What She Did…

In eleven days, my baby will be three years old. Three. I will not attempt to wax poetic about how the time has flown, because, it hasn’t. It has, however, passed anyway. If time flies when you are having fun, then I suspect that it crawls when you are raising babies. No pun intended.

Three years ago, I was eagerly awaiting my sweet little girl’s arrival. And by eager, I mean that I was bloated, hormonal, nervous, exhausted, and terrified. And, just a little excited. I had four children already. Four voices that called me Mommy, four distinct sets of personality and needs to shape myself around. Four baby birdies with their mouths open, waiting for me to fill them with good things. It already felt like we had a very full nest.

I knew that four children was my limit. Honestly, I had thought that one or two was, but, well, life. And also, I’m not a champion at doing the same thing every day, so my little packets of birth control never really had a fair chance. And I’m glad they didn’t, now.

But then, then things were a lot more messy. My marriage was sailing in a sea of uncertainty. We spent the better half of my pregnancy separated. Both working through grief that swept us away from each other, flailing in the tidal waves of having people we both loved pass away, unexpectedly. Hearts were broken, and I found myself shattered. A broken windshield, barely holding itself together after losing a battle with a baseball bat. Caving in, and foolishly refusing to let myself fall. But also, I had four sweet kiddos who desperately needed me, and holding on is what Mommies do.

My husband moved back in, less than two weeks before my baby was born. Things were not perfect, or healed by then, and maybe I still need to let go of some of that hurt. But we were together. Though our marriage still resembled a wrinkled polyester dress shirt, we had at least laid it down on the ironing board of marriage counseling, and had started to feel the healing irons burn.

So, that is where life found us, and ultimately, where we found our girl. On July 3rd, my water broke, so early in the morning, that the sky lingered in darkness. We rushed to the hospital in a dazed alert, half tortoise, half hare. But winning. We were cared for by one of the sweetest nurses on this earth. A Scottish woman with red hair, and a voice that lilted like a lullabye. She told me that I would continue to be a great mommy, that she could see I had what it would take to raise so many, and that all my fears would pass away when I looked into the face of my ‘wee little lamb’. We spoke off and on for hours, and by the time my hand was being held, and they were delivering my girl, I believed her.

And then, She was there. My sweet, sweet girl. This little love of my life, all cheeks and chub, and dark, snapping eyes. She was so sweet, and soft, and warm, that even now, it feels like stumbling onto sacred ground, just to remember meeting her. I swear to you, that this baby is so special, that a hush fell over the room. She came into the world quietly, without even a whimper, and she brought peace with her in a way that felt tangible. The air felt thick, and I cannot tell you, how my heart ached inside of me to know this human. As my soul whispered I know you in recognition.

I had carried her with me, for 36 weeks 5 days, and now our life together was finally starting. This little girl, made my heart go up enough sizes, that it finally fills my chest with no room for emptiness. This sweet little baby, that I was so scared of raising, has been the very best thing that has ever happened to me. She is the light that turned on in the dark, showing that there was nothing under my bed, or in my closet.

Even now, she feels so new to this earth, like a clean slate, and a fresh beginning that I don’t deserve. We have volleyed our way through this year of being two. Have loved and cuddled, laughed, and sniffled. There have been three yeses for every no. For every don’t touch that, there are at least five I’m so proud of you’s, and oh, I love you so’s. There have been tantrums and fits, and knock-knock jokes, swings at the park, and so many firsts. There have been tears, for both of us, let’s just be honest, but also singing afterwards, which makes us both feel better.

Almost three years in, and I am completely in love. When I lay her down and begin to sing, my voice still catches and trips over the words. You’ll never know dear, how much I love you, please don’t take my sunshine away. Because she matters. She is here. And she means everything.

My life has not turned out like I planned. I have not gotten what I thought I wanted. But it’s better. It’s busier, and harder, and more humbling than I imagined. Three years ago, in eleven days, I walked down my stairs and towards the minivan that would take me to the hospital. Everything, from my water to my heart, felt broken inside. But then I met my daughter, who reminded me about love. Who proved that our family could go on, both in joy, and in life. My unexpected miracle, who led the way back home, and turned the front porch light back on.

 

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Because We Are All (Orlando)

It’s no secret that Orlando has had a very bad week. Which means we all have, doesn’t it? I, personally, feel like I have been hit by a truck, but have to get up and keep moving. Because there is no life for me in wallowing, and I have children to guide through these times. Children who need me, and need me fully, to be present and alert enough to be a gentle guide. They do not understand what has happened, or why, and, let’s be honest, neither do I.

What I do know, is that whenever tragedy strikes someone with its hot-fisted arrow, there are many responses. Many of them, those fraught with shame and hatred, are not worth writing about. I have no desire to give those things another bullhorn through which they can shout hurt at others. This is my microphone, for my own shaking voice, and right or wrong, I intend to speak into it with compassion. As much as I can muster.

There have been, in my opinion, very different responses to the three tragedies of the past week. The first, is probably the oldest way to distance oneself from terror. “Not me.” I hear so many people reassuring themselves that what happened to others could not happen to them. They are masons, building up a wall of false security, with Styrofoam bricks. Adam in the garden, shouting,”It wasn’t me!”

“I don’t live near there.” “I am not a celebrity.” “I am not gay.” “I would never take a two year-old to Disneyworld.” “I watch my kids.” I don’t drink.”…. On and on they go. A million ways to justify why what happened to others will not happen to them. A thousand ways to say, it couldn’t happen to me. One hundred slow pats on their own back, to tell themselves what everyone wants to hear; “You are safe.”

The truth is, you aren’t safe. None of us are. And separating ourselves from these tragedies, only makes us out there by ourselves. Self-righteous gazelle, galloping past the lions, alone.

We have more in common with the victims than we are willing to admit. Let me prove it. Have you ever sang? Have you danced? Are you a parent? Were you a child? Do you like to go out with your friends? Do you love? Have ever congregated in public? Are you online? In any capacity? Have you pursued any of your dreams? Do you vacation? Do you breathe? Do you have things that you want, or things that you need? Have you ever been surrounded by people who don’t judge you? Do you listen to music and feel the beat move you? Do you have a heartbeat? Have you ever had anything to drink? Are you a human? Are you alive at this time, or any time, in history?

If the answer is yes, to any of that, then your glycerin bubble is on shaky ground.

Though I make my home thousands of miles away, it could have just as easily have happened to me. I have sung in public, I have been to bars, both gay and not, I have even taken my then two year old son to Disney World on vacation. The fact that it didn’t, the fact that it hasn’t, makes me humbled by gratitude. I get to go on living, at least for this morning. I think.

The thing is, it’s not about me. It’s about us, and them, and what happened to some. It’s about life going on, in the midst of its grieving. It’s about hanging our heads and shoulders in sorrow, then picking them up, and striving to make a better tomorrow.

It is about recognizing that the tragedies that unfolded, were senseless, and horrible, and never should have happened.

People were targeted, by monsters human and not, and then they were taken away from us. Us, we, all people, as a whole. We have lost parts of us that mattered, their lights violently, and too quickly, extinguished. And we are grieving, whether or not we knew their names. We are taken aback, by their inexcusable fate. We are mourning the lives of their family and friends, those left shattered by this, not knowing when they will feel hope crack through this big ball of ache.

So let me just say, that you are not alone. Though the path is rocky, and the way is long. We are all together walking through this life. It is dangerous and fierce, but so is our light. There is strength in numbers, and there is, absolutely, hope. We are all Orlando, because we are all human. It’s time that we remembered that. It’s time to grab hold of one another’s hands, and acknowledge what makes us strong. It’s time to stop withholding grace, like chubby toddlers with a treat behind their back. It is time to open our fisted hands. It’s time to say, “Me, too.” To be vulnerable in our love. It is time, my friends, to stand up for others. To say, “No matter what, I’m with you.”

 

Ripe

 

We are sitting in the car,
Driving east
Past the Columbia
It roars and ripples
With such intensity
White caps churn
Above the darkened blue
We are eating raspberries
At 70 miles an hour
It feels rare
And decadent
A little dangerous
Small fruit is not
Meant for travel
It lacks the fortitude
Of processed foods
We come upon a long line
Of sand colored
Military vehicles
That seem to span for miles
Both dwarfing the fresh
Vulnerable berries
And making me feel
A peach pit in my stomach
I who love our armed forces
Am thankfully unaccustomed
To seeing the use of their power
The tips of my fingers
Are staining, red
I wonder if the young men
In the tank
Next to me
Feel brave and strong
Or if they look down
And see stains on their hands
Or maybe, like me
They feel as crushable
And small
As raspberries.

But You Don’t…

Just now, as I was turning off the shower, the handle that controls the water pressure came off in my hand. After 30 seconds of awkward struggle, I managed to get the frustrating thing back on, so that I could turn off the shower. And I thought, of course. Not cheerful of course. Not angelic, baby-faced of course. But exhausted, semi- sardonic of course.

Now, if I were married to a doctor, I think I would find it much easier to laugh off falling shower handles. Oh, my husband, the hypothetical me (who is also much thinner in this fantasy) would say, he is so good at other things! And then I would throw back my head full of long, auburn curls, and laugh, some high, carefree laugh, that in real life I am incapable of. A laugh so light, it summons Spring, peonies unfurling at its sound.

But, he is not a doctor, my husband. He blanches at the sight of blood. He goes into shock when our children get hurt, to the point where several hospital staff members have asked if he was also injured. He wasn’t.

Ahem.

He is, however, a plumber. And a good one. No, a great one.

One of the reasons that I ever married him in the first place, was because I watched him take a walk in closet, and turn it into a complete, finished, full bathroom, in less than two days, and less than 15 hours total. I was 21, and so very impressed. I was yearning for a hard working man to take up some of the space that my then-unemployed father, well, didn’t. And, I was in my Damn-the-Man stage, (yes really,) and so wanted to be with someone that did something tangible for a living. Something respectable. Something needed. No paper pushers or promoters for me, thank you very much. No, sir. We were only 2 years out of Y2K, and I remembered that feeling that it could all fall apart, knew that people needed to have real skills to survive. Even though it hadn’t. Even though I didn’t.

I might have worked at the mall through college, but I had ideals. And by ideals, I mean that I watched Empire Records often, and added to my childhood hard opinions on everything, without the life experiences to back them up.

Anyway, it wasn’t the first time that the darn handle came off in my hand, and it probably won’t be the last. And it’s not really about the shower hardware anyway, is it? It’s about another thing that he could do, but didn’t. Another I do, I will, in front of friends and family, that he hasn’t.

It’s been building again. This hurricane of aching miscommunication that my marriage is currently in. And I know, I know, that marriage is filled with ebbs and flow. I know that there is a time to hold on, and a time to let go. I know that I am not always right, that he is not always wrong, that sorrow and darkness last for a while, but that joy and sunlight are often right around the corner, waiting to break forth splendidly, just like the dawn. I know. But the thing is, I still am hurting. I still am wishing that it wasn’t like this. I am tired of fighting. Tired of doing all the cleaning, literally and metaphorically.

I am tired of recycling wrongdoings, and never getting rid of them. Of just turning them into something else. Melted down bottles that still hold 16 oz. of hurt, only now they are an ill-fitting fleece pullover. Too hot for this season, seams bound together with resentment.

I am tired of thinking of pros and cons, of the ins and the outs, and the what ifs of coming apart. We are a door, falling off of its hinges. One always open, one always closed, posing a hazard to those passing through. We weave, and we wobble, we try to right ourselves. And for a day or two, things look promising. Then words or looks are taken personally, and scabs are ripped off, and we are, again, two separate hurts.

What makes it so bad, is that it doesn’t have to be this way. We are like that old nursery rhyme about the girl, who when she was good, she was very, very, good, but when she was bad, she was horrid.

Maybe, that’s worse.

If we were incapable of reaching such great heights, maybe I wouldn’t expect it. If we hadn’t summited Everest, would I be content to stand on speed bumps and hilltops?  Maybe I would settle down, bunker mundanely into compromising contentment. I wouldn’t know how amazing the world seemed when my husband and I are in total harmony, so I wouldn’t ache for it. Like people who have never tried crème brulee or cannoli with mascarpone. They just go on their less cellulited way, never knowing what they are missing.

It would, right? Hurt less, I mean.

But no, it doesn’t, not for me. The sting is there, such an old wound. I apologize if I have said this before, but it makes me think of first grade. My private school’s back door led out onto a metal grated landing, then down the same metal stairs, to where we played. All year, I tripped going over the doorway, both on the way outside, and on the top lip of the uppermost step on the way back in.

I tripped so often, that all year, my knees remained constantly bruised. I still remember the look of them, black and blue orbs, peaking out from underneath my skirt. Never healing, never looking like I imagined them. They stung more with each time that I fell, the metal biting into my young flesh, unapologetically. Then, maybe I would watch my step even more carefully, but just as my knees turned green with relief, I would trip again.

That is how my marriage feels just now.

And no, that doesn’t mean that it is the end. I don’t have all the answers for us, but I trust that small kindnesses, like overlooking handles coming off in my hand, will lead to a place where we can start again.

 

 

Drive-Thru Dogma

As we were getting just out of earshot of the woman who had taken our money, and passing on towards the next window that would magically open to give my children their nutrition-devoid lunch, my son said, “Did you hear her voice? It was so weirdly scratchy.” He said this loudly, in his ‘outside voice’, delivered in a way that only 11 year olds possess.

“No.” I said, firmly. “No. We don’t do that. We don’t make fun of people, or judge them, or put them down. That woman has a job. She is doing her best. And she was kind.” I said. I paused at the red stop sign, long enough to make sure that both our minivan and my words would make it out safely into the traffic we were about to enter. I needed this to be a crossroads for my 11 year old. I needed him to hear me. I needed this to be a conversation that he would remember, if not forever, then at least the next time that careless words rose to the top of his consciousness. Giving them a hurdle or a speed bump, that would slow their exit from his mouth.

As our van turned left, joining the throngs of other errand runners, I proceeded. “Jonah, I need you to hear me, honey. There is a saying that I always try to live by. I’m not always good at it, and I fail at it all the time. But I keep trying, because it’s important. The saying is this: Be Kind. Always. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle that you know nothing about. Do you understand that?” He answered that he kind of understood, but I could tell he was listening, so I continued. “Honey, you can never tell what somebody’s life is like just by looking at them. Unless they have had a really hard life, then sometimes you can tell. But you still don’t know everything that a person has gone through, or what they might be going through right now. Look around us.”

(He did.)

“We don’t know where all of those people are going, or where they came from. Some might be going to the hospital to see their family member, some of them have probably lost a son or daughter. Even the kids at my work, they usually look just like every other kid. You couldn’t tell by looking at them that some of their parents beat them, or that maybe some of their moms and dads don’t want them—“ He gasped, interrupting me. It was a terrible sound. The sound of the wrong kind of enlightenment.

“What?!” He asked, incredulously, “some kids have parents who beat them?!” And I broke. Not audibly, or visually. I kept a calm veneer over my crest fallen face. But, silently, the customary soundtrack to heartbreak.

Now, he knew.

He knew, and I was the one who had told him. I was the messenger with ugly feet, in ripped up shoes. The harbinger of hurt, the bringer of bad news. “But why would anyone beat a child, ‘speciallly their own child?” He asked. Dang. Which is not what I was thinking, but I try not to swear on my blog. So, dang.

Dang, because I didn’t want my children to know how ugly things can be. Dang, because things can happen to children that are much, much worse than being hit, and if this hurts so much to say, how will I ever explain the harder things. And dang, because I didn’t mean to let my words be the hammer that struck a blow into the happy bubble he lives in.

We kept talking, wading deeper into the murky waters we now found ourselves in. Holding onto hope, like the life preserver that it is, though we were only ankles deep into the enormity of our conversation.   “Wow,” he said, “wow. I never knew all that. That makes me feel a bit sad. But like I can do better. I can be nicer.” He said, finally, signaling that he was done with this particular conversation. And then he sighed, as if letting out all the air that he had been holding since he first gasped several minutes before. Out, but different. My sprouting little seedling, absorbing, taking from his environment, then processing, and releasing what he doesn’t need, back to where it came from.

Except this time, it came from me.

How long did I think it would last? This innocence and naïveté of youth? Longer. I thought I had longer.

Because childhood is brief, and adulthood is long. Because, except for math formulas, once you know something, you cannot un-know it. Because knowledge changes us. And I wanted so badly for my children to remain the same, just for a while longer.

But also, because I have worked with foster children for almost 11 years, and it still breaks me. It has changed me. It affects the ways I look at others in the grocery store, or at the park, or at my children’s school. It means that I know too much, and have at times felt the weight of that knowledge around my neck like an anvil of the cruelest construction. People were not meant to suffer. Children were not meant to suffer. And yet, they do.

They come to us, perfect skin blotted by bruises. Little mouths repeating the meanest things that have been uttered by lips that once kissed their newborn heads. Heavy little hearts, in the hands of strangers.

And we take them in.

We offer warmth and hope, and a semblance of the healthy love that they should have been experiencing their whole lives. We hold them. We read, and we sing, we tuck them in, and we rest in the fact that for now, these little ones are safe. We clock off, and we go home to the ones we love most, and we try to release the breath that we have been holding since we were handed their case file, and told that we were going to need to brace ourselves for what we were about to read.

I still cry. Not at work. Sometimes not for days. But eventually, it comes out. A chink in my armor, a soft spot shown, and I am done. Whether it be dandelions in the chubby fist of my own toddler, her arms and body the perfect, unblemished, shade of taupe. Or perhaps, my twins arguing over who’s turn it is to use the backyard swing, and suddenly I am thinking that they will never know how blessed they are. (Which both delights and exhausts me.)

No. My children will never know firsthand the kind of human suffering that I have born witness to. They won’t know how it feels to grope around for love in places that dark. But, hopefully, I will teach them to live in their own light generously, in ways that say to others, there is room enough for you here. They may never fully understand the how’s and the why’s, but I will try with everything inside of me to teach them to focus on the who’s. And always, always, to be kind.