Twelve Years in Music

music-tools

I’ve loved music since I was a very little girl. My parents owned a record store before I was born; their music collection was spectacular, including every emblematic song of the 60s with rare gems thrown in. My earliest memories of their records are of the Beatles’ “All Together Now,” with its b-side of “Hey Bulldog,” a song so dark that it scared me. I can picture the green apple on the record label. I can picture the carpeted floor beneath me. I can remember the spot between the couch and the record cabinet where I sat and carefully edged the records out of their sleeves.

Like most people, my most powerful musical memories take me right back into the moment, bringing with them the smells and images and sensations that were present when the memories embedded themselves. In his fascinating book about music and the brain, the late neuroscientist Oliver Sachs wrote, “Music, uniquely among the arts, is both completely abstract and profoundly emotional. It has no power to represent anything particular or external, but it has a unique power to express inner states or feelings. Music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation.”

These ten songs represent powerful piercings of my heart over the last twelve years of parenting my daughter Sammi, which was — as mothers of medically complicated children know — a more physical, spiritual, and emotional journey than the one I’ve shared with my older daughter. Of course there is powerful music to remember with her, too, but this music below served as survival tools in unique ways for Sammi and I. Perhaps these tools will help others, as well. Continue Reading…

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Musical Fences

She was a tiny bump in my belly, straining against my leggings, when I bought the fiddle.

I knew it would be years and years before I could bring myself to make a purchase this extravagant and this selfish just for myself. I knew I needed something to remind myself of who I was without her, without her sister and without my husband, and that when this baby was born and home, I would be overwhelmed and need the occasional escape. I went to several violin shops before I settled on this gentle, caramel-sounding fiddle, which I played in the musty basement practice room of the folk music shop.

I played Roaring River and Bumblebee in a Jar and Courting Days Waltz, and I knew the fiddle was mine. It was easy under my chin and pressed into the space between my thumb and my index finger. It belonged to me: four strings to fence me off from the loss of self. Continue Reading…

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On Raising Bodies

When my first daughter was brought to me, pink and hot and smelling like something elemental and metallic, I could hardly believe how thrilled I was to see that she was a girl. It turned out that I’d wanted a girl more than I’d been willing to say. I loved everything about it: choosing her name, buying her cute clothes, and saying the word “daughter.” I assume I would have felt the same way about a boy, once I saw him, but I never got that chance. I have two daughters, defying my pregnant instincts and imagination both times.

The truth was that I was afraid of one monumental thing when it came to parenting daughters: screwing up their relationship with food. Continue Reading…

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How to Make a Nest

making-a-nest-swallow-my-sunshine

How many people had to love this child for this picture to be here, bright and beautiful and nearly bleached-out with sunshine?

The grinning child in the center has been home from the hospital for five minutes, five minutes that followed forty in the car; forty minutes in the car that followed six days in the hospital; six days in the hospital that followed three hours in cardio-thoracic surgery; three hours in cardio-thoracic surgery that followed five months of knowing it was coming. Continue Reading…

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This Is the Worst Book Ever

swallow-my-sunshine-worst-book-ever
I got the CD-ROMs in the summer, and I opened them in November.

I’d asked the hospital to send me my daughter’s unabridged medical records only when I’d realized that it was as simple as filling in a form and sending a check. I did it before I could chicken out. I did it because I could. I did it because I was starting to jumble the facts in my head, because even though I didn’t want to sue anyone, I wanted those records before they got lost or deprecated, before their systems changed, before the years of my daughter’s misdiagnosis and unnecessary treatments got buried under other things, both in the hospital filing cabinets and in my soul.

When they arrived, I realized that they were not a box of papers, as I’d expected. They were on a handful of CD-ROMS: one for the notes and chart, and five for medical imaging: chest X-rays, CT-scans, EKGs, echocardiograms. I held the imaging CDs in my hands and wondered: was there a video in here of my daughter’s heartbeat? If she’d died, would I have wanted to hear it? Would I have wanted to play it as I fell asleep? Continue Reading…

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