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. parents 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.
when death was hot and close and romantic. yet, so faraway you invited it into smoky rooms with just your eyes, a dare. we knew nothing of nothing. some crack of ourselves, opening up to humid nights, unafraid of the dim stars. the world spun around the turntable of our tight, never to be repeated harmonies. it’s what i daydream about now, from deep in my solar plexus. forget diamonds and mortgages and smooth skin. i want someone to sing with. there is no saving up the light for the long dark.
back when we were real. the dna of now. boys you knew were boys, when they had three whole years on you. every favorite book folded and marked until there was no virgin sentence. music that would have the power of smell, twenty years gone. wishing to be nocturnal, expectant, reckless, sucked dry like honeysuckle. my best friend at fourteen, long and golden, waiting for the beginning of led zeppelin’s ‘thank you’ to start, before she would light her cigarette. “they punctuate time,” i always said. like we needed that. like i knew something i would need more life to figure out. the instant we wanted something we swallowed to come up, before it changed us, our baby sense showing like roots of grey now. and now it can take years to realize, woozy limbed and stricken. the damning mistakes within the rulebooks. time we remember on our skin, perpetual summer or ice. we felt it. we felt everything. we thought life would be the magic to turn ideas to flesh.
finding it again, at close to thirty, on a starry northern night of open sky and hungry hope. chills and sweat and promises, against dirt roads and pine and the sleeping colors of indian paintbrush upon my ankles. a campfire that couldn’t last. the smell i swear still lingers in my hair. growing up and motherhood couldn’t share a lifetime, a planet. that i would have to choose. a broken heart for the heart outside my body. wine coursing through me, like a memory, so light i could see myself from above. getting smaller, a spiral of smoke. then growing a hard spine.
burning a sheet of paper you woke up in the dark to write. the sharp thick of it, lost to the looming morning. the lists, the needs, the living outside of ourselves. losing passion to find love. leveled to the ground recalling our once lightness.
my daughter is as brave in her own mind as she is in her own skin. she rides the surface, holds it in deep blue eyes, and mimics my waves with her dancing hands. she rode the giant swing of a pirate ship every day of our east coast boardwalk summer. her face impassive. the obvious joy but the holding it in like a deep breath. ok with it as her own. knowing that is all we get to hold, of anything. watching her, all of the proving we are brave feels tired. that we are the ones who don’t cry. living for the pictures we make. my dad said to me this week that we all have three lives. our public lives, our private lives, and our secret ones. growing up for me has been letting it spill. the three circles moving into one. the solid truth i find when speaking is like breathing. when honest is automatic. less constructing, more becoming. my joy lives there, studying the creases of my face in its mirror, the lines that came from worries and smiles. it doesn’t matter now. i don’t want them erased.
i want to say to her, “just stay. where you are right now. where we are. together. we can just keep staying.” we will and we won’t. i know and i don’t. but i hope, and am storm weathered, and life takes flight as i love her like nothing else.
hers will do the same. and i will watch her fly, pull at my own hands behind me, willing them not to clutch at her heels.
we are all time machines. bleeding, full, and breathless.
There once was a little ducky, her parents were really quite sucky.
She never met her Dad, and her Mom was a wreck, she was left to her Grandma to keep her in check.
Her Grandma got sick and died rather young, so from a young girl a woman then sprung.
Lessons were learned really quick, and many mistakes made her skin kind of thick.
With no guidance life can be confusing and scary, the weight of the world on her shoulders she’d carry.
But she kept moving forward and tried to be strong, didn’t wait for a prince charming to come along.
She was true to herself and owned what she believed, didn’t let anything stand in her way to achieve.
She created a life that’s different than where she came, but she owns her past without any shame.
To life we all have something to add and to share, love openly and proudly and treat others with care.
It can get rough at times and you will want to give in, sleep it off, open your eyes to see a new day begin.
I don’t pretend to know all the answers to life, I’m just a girl from the Midwest, a mother, a wife.
But I’ve been to that place where you feel all alone, I’ve known heartbreak and sadness and from it I’ve grown.
Always pick yourself up and move on, and soon you’ll see the little duckling become a swan.
my own mama was a ghost in her living breathing body, a shadow that flickered on the periphery of my childhood walls. i grew up quick and fast so as to try and unravel the quilt of worry and fear she quietly pieced around me, afraid of suffocating in her attempts to keep me safe. before the end of my teen years I leapt clumsily into the arms of a naïve and tenderhearted man, and swore I’d never be like her. i would live, damn it. i would relish life, savor all the juicy plump bits, suck at the bones until I found the sweetest pockets of marrow. then he was born. and then, her. and him. and her. born through me in all their beloved delicious frailty. and born with them was a desperate longing to keep them whole, protected, safe from all harm. born with them was the beginning of understanding my own mama’s clenched hands. these days i’m well aware of the cool mist of my own ghost, rising up and out of my weary mama-frame, hovering. clinging. longing to be there to catch them when they falter. for their growing up cannot be slowed, only witnessed by eyes softened with awe.
“If you think your heart is ready / Then open your heart and let it fall
But if you keep on hiding from it / You’re not going to live your life at all
‘Cause if it’s love that you want / You’ve gotta give me more than you’ve shown
Because this sweet light of love won’t come down / If you don’t cry, cry to be found”
— Del Amitri
I can’t hear this song without crying. I remember the conversation clearly. She told me something to the effect of, “this is your song.” It hit hard, but she was right. I was hiding from it. From life, love, growing up. I needed to put myself out into the world more. But that’s a hard thing to do, at least it was hard for me (still is – can you feel my hesitation in these words?) I don’t know, maybe most people had it together by the time they were 26, but I didn’t. I mean, yes, I knew who I was to a certain extent – but there was a lot more growing up that needed to be done. I just wish she had been around to see it. To see me graduate law school and move to another state. To meet my husband and help me pick out my wedding dress. To be there when my boys were born and to know her grandsons, who are twins – just like she was. To see my interest in photography become an all-consuming passion. To see how she influences my life every.single.day. So, even though she’s not here anymore, I grew up. Maybe because of it. And that’s the hardest thought of all.
you’re still a baby to me… you in your jean jacket that you wanted so badly from target with windblown hair in all your glory as you look out towards a vast sky, you seem unamused. these middle years when you still haven’t lost your teeth and you ask me when you can get a cell phone in the second grade. i used to cry myself to sleep on the eve of my birthday every year only wishing i could be a child forever… you go confidently into this world like you own it. i love you for that.
My parents weren’t perfect- no parents are. But they provided me with love- pure, simple, truthful love- and that was the very best part of my growing up. They weren’t very sentimental with their affections, no flowery affirmations or tearful talks. They were practical; they worked very hard, multiple jobs each at times, but spent every penny and every ounce of leftover energy on us, their three children. We weren’t poor, but we didn’t have much in the way of extravagances either… an old VW bus (before it was cool) that honked every time you turned the wheel too sharply left, a modest home, meals cooked from scratch because eating out was too expensive. I often wore my brother’s handmedown clothing, and my mom never ever shopped for herself. I remember moments of embarrassment, distinct moments of realization that my family was different, and perhaps not enough- as I compared to my friend’s families, especially as I neared the teenage years. (Oh, how deeply embarrassed I am now at the terrible comments that sometimes left my lips.) Because, oh,… now, of course, I see how truly unimportant material things are in a family and how very full my childhood was because of the simple gifts my parents gave me. The vacations that involved nothing more than road tripping thousands of miles, sometimes sleeping on the side of the road, just to see wondrous things. The Christmases that felt entirely magical because of shared songs to my grandfather’s guitar and sprinkles on butter cookies and bible stories read aloud in my father’s kind voice, not giant gifts under the tree. Feeling deeply taken care of and loved and prayed over, each lost tooth and new accomplishment celebrated so very authentically. What a beautiful gift to grow up that way, and how lucky I was to experience this simple perfection of a childhood.
Now, my mom is gone. (it hurts, to type that.) I talk about her when I can to my boys, whispering memories into their hair or bringing up random thoughts here and there as we drive. It’s not enough, of course. I wish they could have experienced her particular brand of selfless love for longer. And I wish I had gotten the chance to fully thank her for all of the gifts she gave me. So now, I silently send up thank you notes, little thought-parcels wrapped up in longing, floating heavenward, as I care for my children. Thank you, I whisper, as I cut their nails after the bath- soaking in the feeling of their warm little bodies snuggled next to me, marveling over their precious tiny nail beds. Thank you, as I prepare their snacks, and thoroughly enjoy watching their little bird mouths move as they chew. Thank you, as I feel each of their fingers clasped in mine, savoring the sticky softness of their skin, as we walk along the beach. Because she taught me how to be a mother with my whole heart. I felt it every day. I was on the receiving end of being cherished, and now I get to pass that on. I know first hand that letting my heart fill up entirely with love for them as I do the little things is important, is valuable, a gift that will stay with my kids forever.
They left two months ago. To live somewhere where they could be taken care of.
The smell of them smacked me in the face when I walked in.
I was there to collect things. Things that would remind me of them.
No one told me about this part of growing up.
I walked past the mirror in their room. The mirror where the reflection was once a toddler me. And a teenager. And now a mother.
My fingers grazed her earrings in her jewelry box. The photograph of her daughter that has always sat on her night stand.
These things, collected for decades, in a house that was no longer a home.
What I want is what I can’t have.
The smell of the night in West Virginia on Christmas Eve. A peck on the forehead before bed. The tingly feeling I had in my stomach as a child, as we drove up the hill, almost to their house. The smell of mail pouch on my grandfather’s breath and the stubble on his chin you felt when he hugged you. The vision of my grandmother in my review mirror waving until we were out of sight.
Why can’t I have that? In a box. To open it up when I miss them.
These are the things I want to hold.
She’s ten. Her imagination and ability to dream and create is limitless and inspiring. She’s slowly getting more and more eager to become a teen. She’s intrigued. If she could only understand that once you cross that line from childhood to young adulthood you can not really go back. You can still live fully and feel wonder but it’s never the same. There’s really nothing that compares to living like a kid. I would love for her to have a few more years of that and keep watching her be such a colorful little girl. I know I will probably not be ready to let go then either but she will be.
Scabbed elbows and knobby knees. Strawberries and clotted cream and yellow evening haze in the summertime. People stayed outside until the evening stretched thin. People stood at the edge of their lawns, hands in their pockets, socializing. More than a howdy. More than a hello. The neighborhood watched our back, kept us safe. Now we stay indoors, connect over synapses that don’t require anything more than taps of our fingers. I don’t understand how the world goes from smooth to tangled in a minute. I don’t understand relational shifts, familiar structures eroding under the passage of time. These moments are pebbles accumulating second by second. Into years. Into a weight that tips the scale until the balance is all wrong. What is right? It’s a mess. We climbed trees without thinking of falling. We sat on the curbs and watched bugs. It was simple. Understandable. Able to fit in our small hands. People said hello. In the summertime, we biked along dirt paths to drink out of cold, frosted glass mugs. Now if we want to get coffee, we call. We plan. Two weeks from today? Great. She’ll probably cancel anyways. My friends weep over broken families. My friends worry about what to eat. My friends shake their heads, cross their arms, and stand next to me without words. We’re young and already wrung dry. We’re young and already carrying unwieldy worlds in our arms. We play the game of shrinking, of becoming small, of being okay, of feeling everything and nothing at all, because hell, if that isn’t what the world taught us.
If I close my eyes, I am sitting on the edge of the sandbox, eating frozen blueberries out of my calloused palms. It’s good. The woods around me are green and quiet, the sand damp from rain, and an ant scuttles through the veins in the fraying wood. My fingers are blue. My lips are blue and I think how beautiful I look with lipstick. I am eight, maybe nine. I don’t know what a calorie is. I don’t know a house being anything less than a home. I don’t know that life doesn’t always fall into place for the good guys, that it’s less good guys and bad guys and more people all bumping into each other, trying to figure this breathing, beating thing out. A tangle of arms and legs and smooth skin. Feathery hair. I have a cowlick and a widow’s peak, round cheeks and freckles splattered like paint across my nose. I am eating blueberries out of a white bag and they are cold and sweet on my tongue.
Surely, life is good, I think.
Time slows down at night. Your growing up becomes softer; it loses the sharp edge of years that fly by and melt together like scenes from a fast-moving car window. Your body, stretching with motion and hunger during the daylight, shifts back into child’s pose, curled up on your side, fingers drifting casually through my hair. We speak in dream voices; you share stories and look to me for meaning. I listen, quietly learning, re-discovering.
Before you give in to sleep, you ask me to banish the bad dreams. I place my palms against your head, silky hair weaving itself around my fingertips, and I say, “Bad dreams out,” cupping my hands and tossing them out the window. I then take my hands and press them to my heart, place them back on your head, and whisper, “Good dreams in.” Your exhalation breaks the stillness.
I check on you before I surrender to my own sleep. The blankets thread themselves around your sinewy limbs, a light sheen of sweat settles on your forehead. Your chest rises and falls in tandem with my own, and together we swim against the current, upstream and onward.
growing up has taught me that pretty and perfect are not synonymous.
it’s taught me that outside beauty is transient; beautiful minds are much more fascinating.
material possessions mean nothing.
fuck keeping up with the joneses, filling voids with store bought items, trying to impress.
walking around like a celebrity with secret tummy tucks, matching luxury SUVs, and the $200k travel trailer sitting in the driveway that you can’t really afford.
wanting people to think you have it all together, every minute of every day.
and compromising who you really are to fit in.
fuck being replicas of each other.
it’s all so dizzying.
vulnerability and transparency.
shedding layers, peeling off masks.
knowing what’s really important.
learning lessons the hard way.
being more aware then ever.
realizing happiness is a choice.
noticing the inside before the outside.
not worrying about what other people think.
letting light shine in through the cracks.
growing up is getting to know myself.
it’s learning to love my whole self, imperfections and all.
it’s being intentional.
it’s about compassion, understanding, patience and love;
especially for the ones tattooed on my heart.
it’s being 36 and happily choosing to sit at the lunch table alone.
it’s a journey of manifesting inner peace.
it’s knowing that when it all comes down to it,
all we really need is love.
In my mind it was my own personal terrace; a balcony of sorts. A fire escape that was exactly that..an escape. I grew up there, learning lessons you can’t learn from the inside. It allowed me to hear the music of the city, Donna Summer..Oh Billy Joel the horns …kids shouting requests for ice cream money..all in unison. Each claiming their own voice a little louder than the next.
It started the summer I received a box of some rubber pads that you’d put in the sun and whatever you’d place on top of it would leave its mark. Not having a backyard meant I’d have to find light by a window. It wasn’t any fun doing so from the inside (it never is) so I stepped out onto the fire escape. It became my backyard. A place for summer experiments involving magnifying glasses, sticky gum and whatever else I could get my hands on.
The next summer it was all about the boy who lived two floors down on the 3rd floor (an older man by elementary school standards). That summer my “terrace” allowed me to have a place to string down professions of love..only to string up heartbreak when he replied “you’re too young for me.” (Something I wish I’d hear again).
There were summers when the bagpipes wouldn’t stop playing on Monday’s. I’d watch as people paid their respects to the fallen firefighter or policeman at the church diagonally from our building. Not all my lessons were good ones. Sadness sometimes prevailed.
Each summer I grew up a little more on that fire escape despite my mother’s disapproval. Her adult eyes didn’t allow her to see what I saw. That was probably best. So I chose to see when she wasn’t around. When she was home I’d merely peek out the window. When she went to work my feet couldn’t wait to feel the hot metal slats under each toe…or the sun on my legs slathered with baby oil.
I had grown up there but like all things, you grow and then you outgrow. My days of looking for adventures from the fire escape had come to an end. On my last day of living in New York I gazed up to take one final look at the 5th floor apartment I had spent 18 years of my life living in. There in that fire escape window were my beautiful parents tears in their eyes waving goodbye as I left for bootcamp with a lump in my own throat.
The best flesh of me
transplants seeds with dimpled hands
a chance of heaven
tangled weavings and wild words escape. clinging and reckless, left behinds slip from the tongue, my tongue, with ease. frightening…
i smile and “heh” all the while at that “dropping in” of time. a tick and tock, rarely heard. but heard with trumpeted force.
I know a sad helplessness of want and need. and it is murdered on the daily. by the hour and often minute, too.
And will… still clinging. still reckless. still a slipping tongue.
hanging on. in.
goosbumped and wallpapered is my inside skin. tender to the touch, aching.
and i am happy. and marching.
and still aiming high.