Archive for May, 2012


Right where I am, 2012

May 24, 2012

I am writing this as part of Angie’s Right Where I Am project, and it’s already striking to me that where I am is different than where I was last year. Not that last year feels all that far away, but even so, I feel different.

There is still a complicated happiness – my family that adds up to some impossible mathematical equation – three, but four, really. Or is that four, but three, really? I don’t know. I never know. I just know that the fourth, the one most people don’t see, is important, is loved, is powerfully here with me and also powerfully gone. There is still delight in my family and in my daughter, who grows more amazing every day. I would love to believe that grief brings with it the magical gift of true and constant appreciation, but to privilege honesty over modesty, appreciation has always been my gift and recognizing the beauty of the moment is something I was able to do before Teddy’s death. There’s an added poignancy to small everyday beauties now, is the main difference. Which is a long and tangled way of saying that I find things to revel in, things that nurture my soul, every day.

But I think part of what I’ve done this year, and it’s probably part of the healing process (though, frankly, it’s one of those parts that I wish I could have skipped), is to recognize my broken places (and my still-broken places) and the ways that those broken places are affecting my family and my work and the way I move (or don’t) through the world.

Because I am broken. This is more apparent to me than it was last year, or even the year before. I am broken, and the family that I love so much has other breaks in it, too. And some of those breaks – our missing fourth, for instance – are just there and are part of who we are. But some of the breaks are things that need to be fixed. Maybe, now that I’m almost four years out, I’m finally beginning to see that.

Because on the one hand, I live in a hyper-aware state of beauty and blessing, with a family who dances together to songs about butterflies.

And, on the other, I am struggling with my work (even though I love it) and I am married to a partner who is struggling with an addiction that touches almost every area of our lives. What bravery I used to have has retreated to the depths of me, and I only seem to be able to summon it up for crises and emergencies. I’ve closed myself off from friends and family and am only now starting to reach out with the knowledge that I can’t hide my broken places from them even though I want to. N and I are only beginning to tackle the problems that have surfaced in recent years with our struggles to talk with each other, with the strange silences that fall uneasily between us in the car, on walks, late at night in the kitchen. I write like mad at work, trying to save my job and knowing it may be too late, that my colleagues may look at my two most broken years and decide that not writing published articles during those times was unforgivable, that even if I manage to submit a solid piece before the end of June I may still be asked to leave at the end of my tenure process.

I am so full of fear, over all of these things. I want a safe place, a stable home, a family who can hold me up when I fall. I crave safe with each particle of my being, knowing full well that nothing is truly safe, not in this life. That’s the sort of thing that people say all the time without thinking much about it because while we recognize the kernel of truth in that commonplace, bearing the knowledge of the absolute vulnerability of yourself and everyone you love is exhausting. And I’m exhausted. But I’m also the mommy. I’m Dot’s mommy and I’m Teddy’s mommy, and my childhood days, the days when I could rest in the safety of being taken care of, are behind me. I do the taking care now.

And I’m finally working my way through the fears to see how I can do a better job of that. I finally see that I need to grow myself into a better colleague, a better partner, a better parent, and I finally feel that I can start to do this. That I can recognize some breaks that need fixing and how they are different from the broken places that make me who I am. It’s a fucking terrifying place to be, this place where you look back and take responsibility for your big failures. It’s a place I never imagined standing, even as I held my little Huckleberry in my arms as he gasped his last few breaths and realized that everything was precarious, and possible, and impossible all at once.

I am trying to let go of the shame of failing my son, and of all the smaller shames that followed it. I know, somehow, that it wasn’t my fault that I was broken, and I’m not going to hate myself for the past three years, eight months, and nine days. I’m not going to hate myself for my partner’s demons, or for my withdrawals from the people who probably would have supported me better if I would have let them.

I’ll carry the fears with me, I think, always. Once death has taken the baby from your arms, you can’t ever not see him, and he is everywhere. But I’m here in this terrifying place and I’m not pretending to be fine, and I’m still standing. I need to fix what I need to fix – to take responsibility for my role in my relationships, for all those times fear has paralyzed me into inaction. And I need to honor what needs to be honored – Teddy, and my love for him, and all the ways that he is missed.

I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do all of this yet, but I am strong enough to see it clearly now, and surely that’s a place to start.




On Wild Things

May 8, 2012

It’s hard to understand, I think, just how revolutionary Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are must have been. When he wrote it, children’s books, and especially books for younger children, really didn’t recognize, much less explore and lavishly, cunningly illustrate fierce emotions like anger. What Sendak knew, and showed us so well, was that every child (and every one of us) is part wild thing, gnashing teeth and uncontainable rages, desires bigger than our common sense.

I think of how parenting has changed, just in my lifetime, and I marvel at how well Sendak captured the inner life of my toddler, whose passions are often much larger than her body, whose need for a rumpus is often so strong it overrides her new-found knowledge of the importance of rules, who tells me daily, “I’m going to eat you up. Chomp!”

And then I marvel at how much I am like Dot, only with my wilder feelings (mostly) under wraps. I wonder if my daughter, raised with so much more acknowledgement of the importance of her passions, anger, sadness – all those feelings that I was encouraged to squelch, to overcome, to keep from putting on display – will have an easier time with her adult emotions. I suspect she will. And Sendak is part of that. Which is just amazing to me, the power of words and art, the power of books, to make us face our own wild things. To make us realize that they’re important.

I know that people will be writing all over the web today of what Sendak meant to them, taught them. Mel has a lovely post about Sendak’s works over at Stirrup Queens that is worth a read, for example. But I’ll go on record as saying that this was his most powerful lesson, that we are all wild things and that we need to know that and value that and find some outlet for our wildness in order to really come home and eat our warm suppers.

I am grateful to him for pushing the envelope, always. For the nakedness of Mickey in the night kitchen that made the story more powerful (and also brought on several Dot giggles), for giving us images of children who looked like children. For giving those children adventures that highlighted the value of imagination, laughter, bravery, and honored all the emotions, even the dark ones.

Thank you Maurice. I hope the Rumpus is especially wild, wherever you are.



May 7, 2012

I have a new nephew, born thousands of miles from me, in the Midwest. Born early – he was supposed to have been a c-section as my lovely sister-in-law’s pregnancy has been shadowed by some abnormalities that showed up on her ovaries during a screening. But he came last week, really wanted to be born. And he’s a beautiful little mite of a thing – sweet, serious, baby face. Little brother to two amazing sisters.


He’s in the hospital. They’re testing for meningitis. He has an IV because he’s been struggling to nurse and to stay awake long enough to nurse. They’ll know more tomorrow.

His mom traveled out to Portland for Teddy’s birth and death in 2008. She’s born witness to our story and our story has marked her. I know that what she is going through now must feel like an overture to her worst nightmares, and I am hoping, hoping, hoping, that her little guy gains strength and alertness and that he is able to come home soon and that he grows up to terrorize those big sisters of his.

There’s not much we can do from way over here. Worry, wait, and hope for good news. I want to go grocery shopping for her family and weed their garden and make up stories for my nieces and give hugs and cook something and do background checks on all the doctors involved.

Instead, I clean my office and am grateful that my mother-in-law and father-in-law are traveling up to help.

I do my own version of praying, which is just the sending out of Please. Oh, please into the universe for whoever may be listening.

I hug Dot tight.

I think about her brother and how he was so strong and wiggly inside me and about how all his strength and spirit were no match for such compromised lungs once he left the safety of my womb. I know for so many of us, birth marks the beginning of safer times, but that wasn’t my story. I have a more than healthy fear of all that can happen in the hours and days and weeks after birth. I know that Teddy’s death doesn’t buy anyone I love safety or ease. I’ve let go of a lot of my old anger about this, but still…

Keep breathing, I pray. Just keep breathing.