Posted in Fragile Life, Holidays, Milestone Moments

Anthem

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It was an unseasonably warm day, much like today, but in 1999, when weather like this was so rare as to be a miracle.

I waited to pick up a pregnancy test until after my hair appointment that, not wanting to give up my annual birthday ritual of highlights, but knowing that I would, if there had been a someone, to consider, inside.

A year had passed without two lines on a stick.

My first miscarriage was six-years earlier.In May of 1993.
The second–in November–of the same year, on the day of Uncle Joe’s funeral.
It snowed.

A son had come two years later, and now a second soul was knocking on the door, but I hadn’t found the key.

I stopped at Rite Aid with my fresh highlights and purchased this month’s pregnancy test.
I stopped at the Post Office too.
A yellow notification card.
A package.
A high school friend. A cd. Stevie Nicks.

Once home, I peed on a stick. I pushed play.
I called my husband. And my sisters.
No one was there.

I pushed play again, and hit the repeat button, and turned up the volume and opened the French doors and stepped outside, into the yard, onto grass, instead of snow, and danced and twirled and laughed with the mountains and the woods and the sky. In rapture.

It would be months before this song became an anthem.
He was born just in time.
A week early.

She held him in her arms before she died.
His life and this song became our balm.

Posted in Uncategorized

We could have said — no

Autumn brings thoughts of children grown old. November brings thoughts of loved ones gone…

The Motherless Muse

“There must have been a moment, at the beginning, where we could have said — no.
But somehow we missed it.”
Tom Stoppard

maia-flore-1 Maia Flore

That quote, or one very much like it, was tacked above my desk in the apartment where I lived during my senior year at the University.

I wrote it down on one of my study cards because of Carol’s brother Dave.

He fell asleep at the wheel.

Dave was just a year ahead of us in school, and we had been at a party together the week before.

The enormity of the fragility of life, at an age when we were supposed to be immortal, shook me, and put me into an early depression at a time when I was meant to be living high.

This quote returns to me now, 30 years later, when I visit another college friend. After another accident.

I sit…

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Posted in Fathers, Fragile Life, Guest Posts

A Father’s Heart (guest post)

(A guest post. From a dad!!
Thank you, Colby Dix!!!)

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Photo: Colby Dix

“I cried today. It was real.

My son had a little piece of plastic in his ear and we were in the emergency room at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. I admit that I can be emotionally connected beyond the usual male stereotype, so this may not be that surprising. The thing was, just feeling that, and allowing it, so overwhelming when it came… It was something.

Because the extraction required sedation, my son was essentially conscious but zoned out in a ketamine haze. I winced while the proficient ENT specialist teased that foreign object out of hiding and removed it and I broke then even, feeling the deepest empathy for this blood of my blood. But that wasn’t all see; after it was done, he took a little time to re-awaken. To come back.

And his eyes were teary and glazed as they swam into focus to see me directly in front of him, concern in my own eyes and staring at the most important thing I can imagine. And as he recognized me, he sleepily said “I love you” with those teary eyes and I just let it go, responding in kind with a choked voice. How could I not?

Often in life I speak to the benefit of failure, in terms of learning and growing. But I seem to forget that I can learn a great deal from success as well. My most successful achievement, by far, is this little boy, and I’m exquisitely proud of him on the daily. And in that moment, with my heart aching to connect as completely as possible, I realized that my capacity for love had grown yet again. That I hit another level. He made me better, smarter and more aware in an instant.

Sure, this is a common enough tale. Young child sticks something in their ear, nose, whatever. But even in it’s commonality, there is so much to be gained. I’m thankful, and a little tired from it. I’m not saying this to land any great parable or nugget of wisdom. I just want to acknowledge it, because it makes me happy. Happy to be here. He’s the best.”

~Colby Dix

Posted in College, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Round Two, Teens, Twenty-something, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

11 Things We Learned~in a week without the kids

empty nest
One summer a few years back, I stumbled upon a brilliant act of self-love. I arranged for both of our boys to be away from home at the same time.

Our oldest departed early Sunday morning on a road trip with his girlfriend, while our youngest was scheduled to be dropped off at camp that very afternoon.

On the drive over to Waubanog, my husband turned to me with a giddy whisper, asking What do you want to do AFTER…!

I could barely contain my delight and hoped my son wouldn’t see or sense it from the backseat.

Mostly we slept, and went out to eat, and enjoyed lots of summer cocktails.

A week later, we’d also learned some things about ourselves; things we could no longer blame on the kids:

1. We make lots of messes.

2. We use lots of glasses.

3. We depend on their noise, demands, connection & love to direct our days, our emotions, our very thoughts.

4. We’d do well to focus more on our own shit. Inside and out. There’s plenty there.

5. They apparently keep animals away from our gardens.
(Either that or they arranged for the groundhog to eat all the greens so that they wouldn’t have to.)

6. Casey & I still enjoy each others company more than we do anyone else. (Following some initial turbulence.)

7. We can’t wait for them to leave, and when they’re finally gone, we miss them.  (Duh.)

8. We have softer edges without them, but much less dimension.

9. There will always be an Aidan and a Lloyd shaped empty space in our hearts once they’ve grown.
(Sappy, but true. OUCH.)

10. Even without the distraction, disturbance & delight of children, we don’t “get done” what we imagined.

11. Our lives without them will easily out distance the day-to-day we’ve shared as a family.

At the end of that summer, our oldest and his beloved set to repainting his walls. Their youthful abandon spilled out of his room and down the stairs and into the kitchen; as did the palpable presence of endings–he would leave for college that week and they would break up rather than endure a long distance relationship (and I was not to ask about how or if we would see her once he was gone.)

Add to this the juxtaposition of my baby sister’s first born who had just celebrated his first birthday. His milestones seemed to be engaged in some kind of parallel dance with those taking place in my home.

I hold no regrets. I have lived well and loved our years with children; and I am proud to see them spread their wings; though what is also true is that I can barely breathe at the thought of a completely empty house, or imagine one that doesn’t begin and end with camps and semesters and vacations.

When the boys were babies, Casey & I would race up the stairs to be the first to arrive after naptime–to be that holy recipient of their precious waking gaze of delight & devotion.

At the end of that week apart, instead of a set of stairs, it was a steep hill, and the baby was 13 and he was smelly, carrying all of his gear from a week in a tent. Casey wore flip flops. I chose sneakers. I may have pushed him off the path. More than once.

What I’ve learned most from my time with and apart from my children is something I feel a bit embarrassed to share…

A deep & abiding love for myself, and the pleasure of my own company.

Which alas, grew out of my fierce love for them–both in their comings and their goings.

This past week, in another brilliant act of self-love, I sent my husband off on a trip to retrieve our youngest from his time at the shore with his young cousin–who is now 4 years old.

It was a hard decision not to go along. I missed his little sister’s second birthday. I missed spending time with my entire extended family. I missed a beach trip I’ve taken every summer since we moved to the mountains 23 years ago.

But I also felt conflicted about leaving because it was my oldest son’s birthday, and even though he lived three hours away and planned to spend his 21st with his friends instead of coming home, I wanted to be here. Just to the hold the place of home if nothing else.

I also wanted to write. And to find myself. And to hear my own thoughts. Especially as my first born came of age.

After the initial pangs of emptiness, I settled into a delicious morning of word and bird song and green tea.

Cue the phone.

Guess who’s coming home.

Posted in Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Parental Adolescence, Retirement, Teens, Tweens, Twenty-something

Mothers~Permission to Retire!

Once upon a time, with a college degree and honors, I embarked on an unexpected and ambiguous career.

21 years later, I’m ready to retire.

“You can’t retire,” my sons tell me, even though they both shave.

Why not? My contemporaries are doing it. They’re leaving the office and the classroom and the police force, and not only are they celebrated, but they’re expected to reward their years of effort with relaxation–to allow their minds soften into something new.

“I’m worried that I’m living like I’m retired,” a friend says, on a Tuesday morning, in the cafe at our local co-op, after we realize that we’re sitting at adjacent tables.

I turn my chair toward her and explain that I’ve been considering just that.

“Why are we expected to jump into the next thing without the opportunity to get to know ourselves again?” I say.

She nods her head, “I’m not the same person I was before.”

We both know that our partners lives have been reshaped by parenting, but they’ve been able to move forward with their careers and identities, while ours have snagged or circled or more often, met dead ends.

Although we’re are a decade apart (her oldest and my youngest are peers), my younger friend and I share a mounting anxiety about what we’re supposed to be doing, and if we’re doing it wrong, and even worse, if what we’re not doing… is unfair, particularly as our children come of age.

“We have to claim this time,” I say, “Not just for ourselves, but for all the other mothers (and fathers) who come after us.”

I tell her about another friend who once asked in a panic, “Is it okay that I keep changing my mind? Taking jobs. Leaving them. I don’t know what I want. I can’t figure out how to manage it all.”

My friend nods knowingly.

“We should write a book about this!” I say.

We both laugh, accustomed to bouncing big ideas like this off of one another, in between conversations about our most pressing realities: homework and driver ed and emerging sexuality.

“Too bad one of us doesn’t have her PhD,” I say.

My friend shakes her head. Our parenting years have robbed us of the illusion of (and the inclination toward) expertise.

“We have to start by recognizing caregiving as a career,” I say. “There is so little understanding and appreciation of its dimensions, particularly after the early years.”

What follows is an extended back and forth about all the ways that parenting a teenager and even a young adult require careful attention and artistry. I tell my friend about an elderly mother that I met with my husband over the weekend. She came to town to help her son through his divorce. My husband was touched at this act of motherly devotion, but I felt something else–An awareness that this career never reaches a finish line.

My friend glances at the time on her computer. “I have to get to some errands before I pick up the kids.” We hug goodbye, and I turn back to my computer to outline the trajectory of the caregiving role.

The hours of the primary caregiver:

  • Newborn: 24-7
  • Infant: See above
  • Toddler: See above
  • Preschool age: Overtime
  • School age: Full time
  • Highschooler: Night shift
  • Young adult: Contractural

When I finish the list, I realize that I’m twenty minutes late to pick up my son from Driver’s Ed.

Later that evening, on a way to an event, I tell my husband: “I’m frustrated when others ask what I do. Everyone raises kids, but it’s what people do for a living that distinguishes them. It’s as if consciously raising two human beings is some small thing.”

Suddenly the enormity of my devotion occurs to me:

Two human beings.
TWO HUMAN BEINGS!

“I’m so proud of me,” I say. “I want a party and new pair of Birkenstocks.”

~
Addendum:
RESOURCES FOR UNDERSTANDING THE ENORMITY OF PRIMARY CAREGIVING ROLE

(all of the above from the audaciously insightful Penelope Trunk)

UPDATE, September 2016:
MY NEW Birks!

Full disclosure.
Splurged on a second pair!

(One for each son!)

Posted in Uncategorized

The cost of staying home

The cost of staying home in a country that doesn’t care for families…

Kelly & Lila

She is birthing something new. Bernie is her voice. (artist: George Redhawk)

I’m trying my best to stay focused, but this election cycle is so compelling.

I allow myself a 20 minute Bernie break, and then I shut my laptop and walk away.

But the world is conspiring.
SHE is conspiring.
To give birth.
To something new.

My Pandora shuffle of classical music is interrupted by a commercial. About daycare. How it hurts Vermont businesses when parents can’t work.

I woke with thoughts like this. About how the system is rigged.

I hate that expression of Bernie’s. The implication of victimhood.
Empowerment is my preference. (I’m a woman.)

The commercial thrusts me back to the blue arm chair in the small farm house where I nursed my first baby. Daycare so costly. Work barely profitable. His chubby hand twisting my hair. The thought of leaving him, unbearable.

I loved work.

It was then that I discovered how other…

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