When The Story Finds You

We spent our winter holiday in upstate New York on the edge of the Catskills. To our delight, despite initially mild temperatures, it snowed. Not much, but enough to coat the ground and frost the trees, enough for the smallest snowman and sledding.

snowy play 2At one point, I decided to take a walk. I grabbed a wooden walking stick and headed up the empty gravel road. Away from the shrieks of my children, there was little noise. Just the satisfying crunch of the stick as it punched holes in the snow and the sound of my breath.

I’d forgotten how much I love walking, how fast thoughts rise up, like cream to the surface. After nearly a week indoors with my children – no snow to distract them, but thankfully, cable TV – I was finally alone.

snowy roadMy mind soon landed on a short story I’d been mulling over. A story about a family on the cusp of big change. A story that takes place in the Catskills. A story that happened to me. Since the specifics are hazy, and frankly too boring, I always knew it would be fictional.

With each step the story unwound like yarn in my mind, getting tangled up, unraveling, leading the way. I decided to write it in four sections, in the voice of each family member: mother, father, and their two daughters. I didn’t know yet the mother would be easiest to write, the older daughter the hardest.

I paused by a circle of pine trees and hesitated for a moment before heading into the brambles to explore. It wasn’t far off the road, there was no chance to get lost or hurt, but I hesitated. It’s how I’ve lived much of my life. Cautious, staying on the path, but lately, especially with writing, I’m taking more chances.

Back on the road, I stared at the smooth expanse of white snow. Without thinking, I began to write my mother’s name, as I used to do in sand at the beach, but instead of Mom, I wrote her name, Susan. Then I added these words: You Are Missed.

My mother, and the weight of her absence, is often just a whisper away.

Back in the warmth of the house, after hot chocolate and bedtime madness, I curled up in the chair between the rooms of my children and began my story.

It took me two weeks to complete, right in time for a mid-January contest deadline, which lit my initial fire. The story isn’t finished. I’ll tweak and sculpt more before sending it out to other contests, but the hardest work is done.

I don’t think I’ve ever written a story so quickly, but the truth is, it took longer than two weeks. I’ve had this story growing inside me for months, maybe years. The weekend I spent in the Catskills at age fifteen was the last vacation I ever took with my family. In fifteen more years, she’d be dead.

When you’re a writer, people love to tell you their stories. Oh, have I got a story for you, they say, perhaps expecting you to whip out a pen and take notes. It’s not their fault. Often their stories are fascinating, and could certainly make wonderful fiction or memoir. But in my experience, a writer doesn’t necessarily choose her stories – the stories choose her.

What themes do you return to over and over again? Is there a seed of a story growing inside you? Is it ready to bloom?

I’m so pleased to be part of Writing Bubble’s wonderful link-up. Come by, take a look, and perhaps join in!

What-Im-Writing-linky-badge

 

Skating with My Daughter

We’re flying. That’s what it feels like, though neither of us is going all that fast. She’s cautious, like me, but we’re both taking chances as the hours go by. I’m lifting my feet, one at a time, feeling the balance of my body coming and going, savoring the smooth glide. I watch her arms flap, her feet moving in little chops as she picks up speed. Her polka dot helmet shines under the disco ball lights.

It’s our date. My husband and son are at a birthday party and we’re in Frenchtown, NJ at a roller skating rink on top of a hill in the middle of an enormous field. Inside it’s like traveling back in time to my childhood. Pure 80s. Retro pink and green zigzag designs on the walls.

A worn and faded Skate at Your Own Risk sign hangs above the rink, read and ignored by multitudes, though my daughter does ask what “risk” means. Taking chances, I say as we lace up.

skate at your own risk

The skating floor looks new in some ways, polished and sleek, but if you look closely the pale wood is marred with nicks beneath layers of filler and varnish.

My rental skates remind me of the ones I used as a kid and probably just as old. Khaki tan in color with scuffed orange wheels and thin dark laces. They are worn and soft, good for my ankles with my unfortunate extra bone. I lace them up tightly. Got to protect my middle-age ankles. The fact that I’m forty years old still makes me pause. It surprises, pools my stomach with dread, and yet sometimes, delights.

The shampoo girl at the hair salon, literally half my age, gaped at me in surprise when I revealed my digits. Flattery? Perhaps. While my skin has lost some elasticity – gone is my dewy youth – and laugh lines are visible around my eyes, I’m not yet deeply marred. I balance on the cusp of my life, hopeful for more wrinkles, more time.

We skate in circles to pop songs. Boy bands, fierce girls, and grown ups close to my age belt and croon and rap around us.

When a favorite comes on, “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors, my daughter turns around and her face lights up. We skate faster.

I feel light on the bulky skates, and every now and then I am conscious of being seen, something that has evaporated since having children. Being looked at. Watched. Ogled. Not a bad thing. I hated the catcalls and running commentary when I lived in the city, but there is a kind of loss in feeling invisible.

We glide past other children, other dads and moms. I watch my daughter with a smile on my face. Despite this mask of contentment, I am vigilant. Ready. My arms are by my side, keeping me aloft, but they are poised to catch, to scoop, to rescue. That’s who I am. Call me whatever name you want. I’m a helicopter if that means feeling a ferocious desire to take care of my young.

My girl is seven, barreling toward eight. The vise of time tightens around her, threatening to squeeze us apart. I wonder, how many more years will she hold my hand, how much longer do we have to skate together, just the two of us?

There is a mother and son ahead of us. I watch and recognize their wobbly pattern. He is new at skating and his mom encourages him. I see her hand reaching out, darting away, reaching out, pulling back. He does not reach for her and remains aloft, just barely. I recognize myself in her. When we pass them, the mother and I share a smile.

At some point, my daughter falls. It’s inevitable. No longer new on skates, she’s playing at speed, taking more chances. It’s a good thing for my girl, prone to anxiety, so often fearful. Her face scrunches up in tears and I help her up.

Falling is failing to her, so I must redefine the term, the act, for us both.

It’s okay, I tell her, assuming a confidence I don’t always feel. Everyone falls. You just get up and keep going. She nods and we push off the wall.

We continue making circles and the tears dry, her face curves into a smile.

My job is a balancing act. Compassion and propulsion. I watch her, my beautiful fragile child, my strong growing girl, as she skates ahead. She wobbles, rights herself. I watch, holding my breath, and let her go.

roller skating girl

Grief and Gray Days

Today the sky is a mask.

The clouds huddle together so tightly there appears to be no sun at all, just an endless swath of dull white.

white sky day

I cried after dropping Leo off at preschool today. Not because he was crying, not today, though he did say goodbye reluctantly, clutching his stuffed purple bunny close to his chest.

On Tuesday I kept him home. He had the beginning of a cold. That’s what I told myself as we cuddled on the couch watching shows while I worked on the computer. I could have sent him. If I worked, I would’ve had to, but I have the luxury to make these decisions. Sometimes I end up second-guessing them, but not this time, not after he said this:

Chin down, lip out, my little guy said, “I don’t like going to school.”

“Why not, honey? Aren’t your teachers nice?”

Big sigh. “Yes, but I don’t love playing with them as much as you.”

This made me tear up, partly because it seemed overly generous. The truth is, I kind of suck at playing. I think I was better with his older sister, probably because I didn’t have a smart phone. No Facebook to scroll through to break up the tedium of children’s games.

I tried to make up for it by leaving my phone behind when we went upstairs to his room later that day.

We made up a game inspired by his current favorite movie, Inside Out, which I also love. If you’re not familiar, the movie centers on emotions and memories, things that I have intimate knowledge with and interest in.

Using a bunch of small gray plastic balls from a building set, we pretended they were memories. “Core memories,” he called them, referencing the movie, and then we rescued them from the memory dump, over and over again.

That’s the thing about playing with kids. They want to do the same things, repeatedly. Nothing gets old. They don’t get bored of games, and they don’t get bored of you. A gift, really.

At one point I found myself staring out the window at the tree branches moving in the breeze, most of the leaves gone, a few hanger-oners hanging on.

I was reaching the edge of discomfort, the moment when I’d normally grab my phone or reheat my coffee. The kind of moment I imagine happens during meditation or yoga, when you think you can’t sit still or hold that pose a moment longer – but you do, you can.

There is a reward in staying.

I shifted my gaze to my son, staring at the tufts of soft blond hair standing up around his head like chicken fluff. The light from the window turned it translucent, illuminating the lone freckle in the center of his scalp.

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I recently heard about the pregnancies of two friends, well, one is more of an acquaintance, but the other feels like a friend. These are not people I know in real life, but online. Fellow writers, mothers.

Both times I felt a deep pang upon hearing the news. A painful wrenching. It took me a while to figure out what it was.

The first time it manifested close to disgust. Another baby? I thought about what that would mean to me – loss of freedom, inability to write, onslaught of sleepless nights. It seemed like a hideous mistake. Foolishness. I backed away as if I had stumbled upon a sleeping bear, careful not to rouse it.

Then, a few weeks later, another reveal on social media. I studied the woman’s picture, while examining the twisting sensation in my stomach. The luminous smile and bright eyes, her face already glowing with the mystery and otherworldliness of pregnancy.

That’s when I understood what I was feeling. It wasn’t disgust, or jealousy. It was grief.

I have two children. The youngest just turned four and while I assume it’s possible for me to get pregnant again at forty, I don’t want to. That phase of my life, new motherhood, which encompassed the entire decade of my thirties, is over for me.

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Never again will I hold the secret of pregnancy inside my body or feel the let down of milk fill my breasts.

There is grief in this realization. My son stopped nursing in late June, a week before my fortieth birthday, days before I left for a writing retreat, leaving my children for the first time in my life.

He asked to nurse one last time, on the phone during Facetime. “I want to nursy,” he said in a small sad voice, using our word, and my own face crumbled for a moment. “When I get home,” I promised. But when I got home he didn’t ask, and I didn’t offer. That part of our relationship was over. Six months later, I wonder if he remembers.

Motherhood is an endless cycle of letting go, a constant reconfiguring of rules and boundaries. You have to be flexible, quick to shift and shed. These are things I struggle with in regular life, and as a mother, even more.

I wrote my congratulations, my mazel tov, with genuine love to my online friend and her growing family, while simultaneously tending to myself, as I move out of one realm and into another.

 

Mothering Through the Darkness: Anthology of the Postpartum Experience

MOTHERINGTHRUDARK

“My shadow’s the only one that walks beside me. My shallow heart’s the only thing that’s beating. Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me. Til then I walk alone.”  
– I Walk Alone by Green Day

I felt so lonely as a new mother. Isolated, ashamed, angry, and ungrateful. None of which was appropriate since I had gotten exactly what I wanted – a healthy baby girl.

Looking back, it was shame that silenced me. How dare I be miserable when I was holding what I wanted in my arms? So I swallowed it all, and it ate me up.

I loved my baby. Deeply. During moments of peace, when she was sleeping and I wasn’t crying with exhaustion or despair, I’d stare at her beautiful face and trace her features with my eyes, wanting to memorize every curve, every angle. I relished the shape of her sweet bow lips, the delicate slope of her nose, the way her chin met her throat, the way that throat would undulate with milk, even in her dreams.

I loved my daughter. But I didn’t love myself. Many days I was full of self-loathing for failing at motherhood. For not loving it enough. For not feeling grateful enough. For not excelling at it, acing it, as I had many things in life.

All around me, other women seemed to have it together in ways I did not. As the months went by, and years, this grew more apparent and deepened my shame.

I never sought help and I was never diagnosed with postpartum depression. I answered the questions the midwife asked at my check-up and came out “clear.” But my perceptions of PPD were wrong. Just because I didn’t feel compelled to injure my daughter or myself didn’t mean I wasn’t hurting deeply.

What I needed was the voices and compassion of other women, other mothers, reassuring me I wasn’t alone. I needed the kind of help my father and husband couldn’t offer me, though they tried.

That is why this anthology, Mothering Through the Darkness, edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger of The HerStories Project is such an important book. It would’ve been a lifeline for me.

In a marketplace where there is a glut of books about prenatal and infant care, where are the books about mothers? Where are the books about PPD in all its nuances and variations?

Now there are thirty-five stories, including my own, “Afterbirth.” Writing it helped release years of pent up pain and shame. I cried as I typed, the words pouring forth, as if they had been waiting for a way out.

When the beautiful book finally arrived, I was thrilled, but a little hesitant to read it. Would I be triggered by my co-contributors’ painful stories?

To my surprise, the answer is no. If anything, I am buoyed by our similarities, by the facets of my story that I recognize in theirs. The commiseration that I longed for seven years ago has been gifted to me now.

If you know of a woman in the maelstrom of new motherhood, or recovering from it, please consider letting her know about this book. Or perhaps, pick it up yourself.

No one should walk alone.

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.

Last Week at Listen To Your Mother

LTYM books

A week ago today I awoke anxious and aflutter knowing in a few hours I would be onstage reading at the Lehigh Valley Listen To Your Mother show. While my kids watched My Little Pony episodes and my husband frantically cleaned in preparation for his family, who was generously coming to babysit, I headed to the hair salon for a blow out. Something I had never done before.

Somehow, forty minutes later, I emerged with a head full of Shirley Temple ringlets. As I walked to my car, my hands tentatively tracing my springy curls, I started laughing. It should have made me more anxious, this odd (for me) hair style, but instead it released something. Years ago a moment like this might have derailed me. I might have cried in the car like I did in my early twenties when I expressly told the stylist NOT to give me the Rachel from Friends cut and left the salon with exactly that.

But this time, I giggled, only feeling a twinge of regret for the wasted fifty bucks. Nothing could take away the excitement, bubbling up along with nerves, of this day.

After all, I had been looking forward to this moment ever since I read my acceptance email on the phone in the early hour before dawn, tears of gratitude streaming down my face. I cried because I felt like I had been given a gift, a chance to tell the story of my mother’s death, devastating but also enormously powerful, not simply on paper, but to an audience.

Reading my essay: Love, Labor, Loss

Reading my essay: Love, Labor, Loss

Fortunately my hair settled down, thanks to time, gravity, and my cast mate Meghan’s comb. I slipped on the dress I wore to my mother’s funeral, the same as for my audition, this time adding her two red wooden bangles that clanked on my wrist the week leading up to her death.

I slid between my cast mates at the wall of mirrors in the bathroom/dressing room and started to apply make-up with shaking hands. My empty stomach made me lightheaded and dizzy, and I wobbled a bit on my high heels. My cast mate Christine made room for me at the mirror, smiling kindly. Then her eyebrows shot up. “Did you know your dress isn’t zipped?” I glanced at my side and realized she was right. “Whoops! I had no idea, thanks,” I said, and we both cracked up.

Soon after enjoying a champagne toast, during which I inhaled three scones made by our producer Kristina, it was time to file into the theatre. My hands were sweating and my heart slammed against my chest. I remembered reading my story at the first rehearsal, my heart beating so loudly I thought everyone in the room could hear it. I hoped that wouldn’t happen again. I hoped my voice wouldn’t crack or break like it did almost every time when I got to the second to last line of my story.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with crying while reading. Emotion has its own kind of power, and some of my favorite readers on the LTYM YouTube channel choked up a bit or even wept during their performances.

But I didn’t want anyone to miss that one line. The one about my mother’s heart. The one I had jumped out of bed to write the night before the audition, crossing out what I had in pencil, and writing in the words that would knit the whole piece together.

Words that my daughter would one day hear, if only I could get them out in one piece.

Well, I did it. I nailed that line and the whole damn thing.

Thank you to the Lehigh Valley producers, Kirsten, Kristina, and Lauren, and to Ann Imig, founder of LTYM, for giving me this opportunity, for making this dream I almost didn’t realize I had come true. And thank you to my talented and beautiful cast mates for sharing their stories with me and with the world.

LTYM cast silly

 

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.