This is a project that has been burning a hole in my heart. We all sing our pure and shaky and earnest songs, to ourselves, our kids, our pasts. We sing because we need to hear our voices out loud, because it gets lonely sometimes, because it hurts, because the joy cannot fit in our bodies. Mothers are always and never alone. I want to focus on the never part. I want to hear the voices together. I want to start a chorus.

– AMY GRACE

amysurrender copy

(Never to be confused with giving up.)

The real fight begins the moment we surrender to the wrong ones. When we can’t let it go, but must let it be. When we see that brave faces disappear in dark rooms, and brave lives are born there.

On my daughter’s birthday, I learned about never going back. About your body saying there’s no chance of changing your mind. Maybe it was nine months earlier, on the sixth pregnancy test, but certainly that night became the great surrender. “Are you having the baby or aren’t you?” Who demands that? On repeat, in escalation that overshadowed my contractions. He had some idea of how much I could take, but would see that night. My one sided game of chicken, my trophy, he’d later take and brag about. When I said I was a four out of ten on the pain scale until the moment she washed out, I believed it. Whether I meant it or not wasn’t important to him or to me. I would never say how much it hurt, because it was just my body, being a body, feeling what bodies do. Especially not to him, for whom pain lit up the radar. Though he was at his best that longest, shortest night. Strong was our strong suit, and we danced in spotlights better than we slept. But the wave came with decades of ghosts of sailors’ tongues moving my own. Cursing as a blessing, the R-rated soundtrack to my daughter’s pure, miraculous, first moments. You could hear me outside the hospital I think, the veil forever lifted. Life, two, hers, mine, born at once. My water broke as she left me, came out clean and exquisite, as I fell on my knees, every single exhausted mystic cell of me, with her somehow in my arms. This man, now an outsider. I half believed him when he’d told me I always needed him with me. When really, I never wanted him to come home. Surrendering to the drop at the top of that first roller coaster hill. The powerlessness had power over me. His will, my surrender. Biggest illusion of my life, lived out and buried as she was born. Three years like decades. Given over, gotten over. Surrender can sometimes sound like “enough”, or a first, wailing, full throated cry.

I was born with white knuckles and a full tenacious heart. Told I had a death grip, by my dad, who carried me into the ocean before I knew how to swim. Could hang by my pinkies for minutes, and climb up any rope or pole or tree. Tiny Rapunzel, rescuing herself, all sinew and hair and will. A muscle memory to match fears like gravity. I spent years as a kid counting rhythms before I could take my next breath. Tireless and tired. The innocence in thinking I could hold our world on my fragile winged back breaks me today. “No” meant nothing unless I felt it in my gut. Deaf to someone’s shoulds. I’m still allergic to instruction. And when I love something, I’m all in, and turn it into fuel and other shapes to fill like waterI fight by nature. I fight nature. And have had a lot to fight. Making peace when there is none is human magic. I practice in my sleep. My sleeves are full of all the cards you might choose.

When we were nineteen, we wanted everything, and at forty we just need a space that won’t haunt us or hunt us down. Adrenaline to morphine. I wrote that down but won’t ever really mean it. ‘Everything’ means the love and the terror, not the end of the rainbow. I’ve learned the art of letting go like I was born to renounce, instead of forever hungry. It’s practiced and priceless and real as my spine. It’s knowing in your bones that you will lose everything and survive it. It’s being that living proof. Shedding the flimsy armor you know can’t stop a bullet, and taking the hit naked, into your soft pored skin, looking it straight on, feeling the pain and the choice at once. I used to think that after trials, we could expect a peaceful landing place, our karmic reward. If not forever, for a clean breath. But I’ve learned we have to become that landing place. Give in, give up, to ultimately grow. “Forgiveness is taking yourself off the meat hook lodged in your own back”, I wrote heavy hearted and lidded in a black hole night, about a person who won’t get any more of my angst or time. Punching air holes in my prison box that became stars.

When I can’t surrender to it, I move with it. I challenge it to a race. My legs have always been a vehicle, an escape hatch. My childhood self in my life lived skin, long breaths turned shorter, legs even stronger. We surrender to time by just agreeing to stay. On a run this week I was hit with the memory ache smell of honeysuckle and I became a fourteen year old on an East Coast summer night. Skin so hot and humid it has no business pressing itself against someone else. But what choice are we left with, born to devour and be known and invited in like soft animals waiting at the door. I will choose that surrender now for every time I didn’t. I will be love in a  body because I can’t be just love. Not yet. I will take in time and the story it’s made, give it a blanket and a glass of water and finally let it  rest.

As we age it gets easier and harder in the same breath. To see that twisted gifts are still gifts. That losses are lessons. To forgive the trust you misplaced, and take it back with a background check. To release “The Mistake Years” I’ll never hold again as possibility, and bless the manic hunger they left in their wake. To accept the hundreds of tumors that want to grow in my brain and skin and bones every day as part of the whole. To know that embarrassment so quickly turns to badass strength. That my nature is not my fate – or yours, or anyone’s. To doing the scariest things to the point where little scares you. To the fact that insomnia will win so use it. That bravery means growing pains and bigger shells. To showing up at your worst to find your best. To the fact that finding your way is preceded by getting lost. To giving your body over but never your mind. To love a world I can’t construct to protect the people I love. To bless third and fourth and fiftieth chances and the levity that comes in shedding weight. To making room for all of it: ‘good vibes’ instead of ‘good vibes only’. To love that knows not to wait for an answer. To knowing there won’t be time for it all, but that you need to be exactly where you are right now. To the many, many well meaning friends and strangers who want to fix me up with someone wonderful, who see that thing in me. And to listening to my fine tuned heart, letting it love what I love, without expectation, only because I must. For the truth of it, at last. Surrender is confusing, and as easy as watching the night come in. It’s the hot poker at your back, one shot chance at telling the whole truth, and owning the freedom it gives you. It’s me telling my kids: “It’s only life,” while still meaning “your one and only life.”

There are people we brush up against, and those who pierce our skin. One of the biggest regrets of my life is not surrendering to that instinct. Listening to kismet whisper the first lines of the story in my ear and walking away from it. Following the jungle drum into the dark instead of letting the light fall on my face. The things I can’t change are tattooed up my arm in invisible ink, but I’ve bled for them. We move on but dreams betray our losses. Waking up with wet hair and a drop in your belly, missing the honeyed taste of someone you’d let go ten years ago. When everyone says you are the one who got away.

“You’ll be famous when you’re dead mama. No one says things like you do.” My daughter shoots laser straight, a conservative realist, a human litmus test. I was talking to my seven year old, emotional savant boy this week, about Everything, as we do. “Do the things that make you never want to leave,” I told him. And I got chills like music. I’m always going to surrender myself for them. And always will. And while sometimes it might feel like being lost, mostly it will feel like winning. And mostly, I think they know from the smile I wear through nightmares, that you must surrender to the Good. That despite anything, there will always be so much. I cry when I write, and almost only then. Like it’s the last thing I’ll say or feel. All love and muscle, tightening one more time and letting go of the diamonds I can’t afford to want in this world. Watching them walk away in other hands to other lives and places and beds and dreams. To perhaps find what I need to be. 

– Amy Grace

wendysurrender

Surrender is a hard lesson for me. I feel in the bottom of my soul that its my life lesson. That its what I will always be working on and never perfecting and its the goal of this life for me.  As a codependent, its extremely hard. I want to control and organize the chaos around me. I want to make my kids make the best decisions and plan their choices and their lives and those of everyone around me. But I cannot.  It doesn’t work that way and when I try to, the relationships fall apart.  So letting go is my everyday lesson.  Its the lesson when my teenage girls do their homework, its the lesson when I leave my younger son with my husband, its the lesson when my kids turn away from opportunities I wish they’d take, and its the lesson watching my 21 year old son struggle with drug addiction.  There is a huge relief in the surrender, in choosing to let go.  For me, that surrender must be paired with a faith that God (or some sort of higher power) has it in his hands.  Its the faith that allows me to let go, that gives me peace in the letting go.  Without the faith, I would have too much fear to surrender.  So now, when I worry or feel the need to control, I surrender it and turn it into a prayer. A prayer that all will be well and a prayer that its in Gods hands, not mine.  And I try and try and try to let it all my fear and worry just wash over me as I surrender. 

– Wendy Laurel

jendowner

I surrender. To the false notion that anything will ever look the way you expect it to. To the beautiful and the hideous. To the endless shifting and bending and flexing and reinventing. To the truth that love isn’t always joyful or connected. And sometimes its downright torture. But that it is everything. That “happy” is what you make it. To time and the way it burns like wild fire. To the inevitability of growing pains. At every age. To the gray areas that are so rich with authenticity. To the fact that acceptance does not mean complacency or giving up hope but rather learning to be with *what is* in some semblance of peace of heart. I surrender.

– Jen Downer

a_mcnamee_chorus_surrender 1

I gave my dad his last dose of morphine in his in-home hospice bed, tenderly placing the dropper in between his cheek and tongue and squeezing the clear liquid into his mouth. I paused and told him I loved him. I walked away, caught in a surreal moment of “Did I really just have to do that?” Two hours later as I was dipping a tortilla chip in salsa around his kitchen table with my sisters and Mom, he took his last breath and passed. My sister, who was sitting with him in his bedroom, came out of his room, shaking her head, eyes welling up with tears, and stood before us at the table. We all stopped mid-dip, doe eyed and frozen, staring at my sister. We saw the pain in her eyes. Then, I went running to his room. It was a sprint to make sure there wasn’t one last breath he’d take for me to witness. I wanted to see him to the end. But, there he lay in his hospice bed, breathless. Still. Peaceful. His skin already feeling cool to touch. I had never been so physically close to death before. It felt eery, beautiful, surreal, shocking, and devastating all at the same time. Someone opened the bedroom window, and a warm early fall breeze came rushing in. What seemed like a hundred tiny birds were chirping and I saw them all fly away as the window was raised. We gathered around his bed, each of us touching him, holding him, crying, and my Mom, singing. I don’t remember the song she sung as she held his hand and I honestly don’t want to. It’s just too much. None of us expected him to go so quickly. Only a day before, hospice came and set up, explaining everything to us. Yes, he had been sick on and off for months, even years. Yes, it was his choice to go, to stop taking his meds that kept him alive, his heart beating steadily and lungs clear. He simply surrendered. He was done suffering and he wanted to “go home” as he explained. We honored that, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel like he was quitting on us. I never thought he’d actually. Go. Home was with us. 

It will be one year October 1st since that day. For the last year, I have been walking around in a griefy daze…my Dad? Oh. My Dad. Yeah…he died. I am a fatherless daughter, I think to myself. Only, I’m 44 so it feels ridiculous, stupid, and dramatic saying that. But at times, when the pain cracks my heart wide open unexpectedly by a simple reminder and suddenly takes my breath away, it feels like a freight train just pulled through my body. I am a nine year old kid again, happily clinging to his back in the water at the beach, on his bed after dinner playing Go Fish for the umpteenth time, in the living room watching Family Feud and shouting the answers into the tv speaker, at the cottage waiting for him to bring back Dr. Pepper and Lucky Charms from the A&P Grocery, (our rare cottage-only treat), at the dinner table kicking him softly under the table as we did and laughing. In his arms with a kiss on top of my head. My Aimee, he used to say. 

After he died, I started practicing yoga daily and intensely. I’ve practiced for some time, but I really ramped it up. It was how I managed my grief and how I felt in control of my grief. It was within the four corners of my yoga mat I allowed myself to grieve. Work through my feelings. I gave myself mantras everyday while practicing like, “stay” and “warrior” and “fight”. There’s stages of grief, right? Maybe if I practiced yoga everyday, I could hurry that process along? Check them off? Get things back to “normal”. I could shut out the noise of our busy, daily life. Move my body. Sweat. Hurt and ache and begin again and again and again in sun salutations. I’d stay in poses shaking, saying to myself, I won’t quit. Nope, not like my dad. He gave up, but I won’t. I’m going to work through this until the end. But, as the months went by, I found myself easing up on my Dad and myself, easing up on my poses. Giving myself grace. Letting go of my ego. Finding sacred space in my heart to forgive while releasing the anger and the need for control over my grief dissipated. One morning in class I found myself standing in tadasana, or mountain pose, standing tall with my arms at my side and my palms pointed outward, shoulders back, heart open, exposed to the earth, to everyone around me, and with tears rolling down my cheeks, saying to myself, let him go. Surrender. My incredibly intuitive yoga instructor came up behind me, wrapped her arms around me, as if to say, yes, whatever you’re feeling and thinking right now, is truth. Let him go. That morning…I surrendered to grief to find my way through it and I felt immense peace. My Dad didn’t quit. He surrendered and I could too. One meaning of Yoga is “to join” or connection. I learned this only this morning. Together, through grief and yoga, my Dad and I join in surrendering. 

“Surrender to the grief, despair, fear, loneliness, or whatever form the suffering takes. Witness it without labeling it mentally. Allow it to be there. Embrace it. Then see how the miracle of surrender transmutes deep suffering into deep peace.” Eckhart Tolle

– Aimee McNamee

chorus.surrender.c.sandoval-1

surrender.

i came to you in the night. 

arms wide open.

heart.

life.

existence.

breath.

and asked you to surrender. again.

trust.

embrace.

let go.

deny the fear.

the anger.

the doubt.

your arms. holding tight.

pressing onward.

clawing at peace.

comfort.

and answers. 

fighting tears.

and pain.

and brokenness.

your trust — black with fear.

i called you.

i called you mama.

and you shed it all.

you surrendered yourself to me.

to life.

to love.

to light. and grace.

abundance. overwhelming.

i chose you. 

i chose you.

– Chandra Sandoval

holyshiv-2017

He handed me the cup. “Drink it” he said. He seemed shaky and nervous. I sipped the liquid knowing better than to chug. “Is it supposed to burn like this?” I asked. My mouth was raw. I couldn’t swallow. 

Is it supposed to leave me in ICU for days, barely alive? I remember fleeting moments when I would become conscious. Moving my upper body was horrifying. Somehow I remember an unrequited crushes quick visit. And I remember having to call and tell my mom. I was sure I was about to die so I was terrified to tell her. I don’t think I even had a voice. My mouth was raw. My chest, oh god, my chest. I had no idea what was happening to me. 

I finally woke up and spent the next two weeks in the hospital. I had been poisoned. He tried to kill me or I was a guinea pig for some drug called GHB made who knows where that was acidic and burned my whole insides as I took the tiny sip. My esophagus was burned and my stomach had ulcers. When my esophagus healed it shrunk closed but it was caught in time and held open with a feeding tube through my nose. I spent two years having my esophagus stretched back open slowly. I couldn’t eat for what felt like forever, because nothing fit down my throat. I became obsessed with cooking shows and recipes. I wanted a cheeseburger so fucking bad. 

It’s been twenty years and I don’t remember his name. But my daily rituals and anxieties and fears are always there but I’m not angry. Because I just leaned over to smell my son’s hair and hold my baby girl’s hand. She’s turning five tomorrow. She asked for hot wheels and balloons. 

– Jonya Streeper

Amanda-ODonoughue-self-portrait-2017

I always hear people say you must put the oxygen mask on yourself first.

In the event you are as forgetful as me, it may be bad advice.

I had this radical idea:

limit my kid’s screen time 

 in my next breath

I would tell him to always question authority.

This is where you meet my Gemini twin.

One twin that hated high school, and failed miserably within my own father’s expectations

and the other twin that took on college as my dead grandmother’s wish, and finished with a 4.0

But school didn’t teach me about the things I loved

Nor did it help me become really good at them

It wasn’t democracy, and it wasn’t religion

It was like shooting spray into a wall of balloons

and my big prize was him, just as he is.

He felt this too tonight when I told him that he could choose just

ONE MORE BOOK

(lights out was an hour ago)

He chose, ‘The Little Engine that Could’

  

“Then all of a sudden she stopped with a jerk.

   She simply could not go another inch.

   She tried, and she tried, but her wheels would not turn.”

Maybe it is just a bad metaphor,

but I have always given him my oxygen mask first. 

– Amanda O’Donoughue

meredithrose

This photo is, to me, the strongest image I made while I was going through my unexpected and excruciating divorce. 

This gorgeous (dinner plate) dahlia was a gift from one of my most loving, closest girlfriends, It was a gift given to me on the day we held a burning ceremony for the end of my marriage. My nucleus of women friends. The ones who have and will continue to see me through my blown out highlight joyful days and completely dark and fetal, tear soaked ones. The kind of days when they find me in my garage screaming primal sounds I’ve never made before, smashing dinner plates into fragments. Falling to the ground because I don’t know who I am in the world anymore. 

We gathered at the lake not far from my house and lit a fire. We burned every photo and every letter, every card ever exchanged between him and I. It was cathartic. It was cleansing. It was beautiful. To be surrounded by the people who are closest to me and held by them as I let go. 

This image shows me that there is hope. When I look at it, I see the dead falling away on the outer crown, but it’s still completely alive and fresh in the center. We have to allow the dead to fall away. Allow the beautiful surviving centre to be the focus, and to grow from that place.

– Meredith Rose

SarahBlack_Surrender-1

It is not death I am afraid of, it is the end of living.

 Hours flip past like cards in a fast deck. I will one to fall.  

 

I was born soft as a fool, knowing nothing of roads, but a map of the fault lines held tight in my shaking hands.  

I was born hard-edged, reading fences high as doubts.

There is nothing as useless as a kind heart, though this is our only hope.

 

In the morning the dreams are gone, leaving my jaw brittle as chalk, leaving the feelings but not the heart.

 

Rain is an invitation to stay,

And sea wind, an invitation to breathe. 

There are no happy accidents, only lies we tell our tired selves.

You have to put your arms out, to catch or to give.

– Sarah Black

alliemorrison

Alone is a luxury. I dream of it sometimes. If given the opportunity I would drive myself to a hotel room and sit alone in the dark and just think. I would think in wonderfully complete sentences instead of interrupted, nonsensical, sing-song befuddlements. There would not be Mickey Mouse Clubhouse blaring stupidly in the background. There would not be banana slime wiped across my breast and (strangely?) the back of my calf. There would be nothing. Silence. It would be dark and quiet and my mind would say calmly to itself, “I know exactly where I put my keys today and I am wearing identical socks” and then it would congratulate itself and ask, ” Would you like to read a book today or ponder something new?” I would do this for days with a zen smile on my face. I would eat all the gluten and drink all the wine. I would spread myself out like the Vitruvian Man in my bed and fall fast asleep, without ever thinking about parent-teacher conferences or the girls who bully you on the bus, or what would happen to you if anything were to happen to me. Before you, alone was grief. I wasn’t going to have big family Thanksgivings or spend my nights rocking anyone to sleep. I wasn’t going to get to share my bed with little, slimy banana-hands. I was going to think in complete sentences forever and each one would be as dull and as uninspired as the next, ending with the same lonely period. The same kind I had every month no matter how hard we tried. I would not have you and you would not have me and we would never know what it is like to share ourselves, our rooms, our bed, or the water we bathe in. These are the luxuries we would have never known we needed much more than alone.

– Allie Morrison

lindseyb

I have resisted the title of “stay at home mom” since the day I became a mother.  To me there was something dirty of shameful or even sad about it.  The promises of going to a good college, and the master’s degree, and the crazy traveling, and making a difference in the world would somehow save me from that mundane existence.  That somehow I would escape the life of a worn out mother.  I didn’t escape…I am a tired mom with three crazy kids. But the beauty of these kids…the beauty…the beauty is beyond anything I have learned in my travels or education.   John O’Donohue wrote, ” In the experience of beauty we awaken and surrender in the same act”. So here is to surrendering to the beautiful title of, ” Stay at home mom”.  

– Lindsey Bergstrom

lauren l photo-6

Dust lingers in the air, the pace of the vehicle increasing as though I’m trying to outrun the past, outrun the future, who I was and am, who she was and is – or could be. My jaw is tight and knees are weak as I step lightly and choose my words carefully, trying to be kind to her, for her, to be silently louder than the voice. But the air in the room crushes us both and tries to take us down in anger. I try to fill her in hope and guidance but her hard shoulders keep her tightly sealed. I cannot save her. She must be for her own saving. I, she, must learn to release to protect each other, ourselves. I have stepped back while she fights, for she is not yet ready to surrender but my support will never waiver. We will never waiver. We will both die wrapped in the love of one another. 

– Lauren Lipscomb

Chorus_surrender

inhale sun

exhale night sky

houseplant no window

a tree suspended

birds flying backwards

hand held open

wind

flight

waves

surrender

the tide always rises

fresh sand.

– Beth Urban

S.Landa.Surrender

mind wanders

life in focus

back burner

not out of choice but out of necessity

wanting to live each part to it’s fullest

she can wait

but not forever

she won’t sleep

she will burn

– Sarah Landa

merritjames

Growing up is a series of surrenders. Letting go doesn’t mean giving up, but accepting that what’s done is done. It’s a gift to yourself and NOT an acceptance of defeat. Chaos gets calmed, and in return you give yourself some freedom. Besides, it’s part guilty pleasure mixed with a dash of comic relief when you realize that, despite all your best efforts, for all the mature things you’ve done up to this point (and all the future endeavors that will require you to put your best adult face forward) nothing will ever make you feel as grown up as you did that night you were allowed to stay out and play spotlight past 11pm.-

– Merritt James

Version 2

By uttering the word “home”, does that mean we know what it is?  Does anyone know what it means?  And if we don’t know what it means, is it a form of dishonesty to say it?

Everyone, to me, all the time:

Where do you live?  Where’s home?

Me:

I live out of my suitcase.

or

I split time between here and there.

Crying out in utter silence:

Sometimes I’m at my mom’s; helping her out in her late life transitions.  Her appointments, shopping, transportation, taking out the garbage.  To walk in the door, I walk into a life’s length of painful past; death that’s happened, death I’m afraid of, mental abuse, depression and mourning.  To say hello, I fake contentment and “fine”-ness or risk bringing her even further down.  My things are all in boxes on the perimeter of “my” room and there is enough space for me to get to the bed, a small section of hangers in the closet, and to the window.  If I need anything, I have to unstack boxes and search – every single time.

Sometimes I’m at my boyfriend’s house.  I invite myself over and I let myself in because that’s the way of things.  To walk in the door, I lug as many things as I can carry and see him watching the tv or staring at his phone.  I clear a space on the dirty floor or or just pile my things on top of other things.  I bring my suitcase, my pillow, my toiletries, my mobile office for work meetings, my clothes and shoes for any occasion (gardening, beach, hiking, biking, night gatherings, regular bed clothes, intimate bed clothes and just jeans and t-shirts).  When I don’t I always end up unprepared (because there is never a plan).

Sometimes I’m at one of several friends’ houses or AirBnB’s.  I work as a “local” in my freelance life in a city 6 hours drive from my mom’s and boyfriend’s houses.  I pack my car with all the possibilities.  My work gear bags to satisfy all the variables of the particular job.  My pillow, hanging clothes, bags of road trip food and food for my work days, laptop, cables, papers and books.  My suitcase: rain gear, swimwear, towel, hiking shoes, formal shoes, work shoes, driving shoes.  To walk in the door, I lug all of this up and down varying stairways, through security gates, and strange living rooms.  I bring my camping gear and sleep on the floor because it feels less imposing that way.

Every time I go back and forth, I clean, collect all my things and pack.  I shower and dress, finalize pending tasks, do office work/banking/emails, check in with mom/boyfriend/hosts, wash dishes, water plants or garden, harvest what will go to waste if I don’t.  And when I get back in the car, note the mileage, plug in my phone, stage my headset, water bottle, coffee, snacks, and sunglasses, get gas, change oil?  When I start to move; what I am I moving toward or away from?  Toward unpacking, toward laundry, toward watering plants or a garden bearing fruits I barely know.  Toward more layers of tasks, more layers of insecurities and hiding my pain, and always toward someone else’s home.

I’m older than anyone ever thinks and I’m still “homeless”.

I want a home.  A feeling of security.   A life.  When someone asks me where I live, I want to have an answer that I feel at peace with.

Do any of these things exist?  Does anyone who “has” these things actually feel “at home”.  Am I worthy of a home?

Can I find joy in telling the world I live out of my suitcase?

What is the truth?  What can people “handle” in an answer?  What do people have time for?  Does anyone actually want to know?  How will they judge me?  Will anyone that reads this ever want to hire me or be my friend?  Will they still love me?

I surrender to the questions, to the shape of my suitcase, and the changing light on the long drives.

– Jenna Pool

anna christine photography (1 of 1)

To the foreign and familiar tangled into one. Our nest was a place of around the clock nurture. Eleven years of loud. Now the quiet rises, a sound that’s been drowned out for ages. My thoughts take center, amplified and heard…and the guilt from sitting and listening begins to fade. Empty can feel lonely, or make space for a new full.

– Anna Christine Larson

nikiward

Twisted and untethered,

she left behind what was,

To make room for what could be.

– Niki Ward

kyla

It was 11th grade, I’d finally finished going through most of the awkward chubby stage of adolescence, and managed to feel mostly anxious free (4 years later) about entering high school each day. I remember being completely blindsided by it. I sat down for English class, and without notice from my teacher, he mortified me in front of the class with words. I probably should have done more about it, but instead, I wrote him off as a loser, was rude to him (rightfully so,) and honestly didn’t listen to a word he said for the next 600 days of school.  It was my Christian way of giving him the middle finger, and I spent many English class hours being kicked out in the hall and feel I took home nothing from those two years, where some English lessons could have done me some good. This has left me feeling very nervous to write even to this day, when I thoroughly do enjoy it. Yet, here I am. Surrender.

I’ve spent half of my life hating/obsessing about my weight. That really hit me this year. HALF OF MY FREAKING LIFE, what a waste.  I’ve focused so hard on things that fade, beauty, firmness, and less time thinking on virtue. This has hit me like a frying pan to the face, as my weight has continued to rise this year, and my wrinkles deepened. I am more than this I know, and that has been the extravagant thing about entering the decade of 30. I now truly know it, but learning how to feel it is another thing. I feel the invitation from God that I could finally feel rest in this area of my life with him, that he is enough for me, because the world and my body will never live up to my standard, or the worlds. Surrender.

My middle son started Kindergarten yesterday. He has always fascinated me with his creative nature and I’ve enjoyed his company so much in the afternoons while his sister napped. He would hum away while building lego, exploring outside, or spending hours on the swing, just content as could be in his own little world. This past year has left me feeling very aware of the fact that I don’t have a baby anymore. A few months spent aching for just one more, and then pulling myself back to the reality of already being overwhelmed with the three I have. I really don’t know what to do, or who I am as I turn 35 in a few weeks, and I’m finding myself truly reflecting on the rush of motherhood, and crossing my fingers that I raised them well through my anxious, tired, overwhelmed heart these last 7 years. So many of my questions won’t have answers for another decade or so, so here I stand wondering. Surrender.

I’ve had my photography work featured, I’ve placed in international awards, and yet, I struggle to get locals to hire me. I have truthfully come to terms with the fact that the client side of my business may fail, and I’m honestly ok with it. It’s been a time of becoming comfortable with what I’m creating, knowing what I want to capture, and realizing my worth will never come with being busy. In fact, I don’t want to be busy, I want to be with my kids as they grow faster than weeds. Hitting this point has been the most freeing thing, and I only wish I would have come to this realization sooner. I can fail, resulting in success in more important areas. Surrender.

When Amy asked if I wanted to contribute with the theme of Surrender, I couldn’t say no. I truly feel like this has been the theme of my life the last handful of years as I grow into my thirties. A time of closing doors on hurts, struggles and grasping hold of real, hard truths. Surrender.

– Kyla Ewert

ginger unzueta surrender

Two weeks ago, what now feels like months, we received a warning to prepare for Hurricane Irma; a strong category 5 storm that was forecasted to directly hit our home state of Florida. We had recently returned from an almost two week out of state vacation and had resumed our homeschooling schedule. We noticed a panic feeling seemed to overtake our small town as we began speaking with friends and family about the storm. For days, I resisted the feeling of panic and told myself that it was much too soon to worry. As the days went by, it became more evident that this storm would affect our town in some way.  We began preparing. We began praying without ceasing. Thoughts raced through my mind. The best and worst case scenarios. Ultimately, I knew this was out of my control, like many other things in life. I made the choice to trust in God and His provision and I found a peace only He could provide.

The night the storm came through will forever be in my mind. It became evident that the eye of the storm would come directly over us. As it approached, we all took shelter in a small bathroom under our stairwell. Power was lost. Four children in the care of my husband and myself. Our 100-year-old home seemed to shake and the winds roared over us in ways I had never experienced. Our precious 21 month old screamed and cried for two hours; nothing could console her.  I felt helpless.  My only choice was to surrender everything to the Lord. I prayed for His peace and protection. Everything else fell to the side at this point. What mattered most was clearer than ever.

The next morning, the sun came up and we praised God.  Little did I realize all we would experience in the days that followed. Our home had minimal damage but we lost power for 8 nights. We learned how precious our normal daily routine truly is. There were shortages on gas and food throughout our county. Everyone within the community began to rely on one another. The days got hot and seemed to be so long at times. There was no option but to surrender to God’s will. So much was out of our control. Yet, through all of the days, I saw light in ways that I will never forget. Community, love, and sharing were in abundance.  Faith and strength was evident in the most beautiful ways.

I can think of so many other examples of surrender in my life.

Years of praying and dreaming of a fourth child. Failed infertility treatments. Surrendering my own dreams, yet finally finding His peace, regardless of the outcome.

Two pregnancies ending in pre-eclampsia and premature births. So different from the way a mom plans to have her babies. Bedrest and monitoring. Having to leave our new baby indefinitely in a NICU. This was never the way I had dreamed things would unfold but surrendering to God’s will I found light in the darkest of hours.

A husband sent off to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Not knowing what he was often doing but understanding the threats he faced.  Wondering if I would get that knock at the door, which all spouses fear.  Notification that he is not coming home.  How could I maintain my sanity with the unknown and continue serving and raising the children.  Through surrendering to Him, I found a strength I never knew existed.

As I lay in bed at night, fatigued from the day.  Feeling I was not enough.  Dwelling on all the ways, I could or should have been more.  I surrender.  I let go of this idea of perfection.  This unobtainable and so unnecessary ideal of motherhood.  Surrendering those feelings and grasping towards His grace.

When worry takes over and my mind cannot relax. Surrendering control and trying to live faithfully knowing He will provide my every need.

Surrender.

It is a daily battle. Leaving everything at His feet and ultimately asking Him what His will is for my life. Every time that I have found the courage and strength to truly surrender, I have grown. I have learned of His love at its core. I have learned about His grace. I grew to know Him more intimately in my sufferings through surrender.

For me, this is the true goal of life. To surrender it all to Him.

– Ginger Unzueta

reneejansen

“These are magic beans,” I whispered to you in the spring, placing the large, speckled red beans in your hands – scarlet runners that I had hoped would bring more hummingbirds into our back yard.  “A beanstalk…” you said reverently.  Your eyes were wide as we pushed them into the dirt together and placed the bamboo stakes in a teepee form. 

What joy it is to have three little ones who believe, who revel in the wonder of everything, who are weightless from worry.  The vines grew and twisted over the following weeks and our summer burst like a ripe berry – full, luscious.

The world is not so weightless to me.  The worry that is at turns my silliest or most serious is that we will run out of time together.  Flawed and filled with too many crumbs and shouts as it might be, this life now is as close to perfect as I know how to get to.  Sometimes, I can’t stand the thought of it changing.  Between the exhaustion and frustrations, I hang tight to the abundance of joy and whisper into the universe.  Thank you. I surrender to this moment. Come what may because I have this right now. 

All things must end.  When the season turned, we picked your beans, so long on the tall vines, and split them open.  “My favorite color!!!” you squealed with delight.  “See,” I told you.  “They are magic.”

– Renee Jansen

ashkforamy1

Tell me what lost feels like,

  of the loneliness and fear. 

Tell me what chaos feels like,

  how it tore the windows from you. 

Tell me what drowning feels like,

  about the days you spent gasping for air. 

Tell me what hope feels like,

  when you saw light again, and it hurt your eyes. 

Tell me what laughter feels like,

  that it’s a beautiful purge.

Tell me about surviving. 

Tell me about being alive.

Tell me you feel it too. 

– Ashley Kelemen

GracePresleySurrender

It feels like I’ve been writing this story my entire life. 

The unspoken attempts to understand this game of my life are some of my earliest memories. Yet, it was never going to be a simple journey. It wasn’t until I found the path marked home; the path of sacred connection humming under my feet and up my spine. It’s been with me all along. 

Singing a song I’ve always felt the rhythm to yet never known the words. Where a sigh of relief can finally escape from my ribs. And although the peeling of the layers has just begun, I have never truly known the starting point and what must be given up as the admission price. 

The path was always longer than I could have imagined. Distraught with light and shadows, twists and turns, highs and lows. More shades of color revealed than I could have guessed. 

But it is here where shedding begins. An endless path asking for trust and faith. Demanding capitulation in order to continue. There are no maps or guides for guidance. No paint by numbers or self help books lining the shelves of your favorite book store.  

Surrender asks for your authentic unveiling. Every struggle and reveal with it’s own words and cadence. Sometimes truth is required as you chip away at the facade holding whats left together. Others…holding your heart open wide no matter what and feeling it all the way through to the ends of possibility. 

I’ve learned the only wrong answer is to stop treating myself with love, compassion, kindness and strength. But to keep  my sword sheathed but handy. And to never allow myself to turn away from my own authentic self. 

Surrender has many layers and facets to it. It does not care what we think of its process, so long as we take the path back to our true selves marked home. 

– Grace Presley

rebeccacoursey

You are my Hiroshima. My Nagasaki.

I try to shield you from the blast that is coming.

I place my body in front of yours and watch the bright incendiary light flash, the echo of a mushroom cloud, thunderclap across the sky. There, in less than a second, I know there is nothing I can do.

You are my Hiroshima. My Nagasaki.

Before my body is reduced to ash, I return to that moment when I first met you.

When I pulled you from my body, and saw the dark brown of your eyes, and felt your small fingers clasp at my heart. I knew then as I know now, I had known you since before the universe was made.

You are my Hiroshima. My Nagasaki.

I surrender. I thought I knew the path to victory.

But in my last sharp intake of a half-breathe, I see the path of destruction left in my wake, the blind folly of a mother’s love.  It is a land of giants and ghosts, where warriors fail, and heroes fall into a chasms beyond time and memory.

I see the path that led us here to this moment. To the ash, and heartbreak, to never knowing if there will be a Phoenix that rises from it.

You are my Hiroshima. My Nagasaki.

– Rebecca Coursey

  • Kim Kruse - So much beauty and light, both in the images and the words. Thank you ladies for sharing your stories and helping me feel less alone in my journey as a mother.ReplyCancel

This is a project that has been burning a hole in my heart. We all sing our pure and shaky and earnest songs, to ourselves, our kids, our pasts. We sing because we need to hear our voices out loud, because it gets lonely sometimes, because it hurts, because the joy cannot fit in our bodies. Mothers are always and never alone. I want to focus on the never part. I want to hear the voices together. I want to start a chorus.

– AMY GRACE

 

CHILDHOOD

 { 12.3.16, 3:10 am}

Childhood is the whole canon.

The original text we refer back to.

The reference for all our allusions.

Every season a decade now.

Thinking about driving across the country with my brother.

Back when there were maps.

Real paper ones.

It takes a miracle to step off the edge.

You could still get lost, be lost,

Make yourself lost.

Falling asleep in Ohio and waking up in Iowa.

I haven’t been since.

People had so much between them,

So much rarer to collide;

We were games of pinball before apps on our magic cursed phones.

We got greedy keeping ourselves forever laced to chance meetings.

People who would have been short stories now become Facebook friends.

The scales we used got out of whack. 

Know the difference between the ones who brush up against our skin and the ones who silently pierce it and mark us forever.

I’ve always longed for now, right now.

The bright and fast burn becomes the slow fade out.

I miss fireworks just on the Fourth of July.

I miss songs you had to wait for on the radio,

Armed with a blank cassette tape and patience and good timing as you pushed record.

*

Mint iced tea and strawberry poptarts I made myself before swim practice, drenched in sugar and sticky mid-Atlantic July, ready to be underwater for miles. Running as a noun and verb and adjective in my blood. I knew tightening and God, the release from it, too. Like wings and joy, the fastest kid in fifth grade, probably all the others if we’d raced. Picking purple hyacinths with clumps of earth and dandelion, thinking they were lovely weeds, never being corrected. We were small curators of all things miniature, found objects tied with invisible floss to memory. Beginning to understand the sand falling away under our feet, the drop in the stomach, the rush and loss of now. Any way to keep what sweet thin air we couldn’t hold. Still believing in talisman and cozy superstition and the Anything that lived in ourselves. At four and three, me with my brother, convinced we would get lost in our new house. All 1600 square feet of it. Truly. We could always find each other, we thought.

Working on our imaginations like brain body builders. Thinking that’s how it worked. That ninety percent we were told we didn’t use, believing we could be the ones to find it in visions and telepathy. Our eyes would transform to make it all literal. The concrete still wet, mixed with young dreams. Give me a big enough stick and I had that horse I knew we could never afford, short of a lottery I still thought we might win.  Skateboarding with the boy tribe, lithe and brotherly and wild and kind, the heat and motion still in my blood, salty sweet memory still on my skin. Always boys to me, twenty five years later at my brother’s wake. Lily of the valley on the inside of my vein laced wrists, a trace of incense, something deep like fresh soil and fall wind.  My newly adopted neighbor from Korea, knocking on my door and asking to my face if I was home. The paradoxes we have always been, clearer then, with more comedy than bitterness. Siamese twins on Halloween with my Annie, an extra large sweatshirt, we held hands underneath. Inverses of each other, preposterous, precious, beautiful best friend blind.

Singing contests at lunch. Who sounded most like Madonna. Or Cyndi Lauper. I always did. Just like I could forge any mother’s signature in middle school. Or anyone else’s. The stroke of my hand a near always perfect match. My own true handwriting a free and wild scratch. I still don’t trust someone who has styled their own. And now those who’ve styled their lives. A master of wearing uniforms for years before I burned them all.

My sweet brother PJ, taking every joke too far, talking over any plea to break character, and me loving every bone and pore and second of him. Everything too much in my head at all times, and he was the unicorn miracle who just made me happy. Selling pennies for dimes in lieu of lemonade stands. The big hearted shyster storyteller, our laughter better gage than a polygraph. Seeing myself in surprises of him now. My own face, his softer, aging ghost.

I imagine the Eighties taking place in that small cherished neighborhood in North Baltimore. A direct portal to London, via my babysitter Nancy’s street. Showing us how to kiss with mouths open, on her hand, talking to me like a real person, the way I wished all the other grown ups could see me. Good behavior doesn’t scream: “Notice me. See my old soul. Know I’m worrying like you do. That I will try to save you if someone tries to hurt you. I’m brave. I will fight with everything.” 

The counting breaths and chattering teeth in rhythm. Tiny neurotic with eyes on every cell of me, looking out and in at once. The winding spiderweb rules. Our own private superstitions. The daydreams at night that kept me up. My beautiful flame haired kindergarten friend dying in a fire in NYC. The imagining every wire sparking and catching as we slept into forever. I needed that dreamy unwind. To imagine all the becoming I had to undertake. To wrestle and bond with demons. To find my body finding itself. To get some fucking release.

The reflective surfaces were magnets. Side of the oven mottled mirror, the sliding glass doors. The check-ins to see proof I wasn’t in my head, that it didn’t look as complicated as it felt, that I could pass so well it made me braver and forever faraway.

The father who on my first sleepover, gave me a kiss that made my stomach twist and churn. Realizing fast how good I was at deciding on forgetting. Watching hair grow in time lapse, in places we couldn’t believe, the way we used to marvel at specks of freckles on virgin skin. Beginning the years of braiding all the coarse and silky threads at once with strong hands that surprised me. Digging my nails into my arm to prove it wasn’t a waking dream, all of this feeling somehow living in a concrete world. Drawing blood to prove it. First layers of scars that became me.

Finding a million ways to break and break into my own skin in each day.

To this day.

Finding Amanda’s dad’s magazines in a closet. Hot pink everywhere. Swallowing something rancid and harsh and dizzying like a bad trip. That first look that made me so worried about what was coming for me. That was never going to be the way I felt inside, even if it was the way I would look on the outside. Flattening a beating heart onto a cold page. I knew it then, and yet still, I slipped on that skin. I swallowed myself in the tiny pieces that someone chipped away and fed to me. “Know the voice that is your gut and give it everything”, I need to tell myself gently, years ago. Before there’s just no other choice.

Wanting that pat on the head and soul that made me the kind of okay I was frantic to ever feel. Launching into life, starving and exhausted and ready to retire by graduation. And still the wild of me that grips in the best strangle hold, the too sweetness new on my tongue and needing more, the alive almost too much. We are our own beginnings and ends.

Gently shaking tumblers of pop songs and Bob Dylan on my bedroom window seat.  The earnestness of bearing witness to your eight year old blooming. Before you knew your period was a year away, that those chemicals of the new you would feel like blood bleeds in your expectation soaked heart. 

I always thought you had to fake it until your soul turned. That there was shame in it not being intrinsic. A baby bird who tried to skip the first flight and teach a class on how to do it.

The first day of fifth grade, ‘In a station of the Metro’, Ezra Pound. “The apparition of these faces in a crowd; petals on a wet black bough.” Written in chalk, to me directly. So excited that someone had asked a hard question about something I knew I understood and wanted to tell about. That I could raise my hand and show them I was a tiny grownup, my brain nearly caught up to my racing body and deflecting eyes. To expect something different, not just more. My friends ask my daughter’s take on their twisty grownup predicaments, because she was born wise. This was always my secret wish. The too much of me, granted and given some real trust. To turn it into a tool. To do what I was meant to.

The origins of “I’m sorry” were born here, a tic or reverse mantra. How often do we say it, sewn up and angry, because we want to protect ourselves?

When we only need our own permission.

When I only need my own forgiveness.

She does, that girl I buried under years of rock and silt and longing still aglow.

I tell my kids now, “I can’t promise that everything will be ok. But I can tell you parts of it will be perfect.” Because last drops can be richer than first sips. And light comes in cycles but fades. That hurt and joy are so tangled you are best not trying to find their separate strings. I tell them to give themselves a break, because one thing I never worry about is them being Good. My kids were literally singing Kumbaya on a recent night. This is who they are.

I have been both ravaged and spoiled in this life.

Time on a loop, a tangled gold chain we take off our necks to smooth out in tiny increments. Our fingernails chipping away, keeping at it, determined as ever to be old and new. To right the knots we made in the beautiful mess of days, deep tissue worked out, wincing, freed. I could spill over forever. All things we ever were and will bloom into. I’m writing this to music that follows me in my sleep. 

amypj

 Amy Grace

kyoung

The wounds of childhood.

Will they ever heal?

Are they supposed to scab and ooze and continue in rawness?

They might.

They might leave a faint scar.

Or an ugly raised mound as a sign of the tear that was once there.

I wear some scars proudly while others are hidden tight.

Every now and then they come out to remind of the struggle, the fight.

It was not all bad.

In fact, it was very good.

But the bad tries its best to overshadow the light.

The countries seen, the memories made.

I remember wistfully wanting those days.

The times they felt good and for nothing would I trade.

I have learned to be grateful for what the imperfections made.

I can choose to accept unconditionally, to love where one is.

It is their space and their demons to live.

Not mine.

But that does not mean the uncomfortable is not there.

The unspoken words that want to surface but are pushed back because they will serve no purpose.

I would rather live in forgiveness and honor the good realizing my own faults could fill the ocean.

This thing… this responsibility for another soul can be overwhelming.

It is easy to judge until in their shoes you are standing.

I choose to take the good and learn from the bad knowing I am too am an open chasm.

It makes the rough edges softer and valleys not seem so steep.

It helps heal the wounds that run so very deep.

kyoungschoolpic

Kristin Young

Cathlin_McCullough-1-3

A small thing. With no power

Holds vastness

Afternoons for daydreams. Parents for questions. Nights for wishes

So many wishes

Connected to the dirt in the earth

To the blinking lights in the velvet blue night sky

Struck by secrets

Listening for the magic in our bones

Holding space for breath. And breath for screaming

Before I could see the edges of things

Before understanding

I held my place as a seed

Buzzing with the grand scale of it all

Cathlin_age2or3-1

Cathlin McCullough

Lost Boys-1

You always gave me a safe place to be, but not too safe. I was able to make my mistakes, break windows, stay out late, come home with torn jeans and bloody elbows, sometimes make you laugh and sometimes drive you crazy. You taught me about second chances and then third chances, and that sometimes what your gut is telling you is to sacrifice yourself. And that your gut sometimes isn’t looking out for just you.

You didn’t want this project, and I was nothing if not a project. From long division to yard work, I was the apple to your orange. Or was I something completely different, not quite right? I found my home in the woods and down the stream, in video games and music, in my art and with my friends – even the ones who called me Arizona Fat Ass. None of that was you, though you liked the nickname, and would make beeping sounds like a reversing truck and laughing at your own joke. It wasn’t funny, not even the first time. You wanted me to be the athlete and encouraged blisters from bats and clubs, scratches from cleats and bruises from helmets, but asked for my help when you couldn’t turn on the computer. 

You showed me how to treat a woman, but not how to treat myself. I could open the door for her, but I couldn’t even find a way out for me. The number of times crushes told me that they just saw me as a friend, I crumbled inside or made mix tapes to try to change their mind. Nothing says I could be the one like Vanilla Ice’s “I Love You.” You taught me that you could rob Peter to pay Paul, as long as it put a smile on my face and some new Jordan’s on my feet. You taught me that when you got mad, I’d better clean my room, because it would be one less thing you could yell about.

You taught me about hard work, sometimes demoralizing work. You were the can-man in our town, pulling old peal top rusty steel Schlitz cans on your runs from the woods filled with ice and dead rodents for me to warm up sitting by the frozen creek, melt the ice, bury the mole, pop out the dents with a dowel so the machine could read the barcode and then turn in each one of those time capsules for $0.05, a bike and my first computer. You had to teach me that it wasn’t enough for you to clean up the streets, that I had to dig through dumpsters behind the grocery store and wave to my friends as they passed by in their warm cars while I thought of excuses to tell the next day in school. There is that great line from Christmas Vacation: “If they know your dad, they won’t think anything of it.” But they did know you and they did think something of it.

You taught me that it’s about the moments. You encouraged me to do what I love, no matter what it is. If only I had listened sooner. You taught me that life is short, so live it. You taught me that you can fail even when no one is watching, and that can hurt even more. I heard “I brought you into this world and I can take you out” so many times, you could say that you taught me to read a bluff. You showed me that “because” can and often is the answer and that the “why” doesn’t always matter. You are my backbone and my heart, both of which I have lost some of and am desperately trying to find again.

You proved to me that intentions while good can, in fact, be bad. You taught me that who we see in the mirror is not always who everyone else sees. You taught me that love makes us do stupid things, like sing “Uptown Girl” when the girl uptown wants nothing to do with you anymore because you can’t see the forest for the whatever the hell it was you thought you saw. That you can avoid owning your mistakes, and even push them off on others if you so choose, because it’s not convenient or doesn’t fit your view of the world. You taught me that I earn your respect and that I should just give you mine. You taught me that the truth is what you make of it and that history can be rewritten, just say it and it’s so – but the sky is most definitely not purple. And that alcohol can make the party, but the drunk can threaten to drive off the bridge.

I see your adventurous ways ride up in me, which makes me proud. I also see your quick temper, and I am trying to fix me. I found my voice and I am on my way, and you were right.

I see your smile when I look in the mirror and it’s one of the features I dislike most about myself, I’ve covered it with a beard. I always said I never wanted to be like you and then occasionally out comes your voice, and I cringe. I thought if I kept running that I could get away, and as it turns out I have been running a quarter mile at a time, one left turn followed by another. 

At thirty eight, I am finally understanding what these lessons were for, and that my procrastination would be the death and rebirth of me. I used to think that I end where I begin, but that’s just my origination story. My track is just starting to evolve. It’s now growing lanes of trees that leave long shadows, unforgiving rocks that leave scars we call character, sprawling countrysides that make me miss home and snow covered mountain tops begging to be explored and I will climb them all. It is my design. My house, my rules.

Adam Brophy - Childhood

Adam Brophy

LeslieKershaw

Falling. I remember falling when I was about six or seven. At the time, my mom was the director of a daycare center for the local catholic church. We would often have to stay late; to wait for parents to pick up their kids and so she could lock up the building.

I had a friend there, she was the maintenance man’s daughter. She had to stay late too. I don’t remember how we used to entertain ourselves, but this night we happened to be on the stairs.

I told her to look up at me b/c I wanted to show her a trick: sliding down the hand rail on my tummy with no hands.

I think I had done it before, but I’m not sure where, because we lived in an apartment. This time (or the first time) I slid down and for a second it was amazing, so exhilarating and fun. But I didn’t get to hold onto that feeling for long b/c the next things I knew, I was falling.

I fell down eight flights of stairs. I remember looking up at the stairs above me and seeing my friend’s face, she was so scared. I tried to grab hold of the rails to catch my fall, but my fingers just bumped against them and missed and it made a melody in the echo of the hallway. I didn’t feel scared, mostly I felt confused and it seemed like it was taking me forever to hit the ground.

I remember thinking, “shit, this wasn’t supposed to happen.” I finally landed with a huge loud smack against something hard, but it wasn’t the ground and I wasn’t hurt.  I looked around me and saw that I was in a sea of empty trash cans. Trash cans that my friend’s dad, the maintenance man had stacked upside down at the end of the day for storage. They broke my fall and probably saved my life.  

After that, there was a frenzy.  The father at the church ran across the street to the fire station to get help. Next thing I knew, I was inside an ambulance. I still had on my burgundy plaid uniform and thick gray tights. I remember this because the paramedics cut my entire outfit down the middle and I was worried that my mom would be mad at me because she had just bought those tights.

The rest is a blur. I actually went to school the next day and I bragged about my cool ambulance ride. My mom asked me how the accident happened, and I lied. I told her I was looking down because I heard voices and I fell.  I didn’t want to disappoint her. She still doesn’t know the truth, which is a little embarrassing. I wonder why I never told her.

I don’t think about that accident much, maybe I’m ashamed I never told the truth about it. I do wonder as I write this, what effect it had on me. At the time, I felt covered by grace. I made a mistake, I fell, but I got up. I do that now. I’m more like seven-year-old me than I realized.

LeslieKershaw_childhood2

Leslie Kershaw

nyc31

the other day i was sitting around our little apartment with the husband and three sons. we were talking about how much Jack, in 6th grade, loves walking home from school this year and just about what kinds of freedoms come with these new responsibilities. my husband remembered back to days stopping at the corner store after school. loading up on sugar. in this moment i burst out laughing. when i was in 6th grade i was miserable. i mean, absolutely truly miserable. i mean, beyond depressed. we had moved from RI to Brookline MA the year previous. my dad was over an hour away now, the bus rides a huge source of weekly anxiety. none of the kids were nice to me. my mom worked all the time and we had random au pairs or grad students live with us to make being alone in the evenings less shitty for me. i did pretty much anything to keep from going home when i was in 6th grade. so as my husband is recounting all the candy bars i had this really vivid memory of going to the local toy store near our apartment. my husband has always teased me about how many stuffed animals i have and how much i love buying them for the kids. he forced me to throw away my beanie baby collection which I’M SURE WAS OUR TICKET TO MILLIONS (they still had the tags on y’all)! but in this moment, in our living room, i had a total AHA moment. i started laughing, tears streaming down my face, exclaiming “i get it now, oh my god, i get it now. i bought myself stuffed animals because i wanted to feel like a child again. that’s why i still love stuffed animals so much! they make me so happy!” but the thing is, back in the day, i was buying those stuffed animals as this sad middle schooler because i wanted a family. kind faces to surround me. i wanted to feel something from them that i didn’t feel from my own family. i know, isn’t this just pathetic?! the cool thing about this moment though, was that here i was with my own 6th grader. who is, honest to god, a unicorn. we were looking at snow boots online the other day at land’s end. the color he picked? shiny bubble gum pink. this dude doesn’t give a SHIT what anyone else thinks. because he knows what his family thinks : his family thinks he is all things joy and light in this world. potential and great hopes and dreams. his family builds up his oddities and allows him to feel what it’s like to be absolutely and truly himself. childhood is odd and in a way is always chasing us, tapping us on the shoulder, with memories good and bad and familiar feelings that are just out of reach. 

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Isabel Furie

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I close my eyes and try to get back there. 

Childhood. 

You still live there.  

I grasp frantically at the memories but they are mostly words now.  

I want to see them, to feel them.  

My memories play back as seconds in time.  

Water sloshing on our feet as we run across the sun soaked field with bullfrogs in our buckets. 

Wind in our hair as I cling to my horse, trying to keep up as you gallop ahead in the distance.  

Belly laughs as we throw jellyfish at the boys in the sluice and they scream and run in terror.  

Your breath on my face as you tweeze my eyebrows with a gentle, steady precision. 

Our hearts beating faster as we climb onto the roof to smoke cigarettes in the cold of night.  

The problem is, I can’t live in a second – there isn’t time to look around, to see your face.  

The part of me that was yours sits alone now.  

Our remember whens fading away because I’m the only one left to remember.  

I wrap my baby in your tattered baby blanket.  

I comb my daughter’s hair with the comb we styled each other’s hair with.  

Your worn flattened teddy is strewn on the floor with my children’s toys.  

I drag bits of you with me, forever and always, but it will never be enough.

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Beth Urban

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Just her mouth moved. Nothing else. She stood perched atop an unfinished house, brown eyes beating. I wanted nothing more than to throw her in the trash. Like a sky punched with holes, the strangest, sharpest parts shine through…. Mint leaves in a clouded jar. A rosary strapped to the front door. Cigar smoke. Small cups cracked with gold. Sesame seeds, raw and blistered, on the floor. I remember the day she passed, a skeleton in her bed. I was smaller than small and kept shrinking, shrinking, shrinking. Like Alice who ate the cake. I can still smell the walls, feel their sheen, hear the house breathing. The sound of my own fear rising like smoke, making me cry and choke and want to go home. Someone picked me up. Windows pressed purple dusk into my eyes. My feet hung cold and heavy and bare. Street lights thumping their glow over and over as they passed. Until sleep drugged me.

Roxanne Bryant

angelachildhood

singing my heart out while washing dishes. age 9, 1982. fav song in 1982: shadows of the night, pat benatar. oh baby girl. the world had already shown you deep darkness but the light inside you glowed so warm and bright. you loved w/ your whole being and you trusted many even though you knew, from the most tender age, the overwhelming sting of aloneness in a world you didn’t understand. you still don’t understand it. and it’s gotten harder to shine.(over the past few years, especially.) but i was thinking…if i carry you and let you find shelter in my older craggier heart… maybe we could find our way, together.
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My parents met in Germany, while my Dad was serving in the Army during Vietnam. You know the story…US GI meets lovely German woman, she gets pregnant, they marry and he brings her back to America. I grew up in a suburb of Detroit in a lower, middle class family. While my paternal Grandparents were affluent, they disowned my Dad when he brought his German wife home. Their relationship later repaired, but my sister, who is two years younger, and I always felt less wanted by my Grandparents. I don’t ever really remember my parents getting along, but then again, I don’t remember a whole lot about my childhood. I think I’ve blocked most of my younger years out as a coping or survival mechanism. I do remember my parents arguing all the time, having lots of affairs, and me begging my Mom to get a divorce. I remember my sister and I fighting like cats and dogs. I remember writing letters for my Mom to organizations, in an effort to locate my two older half-brothers that my Mom had given up for adoption shortly before marrying my Dad. My Mom couldn’t write in English so everything written was in my handwriting. I also had this uncanny ability to forge anyone’s signature as a child, which came in handy when we were alone and I needed a signed parental note for school. I remember loving school and friends, although I was quite jealous of the stability of my friends’ families. For the longest time, as I continued to beg for my parents to divorce, my Mom said that she could not because of us kids; she didn’t think she would be able adequately provide for us as a single Mother. And so things tumultuously proceeded until I was thirteen years old. Finally, my parents divorced, but that complicated things in a new way.
I was in ninth grade and my sister in seventh, when my Dad left the house. We spent the obligatory every-other-weekend at my Dad’s but always felt he didn’t really want us there and after a while, my sister and I both stopped going. At the time of my parents divorce, my Mom had a sales rep job selling delicatessen foods in four states. This required her to travel, which meant that my sister and I were left home alone on the days my Mom had to work in another state, usually Monday through Thursday for a week or two each month. This became our norm, although there was a short period where my Mom thought it would be a good idea to have an elderly woman stay with us, but we didn’t care for that so it didn’t last all that long. We greatly preferred to take care of ourselves and overall we did a pretty good job. I mean there were the times when unexpected things happened, like someone banging on the upstairs windows of our house, which scared the shit out of me, or the time when my sister broke her arm and I made a make-shift cast for her until my Mom returned home. It was life — our unconventional, doing-the-best-that-we-knew-how life.
I guess you could say that I was always an independent, responsible child. For as long as I can remember, I was also quite organized and naturally driven. I came home from school each day and immediately did my homework. I did my best to take care of my sister, although assuming a parental role put a huge strain on our relationship, which continues to this day. I never got into drugs or threw any parties, although with my Mom being away, I had the perfect opportunity to do both. I simply did what I had to do, just as my Mom was doing. I don’t see my childhood in a negative light and I don’t use my childhood as an excuse for things that occur in my present. Sure, we are all influenced by the way we were raised and our childhood experiences, but it is our job to be accountable for our present and get help, if necessary.
I couldn’t close without sharing this: I whole-heartedly believe that as parents, we do the absolute best we know how for our children. My Mom once shared with me how she did her very best raising us and I one-hundred percent believe that to be true. You see, my Mom and her siblings were abused, raped and had to steal for food (and that’s only the beginning of the horrible things they endured as children). My Mom not only did her best; she did so much better and now that is what I strive to do with my own children. I not only will do the best I know how, I will try to do better.
Thank you Mom for doing your best; I am who I am today because of the childhood you provided me and the strength and determination you shared with me.
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alexis

Saltwater in the veins.

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Alexis Munoa Dyer

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My childhood was laughter even in hospital rooms, even when the floor seemed to fall beneath our feet. It lives in the salt water in my blood, the sand at my feet, the sway of palm trees that carry a legacy from an island 90 miles away. My childhood was music, feet shuffling in rhythm, voices loud in melodic Spanish rising and falling at once so that you wondered how anyone understood what was being said. The memories are frayed at the edges but it’s a hand in mine, a kiss on the cheek, a word of encouragement, a lesson reluctantly learned. My childhood is in the echoes that follow me, their voices reverberating in the caverns of my heart.

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Elaine Palladino

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In thinking about my own childhood, I’m thinking about playing dress up with my four younger sisters, endless hours spent coloring at a small plastic table, and macaroni and cheese with hot dogs. But mostly, I’m thinking about my mom. She let us be so free, so creative, wild, and imaginative. She sacrificed more than I’m sure I’ll ever know or understand so we could enjoy a peaceful, safe sanctuary of a home- separate from the outside world. I love my mom. And now I’m near tears because I’m realizing that I don’t give her enough credit, at times, for all she did and all she continues to do for me and mine. An indescribable amount of what makes me today is because of everything that she was and everything she gave me.

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Samantha Kelly

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I can still imagine myself small, head resting on my mother and the way her voice sounded through her chest. 

I remember how it felt to fall asleep on my father’s shoulders, still young and legs short enough that he had to reach up to hold my ankles. 

Waking up and drifting off again on the white radiator in my room, stretching my mornings out to feel the heat and rest for just 5 more minutes. 

I always felt like I was flying right next to everyone else, their feet firmly planted on the ground and yet I couldn’t feel my footing.

I remember being scared, anxious to grow up so that I wouldn’t be afraid of the dark, or bad guys, or monsters because I didn’t know that those threats don’t go away. I remember worrying about things that had never and would never happen. 

I remember mourning people who were still sitting right next to me. Saving addressed envelopes thinking that someday it would be all that I had left. Afraid that I’d forget or mis-remember. Every moment was a last time. Worry turned into pain which turned into self-fulfilling prophecies again and again, and instead of growing up I just wanted to be small again. Curled up on the couch next to my mom where I felt like I would always be safe. 

I played with toy snakes and dolls. I ate ants on a dare and every year I threw a birthday party for my favorite tree in our yard. We built teepees from sticks and drew pictures on the walls of my closet. 

I was the child who moved my mouth instead of really singing, who wanted to blend it but always accidentally stood out. 

But still there was so much love. A perfect recipe for a life and now I try to hold onto those real moments and the smiles and the comfort. Running with my sister down hotel hallways. Picking up snails bigger than my hand. Jumping from the couch onto the cushions and flying in every dream I ever had. And always, even in my darkest moments, the sound of my mother’s voice through her chest.

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Naomi M.

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She wore a crown my own two hands had crafted. Made of sequins and stars, it trailed behind her, my mother, as she walked, and oh, she walked proudly.

To this day I’m unsure of how I, a child, managed the party, but I did, planned an entire surprise birthday celebration. She was unaware, taken off guard, face wet with joy.

The book, my gift to her, done with my very best intent, but hardly professionally curated, sat waiting. Each page filled with a letter and photo, from friends and family across the globe. Well wishes, hoping for a lifetime of birthdays, wishing to be there, just so much love. So much love.

Her fingers traced each word, tears spilling over, she looked at me and said, “How did you even…” her voice cracked, and trailed off. The book, oh the precious book.

When she died, on an early fall morning, long after the crown had broken, and childhood had passed, the book was the furthest thing on my mind. Soon though, as I began the process of packing, packing up an entire life, her life, I found it. I found the book, and my own fingers traced the pages, those same pages she too traced.

“Wishing you many more birthdays!” the words said, and I cringed. Many more? Hardly. Hardly many more.

She would have been fifty-three today. Snatched from this earth, weeks shy of the big five-o. I’ve taken a lot of time to reflect on this mother of mine, of lessons taught, in both her life and in her death.

As a mother of three, I often put myself in her shoes, and I know the sequin crowns, the surprise parties, the haphazard books filled with love – these hand crafted celebrations, are the best celebrations.

They’re gifts really.

And if we allow them, allow our children to be children and curate their own versions of love, collectively, we’ll live in a much better world.

Happy birthday ma, missing you always.

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Angie Warren

emilymitchell

I remember becoming aware that I wasn’t little anymore.  I’m not sure I can pinpoint when it was or what exactly happened, but I realized adults related to me in subtly different ways.  I was more aware of other people’s perspectives, more aware of the sad October sun.  I used to lie in the floor, watching the silent streaks of light and noticing what books they touched this week they didn’t the week before.  I became obsessed with the irreversibility of time and yet how we came back to the same places each year around the sun.  I began to have years to reflect back on.  

At seven, I was unable to describe these profound feelings of discovering not only was I now less tolerable, but less important on a universal scale, which was far more unsettling.  I never did find anyone who understood.  So I covered it up like I assumed everyone else did, singing and dancing on top of it all.  But always, following my own shadow across the dance studio parking lot, in tap shoes at 5 o’clock.

There’s a sharp edge that year baby teeth go and the nose narrows and limbs lengthen out and our ability to understand stretches across it all in an awkward umbrella that pops open without our permission.

It shadows all we knew about ourselves up until this point, our past beginning to puddle at our feet.  If we’re lucky, it reflects us.

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Emily Mitchell

jeremybrown

I look at you in this picture, and I’m reminded of how simple life was at six years old. Making, taking apart, remaking. Every day a series of offhand experiments.

Back then, everything I did mattered equally. There was no ultimate something that everything was leading up to. One thing led to another which led to the next, and then it was time for bed.

Maybe you already feel a hint of how things are going to change for you someday, how the world is going to tell you that more is required of your life than just playing and growing. But for now, block castles and puzzles and blanket forts are more than enough to make for a good day.

Six years old is good like that. Most everything you play with and work with can be easily torn apart and put back together in a new way. Growing. Learning. Nobody expects more of you than that. Not yet.

I used to be six. Life was vibrant. Every day was possibility. But time passed and, at some point, the fading began. Age thirty saw me beginning to curl in on myself some, saw me feeling the tunnel narrow and the walls close in, little bit by little bit. Surrounded by voices telling me I had to make something of myself, make something special. My life had to mean something. No more making things just because I wanted to.

My energy was fading, year by year. I watched in real time as the window of opportunity fell shut, and I was helpless to stop it.

But then you were here, and you were three years old, and I was thirty-five. My life was turning upside-down, and the rules of childhood all-of-a-sudden seemed ever so much more valid than the so-called rules of adulthood. That mysterious and all important main event I’d been working toward suddenly vanished from my priority list, completely and forever, because I got to watch the short life of your little brother. He only made it six months before he died, and the one thing I knew for sure was that he was no kind of failure. All of us knew that he didn’t have to grow up and do grand things in order to matter. His life was enough, whatever it looked like. Just like your life. Just like mine.

There is no one thing you might do that could ever be seen as the culmination of your life. I hope you will always keep making things and doing things just because you want to and not because you think the world expects something of you.

May you live your life like my father does. He’s always up to something, always tinkering. When I was your age, he was constantly making gardens in neighbors’ yards, tearing out the sod and building up the soil. As I got older, I wondered why he didn’t settle down, focus his efforts, buy his own land, and invest in his own garden, really make something of it. He got his own land, eventually, and even so his garden still spreads into the yard of the neighbors next door. My dad is endlessly experimenting. He’ll plant a tree, wait years to see what it might bear, and tear the thing out of the ground if the fruit isn’t to his liking. I see how you and he are my bookends, reminding me to stay simple and young. Life is good like that. Building castles. Knocking them down. Taking me back to the person I’ve always been.

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Jeremy Brown

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My mother’s house smells as hers once had. A sweet and musty aroma of earth and flowers; my grandmother.

 The back yard was an elaborate jungle of potted plants and vegetable gardens. The pots traced a path to edges of the blue pool. Inflatable orange inner tubes and orca whales drifted in its waters, awaiting playmates. Countless afternoons were spent among its waters, prompting rounds of Marco Polo, fleeing from the sweeper and fishing thoughtless frogs from its depths.

 For years I would rewatch favorite movies she had recorded to dozens of VHS tapes, labeling each of them in her delicate scroll. I would often sift through the tapes, organizing, reshuffling, touching them all to be reminded. Memories of when I would lie in her bed viewing them on repeat, curled upon floral printed sheets and peach colored duvet. Rewind, play again, rewind.

 Her breakfast specialty was a rice porridge of warm milk and heaping tablespoons of brown sugar, assembled from the previous night’s Chinese take out. I would eat breakfast next to my sister at the round aluminum trimmed table, watching her. In her navy blue sweatshirt adorned with two dancing humpback whales, a silk scarf wrapped tightly around her head, I watched her sliding buttons through her fingers; turning them this way and that as she would stare off into their tin, her hands struggling to move how they had done all her previous years.

 June. On the floor of her room, among pencils and paper, I assembled a book of drawings, my wishes and prayers for her spirit. She had gone in the middle of the night, the day after my sister’s birthday. My mother told us she had waited for her to have her day.

 Now I stood there with my book, printer paper bound in masking tape, my contribution to her memorial service. A child’s attempt to process the abrupt removal of person and body from the world; standing in a house that smelled of a sweet and musty aroma, yet no longer housed the woman whose presence it promised.

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Lauren Lipscomb

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I had a childhood that dreams are made of. Maybe I forget the hard times, I must, but that means the good overshadowed it all. Music, food, cousins, family, God, freedom, love, so much love, these are my memories. 

We grew up on 20 acres connected to my cousin’s property, 20 minutes out of town, up in the mountains. Summer’s are always fresh in my mind, carefree days of exploring the woods, being bored, and coming up with something to do together. I envy my childhood for the generation of my children. I try to replicate play, boredom, using their brilliant minds to solve problems, explore, taste, see, fail, try again, but I feel like so much of it slips through my fingers and tired mind.  

I never doubted my parents love for each other. My dad worked away for most of my childhood, but I saw them put each other first, every night on the phone together to stay connected. My mother raised us to think the highest of our father, and my dad taught us that he couldn’t do anything without my mom and her unwavering support. They embraced my curiosities in life and love for play, and they truly made me feel like I could fail at nothing (even though I did in math and science).  Hard times meant the hymns got louder in our home, the prayers more frequent, and we held each other that much tighter.  My parents and siblings are where my heart hangs the sign of “home,”  where time and distance changes nothing about love.  Singing with my siblings brings back years of memories, and back to times where we didn’t know what was coming for us in this lifetime.  Honest tears, meaningful conversations, and a focus on integrity, honesty, and love. My siblings remain my dearest friends even though I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like. 

I truly don’t know how my parents did it. How they made their place a home that I still escape to nearly every week to clear my head. Maybe they just were intentional in everything they did, and I never saw it until now. Intentionally showing us how to work hard, love hard, how to drop what you were doing to rock a baby and sing to them, how to take two times as long to get something done in order to teach your child something new, how failing isn’t falling, it’s actually growth. They gave me a childhood where my struggles in the education system meant my mom focused in on where I shone. She saw my creative side before I even knew it was a part of me. They gave me the gift of fearlessness in trying, because I knew someone would be there to catch me, hold me, or push me should I fail. My prayer is that my children will write the same about their childhood one day, one of God’s grace, freedom and love, so much love.

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Kyla Ewert

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You’re a daydreamer, come back to earth” (Early on) I made my own version of Earth Finding extraordinary magic in ordinary things, Firmly refusing to root myself.

(Sometimes people feel too much, I’m one of those. Beauty can make my heart hurt as much as ugly truths.)

(Even now) I sit in the cold wet grass, tethered for a moment, (I am 4 and 48) An entire universe opens in a wild green field I am Home

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Lara Austin Shoop

This is a project that has been burning a hole in my heart. We all sing our pure and shaky and earnest songs, to ourselves, our kids, our pasts. We sing because we need to hear our voices out loud, because it gets lonely sometimes, because it hurts, because the joy cannot fit in our bodies. Mothers are always and never alone. I want to focus on the never part. I want to hear the voices together. I want to start a chorus.

– AMY GRACE

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We search late at night in blue screen light for detox miracles, plants and spices and better ways to breathe, mantras that come from someone else’s minds and lives. When the antidote usually lies in the open arms of someone we love, who loves us back, with nothing but that binding them. What a miraculous thing, to have the kind of love you don’t have to sleep with or be born into. Subtract the evolutionary arguments and end up with that golden soft place to turn when the more hard wired ones go bust. Friendship is admitting our secrets in the tender trust of invisible glass parentheses. It is maybe the closest to fearless we get.

If I gathered all my closest friends into a room, we would look an unlikely, motley crew. Maybe with not much in common but the many parts of me. And big hearts, leaking out in laughter. My friends are the light inside the tunnel when I don’t see a way out.

Friends we only see online, are like characters from a book or a soap opera whom you root for, celebrities, but part of our real lives, our daily selves, our inner hearts. We can sometimes be our truest this way, with people we can’t see every day. The buffer against time and space leaves no room for the veil of small talk I resist.

I have a friend who is an anesthesiologist. Iraqi born, seen so much, but so beautiful she gets that label of perfect that you wear like a stiff and privileged armor. Easier maybe, but a veil. She says we are bags of chemicals. I say we are made of stars. I guess we are somewhere nebulous in the middle. Stardust with half lives.

Sweet, earnest Annie, my first best friend, from the first day of first grade. My parents say her parents picked me for her. Such opposites in our looks. We always felt a little drawn to what the other brought to the table, but we wanted to be at that table together. Yin and yang has always been most natural. Siamese twins on Halloween in fourth grade, a giant gold sweatshirt from Kmart, on a skinny, dark, small girl with a long face, and wiry, strong, fair me, wild hair and sea eyes. Feeling we were one person.

When I was in fifth grade I was sent to the principal’s office for the first and only times. With Amanda. After an entire elementary career of perfect, she freed me from myself. And kept at it for a lifetime. The two of us, the superego and the id. She brought me to the middle, a tiny body with the spirit of a whole class of kids. Never have I met someone as curious or good at so many things, as wild and pure as a storm in August. I still feel thirsty for the way she rained. I thought she would be Broadway – Beckett at 15, Sondheim like she breathed it. But she decided to study volcanoes, and learn about the earth, its rocks and mysteries and the space that put us here. Married a frenchman and settled into a life that felt the fitting end of a book she would have written herself into. A few years ago she took my daughter for a stargaze, passing through, fresh air in our desert heat. Instantly an aunt and a memory. I would give too much now to stay up all night with her, sit on wet grass, and sing harmonies.

Kristie with her waterbed and Sun In and frosted lips and bikinis for every day of the summer. She kept entire boxes sugar cubes in her room and ate them whole. The style bar we all had to rise too, too fast, racy and aware – and with a giant clothing budget. But kind, she laughed when she was supposed to laugh, at the real things about real girls, even when her cult thought cuts against each other meant survival. My own girl brings me back to this time with no mirroring. She swims through as if the debris of fragile cracked childhood shells isn’t floating around her. A so far miracle.

All the Jens. With all the last name initials. The middle school one who I will always love and drifts away, the one who is of my closest humans right now. No last name required. Saving my soul on the daily.

My lost C, to whom I always thought I’d be sewn together. How life takes us through the shredder, cuts through the invisible spider web strings, opens our eyes to things we cannot un-see. We still wake up missing the idea of people, don’t we? Even if the idea was our own.

The ones we did sleep with.

A month ago from the back seat of the car, my sweetest heartbreak-angel-on-earth-boy asked me if I thought he would make friends in kindergarten. “Because I don’t make friends very well. They want to play Star Wars, and I want to play everything.” My heart feels sick to write it. Because maybe he is as right as he is fragile, in this strange life stacked against him in ways most friends’ are not, nothing linear or certain. But seriously, this kid’s rich inner life? It’s a light magnet. It’s a right people magnet, I tell him. Yet his built in sense of his scope in the layered world, a gentleness that gives way for everyone else’s needs, it consumes my thoughts most moments, huddled in the corner, keeping an aching watch. He thinks he doesn’t make friends well, but that I do. Both my kids think they know this. I do I guess, after learning why I need it. He needs his tribe too. I watch him with his wild, yin and yang friendships, the secret language and tangled limbs, and want him to see that he already has it.

What they don’t know, is that angsty youth when being discriminating made me lonely, on the insides no one could see. It took thirty eight years to realize I was an extrovert. Gasp. “Maybe I wasn’t always this way”, I tell him. Maybe it took the world opening up in grown up ways, to change me. The shyness, mine, fallen away. But I get his, and inhabit it. I have a gnarl rooted fear of throwing birthday parties for my kids. I would be okay if everyone on my own guest list couldn’t make it. But not for them. One of my worst phobias. And this little boy who asks when he does get invited: “How many people do you think will be there, mommy? Three?” Because he always wishes it. It’s his way. But we grow into new ones, new people, opposites, compliments, if we are lucky enough, soulmates we can only imagine. He tells me I am “his best friend in the whole cosmos.” He will always be mine, even when he leaves me, even when it is a ghost of a memory of six year old need-wanting me, always choosing me at his side.

I photographed a woman last week who had made a successful and full life for herself – equal parts luck and grit and ingenuity. We talked about our shared unquiet minds, struggles with feeding ourselves in all the ways, and finding that quiet space buried within that is truly who we are. “Be your own friend,” she told me. And I am, finally. Or I’m showing up frazzled and attentive, answering my own early morning phone calls, being the kind voice in the mirror, trying.

You have to make peace with that silent self at three am. On those tornado-mind days when everything solid has vaporized, with the loss of markers and foundation, when we lose that lighthouse of “love” that we think we need to find our way back, or when sometimes, things go so right that you need to be pulled down to earth with a humble tether. Our first friends must be ourselves. Keep a picture of your childhood self, therapists tell us, and just try to say those dark twisty undermining things to that pure moon face staring back with hope. I can’t do it. Remember that our kids see how hard or soft we are with ourselves, as much as they feel the love we heap on them. And that we are their first friends. In the end, and in any beginning we fight for, we are our own mirrors, we are left with ourselves to give as love. We can give back only what we have, and accept what we believe we deserve. Be who you need.

– Amy Grace

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I did not reach out to you, and call you friend, so that you could fix me. I reached out because you are broken too. You know me without words or explanations. I showed you my darkness, and you did not judge me. I showed you what I was afraid of and you did not use it to hurt me. Broken things seek out broken things, because that is where they know they are safe….. and if we lean against each other, your tangled soul and mine, we are stronger than those who have never fought the wind at all.

– Jennifer Potter

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One time I totally shit in my pants heading back from IKEA. Traffic was at a stand still and I MacGyvered a plastic bag under me and then SHIT…IN…MY…PANTS. When I got home I threw away the jeans and undies I was wearing and then called a friend. It was one of those moments I knew my friend Ana would laugh so hard she may pee in her pants, since she has done this before as well.

One year I went up to a club with my friend Lisa and we asked who was hosting the private party inside. We heard the name “Stom” and assuming it was a last name, she was Lisa Stom and I was Elaine Stom. They let us in laughing and confused. Later that night we noticed everyone were amazing dancers, and I was dancing with one of the guys with a broom thinking I was pretty amazing myself. In the bathroom someone told me it was “Stomps” party…you know the dance group…STOMP? So I told Lisa Stomp what had happened.

One day my grandma passed away who was like my best friend, and my friend Jeff took a cab over at 3 in the morning to help me put my pictures together for the funeral.

And one summer I broke my leg and foot pregnant with my second son and my friend Amy bought me a present to open everytime I felt sad. She did this for me. Then my friend Lisa flew to see me and did a belly cast for me whie I was 35 weeks pregnant in 2 real casts. Wow, that is the definition of love. I wanted a damn belly cast instead of the other 2 and she was going to help me. The bad and the worst and the good happen.

But what makes it funnier, easier and more bearable is a friend.

– Elaine Melko

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how things sometimes go; a friend down the road loses her mama. i begin stock for soup i plan to bring them. poop hits fan in my extended family, and the stock hits the road with me, turns to quite a nice chicken rice soup with lots of dill, and feeds my own heartbroken loved ones. grieving friend, who i have not brought soup or love to yet, calls the day i am home and unable to leave my jammies, and wants to bring some of the flowers that folks have brought in respect for her mama, as they are going out of town for spring break, and she can’t stand the thought of them dying alone in her house. i am embarrassed to accept flowers from a woman who has just lost her mother but do, because of course. and they remind me that beauty stays and beauty wins.

also i scratch “america” on my favorite simon and garfunkle album because of playing it 37 times in a row and feel so sad, but then discover the loveliest poster hidden inside the album cover all this time. also the boys ruined the new greek slippers i loved so much by noticing the poofs look a lot like spider man. so now they are spider man slippers and that is not nearly as fun.

all this to say that i looked down on my coffee table and saw these slices of life…how we should love something carefully or we might scratch it up, but also there are surprises found even in disappointment. how things grow and gift us and leave just the same. that things as magnificent as owls leave behind treasures if you’re looking. that something that is quaint and quirky to you can be basic and expected to someone else, and you gotta just keep doing your thing. oh, and we’re never even. intentions meant for someone might very well actually be meant for some one else. so maybe don’t keep so much score, and say thank you, and mean it. take grace as it comes, you know?

– Amy McMullen

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I was lying in my bed, heart pounding faster than I have felt it before and at the same time I felt it had stopped. I had just been in to see my baby. Only I couldn’t see him. All I saw was a mess of tubes and wires. Maybe there was a baby under there , but was it mine? I couldn’t see his face, and I couldn’t look away from the forehead IV.

I was still paralyzed from the spinal and bedridden when they wheeled me in. I wanted to tell them, “I can’t see, please move me closer”, but out of place and insecure I said nothing. Suddenly overwhelmed looking at him, the words stuck in my throat and stole my breath, “I don’t want this, get me out, I can’t be his mom” but all I whispered was, “I see him, can we go now?”

She messaged just as the nurse got me back to my room – “Katrina he is beautiful. And he is so lucky to have you for his  mom.”

– Katrina Massey

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“There are some people in life that make you laugh a little louder, smile a little bigger, and live just a little bit better.” Unknown Author

– Val Spring

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As my kids hit double digits, and are now beyond, it seems like this life is a never-ending list of things to do—church, school, sports. There is madness in our days. Time spent with friends is a remedy to that. It slows life down, even if only for a moment. The laughter, exploring, closeness, and connection—all fill the space in our hearts left unfilled during the chaos of our days. And even when those moments pass and we go back to the craziness, gratitude and love remain.

– Leah Zawadzki

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empty halls
i don’t fit in here
people talk weird
the boy sitting in front of me has a rat tail
our soundtrack on mixed tapes
maybe it won’t be so bad
roller skating on friday nights
bumming rides
H.A.G.S. and K.I.T
the days move too fast
until we say goodbye
distance between us
more empty halls
we are not alone
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It’s taken 43 years to realize this faulty way of thinking that everyone is like me is selfish.
Not everyone can be such a loner like me and operate as a party of one with no regret that they are an only child.
For 8 years she was an only. No matter how much I illustrated how beautiful being an only is, she always had a yearning I couldn’t relate to having never felt it myself.
But this yearning was so much stronger than I gave it weight and all was revealed when her sister was born. For that day she cried her first real tears of joy: not tears because I raised my voice or denied her that 10th piece of chocolate, but the best kind of tears to shed: pure happiness.
Though there is a large age difference I have never seen two humans look at each other the way they do. This is her best friend that will outlive me.. They will take care of each other.
It all came to a swirling beautiful head just a few weeks ago when we were sitting in the car about to walk into my friend’s house, her kids having never met Emma or Josephine.
I turned off the car and was reaching to throw my cell in my bag when I heard Emma’s tiny voice: ‘Are you nervous to meet them Jo? I think you are. I am too. It’s ok. We are together.’
Yes. Yes you are. And you will never be alone again.

– Jennifer Tonetti Spellman

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“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.”
―Bob Marley
The friendships that have been cultivated in my life are my life vest. I am forever grateful.
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Our children break down walls. Walls that I have built since I could remember, since I was but a small child. Friendship to be honest makes me feel naked… vulnerable. I am a bit introverted in nature and the need for companionship exists, it does… but the need to have a wide circle of connections-for me anyway, does not. So, having six children and this grand family, I really find that the need for relationships outside of my family isn’t as important in some ways. I know this might not be “normal.” I am not “normal.” I don’t even know that I wish to be “normal.” Sometimes though, this does create guilt. It creates a sense of longing or that I am lacking. It makes me hopeful that my children grow up to crave the connections I don’t. The kind of connections that can not come easily to me.

The hardest part of friendship AND parenting however is we lead by example. They are always watching- and being the lone wolf might seem normal to them now, but I wonder how they will perceive this all when they are older. Will they see their mother as this lonely creature? Will they wish for giant parties with guests upon guests? Will they need constant contact or crave the touch and hospitality of others just as much as I don’t? Will they wish their mother was more fluent in small talk and went to the PTO meetings and bunco nights like their friend’s Moms did? I can’t answer any of this, and that does scare me. I express myself with words and find myself more comfortable in the world of social media than I do in my children’s classrooms and at their friend’s birthday parties. And part of me longs for that one flesh and blood, diehard, part of your tribe and down for your cause kind of girlfriend. I might even disassemble that wall for the right person. But for now… for as long as I can think of, my children will have a mother that loves them and their father so fiercely she just doesn’t have the space in her heart for much else.

– Sarah Cornish

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“She is a friend of my mind…The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.

— Toni Morrison

I can still see her walking along the periphery of the playground, deep in thought, while the rest of the children played in the middle. I should have realized back then that it could be autism. She could walk and run and had a great vocabulary. She just didn’t seem to want or need interaction with other children – she was only content by herself. I asked the therapist who had already helped her reach so many other milestones,  “How do you teach desire? How can we teach her to want friends? Surely there must be a way to do this.”

The answer came in the form of a younger sister, who was patient and intuitive and kind. As soon as she was old enough to recognize that her sister had a special interest in forest animals, she used it to try to make a connection. I can still remember standing perfectly still in the hallway, crying, the first time it worked – as if my standing there, not moving, would keep it all from coming undone.

It wasn’t long before these girls had formed an imaginary world they created together – a world that was safe because it was filled with squirrels and hamsters and rabbits instead of princesses and dolls. They practiced sharing and make-believe. They sang chipmunk songs. They made each other laugh. They loved. This is how the walls came down and together – magically – two sisters formed a friendship.

– Leslie Jones

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I should be used to it by now. Moving frequently, starting over…I’ve always been comfortable in my own company and solitude is often what I seek; being alone and lonely do not equate in my world. Why is this time different? Why, when we have everything we’ve been waiting for, do I feel so unsettled and so very very overwhelmed? I feel like I’m trying to organize my life in a maelstrom…but one of my own creation. In truth, things are fine…wonderful, in fact…but for some reason, I just cannot get my whole self on board. I am struggling to find a tether to hold me to this truth and, instead, find myself flailing.

Then it came. That gentle realignment onto the path back to myself. It started with a dinner. I hadn’t seen my friend since before the birth of my daughter and our lives are worlds apart…still, it didn’t matter. Those shared and formative experiences from a lifetime ago will always connect us. I was at once at home and at peace; sharing my new life with an old friend and seeing each other as we are. With this visit I started to see my way. I was still so lost, but I remembered what it felt like to be whole. Then came another friend, one whose struggles mirror my own, one to whom I could not veil my state of mind. Finding that camaraderie and compassion was my way back. With these simple interactions of deep friendships I felt renewed. Not quite a full return to self, but on my way…like a warm spring thunderstorm, washing away the grime of winter to make way for a bright new season.

– Amanda Voelker

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We raised our babies side by side. We laughed together at the indignities of parenting. We muddled through playgroups and preschool and tag-teamed the toddler birthday parties. I poured my life out to you in candid detail, because it was so refreshing to be heard. You restored a sense of self in me, that motherhood had hidden.

Then, two years ago, my life imploded. It was all too much. For you, for our small town, for me. It broke me wide open. I had people to lean on- Thank God- people for whom I will forever be grateful. I had expected that I could lean on you. Instead you retreated into the crowd. I don’t know you anymore. Like so many people, you still assume that you know me.

My children stopped asking about you a long time ago. It’s so jarring to me that we meant so much to each other and now we’re nothing more than photos of our shared memories on a shelf in my garage. Those photos are the only evidence that we ever had a friendship. I’m not even sure I believe that we did. I’ve had to reevaluate my definition.

I see you sometimes in passing and each time, we act as strangers. Your children have grown long and lost their rounded cheeks and I ache for the days when I loved them like niece and nephew. I wonder if you think about my girls. My daughters have grown into beautiful little humans, and I pray that they will find true friendship. I pray that they will never have the pain of reaching out in a time of need, only to have their hands slapped away.

I’m nearing my thirty-fifth year on this earth, and I am still learning. I work daily at not becoming too hard and guarded. I’m trying for gratitude. Bitterness sometimes seeps in. It’s so scary to hold myself and all my cracks up for people to examine, but it’s that or withdraw because I don’t know how to be anything other than real. Deep down, I still believe in honest connection, even though I know I stand a good chance of losing it.

– Kristen Nance

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I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere.

– Whitney Bonnet Taylor

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A friend. It can be defined in many ways. And, it seems simple to list the qualities of a good one.
However, who can honestly say they are always a “good” friend. In my experience, friendships have occasionally proven themselves complicated, messy, and full of mistakes and regret.
Friendships slip away, even when they’re clenched between our teeth.
As adults especially, with so many roles in our lives, friends often come last on the list of priorities.
So I ask myself, when the “good” friend status is so unattainable, “How will I achieve one of the most important goals in my life? How will I model friendship to my children?”  Of all the mistakes a mother can make, (and damn, there are so many) this is one I don’t want to make.
Siblings are forever intertwined, regardless of how their relationship develops. Fostering a close friendship between them is paramount in my mothering journey. Friendship is the greatest gift I hope to bestow upon my children. It was, and is, the greatest of all gifts my parents bestowed upon me.
For when I’m gone… and their father is gone… they’ll need a FOREVER friend, a friend who is tethered.
And my wish for them, is that they share more with each other than just my lap.

– Jenna Reich

  • Traca Miller - Yes, yes, yes! All of this is all of us. At one time or another we, each of us, have lived these sisterhood stories. Brava!ReplyCancel

This is a project that has been burning a hole in my heart. We all sing our pure and shaky and earnest songs, to ourselves, our kids, our pasts. We sing because we need to hear our voices out loud, because it gets lonely sometimes, because it hurts, because the joy cannot fit in our bodies. Mothers are always and never alone. I want to focus on the never part. I want to hear the voices together. I want to start a chorus.

– AMY GRACE

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It’s only when we are turned inside out, that our darkest parts finally meet the sun.

The Serenity Prayer never took hold with me, no matter how I begged it to. I tried it for years, and each time I spoke the words I got tangled on the wisdom I was supposed to have, in knowing the difference. I could accept things most peoples’ sense of dignity or preservation would abandon immediately. I could have the courage, to bear all these things I accepted. But to know how to filter all that dark and light and in between – that was every color of the prism at once, burning my retinas, flooding my mind. So I wrote this, my own prayer. I say it in my sleep, to the dark, to the banishment of it, because oh, how I want to meet the sun.

 If I want to save someone, I give them words as a ladder out. When I need to save myself, I make metaphors. I turn myself inside out in my head a few times a day, skin peeled away, primal light leaking out to meet sunlight. When it feels like my breath might stop without willing the in and out, the words give me a reason to remember. They let me spill before I break open. I will spill for you too.

The same voice that pulls you under can lift you out. We can’t talk about the dark without talking about light.

Years of my life have gone dark. The memory repels me. The sour smell of skin against my own, equal parts comfort and cringe, remembering who I was and don’t recognize. I don’t even want to touch it for fear it will suck me in – like that song you hate that plays on a loop in your head. Parts of me still want to listen, feeling the darkness and lightness of every mixed up second, not knowing which to choose. This is life, being life, I thought. There are stretches I want to push away into a closet that will barely shut, to forget about, empty yet taking up too much space – a balloon whose helium leaked and left no memory of the party, a giant parenthesis around us. We were suspended in a beautiful black hole of time going too fast, happy and hurting, found and lost beyond searching. But the dark got me here, emptied but with a new space to fill, the old keys burning a hole in my pocket. Our life is by nature unprecedented, as we move through new rooms.

Some days I can’t conjure my brother’s face for anything. Then I look in the mirror and see him in my jaw, the smile I force that actually works, the post-tear swelling of my eyes. We can’t talk about love without talking about the constant threat of hurt. I can’t really forget the past, unless I want to forget faces with it. All this juxtaposition brutal and beautiful, lies in blood and petals at our tired feet. My little boy says “black is all the colors at once.” Not exactly true, but like his mama, he spins those metaphors to make sense of it all.

I have blinded myself with eyes squeezed shut. Because the dark needed to do its battle. So I found the night, let it in, stopped pretending it was a sunny day when it was pitch black three in the morning. Turned off the lamps, let my eyes adjust. Let them do the hard work they were meant for. I’ve made a life barking up wrong trees, hoarse and lost. So lost it became a place I found. I want to know the forest now. It won’t care or love me back; I won’t expect it. It will be what it is. And maybe teach me to do that very thing.  Enough of this folding in a thousand times and shrinking and slow dripping from a leak I can’t even find because it feels like I’m ripped open, everywhere. But ripped open can mean unleashed – bare, new, flooded with light. And hurt can mean the very start of healed. I became a fish who had swallowed its tail. I was afraid and the fear made its own fears, that swallowed the ones I was afraid of. All this feeding my feelings, when what I needed was the air around me.

When we finally see ourselves we don’t need a mirror.

Let starving minds find words to feed them – metal shavings to a magnet. Be the truth of you. No matter how much you’re convinced you’ve built this thing on your own, for the first time in history, toiling and wringing your hands in the dark – you haven’t. For the good and the bad. When the lights go on, and they will go on, you will look around and you won’t be alone. Because we all want to be moved – moved up, beyond, out. But through it, is the only way to be free from it. Pain plants us, love roots us. Every day I try harder to see and act upon that distinction. There must be an impetus, a spark, the ache to get us up into a new position – stuck in bed, our backs gone numb. That mystery shift that jolts us up, that cracks our tear crusted eyes, that moves our hands to draw the curtain. Enough. We are enough. Swollen and shamed, starved and too full of too much, as long as your head is out of the sand and your feet are moving forward, you are braver than many.

We may even have to fight ourselves for peace. A knockout, hair in fists, earrings ripped, bloodied and desperate, sweaty, panting, heartbroken fistfight. This may be a living oxymoron. Or maybe I’m just being real about my own resistance. You can only breathe your way through a tornado if you stand in the eye. We fight demons by fighting demons. I used to think walking away was the best fight. And I realize now I was too tired to battle it out. I can’t unknow it now. I flipped on the lights.

We are all so close to desperate. Or swimming in it. You aren’t alone in it; I am trying to believe I’m not. This is the optimism we hold on to. That the human condition is a condition of ‘we’:

One friend in crisis with a child, my own mom telling her, “don’t listen to the pushers of tough love.” That these moments are her only moments of regret with my brother in his dark war. That all we have to give is that love, so let it be pure and your own. Another friend in the middle of a divorce whose husband took his life: “fuck it all, is all that saves you.” Quiet the voices and listen to your own, is what she tells me as she lives a new life. Be the person you need to be, to be the mother you need to be. My soulmate, honorary big sister, taking my hand through the loss of home and husband and hope, now facing her own divorce, in a blink we never saw coming. Be new, she shows me, be a badass, have a new ring made for your middle finger.

Perhaps the antidote to darkness is not light, but release. I make these notes, write them before I have a chance to polish their sharp edges, send them off to friends who feel wired to my heart through this surgery of life, without a lick of second thought. I’ve moved past the self-edit. I want to catch the truth with my hands, and free it when it’s still beating, writhing from my own body to yours. If we are as sick as our secrets, then may we work them out of our systems, get them out and into the light. The same voice that pulls us under can lift us out. I wake up nearly every night to my own S.O.S., the words come like miracles, the voice delivering them, my own. Have it be your own too. It’s there, curled up in dark corners, waiting to find you.

– Amy Grace

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The current is swirling again. The eddies that are supposed to offer some reprieve, in the darkest times, still churn, more gently, but clearly echoing the undercurrent of the troubles in my heart. Breathing through the doubt, reaching for the reasonable answers, pushing through the voices that speak of unworthiness, of fear, of weakness, of rejection, has become my greatest challenge. Here, I sputter…surrendering to the notion that the waves will eventually carry me to clarity, and that I will find the surface if I just push off the bottom and allow myself to trust that it exists as it always has.

– Jote Khalsa

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Jane Eyre says to her little French student, “Remember, Adele, the dark is just as important as the light.” Jane then reaches over, takes the paint brush from the young girl’s hand and deliberately gives a heavy shadow to the portrait being painted. And indeed, the portrait comes alive with the shadow. Without our shadows, we are not fully alive.

– D’Arcy Benincosa

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When I opened the door to the police officer standing on my front porch, I knew the words to come out of his mouth weren’t going to pleasant.
“Are you Jennifer Downer?”

“Yes, that’s me”

“I have some bad news. Your father has passed away,” he said.

It was a very thoughtful suicide really. He had purchased the handgun in July, they told us. He had called 911, told them what he was planning to do & asked that they send an experienced officer, not a fresh one who had not witnessed this kind of scene. He waited until the sheriff arrived at the front door before he pulled the trigger – to ensure that it wasn’t one of us that found him. There were spread sheets, and documents, and instructions laid out neatly around the house. Quite considerate.

By the time we arrived, the scene was cleaned up and his body was already at the crematorium.Death on his terms. He went straight to the light, but left the rest of us twisting in the dark of the most confusing sort of grief. And so we make our way through.

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the face that looks back at me in the mirror is hardly recognizable. what has become of the strong beautiful woman i once was proud to be? the lines around my eyes have become pronounced and the dark circles seem permanent. the simple muscle tone that once was overlooked and taken for granted has now become soft and life-less. nail beds that have clearly been neglected for the first time in what seems like forever. things so trivial i know, but that i swore i would never let go of. but the most noticeable change, my eyes. stone black, portraying a sense of hopelessness and an indefinite pain as if they are an actual reflection of my heart. they look empty. once full of so much light and love now they seem dark and lost. who am i? who have i become? oh how i loathe this time, a time of reflection when i am able to take a minute and truly look at myself. “how did i get here?” i will often ask. and questions like this almost always lead to visions of that day. the day that changed my life forever. that day when my world that was once so simple and safe came crashing down.

motherhood has become something new to me. a fresh breath of air so desperately needed, yet at the same time a weight that holds me down unable to breathe, to live, to feel. oh to feel,  i mean to truly feel. this past year has been nothing short of raw and intense feelings, and when under such an emotional war it’s almost impossible to exist without desperately clinging to a state of numbness for survival. i miss feeling.

when i look at myself now, in this season of life, i see a woman, who so desperately wants to be alive again. a woman who wants to believe in love and goodness. a woman who although endured a painful truth, is constantly looking for hope and clings to it like its the very life preserve that pulled her out of her dark truth some time ago. i am a woman full of wounds, yet still i stand.

– Jenna Graham

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“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”
-TS Eliot, East Coker, Four Quartets
It was 2am and I was sitting on the floor next to his twin bed the first time he ever answered me. It was dark and he was sick. I asked if he’d like me to stay awhile, until he fell back asleep. “Yes,” he said. The shock of the word felt a little like being plugged into an electrical outlet. “Would you like me to rub your back?” “Okay.” And then I cried as quietly as I could, cried and smiled, until he was snoring the way that children do, in grunts and squeaks. I barely slept that night. And if I did, I was still smiling.
My husband figured it out before I did. “It was the dark,” he said. “No faces to read or sensory input. Just words. He could hear you because he couldn’t see you.” And he was right. We had stopped seeing the speech therapist six months before. I’m not sure how to explain it. It does not seem significant to you, I know: “Yes,” and “okay.” But it could have happened differently. It could have not happened at all. So this is the story of how my son and I began to talk, there in the dark, where there had been only silence. And this is also the story of how the answers only found me when I learned to stop expecting them. This is how I learned to love the dark.
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Even though I called them it from the moment they were tucked inside my womb, they were never really mine. The older my children become–the more I am in this amazingly humbling role of Mama and then Mommy and then Mom and even, on some days when emotions run amuck, Mother–the more I realize they were never really mine. They are on loan…entrusted to me for a short time to nurture, protect, advocate, love, pamper, support, guide, discipline and disciple…and then they are supposed to be sent on to who and where they are meant to be. Yet, they have become my Achilles’ heel…that one sensitive place in my heart that will forever be vulnerable.

In the darkness of having a child suffering with cancer, this truth is painfully yet lovingly seared into my heart. There is Someone who loves him more. There is Someone to whom he really does belong.  There is Someone whose goodness is never changing in the midst, in spite of and even if… My son was never meant to live on this earth, in this way, forever. None of us are. That is my Light in this darkness. That is my Hope when I feel the constriction of my throat. His Light is like a beacon in the dark abyss that wants to drown me. The gratitude is deep that it only takes a little bit of Light to illuminate the darkness…to show me it is okay to let go…or hold on.

Please do not misunderstand me…to live in hope while everything seems dark is not an easy task. It makes for an intense cerebral game of thrones…which thought will win the prize this hour? Live in the moment. Do not dream too far ahead. The hope is not in what I see but what I believe to be true. Do not be afraid of the darkness or the pain…it is a part of living. I live with tears ready to burst from the rims of my eyes at any moment; yet, seek deep belly laughs daily.  They both co-exist in my world lately and it is okay.

My darkness has taught me to trust deeper in Him…to release the chains of control I gripped so tightly…to gratefully offer back to Him what He has given to me…to know that the pain is never wasted…and there is an immense amount of freedom in that.

– Kristin Young

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all the keene girls wear lipstick. or rather, most do. okay, at least my mama, and her own. when the babies were around, my grandmother was sure to wear her deepest berry shade, so that when she grinned into their faces and singsonged, “wynken, blynken and nod, sweeheart”, the big eyed round faces of her grandchildren were sure to smile back.

i usually go with an orangier red.

when she first told me about being committed, my grandma’s voice was factual and breezy all at once. like a weather woman. as if i already knew (i did not);  like being locked away in a mental hospital, six electroshock therapy treatments, (six children left at home), was as common a story as the ones about how great she used to look in a bathing suit or the time the she first met papa, on the beach.

i remember her face in the lamplight, comfy in her corner recliner; (the same one she swooned over regis and heckled kathie lee from); calm, still beautiful, serene even, as she remembered trying to escape, hiding in the morgue. IN THE MORGUE. how they found her from a trail of her menses. how they’d taken her teeth.

it was like a great retelling of a horror film.  i was transfixed and aghast. it seemed impossible.

ours was the family that my friends found movie-like. my mother and four sisters all lovely, all talented, all a bit bigger than life. the photo of them setting up a faux french restaurant for their parents anniversary; one aunt the quiet designer, one the sultry entertainer, the two youngest, servers in chiffon aprons, my mom the maître d’. we kept this up as extended family, putting on productions each new year’s day. many years we were together; all six of grandma’s kids and their own, and we’d dress up in exaggerated costumes, usually performing a little ditty, depending on the theme. the “hawaiian” year, my dad and uncle wore leis and a paper canoe and sang don ho’s “tiny bubbles”. the year we were musicians, my mom was (of course)  tina turner, belting out about what love has to do with it, and my siblings and i lip synched the B-52s.  just a few years before the night grandma told me of losing her mind, the theme was “japan”, as several of us had hosted exchange students, so honored their recipes, wore gifted kimonos, and ate cross legged on the floor. grandma showed up as a sumo wrestler.

it was all bright lights and terribly entertaining. just don’t look behind the curtain.

there are pages and piles of these images in my memory. it’s taken years to suss out the contrast of these pictures with the truth that lived behind them.

when grandma shared her story, the impressions of the family i was from turned watery; a mirage. more secrets, many still held closely. some of us would like them never to be spoken. some of us are learning to set them free.

secrets need the dark to grow.

as the truth (littered with dangerous men and deep instability) has leaked out slowly like a stain, i’ve been afraid the brutal would eclipse the beauty. we’ve been taught that mentioning the monsters in the room will wake them up. i thought we were never supposed to let the dark in, but maybe we are just supposed to beam light right in it’s big ugly face.

i still crank my head away from roadkill. i still let out the bugs. i still want to know everything, every story, but wish much of it wasn’t true. i’ve seen every episode of “the walking dead” and managed only to catch a couple zombies in the kill. i am excellent at closing my eyes or hiding my face. which is funny, since i think i hate the darkness, but gift myself just that, rather than seeing the ugliness that light sometimes reveals.

now when i slide hibiscus red on my lips and miss the same part on my bottom lip that my mama and maybe grandma did too, i think of all the opera voices and the dressing up, the grand hilarity, the making everything pretty. and i think of a broken young woman with no safe place to shout, of little girls asked to be quiet. i try to stare deep into the depths, and know i’m channeling the complexity of being “us”. all that’s true is that we’re here. that we are made up of the twilight and the sunrise, the nightmares and the daydreams all together.

light needs the dark to be noticed. darkness can be survived. one seems to need the other to be recorded. so it’s okay, necessary even, to look straight in the face of both. and peering back is not just who you are, but the legacy of the dance of these things in the people you love, all swirled together. composing your life.

 – Amy McMullen

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It’s been weeks since my mom died, and Abby has moved in. When she is gone I sneak into her room to try on our mom’s glasses. They rest on a shelf just inside the door. Heavy and thick. They call to me. Beckon.When I learned that she had them, I was overcome. Angry. Bitter. Such a tangible part of our mother. Those final weeks all we did was take them off and put them back on her. Adjust them. And now Abby has them. I would come to find peace with this, eventually, but not for a while. Not now.Around the corner I creep, when Abby is at work, and gingerly pick the glasses up. I cradle them, stretched and fragile from years of wear. I close my eyes and press them against my face. They feel cold and heavy, the lenses much thicker than my own.Walking light and timid steps to the mirror, I realize that if I strain hard enough, pull my hair back away from my face, and look just the right way – I can see her.Other times I grab her comb. Red, and plastic. Thick. For weeks it smelled of her. Of a scent so strong and real. Of hair and shampoo, and body and life. Inhaling deeply, slowly, I begin to feel a sense of calm. Like a drug, I need more, and more, and more.

Soon though, the scent of my mother begins to make me uneasy. Sick almost. It’s too real, as though she should be standing here, but isn’t. This physical presence is so near, too near, when I smell that red comb. Soon it gives me a stomach ache and I have to stop visiting it.

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Struggling, like a fish in a net

When the harsh, bloody mornings come back

Light stark smacks you in the face

You’re sure you can’t. You’re sure all you need is to curl in the damp

Because no one knows the half of it

And can’t ever get it, even if you try to explain and detail line by line (But who wants that kind of sodden sadistic play by play)

So you’re left again

Alone with the weight no one else can bear for you

Flapping wings tied down fins busted and bruised

You know there are upsides

And up days,

Shiny balloons to lift you sometime

But in the dark

All you wish is that everyone would stop talking about them.

– Brooke Schultz

lb

Recently my four year old and I had a conversation about bottomless pits.

Thinking about how dark, scary, and never ending it would be,
I said, “Ohhh, I wouldn’t want to go in there.  There is no end.”
With her small voice she responded, ” We would dig and dig and dig and dig and dig….through the center of the earth.  And then we would dig some more and then we would come out on the other side of the world.”  She’s right, we would come out…or rather we will come out of this “life pit” on the other side. Somehow…with broken nails, tear stained years, and enveloping darkness we will come out on other side…standing and in the light.

Calgary Family Photographer (Photo by Dana Pugh) danapugh.com

This time of year, much of my life is spent in darkness. We go to work in the dark. We come home in the dark. There is very little light in our life. So, as a Canadian, I have had to embrace the darkness in my life. There have been times when the darkness threatens to snuff out the light. When it has felt like I would always be there. Like a long winter. Stuck bumbling around trying to find my way out, but then I would remember to look for the stars. Amongst them you will find hope. Hope for new worlds. Hope for new beginnings. They shine like beacons calling me forward. I am grateful that, in the darkest of darks, I have always had someone grab my hand and show me the stars.

 – Dana Pugh

Monica Calderin-a chorus-the dark-autism-february-2016

I whispered into your ear the other day as you came and sat on my lap like you always do so that I can give you tickles on your back and arms, “I am so sorry that I am failing you.” It was completely heart felt and uttered out of desperation. Desperation that I have been feeling for some time now. I no longer have the answers; maybe I never did. I always thought as your mother that I knew exactly what you needed. You have never uttered a spoken word in your entire life and yet, I thought I knew.

I find myself reaching, trying so desperately to find new answers. I want to help you, but I don’t know how. You are getting older and this new road we are walking down just seems so very foreign to me. It is so very dark and uncertain and I’m scared. Sometimes I feel like I cannot breathe. Help me son. Show me.

When you bite your knuckles and punch your head out of frustration what is happening? Are you mad, sad, frustrated, anxious? I cannot imagine what it is like for you to have your thoughts locked in your head without being able to put words to your emotions. Do you think with words? I do not know. No one does. I am so afraid that one day you may have a pain or urgent request and I won’t be able to help you.

When you wake countless times in the middle of the night did you have a bad dream? Are you thirsty, hungry, cold, scared? I am so sorry that out of my selfish need to sleep all I want to do is scream. It must be hard for you too.

The obsessive compulsive behaviors make me insane; clothing on and off, on and off again, and again, and again… is it ever going to stop? So many unanswered questions. We have to keep everything locked down. The doors, cabinets, drawers, you will eat yourself into oblivion if I let you. Do you ever feel full? Surely you could not still be hungry. You have no concept of danger. I fear I will lose you. Twice already you have gotten out the front door and in a panic we have found you down the street, once completely naked.

Stop. Don’t judge.

Unless you are living this, I promise you do not understand, and that’s ok, how could you? I never imagined this either. Depression can be a bitch.

I’ve always thought, “As long as you are happy that’s all that matters.” Now I wonder if it’s enough. Is it enough to just be happy? So many labels: autism spectrum disorder, mental retardation, chromosome disorder, epilepsy. I’ve tried your whole life to not define you by those labels and in many cases have succeeded.

You are a beautiful, unconditional loving young man and there are so many light-filled amazing things that make you uniquely you. When my days are at their darkest, I try to focus on the good. I’m fighting for you Matthew, I’m fighting, but lately my fight is a distant cry from what it used to be.

– Monica Calderin

briana

I let ghosts take up residence in my being.
I believed this was Love.
spirit nestled in with spirit
fantasy of merging and fusion

It was a sickness

To believe that I am not Enough.
Alone.

There was immense suffering.
fallacy
false highs
falling from heights

no more.

I take up all the space in my being.

– Briana Cerezo

The Dark - Niki Boon

I don’t know what it is about the dark that fascinates me, as much as it scares me.

I am not sure of it is the shadows or what they hide.

The stories , the history, the unknown and the yet to be known.

My dark, my shadows, my stories are as present as everyone else’s, just there in the background.

Over the years stories have revealed themselves from their depths.

Some…memories, arriving unannounced , uncalled for,  sharp and painful. Others woefully tender , revealing a story so deep and so gut-wrenching that it can only revealed in parts and never completely.

As I spend more and more years on this earth , I realise I am not alone with my shadow stories, we all have them.

They companion us all, making our lives richer, giving us more to talk about , dream about , write about and weep about.

I don’t fear the shadows as I once did.

I know now ,they add to our story, our life story, the one thing we have that is all ours, that no one can take from us, the only thing we have at the end, and all we take when we go.

So I stay fascinated by the dark, I continue to be drawn to and photograph the shadows and their stories.

– Niki Boon

jolene bresney

Life is a seesaw, the blade of balance never quite right. Fear of failing, suffocating all her might.

Taking refuge in corners, tucked far away, telling others to go, but secretly wishing they would stay. Hiding hurts and failures, stories never told, hoping the pain would dissipate, rather than unfold. Her voice and self crushed by the words and actions of others, no shoulder to cry on, not even her mother’s.

There’s safety in seclusion no one has a say. Hope and dreams can flourish or slowly drift away. Broken promises and never quite belonging, scarring her soul, carving an empty longing.

She filled it with “stuff” and temporary pleasures, each time less fulfilling, void beyond measure. She fixed her sight on creating art, telling her story, just not from the start. Picking up the pieces, crafting a new beginning, this is life, her way of winning.

– Jolene Bresney

holly d

there was a time as a child that I was very afraid of the unknown. but having looked into the abyss head on, it has taught me that roots rarely grow above ground. there is mystery in blackness, a germination of soul and consciousness, realizations of our possibilities and the fear of physical pain and loss. light cannot exist without the dark, but there is no satisfaction in the grey areas, and without this variance, there is no reflection.

– Holly Donovan

britt

I’m new here.

I just earned my Mommy badge three weeks ago, and have since been in the throws of endless spit up, farts you can’t trust, and having my hands pooped in. I’m learning about things that bring comfort to this beautiful creature, and feeling my heart melt in the newness of my momhood when just the sound of my voice or my cheek next to hers can settle her. Many middle of the night tears have been shed as I struggle to find our own unique rhythm in breastfeeding. My insecurities, and self doubt have reached new lows that have the power to break me in some moments. God, it’s so hard.  It’s hard to be needed so fiercely, but it’s also so wonderful. The fact that no one can comfort her like I can is both suffocating and divine. “It’s all about the little victories!” they say to all of the new parents, and I finally understand that concept entirely. I am now a believer that the little victories along the way have the ability to fill the darkness with an abundance of light. Those little victories are rich and bright and filled to the brim with delightful enchantment, and I got to watch one of those little victories as a quiet onlooker last night. Music. It’s been such a joyous element that connects my Dad and I on a profound level. There are so many songs that have the ability to take me back to such vivid and wonderful moments of time spent with him. So when I come around the corner from doing Sunday dinner dishes to take in the sight of my Dad holding our sweet sweet Josephine, and Van Morrison’s Moondance album is playing on the record player, I just have to pause. I have to let my eyes fill with water as I remember dancing with him in the living room of our old house as a little girl. I let myself think about years down the road when I tell her this story, and years after that when she tells this story, and years after that when maybe she finds herself dancing or swaying with her own baby. The little victories, they truly do heal the battle wounds of all the poop, and all the pee, and all of those late nights and tears and darkness.

– Britt Hueter

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In a momentary fog, I stand on thin, dark ice.

The frigid pool below is fear.

 I begin to slip.

 I hear my baby crying, only he’s not a baby anymore.

 It reverberates in my ears.

 Make it stop! I yell.

 Then I hear the drum of the door slam.

 More shrill crying.

 A good memory is overwritten.

 And takes away one without a picture.

 I regret the sound of my beastly reprimand.

 I feel a bitter chill: it’s resentment.

 My stomach whirls in melody.

 The endless refrain. If only I’d refrained.

 These notes wrap a dark veil all around us.

The crescent moon is waxing.

 It reveals a river connected to streams.

 At first unseen, but THERE.

 I feel a hug, long and tight.

 A new lens rests in my hands

 One that may connect us more deeply.

 Looking through, I see light, and find myself again.

 – Cate Wnek

(C) Summer Murdock | Photographer

I don’t like the dark but just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean I don’t have to deal with it. The dark is uncertain. It requires me to blindly put one foot in front of the other without knowing where I am stepping or where I will end up. It’s a place where fear and uncertainty thrive. A place where that voice in my head is constantly yelling “Go back to where you started.” or “Lay down, curl up in a ball and just give up.You are not worthy and completely over your head.” It asks me “who do you think you are?”

When I am in this ugly, dark place, if I look really, really hard, I can find bits of light that illuminate my path just enough to give me the courage to take just one more step. One. Step. At. A.Time. One. Step. At. A.Time. One. Step. At. A. Time. Pushing though fear. One. Step. At. A.Time. One foot in front of the other,  Eventually the dark gives way to light. It always does. Always. The light may not always stick about for long but after being in the dark, the light is the most refreshingly, peaceful, joyful relief I have ever felt. So as much as I hate the damned dark, I am grateful for the perspective it gives me.

– Summer Murdock

brooke schmoe

She picks her scabs at the breakfast table
crying because they honey dripped off of her toast
and onto the floor.
Her sister will drag a blanket through that later on her way to find me,
sore, bent over a sink full of crusty dishes. She needs me to button her dress.
And to retrieve a marble from the bottom of the bathroom trash can.
She rubs it against my cheek
presses it into my eye sockets while I wait on hold
and feed the baby
and try to remember what I’m planning to do today.
Early motherhood.
I am performing these mundane tasks on the planet Jupiter
where my arms are as heavy as logs
and I might suffocate if I don’t remind myself to breathe.
Out here they cling to me like heavy magnets.
Gravity, heavy, pulls them onto my lap,
and into my bed when it’s dark.
We lay here fused together like four little molecules floating through space,
wondering where we’re headed
enjoying the view.
  • Katrina - Wow this whole post moved me to tears. This is something so very special and just what I needed today. Thank you everyone. Sincerely.ReplyCancel

    • Amy Grace - It really was a special and honest collection. I am so happy it moved something in you, Katrina.

      – AmyReplyCancel

  • Meagan - I do not think in my entire 42 years of life have I ever read such powerful words….understood so clearly each and every word and felt each image. An Amazing and powerful collection.ReplyCancel

    • Amy Grace - Meagan, your comment makes this even more worth every hour spent. What a beautiful and generous thing to say. Thank you…ReplyCancel

  • Becs - So so much beauty here!ReplyCancel

  • Ingrid - To open up like everyone has so beautifully honest and raw means so much. You wrote about darkness but let out so much light.ReplyCancel

  • Amanda Voelker - Thank you for this project, Amy. I find so much community and solace in this honest and heartbreakingly beautiful chorus.ReplyCancel

    • Amy Grace - amanda, i could not have said it better. thank you, so much. and i would love to have you.ReplyCancel

  • Annie Otzen - What an amazing post. I don’t think I could ever express how much I love this project.ReplyCancel

    • Amy Grace - and i can’t tell you how much your words mean. it feels wonderful to write and share and put this together. and it feels equally wonderful to know it’s been heard. love to you, annie.ReplyCancel

  • Sharmilla - Because words remain my first true love, even over my passion for visual art, because truth and honesty continue to compel in a world full of carefully crafted facades, and because the stories of mothers and women are so important, for this I am totally smitten and grateful for this project.ReplyCancel

    • Amy Grace - sharmilla, what an amazing compliment, and testament to why this means so much to me. thank you so much for being here…xxReplyCancel

  • 8/52 » STUDIOBLOOM ♥ PHOTOGRAPHY - […] was featured here among a few creative favorites from around the world. The subject we were asked to contribute was […]ReplyCancel

  • jessica uhler - just. beautiful. thank you all for being so raw and real and shedding so much light on the darkness. you have transformed it, or begun to….keep working and making and truth-telling.ReplyCancel

  • What I have to Say » Monica Calderin - […] just written a blog post for Amy Grace’s “The Chorus.” You can read what I wrote here. This is a photo project that is a collaboration of other artists/parents coming together and […]ReplyCancel

{Last week, some unseen force moved me to revisit these pieces. It has been eleven months – of tornadoes and losing faith and home and security, of being skinned emotionally, of having the thin veil of protection fall away, left with love and desperation. Love and Desperation. A complete sentence, the most human parts of us, a good place to start again. And as always, I stand by these words…}

This is a project that has been burning a hole in my heart. We all sing our pure and shaky and earnest songs, to ourselves, our kids, our pasts. We sing because we need to hear our voices out loud, because it gets lonely sometimes, because it hurts, because the joy cannot fit in our bodies. Mothers are always and never alone. I want to focus on the never part. I want to hear the voices together. I want to start a chorus.

– Amy Grace

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I cannot remember what it feels like not to be a mother. Like you can’t unknow some innovation the world gave you before you were born, or the pain after a heart sliced in half, we can’t forget who we are now enough to completely remember who we were before.

But oh, was there a before. For all of us. We were little girls dreaming of boys and horses and saving lives, making wishes on 11:11, choosing between the abstract lotteries of “love or money,” making our original mistakes when we knew we were making them, writing songs as pure as hope and actually singing them to someone, getting lost in imaginations that felt more safe than escape, learning that the worlds of our girl friends are more exquisite than any romance in the world, knowing to want to be something bigger than we were, remembering years by the ideas we devoured, feeling the first tingles in our solar plexus, with wet hair and cigarettes in our hands, learning that first kisses meant last everythings and never enoughs, being in love with something or someone we yearned for but couldn’t quite place. Until years later we realized it was ourselves, in bloom, full of all that might or might never happen, on the verge of everything.

We can get used to anything that doesn’t stop our hearts. Until our hearts live outside our bodies, fused with new ones, in the fragile, caged walls of our children’s chests. And the dance becomes a dance for our lives. It isn’t until then that we become desperate for the tribe we know is there like the ghost of our grandmother running through our blood. Real, if silent, always present, awake with the fevers and wheezing, and stretches with no partner or money or heat, the betrayals that knock out jet stream winds and lives and hope like downed wires, the questions so embarrassing we blush over the phone asking them, the wanting so much to share the overwhelm that defines and unravels us. We want to share like tea and food and lines committed to memory, the poetry that comes to life when words aren’t enough. It’s not that we want to hurt together, but we want to be allowed to hurt together.

I was twenty six when I became one. Hers. By the far reaching standards of this planet, it was older than most girls get to be, but in my lassoed circles, I was the first. The hurt of getting her here was the most alive and awake I have ever been. I screamed like a terrified, drowning sailor pleading with the storm to back down. We are split in two as an initiation into the forever splitting in two motherhood gives us. The man at my side was the most intense thing I knew before that small hours, snowy March night, and the wide moon eyed girl that woke up my primal heart. He got more intense, more dangerous, my love for him was its own storm, but no match for my wild love of her. She took over, swallowing every want that didn’t match her need. We planted ourselves in safe ground and cracked together, into new light.

There is not only one kind of mom. We are not all married, nor do we need to be. Some of us have never been and never will be wives, some of us have one, some of us lost ourselves to being one to the wrong person, believing someone who didn’t even believe himself, years worth of life’s weaving in the pull of a single thread. We are not all happy or completed, we are unfinished, yearning, spilling over with gratitude and terror, young, old, sick, and strong. We are broken and taped back together with anything we can find to mix with capital L Love. We are as strong as this love. We are trying harder than we thought we could.

Many of us are by accident. I was, twice. Accidents can be hard and miraculous.

Some of us were mothers. I can hardly bear to type it. I watch my own pull herself out of dark soil every day with this weight.

We are all daughters, caught in a forever in between of what we aren’t and what we wish we were.

We are all the real deal. Or we can be. It is a matter of peeling back the layers, skinny dipping with our insides, without a screen, a robe, hindsight. If we all countdown together and say the thing we are most afraid of saying, at the same time, I will bet my precious messy life we are all still standing together afterward.

My right now is the inverse of my daughter’s – that breathless charge of possibility building in the air around her. I could drink it with a straw. Just like I long to drink in her baby smell through time. I feel the negative image of that, chattering teeth, shallow breath, squinting to see some dim candlelight in the deep thick of the tunnel. Still knowing there are infinite tunnels with infinite ends and infinite kinds of light. I feel the teenagers watching me hold the hands of my little boy and his friends, wistfully and with distracted pity. “Her life is over,” they think,  getting everything and nothing right. And I have countless conversations with other mothers in which it’s as if we were never teenagers at all – rated PG when we are all starving for R, telling the happy ending story when we all just want to spill our bloody truths, as if our kids are listening when they aren’t close enough, as if we are all as put together as we want the world to think, as if we have forgotten the Before while setting up the picture for the After. Every time, wanting more.

The mother in me is the most forgiving and most exacting to myself. I have gifted both of my beautiful souled kids fathers who failed them. We think we know the value of self forgiveness until we face something like this, staring us down every day. When I say we, I mean me.

We learn that it isn’t black or white, or even shades of grey. It is every shade of every color all at once. We are saved by the right slant of light, in which we see their faces, making something singular, pure, and clear. The real hand to touch your own and pull you to a dot on the timeline. To make life linear for a second when you’ve gone nebulous, from solid to gas, dispersed in molecules so far away from each other there is no glue you believe might hold you together in your suchness. Our kids do this, necessarily, miraculously, without therapy or play books or medicine. The invisible thing that binds us, the collective, sharp inhale that we never release is something we all know; they will always reach for us, and we will always have to be ready for anything. My five year old boy said to me a few weeks ago, “Mommy, I think I know what you are talking about when you talk to Poppy and other people.”

“What sweetheart?”

“Loving me,” he tells me. And he gets it. He has the quick of me, electric and soft at once, the part of my spine raw to everything, fused to him always, without any surgery.

What will I tell them? What can any of us tell them, in truth and kindness? About a world that drops out under your clenched toed feet. Most of the time, I don’t know – the end points, the how, the what if’s. But the why is the clearest, most solid thing I’ve felt. Them. That most of the time, the fog will lift. Reverse gravity, a pyre of their troubles, becoming air we can take into our lungs and use and exhale. Cells of it will live there just like the lungs of our babies – traces of them in our hearts, our bones, our brains. I always say motherhood changed me on a cellular level. Maybe metaphors do come true. Everything lifts, yes, everything dies and resurrects. And no matter the loss, you will fall in love with the world again, always be changing, always everywhere to me.

– Amy Grace

pamela joye

We arrive naked and shattered 

yet whole. 

 The mother carries us from a dark comforting place into an unfamiliar light.

The father takes us forward with strength and protection.

And I don’t mean to imply that these have genders for many stand as both mother and father.

 Mothers and Fathers can help us to navigate the tangles of the world. 

They can invite us to stretch our arms and reach for the skies. 

To fly high and wide.

 But while they teach us to live in the world, they often dismiss the purity of a young soul spirit as we arrive much closer to the source.

 It can be a messy business 

for some of us land like butterflies trapped in layers

the strands of the past, 

the knots of the present 

tangled up in a web that dims the colors of the future.

 I once attended a forum filled with 200 or so people. At one point, the instructor asked all those age 20-25 to stand up. He then asked those of us sitting down to consider that these were our parents. Looking at the faces, I understood in ways I hadn’t before.

 Mothers and Fathers can take many shapes and emotional forms. 

But when I dig through to the underbelly   

They are the whisper that carries the echo

The leaves that soften the thorns

The stem that nurtures the bloom

– Pamela Joye

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This life is lived in a constant state of ebb and flow. A life lived for a child, a partner. But also for a self. I strive to hold on as pieces of myself drift off into the body of them. I reach for what remains, giving up the rest. Not all is lost, for I too am gifted bits of a self that are not my own.

We are each our own selves, trying to understand and accept what our life is. Yet we grow together. Learning, searching, guiding, living and loving together. And still, separately. We are individuals, taking one another along for the ride.
Though the memory of what was given always remains. For when we are apart there is yearning. A hunt begins. A search for the fragments of light that may only be reflected by those who possess them.
You are you and I am I. But you are forever of me and I of you.
kirsten mckee
early rise, peach-tinted dawn; soft air and the thrum of possibility. we pack our picnic while anticipation blooms. the sun ripens. it’s a long drive; a blur of motorway and wind turbines and clouds burning away and the blue sky, the rush of air through open windows and singing ourselves hoarse and one too many sweets. laughing at nothing. laughing at everything. then the rush through the sand dunes. his hand curled in mine. joy made sharp by the sting of beach grass and the cackle of gulls and the slap of feet on wet sand. we dash into the cool sea, shrieking each time a wave hits, emerge sopping wet and itching with salt. sun on the water. gold horizon. him and me and me and him. we lie breathless on the warm sand and i can almost hear his heartbeat, just barely out of sync with mine. as if we share a pulse. gleaming with happiness, the eyes of son and mother, mother and son, shine.

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“Who we are and how we engage with the world is such a far more accurate predictor of how our children will do than what we know about parenting.” Brené Brown.

I’m the mother now. And yet I don’t have all the answers.

My father left when I was little, and yet I turned out okay. Sure, I sometimes feel like I’m never good enough and I have a tendency to try to be perfect in all things, and I’m sure some therapist out there would tell you that’s because my father left, which left me feeling not quite worthy of staying for. But overall, trying to do things really really well isn’t the worst thing in the world.

But now, as a mother, I think about how I want to be in this world as their mother, what indelible memory I want my children to have of me as their mother, and what I’ve come up with is that I want them to know that I will never leave, that I will always have their back, and that forever and always I am happy to be their first phone call. But I recognize that in order for them to want to call me in the first place, there needs to be more than a status-relationship, mother and child, there needs to be an actual living feeling breathing emotional give take honest truthful relationship with all its highs and lows and in-betweens and love, always love.

And what is that? “Love is making a safe place for another person to be fully themselves.” Henri Nouwen.

And that for me is the crux of it all. I want to truly see my children, individually, for whom they really are. Not for whom I want them to be, not for whom I think they are, not for whom they were last year or two years before that. But today. And tomorrow. Standing before me. Sitting next to me at the table. Who is this person? I want to listen and be curious and accept each of them. I want to look into their eyes and truly see them. I want them to know and to feel deep into their soul that they need not hide here, that everything is okay, that you will be loved. That here with mom is safe. That mom is home.

Nothing else truly matters in this world to me. And if I don’t get it right today, I’m trying again tomorrow.

– Aileen Reilly

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her hands are my hands are my daughter’s hands.

strong, capable. veins like little green rivers, skin like butter and butcher paper. and that ring she wore, that sterling silver dogwood ring, the one I can’t ever remember not on her left middle finger. on that day, she took the hands of her mother, my grandmother, and they danced. grandma’s cheeks, fresh with rouge, a creamy coral dabbed on just before mom slipped the strand of plastic yellow beads around her neck. this was the ritual. I watched from the edges, willed myself to ignore the faint intermingling scent of urine and lysol, concentrated instead on the faraway radio sounds of dolly parton and the two dancers in the room. they lit up the place with that dance, spilled light into the dark corners of the nursing home, the ones nobody likes to talks about.

in two short years, just one year after her own mother, she would be gone. how could I have known she would be gone? in those last days of her life, I held her hands in mine, sat by her bed while she slipped in and out of that deep place morphine takes people when the pain is too much, the cancer is closing in and the world is about to swallow them whole. I sat by her bed and held her hands, television flickering in the background, toddlers and tiaras and wild gypsy teenagers on repeat while my worst nightmare played out in real time. I held her hand like she held mine on the first day of school, the first day of dance class, the first time I had my heart broken. I held her hands they way she held her own mother’s the day they danced. I held her hands and pleaded with her to live, quietly, desperately, to please, please live, pleaded with God for the miracle of all miracles, begged him in messy, shameless ways over and over again.

a few months after she died, I found her jewelry pouch. there it was, tucked beneath a tangle of polyester camisole slips and snagged pantyhose. all my favorite pieces were there– the bracelet with the silver charms she’d collected while traveling through europe in college, the oval locket my dad gave her for christmas one year, the one that held our teeny tiny baby pictures, the collection of bangles with the real turquoise stones and the ring. good lord, the sterling silver dogwood ring. as much a part of my mother as the small crescent-shaped scar on her cheekbone and those amber brown eyes. I slipped it on my middle left finger and gasped. there she was. in the shape of my hand, my fingers, in the color and texture of my skin, in the way her signature ring looked on my left hand. she was as close as my left hand, I could see her, feel her any time I stopped to look down.

my daughter’s hands are nothing like mine, nothing like my mother’s. her fingers are long and slender, her skin, smooth by comparison and fairer in complexion. her hands are the hands of a concert pianist, though interlaced with mine, the differences fall away. she held my hand my through those months, the the before and after, held my hand when I shut down, pushed everyone else away. she was quiet but sure about it, acted with the same gentle tenacity as her grandmother did for so many years. her hands are my hands are my mother’s hands. and she’ll slip the silver dogwood ring on one of these days. she’ll see me, feel me, remember her grandmother. she’ll look down and she’ll know. we’re with her, always.

– Andrea Jenkins

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mothers and fathers are not told at the hospital that having that brand new baby will come with the darkest moments of your life as well as the brightest. they are not told that they will feel their children’s disappointments and pain as though they were their own but magnifiied times a million. and they are not told that no family escapes those moments — that its inevitable — that you must watch your children fail for them to succeed. that sometimes you have to hold them as they grieve and that in worse times, they will push you away and hide their troubles or pain. you will see them struggle and know the outcome through your life experience but yet they won’t listen to you or learn from you, but they must learn the hard way always and you must watch. that they will throw away the best opportunities and do the stupidest of things. and that all your hard fast rules and great parental ideas will fly out of your head and be useless in the face of such times. and as an overly optimistic person, i can easily showcase this in rainbows and say that there is always a bright side (which I do believe in my soul). but i also know in my heart that having children can be very painful and can force you to see yourself as you truly are and not as you wish you were. my children have broken me. but broken me in a way that makes me more human and more able to be compassionate and to love and be loved.

– Wendy Laurel

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there is this chipping.

chip, chip, chipping away.

nagging. irritating.

annoyance that one, perhaps, cannot even imagine before the pick hits ones ice-y hard.

i am melting. and sculpted by the second. from all directions, it comes at me.

no solace… no socially acceptable option for a clean escape.

could i bare one, an escape? telling my whole mind, bliss.

i have become. dripping with cold. shimmering in dust, shavings, dancing-s. could I have this written my wildest dreams?

crawling and caved, my insides. each scream, torment, each small, important question reminds me, i exist.

through frozen time, in magic.

and still i close my eyes. pause. silence.

more space i have inside… more breath i have. to hold. to swallow. to exhale.

to exist.

– Katy Tuttle

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Journal entry from a cold December

Rough week on the motherhood front. A few careless comments in regards to how I’m not as great of a mother as so and so thinks I should be. Blah, blah, blah. So on and so forth.

Tantrums, tears, and the like. It’s how childhood and adulthood seems to be. Call me childish.

I tried to fight back. Outings, sweets, and home cooked meals. Climbing the giant fig tree and ripping cat tails into heaps of snow. We skipped rocks saving the smoothest to line our pockets.

Ah, but some days are meant to drag out. 4:23 pm. Signing off to go win this battle. Some children are worth fighting for.

– Maryanne Gobble

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Your birth still echos, ringing in the faintest of places. A chant leaving bruises I can’t seem to bandage. We mothers tend wounds where violets grow.

Girlchild.Mother.Bride. Each strung round my neck with great care. Yet heavy as tires on my skin. This life of being split in two is forever. I look out the window and see myself flapping tar soaked wings into the purplest light. Fleeing. Then I notice — you are flying with me.

You wrap your long fingers around my face in the darkness. Fingers like string. I whisper, “You’ll do better than me at this. Your heart is softer than mine.” Your eyes melt into the pillow. And I rest my heart against yours. I smell spring and soot and hot sunshine. We lie on a bed of moons. And are one.

– Roxanne Bryant

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Us Solars are going through a really rough period of life. Having a son who’s been sick for 2 years and not knowing what it was has been so stressful and horrible and anger inducing. He was finally diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, and not only does he have it, but one of his sisters does as well. Two kids with cystic fibrosis. Dealing with a horrible insurance company. Closing up shop on a few businesses, not failures, just not helping us support our family. We have been planning a trip to Europe for the past 3 years. We were going to be there for 5 months, adventuring all over with our family. Learning so much about new cultures, and just enjoying one another’s company. We had the plane tickets booked. We had the car leased. Max was supposed to be healthy by now so we could go. Our businesses were supposed to be making the money we need to have the time freedom we so desperately crave. But life swooped in and had other plans. Jenny + I always tell each other… “We don’t talk about doing awesome shit, we actually do awesome shit.” So, life telling us we can’t do awesome shit makes me a bit angry.

And, yet, I can’t help but see there’s so much good happening in our life. Since Max’s diagnosis, he’s put on over 15 pounds. He’s been off antibiotics for longer than he has in the past 2 years, and isn’t showing signs of getting back on them anytime soon. He’s got the energy of a 10 year old boy back. He can play baseball again. Blessing. Ava’s diagnosis came early enough that she never had the major problems Max had to deal with. Blessing. The closing down of businesses that didn’t serve us has opened up the space to create something beautiful that is filling us up and is showing signs of momentum that will carry on to (hopefully) be our path to time freedom one day. Blessing. This whole process has led Jenny + I to connect on much deeper levels. It’s forced us to get really clear on the life we want to live, the way we want to parent, the people we want to surround ourselves with, and to say NO to everything that doesn’t fit into that plan. We’re so much closer than we ever have been, and that’s saying something since we’ve been together for well over half our lives. Blessing.

There’s so much good, and it deserves to be recognized. People keep asking me how I can be so positive given all life’s thrown my way, and to them I say, no other choice makes any sense to me. I get angry, frustrated, stressed out, true. I lose my faith and hope from time to time, true. So I sit with those feelings for a bit, and then I get up and push forward. I must keep pushing forward into a deeper love for life and those around me. A deeper love for Jenny, for my kids, for my friends and family, for myself, for humanity. I can’t control what cards I’ve been dealt, but I always have a choice in how I react to them.

I want my kids to see the full range of human emotions. Lord knows we’re living it. I want them to know I’m not perfect and I’ll never be perfect. I don’t expect them to be either. I want them to know my flaws, to see and experience them, and I want them to see how I move through those flaws to a place of love. A place where I can bless others. A place where I can be grateful for all the messiness this life is, because it’s such a beautiful messiness. That’s mothering and fathering to me. Being real. Being vulnerable. Being honest. Being loving. Holding tight onto one another and doing the best we can.

– Josh Solar

Jennifer Potter Chorus web

I want you to feel all of the magic of the Earth while it is still magic to you. My hope is that if you know it this way, you will always love it….. you will always see the wonder and beauty in the simplest things it offers. In difficult times, when I can not hold you,  you will find yourself comforted by the feeling of the wind and the presence of the ground beneath you….. and you will find the strength to carry on.

– Jennifer Potter

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In their freedom, in their wild abandonment of societal norms, I find my own permission to exhale, and be the woman I was placed here to be.

– Michelle Gardella

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make of my heart, a nest.

some of my earliest memories are of looking through the sears catalog and circling toys and pretty dresses. i circled them not for me, but for the babies that would someday be mine.

i’d sit around on the scratchy tweed couch at my grandma’s house with a kickball tucked under my shirt, pretending i could feel a baby growing inside, pretending i could grow someone to love me in the way a lonely four year old needed to feel loved.

…and now, with four children in the nest of my heart, i find myself thinking, often, of that little mama bird of a girl. and how she dreamed a wonderful life for us.

– Angela Hendrix Petry

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I didn’t stop loving my husband when my children were born, but love – in general – became redefined. My love for my children was all-consuming and nothing in the world seemed to measure up to the love I had for them. Today, four years after my first and two-and-a-half after my second, that love for them is still all-consuming, incomparable.

I paid less attention to my marriage in those early days as my new motherly instinct took over. I didn’t love my husband any less, per se. Rather, I had one little man whose life literally depended on me and one grown man who was more or less capable of caring for himself. And so my attention went to my son. In hindsight, it’s all so strange. You spend your young adult years dating and searching for “the one” and then, if you’re lucky, you find him and choose him to be your husband. Some time later, if you’re lucky again, you give birth to a child who you don’t really know at all. And suddenly you forget all about the one you’ve chosen and become totally enamored and enmeshed with a complete stranger.

Before we knew it, there were two. Having a second–especially so close to the first–has a way of knocking you over the head, repeatedly. Our world became much more chaotic–not necessarily all at once, but gradually. Everyone says your love multiplies and, while I agree with that (with a few asterisks attached), I would say that your attention gets divided. Suddenly, my husband fell further from the front of my mind. I didn’t nurture our relationship like I once did. In fact, at times I even resented what seemed to be inequities in responsibilities for our family. I had envisioned entering motherhood as a team, as equal partners, and the reality of it was that my life felt more heavily impacted.

Thankfully, our marriage didn’t suffer. I can’t say that this was a hard time for us or that we fought a lot; there was just a lot of adjusting and sorting and trying to keep our heads above water. Life continued on and eventually we got our bearings as new parents, while the negotiation of our husband-and-wife relationship continued in the background. At many points in the chaotic shuffle, I’ve looked over at my husband and felt overcome with gratitude. He is my partner. I get to navigate this madness with him.

Today, we’re back to going on dates; Not always as often as we’d like, but definitely as often as we can. Just him and I. And it’s wonderful.

– Ashley Jennett

Posy Quarterman Photography, www.photoposy.com

Will you stay in our lovers’ story
If you stay you won’t be sorry
‘Cause we believe in you
Soon you’ll grow so take a chance
With a couple of Kooks
Hung up on romancing

We bought a lot of things
To keep you warm and dry
And a funny old crib on which the paint won’t dry
I bought you a pair of shoes
A trumpet you can blow
And a book of rules
On what to say to people
When they pick on you

‘Cause if you stay with us you’re gonna be pretty Kookie too – David Bowie

– Posy Quarterman

rebecca coursey

who knew, stumbling upon this life of motherhood, i would love it so fiercely.

nothing else has defined me as much and nothing ever will define me more.

i am sure of this.

as i watch you gallop away into the arms of adolescence, i hold back little sobs of joy. you love. you will be loved. you are fiercely loyal. you love to argue your points. you are slowly becoming a man.

as much as i love this, i would, in an instant, turn back time to walk down the doors of your childhood once more. drink cup after cup after cup of cup of tea made in your pretend kitchen. bake with you, play dinosaur with you. hide out in forts with you and camp again under the stars knowing that all is right with the world.

in my dreams, i sit on the edge of a long pier. my feet are dangling off the end and as i stare off into the expanse of the mist and layers of fog lifting off the lake, i see that i have worlds of unknown lives to still live, but i don’t ever want to take the plunge, i don’t want to heave off the end of the pier into the water, i don’t want to stop being a mother to your littleness, i don’t want you to be big and me to be older. and as much as i don’t want it, i know it will still happen, even if i had ten more children, it would never stop you from leaping into the unknown of adulthood, and me watching your ripples slowly slip away as you swim out of sight.

– Rebecca Coursey