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 and fathers 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 remember sitting in a bath gone cold. Looking at my body like it wasn’t my own under slanted Spring window light, tired inertia following the war, gluing me safely, briefly in time, knowing my parents were watching my tiny girl downstairs, our lives changing at the speed of light and I couldn’t outrun it. The police had come the night before. I had called them, surprising myself, trusting the last bit of instinct that hadn’t worn away. Barricaded in a bedroom, knowing the feeling of someone wanting to love me to death, and wanting me dead if he couldn’t love me, I had to face the end of the maze and bring out the sledgehammer. Done, a complete sentence. Leaving the madhouse didn’t turn the world to technicolor, but everything sparkled a secret that matched the deep healing cuts’ hurt. I cannot call it happiness, but it was the closest thing to a new page after cramming tiny, shocking stories onto a sheet i folded and hid in my pocket. It was the state of the absence of pain, after a life like a migraine, when every molecule of air has some quiet gift it slips in each breath. Pulling back the curtain and showing everyone the lengths we go to to put on the show, is maybe better than any standing ovation. How young I was, to feel so old; at twenty eight, knowing the in betweens of life and death, love and hate, streaks of silver through my hair. How lucky and heavy and free.

So many of us have to teach our lungs deep breaths. My first hits of peace were relative to chaos, my stasis is longing and worry and playing zone defense against fate. Or is it anymore? The stories we tell ourselves about who we are are more like soap operas than poems – we are unpredictable, episodic, prone to suspend disbelief and leap into new plot lines. We are changelings, we try as we ponder our aging reflections, happy by surprise, by accident. I am terrified to grab it, terrified by how i fall in love with the world – covetous and hungry and running through open hearted, ready to lose it all. But I know I will fall in love with special parts of people, throw lines out to the promise of another human being as frail and wild as me, and in that I put all of my scarce stock. Quite a lot of our joy has taken place in messes, in limbo, waiting for the crash, in other people’s houses, rooms we share, never dressed for the part, on a canvas I am waiting to paint over, on terms for which I apologize to the forever Joneses…but always awake to each other. We fall into rhythms of breath as we live and sleep side by side, metronomes with heartbeats, being each other’s lesson. I am learning.

I used to obsess over the exact moment we would go back in time and plot our getaway, kept it like a secret wish on birthday candles, holding it in my tight, dark palm so that it might come true. The minute I found out I was having a baby and knew she was my girl before the doctor, wishing it was on my own, seven pregnancy tests with sharp lines pointing to the unknown – that was the time machine moment. The two of us should have run in the opposite direction, me the cocoon, her the perfect winged angel. Before her, I wanted to find my line, my vector but I was nothing but tangled string, too loose to stretch, swimming in a honey vague dream to a lost mooring. Or I raced against the ghost of myself, my legs too human and slow and bound. I was sinking and flailing my soul, my sentences missing a subject. Some people add to who we are, others subtract. With each brush, each exchange, we are less. Then some people hand you a palette of color and ask you to paint the way love feels. That is her. We have nicknames for streets, times of day, people we’ve just met. We speak in a shorthand of poetry, cryptic and fraught and ready to spill over with laughter, sometimes even “kythe” like in our favorite, “A Wrinkle In Time”, reading each other’s twin minds. We drape our soft and loose lasso over as much of the world that will let us imagine it, blurring the line between us and them with language and hope and days gone wrong that we call ‘adventures’. You take the truth and flip it until you find the shape that makes sense, that solves your puzzle. In the searching and waiting it out, holding our breath with crossed fingers at our backs, in the trying way too hard, we are sometimes found: lucky, impatient for purer air, happy, with dust clouds and thick heads and tiny sweaty hands in our own. My girl reminds me that “our best days can be someone’s worst. Our worst days can be someone’s best,” swimming in the same cloudy soup, becoming it as we dip in our toes and dissolve.

For my kids, there is no serving up of the perfect that I chased blind my whole exhausted life. But love is practice for love, especially love for which you’ve fought. We find the luck in our situation or move the hell on, find courage or know where to find it. We swim through, inelegant and sincere, getting stronger by the stroke. And the further we get on, the story of love in our lives turns out to star our friends and family. If you are uncrossed stars lucky, then maybe not. But you are lucky either way, closing your eyes to watch the sun dance in its warm, fluid colors across your closed lids, just maybe having someone’s hand to hold. It’s all there, from the inside out; in that last second, I hope my words are ‘thank you’ and only that there is a person I love to hear them.

My four year old asked me about death a couple of weeks ago. The shock hit him hard and vast and lonely, eight thirty at night, sitting on the potty, his sister singing in the shower, the inside joke shorthand we use to talk about our days filling the small steamy room. “I am going to DIE? YOU are going to DIE, mommy?” I cried the invisible melting tears of a parent staring down a long day and dark eternity. No band aids, no promises, no solid answers, only love forever and ever. That’s how we fight it, I told him, and let’s fight it together, for anyone we can help. And our new plan, about which he reminds me on the daily: “we come back as ghosts together, and we haunt each other.”

We are never going to make it out of the world alive. Gulp. Exhale. The best of us, the most loved, the most hungry, we are all mortal, in all our raw disbelief. And there is the great tragedy and freedom we share, and have to turn into light, mouthing the words “I’ve made it.” It shocks me electric and deep when I can’t sleep, just like it does you. And I hope it stays with me, the poker at my back the next day.

Here now, worn down, wizened, and wiser, leaking tears and light, the silver lining is spilling out, tripping over itself comfort that can’t be contained in the zipped up, scripted, grown up day; the clear space sharpened, awake, stripped to the quick. It is showing up to the cocktail party and knowing you get to be exactly, frankly yourself. It is being honestly okay with any picture of myself because hey, it’s just my face, not my soul. It s a heavy thing with the strongest wings the world can build. It is that I am not going anywhere, no matter the strength of the itch, the buried over fifteen year old roar of longing, the mistake from which I want to be forever away, the darkness in me without my kids. The silver lining is that they know this, firm and vocal and sure as gravity, and fear for the person who gets between us. The silver lining is that we get to do this together, to be alive and broken in pieces and mended by the glue of time and sewn together grace. We get to choose our tribe and love it fiercely. As we clean up messes we forget ourselves and find ourselves too. From the rear view mirror everything is laced with silver, getting smaller, feeling bigger as we leave it.

– Amy Grace

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This separation of father and son is not what I thought it was.

I am becoming someone new. And so is the boy who had to leave. He isn’t the same as when I held him. He isn’t how I remember him. He is so much bigger now.

The eyes in my head cannot see the ways in which we remain together. My turn to be held.

A vision. Given to anchor me in this time of frequent lifestorms. A foundation. A launching point. A hundred-thousand-milestone. Sung into my being, carried across the dome. Like the biggest rainbow, vibrant with the pulse of thunder. A vision, seen through the eyes of another, voiced in confidence and bewilderment.

Glimpses of beyond in our midst, as real to me as anything my hands have touched.

I am moving again in life, glancing back at this new milestone. Remembering. Supported. One step at a time. Move the smallest piece on the chess board, one space forward.

And trust.

– Jeremy Brown

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It’s Cancer.

“Excuse me? Wait, what?!” (did he just say what i think he said?!!) I think that is the first thing I said, and thought, once they told me the news. Because even in the days before my diagnoses, when I was going back and forth to the doctor trying to figure out what was going on….never in a MILLION YEARS did I think they were going to tell me I actually had Cancer.

And then I cried…I cried more than i think i have ever cried before. I cried for my kids, for my husband, for our little life that I love so much….because life as we knew it was now over, or so I thought in that moment…..and it was for a while. The truth is when people say Cancer sucks, they are right. Treatment is awful. Recovery is awful. Those are the hard truths. But, with all of that awfulness laid out in front of me there was an amazing feeling of comfort that all would be okay in the end if I just pushed through.

And in the days that follow I watched as my girlfriends come to my house each morning to gather my kids and take them on an adventure for the day….so that while I was having a “bummer summer” they were playing and laughing with their friends, distracted from what was going on at home. I watched as people near and far brought my family dinner each night for months…people, some I have never met in person, made sure all of our basic needs were taken care of so that all I had to do was make sure I got to my doctor appointments each day. And so even though I was deep in it all I could think was WOW….HOW LUCKY AM I to be surrounded by so much goodness and love?!

Things are not always good but the truth is there is always always something worse. There is a time to wallow and scream and yell and feel sorry for yourself. But life is short and really what good is it going to do you…feeling sorry for yourself will not make your situation different. Thinking postiviely may not make your situation different either but it’s a hell of a better way to be.

So my only choice was to pushed through the dark clouds…and though retesting is not done until November…when the doctors told me I could resume normal life, 4 weeks after my treatment was over, I picked up right where I left off…like I had just woken from a nightmare…the sun was shining, it was a new day and I awoke on the other side with more perspective, more love, more gratitude for my friends, family and the normalcy of of life!!

– Tory O’Leary

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When I was younger I thought, “if I just get to this point in my life, I will truly be happy.” Or, “When I’m married with a few kids, a home and a dog, I will be set. I will have everything.” I never expected some of my loneliest days to have been as a wife. Some of my most selfish moments to have been as a mother. I didn’t expect to still be figuring myself out at 30 years old. I didn’t expect to, some days, not really like the person I am at 30 years old. I also didn’t expect to love her as much as I do.

Life is good. Life is heartbreaking. Life is a crying while watching The Notebook for the millionth time. Life is the goosebumps you get when you lover gives you that smile that made you fall in love with them. Life is that lump in your throat when you see strangers help each other. Life is death of loved ones. Life is betrayel. Life is not having expectations of how life should be but seeing the silver lining in the moments that make you feel alone or misunderstood. Life is always going to give you beautiful days. Life is all about the journey.

– Becky Earl

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how does that quote go? the one about becoming stronger. oh yeah. “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” that one. i call bullshit. sometimes life gets to be so much that you cave. and some people never get back up. depressing i know. but here comes the feel good part. it doesn’t matter how weak i feel. no matter how lost i get, you never stop searching for me. life keeps on getting messier, crazier, deeper, fuller. but through it all you find me and i find you.

– Heather Robinson

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I listen as my mom explains to my grandmother for about the eighth time in two hours that my grandfather died over a year ago. My grandmother is already in high amount of distress because my grandfather “isn’t home from work yet.” He spent their marriage as a NYPD Detective. It was dangerous work. When he didn’t come home on time, she would fret. On this particular day in Maine in October 2014, she is reliving that distress. On top of that, she can’t find a phone to call him at the office, and no one there will give her the phone number for the police department (she can’t remember it). She also can’t figure out why her mother (my great-grandmother) hasn’t stopped by yet because she promised to be there, and in fact, hasn’t been there in days and no one will tell her where “Mama” is (my great-grandmother has been deceased for 21 years).

As she hears my mother say, “Mom, remember, Dad died last year,” my grandmother caves in on herself in pain, reliving the loss of her husband of 70 years all over again. “Why didn’t anyone TELL ME?” she cries. “Mom, we did tell you. You were there. You said goodbye. We had the service at the church and lots of people were there…” And fifteen minutes later, the same conversation is repeated anew. As if it had never occurred at all one thousand times since my grandfather’s death in April 2013. Sometimes it’s easier to answer that dad is at work. He’ll be home later. He called, everything is okay. He loves you and will see you later.

I suppose the silver lining is that she doesn’t remember this conversation each time it occurs. To her, it is only one conversation. But to be in that deep anguish over and over again throughout the day, day after day, and to be a witness to that pain, well, sometimes it’s more than one can bear.

My grandmother tells me she’s not happy. “It’s too much. Everyone is leaving me.” She moves in and out of reality. She wants her wedding photo removed from the nightstand — she recognizes her husband of 70 years ago, but isn’t sure who is standing with him. “Why did he give me this photo?” “He’s married someone else in this picture and no one will tell me who she is.”

Yes, my grandmother is still with us.

But then again, she isn’t.

When the literal silver linings of her brain, her gray matter, began disappearing taking my grandmother with it, the metaphorical silver lining disappeared as well. There are three remaining photographs on her nightstand — one of her which I took only 4 years ago, she is alive and vibrant, fully herself and only occasionally forgetful; one of my aunt, only 59, who recently passed away in May, six months after receiving a lung cancer diagnosis; and one of my grandfather who I photographed 4 years ago, one of the last portraits of him when he too was fully himself.

I suppose the silver lining is we had that time four years ago. Because that is the time I want to remember.

– Aileen Reilly

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I am not one to see the silver linings.

Catastrophe and missing pieces I’m quick to spot. The world comes crashing in every moment, cars smash and doctors call, homes are lost, children walk away. It’s always been hard for me to see through all this mess to the joy running like a thread through it all.

But here he stands, five years after his older brother slipped quiet into my arms. Five years since I handed his brother’s cold body to the nurse – nine months growing, hours birthing and then my baby was gone. Five years and here stands the one who grew inside me two months after I scattered his brother’s ashes in the sea.

He stands like he has conquered the world for me, and he has. Spiderman mask, and sometimes I think that could be his brother’s face behind it. But as he grows tall, speaking his own words, holding me when he’s scared… The more I know he never could have been Joshua, and Joshua could not be this blond boy I hold now.

My baby born five years ago is gone, and this child I hold is my silver lining. He was always ever, only him – Jeremiah, sent to rescue me.

– Sharon McKeeman

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​I had a conversation with an old friend over a few beers this weekend. We haven’t seen one another since our grad school days. Since then, our paths have led us different directions and as much as I wanted to hear about all of her latest endeavors (which were no doubt more exciting than mine),  she was the one overflowing with questions for me.  “Tell me everything about being a mother to  your sweet daughters, your ‘baby birds’,” she said.  She wanted to know what it was like, how it was done. Oh , how disappointed she must have been when she realized I didn’t have the answers for her. I wonder as much as she does about all of the other sweet baby birds of the world and how they’re  being cared for. I wonder about the ones caring for them and what it is  that holds them together. “I don’t know if I could be a mother,” she went on to say, “it would be hard for me to  bring life into such a broken world.” I paused. The truth is, I am a doubter too, a grasper of the glimmers, a weary soul that needs rest. Sometimes, I feel as if there’s a veil right in front of my eyes that I long to have removed so I can see clearly- to  breathe peace in and out. But, just before this doubt consumes me, I remember that there is such a beautiful silver lining  to living in this world full of veils. It’s not one that we have to create ourselves or conjure up through our own merits but one that is powerful and speaks of a real, freeing hope. I told my friend to take heart, I told her that there’s a  silver lining that breaks through this broken world and that while it can be hard to see, it’s real and worth seeking and if a doubter like myself could find it in my daughter’s eyes then who knows where she’ll find hers.

– Elizabeth Koehler

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I spotted a penny on the ground this week but I didn’t pick it up. I just left it there.   “Tails you lose.”  Yet as easily as I discarded that penny, I spent a dollar on the office lottery pool.  The “sure” bet remaining on the ground.

As long as I can remember I’ve always stopped to make wishes when I spot a dandelion.  Just something about closing your eyes and embracing “possibilities”, each one waiting to be given life with just one breath.

I realize that often in my constant praying and hoping for some things to get better I forget to live in the present.  I forget the right here, the right now. ..the small stuff , the real stuff.  So busy reaching with both arms stretched out wide grasping high for better, it blinds me of the very silver linings gently poking at me right now.

Better has to be today…despite how unclear today may seem.

As I sit here writing this I realize that on my saddest  days there have been silver linings present everywhere.  Little bits of promise peeking their heads whispering “hey you  …look over here.”

Silver linings disguised in the smell of my daughters hair brushing up against my nose at night  as I wrap her up in just  one more hug before she goes to bed.  They manifest themselves in her piercing uninhibited laughter down the hallway, Husky in tow when all I want is just one quiet moment to think.  It was there the very day I miscarried again as two small squishy hands held out a board book waiting to be read appropriately named “Dónde Está el Bebé?” ..”Where’s the baby?”

They constantly come in the form of reminders … they’re constantly disguised as her.

Seven years ago I arrived at the hospital a few hours too late.  My father had died. I was completely out of breath from the shock of the news and the race to get to him.  My train broke down and I never made it to his room before he had to be “moved.”  The last place where we would have our final one on one was the hospital’s basement morgue. There I found him peaceful with a crimson kiss mark on his forehead. It was my mother’s shade.

It was a gentle reminder that she was still with me and that I needed to be there for her. Although I still carry the open wound of someone who has lost a parent I know how very blessed I am to have had the father I did..and the mother I still have.

Silver linings manifest themselves into the people that I love but just as often in the kindness of strangers I meet.   They are the true hope.  They never make promises of a storybook ending. They don’t make promises at all.  They just make me take notice and realize that it’s time to start living life right now just as it is.  Penny in hand.

– Ingrid Rivera

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Their shoot was supposed to take place at a giant waterfall. Majestic and wild. Instead I got sick and couldn’t stop throwing up. So they came to me and we made magic in my backyard. Sometimes the silver lining isn’t poetic or grand. Sometimes it’s just enough. And that’s enough.

– Michelle Gardella

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It’s all in their hands. The one whose caresses I’ve felt when my skin glowed with youthful promise and as my hips stretched with the weight of our unborn son. Those hands that I hope will trace the years on my face, lines traveling through the joys and sorrows of a life well lived. It’s in the growing hand wrapped around my finger squeezing helplessly just a few hours in this world and now leading me to the places he wants to go. Those hands that discover and grow. Those hands that made me a mom.

It’s in hands long gone, those of my grandmother wrinkled and beautiful who thumbs traced circles on my wrist when she held them. It’s in hands still here oozing with my mother’s strength. A strength I’ve relied on all my life. In my dad’s hands callused with work and sprinkled with saw dust. It’s in the hands of my sister that have held mine for as long as I can remember.

My silver lining is in these hands that have held me from my birth to the birth of the only legacy worth leaving behind. They are lined with hope and promise, connected by love.

– Elaine Palladino

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Going to fast for myself I missed
more than I think I can remember
almost everything it seems sometimes
and yet there are chances that come back
that I did not notice when they stood
where I could have reached out and touched them
this morning the black shepherd dog
still young looking up and saying
‘are you ready this time’

W.S. Merwin

When my brother passed he left behind a poloroid of himself with his handwriting
scribed that read ‘the time is now’, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Nothing good came from his death,
grief was the darkest hallway I’ve ever resided,
I took up a long twelve month residency there.
My only peace was that he no longer suffered
from addiction.
I searched for signs everyday and when I found that photo
I knew it was for me.

There is a silver lining in second chances.
His death allowed me to slow down and to take them,
his message forced me to pay attention, and
putting fear of not being good enough aside with not just photography
but everything else I wanted in life and going for it.
The time was now.
We are all terminal.

This silver lining came to me again during
my breast cancer diagnosis this summer and surgery.
Getting cancer in your 30s is not something you ever see
coming. There is nothing more frightening with four
children who love their momma but you can’t show your fear.
I can’t control my cancer, but I can fight it. I can’t control how many years
I have left earth bound, but I hope its many. I can’t control my fate but I can control my destiny.
I’ve never before in my life hoped to reach 75, because I always just assumed it
would be so.  As scared as I am with my health, I continue
to be fearless in all other endeavors, in my creativity and art,
my spoken words, my thoughts and dreams. Fearless is my new thing,
and I hope to make things happen on the first chance because I’m
going SLOW enough, that I won’t need that second. Unless it comes
in the form of recurrence.

I believe in life after loss, be it a brother or breast(or two).
I believe in love.
I believe in second chances.
I believe in slowing down.
I believe in soul bodies.
I believe there are no accidents or coincidences.
I believe in silver linings.
I believe in hope.

– Holly Donovan

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I used to feel alone–for the longest time and for as long as I can remember.  I vacillated between the desire to hide and yet the desire to be seen.  To be acknowledged, fully known, accepted, and loved, these were some of the deepest longings of my tiny and fragile heart. Even as a young girl I felt as if people knew me, really knew me, there would be nothing to love, nothing to esteem.  And yet the need was still there, so I did the only thing I could think of and that was to become excellent.  I felt as if becoming excellent (at everything) would at least earn those deep-seeded desires.  Striving for love and acceptance though is a tricky black hole.  One step forward, ten steps back and the ever present feeling of hiding as an impostor.  The same deceptive voice that told me I could work for love also told me that I wasn’t that smart and I wasn’t that talented; people would surely find me out.

Through it the identity of deceiver became my own with the constant thoughts, “If they knew.. if people knew… if anyone knew… If they knew who you really were… if people knew where you really came from.  If anyone knew…”  I just want to scream at the ridiculousness of it all!  The exhaustion, the vicious cycle.  The irony is that I felt so alone.  Yet as I’ve gotten older, wiser, more life-experienced, I’ve learned that so many people, women especially, feel this way.  Our stories and circumstances may be entirely different, but that mocking, deceitful voice tortures so many of us into hiding and striving, into a black hole that leads to internal death.

The silver lining in all this and every other one that remains present in my life stems from the realization of Truth.  Redemption.  Grace.  Realizing that love should resemble freedom and not a prison, a reflection of the love that abounds from my Creator.  Being acknowledged, fully-known, accepted, and loved… truly loved, the longings of my heart that were already mine for the having.  The birth of my daughter provided the right lens to see it and opened me up to feel it.  No need for hiding, no need for striving.  Love that flows endlessly, without condition; a beautiful promise that swells our hearts upon the first breath like unadulterated worship.  Really, I could not think of a more beautiful privilege of living.

Sometimes I still hear that old voice and often it’s easy to recognize and ignore.  Other times I have to realize that I’ve stepped back onto its train.  It’s the one that says I’m not enough, I don’t deserve, I don’t belong, I won’t make it.  It still tries to make me feel ashamed of where I come from, still tries to allure me back into hiding.  Fortunately the fix is as easy as stepping off the train.  Choice.  Freedom.  Empowerment.  Refocus.  I pray, delight, love, and find rest in all the blessings.  I think of them fondly:  my sweet daughter who broke the barriers and burst open my broken heart; my incredible husband who sees and wants all of me, who loves me so well; my amazing friends who have shown me what true family is, who know my story and are encouraged through it; and my Heavenly Father who called me out of hiding, who redeemed my brokenness, who believes in me above all others, who is my biggest fan.  Yes, they are the silver linings.

– Marla Cyree

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I wake up each morning with all of the bright and shiny hope of a fresh start. I move through my days, navigating all of the hills and valleys and twists and turns and tangles that come my way. And at the end of the day, as I rest my head on my pillow I work to let the tension of the day go, and the silver lining is that I get to wake up in the morning full of hope once again.

– Jen Downer

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You came to me in the space between child and adult, much closer to the child side. I remember when you were a baby—Nana was with me, teaching me to be a mom—and, as newborns do, you began to cry. I heard you, but the child I was knew my mom was there, that she’d respond because that’s what mothers do. But then she hollered to me from the other room, calling Mommy! Mommy! as though she were you. Whether she knew it or not, she was passing the baton to me. I was 21, and two weeks shy of graduating college. And in that moment I became Mother.

I remember our little one-bedroom bungalow with the cardboard walls in the hallway connecting the hollow-walled bedroom and living room… trying to hang pictures, but the nails just pounding into nothing. And that desolation paired with our spotless, white rug and perfectly fluffed pillows, our ceiling high Christmas tree, your sparkling nutcracker and your face on Christmas morning. And that hominess paired with the nights I may have skipped dinner so you wouldn’t. And that paired with the perfection of you sleeping each night in the crook of my arm.

I remember the first time someone mistook us for brother and sister. We were boarding a flight in Burbank and stopped to buy concessions. It was her, the lady at the cash. I kept waiting for her to laugh at her joke, but it never came. You tipped your chin up a little and gave me a nudge; you were nine. I felt a little bottomed out; it was the first time I felt our age gap narrow.

I remember your quivering lip, how you stopped cold and cried when you walked into the room and saw your sister for the first time, quickly batting your tears and wiping your eyes before gathering her in your arms in a weirdly natural way, and smothering her in kisses. She was 17 hours old and you were 10. You’d always been my sensitive one. . . but this?

I remember last week when the stick you brandished on our hike—which I’d thought was a walking stick—turned out to be your means of fending off mountain lions. How you lead the way, scanning left and right as your sister and I bounded down the trail behind you, stopping only if you heard something up ahead or to pull her onto your shoulders when she became too tired to walk.

That hour before sunset on a regular Friday night bore the moment I saw you trying to be my protector, not a child-explorer. You are 14, Francesca was three, I’m 36. My son, that May day you came to me all those years ago, you didn’t complete my world. You built it. You’ve shaped the child I was into the adult I am today. You are Me as much as I’m me. You are my silver lining.

– Kelly Sweda

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Silver linings, making lemonade, looking at the bright side. Sometimes lemons come fiercely raining and lemonade is abundant. Others the lemons are wasting away in compost bins. Last week I took all the silver linings out of my marriage and sat to discuss the business of divorce. How do you put a price on marriage, motherhood, giving up a career, a dream, my life? I spent the night prior reading letters written by my former love. Reminiscing on tender moments and wondering if i was making the right decision. Wondering if knowing the pain I was causing my son was worth it? The heartbreaking transitions from one house to another, the drawings from school every day of the three of us together in the same house, EVERY DAY. The undoubted knowledge of the love he has for both of us. I’ve spent the last 7 years protecting my son, shielding him from pain, and yet, I’m the cause of his greatest. Did I do all I could, should I have stayed for my son, was I to blame for all of this? The honest answer is, I don’t know. These are questions I will someday have answers to, but until then, I hold my sliver lining. His name is Lucca. He is 6, and tender and wild and loving and crazy. He is the best parts of me. I have protected him for 7 years and he is my reason to all of these questions.

– Heather Perrera

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The world is a mess in so many ways. It scares me and keeps me awake at night.  Worry, worry for my sons future. Poverty, hunger, lack of drinking water, climate change, hate, infectious disease, terrorism, population explosion, war and on and on and on. I feel we are failing our children and our parents generation has failed us.  Yes, I sound like such a pessimist, and I’m truly not.  I’m more of a realist I suppose, however I want to be an optimist! I refuse to believe that together, we can’t fix this broken world we’ve made. And if time gets away from us and our generation doesn’t succeed?  The silver lining is this kid right here. He and others like him.  My kid together with your kid and your kid and your kid.  They will not fail.  I have to believe that. Raised with love, that’s all that can happen right?  They will succeed where we have failed.

– Tytia Habing

  • Annie Otzen - So so so much beauty once again!! Thank you to everyone who shared a bit of their souls here!ReplyCancel

  • Carrie Geddie - So beautiful, again, and always much needed things to hear… xoReplyCancel

  • Breanna - so grateful to see this back this week, always so deeply personal, and so incredibly beautiful. thank you for sharing your heart with us Amy, and inspiring others to do the same. xo.ReplyCancel

  • Elise Hanna - Heart and soul laid out upon the table again this week. Beautiful in the darkest and brightest of ways.ReplyCancel

  • leah - lovely. always. xReplyCancel

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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Time has never felt linear. Years and memories and mistakes and love collect in nebulous clouds. I can’t trace it, I fall into it, wet and turbulent, with every color, and smells that beat a pulse. Like Janis Joplin fed out to her crowds, “tomorrow never happens, it’s all the same fucking day man,” and with family we swim in that long day, in communion, wanting the tide never to go out. We become the mythic soup, the love that pulls us under, blindfolded, where we are needed.  As alone as it is when the edges are sharp and jagged, we dream the same waking. We are all desperate for each other, and arms form smooth, unbreakable circles.

Coming home to the smell of your own house, after time away; it is as foreign and familiar as your face after anesthesia. Seeing your parents’ lines and angles and fingertips, in the arc of your children’s movements. Fated and gifted are the same fabric in different garments, born of common place: blood and grace and time spent together. All of us like riffs in a jazz ensemble, cadence and chorus, repeated and reworked, woven and fresh, thinking we’ve improvised, come alive because of it. I am already a ghost, scattered in our past, trying to breathe new life like the most stubborn mourner. I am squinting with white knuckles and blind faith into the future, hoping for karma and symmetry. We are known when we know, and if we are lucky, loved when we love. The best families are made up of we. The worst too. The most complicated and fraught. The ones wearing blinders, throwing distance and shade.

The way my four year old uses the word “intimate”, with a preternatural understanding of its context. I listen to what was carried down by hand in lines he sorted in utero, born to poetry in wails. I hear echoes of what I whispered to him about what is beneath the surface of the world; the plans of his becoming, written on his bones in code. A collective consciousness that always seemed so hypothetical and poetic is as real, now, as the full moon eyes the kids and I get from my mother.

 Our stories are ourselves, tiny and sweeping, stacked into our spines. My son stands staring at the gallery of his sister’s drawings in our kitchen: “I want to remember,” he says, memorizing her imagination. Like he feels my reverence for my own brother.  The way he could crash a car and do it with style, the way he did the best, open hearted drag impressions while being the only kid in his high school class to defend the one openly gay boy, his handwriting – an uncanny mirror of my daughter’s, the laughs he could conjure while we hung from the last threads of our ropes, his work ethic that matched his loyalty and strength, the scare of his brushes with death as a young man, which kept my breath shallow until the final shoe dropped. Our stories, our aches, the everythings of me that were folded into air and atoms when he passed his body on to the earth. There are so many stories I cannot forget to tell. The stories of myself swallowed whole into deep night.

What is left and what is becoming, with traces of that rich soil of being someone’s sister. The way we all speak without an accent, but for the voice of books devoured, my daughter like an old movie star, proper and surprising and deep with words. We make friends in body shops, grocery check outs, passing cars, open and of comfort. The legacy of humanism and never taking oneself too seriously that breeds a kindness you can catch. The inescapable fate of a life overly examined that trips and lifts. A propensity for candor and self doubt. A character my girl describes now as “quirky, wacky, and smart.” Nicknames when we have only just met, songs written to rhyme with new routines, endless words and notes. A vast reserve of patience and pain, gentleness and fight. The ever present possibility of a dance party, looming in love dense air.

And then the way we are caught by serendipity’s net, the same invisible spider web strings that stick to people we choose to love. The friends for whom you were lonely before you knew they existed. The ‘we’ grows like a ball, picking up layers as it spins.

Family is what gives you life. I have been part of a few. Sealed and torn and sewn with sinew and hope, mended and turned inside out. Born, flown away, grown apart, it is a rhythm that circles its way through crowds. When my girl was two we broke off from one, an iceberg of two, free and giddy, scared and sobered. We talked Sesame Street style about what made a family: sometimes a grandparent, a special uncle, two mommies or dads. One person who makes you first in line and get goosebumps watching you be you.

Our family was so tightly nuclear. A tangle of love and limbs and worry that we all still keep in a fist of filigree next to our hearts. No surgery could remove it without taking my life with it.

I tell my daughter with all my belief, “blood is nothing, love is everything.”

– Amy Grace, A Beautiful Life Photo

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Summer is coming undone as tail ends often do.

My youngest says he wants to be a writer.  I’ve read enough family memoirs to know I should start scouting for a defense lawyer starting now.

I’m guilty as sin.  Of losing my temper, yelling too much, and last week I made them cry.  I miss far too many school functions, birthday parties, and sometimes forget to kiss them goodnight.  Storming to my room like a five year old, wailing “just go to sleeeep, mommy needs sleep toooooo”

So I melt into my bed and sigh, “what do you like about our family?”

We go on adventures other kids don’t have!  Like the trains!

And they recount the stories of the trains, abandoned places, redwoods, caves and climbing the volcano.  Except one of them is not fond of the volcano.  Causing a short argument over the pros and cons and who did or did not play music with the flute like device pulled out of a backpack on the peak of said volcano and is now claiming it wasn’t fun.

But do you like flying?

Oh yes, we love flying.  Flying through storms and watching lightning in the clouds!

Good.  Because we are going to do a lot of more flying.  A ton of adventures and anything else that gets mommy out of little league sign up or school fundraisers.  Not that I don’t care about the American Heart Association or the PTA.   It’s just…  Baby, don’t forget to write about the trains.

– Maryanne Gobble

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It’s the downtime that means the most to me. The in-betweens. The car ride conversations. The after school hanging out in the kitchen while they grab a snack or ten. The moments when they choose to hang out next to me instead of retreating to their bedroom with the door closed. It’s a balance with my teen and tween girls as they work to separate themselves but yet find they still need (and want) Mom. I’m happy for the stolen quiet times, no screens present, even if we’re only there breathing the same oxygen, soaking up each others’ presence. Contemplating and dreaming, sharing the day’s stories. In the end, I want most to remember those times. The birthdays are great, the holidays wonderful, all those expected predictable “family times” that fill the requisite family photo albums, but in the end, when they’ve walked out that front door into their own lives, I will miss those quiet times together, the unstructured moments that arrived serendipitously. I will miss their warm bodies emanating life and energy into my home. I will miss this. So I soak it all up as much as I can, and when they allow me, I pull out my camera to remember. The seemingly boring mundane nothingness of nothing going on. Except it’s everything. Absolutely everything.

– Aileen Reilly

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My husband plays classical guitar late at night, when I’m already in bed, sending me off to sleep with Bach and Mozart. My son makes little people out of Coke bottles and I find him buried under books when I wake him in the morning. And then there was that time in the snow, the Sunday mornings watching that news program I like, the walks home from pre-school, the book that made me cry, the first bike ride, the lost teeth, the graduations, the marriages, the adding on of more family and then one by one, we go and all of that is eventually lost because all those pictures we took, trying to hold on to everything beautiful, won’t tell a stranger a goddamn thing about us. I will die, he will die, they will die and then -.

– Summer Lee

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“Families are the compass that guides us. They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and our comfort when we occasionally falter.” Brad Henry

When I think of family I think of them.
Their laughter, support and love.
They are the beginning I know.
They shaped my mom and my mom shaped me.
My kids grow in the love that began with them,
love that will continue for generations.
Truly, they are my compass, my biggest inspiration.

– Leah Zawadzki

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The lake that nurtured and watched me grow has the sweetest earth as its foundation. Its waters gently caressed the skinned knees of my child’s body, seeped through and cooled the burning heat of my youth’s broken heart. It slipped quietly over the slope of my woman’s breasts, rocked my womb in solidarity after I had molded and brought forth my own child. For over two decades of summers, it strung seaweed through my hair, a crown of misfortunes seasoned with savory blessings.

It dreamily lapped at my ankles while I watched, face upturned, hand shielding my eyes, my Nana’s weathered fingers comb through the sand, searching intently for the most pristine shells. Her hands brought with them to this journey three babies’ worth of holding, touching, soothing. The fingers that tucked my hair behind my ear until I crashed blindly into sleep scoured the beach with the same sense of calm practice. This taught me patience; when she found the perfect shell and held it up to the sun, this proved to me that grace was there. You just had to be willing to dig.

My aunt surrendered herself entirely to the sun’s rays. It painted her body with the healing only it could offer; a warming of a scar, a slash, a wound. It melted into the bones that had stood up and refused to yield to a death that had come horrifically close. She had smiled through the tears, through the blood, through the physical ravages. She taught me that when you love someone enough, you get up off the floor. You always get up, and you live your life loudly enough to smother the fear.

My son looks to me to make the world make sense for him. I can only teach him what I’ve witnessed, what stirs my own soul, so I bring him here, to this lake. I bring him home to the epicenter of what is family for me. Each time the tide comes in, my chest swells with new hopes for him; with the possibility of not who he might become, but of what magic he will create by being who he already is. I am filled to the brim with the richest ancestral gifts and it is that peace that lets me give myself over to the water, his tiny hand intertwined with mine, and with all the mothers who have come before.

– Jennifer Summer

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He landed flat on his back, his head within an inch from the metal
pole that held up the lifeguard tower. That feeling of being 6 years
old, running full force down a hill that ended with the wind being
knocked out of me came into view; that feeling of your lungs
collapsing completely and anxiety quickly settling in as you fight to
find air despite all the oxygen around you. I saw first the fear in
his eyes. And then the tears.

I held him in my arms and looked up at his brother who was still
standing on top of the life guard tower, his hands being the last to
touch his brother’s strong and sturdy but still one-year-old frame. He
didn’t appear guilty or concerned.

“You must always protect him”, I told him on the way home, “he’s your
only brother”.

– Ashley Jennett

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She shrugged her shoulders at me and told me it would be fine. We’ve been through this before and they don’t really know exactly what it is anyway. It’s more precautionary than anything. No need to be concerned. I would tell you if you needed to worry. I heard her words but the tone in her voice told me she was lying. She and I have always sung the same verse. Part of a strong song that I recognize from the very first note. I am made of her and when I forget the words she spills them back to me so I can remember.  It’s always been this way between her and I. Few secrets exist in this space. I nodded and spent the day clearing my schedule and making hypothetical plans. I sat in the waiting room the entire morning that next day waiting for a familiar face to come. He came late that afternoon – smiling and spewing words I heard aloud for the first time. It was a difficult surgery; he said. It took much longer than he thought it would. She will be sore from the length of the operation. But I think we got all the cancer. She slept while I read instructions regarding recovery and follow up appointments. I made phone calls to concerned siblings and unknowing family members. This has always been my job and I did it happily in this moment. She woke and bragged that she already felt fine. A part of her song I was used to hearing. It wasn’t until weeks later that we were both caught off guard at her follow up appointment. Your lab results aren’t favorable. We ran extra tests. Words floated by that pack a strong punch and she and I looked at each other with no words to respond. Chemotherapy. Nausea. Hair Loss. Blood Tests. Insurance. Schedule. Within seconds my hands were filled with pamphlets explaining each drug. I glanced her way and and in that moment I felt her song change. A new verse that I didn’t know. Over the next five months she wrote her new verse and I watched from a chair by the bed while an IV dripped slowly into her. She wrote a strong verse that would make anyone proud, but none prouder than a daughter. A verse where she still showed up to teach her children, even when she didn’t feel like getting out of bed. A verse where hair loss doesn’t win but becomes part of a challenge, even once that last straggly strand fell to the ground. A verse where achy bones and shaky steps didn’t win out to gardening, swimming, and walking. She wrote a verse that I am so proud of I sing it even though it is not mine. That’s the thing about family, though. We are woven together in a way that can never come apart. Her strand and mine are close even when the weave pulls them apart. Our verses change and become succinct all at the same time.  Today she has started a new verse and it is even stronger than the last. It’s a verse of new short hair and physically therapy. It’s a verse of weddings and grand children. It’s a verse of growth and set backs all at the same time. These new verses are just as much a part of her as the old verses we used to sing in unison. Now I sing those words to her when she needs to remember and it frees us both – remembering and letting go all in one moment.

– Carleigh Fager

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Every single moment. Life is happening.

Moments of joy, bliss, amazement, happiness. Moments filled with frustrations, overwhelm, stress, anger. Life is happening.

It doesn’t matter how or what I’m feeling in the moment, life is still happening. Every moment spent being angry is a moment of love lost. And either way I’m spending my time, life is happening.

Life isn’t waiting for when I’m ready. It’s here and now. All we have is this moment.

My kids are growing up way too fast for my choosing. They whine (sometimes). They fight (sometimes). They make life a whole lot more complicated (it’s all worth it). And I’m grasping at all the moments I get to spend with them. Watching their faces delight at the wonder of the ocean, dancing in the waves as they come and go. The giddy excitement that comes from making your own s’more on the beach. Even the simple things of getting dressed up to play ninjas, making masks of paper and stickers and tape. The quiet moments each night as I lay them down to sleep and we chat about what they’re thankful for, how can we give more love to those around us, and what our biggest dreams are. Life is happening. And it’s happening fast.

So I have a choice. I can fight against the nature of things and live closed off, upset at what comes my way, frustrated with the things in life that aren’t going exactly to plan or I can choose to live with an open heart, being a vessel to awaken love in those around me and keep making that choice of love, moment after moment, and showing my family with my actions that love always wins. No matter what choice I make, life is happening.

Josh Solar

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there is this sweet, little old lady who lives across the street from us.  she lives alone.  her husband died a few years ago and her children are all grown with adult children of their own. everyday she walks back in forth in front of her house.  i sometimes see her out my window and think about my own future.  her house was once filled with toys.   artwork adorned her fridge.  piles of laundry covered her sofa.   dishes towered in her sink.   the trashcan overflowed with dirty diapers.  stacks of books teeter tottered.  there was music playing, singing, dancing, stories being told, making believe.  so many tears, heartaches, struggles.  but there was also laughter, joy, love.  that intense love that sometimes fills you up so full that you have to cry just to relieve a little bit of the pressure.  we sometimes walk together and talk.  although her gait is no longer steady, she seems to have held on tight to her mental capacities. yet, surely many of her memories from those early times have burned out.   i have never been in her house and i wonder what it might look like.  are her walls covered with photographs?  does she have albums filled with photos of her children and her husband, her ghosts?  do the photographs help her remember them and those days when family meant everything to her?  i want more than anything to believe this.

– Heather Robinson

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The freckles, I hated when I was her age but later prayed would kiss her cheeks and nose as a sign to the world that she was mine

The piles of beautiful masterpieces, of chalky toes on my hardwood, milky fingerprints on my refrigerator door, crayon wrapper mounds and fallen down sheet forts that seem like confetti sprinkled throughout our home

Sharing the tiniest sliver of a king sized bed, with him, With them and twenty five of their favorite stuffed animals

The tears and “owee’s” I am grateful to kiss daily. And the big tears that get wiped away by the one that sang and swayed with me in her arms

The unending, overwhelming, irreplaceable love That makes my heart feel perfectly full yet ready to explode All at the same time.

All defined by one simple word… That stays stitched together by our collective memories, each of our hopes and our wildest dreams

– Shalonda Chaddock

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cook,
clean,
kiss,
drive,
repeat.

But of all the basic needs of life, there is one need that seems grander each and every day.
Teaching my boys to love each other.
My love can comfort and encourage but it can only go so far. My love is limited to an age and a specific purpose. If I can possibly teach my two boys that above all, Love is what will keep them afloat, then they will win.
No greater joy in parenthood so far then watching them bond.

– Noel Besuzzi

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If you’d knew how much I’ve waited to look into the eyes of yours, my growing son. My mysterious child. That look you have, when you look at me. Enigmatic. Clever. I captured it, right there. But what does it means? Are you happy? Do you feel the love I have for you? Do you feel my total devotion for you? Is it too much? Not enough? My certainty, is that I will be giving you my whole until you become a man of your own. And if you allow me into your life then, I will finally know I’ll have succeeded my quest. Until then, I’ll be right there, looking into those blooming eyes of yours. Trying each day to tame your secretive soul, with all the love I have for you. Mom.

Valerie Baillargeon

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there are many. but then there is this. mom in her apron and giggling auntie. encompassing all of us. weary steps and mended fences. good food, hilarity, gaping hearts. hiding and guarding and breaking wide open. many theatrics. top of lung singing. parties with themes. costumes galore. walks and walks and walks at the shore. millions of times where we map it all out. thousands of tears and the warmth of real hugs. things remembered slung out of sling shots of years. leaving the rest in the sand.

– Amy McMullen

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my hands are your hands. arms of blood and bone. meant for holding onto and letting go of. all days.

– Katy Tuttle

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“We think it’s weak to surrender, but sometimes it’s the bravest thing we can possibly do.”
― Toni Sorenson

Sometimes it is overwhelming to us, these things happening in the world.   It wouldn’t be prudent to shield our children from reality, while at the same time we have to maintain a level of appropriateness knowing what they can handle emotionally.  How can we explain it all to our children in a way that can keep them optimistic about the world, about their future?  In a way that is fair?
Like me, my boys have the tendency to absorb it all, and then suddenly feel an incredibly helplessness.  “How can we help?  What can we do?”  We can only try our hardest, and then we have to let go.

Surrender.

Otherwise, it would simply be too much to bear.

– Lynde Alvarez

  • carrie geddie - Oh Amy, just beautiful words and work. Cuts right to the quick every time, but so necessary and cathartic. Thank you.ReplyCancel

  • Holly Donovan - Reading this blog always leaves me feeling so many different ways. All introspective and good things. Life is good, life is tragic too. There is no escape from real and I know how much the word ‘real’ gets thrown around but it’s a good one. This blog to me is fresh air and no fluff. Just light and being. You all are inspiring in your own unique ways, it’s wonderful.ReplyCancel

  • Andrea - Every single time I read the words here and see the photos I am left in a mess of tears. Tears of joy and pain at just how beautiful life is. Every story. Thank you. They are happy tears that cleanse my soul.ReplyCancel

  • Kate Densmore - I loved every cherished, raw word.ReplyCancel

  • Lucia Massoni - How lovely that all of you were able to translate your deep love into words….I could actually feel the love. Thank you for publishing this!

    LuciaReplyCancel

  • candy - I wish I had friends that were here by me as real as all of you. It is a lonely world when nobody understands… 😉 love the raw. always.ReplyCancel

  • Linnea Sauer - I absolutely loved this piece! It touched me in so many ways and I can not thank everyone who participated! My wedding photographer (Carleigh Fager) was one of the people who contributed to this piece and I am truly honored to know her and lucky to have her shooting my upcoming wedding. Everyones beautiful words hit me differently but with an enormous amount of meaning and inspiration.ReplyCancel

  • Amanda - Duuuude.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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 I avoid mirrors now, after years of being their magnet. A bad friend who gives us that sharp hit of alive, while equally making us feel like shit. For whom we say ‘it’s complicated’, and eventually grow bored and wistful. But whose old pictures we hold onto without understanding why.

As a tiny kid i sought out any reflective surface. The mottled, mirrored side panel of the oven controls, our sliding doors when the sun went down and I self regarded by lamplight. The kitchen window reflecting the outline of my face, while talking to my mom, my brother bathing in the sink, ‘Dallas’ on the television set in the next room, on our sweet, simple 1980s Friday nights. Dancing like the Breakfast Club, singing with every nuance of Cyndi Lauper, acting out the grown up parts in movies with second nature. Feeling the sweetest buzz with what I saw, and who I was when I saw it. The faraway looks, the hard stares, the kisses my babysitter described matter of factly; I had them down, and folded them in to my inner reserve of future experience. There was this implied sense that childhood was practice, that the years would bring me closer to meeting my true self, actualized, successful, and brave. Now deep in the future, I yearn to feel the quick of what I wanted to race from. After the change I never saw coming. When I began looking for something beyond me. For someone else. For hair that didn’t have a life of it’s own, for recognition of that tiny wild voice that echoed from years ago I could swear I’d lived through, for something deep inside that would still me.

There have been a thousand times I’ve gone to the bathroom to cry. Often the only lockable door in the house. After ‘The Champ’ or ‘Charlotte’s Web’ or ‘E.T.’ or Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Had a Dream’ speech, at three or four years old, my face hot and humiliated, and hurting like i would continue to for every character of every sad or happy ending for the rest of my life. And then came the real life business of mean girls and early puberty and feeling lonely without a concrete reason at which to point. The bleating torture of knowing I should love what I saw, but feeling only a bottomless ache for what I did not. A mirror is always there to keep us honest. The hard truth, stained face, desperation. Our reflection in self conflict is most like our insides. Dark and twisty and of forces that operate without our will.

The time we get in front of the mirror is in reverse proportion to the time we need. It wanes as we get older. All the primping and daydreaming of 15 is cruel and ridiculous from the rear view mirror. And nostalgic just the same. Just when we think we’ve memorized our faces, the map changes, we get lost in the lines leading to our eyes, we need to write our own directions, rethink the route. Like someone returning to their hometown 30 years later, a different landscape, bigger and lost at once. With a story.

I am all a blur these days. The getting outside ourselves that frees us, and the kind that makes us lose our dignity – I am caught toeing the border. I suffer from migraines, with an aura to them that precedes the explosion of pain. My vision is a crazy prism of a kaleidoscope, my face a trippy fun house distortion. For someone hard wired to see the shape of her insecurities in her reflection, there is a fitting, inverse poetry to it. There is sometimes a cracked glass rainbow that lets me see like I should have, forever ago. When it hits that the mirror shows nothing. Like the selfies the world takes with forced smiles, duck lips, serious-about-the-beauty-we-hope-you-will-see looks. Like the grown women groups of friends whose outsides are so virtually identical, you wonder about the insides. The luck of the draw is what most of us see. Our ancestry and symmetry, or the sun and cigarettes we let leak into the mix. Sometimes it’s my brother, like a gift, when I cry for him, sneaking a minute in the restroom under the guise of a full bladder. His light and dark in wavy shadows through the day, ink through tears that can start with the deepest memories of laughter. Aches so deep they change you in a cellular level. Love that does the same. It all works it’s way to the surface, the mix of time and stress and collagen. The creases left from a hundred kinds of smiles. We are getting hit from inside and outside. It’s a strange battle to fight. For our personal x-ray vision eyes only. The difference between mascara and completely, perfectly myself. Accepting (at last) that I’m an insides kind of girl. That my reflection looks rougher and glows more with each year.

And when me becomes we, this miraculous we that my daughter and son make real, the sharpness liquifies and the heat of love turns to steam and soft focus. I can look at myself in a pair, in a trinity.

We have only one mirror now. A simple sheet in the bathroom, in which I see from the neck up. A tiny sticker in the bottom corner reads “you are beautiful”. And this sticker doesn’t lie. My little boy hadn’t seen himself in months. Watching his reaction to his own face was like watching an older guy reunite with a buddy from high school. We got a tiny handheld one he smiles into now, carries around for check in’s, to start to memorize what is changing by the day. But I’m here. I can see it, him. Learning his face. We all have to.

Here is a mirror to my life right now:  9:30, the night after the last day of school, an old T-shirt, hiding in a dark corner of my open-walled house, dictating all of this into my phone, laughing at myself, but needing to tell the truth out into the cool night. This is who I am, in all of its glamor and honesty. I don’t need to see it anymore. I have eyes on the inside.

(photo by Zalmy Berkowitz)

– Amy Grace

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A mirror is my hair with pink strands flying every which way in a mischievous wind – playful, flowing, fluid; a visual echo of that which seeks from within. I strive to hang onto these times knowing that the wind can shift in a blink of an eye and turn my strands into a tangled knot of complexity; a reflection of a mind that moves too fast and irregularly. I’ve learned to be still and slowly unravel the strands with deep breaths; to turn my face to the wind and let it flow through; it is here I find solace in silence and stillness and peace.

(photo by Amanda O’Donoughue)

– Pamela Joye

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I am from carved stones, intricately designed crosses

I come from rugged mountains won and conquered

I am from loud voices, negotiations seeped in familiarity

I am from dreams, beauty and hope

I am from war and conflict, sadness and grief

I am from love and survival

Against the odds I am from a language unique and beautiful

I am from two worlds neither here nor there, belonging to neither

I am from certainty, at times uncertain

I am from dances expressed with graceful hands

I am from a life sometimes so beautiful, I am from a life lived and unlived

I am from snowy peaks little and large, I am from the voice that speaks for others

I am from wonder of this world’s cruelty and kindness

I am from a land of talent, poetry and music intertwine

I am from many languages all mixed into one

I am from checkpoints at many borders

I am from reasoning when there is no reason for any of it

I am from a diaspora dispersed within

I am from generosity and from high expectations

I am from watermelon on hot summer evenings

I am from the sea right opposite me

I am from grandmothers memories of church, culture and language

I am from all these memories within.

– Tamar Haytayan

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See that girl in the middle? She’s the one with the secret. A lifetime of hurt and pain lived in 11 short years. The father who was the alcoholic. The father who flings painful words and fists. The house filled with anger and hatred. Love was hard to find. The neighbor who took her innocence and robbed her of her childhood. The secrets that no one wants to know…that no one wants to believe. Her eyes speak volumes…the screams she wishes she could scream but her pretty face seems to hide the eyes and no one asks about the pain hiding beneath the tan skin. The secrets will stay buried for far too long and that pretty little girl…the one with so much promise will flouder and fail and fail again. She will reach for perfection and never achieve it. She will disappoint and find disappointment. She will hurt others and be hurt. She will lash out at anyone who dares to get near. And then it happens. Gradually she finds her feet and her voice. Eventually, she will heal and find a place where love can flourish. Slowly she learns to run again and then jump. She first grows wings and then learns to fly. She learns to drown out the naysayers, the critics and those who would doubt her. She listens to voices of promise and power and believes. She finds strength in herself and her abilities. She will find love and allow herself to trust that she is deserving of it. She overcomes. She will grow inside of her four beings that bring with them so much hope and promise for the future and she loves them without reservation. She will teach them about love unconditional. She will never allow words or fists to destroy their light. She will shelter and protect them with the hope that they will never carry the secrets and silenced screams.  She forgives. She lives a life of happiness that she designed…not happily ever after because that is the stuff of fairy tales and she learned long ago that fairy tales do not exist but the deep and all encompassing happiness that comes from seeking it out and allowing it to envelop her life. She finds peace.

– Shannon Wilkinson

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Leela told me she was beautiful. And as she assessed herself in from of a full-length mirror in a vest and the boxer shorts of the customer asleep on the bed beside her, I had to no reason to disagree.

But Leela as Leela has been born was in there too, and it was this natural ‘booty’, ‘straight from the hand of God’, that she was most proud of. The other girls, she said, were ‘black, like Banglas’, and once they’d scrubbed their faces clean of the Dreamflower powder without which they wouldn’t leave home, they were no prettier than the beggar-monkeys snatching bananas out of the hands of devotees at the Hare Krishna temple down the street.

But not Leela. Stripped of everything, including here knicker-bra, she was still a wonder she said–not unlike the Taj Mahal of Agra city bathed in moonlight.

~ from Beautiful Thing, Inside the secret world of Bombay’s bar dancers by Sonia Faleiro

Growing up in India, I was not the beautiful one. The middle child, sandwiched between two fair-skinned siblings, I was the dark one. As a young girl, I was convinced that I was switched at birth. You hear those horror stories all the time. If it weren’t for my hazel eyes, the ones I share with my siblings, I would have believed it to be true. I grew up in a culture with a fair-skin obsession across high, middle and low class people. Your shade of skin color determined your beauty and ultimately, your fate to marry a ‘good’ Indian boy. I remember all of my young life the ads, cinema, matrimonials constantly bombarding the message of fair as being akin to beautiful. Ad’s read “Match for Smart, Fair, Slim Brahmin Girl” or “Seeking fair, slim, b’ful girl.” I am sure that my own bio-data listed by my parents in the Times of India used “fair” liberally to encourage responses from suitors.

I went to an all girl’s school from kindergarten to tenth grade. My school identity was being the younger, less attractive sister. Somehow, it didn’t matter and I was happy to live in my sister’s shadow. I recall being asked by a school friend, “Whatever happened to you?” The implication was why was I so dark when my siblings weren’t? It wasn’t the first time someone had commented on my skin color. Those words stayed with me for a long while even as I entered the advertising world as an art director. We promised women a “fair and lovely” complexion using skin lightening products. And when you think you have seen it all, a couple years back a “intimate wash” was advertised to whiten vaginas. The message was you need to be fair not just up there but down there too.

A couple decades later, living in America, in this different world, I wonder if things are the same here as they were there. I got married to a man with a much lighter skin color than mine. And gave birth to a boy with the most perfect skin color. A few years back, my then seven year old asks me out of the blue, “Mama, why is my skin so dark”? I can’t believe what I am hearing. Did someone say something? Why does he care about his skin color? Have I failed as a parent? It took me a long time to be comfortable in my own skin and it was after I came to America. So I say, “You are just perfect the way you are. People pay big money to make their skin look like yours.” Yes, my child, you are the most gorgeous child one could dream of having.

– Alpana Aras-King

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when i look at this image that my daughter captured i see a woman with strength, yet i am that woman and i don’t always see it or believe it within myself. however when i look at this image i think to myself…there she is! there’s that woman that i want to be. she is me. seeing her capture me this way gives me encouragement not just for her but for myself and i’m grateful for that. i truly want to be the woman that she sees, the woman that i see in the image. deep down inside i know that i am. i just need to find the courage to find and accept her. i think i’m halfway there.

– Celeste Jones

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This is me.  The year I turned 21.  The year I took my first film class, my Dad’s Konica slung around my neck.  I spent the three years before wedged in front of canvas pushing colors.  Spewed, ugly.  I remember watching the girl next to me, headphones on, nimble with a brush — she looked happy.  I actually slashed canvases that year.  Threw them in dumpsters barefoot, in the pitch of night.  But then this class.  The first time I didn’t think, critcise, judge.  Just MADE.  This photo is splotched brown with fixer.  It has mesh marks from the drying screen.  It’s Illford smooth and I can remember clutching the thin box of sheets at the bookstore close to my chest, $12.99, hearing none of the sounds around me.  I might as well have had my eyes closed.  I do remember the hum of the darkroom.  My teacher named Charlie.  The feel of bathing in red light.  Swishing paper across from my future husband, hoping our hands might touch, watching time tick on a round wall clock.  A long slow crawl, while shapes emerged from liquid and the moons aligned.  I don’t know who took this photo.  I grabbed it on the last day of class from the bin destined for the trash.  But now it hangs right outside our bedroom door, like a prize.

– Roxanne Bryant

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“A man’s true wealth is the good he does in the world. Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror.” – Khalil Gibran

Three decades lie in the four-pixel space between this image of me and the one of you. At once side-by-side and 30 years apart here we are, mother and daughter yet two little girls, each dressed by our moms in the sweater your great-grandmother knitted for me. Could my Nana have known—or even wondered—as she worked a spool of wool into something more tangible that it would become a time machine?

Could she have known that my mom—once I outgrew it—would tuck it away in a cedar chest where it would lie in wait for the off-chance a girl would raise her head from the sea of great-grandsons that came long after she’d gone?

I’d like to think my grandma knew one day I’d have a daughter. And that I’d freeze the likeness of you next to one of me like mirrors… the child you are today and the one I used to be.

– Kelly Sweda

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I pass by the mirror earlier than desired; with a baby who’s not really a baby anymore, snuggled tightly into my side. Chubby little baby legs that are more of the lanky toddler type, wrapped firmly around my midsection, making certain I don’t set her down. Forcing my exhausted self to start the day; but I stop, distracted by a pocket of light hitting our hair. Staring at our reflection, I realize how complete this is- this puzzle we’ve created, with pieces of determination, happiness, pain and pride fitting together just right, to make something pretty damn special.

– Breanna Peterson

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We have to confront ourselves. Do we like what we see in the mirror? And, according to our light, according to our understanding, according to our courage, we will have to say yea or nay—and rise! – Maya Angelou

(photo by Kati Dimoff)

– Posy Quarterman

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with our chopped legs, cross fit scars, pacifiers and in all of our potty training glory.  my sweet, sweet girl.

– Sarah Morris

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In my younger kid free days, I was a spontaneous free sprit who was always up for a last minute adventure. I swore that motherhood wouldn’t change me. I would still be the same carefree, fly by the seat of my pants person. I just planned on taking my kids along for the ride. Well, I had my first child and realized I was incredibly naive to think my life wasn’t going to change. And then I had another baby, and another, and another. Suddenly, I realized somewhere along the way, I had nearly lost that carefree side of myself. I was fully submerged in mothering my four kids. I’m not saying I wasn’t happy to be doing it but sometimes I really missed that side of me. And when I was home with a newborn, 2 year old, 4 year old, and 7 year old, I wondered if I’d ever see that person in the mirror again. It’s interesting how when you are in the throws of raising young children, you think it’ going to be like that forever. You think you will never get a moment to yourself. You think your kids will never grow…and then one day you wake up and realize they are growing and how fleeting time is. My youngest is almost four. I’ve been mourning the idea that they days of having babies are over. Its a feeling that I think will never totally go away. Somedays that mourning feels intense, but I am starting to have glimpses of the old me and I feel excited for what the next phase in my life will bring. I’m happy to welcome back parts of that spontaneous person I used to be and to merge that person with who I am now…much wiser and more thoughtful. A person with much less insecurity and self doubt. A person who likes herself more now than she probably ever has. Our society is so youth obsessed but you know what? I wouldn’t trade how I feel about myself now for less wrinkles. Middle age feels good to me.

– Summer Murdock

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If I could tell this girl about a different time, one so far removed from where she is now, I would.

I would tell her about a day when she’d feel safe from the panic and unrest that lives inside her head, a day when she’d be free from the fixed smile on her face.

If only I could tell this girl of a thousand kisses from someone who knows how to love her, really love her for who she is, not who he wants her to be.

I would tell her that she would look upon a sea of beautiful little faces that she would one day call her own.

That the holes in her heart would heal and repair, that she would feel complete.

If only I could tell this girl just to hold on just a little longer, stay strong and wait for her dreams to unfold.

– Emma Wood

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It takes great effort to remember a time that this wasn’t me. It’s who I am, and who I was always meant to be. Their mama.

– Andrea Hanki

  • Annie - So beautiful and profound. I appreciate the words and images here so much — these posts brought to mind my own artistic struggle, the story of my life, and my journey into motherhood. Thank you so much for having the courage to share your stories and art with the world. Such brave women — such a remarkable sisterhood.

    Much love,
    AnnieReplyCancel

  • carrie geddie - Somehow missed this one. More tears. What amazing women. <3ReplyCancel

 

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.

– Amy Grace

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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.

– Amy Grace

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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.

– Rebecca Leimbach

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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.

-Angela Hendrix Petry

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“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.

– Carrie Geddie

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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.

– Brooke Schwab

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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.

– Corinne Russomanno

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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.

– Suzanne Gipson

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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.

– Val Spring

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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.

– Hannah Nicole

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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.

– Jennifer Summer

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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.
growing up.
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.

– Melissa Weicker

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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.

-Ingrid Rivera

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The best flesh of me
transplants seeds with dimpled hands
a chance of heaven

– Amanda O’Donoughue

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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.

– Katy Tuttle

 

 

  • candy - how in the world can these keep getting ridiculously better and better? i want to live with all of you ; ) so.amazing.ReplyCancel

  • Carrie Geddie - I cried again. Amy, thank you for this dialogue. And for allowing me to be a part. Cathartic. Warm. Enveloping. xoxoReplyCancel

  • Ingrid Rivera - Thank you Amy for opening up a top that was too tightly closed. Thank you for being you and for all the women who continue to post stories that touch my heart..deeply.ReplyCancel

  • toni raper - beautifully sung everybody! I especially liked Rebecca’s poem.ReplyCancel

  • Hannah Mayo - Beautiful. Thank you for your truth, all of you.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. 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.

– Amy Grace

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 i walked outside our front door tonight, a basket of wet laundry cutting into my hip, down the eleven steps to the dark garage. and i stopped. at the everywhere, every pore, smell of blossoms. blossoms before i knew their names. our early confused spring. olfactory time travel that brings our hearts up our throats, ready to jump. the smell of damp yearning and sweet ache. the world cracks and you pry it open at the fracture, shout out to the freedom, the end, the open door. we break, we bloom, we have no choice but to say ‘thank you’.

thank you for the aches as they shine a spotlight on the peace. for all the breaking as it starts to feel like multiplying. leaving parts of myself everywhere i have ever been, a trail of tears and crumbs and memories. this is where empathy is born: picking up old shoes worn by others and wearing them to the soles. in imagining the dips and twists of different veins in the agony and comfort of our own souls.

thank you for the new eyes my kids give me every day, swollen as they can be, as drowned in light, as weary of sharp objects, as ready to be overwhelmed with miracles. thank you is forgiveness to stories that bring up acid in my throat as it tightens. to the person who wrote them along the skin of my spine, in bruises and blows and the crazy dance of my own flailing against walls and closed doors and all hope. to everything going wrong, and then the questioning and listening to things that were once too soft or hard. to seeing the kind of clearly that means seeing it all. for divorces and moves and lies i didn’t hear the first time. for my little boy who wants to be everywhere, and rubs off on me in stardust. for the huge reserve of compassion that is my daughter, her bloom of beauty. for bedtime finally resting in my lap. for catching myself with butterflies for just this moment. for every hundredth scar and the humble pie they taught me to love. for each of my parents in all their humanity. for the sick feeling of regret that I get to swallow down with cool, clean water.

thank you for life taking that blown glass shell of true love, bought for someone else, and smashing it and planting slivers in my skin, for crying until i was dry and clear. to see the real loves that could be planted inside, that could open, free, and end me.

and the regret for all the times i didn’t say it. all the tiny bits of communion in the mundane, the sputtering through days, the shocks of light, the rainbows.

thank you is freedom. the peace you make when you hold your own soft and creased hand, the letting go of mistakes and taking care of the child you used to be, the bits of yourself in your own. it is not doing over. when we want nothing else. because it changes the way we need to live. it is two living poems, for being my dreams. for changing shape before i could wish it. for being outside and ahead of what i know or need. letting go doesn’t hurt with a hand in each of mine, there is no bitter taste, no reconciling. all of the alives that couldn’t fit inside my body, the ones i risked and wandered and ran to, are shadows across my face. they are nothing like the thank you of coming home.

thank you for all of it. if only i could store it up. if only i could repay. i am trying to be brave enough to say it. we have no choice but to sing it, like the best harmony we can manage, full throat and soul, the windows open, to the dark empty night.

– Amy Grace

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Once I suffered from a broken heart. I filled page after page of my journal by repetitively writing “fuck you” and “thank you”. In the end, the thank you’s grossly outweighed the fuck you’s. It was that summer in France I spent mulling it all over that I learned wisdom is distilled from pain.

– Ashley Jennett

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If anyone asks what you’re thankful for, you’ve got some pretty important people you’re supposed to thank.  As a Mom, you thank your kids for making you better.  As a wife, you should thank your husband for loving you even when it’s hard.  As a daughter, thank your parents for making you.  If you’re spiritual, you should thank a higher being.

But you know what?  Fuck it.  I’m thanking stuff that’s just as important to me.

Thank you…
… Nutella for making everything taste like the best thing I’ve ever eaten.
… age for making it ok to not wear fancy panties 99% of the time.
… Red Squiggly Line for pointing out misspelled words.
… wine makers for putting good wine in a box.
… Ma for teaching me if you cut the bag there’s always one more glass.
… “Cops” for being on TV somewhere 24 hours a day.
… rooms for having doors that lock when necessary.
… for bathtubs and waterproof phone cases.
… for the friends that are ok if you pee during a phone call.
… unlimited texting plans.
… vasectomies.
… cropping off heads in photo just because I can.
… for the strangers in the adjacent car who start car-dancing with you.
… grandparent weekends.
… a fast camera and decent Lightroom presets.
… HBO for occasionally airing old episodes of “Real Sex”.
… for my ability to be comfortable with my choices.
… for my ability to comfortably sling opinions that are not the opinions of the room.
… for a good IPA.
… to women who say, “I’d love it if you photographed my birth.”
… to the  jar of pickled eggs in the fridge.
… to the sack of homemade burritos in the freezer.
… to the people who ask you write for their site and say, “It’s ok to let ‘fuck’ slide.”

Thank you, Important Things.  My life is 100% better because of you.
Oh and all you important people too…

– Erika Ray

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For most of my life I have complained about you.

The times when you didn’t pick me up from school until long after the cleaner had gone home. Many times I gave up waiting and walked the long road home on my own.

I was the only ten year old I knew that could look after a baby, make up bottles of formula, burp and change nappies better than how I knew how to do homework.

The nights where I was so tired I curled up on two chairs pulled together to sleep while i waited for you to take us home.

My siblings and I knew freedom in abundance, took risks all the time because no one was supervising. Half of the time you did not even know where we were or what we were up to.

Did you know I smoked my first cigarette at eleven? Heath taught me how to on the roof. Thankfully I did not like it.

You were too social for your own good. Always putting your own needs before ours. You say now when reminded of these things “oh you turned out alright’.

It would enrage me to hear you say that. How dare you pass the buck? How dare you take one ounce of credit for that!

As the years pass other memories drift to mind. Ones that aid in your redemption.

A memory floats in of my sixteen year old self, heartbroken by my first love and you never left my side until the tears stopped.

There was the time you let me have a party and half the high school turned up, the more the merrier you said and grabbed a glass of wine to enjoy the scene.

I learnt the art of make up application from watching you and how to put a good a good outfit together.

Is it possible that I have you to thank for growing into a strong resilient capable woman?

Is it possible that I have you to thank for being unafraid of becoming a mother myself, after all if i could do it at ten I sure as hell can do it at 25.

Is it possible that I am fearless because I saw you stare fear in the face all the time and rise above it?

Is it possible I follow my heart and be true to myself because that was all you knew how to do?

Is it possible that in all your imperfections lay a life rich in lessons?

Is it possible that in knowing everything you were not resulted in me vowing to be everything you should have been?

Judgement falls away as the light shines on the realisation that you did the best you could with what you had.

These past couple of years I can see the blessing that my childhood truly was…my training ground for real life.

And for that I thank you mum.

– Toni Raper

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you liked to say that if maya is in pup heaven, she is ignoring all the bones and wrestling dogs and instead she is looking outward, waiting for me like she used to at the window. you said something about that to a kid at school who told you that that wasn’t possible since heaven and afterlife and all that stuff is “made up magic.” and do you know how you responded, after pondering that all day?
you said to me, “isn’t this all magic anyway?” while opening and closing your hands, turning them over, and went on about how we have blood running through us to make us alive and we can hold things and run and jump and go places in airplanes and all of that is magic we live in every day.

for that wisdom, your deep heart, your sage young self, i am exceedingly grateful.

– Amy McMullen

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thankfulness brings you to the place where the Beloved lives . rumi

-Kati Dimoff

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Gratitude, Gratitude, Gratitude…

Take a place of thanksgiving.

The fight to battle thoughts of anguish, frustration, anger, constantly trying to change your perspective. It affects your mind, you body, your soul. It’s easier to say “SCREW the world”, than to walk in a way of grace. The wide path is easier, a path that allows our innate desire to fail to take us over. The narrow path is hard, to daily choose to be content in what we have been given, it’s hard.

There’s no doubting that.

How do we jump that hurdle?

Just do it right?

Move past our sinful nature and take a place of gratitude right?

Some days I just can’t do it, my heart sucks, my exhaustion takes over.

My mind gets the best of me.

But when it happens when gratitude sinks in, grace overcomes. Joy replaces that anger, that frustration, the desire to quit. And I can rejoice because I jumped the hurdle! I took the narrow path. Christ’s grace and power in little me took over, his victory was proclaimed in my life. And not by my own strength, not by my own strength at all.

I’m out of strength.

Gratitude.

– Rebecca Siewert

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I wake with little bodies close to me quite often in a twin bed with planets dangling from the ceiling. Tired and looking for my glasses I smell coffee made and warm and I know I can do this life thing once more. The mad rush to the bus in 30 minutes, I wish I had someone to high five since it feels like a passed a finish line. My daughter watches “Dora!” and “Peppa Pig!” and I sit and think about the silence for another 30 minutes. I love the light and the quiet. And then her and I have a day together. I watch her become a girl after having two boys and it is good. She takes care of babies and sings “Let it Go” like with a blanket cape. So much new in this little person. Finding the color in the cold, white snow falling outside. I am thankful.

– Elaine Melko

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I was lost in Mississippi. You were in the backseat of the truck with your sleeping brother, and you grew quiet under the weight of my fear. We were creeping down a dirt road overrun by kudzoo, hidden from the world under a canopy of trees choked by vines and Spanish moss. The sun was setting and claustrophobia had spread like sap through my chest. I was afraid to stop. I was afraid to keep going. There was nowhere to turn around, and even with the windows rolled up, the buzzsaw of plump cicadas was a roar in my ears.

I was scared, and you knew it. You leaned forward as far as you could and I felt your little fingers in my hair. You whispered, “It’s okay. We’ll find our way back to town. I just know it. You’re a really good driver.” I said, “Thank you, baby,” and I kept going.
We will always find our way out, you and I.

– Summer Lee

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we live on a mountain
right at the top 
there’s a beautiful view
from the top of the mountain
 every morning i walk towards the edge
 and throw little things off
 like: 
car-parts, bottles and cutlery
 or whatever i find lying around
it’s become a habit
 a way
 to start the day
i go through this
 before you wake up
 so i can feel happier 
to be safe up here with you
-Bjork “Hyperballad”

a broken home is where i sprang up.  my dad was sick. it was a lingering sickness that drug him along as the years passed. he drudged through it fighting. but, the creeping continued as the sparkling light of my childhood grew dim. and then the lights burned out. i was off at college trying to become a grown up. my mother worked. she had to. she threw everything she had into her career. it wore her down. this is not me complaining. the opposite rather. i know every one did what they had to do given the hand we were dealt. but, am i scarred? yes. i carry a heaviness, a reminder. it has made me a romantic though. i want my children to have everything i did not. and to have everything i did. love. so much love. i do not regret where i am from. i learned to love fiercely while i was there. i learned that life is fragile and nothing lasts forever. and every day i continue to learn how to clear away the shattered bits so that my past stays in the past. i have a multitude to be thankful for today. and i will give all that i am to make certain that nothing obstructs my beautiful view.

– Heather Robinson

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Yesterday, in Target, like a beggar pulling a gem out of his pocket, you surprised me with, “Mama, will I get married someday?” “If you want to get married, you will,” I say. “Who will I marry?” you say. “Someone you like,” I say, and raise my eyebrows. I smile. You smile. You giggle your four-year old giggle, the kind that can’t be faked or contained. “I want to marry a funny guy who tells funny jokes,” you say, and I’m proud. Through the animated haze of childhood, you’ve managed to locate the core of a good relationship–friendship, laughter. And then, as quick as you laughed, your eyes well up and your mouth turns down. “I want to marry daddy,” you muster. One tear drops over onto your cheek. You know it can’t happen. I say, “That would be awesome,” and smile. When we get home, your wheels have turned, and you’re now triumphant. “I don’t have to marry daddy. I can be daddy!” You insist on trying on his jeans. At first, you’re thrilled. Big smiles, you’re just like daddy. You shrug your shoulders and seem refreshed; you stick out your chin and giggle. Later, you’ll cry about it. Daddy’s jeans don’t fit, and you trip over the deflated elephant-trunk legs and bang your elbow pretty good. I console you, pat your back, change you back into your own clothes. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” you say, once you’re back to feeling alright. “Well,” I say. “Thank you. I’m glad you’re you, and I’m glad daddy’s daddy.” “Ok,” you say, “I think I’m glad, too.”

– Blythe Winslow

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thank you for giving me this life.
for making me a daughter, a sister, a friend, a wife, a mother.
thank you for her.
my serious child.
for the gift of her love, so freely given.
thank you for him.
my comedian.
for his big, toothy grin that reminds me not to take life too seriously.

as my motherhood is riddled with imperfections,
i am grateful they have yet to notice.
thank you for entrusting me with these little lives.
my greatest hope is that we raise them to return thanks.

– Abnous Abbey Samford

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the cakes baked
the gifts wrapped
the dress picked
the dinner made
the crown worn
the song sung
the candles blown

all this i would not trade for
fame or fortune
cliques or clicks
travels or tales

so thank you Jonas. for your honesty.
for making me see that i am right where i need to be.

– Rashmi Pappu

thank you. i’ve been trying to say it- to believe it and live it deeply in my bones even when everything feels wrong thank you. when the day drags on and emotions are high and i feel that if just one.more.thing goes wrong i’ll just break and then it does, but somehow i don’t after all thank you. for that strength i find to push through, again. for the brand-newness of the morning. fresh start. thank you. for the lessons that each day gives me, if i choose to learn them like how unimportant so many of these things are that i allow to overtake my mind and heart and keep me awake, staring at the ceiling, mind never quiet thank you for the things that are actually important and the fact that they’re also the simplest things thank you for the beauty in the chaos thank you that it is there whether i choose to see it or not and may i see it before it’s gone. thank you.

– Hannah Mayo

Isabella

Some experiences wrap themselves with a hold so strong they choke. You try and tuck that box away in a dark corner hoping it will eventually get covered with dust and be forgotten. Despite every effort, it
has a way of creeping up at your doorstep reminding you that it’s addressed
to you and no one else will claim it.  You’re stuck with it, baby.
I remember everything so clearly: the rustling paper under my body, the
coldness of the room and most clearly the stain.  It was small yet to me it
was larger than life.  Here I was in this cold room holding on to hope so
tightly.  Tight fisted…purple knuckle hope.

Hope was off that day.  What had become everything was taken away in
an instant and I was given this invisible box to carry in return. I drove
home mile after mile trying to find the words that kept getting lost in my
throat.  To tell him, everything was no longer okay.  We had lost. I had
failed. I still don’t remember how I got home. I just remember the sadness,
emptiness, stains crinkled paper and disillusion..all in that invisible box.
Then YOU. I don’t remember ever letting go of this idea that it could very well happen again, and it would.  I walked on eggshells with this box ever present.  My fear that some sudden movement, something I did or didn’t do would cause you to go away.  It was constant visits to all types of restrooms at any inclination that there were cramps.  Closing my eyes as I did the unveiling hoping when I opened them there weren’t any signs of danger.  The constant spot checks. The first time I saw that familiar redness I breathed deep in and out giving you every bit of air I could inhale. I don’t remember ever breathing while I carried you but I remember how that day how every breath I took was for you. Every single one was filled with hope and love..for you.
You my precious girl, a headful of hair, eyes wide open …waiting for no one. You shot into this world at full speed. I have adored every moment with you. I laugh at the sound of your laugh. It’s infectious. I could never have dreamed all the things you’d continue to become.  I look at you and warmth fills my heart every single time.  For you I am thankful. So grateful you are here.

– Ingrid Rivera

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THE SOUND OF UNLOCKING

(quick fact: Last year I, a self-proclaimed single and childless by choice woman, gained custody of my 2 year old niece, Patience, who I had only met in person 2 times)

Do you know what the sound of a heart being unlocked sounds like? What it feels like? Is it a burst of knowing that someone is going to change your life? A type of emotional epiphany? A warming of the heart? A quickening of the breath?

I am a gal who keeps a lot of things under lock and key. Emotions, mostly, especially when the stakes are high. I’m not a gambler, least of all with my heart. I am a gal who keeps up walls and boundaries and, in some cases —barricades— until I know that the relationship is safe to enter fully. I do not like getting hurt. I do not like being hurt. I do not like hurting others. I think a lot of us spend a vast amount of time planning on how to keep ourselves safe from pain. And yet, in the complexities of human relations—there is always a spoonful of hurt that no amount of sugar can take away.

The night before my niece came to my home to live, I had what the Southerners in my life would call “A coming to Jesus” moment. I had to let go of all the voices speaking to me from the recesses of my mind. The voices that told me that this whole process was going to hurt. A lot. No matter what happens when the jury reads the final verdict. It was going to hurt being a single mom. It was going to hurt the day that I had to give her back. A lot. It was going to hurt watching her go back with people that you just don’t trust. It was going to hurt to give up my career plans, vacation plans, social plans. It was going to hurt if I got to keep her. It was going to hurt if I did not get to keep her. Hurt. Ouch.

I had to let go of the fear of getting hurt.

I had to live in the day to day and the night to night.

I realized on a Tuesday what the sound of unlocking sounds like. It sounds like tiny, 2-year-old feet stepping lightly across the bedroom floor. It sounds like the rustle of her blankie dragging behind her. It sounds like the little whirl of “Aunt D’Arcy?” as I open my 5:30am eyes and see her 5:30am eyes looking at me. It sounds like pulling her up, taking her into my arms. It sounds like an exhale as she settles. It sounds like a soft exchange of “Nose!” and the tapping of a finger on the two noses that were present. It sounds like a tired “umhmm”, said with closed eyes, to confirm that she got it right. It sounds like all those little sounds that we do not ever really listen to.

It actually does sound like a tiny little “click-click”.

And you know the pain is going to be overwhelming at some future point…but you pull the key out of that lock and open the door anyway. You open it to more than just meeting her needs, more than just helping her survive, more than just giving her a schedule and security and teaching her to say “please” and “thank you”. More than all of that. You open it up and you start to love her like she deserves to be loved. Even if that love is going to end up just feeling “helpless” the rest of the time. You unlock.

click-click

– D’Arcy Benincosa

  • My Fictitious Oscar Speech » Erika Ray Photography - […] Head over and read a fictitious Oscar speech… […]ReplyCancel

  • toni raper - so many goosebumps this week! this place feels like a nice soft blanket on which to lay our heads on Amy Grace, so thank you!!!ReplyCancel

  • Kathleen - Wonderful theme and amazing, inspiring contributions as always.ReplyCancel

  • Ingrid - I read these the day they came out and today I reread them yet again. The honesty behind each post reaches the heart..over and over again.ReplyCancel

  • Carrie Geddie - Always look forward to this… Gut wrenching shit feels better together. xoReplyCancel

  • candy - Thank.you for making my eyes well up every single time.ReplyCancel