Monday, November 14, 2011

who do you think you are?

Note: I should mention that this post owes a heavy debt to a conversation I had over the weekend with Angie who is one of the most upright citizens I know.

Last week I accidentally tipped the pizza delivery guy $14. It's not worth going into the mechanics of how you accidentally hand $14 to someone. If you've seen American money, you'll know how easy it is to mix up those bills. But, the thing that's been bugging me is the split second that I considered asking him to give it back.

It wasn't a particularly long drive from the pizza place to my house. It wasn't a complicated order. But, driving is always dangerous and rolling up to a stranger's house and knocking on the door is no small thing.

Do I really think that I deserve that $14 more than the pizza guy does?

I could go off on a tangent about capitalism and the free market and how it isn't really free at all but, I'll spare you my opinions about the 'science' of economics. We're all so tangled up in the quantification of each other and the debt that we clamor to gain from the mortgage lenders. It's just not even worth going down that road.

The point is that I stood there in my doorway, looking at someone's precious son and considered telling him that he isn't worth $14.


Every post that I've written on this blog has been about the same thing.


More specifically, I know nothing. About anything. Including myself.

And, maybe, that's everything anyone needs to know.


I think I've mentioned before that I work for a government agency. Without disclosing too many details, I'll tell you that the agency that I work for is much maligned by the press, elected officials, TV newscasters, and pretty much anyone who's up on current events. We do too much. We don't do enough. We compress dollar bills into emery boards that we use to sharpen our horns and hooves before riding out to tromp all over the American dream.

If I delivered pizzas on behalf of my employer, I think 25% of Americans would grudgingly tip me $1, 25% would have no idea what I was talking about, 25% would tell me to get fucked and slam the door in my face, and 25% would open fire.

Of course, I already said that I know nothing. Maybe none of that would happen. Maybe the ones who slam the door are right. Maybe my colleagues and I are doing more harm than good.

Like I said. I know nothing.


I think I've also mentioned that I live in Pennsylvania, the home of Rick Santorum (aka Rick Santorum), Vince Fumo, and now, the illustrious crew up at Penn State who unleashed this guy on the world.

Let me pause for a moment while I hang my head and emit many forlorn sighs.

I just don't have the words.


Every day we hold those around us in our hearts and judge their worth. The pizza guy. Those good for nothing government employees. The neighbor with his neat-as-a-pin yard.

Maybe you've managed to rise above the urge to judge. If so, kudos. I'd like to subscribe to your newsletter.

Here in Pennsylvania we're deep into the business of judging at the moment. A group of grown men got together and determined that ensuring the welfare of a little boy wasn't worth damaging the 'reputation' of a heralded institution. This apparently happened upwards of 20 times. The fact that a large group of adults managed to put 20 little boys on a scale and determine that they were collectively worth less than one man, just because he happened to be one of their own, is deeply troubling.

Even worse than the fact that it happened is that it's not terribly surprising.

Yet, the newspaper comments sections are full of outrage and declarations. If-I-knew-that-kids-were-being-molested-in-my-workplace/neighborhood/parish/state/country/planet-I'd-do-something.

Having been a child and having worked with children in my former life, I believe that you could walk into any elementary school cafeteria right now, ask the kids which grown-ups are sexual predators, and get a pretty good response rate.

Cast back into your memories of childhood a little bit. I can think of three adults that the other kids would talk about right off the top of my head. All three of them were in prison by the time I reached adulthood.

I could probably go to any major city in the world right now and ask a cab driver to take me to a child prostitute.

Anyone could get this information and take action to protect these kids.

I don't know. Maybe the comments sections of newspaper websites is where all of the upright citizens and child advocates hang out. But, if we're all so shocked and outraged, why aren't we doing more? What are we doing with our time and resources that is so much more important than protecting children from those who want to hurt them?

What am I doing?

How can I do better?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Resting in Peace

Out here in the 'burbs, yardwork is close to religion. The state of your lawn is treated as a proxy for the state of your soul and the judgments handed down are decidedly Old Testament in nature.

The neighbor two doors down has his routine set in stone. I don't even think the man has to rake. The leaves are simply too afraid to sully his perfect grass and his perfect brick walk. The pansies are already in for the winter, planted exactly 12 inches apart at the base of a beautifully maintained dogwood. His yard is the culmination of all things that are possible by noon on a Saturday and everything that I have deemed 'unimportant.'

Our yard demonstrates a decided lack of devotion to the fine art of yardwork and, possibly, character defects that are long past the point of remediation.

T and I like it this way. We don't let the grass get a foot-and-a-half high or anything but we sure as hell aren't going to spray carcinogens around to control the weeds. Sporadic raking is our form of rebellion. We have bigger issues than the lawn.

We held out until this past Sunday, when the state of the yard had reached a point somewhere below our pathetic standards.

C entertained herself by playing in the leaves and pointing out that we'd be able to play sooner if we worked faster and took fewer breaks. Too smart by half, that daughter of mine. She wanted me to hurry up and finish so that we could walk to the cemetery at the end of the street.

C is beyond excited about Halloween. She wants to hear scary stories and watch scary movies. She's been talking about ghosts (ghost-ehz) and graveyards for weeks.

"The dead people are sleeping in there," she confides as we drive past our neighborhood cemetery, "but you won't put me in the ground when I die."

For better or worse, T and I have just decided to give it to her straight about death. I'm not a huge believer of telling kids the truth about everything. There's something to be said for blissful ignorance but, we don't have much choice in the matter. It's a virtual death parade around here and she spends the day with her older cousins and their theories about the afterlife while I'm at work.

Naturally, she's curious about her sister and her grandfathers and I don't think I'd be doing her any favors by answering her questions with lies. But it's just so dismaying to listen to her wrestle with such big issues in her raspy little voice. She can't even figure out if you pronounce it 'death' or 'deaf' but she sure knows what it is.

As we walked, we talked about the weather and the autumn leaves...and death. "R can fly, " she told me, "and when I die, I'll fly away too." I kicked at the fallen leaves and fretted about her emotional development. Am I raising her to be sort of creepy with all of this talk about death/deaf? Was this her idea or mine?

A few of the perfectly maintained yards we passed were tricked out for Halloween. Pumpkins, light-up pumpkins, fake spiderwebs on the boxwoods. Fake headstones artfully placed in the shrubs. I silently added another item to my list of things that make me feel like a social misfit--wrong political leanings, shabby lawn, takes four-year-old, possibly death-obsessed daughter to visit graveyard yet, finds headstone decorations offensive

The graveyard is old by American standards, founded in 1776 by the Lutherans. Despite the age it was just as tidy as the yards of the living. I quirked a judge-y eyebrow at the neatly trimmed grass. Do we really have to impose our freakish opinions about lawn care on the dead too? Unless the cemetery residents are imposing our local brand of fastidiousness from beyond the grave. Why push the daisies up when you could be pulling them back down instead?

"There are a lot of babies," C noted after I'd read a few of the inscriptions. She sounded surprised, and maybe a little relieved, to find out that other families had dead babies too.

Truthfully I felt a little relieved too. Who needs to fit in with the living neighbors when there are all of these families with dead babies right down the street?

We walked down the rows looking for the oldest marker but many of the stones were worn down by time and weather. There were many familiar names, the founding families of our town, names I remember from childhood.

Once we found the oldest grave, a revolutionary war soldier, we set out searching for the newest.

I was surprised to see how recent it was. 1961. I was even more surprised to see that it was my neighbor's infant daughter. The neighbor from two doors down with the perfect lawn that I was passing judgement on a few paragraphs ago. His grave and his wife's are there waiting for them, the last two spots to be filled.

When will I learn?

Sunday, October 16, 2011


I have a memory of my dad. The Phils on TV with Harry K calling the game, a summer breeze through our open back door and the smell of rain on hot asphalt. We used to sit together on the couch and eat oranges. He'd hold each wedge up to the light to check for seeds and hand it over to me. I was allowed a few sips of his beer, a completely un-ironic PBR. Anything with a blue ribbon has to be good

I picture him in a small house on the water with a big porch. Fishing tackle piled by the door. A cold beer and a bag of pretzels. Harry K died last year so he can listen to him call the game again. Some of the players are the same as they were when I was a kid too thanks to death, that crazy motherfucker.

These are his things. At least they're the things that I think of as his. His things that were our things and, I guess, are now my things even though I like to think we still share them. Somewhere.

C has a few things. A few of the same things as my dad, in fact. We sit on the couch together and eat pears. I let her have a few sips of beer. I play music that he liked on the car stereo so that she can sing along. His things, my things, and now her things through some combination of nurturing and genetics.

I suppose C came into the world with some things but it feels like she was an empty vessel waiting to be filled. At first, T and I did most of the filling but she's starting to branch out on her own. Favorite songs that I don't know. Favorite games that she learns from her friends. For now our shared things hold her tightly in our little family orbit but, eventually, the weight of her other things will pull her away.

We have some toys and books that were intended for R stored in a dusty box along with a snipping of hair and a faint impression of her foot. We say that these are her things but they really aren't. She arrived empty and departed the same. Thingless.

I used to think death was her thing. Or maybe I thought her death was my thing. Or maybe that death was just such a substantial thing that it would hold us both in its orbit forever. Nothing or all things? It's so hard to tell from here.

My under-occupied brain has created some things for her. I imagine that she's quieter than C. She is wise beyond her years. Despite the fact that my daughters share 100% of their genes and sit at the tail end of two noisy, sarcastic, opinionated families, I envision R as infinitely serene, beyond the concerns of worldly existence. Here, C cackles hysterically at fart jokes while R smiles gently in appreciation of C's laughter. Somewhere.


I wrote most of this post a couple of weeks ago while I was eating leftover crab bisque from the Still Life 365 open house. That's right, y'all, if you arrive early and stay late, you get to take home leftovers. And, Angie can cook just as well as she writes.

At the open house there was some crazy hijinks with an errant water gun, stories about koala encounters, an 85 lb dog that tried to curl up in my lap, old friends, new friends, people who seem like friends even though we'd never met before. The rainbow babies that I'd hoped for so hard while staring at my computer screen were up and walking around looking just as wonderfully ridiculous as toddlers always look.

It was all so ordinary and easy. But it wasn't like the ordinariness of my life before. This was hard-won ease, a collective decision to share a burden or to set it down all at once. It's a challenging maneuver that takes a village (or at least one Angie-like person) but, once death doesn't have to be the thing, other things rush in to fill the space.


The objects piled in R's memory box have never really felt like they had anything to do with her. Some day I'll pass them along to C and she can decide whether she needs physical reminders of R's brief stay on this side of the somewhere.

R never chose a favorite color or favorite song. She'll never arrive home with her pockets full of interesting things she found on the playground. But she wasn't empty when she arrived and she wasn't empty when she departed.

We all have a space where we keep other peoples' things. We can use it to store things that we learn from them or just to remember and appreciate them. R's life and her death have expanded this space for me, my internal somewhere. The people I've met because of her. The kindness they show each other. The way that they continue to enjoy and appreciate the world that they shared with their children so briefly. These are her things. And, because of her, they are my things. The things that we share. Somewhere.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Multiples and Chickens of Responsibility

Our hot water heater died last night. It may have been a suicide judging from the dazzling hale of pinkish sparks and flame that erupted from the wiring. The fire burned a hole right through the top of the tank. I took an invigorating ice cold shower this morning.

Yesterday, I wrapped up 2 weeks worth of clerical windsprints for a presentation that my boss's, boss's, boss requested and then interrupted to (basically) tell my co-worker that she had looked especially hot at the happy hour held the previous evening. But, she worked hard to look hot and I still killed the presentation.

Rain is threatening my weekend plans. But my associates and I have developed a decent back-up.

Last night we ate fast food for dinner so that I could have enough time to bake homemade banana muffins for C's preschool class.

Overall it seems like a draw, like I'm managing to keep it even but I'm worn out. I want the keys to a fenced enclosure in some remote corner of Pennsylvania where I can howl and growl and chase bunnies around in a bramble until I feel human again. In and out of days and all of that.

Sometimes I feel like a piece of me died with R, the piece that knew how to proceed, how to get things done. The remaining parts are trying to make up for the deficiency but this isn't really their thing. My brain wheels spin fruitlessly in the face of any obstacle and I devolve into a snarling beast.

Or maybe I gained parts and they're crowding out the real me. A new version of myself popped up in the middle of R's burnt remains but there was also this other new version of me that was born with C and R and the original me is still hanging around. The post-birth version, Number 1, avoided destruction through sheer force of happiness. She believes that the world is one hundred times more amazing than old/original me had ever realized. After all, Number 1 snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the form of a baby who was surely a goner. The post-death version, Number 2, believes that nothing will ever be ok ever again and that nothing was probably ever really ok anyway. She melts in the face of other peoples' certainty. Number 2--let's just say that the name works on multiple levels.

They both have the same motto--'Now I get it.' (or Iam ego adepto is according to google translator). They are both insufferable, both opinionated. And they are at war with each other.

I suppose everyone's multi-faceted. Each twist in your life slices a little piece off of the surface of your reality until this extended metaphor comes to its natural end and we're all walking around sparkling like masterfully cut gems. That's probably mostly true, right?

What about a twist that spins you a full 180 and then another 180 two weeks later?

The force of it has split me in two and I devote most of my energy to holding the halves together or at least hiding my unseemly crack from public view.

Number 1 thought this morning's cold shower was a hoot. She decided to add more fun and shave her legs. Number 2 figured that we were at least slowing the death of the planet by burning fewer fossil fuels and, truthfully, we probably deserve the discomfort of a cold shower anyway. I warned you that they both suck.

They both think they're the smartest thing in the room. They both completely devoted to bringing me around to the truth and guiding me towards the proper path up the mountain even though I have no desire to climb the mountain. Some days I just want to give over, set them loose, and let the chips fall as they may but I know that it would result in some ugly chips in some painful places. So, off we go, zig-zagging down the road, wasting time and energy on an argument that will never be resolved.

Number 1 and Number 2 are blind to everything beyond my internal world. They can't see that growing up isn't easy for anyone. It doesn't turn out the way you expected in all of the best/worst ways possible. In the case of parenthood, you get this itch and, in order to properly scratch it, you have to make a whole new person. How could that possibly come off without a hitch? It can't. At some point every mother will have to confront a mess in her child's life, no matter how short that life is, and feel the chickens coming home to roost.

It's gotten to the point where they've forgotten why things went amiss in the first place. Number 1 remembers that R lived and she thinks that's almost as miraculous as everything that's happened in C's entire life. Number 2 remembers that R died and she just knows that that other shoe is gonna drop right on C. They can't see that all of this is really just one thing. They can't see that good and bad are also twins.

I think I'll prevail eventually. I'll amass enough evidence to convince Number 1 that we don't have to force happiness into the void that R left behind to crowd out the regret. Number 2 will glance up from the black hole of her navel and see that fretting about things beyond our control is a waste of time.

Eventually they will behave. Eventually they will believe in my motto, which, like all good mottos, comes from a Bruce Springsteen song, 'It ain't no sin to be glad you're alive.'

Ideally this will happen in October.

Here's Bruce to sing you out in his full 80's glory.

Friday, September 2, 2011

And the Winner is....

....Hope's Mama! And in my excitement yesterday I may have accidentally asked her to box up her head and send it to me so I could check the fit on her hat.

But really, I promise that I'm exactly who I say I am and not a sadistic, serial-killer/knitter.

Thank you all for participating and for your comments. Even about guys who drop the kids off on the running trail instead of at the pool (m, I may knit you a blindfold...or maybe some adult-diapers for the needy...can't decide). This was exactly what I needed to kiss August good-bye for another year. I should do this sort of thing more frequently.

Since there are only 7 of you and your comments were so awesome, I feel like I should knit for everyone but I think my husband might catch on that I'm neglecting the quilt I promised him when we got engaged...12 years ago. Oh, the challenges of small-time bloggery!

Happy weekend, all! Take care.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Might as Well Enjoy It: An R Day Giveaway!

I compose most of these posts in my mind while walking my dog. You may have surmised that I have a very strange looking dog. If you read some of that mess about all of my bad parenting, you may be thinking, "No one's dog is that strange looking." But truly, last week another dog who appeared to be a cross between a dachsund and a bloodhound stopped in his tracks and gawked at my dog as if he'd never seen anything so grotesque. Or perhaps he just felt accompanied for the first time in his doggy life...

The vet thinks corgi and lab but I know there's some bull terrier or boxer in there too. He's short and stocky with excellent just-floppy-enough ears that bring to mind a bat in flight. From my perspective on our walks it actually looks more like a bat trying to take flight while holding a 65 lb burrito dipped in chocolate and rolled in magnetized iron filings.

Thanks to our exceedingly wet August, the dog has mosquito bites in his nether regions. I've lost some sleep this week fretting about earthquakes and hurricanes and the 4th anniversary of R's death but, nothing prevents sleep like an itchy dog. Especially an itchy dog who is about 4 inches too long from shoulder to tail and 2 inches too short in the leg to reach his own itchy ass. The unproductive licking! The whining! The scratch of nails on wood floor! If I thought he'd leave, I'd set him free.

And now you're thinking, "I didn't come to this blog to read about itchy dog asses."

This morning the dog attempted to escape his itch. Head-down, ears unfloppy, hunched inward with his front legs moving faster than his hind legs--like many of us in our lowest moments, the dog attempted to outrun his own ass.

The worst parts of ourselves are the hardest to flee, aren't they?

But it gave me an idea. Two ideas, actually. First, I'm going to get some anti-histamines for the dog. Second, and more importantly, I'm going to purge all of the ick of August from this blog with a giveaway.

In honor of R, I'm going to knit something for a randomly selected commenter. If you'd like to participate, just leave a comment below before 11:59 PM EST on August 31 and I'll enter you in the drawing.

The winner can choose from the following: a pair of socks, a hat, a neckwarmer, or a pair of mittens.

Just leave a comment with your preferred choice and preferred color/color combo and I'll throw your name in the hat. If you're feeling more chatty, tell me about your dog or what you're trying to outrun these days.

Don't be shy! Even if you're just stopping by, feel free to join in the fun.

Monday, August 22, 2011

4 Years Later

R's day is Friday but I have to work that day and then we have some houseguests arriving in the evening, so...

I guess that says it all right there. Work and houseguests.

After four years, August 26 has been sucked back into the amorphous blob of ordinary days.

I'd like to think that my co-workers remember her and that my houseguests still care but that would be unrealistic. Even amongst the other members of this club, no one can remember all of the details about someone else's baby--wrong dates, genders, names.

Here, however, there's always respect. There is always understanding.

Your friends and family who haven't lost a baby think that imagining is the same thing as knowing but, it's not. There's nothing theoretical about R's death or the deaths of any of these other babies. This ain't no thrill ride. We aren't standing at the edge of the cliff looking down and wondering how it would feel to fall into space. We aren't clinging to the side, thanking our lucky stars for the near miss and promising to be better people in the future. We have already fallen and are grappling our broken way back up to the top. The brokenness is unappealing. If you've only had to wonder what it feels like, you can still imagine that the experience is at least somewhat beautiful or rewarding. It's better to wonder how it feels than to have someone tell you that it's a neverending festival of suck. Yeah. No one wants to hear that.

This doesn't mean that friendship and hospitality are out of the question but, you know, it takes some concentration and lowered expectations. It requires gaining some comfort with extended, uncomfortable silences. It requires forgiveness.

Forgiving is the gold standard, isn't it? Have you forgiven yourself yet? I'm not sure that I have. It's no small thing, forgiving. I'll likely work at it the rest of my life. But, I know that it's where I'm headed. It has to be. And, if I can forgive myself for letting R die, if I can forgive myself for all of the envy and anger in my heart, I can forgive my friends for forgetting her. I can forgive them for not understanding. I can even forgive them for not trying to understand.

When R died, it was almost like a new version of my self was born, a grasping, needy, undisciplined little person. Sound familiar?

How would I want to raise R if she were still here? Would I teach her to be bitter and self-concerned? Would I try to teach her patience and understanding, the discipline of kindness and forgiveness?

It's sort of an invalid question. If she had lived I'd still be skipping down the primrose path, gloriously ignorant of loss and misery. No one, including me, would expect me to learn a damn thing from the experience. But that isn't what happened. She died and took a good share of what I believed to be true with her. For four years I've been working on gathering new truths.

I'll keep it small this week. Small, simple truths for her short life. She's gone and I miss her and I love her.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dispatches from Level 4

A few weeks ago I needed C out of the way while I worked on 4th birthday extravaganza preparations. I decided that she might like to see some video footage of herself as a baby so, I loaded up a DVD, parked her on the couch, and ran upstairs to organize the spare room. Within minutes I heard her crying hysterically.

The trip down the stairs took approximately 2 seconds which, strangely, was enough time to imagine all of the ways she could have maimed herself with common household objects. But, when I got to the living room, she was safe and sound on the couch, right where I'd left her. When I asked her what was wrong she said that she missed being a baby.

As I hugged her and helped her to calm down I shook my head at how different she is from me. I can't remember ever wishing to be a baby. Childhood was about catching up and keeping up with my big brother and my older cohorts. Then I heard the pilot's voice hissing, "She knows. You ruined her babyhood. She doesn't want to remember it. She wants a do-over."

I don't even have a clear enough recollection of C's babyhood to help her relive it. Without any other children to compare I can't say how normal or abnormal it was but, I can tell you that we never experienced that feeling of undiluted joy. The joy was there but it was trapped under an ocean of panic, despair, and soul-numbing terror. Judging from the smiling, laughing mom in the video, I did a reasonable job of damming it up but it took a lot of effort. I had to split my energy between feeling the joy and holding back the everything-other-than-joy.

Those last two posts sound like such a fucking pity-party or maybe one of those celebrations of the ‘bad-mommy’ that seem so common these days. That wasn’t the intent. I have genuine regrets about my parenting and I can’t escape the feeling that C’s been short-changed.

The truth is that I would like a do-over. It doesn’t even need to include a different outcome for R. I’m past that. I just want another chance to focus on C entirely now that I know how to separate the happy from the sad.


When I was younger, I lived in a cinderblock dorm steps from the Atlantic Ocean. At night I’d leave the windows open and listen to the waves as I fell asleep. With enough practice I could picture the size and shape of the breakers and guess the weather conditions based on the volume of the crash.

The great, beating heart of the planet. The soothing sound of certainty. 9.86 m/s/s. The water piles up, hangs in the air for just a moment, and then falls back to Earth. More reliable than clockwork.

I suppose anything could happen in that pause. The water could get stuck. It could shoot up into the sky like a great fountain, causing Newtown and Cavendish to roll over in their graves. But, it doesn’t, does it?

Or maybe it does but hardly anyone sees it.

What if you saw it?

Would you carry-on as if nothing strange had happened?


Sometimes I forget just how close it was for her.

During one of her gymnastics classes earlier in the summer, the other mothers were comparing birth stories featuring ‘tiny’ 6 lb. babies.

These conversations make my entire body clench, sort of like that wabbly feeling you get in your knees if you stand close to the windows in a skyscraper. Are they going to ask me? Will I tell the truth? I hope they ask. I hope they don’t ask. Go ahead, ask me…

She’s in the high-performing track in the class with the other kids who have mastered the basic skills. Given that T is built like an acrobat/spelunker and C is his tiny clone, this is really no surprise but, I still have to fight the urge to cackle maniacally.

She keeps up in school. The OT cleared her of any debilitating motor-skill delays. She has enough attitude to float the entire Pacific fleet. She talks constantly, punctuating her grand schemes with jazz hands, leaps, and twirls. Our conversations are full of magical baby ponies named Rainbow Flower Heart.

Four years after all of that death, despair, and mayhem, it’s just a normal girl-world and I’m just a normal mom/pony handler/evil pony-capturing wizard.

Normal, except for the constant refrain in my head--how close we came to missing all of this, how quickly it could all end.


I don’t have a good wrap-up for this post. The birthday party was a ton of fun, even the Barbies (and the Barbie pool and the Barbie veterinary clinic and the Barbie pre-school). I just wanted to take a break from ‘August’ and the general feeling of despair that permeates this blog to focus on C, just C, and to celebrate how far she’s come and how happy she makes me.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Trying - Part II

It's happening at the end of our street as we speak. The pond and springhouse are leveled. The barn and house will be disassembled and salvaged rather than bulldozed. But, still, the last of the homestead that spawned my neighborhood will be gone all the same. The deer and the ducks seem unimpressed by the sign touting the arrival of luxury townhomes. Funny. They would probably have a better shot at getting approved for a mortgage than any of the people who will come looking.

I suppose it's easy to look back and think that things used to be simpler. My instinct is to believe that simpler is better but it's probably not true. Once upon a time there was probably a girl who lived in that house and she probably spent her nights listening to the frogs chirping away in the pond and wishing that they could be replaced by the hiss of a highway that would take her away from her dreary life.

The old me, the pre-babies/baby me, seems so superior from this angle. Boy, was she ever high and mighty. She got things done. She went to town council meetings and had opinions about...everything. And what a mother she was going to be!

I was cleaning up my bookmarks folder on our old PC the other day and I came across all of these pages I'd marked before the girls were born. The twin parenting stuff stung a little but, it was the super hippi-fied pages about 'green' baby products and the dangers of disposable diapers that stuck on the jagged edges of my mind. I had such firm ideas about the kind of mother I'd be and I don't think I held to a single one of them.

The contents of that house are sold, baby. The house itself is bulldozed into oblivion. And the absolute impossibility of a return to some alternate version of the past has settled in its place.

I used whatever diapers would stay on her scrawny, little rump. I bought mass-produced toys from mass-produced stores that specialize in mass-produced human-rights violations. I went back to work. I let her eat store-bought baby food.

And it goes on. She's well-versed in Sponge-Bob and the Bieber. On her last day of preschool this year I hit and killed a bird while driving her to McDonald's to celebrate. It bounced across my hood and right up over the roof of the mini-van that we use to transport our family of three. Dead bird. McDonald's. Mini-van.

Things change and we're forced to let go of our expectations. But, with all of the stuff I've let go in the spirit of unburdening myself, I should be able to levitate right up out of this chair. And I might as well seeing as I apparently don't care about much other than getting mine these days.

I look at all of the cheap, plastic crap she's accumulated and I want to tell her how horrible it is. I want to explain that we need to give some stuff up and live with less so that others can have more. But the words can't find my way out of my mouth.

What is it that C doesn't know about horrible things? She's already given up a twin sister, an adequate gestation, a small wedge of the field of vision in her left eye.

Some of her best memories were plowed under before she even saw them.

What can I tell her about sacrifice and acceptance? What impact could a couple of Barbie dolls possibly make on this unholy mess anyway?

Birthdays are supposed to be happy occasions. Dammit.


They say that god says that death shall have no dominion. It sure doesn't feel that way, does it? R's death. My dad's death. T's dad's death. I feel dominated, like I can't ever get a full, deep breath.

According to the Alliance of Tired Bromides (TM), death is supposed to remind us that nothing lasts forever. Except death which, from the perspective of the living, does, in fact, last forever. It doesn't really matter whether you walk or whether you speed along in luxury sedan. This here is a one-way street into the unknown, folks.

But, they're sort of right, aren't they? The end of one set of possibilities necessarily gives birth to another. And,no matter whether you're attached to a plastic toy or an overly rigid set of principles, you're going to have to let go sooner or later.


This Saturday, while the machines remove the last traces of the past from one end of my street, I'll sit at the other swallowing down all of my regret and sadness right along with the Barbies and the cake. There will be games and laughter and a smiling four-year-old. And that's all that really matters for now.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


Inside the shopping bag it's all lavender and frighteningly disposable. The bizarre proportions and gigantic eyes made sense for Ariel who was, after all, a creature of the deep, but, I can't figure out why Rapunzel would need to see in the dark...or how she could possibly eat with such a tiny mid-section.

Now that we're back in the bosom of my family, we're more plastic and made in China than we ever intended to be. They say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. I wonder what happens to you if you live too long with no intentions.

C's birthday is always fraught with tension for me. I think I manage it well but it's hard to focus on the here and now with all of those 'what-ifs' crowding in with the crepe paper and tacky decorations. When I was pregnant I worried about treating my daughters as individuals--turns out death is no obstacle to certain parenting tendencies.

Luckily, in the midst of my crisis about mindless parenting, consumerism, and birthdays for dead daughters, I happened across this story.

Like all 36-year-old women born and raised in the Philly 'burbs, I find that Wendell Berry* can always explain how I'm feeling so much better than I can myself. Go figure.

*Mr. Berry is not paying me to endorse him...or acknowledging me in any way for that matter since we don't know each other or anything. But, I'm sure he'd like me if he just gave me a chance...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Home Again

In my mind he's perpetually 19-years-old, staring down at a pile of metal bits and figuring out how to resolve them back into the track of a sherman tank.

I didn't actually know him then. I wouldn't even exist for another 35ish years.

Maybe this is how everyone in my generation pictures their grandfathers who fought in the war. All that mayhem and the miracle that they survived long enough to ensure our existence is worth remembering and examining closely.

A couple of years ago I had the distinct impression that the world had flipped 180 degrees and left my grandfather stranded in my place and time. Gadgets that his formerly clever hands couldn't manipulate. Grandkids who drove German and Japanese cars with no trace of guilt. His wife, two of his brothers, and a son-in-law dead. A new roof on his house that would undoubtedly outlast him. Even so, he was still always solidly, reliably present.

In a few hours I'll be at his funeral but I can't quite believe he's gone.


We were out of town when he died, in Kentucky for T's dad's funeral and the second wedding for T's best man. A parade of family, friends, and transitions of the toughest and most joyful variety.

Road trips always leave me feeling a little dislocated from reality but this one brought the drifting feeling to a whole new level. It's not just the standard time suspension that comes with 10 days of suitcase living, the world actually changed, sort of profoundly, while we were moving.

Before leaving Kentucky, we packed our spare suitcase with T's father's unneeded clothes and a flag folded over the expended shells from the 21-gun salute. More items will arrive in the mail shortly. While on the road back to PA, my mom called and said that I should hurry-up and get to Pop's house to claim any items I may want--apparently I have to race my brother and cousins to the choicest mementoes. I feel a little strange about detaching these objects from their homes. There's something so clear and definite about R's particular brand of gone-ness that made everyone else in my family seem hyper-present or super-alive. Even though T's dad and Pop were sick, even though they'd both been labeled terminal, I still wasn't convinced that they would die and I'm still not convinced that they'll stay that way. They both have so many people and things anchoring them to this world--how could they possibly leave? How could we possibly take their stuff? They might still need it.

If I sit still and concentrate, I can bring them back. I don't need objects to remember them. I can smell them and feel their skin, remember their voices and laughter. Among adults there just seems to be a smaller gap between corporeal existence and remembrance. The pile of ashes that used to be T's dad, my grandfather's body that we'll bury today, they're both still more alive to me than R ever was.


Pop grew up with 7 siblings in a tiny house, married and raised 2 daughters in a less tiny house about 30 minutes from his childhood home. He retrieved and repaired tanks in the war. He was a mailman. He grew excellent tomatoes. He was a constant presence at his grandkids' and great-grandkids' t-ball games and dance recitals. He loved a good water fight on the beach. He kept his basement stocked with groceries and never let any of the 'kids' leave without taking at least a couple of cans of vegetables or boxes of macaroni.

There was nothing flashy or grand about his life. He was solid, reliable, game, and good-natured. He loved his family without reservation.

Shortly after R died, Pop told me that he talked to her and my grandmother every night as he drifted off to sleep. He believed that they were together and that he would see them again.

I hope he's right.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Makes the World Go 'Round

A friend of mine used to work as an accountant in state government. She had a colleague who'd grown up in the circus. His parents were acrobats and, naturally, expected him to follow in their footsteps. But, alas, he heard a different siren song. He trained and performed until he reached adulthood and then ran away to join the bureaucracy.

Other people are a mystery.

Today is my ninth wedding anniversary (true to form, T had to remind me). Sometimes I still wake up in the morning and look over at T and wonder how this stranger got into my house and my life. Eleven years ago I didn't even know him and now we make all of our decisions together and there's a tiny, female copy of him getting under foot while I wash their dishes and underwear.

How much do you have to know about someone else before you can say that you know him or her?


I'm still working my way through all of the "Right Where I Am" posts from Angie's project last week. In between my despairing Scarlett-O'Hara-at-the-train-depot moments, I feel like I'm wrapped up in something greater than the sum of its parts, an extended Aha! moment shared amongst a bunch of strangers.

But these bloggers are still strangers. They're still mysteries.

For all I know, they kick puppies or refuse to give up seats to old ladies on the subway or cheer for the Mets between posts.

But somehow, I feel like the darkest, most desolate corner of another person is all you really need to know anyway.


Last week Jennifer Boylan came and spoke at my workplace as part of our LGBT special emphasis program. You can follow the link there to learn more about her story. The short version is that she's a transgendered woman who started out life as a man. That sentence may have been redundant. I probably could have said transsexual and gotten the point across. Anyway, she spoke for about an hour on the general topic of gender identity and issues of unity and civil rights for the transgendered community.

While I didn't grow up as a member of an actively bigoted family, I've never really gone out of my way to learn about transgendered folks. How many times have I tossed off a joke about transgendered people over the course of my life without even thinking about it? As the wife of a self-described hillbilly, I understand that we are more accepting of jokes about some segments of society than others. Yokels and women trapped in male bodies are probably somewhere on the edge of the political correctness frontier.

As she spoke, my mind wandered toward my own experience as a social misfit. When I first started looking for other people who had experienced babyloss I had a bit of a hang-up about my circumstances. Even though my newborn daughter had died, I was still wandering around with her identical twin. I was one of those women who made the 100% babylost duck down the aisle at the grocery store or turn and walk in the other direction. I looked...clueless...lucky...normal.

Perhaps I'm all of those things. I'm willing to concede on the 'clueless' part--I mean, we're all clueless about some things. And I've already been over the 'lucky' part. Normal is where I get stuck.

If I were normal I'd probably have more than one kid. I wouldn't cringe when I see my dead daughter's name in print at the grocery store. I'd laugh at jokes about long-lost twins or people who seem to have been separated at birth.

Then again, I suppose it's normal to have something that sets you slightly apart from everyone else, a sore spot that gets casually prodded by friends, co-workers, TV commentators day in and day out.

When R died I turned inward. I dismissed other peoples' problems. I stopped caring. It's taken a long time but I feel like I've turned things around. Instead of fixating on my internal monologue, I wonder about the hidden pain and grief carried by others and how I contribute to it, how I can help.

In terms of LGBT issues, I feel like I'm on the right side of things. Consenting adults should be able to marry each other and share benefits regardless of the numbers of X's and Y's in the equation. But there's a gap between being accepting of something in theory and being actively aware of it in fact.

This wasn't a huge 'come to Jesus' moment for me. It was more like sanding a rough edge. I will be more thoughtful. I will be more considerate. I won't take cheap shots at something that I don't understand.

As part of her spiel, Ms. Boylan read an essay about a conversation with her son, a teenager entering his final year of high school. In the episode she describes, they're talking about his future and his post-college plan to move to Australia and develop anti-venom for some type of snake that I can't remember.

The story included a repeating punchline about a mother's theoretical reaction to the death of a child.

Ms. Boylan is a very witty and charming storyteller and the line got a huge laugh out of the audience. Well, most of the audience.

Presumably the take-home message was something about letting people be themselves and live their dreams. I, however, came away with the new knowledge that I can now share space with a transsexual and still feel like the oddest person in the room.

But I promise that that will be my last joke about transsexuals.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Right Where I Am: 3 years, 9 months, 12 days

Normally I wouldn’t bother with the days. Honestly, I had to do math on my fingers to come up with the months, but, it just happens to be the 26th. R died on the 26th and she lived for 12 days. So…

In the days immediately after R’s death, T vowed to make time every 26th to remember her. Implicit in this plan was his predicted inability to ever be happy on the 26th day of any month ever again. Judging from his grateful smile as I sent him off to work with a travel mug full of hot coffee, the plan didn’t take. I never bought into the plan, mostly because I couldn’t imagine any greater degree of sadness than I was feeling every minute of every day already. R was gone. C was in the NICU. Everything felt fragile and uncertain.

It still feels this way for a few minutes each day. My thoughts of R are like background noise or wallpaper. They’re always present but I don’t actively monitor them. After all, some things stay exactly where you left them. But, the memories still fly into the foreground at least once a day, unbidden, a freak wave splashing over the bow, leaving me shocked and spluttering, questioning the certainty of anything in my life.

Here are some of those moments from the past 24 hours along with other thoughts I had while contemplating ‘right where I am’.

While Peering Hopelessly into my Closet

It’s hot and sticky here in the mid-Atlantic. I’m finding that my wrinkle-proof, working-mom wear is making me a little too sweaty on my daily walk to the commuter train but I can’t figure out what else I should wear. The new girl at work, who speaks of fabulousness as a glorious island nation that I too could inhabit if I’d just use the right navigational equipment, mentioned that she’d purchased her chic linen pants (size 2) on sale at Banana Republic. I’d check it out but I prefer the “Frumpy Barista” collection at Penney’s for the elastic hidden in the waistband of most pants.

Stores are full of sparkly, flowy, brightly-colored clothes for summer and I can’t imagine wearing any of them. I don’t feel sparkly anymore and flowy is terrible on the playground. I can’t see the point of smart, sporty clothes that can go from office to rooftop happy hour.

I need something that says I’m no longer a frivolous person who uses precious brain cells on wardrobe development. A cloak or a monastic robe might work but, it needs to be stain resistant and have a skort built-in for the playground. The statement would probably be undermined by lollipops and princess stickers adhering to the hem anyway.

Looks like it’s going to be mom-slacks and cardigans for another few months.

While Driving

I dropped C off at daycare earlier today and almost smashed into a carful of teenagers making an ill-advised left turn. 21 years and a few months ago my brother was almost killed in a similar situation at the same intersection.

Luckily he escaped with a concussion and a neck sprain. A few months later, we sat the kitchen table and I helped him turn the incident into a compelling essay for his college applications. I’m not sure that a 6’2” varsity football player and home run derby champion needs to write a slam bang essay to get into college but it’s certainly a better ending to the story than what could have been. How would my life have been different if my brother had died or become an invalid that night? He was riding in a car with 2 other boys who only had one sibling. I was friendly with all of them. What would that have been like if we’d all become instant only children?

We had a tearful night last night. C’s cousins (the ones who wouldn’t exist if my brother had died) stopped by just long enough to set up an elaborate game of house/school/doctor. The 8-year-old had just prepped C for surgery and the 6-year-old was setting up the post-operative tea party when my SIL announced that they had to go home for baths and bedtime. It was hard to catch all of the words during C’s ensuing meltdown (C inherited my tendency to hyper-ventilate when crying) but I made out that she’s lonely and jealous that her cousins get to go everywhere together.

As we sat and tried to calm her down, T shot me a look over her head. You know the look I’m talking about. Well, maybe those of you who conceive easily don’t. It was the look that says hey-we-can-skip-the-Barry White-because-you-seem-to-be-infertile-now-but-maybe-we-should-discuss-our-other-options---sexily. I answered with the look that says, “Nope.”

I’m happy with our life right now. At least I feel like everything we have going on is manageable. I can see all of the ways that another child would be earth-shatteringly awesome and I can see all of the ways it could be heartbreaking. The awesome just doesn’t outweigh the heartbreak…yet…maybe not ever.

But, it does hover there in the back of my mind. What would it be like if we added a brother or sister for C?

Or, as I skidded toward a carful of oblivious children this morning, what would it be like if that new sister or brother died in some horrible manner?

While Playing with C

I can talk about R without getting even remotely teary or emotional now. This area has a nice, thick callus and I feel good about that callus. I remember sitting and rocking for hours with infant C and wondering how she would stand growing up with this hollow shell that called itself ‘mommy.’ I didn’t resolve to get over it or be strong for C’s sake. I figured that I’d always be sad and C would have a great career as a memoirist after she grew up and escaped.

But that’s not really how it’s turning out. We function just like any other family with one child and two parents who work full-time outside the home. C and I sit on the floor coloring together in the evenings while I assuage my guilt about spending so much time apart and the laundry piles up and the bacteria colonizing my bathroom threaten to devour the entire house.

Maybe I’d be more super-mom-ish if I didn’t grant myself the space to enjoy these small pleasures with my surviving daughter but that seems like the road to ruin for any mom. I can almost allow myself to think that grief has improved me in some ways. Of course, I probably would have improved in some ways as the mother to twin girls as well.

C recently started drawing more recognizable objects during our coloring sessions. First it was faces and stick figures. Then she started adding yellow hair and blue eyes to make them look like her. Yesterday she drew herself and then a copy of herself. She asked if I could draw some strawberries and a pear for R.

“R likes strawberries and pears, just like I do,” she explained and then she started telling crayon-R about all of the other things they could do together if they both lived here with mommy and daddy.

And it occurred to me that we may never be fully present, never completely right where we are. For me and C and T there will always be a little piece missing from this place and time and all of our future places and times. We’ll always face the past every so often and wonder what it would be like if R had survived.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


We moved R's tree to our yard in time for Mother's Day. Technically we did it in time for the other Mother's Day...the one I didn't bother mentioning to anyone. That wasn't the intent anyway. This just happens to be a good time of year for moving deciduous trees.

T commented that he would like something ornamental better--something with showy blooms to breakup the monotony in our yard. That wasn't my intent either.

This is an intention-free zone.

Left to my own notions, I never would have purposely planted anything as a memorial to my daughter. I'm not opposed to the practice. I just dread dead memorial plants. And I'm tired of dread.

But this tree was already dead when I found it, burning through its limited resources, waiting for a taxpayer-purchased weed-whacker to come and finish the job. It turns out that I'm more tired of death than I am of dread.

So, I threw caution to the wind, dug the little tree up with a random stick, and planted it in a vacant spot alongside my mom's garage where it stayed until we could plant at the new house.


At my 6-week post-partum visit, the OB ran through the list of questions that mark the route for his daily parade of interchangeable lady parts.

"Are you sad?"

"Uh, yeah."

"I mean, are you sadder than you would expect?"

I swear there was an audible click as the doorway that stood open between me and the ordinary world closed...forever. I may have laughed a little.

What did I expect? A first time mother to almost died and almost lived. I felt like the entire universe had been crammed into the space between my ears and there was no room left for expectations of any kind.

Going on four years since pregnancy/birth/death, aside from the eternal ache of missing R and my white-hot obsession with C, this is the most lasting effect--I lost my expectations.

I can need and hope and want. I just can't expect.

I think this may actually be an improvement.


R's tree started out like any other red maple. The seed landed, down went the roots, up went the cotyledon. When the resources supplied by the seed were gone, leaves sprouted and photosynthesis kicked expected.

It had a lot of siblings, this tree. In the r-selected world of plant propagation, it's all about the numbers. Because, if it can expect anything at all, a tree probably expects dead babies.

Survival is for the seeds that land in a wooded area with the best soil and a little break in the canopy to let in the sunlight. If conditions are right, a red maple can expect to live for close to one hundred years. It's a relatively short lifespan for a tree but, still.

Pressed up against the post of a playground structure (even one as well-meant as this one) with the maintenance crew breathing down its neck, this tree couldn't expect much more than a couple of weeks.

But, you know, fuck expectations.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Parental Failings of the Ironical Sort

"Yep, I see it."

The doctor points to the exam room and I scoop C up mid-run for the next part of the appointment.

She clambers up onto the exam table and he starts checking her hips for alignment--or rather, checks them for a lack of alignment to explain the hitch in her gait.

"We could do some x-rays but it probably wouldn't help at this point," he says, frowning at her apparently symmetrical pelvis, "Could be neurological."


I had a housemate in college who was a stone, cold fox.

I maybe had a few weeks in 1995 when I was a solid 7. I may even still be a 6 for those who are attracted to sturdiness and sarcasm. But, truly, I'm a 5* most best.

My friend, J, is a solid 10--perhaps an 11. Back then she looked like a veela as interpreted by one of those pervy animators responsible for the Disney princesses.

Living with her was just how I imagine it would be to run a base camp at Everest. Hordes of men show up all aflutter with adventure and conquest on their minds. Even those who are vanquished can't talk about anything else but the next try. The ones with any sense stay far away.

I won't lie, my ego was definitely bruised up by the end of it but I came away with a solid understanding some basic truths.

Comparing yourself to other people is a short road to disappointment.

*In case it's not obvious, I'm including this as a bit of a sly wink--I am, however, serious about the sarcasm part.


It was probably intended in the spirit of upward mobility that marks members of the middle class but, it still seems like a bad idea to me, especially now that I'm a mother myself.

On my second birthday my mom went to the trouble to get out my baby book and a pen and note that I "still had a miserable personality" but "had shown some improvement lately."

Guess who doesn't have a baby book of her own? What would I have written in there during her first year?

C still defies expectations by continuing to be alive. She's alive!!!! She's alive!!!

It's still the predominant thought in my head when I look at her--holy shit! She's still here! Please, please let her continue to exist.

Right after we were pounded by the fickle sledgehammer of fate, I gathered up my tiny daughter and ran as fast as I could away from the trouble. Along the way I've done my best to shed her lingering association with loss and grief.

I've ditched any hard-wired expectations.

I don't compare her to other children as a matter of principle.

Those things just slow you down.

And now I've charged face-first into the enormous, spiky outstretched fist of the universe.

I can't escape the notion that I've been making this all about me this whole time.

It could be neurological.

Is that better or worse than a deformed pelvis?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Once More...without Feeling

You know when you throw something together using whatever you have in the cupboard and it doesn't turn out so great but you choke it down anyway so that you don't waste food.

Maybe not.

Just imagine something unpleasant that's lurking around making you uneasy.

I don't think I made the point I was trying to make with that last post. Or maybe I'm not sure what the point was.

I'd like to just wipe it away...except for the part about the three A's (angst, accents, acoustic instruments). I won't apologize for my little fetish. I could pour that whole situation into a glass and drink it.

Ok, so maybe I'd just sip at it...demurely.

And then, about halfway through, I'd start wondering how I could dare enjoy any aspect of my continued existence. But I'd be proud of myself for making it halfway.

The 2007 version of myself who paces around in my head finds none of this amusing or encouraging but she seems to be taking a lot of naps lately.

Happy is easier than sad--maybe it always has been for me. Or maybe I've just covered my sad with a scab so thick that I can hardly feel anything anymore.

Grief hasn't changed me as profoundly as I thought it might. I've not been engulfed in a swell of magnanimity. I haven't been compelled to help others or to do something meaningful in R's memory. I've made friends here in the land of babyloss grief but lately I keep forgetting how I met them.

Acceptance has invaded every corner of my heart. The muck has settled to the bottom of the glass of water. I can take the stone from the master's hand. Etc...

Scope, immediacy, violence--these things don't register on my scale of reaction anymore. Death is death is death. Doesn't really matter how it happened. Respect the pain and then file it away for later. Misery keeps.

Good and bad are a package deal. It's possible to fit them both into your head. Trust me on this one. Look up from the 24-hour news cycle. Have you noticed that the daffodils are blooming?

Let the neighbors and co-workers think that this is easy or that I'm cold and unfeeling.

For so long after R died I had to fake happy. I don't have any energy left over to fake sad.

But I'll spare you the banjos this time.

Monday, March 28, 2011


Sometimes I wonder if my sadness over R's death is outsized.

Tsunamis, bombings, floods.

My neighbor's house burned to the ground last week.

R is dead. No more pain. No more worry. She is as she is. As she will be. Forever.

The first time I heard someone use the word 'tragedy' in reference to my daughter I was surprised. Tragedy? How could that be right? Everyone knows that tragedies happen far away from here in corrugated tin huts with inadequate plumbing.

Tragedy needs a good head of steam. It should start with years of social injustice and oppression that create an unsustainable situation that completely crumbles under the weight of a natural disaster. This was just some bad luck in our otherwise lucky lives. R was just one tiny person.

It was the most horrible thing I've ever seen happen to another human. Her body rotted from the inside out. She died slowly, in pieces, right in front of me and I couldn't do anything to stop it.

Even so, I've only glimpsed the bottom of the pit and I have no interest in getting any closer.


This process is slow and grinding. Some portion of each day is spent shoring up the compartments in my mind, remembering how to get along to go along. I'm pretty proficient. I can have hours of normal conversations and experience genuine interest and engagement with something other than my own thoughts.

I keep it small.

I don't call or email anyone for frivolous reasons. My co-workers probably think I'm chained to my desk.

I don't watch the news. I don't read about important world events.

It seems best to not start things that I won't be able to finish.

I pour my energy into maintaining a socially acceptable exterior and keeping C happy and I just don't have any to spare--not consistently anyway.

I can't tell if it's the sadness or the walling off of the sadness that's more wearing. They feel so integrated now. It might be easier to let it all out and be done with it.


Summer makes me a little manic. Fall and winter are depressing. Despite my pollen allergies, I think spring might be my favorite. Springtime is for nostalgia.

I'm not exactly ancient but I miss being young and carefree. I want to lounge around in the sunshine and neglect my responsibilities. I want to sip on an iced coffee and get incensed about politics.

I spent the better part of my young adult years in North Carolina and every spring I get this urge to go back there and see if I can find that other version of myself lurking amidst the magnolias and excessive politeness.

But I don't have the time. And we all know that it's impossible to go back.

Instead I've just been scratching my itch by listening to this song and reminiscing about earnestness and banjos.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bread Line

When I was a kid, my Dad would sometimes get up early on a Saturday to stand in line at the Conshohocken Bakery for the rolls. Ridiculous, no? Why line up for bread that you have to pay for--with real money? Yet, every Saturday people would queue up regardless of the weather as if they were waiting for Mike Schmidt's autograph.

I'm not begrudging any culture their own ways with yeast and flour but, seriously, the bread in Philly is friggin' amazing--crusty and chewy and just the right amount of salty. T, Army brat and citizen of the world, has assured me that my opinion isn't just warped hometown pride. He thinks it may have something to do with the fact that we have 'wuhder' here instead of water.

Once Dad waited on line for hours only to discover that all of the rolls were gone by the time he reached the front and he was forced to switch to loaves of Italian bread. He wasn't disappointed though. The lady behind the counter handed him the queen mother of them all--a ridiculously huge hunk of bread. He was buying for our extended family so he took a couple more average-sized loaves too. My aunt and grandmother were slightly appalled by the size disparity between their loaves and his yet, not surprised that he would keep the largest one for himself.

When he got home and presented my Mom with the colossal loaf they laughed and laughed at their good luck...until they cut it open and realized that the inside was mostly empty.


A couple of weeks ago I passed the 20th anniversary of my first date.

I regularly forget my wedding anniversary, my mother's birthday, pretty much every date that's important for the significant people in my life. Every Feb. 23, however, I seem to remember my first night out on the town with "Lloyd."

After weeks of after school negotiations and one Valentine's Day note that could have scorched the attached red carnation, I agreed to go out with him. It was a Friday night. We went to see "The Silence of the Lambs." I was so terrified about being in a dark theater with a boy that I forgot to be freaked out by a movie about a cannibal and lady-skin-coat wearing serial killer. When he dropped me off at the foot of my driveway, I darted out of his Malibu as if it had burst into flames.

We dated off and on for the next 18 months despite the fact that we really had nothing in common aside from location and above-average physical fitness.

Lloyd's family was a disaster. His parents divorced when he was around 5 and his dad moved to a town maybe 10 miles to the west. Lloyd's mom remarried a few years later and had two more kids--the family she had always envisioned. At the ripe old age of 10, Lloyd, recognizing that he was now persona non grata, packed his belongings into a paper bag and rode his bike up the shoulder of the turnpike to his dad's house. His dad fed him a hot dog and sent him back to his mom. Lloyd had an endless supply of similar, miserable stories.

My family bore more than a passing resemblance to his mom's 2.0 version--two parents, two kids (big brother and little sister), a four bedroom house in the 'burbs. My Dad and Lloyd's stepdad probably could have had a support group for men who wished Lloyd would disappear.

Looking back on the whole thing it seems as though Lloyd was on some sort of mission to uncover the inner workings of a happy family. He'd hopped over the fence and was ready to sample the sweet, green grass on the other side. Unfortunately it turned out to be a disappointment. I can't remember all of the details now but I have the faint impression that he broke up with me because I was a boring know-it-all.


We're having a bit of a time in these parts. T's dad has passed the point of treatment for his cancer. My eternally spry grandfather seems to have started the fast march toward infirmity. T's aunt was hospitalized last week and is likely in the end stages of emphysema.

I feel I'm experiencing all of it from some remote location. Family members call on the phone all adither with the bad news and it's like the noise disappears inside me where there's nothing to catch the vibration.

In the storage compartment where I once kept fear and sadness, there are only angry questions.

How can any of R's relatives still be afraid of death?

How can any of them grieve the loss of a life that spanned multiple decades?

Have they forgotten my girl?

I suspect that everything they're saying is perfectly normal but grief for a terminally-ill senior citizen still seems like a luxury item to me.


After Lloyd and I broke up we never spoke again. We didn't have any common friends and we were on decidedly different trajectories. We just went back to being strangers. I have a box of Lloyd-related mementos in my Mom's attic that I haven't looked at in years. For all I know he doesn't even remember my name or my face. He probably just has a passing memory of a girl who made a big deal out of small problems.

A quick googling tells me that Lloyd escaped his parents. It looks like he made his way to NYC and spent some time in a band. The cursory FB profile doesn't reveal whether he's happy.

Twenty years ago I didn't have any appreciation for Lloyd's perspective. I had no idea what it felt like to lose or to want. The obstacles I encountered in my life were tiny things I could step over without even a running start.

Right before we broke up, his parents threw him out for the final time. He called me and I went to pick him up at the park near his house so I could take him to a friend's house.. He didn't even have a bag packed. I remember being annoyed by the inconvenience of his homeless status.

I wish I could redo that moment. I want grab both of those kids and tell them that all of it--success, failure, happiness, misery--it's just dumb luck. A wake-up call for the girl who had it all figured out. Some relief for the boy who couldn't even understand the question.

We just take what we're given.

Cut it open and you'll find that there's nothing inside.

Happy anniversary, Lloyd...wherever you may be.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Ramblings from the Sick Ward

C is sick.

The fever and coughing started on Tuesday, the ear infection was diagnosed on Friday, antibiotics were started shortly thereafter. Now that it's Monday I think we can safely assume that it's just a run-of-the-mill cold. Let's pause a moment while I thank every deity I can call to mind.

When I get a cold I'm generally pretty stoic. I stay home from work to avoid spreading it around but I carry-on, fueled by coughdrops and ibuprofen. You can tell that I'm sick because the laundry is folded and you could eat ramen out of the toilet.

When C gets sick I feel as hollow and floaty as a balloon. I can't think or do or plan...I just can't.


I knitted (almost) an entire sweater between Wednesday and Friday.

The dishes and laundry piled up. My email and voicemail sat unattended. C took naps aplenty. I had time to manage all of my normal care and maintenance but I became fixated on this sweater--despite the fact that I own plenty of sweaters and the yarn had been sitting around in an unfinished afghan for 5 years.

There are probably more productive stress reactions than a sweater-making marathon. It would be awesome if I could be more of a sock mender or pants hemmer. I'm glad that I'm not a smoker or an obsessive hair plucker. It's probably a push. We'll see if I can bring myself to wear the sweater once it's finished.


I can't quite escape the notion that the train is about to go off the rails. A sniffle will kick-off a catastrophic, terminal illness and I will spend the rest of my life fixating on its volume and wetness. Did it seem fatal? How did I miss the signs?

Does that carrying-your-heart-around-on-the-outside thing affect everyone this way? Is it a switch that's flipped when you see your baby for the first time or is it when you decide there's no point in waiting and tell the nurse to go ahead and disconnect the ventilator?


Through the night I listen to C's coughs and ragged breathing. I'm waiting for them to turn into something serious. She's so big now. She has words. She can tell me what hurts and ask for medicine, water. In my mind I just see her tiny, exhausted body in the plastic box covered in tubes and wires. I try not to let my eyes stray to the empty box in the adjoining room.

On the one hand I feel prepared. I've seen her genetic clone in distress--I know what it will look like when it comes. On the other hand, I may not be able to do anything but watch. If I had paid closer attention...

I sleep in 5 minute snippets for 4 nights.


Over breakfast on Friday C tells me that she's going to make a full recovery. After 4 nights of fevers we go to the doctor to be sure.

In the exam room she prepares for her 'patient' performance--sad face when the doctor enters the room, hands folded on lap, perfect posture, grateful yet pathetic smile when he finishes his preliminary examination. The mask slips a little when he asks if she's been pooping regularly.

I smile and wonder why I ever thought I could hide anything from my mother.