Spring of Life

flowering tree

Spring is here. The season I’ve been anticipating, the season closest to my heart, but one I’ve also been quietly dreading. Spring is like a mandatory party. Nobody gets out of spring.

Once the sun shines and flowers burst into bloom, it begins. Everyone emerges from their homes and holes, some of us sidling out more slowly than others. The time for hiding is over. Spring is about exposure, bare legs sticking out of shorts like pale stalks. Spring is for letting kids trash their sneakers in the mud when they can’t find their boots. Spring is for cracking open the chrysalis, sliding out of the cocoon, and letting the sun warm your skin.

I’ve always loved spring for its promise, its electricity. How everything is rife with possibilities. How young the world looks when leaves are pale green flowers sprouting from branches, and the grass is vibrant and wet.

buddy

But this year, I feel an unease that I don’t usually associate with spring, one that has been coming on the last few years.

I’m no longer in the spring of my life. Forty is barreling down fast and I’m trying to keep my footing in a place I believe is called… middle age.

Whoa.

How did this happen? Is this actually happening? Yes, I know these questions are cliche, and all the rage right now, it seems. I can’t get away from articles about turning forty and mid-life, like this one that made me nod my head like an out of control marionette doll. A few months ago, under the heavy cloak of winter, these articles weren’t there…or maybe they were and I just wasn’t paying attention.

But despite this twinge, spring is unfurling and I can’t help but get caught up in the energy of it, the beauty and exuberance. My nearly seven-year-old daughter is thrilled to wear shorts and t-shirts, even while I’m still wrapped up in a sweater.

Do you need a fleece, I ask as she teeters on the edge of the sliding glass door. She looks at me like I’m crazy and dashes away.

Her young strong legs are pale as the clouds and spotted with blue bruises. She dangles upside down from the bar on our jungle gym while my husband and I cringe with worry. But she is confident. This is a new skill and she is eager to practice.

My three year old son’s light up Thomas sneakers almost graze the dirt beneath his baby swing. He is itching for a “big kid” swing like his sister’s. It’s time. He’s no longer a baby.

My children are in the spring of their lives. The cusp, the beginning.

kids

But maybe, in a way, I am too. Maybe life isn’t doled out in precise segments. Maybe it’s more malleable than that.

Yes, I’m about to be forty, and there is PLENTY of baggage that goes along with it, from feeling “old” and out of touch when it comes to pretty much everything pop culture, to being horrified at finding a gray eyebrow (!) hair and knowing it won’t be the last.

But there is also a springtime brewing in my soul, in my mind. My kids are no longer babies, and I’m no longer so young, but, because of this bitter and sweet knowledge, I’m holding fast to what I have, and running toward what I want.

I’m not done, far from it. I have so much I want to accomplish, so much I want to write and do and say and shout. In one day I’ll be on stage reading aloud an essay about the labor of death and life at the Lehigh Valley Listen To Your Mother show. I’m not a performer, I’m a writer, and yet I’m stretching my wings, still sticky from the chrysalis.

I’m not done bursting into bloom. I’m not ready to fade.

My mother hit her artistic stride at the age of forty and then it was ripped out of her hands, literally. When we kids were at school she bloomed in her mid to late thirties, spending hours at the local pottery studio, sculpting beautiful and haunting creations.

masks

mask and stones

Then, at her peak, she was cut down by a disease. Multiple sclerosis numbed her hands and her legs in rapid succession, though it never got her heart, not until the very end.

So, it doesn’t surprise me that in the midst of all this burgeoning hope and excitement, there is a darkness encroaching. A cautious hand pressed upon my shoulder. It says, be careful, it could happen to you, too.

It could, of course. Maybe not that illness specifically, but something else. Some other horrible stroke of misfortune or tragedy. But I can’t live that way, under a shadow.

I have to live as if there is only the wide expanse of blue sky above me, the warmth of the spring sun, as I chase my children, and my dreams.

 

It Will Never Be Enough

My writing and blogging friend Dina Relles recently posted a prompt on Literary Mama about something read or spoken that has stayed with you.

At first, I was at a loss. My recall memory is kind of awful, just ask my husband who corrects me every time we have one of those he-said/she-said arguments, but then, suddenly, as though pulled along by an invisible thread, the words arrived.

It will never be enough.

Lucie spoke those words to me in the kitchen of my childhood home. We were huddled close and speaking in low voices about my mother, who was dozing or resting in the nearby family room. There was no worry or concern that she would overhear us because she had lost the use of her legs, and her arms, many years before.

My parents hired Lucie soon after my mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Her job was to help with chores around the house, drive me and my brother places, and cook dinner. Basically, do the things my mother would soon be unable to do.

I was fourteen when I met her, and she was about thirty years old, maybe younger. A single mom with two small children, she needed work with flexible hours. I remember so clearly the day she came to us. She had dark eyes and a somber, quiet demeanor. Later, we would know her laugh intimately, her dry wit and her bawdy humor similar to my mother’s. But that day she was a stranger.

I can still see her sitting at our kitchen table, hands on her lap, speaking in a soft, low voice. I don’t remember what she said that day, but seventeen years later, we’d have a conversation that I would never forget.

We stood in the kitchen, our heads touching, in front of the sink with windows looking out at the overgrown back yard, an empty space where the white metal playground used to stand. Lucie’s big brown eyes were soupy with tears.

I thought she was going to die, she whispered to me. We were talking about my mother. I was thirty-one years old and Lucie in her late 40s.

What happened, I asked, and she told me about how my mother had been on a different medication for the last month or so. I think it was killing her, she said. Your father didn’t want to worry you, but I thought, what if she dies and you found out later that we didn’t tell you.

We stood with this possibility hanging in the air, and then embraced. I thanked her for telling me now and asked her to please call me if this happened again.

Is she okay now? I asked, my chin pointing toward the other room.

She’s better than she was, Lucie said, after a moment. But I don’t know Dana, I don’t know.

Her eyes welled up again and I felt a weight drop hard on my chest. I gripped the counter, staring out the window as my mother must have on occasion while watching me and my brother play tag or scramble up the jungle gym.

Do you think she’s going to die? Do you think I should move back home? I asked, my mind wild and panicked at the possibility. I began to wonder about logistics. How could I leave behind my life, but how could I not?

What should I do? I asked, feeling desperate. I wanted her to tell me what to do, to give me permission, to lead the way through this unchartered territory.

That’s when she looked at me square in the eye. Her expression serious and mournful. I can’t answer that, she said, you have to live your life. You have a home, a job, a husband.

I must admit I felt a shiver of relief because as deeply as I loved my mom, oh so deeply, I also felt afraid of living right up against her pain, day in and day out.

But Lucie wasn’t done. She took my hands in hers, she stepped closer, and what she said next will never, ever leave me.

The truth is, she whispered, her eyes dark and wet, it doesn’t matter if you move back home or not, because whatever you do it will never be enough. When she dies, you will always, always want more.

We wept together, Lucie and I, as we would in another kitchen, in another six months, when my mother was dying.

Is it strange to say that despite the panic and fear I felt upon hearing those words, that later they would bring me solace?

Later, in my grief, in the empty space left behind after my mother died, I forgave myself for not moving back home. I felt regret, for that and more, but in the back of my mind, those words rang out, not as a punishment or chastisement, but as a balm, a loving caress across my cheek, those words held me close and told me I had done as much as I could and yet, and yet, it would never be enough.

 

A messy and beautiful moment with my mom in my 20s.

Me and my mom in my 20s.Taken, most likely, by Lucie.

If you write your own version of words that stick, leave it in the comments below. I would love to read it.

I’ve also shared this on Writing Bubble’s, What I’m Writing, weekly link-up.

typewriter-butterflies-badge-small

Mothering Through My Darkness

I have exciting news to share… I’m proud and honored to be included in this important anthology, Mothering Through the Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience, coming out in November 2015, and edited by the wonderful women behind the HerStories Project.

MOTHERINGTHRUDARK (1)

The essay, which I wrote days before the deadline, came pouring out of me, as if it had been in hibernation. In a way, it had. I never believed I had postpartum anything. I didn’t feel that my pain warranted help. I wasn’t in deep enough, my darkness wasn’t dark enough. But now I understand that the spectrum is broader than I believed, that the lines are not black and white.

I believe this book will help de-stigmatize postpartum pain, and remind those who have suffered from it, or continue to suffer, that they are not alone.

It has helped me already, the writing of it, and I am eager to read the stories from my co-contributors, and glean wisdom from their experiences.

Have you or anyone you’ve known suffered from postpartum depression/anxiety/pain? Did they seek help or go at it alone? 

 

Fighting and Writing

Today I’m really excited to share my guest post on The Gift of Writing with you.

gift of writing

As some of you may know, BK (before kids) I was a self-defense instructor in Manhattan for six years at a company called Prepare Inc.

I loved my job. I loved watching my students, women and children, learn how to save their own lives, physically and psychologically. Those years were formative for me. I learned so much about strength, power, and resilience – my students’ and my own.

Find out how writing is like self-defense here, “Fighting, and Writing, for Your Life.” I am so curious to hear what you think!

And for those of you who might want to take an actual self-defense class, the studio where I taught is still going strong. Check out their website if you’re in the tri-state area (of the US), or the national one, to see if there is a class near you. There’s one in the UK and Israel, too. I’m also always up to chat about it, if you want to know more.

Finally, this post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t include some actual footage of me kicking butt. (Skip to minute 2:35 to check out 10 seconds of my five minutes of fame. I’m still waiting for the rest.)

The clip is from the deleted scenes of the Jodie Foster movie (that you probably don’t remember or even heard of) called, The Brave One. I had the chance to film this during my last year of teaching. Fun and surreal. Directors actually yell, “Action!” and you really do sit around for hours

Hope to see you at The Gift of Writing!

P.S. As I’ve recently learned, Canadians spell self-defense with a “c,” so that is how it’s spelled on the site.