Browsing Tag

love

Birthday-mania

You Say It’s Your Birthday?

So it was my birthday again yesterday. As usual, no balloons, no party, no fuss. Unless you count the kids arguing over who got to crack the eggs and their shells into my homemade chocolate cake. Just another day trying to love my children the best that I can.

The photograph you see here is not an AFTER shot. This is not the cake as it was after we had enjoyed our delicious little slices. This is the BEFORE. This is the cake we managed to create when the children complained they did not even like cake, or frosting, and so they wanted sprinkles, and Heath bar pieces, M & M’s, marshmallows, and whipped cream. I cut and plated pieces for all three kids to decorate themselves before we even decorated mine. This crumbling, chocolate Pac-Man cake was the finished product.

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The candles, well, we could only find the six we used back in August for Lizzie’s birthday. They started out as balloons, I think, but after repeated use, they looked like rainbow-colored apples with little half-moon bites taken out of each one. As the kids sang their birthday “Cha-cha-cha,” I could see the candles smiling knowingly at me. “You are almost there,” they implied. “Almost there.”

Because parental birthdays, as many of us have experienced, are a matter of survival. Can we just make it through the day before someone barfs, yells at, or pees on Mom? Any other day, any one of those things happens, and nobody bats an eye. But a birthday? Nobody wants to be the weakest link. And the pressure, Oh the miserable pressure, of trying so hard all day long to be extra special nice to Mommy…it’s exhausting. For everyone.

So as ridiculous as it was to share my cake, my candles, and my day with them, that is the grown-up reality of birthdays with children. I do not blame folks who flee to Vegas or Hawaii or NYC. Or those who cash in their about-to-expire Groupons for an overnight at the Casino or some quaint B & B. But if you are not going to hide from your children on your birthday, you are going to have to share it with them. And they will want a piece of everything. They will take bites out of your cake before you frost it. They will unwrap your presents, blow out your candles, and ask for extra snuggle time when you are trying to drink a freshly brewed cup of birthday tea. This can all seem utterly unreasonable — these demands, these pieces, these needs. But it is actually just love.

And, whether I like it or not, one by one, each of their birthdays long ago replaced my birthday, as the most important day of my life. This one? This old bag? It’s just frosting.

With sprinkles. And marshmallows.

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Dreams

Video Killed the Radio Star

Katie and I were interviewed oh-so-briefly today for a fledgling TV talk show. Ordinarily, I avoid video cameras. Not just because they add 10-15 pounds to my already substantial frame, but also because I dislike sounding like an idiot. A relative stranger asks me a question, and in thirty seconds or less, I try to string together an articulate thought. If (when) I do not, the video happens anyway, and filters out into the world where it can mock me forever. I am altogether too flappable for such an endeavor. And too much of a chicken.

However, Katie has disliked weekdays lately. She and school have not exactly been simpatico. As a partial antidote, we have made a plan to infuse after-school hours with activities she enjoys. More swimming. More adventure. More “just us” afternoons. And, since we live in Los Angeles now, she would like to audition for a film. Ideally, she would like her first role to be Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies. But since that part has already been taken, we did this television interview instead.

And it was great.

Kind of. I mean, the finished product looks ridiculous. One of us is always on the verge of laughing. My eyes shut every time I speak, and my ears seem unusually crooked. Plus, has anyone studied the relationship between a rolling camera and a melting brain? Despite the fact that I compose sentences for a living, I could not remember the words tablet or adolescence when answering a question about tweens and technology. Part of me hopes they never air the tape.

Katie, on the other hand, sounded polished and articulate. She was thoughtful and humble and absolutely radiant on film. So there is this other part of me, the grown-up part, that desperately hopes they do air it. It may wound my pride, but it would bolster hers.

Ken and I muse sometimes about our purpose here on this planet – the ambition that drives us, the schemes we have deferred. He will probably never be a marine biologist or an astronaut. And I don’t think even an off-off-Broadway director is going to cast me as the saucy heroine in a new musical comedy. But we are making peace with these defeats. And adjusting our aims. Besides, it has occurred to us that our biggest mission here on earth is to be of service to our children. To raise them to be decent humans, to help them set their goals, to be the fire that fuels their dreams. Even if it means embarrassing ourselves from time to time on national television, it is worth the humiliation to see our kids soar.

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Interview Practice Introduction — Take 11

The Writing Process

Interrupting Ducks

“Whatever you do, don’t bother Mom while she’s writing,” cautioned Ken as he zipped out to the garage.

Which is why Katie only asked for a little help with her candy-making stand. She needed marshmallows. And caramels. And Rice Krispies. And chocolate molds. And wax paper.

“Mom is writing, so just let her be,” reminded Ken as he opened his computer.

Which is why Lizzie only needed me to photograph three of the costumes that she put on her stuffed pig.

And why Henry crawled into my lap and fell asleep.

Our kids drive me batty sometimes. They do not understand the sanctity of my work time.

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Then again, they are the inspiration for my work. Their shenanigans fuel my stories; their silliness softens my heart. Because of them, I get to say all manner of things I have never said before.

     No, Lizzie, it is not ‘illegal’ to kick a volleyball.

     No, Henry, you cannot bring three owls and a puppy into church.

     No, Katie, I will not eat that spider for a dollar.

     Yes, Lizzie, I would love to see your pig’s new talent show.

     Girls, stop fighting over that cucumber.

     Lizzie, even if Katie said she would pay you a dollar, please do not shoot that arrow at your father’s butt.

     No, thank you, Katie. I do not want a chocolate-covered hard-boiled egg.

I sometimes envy my writer friends who have offices, computer desks, and uninterrupted hours in which to create.

When I really need to do serious writing, I drive to the grocery store. They have a couple tables near the check out. It is quieter there. Plus, afterwards, I can buy milk.

But mostly, I prefer to write past bedtime. I tuck myself here in the alcove, just me and the spiders, and maybe a cup of tea.  I type through the shadows, thankful, always so very thankful, that the kids’ stories light up the dark.

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Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

Too Many Children

I hate school mornings.

I loathe the insistence of my alarm clock.

I dislike my kids’ complaints, moans, and grumbles as I compel them out of bed.

I hate the swift nutrionlessness of weekday breakfasts – the bagels, the granola bars, the hurried toast.

I detest packing their lunches, slicing vegetables they will not eat, peanut-buttering bread that hopefully they will. Knife work in the morning is good for nobody.

I abhor the drop-off line in front of school. Too many parents driving too quickly. Too many kids dashing in between.

 

But most of all, I hate the thought that hate would ever be the prevailing emotion that my children feel as I send them away.

Because there were children in Oregon who never came home from school today. They were older kids, but they were somebody’s children. And they will never come home again.

 

My challenge for tomorrow: find a way for love to break through the hate.

I think maybe that is everyone’s challenge.

Go hug your kids, folks. Hug your parents, neighbors, teachers, and friends.

May we weave a blanket around our communities so this never happens again.

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Parents = Dope Film Critics

Down with Inside Out

The kids and I saw Inside Out a few weeks back.

My 10-year-old was annoyed it was a cartoon.

My 6-year-old was scared of the clown.

My 3-year-old fell asleep.

But I thought it was awesome. Should be required viewing for anyone between the ages of 9 and 90.

To be fair, becoming a parent has made me a crappy film critic. If the kids are quiet and I have Milk Duds, I’m gonna love the movie, whether it’s Annie or Battlefield Earth. Even if a child stood up and vomited on me (which actually happened during Toy Story 3), I would have given Inside Out two thumbs up. Here’s why: it makes a case for Sadness. It lets us know that Sadness is Okay.

We have really needed that lesson this week.

A few days ago, our dog, Shadow, passed away. In addition to my own grief about the failing pup, I had to figure out how to navigate this event with my kids. Was I going to be strong for them? Or was I going to weep openly? As a child, I remember thinking it was awful when I saw my parents cry. My father wept at my grandfather’s funeral, and I felt like the world might cave in. So, I decided I would be strong for my kids.

I was strong for them. But I was also a big, blubbering mess.dadvmom.com_downwithinsideout_sadnesscrying

I cried when I drove them home from school and told them Shadow was dying. I whimpered when I saw them gather around his soft little body and stroke his fur. I guffawed when my husband took Shadow away. I was emotional. And so were the kids. Katie said it felt like her oldest friend had passed away. She wondered out loud, “what bad thing will happen next?” Lizzie said the next time she saw her best friend’s dog, she was gonna punch it in the nose. I nearly seized upon this remark. “We do NOT punch dogs!” But I was so glad I didn’t. Lizzie went on to explain that it just felt so unfair that anyone else should get to have a dog when we didn’t anymore. She is not a violent person. She was just struggling to translate intense feelings into words.

And Inside Out taught us that that happens sometimes. Feelings like Anger and Fear can get mixed up inside of us. And sometimes it is Sadness that helps us sort them out. Sometimes Sadness even helps bring people together. That’s exactly what it did for me and the girls. We sat on our faded green couch and felt all mixed up for awhile. We laughed about the time Shadow ate fruitcake and remembered how he used to cheat at Hide and Seek. We cried about how he wouldn’t be our night watchman anymore. And expressed remorse that we hadn’t walked him enough lately. Lizzie suggested we get another dog just like Shadow and call him, “Shadow, Jr.” Which prompted me to tell the girls about “rebound relationships” and high school boyfriends, and a whole raft of subjects we had never covered before.  We have lots of Joy-filled afternoons, and I much prefer them, but I would be lying if I did not at least acknowledge that it was the Sadness that slowed us down and helped us take the trouble to understand each other.  The Sadness made us hold one another more closely.

Maybe the girls felt like their world was going to cave when they saw me cry. But I don’t think so.  Plus, it didn’t. We talked for awhile longer and then the kids started hinting about watching a movie. “Even Alexander didn’t have a bad day like this one,” said Katie. We put in a Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It was not nearly as good as the book, but it was also awesome, because it reminded us that even the worst days don’t last forever, especially when you stick with your family through the pain.

It would not be okay if I always used my kids to prop me up in my grief. That is called Depression, and there are hotlines and therapists and medications for that.

But I think every so often, it is healthy for children to see us hurt, to comfort us in our sorrow, and to see firsthand that Sadness has a beginning, a middle, and, especially, an end.

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Brokenheartedness

He Was My Shadow

Every morning for the past three weeks, he has woken me at 4am with his pacing. Collar jangling, looking for God knows what. He has been talking to ghosts lately. He wanders into corners, gets stuck, and lets out a hoarse “woof.” I rouse myself from bed to feed him. Sometimes he eats, sometimes he doesn’t. Under my breath, I curse the sleep he is costing me. But he is sixteen years old, and in my heart I can’t really be angry with him.

When we moved him across the country more than a year ago, we were sure Shadow only had a few months left. But I suspect he knew we still needed him. Every night in this new house, he implemented a rotating shift, sleeping next to each of the kids’ beds, then finally settling next to ours once he determined all was well.

I got the call from my wife around noon. He wouldn’t get up to go outside, and one of his eyes would not open. When I got home, he was still breathing, but barely. He was laying right where I knew he would be, in the fur-covered divot by my side of the bed. When I stretched out next to him, he barely stirred. Then, slowly and with great effort, he lifted his head and laid it on my arm. It was heavier than I ever remember it being. He opened his good eye, looked into mine, and let out a sigh.

“I’m done,” he told me. He had settled us into this new home and made sure we would be okay. He had checked every corner and stood watch every night. He was happy, knowing he had taken good care of this family for 16 years. But he was also tired, and in pain, and he was asking me to make this easier for him.

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I know the difference between sorrow and tragedy. I have lost friends and family members, been to funerals for loved ones taken too soon. Putting down a pet is not a calamity. It is its own special kind of sorrow though, different from any I have felt before. My dog, my best friend, was asking me to take him on his last walk. He had given me everything he possibly could. And never asked for anything in return. Until today.

He sighed again, and there was something of an apology in it. “I am sorry you have to do this,” he told me. I pulled my phone from my pocket and called the vet. He said to come whenever I am ready. I said “a few hours,” to give the kids time for their goodbyes.

On the ride home from school, my wife explained to our children what was happening. They came in quietly and gathered around me and my dog. We ran our hands through his soft fur and told stories about his happier days. Like when he ate the whole fruitcake. Or crashed the wedding party at the beach. At one point, we all laughed. Beyond a doubt, I knew this is how Shadow would want to leave us. Everyone gave him one last squeeze. Lizzie laid a bouquet of flowers, plucked from the yard, by his nose. I cradled him in my arms and carried him to the car. I had not held him like that since he was a puppy.

I asked the vet if I could share one last story. He sat on the floor next to Shadow and me, as I explained about Afghanistan and how this dog helped settle me back home. I could not finish. Shadow laid in my lap, his breathing shallower than before. The doc put a reassuring hand on mine. “This is a dog in pain,” he said. “You’re doing the right thing.” He put in an IV. He flushed the vein. And then . . . .

I laid with Shadow for a long time afterwards, as his body slowly lost its warmth. I buried my head in the soft fur around his neck and let out one last cry. “Such a good dog,” was all I managed to say. When I went home, the kids hugged me and asked about heaven. I told them we would see Shadow there, but I was not really sure.

It is 4am now. I am haunting this house alone, desperate for the jangling of Shadow’s collar. He is the ghost now. Last night I dreamed I saw him across a wide river. He was wagging his tail and pacing happily, something he has not done in a long time. I wondered if he was trying to cross over to me. Then I saw his fur, already wet from a good swim. He wasn’t coming back. He was there waiting. If there is a heaven, our dogs are the ones who let us in.

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This essay was reprinted by Fatherly.com on Oct. 1, 2015.  

Brokenheartedness

The Shadow in My Heart

Our dog is dying again. That is not to suggest that he has been dying before. Only that we are preparing to let go of another beloved pet today and it all feels eerily familiar. Shadow has stopped eating. His breathing is labored at the side of my bed. In an hour, we will bring him to the vet, who will likely tell us there is nothing more we can do. We will say good-bye and hold him tight, and the vet will put him down.

Put him down. There should be such a better euphemism for the death of a devoted 16-year-companion. Raise him up. Settle him in. Nudge him aside. Let him go.

He had a good run. We adopted him when we lived in Washington State, and he has scampered all over this great country. He has swum in both the Atlantic and the Pacific and chased tennis balls everywhere from Tampa to Seattle. He accidentally dismembered a squirrel in South Carolina – I swear, that thing just fell out of a tree and into his mouth – and ate two of our chickens when we lived in Ohio. But otherwise, he has been a lazy little dreamer, afraid of fireworks and marching bands, with a little bark and very little bite. Despite our attempts to feed him only dog food, Shadow has eaten every toaster waffle my 3-year-old son has ever held. He has unpacked every lunch box my daughters have ever left on the living room floor, and acquired a taste for cucumbers and granola bars in the process. And, of course, he has found the bacon no matter how far back on the counter I slid it.

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My husband comes from a dog family, and he has buried several pets. Out of all of them, Shadow is the one he has loved the most. He says Shadow is goodness incarnate, the most thoughtful dog he has ever known. In fact, Shadow is cartoonishly affable. He approaches all guests and welcomes all strangers. Did someone call a dog? He has never once frightened off an intruder or defended our home.

He has been a fixture of our household, this loyal pup that I had begun to think would never ever die.  He has few teeth and cannot hear, and he passes gas like it’s his job. But we have loved this stinky, old, arthritic guy for nearly the full duration of our marriage. I can’t help but feel a part of our shared history is dying with him.

Before our kids, Shadow and Hound (who died a few years ago) were our babies. We vacationed with them, road-tripping from one dog-friendly establishment to the next — except for that one motel in Iowa where we got totally busted for sneaking our dogs in the back entrance. We exercised them, bathed them, fed them, and camped with them. And for many years, they were very, very good to us.dadvmom.com_shadowinmyheart_xmashoundnshadow

Of course, with the birth of each successive child, our puppies slid further down on our priority list. After schlepping both dogs to an unfenced bungalow in Cape Cod, and chasing them down repeatedly, we started kenneling rather than taking them with us. Jogging Shadow led to walking Shadow, which led to keeping him hooked to a doggy clothesline-type thingie in the back yard. We felt guilty about that, but he always understood.

Over these past few years, Shadow has diminished, has seemed so much less of a dog than he ever was. The children throw balls he does not chase and offer biscuits he cannot chew. But if he became less a dog, it was almost like he became more a person – the friend who greeted me excitedly when I returned home, the nurse who kept the kids warm when they were sick, the brown-eyed companion who sensed joy and sadness alike.

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I wonder sometimes why we bother with these animals, when we know it always ends the same. Like bad boyfriends, you give them all your love, and they are destined to leave and break your heart.

The kids want to replace him. They have a list of pets they hope to acquire. Guppies, bunnies, a cat, a turtle, a guinea pig, and a new puppy named “Shadow, Jr.” are all on the list. Though Shadow cannot hear, and does not speak English, I do not like for them to discuss his replacements in front of him. It seems cruel. Also, I’m not sure I have it in me.

Of course, the only thing worse than loving a dog again is not loving a dog again. I have written this before, but dogs love us the way we wish we could love others. Their hearts are always open. They are always willing to give. They are forgiveness and understanding on four legs.

Anyone who has an old dog will tell you about buying food. Kibble is exorbitant. Wildly expensive. The only way to make it slightly less-so is to purchase a really big bag. Over the past year, I always hesitated before I lugged it into my cart. “Is he going to live long enough to eat all of this?” Again and again, he did. But Shadow stopped eating yesterday, I am down to the very bottom of the big bag, and the last available helping is still sitting in his bowl. Thoughtful to the very end, Shadow would never want us to waste our money. I can almost hear him saying, No, no. That’s okay. I’m fine. I’ve had a good run. I’m just not hungry anymore.

He has been a bit of a nuisance these past few weeks, always sneaking off to shady patches in the neighbor’s yard and the nearby school. I thought he was being impish, still a pup who likes to wander and explore. I think now he was just looking for someplace to die. He did not ever want to burden us, not with his care-taking, and certainly not with our grief.

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We have loved you Shadow. For almost as long as I can remember. And we are sorry, so very, very sorry, to say good-bye.  If there is a heaven, I have no doubt that you’ll be there, wagging your tail, chasing a tennis ball, and asking all comers, Did someone call a dog?  

Skool Daze

3 1/2 Hours

Three and a half hours is a lot of time. I could do almost anything.

I could get to the grocery store and buy everything we need, and not forget salt this time, or baking soda. Or milk. I could put all the food away. Even the ice cream. I could even prep dinner. Lasagna. I haven’t made lasagna in years – why not? Today is a day to cook….

OR

I could call my stylist and see if she could fit me in. I’ve worn my hair the same way since 1987. Maybe it’s time for a change. My right big toenail looks like it’s been chewed. I should throw in a pedi while I’m at it. If I get over there quickly enough, I could even squeeze in a massage….

OR

Jogging. I’ve been saying I want to get my figure back. Here’s my chance. With all this time, I could warm up, stretch, run, cool down. Really stick to a schedule this time. Keep track of my miles. Wear sunscreen. Where’s the armband I got for Christmas that year? The one that holds a phone just so. No worries. I don’t even need music. It can just be me, my thoughts, and the open road. Of course, these shoes aren’t the greatest. I should probably zip out super quick for a new pair. No use injuring myself the first time out. What about a hike? Or paddle boarding? I’m always saying I want to get out of town more. Or I could just go for a walk. Walking is good. All those Blue Zone people walk….

OR

But what about getting the house in shape? I finally have time to sweep and mop without the kids’ cereal interruptions. And the laundry. Is it me or do we have too many clothes? There are only seven days in a week. Why does my son have twenty-eight pairs of pants? I should really go through the kids’ closets. Get a bag going for the Salvation Army. Of course, I’ll need to move some of these toys. It looks like Iraq in the second bedroom. I tell them to clean up after themselves, and that I’m not their servant. Does it count if I just get the tidying started? Bag up some ratty stuffed animals and the toys under the bed. Except this is supposed to be my time. I should tackle my closet. Give away those oversized sweaters I’ve been carting around. And those overalls. Even if baggy clothes do make a comeback, is it really a look I want to rock?

OR

Eggs. I run around all morning. I never eat a good breakfast. No wonder I’m so tired. I’ll scramble some eggs, add some chives from the garden, a little salt. I think we still have some salad from last night. Brew coffee. Maybe even have a second cup. Brunch for one. I wish we still got a paper. I like the feel of newsprint in my hand, seeing if the market is up or down. I wonder what that NY Times food guy is working on now. I bet if I Google him, I can find that salmon recipe he did a few weeks back. It’s too hot for lasagna….

OR

With Henry in school two days a week, it is time to take the job search more seriously. I tell people I am a writer, but I make like $119 a month. Does that even qualify as a job? I have all these teaching degrees. What about going back part-time? Or there’s always nursing school. Nurses are such tough, steely people. I bet they don’t feed their kids cereal for dinner. Except if I get a real job, when will I volunteer in the kids’ classrooms? And what about that homeless lady at church? Will I forget to bring her sandwiches?

OR

Why all this pressure? Henry will be in school for nine months. I don’t have to figure it all out today. I’ll make some tea. Read a book. Maybe even sneak a nap. I haven’t napped since our camping trip. That was fun. We should camp more. I wonder when the kids are all off of school again….

***

I am not entirely sure what became of the three and a half blessed hours that my son spent at preschool today. I did not hike or nap or jog or shop or water the garden or interview for a job or fold any laundry.

These were the first 200 minutes I have had all to myself in many, many months, and I have almost nothing to show for it. I wrote a little, paid some bills, made a smoothie.  I froze in the face of all that possibility.

And I went over to the preschool 15 minutes early because I did not want to be late.  And because I missed him.

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Happy first day of preschool, Henry.

Maybe I’ll get my s*(^ together Thursday.

Maybe not.

Skool Daze

Summer Back to School

I have always loved school supplies. Notebooks right-angled and full of possibility. The gritty smell of freshly sharpened pencils. Rainbow boxes encasing crayons with all their points.

But this year, the provisions are giving me heart palpitations. I know what is coming. Gone are the lazy summer mornings. Instead, our days will begin with hurried toast, scrambles for homework and ponytail holders, and the incessant packing of those damn lunches.

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I know we can’t summer all year long. That would be like eating ice cream cones every single day. Eventually, even that cool, perfect sweetness would get tiresome. We would miss apples, broccoli, and vigor.

But there should be a way to learn from summer, to take heed of its knowledge, to pocket a little of its wonder to sprinkle on ourselves all school year long.

Here’s how we intend to summer this fall:

Slow down. There is no need to triple stack my kids’ days. They do not need to tear from school to piano to basketball practice, or awaken to a Saturday piled with three different sports. We love summer because of its pace. It allows us to possess both ease and curiosity in equal measure. We are going to get more out of this school year by scheduling less.

Go outside. My grandmother raised ten kids in Northeastern Ohio, and she made them all play outside for at least 20 minutes every day – in rain, snow, or sunshine. Even the baby. We love summer because the weather is nice. But fresh air and physical activity are even more important. Gather sticks. Kick a ball.

Eat fruits and veggies. This summer, my five-year-old and I baked a peach pie from scratch — filling, crust, all of it. My ten-year-old made homemade apple cider for the neighbors. We baked kale and tossed salads with greens straight out of our garden. But for some reason, food during the school year takes a more industrial bent. Chicken is nuggeted. Veggies are chipped. Sandwiches come de-crusted, pre-jellied, and out of a bag. I loathe packing lunches. But I am in charge of what goes in there. Good food=good little humans.

Skip school. The kids and I already have a San Francisco trip on the books for October. We might extend Thanksgiving break by a day or two to visit the Grand Canyon. My girlfriend has been after us to pop up to Seattle in the spring. One of summer’s best selling points is that there is no school. I think it’s okay to replicate this school-less-ness for family time during the school year.

Look. Laugh. Listen. Love. The kids and I laughed this summer. We talked. Not just “uh-huh” conversations when I was checking my cell phone for PTA meeting times or what new dinner I could make with chicken. But actual talk. We weren’t always running late or juggling car seats or play dates. I was more present with them. I listened to their ideas, and adjusted plans when they had ideas for how a day might go differently. Sometimes that was as simple as looking at them when they spoke. Sometimes it was making sure I hugged each of them every single day.

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This summer I was more the mother I wanted to be.

This fall, I am pocketing a little summer to continue that trend.

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