Motherhood is Obliterating

Why didn’t anyone tell me this? Is it too much of a buzz kill to mention that possibility in childbirth class?

I’m pretty sure I would’ve benefited from a head’s up.

I was, utterly, unprepared for motherhood.

But that’s pretty much all of us, isn’t it? No matter how many classes we take on birthing a baby, or that useless one about infant care when they teach you how to diaper a doll, we’re all air dropped into a foreign country when it comes to new motherhood.

This November, an essay I wrote about my post partum experience will be published in an anthology aptly titled, Mothering Through the Darkness (She Writes Press, created by the HerStories Project). It’s now available for preorder.

MOTHERINGTHRUDARK (1)

For months I hesitated to write my story, let alone submit it, because I didn’t know if it “counted.” Sure, I had a hard time as a new mom, but I hadn’t been diagnosed with postpartum depression. I hadn’t sought help.

Looking back, it’s clear I needed it. I wonder if I had read some of the essays in this collection, if I would’ve reached out instead of holing up. I don’t know. But I do know that I’m proud to be part of an anthology that broadens the spectrum of postpartum distress.

When I was pregnant I used to watch this ridiculous baby show on TLC called, “Bringing Home Baby.” There was something comforting about watching the new parents return home psyched but frazzled. The cameras followed them as they basically lost their minds.

But they always ended the show the same way, about six or eight weeks later, with everyone looking and sounding like they had gotten their act together. Every now and then I’d catch a glimmer in the mother’s eyes, a primal flash of fear, but then they’d cut to the cute gurgling baby batting at a mobile in her crib or sleeping in a bassinet. All was well. Show over.

But life doesn’t work like a TLC show (thank goodness, really TLC, you have gone downhill). It doesn’t wrap up neatly as the credits roll and the parents take their sweetly reclining baby on a stroll around the block.

Mine certainly didn’t, and I suspect, most don’t.

The early days with my baby girl.

The early days with my baby girl.

I still have no idea if I had postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety – an ailment I didn’t even know existed back then. But I do know that new motherhood kicked my ass. Hard.

Do you want to know what I wish I had known? (Hint: It has nothing to do with breastfeeding, vaccinating, sleep training, or any other hot topic parenting topics.)

How completely I would lose myself.

Not temporarily, but forever. The woman who left for the hospital with a baby contracting in her belly did not return that evening. A different person arrived in her place, holding a baby, with aching breasts and a sore battered body.

Perhaps if I had only known about the irretrievable loss of my old self and the necessity of forming a new one, maybe life after birth wouldn’t have felt so bewildering. Maybe.

Of course I’d heard the warnings, the catch all, “Nothing will be the same,” but people said that in relation to physical things, like my body and sleep.

The insinuations were that my life as a mother would be different than my life as a non-mother. I knew there was no going back to my single unattached self, but I assumed I’d slowly collect the pieces of my shattered identity as time went on.

I’d be able to write again, go out at night, visit with friends, and go on vacation with my husband. All this would be returned to me when the baby got older, learned to sleep (ha, try never), or went to school.

But what became apparent as time went on was that there was no milestone that would return me to my old self. I had to forge a new one.

This sentence in the August 2015 edition of Harper’s magazine article, “The Grand Shattering” by Sarah Manguso (author of Ongoingness, a book I just bought) sums it up:

“[Motherhood] is a shattering, a disintegration of the self, after which the original form is quite gone.”

Maybe other women realize this sooner, or maybe this isn’t a lesson everyone needs to learn. I imagine that some women find their way intuitively, or that the new self that motherhood creates is one they fall into like a warm embrace.

In an NPR interview, Jenny Offill, the author of the brilliant book, Dept. of Speculation eloquently states what I felt and continue to feel, which is that the conversation about motherhood is a little narrow.

She explains that when women speak about motherhood, the only other option besides pure bliss seems to be ambivalence. But for the women she knew who had become mothers, it was more complicated than that, “especially for women who had a great passion for some kind of work.”

“They were struggling to bridge the person they used to be with the person they were now, and that maternal love, which is quite fierce can be obliterating of what came before it.”

This line of the interview struck me with such force, as it gave voice to what I had been holding onto for years, the shameful admission that motherhood did not feel like bliss.

I loved my baby and my new life as a mother while simultaneously mourning the loss of my old life and struggling to reconstruct my identity.

I feel as though we are just at the cusp of this conversation about motherhood in the 21st century. I’m grateful to authors like Jenny Offill, Sarah Manguso, and Sarah Ruhl’s, whose book, 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time To Write, inspired my first post on this blog, for shedding light on the many nuances and complexities of modern motherhood.

If you’re a mother, how did you come through the other side? Did you feel the need to start over, or were you able to integrate your new identity in a different way?

9 Lessons My Mother Taught Me

Despite what Hallmark would lead you to believe, Mother’s Day is not all sunshine and roses for some of us. Even when my mom was alive, I had a hell of a time finding a card for her. None of them were written with the assumption that the receiver might be a paraplegic.

I know I’m far from the only one who feels conflicted about this “holiday.” I have friends and family who have complicated maternal relationships that require cards with less sappiness and more savviness. (Maybe Emily McDowell, of the brilliant Empathy cards, can make an alternative line for Mother’s Day.)

The irony now, of course, is that I’d give anything to be grumbling in the aisles of the pharmacy searching for an appropriate Mother’s Day card. My mom died eight years ago this June and I am still stunned, at times, by my grief.

My first Mother’s Day without her I was a brand new mother, my daughter only a couple weeks old. I refused to celebrate and told my husband to alert the family not to give me any cards or acknowledgments. I wanted to mourn my first motherless Mother’s Day, but the next year I was ready to take part. I felt I had earned it.

But mother envy, and sadness, continues to run close to the surface.

I am careful about what I read, avoiding the cloying mother-daughter tributes that inundate the internet, which is why I loved, How I’m Making Mother’s Day My Bitch on Modern Loss.

Another article that caught my eye was by Alexandra Rosas, one of my favorite writers, who is only on her second Mother’s Day without her mom. Her a post titled, 9 Lessons I Learned From My Mother, inspired this one.

9 lessons I Learned From My Mother

1. Being handicapped is not a handicap.

My mother had a severe form of multiple sclerosis that turned her into a paraplegic in under five years. In high school I learned to drive without her. By college, she could no longer embrace me. But that never mattered. My mother held me with her love when she could no longer hold me with her arms.

2. You can be a nurturing and affectionate mother even if yours wasn’t.

mom and me

With all due respect to my grandmother (see #3), who became a widow and a single mother at a young age, my mom did not receive much affection growing up. Despite this, my mother hugged, kissed, and snuggled me and my brother throughout our childhoods. I believe this was, in part, instinctive, but also a determined choice. She wanted her love to leave an impression. It did.

3. Don’t talk smack about your mom (at least, not to your kids).

My mother never bad talked her mom. While other family members vented, she remained tight-lipped, loyal. Later, as I became older, she divulged some less than flattering details about my grandma, but she always balanced it with empathy and compassion.

My grandma and mom, circa 1953

My grandma and mom, circa 1953

4. Junk food in moderation is not a big deal.

I was a child of the 80s and 90s, which means I was raised on generous amounts of Lucky Charms, Little Debbie snack cakes, and Pop Tarts. For breakfast. I also drank my weight in fruit-flavored Snapple ice tea (which, at the time, was practically a health food). But my indulgences were balanced by healthy choices, and I remind myself of this when I cringe at my children’s snack preferences.

5. Reading is ALWAYS okay, and you can never buy too many books.

My parents let me read anywhere and everywhere. I read at the dinner table, in movie theaters, and even one time when forced to attend a Monkees concert. My mom would turn me loose in bookstores without a limit, which is basically like winning the lottery for a book nerd.

6. Don’t mistake a pharmacy for a hair salon.

My mom once saved me from using a home spiral perm kit (though, sadly, not from an actual perm) and the horrors of Sun-In spray. For those of you who don’t know what Sun-In is (which means you’re either a Millennial or damn fortunate) it was supposed to lighten your hair, but actually turned it platinum and then orange. Sometimes your hair fell out. I held that bottle in my hands, but my mom talked me down like a veteran hostage negotiator.

My mom's blowing the bubble. Check out her gorgeous hair.

My mom’s blowing the bubble. Check out her gorgeous hair.

7. Real friends stick around when shit happens. (So do real husbands.)

We learned this the hard way as a family after my mom’s diagnosis and again when she lost her ability to walk. People dropped like flies. Faded away. Disappeared. They also said horrible stuff, like this:

So-called-friend: “Are you taking videos of yourself walking?”

My mom: “Why?”

S-C-F: “So you can watch them when you’re in a wheelchair.”

Real friends and loved ones stick around through thick and thin, through sickness and in health. They don’t flinch (outwardly) at the sight of a catheter bag, they can handle dark humor and dark times. Those are the ones you hold close to your heart.

8. Have sex before you get married (sorry dad).

I think my mom actually meant, have sex with your fiancé before you get married, but I chose my own interpretation. My mom did not often talk about sex, and looking back, I believe this comment was a sly gift, her giving me permission, in her cautious and careful manner, to do things my way.

9. You make a better wall than a window.

This is not exactly a lesson, but a saying. My mom had lots of them and this was my favorite, often delivered in a droll voice when someone stood between her and the television (which was the her primary entertainment, window to the world, and companion when everyone else was too busy). Now, every time my kids shout at me to move out of their way, I linger for a moment, smiling, remembering.

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? 

 

Listen to Your Mother

bracelets Driving to my Listen To Your Mother audition last week was like a mini vacation. Driving anywhere, even to the grocery store, without having to dole out Pirate’s Booty and tissues, negotiating radio station wars, and dealing with consecutive bathroom stops, is a treat.

I get to play music of my choice without complaint, and if I end up tearing up when John (Cougar) Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane” comes on, I have plenty of tissues to hand to myself.

At eight-thirty am, after making pancakes (a mix, please), doing the dishes, and scooping the cat litter – to which my husband, still bleary-eyed, was like, you know you don’t need to do all that, I drove to my audition.

The sky was gray and bright, as if the sun was pressing against the clouds. Snow covered almost everything, but the temperature was rising and rivers of water cut paths into the dirty drifts.

I talked to myself, one of my favorite things to do, giving myself a pep talk for the audition. “Piece of cake,” I said, all bluster and pffft-like. “If I can read my mom’s eulogy, I can read this no problem.” I tried a technique I read about here, that Dani Shapiro used before going on Oprah. “Be curious… Curiosity and self-consciousness can’t occupy the same space.”

Clearly, this wasn’t Oprah or anything remotely close, but I was pretty nervous, so I asked all kind of curious questions about the producers, what they had for breakfast, if their kid helped them put on their make-up like mine had.

Then I thought about the other women coming to audition, anxiously driving, maybe crying to songs on the radio, thinking about what inspired their essay, watching the winter begin to thaw. One car seemed to be following me, and for a few miles before she turned, I wondered if we were heading to the same place.

A warmth spread across my chest and I felt a kinship with every woman on their way to the audition. Each one of us had made it a priority to do something a little bit scary, a little bit brave. As much as I wanted to be part of the cast, to read aloud the essay I wrote about my mother, about her labor toward death, I felt a genuine rush of pride for whoever ended up on that stage.

I wanted to hug every person I might see at the audition and wish them well. I knew I’d be disappointed if I wasn’t selected, that’s a given, but in that moment I felt something like grace and knew whatever happened would be okay.

My good luck charms, a pair of bracelets, and these two jokers, may have helped, because…

my life

“Good luck!” a text and pic from my husband.

I am truly honored, elated, stunned, and grateful to be one of 13 people slated to be on stage for the inaugural Lehigh Valley Listen to Your Mother Show. I’m in wonderful company, with the three awesome women running the show, their production team, and all of the other readers.

In the car ride home I wept, not to any song in particular, but to the image of my mother, sitting on her reclining chair in my childhood home, beaming at me, her eyes shining with tears, pride and love written all over her beautiful face.

me and my mom

Me and my mom, circa 1977

Endings

Sometimes life taps you on the shoulder and whispers, take notice, this is important.

On Christmas Eve, my husband took our cat Mimi to the vet. She had a suspicious lump on the side of her face and a weepy eye. Looking back, it’s clear that this was not going to end well, but I was hopeful, or perhaps denial is the more appropriate word. Shortly after he sent me a text that sank my stomach to my knees. Call me right away. 

I sobbed quietly in the kitchen while he explained the vet’s explanation. My children sat unaware in the other room. Our two cats had been our first “babies,” now beloved by our actual babies more than us. Changing diapers and raising humans rubbed the shine off our feline affections, I’m sorry to say. However, nothing like a terminal diagnosis to release a dam of guilt and love.

In furtive whispers we decided to wait before telling our children, especially our daughter who is six and two thirds (her words) and highly sensitive. There was an off chance that this was a non malignant lump. We decided to make an appointment for surgery. I think we both knew in our hearts euthanizing might be the more humane (not to mention practical) course, but neither of us was willing to make that call despite years of complaining about cat litter and hairballs.

On Sunday after a weekend celebration filled with family, laughter, and of course gifts, my husband took our daughter aside and told her the news. I heard her cries from where the kitchen and felt the sting of her pain, a layer of her innocence peeled back, at this first intimate exposure to disease and death.

She asked why, repeatedly, as she cried and we tried to answer her questions honestly, but also carefully because our girl suffers from anxiety, especially regarding illness. Not that surprising given she has celiac disease, but more than the average kid. We walked the line of truth on wobbly legs. We did our best, which ultimately, is all you can do as a parent, and really, as a human being.

At one point my husband said, “Death is an important part of life.” This phrasing seemed to agitate her. “Why important,” she asked looking confused.

I put my arm around her and pulled her close. “Death is part of life,” I said, removing the adjective before adding another. “And it’s very sad.”

After she dried her eyes, my husband asked if she wanted to spend the afternoon with Mimi, but she said no. Already I saw her edging back, in fear, but also as a form of self-protection. Adults do this, too. I saw it happen to my mother when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age forty. Some friends dropped back so far they disappeared. When she was dying, eighteen years later, I watched certain people approach her fearlessly, weeping at her bedside, resting their head against hers, while others remained on the periphery of the room, watching from a distance.

There is no right or wrong way to behave in the face of death. But my husband and I understood that this first introduction, the way we acted and reacted in the eye of this oncoming storm, would shape our daughter. At this point, death was a possibility not a certainty, so we didn’t push her. It was her idea to drive to Philadelphia and visit The Franklin Institute, one of our favorite museums. I asked her why even though I already knew. I already knew.

To see the heart, she said.

the-franklin-institute

Oh, the heart. I hid my tears behind a hand as I thought about hearts, that precious fist shaped organ, the quiet steady force of life. When I think about hearts I always think of my mother’s, how hers beat on even after her lungs failed. I was sitting at her bedside when she stopped breathing. Her face turned blue, but most surprisingly, she smiled.

Then, with a sharp gasp the smile disappeared and she was back. We later learned later it was because her heart was so strong, so young. A few days later, it stopped, and she died peacefully in her sleep. But I will always remember how it didn’t want to quit, and it seemed a fitting metaphor for such a loving woman.

We agreed to drive to the museum, all of us nodding our heads in unison. It’s a good idea, I said. Better to leave the house and not mope around. Besides, poor Mimi would be better served sleeping peacefully than being pursued by our worried children.

It was overcast, the kind of day when the passage of time is elusive, the sky knitted thick with clouds. I put away my phone and took out my notebook. I wrote about the sky and my daughter. I wrote about the sun shining like a pale coin, and how it seemed to struggle through the clouds, elbowing its way out before falling back again.

We had a nice day. We walked through the heart twice, its methodical pounding amplified in our ears. There’s the left ventricle, I pointed out to my son who held my hand and walked ahead of me. His big sister ran through, already an expert at the steep stairs and all the twists and turns. I called out to her, wait for us, I said, not wanting to lose sight of her. Often she’s five steps ahead of me, in the heart and in life. I’m learning to let go bit by bit, but it’s hard.

The next day Mimi took a turn for the worse. She vomited in a sudden and violent way. There was blood all over the floor. My husband and I looked at each other horrified, knowing what that meant. For once I was grateful for the endless episodes of Angelina Ballerina. It gave us time to clean up the blood, to compose ourselves. To prepare for the next conversation.

Our girl took it hard. I wept beside her as I witnessed this next level of understanding. Later, though, I realized how lucky we are, how lucky she was that this first brush with death was an animal’s, as dear as she was to us, and not a parent or sibling. I knew it could be much, much worse.

But still.

Mimi's last day.

Mimi’s last day, December 30, 2014

The next day we spent inside, biding our time. The appointment with the vet was at 4:30. For the first time in days, my daughter approached Mimi. She was still cautious, but offered to sit with her to “keep her company.” I gave her a pad of paper and she sketched a portrait. She wanted to get Mimi just right and I think she did.

bunky and mimi

When it was time to say goodbye, I was a wreck, but my dear daughter was composed and full of compassion. She stayed in the play room with her father when he put Mimi into the carrier. She offered to walk Mimi to the car, crouching low so the cat could see her face and “not be afraid.” I stood at the window stifling my sobs, so proud and so heavy hearted.

Rest in peace sweet kind Mimi, always the gentlest of cats, with the most beautiful coat of caramel striped fur I’ve ever seen. We will miss you.

mimi the cat w color

mimi cat

A cat of many names, given upon adoption as Nome

Shortened to Noemi, and renamed by our daughter, Mimi

Born 2005-Died 2014

Have you had to deal with a pet or family member’s death with your child? How did you handle it? Were there any books about grief that seemed to help? 

Being a Mom is NOT Enough (For Me)

Writing those words is not easy. Feels a little taboo, like something a mom is never supposed to admit.

Then there’s the whole people pleaser part of me that doesn’t want to make anyone mad. But this idea has been sitting on the back burner of my mind for a while now, simmering like a pot of water. Steam is escaping out of the edges and the lid is rattling. Time to look inside.

Photo Credit: *floydgal* via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: *floydgal* via Compfight cc

I believe being a mom can be enough, and is enough for some women.

Let me go deeper – I believe that being a mom is enough for some women at certain times of their children’s lives. Like for me, when my kids were infants, all I could do was nurture them and try to get enough sleep in between night wakings to stay alive. Writing was not on my priority list back then. Things like showers and sleep were.

During my daughter's newborn stage.

During my daughter’s newborn stage. A mommy nap.

But as the years rolled by there came a point when I realized I needed something else, something that belonged just to me.

I wonder about my own mother. Was being a mom enough for her? Unfortunately, we never had a chance to be moms at the same time and explore these types of questions. She died a year before my daughter was born.

Me and my mom, May 1977

Me and my mom, May 1977

She was a stay at home mom by choice, and I know that was important to her, in part because her own mother worked long hours after her husband died young. My mom never wanted us to experience the loneliness she felt as a child, and so even when she worked part-time or volunteered, she was always there to greet us after school.

This clearly influenced me. I wanted to offer my children what she did, and I have, while also trying to pursue my writing. My mom was an artist too, a talented sculptor whose beautiful and haunting creations outlived her.

susan schwartz masks

Unfortunately for her – and for our whole family – she was diagnosed with a severe form of multiple sclerosis when she was just forty years old, a disease that cruelly took away her mobility, one limb at a time, in rapid succession. Her deft fingers that sculpted vases and bowls, that painstakingly etched emotion into clay faces, were rendered useless. Her art endures though, as does her signature. And her love.

mom signature green

I’m soon to approach that milestone birthday, and I wonder if I’m holding onto a kernel of fear that something may befall me and derail my creative ambitions, like what happened to her. Perhaps that is what pushes me to write now with more urgency than before.

Or perhaps I’m finally ready to write with fervor.

I am fortunate that I have two healthy children, and the luxury of choice to stay home with them. I am grateful to my partner for supporting our family financially, for my health, and my ability to pursue my dreams.

me and kids winter 2014

I want to be their mother AND a writer.

And so, that’s what I’m finally trying to do.

today i will make magic happen

Welcome to…

Writing at the Table, a blog about the often foolhardy but life-affirming tasks of being a writer and mother.

Or is it mother and writer? Writing mother? Mothering writer?

For a while I tried to compartmentalize these elements of myself, draw lines in the sand, but the truth is, when it comes to having a family and being a writer, and perhaps more pointedly, being a mother and writer, there are no distinct lines (although there is, on occasion, a lot of sand).

Playwright, poet, essayist, and mother of three Sarah Ruhl sums it up efficiently and elegantly:

“I found that life intruding on writing was, in fact, life. And that, tempting as it may be for a writer who is also a parent, one must not think of life as an intrusion. At the end of the day, writing has very little to do with writing, and much to do with life.”

– from 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write

Reading while living.

Reading while living.

For three and a half years I’ve blogged over at celiac kiddo, but now I’ll be posting here regularly! For more info about this blog, and the mom who’s writing it, check out my about page.