I tuck the waterproof pad into the back couch cushions, wedging it tightly. It crinkles, perhaps in protest, or maybe just groaning in solidarity. I lay the waterproof cover on the floor, securing it tightly under the couch to protect the carpet. I put a clean, soft blanket on the couch. Position the bucket just so.
Dark circles and I shuffle slippered feet into the kitchen. Squirt squirt the Clorox Clean-Up, wipe it all down. Rinse. Repeat. Same pattern with the door handles, light switches, bathrooms. I give many thanks to Clorox Wipes.
I created a make-shift, easy-to-wash bed on the guest room floor, since I’ve no interest in cleaning vomit that could catapult from the loft bed.
The washing machine swish-swishes, dryer clink-clinks. We go to sleep, him on the floor, me in the guest bed. Side-by-side in our bunker.
At 3 am, at 4 am, at 5 am the calls come from the floor, piercing tentative sleep. I squat down, rub his hot back, push the hair from his eyes. Grabbing for the bucket as I whisper love into the dark, a constant thread. I’m so sorry. Oh sweet love. It’s OK. Promises of the future, perhaps, but really of no consolation now.
“Can I just have a bath?” he asks, two hot-points of red, beacons on his grey face. I help him climb into the tub, worried that after three days of no food, he may slip, fall, concussion, thoughts swirl in cloaks of anxiety as they do in the dark.
I perch on the toilet, bent elbow and hand hold up my weary head. Why is my head so heavy? His fingers move just enough to splash the water gently against the tub’s sides. Soft light filters from the small recessed light above.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
He climbs out, all angles and bones. I wrap the white towel around his hot, small frame. He turns his back to me and plops himself into my lap. I wrap my arms around and inhale the soap, the scent of his Clorox-washed towel, him. He burrows in.
“I love you, Mommy.”
“Oh sweetie. Oh my love. I love you, too.”
I DID that. I did THAT. I pushed through the fog of the flu. I went to the doctor, saw the two calls from my mother and called her back.
An inability to walk.
A shattered tibia.
Adrenaline took charge. I packed bags and drank caffeine and Do I Have My Comforter and My Pillow? and made many yellow, sticky mental notes. I hoped they’d stick.
I drove to Chicago, my Diet Coke and I reunited after a six-day break. We were happy to meet again, sweet bubbles dancing in my mouth and belly. The opening chords of Huey Lewis & The News’ Do You Believe in Love broke into my dimly lit car cocoon. I gasped like a giddy, tweenaged girl and SANG IT. Oh the smooth harmonies. I’m waiting for Huey to call ANY SECOND.
I DID THAT. I drove the five hours, straight to the hospital and parked the car, taking photos like little bread crumbs to find my way whenever I was able to find my way back. Hoping that I’d find my way back.
I kissed her and held her hand and read the opening pages of Carol Rifka Brunt’s Tell the Wolves I’m Home to her. I let her read the summary, worried that a story of 14-year-old June may not entice her, but I promised that the writing was exquisite, that the characters are layered subtly and beautifully. Is There Anything She Hasn’t Read?, I wondered to myself. Not this. I took solace in the well-crafted words of another, giving my own intonation and imagining if I were the author, reading to a group, where I would want the pauses. Would Rifka Brunt put them here?
I came back to my voice and glanced at my mom, her eyes resting, lulled by the cadence of my voice. Carol Rifka Brunt and I brought her a moment of peace.
I stayed with her, in the ER, helping, talking, staying until a room transfer could occur. I kissed her goodnight and cared for her the way she herself taught through countless examples. Countless hours, layering love upon love upon love, always staying.
I wondered not if she were proud of me, but proud of herself for the example she lived for me, that I stepped into and whispered into the dark night, through her searing pain.
Ambiguity swilling, pushing at the dark shadows of the quiet. Her right leg. Her teaching. Her students. She lives alone. My brother and I live away, not here. Where I am now. How Will She Drive How Will She Shop Will She Come to Live With Me and Us and Oh Please Will Her Pain Subside and now, Will Her Students Miss Her Quiet Calm and Many, Many Lessons?
Ambiguity, always present. And so, I reach out from this foggy seat, the seat of Rilke’s Questions, and touch the certain. My chest, my breath. The sun. Oh, the trees. Always the trees, echoing my ebbs and flows and teaching just as she does. Strong. Powerful. Quiet. Leaning in to hear their wisdom, proudly squaring my shoulders knowing I’ve stepped certainly into this moment. I Loved Her Am Loving Her Love Her. I did that. Just now. I really, truly did.
Last month, I participated in a fabulous on-line writing group, lead by the lovely, talented Jena Schwartz. Her final writing prompt yielded this free-write. I am so grateful I gifted myself the time to write, with Jena and other talented writers. I think, as a result of this experience, I am going to use this space a bit differently, a bit like a writing playground. I’ll try new things. I may call out, like a child on the monkey bars, “Hey! Watch me! Watch THIS!!” And maybe it’ll be good and maybe I’ll just fall. But I’ll brush off my knees, mulch falling back to ground, and begin again. As Jena writes, “Write. Practice. Be Good to Yourself.”
I’d like to teach the world to sing/In perfect harmony
I’d like to hold it in my arms/And keep it company
I’d like to see the world for once/All standing hand in hand
And hear them echo through the hills/For peace throughout the land
(That’s the song I hear)
I’d like to teach the world to sing
(Let the world sing today)
In perfect harmony**
– Bill Backer / Billy Davis / Roger Cook / Roger Greenaway
As I swirl and tilt about in this holiday season, I am surprised by the polarity of emotion I experience. One moment the pureness of a white twinkle light awakens child-like awe within. The next, I’m cursing the mother-f’n twinkle lights as I take all 600 of them off the really tall tree (which required the really tall, somewhat precarious ladder) because I strung them in such a way that I cannot plug them in.
One moment I am the embodiment of Christmas spirit and then next I give the Grinch a run for his money.
Then, there are the gifts that depression serves up. Generous to a fault, anxiety and depression Give Give Give during the holidays. The deep swell of shadows, hiding just-under the holly jolly moments. The uncertainty, the pulsing thoughts, the self-doubt. Everyone here thinks you’re ridiculous. You’re ugly. You don’t offer anything of value. Then, the self-judgement pipes up: This, again? Why haven’t you figured out how to not feel this way yet? Geesh. It’s a Buy-One-Get-One-Free as it gives doubly, serving up both self-doubt and judgement as I stumble through this lack-of-serotonin forest.
I understand the dissonance and discord (and do my best to find their gifts), but they’re everywhere. Within, in parking lots, on the news, across America, the world. But the moments of harmony–these are the ones for which I’m opening my eyes, heart and soul.
A true smile that begins in someone’s heart and spills onto their face, a tight hug, the feeling that I’m being heard and seen, a hand-written note, someone taking the time to share their story with me.
When I’m driving, impossibly blue sky arching above, and REM’s Radio Free Europe begins to play and I blare it. I sing–loud and proud– into an imaginary microphone that I (may) actually believe connects to the outside world. I open my sun roof because THERE’S SO MUCH JOY and the crispness of winter surrounds my senses and I dance and shimmy as much as one can when buckled into her seat. And I ROCK my air-drum solo.
THAT. That optimism. That throw-open-the-doors-because-I-can’t-contain-my-euphoria joy.
The note I discover in the mud room that reads, simply, I love you Mom.
That moment when I can help someone else through the dark. When I can offer this: I understand. I am sorry. I will help.
The moment when I approach an interaction with my child with understanding and love instead of anger and judgement.
This harmony, this blending of two lives who together make life richer and fuller and bigger and more beautiful. THIS is what I seek.
And so, I search. I open my eyes to the harmonious threads woven throughout my days.
**This song is one of my favorites and I first heard it in the 1970’s Coke commercial. I still listen to this song and it still makes me feel hopeful, and reminds me to be open to joy.
My husband and I sat in our driveway, in the front seat of the truck, reluctantly surveying the leaf-filled yard.
“Should we do the leaves?” he asked.
The heaviness of a Sunday afternoon hung like it did when I was young. The clouds loomed gray and thick, as did the Monday morning ahead. I could see puffs of breath escape from Abby and Henry as they ran about the yard, playing.
“Well,” I answered quietly, “it’s not going to get any warmer or drier.”
With two hours of daylight left, we rallied and all headed inside to don old clothes, hats and gloves. The weight of the work ahead slowed me down. The kids’ jubilant exit to the yard and the slam of the garage door echoed in our small mud room. I slowly tied my old tennis shoes, stiff from months of neglect.
I collect heart-shaped items I find in nature. Rocks and shells from my life’s travels sit near my kitchen sink, in a bathroom drawer, and at the bottom of every beach bag. Each time I discover one, I stop and admire. And if I can’t pick the Heart up, I snap a photo. Heart-shaped moss on an ancient tree in Ireland. A subterranean rock, exposing itself to the surface, spotted on my run. Stop, they seem to signal, stop and see. Love abounds. Here’s proof. Blink and you’ll miss it. A small, prideful puff blooms in my chest each time I see one. My eyes and heart are open!, I think, patting myself on the back.
Dusk fell like the leaves in our yard. Crisp, November air pinked my cheeks and my hair stuck haphazardly out of my ski cap. A sharp inhale revealed the scents of a neighbor’s fire and quickly decaying leaves. My crabbiness smoldered with each frustrated leaf-clean-up exertion. Damn do I hate doing the leaves.
“I hate this. I truly hate this”, I yelled to Hubby over the drone of our dueling leaf blowers. “Me too”, he commiserated. Our whiny accord plumed up and away in our exhaled breaths. We turned back to our work, and I to the lonely maze of my mind. There I found remnants of a terse conversation with Hubby. Also vying for attention was Abby and MY GOD did she REALLY leave her backpack there in the family room ALL WEEKEND despite my kind reminders? She so deserved to lose her allowance for THAT. And Henry. Thinks it’s unfair that he has to vacuum the WHOLE damn house? REALLY?!! Each bitter bit collided. I was emotionally hangover, tripping through my negative mental feed.
Practice gratitude, Denise, my thoughts suggested. Blah blah fucking blah, I countered.
You need to try.
So I did. Amidst the mounds of brown, decaying leaves, I tried.
I’m grateful for the oxygen you give us. The shade, too.
I’m grateful for the whooshing crescendo of your leaves dancing on a summer breeze.
I’m grateful for my old jeans and old tennis shoes, not caring that they’re dirty and collecting burrs.
I feel my muffin top and flabby stomach, smooshy in these jeans, each time I move. (Redirecting…)
I’m grateful to have a safe yard in which to rake. I’m grateful for the warm food we’ll eat in our warm home when we’re done. At some point, we’ll be DONE.
I catch a glimpse of our kitchen through the back windows. Damn I hate that curve in those top cupboards. So 1985. (Oops, try again)
I’m grateful for my strong legs and arms, for my eyesight and my health.
A flash of phosphorescent neon disappeared into the growing mountain of brown. A gurgling giggle accompanied the swoosh of Abby and Henry.
I smiled, in spite of myself. I stopped. I saw. Two hearts. The argument with Henry fell away. The snappy snark with which I addressed Abby and her stompty-mcstomp-stomp response fell away. My pissy attitude
A lone leaf fell out of the muted gray.
I was left with a collection of leaves and three, very full hearts.
Whatcha dimbat hougminoimgmmm.
(Clears throat, stretches fingers, preparing to try again.)
So here I sit, diet coke to my left, the wrapper from my Sausage McMuffin with Egg and Cheese to my right. Blinking computer screen to my front. Since I’ve already written about 100 letters, I stretch. Roll my neck. Crack my knuckles.
The cursor blinks. Bblinksblinksblinks. Blinkity Blink. I actually think it’s taunting me. Damn cursor! Nanny nanny boo boo What you write is doo doo. You know what? You’re an ass, cursor.
Can you believe the audacity of this thing? Just blinking and waiting and daring me to write. Really. And then this blank page is just standing by, watching the cursor push me about and does nothing. Nothing!!
Wait!! I know. I’ll go back to my notebook of awesome ideas. Hang on. I’ll be right back.
Ok, I’m back. Hmmmm. Somehow those notebook ideas are less shiny now. Well, any way, how about this one?
My life sits amidst these mundane, rote tasks. The dishwasher. The laundry. My minutes are spent in the folds of each slightly faded tshirt, the pairing of each sock to its mate. Each gesture connecting me to them, threads of everyday woven into their clothes and our lives.
Bricks land on ancient face
Silouhetted in pale eastern light
Small belying strength: stoisism
at the mountain’s foot/
Feet on the ground
Ground meet the feet
Coffee brews cream swirls
TV voices low and murmur
Unrest Murder Genocide Elections
while I split open the english muffin
and push the the toast button
Ambling down my vanilla path
Do I contribute to this larger unrest
by muting those talking heads do I abstain
put my energy elsewhere, into this life,
with the butter
and the dishes in the sink
and the raising of one girl and one boy?
The cursor still blinks. And I just stretched again because really, this has been quite arduous. But I did it. I showed up.
Take that, cursor.
Note: No, I’m not high. I’m just practicing this fine art of Writing Again and I’ve been wanting to write a super poignant, Really Great Blog Post and it’s just not coming so instead of not writing anything, again, I’m writing something. I’m practicing. Kinda like instead of a throwing a full blown dinner party, just having people over for an after dinner drink in sweat pants, and just wiping down the bathroom counter and maybe lighting a candle instead of going bonkers and preparing like crazy.
The certainty and physicality of you were evident–your beach-ball perch on my lower abdomen made people reach out and touch you. You were charismatic and magnetic, even in utero.
Eight years ago, I filled my brain with questions surrounding your birth, your delivery and your arrival to this spot on our spinning, kaleidoscope of life. Who would you be? What would it be like to be a mother to you, a son?
The eve before your birth, Daddy and I drove to the hospital with our potent anticipation of your arrival as our companion. Heat filled the heavy, June, Arkansas night. Eight years ago, my body housed you, fed you, supported you and kept you warm. I felt each movement and turn.
Eight years ago, you entered my world and lodged yourself securely into my soul, becoming an anchor whose presence I hadn’t previously known was missing. Oh, I thought as I reached out and took you from the doctor’s hands, as I saw your scrawny body for the first time, Oh, you. There you are.
Recently, someone asked me to describe you. How, I wondered, do I wrap the essence of you into a byte-sized blurb?
Your curiosity and drive to understand the workings of the world are powerful. If I could shrink myself down and follow the contours of your creative, cerebral activity, I would. Any random afternoon will find you building a thing–a sword, a contraption– or breaking down a thing–a box, a pencil, a container, a lego structure. When you sit down to create a painting or drawing, when I ask what you’re making, your reply is, “I’m not sure. I’m just making it.” The results are always unique and usually beautiful.
You spend long stretches looking out the window, quietly thinking and then, suddenly, you’ll ask me a question such as, “Who was the first person on Earth?” or, “When you look at this wall, do you see the same things, do they look the same to you, as they do to me?”, or “What does an ovary do again?”
I remember once we were in a children’s hospital waiting room, awaiting a meeting with a doctor. You were two, maybe two and a half, and you kept watching a teenager who sat in the waiting room, too. This boy’s head hung down, his chin almost rested on his chest. His shoulders slumped, rounding his back in defeat. You, Henry, without even looking at me first, waddled over to this boy. You, in your round, sturdy body walked over the industrial, low pile carpet and to him. You stood right in front of him, in the stark, fluorescent light. The boy did nothing. You walked closer, so calmly (and trust me, calm really wasn’t your thing at this age), and you placed your chubby, dimpled hands on each of his brooding knees. You watched him until he slowly lifted his head, heavy with his angst and mood. Your eyes met. You, Henry, I swear you pierced his dark cloud and gave him a moment to smile, even if it was the slightest, shruggiest smile I’d seen. You gave him kindness.
You carry this in your heart and your eyes and you pass it along to most people you meet.
When I was a young, new mother, I thought my job was to protect Abby and you from harm. This primordial instinct kicked-in before you were born, when you and I coexisted in symbiotic togetherness. At that point, I could shield you from the bold world. Then you were born and the brazen world loomed. I shielded you from sun, bugs, infections, poisons, accidents, carcinogens and rough clothes. I provided a safe haven, a place for you to come into yourself. But now, I see that I only had part of my job description correct.
I know, now, that I can only, and should only, protect you to a point. Yes, I still protect you from obvious harm. But I have to let you live life. My job, now, is to help you navigate the inevitable bumps of life. The hurts. The heartaches. The disappointments. Sharp words, worry and friendship conundrums. Fights with your sister. Fights with yourself. It’s all normal and while this may seem counter-intuitive, it is GOOD. I am going to hold your hand as long as I can and teach you that this is all an essential part of life.
Imagine a bruise, tender to your touch. Purpley bluish evidence of a strike or blow. It is an oddly shaped a spot to be avoided as it heals. It morphs from blue to yellow, indicating its healing progress. Sometimes, you’ll see the bruises on your body but other times, the bruises will be internal, seen only by your heart, given credence by your emotions. I promise that while these may take longer to heal, they, too, will yield fresh, tender renewal. Yes, you will hurt. Sometimes, you will be brought to your knees. And much to my maternal chagrin, I cannot, and should not, protect you from the very things that will strengthen and embolden you.
Yes, these experiences will bring you bruises. But they’ll also yield tenderness and grace. Your seventh year provided many opportunities for you to learn this very lesson. To hurt, heal, and grow.
A move away from the only home you’ve known to a new city, school, house and friends. New everything. Then, this winter, a skiing accident and a spiral tibial fracture, yielding eight weeks of crutches and just as many of physical therapy. Not only did your leg break, but you bruised your spirit a bit.
And now. Just days after your eighth birthday celebrations have ended, I want you to know this: I see you. I see the strength in your stance. I see experience and wonder in your eyes. I see a stronger, more able-bodied version of you. Not in spite of your experiences–but BECAUSE of them. And you.
I love you forever.
Thanks to my friend Lindsey for the inspiration to write a birthday letter post.
Writers, and their relationship with the page, fascinate me. Getting to peek behind the finished words of writers I admire–to see their beginnings, middles and ends — is such a treat. So when the Writing Process Blog Tour started, I gulped up the passages. I was especially tickled when Kristen Levithan at Motherese asked me to participate. Kristen is a light for me — her writing is beautiful, honest and intelligent. I often nod as I read, thinking, Oh, me too, me too. Our blogship blossomed to friendship, and knowing she’s out there in my world softens my edges and my heart.