Holding hands with my eleven-year-old daughter, Sammi, as we walked along the sidewalk earlier this week, my husband and older daughter just ahead of us, I saw bright colored paintings in the window of an art gallery ahead. The Atlantic Ocean to our left going dark and choppy under a setting sun, I called ahead, “Hey, look! Can we go in there and check it out?”
Sammi scampered in ahead of me and immediately said, “Woah!” The gallery was full of the bright colors of several painters working in primary palettes. Big multi-hued dogs and other animals covered one wall, and my daughters immediately spread around the space to look more closely. I started on one side, wandered, admired, turned around, and brought myself back to a particular wall covered by paintings and prints by one particular artist named Fabio Napoleoni. I was drawn to a series with a small mummy-like character — equal parts maudlin and endearing, and always holding a red, misshapen heart. That little character had many small adventures, all involving that heart:
I have spent most of the last two weeks in the grips of a terrible asthma flare, brought on by whatever powerful viral misery has a hold on the country right now. Though I’m not immune to illness — I get what I assume is the average number of colds each year — this one was particularly frightening for me, and I am convinced that it sent cosmic signals out into my community, since three separate friends left bottles of juice on my porch and ran like heck. As I curled under an enormous down blanket and drowned my tickling throat — which threatened constantly to send me into another bizarre, high-pitched coughing fit reminiscent of someone stepping on a puppy — I did little more than watch hours of television and poke half-heartedly at my phone from time to time.
This is not my normal position in the world. My normal life since children has been a patchwork of several kinds of activity: my part-time business in web site design and development (hire me!), childrearing, and housewifery. In the two weeks I spent on hiatus nursing my lungs along, I was able to pull a laptop onto the couch from time to time to douse the fires of my business, and my children managed to handle their own rearing at their ripe ages of 14 and 11. The housewifery, however, fell into the crevices between couch cushions, where it waited, growing funky and fuzzy with neglect.
Of course, I have a partner, a fantastic husband who is always ready to help — and he did. The dishes got done and the lizard got fed; children were driven where they needed to go when I could not summon the strength. However, there were several administrative tasks that I had intended to manage before the end of the year, and they began to weigh as heavily on my chest as the infection I was fighting. When I finally felt up to tackling them, I found it was literally The Last Minute, which, of course, is the most productive minute of any project. The most pressing of these tasks was the one billing-related job I’ve managed in our marriage since our younger daughter, Sammi, was born. This task, coincidentally, was born with her. Continue Reading…
When my daughter Sammi was just over a year old, she had surgery to repair a congenital heart defect. After the worst of it was over and she was nearly — but not quite — ready to go home, they moved us from the ICU to the general ward of the children’s hospital.
In the ICU, each child has her own tiny room — about twice as wide as a twin bed — with a glass partition at the end of it. On the other side of that partition sits the child’s personal nurse, up on a stool next to a computer that monitors a host of vital signs and other measurements. That nurse has no other patients. When shifts change, two nurses fill that tiny space for thirty minutes, conferring and learning so that the new nurse has all the information necessary to sit vigil for the next shift.
In the general wards, the supervision is quite different. So are the rooms. When we got to the door, I went in and dropped all our stuff unceremoniously on the nearest chair, then stopped in my tracks.
“There’s someone already in this room,” I whispered to the nurse, pointing at the curtain and then at the loud tv tuned to cartoons. Continue Reading…
There’s a saying about becoming a mother that, for all its overuse and cliche, is as true as anything I’ve ever heard. It explains perfectly my own experience of mothering, one I’ve tried to capture and describe in other ways only to come back, finally, to this beautiful quote attributed to author Elizabeth Stone. In full, it reads:
Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.
Of course, it’s not exactly my heart that runs off each day with my children. Rather, it is an enormous portion of my emotional power, vulnerability, and grounding to the corporeal world that surrounds each of them when we part. There is a piece of my intention for each day that I lend to them, a chunk of my personal energy that I gladly give away in service to whatever they need. Shorthand: heart.
That floating bit of my spirit is something I trust to do what I can’t, shouldn’t, mustn’t in a world they need to learn for themselves. Like a blessing, I picture it keeping them safe. My promise to that end — the heart that goes walking around outside my body — is that the gift of it is irrevocable. I’ve told my daughters over and over that there is nothing they can do to make me stop loving them. They’ve sometimes tested me on this, asking what if I do this or what if I do that, but I always answer, “I will always love you, even if I don’t love the things you do.”
Even if I die? they have never asked, but I do know the answer. Yes, even if you die. Continue Reading…