The Chorus: Childhoods

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 nine year old blooming. Before you knew your body would betray you in a year, 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 inhabit their own lives. 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. 

babyisabel

Isabel Furie

Beth Urban_chorus_childhood_

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.

beth2 001

Beth Urban

roxanne

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.
deb
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.
debchildhood

alexis

Saltwater in the veins.

alexiskid

Alexis Munoa Dyer

elainep

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.

elainechildhood

Elaine Palladino

Samantha Kelly Photography-9032

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

reachtree-1

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.

BabyN-1

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

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