Monday, May 30, 2016

Oh very young

So my end of the year teacher gift was entitled "120 Things We Love About Mrs. Bridge"

It was a stack of cardstock papers the size and shape of dollar bills. On each was an answer to a question, and between each of them was in fact a dollar. A hundred and twenty of them. It was very sweet and cash is always nice when you're a teacher, but of course, the words were more important.

Here are some highlights (there were many duplicate answers but they were still included):

What I Like Most About Mrs. Bridge is...
I like her laugh.
That she tells stories about her life.
Her sense of humor and being a different type of teacher.
That she always laughs and never gives demerits to 6th graders (Those 7th graders are bad though)
She's nice.
She understands her students very well.

What Does Mrs. Bridge Say All Of The Time?
Get out Simple Solutions (our math practice book)
My name, when I need to come and get my lost things
Chill, baby!
What are you doing in the corner?
She just laughs. All the time.

The One Thing Mrs. Bridge Will Miss About ME Is...
My smile
My sense of humor
The things we talk about in my religion journal
My high-fives in the hallway

My Favorite Thing Mrs. Bridge Taught Me This Year Was...
How to make a sling shot
She taught me about myself
Everything--it was all fun and interesting
How people like chunky pasta sauce and they don't even know it (This was a TED talk...)
About the radio station that is always buzzing (in Russia...)

What I Will Miss Most About Being In Mrs. Bridge's Class:
Jolly ranchers
Telling us stories about her life
Watching TED talks
Her sense of humor
The dart board
Being able to sit wherever we want in class
Being able to come back in and get my things even if she's teaching another class
Her! And that she always helps me. She's my favorite teacher I've ever had and I will miss her advice and our journals. I will miss everything.

This is the first year, in all my years of teaching, that it is hard to say goodbye.

Oh very young
What will you leave us this time?
There'll never be a better chance to change your mind
And if you want this world to see a better day
Will you carry the words of love with you?
Will you ride the great white bird into heaven?

And though you want to last forever
You know you never will
You know you never will
And the goodbye makes the journey harder still

Will you carry the words of love with you?
Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye

Oh very young
What will you leave us this time?
You're only dancing on this earth for a short while
Oh very young
What will you leave us this time?
--Cat Stevens

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Fractured Ode to Friendship

I am not careful with my heart.

I never test the water. I never inch into the pool. I never take a small sip of friendship just to see.

I dive in.

Some of this is because I grew up moving every two years and I had to make friends fast (because I need people so badly). Sink or swim. Some of this might be just because of who I am.

I kept thinking, when I was growing up, that adulthood would be different. Somehow that magically I would be able to do it. That I would stay in one spot (I have) and build friendships (I have) and they would last. And then they don't and there's no cross-country move to blame. It had to be me.

For a long time I thought it was me. Like, for a forever long time. I don't know how to be friends longterm, I would tell myself. Then I would work on that. I don't like change so when things shift in a friendship I can't handle it. That was next, and then I worked on that. I dump my purse on the table too quickly and let people sift through it and it makes them uncomfortable. So then I worked on that.

I did a lot of head work, in fact. A lot.

I even took this class on communication ran by a friend of mine who works as a social worker/counselor type person. And as I sat in there soaking up how to say what I mean and do it right and shared stories with other women who were, frankly, a lot worse off than I was in the whole relationship situation, I thought about some of my newer friendships and how really good they were because I was doing them right and the other people involved were doing them right and we were well-matched and it was so good.

"I wish," I said at one point, "I wish I could go back and start some of my friendships over."

"You can," she encouraged me.

So I did. And what I learned was that she was right--you can certainly start over, but she was also wrong--and if you do, sometimes it doesn't work out.

I don't understand what I keep doing wrong, I texted my friend Maggie last week. I am totally bewildered by adult relationships.

You keep picking the wrong adults, she wrote back. And I cried as I read it because it was heartbreakingly true. I kept picking the wrong friends. Not that they were bad people. Not at all. In fact so many of them were very good people. And so I was left thinking, again, that I was not good people. That all my self-doubt was actually true. I am extra. I am too much.

But in the end, it was mostly that we weren't well-suited for each other. We were friends because we lived down the street from each other. Because our kids went to the same school. Because we were both stay-at-home moms or, later, we worked across the hall from each other. And those sorts of friendships are good, they are, but they don't sustain themselves once the circumstances change. They wind up on life support until it all blows up in our faces.

Or at least in mine.

They always seem relieved.

And I panic and cry and blame myself because of course it is all my fault and I hibernate, scared and alone and afraid of what else will I damage along the way? I tell myself I won't do it, I won't make friends, I will just say, "oh it's fine, isn't the weather nice I love those earrings how's your summer going, that's so nice, not much, how are you" to all the people and live in what seems to be the adult world of isolated islands of lying to each other until we are dead.

But then I can't. I can't do it, not and try to negotiate all the shit I have to handle, all the roles I have to play, I have to have something honest and real somewhere in my life, some island I can go to and just sit on the beach and not care who sees my tattoos, not care about my crooked teeth and my lack of mental filter and my deep hunger for connection.

I have to be able to visit that island. I have to know that you can visit mine and sit at my kitchen table, wait, is there a kitchen on this island? Maybe so, and I have to know that you can sit there with me and we can not care about all those bitches and draw out the story of our lives in doodles on the formica or maybe pick all the peeling paint off the weatherstained wood, and then get up and walk and maybe I'll find a four leaf clover or maybe you'll teach me something about the moon or the St. Louis Cardinals or the history of time and we can laugh and cry and wonder and breathe.

So I will keep sailing, my bowlines tied tight. I will cast my nets and I will find my way to your island.

I will not be careful with my heart.

Because preservation is something you do to things that are dead.

Friday, May 20, 2016

What I learned in math this year

Each year my 8th grade math students fill out a self-reflection and a sort of review of my class. Here are some answers.

Name three things you learned this year in math class that you did not know before:
*how to find free throw percentages
*don't listen to strangers
*how to graph a line
*"central" means "in the center"
*You weren't a model student in high school
*a lot of what they teach in grade school does not apply to real life (you admitted it! No one else ever has!)
*tattoos on the breastbone are really really painful, but surprisingly, feet are not.
*Never go on a snipe hunt
*Algebra I isn't going to be so bad.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

White Throated Sparrow

It had been a hard winter.

There are lots of hard winters, and I don't remember why this one specifically was hard at this point. Time gets away and I've lived in the same house for 18 years now and I drown in the memories when, before, I could mark them by the house where I lived, the smell of salt or mud or river or creek in the air, how the sun moved across the sky, how the dirt felt under my feet.

No more. I mark time by who was born, who might have been there, who was in the scene with me in my memory. And because these things move more slowly now, and all my babies are here and nothing changes quickly right now in this static time between births and deaths? I lose count of when things happen. They are no longer clearly catalogued. I find myself thinking meta about memory more than remembering these days. It can't be helped. I think I have too much dopamine in my hippocampus. That should be a hashtag. One that no one would ever use. #toomuchdopamineinmyhippocampus. Maybe not.

I was standing in front of my car. I was packing the last things up before heading back to St. Louis. We'd been out at Shaw Nature Reserve. Girl Scouts. Girl Scouts is another thing--it is rapidly drawing to a close, but it's ten years thus far of a blur of girls and camping trips and hikes. The other night I sat at dinner with friends, talking about one of the camping trips and it kept going like this:

"Was that the one when we got lost?"

"Or wait, was that the one with the wolf spider?"

"What about that woman who came with us that one time, what was her name? Why was she even there?"

"Was that the night everyone wet the bed?"

Another friend sat there laughing at us. We weren't portraying our time in Girl Scouts as much fun.

But oh it has been so rich.

So I was standing in front of my car, after stuffing it, expertly, because I know how to pack, with everyone's sleeping bags and backpacks and our troop tubs, one pink, one blue, full of more crap than we could ever want.

Snow was falling. It must have been early March.

And I was fragile for some reason. Maybe I was due for an adjustment in my thyroid medication. Maybe I was overtired. Maybe it had been a long winter after so many years of trying so hard and not getting anywhere and not knowing that saying goodbye was another kind of stability, a stability to my heart, to let me be ok. Maybe I was not quite ready to let go of something--my kids' school, my friendships here or there, something. I remember how I felt. I just don't remember quite why. But it was that tired, almost nauseated by tired, an overtired that doesn't have to do with missing sleep the night before. I was fragile.

Girls were standing by the car. My daughter, her friends. They were in coats, the snowflakes falling in their brown hair.

And I heard it. I turned my head to the song.

"Shh," I told them. They always listened when I said things like that. It is a perk that comes with being a girl scout leader with mad skillz. I know shit. And so when I was standing there in the light snow, girls waiting to leave, and I hushed them, they hushed.

Oh sweet Canada Canada Canada

"Do you hear it?" I whispered. The first true bird song I'd heard that year.

They listened.

Oh sweet Canada Canada Canada Canada

They nodded.

Something shifted in my brain. Something chemical, like a drug. I could breathe. I didn't feel all that heaviness that had been building for oh so long. I felt the edges of my mouth start to smile without trying.

We got in the car and drove home in the flurries and cold and hope for spring.

Oh, little bird, open your mouth and say
Been so lonesome, just about flown away
So long now I've been out
In the rain and snow
But winter's come and gone
A little bird told me so

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Her Last Seizure

Five years ago today I got a phone call from an epileptologist. Now, most people don't want to get phone calls from people whose business cards read "pediatric epileptologist" and wear pinback buttons that have a red diagonal line through the word seizures. You just don't want that.

I had met this epileptologist two years before, after having met EEG technicians and anesthesiologists who drugged my daughter with halcyon before knocking her out for her MRI. "Say bye-bye to mama!" he had told London. And London giggled and waved at me. "Bye!"

It was cute but it wasn't.

She'd had her first seizure on Bixby's birthday, about two days after we brought Niles home from the hospital. I had also fallen down the stairs that day--about a week post-surgery myself from my 3rd c-section. I was covered in bruises and later on found out I had a broken tailbone, but London was lying next to me on the couch taking a nap and had a seizure. I didn't know what it was, exactly, it wasn't a generalized one, just a lot of clicking and chewing and one arm.

And then silence. Absolute total silence.

I figured she'd choked while sleeping and was now brain damaged somehow. That I sat next to her on the couch and didn't even notice she was dying.

The firemen standing in my living room: "Let's get this baby to the hospital!" which is probably the last thing a parent wants to hear. Ok, not the last. But it's in the top twenty or so.

Nobody had any answers. All I wanted, over the course of the next few months, was to stand inside London's childhood again instead of viewing it through a window.

I met this epileptologist and she was noncommittal. "If she were my child," she said, "I wouldn't medicate her."

I had gone armed with medical journal articles and the AAP's statement on single unprovoked seizures. I had gone in with my fists up in a defensive posture. And she offered me her hand. "She will let us know if she needs treatment."

I cried all the way home. London didn't understand.

We were so good, and then 22 months later, 22 borrowed months, she had her second on the Friday after Thanksgiving. I woke up to my sister-in-law screaming my name. I ran out of the room to London in her arms, choking on her own saliva, full generalized seizure.

I had ice water in my veins. I lay her back down on the futon she'd been sleeping on. Turned her to her side. She stopped choking. She stopped seizing. She stopped.

God, I remember how perfect her eyebrows were. The shape of the bridge of her nose. Her cheekbones. She was beautiful. It took a seizure for me to see her all of a sudden. Oh little girl, think it over one time...

We called the epileptologist's office. I learned that my emergency is not their emergency. The scheduled me to bring London in to see May.

But what if...oh God we can't wait that long...what if?

I held my breath for almost 6 months, not able to truly engage or let myself enjoy what was happening around me. Because what if? What if they find something now? What if my family's seizure curse has come true here in my house? Jesus, I rolled the dice three times and had these children and of course I was rolling my own genetics each time. What if she has another? What if they want to medicate her? What if this is the beginning of the end?

We had the second EEG, sleep deprived for me and London, and the EEG technician was inscrutable. The first one had been clear that she'd seen nothing. This one scared me. If she'd seen something and then sent me home with this baby? How dare she.

The next week was 5 years ago today. The caller ID was from her office. I answered, and was surprised to hear her voice instead of a receptionist.

"We don't need to see London," she explained. "We most likely never need to see London again."

I've never spoken to her since. London's seizure risk is equal to any of us walking the earth now. It's been over 5 years since my daughter had her last seizure.

Her last seizure. It's reckless to even put those words together. But life is not worth living if it isn't a laughing full-hearted reckless cartwheel in the autumn leaves.

Sunday, May 15, 2016


I have decided my next blog series will be birds. I began with shearwater, a bird that lives entirely in my heart, having never seen one in the wild. So now I will back up and cover the birds that I know better.


1. I had never noticed mockingbirds until I moved to Houston. They would walk around our backyard, their tails up like checkmarks, and then fly up to low branches, flashing their white wing bars. 

Best of all, when my cat, Wiz, would escape through the sliding glass door off the kitchen, he would run out into the grass of the backyard, where he would wind up crouched down and slinking as quickly as he could away from the mockingbirds who would dive-bomb him, chirping angrily.

He never learned.

2. When I was getting back into the teaching world, I was a long-term sub in an art classroom out in St. Charles. I liked this job. I actually liked it a lot. As a sub in a non-homeroom, my duties started and ended when I had students in my classroom. If I didn't have a class, I could leave the building, leave the campus, and it was no big deal as long as I was back in time for my next class.

So I ran all my errands during my breaks, which were conveniently long and stacked up together. The art teacher at that school (at every school?) has a cushy little place in the world.

So I would be driving away from school at different times of the day, and pass the playground on my way out. Kids would be playing and then suddenly the whistle would blow and they'd run to line up. And then run back and play. And then the whistle would blow again. Lots of confusion as to when recess was actually over.

Because the mockingbirds had learned the sound of the PE whistle. And had a bit of a mean streak, obviously, because they would imitate it at random points when kids were out on the playground. I decided to love mockingbirds then, once and for all.

3. The 8th grade at my school reads To Kill A Mockingbird. I read it myself in 6th grade on my own, when it was a story about Scout. Then I read it for a class in high school, when it was a story of justice and the South. And then I read it for my book club and it was a story about Atticus. All in one book.

But the 8th graders were reading it last year. Many of them, however, were not reading it. The literature teacher would send them across the hall to my room to sit and finish reading instead of partaking in a quiz or a discussion or something—it doesn't matter the reason. Two of my least favorite students were at my back table one afternoon while I taught 6th graders math, and I drifted back to mock them a little bit. They asked me some questions. I started talking.

“I think Tom Robinson is the mockingbird,” one of them said. They were discussing symbolism in the book and the title passage.

“I don't agree,” I shook my head. The two boys looked right at me. “Look at his name. He already has a bird name: Robinson. Scout's family name is Finch. They're not the mockingbirds either. I don't think they are, anyway.”

They thought a moment. “Then who is it?”

“Who might it be?”

“Boo Radley?” he ventured.

“That's what I think. If that sheriff at the end, if he'd locked Boo Radley up for that murder, what would it prove? What justice could come from that?”

We kept talking. My 6th graders turned, some of them, and listened as I kept going. I had the two 8th grade boys completely in my thrall.

"Wow, it makes me wish I'd read the book," one of them said.
"Maybe you will in another class along the way," I shrug. "I do like that book."

They got up and went back to class. I stood up from the table, most of the 6th graders' eyes still on me.

“You were so good, talking about that book. Why aren't you a lit teacher?” one of my 6th grade girls asked.

“Because boys like that would never read, even for me, and it would break my heart.”

Friday, May 13, 2016


A shearwater is a bird. It's a sea bird, nothing that amazing in appearance. Sooty brown (there is a species, in fact, called the Sooty Shearwater), a crooked beak, black eye. 

You've probably never heard of it. It wouldn't make you turn your head. If I ever saw one in person I'd probably think, "gull" and go back to what I was doing, and I like birding. Growing up near the Gulf, gulls are a nuisance bird. The pigeons of the seashore.

The shearwater, though, is more than just a brown sea bird. It migrates more every year than any other bird--thousands of miles from northern Europe to South America, for instance, some in a figure-8 pattern, or infinity, back and forth through their lives, tens of thousands of miles each year. 

Often going days without eating to reach its destination, it can dive hundreds of feet into the seawater to catch fish. It is long-lived, too, with the oldest banded bird at over 55 years old in the wild. 

How many hundreds of thousands of miles that single bird has logged.

Shearwaters fly in a cruciform shape, tilting their long wings to catch the breeze. Their name comes from the habit of gliding on stiff wings along the troughs of waves, making its migration just a bit easier.

This bird found a niche in my brain years ago. Its tenacity, resilience, and stamina covered up in almost complete anonymity, flying across oceans all year long while I walk this solid earth unthinking. It fades in, I'm sure, with other sea birds, like gulls, hovering above the fishing boats, all looking the same.

But this one, this one is different. This one is alive in a way that others are not. This one has a story.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

It comes back around

Several years ago, I was stoop sitting one summer afternoon with neighbor girls, watching kids run around, back when there were still enough kids to run around and use an excuse not to get anything else done in a mid-afternoon on a summer day.

The topic of what girls are wearing these days was getting tossed about. One husband was a high school teacher, and they had been at a basketball game. He pointed out into the crowd and asked, "which one of those girls would have been you?"

"None of them," she responded, "Because I would have had clothes on!"

What followed was a general lamentation about kids these days.

But then we paused. We were all past thirty, a couple of us touching forty. Not old, not really. We could all recall high school, college.

Then it hit me. When we had the bodies and the inclination, the fashion was...oversized sweaters. Black t-shirts with oversized jeans, the obligatory flannel shirt from our fathers' closets.

Combat boots.

I had two pair, one for everyday, one for Sunday best. Back of my head shaved, front long and teased.

Makeup? No thanks.

But I'll sign on for that marines-surplus hat, and my boyfriend here will take a nice kilt to go with his otherwise identical uniform.

I will hide any part of me that looks at all feminine. And then slowly over the next 20 years evolve into jeans and cable knit cardigans somehow. Somehow.

My sister is a manager at a used clothing/vintage shop, My other sister works there as well. They are really aware of trends, because they have to buy clothes from people's laundry that they think will sell quickly at a huge profit.

For ten years I asked her about flannel and dark green doc martens and when they would be cool again, and she spent most of the last ten years smiling at me.

"Good luck with that," she would say.

But now look! My teenage daughter takes out my combat boots and shines them up. Adds new snazzy laces. Wears them around. Both my daughters have plaid flannel shirts. I have plaid flannel shirts again. It happened. It came back around.

...It all comes back around.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Things I've Seen

June, 1992. 

About 2 in the morning. 

Megan and I had gone out. We'd been at the diner alone--since I started dating Johnny, I wasn't part of the ice house dancing trying to drink cheap beer by Jason's truck crowd. But Megan and I were still friends, for the moment. She was heading to Finland in July to be an exchange student, but I had a few more weeks. 

I dropped her off at her house in Alvin and headed home via back roads with no names, straight perpendicular lines slicing up the scrub. I knew these--they were a shortcut of sorts, no traffic lights, if you could avoid getting bewildered and turned around. I knew my route. When I reached the turnoff towards Pearland, I realized the thing I thought was a post of some sort at the corner was a man, shaved head, standing stock still, staring at me, something small in his hand, held close to his face, like a phone.

Except it was 1992. Maybe a walkie-talkie?

I drove down the short road to the one that becomes McKean once it hits town. I turned right, and saw a pick-up truck parked almost in the ditch, lights out.

I passed it, and my brights caught two men in stetsons and jeans dragging what looked like a woman into the ditch. About a tenth of a mile past them, I thought to myself, "I wonder if they need help?" and made a three point turn. The truck lights came on as my brights caught it, and they U-turned fast, heading away from me into the darkness.  

I realized suddenly what I had almost done.

Home wasn't far away. I woke up my parents, shaking, in tears from the terror, the possibility. We called the Brazoria County Sheriff--we didn't have 911 out that far yet--and they wanted me to come out and show them where.

My dad drove me to the spot, and big barrel chested men in state troopers' hats shook our hands. They had spotlights directed into the ditches, but you couldn't see the bottom all the way, not into the water. Those ditches on the side of the road were almost always filled with water, some up to 5 or 6 feet deep. No sewers out that far into the unincorporated county.

"Well," the officer said, "it's too dark tonight to get down in that ditch. Probably was, bunch a drunk Mexicans helping their buddy back into the truck when he fell out." My dad and I nodded in response and we drove home.

"But Dad," I said after I'd stopped shaking, trying to be reassured by the officer's words. "She had a navy blue skirt on. Her head was sagged against her chest. Her shirt was a blouse--white, buttons, collar--and she had long blonde hair."

He listened but he didn't respond.

I wasn't supposed to see what I saw. Whatever it was, I was a witness to something I shouldn't have seen.

I still wonder where they dumped her, after I spooked them.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A box of rain on a Tuesday morning

It’s raining. The sky is dark and it’s supposed to thunderstorm off and on all day. I can hear the Spanish teacher talking about telling time to her young class. Thunder. My kids look up at me. They are still kids, even if they are middle schoolers. The blinds are drawn and it’s hard to know that it’s raining but there’s a darkness outside that’s different from normal.

I’m thinking about life. About how hard we try. How we hope and fear so many of the same things. How each person we encounter, each person we love, every stranger who becomes a friend, every friend who becomes a stranger, how all we can do is love them. There’s nothing that can change the past and there’s little that we can do in the short time we have to influence much of anything.

But I can love people. As best I can.

It’s all I can do. 

I listen to the rain change timbre, slow down and start to halt for a little while. It will likely come back.

Just a box of rain
I don’t know who put it there

Sun and shower
Wind and rain
In and out the window
Like a moth before a flame

My phone sits on my desk in front of me. It isn’t my desk; it belongs to the tech teacher on maternity leave. I hide behind her desktop monitor and watch my phone drift in and out of consciousness, letting me know if there’s a text or an email. I’m looking for the little quote bubble with the smiley face that shows up when there’s a text. 

What do you want me to do
To do for you
To see you through?

My coffee is back in my own classroom, and good thing because the other IT teacher just walked in to check on us. No food or drink in the lab. A student walks in late. He’s always late. Good morning sweetheart.

I hope I’m doing enough for these kids. I hope I’m doing enough for all my people, but these are only my people for the shortest time. We belong to each other for a year, maybe two or three if we’re both lucky. I might teach some math. But really I’m trying hard to teach them how to be in the world. Math is just my method. 

The air conditioning turns on, loud. A couple of students look up at me. The Spanish teacher keeps talking time across the way. The students are typing up autobiographies that they started working on yesterday while I was gone, taking a personal day with no real purpose except that it’s May and I needed time. I needed to go away from this place and be my own person for a moment so I could come back and be theirs again.

Sitting here hiding behind another teacher’s desk and pretending I’m not tearing up thinking about my people and all the interconnectedness around me. A child gives me a glance and suddenly his face reflects his mother’s. Just like how my own son’s face shows me my father’s father. 

The bell rings.

Just a box of rain
Or a ribbon for your hair
Such a long long time to be gone
And a short time to be there

Monday, May 9, 2016

Goodbye Troy.

So I've been thinking a lot about vulnerability and how to be truly present in my relationships and I've decided I'm just going to write this here. There.

I hadn't heard from Troy since Christmastime. He'd been arrested back in the fall, was it? I think it was. And then he was in jail for a while, a long while, and came out seriously injured. Jail, by the way, is a hard place. But I had already started to limit my contact with him, seriously limit, and then it was Christmastime and he called. I don't recall the conversation all the way, and it might have already been in January. But he asked if he could come stay with us a while. And I told him flat out nope. He pushed and I was a brick wall and then he went away. He went the eff away and I was good.

Tangled up in this is the realization that sometimes hope doesn't work out? Things were really hopeful for a very short, very sweet summer. And then it didn't work out. But remember, this is tangled up in knots in my heart, and not bowline or reef knots, but like snarls I would get in my hair when I was a young girl and wake up with a rat's nest on the back of my head.

He called once in February and I didn't answer. One night I went to bed early and he called, and Bixby answered my phone. He was laid up at his aunt's house. He'd been what sounded like a terrible wreck. Broken pelvis, punctured liver, other broken things. I didn't bother calling back. It was done, sad as it was, it was done.

But I wasn't sad. I was busy rebuilding my own life with new friends and old friends that I'd set aside. I was having a great winter and spring.

A couple of weeks ago I was taking a nap on the couch after driving London to camp and spending the day in the world with my friend Sarah. The phone rang and I could hear through my sleep as Bix answered it. I knew before he started speaking that it was Troy, and I felt my heart rate go up as I started to wake. He left just a simple message: tell Sally I called.

Bixby left to gather groceries for dinner after I was awake, and I stared at the phone, at the caller ID. I watched my hand press the buttons to dial the number. I sat on the front steps and listened. He was at Barnes, the big hospital near me (as opposed to the other big hospital near me, or either of the two big children's hospitals near me, ah well). He was waiting to be seen. Because the pins and screws holding his pelvis together weren't holding and had slipped and....I stopped listening to most of the story. He was just telling about the wreck and his subsequent homelessness--he was sleeping in an abandoned car on a friend's back lot. And now he was at the ER waiting to be seen.

Waiting to be seen. You know about me and being seen.

I hung up after telling him to let me know how it goes.

He called back after dinner. Asked if I could maybe come see him because he was going to be waiting for 5 hours, most likely. I got off the phone. I went back inside. I grabbed Bixby. "I need to talk to you. I need to put gas in the truck and talk to you."

I put gas in the truck. I told Bixby what I'd learned in calling him back. I went inside the QuikTrip and bought a coke. For Troy. I went back out, got in the truck, and told Bixby we were going to Barnes.

We went to Barnes and went through the metal detector at the ER. Which is a hive of scum and villainy. I saw him. He looked through me at first and then recognized me. Limped over to me and hugged me. It was so good to see him. I sat down next to him and Bixby sat behind us in a row facing the other way. And he talked about the waiting room and the Blues game and then pointed over behind where Bixby was.

"Danielle's over there," he said. "She should come say hello."

"I don't want to see her and she doesn't want to see me," I told him.

"She should still say hello."

"No." And I meant it.

He changed the subject to the turkey sandwich they'd given him and the wait time. Then asked if I wanted to step out with him, he was going to smoke. So we followed him out and stood on the corner of Kingshighway and I let the feeling soak in. The that woman is the only witness against you in the upcoming trial, the upcoming felony trial over whether you hit your son. The state of Illinois took your son away and you two are still pathetically clinging to each other.

I didn't much like the feeling.

Danielle came out in her Batman t-shirt and called his name. The nurse was calling his name inside.

I hugged him goodbye.

I drove home shaking, words spilling out of my mouth to Bixby. I got home and he went to bed and I called my friend Sarah and sat on the front porch and spilled it to her.

You know how long it's been since I had a friend I could call on the phone? I mean that literally. I cannot call anyone on the phone. I can text and email and write long-assed letters to all sorts of folks. People can call me and it's fine. But I can't call you. Can't even call you back. It's been 20 years since I had a girl friend I could pick up the phone and just call. And I did that and spilled the whole day on her table and let her sort through it.

"I think you need to have Bixby handle this now," was her conclusion.

And she was right.

I cried and agreed and felt a lot better about myself. Because I finally admitted to myself why I'd gone to the ER. Because he's about to slip into derelict homeless man status and something about knowing him when he was 11 made me want to say goodbye to that. I didn't know that when I drove to Barnes but I knew that sitting on my stoop talking to her.

I went inside and said to Bixby: I need to tell you something that is going to come as a surprise to you most likely. I love that you have always trusted me on anything having to do with Troy. But today is where that trust has to come to an end. I need you to handle it. I didn't seek him out, he'd disappeared after our last phone call in January, and I never would have sought him out again, but then he called and for some reason, I gave in. And I can't anymore.

He looked at me. He saw me.

The next day, I took my kids to get their hair cut down the street and when I got back, Bixby was cooking dinner. And he told me what had happened.

He called, and I let him give me his song and dance prelude, and he's in a room at Barnes waiting on surgery and there's a gal, a social worker, going to help him with housing once he's out, and all that's fine and good, and then he went and asked me for forty bucks and then I tore into him. Told him he'd had that woman at the ER and then had the audacity to call you knowing she was your kryptonite, and told him that we were done. It was all done. He stuttered and failed to interrupt a lot but in the end all he could get out was could I please ask Sally what she thought about all that?

Suddenly I could breathe again for the first time in two days.

It was done.

And I was still ok.

My life is richer for having done what I've done. I don't regret anything from when we worked with Troy and his son and tried to be a force of stability in their lives. WE WERE. What I regret is the second summer and all the times I tried to reach out after it was obvious he was gone. And more than that, there's a part of my heart that regrets having ever met him in the first place.

There's a lazy eye that looks at you
And sees you the same as before
When you lay beside me every night
But now you are with me no more

Goodbye Troy.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A hike.

I woke up this morning shaky.

I don't know why.

Bixby asked if I had been taking my iron and vitamin D. I haven't. Perhaps that was why.

Or maybe it was something else. But I don't know what. I'd had 7 hours of sleep. I wasn't starving. I don't know.

I was shaky.

I lay in my bed until I couldn't stand it anymore and went downstairs to talk to Bixby, where he asked me about the iron. No, I told him. I'll take it later. I can't take it first thing with my thyroid medication, that damned primadonna that requires an hour to itself inside my gut before I can introduce anything else.

I went back to bed and tucked all the blankets around me. I felt cold but I knew I wasn't. I lay there, sleeping a bit, feeling lousy, all these negative words going through my head and wondering if I was literally going crazy for once and for all.

I got up and washed my hair in warm water, bending over the tub. Bixby and London had gone to church; I don't go to church on Mother's Day.

Oh. Maybe was that why I was shaky?

I don't go to church on Mother's Day because I don't want to stand and be congratulated for my good luck in being able to produce three children. It's just a thing about me that I haven't let go yet, being pregnant post-miscarriage and not being able to handle any of the anything going on inside me and it's Mother's Day and I'm literally great with child and I don't stand up when the priest wants to give us all a blessing and a carnation. I leave my carnation in the pew. I hate Mother's Day.

I got dressed and went downstairs. Bixby and the kids had put together a day hike with a picnic for me. Pickle Springs. My favorite hike. So we went down to Pickle Springs, an hour drive, and I was still discombobulated. It didn't help that Niles had tried to get himself invited on a Mother's Day picnic with his best friend's family. Was I turning into that mom? Ugh.

We got to the hike and parked the car in the full parking lot. Started walking to the trail and stopped. Looked down. And this happened:

It seemed like a good omen. I felt myself smile at the little anomaly. We walked.

The first part of Pickle Springs is downhill, and it doesn't get my heart rate up. So Niles and I ran some instead, my feet pounding down into the dirt, feeling the roots and rocks through my boots. Oh, this was better.

The hills began moving upward and I pushed. I know what hiking does to me and I wanted to feel it NOW. I force marched that bastard trail until we got up to the cliff side glade.

Then we had lunch and I felt the sweat drop from my forehead down onto my hand, my upper arm. I sat and stared at the tree line, the blue sky, the shapes inside the leaves moving in the breeze.

I was solid. I wasn't floating away. I was here, I was myself.

I ate lunch with my kids and my husband. I helped a family find their lost child (yes, literally that). The ennui had dropped away before that but it solidified further the feeling of walking on the earth as a created entity. I wasn't shaky. I was good. I was quite real.

Walked the rest of the way, which I always think is right at the end when we get to those cliffs but I'm always wrong because there's a trip down and then back up yet again. But that was good, the last hill long and sloped up to the final glade and on to the parking lot, my face all Irish pink and my hair wet with sweat.

I think I probably need to hike more. Like every day. For the rest of my life. Hmm.

Friday, May 6, 2016


I am a Eucharistic minister at my school's church. I don't do it at my home parish because, well, because I'm bad at meeting my obligations on calendared events. I'm always looking at a schedule thinking, oh, I can't do that weekend. Or that one. Damn, now I need to find a sub. And then, inevitably, I don't find a sub, and then things go downhill from there and I have to apologize.

But at my school's church, I'm already there for Thursday mass with my class and so when the teacher planning the mass that week asks if I'll do it, I always say yes.

I stand up at the altar and the priest hands me the metal dish with the hosts and I walk over to the side or in front next to him.

And I give out communion.

Each moment of saying The Body of Christ and either being talked over by the impatient old guy AMEN or waiting for the timid 5th grader to whisper it, or maybe not even that, each moment I lift that host into the air and say those words, it becomes a spiritual moment.

Not because of what I'm holding or where I'm standing. It's because this moment when I lift my hand in the air and say those words, it is just me and that other person in the whole world.

It really is like that for me. It's this strange little intimate moment between me, and most times, a stranger. When it isn't a stranger, like one of my 8th graders not knowing whether to smirk at me and treat it like a joke or just say amen in seriousness and depart, it is sometimes a little hard to bear.

I take the plate back up to the altar, and the priest empties it and hands it back to me with a whispered thank you. I put it back on the credence table and walk back to my place in the congregation. All my students are kneeling. I sit down and put my head in my hands, this overwhelming feeling of connection starting to fade. I take a deep breath. One of my boys is looking at me, worried, even though this is what I do after every single time.

This is what I live for. Not to be a Eucharistic minister, but for connection. To look into another person's eyes and have a moment of connection.

To look across the classroom and catch your eye and know that you know this is ridiculous too but we are both stuck here with these silly classmates of yours.

To catch your eye across the dining room and you know it's time for us to go before I say something I'm going to regret.

To glance over at you after saying something important through tears, so glad to be here together.

To look and see that you see and know that you see that I see, and know that we are viewing each other with new eyes for just a moment, just a single moment of transfiguration when we can see clearly the humanity of the person in front of us.

That's my communion.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Right now (a semi-regular recurring post)

Right now I have three minutes left to my break and then it will be lunch time. This both makes me love Thursdays and hate Thursdays. I do best with a break from 1:20-2:00. Having a break on top of lunch is a nice stretch for my brain but it makes for a long afternoon.

Right now I'm staring out my window at the clear blue sky and watching a rabbit eat clover. We have named the rabbit Gerald. My students, being middle schoolers and therefore still children, see Gerald and call out his name and everyone runs to the window. It is May. So this is fine. Call it a brain break.

Right now I'm starting to divide up my homeroom and my partner's homeroom for next year. She is leaving and I'm disappointed about this but on the other hand I like power so I get to make all the decisions and that's fine. 

Right now I'm hoping that her replacement, and the 7th grade teacher's replacement, prove to be as good as my principal's other hires. She's done well in that department. And I got to help hire my partner, which I know is a huge thing and says a lot about what she thinks of me and my opinion. Like my friend Trisha said, I could make a place for myself here. And I am. I just wish they could pay me enough to stay awhile.

Right now April is over and so I might eat in the lounge. I might. We ordered Chinese food. I could suck it up. But I like watching youtube videos and texting friends, too. I will probably eat at my desk.

Right now the bell rings and my homeroom comes in and sits. We pray together. They go outside. I wonder if the Chinese delivery guy has arrived yet. For some reason, we always order on Thursdays, which means I make the phone call (during that break that just ended) and I collect the money and I pay him. He got a 20% tip today and I pocketed the rest. Because in the end I'm probably not a very good person? But a 20% delivery tip seems fair. Maybe we need to renegotiate the total for lunch. And then I can be a good person.

Right now I'm counting the minutes, hours, days...

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

How hard I tried

and I am listening to the low moan of the dial tone again
and I am getting nowhere with you
and I can't let it go
and I can't get through
I am drawing the story of how hard we tried
how hard we tried

Summer 2002.  

Why is your daughter's lead level 17? The nurse asked me. 

As if I'd know. 

Except that I did--we lived in the zip code with the highest number of lead poisoned children per capita in the state of Missouri, which of course at the time had the highest number in the nation. So we threw the dice and lost. I did this. This is my fault.

But 17? Dear God. What does this mean? It means Vince from the City comes and ultrasounds my walls. It means our kitchen and upstairs back porch are poison. It means...she could be brain damaged...have low impulse control...ADHD...learning disabilities....stomach problems...which of course upon receipt of this information, induced all these symptoms in me.

I left.

I packed her up and moved out. Things were irrevocably damaged and there was no turning around, no going back. Everything I'd tried--how hard we tried--was for naught because I hadn't thought about closing the windows and turning on the air conditioning and instead blew a fan right across us filled with lead dust from the porch. I would call Bixby, ask how it was going. Tense talks. Getting nowhere with you. Can't sell the house with lead paint, can't live in the house with lead paint, now, for real, everyone will know what white trash we are. Can't let it go, and I can't get through.

Coming back to St. Louis, most of the house painted, waiting for the City to come and paint all our windows shut and put caution poison hazard yellow tape all over our house, dropping off the wetvac at my parents' house, my dad yelling at me for not wrapping the cord up with a bread tie or some nonsense.  

Oh come on, I told him with shaky emotion. He looked at me, and I think it was the first time someone saw me for real in months. This is going to cost me my marriage, I think you can tie up your own fucking cord.

But Vince gave our house a clean bill of health later that fall.  He told us we were good people. But I didn't feel like good people. I had let this little person down.


Brooklyn's lead level dropped to 9, and then to 7, and then I stopped going to the clinic for blood draws, after watching an incompetent woman hold my child down and draw blood from her neck.

I started to be the parent I was meant to be. Because fuck that.

I started learning that I could fight for someone else. And fight hard. And wake up and fight again and again and do all I had to do to bring her to fruition.

And I did.

Life should be an open hand, not a closed fist

Nothing happens in a vacuum.

I was teaching at a small Catholic school in south St. Louis. A nice place filled with a blond army of German descendants and city workers. One of my little first graders fell on the playground, collapsed, and after the aide sent him up with his classmates to my room on the third floor, he passed out at his desk. I carried him down the steep steps to the office and his mom came to pick him up. She looked worried. No. Terrified. I wasn't a parent yet but I could feel it.

I left for Milwaukee that evening and spent a very short weekend with friends. In the days before cell phones, I was terrified when I came home to over 20 messages on the machine Sunday evening. My room mother calling me. My principal. My coworkers.

He'd broken his hip, my first grader. Because he had a tumor.

It looked like Ewing's sarcoma. Bone cancer. Lots of scans. He was in the hospital, and Monday after school the principal and I went together to see him. She was weeping in the car. I was too young to grasp the gravity. Yet.

We got to his room, and there was his mom, looking like you might think she would. I sat and talked with my little guy and a doctor came in. The films had been sent to Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. They had news.

It wasn't Ewing's sarcoma. It was benign.

While this was happening, in the previous weeks, I had interviewed for a new job at my parish school. It was taking them longer than I wanted to decide. And that principal crying in her car? She had become thin-lipped with me, often angry, calling me out at faculty meetings (goodness I'm better at it now, working for people?).

And over the course of the few months previous, my life was becoming a huge mess. I was developing an unhealthy drinking problem, again. I was beginning to see that maybe I was the integral piece in all of my problems. I put on a bunch of weight, my house was a mess, my life was too.

Because my little guy couldn't make it up 2 flights of stairs in a body cast, I made an arrangement with his mother to come by his house 3 afternoons a week and tutor him so that he wouldn't fail first grade. When I told my principal my plan, she had shrugged: "well, shit happens, you know. Lots of kids fail for unfair reasons."

She told me I was enabling him. A first grader in a body cast who narrowly escaped amputation and death. Enabling.

He was not one of my favorite students before the accident, and while I grew to like his mother, I never really clicked with him. But I kept going to these tutoring sessions on my way home. My school year ended with one last argument with the principal, in front of my class. My team teacher didn't say goodbye.

But later in June, his mom called me and asked if she could bring something over. I said, sure. She brought over a beautiful little statue replica of the Pieta. She brought over a rosary blessed by the pope. And a card she had made herself, with the lyrics to this Natalie Merchant song on the inside:

Oh, I want to thank you for so many gifts
you gave with love and tenderness,
I wanna thank you

So the whole year wasn't a waste after all. And maybe I could move onward and upward from there. Because I learned life should be an open hand, not a closed fist. WHO CARES if I was enabling him? It cost me so little and gave him so much. It was how I had to live. Nichevo.


Silhouettes and photographs
Color the lines around the past
All the carnage all the tears
Along the road to getting here

I got in the car. I was sick, exhausted, depressed. My firstborn was in that giant building, that complex, lying in a plastic box, essentially abandoned to nurses and IVs. I couldn't believe it when they said she couldn't go home with me. My doctor even offered to let me stay until she was ready to go home--which would be another two weeks of pitting edema, failing to breastfeed, fevers, and diarrhea. No thanks. The nurse who took my last vitals had me drink ice water before taking my temperature, which brought it down to normal. I packed up my things, discarded any "freebies" the hospital that had given me the infection wanted to send home with me, and walked away.

I felt filthy. Some disgusting nurse had given me and my child an infection that would reverberate through the rest of my life, possibly hers as well. With her dirty fucking fingers inside me.

And I had left the one person who needed me the most behind in a plastic box to cry and lose hope. Do newborns have hope? I thought to myself. I had very little at that point. I could hardly put a thought together in my head. I could hardly walk to the elevator.

I got in the van for the first time in 8 days. Mike pulled out of the hospital parking lot and put on music, whatever was in the CD player from before this fiasco, I mean delivery. Willie Porter's second album was on. Rollin through my mind like a carnival/cotton candy, queen of the fair. I of course promptly and according to prophecy burst into tears.

My mother-in-law drove me to the hospital for the next two weeks, every day to try to bond with Brooklyn. And then I would go home and stand in the shower trying to scrub off the smell of hospital soap.

I didn't let anyone play any other music the whole time. And the mystery of you keeps me holding on. The mysterious part is that three days after I got home, I was well. And three days after Sophia came home, she was breastfeeding, she was bonding, we were on our way. I was traumatized a long time to come, a long time, but she clung to me and it made me love her. This tiny person loves me. I can't be all bad.

You can lose hope. And you can find it again. And the losing and the finding? Makes you want to hold on.

Faith and trying again.

I have been a member of my parish community for 18 years at the end of this month. We moved into our house 18 years ago at the end of this month, and we had been church hopping as a hobby for a couple of years--mostly because the geographic parish where we found ourselves was kind of punishing. So we went from here to there, mostly city parishes and a few south county ones I knew from my childhood.

None of them felt like home.

So we moved, we bought this house, and my grandmother told me I should call up at the church and get myself registered. I called, and the priest answered. Asked me where I lived, and told me that I actually was right past the boundaries. Told me what parish I lived in, and I said, "Oh, ok, I'll give them a call."

"Wait," he said. "Do you have kids?"


"Do you plan to have kids?"

So we registered. He was very charismatic and I liked his homilies and it was good.

He confirmed me, at the back of church, right below where we hang the advent wreath. Smeared the chrism oil all over my forehead. Be sealed.

He hired me. To teach math even though I had no business teaching math--and discovered quickly that I had no business doing anything else.

He fired me. Not exactly. I was pregnant and hormones were affecting my ability to use my prefrontal lobe. I wasn't fired. We just...parted ways. And that was fine. I had a baby and kept going to church. Let him baptize her, even.

I got pregnant again. I found myself slipping away. Did I really believe all of this? I just wasn't sure. So I prayed about it. And the week after London was born, the diocese told us we would be closing. The heartbreak I felt? Told me that maybe I believed in something about this place, if nothing else. I went to meetings with a newborn baby and watched as elders of my parish put together a counter proposal.

We stayed open.

London's first year, I came to the conclusion that I couldn't be Catholic just because I played softball with nuns and liked the way Rose sang. I couldn't. So I prayed some more, and I went on retreat with Sr. Cathy and learned about St. Hildegarde and read some more and prayed some more and got nominated for Parish Council.

I volunteered to be secretary.

In our first year as a council, our priest announced he was leaving, and I wasn't sad. I had sat at his difficult table long enough. I had learned a lot--mostly about how to stay in community and admit that *I* was the difficult person at the table! And I was ok with that. The council got to meet Fr. Miguel before anyone else.

I fell in love with him.

Absolutely madly in love with him. Everything about him.

I spent ten years at his table, sharing it with Sister as well. It was all kinds of perfect. I learned about liturgical art. I made some phenomenal banners. I learned more about plants than I ever wanted to know. I defied boy scout leaders who were mean to me and bought my own damned trees, thank you. I decorated for Christmas. For Easter. For Pentecost. I went to meetings.

I became a Benedictine Oblate. I went on retreat.

I tore up carpet in the sanctuary and scraped terrible tile off the floor to reveal hexagon tiles and a snowflake pattern in front of the alter. I cleaned up the messes and reorganized the sacristies and lay on the floor in front of the communion rail laughing and drinking coffee after a long day's work.

I drank wine, too, and liquor 43, and all sorts of sweet vodka things. I hugged and kissed many, many people hello and goodbye. I ran an atrium, for one year, in the basement. I wandered through the old school building looking at photographs preserve your memories they're all that's left you. I stole some furniture from the school. A pew from the church (well, I was given the pew). I brought my parents from their university church over to my parish and sat next to them at 10 am mass each week.

I learned from Sister, so much, so many beautiful things about my faith. And so many things about how to run a church.

I lived for Miguel's homilies some weeks.

The day London received first communion, he invited her and the other little girl to sit on the sanctuary steps with him for the homily and he talked directly to them. So verklempt watching it. He nearly waterboarded Niles by mistake at his baptism.

He sat in confessionals with me time and again and reminded me that no, that isn't a sin either.

And then the bishop moved him. The same year Sister went home to her motherhouse in Texas.

I could have handled one of those ok, I think. Maybe. I was happy for Sister--she was going home, literally, and about to do a job that our parish had helped her prepare for. And she was happy. I was sad for Miguel. I think he loved our place in south city.

But like the army, there's a hierarchy in the church and you go where you're posted and he did. And now? We're friends, better than perhaps we could have been when he was my pastor. So I'm happy for that.

But this is a long hollow year for me when I think about church with a lower case "c". I am not in a place in my life where I can be the full time volunteer. And so I've withdrawn. Retreated. Hibernated. I go to church. I listen to Rose and Ann sing. I listen to homilies that feel like university freshman level theology lectures. Not bad, not offensive. Just a little...less...than I'm used to. I like our new priest.

But he isn't Miguel.

And there's no Sister.

And I'm a little adrift because I was a great lieutenant, but I can't be a captain, and I can't be some hot headed general. So I've docked myself in rank and I'm just a soldier in the pews again.

Praying that I can find my way.

I went out with Ann and Miguel last week. And we talked about loss and change and how hard things are hard.

And Ann pointed at me. "I thought you were going to join the choir!" she accused.

I was. When my kids went to school, I'd told her, I would join. I'm an alto who can read music and follow a stronger voice.

Just. Like. In. My. Whole. Life.

Holy shit.

So I'm going to show up on Sunday. I think--it's Mother's Day and I don't know if I can, but I'll try. But if it's this Sunday or next, I'm going to sing.

I'm going to try again.

Because this is where I hang my hat.

For Mother's Day: The One When Sally Tried to Build a Gingerbread House

I'm not much of a fan of mother's day. But I was thinking about it today and found this entry on my old South City Blog. Thought I'd repost it for y'all.


Twas 5 days before Christmas and all through the house the kids were so ramped up on sugar that they couldn't think of a rhyme here.

We made a gingerbread house. House-ish. This was my entire day. My entire day. I've made them friend Mal even had his dad make me a set of cookie cutters for them. They're fun. For some reason, my kids think this is a tradition. I think we've made one since Brooklyn would be old enough to remember. I can't even find any photos. But it turned out ok. Mostly because I made it, with only two hands, and not with 6 extra hands helping me.

 Today's started out good. I found a recipe that I think I've used before. I had this nagging feeling that I should google something, find something made for gingerbread houses, but I went with what I had in the cookbook. We cut out the shapes and baked them. While they cooled, we went to Target and bought cheap candy to decorate it with.

 After we were home, we went to the kitchen and started the assembly. The girls were very excited. I was very nervous. I had memories of this not going well. My memories were correct:

 Look at that Irish engineering. Quality right there.

The front broke. The roof broke. I pasted them together with royal icing and kept going. Eventually, my frustration reached a peak and I told the girls to go turn something on TV for Niles and I'd call them when it was ready to decorate--they hadn't really grasped that the assembly would be difficult or that it would be first.

I calmed down, got the thing together, and called them in. And it was fun. Weird mints on the roof. A makeshift chimney. Mike&Ikes on the front of the house, with two weird penguin cookies holding up lollipops.

Daisy made a random front yard. Brooklyn designed a swingset and a playhouse for the side yard. I attached licorice whips to one side of the house, and then we went away for a little bit to let things dry before we added to it.

Something was wrong, I think, with my icing this time. It wasn't stiff enough. Or maybe it was the gingerbread itself, too crumbly. Some years things break, but they hold together with icing and are rock hard by the time January comes around and I think maybe we should throw that thing away.

We were upstairs chatting with Bix, who'd come home from work, I mean, literally, my whole day was gingerbread house, when London yelled for us: "House emergency!"

We ran downstairs. Our lovely gabled house had collapsed under the weight of its roof. Too many mints. The side walls were intact, and the front and back walls were fine up to the height of the side walls--the gables crumbled with one of the roof pieces. It. Was. A. Mess. 

The girls were giggling--high on sugar, remember--but all I kept thinking was this was my whole day.

And I saw this vision. One of those two-paths-in-the-woods Frost moments. I could pick the whole thing up and throw it away, that was one path. Tell the girls we tried and maybe next year we could do it again. And I looked down that path and saw first our evening, awkward and probably disappointed, and then next year: "Nah, let's not make a house" and then never making one again.

Yes. I saw this.

And then the other path looked so clear. Laugh with them. Fix what you can. Let them play.

So it's more of an adobe-style structure. I told them maybe it was Christmas in the Desert. Fiona really wanted the coconut to be snow, though. With no chimney, we posted a notice for Santa on the roof and made a ladder (you can't really see it--it's on the other side of the house) out of candy canes for him to climb down. They had a good time. I did too. My jaw didn't hurt. I had London sweep the floor and Brooklyn carry the creation to the front hall. They couldn't care less that the gables broke and it didn't look like something Hansel and Gretel would try to eat.

What do we learn from this? A few things.

First, next year? Get the right icing recipe and the right gingerbread recipe and don't overcook them or make them too thin.

Next, assemble it the night before while they are in bed and let them go at it in the morning when it is rock solid.

Finally, that gingerbread assembly isn't really in my job description, but good childhoods are. And I need to keep that in mind. Always.

Monday, May 2, 2016


Thinking about prayer today. For lots of reasons. I don't tend to do intercessory prayer because I frankly don't believe in it, but then at moments, I find myself going back to God just, could this please happen?

Almost immediately after, though, I sigh and think about the Desiderata: and whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. So let it unfold.

And yet, I don't believe in the trite bullshit of "everything happens for a reason." Because some shit, there just can't be a good enough reason. So then I'm torn again.

I find myself puzzling over miracles and thinking that I don't really believe in them either. Perhaps we view them as miracles, but really? I'm just not convinced of a capricious God who pulls that kind of thing on us. To keep us on our toes? To keep us hoping? Plus I believe that God created a natural order and natural law and if miracles seem break that order, those laws, it fits in my brain only if they aren't miracles, and instead just further alleyways of order that we cannot yet see. We still need to winnow our way there.

Anne Lamott writes: The three things I cannot change are the past, the truth, and you. And sometimes this is my prayer. When I encounter anyone, I try to believe that. Nothing that has already happened can be erased. No matter how many times I lie and lie and lie to myself, to you, to them, it does not change the truth. And I cannot change who you are. I can love you. I can encourage--I can help you tell the story of your heart--but as much as sometimes I want to hold that power, I cannot change you. I cannot change anything but me, and therefore, perhaps a little bit of the present and future. That's it. But that ripple in the pond might be all that's needed to bring about one of those non-miracles.

Because I really believe we are God's hands in the world. We are all God has.

And then I think about the ink all over my skin. In the end, these are my prayers. Two of mine are elegant geometric illustrations:

There is order in the world and we can see it if we look.

One of mine commemorates a scary moment that turned out ok:

Thank you, I am grateful.

Two of them are a mantra to remember:

Let them be. It's fine.

One has a pair of crossed arrows with two hobo signs, a code on the back of my leg:

You can sleep in my hayloft/I will give you what you need if it is in my power


Don't give up. Please don't.

One is a single word in Russian, pointing outward toward the reader:

It costs me nothing. Nothing at all. 

My latest is a compass:

Help me find my way as best I can. And let me help as best I can to be a guide.

That's all I have. Those are my prayers, bleeding out on my skin, I can't hold them in.