Monday, August 19, 2013

In it again

I want a dishwasher.

Because I celebrate the birth of my surviving daughter at exactly the same time that I most regret the death of my other daughter.

I need everything else to be easy sometimes.

We get houseguests in August who are primarily here to celebrate the birth (and continued survival) of C.  But they are also here to get caught up with me and T which is fine as long as I don't have to answer any questions.

My August strategy is to keep it light--little soap bubble comments, noncommittal mmm-hmmms and how-about-thats to keep the conversation moving in hopes that it will pass me entirely.

I didn't even mention C's birthday directly here or on FB this year.  I haven't decided what to do on the 26th.

Because, for better or worse, I've decided to mostly keep my mouth shut when it comes to R.  I had about 100 things to say about her and I've said them.  And I've only said them in a semi-anonymous place where everyone is grieving or has experienced grief.

But I get pinned down when I'm washing dishes.

Before I moved into this house, I always thought that dish washing conversations were just a movie plot device to create an intimate, post-meal moment where THINGS would be said, where it would get REAL. For real.  For real, we are apparently all conditioned to believe in confiding over a sink full of dirty dishes.

In August I want to get the ketchup residue off the plates and hear what Garrison Keillor has to say and think about exactly nothing and say even less. But I hear myself telling someone who probably has good intentions that she doesn't understand how hard it was for T to watch his baby die and that he's permitted to say that it's a struggle to enjoy C's birthday.  And I find myself bending down so that my nose is almost touching the plates in an effort to avoid hearing how amazing we are and how our courage is an inspiring tribute to R.  If I lean down far enough perhaps I can sink into the dishwater and participate in this conversation from beneath the suds where the blobs of ketchup bob about enjoying their final moments of existence.  Oh, to be a blob of discarded ketchup...

I stayed dry and I mostly bit it back.  Here's what I didn't say--

"I neither need nor want unsolicited advice, admiration, or commentary on my chosen method of grieving my dead daughter.  But, if you're really into unsolicited advice, I have some for you. There are very few acceptable things that you can say to a grieving mother or father about their dead baby.  If you don't want to make the effort to find out what they are, don't hover about near the sink on some sort of emotional fishing expedition.  R can be anything to me that I choose.  I can cope with her death and this eternal ache and missing any way I want to.  I don't really give a fuck about how it makes anyone else feel...other than T...and I'll be goddamned if he has to justify his feelings about R to anyone."

As is my way, I defaulted to silence.  I am a viking when it comes to silence.  Eventually it got uncomfortable enough that I found myself alone in the kitchen with my dishes and my sponge and my fervent desire for an extremely loud automatic dishwasher.


These dishes need to soak for a few minutes anyway.

I rinse the soap from my hands and wipe them on the hem of my t-shirt.

"I want to show you something."

We go upstairs where I tap on the window that faces the backyard.  I have to concentrate to remember the pattern.  It's been a while but the window stretches and transforms into a solid door.

My companion is impressed.

"Is this a closet?  You're so lucky. Our house doesn't have nearly enough storage."

We step through.  There isn't a light in here because I don't really need one.  I pick my way around the clutter by memory. Eventually our eyes adjust to the darkness and we can both see the cupboard sitting in the furthest corner of the room.

It's smaller and much fancier than most of the others lining the walls.  There's some dust clinging to it but there are also footprints in the dust on the floor and some handprints on the door.  I've been been here a few times over the summer.

She tries the door.

"You won't be able to open it."

I touch the pull and the door swings wide releasing a puff of glitter and revealing shelves bursting with photo albums and notebooks.  Sparkly headbands and fluffy white stuffed toys tumble onto the floor.

She picks up a photo album and opens it to the first page.  There are some photos that look double exposed.  

A birthday party.  

C's 6th birthday party.

But there are two cakes and two yellow-haired girls missing a total of 6 teeth.  Shadowy images of a bounce castle are fading away and being replaced by two little girls holding hands and ice skating.

"What is this?"

"Oh, I thought that C should have the party at one of those inflatable jump places but she wanted to ice skate.  The pictures change a little bit to match reality."

"And that's R?"


"What's in these albums over here?" she gestures to a stack of uniformly sized and shaped translucent books.

"Just take a look."

She opens one and sees a double wedding.  C's partner has no face but R's looks almost exactly like the boy who took me to the senior prom.  I make a note to try again on that one. 

We could keep going.  There's a whole stack of Christmas photos in here and first days of school and matching Halloween costumes.  There are journals that I'd never read anyway because R intended them to be private.  There's a sweater that she loves that's just the wrong color on her and a photo of the scar  from that time that C bit her.  R holds a grudge--just like my mom.

She finds a photo of her son reluctantly posing on our couch.  He is 11 and sandwiched between two beaming 4-year-old girls.  His cousins adore him. She picks up the picture and smiles.

"Can I have this one?"

I take the picture and place it back on the shelf.

"These are mine.  If you want some, you're going to have to make your own."


I have no idea how I'm supposed to feel or what I ought to do with myself 6 years out but I thought I'd put something here for anyone who is still hanging around after the demise of Reader.  I hope you are all well.

Happy belated birthday, R and C.  I love you the most.

Monday, February 11, 2013

What to Expect...Part 2

T and I decided to get married a couple of years before my dad died.  On the down side, this means that  we haven't had much time together without some sort of traumatic horribleness unfolding before us.  On the upside, it means that T got to witness, first-hand, the fumbling tangle of chaos that was my father.  I could probably have one of those sorts of blogs that leads to a book deal if I just wrote about my dad's various, hilarious brushes with death...

Anyway, the particular event that came to mind today happened during one of our visits to my parents house shortly after our wedding.  My mom, T, and I were all sitting in the room that we always called the family room but would probably be called a den by most people when our conversation was interrupted by a thud and a shout of pain from the bathroom.  At the time, Dad was about two years post cancer diagnosis and, given that melanoma tends to be a pretty aggressive and speedy killer, we probably all assumed that he was suffering from some sort of spontaneous, mass organ failure.  We all jumped up to rush to his aid but he emerged from the bathroom looking enraged and rubbing his shoulder.  Apparently he had attempted to remove a cobweb from the ceiling while standing on the toilet seat.  The toilet seat slipped out from under him and he wrenched his shoulder when he tried to grab onto the wall to break his fall.

My dad was a seriously scary looking guy.  T isn't here at the moment to confirm this but I think he'd acknowledge that he was intimidated by Dad.  And because fear and worry and discomfort can addle one's brain, T, listened to Dad's story and immediately burst into what can only be described as the giggles.


When I'm up early on a Saturday walking the dog to the park or sorting the laundry while everyone else is still asleep, I  examine the space that R occupies in my mind and heart.  Poke, poke.  Prod, prod.  It springs right back like a fully baked cake. The contents aren't warm and delightful all the way through but it feels like they are what they are going to be--plenty of sadness for my girl but held together with what feels mostly like love and happiness for the experiences she has given me.

For me grieving my daughter was like falling from a height in some sort of ridiculous fashion.  Just like my dad with his toiletladder (TM) incident, all of my attempts to slow my descent or to gain understanding from the fully-upright just made things worse.  As soon as I let myself plummet straight down, with no regard for how things ought to be, I could see how things were going to be.

This isn't intended to be self-congratulatory.  It took me a couple of years (and many hours of reading blogs and interacting with y'all) to realize that I could only get on the path of least resistance...if I stopped resisting.  I could grieve R without endangering C.  I could take a day off from work without risking a permanent departure from normal doings.  I could stop berating myself for the various ways I failed at pregnancy and motherhood. I could go on berating myself for the various ways that I failed at pregnancy and motherhood and stop berating myself for berating myself.  I could just accept all of my failings and strengths without putting too much store in any of them.

I probably could have just invoked terms like grace and acceptance to explain all of that but I figured that I owed you a story about my dad and a toilet.

When it is not a quiet Saturday morning and I'm sitting at work instead of sorting the laundry, I examine the empty space upon which I will build my future and find it uneven and inhospitable.  I used to speak the language around here.  I could go into a job interview full of ideas and convey drive and desire but, now that I don't want things anymore I find myself fumbling answer the questions. 

When it's a Saturday night and I'm chatting with a few other mothers while our kids play, I examine my parenting decisions and see the space between us.  Was I really so sad that I couldn't have snuck some kale into a smoothie like that other mother?  Would it be helpful to explain how I maintain my patience with C by remembering how much I miss her dead sister?

Why aren't the lessons of toiletladder universally applicable?


I feel like I have a handle on the internal world of daughter death.  What I need now is a practical guide for everything else.  I've toyed with this idea before but the more time passes the more I think it would be helpful to have a resource.  Does it already exist?  If so, go ahead and give me the link in the comments.  If not, can we start working on it?

Do you have suggestions for maintaining work-grief balance?  Stories about crying in your cubicle?  Do you have questions about going back to work or changing jobs?  If you have living children, do you have pointers for (or cautionary tales about) fitting in with the other moms at work or at kindergarten pick-up?  Are there other areas we should cover like health and fitness or financial issues? Are we ever going to get those 'my baby died' business cards?

Saturday, December 15, 2012


The sun came up today and I can hardly believe it.

Yesterday a bunch of kindergartners went off to school.  In the morning, they were all C.  By the afternoon, 20 of them were lost forever, just like R.

It's just like that, a tightrope that runs right through the divide between joy and despair and you never know when you'll fall off the wrong side.

I am so angry and bewildered and heartbroken for the children and their parents and siblings and grandparents and the teachers.  Why?  Why?  How?

It is a long road that those families face now.  They will learn the true meaning of words like never and forever.  For the first time, they will find themselves using words like despair, misery, agony with no trace of hyperbole.

And, friends, you who have seen your babies laid out in the funeral home and gone through the exercise of positively identifying your child ahead of cremation or burial--I know that you are feeling every bit of the sadness radiating out from Newtown today.  You are all on my heart.    This is so, so painful.


My daughter died and it was soul-crushing, mind-numbing, world-ending sadness.  But she died from a rare set of medical complications while surrounded by dozens of people working frantically to save her.  There are people who go to work everyday and try to figure out how to vanquish NEC and TTTS--maybe not as many as I'd like. Imagine if the doctors in the NICU had just thrown up their hands and said, "Oh, disease will always be out's people who really kill people we just have to move on together and rise above this."

I understand the concepts of grace and humility.  I know that we will all die someday and that knowledge is what ought to unite us and strengthen our love for each other.  But there is a limit to what I'm willing to accept.

There are people who go to work everyday looking for a way to stop the disease that killed my daughter.  Maybe not as many as I would like but it's a start.  You know what no one is doing?  No one is out there trying to figure out how to make NEC kill people faster or defending its right to exist no matter what the cost.

314 million Americans and 300 million guns.  2 semi-automatic handguns, 100 rounds fired, 6 dead teachers, 20 dead kindergartners.  1 shooter, 20 dead kindergartners.

Add them to the list of other victims of mass shootings in America.  Hell, limit yourself to the past two years if you can't remember back further.

A couple of months ago, a police officer in a neighboring town was murdered with a sniper rifle.

It's inconceivable.  Unacceptable.

Add the number of representatives of the United States swaggering around the world, bristling with weaponry acting this life that we share, like relationships between humans who love their families and their homes, are all living in a reenactment of a fucking John Wayne movie.

I have friends and family members who own semi-automatic handguns.  They say that they will use them to keep their families safe.  How will your handgun help when it takes a handful of minutes to slaughter your children while they're at school and you're at work or at home folding the laundry?  How? Why?


We talk about rights and distrust of the government and stockpile enough weapons to kill everyone on the planet 10 times over.

We must do better.

The sun came up today.  20 children will not see it.  They will never do anything ever again. And I just want to ask everyone I can find--is it worth it?

NOTE:  Since I published this post, the news outlets have changed some of the information.  The 20 children were first-graders.  At least 7 of them were murdered with a Bushmaster rifle.  And I read on Salon that it's actually 310 million non-military firearms for 314 million Americans.  The bottom line, however, remains the same.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Grit and Rambling

I've been composing a post in my head for several days now in response to the stories I hear on the radio.  That's pretty normal for me.  I fill up the sink, add the soap, fire up the radio, open a beer and seethe/laugh/weep while I wash the dishes.  There's no curtain on the window above the sink.  I'm surprised that the neighbors haven't sent the authorities to come and collect me yet.

The radio stories are unrelated.  Except that they're about life and, you know, everything is sort of related when you consider the (say it with me now) interconnected nature of our existence and the unlimited possibilities presented by our vast and ever-expanding universe.

I know.

I'll endeavor to get a grip someday.  Or maybe I'll just take up smoking and buy some black turtlenecks.


The thing on my mind is the future.  Maybe you could call it the "unknown" or the "getting through" or the "going on".  It's the thing that "can't be imagined" when you share your historic tragedy(ies) with someone and he or she says in response, "I just can't imagine."

I'm going to veer off on a tangent here because this is a common topic among the grief-stricken.  When the recipient of bad news says it--"I can't imagine"-- my first reaction is always to think, "Sure you can.  In fact, you're imagining your loved one's cold, dead body right now."  But, now that more time has passed, I see that all of those people are right.  I don't think anyone can comprehend what forever feels like until you've been at it for a few years.


So, I heard several stories last week that made a dent in my brain but two stand out--and, no, I'm not going to bombard you with more politics.  First was the amazing episode of "This American Life" about near-death experiences (but not in a Shirley Maclaine sort of way) and second was a radio documentary on a charter school's attempts to get kids in low-income families into college and through to graduation.  There was no overlap in these stories except that they all spent some time zeroing-in on the isolation factor of surviving something that either isn't familiar to your peers or isn't part of the mainstream narrative.

The first part of that TAL episode was just incredible.  I actually heard it on my way to the grocery store the first time and re-listened at the sink (so that I could simultaneously laugh and weep in front of a window in view of as many people as possible).

And the story on the charter schools with all of the teachers and administrators puzzling over the role that 'grit' plays in future success.  Why do some of these kids have 'what it takes' while some of them don't?  How can these kids get through hunger and poverty and abuse and then throw their hands up when confronted with something as awesome as college?  I was actually making tortilla soup but, if the neighbors were watching, they probably assumed that I was threatening someone with a slow, painful death at the point of that knife I kept waving around.

I know that I'm running afoul of my own beliefs co-opting other peoples' experiences when I say this but I felt like I have been in this place where there is just so much bizarre, bad news to share that there is neither a good way to speak to other humans about it nor a good way to avoid talking about it and there is no way to put it behind you while you assume your place in society and proceed along a conventional, approved path.

Because you can't imagine...


I'm well into the future/unknown/getting through/going on phase of things.  My coping mechanisms are in place.  Can't be totally sure but, to the folks I interact with daily, I believe that I appear to have shrugged it off or buckled down or mustered my strength/faith/hope.

It's exhausting to force my mind to care about conventional things.  I can actually feel it on me like a hand pushing against my chest, slowing me down, cutting off the oxygen when I walk into the office each morning knowing that I will have to treat my work as if I believe it's important enough to take me away from my surviving daughter for the next 8 hours.

The 'grit' that those researchers were looking for in those college hopefuls...what is it?  Why do some people have more?  What do I do after I've used it all up, emptied my tank?  Can I get more?  Where does it come from?

I get up and go to work and coach the soccer team and cook dinner and laugh at stupid jokes and carry on conversations about home repair and traffic.  Apparently, I have the 'it' at the center of 'what it takes' but, truthfully, even here, in the midst of what seems to be healthy coping, I can't imagine how I will get up and do it all over again tomorrow.  I can't imagine.


I think we're all born with the ability to develop and use grit.  Some people are just forced to dig too deep, too often or too deep, too early.  I can't believe that this wasn't part of the radio story I heard.  After you've struggled with something real...really's hard to re-calibrate.

You know the feeling of your first post-loss baby shower or meet-up with a friend who has no dead babies or conversation with someone you haven't seen in years.  It's fucking torture.  How many of these things have you tried to avoid?  How worn out did you feel afterwards?

I think this experience is comparable in some ways to the story about the kids in the charter school.  Imagine fighting your way out of a hellhole and moving into a dorm where people are bitching about cell phone minutes and grades.  How long would you last?  Does anyone have that much grit?


I can't imagine how I will continue but I know that I will.

I will wake up tomorrow morning and R will still be dead and the other babies will also be dead and C will still be a mortal who is capable of dying at any moment and so will all of your living children.  I will sit at my desk and try to make a difference with my limited influence.  I will buy a new bottle of shampoo because my hair just comes a little too limp when I use T's.

I can't decide if this is horrible or heroic or something completely ordinary that doesn't have to be either horrible or heroic.

Remember R.  Remember all of them.

Remember that we're out of mustard.


I watched a bird with a broken foot try to land on a wire .  At first he was part of a group of 6 or so--starlings, flitting from place to place in that half graceful, half robotic way that birds have.  Gradually, through the accumulated fractions of seconds picked up on each landing and take-off, the other birds outdistanced him.  A hard-wired, bird activity suddenly requiring careful negotiation, time, energy.

I don't know what happened next.  I kept walking to catch the train to the city.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


I was walking home the other day and I noticed an 18-wheeler parked outside of a neighbor's house. It looked like he was taking delivery of some sort of classic car. And, you know how it is when you see something a little bit out of the ordinary, I did a polite amount of rubbernecking and moved it a good, neighborly neighbor ought to.

Well, 6 houses down, there was nothing like polite neighborliness. At the red-brick faux English cottage on the corner, another of my neighbors stood on his front porch just bold as brass, staring at the proceedings...through BINOCULARS!

He was in this tattered pair of shorts and a v-neck undershirt. Clearly the plan was to stay indoors and swank about in comfy clothes on his day off but, a truck! A delivery! Honey, where are the daggone binoculars?And then, BAM, out to the front stoop.

I have binoculars for occasions like this too but I employ them judiciously. Darken the room. Bend the curtain ever so slightly. Stay a good foot back from the window. Musn't let the neighbors spy on me while I'm spying on them.

Upon seeing my neighbor just letting all of his curiosity hang out in the open, I experienced a bit of a thrill. Maybe panic but mostly delight. A laugh bubbled up and I was suddenly full of love for my fellow beings. Remember when Roberto Benigni won the Oscar and gave that crazy speech about making love to the whole human race? It was sort of like that—only in clear, American English with less lust. What is better than just throwing off the shackles of politeness and doing/saying the first nutty thing that pops into your head? Abso-fucking-lutely nothing.

A few days later we had an orientation session at the elementary school around the corner. The whole thing was geared toward new families which meant a whole lot of amped-up kindergarteners and first-graders being forced to sit and listen while adults prattled on about safety and communication before they could see the classrooms. The squirming! The sighing! The full-body displays of honesty!

Watching my tiny neighbors emote so freely I remembered that I felt like this every day when I worked with kids. When they first start out, they are so awesomely themselves. A whole set of people who want nothing more than to grab those binoculars and stare at the neighbors. Hell, forget the damn binoculars. They'd just walk all the way over and start asking questions...even the shy ones have plenty of questions.

And we train it out of them. Or maybe we let them grind it out of each other.

We want to know about each other but we don't know how to ask.

Because it's not polite to ask, we end up making all sorts of impolite assumptions.

At best this keeps everyone at a low simmer at all times. At worst it splatters all over the place into vitriolic political campaigns and ridiculous budget cuts to important social programs.

Of course there's a babyloss angle to all of this but it's not all about R for me. It's more about understanding what's true...what's really true rather than something that someone suggested once that morphed into truth because no one ever talks about it out in the open. Urban myths. Stereotypes. Hurtful silences. Whatever you want to call them.

C told a couple of the parents from the soccer team about R. I'd decided that I wasn't going to mention R preemptively because it didn't seem like the thing to do while we were all practicing our beckenbauers. But I should have known that C would see all of the other kids with their siblings and that she'd want them to know that she has a sister too.

I felt so exposed when she brought it up—my whole narrative right there in the open. The mother who can't provide a live sibling and overcompensates with too many toys and ass-kissing and soccer coaching. A person to be pitied for her bad luck and the cascade of bad choices that followed. My decision to talk about R so openly suddenly seemed misguided. How could I tell my daughter about something that makes full-grown adults squirm?

It's probably worth noting here that C's close friends and all of the kids in our family talk about R as is she's just another person they know. As you already know, it's completely possible to get comfortable with your dead baby/relative/friend/acquaintance.

I had this long follow-up email composed that hit all of the main points I'm covering with this post. I deleted it and sent something with the basic details and a thank you for listening to C talk about her sister (even though a stunned silence isn't really listening and I had to do some damage control on the ride home). And I felt even more exposed. Now I tell my living daughter about my dead daughter and I'm too chickenshit to tell the soccer parents that I'm proud of the way that C talks about R.

But it doesn't really matter. I was a pigheaded jerk about these things before the family death parade revved up a few years back. I would have run away from a conversation about babyloss so fast that I would have left my shoes spinning in a cloud of dust like a cartoon turtle and his abandoned shell.

There are no words that can make a person without a dead baby understand what it's like to have a dead baby.

R's little life and terrible death makes everyone else seem so much more precious. It takes so much effort to keep my nose to the grindstone of the mundane, to pepper people with nitpicky questions about work and the receipt at the grocery store when I just want to congratulate them on not dying. Even the people who mostly piss me off. But they don't seem to notice what an achievement each breath is.


There are no words that can make a person without X understand what it's like to have X.

That sentence can probably be adapted to just about any situation that's ripe for misunderstanding—and it might be the source of most of the hurt we inflict on each other. Bigotry of all kinds emerges from this place.

There may not be words but we should still try. Unwillingness to ask and answer questions about uncomfortable things cheapens our lives and diminishes our regard for each other. Not to go all political on you but, how will we ever get to a place where we respect each other if we spend more time laughing at a crazy old man yelling at a chair than talking about the serious implications of limiting access to quality healthcare or the full cost of ensuring quality healthcare? How can so many people treat a national election with real consequences as if we're selecting the homecoming queen? Because it's easier than asking a question? Because it's easier than hearing an honest answer?

Is it that we worry about looking foolish or seeming ignorant? Is that preferable to being ignorant? Or is it that we truly don't care about each other?

It seems like the only question we all seem to be able to ask is something along the lines of, “why don't you just...move on...forget about what I did?”

That last one. That's my old fallback position. It would be so much easier to get along if everyone was like me.

Because the world needs so much more of...this. (that's sarcasm, folks)

Looking out from the shores of babyloss land it just seems like the gaps that exist between us are so important. It's not about finding those magic words that will make us all understand each other and love each other a little bit better. It's about seeing the gaps and focusing on love and tolerance anyway.

I'm interested in radical honesty—which isn't really in short supply among the babyloss but it's still something that I struggle with here and in IRL. I need some inspiration to get going. Have you seen anything equivalent to a neighbor standing on the front porch with binoculars lately? Do you have something you've been wanting to say but don't know how to say it?

Monday, August 27, 2012

five years...and one day...later

Hell is other people.

Isn't that what the author said?

I've heard it expanded--hell is other people at breakfast.  Now, there's a sentiment I can get behind.! Last week Seth Mc.Farlane tweeted that, in the ninth circle of hell, you have to watch other people eat cereal for all eternity.  All of the hair on my back is standing on end just thinking about the slurping and crunching.  I might join twitter just to get more insight on this issue.

I started off the month thinking that I needed my own version.  Hell is other August.

 Other people getting riled up about memos and grammar, treating work like life, acting like we can only prove we're something more than random collections of cells floating through space on a rock by pushing each other around.

My skin is thinner this time of year.  The accumulation of coping and accepting stretches me into an overinflated balloon of memory, regret, and knowledge.  Beware...other people...beware.  I might explode if you try to cram anything else into my brain place.  Not to mention my heart place...oh, my poor, sore it hates having to deal with other peoples' issues with bullet formats and passive voice.  In weak moments it urges me to say things like, "You've clearly never had a real problem if you can get so upset about subject-verb agreement."

I stifle it and feel myself swelling further--the balloon pushed ever closer to bursting as I suck down the anger and focus on love for my fellow humans.

I don't say anything smartassy.  I don't say anything at all. And the other people thank me for my patience.

I want to tell the other people that I am only patient with them because of R.

"When my daughter died," I want to say, "I decided that I was through with getting upset about small things. I realized how precious every life is and I celebrate her by not punching appreciating you. My daughter taught me about love...and patience.  My tiny baby--whom you've forgotten  you probably don't know about--is the person you should thank."

But dead daughters are not discussed in the office.  If you bring them up, you minimize other peoples' stupid shit valid concerns and make them feel bad.  And, for R, I want to make other people feel heard and accepted no matter how pointless their issues are and how much they piss me off.


Five years ago, during most of August, she was still alive and we thought she had a chance.

I review the12 sacred days between August 14 and 26 carefully every year.  Was she wearing pajamas yet on day 6? Did I get to hold her? Is this the day that T took off from work to sit by her bedside?

And the questions that sneak in unbidden and unwelcome. How didn't I notice? Why didn't I do something?

Other people everywhere and I just want to sit still and remember.  Just for 12 days.  Surely I can have 12 days.  It's hardly any time at all.  Believe me, I know.


Other people take up my time with conversations about women who flirt with their husbands and complain about being too busy with their 100% alive set of children.  Other people put things up on their FB walls in August like pictures of bumper stickers that say "falling down doesn't make you a failure.  staying down does."

I think other people ought to try staying down every once in a while.  The view is something from here.


Then we inch closer to August 26 and I change my mind.  A door-to-door salesman takes the time to ask about my MISS Foundation t-shirt and turned out to have two second trimester medical terminations.  My uncle posts an FB status about supporting people who have experienced stillbirth, infant loss, and pregnancy loss.  Parents volunteer to help me with my insane plan to coach C's soccer team.

The other mothers just trying to make it through August.

My friend, Catherine, plants some rosemary in her yard on the other side of the ocean.

Other people can be alright.  They can be part of the swirling wonder that is my daughter. Five years after we said good-bye to her. Miss you, always, R.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Five (almost)

There is a turd sitting in the middle of the sidewalk a couple of blocks away from my house.  I saw it when I was walking the dog.  The flies lifted off and made a leisurely flight to the shelter of the grass strip between sidewalk and curb.  A small nod to their abhorrence or a defensive maneuver?

There's still a part of me that sputters in indignation when a turd pops up right in the middle of my morning.  I call this part Buttercup.  Buttercup is the one who reads up on these things and she can tell you that there are at least 2 ordinances being flouted by the neighbor and his or her smallish dog.  Beyond the letter of the law, however, is the matter of decency--decent dogs who sleep on dog beds stuffed with cedar chips and upholstered with stiff moral fabric know that you go in the grass...and that's only because you can't get a good grip on the toilet seat without thumbs.  She looks at the turd and wants explanations.  What deviant little creature would do such a thing?

Because Buttercup (and every other upstanding citizen of the borough) knows that this is a public right-of-way.  That means that god and country wanted some pavement here so that pedestrians could stay out of the way of the cars that are clearly meant to burn fossil fuels and expel noxious fumes 5 feet to the left.  You can check the plat maps down at borough hall. That's where the fundamental truths lie.  In the closet right next to the one where they store the cotton candy machine that comes out for fundraisers.

The plat maps will also show you where the sewer lines run in case you're wondering where turds really ought to be...flushed down using potable water into a pipe that only runs directly into a stream when there's a big storm.  There are people paid to take care of stuff like this. They spend their days thinking about shit so that you and I don't have to.  Because civilized creatures don't squat in the middle of the sidewalk  Or, if they do, a more civilized creature comes and at least wraps that turd in plastic and sends it off to the landfill

A turd!  Right in the middle of a pristine slab of pavement, lounging there so casually as if it has a right to exist.  As if it has anything to do with the rest of us...

So, I was just about to kick it into the grass so that we could all forget about its existence and return to our normally scheduled, feces-free programming.  But something stopped me.

I'm still a city dweller at heart and even the non-Buttercup parts of me understand how to get along to go along.  I carry many bags and keep my dog on the leash whenever we head out for a walk together.  But, it's August, the month of joy and despair and I kind of want one of my unsuspecting neighbors to step in dog shit and to contemplate the importance of shit as he's scraping it off the bottom of his shoe.  Or to have the temporary feeling of good luck that comes when he narrowly avoids stepping in the shit.  The bad, the good, all of it--all of it is necessary.

 What's the difference anyway?  Turd? Sidewalk? Flies?  People? A million seeds that can't grow in pavement?  People who don't walk enough to warrant a sidewalk anyway?  Who am I to say how things ought to be?


Tomorrow is their 5th birthday--my daughters who are cursed with a mother who writes about dog turds on the internet in connection with their birth.  Maybe R will never find out.

I don't know how to feel about 5 years.  It seems to be the magic number of years that it has taken to get alright with R's death and to feel like a halfway decent mother.  I can't/won't forget how my R suffered for those 12 days and I will regret that I couldn't give her something better for the rest of my life but, the central fact of her existence is separate from that pain.  She was mine and she was perfect for me because she was mine.

Somehow this is harder with the daughter that I see everyday.  For her, just the fact that she survived is so amazing to me that I can't figure out what happens next.  Yet, I feel the unsolicited advice bubbling up.  It used to be the basics like 'don't talk while you're eating' and 'put your bike helmet on' and (at night while watching her sleep) 'please wake up tomorrow.'  But it's getting more nitpicky as she gets older and the stakes are raised.  I worry about the future and the way she gets frustrated about coloring and writing her letters.

"You survived." I want to say, "You barely made it.  Who cares about school?"

But that would be some crap parenting so, out comes the advice.  She makes her B backwards and I point it out to her because I know that she'll be pissed when she notices it later.  And then the tears and I immediately regret opening my mouth because she is almost five and just the fact that she is almost five is enough perfection to sustain me for the rest of my days on this planet.  But, the B was backwards and we can't have meltdowns over backwards Bs so I tell her she needs to calm down and now I'm squelching her self-expression...


Every parent probably feels this way.  I'm sure every mother I know gets accidentally wrapped around the axle of good intentions sooner or later.  And every other mother probably tries to back away from the situation and reassures herself that this isn't a big the grand scheme of things.  She may even utter it aloud, "Hey, settle down.  It's not like someone died."


But still, my girls and I have come so far together over these five years.  August is still challenging and exhausting for me but I'm thankful for both of my daughters and everything they've taught me.

Happy birthday to you, C and R!