Walk This Way

Through a mixed-up series of not-very-interesting events, I ended up walking two miles this afternoon in last year’s flip-flops. After I snuffed out my irritation, and jettisoned the useless shoes, I found myself noticing things about my town that despite traveling these roads every day, I had never observed before. There is something about traveling on foot that opens my eyes.

In an effort to capitalize on/make fun of the popularity of the HBO series, the coffee shop had a pastry display entitled, “Game of Scones.” I usually go to the Starbucks, since the chain has better parking, but I made a mental note to give this local shop another try next time I need java out. Two doors down, I saw a sign advertising a “World-famous Comedy Traffic School.” I puzzled over this. Was this a comedy school that had a lot of traffic come through its doors, i.e. had trained a lot of comics? Or was it a Traffic School that taught with great humor? Either way, I had never heard of the joint and it was only about a mile from my house. I will have to look it up.

The local art museum had a new exhibit opening. I am forever making tentative plans to go there, but have yet to set one foot in the door. Since there was no line and no cover, I took a slow (barefoot) lap around the gallery. It occurred to me that, in general, canvases depicting naked folks on trapezes are not my aesthetic. But, I feel thankful to live in a place that encourages artistic endeavors, and I moved on.

I picked up a flyer for a Pilates studio in the basement of the knitting studio nearby. Everybody I know who does Pilates is rail thin. Did Pilates make them that way or is Pilates a skinny girl sport? Is it even fair to call it a sport? What is the difference between exercise and sport anyway? Jerseys? Competition? A snack bar? I was distracted from answering this question by what seemed to be a disproportionate amount of dog poop smashed into the sidewalk on Main Street. When I visited Paris, I remember this, too. Shop owners hosed off their sidewalks most mornings. We have weekly street sweeping in town. I know because I was ticketed a few weeks ago for not moving my car. But do we have sidewalk cleaners? Or maybe folks should just clean up after their dogs.

As I turned off into my hood, I noticed that one of my neighbors still has Christmas decorations up. A trumpeting angel. And quite a few strands of lights. Or maybe s/he was getting a jump start on this upcoming season. There is quite a bit of peer pressure around here to deck out your house and yard. Another neighbor has turned four or five kiddie pools into makeshift garden beds. Both cool and tacky. I decided we should all be friends.

As I arrived home, sore-footed and sweaty, it occurred to me that I could probably apply this same exercise in perspective to my own family. We trip and stumble out the door most days, late to something, forgetting something else. Most days, I think the kids know exactly what I am going to say even before I say it.

“Can I play on the iPad?”

“Did you fold your clothes yet?”

“Can I have a snack?”

“You can have veggies.”

And so on, and so on.

We get in ruts, and travel the same well-worn paths. I hustle them along without really hearing them. Without seeing.

With the start of summer vacation this week, I think what excites me most is the chance to take some new steps together — to walk, bike, jump, and hike — to open our eyes to one another, and be surprised by what we discover hidden in plain sight.

PS — Speaking of noticing, this is my new favorite family portrait.  Lizzie drew it.  First off, look how skinny I am.  Seriously, my legs go on for days.  Second, look how no one is crying or hitting or spitting soup back into a bowl.  When my kid thinks about her family, this is what she sees:  smiling people holding hands.  This warms my heart.



Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

There Is Life After a Miscarriage

It has been four years since the miscarriage and I have never written a word.

It is not because of grief. I have been sad sometimes. But days here are full. I have the other children tumbling about.

It is not because I am shy. As writers go, I am confessional and self-effacing. I am not afraid to talk about fear or nakedness or the bald patch forming where I part my hair.

No, it is not sadness or timidity. I have not written about the miscarriage because I feel shame. I blame myself. I think maybe it was my fault.

I did not trampoline or drink wine. I did not use nasal spray or sneak sushi.

But I must have done something. Because that baby died inside of me, and I have kept it a secret for a long time.

Even the name itself—miscarriage—suggests fault. There was a misstep, misconduct, some miscalculation. I did not carry that child like I should have.

Was it the heavy trash bag I lifted? The bending over to tidy the living room? How I reached on my tippy toes for the potato chips above the fridge? I am haunted by the slip-up I will never know.

I am not usually euphoric at the start of my pregnancies. I am struck by how not pregnant I feel in those early weeks and months. There is no kicking, little heartburn, and I seldom suffer morning sickness.

But I was particularly attached to this unborn child. I found out I was pregnant the week my grandfather was dying. Aside from my husband, Grandpa Kel was the first person I told. He was unconscious at the time, his breathing labored, his skin feathery and pale. Hospice had already been called in. I sat by my grandfather’s bed, held his cool hand, and told him about the baby we were expecting. If he kept my secret, I said, maybe we would name it after him.

He did keep the secret. Grandpa died the next morning. Two months later, the baby died, too.

We planted an azalea after it was over. A beautiful coral one. When it flowered, my husband and I would sit on the front porch and remember the child that was ours for a bit and then wasn’t. When we sold that house, I agonized over whether to bring the small tree with us. The cross-country journey would be long, the truck hot. Would the new climate be a good fit? We did not want to destroy the only life we had left, our small symbol of what we lost. In the end, we left it.

But I think of him sometimes—in my mind it was a boy, though we never asked for sure—I think of our tree baby, alone in the yard of a stranger, and I know we made the wrong choice. We should have kept him with us, no matter the risk. We should have tried harder to make conditions right.

But, of course, we couldn’t. That’s the way it is with trees. And, sometimes, with pregnancies.

Bodies know. They know better than we do when to hold on and when to let go.

Families who have endured a miscarriage are seldom counseled through the process. This is the only loss we sweep under the rug. We tiptoe when we want to scream. My OB/GYN quietly cancelled my remaining appointments. I switched doctors soon after and never went back to that office again.

But I have carried the sorrow. I have been haunted by the child who never arrived. Our minivan could comfortably carry another. Tables are made for even-numbered families. When the sun shines on the empty seat in our breakfast nook, I swallow back grief.

So I speak today to anyone who has held this heartache:

You did not mis-carry anything. Your body chose this ending. Your body knew the path. It is okay to be sad and angry for as long as you need. But do not sit in silence. Do not weep in shame. Because this was not your fault.

This was never your fault.


 sunset behind darkened trees