Sunday, December 22, 2013

December 22

As we parked in the church lot this morning, Elizabeth asked, "What day is it?"

"Sunday," I said, and added, "December 22."

I looked at Brian. Half a beat after my mouth started to ask "Are you okay?" I knew why he wasn't quite okay.

December 22, 2007 was the day of Henry's funeral. December 22 is a day that has broken me before, sneaking up as it does after the 17th when my guard is down. Today though, I just sighed.

One good thing about always being late to church is that we never hear "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." It's nearly always the entrance song during Advent, and because we gave the music director mostly free reign, it was the entrance song for his funeral. I know people who carefully planned their children's memorials or funerals, picking readings and songs that meant something to them. I was too broken to do that. We asked for one song, "Peace Like a River," one of the songs I had sung to Henry nearly every day. We delivered a CD to the music director who not only played it, but wrote out the music and gave us copies. Today, had we been a few minutes earlier, we would have heard "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," and maybe I would have broken. Music does that sometimes, much like smells.

It was a strangely warm and foggy day today. I don't remember what it was like the day we buried him. Cold, I think. Gray. But maybe it just felt that way, felt like that's how it should be. But warm and foggy is so wrong for December 22, it would have been appropriate in some ways for the burial of a baby.

I did not stop at the cemetery today, even though I drove by. I didn't mark the day in anyway, except to nod and squeeze Brian's hand when I realized.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The day after

There is no right thing to do on the anniversary of the day your child died, but what has felt most right to me over time is slowing down and making space.

I gave clients a heads up that I'd be out of the office with no email yesterday and put projects on hold. I didn't even turn my computer on. I knew I would find at least a few messages of support and remembrance on Facebook or in my email, but I'd also be distracted and find offers and ads and things that begged for a response.

Instead, I put together a basket of greens and a strung a heart of cranberries to take to the cemetery. I strung another heart to hang on our door. I sat and read.

We all went to pick Kathleen up from school and brought the basket to the cemetery. The snow was falling heavily as we stood looking at the small stone, the dark green and deep red. It was cold. The roads were sloppy. We didn't stay long. This is the only thing I ask for on this day—that we go together as a family to the cemetery, however brief our visit.

It was a half day because of the snow and I got my neighbor's kids off the bus. It wasn't part of my making space plan, but it worked. They made cookies with Kathleen and watched a show with her. They all, miraculously, got a long. When they went out to play in the snow while Elizabeth still napped, I read some more. It felt good to just sit.

After I got my girls to bed, I read some more. I finished The End of Your Life Book Club and then started (and then finished Sun Shine Down). A book about dying and life, a book about Down syndrome and living with the unexpected fit well.

For all the build up, this day I dread wasn't that bad. I moved through it slowly but without spills.

This morning I got up (late) and bustled us out the door. When I got home, I started up my computer and caught up with all I let sit yesterday. I should take breaks more often. I finished my chapter for work, helped Kathleen with her project, picked up milk and bread from the store. I took a deep breath because December 17 has passed again. I'm still ready for a new month, a new year, but I think (hope) the worst of this challenging month is past.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Clear and bright

The sky was bright and clear, baby blue. Outside felt still, but you could see the clouds move. Dusky gray and white wisps and mounds moved quickly across the sky. And even though I saw the sun sunk low behind the skeletons of trees and the house across the way, it was lighting up the tops of the clouds as if the sun sat within each one. 

I felt lighter today, as if the storm clouds that hovered low overnight Saturday into Sunday held the darkness close to me. It’s clear now, more open—and cold. The stars will be crystalline tonight over the glittering snow. The moon will encourage me to take a late snowshoe or ski, when I bring the dog out to pee, but I’ll go back in by the fire to keep watch over the girls who sleep above. (Or so I hope.)

An hour later, at five, I roused the dog from the couch where he’s slept all afternoon after a long morning romp through the snow. While I waited for him to do his business, I could see that the sun I had glimpsed at four had sunk away completely, but still there was the tiniest glow in to the west. We turned the corner and I could see the hint of a ghost of the full moon behind the tall pines across the street. As I waited, more clouds hurried across the sky, these glowing too, lit from below by the yellow moon. Even in the dusky purple gathering darkness, there was light all round me.

I’m tired, worn out from the tension of joy and sorrow of this month, worn out from the anxiety and relief about my dad, worn out from the bustle of getting ready for Christmas and birthdays even though I tried to let what I did be enough, worn out from this cold that has kept me up too many nights reading and sipping hot tea. I’m tired, but this open sky, this glow within the clouds, this cold, is stirring something in me, some energy I didn’t know was there, some energy that feels something like hope.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Five and three

I have a five-year-old and a three-year-old in my house, where last Tuesday I had four and two. Kathleen woke up singing Wednesday, "I'm five! I'm five! I'm five! I'm five!" She's still delighted. Elizabeth keeps asking "Is today my birthday?" She knows she's three, though she is uncharacteristically shy about saying it sometimes.

On Wednesday there was cake and sausage for breakfast, cookies for school, a lunch with dad, presents and more cake after lunch. Today we had pancakes and sausage and bacon, snow to play in, our neighborhood friends and Papa for supper, cake and presents. It's been a very birthday week.

And now nothing stands between me and the 17th. My dad is home and doing well. My girls have celebrated and grown. I am grateful and happy and exhausted. Today, I pulled it together as much as I could, but really, I was just done. I'm staring down Tuesday and wondering if I can I just sleep through the rest of the month.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My family

I'm blessed in my family. I've known this, but I am reminded again and again.

My dad is doing much better. But over the weekend when my mom seemed to need somebody there on Tuesday, my sister and I tried to sort it out. It was the day in my schedule I could go, though I needed to come back that night. I said I could do it. I assured my mom, who wanted my sister's understanding of medicine and the healthcare system, that I could talk to the doctors. I certainly have more experience than I'd like. I told my sister that I could and would do it, but if she could I'd really appreciate. Then thinking about how she was trying to reschedule an appointment that had to happen before Christmas and having her husband try to change his work schedule  and piecing together childcare from friends, I called her back and said, this is silly, I should just do it.

She wanted to do it, she said. She felt bad she hadn't been able to go when my dad was so sick before. She'd like to see him. And, she acknowledged, I know this is a hard time for you. This is what I love. My family knows—understands—that even six years out, December is a struggle for me. They get that having my girls' birthdays in this month makes it easier and harder all at the same time. I know people who didn't get that kind of understanding in year one. I'm lucky in my family and thankful.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

What you can handle

God doesn't give you more than you can handle. It's one of those sayings like everything happens for a reason that doesn't sit right with me. Still, this was my prayer today:

I can't handle more. Please. 

My dad got very ill suddenly back in October. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital with a raging fever. "Sepsis," my sister told me when she called. Hearing the word, I could see it on Henry's death certificate. The word infiltrated my brain, spreading, growing, like the infection itself as I waited for more news, tried to figure out if I needed to go.

I did go that afternoon. As soon as I parked in the hospital garage, I was in in hospital mode—purposeful, quick, tense. I figured out where the stairs were and how to wend the maze that all hospitals seem to be. When I went in to see him, my dad was joking, shaken, but himself. They figured out the source of the problem. Treated it, got a bunch of antibiotics in him, sent him home with a plan for surgery in several weeks.

My dad had surgery on Thursday. It seemed to go well. Thursday night, he joked about going to work on Monday. Yesterday he was in a lot of pain. Today more. And he didn't seem right.

My dad was rehospitalized this evening. We're in the waiting stage now, waiting to see if a CT scan gives useful information. Right now, we don't know if there is really something to worry about. I'm waiting for the call, or if it's really late, an email from my sister and I keep thinking:  I can't handle more. December is enough already. I can't handle more. Please.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


I came home from Thanksgiving a bit reluctantly a day earlier than usual, which turned out to be a wonderful decision. I spent the weekend cleaning: clearing debris—scraps of paper, twisted pipe cleaners, bits of cloth, small sticks and pebbles—and tidying the art table in the playroom so you could actually do a project or find materials there. I dusted and vacuumed. I packed away sweat shirts and organized snow clothes. And I sorted through the boxes and piles that have covered and surrounded my dining room table since August when I gave up my office and transformed it into a playroom. I have no regrets about that change. The room gets much better use as a playroom, but the residual chaos has been driving me crazy. Some how, going into December with a clearer space (the table isn't quite empty, but it's getting there) makes a difference. I feel lighter walking through the house. There's something to that who clear space, clear mind thing.

Kathleen could barely wait to put up the tree. "Can we do it now?" "Let's put up the tree!" "You said we'd start during Lizzy's nap." We put together our artificial tree together. She watched me untangle the lights and wrap them around and around and around. She handed me the red and green wooden bead garland. Around and around and around again. Then we waited some more for Lizzy to wake up.

Here's the red bird paper ornament from Amy and the felt heart I made with one of our Buddy Walk hearts and the matching hearts for both my girls. Here's the red bird Jenni felted for me and the beaded star that arrived while I was in the hospital with Elizabeth, and the one from the ornament swap with the "desert cardinal" feather. Here's the felt cardinal we had on the tree when I was little that I loved just for itself that means something else now. Here's sand from my home town and the painted ornament Brian and I bought in Aruba. Here's the canoe I bought for Brian the year we bought the canoe and snowshoes and a cross country skiing Santa (remember when we did those things?) Our tree is too full. We have a small tree, so perhaps a full size tree is order, or maybe I simply need to weed out the ornaments that don't have a story.

The decorating is done, though Kathleen keeps asking if there are more Christmas decorations, more holiday toys. But we're done. There are red birds throughout the house. Snowflakes, the ones my aunt gave me one of those first awful winters, glint in the sunlight. I light my candle and Henry's tree. I sit by the fire and look into the empty space in the dining room. I look at the space I cleared and breathe into it.

December, three days in, still wary, but stronger.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

December looming

As I look at my grocery list and wonder if there is anything I absolutely need before Friday, anything that is worth descending into the hell that is supermarket the week before Thanksgiving, I realize that holiday is almost here. It's late this year, so two days later, the Christmas season is upon us. Christmas, and of course, December.

I'm not ready.

As my mind tries to grapple with birthday party—which kids, how will I fit them and their parents in my house, is my house really still in this utter disarray from my office dismantling this summer?, theme, when—and the special snacks for school and a present and Christmas—crafts and shopping and decorating, my heart is bending in around itself, protecting, pushing back the busyness and all the doing.

I seem to alternate between okay years and not okay years. This feels like one of the latter. Where last year I barged into December ready for battle, ready to reclaim the month or at least some part of it, this year I'm worn out already. I can't seem to get any traction going into the month.

I've done my usual clearing of the slates as much as possible: no appointments, no work from difficult clients, no tight deadlines. I'm trying to get myself organized to wrap up the gift part early, get that out of the way. My family is helpful. They realize that this month still wipes me out. They offer to pick up or order gifts that will bear my name, and sometimes I take them up on it. I hand off the toughest of my nieces and nephews to Brian.

I look at my to do list and think about what I really have to do and which things I really want to do. I try to cross out the rest. But there is an almost five-year-old who wants a real birthday party this year. The kind with games and cake. If it were not this month, if life had not taken that wrong turn a year before she was born, I would be all over it. We'd have fun picking a theme, figuring out games and activities and decorations, decorating a cake. I don't want to throw a birthday party in the middle of December, but even more I don't want to let my daughter down. I have grappled with this since before she was born, since I stared down that first December without Henry and waited for her to arrive.

When I ask who she wants at her party, she starts listing her cousins. Maybe I'm trying to tackle this all wrong. I keep trying to get out of the way and hear what it is that's important to her, try to strip down my own expectations of what birthday means. I try to create simple traditions, ones I can pull off, ones that can grow with us. I love the idea of a quiet tradition that fits our family, but I remember birthday parties—the DIY, homemade affairs that I grew up with, the kind my sisters give their kids. I toy frequently with the idea of a summer half-birthday party as the time to do all the games and activities. I don't know how to sell her on that though, so I keep coming back trying to figure out what it is in her head.

I am looking forward to
  • putting up the tree with the girls
  • the wrapped up books advent calendar that I'm planning for them
  • sleeping with Kathleen on her birthday, because she is so excited about it
  • the tea party to honor Brian's mom, using the tiny cups she gave the girls
  • seeing their faces Christmas morning

I'm dreading
  • Christmas Eve and the hour and half mass and the scramble to get to Brian's brother's house
  • getting bogged down in things that feel like they need to get done
  • that day just past the middle of the month, the one between the birthdays and Christmas, the one that is dark no matter the weather
Tonight, Elizabeth picked We're Going on a Bear Hunt for her story. December is almost upon us. We can't go over it. We can't go under it. We have to go through it. 
Stumble trip   Stumble trip   Stumble trip

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Late October


As I waited for the last two outs, the ones that seemed inevitable, I remembered watching the Red Sox win the World Series in 2007. They weren’t in Boston, but I was. I watched the game on a tiny TV pulled over Henry’s bed. I took pictures of him in his fleece Red Sox hat, with his Red Sox bear, and a Red Sox cookie from my friend Erika on his chest. I watched because as a Red Sox fan, I felt like I should.

In 2007, I stopped being a Red Sox fan. It wasn’t so much that I disliked them, didn’t transfer my allegiance to another team, I just saw them as roadblock. When the Red Sox were in town my dad couldn’t come in to visit or bring me dinner. People would tell me to get out of the hospital for a while, but I wasn’t willing to go as far as my parents and there were no rooms to be had. I watched the Red Sox out of habit and some tie to my normal life, but mostly I just wanted them to go away.

After that, I mostly ignored them. I didn’t care, associated them with those hard months in Boston with Henry. Brian’s not a fan of sports at all and we had cheap cable and didn’t get most of the games, so it was easy to not watch.

This season, it wasn’t until the World Series that I started watching again, and I thought maybe I could start doing this again, enjoy the Red Sox again. But during that last inning, I remembered the baby who “watched” with me last time. He should be six. Would he be a fan? I can see him with a ball cap with that familiar B on it. Would he have begged to stay up to watch the game? Would I have let him, remembering where he was the last time he watched?

I jumped on the Red Sox bandwagon late this year, but maybe this is another little piece of my life I’ve reclaiming. Little things.

Postscript: Shortly after I saw the last out and watched the players jumping and hugging, I started thinking about the parade, the inevitable "rolling rally." In all likelihood, I figured, it would be Saturday. And it is. I'm supposed to go to Boston on Saturday for the grieving families day I always go to at Children's. So once again, I'm thinking about routes and traffic and how to navigate the city around that team.

Sunday, August 4, 2013


As part of the legnthy process of transforming my home office to play room, I'm working on getting rid of my old computer. The one run Mac OS 8.6. The one I haven't used in, oh, six years or so. It's been sitting there because I thought there might be stuff on there I wanted to keep, so tonight I plugged it back in and delved in. I pulled some old writing and a few random files. Then I found my email.

I didn't know how to copy it other than to save individual messages as text files. (I haven't tried opening them on my new computer, so hoping it worked.) I found the emails from when Brian and I first met and birthday plans with my friend K. and messages from fall 2006 through spring 2007 when I was announcing and discussing my new and drawing to a close pregnancy.

I was so damn cheerful, even in late spring when we knew about the heart. I was so hopeful and happy and naive, even as they changed the date of my c-section, even as we met with a cardiologist. I took things in stride better than I ever had in my life.

I found emails from two friends, due like I was in June, who had ultrasound scares. I had remembered one of them having an amnio after her ultrasound, but I had forgotten that the other had had any scare at all. Both of them had healthy babies.

I read emails that had nothing to do with babies and plans for my shower and advice about cloth diapers. I talked about prenatal yoga and feeling good and starting to show and feel movement. A friend's wedding, work issues, TV shows . . . all these bits of my life before.

I've read again the emails I got while Henry was in the hospital and those that came in after he died, but I hadn't looked at the time of hope and anticipation since that time. There is part of me that can't figure out how I was ever that person, but I'm glad I was. I'm glad I had that time of trusting and looking forward with excitement not trepidation.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Overlooking little things

A weird rash that appeared on my leg around the 4th of July lingered, and then started to spread. Last week, I got diagnosed with Lyme disease. Twice a day, I take antibiotics. The doctor told me, "Make sure you take it with food." The pharmacist said, "You'll want to take this with food." I take it with food, and about an hour later, I start to feel like crap, slightly nauseous, tired, very cranky. My patience with my kids has been low nonexistant. And I keep thinking of Henry.

When we brought him home that last time, he was on I think ten meds. Two of them were antibiotics. It didn't occur to me how he might feel because of them. I was too focused on his heart rate and his breathing. I didn't think about how they were wiping him out inside because I was too busy thinking about withdrawal of some of his other meds. That's how it was. We didn't worry about PT because we needed him to be able to breathe. We didn't think about his flat head because we needed him to be stable enough to move. All I thought of the antibiotics was that they would be gone soon—and we'd be down to eight meds.

I'm tired just thinking about that med schedule and pushing the sticky pink antibiotic into his NG tube, wishing he didn't have the tube but knowing the med administration was much easier because of it. I'm tired, just thinking about it, and I wish I could pick him up, snuggle him close, tell him it will get better, he'll feel better, soon, some day. And back when I was pushing all those meds into his tube, I thought that was true. Now, I think, "I'm sorry, bud. Sorry for all you went through." I don't blame myself, I just wish he didn't have to go through it all.

Tomorrow, we're going camping. I'll be on high alert for ticks, like I was on Monday when we went blueberry picking. I tucked Elizabeth's pants into her socks. Instead of telling Kathleen she'd be too hot, I let her wear tights. I love being outside: hiking, picking berries, working in the garden. I want my kids doing these things and running around the yard. I won't stop doing these things, but I pounce on every speck of dirt on their leg or bit of debris on their neck. I know how many ticks we've pulled off this year, and I worry about the little tiny ones we might have missed.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Rani and Anne

Tomorrow, I'm going to the Green River Festival with my sister. Four years ago, I went reluctantly. I got there and heard this, "I wanna be ready. I wanna be ready. I wanna be ready when joy comes back to me." I was slowly opening to joy, embracing it, diving in sometimes,  struggling other times, but that night I found myself ready, joyous, dancing.

Rani Arbo won't be at the music fest tomorrow, but I've been listening to them a lot lately. It's my canning music and my cleaning up the kitchen music, and if you were walking by, you'd see me dancing along with my kitchen chores.

And when "Crossing the Bar" comes on, I always think of Anne of Green Gables, Anne's House of Dreams, really, for Jim, the lighthouse keeper who "crosses the bar." I read the series again and again as a kid, and I'm sure I found it incredibly sad when I read about Anne's first baby, Joyce, dying, but when I read the books in 2009, in my spree of comfort reading when Kathleen was a newborn, I sobbed at the chapter when Joyce is born and dies. It rings true to me, from the platitudes people throw at you to the sting of the words of a friend who didn't know even though you know they would never have hurt you, to the day Anne smiles again, though there is something new in her smile that will always be there going forward.

And what I really love is that this isn't the last mention of Joyce. She is not mentioned much in the last few books in the series, but she is not forgotten. A little bit further along this road (though two children later, not six like Anne had) that feels about right too.

For summer reading, I recommend Anne of Green Gables or picking up a childhood favorite. For summer listening, try Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem, Big Old Life or Some Bright Morning (or get Ranky Tanky for the kids—it's fun too).

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Summer unplugged (kinda)

I remember setting up my first email account to participate in an online discussion group for a seminar my senior year. I have a letter up in my attic from my friend Kate asking me if I had email and telling me what she thought her email address was. It seemed a novelty.

I remember that annoying noise that dial-up made. I always thought we can send somebody to the moon, but we can't come up with a nicer sound for this process? As recently as 2000, I had dial up. I'd log-in, go fill up my dishpan during that annoying bong-buzz-static sound, come back start the slow download process, go wash my dishes, come back to see if it was done.

And then I ponied up for a cable connection. Suddenly I could log on and be on all day. It was so much quicker. Email replaced letters. I played games online sometimes, got my news on my homepage. But still, I wasn't online all the time. I'm not sure how that happened, but I think it started when Henry was in the hospital. We kept moving rooms and I didn't have a cell phone, so email was the best way to get in touch with me. Email and our CarePage became my lifeline to the world outside the hospital walls, my link to the world I so longed to be part of.

And then he died and I was floundering and as much as I dove right into my grief, at night, I longed for distraction, to restless to go to bed. One night I was searching for a poem I got at a grief group and I found Charlotte's Mama's blog, which led me to other blogs and Glow in the Woods, which led me to still more blogs. There were other people who had lost babies who were sitting in the dark not wanting to shut down because that thin veneer, that sheer curtain they had pulled between their hearts and the sorrow that threatened to drown them would go away when they did.

I started to spend a lot of time online. And then came Facebook. Sigh.

This summer I decided to try to spend less time online. I had tried during the winter, actually shutting down my computer when I wasn't working. It made me realize how dependent I am on my online connection. I kept finding myself popping in to my office to "check something real quick," which would have turned into checking email and answering it, and liking half a dozen posts on Facebook and reading articles friends had linked to and . . . .

It's not how I want to spend my time, and summer with all its outdoorsness seemed like a good time to make a bigger break. It helps that I'm not working a lot. I'm out in my garden or trying to read while my kids splash in our tiny kiddy pool or sweating in a steamy kitchen making jam or pickles or relish. My weakness right now is right after bedtime when the kids are down, but not quite settled, when I don't want to get involved in anything because somebody is sure to need to use the potty or irritate somebody else with their noise or just need me.

Unplugged is a bit of a stretch for what I'm doing right now, but I'm cutting back and trying to figure out how cut back more, recognizing that cutting it out completely isn't feasible.

I wrote a letter today, to Kate, who so many years ago was the first friend I emailed. I put in an envelope, addressed it, stuck on a stamp. Tomorrow our mail carrier will pull it out of my box and add it to a pile of mail to be sorted and routed and delivered. She won't get it seconds after I sent it, won't reply almost instantaneously, but sitting with a notecard and a pen, jotting memories and stories about our summer was satisfying—and I didn't get distracted by the new message popping up or the new Like on a comment.

I'm shutting down now for the night. I'll get out early tomorrow before the heat really settles in. I'll drink coffee with my neighbor under the pear tree while my kids get along with hers (or not). I'll check my plants for squash bug eggs and pick lettuce and water. We'll get dressed for story hour and gather trash for the dump. Somewhere in there, I'll log on to see if there are any work issues for my one little on-going project and then maybe I'll shut down again to have the day free.

Do you spend to much time online too? How do you limit yourself? Or do you?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


We celebrated the solstice on Friday with a neighborhood party that included margaritas for big people and lots of lemonade for little people, fire, s'mores, and staying up late. Kathleen got to see a sunset which was on her list for the summer.

Since then, we've had a sleepover with cousins; hot, sticky, icky days; the last day of school; the preschool picnic; homemade popsicles; meltdowns over the color of the handle of homemade popsicles; potluck dinner with friends I may not have visited since last summer, though the've been here a couple of times; sign up for summer reading at the library; homemade ice cream; a visit from a dear friend and her lovely daughter, one of those miraculous visits where two kids who didn't know each other got along swimmingly.

I'm loving the ease of not worrying about waking up for school in the morning and the dread of getting ready for bed, because early or late, there is drama and up and down and "I can't sleep."

We're looking forward to:
the beach next week
seeing bats
a family vacation in August
getting a puppy
picking blueberries from the canoe
camping out
more sleepovers with cousins
raspberries and peaches
making salsa and pickles
running a 10K
reading and reading and reading
going to a zoo
eating ice cream
going to our swimming hole
paddling in the canoe or kayak
eating lots of meals outside
going swimming
watching the garden grow and change

It feels busy already, busy and hot and sticky and messy and good.

What are you doing this summer?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Where did that come from?

The Sunday before Henry's birthday, I thought I was doing so well. I sized up the baptismal font and the triptych of memories and thought, more layers, not so hard.


I should know that when I have thoughts like this it's time to be ready for something to hit. I thought it would be his birthday, which had its moments to breathe through but wasn't terrible. I thought I was good, through that, smooth sailing this year. And then today, I found my self sitting in church on the verge of tears for no particular reason. Later, alone in the car at a stoplight, I felt them well up again, but as I turned, grumbling at the truck in front of me going half the speed limit, I found myself sobbing in little gasps, no tear, just these dry, sudden intakes. Where did that come from? I don't know.

Maybe it was a delayed let down after his birthday.
Or the kids in the car next to me in the parking lot. I thought I recognized them from church. That family of the mom who looked ready to burst as I was harboring my new and still secret pregnancy in late 2006.
Or reading back over my own story over the past two nights.
Or telling the story of being recognized as Henry's mom three years ago (how much that meant to me)
Or seeing yesterday the photos of our local Down syndrome group's picnic, an event we took Henry to when he was just two weeks old. 
Maybe my plateau simply got to a critical point where I needed to crack again to heal.
I don't know. I don't know why I always want to know why, specifically, but I do.

Later as I was working on dinner, a cardinal in his glorious red, landed in Henry's tree and sat and sat and sat. Where did that come from? I don't know that either. It's not uncommon to have cardinals here, but I haven't seen one in this tree before. I watched him and breathed again. Coincidence that on this hard day, a little red bird came twice to my window? Maybe, but it felt like a sign—a wave or a smile from Henry.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Right Where I Am 2013: Five years, five months, fifteen days

Past years in this project, I was on the verge of Henry's birthday, which meant that no matter how good I had been doing, I was wound tight, waiting. This year, though, his birthday is just behind us. He would have been six. I'm almost five and a half months away from last holding him.

Like last year, he feels far away. Even when my girls talk about him, about how we love him, how they wish he could be here, and they do talk about him often, he feels far away. That he was here, sometimes feels like a dream. Immediately after he died, it all felt unreal, that he had died, but also that he had lived, and the latter part of that bothered me to no end. If he was not real to me, what about the rest of the world who had not felt him kicking inside, had not rested feeling their body calming with his as he slept on their chest, had not felt the flash of his smile. Now, it is a gentler distance mostly.

It is still surreal to me if I let myself think about it. I had a baby boy and he is not here.

But day by day, I get my big girl off to school and hug her when we both get home for lunch. I snuggle in the morning with my little girl until I can convince her to come make coffee with me. I tell stories and sing songs at bedtime. I notice how big they are getting, and only rarely do I compare to where Henry might be.

Right now, I notice the tree we bought as a gift for his first birthday is heavily laden with peaches. Right now, the red-flowered hawthorne we planted on his first birthday, a gift from my husband's cousins, is starting to fade, but was absolutely brilliant this year. Right now the garden that I tend for him is full of color, early, purple phlox that is almost luminescent at dusk, tiny blue starry flowers that I can't name, brilliant red verbena and the red gerbera daisy I planted this year on his birthday, a hint of pink covered in ants that makes me think of Mary Oliver where my peonies are about to bloom for the first time.

Right now, I'm exhausted but feeling strong. Finally. I am tired, but not worn out. There is something left in me to give. I think in possibility again. I start projects like overhauling parts of my garden that haven't been touched in years, like writing something more than blog posts, and in that writing starting to delve back into memories and sometimes finding that things are closer to the surface than I realized, and sometimes realizing there are still little pockets I have not really explored since he died (though sometimes it seems I have explored every inch from every angle).

Right now I am grateful for the neighbor who knew me when Henry was born and knew Henry for sitting with me on Henry's birthday with a bottle of wine and the dinner I threw together. Right now I'm grateful for the neighbor who didn't know me when Henry was born and never knew him for asking how I was doing in the days before his birthday (not the first time she has given me that space to talk about him).

Right now I'm listening to the summer night sounds coming through the window and the silence from upstairs where my girls finally fell asleep. Right now I'm relieved that I can once again enjoy the quiet.

Right now, I'm grateful to Angie for hosting Right Where I Am again. Because five years and some plus, I still need to pause and reflect.

Right where I was 2012
Right where I was 2011

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Everyone slept in today. Elizabeth stirred around 6 and then settled back and so did I. I woke with a start at 7:30 and hurried up to get started with the morning. I felt beat up. I felt old. Everything tired and dragging.

Elizabeth Mitchell in the car.
Egg sandwich for breakfast.
Gardening in the rain.
Cemetery and chocolate cupcakes.

This birthday snuck up on me. I knew it was coming. But I have a deadline at the end of the week and I've been finagling my schedule around this day that I take off even if I don't do anything. Yesterday, I kept needing the date for a check I was writing and a tracking sheet for my project, and I kept having to check, even though it was the day before this date I can't forget.

I have been feeling stronger, but today I just feel beat up. Six years ago right now, I was in a hospital bed. Henry had, I believe already been transferred to the other hospital. Our dreams had already cracked but we had no idea what the road looked like ahead, how those cracks would keep spreading and everything would finally shatter. Six years ago today, Henry had been born, but in some ways, I was still waiting to meet my baby.


Brian went to our friends' weekly potluck last night. I haven't gone in months because it's too late for Kathleen on a school night. They celebrated a six-year-old's birthday, the little boy born just days before Henry, the one I ran into at the hospital, his mom back for a lactation consult while I was waiting for to get released to see my own baby. I'm glad I didn't have to see six in action last night.


I should have been bringing those cupcakes to his kindergarten class today. Kathleen has been peppering me every night recently with ideas for her birthday party. I have been impatient with them, coming as they do in a flood at bed time. "Just go to sleep. Your birthday is far away. We have lots of time to plan." Maybe I've been impatient too because I should have been planning a party now, cake and games and favors. Would he have liked dinosaurs or trains or animals or sports? Would he have wanted a pirate party or a farm theme? Pin the tail or pinata?

We had chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting and sprinkles at Kathleen's request. She picked a gorgeous red gerbera daisy to put in his garden and helped me plant it today. My babies, two, four, six.


Sunday, May 26, 2013


A few months after Henry died, Brian and I drove to Boston every other week  for a grief group. One of the images that stuck with was the layers of the onion. We kept peeling away those layers of grief—all the little letting goes, the fears, the traumas one after another after another, all the hurts that piled up afterward—layer after layer after layer I peeled it away. And like an onion, all those layers all made me cry.

That image came back to me today at church. We were sitting up front for a change and I kept looking at the baptismal font right in front of us. Before Kathleen was born, I would well up just looking at it, remembering that he had been here and now he's not. Today, I remembered Henry's baptism. And Kathleen's. And Elizabeth's. I did not cry. Time healing old wounds? New skin grown over the sensitive spot in my heart? Perhaps. But today, what it felt like was that I have been adding layers to our story instead of just peeling them away, new layers that soften the jagged edges.

His birthday is Wednesday, and I may find that I don't have as many layers as I think I do or that they all fall away too easily. I may find myself crying over my onion again. Or I may grow another layer on my story.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mother's Day

All over Facebook, friends are posting open letters to pastors about how to deal with Mother's Day and Anne Lamott's comments about mother's love and mystical unicorns. People are thanking their moms and saying happy Mother's Day. The sign in front of the pharmacy says "Flowers for Mother's Day," the greenhouse down the road has "Mother's Day Gifts." Even our farmer's market last Thursday offered jewelry, just in time for Mother's Day.

Last year, I remember reading about people sleeping in and breakfast in bed and homemade brunch and quiet time, and I got jealous. I don't particularly care about  flowers or jewelry or chocolate. I don't need a Hallmark card. I really, really would have liked to get to sleep in though. Instead, Brian rolled over and said, "I need a little more time," and I got up and got breakfast and got everyone dressed. It was not Mother's Day, but a mother's day for me. And as grumpy as I got, and I did get grumpy, I was thankful for the little girls who were there needing me. I was thankful that the trip to the cemetery wasn't the only part of the day with my kids, because I remember the Mother's Day five years ago when that's all there was, when I knew and wasn't sure if I was a mother.

I suggested to Kathleen that she make cards for her nana and big nana (my mom and grandother) for Mother's Day. "And one for Nana B too," she said, "to send to Papa, because she died and we miss her." We mailed all three out yesterday.

 On Thursday, Kathleen brought home a magenta flower in a peat pot and a card she had made. I looked a the flower she had cut and glued for me at preschool, but when I looked closer she told me it was for "another day." My girls both wanted me to look and not look at the flowers they hid up at my neighbor's house. So there will be flowers and cards this year. I won't sleep in, but maybe I'll get a run in along with plenty of time with my girls. And we'll go to the cemetery or I'll work in Henry's garden or at least stop to admire the bleeding heart that I planted last year.

I won't see my own mom on Sunday. I'll call but she may be out to lunch with my sister and aunt and nana. In my card, I thanked her for among other things for letting us go out and explore and get muddy and dirty. I was thinking of Elizabeth at Easter in her white dress and rain boots running and jumping and slipping in the mud, but tonight I honored my memory of being allowed to wallow in a huge mud puddle one summer on vacation. My kids had mud in every crack and crevice. Their clothes are still brown. We did showers and hair washes even though we just did them last night. Coming in to get ready for bed, Kathleen said, "Best day ever!" I got them both warm and cozy. I read the stories and sang their songs and hugged and kissed and tucked them in. Tomorrow I will be up early. I'll snuggle with Elizabeth on the couch and read stories through bleary eyes. I'll referee arguments about who turns on the coffee maker for me and get Cheerios and toast. I'll fix the fort that's taking over my living room when the blanket falls and remind Elizabeth to go on the potty. Brian will get up eventually. Those flowers will appear. Lunch, nap, outside time or movie time for Kathleen. Snacks and snuggles and meltdowns and dinner. A mother's day.

Monday, May 6, 2013


Six years ago I was getting ready for this little being I didn't yet know as Henry to be born. I knew there was a small hole in his heart, and yet I wasn't freaking out. Otherwise, all was well. I felt great. The house was chaotic as Brian tried to finish up the painting projects we had begun before I got pregnant, but the glider was up in his room, a few clothes were washed and ready.

I was busy digging in my garden, trying to get things planted. I didn't expect to have much time to work in the garden, but lettuce and tomatoes would do their own thing if I could get them in. I think of this in flashes, remembering squatting, moving around my belly as I worked. I remember my simple expectation as I get my garden ready this year. And here's the thing: I still believe.

I still believe that my work will pay off even though unforeseen circumstances could pull me away from home come July or August or September as the bounty really begins to flow; we could get late blight on the tomatoes again this year or drought could shrivel up my plants or a late freeze could kill them before they begin to thrive. Squirrels will undoubtedly get the peaches from Henry's tree long before they are ripe. I don't think about what could go wrong when I'm out there digging and moving compost and spreading ash. I don't worry the what ifs while I sprinkle seeds or wield the hose while Kathleen flaps about the yard with the rhododendron branches I pruned recently. I dream. I look at where I might shift and expand. I try to figure out where to put a new strawberry patch next year and where to finally start asparagus. I contemplate fruit trees and blueberry bushes and how they fit in with dog runs and clothes lines and open space for play.

I see the magic in the rhubarb that is already humongous and the chives that greened up before anything else and the cilantro that seeded itself for me and is ready to use now. I see the wonder as little bits of green poke up where weeks, days I ago I planted seed. I, who am usually so linear and organized and planful, can't seem to finish prepping a particular section because there is so much work to be done and I see so much potential. I have new energy. It's been growing in me, and maybe I've talked about it before. I am refilling after the complete and utter wring out of early grief. I am refilling after the needs of the early days of mothering my girls. I am refilling by claiming a little time and space for me to run and write and dig in the dirt.

I am not thinking ahead to the rest of May, to Mother's Day and Henry's birthday, except to think about what I will get for his garden this year. His birthday isn't easy, even separated from the day he died by several months, but somehow, part of what I relive right now is the anticipation, of him and a garden of vegetables, this time of joyful waiting and wonder.

Monday, April 29, 2013


We planted pansies at Henry's grave yesterday. The water spigot near his stone was broken, so Brian walked the kids halfway across the cemetery to fill the watering can. Brian's voice faded slowly as he pointed out names we know and flags for veterans. Cars zoomed by on the road behind me. Our cemetery is right on the main road, and yet, when I'm there, I feel invisible.

The sun was warm and I just sat in front of Henry's stone before I started clearing dead leaves and digging a hole for the pansies. And I thought, not for the first time, "How is this my life?" I am still stymied sometimes by the fact that I have a child who died. I can't make sense of this stone with his name instead of the smiling face and warm body I once held.

Looking at the pansies, I remembered the basket of these white and yellow flower that appeared in this spot that first spring, when the ground was a scar of raw bare ground, much like our hearts. We didn't know for some time who left them, but I was comforted that somebody besides us came, that somebody remembered, that somebody cared enough to leave a patch of brightness for him, for us. I remember too how deflated I was when they disappeared, how the energy seeped right out of me even as Brian's anger burned brighter and harder. His anger frightened me. I remember but I'm here.

I'm here on this sunny day with the grass growing thickly where the ground was once bare. I'm here with a stone marking what was so long unmarked. I'm here with Brian and my girls moving back toward me, voices gaining as they moments before faded. I am here. Brian is here. My girls are here. And the pansies are here, so when I drive by there is brightness.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Care giver

I was stunned to find out that one of my all time favorite nurses died yesterday.

If I had been asked to pick one person from the whole hospital to provide Henry's care, it would have been her. Not a surgeon who might have saved his life or a specialist who might understand his condition better than anyone else, but Cindy. I would have picked her because she knew him. She knew how he reacted to meds and that when he wasn't doing well that turning him onto his left side was trouble. She knew what he needed medically, but she gave him what he needed as a person, as a baby too. She talked to him while she changed him. She smiled at him with her face and her voice. I was able to take a break when she was on because I knew she was on it.

She took great care of my baby, but she took good care of me too. She answered my questions and helped me talk to the right people when she couldn't. She made sure doctors knew I had been waiting to see them. She knew when I was really scared and talked me through it. On the day Henry was getting discharged from the CICU for the second time during our long stay, I was a mess. It was supposed to be a happy day, a step closer to home, a sign he was getting better, but I knew it meant less support, fear of leaving his room, sleeplessness, and of course the last time we were on the floor he coded after a week or so of me saying "Something's not right." She talked me through that anxiety and helped me formulate a plan. We talked about what I knew and when to worry. In the middle of piles of paperwork to move him down the hall from the care of one unit to the next, she sat down and talked to me until I calmed down.

She was one of the nurses who came out to say goodbye the day we were finally discharged. She left a tearful message on our answering machine when he died. She is very much part of Henry's story, and I am sad she is gone.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Enough: Little by little gardening

It's the time of year when I'm itching to get out into my garden and get stuff planted, even though I know I have more than a month before our "last day of frost." But all those "as soon as the ground can be worked," cold weather veggies? It's time. The past few years, pregnancy and little babies with short attention spans or quick legs moving toward the road and brick steps they can't climb, have made my gardening goals more modest. My dreams are still big, but my expectations are low. I work a small bit of ground at a time, say enough of a patch to do a first planting of lettuce. Little by little, piece by piece, my garden comes together, and most things get in on time, and the things that don't I pick up at the farmer's market.

Right now, I work in the afternoons while Elizabeth naps and Kathleen works on her castle, an intricate stack of bricks and soil and sticks that started last summer when Brian was digging out an old, choked flower bed in preparation for planting hops this year. Her castle has occupied her and one of our neighbor friends for countless afternoons. I'm not crazy about its location between the rhubarb and this year's tomato patch, especially with the ever bigger moat that they dig on one side, but I'm letting it be for now. Kathleen is big enough to work on her castle or on her alligator dam (a pile of sticks between a small stone wall and a downed tree) while I'm in the upper garden. Sometimes she comes to help me, but more often than not, she's quite busy with her own gloves and tools in her own little projects.

So as much as I want to get out there when the sun shines and the temps pop up into the 60s and 70s, I work with the time I have, and sometimes I just sit because that feels good too. It's April 9 and I have lettuce and spinach and arugula and beets in the ground, not to mention more lettuce and broccoli, kale, bok choi, and flowers started in my milk jugs. It's good enough, and maybe just a little bit more.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Green magic

 A cold front blew in today and the blue skies belied the blustery wind. I pushed aside the winter boots and snowpants along with any notion of packing them away. But, there was this:

and this:

This time of year is such a time of hope and promise and waiting. I remember knowing that even in the spring of 2008 when somehow knowing there was hope even if I didn't quite have it was enough.

Today, I have the hope, and I nearly squealed to see those seeds Kathleen and I planted in the old milk jugs starting to turn into broccoli and bok choi and lettuce and marigolds.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spring hopes eternal

Two days ago, the snowdrops were blooming. My garden was mostly bare, muddy, half-frozen ground.

Today, my gardens looked like this:

Happy spring. (Grumble)

This time of year, I need something to look forward to so  I go out for pancakes and syrup, because sap boiling is a sign that spring isn't here yet, but it's getting close, and sugar shacks give me something to look forward to in what would be a month of mud and slush and fresh snow that nobody but skiers wants.
I need some brightness, so I buy bunches of daffodils every time I go to the store and cut branches of forsythia to force for our Easter tree.

I need to act like spring is coming, so I buy seeds anywhere I see them (and I never remember what I've bought so I always have way too much lettuce and peas and none of something else.) I never start seeds because I don't have a good place to do it, but last year I read about winter sowing in milk jugs. Today, in honor of spring, I started my garden.
 I gathered the seed starter and the seeds and the saved milk jugs from the barn. Then I schlepped through the snow to the compost pile out back. Even as I grumbled about the snow, I noticed that the sun had come out and the air had a hint of softness to it. The snow was still a solid covering, but underfoot it was yielding. You slid ever so slightly in it instead of crunching. And, I had to admit, it was pretty, clean and sparkly instead of dingy and dull.

I dug into the compost pile, clearing away a layer of snow and a layer of leaves. Underneath, instead of frozen ground, the new soil was warm and rich and fragrant. I scooped two small buckets full and added them to my pile of supplies in the kitchen. 

I prepped the milk jugs by cutting them most of the way around and stabbing drain holes in the bottom. Kathleen helped me fill them and plant the seeds. I labeled them as we went along. We spritzed them with water, and I sealed them up with tape.

Then we put on boots and brought our mini greenhouses out to the sunny side of the house.

Now we wait—and hope. I didn't plant all the seeds. I'll stagger my plantings and use some to direct sow in the garden, whether or not our little winter (or spring) sowing experiment works.

We finished just in time to get Elizabeth up for her nap. We all took a walk around the block with hats but no mittens, boots but no snowpants. We ran into neighbors and stopped to say "Happy spring" and Kathleen and Elizabeth and their friend from around the corner ran in circles and giggled and shrieked. It was bright and almost warm and we stayed outside until we should have been done eating dinner.

Spring is coming. Today, even with a covering of fresh snow, I felt it.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Enough, Late Winter

In late February, I got a weird virus with on and off symptoms that made me really anxious. I was sick for a week and my stomach was off for a bit after that, so I didn't drink much coffee. Or wine. And I didn't eat a lot of sweets. Or a whole lot at all. All of a sudden how much I "needed" was reduced. One cup of coffee it turns out is enough, even when the girls take turns waking me every hour or so. It's amazing how much better I feel with less sugar and caffeine.

I've started running again. Last week I did three 3-mile runs, which isn't a bad start. I scheduled my runs for this week. The first one should have been tomorrow in what sounds like a messy late winter snow storm. And I have a nasty respiratory thing, so I'm going to remind myself that it's good enough to have started, that I'll get out once the roads are clear again and my lungs aren't protesting when I'm just sitting.

As for this storm, enough! I am so done with winter, though it isn't done with us. Kathleen pouts every day that she "hates snow time." I love snow time, but I get sick of it. I'm sick of it now, especially since we were finally seeing bare ground and snowdrops blooming. Enough snow already, bring on spring.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Five of us and the dog

Lately, we've been doing "fire stories" before bed, which means we turn off all the lights and sit in front of the fire and I tell a story.

Sometimes the stories are completely made up, like "Ice cream" which has various people from our family heading off to buy my sister an ice cream cone only to get distracted. My kids love to decide which cousin they will play with and what activity they will do (build a sandcastle, splash in the water, ride boogie boards . . . ). Eventually, she heads off to get her own cone, and one by one everyone tags along to get an ice cream too.

Sometimes the stories are true, like the story Brian told the other night of the night we got engaged.

Sometimes the stories are partially true and partially made up, like the story of taking the train to Boston to ride the swan boats (true) and running into other people from our family as the train stopped along the way (made up).

Tonight, Kathleen asked for a story about "me and Lizzy and mom and dad."

"Okay, a true story about mom, dad, LizzyB, and Kathleen."

"And Henry!" she added. "And Bandit."

"Okay, but it has to be partially made up because Henry and Bandit weren't here when you were."


So I told a the story of our family camping trip, when we all went in the canoes to go blueberry picking. The boys, Brian, Henry, and Bandit, went in the blue canoe. The girls went in the green one. All five of us, and our dog, camping, canoeing, picking blueberries, seeing a bear. It's not so hard to imagine this being a true story.

Next summer, we plan to try camping with the girls. We will go with our one canoe. If the timing is right we will pick blueberries right along the shore as we paddle. It isn't inconceivable that we would see a bear. But Bandit won't be there to bark at a bear or at us as we paddle (he never did like the water or seeing us in or on it). And Henry won't be there sitting in the front of Brian's canoe. He may be in there in our hearts. He may be among the countless stars of the night sky that we see as we sit, telling stories, around the fire, but he won't be there in the canoe or in the tent. And yet, how easy it is to weave him into our family stories.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Sharing the blanket

My grandmother has knitted blankets for all her 16 great-grandchildren. They are all the same pattern, the same as the one she knit for me and my sisters when we were babies. It is a loose knit with fringe on one end.

Elizabeth has been a blankie girl for a while now. At first, I could easily substitute my yellow and green blanket that's slightly scratchy or Kathleen's creamy, super soft one for her aqua one. Now she knows the particular matted feel and smell of her blankie, and is less accepting. Still, when she's really tired, she will sometimes settle for a different blankie if it has that fringe.

Two days ago, she woke around 1 AM, sopping wet. Her bed was wet, and yes, blankie was wet. Brian stripped her crib, got everything in the wash, and got her back in bed. He tried to cover her with a blanket his mom made. She took it, but she wasn't happy. And it didn't last long. She cried and cried for blankie. Kathleen was tangled in her own blankie. I felt around in the dark for my old blanket. It was right here in the basket, but the kids have been pulling things out. It wasn't in the basket or on the rocker or the chair. She was clamoring for blankie and Kathleen was stirring and I was deliriously tired.

There was one other blankie, same pattern, same fringe. It was lemon chiffon yellow. Until a couple of days before it had been folded on the chair in my room, but while I was sick and stressed and looking for comfort anywhere, I pulled out one night. It was, of course, Henry's. It was the blanket we last held him in. It was the blanket I held every night for a year. Could I share it? What if she peed on it? What if she decided she wanted to have it? What if it would help her sleep? I stumbled across the hall into my room, where the blanket was strewn by the foot of the bed. I spread it over Elizabeth, "Here's your fringe," I soothed.

"My blankie wet. Dada put in wash."

"Mhmm, but you use this. Sleepy time," I whispered putting her hand on the fringe. She fingered it, put her thumb in her month. "Shhh. Sleepy time." I went to bed. She fell asleep under her brother's blanket.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Trying to trust

I remember standing under harsh fluorescent lights in the little room behind the nurses station. I was in the yoga pants and t-shirt I wore for bed. I might not have had my glasses on. I was crying because I was worried. Henry had a fever, a low grade one, but a fever nonetheless. His heart rate was "normal for a baby his age," but high for him. And he wasn't right. I didn't know what was wrong, but I knew something was wrong and nobody really seemed all that concerned. A few days later he turned blue in my arms and was rushed back to the CICU. The next day he hovered on the edge of dying. That time he didn't. I knew something wasn't right, but I didn't have the evidence I needed and I couldn't convince the fellow standing in front of me as I blinked in those artificially bright lights that "normal for his age" didn't work for my boy.
I worry sometimes that something is wrong with me and I won't be able to get somebody to hear me in time. And part of that is that I simply worry sometimes that something is wrong with me. Brian talks about waiting for the other shoe to drop, but mostly I trust that I'm okay, will be okay. Sometimes, though, something little sets me off and I start to get anxious and and it builds and builds, because knowing that something isn't right isn't always enough. And watching my girls, I remember just how much me being okay matters.

It's been a long week of vague symptoms and feeling off and an doctor who couldn't see me, but I feel comfortable right now with a fairly mundane diagnosis of a stomach problem exacerbated by a virus (and far more anxiety than was probably warranted). My doctor ran some blood tests, and I'll check in if things persist or get worse. I'll try to breathe and to trust again that I'm okay.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Back to winter

As if to mock me for my premature sense that spring was imminent, winter blew in bitterly cold and blustery yesterday. This morning the thermometer hovered around 10 and despite the bright sun, I suspect we'd need a lot of bundling to get out there.

It reminds me of grief sometimes this time of year, the messiness, the sudden U turns and backtracking, the moments of hope, the sunshine looking happy and bright but hiding the frigid temps.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Sweet and sour

It's such a messy, hopeful time of year.

Around 5:30 every evening I look out and marvel that it is still light out. The kids wear snow pants and coats, more to keep them dry than to keep them warm and I abandon my hat and settle for a fleece instead of a real coat. Our dirt driveway is puddly and muddy, and so is my kitchen floor.

Last night we got a covering of snow, enough to cover the yellow from dogs and orange from Kathleen's snow marker and the dirt from snow clearing. Lacy flakes were still fluttering down at morning light and the sun peeked over a fresh start.

We used that fresh whiteness for a sweet treat. As a kid, after reading the Little House books, I tried to make sugar on snow. I got the Vermont Maid out of the cabinet and brought it out, cold, and poured it over some clean snow. It was sweet and slushy and kinda gross, and I didn't quite get it. Today, I got some of our real maple syrup out, some of the end of the gallon we bought last March, and boiled it. The first attempt was similar to my childhood efforts, so I googled sugar on snow and pulled out the candy thermometer, and wow! It formed these stiff icicles of maple that turned to taffy in your mouth. It stuck to our teeth (and the girls' hair) and we'd try and lick it off and pick at it and then eat some more. I pulled out pickles from last year to temper the sweet, and we stood out in the muddy driveway mixing sweet and sour, winter, spring, and summer.

Warm days and cold nights the sap rises and drip drip drips into the containers on tapped trees with a gift of sweet and the promise of spring. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

From ashes

We're in a cold snap, which mainly means I fight Elizabeth about keeping a hat on, I find my fingers getting numb as she fights me about getting buckled in her car seat, I keep the fire roaring at home, and, sometimes, the pipes freeze.

Right now the fire isn't roaring because I'm letting the furnace do the work of heating our old house, since that's the best way to get the warmth to the far flung and poorly insulated kitchen, pantry and bathroom. I'd love to have the stove cranking out heat that would warm me in a cozier way than the furnace can do, but the timing isn't bad in that we needed to empty out some ash anyway.

I haven't put wood on since this morning. The flames and all chunks of wood disappeared in early afternoon. After I got the kids to bed, I opened the stove and was surprised how warm it was. I raked over the gray dead ash and was met with warm orange glow of still live coals. A bit of tinder, a puff of air and—poof—we'd have flame.

Hope is like that. Beaten down, trampled, extinguished again and again until you are certain you can hope no more. And then a word, a thought, a possibility and the glow begins. When Henry was in the hospital I was amazed by how tenacious hope really was. My own hope burnt down to ash many times, until I was afraid to hope again, until I wasn't sure I could hope again, and then the fever broke, he moved one notch closer to coming off the ventilator, doctors began murmuring about going home . . . And then he died. Could anything quench a fire more thoroughly? I remember not wanting to hope when I was pregnant with Kathleen, but being unable to stop.

My hope burns fairly steadily these days, but I remember when it was reduced to ash. And I remember how amazing it was to see it spring to life again. To warmth and hope.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

My View 5: Making Space?

The glider-rocker I got before Henry was born is still hanging in there, though the way my girls climb on it, hang off it, and slam it too and fro, I wonder how long it has. I find myself back in this chair again more often come evening because this room is cozy.

In November, we got the insert stove we've been talking about getting since we got married. My fears of this room being intolerably warm weren't warranted, but we are still working out the kinks of getting the warm air circulating effectively. The bedrooms are warm, but I worry about the pipes at the other end of the house in the poorly insulated bathroom. We're in the middle of a cold snap, so I guess this is the test.

The stove means that the toys that I once housed in piles and bins in front of the fireplace had to find a new home. It means there are piles of wood and plastic buckets of sticks and wood chips and other debris. The stove has a blower, so if we're working on maximum efficiency, it's loud. I hated that at first, but I've gotten used to, as we do with most things. It also seems to have driven away the ants that usually start invading our living room in January. I remember sitting nursing Kathleen and with Elizabeth and watching lines of ants moving across the floor.

The stove means more sooty dust on the mantle, so I try to dust it more, and when I do, I stop to look at Henry's pictures there. I think about moving the two big collage frames that are there, though I don't know what I'd put there instead. I have a vision of family photos mounted on the walls by the bottom of the stairs (if I don't get the built in bookcases I'd really like), but I'm waiting until we finish peeling wallpaper and paint that wall. It's been in a state of half prepped for almost six years. That's the way of projects I guess.

I think too about replacing some of the pictures from those frames, mingling Henry with the rest of our family. My sister put together all our framed pictures—these two big collage frames and dozens of smaller, individual ones—for his funeral, when I knew I wanted pictures but couldn't do it. These pictures are still all over our house. I love having them, but I want Henry to be part of us, not an aside, much the way I have a tiny tree that is only his but also put his ornaments on our full Christmas tree. As I look around, I see the dried filler flowers from one of the arrangements from his funeral and wonder if I'm ready to compost them. I think of the dried white roses on the Henry shelf in my office and contemplate moving them upstairs and mingling them with the dried roses Brian has given me. These things that are tied not to him, but to his death—am I ready to let them go and make some space?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Getting out

We moved slowly down the hilly roads that turned at some point from blacktop to snow covered dirt. If I weren’t there, Brian would probably have careened down the hill a bit more, picking up speed, taking the turns faster. He’s not really reckless, but more of a risk taker than I am. We had passed a “Bridge Out” sign a while back, and I kept expecting to come around a corner and crash through a barrier into a creek or skid to a stop in front of it or slide off the road into a tree trying to avoid it.

Still, I felt the adventure in this. It’s bit sad maybe that this is an adventure, for we were still in town, looking for entry to the state forest to snowshoe, but I hadn’t been up this road. We haven’t hiked much in the past five years. Our snow shoes and cross country skis and backpacks have gotten dusty. So there we were on a snowy road maybe five miles from home, maybe, and I was full of anticipation of what we might find, what new place we would see. I didn’t fret that we were running out of time, that we might spend our whole babysitter afternoon driving rambling back roads, I just watched and noticed and imagined living out here with more dispersed neighbors, but woods as a backyard, more land, just enjoyed being out and in the unfamiliar.

“Is that a trailhead?”

“Looks like it.”

Brian stopped the car and I hopped out. Yep. Henhawk Trail. I remembered reading about it in front of the fire a few days back, anticipating this outing. Watershed land. No dogs. Well broken trail.

I sat on the back of the car to pull my gaiters on. Scrrrrritch, I adjusted the Velcro and Brian got his set. I got lightheaded bending over and fiddling with my snowshoes. There was pressure on my left foot and I struggled to tighten the back strap and loosen the one over the arch of my foot. Brian upon request bent down and gave it a tug. I shrugged. Good enough.

We set off with the scratch-crunch of our metal claws on the snow. We walked single file, though the trail at the beginning probably would have accommodated two. It was quiet and still, that quiet stillness you get in the woods with no cars nearby, no other people, that quiet stillness that is really full of movement and noise: a brook bubbling and murmuring under plates of thin ice, trees swaying and creaking in a light breeze, the drip of melting snow. It was sunny and warm for January, more like March and sugar season.

As we walked, the land sloped upwards, more than I had expected. I made a mental note about walking this with the kids come spring or summer. I considered throwing Elizabeth in the backpack for a quick walk some day after I drop off Kathleen.

The water sounds grow louder as we climb. We mostly stick to the main trail, which has enough of a pack to make snowshoes superfluous, but where the water spreads on the trail, we hop up to the bankings on the side and step through the unmarked snow. We pause now and then, a quick kiss, a brief conversation—something about the kids, how far we want to go, how its gotten cooler—me leaning into Brian as we look up at the trees. 

I find myself breathing in the cool air like energy, a current running through me. It seeps into me, pours into me, more quickly than the cold. I want to run. I want to stay out here all day and make cocoa. I want to trudge through the snow until I am exhausted and go home to a roaring fire. I want to write it all down. I want to just be. I breathe in the energy again. I am full of possibility.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2013, Enough

I’ve been contemplating the idea of a word of the year. I toyed with the idea last year, but never found anything that felt right. This year as I was thinking and writing and playing around with different things, this word seemed to settle in around me:


I wasn’t crazy about it. It felt almost defeatist. What about my goals to be focused on writing my memoir or taking a chance on rejection and actually sending my writing somewhere or getting back in shape or spending more time offline or letting go of anger? What about ramping up as my energy expands? How about a more inspiring word?

Enough is what I need right now. I am good enough. What I do is good enough. How much I do is enough.

Enough is the reminder that my girls are still little and here all or most of the time, but they won’t be for long. When my “want to do” list seems impossibly far away, enough is my reminder to enjoy this time and acknowledge what I can and do accomplish. If I write less or run less but am present with them instead, that time is well spent.

Enough is my reminder that my girls are still little and don’t need a lot. They do better with fewer toys and a schedule that isn’t overpacked.

As I feel my energy return and feel more ready to tackle projects, I don’t have to go all out, push myself to the limit. Today, I started cleaning my office. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the piles and the futon buried under holiday debris and empty boxes and stashed away toys, I put away all of the wrapping stuff and recycled some papers. It was a start. I still can’t see the futon, but it was enough.

I’ve gotten better over the years, but I have a tendency to try to do too much. So this year I’ll remind myself to let go and let it be enough.