture for deep relaxation. But I knew it would be just a posture -- a war with my mind would inevitably begin.

The moving meditation of the asana sequence should prepare the mind to fully let go and just be. But I have the hardest time with savasana, the pose of deep relaxation that seals a yoga practice. 

My teacher talks about finding that inner point of stillness, where the true self resides. The self that is not your thoughts, that cannot be undone by external events. In that space, my teacher says, you will find peace. Bliss, even.

It sounds so beautiful. I want to go there.

But I fight so hard against my mind. Now gently leading it to silence, now shouting at it to just shut up already. Savasana is never unpleasant -- it feels good to be bodily still, no one climbing on me, no one demanding anything of me, even if my mind won't stop moving -- but I've never really found that sweet spot.

Last night at yoga class, my teacher left us in savasana with these final words:

     No more trying. Just accepting.

My eyes were still closed but my mind opened wide. Wait, say that again? I literally vibrated with the truth carried in her voice.

And I did. I stopped trying. Stopped fighting and cajoling and begging and just let it be. My mind still wandered but I let the deviations come and go without trying. I let it go. My body sank into the floor, and when I got up at the end of class, I put my teacher's words in my pocket and took them home.

And I'm pinning them up today to remind myself to seek softness, even when I'm in the middle of great effort.

     No more trying, just accepting.

I know I've heard these words before, but sometimes, it seems, bits of wisdom just bounce off the concrete surface of an unripe mind.

Today, I'm ready to swallow them whole. Let those seeds germinate, take root, and grow into something bigger. I'm ready to find my bliss.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

wakings

Sleep takes me like quicksand.

I feel it just closing over my head when I'm grabbed firmly by the shoulders and pulled back. Awake.

I lay on my side, breath pattern quick, listening for whatever sound had such a firm grip. Wondering which kid it was. Waiting for the stirrings to escalate into screaming. It does. {It always does.}

Back in my own bed, I pull the covers over my head, moonbathing on this shore. Sleep curls around my toes in frothy waves but recedes, recedes, recedes. The tide has changed.

When I finally slip into unconsciousness, its a hard fall. I don't dream. I don't move. I embody corpse pose in the deepest sense.

John's alarm sounds at the usual hour and he hits the snooze. Again. And again. I don't even hear it.

My consciousness is trained to respond to small voices, not incessant beeping. It's a good thing I work from home.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

fingerprints

Next door, they're washing windows.

The husband removes the panes and leans them against the fence. He has a rag draped over the end of a broom to brush the season's spider webs from each window frame.

The wife washes the downed panes, crouching next to the fence line. Her knees are better than his.

They don't speak. I don't think he can hear very well.

Their house will be ready for winter. A season that seems so far from this warm morning but will wrap its cold hands around us before we know it.

Inside my own house, the sun streams through floor-to-ceiling front windows. Ruthie presses her nose, lips, fingers against the glass. Her breath condenses in a halo around her mouth. A leaf falls. Her eyes follow it's descent.

When John pulls into the driveway, she waves through the smudged glass like it's her job.

Didn't he just clean these panes last week? Fingerprints already layer the knee-high sections.

But maybe I'll never wash these windows thoroughly again. Because really, what's the point? And because maybe one day, when I have whole mornings to take them down and carefully wipe away the dust laid down by 30 years of living in this house, I'll find traces of today. Proof of the fingerprints that are pressed into my heart.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sunday hymn

I take off my hat.

Not out of reverence, though I'm feeling a good measure of that, too.

It's Sunday, and I'm standing in a cathedral with the highest ceiling I have ever seen.

I'm hot. Sweaty. Breath fills my ears. My entire being bursts with gratitude.

I'm alone, except for the dog. But I have a hunch she's praising all creation in her animal way. We're the same, like that.

Out here there are no walls. No words. No wisdom but my own and whatever is blowing in the wind. The divine hums in my ears.

I unzip my jacket and hike back down the hill. The wind rifles through my hair and the open halves of my jacket billow wide, like a pair of wings.

I'm no angel and I'm not anywhere near a church. But I'm keeping holy the Sabbath.

Out here
wrong season, but you get the idea

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sundays are for Storytelling: Children's Library Edition

Mama, can you tell a story about me and Eliza?

I groan internally. Sigh externally. And come up with a short tale of girls and magic and adventure. It's not very good. But it's the best I can do.

John can spin yarns off the top of his head that leave the girls in stitches. My stories are usually about something that's in front of me and are never very funny. But still, she asks. And sometimes, I say no. Not right now. I don't feel like storytelling on demand when I'm trying to plan dinner or change a diaper or think through something I wanted to write for myself.

The request comes far less frequently since Claire started school, but she asked me last week. And instead of groaning or giving her a flat no, I stalled. I told her I would tell her a story on Sunday. Since Sundays are for Storytelling, after all. This is what she got.

***

Once upon a time, there were three sisters: Claire, Eliza, and Ruth [Aside: This opening is not an option. It is a requirement. A mandate. You might as well not begin if you don't begin here.] But this story is only about Claire and Eliza because babies don't know much about how to conquer the dark.

Claire and Eliza found out all about that during one cold, autumn week in 2010. It all started the night the girls stopped listening to their mother.

Please pick up your room and get ready for your bath!

Mom's voice cut through their bedroom door. Claire and Eliza were playing house on the bottom bunk, between walls made of blankets. A world of their own. 

Toys and clothing covered the floor, and both girls knew it. It would be such a pain to put it all away. Claire whispered, hoping her parents wouldn't hear, Let's just put it all in the closet. They'll never know.

They worked quickly, shoving everything inside.

After their bath and bedtime books, Dad kissed them goodnight. Thanks for picking up your room, girls! The closet door was still closed. Claire could see a coloring book poking out. She told herself she would put everything away tomorrow after school.

In the morning, Claire was eating breakfast when her stomach sank to her knees.

I'm going to pick out your clothes for you today -- we're running late. Mom walked down the hallway and Claire darted after her.

Oh, I can get --

The closet door was open. Claire gasped. Mom held a dress -- not the one Claire would have chosen, of course, but that wasn't why Claire was so surprised. No, the closed floor was clean.  The tornado of clothes and toys from the night before -- all of it -- was gone. Claire took the dress from Mom's hand and waited until she left before whispering to her sister.

Eliza, look! Our mess is gone! She showed Eliza that the stuffed animals all stood smartly at the foot of their beds. The library books were stacked on the shelf. The dirty clothes were all in the hamper. Everything was where it should have been. It was a miracle.

But as they were getting ready to walk to the bus stop, both girls were frustrated. I can't find my other shoe, Claire complained. And Eliza had slipped into one Croc but it's mate was nowhere to be found.

Mom opened the front door, impatient. Grab a different pair and come on! We're late!

They scrambled for second choices -- shoes that were slightly too small or too hard to get on -- and left in a rush.

After school, Claire and Eliza kicked off their shoes, raced to their room, and closed the door. They had games to play, scenes to invent. They could not be bothered.

After dinner came the usual call. Clean up, girls! It's almost bedtime!

Eliza looked at Claire but neither sister said a word. They got up and began tossing everything into the closet. The door barely closed over the mess.

That night, Claire couldn't fall asleep. As she lay awake, she saw something so curious that she sat up in bed.

The shadows on her walls were moving! They were dripping off the walls!

She rubbed her eyes and leaned forward. This was no trick -- the shadows collected in a puddle of darkness and slid across the floor and under the closet door. Then the door opened slowly and each toy and t-shirt moved on its own accord, encased in its own mysterious shadow. Then everything was still. It took Claire a long time to fall asleep after that.

In the morning light, Claire told Eliza everything she saw.  They checked the closet before breakfast and found it as clean as it was yesterday.

Both girls felt weird. They were happy about the help but this just didn't seem right. 

And when it was time to walk out the door, shoes were missing again. This time, neither girl could find either shoe.

You girls are going to have start taking better care of your things. If we can't find those shoes, you'll have to use your own money to buy new ones, Mom threatened.

On the bus, Claire's friend Sydney asked her why she was wearing dress shoes. It was a gym day. So Claire told her the whole story about the mess, the miracle, and the missing shoes.

Sydney was unimpressed. Oh, that happened to me when I was a Kindergartner. I started sleeping without a nightlight. There were no more shadows and nothing else went missing. 

Claire was quiet the rest of the way to school. There was no way she could sleep in the pitch blackness -- she was more scared of the dark than she was of spiders. There had to be another way.

That night, Claire and Eliza held a secret meeting in Eliza's bottom bunk. They whispered ideas.

Maybe we could trap one of the shadows?

Maybe we could camp out in the closet and just ask for our shoes back?

Neither girl felt very good about anything they came up with. Suddenly, Claire had a brainstorm. Maybe if we leave something for the shadows, they'll give us our shoes back!

Like what? Eliza asked.

Candy! They said together.

So they asked their parents for a treat from their Halloween buckets. They hadn't had dessert that night, so Dad said yes. They dug in their buckets and rushed back to their room.

Should we give it all? Eliza asked.

Maybe we can just take a little bite.

So they opened the wrappers and each nibbled the smallest sample she could manage. Reluctantly, they wrapped up the rest and tucked it into the farthest corner of the closet.

Neither sister could fall asleep. They heard their parents go to bed. Eliza, are you still up?

Yah.

Claire climbed down her ladder and snuggled next to her sister. They fell asleep without seeing anything.

In the morning, the first thing they did was check on their offering. It was still there.

Maybe shadows don't like candy, Claire reasoned.

Well, I do. Eliza ate the rest of her piece. Claire did, too -- their plan hadn't worked, but why waste perfectly good candy?

Claire wore her too-small shoes to school again, and the girls held another meeting that afternoon.

The shoes couldn't have just disappeared, Eliza mused. Maybe we should just look for them.

But where? Claire shot back.

Well, where would you hide something if you were a shadow?

How should I know? Claire was getting irritated.

I think we should look in the darkest part of the house. 

Claire shuddered. Okay. But we have to go together. 

They dug out their flashlights and went -- where else -- to the basement. They both knew where to look. Holding hands, they crept into the laundry room. They were edging between the boxes under the staircase when it happened -- Claire walked straight through a spider web. She stifled a scream as she brushed it away but really howled when she saw the spider crawling on her arm. Eliza rescued her with a quick puff of air. And then their flashlights found them -- two pairs of shoes, tucked neatly under the bottom stair -- in the darkest corner of the house.

That night, when the usual call came --

Clean your room and get ready for bed, girls! --

Claire and Eliza picked up everything that was out of place and they went to bed with their nightlight on.  The shadows stayed solidly on the walls. In the morning, they found their shoes right where they had left them. And from then on, Claire and Eliza always listened to their mother.

***

Claire loved this story. Lapped it up. And Eliza? She was scared shirtless. Oops.

Friday, November 5, 2010

time out

I sit across the table from her. The bags under my eyes mirror hers.

I try.

Dance class today, Eliza!! I sound enthusiastic.

I know. She glowers at me.

And, because I have crabby written all over my face, I glower right back.

{Again with the maturity. I rock.}

Why do you look at me like that, Mama? She is annoyed.

The real reason? I don't say it aloud. Because you're crabby and I'm crabby and the baby is crabbier than both of us put together and I can't stand any of us right now.

Instead I rearrange my face into a smile and brush it off.

I turn on Sesame Street -- a zany distraction. I circle my cold hands around this cup of tea and close my eyes.

A time out.

I inhale slowly, deliberately, filling belly to collar bones with as much oxygen as I can hold. I exhale -- push it all out -- and draw it in again. And again. And again.

Suddenly the Elmo's World song bursts my bubble and I open my eyes. I'm sitting in a puddle of sun. All the crabby has drained from my face. I get up.

Better.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

it's not October? What?

It's not October anymore. Did you notice? I hardly did. Because here I am, still posting every day like NaBloWriMo is still going on.

But the thing is, I learned a lot about writing last month. More specificically, about how to integrate writing into the flow of duties and obligations that fill my days.

When I first started this blog, it would take me forever to crank out a post. Ideas came slowly, sporadically, and I had to practically yank out my own teeth to convince words to show up on paper. It's been getting easier as the year has progressed, but it wasn't until October that I really discovered that it's entirely possible for me to write daily.

I did write every day. And I feel good about what I put up. October saw some of my very best writing in this space. Or at least, the writing that felt the best to put out there. 

No more setting aside time -- quiet time, alone time -- to coddle my ideas and coax them into something worth reading. These days don't offer that kind of luxury.

Instead I've been seizing inspiration whenever it shows up, grabbing it by ears and shoving it into my bag or stealing it out of the air with a quick flick of my butterfly net.

Sometimes ideas marinate all day and I can scrawl them out quickly before bed. Sometimes I can snag a few minutes while Eliza is independently playing and Ruthie is innocently destroying something non-essential. However it happens, I'm learning to roll with it. Take what I can get, write it down now, because the bus is pulling away from the curb and I had better leap on or start feeling fine about standing still.

{I'm not fine with standing still. So -- GERONIMO!}

This is good practice for me. The writing, yes. But the finding time to write even more so. Because while I love writing this blog and it's really filling me right now, I've got other goals in mind.

My novel isn't going to write itself. And time to write it isn't going to waltz in anytime soon, either. So here in this space, I'm practicing putting words together and almost more importantly, figuring out ways to string sentences together while seated in the eye of a storm.

Will I keep posting every day? Probably not. But I'm shooting for most days. Until ideas run out or my novel starts to take over -- whichever comes first.

Thanks for being here. Knowing my words are hitting someone's eyes keeps me going. And the keeping going is what is keeping me whole.

And that, I think, is the whole point.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

shouldered

When I'm cold, I hunch them up to my ears.
When I'm hoisting a child on my hip, they're uneven.
When I'm tired, they roll forward.
When I'm sleeping, I always lay on the left one.

My shoulders.

They are the wings of my heart.
But
They are often bent.
Tight.

Yoga reminds me unfold them.
Reminds me to ground them down my back
Reminds me to open the space between them

So my breath can expand
So my heart can expand
So my self.energy.love can expand

So I can stand tall,
Shoulder my pack
And walk this road.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

not in orbit

It's 7a.m.
Claire's bare feet slap down the hallway. It's still dark. She curls up on the couch next to me and accepts half of my blanket. She slept well, she says. She'd like a bagel for breakfast, she says. I let her warmth seep through my pajamas and into my skin before getting up to pour the milk and spread the butter. The baby will be up any moment.

It's 1p.m.
Ruthie is napping and I'm done with the dishes. Eliza puts her Barbie scene on hold to play a game with me. Candyland, today. Her whole voice quivers with excitement. What if I get Princess Frostine now? she wonders before nearly every turn. She wins three times. I only rig it once. We're just putting the lid on the box when Ruthie wakes and I go upstairs to feed her a snack.

It's 3:30 p.m.
Claire is home from school. She and Eliza disappear downstairs. I plan to make dinner later and I've already swept all the dog hair off the floor. So I sit on the rug. Read each book Ruthie hands me. Play upside down peek-a-boo between her legs. Let her crawl all over me until one of the girls comes tattling up the stairs. 

It's 9 p.m.
All the kids are in bed. Finally asleep. But even through their closed doors I feel each individual strand of their separate gravitational pulls. And that makes me so I'm glad I'm not the moon. I'm glad I'm not bound, tied, anchored in any specific orbit because a circle can only have one center point and I cannot fathom what kind of impossible loops I would have to make to be owned by them all.

I do not revolve around my children. Instead, I'm grounded. Right here. And I give to each of them what I can as they spin crazily through these skies.

Monday, November 1, 2010

the whole wide world

I'm doing the dishes
when something makes me look up  --
a stop-starting squirrel? a falling leaf?
I see a clear picture
through the window above the sink:
grass greener than it should be,
sun slanting across the yard,
leaves both brilliant and brittle.

I swear
last time I looked
the yard was under a veil:
gray, partial, obscured.
Perhaps this is a sunnier day,
but the quality of the light is different, too.
Unfiltered.
I realize I'm looking through a
plain
pane --
there's no screen needed for the season ahead
and it's a whole new world.

Is this how you feel today?
Screen off?
Lighter, you said, but I can only imagine
how it felt to unscrew
anxiety and dread
from your frame of reference:
not needed right now.
There is no active cancer in the liver 
and the bone lesions are also showing improvement.


Yesterday was your birthday
and I wanted to give you a present.

The right thing.

But I don't think you mind
that I couldn't find it
because you got the best thing:

The whole wide world.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sundays are for Storytelling: "Wait for Me"

Happy Halloween! Here's some fiction for you.

I'm too old for dressing up and knocking on doors and opening my bag for treats. I know this. But I still want to go.

I have it all planned out. Mandy is leaving at 8 o'clock. When the doorbell rings, I'll slip out behind her and into her group of friends. No one will notice me in the dark.

I would never say this aloud, but I know this is her last year. October next, she'll have breasts and hips and long, black eyelashes. Trick-or-treating will be so uncool. She won't understand what she's trading in for.

I watch her silently from the bathroom doorway. She leans close to the mirror as she paints her cheeks white. She doesn't know I see her stick out her tongue, making weird faces at herself.

Now she's painting streaks of red around her mouth. She transforms so easily.

She backs away from the mirror, taking in the full view. Satisfied. She breezes into the hallway and I step back into the shadows. Would she be mad if she knew I was standing here?


There's the doorbell. She pummels the stairs with her sneakers on the way down and opens the door. I'm halfway out when she slams it in my face.

I shatter into a million pieces.

Just like the windshield. That night. 13 years ago.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

you never know

Inside jacket and sweatshirt, long sleeves and long johns, I shiver. The day should eventually warm enough to wake the Japanese beetles from their frosted stupor, but right now we're all a little sluggish. Fingers unfeeling and shoulders stiff against the wind. It's a cold October morning at the farmer's market.

I fumble with the money and drink even more coffee. Goosebumps stand shoulder-to-shoulder all over my skin. I wore the wrong shoes.

The sky is still gray when he hands me a bunch of kale. He digs for his money. My mouth wants to hang open but my jaw is too stiff with cold. That's a good thing. It's rude to stare.

He's wearing a plain white t-shirt. His arms are bare. I can't believe it.

I know it's not winter yet, but that wind is downright cold. My skin hasn't thickened up to the new season, I guess. I'm still shivering.

As I hand him the bag, the backs of my fingers make brief contact with his palm. It's warm. Too warm.

I thank him and he turns. His ponytail surprises me, snaking down to the middle of his back.

As he walks away, I can't help but think of werewolves.

{No, not the Twilight kind. The real kind.}

I laugh at my amped up imagination. But hey, you never know. Tomorrow is Halloween, after all.  

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fridays are for Feeling Full

Monica at Holistic Mama has been using Fridays to list out her "joy pockets" -- places in the week past where she found joy and inspiration. I love this idea. So here are mine -- moments that really filled my bucket. I'm overflowing today.

Ready, set, go:

  • winning something in a random drawing{and i'm absolutely giving it to kim (only if you want it, of course). it's really "her" don't you think?}
  • anticipating two sets of weekend guests {so much fun ahead}
  • receiving a flood of comments on a recent post {to know my words touched so many of you? absolutely bowled me over.}
  • entering another giveaway {follow that link. enter. you'll totally decrease MY chance of winning but you need to see this gal's stuff. she's really good.}
  • skyping with my mom {and more importantly, knowing she was enjoying a week off}
  • unwrapping a yoga metaphor  {and anticipating the possibility of attending class at a new studio that offers childcare.  yoga twice a week? bliss.}
  • scheduling nightweaning for the fairly near future {a couple hard nights = better sleep for us all. please?}
  • watching my baby take four steps -- fall -- and get up to take four more {drunken-sailor walking is the cutest. but sometimes i think she needs a helmet}
  • eating blueberry pie in a neighbor's kitchen {yum. the "not small talk" is always good, too}
  • finding out that kim's chemo worked to stop the cancer's growth. {waiting for test results to determine if the new stuff is gone or just stable. hold her in the light, please.}
  • listening to my girls play in their room. they're making their "haunted beds." {silliness before breakfast}
  • seeing frost on the roof {and hearing no wind, finally}
  • feeling appreciated. in the world's smallest things. always. {love you, john}

How about you? Did this week leave you feeling full?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

bottomless metaphor

Last night wrapped me in metaphor.

It was unmistakable. Obvious. Handed to me as a gift. And I can't repay The Giver with anything but these words.

I sat cross-legged, spine tall. I felt the expanse of my inhales and listened to the soft hiss of each complementary exhale. The yoga studio was dim and warm. But the walls creaked. Branches whipped outside the windows. The wind roared around the corners and sought chinks in the foundation through which to sneak.

It was a wind storm unlike any other. It peeled part of the roof off a nearby mall. It downed trees. It left some folks in the dark. It set records.

But I was still. Silent. Centered. Protected against external chaos by a cocoon of calm.

Namaste.

I rolled the sensations of this experience into my yoga mat and took them home. To unwrap today. And tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

time to learn

Mama, can you hold me? Her cheeks are wet.

Yes. But I'm still upset. She sits on my lap. I don't feel like wrapping my arms around her.

After awhile, she goes downstairs to read bedtime books with Claire and Daddy. I'm still sitting on the floor. Staring out the window into the darkness of 7 o'clock. Feeling it inside my chest, a black shadow that blankets my guts.

Why exactly am I so upset with her?

Because she's 3? Acting like a 3-year-old? Great reason. Nice. Way to be the adult.

I follow her downstairs and ask if I can hold her for a minute. She's a lot less rigid than I am.

I'm sorry I got mad at you. Will you forgive me?

She doesn't say anything right away.

What's forgive, Mama?

I have to think for a moment. Find words she can understand. Hurdle over the hard parts of admitting I'm wrong.

It's when someone says sorry and you listen to that person say I'm sorry and it makes you feel a little better. Do you feel a little better?

Yes. She doesn't know how to hold a grudge. I wrap my arms around her, thinking about the day 10 years from now when she does. When she holds a grudge and I hold a grudge and its a tug of war over something we won't be able to name later on when she's grown up and has girls of her own.

I explained forgive to her tonight, but I know I'll have to explain it to myself many times before I learn to balance firm and soft, stern and warm, right and not important, words and embraces, I'm upset and I love you.

I'm glad I still have time to learn. 

From them.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

litany

I'm measuring the flour when the litany begins.

Fuck you, bread I don't feel like making.

I heat the cottage cheese and crack two eggs into warm water and honey. The yeast is already frothy.

Fuck you, cereal on the floor. Stuck to my feet. 

I affix the dough hook to the mixer. Add the liquids to the flour and flick the switch. The dough looks like mud. Like wet sand. The motor is a steady rhythm and I keep going.

Fuck you, bags under my eyes.
Fuck you, dog prints on the hardwood floor.
Fuck you, coffee buzz.
Fuck you, bills I need to pay.
Fuck you, La Nina and your balmy October.
Fuck you, expensive sweater. 
Fuck you rain.
Fuck you, pile of work that's waiting for me once all this is finally done. 

The flour cleans up from the sides of the bowl and I add chips of cold butter. Pale yellow. Smooth. Grease on my fingertips. The dough is a ball, warm and ripe. Spongy clay ready for the potter's wheel. I hold it in my hands.

Hey, dinner is essentially made. {Sandwiches on bread day.}

I sweep the floor, drink a huge glass of water, and realize it stopped raining {for now}.

The bread is rising.

Monday, October 25, 2010

what I gave her

My eyes -- she has them. My hair -- she has it, too. And my knees -- oh, my knees -- her legs bend from joints that grew straight out of my DNA for sure.

mini-me
She has low tolerance for little annoyances -- just like me -- so that certain sounds or smells make her skin crawl. Oh, how I can relate to that. She takes things so literally -- me, too. She insists on being right and gives in only on rare occasions -- these things she inherited right from my heart.

We share a love of stories. A fear of the dark. The propensity to stay awake thinking when sleep is really best.

She feels deeply. Senses intuitively. Slips on someone else's shoes without realizing she stepped out of her own. I see myself in that, too.

But I expect too much from myself. Demand perfection and best effort and rarely let myself off the hook. I've excelled in many things because of this, but I've staggered under this weight, too. And I worry that I will pass that shadow on to her. That I already have. That she already carries baggage I handed to her. Baggage that is much, much too heavy for her small hands. For her small shoulders.

What does she already detect in my voice? What do my simple sighs mean to her? Does she know -- does she know -- that no matter what she does -- no matter what she does -- I will always -- always -- love her? That she should -- that she must -- act from her heart and never because she's afraid of how I will judge her? That I won't judge her? [I won't judge her.]

Dear God, I hope so.

Parenting is hard.

Parenting girls is hard.

Mom, how did you do it?

{thoughts inspired by Monica's post over at Holistic Mama}

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Storytelling on Sundays

On Sundays, I'm usually not dealing with many crises. John is home and we man this ship together. He often makes it possible for me sleep a little later on Sundays. The girls entertain each other and require little intervention. I usually find some time for myself. I usually get something done. Dinner is often a joint venture. The whole day feels simultaneously lazy and productive.

Today was just like that. I slept until 7:15. The girls played Barbies all morning. I did a ton of decluttering and took another load to Goodwill. I surfed the web a little. John made dinner and headed the table while I worked.

It was a good day. And it felt like another good Sunday for fiction. Last week, I wrote a drabble. It was fun to play in that form and do some more thinking about my novel. Today, I thought I'd try the one-sentence story. You know, where you write an entire story in one sentence [obviously]. Another exercise in fiction, another place to play. [This one has nothing to do with my novel.]
        

Everyone who predicted Armageddon always imagined bang would initiate the end of things -- maybe atoms would split or worlds would collide -- but no one expected the soft click that meant game over.
       


It's fun. Want to try?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

through the picture windows

The sun sulked all day, clouded and cloistered behind curtains that never really opened. Now he's exiting through stage west and siphoning light from the sky. Day gurgles and sucks as it empties down the drain.

Now a walk. At dusk. My favorite time of day. When everything curls in upon itself and the living room lights turn front windows into literal picture windows, soft still lifes in this gallery of a neighborhood.

They're watching TV in there. The screen blinks blues and grays against the wall. And here, a woman looks out at me. I keep my dog off her lawn. In that bedroom, the wall speaks. S - A - M, it says, under a ceiling fan that flickers the overhead light. The open closet door exposes clothes standing single file. On the next street, in that dim dining room, vases and crocks and pitchers and urns strike poses on the shelves. A silent collection presiding over a silent house. And way back there, in that house set so close to the lake, all the lights are dark. There must be so many curtains to draw.

Now I'm at the foot of my own driveway, looking into the picture that is my life.  I can see the green walls and a kitchen chair backed away from the table. Kids smile in frames above the couch. But from the road, I can't hear the happy shrieks that are surely coming from the basement. I can't see the man standing at the sink, washing the dishes. I can't see the tornado of toys all over the floor -- the remains of the day.

But I know it's all there. And I'm ready to walk back inside. Into this moving life.

Friday, October 22, 2010

not an epic fail

I could stamp this day in big red letters: Epic Fail.

But I won't.

Even though once again I got no sleep and I woke up in a puddle of drool to kids bickering in the bathroom and a day that started without me. Or, rather, started with me dragging behind, hanging off the bumper, sucking exhaust fumes. Even though the bag-eyed baby wouldn't nap and bit me while nursing and tried in so many different ways to hit me over the head with whatever object she held in her hand. Even though I let my frustration leak out in tears that I hid with my back turned while fielding kid-fired questions with a voice that tipped like a teeter-totter bearing the weight of 400 nights' interrupted sleep. Even though after school, the baby cried for a ride in the swing and the dog barked for a walk and the biggest kid cried for more snacks [not! fruit! mama!] and the quiet kid wanted to be outside then inside then painting then not. Even though I sat here in front of this screen for the longest time before any words would come.

Even though today kind of sucked, I won't kick it into done, won't slam the door in it's face, won't even say tomorrow's a new day.

Because today was still really something.

Today John made the kids' breakfast and handed them the TV remote before leaving for work so that I could snag even 20 extra minutes of sleep. He peeled the egg for Claire's lunch and left a note to say have a good day. Today the sun warmed my arms through my sweater and I watched Eliza swing with her eyes closed, leaning far back with a half-scrunched smile on her face. I asked her if she pretends she's a flying bird when she swings like that, and she told me no, I'm a flying spider. Today I took her to dance class and watched her do the Monster Mash in her spider costume and she was all round eyes in her round face copying the teacher and watching herself in the mirror and waving to me through the glass. Today I still managed to do the dishes and get dinner on the table even though earlier I vowed in my head that everyone would have to fend for themselves because I. was. done. There was stuff in the freezer I forgot we had. Today I tried on the tall black boots I've been dreaming about and realized they just aren't me. I can cross them off my list and want one less thing [though I did see this soft, colorful sweater that looked just cozy enough...] Today I put the baby to bed with less fuss than last night. Today I finished off the pint of best ice cream ever while spilling the day to John. Who listened.

Today has turned into tonight and we're all here in this tiny house with the heat on and the lights off and the soft breathing of three small people that take up so much space in my heart. Even on days that kind of suck.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

sound it out

your teacher wondered
what i thought
about pairing you
with a 5th grader
to practice reading.
the caveat being
you would have to

     miss
         recess

once or twice a week.

a fair trade
     i
       thought
since you have recess
fifteen times every week
     what's
         one?

but you scrunched up your face
your whole body said no way.
what would my friends do
if i wasn't there to help
      chase
          the
              boys?

i rallied several times
trying various explanations
     how fun!
          good opportunity!
               no one else!

but you were adamant.
i backed off.

but then you asked
     are you
           disappointed?
and i told you
     i'm 
          not
i'm glad you told me how

     you
         feel.

i'm not sure exactly how you learned to read in the first place
words? you sight read them.
and emotions? you sound them out
from my voice
even when i thought i hid them
     inside
          my heart.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

substance

I've been blogging for about 4 years. For the first 3, I wrote for an audiance of about 3 people (hi Pat! hi John! hi Kim!) writing little lists and tiny poems that made me happy. This particular blog, The Unwrapping, reaches a couple more people but is still a skinny, scrawny little thing. (Which suits me just fine.)

A few months ago, I received a little blog award from a fellow blogger. It was one of those things that gets passed around the blog-o-sphere -- if you receive an award, the deal is you pay it forward by recognizing other bloggers.

I never did.

I couldn't decide who to name.

Also, I'm a little shy about this kind of thing. About participating in a community and doing the sorts of social things that you do to fit in. 

But really, when it comes down to it, the real reason I didn't pass the "blog with substance" award forward is that I just wanted to pass it back to the gal who gave it to me in the first place, but that seemed to defeat the purpose of this kind of thing.

I found I'm Not Hannah when I was pregnant with Eliza. Heather was expecting River round about the same time, and I connected with her experiences and especially her writing style. She's funny and wise and opinionated and passionate and puts her soul into her words in a way that makes me envious.

Her writing has substance.

And her post from yesterday really got me. Made me stop and say wow. Made me want to see this woman's words in real print and know that she's getting paid real money for it. Because she's gifted. Really.

So what are you doing here? Get on over to Not Hannah and read something of real substance! (Click there. Yup. Right there. Or here.)

Go! Are you going? Go! Get out of here!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

unguarded

you know how when you laugh
really  hard
and you feel sort of --
out of control?
like you could pee in your pants
like your face is unhinged,
unguarded?

and then finally,
with a big sigh,
you reel yourself back in.
composed.
arranged.
together.

that's how she laughs every time --
tickled or surprised --
but without the need to regroup.
a deep belly laugh
that comes from her core --
it's how her soul sounds when it's speaking
from a place that doesn't understand walls.
she knew this language
before she ever spoke a word.

she's asleep in my arms right now,
face slack --
eyes rolling, lips parted,
exhaling a soft whistle because her nose is stuffed.
peaceful baby.

but there's something in the way her chin juts forward
that whispers into the future.
somehow i know this is exactly how she'll look when she's grown,
in moments
unguarded.

Monday, October 18, 2010

on plumber's crack, good rejections, and the right start

My mother's side of the family is strongly Polish. Growing up, a few words and phrases immigrated into our everyday language. We always wore got-kas to bed because what if there was a fire? You wouldn't want to run outside without your underwear, would you? We jig-gotched instead of threw up, and we wiped our dupas you know when. [I'm feeling around in the dark for the spelling -- any ideas, Mom? Karolina?]

And while I'm uncertain about the etymology of it [is it Polish? Or something we made up?], I remember this word made us laugh.  

Nor-gin.

We'd whisper it, stifling giggles, while we pointed at the poor soul who wore the unfortunate, ill-fitting pants. He was nor-gin. You know -- sporting plumber's crack.

Well, folks, I've been nor-gin a lot lately. I'm sure it has something to do with post-pregnancy wacky-hips and a lot to do with my pencil-frame body and complete void of a rear end. Whatever the cause, the new [expensive] jeans I bought recently to replace my knee-holed ones have been hanging a bit low.

Until yesterday.

I rigged up something magical with a Dritz diaper pin and my trusty D-ringed belt and now my pants stay up.

It's been a good day.

So it was with pants secured above hip bones that I read my email this morning and got the rejection. The big fat no from the literary magazine to which I [long-ago-ish] submitted a short story. But it was the gentlest, most encouraging no that's ever been slid across my table. The editor told me that there was a lot she liked about my story, that she was "certain" I could place it elsewhere, but that it didn't fit the lens of this particular literary outlet. She encouraged me to submit another piece to the magazine though, as they are always looking for fresh fiction.

I know this was probably a pre-fab response that she copies and pastes to all the writers in her reject pile, but it was a response I appreciated. It didn't leave me licking a bad taste off my lips or doubting my self worth. In fact, I felt newly inspired to keep trying.

It's been a good day.

But I think mostly, the day dripped with positivity because it started out right. I was finally able to successfully summon myself out of sleep before the baby's cries or girly giggling could drag me into the day. I was finally able to delay drinking coffee and instead begin my morning with something I need even more -- yoga.

It was only 25 minutes, and all my joints were stiff with sleep even after savasana, but I felt so alive the rest of the day. Tired, like always, but I saw the sun through untinted windows.

My pants stayed up. No rang like a silver bell. It was a good day.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

dribble, drabble, dabble

Remember how I told you I was wrestling with voice? That I'm not sure how to approach my novel? First person, third person, same voice, changing voices? So I thought I play a little today. Practice. 

I was going to write a random scene, then rewrite it from a different point of view. I started thinking up a scenario but asked myself, why not write a scene from The NovelI mean, why practice my swing without a bat in hand? 

Then, I found Rayna's blog through NaBloWriMo, and I learned about drabbles, a form of flash fiction that presents a scene in exactly 100 words.

Oh, cool.

I'm a huge fan of brevity. Maybe that's simply because I don't have enough endurance to write longer pieces. Or maybe it's because I don't have a whole lot of time to write or read or go to the bathroom sometimes. But I know this: I like writing short stuff. And I really like what writing poetry has taught me -- choose words carefully and shove as much as you can into every syllable.  

So I decided to do it. Write a drabble. And write it again from another point of view. 

Then show it to you.

***

Cadey unzipped anxiety and tossed it aside with her windbreaker, but it clung to her singlet anyway. She was all there when the gun went off and held pace with the leaders for the first half mile. It was hard. Her fingers went numb. But when shoe snagged against shin, her rhythmic gait splintered into a slow-motion lunge. It was over. She knew she was going to fall, the same way she knew she didn’t throw up this morning because of nerves like she had told her mom. She also knew that she wouldn't get up. She wouldn't finish.

***

I shivered. I was nervous. Not about anything but the race – it was everything. The silence before the gun sounded was the longest pause I had ever experienced. I was a ball of tension and then suddenly – bam – I was all motion. I saw nothing but the ponytail in front of me, swish, whip, swishing. Until I stuttered. Then all at once the track was too close to my face and I knew I was done. I didn’t move. My shoulder smarted something terrible, but I knew it would be the least of my pain. I would carry something heavier. 

***

I liked that. I can handle writing 100 words at a time. Maybe this is how I will proceed. Hey, 500 drabbles could make a novel!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

testing, testing

1.
She picks up a fistful of sand and turns to look at me, hand hovering in front of her mouth. A half-smile plays on her lips and dances across her eyebrows. Are you going to stop me?

3.
I ask her to lay down. To rest. She's going to the hockey game tonight and it starts at her bedtime. Trying to nap was written into the you-can-go-if contract. She gets in her bed. I draw the shades and leave the room. Maaaaamaaaaaa? Can you stay in here with me? She knows I can't -- Ruthie is out and about. Maaaaamaaaaaa? It's too dark in here. I crack the shades. Maaaaamaaaaaa? I'm not tired. I explain the deal one more time. She's stalling. I know she's tired. I leave the room again.

6.
It's the usual battle. I ask her to do something, it doesn't matter what. Change your skirt, please -- that one is way too small. *** Let your sister be -- she said she doesn't want to play that game. *** Please, please stop trying to pick up the baby ** If her mood is just so, she responds with a decided negative. No. I don't want to. Stop making me do stuff. There's the sigh or the foot stomp or the door slam. Talk back again -- make another sound -- and there's going to be a consequence. She has to ask -- What will it be? 

29.5
I've got 30 minutes of relative quiet. I plug into my iPod to drown out the whines and laughter of other people's kids in this small waiting room and I stare again at my shaky list of scenes. They may or may not take me there, across this story. But I have nothing else to do but start.  I write a paragraph in first person. My teenage girl's voice. I'm not sure it feels right. I widen it into third person. Wonder how it might read from the mother's perspective. Or from his. I look again at the list of scenes. Assign a different voice to each one. 

I've never done this before. I'm learning how to be.

Testing.