Monday, September 19, 2016

The Storm at the Chapel

In 1872, this place we live was established as a Methodist summer camp. In the center of the park, there is an outdoor chapel. It is moon white with metal, olive-green lamps dangling from its cathedral ceilings. The altar is a warm honey color. There is a center aisle and rows of dark blue benches with backs and brass commemorative plaques.

It had been hot and humid: so humid that the ants have returned to the cracks and the corners of our kitchen cabinets and counters; so hot that I was sleeping without blanket or sheet and with the fans humming in the bedroom windows. Last Sunday morning, I dressed baby in her white pants with polka dots and her pink t-shirt with the dog on it. I didn't bother her toes or soles with shoes or socks. I wore a tank top, stretchy exercise pants, sneakers and socks. I strapped her to my back and clicked the dog into her harness, collar and leash. We climbed up and across the trail behind our house, as we do most mornings. Soon, we left the leafy lumpy woods for the hard flat road. We walked for a little while then crossed the cement to enter another trail, but as we were about to reenter the woods, I noticed how dark it had become. The sky looked full of elephants: gray and heavy, blurring the tops of trees. We turned back and began hurrying home. Seconds later, the wind picked up and leaves and bits of branches began to fly and fall. I had no umbrella, not even a hat. The rain began: pattering and then pouring. We were a good distance from the house and so I ran. Baby's body bobbed with every step. Wind burst in and out of the standing trees: here, then over there, then suddenly everywhere all at once! These trees are old, enormous, wide and wise with branches as big as giraffes or sailboat masts and this wind threatened to loosen these limbs and toss them like pencils. I hurried as best I could, watching above me as I went, while also watching below me, dodging puddles in the dips of the dirt road. My skin was wet, but I wasn't cold yet. It was still quite warm.

I have so much more fear now that I am a mother. If I had been alone, I would have run all the way home, watching the sky for falling debris, but with little actual worry. But last Sunday morning, I was wearing baby and so I ran to the chapel for cover. The dog pulled us there then sniffed the legs of benches and the ground. I had never before let her in here for fear she'd piss in this sacred place, but she didn't.

We sat in the front row and waited. This storm would pass quickly. There's been a terrible drought. It would be fleeting like all the others.


But it lasted. Lasted a good while. I sat watching branches bend and fall in the distance as wind swirled bits of flora like living illustrations. I took baby out of her carrier and stood her on the pine floor altar. Her bare feet slapped as she sang songs of sounds and waddled side to side. Her skin didn't feel cold. She was fine. When the storm slowed, we got ready to leave, but then the sky surprised us again, sending down larger drops, drops that hurt a little when they hit. So we retreated to the back of the altar. I sat on the floor, while baby walked and the dog sat and whined and looked about. (She doesn't like loud wild wind. I don't blame her. It's easy to fear things we can't see or understand.) Baby was happy. Her voice echoed a little as she paced. She plopped down on her diapered bottom and stood and plopped down and stood. She walked in circles, opening and closing her mouth, picking up yellow pine needles and pointing at things.

I have been wanting to return to the Unitarian Church in town. I took her there when she was still sleeping most of the time. For two services, she slept, strapped to my belly, while I swayed and sung psalms; while I said hello and good morning to the other churchgoers and listened to the poems and prayers and a speech of stories by the reverend. Then she started sleeping less and less predictably during the day. Then she started napping at the time of the Sunday service. And once I had missed many months, I stopped trying, having convinced myself that I didn't care. Going out can feel like such hard work with a baby, especially going somewhere new where I should really have a couple dollars for a donation and the courage to speak with strangers. (I tend to either say nothing and smile to those I don't know, or say far too much, rambling on like a long cargo train at a street crossing.)

Every Sunday now, during the hour before the service, I worry and wonder:
Should we go?
Are we going?
I need to get her ready if we're going.
We aren't ready.
It's too late now.
I missed it again.
We'll try next Sunday.

But last Sunday morning, this blessed universe sent me to church. I wasn't dressed in my best, nor was I clean or fed, but that didn't matter. I didn't need my car or diaper bag or checkbook. This pretty little place of prayer invited us in and gave us safety and sweet gracious peace in the middle of a sudden storm.

While I sat, watching baby and listening to the sky holler and weep, I wondered about all the people who have sought refuge in houses of worship throughout human history: in cathedrals and little stone parishes, in mosques and monasteries and nunneries, in all kinds of temples and churches and sanctuaries. In this chapel beside the woods, there are no walls, except around the altar, and so the wind passes through the congregation as insects, birds, love or prayer might.

Today is Sunday again. When I awake, rain begins to wet the windows. I read, sing and yawn through picture books with baby in her bedroom, but the dog is anxious to relieve herself and so we dress. This week, I put baby in her bear hat, long sleeves, pants and sneakers. I wear the same as last Sunday, but with a sweatshirt. With baby strapped to my back; leash around my wrist, and our big umbrella in my hand, we leave the inside for the outside. The rain and wind are gentle. The air is warm. The clouds collect in a thin white canopy, letting in some of the morning light. We are slow today, strolling up and down the single lane roads. When we return, I wake up my husband by blending a banana and yogurt smoothie for baby. He comes down in his underwear, looking for tissues and his daughter's smile. I tell him I want to go to the service this morning, would he watch baby? Of course, he will. We'll all go to town, he suggests. He'll take baby for a walk and get breakfast, while I'm in church.

I am greeted at the great big door by smiling strangers, saying welcome. I write my name on a name tag and stick it to my denim jacket. Then I slide into the last row. I listen and try to sing along to songs I don't know. I close my eyes when the pianist plays and in the moment of meditation. When we are encouraged to introduce ourselves to our neighbors, a woman with short white hair turns around in front of me and says, "Good morning!" We introduce ourselves as we shake hands. "Have you been here before?" She asks.

"Yes, a couple times. I had a baby last August and I brought her when she was a tiny baby, but I haven't been back in months and months........(that cargo train I was telling you about) husband has the day off from work and so he's with her outside now."

"Oh well, welcome." She says. "We've been away for a couple weeks, ourselves. Just got back from the Cape."

I donate $2 to the collection and share the hard cover book of psalms with the woman to my right. I feel a peaceful gladness to be here in this space. After the service, I find my family in the park. Baby has been making friends and chasing birds, I'm told. As we walk to the car, I tell my husband about it. I'll go back and we'll go back together too, but never out of worry, only out of love and longing.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Between her Bedtime and Mine

Once she is asleep, I tip toe out of her room, away from her ...and toward myself.

I love these nights, these quiet dark nights. There is only a pocket door between us, but during the hours when she is sleeping, I am resting.  I am inviting solitude and selfishness to seduce me like they used to; to take me away for awhile, away from my motherhood and its obligations and attentions and worry. I wander through the house, drifting from one sitting place to another. I pen letters to my grandmother or write cards or tomorrow's grocery list. I read letters and bills and email. I take breaks from the alphabet, setting my eyes on screens, toward strangers, as they try to trick me into believing the stories they show and tell. Sometimes I take slow showers then stand in the kitchen, leaning on the counter, snacking on peanut butter toast with banana, while my hair drips down my back and my toes press into the floor as if they were kissing the earth to say, "Thank you, I am grateful for your gravity." Most nights, though, I send my mind off on journeys, my thoughts romping up and down pages, while my fingers follow tapping letter after letter after letter...

Tonight, the window behind the desk faces the black woods where the crickets, tree frogs and cicadas trill together like some far off orchestra, tuning for a concert in the trees. The lamp on the desk glows a dim gold, inviting moths to settle and dust the glass with their silky, dirty wings. The dog lies down and sighs. The highway traffic down the hill rumbles and whistles. And as the baby sleeps, I realize that it is here, within these hours between her bedtime and mine, where I feel most like a grown up.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Tree Tree Tree

“It would be too soon for us to say: Let the children be free; encourage them; let them run outside when it is raining; let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water; and, when the grass of the meadows is damp with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet; let them rest peacefully when a tree invites them to sleep beneath its shade; let them shout and laugh when the sun wakes them in the morning as it wakes every living creature that divides its day between waking and sleeping. But, instead of this, we anxiously ask ourselves how we can make a child sleep after the sun has risen, and how we can teach him not to take off his shoes or wander over the meadows. Where, as the result of such restraints, a child degenerates, and, becomes irked with his prison, kills insects or small harmless animals, we look on this as something natural and do not notice that his soul has already become estranged from nature. We simply ask our children to adapt themselves to their prison without causing us any trouble.”  (Maria Montessori writes in The Discovery of the Child).

I push her in the stroller along our narrow neighborhood lanes, while Penny pulls, pees, sniffs and rolls. After awhile, we go home where I leave the carriage and the dog so that I can take baby back outside, just her and me. In a week, she'll be one. Yesterday, she walked a bit on her own and today, I want to take her to the wooded path beside our house for her first hike. She's wearing a pair of sparkly sneakers with Velcro straps, white socks, striped pants and a tank top. Not quite the attire of a Jane GoodallRachel Carson or Gertrude Bell, but we won't be going very far. She holds two of my fingers as we trample up and down the slight slope of golden pine needles, brown leaves and dirt. She falls and sits and crawls and finds sticks to sneak in between her teeth. She looks up and around and smiles and babbles and points. Tree. I say. Tree. Tree. I show her five tiny pinecones. Pinecone. I say. Pinecone. Pinecone. I draw in the dirt with a small Stick Stick Stick. She copies me, holding it between her fingers and carving lines into ant tunnels and worm trenches. Ohhh wind, Amelia! Wind. Wind. Feel the Wind? She wobbles as she walks, but she's fearless even after she falls and flops onto her back. Her cheeks pink as she pants from this work of walking, squatting, sitting, and standing. She pauses, plops down in the middle of the path and pinches a yellow Leaf Leaf Leaf between her fingers before tearing it to pieces. My little explorer's eyes are bright with curiosity.      

Before I birthed her, I feared Time would trick me with distortion. I worried my seconds would be swallowed by sleep or sleepy wakefulness. Worried my minutes might speed up like a Buster Keaton comedy with my beloved bloopers snipped and left to dust and boot scuffs on the 
cutting room floor. I worried the hours, days, weeks, and months might simply go missing as if stolen by the stars, sun and this rapidly spinning earth. But this still feels like a sober speed, clear and unaltered. It feels like a year since I sat at home waiting for my body to shudder and quake, to split open and push her out. It feels like a year since I introduced her to air, since the nurse propped her warm fuzzy head beneath my breast so that she could drink milk from me for the first time. A year since I bled between my legs and wept and pleaded to a room full of doctors: Why won't she come out? after her heart rate slowed and they threatened me with emergency surgery. It feels like a year of gradually lengthening limbs and the rounding of cheeks, thighs and tummy; a year of singing silly songs our sweet Lead Belly lullaby; a year of smiling, worrying, cooing and dancing. It feels like a true year. From her first social smile to belly laughs. From wet pink gums to eight white teeth.  From banana bits to blueberries, yogurt smoothies, sunny side up eggs and bread. From her first roll to sitting straight, to crawling, to standing and now to walking. This feels like an honest year because I am excited (not woeful or weepy) for her to speak syllables, words, sentences and stories; to play games with other children; to run, climb, and jump, and to sit on my lap while I read an entire stack of picture books....but I'm in no hurry. Nature leads her and I follow. It leads her up our steep staircases; leads her to crawl laps around the coffee table, and to pull tissues out of tissue boxes and clothing out of laundry baskets and balls out of her toy box.  She is absorbing her environment as Maria Montessori said she would, absorbing it like the Dirt Dirt Dirt absorbs the Rain Rain Rain.  

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Winter Garden

Snow drapes over the mountain like the finest of lace:
Tiny stitches into snowflakes of water and ice.
The storm has passed. The sun shines bright.
A rumbling truck plow breaks through the deep white,
Causing the country road to shine quite slick
Beside the little house of stone, glass and brick, 
Where the black iron stove is lit
And packed with crackling firewood, long since split.
High on the papered living room walls,
Shelves hold picture books and mystery novels,
Cookbooks, histories, dictionaries,
Pretty catalogues about birds and trees, 
Animal tracks, gardening, poetry
And maps of forest trails for exploring.

At the upright piano, Pop sits,
Pressing pedals and keys into quiet music:
Sweet, like the smell from the kitchen stove
Where Momma chops kale and red potatoes,
And sings to the baby sleeping in her belly,
While glancing at a tattered old recipe.

At the long farmhouse kitchen table,
Six-year-old, Hadley sits, so sad and dull.

“ Oh Momma, when will winter be over?
I miss the sunshine, berries and flowers.”

“It’s awhile away. Go make what you miss.”
Momma says, leaning in for a forehead kiss.

Hadley closes her eyes and pretends that she is barefoot in the garden dirt. Removes her long sleeved shirt, unlaces her boots, peels off her socks and imagines torn-up, tangled roots and muddy gray rocks. She pictures pulling weeds and planting seeds, unfurling a blanket and picnicking on cheese, bread and strawberries. She runs to the field where the breeze blows through the summer trees and tickles her naked sunburned knees. And there on the path, she sees, the flower patch with the pretty pale pink peonies for making posies! Then on her imagination goes……to the climbing vines of red tomatoes and the fragrant purple basils, the geraniums and the pointy thistles. She imagines her bathing suit pinned to the line, her black and brass bicycle, the lake, and drippy purple popsicles. She hears fireworks, tree frogs and coyote cries, sees bonfires and blinking fireflies.

Suddenly, she opens her gray speckled eyes.
Then off to her easel, she practically flies!

Hadley paints pale posies of peonies;
The blueberry bush; wild grass; pine trees.
She paints seedlings 
And feather wings, 
Shining stars, 
And insect jars, 
Green tangling vines
And warm yellow sunshine. 

Hadley paints and paints! 
Paints until she nearly faints!

Momma sits with her books and photographs,
Collecting data and drawing up graphs. 
She’s a botanist, a plant biologist, 
a professor and field scientist. 
She’s a social justice organizer,
a mom and a vegetable gardener.

Pop is a poet and a pianist.
 He’s a bee keeper and a tree arborist.
At the local elementary school, he teaches music,
English, history, art and mathematics.
He’s a dad, an animal lover,
A feminist and a book collector.
Today, he lays with his cellphone screen lit, 
Reading newspaper stories recently writ. 

Hours later, with an empty belly,
Hadley slices bread and smears it with jelly 
(The jam she and Pop made late last summer)
…And just like that, she starts to remember…

It was so hot then when Pop stood at the sink, his hand stained blue, holding a tall lemon drink. Blueberries boiled in a pot on the stove: hot fruit jam to fill jars with pretty handwritten labels. Hadley stood beside the blueberry buckets with her tongue, lips and fingers wet with blue violet. Now months later, back in the cold white winter...

Hadley prepares a cup of peppermint tea,
Turning the comb with wildflower honey.
She slathers her bread with blue jam and butter
Momma and Pop must have gone out without her! 
At the sink, she washes her dishes and sees, 
Out the window surrounded by snow and trees,
Are her sweet, precious parents, her family.  
Hadley puts the kettle back on for more tea. 

Hadley finds socks in her oak wood dresser,
Long johns and her softest sheep wool sweater. 
She wraps her scarf; ties the laces of her boots,
Puts on her knit hat and puffy snowsuit.
She buttons the buttons of her jacket;
Grabs mittens and the empty kindling basket.

Steam rises from the mugs like clouds in the wind.
When they see Hadley, her parents pause and grin. 

“Tea for you.” She says, holding out her tray.  

“Thank you! Ready for a little work and play?” 

Hadley gathers sticks from beneath spindly trees;
Fills the bird feeders with lots of little seeds;
She throws snowballs as far as she can;
Runs, tumbles, makes a fort and a silly snowman.
She sweeps the porch and brushes off the wood pile,
Shovels the garden path and wipes off the sundial.
Hadley coasts down the hill in her long, planked toboggan
Until the sun sinks behind their great pine forest mountain.

Sweaty and sleepy, Hadley lays in the snow,
Thinking about her day and the new thing she now knows: 
Even though it is late winter
And cold and windy and dark as ever,
Inside, she can be cozy, busy and happy 
And, if she wears her layers well and warmly,
The outside, too, is a delightful place to be.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Patrick and Michelle's Wedding

I officiate my brother’s wedding in an old villa in the Massachusetts town of Manchester by the Sea. We never see the sea, but we pass stacks of empty lobster traps on the side of the road; inhale the faint fetor of fish and watch as the fog drifts over the pine forest, while we sit after supper on a stone terrace at a long table draped in royal blue linen.

My big brother, Patrick wears a cotton navy blue suit, a maroon tie and shoes of red brown leather. A plate of flower corsages is passed around and we all take and pin the stems with pedals to our suit jackets, vests, dresses or hair. We the wedding guests are all in shades of blue. There are only seventeen of us: two mothers, two fathers, six sisters, one brother, two brothers-in-law, one boyfriend, and three nieces under the age of three. For a little while, there is a photographer and her pre-teen daughter. And there is a little dog.

While we wait, we watch the babies play on the red rug in the main room where the ceremony will take place. They wear the matching blue dresses Michelle gave them. Amelia crawls and sits and crawls and sits, while my two-year-old niece, Lily runs around looking for snacks, smiles and songs. I give the girls blueberries until my sister Samantha warns me that if I give her daughter any more, I will be changing her diapers for the rest of the day. Dad’s guitar leans its neck against a white column in the corner. He asks me when he’ll go on. He’s singing a song during the ceremony and he’d like to know when he should get nervous. I show him my two papers of words and point to the place at the top of the second page,

“And then I’ll say, ‘And speaking of song, Dad?’.”

He’s chatty and excited. He says he usually doesn’t stand when he plays. He has a strap, but he still usually sits.  I don’t think anything of it. He’s played guitar and sung for us all our lives. Usually when he gets started, he’ll play for hours. He knows so many songs. His short, thick brown fingers picking and strumming as he sings.  Looking back, I wish I had realized he was nervous. I would have urged him to sit during his part.

Eventually, the hair lady leaves. Then the make-up lady leaves. Michelle’s friends say good-bye (though my mother tries to convince them to watch the ceremony from above, from the second floor interior windows, to which one replies that “that isn’t Michelle’s vision.”) Patrick and Michelle want a very small wedding. Her friends, whom Michelle has played maid to all their brides, understand. They arrived the night before to help and to celebrate and now their part is over.

In her mother’s long lace veil and her buttoned blouse and shorts, Michelle comes down to check in. Soon her sisters will strap her into her wedding gown. She gives my husband, Scott her cellphone and shows him the songs she’d like him to play.  She is giddy and pretty, smiling and laughing. She runs upstairs and a little while later calls down for the music to begin. I stand where I’ve been told, at the far end of the rectangle rug beside my brother. The music plays and as Michelle walks down the grand staircase with her mother and father, we all stare with smiles. She goes to Patrick. They hold hands and turn to me. I take a breath and begin.

Welcome to the wedding of Patrick and Michelle ---two people we all love very much. 

There are vows Patrick and Michelle will recite –grand little words above pyramids of moments, promises and plans—.   A vow is solemn… formal, dignified, not casual, not implied, but purposeful, specific and with lace, ribbon, smiles, flowers and with ceremony. A wedding ceremony like this one with mothers, fathers, three little nieces, sisters, brothers. A wedding ceremony where the bride and groom promise to take, to have, to hold, to give love and to be loved in health, wealth, illness and poorness, with the good, with the bad, with the happy, and with the sad.

He promises to inspire her. To tease, hold, and kiss her. He promises to eat her perfect apple pie and sip from her crafted porcelain pottery. She promises to soften him. To be the sugar to his salt. She promises to squeeze him and to tease him too. She promises to dream with him. She promises to make those pies and pottery and to sing for him and with him and to twirl on abandoned stages as the sun sinks and the sky fills with color. He promises to meet difficult discussions with openness and understanding. She promises to make coffee beforehand. He promises to eat a lot more bacon; have more opinions; buy more plain t-shirts and he promises that they will be safely, sweetly sheltered. She swears she’ll buy more boots and books and teach him a little something about doing nothing. And she promises to work hard. He promises to work hard. She believes in him. He believes in her. 

If he isn’t well, she will retrieve hot lemon tea, blankets and bowls of chicken carrot stew, and, if he’ll agree to go, she’ll take him to the doctor. He promises to lend her his shoulder and shirt sleeve and to take her to fields, mountain tops and to the seaside for better breathing, for healing. He promises to wake up early because life is good and best before the sun rises. He promises that he will not just sit on the train of life, but run alongside it because their lives don’t have to be on a track with a sad, monotone voice announcing mapped stops and planned milestones. Life is whatever they want it to be.  It is here for them to take and twist and turn, to shake, dance and shout. She promises to join him in the early mornings and to carry their babies in her body and to raise children with him. She promises they will draw their own path, he with his photographed and written roads; she with glossy paint, sand and song. 

And speaking of song…Dad?

Dad stares ahead at the floor, listening. He seems slightly surprised, but then he turns and lifts his guitar. He introduces the song. It’s called Danny’s Song. It was written by Anne Murray, he tells us, but it was made famous by Kenny Loggins. My mother urges him to begin, afraid he’ll talk all day if we let him. Oh, he’s nervous --I realize. He begins to pick the strings of his guitar and his voice of smoke, honey and (to me) the rawest, most tender of fatherly love wraps us all up.

People smile and tell me I’m the lucky one
And we’ve just begun, think I’m gonna have a son
He will be like you and me as free as a dove
Conceived in love, the sun is gonna shine above.

My sister Jessica was born exactly nine months after my parents’ wedding day. Patrick was born just ten months after Jessica –“Irish Twins”, they’ve always been called. He was born a little premature and small. The doctor took him away when he was born and wouldn’t tell my mother why or when she’d be able to see him. She didn't see him at all the day he was born. Back then, Mom and Dad didn’t have two pennies to rub together or a pot to piss in. Their little ranch house in Buzzards Bay, Cape Cod had pipes that would freeze in the winter and Dad would use Mom’s hair dryer to temporarily fix the problem. It wasn’t until much later that my grandfather, my father’s father-in-law, told him that the pipes could be wrapped to prevent freezing.

During his introduction to the song, Dad encourages us all to sing along if we want. We do want. Here is the chorus we kids know so well, a chorus Michelle has heard and sung with us many times too.

And even though we ain’t got money
I’m so in love with you honey
And everything will bring a chain of love
And in the morning when I rise
You bring a tear of joy to my eyes
And tell me everything’s gonna be alright

He starts to ease a little, looking over to Patrick and Michelle as he sings.

Seems as though a month ago, I was Beta-Chi
Never got high
Oh, I was a sorry guy
And now, I smile and face the girl that shares my name
Now I’m through with the game
This boy will never be the same. 

And again, the chorus we sing.

And even though we ain’t got money…
...And tell me everything’s gonna be alright

Pisces, Virgo rising is a very good sign
Strong and kind
And the little boy is mine
Now I see a family where there once was none
Now we’ve just begun
Yeah, we’re gonna fly to the sun

Again, the chorus.

And even though we ain’t got money…
...And tell me everything’s gonna be alright

Love the girl who holds the world in a paper cup
Drink it up, love her and she’ll bring you luck
And if you find she helps your mind, better take her home,
Don’t you live alone, 
Try to earn what lovers own

And we all sing the last chorus together.

And even though we ain’t got money
I’m so in love with ya honey
Everything will bring a chain of love
And in the morning when I rise
You bring a tear of joy to my eyes
And tell me everything’s gonna be alright. 

Dad brings tears of joy to our eyes. I continue.

They hope to live together until they are ancient elders with soft wrinkled skin, white hair and wisdom. They hope to seek and see both country and city; to meet, friend and cherish both beautiful spirited souls and spontaneous pals; and to experience both tremendous moments of joy and important moments of growth. They hope that when death arrives, it is benevolent and patient ---that when their bodies quit breathing, their hearts stop beating, death finds them ready with relief, with acceptance, not fear. I speak for everyone here when I say that we all hope time is generous to you, Patrick and Michelle, that you have many, many more mornings of meeting the sun together. 

Michelle, you choose Patrick. Patrick, you choose Michelle. And together you’ve chosen today, June 4, 2016, to put your love into rings and writing for everyone to see.

Please retrieve your rings!  

I, Michelle, take you, Patrick, for my lawful husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part. 

I, Patrick, take you, Michelle, for my lawful wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part. 

Michelle, do you? … I do! She says.

Patrick, do you? …Sure why not! He says

By the power vested in me by the state of Massachusetts (and the Internet), I now pronounce you, husband and wife. 

As the world continues to frighten me, I retreat to these remembered moments where LOVE lives. Moments where I am reminded that it is LOVE that we all so desperately need. For LOVE saves, LOVE heals, LOVE connects, and LOVE creates us. Patrick and Michelle choose LOVE. They choose to unite legally, vocally, spiritually. My father sings with LOVE to his wife, his son and his son's wife, to and for us all --despite any fears that he'll forget the notes or the words to the song he's singing. After the ceremony, we all hug LOVE; laugh LOVE and kiss LOVE. It is LOVE that warms our throats and wrinkles our faces into smiles. It is LOVE and LOVE's partner, HOPE who whisper to us every morning, when we wake up, just what we need to hear, which is that, everything’s gonna be alright. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

She's a baby!

She wiggles free of me and crawls toward the tissue box or the picture frame (the one with the black and white photograph my brother took of her and me a week after she was born --"momma" I say pointing to my face); or to the edge of the mattress to slap it and screech at the dog who sleeps beneath her daddy’s bedside table. I pull her back to me, hold her close and sing. Put the baby down and walk away. They’ll cry the first few times, but eventually they’ll learn to self-soothe and go to sleep.  If I lay her in her crib, though, and she's still very much awake, she stands and smirks and bites the clothed bar. I try to never smile back or laugh or even get visibly angry, but still she knows that her little trick is hilarious and un-defeatable by me, her mother. Put the baby down and walk away! But when I do her eyes go pink and watery with immediate tears as she wails for me to reappear. I know it might eventually work, but I don’t like it, and so here I am, holding a stack of cardboard books she’d rather eat than listen to; a pacifier she's nearly outgrown; and a bottle of water.  We lay on my bed or on the love seat in her bedroom. I give her my body (my hair for her to hold, smell, and mouth until she pulls too hard and I must take it back and tie it up; my breasts and whatever milk they make; my mouth close for kisses; my strong arms for cradling; and my voice of whispered song). If I let her, she stands on my tummy (oh how unbelievable to remember she was once inside this squishy, shallow skin). Of course she’s scared to be alone! She’s a baby. She wants to be near me. She needs to be near me. I am her provider and protector.  I too need to be near her, for the sound of her sobs rattle my ribcage until my insides feel warm and I have a taste of metal in my mouth. I can't not go to her. Some nights I let her play on the floor because her afternoon nap was late. Sometimes I give her a second dinner at 8p.m while I wash the dishes from our earlier supper. I recently moved her bedtime from 7:00pm to 8:30p.m. and now she’s sleeping through the night most of the time. She still sometimes wakes around 4a.m. because she’s cold or hungry, but I don't mind. I haven't read many baby blogs or books. I don't want to bog my brain with expectations and time lines that won’t align with my child's inner calendar. Amelia began crawling at 8 months. She’s been standing and cruising since she was 9 months. She says "hi" now to us and anyone she feels like it and she can pinch food with her fingers to feed herself. And she can drink from a straw or a little cup (with help). She can wave and clap her hands. She is interested in stairs, trees, the dog, paper book covers and she loves watermelon as much as me. She might do some things “early”. She might do some things “late". She might be a big baby now at 23 pounds, while she was considered too small before birth. As long as she’s safe, fed and sleeping well, I’m happy.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Ghosts of Love

“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.” Mahatma Ghandi

I was born to a woman, in a place I call home, in a culture I call mine, to a body I call me. My body is made of bones, nails, tissue, blood, bacteria and mighty, brilliant organs. I am an animal with language, work, and offspring. I need food, water, sleep, and shelter. Inside my skin, behind my ribs and lungs and skull, is my ghost. My ghost is my body’s guest. My body lives until my body dies (rotting eventually to dirt), but my ghost is like the water of our world, it can move and transform, but it never disappears. It is like the wind too, joining/building/blowing or sighing into the silence of solitude. My ghost is made out of love and empathy, melancholia and hope. It is fragile and infinite. It is wise, wounded and strong. It is evolving.                                    

I want my mother and all my lovers to live. I want all the people in this place I call home, in the culture I call mine to live too. And I want the people in the places I do not call home, in the cultures I do not call mine, and of the bodies I do not call me, to live as well and well, because a world made of only me and mine would be a terribly monotonous one. I am glad that God uses a palette of primary paints: of reds, yellows, and blues, so that we can be, see and know all the colors. We are all made of this mixed paint. To fear me is to fear you. You were born to a woman, in a place you call home, in a culture you call yours, to a body you call you. Your body is made of bones, nails, hair, tissue, blood, bacteria and mighty, brilliant organs. You are an animal. You have language and work. Maybe you have offspring. You need water and sleep and food and shelter. Does this sound familiar? Inside your skin, behind your ribs and lungs and skull, is your ghost. Your ghost is your body’s guest... So what happened? Why have you opened your body up and allowed this coward I call fear to enter and torture and fester? Please, journey to your humble ghost where it hides in your feet and feed it, clothe it, love it. You think we’re so different. That we don’t share 99.5% of the same DNA. But I beg you, look at this .05%. For in that little number is all the beauty of humanity. We are the same and we are all a little different and that is a fortunate truth, not a scary one.

Do you truly believe that the world would be better if it was only made up of you and yours? Do you really think there’s only one right and that you are it? That you are the right kind of person with the right kind of beliefs from the right kind of place, while me and mine are wrong, all wrong and therefore, we need to go away so that you don’t see us anymore, so that you don’t doubt yourself anymore? You want me to stop breathing. Stop praying. Stop working. Stop laughing. Stop loving. All this loving! Is that it? Have you no love left? Your ghost was once like us: made of kindness. I’m sorry that we didn’t save you sooner, before you fell ill with fear. Are you now soaked in its sweat? Do you shiver from its chills? We cannot live the same life. For a world full of you and yours would be an impossible one. Impossible because the place you call home is different from the place I call home, your culture is not my culture, your lovers are not my lovers, your mother is not my mother. So if you want to paint our world one color, you will have to kill me and all the wildflowers. You will have to pluck every weed in every forest, squeeze each root and burn every seed, stem and leaf.  Do you want to live alone in this world? Will you only then be satisfied?

Since the beginning of our mammalian history, love has been building an army. Now in the year 2016, it has grown to a tremendous, incalculable size. An unconventional force; we have no guns, no bombs, no tanks, no knives even. We are a parade of peaceful protesters holding hands, candles, posies, prayer and song. We want to press ourselves into the wounds cut and bled by your narrow mind. As you rally into violent mobs to fight for fear, out of fear, you will die trying and your ghost will be left to float like a child’s lost balloon until it pops and it’s rubber shell drops and flops into a pile of litter, while our ghosts will continue to collect and connect into colonies of warm light. Have you ever seen a storm from the sun? That is what we are. The more blood and fear you spill, the more love comes shining down ---sheets of dry yellow rain. Come and see. Touch us even, ghost to ghost, for love is contagious and perfect and the only thing that will heal your fear.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream...

She splashes the bathwater, squealing as it explodes from beneath her palms. Her plastic tub sits in the shower. I squat beside it. The glass door with the gold frame has been pulled closed. She has yellow yoke stuck to her skin. I lather my hands with soap and wash her face, her fair hair and fingers. I give her the blue toy boat and she mouths it.  I make silly sounds while I pour water over her head and laugh when she gets me all wet. After a few minutes of squealing and splashing and washing, I pull the plug and drain the water. I lift her slippery wet squish of a baby body into my arms and wrap her in a towel. I carry my bundle up the stairs to her bedroom where I diaper her bottom and put her into pajamas. After, she sits on my lap and nurses a little. Then I show her a cardboard picture book while she chews on her toothbrush. I hold her and rock her. Then I stand and walk and sway and sing. Soon, she can't help but be drawn toward sleep. I lay her down in her bed, but as I pull away, she wakes up, rolls onto her side, flips onto her tummy, pushes up, crawls, climbs to the top of the crib and stands. I don't say anything. She's done this before. It is her newest trick. I pick her up and lay her down a second time. There isn't a pause before she rolls onto her side, then onto her tummy, pushes up, crawls, climbs, grabs, and stands. I pick her up and lay her down. Again she rolls to her side, tummy, knees, feet. I'll let her stand awhile, I decide, sitting close by on the couch, reading. She starts to make sounds, to jump and giggle. She would very much like my attention, I try not to make eye contact. She pretends to cough. I hide my smile behind my magazine, but I peek out and she sees me and laughs and jumps.

I say something like, "Aren't you tired baby girl?"

Eventually she fusses herself into sleepy sobs and I stand and pick her up and lay her down (she can't yet do it herself) and point the pacifier toward her mouth. She takes it and then she rolls to her side, her tummy, her knees, and then up onto her feet. I pick her up and lay her down again. Then I hold my hands to her face and lean over the edge of her crib so that my hair can reach her hands. She grabs at it and pulls. I lean further and let her have my face too. The feel of my locks and cheek cause her eyes to flutter. She starts slapping my face and sort of groaning as she falls further and faster toward sleep, except the slapping makes me laugh and the bar hurts my stomach and so I have to pull away, but as soon as I do, she wakes and whines and rolls onto her side, then onto her tummy, up on her knees, and then to her feet.

I pick her up, but this time, I take her downstairs and sit her amongst her toys in the living room.  She plays while I clean the kitchen and make my own supper since I wasn't hungry when I fed her nearly two hours before. Scott comes home from work. I tell him about my day. He tells me about his. He says I seem heavy. I feel heavy. She wouldn't go down for her morning nap until noon. She wouldn't sleep this afternoon and now it's an hour past her bedtime and she's crawling around like it were morning. I read that two naps a day for babies is important for brain development. I tell him that we went to the farmers' market this afternoon because I was feeling lonely. It was nice, I say. She and I sat listening to music and then I bought strawberries and we ate them together. Juice dripped down our chins and stained our fingers pink.

"What if we went out for ice cream right now?" I suggest. "She'll fall asleep in the car and we can get a treat." We are laying on the floor with baby when I say this and quickly we both roll onto our sides, then onto our tummies, up to our knees and then onto our feet.

As Scott pulls into a parking spot beside the ice cream shop, Amelia falls asleep.

"Just get me exactly what you're getting yourself." I say, knowing he'll order something with toppings.

I sit in the car with the windows cracked, listening to people pass down the hilly sidewalk, flip flopping, laughing, gossiping. After a couple minutes, Scott returns and we sit, side-by-side, spooning our sugary sweetness in the silence of sleep.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Swamp Forest Trail

When a trail is called Swamp Forest, believe that it is named so for a reason and do not take your wild dog and baby there or you'll be picking bugs from your hair and feeling your feet as they wet inside your boots, which sink into the swamp forest ground.

A big bird, a pigeon or dove maybe, swoops down in front of us and into the reeds on our right. I scream. Baby cries. And the dog pulls toward the bird to bite it. I hurry us along.

On this horrid, beautiful path, there are signs on the left reading: NO TRESPASSING/PRIVATE PROPERTY...signs before dry hills that stretch high toward the wind and out of the mud. What would Woody Guthrie say if he were here with me?

We lose a baby sock along the way when I decide to run through the tall muddy grass, the leash stretching taut before me and baby strapped into her carrier, bobbing. I laugh as dog and I sprint for higher ground.

When back on trails with tree markers and firm land, baby fusses. She wants to nurse. I pull out my breast and hope that no one comes by. This is when the dog poops. I need to pick it up. It's right off the path. I pull my boob away, pick up the poop and tie off the bag. Baby fusses and so I pull my sweat-sticky boob out once again and feed away her fussiness. The dog pulls. She needs water and remembers the stream with the bridge up ahead. I start to walk slowly, holding a bag of dog poop and a leash and wearing a baby who's looking up at the green leaves with my nipple in her stubborn mouth, while I pluck bugs from my hair and feel my feet soak inside my soggy boots.

Never again Swamp Forest Trail. Never again.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

My Dog Bit My Baby

In the old apartment, the dog is under the table, trying to sleep. I stand a couple feet away. Baby sits on the floor between two chairs practice waving when she turns her torso toward the dog and the dog lunges, landing her teeth on baby’s soft forehead skin. “NO!” I roar, picking up my 8-month-old Amelia, who sobs wet gasps, and carrying her into our bedroom and closing the door. Between the bed and the closet, I stand, holding her head in my hand, swaying, whispering over and over again that I’m sorry. She has two little pink marks between her eyebrows. Later, I discover a pin-sized prick of broken skin on the top of her head. It was a warning bite.

Once we calm down, we leave the apartment and go to the grocery store. She wears her bear hat and her little denim jacket and sits belted in the seat of the shiny shopping cart, kicking her feet and mouthing the bar between her doughy pink hands. When Scott finishes his shift, he finds us in the coffee bean aisle. I tell him about the bite and show him the marks. He sighs and says that we probably need to find a new home for Penny. When I was pregnant, we said that if she was at all aggressive toward the baby, she would have to go. She has a past of resource guarding, which means she’s fought off other dogs to keep food and sleep spots for herself. Over the years, she has bit the ears of four dogs. However, so you don't think we're completely foolish, she’s never harmed a child. She’s tried humping a couple older children, but babies and toddlers she’s been fine with ---though, as far as I know, she's never lived with any of them until now...

On the morning of the bite, Penny, baby and I played ball together, clattering and crawling around the 700 square foot apartment in a game of chase. Penny was playful, wagging her tail and bounding by us to catch the ball or to keep it from us.

After shopping, we return home, leash the dog, strap in the baby and go for a walk so that we can talk. As we meander along the grassy commons, we let our conversation hop like hiccups, hoping to land on the right decision. We’re moving to our first house soon. We cannot let this happen again.  Penny should be with a cranky old man who doesn’t take many visitors or some middle aged woman who owns a mountaintop or an island or a forest somewhere. Penny should be able to run all day without a leash. We can’t give her acres of land to roam or a yard with a fence. We couldn't afford one.….It isn’t until weeks later, when writing this story down that I remember Penny as a puppy. In her first home, she was left outside, abandoned in a backyard. She escaped by jumping the fence. Someone found her and tied her up with a black lab. When I first saw her through the glass at the animal shelter, she looked scared and sad and sweet, letting out pained howling barks, while staring at me with pleading, copper-colored eyes.  I asked if I could meet her and a shelter employee brought me to a small room with two doors and a couple folding chairs. Penny joined me and as soon as we were alone, she stood at my side and leaned against my knees. She was so still, so shy and quiet then, hardly looking at me. I stroked her back and promised that I would try and take her home, away from that foul cement cubicle she’d been confined to. Scott was at work. I called him probably ten times from the parking lot, leaving voicemail messages about this pretty dog I wanted to adopt. Please call me and come here, I said.  An older couple had asked about her too, but I saw her first and filled out the application. She was a one-year-old then. She’s nearly eight now. She doesn’t need to run as much as she used to.  She likes to sleep more in her middle age. She likes to know where we are and lay between us or beside us. She’s scared of the vacuum cleaner and of weed whackers, lawn mowers and snow blowers. On walks, she tries to chase cats and squirrels and chipmunks and birds. She is a tracker too, pulling to pee at every turn we make. She is loyal to Scott and me --we are her people, her pack, her family.  I know the warm weight of her body on my feet. I know her whine when the car slows into traffic. I know her bark when she’s startled by a stranger. She knows my voice, my smell and she always comes close to me when I cry.  I know how high she can jump, how much she loves to climb rocks and I know when she’s about to lay in a mud puddle or flip and roll onto a soft patch of grass. I know that when it is just Penny, Amelia and me home at night, I feel safe knowing that our guard dog is always on duty, her ears pointing up and out, even when her eyes are closed.

After our walk, Scott writes a Facebook post and sends it out for everyone we’ve ever known to read.  Our dog nipped our baby. It says. We're hoping to find her a new home. People applaud our decision. Yes. Get rid of that dog, it’s the right thing to do. You’ll find her a home, a better home. The post is shared 90 times, but no one wants her.

We have been in the house less than a week now. Gates are up. Baby and dog are separated, but they can still see each other. Dog sleeps sprawled at the bottom of the stairs or on the mat in the bathroom, while baby crawls around the living room, toppling toy towers, exploring stuffed animals and climbing up the dowels of our dining room chairs. She can’t reach the kitchen or the bathroom or the stairs now. And the dog can’t sit at the front glass door all day waiting to bark at passing people and their pets. When baby is in her gated living room –--away from the kitchen stove and toilet brush and sleepy dog---  she can still find dangers. The outlet covers, she’s discovered, are on loose outlets and when she hits the cheap plastic protectors, they fall away. What a perfect pacifier holder, I imagine she thinks, reaching to shove the plastic piece into her mouth. There are the corners of the coffee table to bump her head on and a plant on the floor with dirt she can’t stop touching and tasting. And no matter how often I vacuum, there will be lint and hair and dust on the floor, which she’ll put into her mouth. Our bedrooms are on the third floor with window screens flimsy as wasp wings. A gate is at the top of the steep wooden stairs now; the windows are locked shut most of the time, and the outlets will be fixed soon, but still I can’t keep her from every injury, nor predict every fall or skin scrape. There are still the possibilities of splinters, ticks, mosquitoes, sun rays, heat rashes, allergies, choking. I do my best. I slather sunscreen, dress her in long sleeves, check for bugs and search for splinters, pebbles, ticks and bobby pins. I’ve caught three wolf spiders this week, two in our bedroom and one in the living room. They are harmless, but enormous and all jumped when I tried to catch them. They are the biggest spiders (outside of zoos) that I’ve ever seen. I left the first one in an empty hummus container on the kitchen counter with our teapot sitting on it’s plastic lid all night. (When I caught him, it was too dark and scary outside to let him free and I feared flushing wouldn’t kill him, just give me a fright later when he crawled back out from the depths of the septic system to swim in our porcelain, pink toilet bowl.) After I caught the first, I filled a hole in the wall beside our bed with Spackle and tried to go to sleep. In the morning, I dropped the hairy arthropod onto a fallen tree and sprinted back inside. We live in the woods now. I keep telling myself. I took the second wolf spider outside and dropped her further away than the first. The third died while I was trying to catch it. The list of things baby needs my protection from grows as quickly as she grows. I can’t keep her in her play pen forever (20 minutes tops and that's only if she's clean, fed and well-rested). And I can only baby proof so much and I certainly can't baby proof every other place we go. But I can be present and prepared, ready to prevent most ---hopefully all--- of the really bad stuff. I won't ever leave dog and baby alone again, you can be sure of that, just as I won't leave her alone with the pellet stove when it's hot or beside a lit candle or at the top of the stairs or up on a kitchen counter. And I'm not saying that we're keeping her no matter what. I'm saying that we're keeping her for now.

When we post that we are looking for a home for Penny, I think, Look at this sacrifice! Aren’t we good parents? And.  Life would be so much easier without a dog to care for; to worry about and to walk. The first few days following the post, however, I fall in and out of weeping, but Penny doesn't come to my side. It's as if she understands that she is the reason for my tears.

“You have to protect Amelia.” My mother tells me.

I agree completely and I feel guilt when I look at baby. But I also feel guilt when I look at Penny (yes the animal who bit my baby). I forgive her because I understand her. She is a difficult, nervous dog, but she’s always been that way. I never should have trusted her alone with Amelia and I should have read more about establishing and maintaining a safe relationship between a dog and a baby before she was even born. I didn’t know that you shouldn’t let your dog lick your baby. I thought a little lick on the back of baby’s head was sweet and fine. Only later did I learn that some dogs confuse babies for puppies and licking can be a sign of that confusion. I am to blame for the bite. Therefore sending Penny back to the animal shelter, after seven years with us, feels cruel and completely unfair. We thought it was: dog bites baby... dog is sent away, but isn't so simple. No one wants her but us and so it feels like we're meant to have her, destined to work through this together. When we moved to the house and we brought Penny home from the kennel for the first time, hearing her claws slide on the wood floors and click up and down the stairs, felt right. We have space now, 1700 square feet of it, and hundreds of acres of hiking trails behind the house for daily exploration and exercise ---land I wouldn't know so well without my dog. Yes she is a dog. Some might say she is just a dog. But to us, she is a presence. When she isn't here, there is a warmth missing.  They say ghosts are cold and that's what it feels like when she isn't home, like her cold ghost is in every corner. You don't want to regret keeping her. I don't, just as I don't want to regret moving to this house with two steep staircases and a high deck and a pellet stove. There are horrific potential scars in every home and as the caretaker of a fragile baby it is my job to protect her from such injuries. The love for my dog is not blinding me of that fact, nor are her pleading, copper-colored eyes hypnotizing me from seeing the truth of our reality. But it is complicated because we love her.

It's a scary, embarrassing thing, baring any parenting struggle to the opinionated eyes of others.  I am so sensitive about my mothering. Any sort of criticism feels like a burn on my insides, like I'm swallowing cooking oil straight from a hot cast iron pan. I think most, if not all, mothers feel this way. We make choices, big and small, hoping we're doing what’s best for our family, but it can be confusing and conflicting. Should I do this because I think it's right or should I do that because others think it's right? It's hard. Mothering is the hardest thing I've ever done. I had never felt true fear before carrying my baby inside my body and delivering her in a hurry before the c-section scalpel was drawn from its plastic sheath. I had never felt such responsibility, worry, LOVE, so much pure immediate love as when I met and began caring for my baby girl. So whether you think we're kind or completely irresponsible, I have to accept the fact that I won't always do what other's think is right and hopefully, that's ok.