Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: The Year I Relearned How to be Boring

So, here we are. The end of the first decade of this millennium. Seems momentous, right?

Time has moved differently for me in this decade. It's compressed, squozen, flipped, and turned in on itself. There are frozen blocks of time inside my head--two massive, icy sheets that float to the top and obscure everything else.

It is perpetually December 2005 and August 2007.

But, somehow, time still manages to flow beneath.

I organized my desk last week and spent a few minutes marveling at my level of production during 2010. It felt like I did nothing but fret about C and my widowed mother and wonder how I could have saved R but the pile of paper on my desk indicates that I'm actually a highly productive and organized worker bee. Go figure!

Who is this person who manages to accomplish so much? She's so orderly. Her emails are so informative and polite.

I saw Sybil and Sally Field made this all look very dramatic. I thought that my other personalities would be more...flamboyant. I guess I'm just a bureaucrat,even at the very core of my being.

On paper 2010 was actually a banner year for the mommicked family. A new house, a new job for T, C has been declared perfectly normal by her preschool teachers.

But, you know, happiness just doesn't sing like it used to.

We can't move forward with my Dad and R in tow. Each step down the path leaves them a little further behind.

At the same time, letting go doesn't hurt like it used to.

I guess that's the story on 2010--we've evened out, righted the ship, slipped on our normal suits and zipped them all the way up to our chins.

Time heals, if you're willing to do some work.

I have to thank all of you for your assistance with helping me rediscover my inner workaday drudge. I think of this place and all of your blogs as a sort of virtual teacher's lounge. After a long day of setting a good example for the kids, I can stumble in, utter a few cusses, and tug off the pantyhose. I can tell a crass joke. I can tell you exactly what I think of little Jimmy's dreadful mother. And then I can pull myself back together and head back out feeling placid and capable.

Thank you and best to all of you for the coming year.

I hope 2011 only brings good (or boring) things your way.

Monday, December 13, 2010


I arrived at my new job in June 2008 and promptly filled my cube with a cloud of tragedy and despair. Everyone in the office shivered and felt as though they may never be cheerful again. Because, though I felt like this on the inside...

...I looked more like this on the outside.

Just to bolster my Gen X cred, here's another example:

Felt like this -

Looked like this -

And so, despite the fact that I was a party planner and holiday skit auteur at my previous job, I've been mostly friendless for the past 65-odd pay periods.

Work friendlessness is sort of freeing. My boss seems to like my lack of interest in small talk and office hijinks. I'm left out of most work drama and I never spend more on coffee or lunch than I intended. As a natural introvert I find the opportunities for silence and solitude comforting.

But, alas, the world is changing and me along with it.

I don't exude despair anymore. We've had some turnover in the office and the new people don't remember the bad, old days. My mystique is gone. The shard has been reunited with the crystal. Now I'm like a less-glamorous J.C. Wiatt. I can almost hear the cheesy '80s soundtrack music following me when I schlep up my front walk after a long day at the office.

I'm considering one of those shirts with the floppy bowtie...

If it's solitude vs. 'alrightness,' I guess I'd have to vote for the latter but it does sting a bit. I've read this sentiment a lot lately on the blogs that I follow--as horrible as those early days felt, fresh grief was so much simpler.

I've been befriended by a pregnant woman. She was 32 weeks last Thursday. She likes to talk to me about pregnancy because I'm so positive and supportive (that high-pitched sound you hear is me whimpering like a puppy).

This woman has a name picked out! And, dare I say it? A birth plan!

Saints preserve us, a birth plan!

I can't figure out how she got this 'positive and supportive' notion. As far as I can tell I just nod along while she talks and do my best not to furrow my brow. There's not much else I can do. My entire personal pregnancy experience is built upon a foundation of weirdness and she seems to be having a completely normal pregnancy. The vast majority of women I know who incubated one fetus and made it to 32-weeks brought home a living baby amidst a cloud of balloons and flowers 8-weeks later. The odds are in her favor.

Yet...I feel like such a liar.

Monday, November 29, 2010


It was the Bolivian dancers that did me in. I made it through the treacly holiday music and the adorable child-ballerinas marching along in their Nutcracker mouse costumes. Hell, I even made it through a 3-hour drive in the early morning darkness to get to the parade on time with my happy mood intact. But watching those teenage boys smiling and leaping, boots a-jangle, after the girls in their microscopic skirts left me fighting back the tears.

As they passed by C hopped around on the pavement imitating the dance steps, face aglow with envy at the ornate costumes. I caught a sudden glimpse of a teenage C cramming herself into something short and tight for a high school dance. Then I grew simultaneously sad that she's growing up and terrified that she won't get to grow up. And then I imagined the smiling dancers old and infirm. And then I thought about R in her urn, wrapped in a T-shirt, in the suitcase, in the car that we left in a parking deck 3 blocks away. And then some sniffling. And then the tears.

This is it. This is all there really is. Randy teenagers and impure thoughts. At least that's what I thought for those five minutes as I stood weeping on the curb in in Silver Spring's fabricated downtown.

So sad, isn't it? One day you're strutting your stuff down the parade route in a bedazzled mini-skirt, the next day you're a mom with three-year-old, a set of cremains, and a stack of worries. Then, you're a down-on-your-luck musician playing a mournful saxophone on a lonely rooftop in the heartless city while Time, that cruel bitch-master, cackles at you. Or something like that.

Thirty-five years go by in a flash but at least it's a good solid lifetime. Would I feel better if I knew C would get 35 years? Would that be enough? Would I be more content if R had gotten 35 days instead of 12? What about 5 days with no pain or illness?

I'd like to say that I had some great revelation while watching the parade or that I achieved some level of peace with whatever other challenges lie ahead. I'm afraid I don't have it in me to be wise or peaceful. I just have two simple requests...

Oh, great universe, if you're listening, please let my girl live long enough to dress inappropriately and be leered at by some pimply-faced boy full of adolescent arrogance and impure thoughts. And, please, even though I don't espouse any particular set of beliefs about heaven or the afterlife, let there be parades and spangly costumes for R too.

Monday, November 15, 2010

knit your own jizo figure (I'll help you)

It's getting on to Holiday Giveaway season out in blog-land. I haven't decided yet whether I have the crafting wherewithal to participate this year (given my current craftload) but, I want to show some sort of good will. So, here's a free pattern that I whipped up.

mommicked’s Mizuko Jizo knitting pattern

This pattern was inspired by Angie’s Jizo paintings. In the pattern I’ve used abbreviations and notations typically used at knitty. This is the first pattern I’ve ever created (and, true to my lazy blogger ways, I only spent an hour or so writing it up). If you find something you don’t understand in here (and I won’t be surprised if you do) or you need a clarification on the directions, just leave a comment and I’ll reply in the comments section.

Finished Size –
Height – 4-5 inches
Use smaller needles and lighter gauge yarn to size down.

Materials –
MC – Plymouth Encore Worsted (white)
CC1 – Loops and Threads Impeccable Worsted (Heather)
CC2 – Lion’s Brand “Vanna’s Choice” Worsted (Cranberry)

Note – I think you can use whatever worsted weight white, pink/tan/brown, and red yarn you happen to have or can acquire at your LYS or craft store.

10 yards MC
10 yards CC1
2-3 yards CC2
Extra of MC and CC1 for stuffing or you could use fiberfill
A small amount of grey or brown sock yarn or embroidery floss
Size 6 dpns (or whatever size gives you a fairly tight fabric—you want to knit this tightly so that the filling doesn’t show through)
Darning needle
Crochet Hook

Instructions –

Body and Head
Using MC, CO 9
Place 3 st each on needles 1, 2, & 3
Row 1 – kfb every stitch to end (18)
Row 2 – *k1, kfb* (27)
Row 3 – purl
Row 4 – *k8, kfb* (30)
Row 5-15 – knit
Row 16 - *k2, k2tog* (24)
Row 17 – knit
Row 18 - *k2, k2tog* (18)
Row 19 – knit
Row 20 – switch to CC1, knit
Row 21 - *k1, kfb* (24)
Row 22 - *k1, kfb* (36)
Row 23-28 – knit
Row 29 - *k4, k2tog* (27)
Row 30 - *k3, k2tog* (21)
Row 31 - *k2, k2tog* (16)
Row 32 - *k1, k2tog* (11)

Filling - Now is a good time to stuff the body and head with the filling of your choice. I like to use white yarn for the body and the skin-colored yarn for the head). If you want the Jizo to stand up easily, you could stuff something heavy like a bean bag down into the body. Make it as soft or as firm as you desire.

Note - When I make these, I typically take a few minutes to write a message to or about the baby I’m remembering on some slips of paper that are 1/8 in. wide by 2 in. long and I add them in with the filling. For my own daughter I asked for her to be protected and to have help finding her family and friends. I can’t write directions for this part. You just have to do what feels right.

Row 33 - *k2tog* (6)
Row 34 - *k2tog* 3 stitches left. Break yarn, leaving an 8-10 inch tail and run end through all 4 remaining stitches.

Using darning needle, push yarn tail into top of head and out through the figure’s neck. Weave the end around the neck of the figure in a running stitch and tighten slightly to differentiate head from body. Tie off and tuck end inside head.

With CC2, CO 5. Leave a 14-16 inch tail when you CO.
Row 1 – knit
Row 2 – purl
Row 3 – k1, kfb, k1, kfb, k1 (7)
Row 4 – purl
Row 5 – *k1, kfb* (10)
Row 6 – purl
Row 7 – k2, k2tog, k2, k2tog, k2 (8)
Row 8 – BO

Time to make a string for the bib. Take your crochet hook and make a 3 inch chain using the long end from your CO. Attach the loose end of the chain to the other side of the bib and put it over the figure’s head.

Sleeves – (make 2)
With MC, CO3
Row 1 – knit
Row 2 – purl
Row 3 – k1, kfb, k1 (4)
Row 4 – purl
Row 5 – knit
Row 6 – purl
Row 7 – k1, kfb, k to end (5)
Row 8 – purl
Row 9 – knit
Row 10 – purl
Row 11 – knit
Row 12 – k1, kfb to end
Row 13 – BO
Don’t weave in ends. Use ends to attach sleeves to body. You want to position the shoulders so that the wide ends of the sleeves where the hands will be end up about ½ in apart in front of the bib. Leave the ‘hand ends’ of the sleeves open.

With darning needle and CC1, make 5-6 loops attaching the upper front corner of the sleeves to each other. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. You just want to give the suggestion of fingers laced together. I like to tuck the bib down behind the hands to hold it in place.

I keep it simple here, mostly because I can’t come up with a mouth that I like. I just loop the sock yarn around 2 stitches to make some closed eyelids. You can bring the yarn or embroidery floss up from the back of the head. Keep in mind that eyes are generally located about halfway down the head when you’re deciding where to put the stitches. You could probably draw some eyes and a mouth too if you’d prefer.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Little Soul

Have you ever given yourself a headache contemplating the nature of existence? Just look around--thumbdrive, catalog, coaster, dog. What prehistoric butterfly flapped its wings at just the right speed, at just the right time, in just the right location to make all of this possible? Did a supreme being really come up with all of this in 6 days? Is it turtles all the way down? Is TracyOC actually 13-year-old who just smoked weed for the first time?

We all experience multiple iterations of reality and multiple associated epiphanies in our lifetimes. Just to be clear, I'm talking about these types of moments -

So, that's what makes my brother a boy!
Wait a minute, where does the stork come in?
Jesus! Darth Vader's his father?!

For me, each of these moments is immediately followed by a brief mental recap.

Why didn't I know this already?
Does everyone else know about this?
What else is lurking out there waiting to surprise me?

The earth rocks a bit and I float up out of myself for a moment before feeling that things are mostly the way I previously understood them to be. Reality has expanded a bit but I'm still more or less the same.

Some epiphanies are bigger than others.

I remember sitting by my father's bedside a couple of days before he died. This was at the beginning of his second week in the ICU after he'd ripped the central line from his neck and attempted to escape. He was heavily medicated and disoriented by the toxins that had built up in his body as his liver failed but we were alone for what might be the last time ever and I decided that I should probably say my good-byes. I told him that I would miss him and that it was ok to stop fighting. The image of him trying to get his eyes to open and focus on me is burned into my brain.

This is death.
This is life.
The world is not as I believed it to be but, it's ok because now I know.

The problem is that a lot of people don't know. The other problem is that the people who do know don't like to talk about it in front of those who don't know. I mean, jeez, are you trying to ruin their whole day or what?

Crazy that I still worry about ruining someone's day by sharing the experiences that shattered my entire life but, I do worry about it and I bet you do too.

This is life.

The big epiphanies tend to spawn after-epiphanies (and blogs).

I found myself joking about slow elevators with a complete stranger at work last week. My regional office only has 900-odd employees so I suppose there are no complete strangers but, I'd never met this guy before. I can't remember what I said but it made him laugh and we spent a few floors smiling and trading elevator stories.

I got off at my floor and I thought to myself, "See. You're still in there."

I actually thought that--in exactly those words. I smiled and nodded and congratulated myself on getting back in touch with my inner smartass.

The feeling of satisfaction lasted approximately 12 seconds. By the time I was back in my cube I was berating myself for daring to gripe about an elevator that still exists in a world without my daughter. R is dead and you have the nerve to complain about an elevator? Take the f*cking stairs if you don't like it.

If someone else said it to me I'd probably knock his teeth down his throat. I don't know why I'm letting myself get away with taking such an absurd position. After all, there's no prize for being the most miserable.

This is death.
This is life.

Clearly life will go on but I feel stuck in mid-air. I'm waiting for the next epiphany that will place me back on my feet, the one that tells me how a formerly unrepentant, irreverent smartass navigates the world as a half-bereaved mother.

I'm not really one for poetry but I came across this a few months ago when I decided that a responsible citizen ought to know a little bit about the poet laureate and it's been rolling around in my head since.

This is Merwin's interpretation of a poem written by the Roman emperor, Hadrian (I lifted it from here).

Little Soul


Little soul little stray
little drifter
now where will you stay
all pale and all alone
after the way
you used to make fun of things

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Still Life 365: Ritual

We lit our candle and then sat on the hotel balcony for a few minutes together. C, resentful that R got a candle and she didn't, dragged T back into the room for some coloring. Sibling rivalry from the great beyond.

Up above Cassiopeia climbed the night sky, tied to her chair, dangled upside down by the spiteful gods. I used to think she was a villain. Suddenly she's both victim and soul sister. So we were a little smug about our beautiful daughters...this hardly seems fair.

We actually missed our 7PM time slot for the October 15 Wave of Light. C wanted a treat after dinner which involved some difficult maneuvering of an ice cream cone, some angry, frustrated words (mine), and tears (hers). We aimed for 8PM instead and figured that central time was close enough. R was unlikely to get angry about the delay.

I sat alone with the candle for a half hour unable to focus my thoughts in any productive way. It should have felt more significant or more sad. My inner voice scolded me for not feeling R's presence in the flame. I just wasn't feeling it...

...until I saw the candle that another grieving mama lit for my girl. Thank you for remembering her, Jenn.


It's time for the Still Life 365 10 Questions. The topic this month is Ritual and I shall attempt to answer the following question.

Have you felt a connection to other cultures and religions and how they deal with death?

I've been reluctant to establish any sort of ritual for R because I know I won't stick with it and then I'll feel like a bad mother. Which, incidentally, is exactly how I feel about my inability to get C's picture taken on her birthday every year.

When Angie posted the topic for October, I wondered what I could contribute. Despite my cradle-Catholic heritage, I'm not good at rituals.

We haven't forgotten her. T's dad built a box to hold all of R's worldly possessions. Her remains sit in a little pink container on top of this box in our bedroom where we see her first thing every morning. But, it took me over a year to print up pictures for the empty frames I arranged around her. We added an LED candle on a timer recently but I haven't gotten around to changing the batteries despite the fact that it's been dark for several weeks. And the dust...oh, the dust.

I'm no more fastidious about R's things than I would have been if she'd lived. All of C's meaningful knick-knacks are still boxed up in her closet from the move because I haven't gotten around to installing shelves for them in her room. I think it's probably healthy that my bad mommyness is spread equally among my dead and living children.

I think about her every time I see a scrappy little tree growing from a crack in the sidewalk. If I find a pretty leaf or sparkly button in some unexpected place, I pocket it and bring it to her. We also include things that others send like the card from Angie. We don't buy things for her or decide what to get for her in advance. We only add things to her collection that arrive by chance.

I don't know if you can count something intentionally non-ritualistic as a ritual but, it seems to work for us.

I borrowed the idea from a place I used to visit when I lived in coastal Carolina. In the Old Burying Ground in Beaufort, NC, on the far north side of the property, behind the church, against the fence, is a large, flat marker. The words engraved on the marker are worn but still legible--Girl in a Cask of Rum.

The story is that her father was the captain of a ship and that she grew up missing him while he was away on one voyage or another. When she was 12-years-old she begged to go to sea with him. She wanted adventure. Her parents wanted her safe at home but eventually relented. Sometime during the voyage she took ill and died. The rest of the story varies depending on the tour guide. He either couldn't bear to dump her body into the sea or had made a promise to bring her home to her mother and so, had her body preserved in a cask of rum until she could be buried back on land.

I heard (and told) this story dozens of times during my time teaching on the coast and it always got a reaction. The listeners are invariably fascinated. They wonder about the logistics of preserving a body, how her mother reacted, what happened next. Once you preserve your dead daughter's body in a vat of alcohol, do you just go back to church on Sunday and blend in? Did the neighbors whisper this story to each other over the hedgerows? In a town full of pirates and transient sea-faring folk, did people just shrug and figure that it was none of their business? Maybe the death of a child always so startling that we all agree that the normal procedures don't apply.

The girl's marker is covered with trinkets and baubles. People come to see her and leave things that a 12-year-old girl might pick up and slip in a pocket. I'd imagine that most of the flowers and seashells are left by mothers and fathers who are heartbroken over this story but I've seen 13-year-old boys crawl around in the shrubs to find an azalea blossom to leave on her grave.

The contrast is a little startling, the spartan, white, clapboard of the Baptist church as the backdrop for this impromptu, pagan-looking shrine. Somehow, however, it seems like the only proper tribute for a little girl who died before her life really began.

So, I suppose that "Girl in a Cask of Rum" isn't an official culture or religion but that's what I have. I bring my daughter random, pretty objects because I think she would have appreciated them in life and my ritual is inspired by another little girl with an extraordinary story.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Fool Me Once...Only Once? You're Clearly Not Trying Hard Enough

It was a lovely day toward the end of the school year. The students and I had hit a bit of a groove—a groove that is only really possible toward the end of a relationship when the stakes are lower. Spring had sprung, the end was nigh, and class had started to be more fun than work.

So, when my paper grading was interrupted by cries of, “Ms. O, you have to see this!”, I jumped up and trotted eagerly forth to see what grand teachable moment awaited on the other side of the bookcase—a spiderweb? A butterfly? A really cool drawing of a spiderweb or a butterfly?

It was a turd in a bucket.

The story of how the turd came to rest in the bucket is sort of long and twisty and maybe better suited to a blog about the dark, early days of charter schools and my views on adequate funding for public education so, I'll forgo the explanations.

The point is that I'm the sort of person who thinks that a group of giddy 13-year-old boys, the same 13-year-old boys with whom I had spent the greater part of the previous 9 months and had proven themselves capable of producing a stench that could melt the skin off your face, would get excited about a butterfly.

I am trusting and naïve. I also happen to think that a turd in a bucket is funny but that's beside the point.

If you tell me that I have to see something, I will come running to see it. If you tell me something is true, I will believe you.

C doesn't take after me in this regard. She's a natural skeptic and an accomplished liar. Last week, after viciously squeezing a younger playmate/rival's nose to avoid having to share, she told me that Baby X had kicked her first. I told her that there were many eyewitnesses who couldn't confirm her story. She shrugged and brazened it out, “Baby X is a bad kid.”

A bad kid! Sometimes I just have to pause and admire the set on my daughter.

She gets this talent from T, aka, Mr. Mommicked, who can BS with the best of them. Like most people who can spin a good yarn, he assumes that everyone else is full of shit. Even when he sees a butterfly, he suspects it might actually be a turd in disguise.

And so, his first reaction upon reading this post was to check the date on the linked article and to note that the story was likely an April Fool's prank.

Turds. Turds! (shakes fist angrily at unsympathetic sky)


I've been ruminating on Mel's post refuting the "Breast is Best" campaign over at Stirrup Queens. I'm just a hack at this blogging stuff, so this isn't any sort of academic or scientific rumination, I'm just trying to figure out my own thoughts on the topic.

My only experience as a mother is well outside the norm. When I try to insert myself into conversations about pregnancy/birth/baby stuff with other women I make all sorts of weird blunders. I talk about death and NG tubes and how much newborn C's cheekless butt reminded me of a hairless cat. But reading Mel's post about the milk that never came in and the unwelcome, ill-informed advances of lactavists made me think that I may actually have a worthwhile contribution to a discussion that I usually avoid.

As the proud owner of one producing boob and the less-than-thrilled owner of one deficient boob, I feel like I have a special view of the world--one person with two completely different perspectives.

Lefty and Righty were raised in the same house under the same circumstances. They're more or less symmetrical. They were both present for all stages of the pregnancy and every step of our painful breastfeeding journey. But, they couldn't be more different from each other in terms of milk production.

Because I see butterflies instead of turds, I believed the LC when she suggested herbal supplements and pumping between feedings to improve my dismal production. When C was big enough to co-sleep, we piled into bed and tried nursing through the night. After 4 months of constant cajoling, Lefty managed to produce 4 oz....once...during a pumping session following an 8 hour gap in feedings. Righty never, ever got above 1.5 oz.

Same body, same regime, same baby, major difference.

I suppose it turns out that my entire life is a bit of a controlled experiment—half of a uterus, half of the expected fallopian tubes, half of a set of functioning breasts. Half of my children. The view from both sides. Sappy and had.

3 years ago, however, I had no perspective on the issue. I was in a desperate struggle to keep C alive and healthy and to hold onto my own sanity. Even though I was surrounded by friends and family who supported my quixotic lactation quest and agreed that supplemental formula-feeding was necessary, I was still terrified that I was damaging my surviving daughter. It probably didn't help that C's identical twin, R, succumbed to NEC which can be aggravated by formula-feeding--information that is mentioned in all of the materials I read about breastfeeding preemies.

I know dozens of women who successfully breastfed, a scant handful of women who tried and failed, and an even smaller set of women who tried, failed, and are willing to talk about it. While I was muddling about trying to get Righty to do anything useful at all, I read and studied and landed at the bizarre conclusion that I was doing something wrong (with Righty but not with Lefty). If I couldn't even believe myself when I told myself that I did everything I could, I can see why some firebrand lactavist might have trouble believing me.

I think that some lactavists really suffer from a lack of tact (does that make me a tactavist?). I completely agree with them that breast is best. During the 2-3 days when Lefty was really on her game, it was friggin' glorious. I felt like some sort of wizard. Breastfeeding was easier, cheaper, faster (breastmilk tastes way better than formula...ahem). It's just better in every way. But what kind of crappy person celebrates her ability to breastfeed by lording it over women who are struggling or just plain can't?

Advocacy is fine. Boldness is fine. Casting formula-feeders as misinformed women who got railroaded into bad decisions by big pharma is both rude and wrong, sort of like squeezing Baby X's nose and then calling her a bad kid to cover your own ass.

Of course C was partially formula-fed...


At some point in early 2006 I trotted eagerly forth toward parenthood. I'd heard great things about pregnancy and babies. I had grand plans. I was going to trust my body and do the best for my baby. I expected butterflies because that's all anyone ever talks about. When my personal experience with parenthood turned out to be a little more like a winged turd, I blamed myself for failing my daughters.

Fortunately, somewhere toward the bottom of my downward spiral I read about a woman named Elizabeth Goodyear. She had been born prematurely, her twin had died, her parents kept her alive with whiskey and cream fed through an eyedropper. As of 2008 she was 101 years old.

A less trusting sort might assume that this is a turd in disguise, maybe even a ruse put together by the Evil Formula Empire. I prefer to think it's a butterfly.

In the article Ms. Goodyear says, “I think I only remember the amusing things; I don’t remember any depressing things. I think I just put them out of my mind. I know everybody has things that they want to forget, but I don’t even have to forget. I just don’t remember.”

I think I'm going to take her advice.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Still Life 365 - Trees

1. When you saw the theme of trees for the month of September, what immediately came to your mind?

Honestly my thought was something along the lines of, "Ooooo, oooo, I have a lot of things to say about trees."

2. What kinds of words do you associate with trees?

Enduring, tough, adaptable

3. Of these words, do you associate any with yourself?

I don't necessarily think of myself as particularly tough or enduring by nature (perhaps by circumstance). I suppose I'm adaptable but, really, who isn't?

4. Have you been an outdoorsy person throughout your life?

In a former life, many years ago, I was an outdoor experiential educator. I spent a lot of time in the woods, teaching kids about biology, ecology, and our relationship with trees and plants. In fact, I built an entire curriculum on traditional medicinal uses and various edible wild plants. Now I spend most of my time indoors staring at a computer screen wondering if I could somehow get back to that former life.

5. How has your relationship with nature changed since your loss(es)?

On the one hand, I feel a certain kinship toward critters and the sorts of indignities they endure, e.g., storm-blown baby birds and squirrels, street trees with their bark scraped off by lawnmowers and car doors. I feel like we're all sort of trapped by fate and just getting by as best we can. On the other hand, I've actually been sort of pissed at a mother goose carelessly letting her 6(!) babies cross a busy road--doesn't she care about them?!

Overall, I feel like reflecting on the great variety of life on this planet and the very peculiar and amazing adaptations plants and animals exhibit is a good way to feel both inspired and humbled.

6. Did you plant a tree or bush in honor of your child?

Since R is actually named after a plant that grows relatively well in our neck of the woods, we've planted several little shrubs in her honor...mostly to good effect. My brother has had multiple fatalities of the same plant. He finally gave up because it was starting to creep him out.

Last year I found a tiny, volunteer red maple growing under the playground equipment we donated in R's honor. At the moment it's still in a temporary home at my Mom's house but I think we'll move it into our yard in the spring. I'm pretty nervous about moving it--what if it doesn't survive?

7. If you have planted a tree for your child, in what ways do you incorporate the tree into your life? If you haven't, what natural images do you associate with your loss? (Do you tend to it? Do you meditate or reflect under it? Do you places flowers by it?)

At the moment I just sort of fret about its safety and survival...sigh. But I have big plans for it.

8. Trees have also been used to represent families. Talk a bit about your own family tree.

I've been thinking a lot about my family tree lately and wondering how many of my foremothers endured babyloss or fertility issues. We don't exactly have a huge family and there are several childless great-aunts in the mix.

I grew up hearing about my great-uncle who died shortly after birth and how my great-grandmother knew he was going to die when she saw an owl outside the kitchen window and how my great-grandfather lied and said that the baby had been baptized so that he could be buried in the family plot. This story is a fairly good illustrative example of some key family characteristics. A tiny part of my brain is also confident that R is in good hands with my superstitious Grandmom and my white-lying Grandpop.

9. What are your feelings now about family trees and exploring your own lineage?

I can't say it's something I'm all that interested in. I like getting information in bits and pieces from various relatives at family gatherings.

10. The rings of trees fascinate me. I remember learning that in hard years, the rings were smaller, or darker than in years of good water. Describe the rings of your tree.

Over the last decade we've been on a 2-year cycle for death and mayhem. During the more mayhemish years I always remember a friend of mine who liked to say, "When it rains, it fuckin' pours." So, I guess we have alternating skinny and fat rings. But I'm hoping for a drought.

Sidenote: There is a spectacular sunrise at the moment and the dog is insisting that we go for a closer look. No time to edit or correct anything...hope I did ok.

Side-sidenote: After letting this sit for a while I realized that I sound like an ignoramus when saying that I'm not interested in learning more about my family tree. Of course I'm interested. I think I mean that I prefer the casual/serendipitous approach rather than the formal research and interviewing. There's nothing quite like finding out that you're related to the Amazing Kreskin at a random family gathering. I'm sure no one in the family would have owned up to this fact if they thought I was recording it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Infinite Possibility...Part 2

So last week I was chatting with the New Guy at Work (NGaW) and he mentions that someone was arrested back in April while poking around the dumpster outside the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and that he CLAIMED TO BE FROM THE FUTURE and subsequently DISAPPEARED from his room at the mental health facility where he was detained.

I found this whole thing surprising for several reasons:
1) I was unaware that something so bizarre had happened for almost 5 months
2) NGaW is also nerdy enough to read up on the LHC
3) People apparently still wear tweed in the future rather than head-to-toe silver lame (imagine the accent mark, folks)

Do you ever feel like you have a choice to make? You could go on with your skeptical views, you can listen to the teacher and assume that some things are just not possible...or you could exit the herd, leave the other sheeple behind, and open your eyes to the possibility that ripples out there along the edges.

Kit-kats for everyone in a communist chocolate hellhole!?! I wonder if it means what we understand it to mean or if language has just evolved.


Imagine a sunny day at the beach with ginormous, hurricane waves, an opinionated 3-year-old, and a whole bunch of people who can't see how desperately you want to be alone. Imagine a long walk down the beach and a wrestling match in the public restroom (with said 3-year-old), a large cup of french fries and a threatening horde of gulls tracking your every move. Struggle to think only happy thoughts about this precious child--the antidote to every rotten feeling you've had over the past 3 years.

Feel your nerves stretch under the strain. Pluck one. It's a high C.

Finish the fries, hand the kid a bucket and shovel, sit down on the chair that you lugged all the way here and haven't used once. Don't cave in. Take a break. She can get over it.

Look up for no particular reason. See a lone butterfly fighting the wind. Watch it beat a drunken path across the dunes. Smile as it approaches and smacks your grouchy daughter right in the face. Try not to cry when she laughs. Wave good-bye as it flies away.

Watch it disappear into the rippling edge.

Feel better.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Wishing Time Away

Summer just zipped by this year. Or maybe I zipped by summer.

It seems to happen that way now that I'm old enough to be unquestionably grown-up. In June I start off with an ambitious list of free concerts and farmers markets--my imagination mistakes me for a woman of leisure once the temperature inches above 70 degrees F.

June is a frenzy of summer--picnics, baseball, splashing in the kiddie pool. July never fails to be overtaken by events. August is a parade of housekeeping feats of strength punctuated by bouts of emotional distress.

By the end of it my brain is paddling around inside my head like the baby bunnies the dog used to chase into the backyard pool. Only one more week to luxuriate on the beach! You should rent a kayak or something! Make some iced-tea and sit in a lounge chair! Why didn't you tie-dye anything this summer?

Normally Fall would come along in a few weeks and scoop me up into the safety of short days and limited possibilities. This year, however, we're shifting into phase 2 of our parent lifestyle--preschool.

C has a new backpack and a set of jumpers handcrafted by her Grammy hanging neatly in the closet. We're practicing bathroom skills and reminding her that her classmates and teacher will not want to hear about butt cheeks during the school day. She dutifully takes in this information and then spends her evenings pretending to be a baby.

I didn't realize I was dreading the transition until I found myself staring at the ceiling this morning around 3AM while my mind concocted all sorts of misery. What if she gets bullied or excluded? I think she'd have an easier time if she turns out to be a mean girl. Oh my god! I'm hoping that my daughter turns into a mean girl!

There's no shortage of things that need to happen around here. The laundry's backed up. I can't concentrate on the meeting agenda I'm supposed to be developing. I have no plan for dinner for tonight...or any night this week to tell the truth. All I can think about is C's clean, little self-perception getting tromped all over by a bunch of strangers.

I've already marked the last day of the school year on my calendar--next June. I'll skip work that day. We'll get ice cream at a local dairy that we haven't visited yet and go to a free concert. We'll make a bunch of plans for things that we probably won't do.

Now that summer's over, summer just can't come soon enough.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


And so it's here. Another year gone without R. We miss you and love you, kiddo.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Can you scoot over a little bit? I'm getting a crick in my neck. Better yet, why don't you hop out and swim alongside? I'm feeling a little self-absorbed this week and I need to stretch my legs.

In my real life I don't talk about R very frequently. I may throw in a cautious self-deprecating remark about my less-than-ideal experience with pregnancy or a veiled comment about the 'hard year or 2' after C was born but even those are few and far between. It's not that I don't want to talk about her or can't--I don't want to hear what other people think about R or her birth or her death or my reaction to it.

On the few forays I've made into the world of public grieving (i.e., expressing sorrow in front of people without dead babies) I've been advised to 'find something that will help me turn that negative energy into a positive result' or to 'stop worrying because it won't bring her back.' My former boss suggested I use the time freed up by trauma-induced insomnia to get more work done. I've also been ignored because, as we all know, if you want something to go away, you should ignore it.

The birthday has passed. We are now in our 3rd grief season (it may actually be the 4th given the circumstances leading up to their birth). This year's theme is apparently “Self-indulgent Prick.”

T pointed out that I cannot get annoyed by family members and friends who behave as though R never existed if I'm the one leading them in this direction. It seems I have made myself a tiny little bed with room enough for only me and a 3 lb. 12-day-old baby and I now have to lie in it.

In my mind I'm trying to spare everyone. The monumental R-shaped hole inside my heart isn't really fit for company. If I lay it out in full view it is both impossible to ignore and hideous beyond imagining. It will mock your kid's asthma* and kick you right in your arthritic knee. It wants you to know what it feels like to kiss your dead baby's forehead in the back room of the funeral home. And, goddamn it, if you don't stop talking about your Tar.get boycott, it's going to rip your head off and shove it up your ass.

In preparation for the kickass birthday party we had planned for C, I did the mannerly thing and wrestled Old Ugly into submission. After all, this was the first time all of these folks would be gathered together since I married T back in 2002 and I wanted it to go smoothly.

My family did not appreciate the effort. In fact, they didn't even notice. So, in a fit of pique I cracked open my laptop and executed the blogging equivalent of kicking the dog after a hard day at work. There I was, Monday morning, lounging with my feet in some undeserving person's face, complaining that the lifeboat lacks luxury appointments. But, you're all too decent and supportive to point that out and I can't tell you how much I appreciate it.

I think of myself as a fortunate person. I've always been healthy, capable, free of any crippling mental, physical, or emotional handicaps. For most of my life I've 'had it to give' or at least felt like I didn't need to take anything from anyone. Then my Dad died and then I became a mom and then one of my daughters died and I've been struggling to reconcile my former carefree self with this new baggage-laden version ever since.

Sympathy has never come easy for me. Like most fortunate people I always thought that I had earned a life that ran smoothly. People with problems could just work their way out of them or not but, that had nothing to do with me.

You'd think that I'd be a font of sympathy now that I know the truth about suffering but it's really not that simple. My well of caring is miles deep but only an inch or two wide. If it doesn't have to do with death or imminent death of a young human, I really can't get too stirred up. (OK, maybe I can get a little weepy thinking about the polar bears drowning for want of pack ice but mostly because it reminds me that children living in low-lying areas of Bangladesh could be swept away by rising seas.)

Everyday I get up, take a shower, head to the train and somehow manage to walk the walk of a conscientious, upright citizen but it feels like such a sham. I weigh everything against R's death. At the slightest provocation I find myself back in the family room of the NICU watching T hold her out so that the doctor can listen for a heartbeat and call the time of death. Sometime right around 4pm on Sunday, August 26, 2007, the universe collapsed into a pinpoint and everything other than R and C and T ceased to exist.

Over time, the pinpoint widened to let in other families struggling to recover from babyloss but there's still nowhere near enough room for mundane complaints of the non-grieving, non-fatal variety.

On Wednesday it will be three years since R took her last breath, Thursday will be three years since she died. I'm not sure how I thought I would feel after three years.

Last year I was completely adrift on August 26. I had just started reaching out to other folks via the blog. I was living in my mom's house and wondering if we'd ever manage to get pregnant again. I walked down to R's playground and looked for some type of sign that R still existed somewhere. And I suppose I found it.

This year I feel less alone and more settled. On Friday morning I got a card from Awesome Angie (R's first and only birthday card). Several of you sent messages of support here or through email or on FB. We're in our own house. At some point last fall we decided that we really don't want more kids which is great because I don't think we can produce anymore anyway. T recently started a new job that suits him perfectly.

We are where we want to be...except that R isn't here with us. These days, missing her is just a part of daily life--easy as taking a breath. Truthfully, it's probably easier than it would have been to parent her if she had survived.

On Thursday, C and I will drive down to the beach for a reunion with some of my grad school classmates who are now mostly happily married with (100% living) children. I'm sure that we'll get caught up on life since graduation--the choices we've made, the opportunities we've missed. I will endeavor to stay focused on the conversation but my mind will likely be off and wandering, trying to figure out how I could have failed my daughter so miserably and how I can go on growing my career, making decisions about our future without her.

Whenever I talk to other parents about topics other than parenting I always wonder if they've also demoted everything else. If it comes easily, if they can crank out living babies with no trouble at all, do they sit at their desks some days wondering how the hell they got there? Do they ever feel like jumping up from the desk, running back home and never leaving the house again? Do they ever spend an entire day mulling over the power random chance has over our lives?

Do they ever dig up a puny little tree and replant it in the yard because it might be a sign from the universe that we're all part of something too great to comprehend?

Do they realize that you can learn everything you need to know in 12 days?

*NOTE: After I published this I had instant remorse about that asthma comment. I know that asthma can be fatal and is terrifying for parent and child alike. I thought about deleting and replacing it with something less horrible but I left it in because a) I already pointed out that I'm feeling lousy about being a prick b) it highlights exactly how unreasonable I can be when feeling sorry for myself.

Monday, August 16, 2010


I can't figure out how to be around other people.

I recognize that I'm not like them any more. Even the ones with some sort of personal tragedy generally have something less bizarre.

I know they have questions. I know they have feelings. I know that they want to share these things with me.

I am a clenched fist.

A birthday celebration, bouncy castles and bubble machines in my yard--I dash from one thing to another, reluctant to get pinned down and examined.

They watch me flutter around, spinning the plates and keeping the balls aloft. They are impressed/troubled/relieved.

I watch C jostle across the yard amidst a cloud of pink dresses and hair bows. I see a second set of bouncing honey-blond pigtails and I know I'm not the only one. Their collective will can almost conjure another freshly minted three-year-old. But they still can't understand.

I'm not the self-appointed keeper of misery, never have been. I'm an easy one, a good listener. It was touch and go for a while there. The old complainers braced themselves for the arrival of a new sheriff in town but I collapsed halfway through the campaign. My scars are not up for a vote.

They wait patiently to see if I want a turn and then, in the absence of any airing of my troubles, they bound into the void with their discomforts, disorders, disappointing diagnoses. I nod and express sympathy. I wish I could take a pill to fix my problem. I want to tell them that I would endure everything they have described to have R back but I know they wouldn't believe me because they can't understand.

And I'm glad they can't understand because I love all of them and nobody should ever have to feel like this.

So I leave them to draw their own conclusions and quietly take my place in the family lore.

C falls asleep on the couch all dirty feet and sweat-plastered hair. The guests exit, smiling. The party is a success. I am satisfied.

But in the quiet solitude of our room, T and I hold hands and shed tears for our other birthday girl, wherever she may be. And my heart breaks all over again because next to C and R, T is the one I love the most and he is the only other one who understands.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Last Wednesday evening T called to tell me that our car was on fire. He was getting ready to call for a tow and needed me to pick him up.

My immediate response to this news was rage which then softened into something between sadness and anxiety. As an avowed walker and devoted user of mass transit it feels strange to admit it but, I love my car.

The car was our first major purchase as a married couple. The day it arrived from Germany we picked it up and drove through the night from NC to surprise my parents with a visit. The diesel engine means that it can travel ridiculous distances on one tank of gas. When the “shit goes down” we can run it on fry-o-lator grease and flip the seats down to sleep in the back. If you aren't convinced yet, I should also tell you that the financing was set up by a six-fingered man...with a manicure.

I think its purchase may be the only decision that T and I have ever agreed on 100%. Our little silver station wagon embodies us at our best.

I hate our other car. Faced with a shortening cervix that curtailed the walking portion of my commute and a job change that required T to drive, we were forced to buy a second vehicle. In a fit of optimism we went with the mini-van figuring that we'd need something that could easily fit 2 babies and a dog. The guy who sold it to us was young and slick and had no evidence of polydactyly. It felt wrong from the minute we bought it.

There are people who will tell you that you can jinx yourself with a surfeit of optimism. There are people who believe that pessimism and negativity attract bad things into your life. All of these people are assholes.

The mini-van didn't kill my daughter. It didn't generate a toxic haze of doubt that poisoned her and it didn't draw the attention of the Fates and inspire them to put me back in my place. As cars go, it even performs most tasks quite admirably but I hate it all the same.

Most parents loathe their mini-van, a.k.a. swagger wagon, because it hammered the final nail into the coffin for their hipness. I celebrate Groundhog's Day with a haiku contest every year--I was never in danger of being hip. To me, it is the vehicle of a family that has arrived at the desired destination. It feeds the illusion that we have everything we want. The cargo room, the extra row of seating, the plethora of cup holders—they're all just reminders of the plenty that I'd gladly sacrifice for just one more day with R. I wonder if I look like I'm getting my swagger on when I roll up to Big Box Retail in my shiny van with my spritely daughter in tow.

The station wagon is the path we chose. The van is the path that was forced on us.

Buying a car that can double as EarthshipOC in some Mad Max-esque future seems so naïve now but I like having a physical reminder that I once made decisions with the unwavering belief that my opinion mattered. When I drive it I feel young and capable.

The van makes me feel like a failure. I never drive it unless I absolutely have to. Anyone who sits in the captain's chair behind the driver is automatically transformed into “not R.” I never tell these unfortunate passengers that they're sitting in my dead daughter's seat. I feel like an ass for even thinking it. Sometimes I'm tempted to pull to the side of the road and pitch R's seat into the woods so that I don't have to deal with all of the cognitive dissonance anymore.

Luckily the mechanic was able to make the necessary repair and the wagon is back in action but, for those couple days when we thought we might have to replace it, I was really a little beside myself. Guess I'm not as alright as I think I am.

Monday, August 2, 2010

White Elephant

I seem to be back on top in the battle for parental supremacy. T thinks I'm C's new favorite because I'm willing to spend hours crouched on the floor drawing giraffes on demand. I know that it's just a phase. Soon enough she won't want anything to do with me.

That's just the way it is, I'm afraid. The mother-daughter relationship is always fraught with tension. The mother looks at her daughter and sees another shot at missed opportunities, the daughter looks at the mother and sees someone who is clueless about everything. I wonder if it's less tense with more than one daughter around to bear the brunt of mom's deferred dreams. As an only daughter raising an only daughter, I won't ever know for sure.

I can't imagine ever being anything less than completely smitten with my feisty, silly girl. If she grows up to be anxious and moody I'll admire her depth of character. If she dates the wrong kind of boy (or girl) I'll silently applaud her romantic spirit even as I'm spouting off about STDs and birth control and exclaiming over the attributes of others I consider more suitable.

She has such a light in her--just like we all do before time bends us low. I can't help but worry about the first gust of wind that will threaten to extinguish it. I worry that it will be something I say or do that makes her feel like she's not enough.

When my Dad died I went to great lengths to keep my Mom happy and busy. I thought I could fill the space in her life if I just poured enough stuff into it. I placed quantity over quality. I didn't want to see that I could never be an adequate replacement for her husband. Even five years later I'm a little wounded by the realization that I can't make my Mom happy.

Sometimes I watch C sleep and wonder what her future holds and then I stop myself, unwilling to tempt fate. Three years ago today I was in the hospital wondering the same thing. At the time I wasn't thinking about any sort of distant future, I was focused on finding out when the perinatologist would be by with his handy portable sonogram machine. Judging from the frantic tugging at my ribcage, I knew C was still alive and I could feel R hiccuping away on the lower righthand side of my belly but I knew things could change in a moment.

I remember thinking about what I would do if C died. I played with the idea of both of them dying and I even talked to T briefly about what he should do if all three of us died. But, C was really the one I worried about most. It wasn't a heavy, emotional thing. My dad had died two years earlier and I was still dealing with the logistical aftermath. Faced with the possibility of another tragic episode, I wanted to have a plan. So, I imagined a future with different arrangements of cremated remains and I took a nap.

The concept of C having many possible futures in August 2010 feels so strange as compared to the high-intensity rapid shifts of August 2007. Three years ago I made peace with her impending death. I told myself that I could survive it and then August 14 came and she was suddenly healthy again. And R, who had seemed so much more likely, was suddenly gone.

On Sunday T and I were discussing our hopes for C and I realized that I have a bit of a block. He was all "advanced degrees" and "making a difference in the world" and I was sort of stuck on "breathing" and "ambulatory."

In this five minute conversation I saw a vision of my own future as one of those sunshine-blowing, enabling nightmare mothers and I started to worry a bit. It's one thing to have my own expectations of the world crumble a bit in the wake of my R's death but, I can't stand the thought of C losing out because of it.

I feel as though I've traded in my ability to hope and plan for more capacity to cope with "very bad things." What if there are sunny skies and advanced degrees ahead? Is it my job to serve as C's chief apologist if she turns out to be a fuck-up? Am I turning her into a fuck-up with my low expectation?

And so, I know this is the slow season for blogging and I know I've been bad about commenting on other blogs but, I could use some advice here. How do you go about parenting responsibly when you're so relieved to have a living child that you can't figure out what ought to come next?

I know that a lot of you are holding onto parenting advice that you can't share with the IRL folks because it involves death and loss.

Lay it on me.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Last week at GITW, Chris asked folks in this community what we've been dreaming about. I really had no answer at the time as my dreams (though incredibly strange and vivid) never seem to pertain to events in my waking life.

I have a recurrent dream that involves moving into a new house that seems fairly normal but discovering that it's full of the most incredible stuff. Sometimes the extras are things like an elaborate art-deco in-ground pool in the basement. Sometimes it's a secret underground tunnel to my favorite bar from some other place I've lived. I love this dream. The perfect happiness of finding something completely delightful, unexpected, and unearned makes for a fantastic night's sleep.

Last night's dream featured a home office with one of those old-timey double desks and a lot of dark wood paneling (the fancy kind...not the 70's rec room stuff). It was the kind of desk that you might see in one of those old movies about a spunky lady journalist. Then a door opened up in the paneling and I walked into the most hideous secret room.

Everything (even the ceiling) was covered in harvest gold shag carpet and it had one of those conversation pits. C was playing in the pit, running up and down the stairs. After reminding her to be careful, I took a spin around the room trying to figure out how long it would take to get all of the carpet off of the walls and when I looked back at C, there were two of her.

I asked C if she could see the other girl and she said, "Yes," as if nothing could be more normal.

Then the other C looked at me and said, "I'm R."

I reached out my hands and held her by the shoulders. She was wearing the outfit I had set out for C last night on the piece of furniture where we keep her urn, a sleeveless pink shirt and jean shorts--she was warm and she looked happy and healthy. They both smiled at me and went back to playing while I started yelling for T to come and see what I found. I had a chance to see the look of absolute joy on his face as he reached to pick her up right before I woke.

It's not much--a few minutes with our missing daughter generated by my hyperactive subconscience--but I have to tell you that I feel completely replenished.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


My brother has a condition that my family refers to as the "Luck of the Polish." Those of you who have lived in the northeastern portion of the US will be familiar with Polish jokes and will know why this is funny. T tells me that Kentuckians make these same jokes about people from Indiana who are apparently just as stupid as Polish people. Before anyone gets their feathers ruffled about this, let me assure everyone that I am 75% Polish-American. The other 25% is Italian but, aside from my utter loathing of golumpki, you'd never know it. If you plunked me down in the middle of Warsaw, tourists would ask me for directions. Thus, as a child, I had to grow a thick skin...and learn how not to fall out of a tree while raking leaves.

Anyway, back to the "Luck of the Polish." Simply put, when something crappy happens to my brother, it usually results in some sort of financial windfall. Usually the crappy thing involves a blow to his rather ample head, some stitches or staples, and a quick settlement with the restaurant owner/driver who blew the red light/employer. Bad luck morphs into cash and everyone goes home satisfied.

I'm not similarly afflicted. My mom has always said that I have more ambition than my brother and, therefore, don't need any luck. She's said that she knows I will always land on my feet.

I thought about this a lot while floundering helplessly on my back during fall of 2007 and most of 2008. Is it true? Am I without luck? Is ambition really an adequate substitute for luck? It sure feels like I could use a little luck...I wonder where I could find it.

What is luck, anyway? Some days I think I'm lucky to have C. Some days it seems like luck really has nothing to do with it. After all, surviving birth and infancy is apparently quite normal. We all managed to do it, right? Even those of us with bad luck. And it goes on from there.

Have sex--get pregnant--have a baby--raise baby into a) a functioning member of society b) a menace to society c) somewhere halfway in between. Repeat. Completely normal. Easy as pie.

Unless it isn't.

I found out a couple of weeks ago that I have a unicornate uterus and one functioning fallopian tube. In the reports, the radiologist described my uterus as "banana-shaped" (isn't there some sort of latin word for that that sounds less pathetic?). For those of you who aren't up on uterine anomalies, this means that I have roughly half of a womb and a very poor chance at another successful pregnancy.

This was not good news.

I don't think of it as strictly bad news either. T and I had already accepted that our baby-makin' days were likely over anyway and our apparent secondary infertility finally has a name. My only regret is that I won't be able to serve as a gestational carrier for a very deserving couple.

The causality isn't quite right to call this an instance of Polish luck but this news has cast the past three years in a completely different light. Most of the way to "advanced maternal age" with only half of the requisite parts, I somehow got to conceive 2 babies the old-fashioned way, carry them for 32 weeks, and witness both of their completely unlikely live births.

I feel like my entire identity has shifted. Like a smart girl who's just been called pretty. I'm considering a trip to the casinos. I'm thinking about joining a carnival and charging people a dollar to rub my belly of banana-shaped good fortune.

For the past three years I've been wishing for normalcy. Now I know that I was never normal and that I'll never be normal. But I think I have something better. I am lucky.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Weight-training for the Soul

I don't know why I even look at parenting magazines. They always end up pissing me off one way or another. But the doctor was running late and I'd left my knitting home so I ventured forth.

I was already deep into eye-rolling mode over the outrageously priced 'must-have' mommy items and serious discussions about the problems of privilege when I came across the most HI-larious piece of clever. Someone had taken the stages of grief and applied them to the loss of her pre-motherhood ass. See, it's funny because it's about mourning a less-than-perky butt...just like one might mourn the death of a loved-one or a child.

LOL...LMAO...ROTFLMAO...or whatever the kids are saying these days.

I suppose she and her editor were both absent on the day they handed out the common sense.

I'm not really one for therapy or therapy-speak. I've noted before that I firmly believe every thought that comes out of my addled little brain is neither unique nor unnatural. (This belief extends to the voice in my head that reminds me how therapy would cut into my sock yarn fund) All the same, I've watched my daughter die and I've watched my ass reach for the ground and I can assure everyone that only one of these things deserves the full five stage treatment.

The authoress behind this little gem is clueless on two counts. Firstly, obviously, death and sag are truly not in the same league. One can be giggled about over cosmos with the girls, the other is more of a drinking alone sort of experience. Second, the entire piece built up to 'acceptance' as a resting place--a cute little baby and more cushion for the pushin' ain't so bad after all, right? (sigh, smile, head-tilt).

No one's ass is really ever beyond help. Put down the Little Debbies (or Whole Foods organic chocolate truffles) and get to the gym (or call your private pilates instructor). Do some squats! Feel the burn! You'll be back to a size 2 in no time!

Loss, real loss never lets you rest. Acceptance is a lifelong isometric hold for your soul. Clench and hold! Keep holding! Until you die! Oh, and smile or at least seem stoic while you do it because it makes everyone upset when you bare your teeth like that.

Admittedly, I'm not exactly thrilled with the current state of my own ass but my soul is well on its way to an ass like carved granite--high and mighty as a high school homecoming queen, tight and right as summer's first plum.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

I really can't stand squirrels.

They have nothing to do all day but figure out ways to chew through different parts of my house. They are agents of destruction. Pretty rats with bushy least rats have the courtesy to stay out of sight.

Our neighborhood is a squirrel haven. They run around in packs waking us up with their pre-dawn chatter about the delicious plants available in our gardens. They antagonize the dogs.

I admire their industriousness. I want to squish their tiny, evil-doing bodies with my car tires.

And then there's Bad Ass.

Bad Ass is the decrepit old-timer that lives in the oak outside our front window. Most squirrels scurry. Bad Ass takes his time. Most squirrels get by on their looks. Bad Ass ain't much to look at.

The bushy part of his tail is missing. It may have been ripped off by a hawk or a feral cat or trapped under an errant tire. His long, scraggly, naked tail trails behind him as he strolls along. It marks him as a veteran of hard times. Someone not to be tangled with.

In my imagination he's decades old, an ancient battle-axe, a hero to his squirrely kin. They gather around him and listen to the stories that he delivers in a gravelly voice with the beady-eyed squirrel equivalent of the thousand-yard stare.

Given his obvious toughness, he's probably the one that could cause me the most trouble. But I like him. Even when I see him gnawing on my siding as I leave for work in the morning I think, "Hey, there's Bad Ass, MY squirrel."

I don't know if kinship with a squirrel is a sign that I still have a good hold on my humanity or if it's an indication that I've gone 'round the bend.


This morning I saw the crows clustered around a roadkill as I stepped out of my front door. They flew away when I approached and watched me from the opposite side of the street. I glanced down as I walked by and caught a glimpse of a long, scraggly, naked tail.

I suppose I can't feel too badly about it. Bad Ass was clearly living on borrowed time. But it seems like he deserved to go out in more of a blaze of glory--carried off by an eagle or devoured by a snake. I hope the driver at least had to swerve to get him.

Rest in peace, Bad Ass. You will be missed.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


It's such a great, round number. A go-to expression for me.

"I told you a thousand times..."

"I could sleep for a thousand years..."

"A thousand pounds of shit in a five pound bag."

And here I am, just over a thousand days into this parenting gig.

It's a long time, a thousand days. If I do the math in the opposite direction and consider what I had going a thousand days before they were born it seems like I've lived two full lifetimes since. The end of 2004 was marked by the impending arrival of my youngest niece, my Dad's final Christmas (though we didn't realize it at the time), and a trip to the emergency vet for my new puppy who was suffering from something called mega-esophagus (yes, it's completely disgusting). I bought my favorite pair of jeans.

If I think about what we might be doing a thousand days from now, it almost gives me vertigo. Kindergarten for C, 38th birthday looming, and the puppy (who made a full recovery btw) will be pushing 9 years. Assuming that we're all still here, of course.

It feels like I should take an inventory to mark the occasion. Maybe if I unpack my heart and mind and spread the contents out on the floor I'll see some sort of pattern emerge. Maybe everything will suddenly make sense. That "reason" that the Alliance of Tired Bromides keeps floating will make a special appearance and vaporize my feelings of parental failure.

We're still in the process of settling into our new life and our new house. Each box that we unpack is like a tiny Pompeii--an artifact of disaster. A box marked "dog toys, whistles, spices" taunts me from the corner of the spare room. Who were these people who bought enough whistles that they warranted their own packing label? And what kind of crazy person packs spices with dog toys and announces it to the world?

We aren't those people anymore.

I think we've learned to wear our peculiar mix of joy and despair a little more gracefully. People do less brow-furrowing when I engage them in mundane small talk...and hey, I can engage in mundane small talk! T almost electronically eviscerated an FB friend who wandered into my lane last week (she responded to my post about my early-rising dog with a complaint about her twins who won't sleep in) but we discussed and decided we shouldn't rain on her parade.

I still burn out lightbulbs when I get angry but we seem to be changing them less frequently.

Rounding the corner and heading for the three-year mark, I occasionally have the sensation that I'm exactly where and who I want to be. I'm not so sure that I would want to be the clueless FB commenter or the sharer of crazy twin-parenting hijinks. Sometimes I can even think about the upside of raising an only child without feeling like I'm killing R all over again.

My daughter is dead. I miss her and I will always love her but, my other daughter is alive and healthy. How can I look at C, knowing what I know about the slim margin between possible and impossible, and be less than thrilled about my good fortune?

A thousand days ago it felt as though every notion I'd ever had about how the world works was blasted right out of my head by the one-two punch of a dead baby and a living baby.

If I crack open the vault and take a thorough look inside, I can see that some things survived intact. I still curse like a truck driver and laugh at T's stupid jokes. I still hate beets, mummies, and TV crime/hospital dramas. I still think that voting is important and that people shouldn't own handguns. I'm still afraid of right-wing nut-jobs.

Other parts are damaged beyond recognition. The section that stored all of my high-flown ideas about the 'right' way to parent is just a steaming pile and I seem to have lost my interest in celebrity gossip (sigh).

I have a stack of shiny new things I've learned from my girls--an appreciation for the role that luck plays in our lives, the ability to ignore small problems, the patience to meet people where they are, a thorough understanding of couch cushion fort engineering.

As far as I can tell, there's no 'reason' tucked in among the jumble. I could have learned and continued to grow if R had lived...even if she was perfectly normal and healthy. This accumulated knowledge doesn't even seem particularly special. I doubt it looks significantly different than the stuff that other parents have learned.

I wish I had some grand bit of wisdom to pass along. All I can say with any certainty is that I'm hoping for a smoother ride over the next thousand days.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Getting Nowhere and Liking It

Right around the time I started this blog, a friend told me that his wife was fighting cancer. Sadly, she passed away in early January and, since then, he’s been muddling through the ‘new normal’ with his two young children. This week I saw him in person for the first time since she died.

There’s a look to people who are grieving that’s hard to describe but easily recognized by everyone. He still takes up the same amount of space but seems lighter…like he’s floating outside of his body while the auto-pilot handles the social niceties. He hovers just slightly to the side of his former self. He makes people uneasy.

I asked him if he was feeling like a human again yet and he laughed. He said he couldn’t believe how much he hates work now and I laughed. We chuckled about the our new found surliness. All of this silliness made some of the other people in the room shoot me happy/panicked it’s-so-good-to-see-him-smile-again sort of looks. I’m not sure they would’ve smiled if they were within earshot.

One of them suggested that I take him to lunch, presumably to continue the ‘cheerification’ process and encourage his recovery (as if a recovery is a destination to be reached as quickly as possible).


June 2008
Church carnival beer garden, family snack break

I suppose the blond-haired, blue-eyed identical twin toddler girls who sat down next to us were cute and amusing. And that obscure pop song from the ‘60’s with our dead daughter’s name in it was an interesting choice for the suburban bar band providing the evening’s entertainment.

Luckily there was funnel cake on hand to prevent me from melting into a puddle of tears or erupting into deranged laughter (hard to tell in those days). I’m pretty sure deep-fried starch is the answer to most of the world’s problems.


April 2009
Cube farm @ unnamed government agency

My co-worker likely thought she was doing me a favor by telling me that another of our colleagues was expecting twins. I’m sure it was a courtesy to prevent my being blindsided at staff meeting or some other group event. I probably should have been appreciative but, I really just wanted to staple her mouth shut.

I don’t know what I said but I can remember that she looked a little bit like this so it probably wasn’t supportive/graceful/friendly/nice or whatever it is that people want to hear from the bereaved during these conversations.


April 2010
Conference Room – national bureaucratic meeting

“So, how are the girls?”

Girls? What girls could she possibly be asking about?

Now, in her defense, I did change jobs and move away shortly after my maternity leave but, it’s hard to believe that a woman who sat 15 feet away from me throughout my pregnancy could forget that we dropped from the plural to the singular.

So, I looked behind me to make sure she wasn’t talking to someone else and then just played it off and said that C is growing up fast.

A new member of our work circle who didn’t know me ‘before’ asked me if I had more than one.

“No, just one daughter.”

“I have 3. A daughter in college and twin girls in high school.”

“Wow, that must be interesting.”


The lunch appointment didn’t happen after all. We just sort of tagged along with the group and engaged in work-appropriate chit-chat. I’m sure some of our colleagues were disappointed by the apparent lack of coping. They're probably wondering how we'll ever cross the finish line if we don't get moving.

But there is no way to finish coping with loss.

First of all, R isn’t coming back and neither is W’s wife. It doesn’t matter if we react with tears, anger, or patience. We can’t earn them back by having just the right conversation at the salad bar or by being more considerate to our friends or by suffering or by giving up bad habits and staying upbeat.

Second, there will always be bizarre reminders and setbacks. I can imagine some distant future where my hoverboard or my flying car will make a sound just like the pump that delivered R's prostoglandin drip and my tears will stain my silver jumpsuit.

It’s forever. And there’s no getting over it or through it. All we can do is be patient and try not to get trapped underneath…and apply funnel cake as needed.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


I remember feeling extremely relieved that I still had all of my toes on my 10th birthday. The relief wasn't because of any imminent danger to my toes (frostbite, gangrene, flesh-eating athlete's foot, etc.) but rather, a reaction to a story I'd heard about one of the neighborhood dads who lost a few toes to a lawnmower at the age of 9. I spent my 9th year studiously avoiding open-toed shoes and naturally, lawnmowers, and convincing myself that if I could just make it one more year I'd get to keep all of my toes for the rest of my life.

I suppose I could dismiss the whole thing as nutty 9-year-old logic but I think I was onto something way back then. The world's a crazy, uncontrollable place and it feels good to put some boundaries around little pieces of it.

I think I owe y'all an apology for that last post. Having a whine about the unfairness of my FIL's mortality is pretty bad form. To be clear, I do care about my FIL and I want him to live a long and happy life and I don't think that everything's about me. I'm going to have to break one my blog rules to explain myself. So, another apology to FIL for oversharing.

The diagnosis FIL received from his doc was stage 4 metastatic melanoma. This is the same diagnosis my father got 10 years ago and the same disease that eventually killed him. So, I took an unpleasant little trip down memory lane with a little side trip into despairing-mama land. Two grandfathers with melanoma isn't good news for C or for her over-protective mother.

I've spent the last 2.5 years minimizing risks to C's health and well-being. We spent months -2 through 7 on almost complete lockdown to avoid RSV exposure. During the cruising months we attached the furniture to the walls to prevent tipping and crushing. We don't permit bike-riding without a helmet, car-riding without a car seat, or uninhibited furniture jumpery. I'm sure that much eye-rolling and head shaking goes on behind our backs but we tend to ignore parenting opinions on this subject from folks who've never had a play date at the funeral home.

It's deeply troubling (in a Grendel's Mama sort of way) to think that life-sustaining sunshine could do my daughter in...even if it's fifty-odd years from now.

The good news is that I abandoned my initial plan to detonate a nuclear warhead inside the sun (you know, because the sun actually does more good than harm). But, I'm afraid that I may owe an apology to the people of Iceland and all of the folks stranded in European airports for that enormous cloud of ash that may or may not have been caused by a request I made to various volcano-related deities for some assistance with blotting out the sun during summer 2010.

Now you may be thinking, "TracyOC, you don't have the power to cause major geological catastrophes with your mind." And for the most part I agree. After all, I just did a little hunting around on the internets and didn't actually organize a ceremony or anything. And I have fairly solid proof that you don't always get what you ask for--even if you ask many times with great fervor. But I was also raised in a one-true-god culture in a volcano-less part of the world so I don't really know how it works.

I'd imagine things are pretty slow in the volcano god/goddess offices in this age of scientific discovery. Pele and company probably spend most of their days sitting around playing pinochle--all dressed up and nowhere to go like immortal Maytag repairmen. They were probably thrilled to get my request and jumped on it ASAP. Meanwhile, in the seriously ill child department...

I keep trying to figure out the secret to carefree living. Did I forfeit any chance when I became a mother? Am I genetically predisposed to worry or have I just seen too much bad news lately? Maybe there's no such thing as carefree for any of us.

And so, I'm sorry for last week's selfish rant and for the havoc that I may or may not have caused. I bought some broad-brimmed toddler hats and long-sleeved swimsuits yesterday so the world is now safe.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

On Resilience

On my walk to the train yesterday a squirrel fell from the sky. Well, judging from the scrabbling noise I heard from above, he probably fell from a tree limb, but it was still startling. He didn't even try to get his feet under him. He just hit the sidewalk about 4 feet in front of me, lying on his side. I heard a tiny crack as he made contact with the pavement.

As I watched him fall I had one of those thought avalanches where I pictured myself splinting his tiny legs and cursed myself for not knowing if the new recommendations about rescue breathing during CPR applied to rodents. Before I could react, however, he was off, frisking about with his squirrel buddies, keeping pace with them in spite of his recent shock.

Maybe that's how it is with squirrels. They can afford all of their high-flying daredevilry because they're built to take a licking. Or maybe he ran because his little squirrel brain didn't know what else to do and just kept him going until he dropped.

Either way, it was an impressive display of resilience—equal parts foolhardy and admirable.

We found out this week that T's dad is sick. It's not really my story to tell so I'll keep it short. The prognosis isn't good.

I have to admit that I was feeling inappropriately smug about the future or at least about the remainder of 2010. I'd rediscovered my capacity for foresight and had visions of the leisurely contemplation of nothing in particular.

The past several years have been tightly managed in these parts. A forced march onward, upward, above through regimented activity. Somewhere in my mind lurks the rock-solid belief that our salvation, our return to normalcy, lies in whiter socks and more orderly closets. Or perhaps it's about not slipping further down the slope.

But this spring was gonna be all about relaxation and unlimited potential—thoughts and possibilities flitting about like tiny yellow butterflies while we sit back decide whether or not to chase them.

In mixed company I'll say all of the right things about hope and positive thoughts. We'll put our trust in the doctors and fix our faith firmly in place. But privately I can't muster a positive view. Instead I'm sitting in the family room of an ICU, I'm watching my mother-in-law sign a DNR order, I'm choosing pictures for a memorial service and taking ownerless shoes to a thrift shop. I can't even feel amazed that I don't dread these things anymore.

People who haven't experienced loss or watched someone suffer through a serious illness might think I'm callous and unhelpful but I know everyone reading here understands. There are lessons that can't be unlearned.

And resilience has a dark side.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Stripes, Plaids, and Infinite Possibility

When I was teaching middle school, Einstein analogies were one of my pet peeves. For some reason parents never pointed to their own family members when explaining academic or behavioral tendencies, e.g., Little S's brother had trouble reading too until we got him some glasses. They always swung for the fences and implicated poor Albert.

Me: Mr. X, your son called me a bitch today in class. He has to serve detention tomorrow during recess

Mr. X.: That seems unfair. Einstein didn't speak in complete sentences until he was seven.

For all I know, some of these kids will grow up to be some of the greatest thinkers of our time so I suppose I shouldn't judge. The point is that it gets a little tedious which is why I hate to bring Albie up at all.

Last week I noticed an Einstein quote at the bottom of a colleague's email message. Now, quotes appended to emails are another thing that stick in my craw for some reason (perhaps because I'm approaching my coot-hood)but, I liked this one.

“Once you can accept the universe as being mostly nothing that is really something expanding into an infinite nothing which is something, wearing stripes with plaid is easy.”

For me, the entire experience of parenting a dead child has been about rearranging my perspective. I marched up the hill, saw what I can't have, and can't quite forget the view.

On the one hand I see good, old Albie's quote with my missing daughter on the front end, i.e., once you accept the fact that your infant daughter stopped breathing and is now stored inside a pink jar, everything else seems easy.

That's certainly how it felt in the early days when I was constantly shocked that the world kept moving without R. How could people complain about taxes or soup that's too salty or grass that's grown too shaggy when my daughter is dead? I spent a long time teetering on the brink of the bitter recluse lifestyle before I decided that C deserved better...and that a move into a crumbling Victorian mansion with a decrepit wrought iron gate just made no financial sense.

These days, I'd place R's death at the back end of the quote--just another of the infinite possibilities presented by an infinite universe where the gap between possible and impossible is virtually non-existent.

Yesterday my boss told me a story about a woman who used to work at our organization whose adult daughter was murdered years ago. The story just emerged from nowhere and went on and on with many segues into the whole I-don't-know-how-anyone-can-go-on-after-their-child-dies business. I couldn't tell if she was looking for me to impart some wisdom on the subject or if my role was to say that it was easier for me because R was a baby. I decided to keep my mouth shut and let her draw her own conclusions.

I appreciate that she has sympathy for people who have lost a child but I just didn't have the wherewithal to assume the spokesperson role at 8AM on a Friday during a meeting about a draft memo for the annual accountability reporting exercise.

I would've liked to have told her that we're all just a hair's breadth from disaster and that any horrible thing can happen to anyone at any time. And that if/when the unimaginable occurs, you just make your way through it because there is no choice. Impossible transforms to possible before you even realize what's happening and, amazingly, you keep breathing and moving and living and that's all there is.

And then I would've asked her if we wanted to capitalize the word 'priority' in all instances and she would have looked at me like I had sprouted antlers or maybe like I was wearing stripes and plaids together.