Waning moon.

His limbs wrap around me like a boa constrictor. My neck, my waist, my left leg encircled and a hand stretched impossibly from the base of my skull to my cheek.

This 6 year old belongs in his own bed. But I don’t move him. I don’t resist his nighttime slithering and squeezing because I know this will not last. Soon enough he’ll decide he’s too old for this.

As my mom laid in a hospital bed after learning she was diagnosed with a cancer that would all too soon take her from us, I slid myself in next to her. I wrapped my limbs around her and squeezed.

My mom was a next level snuggler. She loved us in her bed. At some point though, I was too old for such raw affection. I stopped my slumbered slipping into her room.

Now my big girls, once baby boa constrictors themselves, still find their way into my bed. Mostly when they’re sick but sometimes, on rare weekend mornings when we’re not rushed to get to a soccer field or ice rink, they’ll snuggle. We’ll talk about the things on their minds. Big things and small things. But it’s not enough.

That warmth, their whispered questions in the pale morning light, their arms around me. It’s pure mama bliss.

It’s dark tonight. Clouds send the waning moon’s light back toward heaven.

I’m not moving him out of the bed.

Advertisements

10 and a half years.

10 and a half years ago I won the lottery. I was a new mom embarking on the long icy road of working motherhood. I was exhausted from the work of keeping a new baby alive and exhausted at the thought of returning to work outside the sleepless yet warm and blissful cocoon of our little home. I had no idea at the time how long that exhaustion would persist, and no idea just how lucky I would be to know and love the woman who was about to change our lives for the better, forever.

Ewa arrived early for her interview. The baby was screaming her gorgeous little head off. I hadn’t showered in days. The dog was at a constant 3 inches from my heels, stalking in perpetual vigilance of my waning well-being. Looking back it’s possible the dog was the only one fully aware of the dire situation we all faced.

I was a mess. And Ewa, she was not. She reached out for the screaming baby and I surrendered her before I even introduced myself.

Ewa told me to sit. She walked and bounced and talked to me about her experience caring for others. She’d been with two other families for almost a decade a piece since immigrating to America. Those families oozed loved for her when I later called them. And we would soon come to share that love of the perfectly crazy, magically patient, wonderfully charming and caring woman who has cared for all of us for the last decade.

I held that once tiny screaming baby, now large enough to share my clothes, last night as she sobbed. Ewa is leaving us. And we are all heart-broken. Through the births of two more screaming babies, and the deaths of a number of well-loved fish and assorted insect pets, my sweet vigilant dog and my own perfectly magical and wonderful mother, Ewa has been a mother to us all. Holding all of us through our screaming and tears, telling us everything is perfectly as it should be, and that we are doing great jobs whatever the job in doubt may have been.

As the 6 year old said this week, “it’s time for her to enjoy her life without our wild craziness and to rest and eat all the lollipops.”

It is time for her to go. It is time for us to learn how to live without her. There will be less magic in our home, less multi-colored sugar sprinkles on broccoli, less sage advice delivered with her sweetly imperfect English, less being told I look “famous” as I leave the house and head to work, less Cheetos delivered one at a time as rewards for good behavior. Less so much else, but not love. Her love and our love of her is stuck to our hearts like Cheeto dust to our fingers.

We will love her and miss her terribly. I won the lottery when she walked through our door and our lives have been better every day because of her.

Enjoy your retirement and all the lollipops, Ewa. You did a great job. We are so so so lucky to know you.

Mama’s Day

Motherhood is whispering the end of the story to an 8 year old who’s too afraid to keep reading Harry Potter. It’s unclogging a toilet when a kid finally poops after 5 days of not pooping. It’s combing lice.

It’s watching a night vision video monitor intently, trying to see if the baby’s chest is rising and falling but not wanting to go in and wake her up. It’s reading a book you’ve read a thousand times and trying (and failing) to match the enthusiasm and voices you’ve given to its characters the last 999 times.

It’s craving the scent of the napes of their necks and their bodies snuggled in your bed when they really should be in their own. It’s worrying if they’ll remember that thing you said in frustration that you wish you hadn’t. It’s imagining who they’ll be as teens, as adults, without you.

It’s excruciating.

It’s excruciatingly beautiful.

I miss my mom.

I want to be a great mom.

I’m so very grateful to be a mom.

Green dots.

You are on a journey through places.

You need to find all the green dots to come back.

And hold on to these cards.

Yesterday began with a conversation about safety in school. My kids are elementary age, there would be no anti-gun violence walk out but there would be conversation. So we conversed over bowls poured too full of hazelnut granola and custom toasted bagels, one lightly, one medium and one not-at-all.

We talked about scary things, about people who use guns to hurt other people, about who the safe adults are in their school and the rest of their world, about adventures they want to take and about planning to be safe on those adventures. We talked about power and the power of voices united, about speaking up and why some bigger kids would be walking out. We covered all of this ground in 8 minutes.

The world is often a scary place. Precautions must be taken. Sometimes they include knowing where to go and hide in the event of an emergency. And sometimes they involve some research about the kinds of predators that live in a particular desert and what kind of anti-venom must be secured in advance of one’s trip.

I’m trying to teach them not to be afraid. Or rather to not be so afraid that you don’t go out and live a loud and gloriously messy life. To be brave. To take chances. To speak up. And to be safe.

After breakfast they left for school and I left for work. And a few hours later I received a text about a gunman blocks away from their school.

I called the school but no one picked up. They were locked down. My children were locked down in their classrooms with brave and calm teachers who were delivering custom-crafted messages about what was happening. For the kindergarten, almost none at all. For the second grade, a light version of the truth. For the fourth grade, medium toasted.

I spent 55 minutes in fear and frustration reading twitter feeds and watching live streamed images of snipers. Wondering if I’d said all the right things in our 8 minutes over breakfast. 55 minutes until I received a call from our babysitter reporting that she had the kids and was heading straight home. All was fine. I’d see them soon.

Eventually we heard that it was a hoax. Some sick duck had called the police from far away and reported a hostage situation. No one was physically hurt. That was the good news.

The bad news is that our community was hurt. Our children, our parents, our neighbors, and first responders who raced to help. Our teachers who spent an hour externally keeping kids quiet and calm and entertained, while wondering internally if this would be the day they didn’t make it home. That’s a hurt that lingers.

I got home and the lights were off. My law enforcement husband opened the door. He’d raced home upon hearing the news. And now he stood in the doorway.

His face was serious. But it’s always serious.

“Brace yourself,” he said.

The lights flickered.

I was handed the note above. I was going on a journey.

The kids in their homework-less hours at home created a scavenger hunt. Their dad and I were instructed to find the green dots. They were happy dots on happy things as we moved through worlds they created in all of our bedrooms. There was a “world kindergarten” and a “photo shoot” room. The “ar[c]tic” and a “coffee shop.” We had to collect the dots and hold on to them to come home.

They were fine. The rooms and the kids.

I was not. I moved through each of the rooms looking for green dots. Looking for lightness and adventure while carrying the weight of the day with each step. The anxiety and sadness I felt, the weirdness of a school day that began with gun safety talk and ended on lock down. The Alanis Morissetteness of it all.

But I kept looking for dots. Carrying them with me as instructed. And by the time the dots were all found–after we’d tip-toed through a kindergarten of reading stuffed animals, and petted a cheetah dressed to the nines on a photo shoot stage, and jumped across iceberg pillows, and sipped coffee with Jill the doll and her pal Dolphin–things were different.

By the time we’d collected them all, I was ready to come back. I think I’m going to carry them with me for a while.

Agency.

For months she’d been asking to get her ears pierced. Her sister did it for her 8th birthday two years ago without incident.  A quick visit to a local retail chain and, click, click, sister was done.  On to a lifetime of accessorizing her earlobes with assorted enamel emojis, sure to be followed by dangly odd creations in her teens, and someday a couple of tasteful, inherited pearls.

Little sister’s 8th birthday was a week behind us when we arrived at the mall. The piercing had to wait until the soccer season wrapped up. We scooted straight from the last game to the mall, excitement building as we discussed the relative merits of a simple gold ball vs. a heart or star.  The non-ball shapes would be easier to turn which anyone who’s ever been pierced knows is an important task. As the wound heals you don’t want adhesion.

Adhesion.

“What is adhesion, mama?  Is it painful? Will it hurt when they put the earrings in, will it hurt afterward? Is it like a shot or a little pinch? On a scale of one to a billion just how much will it hurt.”

Oh boy.

Trouble was brewing.  Still we made it to the store and completed the paperwork. We watched as two slightly older junior cheerleaders with large bows in their hair sat still while bezeled cubic zirconias were plunged into their lobes. Click, wince, click. Click, “that wasn’t so bad,” click.

No tears. Big smiles, as big as their bows.

Then it was our turn. She sat in the high chair, like a bar stool, looking like she could use some liquid courage. Her eyes, pupils now swollen to twice their usual size, were darting all over the place.

“It’s okay, kiddo. It’s going to be fine. Do you still want to do this?”

She did. But she needed a minute.

That minute turned to 36. 36 minutes of a patient latex-gloved piercer standing by while my poor girl alternated between deep breaths and whispered self-encouragement.

You can do this. No biggie. You can do this. But I don’t want to do this. But I want to do this. You can do this. Don’t be scared, don’t be scared, don’t be scared.

And so it went for 8 more minutes. 44 minutes of sitting in that high chair. 44 minutes of me working through my own waves of guilt, frustration, love, pride, and acceptance.

So what.

Come on.

Do I hold her down?

We should go.

Let’s give her another minute.

I’m pretty sure every minute I let her sit here is an hour of therapy I’ll need to pay for some day.

I should tell her to suck it up.

This is what she wants.

It’s her body.

It’s not my choice.

It’s not anyone else’s choice but hers.

We left at the 44 minute mark. Her ears bearing small black Sharpie dots where earrings might have been.

I paid for the earrings because the hypoallergenic case had been opened.

She says she wants to try again when she’s 9.

Honolulu Haunting

My mom was a storyteller. Some of her best stories were those involving ghosts and the supernatural.  She swore they were real–the ghosts and her stories.  I’ve been thinking a lot about ghosts lately, half-wishing she was one hovering lovingly nearby and half-wincing at what a terrifyingly unlovely thing that would be.  Still, I’d have her as a ghost in a heartbeat. Until then I have her stories. 

In the 80s my mom found herself on a solo trip to Stonehenge. The destination was befitting a woman who loved mythology, and history, and science, and especially loved them all rolled in to one mysterious circle of stones.  

She believed that science is crucial, that it’s what makes mankind better through explanation and invention. She loved history, the wretched and wonderful story of where we’ve been. And mythology because it’s an ingenious gap filler that provided answers to the questions that surrounded mankind in a time before science took hold. 

God, I miss her.

So there she was on a tour bus to Stonehenge. A stranger sat down next to her and the two introduced themselves as civilized folks do. The woman was from Honolulu. So was my mother.

They compared notes on places and restaurants, and played that game where you try to find a family or person you know in common. And they found one, sort of, as they listed neighborhoods and addresses at which each had lived. The conversation came to an abrupt end soon after they discovered an address they shared about a decade apart.

So, did you see…I mean, did you have trouble in that house?

My mom nodded. Not trouble, but something, she said. 

The woman stared out the window and they didn’t talk again.

The something, according to my mom, was a ghost. Not an aggressive, horror movie kind of poltergeist but something. 

My mom was a teenager in that house and the stories she told about that time were ones I asked her to repeat over and over again. How the lights would flicker as she saw odd human-form shadows. How the television would go on the fritz at odd times almost always accompanied by a strange chill in the air. How there was one night when she was not supposed to go out but her parents were gone at a party, so my mom took a chance and absconded. 

Her parents should have been out until early morning because they loved a good party.  So she wasn’t in a hurry that night as she walked down the sidewalk just a few houses away from home. Then suddenly she felt a touch on her back and turned. No one was there. So she started walking again and this time felt the touch more firmly, a hand between her shoulder blades now pushing. She started to run but the touch did not let up until she made it to the back door of the house. And just as she closed the door behind her, spooked and shaking, she heard her parents’ car pull up the driveway.  The ghost had saved her from the worst fate a teenager could face—being grounded.

Ghosts are myth. Sometimes created to scare or to enforce societal norms. Sometimes they’re simply entertaining fable. Sometimes they are figments of heartbroken imagination. 

Than again…who knows, maybe they’re real. Just as much of science was myth before it became real, maybe the same is true of ghosts or spirits or souls. I’m not sure what I believe about any of it—but her stories are my history and I believed her.  

And like I said, I’d have her as a ghost in a heartbeat. 

Pali Lookout, Hawaii. Another mythical place she loved.

Nationalism.


On the playground yesterday there was a fierce display of sibling rivalry turned sibling on sibling on sibling crime. The details are not particularly important. The hitting, the chasing, the arm twisting, the throwing sand at “eyeball targets.”  The look of horror on the faces of good-natured pacifist onlookers.

I’m told it was embarrassing to watch the three of them go at it. So embarrassing for our dear 60 something year old Polish immigrant babysitter that she dropped her phone and left it at the park, only to have it picked up by a good Samaritan who turned it over to the police who in turn answered my call yesterday.

“Hello ma’am, this is Officer Goodguy.” Triggering an internal shriek of what in the freaking hell?!? why are the police answering her phone…oh no, no, no, oh geez, nooooo!

“Don’t worry, ma’am. Someone just found this phone at the park. Your babysitter is coming to get it right now.”

Thank goodness. Now back to the cause of the phone fumble.  They were fighting. They were out for themselves, motivated by some good ole primal individualism. Yet, later that day their individual goals were upended because–the Olympics.

***

I wrote everything you just read months ago as the 2016 Olympics kicked off. I’d come home after that phone call with the police, the one that still makes my stomach turn when I think about it.  Of course it turned out just fine and the incident supplied a great deal of laughter during the round robin re telling by the 4 lead characters. I found the picture on the wall too and was told that the kids were insanely excited about the Olympics and planned to keep track of how many medals the US and Poland won.  I thought it was adorable and I thought it was emblematic of our tribal nature, and I thought for sure that the US would win more medals.

I wanted to write a story about nationalism. How a healthy dose of nationalism can be a good thing. How petty grievances and playground sand-throwing can be set aside in the interest of something bigger than who we are as individuals, something that is more important.

Then I thought about how dangerous it is sometimes. I thought about the downside of nationalism, of tribalism, of any kind of ism that separates us from others by telling us that we are better or more righteous or more deserving in some way.  I wasn’t sure which side to come out on so I hit save as draft and moved on.

Nationalism is good. Xenophobia is not.  Flag-waving is okay.  Jingoism is not.

Nationalism is not an excuse to behave in a way that contradicts the very values that should be the source of our nationalism.

Why do we love the United States of America? I can’t answer for you. For me it’s everything. It’s our insanely lucky start with a bunch of plucky flawed founders. It’s our  freedoms of speech and religion and assembly and the limits we place on government intrusion in our lives. It’s our abundance of unlikely success stories and heroes, our fruited plains and purple mountain majesty, and people with revolutionary ideas in science and technology and the arts that heal and teach and employ and inspire.

It’s the strangeness and difference. It’s the fact that my morning commute to work takes me through neighborhoods of African and Indian and Swedish and Vietnamese and Mexican immigrants and the opportunity to live in a place where my kids hear different languages everyday and where the 4:30 Saturday showing of Hidden Figures is practically sold out.

And it’s the messiness and the parts that aren’t so great because they remind me that the work is not done. There are problems still to be solved.  There is crime and there are bigots and there are seemingly impenetrable structural artifacts of our ugly history of slavery and inequality. There is corruption and there is heartache. Yet for my entire adult life I’ve believed that our system of government would provide a path for the resolution of these problems someday while protecting us from extremism on any side. I’ve built a career within a legal system that places the rule of law above all else. I believed that there were ground rules and boundaries.

So much that I love about this country feels under attack right now.  So much that it feels like everything. We are only a couple hundred years old. We are more fragile than I believed even a month ago.  We are easily manipulated and we are scared.  I believe that a great many of us are scared because we are being manipulated.

But we also live in a remarkable age of technology and information. Facts can and should be checked. Books should be read. Stories should be told and heard and we should not be afraid to say what we believe.  Civil discourse is part of what makes this country so great–and dissent, it’s positively patriotic.

 

 

Until summer returns.

The nature of elections is that there is a winner and a loser. Someone has to win and sometimes one (or many) people have to lose. And the nature of American presidency is that after two terms, the president must transition his or her office to the winner of the next election. 

That’s the way it works. But it’s not just the nature of elections, it’s the nature of nature too. One season must pass on to the next. 

We have had a summer like no other. A long summer that gave us cool beach breezes, glorious sun-drenched October weekends, and tremendous progress–gay marriage, greater access to healthcare, much needed attention paid to sexual assault on campuses and the enduring effects of discrimination and bias. Wages began to rise and equal pay was, at least, considered. This summer we saw two terms of a brown-skinned president who made my children laugh with his easy smile and left me in awe of his civility and steady hand during turbulent times.

The season brought the end of a century long drought to the Chicago Cubs and increased visibility and acceptance for people who previously lived frightened or shamed into the shadows, afraid to let the sun kiss their faces or for their stories to be heard. This summer, this long summer, their faces shone and their stories made many of us see life in a different way. 

My three children will always be children of summer, children of this particularly spectacular summer. They understand that we are all different in so many ways but equally deserving of love and fairness and respect and justice. 

The nature of nature is that summer must end, but also that summer will return. What remains of fall is to be seen. The winter with its stinging winds may be long or short…hopefully it won’t last 108 years. But no matter what summer will be back, just as it always is. And I can’t wait to see the sun again. 

Until then, I’m going to huddle for warmth with the ones that I love and think the warmest thoughts I can muster about those that chose anger and fear.

Broken promise.

I promised myself I wouldn’t mark the day of her passing anymore. That I would celebrate her birthday in absentia. That I would whisper a Happy Mama’s Day to the universe and hope it finds its way to her. That I’d take a couple minutes to prepare thoughtful questions before teacher conferences and always remember to express my gratitude to the people who devote their lives to making my kids wiser, more empathetic some-day adults. That I would sit with her memory on Christmas Eve after everyone else was in bed and quietly count gifts to ensure fairness and count blessings to remind myself of just how freaking lucky I am. 

And I’ve done all of that, except the first. I’m marking the day. 

It’ll be 6 years tomorrow.  6 whole years since we held her hands, kissed her face,  and told her it was okay for her to go when absolutely none of us thought it was okay.

It will never be okay. If she had been 115 years old it would not have been okay.  

So I’m marking the day because I have to. Because ignoring it doesn’t work. I’m marking it because a lot of wonderful and awful things have happened in this past year that she missed.  Because Michigan footfall is fun to watch again. Because her grandkids are big, and fast-witted, and telling stories she’d love to hear, and challenging their mothers in ways we’d love to discuss with our mother. Because a man of limited vocabulary, humanity, foresight, Constitutional knowledge, historical perspective, restraint, respect for others, and glove size (which, in this case, is a euphemism for grasp on reality) wants to be President and I’d love to hear what she’d have to say about it. Because there is a new Harry Potter book and I almost didn’t read it because she would be so mad to have missed it. Because I’ve made some big, hairy decisions about my professional life, and broke my knee in a fluke slippery tomato accident, and am turning 40 next month, and I still need my mommy. 

I’m marking it because it reminds me that all of it–all of this wild and magical and inexplicably terrible and brilliant life is infinitely better when shared with someone you love, who loves you, who loves even your harshest edges.

I’m marking it because I’m lucky to have had her love for almost 34 years.  And because even though it was an awful day, it was a day with her and I didn’t get enough of them.