Friday, April 27, 2012


I wake with an ache threaded through my jaw on one side. Its tight and hard to move. My mouth must have been hanging open, slack and slanted sideways under sleep that dragged me down too deep and pulled me to the surface too fast. That's the most dangerous way to dive.

I sit up and pull on my socks, first one and then the other. I open and close my mouth until the two sides even out and by the time I make it to the kitchen, my jaw is loose enough to let my lips form the shape of good morning. My voice catches, dry and unused and unfamiliar in my ears.


I am asymmetrical. There's no way to fold me so my edges line up.

Just look. My right eye is smaller than the left. I'm missing a rib on one side. One breast feeds my baby better than the other and when I sweat I swear my right armpit smells stronger. My waistline feels thicker on the right when I'm sitting and one foot is bigger than the other.

These imbalances are branded into my blueprint. But they don't bother me. I can still stand up straight.


With a handful of birdseed, we call the chickens back to their coop. She laughs as they run toward us, moving fast and low and ridiculous.

They look so funny, like they could just fall right over.

I agree. There's something about two legs and no arms and wings folded back that looks unbalanced.  But their anatomy doesn't fail them and they can't hear us laugh.


I'm out for a walk -- baby in the sling, dog on the leash, everyone else at home. Silence moves through the trees and cools my cheeks. The spring air is damp in my lungs.

I pass a woman walking the other way and we exchange the usual smile and hello.

You have your hands full! she adds.

She has no idea. My arms and chest and head are so loaded with blessings that my spine bends under it all. I'm surprised she can't see that.

Or maybe that's what she meant.


The night she came is wrapped tightly in webs of memory. Some details melt together but other moments stand still, framed and flash frozen in my mind.

Like this:

I walk through the door, my vision tunneled. I stop. I see only him.

She's sweeping my legs out from under me and I wrap my arms around his shoulders. I know I'm probably pressing against him too hard but he doesn't flinch. My forehead touches his shirt.

I breathe him in and he balances me.


Now his hand on my shoulder surprises me. That's where her head usually rests.

More than two voices aimed at me can shoot me down.

Milk on the floor brings me to my knees.

Making dinner is a mountain.

He tells me I should go to yoga class but I don't feel like it. A movie is too long and words on a page swim and blur before I can finish a chapter. This is the only thing I can write about. It's not time away that I need.


Their game is somewhat quiet. The baby is happy in her bouncy chair. I sit on the floor in the living room surrounded by them. The evening light dims.

He stands in the kitchen and the light above the sink holds him in a soft spotlight. His back is to me as he does the dishes. He talks.

What he says is ordinary. Everyday. But his voice walks across the room, threading together in strands that become solid, a ballet bar above my head. I reach up and find it, memorizing its position so I can find it tomorrow when all the lights are on and I'm trying to stand one foot, practicing balance.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012



Small fingers, small beads, serious concentration. She adds the last piece to her masterwork and declares it done.

Mama, can you iron this?

I'm busy right now but she lives in this moment. Only this one. And she wants to hold it in her hands. That's something I can understand.

I turn on the iron and wait for it to warm. Too much heat and I'll ruin what she made. Not enough and the pieces will separate. The ready light turns green. I slide the iron across the beads. They melt just enough.

It turns out.



She finally rests her head on my chest. It took a long time tonight.

I press my cheek against the top of her head. She warms my skin. She doesn't know it yet, but a fire burns within her.

I only have to angle my neck slightly to tuck her entire skull under my chin. Her bones are solid, shielding from the world the map to who she'll become. But they're also so fragile: still soft, still separated. For now, she is incomplete without me.

I cup my hands around her flame, wings against the world.



I knew it would happen. It always happens.

She was the littlest. I carried her a lot. She sat on my lap. I stroked the soft skin on the backs of her hands. I breathed deeply into her hair.

Overnight everything changed.

Now she holds my hand. Sits next to me. Close but separate.

She smiles a lot but she also pushes hard. She's looking for her place. And there's something within me that pushes back.  I feel singed and raw. She is fire when I'm craving snow.

But tomorrow it's supposed to rain.   



I remind her that it's time to get ready. She glares at me, fire behind her eyes.

I'm so mad at you. I'm never talking to you again for the rest of my life. Her tone is serious. Cutting.

I raise my eyebrows and pause to swallow. Once. Twice. Both sad and snarky boil in the back of my throat and it takes me a second to separate logic from emotion. I have to pry it loose, strand by strand.

I'm sorry to hear that. I have to say something or she tells me you don't even care. I'm feeling my way through the dark.

By the time she's a teenager, maybe I'll be able to see shadows -- the outlines of shapes, of roots exposed -- before I catch my toe on a corner and fall flat on my face. 


Are those your regular jeans?
Wow. You look great! You're lucky.

Lucky or not, this is just how it is for me. My pregnant form fades easily. My body is elastic.

Except it's not.

I'm in the dark, in bed, lying on my back. I press my fingers into my abdomen and feel how the muscles are separate, a valley that starts and my navel and runs up to my diaphragm. I know I've come undone in ways that cannot be stitched up.

But there's something behind my naval, too. A fire deep inside my belly. It might be flickering right now but it hasn't gone out. And it can be stoked. It can always be stoked.

I know how.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

where I get random

Sarah, who writes at the blog This Heavenly Life tagged me in a meme last week. The object of this little game is to post 11 random things about yourself, answer the 11 questions posed by the tagger, create 11 new questions, and tag other bloggers. I've been thinking about it ever since. While I loved reading Sarah's post and finding out more about her, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to come up with a response clever enough to be worth posting.

But I wanted to write something. So I decided the only place to start is where I'm at.

1.  It's dusk. Dinner is done and I took on dish-duty, specifically for the chance to stand up straight. I've been holding the baby all day. She weighs down on me. But I step outside to bring in the laundry first. The light is fading and I have two arms free.

It's mostly his clothing in this load. I unpin a blue shirt. I'll need to iron this one. I fold it in half but hold it up to my face before putting it in the basket. It smells like the breeze that's been blowing all day, spring marinated into the fibers, but it still smells like him.  This is why I don't use scented laundry detergent. 

The air smells significant, too. Smokey, but not the wood stove smoke of the cold weather months. This is the campfire scent of summer, speaking of humid evenings, of roasted marshmallows, of ash soaring high above the flames. A neighbor must be burning a bonfire.

2. It reminds me of another time and place of a similar smell, bonfires all around. It was a Civil War reenactment. I was part of a "crowd control" crew, walking around the grounds with my Americorps NCCC team members, mostly just picking up cigarette butts and trying to look busy while taking in the sights and sounds and smells of a different time period brought to life. There were costumes and tents and weapons, food and animals and bonfires. I can't remember exactly where we were -- 11 years have elapsed since then and we saw so many places during our 10 months of service, traveling here and there in the southeast -- but this moment, taking laundry from the line, smelling the bonfire, reminds me that:

3. That year in NCCC was probably one of the hardest of my life. I was away from home, away from everything familiar, in a way that I hadn't experienced yet, even during my first couple years in college. I already knew I was an introvert, safe only in small circles (I had only attended one college party -- I walked in, looked at the crowd, and walked back out. It was coffee shops and libraries for me), but working and living so closely with a whole new group of people was something far, far out of my comfort zone. I had to work hard to hold myself together.

4. But it was also one of the most important years of my life, too. I learned so much. About myself. About the people and ideas outside my little world. But more than that, it pointed me home. Back to the Midwest, to my roots, to my family. But also to him. He would always be my front door.

5. He asked me to marry him during that year, when I was home for a weekend break. It was a bike ride in our home town, a stop by a river, him down on one knee, the ring. My mouth hanging open. Yes. And before we rode home -- on our bikes, on our joy and hopes and dreams -- I stopped to pick up a stone. It sits in my jewelery box, more valuable than any gem. Maybe someday it will be the first bit of earth I'm buried under.

6. When I was a kid, I buried a time capsule in my yard with a friend (how old were we, Anna?). I remember writing down various facts about ourselves, such as what we were wearing that day. It was my idea for each of us to also disclose one "secret" into the capsule. We intended to leave the jar underground for years, but it lasted a few months at best. When we unearthed it, my "secret" was this: I'm wearing a bra! I certainly did not need one.

7. I did not need one after my last kid weaned, either. This is not something that has ever bothered me.

8. Speaking of kids, you know how I have four? In many cases, mothering that many would mean that in general, I'm good with them. That I like them. Actually -- um -- not so much. I'm somewhat afraid of them. The idea of chaperoning school trips or volunteering in the classroom sends me into small fits of anxiety. This is true. And likely largely due to the fact that:

9. People in general scare me. In most cases, unless I know everyone going, I'd rather stay home. Nowadays, I have many excuses to stay home. But that was not always so. (See #3). And I have a hunch that as my girls get older, I'll have to come out of my shell to allow them to come out of theirs. I try not to think about that.

10. I don't think of myself as a good conversationalist. I'm not entertaining or animated. I'm better one-on-one than in a group, and I express myself better through writing than speaking. But I'd never call myself witty or funny. And you'll always win a debate against me. I'll only tell you about my religious views if I don't feel like you're trying to sell me yours, and I'd rather fold laundry than discuss politics.

11. Actually, there are a lot of things about laundry that I like. And I'd probably stay out here longer, taking these things down slowly, if the bugs weren't biting me...

And now, to answer Sarah's questions...

1. Do you always read the entire book once you get started, or have you ever stopped halfway through a book?  If so, what was it, and why?

I usually finish. But I quit Lord of the Rings before I got past the first hundred pages. There was too much description and I had laundry to fold...

2. Which would you prefer to spend an afternoon doing: painting with a room full of preschoolers or painting with a group of adults?

Isn't is obvious? Neither. I'd rather if the room was empty.

3. Is there a television show on right now that you try to never miss?  What is it?

Nope. I rarely choose to watch TV. I'd rather read. Or write. Or do yoga. Or stare out the window....

4.  What is the most adventurous food item you've ever tried?

I will try anything. Unless it spent any part of its life underwater.

5.  If you could have as many children as you wanted without fear of discomfort (either physical or financial) or social judgement, how many do you think you'd have? 

I think I'm at my limit right now...

6.  What foreign culture fascinates you the most?

I will read any book about any group of people and find it interesting. I don't have an itch to travel, though. At least not right now.

7.  When you're grocery shopping, what snack item has the greatest ability to tempt you into an unnecessary purchase?

Chocolate. Enough said.

8.  When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?  Did you succeed?

An author. I'm working on it.

9.  If you could go back to school and get any degree, would you choose differently than you did the first time?

I started in engineering and switched to English after two years. So yes -- I would have started in English so that I could have taken more classes in my major. I would have taken more creative writing classes as well.

10.  You have a $500 gift card to the closest mall: what will you spend it on?

Clothing, please. But can I shop online?

11.  You are headed into a party full of people you've never met before and where mingling is expected.  What one word describes your mindset as you open the door?

I think, by now, you must know my answer. GETMEOUTOFHERE. Can that count as one word?


Next, I'm supposed to come up with 11 new questions and tag other bloggers. But I'm tired. So this is as far as I go. But if you want to leave me a comment with some random facts about yourself, the floor is yours.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

the point

Mommy, they won't let me play.

She turns her whole body toward him, her shoulders square with his.

Hm, well what did they say?

They just say 'no' whenever I ask. She hears what he says but knows what's under the surface, too.

That must have made you feel really sad. She holds her hand out to him. I'll go back with you and see if we can figure something out. 

Our conversation evaporates into wispy clouds that dissipate when she walks through them on her way out of the room. But I'm not thinking about that. I'm thinking about her tone and her choice of words and her patience and her empathy and I'm opening my mouth to catch all those cool flakes on my tongue so I can cough them up at the right moments. But they melt on contact. I don't even get to swallow.

I've been running too hot lately and I know it. I feel it in my mouth.


The mirror is full length. I am in my underwear.

I'm about to take the dress from its hanger (ignoring the price tag for now) but I stop. I let my arms hang at my sides.

I see angles and edges because that's what I am. What I always have been. But there's also a softness to my belly, new but not really. I don't wrinkle my nose or wish it away. It's gentleness, underneath everything, when I don't feel gentle at all.

I wiggle into the dress. It's tight and stripey and somehow highlights both the sharp and the soft and I look wrong all over. Unbalanced.

I buy a hoodie instead. It's red-orange like the sun when it's going down, with thumb-holes so I can slouch the sleeves over my wrists and hide halfway down my palms. I get cold in the summer sometimes, too.


What do you think is the point of life?

Its an abrupt shift in conversation but it doesn't surprise me. This is how we've always talked. 

My instant answer is this: survival.

But its more than that. Or I wouldn't.

I gesture to my baby in her arms. My second answer: procreation, of course.

But animals do that, too. That's not enough.

Could it be this? Finding beauty in everything. In the good stuff. And in the rock hard places, too.


I'm driving home. I was out. Alone.

I sit crookedly in the driver's seat, leaning to the right under the weight of a baby not on my shoulder. Hunched forward over a full belly now deflated.

The radio fills the silence and my empty head. But I turn it off the second I see the moon. It hovers low and luminary, humongous and completely impossible. The air feels charged and sacred. It can only hold silence.

When I pull into the driveway, the moon disappears behind the too-big houses down the street. I go inside. It's getting late -- at least for me. Sleep pulls at the corners of my eyes and accelerates the rust grinding deep within my joints.

The night grows longer.

The baby won't settle.

Liquid frustration fills my brain and swims into my eyes. I sit in the rocking chair by the front window. I blink. The moon is higher. Smaller. Somehow even brighter. But tucked behind the half-full branches.

I lean my head back and close my eyes against the darkness of the room and her open eyes. When I open them again the moon is above the trees and I can see its face completely.

It is full.

So am I.