Thank you, Mothering.com

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In 2005, there was no Facebook.

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…

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The Beginning, or Middle

where-to-begin

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 how and why 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…”

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What I’m Learning: Part Three

what-im-learning-part-three

“Writing teaches us awareness. It teaches us to pay attention, to savor the moment. It’s like that great Henry James line — a writer is someone on whom nothing is lost. Writing teaches you to take yourself seriously and to take life seriously. Scribble down whatever blows your mind. Whether you went to India or whether you were in the express line at Safeway, this thing got your attention so you scribble it down. Then you read other people who are doing the same kind of stuff and you think ‘Yeah, that’s what I’m going for.’”

These are the words of Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writers, when she participated in a conversation with other TED leaders in NY in 2017. Of course, she’s right, especially the part about the other people writing the “same kind of stuff,” especially the part about taking life seriously, especially everything.

I’ve been reading as much carefully chosen, lyrical and narrative writing on medicine and health as I can stomach over the last year. How do these writers do it? How do they sustain a story that includes clinical information and ugly, scientific words, for the length of an entire book? Most importantly, how can I do this? I’ve written about several of these books in previous blog posts: Jill Bolte Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight and Gavin Francis’ Adventures in Human Being in one post; Seth Mnookin’s The Panic Virus and Henry Jay Przybylo’s Counting Backwards in another. I have more to say about others I’ve read, and I’ll do that in future posts, but I’ve decided to dedicate a full post to the book I read, breathless and all-at-once on a five hour flight.

I’m talking about the book that everyone told me to read, once they knew what I was writing. I’m talking about Susannah Cahalan’s Brain on Fire. Continue Reading…

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Writing Is Like Swimming for the Surface

water

So much of writing the story of mothering my medically complex child is like being underwater.

I sit down to write with a combination of resignation and anticipation. There are other things to do — work, digital errands around planning and research for my family, Facebook, the news — and I hover above the keys, unsure of whether this really is the moment to submerge in my manuscript. I think, then, of my friend Andrea, who gave me great insight when I complained that I always got new clients just as I was recommitting myself to the writing.

“Maybe,” she said, with a glint in one eye, “that’s the universe asking you if you’re really serious.”

am serious. Most days, I open a document in my manuscript folder and dive in. Or, maybe that’s not always true — maybe sometimes I dive in gracefully and sometimes I jump in with my eyes closed, a cannonball, splashing words in every direction. Sometimes I open a file, dip a toe into it, and sit on the edge of the writing shivering, waiting, trying to get used to the idea that I’m going in, again. Continue Reading…

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To Be Quiet and Listen

hills

Three weeks ago, I returned from the inaugural Renewal Retreat on La Finca, in the cloud forest outside Bogotá, Colombia.

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.

renewal-retreat-finca

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.

And, finally, I wrote. Continue Reading…

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