a purgatory of sorts.

Every night, I check on my son – multiple times – before I got to bed. It’s a dance I perform every hour or so after I put him down in his crib. I climb the stairs without cause, softly push open his door, and let my eyes adjust to the darkness. Sometimes I just stand there listening to him breathe.

After a while I reach down to touch his hair, pat his hip, and go back downstairs. Over the last few months I have found myself checking on him more often. I’m not entirely sure why.

I do know that I am increasingly uneasy. My journaling reflects that. Every night before bed I write a worry I have and something that I am grateful for. Lately, my worries seem a lot easier to identify.

Yesterday, while reading a story about some of the victims from the Las Vegas shooting I paused when I came across a young man who died at 23. “We only had one child,” his parents said. “We just don’t know what to do.”

I stopped reading. I went for a walk. I thought of this young man and his parents. My throat closed in on itself. Then I thought of my son at daycare. Probably sucking his thumb and pushing around a toy car. Then I worried. And I got mad that I have to worry.

I called my senators. Their staffers read prepared statements over the phone.

“I don’t care what he said. What is he going to do?” I asked.

I am still waiting for a response.

a hug i failed to give

When, exactly, do we stop caring about a person?

Is it once the ink dries on the divorce papers? Is it earlier – when we’re climbing the stairs to the attorney’s office? Or did we leave the caring behind in the car?

I want to know. I’m trying to understand how the uncaring unfolds. Is it a gradual process, or more like flicking a switch? Is family something you can truly divorce yourself from? Or is it more like a wart? Something you burn or carve out of your flesh only to have it spring forth anew years later?

I ask because I’m still turning a conversation over in my mind that I had the other night. With an older woman I met at a screening of a documentary. A film about drug abuse. She drove an hour to see it.

Do you know anyone affected? I asked.

Oh no! No one in my family.

You’re very lucky, I said.

She paused.

My ex-husband’s son has a drug problem. My ex-stepson. He’s not doing well. But no one in my family. I’m lucky.

She came to the film alone. The showing was sold out. She lingered by the door just in case a seat became available. One didn’t. So she sat for 90 minutes at a table outside the screening. She attended the question and answer session afterward.

Later she found me outside. She wanted to tell me what she learned about treatment. About how it’s hard to find a good one.

I keep thinking about this woman. And what I should have said to her.

I keep wanting to tell her there’s no shame in having a problem. There’s no shame in being frustrated about a situation you can’t fix. That we can’t ever get well if we feel ashamed of who we are.

And I kind of wish I had given her a hug. I feel like she needed one.

lucky

The woman flipped open my chart. I was there to talk about my teeth. A routine check up. Count them. Scrape them. Polish them. Set me free.

“Are you still nursing?”

No.

“How old is your baby?”

14 months.

“Do you have other children?”

No.

Silence.

There’s always a silence afterward.

This interaction has become routine. Where I live I could be a grandmother and it wouldn’t be out of the realm of ordinary. I feel her eyes scan my date of birth. Some mental calculations are made. I have a few more years than her notched on my belt. And my son is more than a decade younger than her oldest. I smile.

What I consider saying:

He took a long time to get here. I feel lucky to have him. Every night I thank God my one is in my life. And, yes, it’s none of your damn business.

Instead, I lean back in my chair, look at the tips of my shoes, open my mouth, and wait.

some thoughts on an interview.

Your story is never complete and your work is never done.

Tonight as I listened to an interview for a radio series I’m producing I listened to a man recount how he recovered from addiction. How he’s gone on to help hundreds of other people like him and others with different demons. Domestic violence and rape survivors. Veterans. Kids.

He said we all screw up. We all deserve a second chance. And sometimes a third.

“Redemption has to be for everybody,” he said. “Mental health has to be for everybody.”

Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to cut a word from a story. That I could simply push back from my chair and say, hey, people, just listen. Someone important is speaking.

a part removed

My mind will not quiet these days.

Last night, at the park, the sun was slinking off behind the mountains, my friends were sitting in the grass, paper plates balanced on their laps, and my son was gently touching another baby’s belly button. It was, by most accounts, a beautiful scene. And yet. My heart lurched.

I scanned the playground and wondered ‘How many people are going to bed scared tonight?’

Later, over a game of Scrabble with my husband, I checked the news and started to cry. “Families are going to be torn apart,” I said. I studied my letters. I could not find the words.

Today, I find myself Googling terms like ‘how to adopt a DACA child’* and ‘immigration attorney SLC.’ My study is no longer a study, but a room waiting for more important work.

My country feels like an anesthetized patient, cut open, its parts removed. The heart has been misplaced.

——————————————————————————————————————

*Most DACA recipients are adults in their twenties. The majority are employed or in school. Many have children of their own.

lois

IMG_1089

I said goodbye to my nana over the phone last week.

My sister held it to her ear so I could talk to her one last time. Her breathing was rapid. It was her only response when I told her about the drawing I received in the mail that day from my 5 year-old nephew L. It was a picture of our family tree that he had illustrated.

I told Nana that she was perfectly depicted in it – a wisp of a figure with a ring of curly white hair and bright blue eyes. Then I told her I loved her. She died a few hours later.

I regret not thanking her in person for teaching me about badassery. About how to come back after you put your head through a wall and break your neck. About how to continue living after you bury a child. For a woman barely five feet tall and about 90 pounds, Nana was a formidable presence.

She was always calm and claims she never swore once in her 93 years. She said she never felt a need to. She simply did what she felt was right and never looked back, never asked permission, and didn’t always apologize if she was wrong. Nana had a big heart and little tact. And she was a horrible driver.

I will always remember going to dinner with her and my sister one evening in Florida. She drove and got particularly creative in the parking lot. She wedged her vehicle between an occupied police cruiser and a no parking zone, cut the engine, and marched inside the restaurant. J and I just stood on the sidewalk with our mouths agape.

“What’s he going to do, arrest me?” she asked shooting a glance towards the police officer.

The thing is I know he saw her do it. And he likely even heard her say it. But that was Nana. She lived by her own set of rules and she bent them for no one.

Nana appears in some of my earliest memories. I remember climbing over the granite boulders in her backyard to pick wild blackberries and finding a litter of feral kittens she wouldn’t let me keep. I remember waking up on Christmas mornings and her always being there.

I saved most of the notes she wrote me after I graduated college. Words of encouragement. Articles she clipped from magazines that she thought I would enjoy. I know I didn’t always write a thank you note in return.

I’ve had three decades to learn most of her stories. One I have never forgotten is from when she joined the Waves during World War II. She was stationed in California and served as a dental hygienist. That’s where she met my grandfather. But the story I’m referring to isn’t about how they met — although I know that one too — it’s about how sometimes at night, she would sit in the dark, holding the hands of dying soldiers when they no other hands to hold.

Nana didn’t want services. There is to be no funeral. No obituary to mark her passing. I didn’t ask why. I should have, but that would have meant actually acknowledging aloud what was happening. And I guess even at 36, I’m still a little immature.

Instead, I sliced a one inch cube of cantaloupe into 16 pieces hoping she might be able to eat a few. I soaked coffeecake in butter so that she might be able to swallow it. And for the last three nights I spent with her, I sat at her bedside, pulled up her covers, and held her hand.

standing still

At about 19 weeks, human fetuses begin to hear from inside the womb. The first sounds they likely register are the gurgling of their mother’s stomach and the steady drumming of her heart. Her voice will be a sound they recognize and respond to before ever seeing her face. In other words, by 19 weeks, it will never be quiet again.

The value of silence is something I am trying to teach my son to appreciate as he grows. Because the world is a noisy place. It seems that every inch of available concrete is increasingly being used to prime us to open our wallets. Billboards scream at us from across the highway. Our phones nudge us for attention with chronic push notifications. Even my nearest gas station recently installed television screens on its pumps that blast advertisements 24 hours a day – even if no one is around to hear them. I find this disturbing.

The other day as I took refuge in my car from gas station TV, I recalled running errands with my mom as a kid. I remembered the sudden quiet when she’d park and cut the engine. How the radio stalled mid-song and the world outside seemed to operate as if on mute. I can still remember happily sitting in the cocoon of the car in the parking lot of Market Basket while my mom returned the shopping cart. I remember curling into the pocket of sunshine warming the backseat and just watching the world walk by.

That’s what I want for my son. Moments of quiet observation. Moments where he just has to sit and wonder without some device yelling at him. I want him to understand the importance of standing still.

So I started a new tradition this week. I pulled out our copy of A Field Guide to Western Birds and started birding with Gabe in our backyard. Truthfully I can’t say that he understands the point, but he seems to enjoy being plopped in the middle of the grass every afternoon. We sit on a blanket and I listen for birds while Gabe pulls at the blades of green at his feet. Sometimes the cat emerges from a bush and circles the blanket before returning to his hideaway in the garden.

It isn’t long before the chatter of birdsong begins. Within a few minutes a robin will perch in one of our cherry trees and a hummingbird will zip through the yard. While I’m certain Gabe rarely sees any of the birds I point out, he knows to listen for their call. He pauses from playing with the grass and looks to the sky. His eyes widen and he waits. And for now, for me, that is enough.