Author Archives: Baddest Mother Ever

Out Into the World

Dear Grant,

So Friday is the big day, huh? College.

COLLEGE.

College? How did THAT happen?

I looked at some pictures today of the campus at good ole’ F.U. and it got me all verklempt. It’s a beautiful place, filled with shiny happy people and I have a good feeling that you will grow there, from the kind and clever young man you already are into an even truer version of yourself.

There will be some rough spots along the way, no doubt. I was dying to go to college back in 1879, but even though I had dreamed of getting there for so long, I still turned my face to the wall and cried a few tears after the lights went out on that first night. There I was, under that brand new comforter and in sheets right out of the box–on my own and out in the world. Alone? Not really, but kind of more alone than I had been up to that point in my life.

So if you get a little lonesome Friday night and start to feeling alone in the world, I hope you will think back to these few stories and know that you are 100%, unequivocally loved by me and everyone else in this big messy family.

I came to meet you in the hospital right after you were born, but the nurses had you in the fishbowl for some nursey kind of stuff. We didn’t get to meet that day. Instead, your dad showed me a video that he had made right after you were born. In the frame you see your mom beaming with happiness. The nurses had you in the bassinet to do the Apgar test and get you cleaned up and you were screaming and yowling and shaking with fury. There you were out in the world for the first time and you were NOT HAVING IT. In the video, Joe walked over to where you are and reaches out his big ole finger. He said something calming, like “Hey, buddy” and he touched you on the arm very gently. You immediately stopped crying (and he started).

About three weeks later, you came to my house for a visit:

grant 4

Yes, we had pink carpet. It was awful. So was that marriage, but that’s another story for a different day. You were out in the world for real, out in the suburbs. I still didn’t get to hold you that day. Papa did. He held you in his lap and cried because he loved you so much. I’m glad y’all share a name. I’m glad we all share a name.

A few months later, Fartbuster and I came to babysit you, so your parents could go out in the world. That’s a tale I’ve told already in Saved By a Nectarine. I owe you a thank you for that episode, really. If it hadn’t been for your diaper catastrophe, Fartbuster and I might have had kids together. Thank you for scaring him off. I owe you one.

grant 3

 

You were too young to remember Fartbuster. Much like you, Aunt Ashweeeee spent those couple of years learning how to walk on my own and learning how to feed myself and learning how to move around out in the world. There was one night when I came over to babysit you and I was just gutted with sadness. As much as I loved you, being around you awakened this fear that I would never have a child. I’d never have someone to love me the way your mom and dad love each other. And to top it all off, I woke up the next morning with a giant zit on my chin. You asked me, “What dat?” and I almost sobbed the answer: “It’s a grown up kind of boo boo.” But with a simple little kiss, you made it better. You fixed a little part of my heart that day. Thank you. I got the courage to go out in the world again.

grant 5

 

I don’t know if you remember Uncle Richard. Y’all hit it off right away. I brought him to Callaway Gardens to meet everyone. You and Jackson were playing in a giant pile of leaves and Richard took a few steps back, got a running start, and did a flip right into the pile. Your face lit up like you had found one of your kind roaming around in the world. He was a lot of fun and loved you. He proposed to me on your sixth birthday–do you remember that? I called to wish you a happy birthday and said, “Hey, Grant! Uncle Richard asked me to marry him. Should I say yes?” You said, “Sure, I guess so.” I took your advice. Thank you for that.

grant

 

You were too young to know it at the time, but you’ve helped me through some of the toughest days of my life, just by being your joyful self. On the day Richard and I finally got married, your sass kept me focused on the happiness we made that day in our backyard, not on the sadness that was out there in the world. You ate a GIANT piece of cake (More Up, Please!) right under your mom’s nose.

grant 7

 

You and Jake rolled down the hill until you were covered in grass. Richard’s dad had such fun playing with you that day. Thank you for that, for being a little boy so full of life. You and I shared a toast, each with our own kind of bubbly drink. I raised my glass and said, “To the Student of the Week!” and we clinked glasses. You raised your glass and said, “To the bride!”

grant 8

 

Thank you for that.

Not two weeks later, you helped me find a little glimmer of joy again when I was completely lost in grief. I was waiting in the vestibule of the church for the funeral director to bring Richard’s ashes in for the service. For a second, I was by myself in that quiet spot, right out there in the world all by myself. I didn’t know what to do to keep myself together. Then the door cracked open and I saw your dad and mom, looking sad. Before I could say anything, you came busting in and gave me the biggest hug. When I let you go, you rocked back on your heels and said, “Aunt Ashley! We got new shirts!”

Do you know how precious it is to me that I can look back on one of the saddest times of my life and that few seconds of joy is the thing that I remember most vividly? Thank you for that.

grant 9

Well, I better wrap this up because you’ve got a big day ahead. I guess what I’m trying to say is that when you go out into the world, remember that you are never alone. You’ve taught me that lesson over and over in the last almost 19 years. I will come running if you ever need me, Grant, whether you need cake or a new shirt or a hug. I owe you.

Go have fun.

Love,

Aunt Ashwee

Unca Joe, Aunt Fancy, Goose, Aunt Sassy, Aunt Smarty, Aunt Bossy

Unca Joe, Aunt Fancy, Goose, Aunt Sassy, Aunt Smarty, Aunt Bossy

I Teach Her What to Fear

Vivi stood at the edge of the sand bar, tugging at her hair and shrieking:

“MAMA! MAMA! PLEEEEEEASE COME BACK! MOMMY! I DON’T WANT TO DIE!” 

I, already knee-deep in the low tide channel between the sand bar and the beach, turned back and watched her hysteria with my mouth hanging open.

“Baby! What are you talking about? This is the same water we walked across to get out there. You’ve been swimming in it all week. Come ON.”

A dad in a red UGA cap waded between us and asked me out the side of his mouth, “Is she alright?” I mouthed back, “D-R-A-M-A.” He chuckled and kept on going.

My daughter was beside herself with fear about stepping into the ocean water. Why? Jellyfish.

She wailed and howled and begged me to come back. She ran towards the King and Prince in hopes that the land bridge was solid. Nope.

I hollered across the 20 yards that separated us: “Honey, it’s the TIDE–I can’t do anything about it. Even if I walk back that way, we’ve got to get back to the beach through this water. There’s no other solution. I hear you, but you’re going to have to get in the water. It’s only going to get deeper the longer you wait.” She stomped and screeched and cried.

Not sure which of those tactics convinced her, but she finally started a shaky walk to me. I took her hand and we made it to the beach together…ALIVE.

What. The. Hell. This kid as grown up on that beach and in that water. Why now?

An hour earlier, we had left our stuff in the sand and waded over to the giant sand bar on East Beach at St Simons Island. We walked to the farthest tip of the sand bar, right out into the Atlantic. She found a hermit crab and named her Crustina. We put her in a shallow tide pool and watched how quickly she could scuttle around. Vivi dug a channel between two pools so Crustina could spread out. We came up with names for her crabby friends. We reminisced about a few years back when Vivi found her friends, Conchy and Nyquisha.

Then I looked down into the clear water of the tide pool and spotted a jellyfish, about 5 inches long. I showed Vivi how to see the clear jellyfish by looking for its shadow on the sand. We found another one in the same pool. As the tide waters rose around the edges of Crustina’s pool, we watched how the jellyfish moved and ate and even shook off some sand that one of us accidentally dropped on them.

Cannonball jellyfish on St Simon's Island sand bar

Cannonball jellyfish on St Simon’s Island sand bar (look for it right above the shadow)

But time and tide wait for no one, so with pink shoulders and wind-tangled hair, we scooted Crustina to the seaward edge of her pools and waved goodbye to the jellies. As we walked along the beach side of the sand bar in search of the easiest crossing point, I saw a REAL jellyfish in the shallows–one about a foot long, pinkish, with feathery tentacles fluttering behind it.

“Now this is the kind you don’t want to touch, even if you see them washed up on the beach. I once fell off of a jet ski in the middle of Chesapeake Bay and got one of these wrapped around my leg.”

“Did you have to go to the hospital???’

“No, Aunt Beth rubbed Adolph’s seasoning salt on it and made some pina coladas. It quit stinging after a while.”

And not two minutes later I started into the water to make my way back to our pile of towels and flip flops on the beach and Vivi started her meltdown.

Because of the jellyfish I had shown her. Not the goofy little cannonball jellyfish in the tide pool, but the menacing tentacled one…in the water that I then ordered her to step into.

Oh look. A very special Parenting Moment.

I teach her what to fear

 

Vivi is at that precarious age where we are beginning to give her more freedom, but that comes along with the responsibility for taking care of yourself. I need to show her the thing to be aware of, the place to be careful, but in doing that, I tipped the balance too far and taught her what to fear. 

While we held hands and made our way back to land, I talked to her about how feelings can get us all worked up and the only thing that will balance them out is facts.

“See all these parents taking their kids out to the sand bar? Do you think we would be doing that if it were dangerous? See that green flag on the lifeguard chair? That means the water’s safe. If there were a bunch of jellyfish around, we would see them washed up all over the beach–we only saw the one. And that’s the first one you’ve seen in TEN YEARS!”

She snuffled a bit and asked more questions about THE ONE JELLYFISH that was clearly plotting to take us down. I kept pointing her back to facts so that the feelings would have time to wear themselves down a little. I mean, I was annoyed as hell with all the hysterics, but Parenting Moment.

We made it to shore. Later that afternoon, we came back down to play in the big waves of high tide. She got in that water every day for a week.

I couldn’t quit thinking about it, though, how it was my pointing out the “bad” jellyfish that triggered her fear. Would it have been better not to mention the stinging tentacles? To let her learn about jellyfish the hard way some other day? Because knowing that a thing is possible invites it into her consciousness. That’s the hard balance of parenting for me–wanting her to be equipped with knowledge, but not knowing for sure if she’s ready for knowledge.

This morning, a college sister who is also a reverend, shared a passage from Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” that spoke to my mothering struggle:

“I beg you to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart

and to try to love the questions themselves

as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.

Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.

And the point is to live everything.

Live the questions now.

Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

She has to live the questions now. We both do. I have to lead her into the water, dark and deep, even though I have been stung before. The world is out there on the other side of our fears.

 

rilke - i beg you to patient

Pour a Little Coke on Your Windshield

Saturday morning, when it was time to start the three-hour drive to fetch Vivi from camp, G handed me his keys. “You drive? I’m still eh-sleepy.”

Not a problem. Except I HATE driving his minivan. I can’t see anything in that vehicle. There are extra mirrors stuck to the side mirrors. DVD screens that block the back window. Paper and shit hanging from his rearview mirror (seriously, he still has the car rider pass from two years ago up there). The air conditioning is set on 62 and blowing hard enough to sweep Dorothy out of Kansas. Every control is opposite from my car. He puts the parking brake on even when he’s parked on flat ground. Makes me nuts but that’s why it’s his car and not mine.

I got over all of that stuff by the end of our driveway, but as soon as I started going up the hill to leave the neighborhood, the sun hit the windshield and I was blinded by…schmutz. Not rain or dew or ice…just blurry gunk.

I searched blindly with my left hand for the wiper/washer control. “What are you doing?” he sighed from the passenger seat.

“Trying to clean the windshield–it’s got crap all over it. I can’t see.”

“It looks fine to me,” he retorted, then showed me the wiper control. The wash helped some but I still felt like I was peering through a gray haze.

In the drive thru while we waited on breakfast, I kept squinting and bobbing around looking for a clean spot. “Is it on the inside?” I wiped the inside of the glass with a fast food napkin. It came away clean. I muttered, “It’s something on the outside…”

“DO YOU WANT ME TO DRIVE? IS THAT WHAT THIS IS ABOUT?”

“NO, I WANT TO CLEAN THE WINDSHIELD SO I CAN SEE TO DRIVE.”

“THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THE WINDSHIELD.”

“Maybe you can’t see it…” I started, but G cut me off with a scoff-snorted “…oh for godsake! REALLY?”

I turned on him. “I’m serious! You forget I’ve had Lasik surgery! I have better than 20/20 vision! IT IS POSSIBLE THAT I ACTUALLY CAN SEE SOMETHING THAT YOU PHYSICALLY CAN’T!”

The sweet teenager with a blonde pony tail leaned out of the drive thru window to pass me our drinks with a worried smile. It wasn’t even 8 a.m. and she’s got people hollering about ghosts in a silver minivan. I jammed the massive cup of Diet Coke in the console and passed food and drinks to the boys.

dirty windshield

That’s when I remembered my Pop’s trick from his truck driving days: if your windshield is foggy, pour a little Co-Cola on it. So I pulled up to that spot where they make you wait when the fries aren’t ready and hopped out of the car with my Diet Coke and a handful of napkins. I poured a line of Diet Coke across my side of the windshield and started rubbing in circles. GUNK sluffed off of that glass enough to turn the napkin black on both sides. Pure-T GUNK.

I tried not to gloat.

(I think it’s the citric acid in the Coke that works the magic, so Diet works just as well as raglar. And I guess you heathens who drink gagPepsigag could try that. I would ask our resident chemist but he still swears there is nothing wrong with that windshield. AHEM.)

((Oh, and of course after all that drive thru drama, the story took a stupid turn 20 minutes down the road when Carlos announced he had a tummy ache which precipitated us turning right around for home, them staying there all day while I drove across the state in my own dang car. And damn if the windshield was covered in bugs but I was low on Diet Coke at that point and had to prioritize.))

Anywho.

This incident got me to thinking. I honestly do think that maybe this windshield thing that G and I have argued about every time I have driven his car for the last five years might be grounded in a very real physical difference. He thinks I’m just making it up because he doesn’t see anything there. I think he’s being a stubborn ass because IT’S RIGHT THERE. But the crux of our disagreement is data-based: my eyes take in a different range of data. My experience of the world is different than his when it comes to looking at things. He looks at the glass and sees the same level of gray as he does elsewhere (honestly, there are 40-11 pairs of reading glasses laying around this house and none of them are mine). I look at the same glass and see a problem that needs fixing. Instead of assuming that the other person might see it differently, we start arguing with each other about who is RIGHT.

There are people who can’t see the difference between red and green. I’m not going to argue with them about that in the drive thru. There are synesthetes who can smell colors and see sounds–I hope they wouldn’t blame me for not knowing what blue smells like. People lose taste buds as they age, so maybe the dinner really is too spicy for the kids.

The longer I spent in the car by myself, the more I thought about how often we forget (or ignore) that other people might be experiencing the same world in a vastly different way. They’re really not doing it just to be stubborn asses or precious snowflakes or whatever word we use to mock those who react to the world in a different way.

If I, as a white person, have a hard time seeing racism, that doesn’t mean it’s not there–it means I don’t see it. It’s up to me to polish my lens so that I can see it. I sure can see misogyny that a person who hasn’t moved through the world as a woman might miss. No one can tell me that we live in a post-sexism world because I have a lifetime of experiences that are grounded in the inequal balance of power between the sexes.

We cannot argue people out of their lived experience. We shouldn’t even try.

Imagine how different our morning would have been if I hadn’t needed to make G admit that the windshield was dirty–that I was RIGHT. Imagine if he had helped me clean the windshield even though it didn’t interfere with his driving? What if we had met each other with grace and generosity?

Meeting people with grace and generosity, even when they are describing a world that is different from what you see. Helping fix a problem that doesn’t affect you. Asking questions to understand another’s experience–that’s like pouring some Coke on your windshield. Clears things so we can see each other better.

Your Children Are Not Your Children

I had three encounters today that brought to mind these words from Lebanese poet and artist, Kahlil Gibran:

On Children
by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Khalil Gibran at the age of 15. Photograph by Fred Holland Day, c. 1898.

Khalil Gibran at the age of 15. Photograph by Fred Holland Day, c. 1898.

Vivi, Away

We went through this together last year, right? Vivi being away at camp during her birthday week? Me not being able to make a fuss over her, all that rigamarole. I’ve been doing a lot better this year. Even when I miss her, I know she is safe and enjoying herself. I’ve had very few moments of panic that she might be curled up under her bed in the tent, crying because no one has told her that they love her that day. I’m cool…really.

But it’s been FOUR DAYS and I had yet to see a photo of her posted in the nightly album of scenes from the day. On the first night, I was slightly alarmed at this picture of my firstborn standing in the center of a pack of somber girls:

They're either learning how to raise the flag or acting out Lord of the Flies.

They’re either learning how to raise the flag or acting out Lord of the Flies.

Then today I made a teensy request (with only a touch of hysteria), because it’s her birthday, for a photo of my girl. The camp director replied “We’re on it!” and soon I was holding back tears at the sight of this beautiful creature:

Love many, trust few, and always paddle your own canoe.

Love many, trust few, and always paddle your own canoe.

Who is this woodland spirit? This daughter of Life’s longing for itself, she reminds me every day that “life goes not backwards.” I may spend today thinking back to the moment she was born, how Daddy reassured me “She’s pinking up real nice” when her Apgar score wasn’t so hot the first time. For me, this day is about then. For her, it’s about TODAY–a crown made from pipe cleaners, a cake to share with her unit, a care package filled with books and glow sticks and confetti eggs. She spent today learning to paddle her own canoe, discovering who she is today and getting ready for who she’ll be tomorrow.

Dancing with Jack

“You want to hop out at the door or do you want me to walk in with you?”

“Walk wif me.”

Carlos is at Extra Special People camp this week, and even though he is comfortable and knows from last summer that it’s a fun place, he still needs a hand to hold when we first walk in.

The first activity of the day at ESP is “Flag.” All campers gather around on the lawn to sing, dance, and brag on each other. It’s pretty loud for Carlos, so he hangs back around the periphery with his coach. I tried to coax him up to the circle, and he managed it for a while, but he kept floating back to the shelter of the sidewalk.

Then along came Jack. I know his mother from work, so I know all about Jack but he doesn’t know me. Jack is autistic and doesn’t speak. He’s not a big fan of shoes, but he does like hugs. His shirt today said, “THUG LIFE – drop the T and get over here!” Jack likes to stay on the move during Flag, so his coach was following close behind him to make sure he was safe.

Jack walked past me, just a few inches away, and I reflexively leaned down to his eye level and said, “Hey, Jack!” As soon as I said it, I thought, “Oh, that’s right…Jack doesn’t talk,” and I scrambled to think of how to communicate with him since talking is kind of my thing. But before I could chase my rabbit too far, Jack looked me right in the eye for a moment and smiled. I stuck out my hand for a high five and got two. Then two more, then low fives, then middle fives, then around the side fives and pretty soon we were both giggling. Then I got a hug from Jack and my heart cracked wide open.

His bare foot scraped across my shoe and caught his attention. Jack turned himself around then carefully put his feet on top of my feet so that we could move together. He offered me his hands and I slowly began to turn in small steps, making a circle in the cool early morning grass. We danced for a little while then Jack went on his way.

I had assumed that I wouldn’t know how to talk to Jack because he wouldn’t talk back to me. But we figured it out when Jack showed me the way–start with love then take little steps from there. “You may give them your love, but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts…You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.”

Thank you, Jack, for reminding me how to make a friend without using any words.

Twilight Rockets

End of the day fatigue led to a parenting mistake: I opened a box from Amazon in front of Carlos without remembering what was in it. Along with a Brandi Carlisle CD for me, I had ordered some Rocket Copters with the aim of taking them to the beach. They’re little plastic darts with wings and LED lights that you launch from a slingshot. They sail 120 feet in the air, spinning/blinking/whistling then plummet down to land on your roof or a nearby tree. Hence my aim to keep them a secret until we were at the beach and had a wide open space.

“Can we do them now, Mama?”

“We have to wait until dark.”

“Is dark now, Mama? When’s dark? Is dark after dinner or after bath? Is dark at bedtime or book time? Is dark now, Mama? How about now?”

I was so tired and so not wanting to have to put on bug spray and shoes to shoot a stupid rocket ONCE before I had to dig out the ladder to climb up on the roof. I hid the rockets in my room in hopes that he would forget about them.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…RIGHT.

After bath time and before book time, with his wet hair slicked down like Rudolph Valentino, Carlos came into the den and chirped, “Is it dark now, Mama?”

Dark enough, Baby.

We went out to the deck and I shot the first one straight up…and into the pool. While I went downstairs to fish it out (with the LED light still blinking, so these are actually pretty sturdy little toys), G shot the second one…onto the roof.

I stayed down by the water to rescue any that came my way and G stayed on the deck with Carlos to fetch the ones that hit the roof. For a good 10 minutes as night fell around us and the bats flitted through the graying sky, we shrieked and squealed and laughed. After a few duds, Carlos eventually figured out the magic of a slingshot, how the power is in both the hand that holds steady and the hand that pulls back.

Each needs the other to work. “You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” All this bending that we have to do as parents, it’s so that our children can fly strong and true to the horizon.

Let our bending be for gladness.

carlos tribal summer esp

Living or Nonliving

How do we know if it’s living?

A few weeks ago, after he had spent an afternoon with me at my office, Carlos and I stepped off the curb and cut a diagonal across the parking lot towards my car.

“Mama? What’s trees–living or non-living?”

“What do you think?”

“Living.”

“What tells you that they’re living?”

“Trees can grow. They drink water and eat…what trees eat?”

“Um…They absorb some nutrients from the ground through their roots. And I guess you could say they eat sunshine–they can turn it into energy like you turn food into energy.”

I pointed to a sleek gray Tesla parked in the spot reserved for the radiation oncologist. “What about a car? It drinks gas and it can move around. Living or non-living?”

He giggled. “Cars are non-living.” Before I could ask him, Carlos asked, “Why cars non-living?”

“They can’t grow or change or make more cars.”

He clambered up into his car seat and while I fixed the tangled straps he pulled his prized rocks out of the cup holder.

“Rocks are non-living.”

“Exactly. They don’t eat or grow or change.”

“There are fwee types of rocks,” he told me. “Igmeous, selementary, and mectamorphic.”

“Good job, bud.”

I love kindergarten science.

 

beach-2217043_1920

 

The Thin and Sudden Line Between

A few hours after Carlos and I talked about living and non-living in the hospital parking lot, I got word from my cousin that her mother was going into hospice care. Aunt Dixie, who baked the prettiest pink cake that ever was, had been sick for over a year with a lung infection that just wouldn’t give in. But even as sick as she was for as long as she was, she was still 100% living. I pictured the delicate green chair that she had been sitting in on Christmas Eve. Everything else in that room is the same, the chair waits for her, but she is gone. That’s the way it goes–we’re absolutely alive and suddenly we are absolutely not.

I was there when Richard slipped across that profound line between living and non-living. When I leaned over him to check his oxygen cannula, he was living. The strange clatter of his ragged breath disappeared into the air between us. I straightened the clear plastic tube under his nose to make sure he was getting all he needed. Was it the silence or the stillness that I noticed first? He took no next breath.

I think now about that first blustery day when we met on the side of the highway, the first time we stood close to each other and our breath mingled in the living air. Saying hello, and help, and thank you for the first time. I value every breath from that first March day to the last March day. He was 100% living and NEVER gave up. I suppose that’s why, even after 10 months of watching cancer eat away at him cell by cell, the moment when he slipped across that thin line took my breath away.

 

Left: Beach gravel Right: Leukemia cells

Left: Beach gravel
Right: Leukemia cells

Some Things, Say The Wise Ones

By Mary Oliver

Some things, say the wise ones who know everything,
are not living. I say,
You live your life your way and leave me alone.

I have talked with the faint clouds in the sky when they
are afraid of being behind; I have said, Hurry, hurry!
and they have said, Thank you, we are hurrying.

About cows, and starfish, and roses there is no
argument. They die, after all.

But water is a question, so many living things in it,
but what is it itself, living or not? Oh, gleaming

generosity, how can they write you out?

As I think this I am sitting on the sand beside
the harbor. I am holding in my hand
small pieces of granite, pyrite, schist.
Each one, just now, so thoroughly asleep.

The last trip Richard and I took together was to Maine. We sat beside a harbor like the one Mary Oliver captured in this poem. He ate a cinnamon roll that was bigger than his head. I took a picture of our feet with the boats as a background. Richard had burned with a strange and painful fever the night before, but that morning we were 100% living.

At a beach made of smooth pink stones in Acadia National Park, I slipped two small rocks into my pocket. All these years later, those rocks are asleep upstairs in a bowl on the book shelf. A pair of ancient and silent stones that aren’t living and never have been, but when I hold them in my hand, something else comes to life, a memory. A memory of living, a generous time when I lived my life my way and cheered on the clouds. A memory of the days when our life was blindly and blandly about living. A few days after that, Richard was diagnosed with leukemia and our days became consumed with staying alive.

Given the fear and sadness that entered my life on Richard’s last breath, given the hollow fact that Carlos won’t remember his Papa, my Daddy who would have been 75 today…How will I teach Carlos about living? Not just the facts about living, but the giddy joy of living? The living in a world of pink smooth stones, whether we can say if they are igmeous or mectamorphic. The living in a world of roses and starfish that are always going to die, every one of them every time.

I will teach him to love it all. Oh, my dear boy, the easiest way to tell whether something is living is to know that it can die. Love anyway.

18922053_10211322459570270_2852039268482776682_n

The Pivot

This is the stairwell between the first floor of my hospital and the basement, the route that leads to the cafeteria. In 20 years, I’ve been down these stairs thousands of times. They get repainted every few years and the non-skid safety strips are checked and replaced. This stairwell is mostly used by staff, so it’s not the prettiest–all fluorescent lights and workaday beige.

Maybe it was because I’ve been so contemplative lately, or maybe just that I was walking to lunch alone instead of talking to a friend, but today I had to stop and….stare. Notice anything?

It's OK to stair.

It’s OK to stair.

Every bottom stair has a worn out place. Why is that ONE SPOT worn away when the rest of the stairs are fine?

Couple of reasons:

It’s the lowest point. No matter if you start out at the top of the stairs walking to the left or right, if you’re in a crowd or alone, if you stop to hold the door for others, by the time you get to that lowest step, you’re in single file. Nobody’s swinging wide to go around a blind corner. Like cows in a chute, we arrange ourselves into an orderly pace and space to take that corner. We draw closer to the wall, to make ourselves safe from whatever might be barreling around the blind turn. Or we make ourselves small to keep from barreling around the corner.

It’s the spot where you pivot. Halfway down the stairwell, you have to switchback. One hundred and eighty degree turn in the opposite direction. Our graceful bodies teeter on that narrow bottom step, then without even thinking about it, all our weight shifts onto the ball of the foot and with an elegant little swing of the hips we change direction. But pivoting our entire body weight on about a 1-inch spot in the sole creates a lot of pressure. It’s far more pressure to change the direction in which we’re moving.

Everybody’s doing it. Every foot that takes those stairs hits THAT spot. Over a few weeks, hundreds of thousands of feet use that stairwell and because we are creatures of habit, every foot hits that spot. THAT SPOT. The total surface area of the stairs is irrelevant, because not every square inch is used equally. It’s that ONE SPOT that takes the beating.

And I guess I had to stop myself from crying in the stairwell because that little worn-out spot called to me. We have so much in common right now, that little spot and me. I’ve been at my lowest for the last few months, clinging to the wall and hesitant about going around the corner. Life is forcing me to pivot. I’m going in one direction then BAM…a 180 is required. And it seems that everybody’s doing that. Raise your hand if you’re feeling ground down and a little dizzy from the switching back and forth.

Even with 195 drafts in my folder, I couldn’t bring myself to write for an entire month. And this story right here might be in the bottom 10% of my output over the last four years. Look at that photo…terrible! How am I going to SEO this post about hospital basement linoleum and depression?

I tried to learn more about the idea behind the worn out pivot, but that led me down a rabbit hole of Newtonian mechanics and Pinterest boards for best patterned carpets to hide wear on your stairs.

So this drab picture of a scuffed up spot on a basement stairwell is what I’ve got for today. I wrote about it because it made me feel something. If you’ve read this far, please accept my apologies. I’m sorry that I made you read this drivel, and I’m even more sorry that I haven’t trusted you with the stuff that’s clanging around in my head. But here we are at the bottom, so it’s time to pivot.

See you soon.

 

 

 

I Miss You So Much

March is a tough month for me. It’s filled with days that mattered to Richard and me, days that have become sad milestones since…well, since March 16th, 2005. The day he stopped breathing while I was looking at wedding pictures from March 5th. Our eleven days we got to say “husband” and “wife.” Only eleven days of that privilege after Just four short years together. We met on March 6, 2001, or “Alternator Day” as we called it because if it weren’t for the crapped out alternator in my Ford Escort, he never would have stopped to help me on the side of the highway on that blustery March day. March will always be the month when we said hello for the first time and the month when we said goodbye for the last time.

March is spring break, too. These days, spring break is about keeping the kids occupied and edified. When I find myself in the screaming pit of LEGOLand or trying to explain why a tomahawk might not be the best souvenir for a 6 year old, it’s hard not to pine for the days when spring break meant exploring Roman ruins in Germany, or scootering around Bermuda, or searching for Icelandic food in Prague. Comparisons are odious, but chicken nuggets and french fries for every freaking meal are too.

March is when the azaleas bloom. The ones we planted. This year, they bloomed while we were away on spring break, then the late freeze got them all. I missed them.

March is about missing.

Last Friday, my department went on a retreat to an indoor skydiving place in Marietta. Before we talked about goals and expectations and team building, we sat around the conference table for breakfast. Max laughed about his fear of jumping into the wind tunnel. I started to tell the story of that time that Richard and I went skydiving.

When I was done with the part that I do tell, I bit into a catering strawberry and remembered the part I don’t tell. The part where Richard and I went back to my house with all that adrenaline and we sat on the floor in the kitchen and drank a bottle of tepid champagne while I giggled over my first freefall. He had leapt from planes with the Army, but never done freefall from 15,000 feet, so we both did some giggling. We lay in my backyard hammock under the dappled shade of oak trees and when I said I was hungry, he returned from the house with a silver footed bowl filled with strawberries. I laughed at the ridiculous pomp of that bowl and he said he had seen it on top of the refrigerator and thought it suited the day. It’s been years since I’ve thought of those strawberries. That day was in May, strawberry weather. We spent the whole afternoon in that hammock, eating strawberries and being more alive than we had been the day before.

strawberries-1390893_1920

 

Last week, I sat in the conference room and my mind went back through the pictures of that day. As is my habit when I summon up those images, I look for Richard and I think about how much I miss him now that he is gone.

But something shifted that morning. When I summoned up the picture of us standing in the hangar, suiting up, my mind’s eye drifted from him…to me. My bold and smiling self. Me wearing lipstick because I had paid extra for the in-air video. Me walking towards the plane on legs that wobbled with fear. Me checking Dan’s wrist altimeter and the pro skydivers laughing that I thought 1000 feet was high enough.

I saw that woman in my memory, my boldest self, and I blurted to her, “I miss you so much.”

sky diving

I miss her.

I miss being the kind of person who can live out of a backpack for two weeks. I miss eating strawberries out of a silver bowl. I miss riding trains and ferries and buses. I miss eating at restaurants that serve foods I can’t pronounce. I miss cathedrals and kayaks and funiculars and Korean barbecue. I miss lipstick.

Yes, I miss Richard, especially in March. But I have fallen into the habit of looking at my memories of adventure and only seeing him, that part of the picture that can never be again. I miss him, but I miss her, too.

Maybe I miss her even more than I miss him.

She’s still here, still living a life filled with chances to giggle and be astonished, but she’s spending hours sitting on the couch playing Scrabble on a phone. There are Ethiopian restaurants and glamping yurts and jazz combos within 20 miles of my bedroom. There’s a kayak in the basement and a river in the backyard. There’s a university down the street and I can skip out of work an hour early to go hear Nikki Giovanni read poems about falling in love. There is grace and there is love and in a few weeks there will be strawberries.

I miss her so much. Tell her I’ll be there as soon as I get my lipstick on.

I stayed giddy for days!