Often times, I don’t realize I’m on a writing break until about two weeks in. Then, with a start, I’ll think back to the last time I wrote. That time seems fuzzy, distant, faint. Then, I’ll try think of something new to write.
And then, I’ll realize I’m on hiatus.
I’ll be back. For now, I’ll leave you with this excerpt from Jena Strong ’s luminous memoir, don’t miss this. These words soothe like my mother’s cool hand on my furrowed brow. I’ve read them over and over and over again:
What if you knew
that everything was going to be okay,
that something was in motion
beyond your field of vision,
beyond even the periphery
of your knowing?
Last weekend we went to Six Flags. Abby and Hubby are thrill-seekers and rode many terrifying rides. Henry wasn’t tall enough to go on the biggest, scariest attractions. (I believe he was secretly overjoyed that he didn’t have those extra inches that would’ve allowed him to panic –I mean ride.)
When Abby and Hubby rode the first of their stomach-in-your-throat rides, Henry tugged my hand and asked to go on the ferris wheel.
I have a new-found fascination with ferris wheels. While I always enjoyed them before, I don’t think I truly appreciated them until recently. Several summers ago we went to a carnival; I was so taken with the beauty of the ferris wheel, both statuesque and soft, graceful and steely. I took many photos, trying to capture both its essence and dichotomy.
My interest deepened when I read my friend Lindsey’s gorgeous musings on ferris wheels; she reflects about their distinct, metaphoric portrayal of life. Climbing and then, descending. Again and again.
Henry and I climbed into our ferris wheel car. The metal bars clanked, locking us into our own compact space. The spring day was crisp with warm sun. Henry’s solid body nestled into mine and the sunlight illuminated his face. As I watched the freckles dancing across the bridge of his nose, he suddenly turned to me with his signature furrowed brow and asked,
“Mommy, are you surwe that this one won’t go upside down?”
The wind whipped his blond hair about.
“Yes, Henry, I’m sure.”
Our ride began.
On Tuesday of this week, I learned, like you, of the bombings at the Boston Marathon. The news sliced through to my soft, unprotected underbelly, leaving in its wake a wobbly understanding of the world in which we live, in which I raise my children. I watch the news coverage over and over again–I guess hoping that if I keep watching, I’ll discover some piece of news that somehow makes sense of the unimaginable, the non-sensical, the horrific, the unbelievable:
Innocent people were injured and killed while they watched the world-famous Boston Marathon.
An eight-year-old is dead.
A graduate student is dead.
A young woman is dead.
176 victims will endure life-altering injuries.
I try to imagine the grief of these families and something crumbles at my core.
Wednesday morning, I ran on the treadmill at the gym and watched still more coverage. Just like I did after September 11, after the Sandy Hook massacre, and after one particular bomb threat in Times Square, when I was just blocks away from a car bomb that was, thankfully, discovered just before its pending explosion.
My mind jumps about and lands on each of these crimes against our safety; each one detonating our collective ability to live and function as we’ve always done in the past.
As I stretch after my morning run, I’m transported to my weekend ferris wheel ride with Henry.
We’d just reached the pinnacle and were stopped at the top, spring trees blanketing the ground beneath us. Before we descended for the first time, Henry leaned into me and said,
“I’m scared, Mommy.”
His small hand rested on my leg, seeking comfort and assurance.
Our brief conversation seems more poignant, now, with yet another filter of pain, suffering and terror altering my world view. I move into Pigeon pose and as I continue my stretching, my mind’s racing also continues. I mentally answer him now, as we descend into this altered reality,
“Me too, Henry. Me too.”
I guess that’s what we do. Every day, with undercurrents of uncertainty and fear clanking about our minds, we climb in.
We climb into our days, gearing up for our ascent and hope for our safe descent. We get up and go into our day with no knowledge of the outcome. We brush teeth, get dressed, go to work, drive our cars, argue, make-up, empty homework folders, ride the subway, smile, buy groceries. We take out the recycling. We experience piercing joys. We see exceptional and mighty outpourings of good. We turn our faces to the heat of the spring sun. We hug our children. We hope that as the sun descends on our days, those we love will come back into our arms. We have days when they don’t. We ache, grieve and fall apart.
Although we revel in exhilaration as the car stops at the top and wonder washes through us like a wave of tiny carbonated bubbles, we acknowledge, too, that someday the wheel must stop.
Each day, we go on. Despite the fear, despite the horror, despite the inevitable, we go on. It takes courage to put our feet on the ground each morning. Within that courage lies the superb responsibility and privilege of the living–we get to take that leap, take that hand, cook that dinner, lose, mourn and, if we’re looking, note the small, quiet miracles of each day. We live.
Around and around.
We go on.
This is our spring break week. One day, the kids and I headed into the city. We’ve usually driven in the past but this time we took the train. And, much to Henry’s delight we got a double-decker train. With a STAIRCASE. After departing the train (and surviving the human stampede through a very narrow escalator), we broke through, into the city.
Both Abby and Henry paused when we hit street level, readjusting to the sunlight. Their eyes took in New York City and the barrage of noises, people, smells and sights. I had to prod them a bit to get them to start moving. Then, we hoofed it. For many of the 50 blocks, I had one if not two hands, in mine.
From 32nd all the way up to 79th, and half-way down again (I finally put us on the subway at 59th–we were wiped), we walked. We walked through Times Square. We walked to Carnegie Deli where we ate incredibly huge sandwiches and gazed the star-covered walls. We walked to the Museum of Natural History and greeted the dinosaurs.
When we left the museum (our planned destination), we walked to Central Park. This was, of course, the highlight of their day.
The early April day was warm–almost hot. Cobalt blue skies soared overhead and the hot sun shone. It looked like every New Yorker was in the Park–it hummed with sun-deprived Northerners after a very, very long winter. Daffodils bobbed their heads in the soft breeze. Birds celebrated, dipping and swooping about. Runners ran, bikers whizzed by; one runner and one biker had a near-accident and had some New York-flavored words, to, uh, work it out. My mild-mannered, suburban children watched their interaction with awe.
We strolled and dallied while eating ice cream from a street vendor. Shouts from a softball game punctuated the soft air. We spent a lot of time exploring the rocks.
As beautiful as this day was, of course not everything was picturesque. It was a day with two children and their mother–we all took our turns with frustration. In addition, Henry touched everything possible–the cement walls, the ground (that’s when I yelled, “Every dog in New York has urinated there, Henry!”), the sticks, the trashcans. When he rested on one park bench that smelled just like a urinal, I asked him if that smell was familiar. He looked at me quizzically and said,
“People go to the bathwoom on the benches?!”
If I could’ve bathed him right then, I would’ve.
But, despite these regular blips, contentedness prevailed. We made it back to the train station (first time I navigated from the subway to the train station without the aid of a seasoned New Yorker!). Henry sat on my lap for a bit and his heavy head rested in the curve of my neck. The kids watched as the outskirts of the city gave way to the suburbs. As the terrain switched from urban to forest, the trees indicated that we were getting closer to home.
As we drove home from the train station, I asked both Abby and Henry what they liked most about our adventure. Henry cited the rock climbing in Central Park. Abby agreed–with a close second being the street-vendor soft-pretzel. I, however, had a different take. For all of those 55 block we traversed, both of my children held my hands. (I wondered, prior to this day, if I’d ever hold Abby‘s hand in public again.)
A day with both of them within arms reach and the solid weight of both of their hands in mine will forever be the highlight of this day.
Now, I am the mother of a nine-year-old and a six-year-old. After our next round of summer birthdays, I will be the mother of a 10-year-old and a seven-year-old.
10 and seven. These words amaze me.
Today marks the last week of our This Is Childhood series. Lindsey of A Design So Vast shares her luminous, poignant words about the age of 10. Please read her tribute (maybe grab the tissues) and enjoy the last essay commemorating childhood.
The This Is Childhood Line Up:
ONE – Aidan Donnelley Rowley
TWO – Kristen Levithan
THREE – Nina Badzin
FOUR – Galit Breen
FIVE — Allison Slater Tate
SIX – Bethany Meyer
SEVEN – Tracy Morrison
EIGHT – Amanda Magee
NINE – Moi
TEN – Lindsey Mead
Today, my This Is Childhood essay is running on The Huffington Post. (I’m just a wee bit honored and the tiniest bit excited.)
The This Is Childhood Series is the brainchild of two of my favorite writers, Lindsey Mead and Allison Slater Tate. Each week, a writer reflects upon one of the ages of childhood, from One to Ten. I am so grateful (and humbled) that Allison and Lindsey included me in this group. Not only have I loved reading everyone’s unique commemoration of their child, but I’ve come to treasure the special writing community that developed as a result.
To top it all off, today, I find my words on The Huffington Post. Happy Friday to you and please pass the wine and dark chocolate.
Abby is Nine.
Her experiences contain threads of both the universal as well as the unique, weaving a life that is distinctly hers. My mind traces the memories of our nine years together, bounding from her infancy to just this morning at the kitchen island.
Sometimes when I’m with her, I see traces of her as a toddler–round and full, with mischief and joy flitting across her features like a sprightly fairy. Other times, I see mature, angular hints of the woman that she will someday become.
I think of her pending teenage years, knowing that the unbridled joy and terrible heartache which mark every life will, too, mark hers. Friends will throw sharp-edged words, mistakes will be made, love interests will chose others, sleep will be lost. Knowing that I must allow her to endure these inevitabilities is softened only by the knowledge that she will also experience piercing joys: a first kiss, a first driver’s license, a bowl of cookie dough at midnight with a kindred friend, the pounding bass of a favorite song, the soft hue of a pink sunset.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, she is Nine.
I hear the dishwasher humming and a zipper clinking in the dryer–the sounds of a quieting house wrap around me. I walk into Abby’s room, my arms loaded with her folded laundry: favorite skinny jeans, well-loved yoga pants and super-soft henleys still-hot from the dryer. The clothes tower in my arms. Several pairs of underwear abort mission and jump to the carpet below my feet.
The warm light spills from her bedside lamp and night tries to enter through her wood blinds. Abby sits on the haphazard heap that is her unmade bed with bent knees and bent head, her forehead slightly stitched. She reads a book and turns a page. Thwap. Blond curls, still damp from her bath, frame her face. The many angles of her body startle me, still.
She is Nine.
I bend down to set the clothes on her floor. I search for a place to set them. Her floor resembles a disheveled yard sale: birthday party favors, yarn, many books, an inside-out coat, dirty socks, yesterday’s clothes.
She starts to talk as I put her laundry away. I inhale the scent of freshly washed clothes, while checking the tag of one tank top to make sure that, in fact, it is Abby’s and not mine. The sound of drawers opening and closing and my popping knees compliment the cadence of her voice.
Her lanky legs cross and uncross as she twirls a piece of golden hair into submission. She tells me of her day. I lift my head to say something snarky about the mess of her room and notice that the hardback book now rests beside her. The slightest quiver resonates between her words, edging up to something bigger–something hard. I stop moving and walk over to perch on the side of her rumpled bed. I set my gaze on a broken birthday party favor rather than her face. I’ve learned, in my nine years with her, that a face-to-face conversation is a sure way to end a conversation.
Her words begin to tumble down the hill of her emotion, the intricacies of Who said What less important than How it made her feel. I hold my breath, afraid that if I move or shift she’ll stop talking. Not unlike when she was a baby–finally, finally sleeping, I’d hold my breath and and tip toe out of her room, fearful that one floor creak or aggressive exhale would break the sleeping spell.
She stops talking and turns into my arms. In the safety of her bedroom, she nestles into a snuggle, discarding her exterior bravado and relaxing into the ritual of my arms. In these moments, I offer thanks that my arms and my presence still provide refuge for her.
I knew you were trouble when you walked i-in
So shame on me now
oh AH oh o-oh, Trouble Trouble TROUBLE…
Abby belts the lyrics of Taylor Swift’s Trouble. She stands in front of the computer monitor playing the video, which illuminates her from behind. She wears the tank top and shorts she wore to gymnastics; I note her the nip at her waist, giving way to her newest accomplishment: fledgling hips. They thrust and shimmy, talking her long, lean legs along for the ride. Suddenly uncertain of the lyrics, Abby stops and stands still, tucking a stray piece of blond hair behind her ear. She teeters between. Between certainty and extreme self-awareness. Between childhood and adulthood. She is really neither, now.
She is Nine.
A winter night invites us for a walk. We don down jackets and hats and enter the frigid evening. We inhale the air, laced with the scent of snug fires burning in fireplaces throughout our neighborhood. Silver stars pierce the black canvas of the sky. The swoosh-swooshing and swish-swishing of our down coats accompany us. Cloaked in the privacy of the inky night, Abby’s mittened hand reaches out and takes mine. She asks if we can walk around our block again.
Just before we begin our loop again, Abby turns to me, wraps her puffy-coated arms around me and beams her face, luminous as the stars, up at me. She says,
Mom, when I grow up, I want to be just like you.
The tears brim, threatening to freeze on my cheeks.
She is Nine.
Predictably, Abby’s desire to be Just Like Me quickly dissolves at other times: when I’ve denied her access to something she wants–a sleepover, an iPhone, shorts that are really underwear masquerading as shorts. She also definitely doesn’t want to be Just Like Me when I’m: cranky, asking her to put away her laundry, or speaking firmly to her, or clearly stating my displeasure in one of her choices. During these moments, I watch the smoldering distaste brewing in her eyes. I know that through our years together, these moments will repeat, and that the stakes will become larger and the emotional currency higher.
Abby’s life continues to become more singularly hers, and much less mine. Her needs at Nine differ greatly from those of her younger years. She no longer needs me to cut her food or to pick out her clothes. She doesn’t need me to dose her Ibuprofen, burp her, or to remind her of her please-and-thank-yous. She doesn’t even need to hold my hand. We’ve moved away from the intense physicality of her younger years to the emotional challenges of a girl walking on that swinging, teetering rope bridge to tween-dom.
Yet, she still needs. She needs an ally. She needs emotional guidance and unconditional love. She needs strong examples and honesty. She needs a mother with whom she can be herself and whom she can trust. And, thankfully, she still needs (and wants) my embrace. I am frequently humbled that this honor is mine.
A fist reaches up from somewhere deep and grabs hold of my heart, clenching it tightly. Yes, her needs have evolved. But thankfully, for my tender heart, one need still prevails: me.
She is only Nine, after all.
The day she turned Nine, we vacationed at the shore. The navy blue water held us while the white sand anchored us. As the late July sun hung pink and orange streaks in the western sky, we headed back to the house. After a fast rinse-off in the outdoor shower, Abby retreated to the bathroom. When she emerged, I saw her carefully crafted outfit which included accessories. We then headed to dinner for pizza, her favorite. I sought her reflection in my rearview mirror–her eyes shone and her brilliant smile pierced me. I noted that her lips shimmered with a swipe of lip gloss. Lip gloss!
We sat around the restaurant table celebrating Abby and her Nine years. I watched her animatedly talk to her Grandma, giggles traversing her face and belly. I sipped my cold beer and looked over at my husband.
We’re half way through, I whispered to him. The words snagged on a lump in my throat.
No, no no, he chided. She still has, like, eight years of school. She’s just in fourth grade.
No, babe. No. We get her in our house for 18 years. Half of 18 is…Nine.
Oh, came his reply. We sat in the truth of these words, sat in awe of time’s ineffable passage, sat in excitement about what her life might hold. We turned and watched her, teetering on the edge of the second half of her childhood. A small smile tugged at my lips as I swiped a tear from my eye. My husband’s eyes met mine again. We raised a toast to Abby, to each other and to the next Nine years.
Next week, Lindsey Mead will finish our series with her thoughts on Ten. To read the previous This Is Childhood installments:
TWO: Kristen Levithan
THREE : Nina Badzin
FOUR : Galit Breen
FIVE : Allison Slater Tate
SIX: Bethany Meyer
SEVEN: Tracy Morrison
EIGHT: Amanda Magee
I’ve suffered from depression for more than two decades. When I was first diagnosed, after struggling for five years without therapy and medication, I experienced a sense of failure that rivaled the symptoms of the depression itself.
At first, I told one person: my mother. Period.
Slowly, I began sharing. And by sharing I mean that I told one other person: my best friend. As the years progressed and my experience with the disease deepened, so did my relationship to it. I began talking about my depression whenever I felt it was relevant or helpful. However, that freedom of voice did not make it into my writing. I never, ever wrote about the darkness of my mental illness.
That changed years ago when I decided to write about my experience — a decision I made because I hoped that by sharing about my decades of depression, I might help someone, anyone–even just one. I wanted to add my voice to the chorus of people brave enough to be open about depression; I wanted people to know that an ordinary mom, wife, daughter, sister, writer and friend like me struggled. I hoped that by being open and honest, my words would help to smudge the stereotypical beliefs and discomfort surrounding depression.
Recently, I heard from an old colleague and friend. She’d started writing a blog where she was brave enough to share her story. A story about a depression so gripping and severe that she’d planned to end her life.
As tears threaten to drip as I type, I am so grateful to write the following words:
she did not end her life.
She chose to Love. To Laugh. To Live.
And, amazingly, she told me that my words, my humble words on this humble blog, helped her gain the courage to go public with her own struggle.
(If you’re watching on your mobile device, follow this Vimeo link: https://vimeo.com/user16802566/videos )