Photo by Matt Lingenfelter, Taken at The Moth Chicago
I was on stage at The Moth, a storytelling event that happens several times a month in Chicago. I was telling a story about mistakes, the story about how a host of people missed the right diagnosis for my daughter when she was a baby. I felt confident, telling this story. The lights on stage were so bright that I couldn’t see the crowd, and I didn’t feel anxious or wrong or awkward. I just told it, calmly, always always always hoping someone in the crowd will come to me afterward and say “your story compels me.”
Compels them to what, I’m not sure.
What surprises me about this photo is how my fists are clenched. They’re tight. I didn’t feel tight or clenched. Continue Reading…
In 2005, there were no smart phones or tablets or ways to send audio and video to anyone.
In 2005, if you were like me: alone with your preschooler and your baby and your empty house and almost no friends with children, the only way to connect to parenting wisdom, camaraderie, and a stolen moment of sanity several times a day was Mothering Magazine’s online forums. They were called the “Mothering Dot Commune,” and, for me, they served the purpose that smart phones and social media and texting serve now. They were, in a lonely world, a lifeline of support and connection. I relied on them for everything from pregnancy support (August 2005 Due Date Club!) to toilet training ideas to vegetarian recipes. I was steeped in gratitude during my pregnancy with my second daughter, but never more so than after she was born, when a regular user of the site who I’ll call Shanti helped set the course of my parenting in a way I’ll never forget. Continue Reading…
The left lung is made smaller than the right lung To make room for that very heart inside of you And your stomach needs to produce a new layer of mucus every two weeks So it won’t digest itself
Listen Don’t you ever become complicit Or live your life on someone’s shelf There is a reason for every limb and interaction Body, it’s like G-d created me like an instrument
– Tank and the Bangas, “Human”
I wish I knew how to begin anything.
Days unroll in front of me when my children leave the house for school, and I sit, my jaw loose, thinking of what to do first. It’s rare that my day must begin in that moment; there is usually time in abundance and potential laid out in front of me. It’s not as though I don’t have tasks ahead and goals to complete, but it’s those first moments when I long for the ritual of the train ride to work, the coffee in the travel mug, the drive to somewhere that expects me at a certain time, the knowledge that someone would notice if I sat in my pajamas until 3pm, watching television.
I don’t sit in my pajamas until 3pm, but I don’t always get dressed right away, and that’s never good.
I just don’t know how to begin, sometimes.
It’s a haphazard lurch toward the day, made slower by this year of nagging body mini-breakdowns that kept me from the start I love the most, a run by the lake or at least on a treadmill. Instead, this year, I earthquaked my brain and followed it with head cold after head cold after ear infections, like my body is aching toward childhood, toward being cared-for, toward clarity. Sick or injured, the answer to “where shall I put my body now?” is obvious: there, on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, basted in tea and soup, held for the moment in suspension.
But when I’m healthy, I don’t know where to go first.
There’s always laundry to start, and that’s a clear beginning with a middle and an end in sight: wash, dry, fold, file away. There’s always the breakfast dishes, and the paperwork, and appointments to make once the clock hits eight. But these things, I tell myself, are housewife things, and I am no housewife. I earmark them for margins, though my whole day is margins around partitions: work/parent/household/write/breathe/act/advocate/prepare.
I have work, paid work, and that seems more sensible, to start with the things that have a tangible reward, a dollar sign at the end of them. True, this isn’t the work I meant to do when I started for real, when I moved fresh and twenty-something to Chicago to save enough money for graduate school and go back to the words that called me from pages of books and pages on blinking computer screens, but it’s the work I got, the work I flopped into like a rag doll, the may-as-well and the that-could-work of a job that let me stay home or in the hospital or in the doctor’s office with my sick baby when I was tired and thirty-something. And tired and forty-something.
She’s not sick anymore, though, that baby, that teenager, that one with a big sister standing one toe out the door to college in a year. And I don’t know how to begin this next act, so I sit in my kitchen and scroll through my phone for half an hour, an hour, too long, stewing in my pajamas and accomplishing nothing, knowing this stew will start simmering an hour earlier when both girls are gone and my husband is the only one who’ll leave me there in the morning, a day and a life spread out before me like white bread.
I heard a song this week, the internet dropping it into my ears like a gift. The singer grins and winks at us, shining, joyful, curious. It’s as though she took Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day” and put it in a human body, or answered “what will you do with your one wild and precious life?” with howandwhy should you do it?
I watched this video a dozen times. Am I very important and very special? I might be. And it’s got to get easier to learn where to begin.
Where am I in my story? Is this the middle, or a beginning, somehow (because I can’t let it be the end)? What’s the next thing? I wish I was better at beginning, which is another way to say I wish I was better at knowing, at clarity, at picking up my feet and pointing my nose in the direction of my one, precious life.
But I’m a life force. That’s a good start.
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post hosted by Kristi at FindingNinee.com. This week’s prompt is “I wish I was better at…”
For almost as long as I have known my friend Andrea, she has talked with reverence about her family’s finca (farm) in the mountains. I’d always wanted to see it in person, and when she offered this first foray into retreat there, I knew I had to go. Rather than submit a travelogue here, I want to share the story of my inner journey. The intention I set before the retreat began was this:
I will write with courage and focus until my story is complete.
Though this was not officially a writing retreat, I had decided to treat it as such for myself. In the months leading up to the retreat, as I neared the end of the book I’m writing about parenting my daughter through her medical mystery, trauma, and healing, I found myself held back. Reliving the experiences while I wrote them was hard, and I fought the focus I needed to get it done. It was a struggle to write in the same house where many of those experiences happened. Sitting at a coffeeshop or at my rented co-working space kept me from writing courageously, knowing that the tears would come and, in public, I’d have to stifle them. Not knowing what the retreat space might look like, I did know that the land around the houses where we’d stay would be vast and, if necessary, I could hike into the forest with my laptop and sob as loudly as I needed.
And so, with a backpack containing my laptop and the notes for my proposal, I boarded the plane that would take me to Colombia.
Nothing had prepared me for the boundless, immense, boastful beauty of Andrea’s family farm. Standing at dusk in the grassy courtyard between two of the houses, I stared into an unending vista of green, undulating land. Aside from the worn horse path that connects the grazing fields for the farm’s dairy cattle, there was nothing to interrupt the work of nature. Ten-thousand feet above sea level, my steps necessarily slowed by altitude, I simply stood and stared. Over the course of the next six days, I lost track of how many times I stopped in my tracks to stare.
Because everything I needed was provided by the lovely people Andrea hired to cook and clean, I was left — perhaps for the first time since childhood — with no decisions to make aside from where I wanted to put my body and what I wanted it to do. I opted not to connect to the patchy wi-fi, and so I surrendered my hold on my family at home, too. I woke and ate, walked and looked, stopped and rested, spoke with the other women or chose solitude.
One evening, almost exactly four years ago, I went out to dinner alone with my nine year old daughter, Sammi. Her older sister had religious school from 6pm to 8pm, and sometimes, I couldn’t bear to drive home, cook something, try to get Sammi to eat quickly, and then scoot back out the door again. The local Thai restaurant was easier, and besides, just a month earlier, I’d been left awestruck when Sammi ate an entire plate of pad woon sen in that very booth.
Even once the cause had been discovered and her aorta gently moved to the side and sewed to her sternum, eating was still slow and frustrating for her and us. We’d sent her to feeding therapy, a white flag waved at the eight years of labored eating that had conditioned her to chew slowly, fill her belly with water, and avoid the kind of dense food that would help her grow. Over the entire summer, once-per-week therapy over her lunchtime seemed to do little to help her regain the ground she’d lost. I waited for the growth spurt that didn’t come.
Then, one November day at the thai restaurant down the street, I mentally planned for her leftovers to go in her lunch the next day (and the next, and the next), only to look across at the plate of mild glass noodles and vegetables to see it slowly emptying. By the end of the evening, I was so excited that I took a photo of her empty plate and texted to my husband, my mother-in-law, my parents, and several friends. Continue Reading…