Posted tagged ‘children’


May 5, 2011

The following are attempts to create poems about the birth of my boys, written as part of a project for grad school…the only writing I’m doing these days…

Middle of the night water flowing
Dawn breaks after a slow walk in the morning mist
Carrying a blue sky Strawberry festival day
And the intensity of anticipation and effort
Vivaldi and honey-laced ice
the large soft hands of a capable shepherd
Trust and surrender to the
Welcome cries of eagle-lion
Myth and magic and mystery become
Divinity in my arms

Jupiter rising within my impatient belly
It’s today! I think
But then re-think when everything stops
And the midwife decides not to come
Hours of disappointed inaction and I hardly
Notice when I start laboring again and
By the time I start paying attention it’s
Chaos and it’s just you and me little Jupiter
No time for conscious support it’s primal as
My body and my baby take over
A cacophony of action until twelve minutes after
The midwife arrives
You arrive
Time stops
Music stops
As the universe makes room for
This unspeakable love


making room

April 13, 2011

I’m staring down the last few months of my life as “stay-home mother”. Granted, in reality, that role shifted years ago to make room for this me, now coming into fruition. It’s hard to let go, though.

Driving to the airport today, I’m chatting with my teenager when I realize my newly-six-year  old is reading in the back seat. Full-on;  sounding out “hammer” and “amazing” and “teeth” and reading out loud a book about sharks. I knew he was making leaps with his literacy. He set it as his Kindergarten goal. “This is the year I will learn how to read”, he said the night before his first day, back in September. And he has. And I’m impressed because he’s ready and reading, yes, but more impressed that he set a goal for himself and now basks in his accomplishment. I’m beaming and proud and also strangely sad. Not sad, really, more just a twinge of some heartache I can’t quite describe.

He doesn’t understand my need to hold him on my lap while we’re waiting at the airport. He doesn’t know the longing I have to keep him small for one more moment. He tolerates my hugs and gets silly when I let him raspberry my cheek, but for me, this moment holds nearly fourteen years of mothering. It’s like the stories you hear people tell after a brush with death: “my whole life flashed before my eyes”, except it’s life and it’s vignettes of me and my boys I’m seeing.

The reality is that raising children marks time in extreme ways. They literally change, moment to moment: visually and markedly. Last summer, my oldest was eye to eye with me at 5’11”. I said to him “I think this might be the year you grow taller than me”. By the end of the summer, he had an inch on me and now at the beginning of this spring, he’s nearly 6’2″. I realize the goal is healthy, inter- and independent children who go off to seek their fortune. I realize a measure of mothering well-done is in the letting go.

But for just this moment, I want to stop time. I want to filter through every mundane moment home with my boys and savor it anew. And I see now that it’s not heartbreak and it’s not letting go. Just as my boys are growing and changing in remarkably ordinary ways, so too am I. My roles change, yes. I make room for school and work and community in ways which are much different from how they’ve been up ’til now. And within the role of “mother”, I change. I make room for these boys as they manifest before my eyes into the beautiful men they will become. And as I cherish the privilege of mothering, I realize there’s nothing to let go of, really. Time moves forward no matter how tightly I hold onto a hug in the airport. The grace comes in allowing it, seeing it, acknowledging it and loving it for the moment in time that it is.

And so things shift and grow. And that twinge of heartache is simply my life making room for us as we are. It is welcoming this me, now coming into fruition.


January 17, 2011

“Sorry, no matinée today”.

I’m on a “mummy date” with my five-year old. We’re supposed to see a show about paleontology. Not happening. We’re at the planetarium on campus and the building is empty. It’s creepy. We stand in the lobby for a minute; discussing why it’s called a matinée and why it’s canceled. I’m trying to think what else we can do to make the 45 minute car ride worthwhile. The Children’s museum closes in less than an hour. It’s bitter cold. We had a snack in the car, so an early dinner is out. I’m not familiar enough with the city to quickly come up with ideas and my limited search via cell phone isn’t helpful.

Sweet child needs to pee, so we travel a few deserted hallways to find the restroom. He’s giving me a what for because it’s the women’s room. I tell him the sign on the stairway door across from this restroom says that the men’s room is in the basement. Not an option. He gives me squinty eyes and heads for the stall. A few seconds later, I hear him mumbling at first, then louder, “oh you can’t be serious!” It sounds exactly like when my mother says it. I’m smiling, despite that he’s obviously in some kind of mild distress. “Hey, pal, everything okay?”

Suffice to say, he’s pissed, literally, and I’m doing my best not to laugh about it. He’s giving me a commentary fit for the stage about how it happens that a five-year old, *practically grown!* can end up with pee on his pant leg.

We clean up as best we can. I’m trying to figure out how to salvage our “special” time together. I decide the only thing to do is to visit the toy store and find some ice cream, despite January in Maine. What else?  Off we go and within minutes we are lost in the world of toy store. Puppets. Kites. Model dinosaurs and dragons, books, games, wooden trains and play kitchen. He’s holding a couple of fierce dinosaurs, Utahraptor? Ovaraptor? He knows what it is. The other is a Velociraptor and I’m sure about it. “Mum, you know my birthday is just around the corner”, he says. “You can get one now, honey.” I say. “Oh, no. I could never decide which one”. I sneak them both to the sales clerk and ask her to set them aside. “Well, you can choose something for now” and he does, a glow in the dark skeleton pirate who rides a monster crab and carries a sword and a pistol. Not my favorite of his choices, but it assuages my disappointment about the day. We buy some board books for a friend and a craft kit for another friend’s birthday. We buy a WWII era plane with a red propeller. It’s about 3″ long and fastens to a bike handle. We decide it’s the closest we’ll get to making the airplane and history obsessed big brother’s dreams of owning a plane come true. I buy myself a craft kit, too, realizing fully that I will have zero time to start it anytime soon. I can’t help myself though.

I’m carrying the toy store loot, including the birthday surprise dinosaurs; we decide to take a walk. I’m looking for ice cream but I don’t say anything to the kid. It’s super chilly but we’re laughing as we walk. He takes my hand and pulls ahead of me, pretending to be a dog. I pull him back playfully and say “heel” as I did with our pup. Several times, I automatically call him by the dog’s name, which he finds hysterically funny. I don’t even realize I’ve done it! I’m noticing every detail as we walk. The smell of garlic from a restaurant. The wind whipping up tears and stealing my breath. The weight of the toys in the bag on my arm. The press of his hand against mine, warm in our mittens. The little upward pitch at the end of his giggle.

Turn the corner and we’re at the most wonderful “authentic” Italian gelato shop. The kid has no clue but I realize we’ve hit a jackpot. I order coconut and he orders something–I can’t remember the Italian name for it–translated, it means “deliciousness combined with chocolate deliciousness to make supreme deliciousness”. He shares, as long as I use my own little spoon, which is purple. His is pink, but he insists it’s orange. We have the discussion again about how there are no “boy” colors and no “girl” colors but he squints again and I know he’s the king of discipline for holding his tongue.

He takes his skeleton pirate out of the box and immediately starts the giggle. “Lookit this mullet, mum!” I’m about to ask what he knows about mullets when I remember showing both of my boys some prime hair band videos from the 80s just a few nights earlier. When was the last time you watched “Jump” by Van Halen followed by Ratt, Poison, Motley Crue and Warrant? Try telling those guys there are “boy” colors and “girl” colors!! We get a kick out of the skeleton mullet and he’s happy playing for a minute. I’m eavesdropping on the people next to me, savoring each bite of coconut deliciousness, when I realize that this beautiful boy of mine is not -so- quietly singing, “she’s my cherry pie, dunn nan na na naaaa na na” over and over while he’s lost in monster crab play. Okay, so the Warrant video was a huge mistake. I’m sure he’ll take it up in therapy when he’s older.

As we’re cleaning up our table and putting the toys away, he says, “Mum, what do pirates have to do with Jesus?” I can’t come up with anything appropriate quickly enough so I ask why he asks. “I just always think of Jesus when I think of pirates.” No idea. I know I’m giving him a dumb look but I’m caught between marveling at his comment and the sheer joy of this very moment. A few seconds later, “mum, do you know why the universe is here?” I wait, he’s not finished. “No, not the universe, I mean earth. Do you know why earth is here?” This is not a question he expects me to answer. He expects me to say, “no, honey, why is earth here?”, which I do. “So the moon has someone to appreciate it.” The dumb look again but now I’m just giddy smiling. He doesn’t miss a beat. Takes a deep breath and lets it out. “Mum, this was the worst day of my life. No movie, no paleontology. I thought for sure people would be near me and [he breathes deeply through his nose and then gives a few short sniffs with his face a crinkled in mock disgust] ‘oh man, why does that big kid smell of pee?’… but it’s not the worst day. I got a cool toy. I got that yummy European ice cream, what’s it called again? and nobody sniffed me.”I’m nearly crying now, just so in love with this boy, this moment.

As we leave, he takes off his mitten and puts his hand into mine. We’re quiet as we walk along, trying to remember where we left the car. A perfect day.


July 20, 2009

He speaks of rage with a soft voice.  A voice which occasionally cracks with anguish and shame as he leans against the wall and stares at the ceiling.  It is as though meeting our eyes would grant him permission to sob and so he avoids that intimacy.  He was sixteen when he worked as a camp counselor.  That was the summer he first smoked pot.  That was the summer he beat the kids–one so badly he chipped the boy’s tooth.  That was the summer he realized the power of his anger; released now and binding him to addiction. 

Now, perhaps ten years later, he speaks–whispers–of throwing his two year old into his crib when the baby wouldn’t go to sleep.  He speaks of screaming at his five year old daughter.  His suffering is not a physical need for substance.  His suffering comes of being controlled by rage.  His substance abuse is not an escape, rather a spark to engage the all- consuming fire of abuse within him.  He suffers.  As he speaks, he flogs himself with words of repentance, shame, grief, self-hatred.  He pleads for help–God, inner strength, resolve, magic, release.  

Several listeners speak after he is finished.  Advice from others who have seen their own demons manifested in the wounds they’ve inflicted.  Kindness from strangers who suffer.   Acceptance without judgement softens him, allows him to meet our eyes for a moment.  Go back and meet that sixteen year old boy.  See that he is a child himself.  See what has wounded him so badly.  See him make a choice to escape into substance.  See with compassion as he seeks relief and release and finds rage and rage and rage.  Hold that sixteen year old boy.  Soothe him with words of acceptance.  Rock him in strong arms which contain him for a moment.  Whisper forgiveness to him for hurting those children.  Love him enough to release his grip on now. 

Rage keeps him running.  He spins and spins inside his thoughts.  He’d rather be anywhere else than trying to lull his daughter to sleep.  She is not cooperating.  His frustration swells as his chest tightens.  He shakes with effort trying to rein in this familiar terror.  Fear, consequences, madness, shame, guilt, torment, heat, hatred: tornado within.  No substance fuels this.  There is no will to conquer.  Exhausted. 

He surveys this moment.  What is happening?  His wife is downstairs with a friend.  He feels cheated by the demands of this child who will not go to bed.  She wants a story.  They are on vacation.  He wants adult companionship, wants to win, wants compliance.  She wants comfort, wants a familiar bed, wants him. 

Surrender.  He chooses a book, climbs onto the bed with this little girl he loves.  Surrender.  He reads, controls his rage-tight voice.  Surrender.  She responds to him with gladness.  Surrender.  He is not hurting her.  Surrender.  They laugh together at a silly part.  Surrender.  She snuggles into him.  Surrender.  He holds her, strokes her hair, whispers to her.  Surrender.  She falls asleep.  Surrender.  He is calm.  Surrender.  He finds the address for a meeting in the morning.  Surrender.

One day at a time.


July 16, 2009

It’s hot but the pint of ice cream I’m holding is still rock hard.  My four year old and I are taking turns digging around the softer edge for scoops of chocolate and chips.  He is fully engaged in this process, which means he’s no longer whining and sniffling, thank goodness! 

We’ve come to the third floor of town hall to hear live music.  It’s an old dance hall space in a former school turned town offices and police station.  Our neighbors’ daughter is singing with a friend, trying to be heard above the crackle of the sound system and the din of small children running about.  It’s threatening to rain which is why we are packed into this tiny auditorium in the heat of July.  The music doesn’t interest my child.  Ice cream.  Chocolate with white chocolate chunks.  A treat meant to distract; works like a charm for the moment.

He has cried for the past hour.  Sincere tears born of frustration at misunderstanding. I finally agreed to order his “favorite” transformers costume from a mail-order catalogue.  He’s been looking at it for weeks, the pages of the mailer crumpled and worn.  He has no idea about transformers beyond what he’s seen in the magazine he cherishes.  He’s never watched them on TV and doesn’t play with them at home.  He’s fascinated by the blues and reds and silvers of the jumpsuit.  He’s smitten with the full face mask and helmet and the armour along one sleeve.  So, I agreed to order it for him.  He sat in my lap while I spoke to customer service.  He could hear her asking me my address.  She could hear him asking when she was going to drive it to us.  She told me to tell him she’d tell the driver to hurry, but that it would be here by Monday or Tuesday.  After I ended the call, I showed him the calendar and tried to explain Monday or Tuesday.  He understood only that it would not be arriving this very day.  And so, the tears began.  He told me we should just go sit on his bed to wait for the delivery truck.  I told him we should just do our regular stuff while waiting.  The tears came harder. 

We walk into town and for a moment  he is distracted by the maple tree “helicopters” he finds on the sidewalk.  He doesn’t greet our neighbors.  He doesn’t smile.  Every few minutes, he sobs a bit and starts in with the questions–“why isn’t it coming today?”  We walk to the market for our ice cream and he scowls at the cashier.  He drags his feet along the sidewalk, wallowing in his Optimus Prime induced misery.  We arrive at the show and soon he is engaged in scooping and swallowing. 

What is the lesson here?  As a parent, I am annoyed by the whining though I am compassionate, too.  He just doesn’t understand mail-order.  He’s four.  He wants it now.  I am patient.  I tell him to use big boy words.  He does for a moment or two.  I am enthusiastic with distractions.  They work for a moment or two.  It is not my boy’s behavior in this moment which is under my skin.  It is the nagging sense of entitlement and gimme and consumption.  My frustration is how to teach him that this costume, for which he longs and about which he cries, is a luxury?  How does this moment reflect my own need for simplicity and gratitude?  It doesn’t; thus my conflict, thus my annoyance. 

And the solution?  One of my dearest friend’s sons owns this very costume.  When I tell her about my son’s drama, she offers his costume to us.  Her son has outgrown it.  He is happy to pass it along.  In a moment of serendipity, my child gets “instant gratification” and I can cancel my order and reduce, reuse, recycle…Optimus Prime lives on.

Birth Story #1

June 30, 2009

In honor of my first son, who just celebrated his 12th birthday.  What follows is my memory of his birth…

I liked my midwife’s hands.  They were large and soft and strong.  I noticed them first thing when we went to her house to interview her.  I knew I could trust her by watching her hands as we spoke.  David noticed them, too.  I remember commenting on them on the way back to my apartment and he agreed that they were dependable hands.  So she became our midwife.  Throughout my pregnancy, she was there, teaching us what to expect and how to stay present and prepared for labor.  We read everything we could, went to classes and faithfully went to visits at our midwife’s beautiful little cape in town, surrounded by music and color and gardens.  We watched video of other women in labor.  I made a contract which stated I did not want anyone taking photos or video of my labor!  I also didn’t want a crowd present,  wanted to determine where I gave birth, wanted the liberty to do whatever I needed to do in order to be comfortable and safe in the process.  I wanted my midwife to catch my baby and to allow me to catch my breath!  I wanted David involved as a partner in welcoming our child and so we chose to have our baby at home.

  I received extraordinary care: hours of time with my midwife at each visit; childbirth classes with one other couple at each other’s houses, over dinner; a connection, which remains to this day, with each of those who would participate in my labor and the birth of our child .  A few days before my due date I noticed the signs of imminent labor and began in earnest to long for the end of my pregnancy.  It was hot and I was starting to swell: fingers, ankles, back of my knees.  On my due date, I got a sassy haircut, but no baby.  I spent hours near the water in an absolutely heinous black maternity suit with yellow piping and a zipper up the neckline (as if being at the beach 36 weeks pregnant isn’t enough challenge to the ego!)  I mowed the lawn and moved rocks in the garden and walked and walked and walked, trying to prompt movement beyond the intermittant contractions and the constant beating this kid was giving my right lung.  Nothing.  Two days overdue was enough for me and so that afternoon I climbed to the top of the slide at my parents’ pool, hollered “Shamu” and cannonballed into the deep end.  Nothing. 

David and I were supposed to meet a friend for dinner that night, but I was tired and not feeling great, so I went home to bed instead.  David stayed out until 1 a.m.  At 2:30 a.m., I woke up with the most incredible torrent of water bursting out of my body.  This was it!  Guess that slide worked after all! My water breaking was unmistakable, despite that David, in his groggy sleep, wondered aloud if I had only peed the bed.  We got up and changed the sheets, checked our list of things we needed and scrubbed the bathtub so it would be ready if I wanted to labor in it later.  We were too excited to sleep although not much was happening.  At about 5 a.m. we called our midwife to tell her labor had actually begun.  We went for an early morning walk.  I remember it was foggy and cool.  I had to stop every once in a while to work through contractions, which I did by hanging off of David’s neck and allowing him to support the weight of my body while I breathed.  Felt good!  At some point, we remembered we had forgotten to get newborn sized diapers and although we had cloth to use, I wanted some disposables at first. 

Our midwife arrived mid-morning with diapers and herbs and her bag of tricks.  We weeded the garden together and went for another walk while David went upstairs for a nap.  We made a fruit salad and read books.  At one point, she said she thought it would be quite a while still and so when David woke up, she would go home to get her knitting and come back later.  Not long after, David came downstairs and I immediately threw up the kiwi I’d eaten.  Quite unpleasant.  Thus began the second stage of labor and our midwife decided to forego the knitting.  I got into the tub. It was cooler and eased the intensity of the contractions.  I vaguely remember our midwife calling her assistant and saying “it’s time” and it seemed like only a few seconds later she was there.  She had a spray bottle full of herbed water with which she’d spritz me before I could even say I was hot.  She was feeding me ice chips laced with honey and raspberry tea before I could ask for refreshment.  She was brilliant in her anticipation of my needs.  I don’t remember any conversation and the time is a blur.  I remember breathing and focusing and talking to my baby and my body with each contraction.  It was intense but bearable.  I remember moments of observing myself with fascinated detachment and then being thrust back into working through extraordinary moments of pain and concentration.  I remember the moment my body went from opening up to the extreme urge to expel this being: out, out, out! I remember David learning from our midwife how to give me massage and hold my feet in a way that soothed me.  I remember music; Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ricki Lee Jones, Pacobel’s Canon, Vivaldi.  I worked and worked to move this child from my body.  It seemed like hours.  We’d get excited as the baby crowned, only to see the black down of hair recede once the contraction was over.  Finally, my midwife said that if I didn’t get this baby out on the next contraction she would give me an episiotomy.  Somehow, thinking of having my perinaeum cut open was motivation enough to push harder and longer than ever.  Desperate for a breath, thinking I’d surely pass out, I did not stop until that little black haired, purple faced infant emerged.  The most surreal moment of my life was looking between my legs as a little head popped out and automatically turned to the side.  I had a moment for breath before another push and that whole little body slithered out in a rush into those large, soft, capable, waiting hands. 

I rested for a minute as our midwife held oxygen to our little blue baby and told David over and over to “rub the feet, rub the feet”.  I couldn’t see much of the baby beyond the hands rubbing and the oxygen tank so I asked…and David looked up, tears in his eyes and said, “It’s a Griffin!” (Had he been a girl, he would have been Anna)  Finally, I scooped up this lanky, bird-like being who moments ago had only been a dream.  Love, love, love.  David desperately wanted to hold his son, but he was still attached to me.  Once I delivered the placenta, we cut the cord and I handed him to his dad.  I will never forget watching David as he sat on the corner of the coffee table holding his newly born son, tears streaming down and the most divine look on his face.  Love, love, love.  We made a few phone calls.  David took the baby and our midwife and her assistant took the placenta and went about the business of cleaning up.  That left me sitting by myself on the birthing stool, too exhausted and weak to get up!  At some point, they all remembered me and I was ushered into the bathroom to clean up before sitting down to learn how to nurse. 

My mother and David’s mother arrived. Someone made me the most perfect grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever eaten. We noticed the bruises on Griffin’s head from crowning and receding over and over.  We noticed that one of his feet was floppy and bent all the way back over his shin. That, I am sure, was the foot which had been jammed under my right rib, punting my lung those last weeks of pregnancy.  We noticed how perfect he was; alert, strong, skinny.  I told my mother of the wonderful massage David had given me during labor and he informed us that he hadn’t actually touched my body! The whole time I felt him massaging me, his hands were actually inches away from me, directing the energy between us.  He was an incredible, capable support during the birth of our child.  I was blessed by the love and presence of that day.  I felt a sense of power and wonder at my body.  As I nursed my sweet little Griffin, I felt the rush of past and future dreams meeting in that moment: love, love, love.