Saturday, December 15, 2012


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

It's inconceivable.  Unacceptable.

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

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


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

We must do better.

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

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

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Grit and Rambling

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

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

I know.

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Because you can't imagine...


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Remember R.  Remember all of them.

Remember that we're out of mustard.


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

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 27, 2012

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

Hell is other people.

Isn't that what the author said?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

The other mothers just trying to make it through August.

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

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

Monday, August 13, 2012

Five (almost)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Happy birthday to you, C and R!

Monday, July 30, 2012


A spider has moved into the side mirror of our microvan.  We first noticed her in early July when we were back from a long weekend in Kentucky.  The car hadn't moved for a 5 days and I guess it seemed like a decent spot for a web.  She's a smallish spider and we didn't really notice her until the car was moving and she was struggling to climb to the relative safety of the side mirror casing.  "Tough break," I thought, as T slowed the car to give her a chance to get settled, "Guess she's going to have to move."

Two weeks later, speeding northwest on the NJ turnpike on my way back from the annual, family vacation, my mom noticed that the spider was still there--after 500 miles, a week of salt air, and one trip to the garage for tire rotation.  Still there, whipping around on the end of a thread while trying to repair her wind-ravaged web.


My boss is encouraging me to apply for a developmental work assignment.  I told him that I'd think about it but that I felt like my plate was pretty full at the moment because I'd just volunteered to coach C's soccer team and needed to manage my workload.  And then his face scrunched up in that way that indicates confusion.  

There's no point in trying to explain it, is there?

You either understand how much effort it can take to just stay even or you don't.

It feels like a cheat because I talk about acceptance...a lot.  Maybe too much for some who are struggling to get their feet back.  Sometimes I wonder if my acceptance is even like anyone else's.  Is a dead baby and a living baby at the same time really that big of a pill to swallow?  How does 12 days of life stack up against a baby who never took a breath?  What if dying was probably the best thing that ever happened to R?  

And what about all of the other trials that life can throw at people?  Do I really understand anything at all?  I took a pretty intense series of kicks and punches from fate but I had a deep well of support and good fortune to help me recover.  Do I have the right to even use the word acceptance?

Have I really made it if I'm just standing in the shallow end, shoulders hunched, soft parts covered, neglecting personal growth and forward movement while I wait to fend off the next blow?


I don't really think that there's a right way or a wrong way to proceed after your baby dies.  I'm not even sure that I believe that you must proceed, depending on the circumstances.  The whole my-baby-died-and-I-became-a-villain or the baby-made-of-hope-that-grew-in-the-garden movie plot seems perfectly reasonable and inoffensive to me. Because, my baby died and, sure enough, I went a little nuts for a little while.  Maybe not steal-the-neighbors-baby or hijack-happy-person's-life nuts but, close enough that I could see the gates to those lifestyles on the horizon.  I'm sure that there are countless other things that could happen that might drive me around the bend.  There's no point in judging a thing that I can't understand.

A lot of beauty exists in the place where I used to feel R's absence but there are still dark corners full of details about her life and her death that I can't forget.  I  keep them at bay through constant vigilance.  Vigilance takes time that, naturally, I'd rather spend doing other things but then the whole house would collapse and, dang it, I just finished painting the rec room.


Not that I can even begin to understand the criteria that spiders apply to web location decisions or relate to them in any way at all given their over-supply of scuttling legs and weird, shiny eyes and the way they bite you on the pinky finger and make it swell to twice its natural size.  It seems like this spider is either extremely brave or stupid or unlucky or some combination of the three.

It's been about a month now.  Yesterday the spider dined on a tiny moth while we drove to the hardware store. T declared her to be the Evel Knievel of spiders and wondered if she has some sort of genetic anomaly that makes her more of a thrill-seeker or if she got tired of her humdrum life and decided to step out to the ledge.

Or maybe she's completely unaware that there are places to build webs that don't hurtle across the landscape at 80+ mph.

Or maybe she's unhappy with the situation but striving to make the most of it.

"I used to have a web in a quiet corner of the garage," she says to the tiny moth as she binds it down with sticky fibers, "You should have seen me back then, eating moths thrice your size."

The moth doesn't reply.  They never do once she's paralyzed them with venom.

"Bloom where you're planted.  Isn't that what they say?" says the spider, bracing herself as the car makes a left turn.

The moth has given up now. The spider feels a momentary pang of regret, having known struggle herself ever since she got stuck on the side of this car.  She sinks her fangs into the still form and drains it, surprised and somewhat happy to find that it's just as delicious as the moths of her golden years. She wishes that she'd been able to tell the moth how delicious it tasted and briefly wonders if there might be a way to eat moths without actually killing them.  But then she remembers that she's just a spider.  Even here, performing amazing acrobatics while stuck on the side of a car in a twist of bad luck, she's just a spider.

Monday, July 9, 2012


I've had the same sharpie marker on my desk for 7 years.

It's not terribly useful for my particular line of business but I keep it around for two particular purposes.  I use it to mark my file folders for projects that are finished and have been consigned to my forgetting-drawer and I use it to strike the days from my wall calendar.

Once upon a time I'd take the final moments of my Friday afternoon to strike through the entire weekend in the spirit of efficiency--FridaySaturdaySunday.  One less thing to take care of on Monday morning when, naturally I'd be back in the office because of-course-I'll-still-be-here-on-Monday-what-could-possibly-go-wrong-in-two-days-time?

Do I even need to say that I've changed my ways?  Does anyone who reads here take a single day/hour/minute/second for granted anymore?

My new world-view has imbued my sharpie with magical powers.  It is now the destroyer of time and instrument of doom.


We're rounding third on year five and proceeding to home plate.  For those of you with half a set of twins, you'll be familiar with the annual, double-penetration mind-fuck of the weeks leading up to your child's birthday.

I'm really not one to compare scars but, folks, their birthday (and its concomitant stew of joy, love, logistics, sadness, and regret) still makes me feel like I'm turning inside-out and transforming into a wild beast.  By the time C blows out the 7 candles on her cake (1 for R and 1 for good luck) I'll be ready to howl at the moon.


We took another road-trip to Kentucky to visit friends and family this year.  It wasn't the 2-week-long funeral/wedding extravaganza of 2011 but the trip wasn't completely devoid of drama.

On  the first leg of our trip we saw an overturned minivan and an abandoned car that burst into flames from the extreme heat.  As that insane, inland hurricane passed through West Virginia, we hurried off the elevated highway to take shelter in a Wendy's. Disasters small and large everywhere but we managed to emerge unscathed.

The night before our return trip, C and I went to bed early while T stayed up to talk with his mom.  I had a couple of books but C didn't want to read.  She wanted to talk about her birthday and how it was only 6 weeks away and all of the things she'd do once she turned 5 like chew gum and start kindergarten and all of the birthday party supplies that we could get once we got home from Kentucky.

Meanwhile, inside a nondescript, beige cubicle, deep in the bowels of a government office building in Philadelphia, an evil sharpie marker twitched to life.

I should probably be encouraged that, in spite of everything, C still trusts that the sun will rise and that the next few weeks will come off without a hitch but I have to admit that I slept very poorly that night.  I wasn't really crying but it was like my head was so filled with worry that it started to leak.  The tears caught in my hair as I stared at the ceiling and sent a silent warning to the fates, "Leave her alone.  She's just a kid.  She doesn't remember."


I'm just going to end this one by noting that my trusty macbook pro died at the end of May, precluding my participation in the 'right where i am' commenting bonanza.  I haven't even been able to maintain my normal schedule of spotty posting and delayed commenting and, rather than try to make up for lost time, I've decided to just cut bait.  Not that you're all sitting around waiting for me to eject nuggets of wisdom via blogger, but, I didn't tumble down the basement stairs to my untimely demise and I think I'm back to normal operations.

Now...on to August...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

right where i am: 4 years, 9 months, 12 days

Update:  This post is part of Angie's project at still life with circles, right where i am 2012.  Here's my post from this same project in 2011.  Kept it short this year in hopes that I'd have plenty of time to get around and comment on all of the other posts.

I suppose some would say that I'm actually at 4 years and 9 months since R died on the 26th and it's the 26th.  But, honestly, I regret the circumstances of her short life just as much as I grieve her death--maybe more. So, 12 days it is.

I went back and read last year's post before writing this year's post and I've decided that I'm ridiculously predictable.  Would you believe that I've engaged in the same activities and circled around the same themes in my head over the course of an entire year?  Well, if you read this blog, you probably aren't surprised to hear that at all---yeah, yeah, infinite possibility, sorrow and joy, grouchy dog, left-wing politics.

When I search my closet today there will be some new stuff.  I went shopping last week and bought some clothes that are neither black nor grey.  Two of my new shirts have ruffles.  I still want that monastic robe but mostly to hide my middle-aged spread.  I smiled at the youthful stupidity of the returned college students who drove down my street this week towing a friend on a skateboard (with no helmet) rather than worrying about their soon-to-be bereft mothers and sisters.  C asked me how I know she isn't really R last week and I didn't worry about her psychological health.

I've turned a corner this year.

R is just my daughter.  Sure, she's dead but that's no longer the operative word.  She is my first born.  C's twin.  A full member of this family with all of the associated rights and privileges.

I want to lounge around and watch TV with her snuggled on my lap, poking her big kid elbows into my ribs.  I want her to hide a big-eyed unicorn toy behind the shower curtain to scare the bejeezus out of me.  I want to argue with her about green beans and the importance of wearing a hat in the sun.

I can't do any of those things with her.

But I don't do any of those things with most of the people I know and, someday, I won't do them with C either.  And it's alright.

It's alright.

I can love her just the same anyway.

Monday, May 21, 2012

I went to the woods... set up my soapbox and spout off as if I know anything about anything.

That's right, y'all, I've emerged from my little cave and written a guest post at Glow in the Woods about how R's nothing became more like everything.

Now I will go and breathe into a paper bag until my terror subsides.

Monday, April 9, 2012


C has taken to singing "All the Pretty Horses" at night as she falls asleep. I lie next to her in bed and sing along in a funny voice to keep myself from melting into a puddle.

T must have taught it to her. I didn't even know this song before I she was born. It wasn't in my family's repertoire. I think of it as being somewhat more American than we are. I've imagined my forbears on westbound, oceangoing vessels and on foot, trudging through Ellis Island or walking to the mill, lunchpail in hand but, somehow, I've never pictured any of them atop or behind a horse. We're city folk. We don't sing about horses, pretty or otherwise.

...goooo to slee-eep little bay-bee...when you waaaake, you shall have, aaaaall the pretty, little, horse-ses...

Maybe it's because I picture T hearing this song as a little baby with his young, shell-shocked parents. Or maybe it's just just the way C sings it with such commitment in her warbly little voice. Whatever the reason, this song destroys me every time.

If this were an old-fashioned, pen-and-ink journal, you'd see little smeary teardrops all over this page.

I'm assuming that this song is actually about a baby who doesn't want to stop playing with toy horses ahead of naptime. And mom or dad is just doing the normal parent bargaining thing--you can play with them again after your nap, for Pete's sake! Or, hell, maybe it's real horses and a coach and six was a common household possession back in the day, like a pre-Industrial Revolution version of the SUV. I'm a little out of my depth here.

When I hear it, I picture dozens of horses frolicking alongside a sun-dappled pond and it feels so...aspirational. Less 'Mommy needs you to sleep so that she can fold the laundry' and more 'Great things await you, baby. Mommy is going to work on securing your marvelous future while you take a little nap.'


I want amazing things for C. I'd crawl across hot coals and broken glass and killer bees to get her those horses or anything she wants.

But mostly, I want her to keep waking up.

I want to believe that she will always wake up.


I've always been a little bit nuts. When I was 4, I did not want anyone else picking out my clothes (or my jewelry). I can't tolerate noisy chewing or gratuitous hugging. I eat my M&Ms in a very specific order and, yes, I will share, but, no, you cannot have any of the red ones. Much to T's (and C's) disappointment, I can't quite say "I love you" without tacking a sigh onto the end. You know, that sigh that transforms it into something more like, "I love you, ok? Please don't make me say it."

In short, there were so many other, better, old-fashioned ways I could have screwed my daughter(s) up. I can almost imagine an alternate future where C and R gripe about me in a late-night, wine-fueled bitch session or an even more distant future where they gather all of their own kids around and laugh about me and my strange ways.

I fantasize about them together, ganging up on me and bruising my feelings a bit. I can't believe it will never happen. That they will never know each other. That I couldn't keep them together.

I want my old, garden-variety failures back.

I want a bright future for C but I mostly want to erase the sad parts of her past.


She wants me to sing the song to her while I rock her like a baby. I do the best I can, breathing slowly, taking long pauses, and thinking about mundane tasks to avoid thinking about how it was when she actually was a baby.

Her legs stick out at a ridiculous angle and my knees ache from her weight. She's all sharp angles and muscles now.

"Where did I put my arms then?" she asks and I struggle to remember.

"Your arms were shorter. You were mostly greedy eyes and an open mouth. I could hold you in one hand."

She smiles and does her best to tuck her arms in and make her eyes wider. I remember willing her to grow, trying to imagine her one year, two years, three years older, believing that she'd be safe once she wasn't a baby anymore.

"Was I teeny as a crumb?"


She smiles. She likes to hear me talk about how special she was. R doesn't really exist for her. I have to remember that. She has very limited ideas of before and a whole lot of after stretched out ahead of her.

"Keep singing."

I fight my way through but it's a lost cause.

"Mama, are you crying?"

"Just because I'm happy, boo-boo."

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Difference

I dream about them. My dad more so than R but, I've seen both of them.

Most of the time I just note them in passing. Duck-duck-duck-deceased family member-duck-duck--GOOSE!!

Maybe it's just because I tend to have elaborate, Busby Berkeley-type dreams. When you glimpse your dead father or daughter in a giant kickline composed of everyone you've ever met, it's hard to focus on gradations of bizarre.

Sometimes the dreams are slower and I have time to digest Dad or R's presence.

My recurrent dream is a house that looks ordinary from the outside but is full of wonders on the inside--secret, underground tunnels that lead to places I'd forgotten I loved, a private airport in the attic, a kitchen equipped with house elves. Sometimes I fly or breathe underwater. Once, I made out with Ira Glass. His giant glasses got all fogged up and he told me I was sooooo interesting. me some Ira.

I think a lot of people probably dream about the unattainable (although I'm pretty sure I could have hit that if circumstance had brought me and Mr. Glass together at just the right time). And it feels amazing doesn't it? Not just the flying or deep sea exploration itself but, that inevitable moment of cognition when you think, "Holy shit! I can motherfucking fly!"

When I dream about Dad or R walking around whole and healthy it's indescribable. Yet, it's how I used to feel all of the time.

I've been running uphill for so long that I've forgotten what it feels like to coast along, believing that things will go according to plan, smiling in recognition at my fellow humans.

To be unencumbered.

To be free of the memory of beeping machines and disinfectant smells.

To not know what a doctor looks like when he or she is about to deliver the worst news possible.

To get riled up about money or academic achievement or anything other than disease and death.

To feel like I know something.

I listen to the news while I cook dinner and I hear people griping about government spending on entitlements and welfare abuse. I want some sort of magic mist to settle over America and make everyone feel lost and hopeless...together. How long would it take before we recognize that we have to lay aside judgment and find ways to help each other?

I wish I had some coherent solution but I just end up wanting to punch people in the face. Like, "Wake-up, asshole! You're not deserving. You're lucky." Like, "You didn't deserve that broken nose, did you? Well, there's a little taste of unlucky for you. Hope you have insurance. Hope some doctor who went to med school on the taxpayer dime is willing to help you." I wonder if I could get a grant for my little project...

I've known unlucky for almost 12 years now. And that's just a third of my life. And it's been mixed in with a healthy dose of lucky. Some people, too many people, start out unlucky and never manage to find the other side of it. I wonder what they dream about.

I can set Dad aside most of the time. Fifty-eight years of middle-class living. Hard work for sure but some results to go with it. If I could have a guarantee of 22 more years in my own home with my job and my family, I'd take it and count myself fortunate. But then I remember how he worked until he couldn't anymore because he was afraid of losing his insurance or losing access to his doctors if he went out on disability. On his last day at work he couldn't even climb the 4 stairs to get to his office. Two weeks later he was dead. He deserved better.

And R. What if she had survived NEC and open heart surgery? What if we were just wrapping up five years of oxygen tanks, feeding tubes, and 'round the clock medical care? How would we be able to work and take care of her? What would she deserve?

When I see them, whole and healthy in my dreams, it's like an out-of-body experience. Flying and breathing underwater and celebrity make-out sessions fade in the face of normal expectations fulfilled. Alive. Healthy. I am a world-killer.

I actually was a world-killer once. Maybe not the smartest or most beautiful or wealthiest but lucky enough that I didn't even recognize lucky. My world felt like something that would come when I whistled and would submit to my will. And, back then, I thought it was something that I had earned. Something that anyone could figure out if they just took the time or made the effort.

It's taken 12 years for me to realize that I was never that clever. Nobody is that clever.

So, now what?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

What to Expect...

...When Nothing's Gone as Expected and You are Still Figuring It Out Over 4 Years Later: A Helpful Guide for Mothers of Children with Siblings Who Died in Infancy

Chapter 12 - Pre-K

You should expect to see more exclamation points than you ever thought possible in a paragraph about your dead child.

TO: Pre-K Teacher

Mrs. H,

I just wanted to give you a heads-up that C is bringing a picture of her sister, R, for show-and-tell tomorrow (for 'R' week). R was C's twin sister who died a couple of weeks after they were born. I'm not sure if she'll mention that part. I'm also not sure what picture she'll choose but I'll steer her towards one that has as little medical equipment in it as possible. At the very least, I can guarantee that R will be alive in the photo that C brings in.

I don't think you have to worry about C getting upset. She's pretty matter-of-fact about the whole thing--because there isn't really any other way to be about it, I suppose.

We tried to talk her out of this but, we didn't want to push too hard. We try to be as open about R's death as possible and let C guide our discussions. Every once in a while that means that R gets mentioned in an awkward situation.

My guess is that most of the kids won't even realize what's going on but I didn't want you to be blindsided.



TO: TracyOC

FROM: Pre-K Teacher

Thanks so much for the email. I LOVE how matter of fact children are about death! They are so truly accepting! I was aware that C had a twin sister that had lived for a short time at her birth,however, I did not know her name. I think it is so cute that she remembered R for R week! Don't worry -I am sure the other children will be just as accepting as C is. Thanks for the heads up though-in truth I can't wait to see a picture of R-It will be so neat to see how much they looked alike.

By the way- were C and R born early?(I just want to be sure we have the story right).

I am sure C will do a great job at it.

Mrs. H

I can't really form a coherent thought about this. It's funny and baffling--maybe even a little refreshing. I can't tell if I should be offended. I don't know. Just seemed worth sharing.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


There's a little crack of light along the horizon when I walk to the train in the mornings now and a mist of promise and intention clinging to the treetops. Each cool breeze has a hint of warmth at the back.

Spring is here. And just in time too. T's been down for the count with pneumonia and pleurisy for a couple of weeks. For an otherwise healthy 40-year-old man, pneumonia probably isn't something to get overly worried about but, I'm afraid I'll never be able to take a visit to the hospital lightly again. As I waited to hear the verdict on his chest x-rays and CT scans and a bone scan for a closer look at an area of increased bone density on his ribs I learned that I was wrong about something. Seems I haven't lost all of my ability to expect after all--I am still completely capable of expecting the worst.

Fortunately it looks like he's on his way to a full recovery and spring is coming.

Every year, just when I grow itchy with thoughts of hopelessness and tired of listening to my family eat soup, comes relief. The days grow longer and I resolve to stop plotting my escape from misery and slurping.

I feel anxious in spite of my four-and-a-half year old resolution not to get ahead of myself.

From here spring seems like the most unbelievable thing. Death and rebirth and it happens every single year. Incredible.

We should all be gawking in wonder at the annual miracle but we're still about our business. Even those of us who seemingly have more cause for wonder.

Circumstance dictates that I plod, one shovelful at a time, in a state of constant under-wonder until all of my piles have been dealt with. Laundry, meetings, errands, laundry. "Look up," says my inner optimist, "Look up and see the daffodils blooming." I look up from a sinkful of dishes and see a drainage problem in my back yard. And I remember to worry about what spring will mean for the overgrown shrub that's pushing against the power lines along the side of our house.

I don't plod because I lack the imagination to wonder. I plod because, if I think about any of it for too long, I'll exceed the limits of my envelope. The everything that my daughters showed me will expand to its full size and I'll come apart at my hinges. As I float away into the ether, the laundry basket will slip right through the spaces between my particles and T and C will be forced to wear dirty underwear for all eternity.

I want to lie facedown on the grass as it comes back to life. Sink my fingers down through the thatch, into the soil and let it ooze through the tiny space between nail and finger. Push my nose beneath the greening clover and inhale until spring has been applied directly to my brain and I've learned the trick of it.


I wonder if C knows the trick.

Part of me thinks that I could drop her off in the woods and her fairy kin would come and claim her or that should stop forcing her to eat vegetables wrap her in gold cloth and flower garlands and build a shrine around her instead.

My logical brain reminds me that we've all had our near misses with wool socks on wooden stairs and daydreaming in traffic. Her 'almost' was closely observed and exhaustively documented but that doesn't make her survival any more unexpected than anyone else's.

And there's the other side of this thought too. If C is touched with magic, what's left for R? Was she less than magic or did some other kind of dark magic require a trade to keep C alive?

I try to tell myself that there's probably no trick to it at all. It's only a limited rebirth, after all.The lawn mowers will bring an end to this line of magical thought and remind me of the truth. All of these big doings, whether animal or vegetable, are stored inside vessels that are totally inadequate for the task. And when it's over, it's over.

Despite the plodding, I can never quite make it stick.

Last spring C and I took a walk around the neighborhood to enjoy the weather. As we approached our houe, the giant Linden tree at the end of the block flung its fruits at her. A cloud of potential in the guise of electric green bracts swirled around her tiny body as her hair floated up and she spun and giggled.

The hardworking, yardworking neighbors paused over their rakes and pruning shears to watch. "My tree just said hi to you, little girl," said the owner of the tree.

Angie's Bea says that dead sisters go into the trees. C says that they fly.

Spring is coming and I say, "Maybe."

Monday, January 30, 2012

i bet we've been together for a million years

I've been mulling over the questions about family posed by the Glow contributors. I haven't finished mulling but, alas, January is almost over. The muddle below is what passes for my response-

Here's my alternate theory...

I picture them all in a drab waiting room with shoddy overhead lighting and molded plastic chairs. The doors all have that wire mesh glass like you'd see at a junior high school. Actually, it looks almost exactly like the area outside my junior high principal's office (not that this law abiding citizen ever spent much time at the principal's office).

This is the anteroom to the Great Beyond, brought to you by a childhood with plenty of TV watching. New arrivals take a number and wait for it to be called. A nebbishy guy in an ill-fitting suit takes your ticket, gives you a once-over decides if you dissolve into the cosmos, go on to your afterlife, or get sent back to occupy a new body until you've earned your pass. In one corner there's an electronic crawler announcing the numbers and the upcoming destinations for the detached souls.

My Dad was never good at waiting. He'd drive 20 miles out of his way to avoid sitting in traffic even though it saved no time because it felt less like waiting. His last words to us before he lapsed into unconsciousness were, "let's get going."

I imagine him taking his ticket and pacing around, ignoring protocol and approaching the 'decider' behind the counter. He'd shove his way to the front and ask if there wasn't some way to make the process go faster. "Nope. Usually takes a decade or so. Why don't you have a seat and watch the announcements," they'd say. He'd scowl in reply and stalk back to the seating area.

A whole year he waited and then he saw it. His daughter's name on the crawler. Her baby waiting to be born. Too perfect! We can double down.

I can see him running toward the counter and jumping over it, leaping through the doorway. Back to his family.

The decider didn't even look up. He just shrugged one polyester-clad shoulder and heaved a small sigh. It happens all of the time and they always come back.

Some things can't be rushed.


I can't really think about R and grief and family without thinking about my Dad. When he died I felt like the universe had punched me in the stomach so hard that I doubled over. Then, not quite two years later, while I was still bent over catching my breath, the universe decided to finish the job by kneeing me in the face.

The punch in the gut was a surprise. And though the universe has an impressive knee, that second blow to the face wasn't a surprise. I'd already lost my trust. I'd also already learned the ways that you have to toughen up when you're grieving a loss. Two years of that awesome post-death advice that everyone loves to dispense (because they learned so much when their cats died). I was tired of being sick and tired.

When the universe took my daughter I barely made a peep.

It's one thing to listen to people compare Dad to a dead cat. He'd probably think it was sort of funny. But I knew that I'd have to remove everyone who made similar comments about R from my friend list forever. And, at least a small part of me suspected that I'd recover eventually and would still like to have some friends. So, once that initial wave of mind-obliterating sadness and terror passed, I focused on C and barely spoke about R.

Friends and neighbors would come to visit and I'd greet them at the door, hands full with some contrived task. Given that I had a newborn and a 24-hour pumping schedule, it wasn't too hard to run them off. If they stayed, I talked about C or the trumped up chore that was consuming me or the weather. Some of them would persist and sneak in a story about cat grief. But I never started it because I was damned if I was going to cry in front of these people who wanted to pretend to understand.

Judging from the confused looks on their faces when I stonewalled them, I can tell that they wanted to talk about her. They probably needed to talk about her. But I needed silence and the complete lack of doubt and regret that goes with it.

Sadly, I extended the same silent treatment to my family.

After Dad died, it had also been two years of long, depressing phone conversations with my mom and two years of logistical work filling the hole that he left. The initial burst of togetherness that his death brought to our family wasn't sustainable. At first we treated grief like any other challenge. We'd work hard. We'd be gracious. And it would pass.

But it doesn't pass. You say the words at the funeral and send the thank you notes. You remember the good times. You smile through the tears. You help Mom with the paperwork and the home repairs. But it's hard work. And it's neverending work. And I knew that I didn't have the energy to get back in the trenches with my family and go through the same drill again. Frenzied togetherness followed by the collective realization that this is forever, followed by the sad, silent hopelessness that drives everyone deep inside of themselves to contemplate the temporary nature of existence.

And the anger. And the theories about what we could/should/would have done differently. And the cold, creeping onset of acceptance that feels more like defeat.

I'd thought that I was bringing a ray of light back to our family. The first grandchild born after his death and, glory hallelujah, there were going to be two of them! That would put an end to this tragic mess.

When I remember that brief feeling of victory over death and, does it sting.

I would have been more than glad to celebrate with my family but I couldn't run out to meet the sadness I'd caused them head-on.


C is very much my Dad's granddaughter. When they brought her to me for the first time, wrinkled and red and angry, I laughed at the resemblance. Looking at the pictures later, my aunt said that it reminded her of Dad's look of suppressed rage during our mid-80's family trip to Epcot. R was too swollen with fluid during her 12 days of life to get a good look at her features but I know that it was there too. T's eyes and build and hair but Dad's scowl and Dad's smile.

It extends beyond the smile all the way down into her where her personality is stamped into the center of each cell. When C is in a hurry (and she's always in a hurry) she claps her hands together just like Dad used to when he coached my tee-ball team--CLAP Let's go! CLAP CLAP.

Death had been trying to catch Dad for years before he finally succumbed. Sophomore year of high school spent home sick with unexplained internal bleeding, a car accident and a traumatic brain injury at 16, countless subsequent car wrecks, a horrible, yet hilarious, run-in between a vacuum cleaner and his necktie. He'd already had his last rites twice by the time he actually died but somehow he'd always spring back, you know, like a cat.

By August 14, 2007, I'd been holding my breath for weeks waiting for that final, fateful sonogram that would show us that C's heart had stopped beating. But, somehow she hung on. When the doctor reached in and yanked her out from under my ribcage he said, "Oooo. This one's feisty!"

They both remind me of him. One for his exuberant, insistent life. The other for his hard death.


We got a stocking for R this year at Christmas. I think it was the first time that we ever acknowledged her existence so openly and purposefully at a family event.

There was no memorial service for her. We couldn't work out the logistics with T's family and, in my reluctance to spare the energy required for collective grieving, I didn't force the issue on my family's behalf. She doesn't have a gravesite that people can visit or decorate for various holidays.

It's not that we ignore R or pretend she didn't exist. We include a spare candle for her on C's birthday cake and we talk about her with C and the other kids in the family. T and I are both happy to answer questions about her. But I think we're both concerned about the possible negative reaction if we forced her on our family members.

But C thought that it was ridiculous that our dead guinea pigs had stockings while R didn't. You've already seen a demonstration of C's hardheadedness and, honestly, it's hard to argue with that logic. So, I bought R a stocking.

My mom followed suit and retrieved the stocking she had purchased for R before she was born from the closet.

We filled ours with baby items to be donated to a local shelter. My mom filled hers with special gifts for C and her other two granddaughters.

Since we're raising the girls in an amoeba style of full-family parenting, it felt right to include my nieces in this new tradition.

C and my nieces were completely silent when my mom gave them their gifts from R's stocking. Imagine a 4-year-old, a 6-year-old, and an 8-year-old silent on Christmas morning. The only thing I could hear was the shutter of my brother's camera as he took a hundred or so pictures and the rustle of wrapping paper underfoot as his wife moved closer to get a better angle for the video footage. Finally, a productive outlet for this complicated grief, four-and-a-half years in the making.


Sometimes I think that I never would have survived if I had been in C's situation. I feel so floppy and beaten anymore.

But then I remember the years of competing with my brother for everything and insisting that that it didn't hurt when he punched me in the arm. I remember the way I have to suppress my urge to rush things. I look in the mirror and see Dad's smile and Dad's scowl.

The feisty apple never falls far from the feisty tree.

C had T's hair and eyes and build but, my smile and my scowl.

My hard-headedness.


Given their relief at finding a way to remember R, I suppose I could think that it was an asshole move to give my family the grieving stiff arm for so many years. But, I don't feel like an asshole.

I think of all of the harsh words that weren't exchanged and don't have to be taken back or hugged out and I feel almost vindicated.

After twisting and turning and going to great lengths to avoid the issue, we've arrived together at something that feels right for the kids and healing for the adults. I drove an extra 20 miles but I've avoided so many red lights.

And some things truly cannot be rushed.


So, there you have it. My thoughts on the birth/death/life/grief/family interface. I'm just going to wrap it up with this video that reminds me of C and me and me and Dad. A tribute to impatient kids and parents everywhere.

Monday, January 23, 2012


There's a guy who works at the newsstand where I sometimes buy a pack of gum on my way in to work. He won't give me my change until I look him in the eye.

Somewhere deep in my grouchy, little soul, I applaud this practice. We ought to see each other. See each other. Love each other.

But at 7AM, I can barely stand myself much less anyone else.

The reassembling process has become more efficient with time but not really any easier.

Emerge from the primordial ooze of sleep.
Remember that I am a wife.
Remember that I am a mother.
Is the baby breathing?!?
Yes, the baby is breathing.
Not a baby anymore either. That's good.
The other baby.
Oh my god! One of the babies died!
My daughter died.
Everyone dies.
And existence is just a happy accident anyway.
In fact, compared to the vast sweep of time and space, my entire lifetime is just a blink.
And if I take the long view--the geological time view--we will be apart for hardly any time at all.
Snooze a couple more times.
Wade back into the ooze of wakeful human-ness.
Take shower.
Walk dog.
Catch train.
Remember all of those other things that are supposed to be important... gum...

Why can't Mr. Eye Contact realize that I've assimilated the entire human experience already this morning? I've swept aside our differences. I've demoted my daughter and placed her unbearably short life back in its place as not-the-worst-thing-that-has-ever-happened-to-anyone-ever-ever-ever.

Even though I think he's being a presumptuous shitbird, I celebrate Mr. Eye Contact. His continued existence, our continued joint existence, is a glorious thing. Whatever struggles he may be having right now are important to me. But I haven't even had coffee yet.

The people at the coffee stand don't force me to look at them.

Just saying.


I read an article a couple of weeks ago about bird songs. Apparently birds in urban settings tend to sing in a different register than their rural brethren in order to be heard over traffic and the general bustle of city life. I'm assuming this is also why Philadelphians (including yrs trly) sound like we're trying to shatter glass or convene a pod of helper dolphins when we speak to each other.

The implications are pretty heavy for birds. Birdsong is a learned behavior that has everything to do with mating. The researchers who supplied the source material for the article speculate that the changes in songs could impact mating choice so drastically that it could lead to speciation. I'd put an exclamation point at the end of that sentence but it would be way too nerdy.

On the human side of things it also seems akin to working out internal noise. Think of all of the stereotypes and assumptions that you have to wade through to even begin to have a real conversation with another person. What would it be like if we could just understand each other or if we had the tools to at least try? Is Mr. Eye Contact an oppressive dick or is he onto something?


My internal voice barks orders at me all day long. Everybody has problems! Nothing is guaranteed! No one said it would be easy! Vada a bordo!

I robot my way through it. Take shower. Walk dog. Catch train. Get paycheck. Assure that C will not have to worry about you. Make it as easy as you can for her. Fix it.

Fix it.

So many paths up the mountain and this is the one that made the most sense?
Entrust her daily care and nurturing to someone else.

She'll be happy when college is paid and we are able to take awesome vacations. Someday she won't even notice that her sister is gone. Soon she'll stop asking when I'm going to grow another baby. Next Christmas she won't look for a new sister under the tree.

The cashier thinks that I don't look at him because I believe he isn't worthy of my time. If I wasn't in such a goddamn hurry with trying to fix the unfixable, we could grab coffee and and I could share many opinions about worthiness.

But I don't have time and he's an asshat for making me think about all of this shit before coffee.

Buy gum anyway.

Look for a different newsstand.