Wednesday, December 29, 2010



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


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.


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


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


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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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


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.
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


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.