What I wish I’d known when I had my first child…and second

It is 12:51pm on a Saturday.  Saturdays are extra-chore days, so the house is clean (relatively speaking, that is, for a child-filled home) and supper is in the crock pot.  The 1-year-old is asleep, the olders are reading quietly behind a closed door in the “blue room”.  In approximately 32 minutes, the 4-year-old will get tired of reading and I’ll begin hearing the blue room transformed into a jungle, or desert, or whatever they want it to be today.  They will make-believe, using shoes for bird nests, animals for friends, and trucks for magical spaceships for another 80ish minutes.  Did you do the math?  Almost two hours at my disposal.

Rewind a handful of years.  I had my precious strong daughter who refused to sleep through the night until 17 months old (as in, waking up every 2 hrs to nurse, which it turns out, doesn’t actually allow for REM at all).  When she developed upright mobility at 10 months, I got pregnant again because, you know, I thought it would be a good idea to be throwing up while my toddler was putting forks in outlets and unwinding every roll of toilet paper in the house.  At 7 months pregnant, overwhelmed with not having slept in 547 nights and trying every known “method” for getting a child to sleep through the night, I tried the dreaded cry-it-out method.  That lovely daughter of mine screamed for 5 hours straight.  BUT, by night 4, she slept through.  I did mention that she’s quite strong, didn’t I? (My husband has the great luck of sleeping through all amounts of mayhem, but believe me, those hours of screaming were tortuous).

If you have one child, or two, hear this: your work is totally, all-encompassingly exhausting.  Your body is tired, your soul is fatigued with no oasis in sight, and your mind, well it has atrophied to a minuscule size.  It can seem like drowning in your own life and you may question if this is really what you wanted.  Our society doesn’t help this at all, by the way.  Expectations, comparisons, unhelpful “mom groups” that make you feel like you’re failing, and Facebook with edited pictures to make you feel insecure and insufficient.  How many times have we been talking about a bad day or difficulty with your child and gotten the response, “oh, just wait until your kids ________”.  Not helpful.

So, to you I would repeat, it does get easier.  But maybe not for the reasons we tend to think of.  It gets easier because that sleepless boobie-monster firstborn starts growing up and making her own bed, getting wipes and diapers for you, sets the table, and even gets tall enough to take the baby out of the crib for you (one less trip upstairs while your octopus hands are full!).  It gets easier because your older children begin having natural consequences for their actions that don’t always have to be imposed by you & then you get to shepherd the conversation in their wake.  But mostly, it gets easier because you start tuning out what everyone else does and can tune in to what you do.  You still need and want input and wisdom on so many things that come up, but you have the basics down because they’ve been born through the fire of the first two children.

The other biggie: grace.  Just like starting anything new, there’s a learning curve.  (Unlike many things, the learning curve of motherhood never ends…).  As the children come, with all their anecdotal glories, grace becomes a more practiced necessity.  Grace with oneself, grace with your mate, grace with your children, grace from the creation around you, grace from God.  Remember when you thought you were a pretty great person while single and realized how difficult you were to live with when you were a few years into a solid relationship?  That’s similar in the parenting sphere, only the honing and sharpening comes from these little poopy humans you brought into the world.  Let me tell you, grace is needed from and in every direction.

Now it’s 1:24 and I have at least 45 minutes left to be alone, to meditate, to do whatever it is that refreshes me.  I wish that I’d known that this time would come, it may have helped the long days and longer nights of my firstborn.

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2016, you were cracked

“The comedy of man survives the tragedy of man.”

I sit in my lovely rocking chair watching the snow fall hard and gently outside, warmed by the the ever-changing orange glow of the fire beside me.  My friend, a dear 93-year-old man, gave this chair to me as a gift.  His wife of oh so many years had rocked in it as he composed piano concertos in their living room.  It’s one of my most precious belongings.

I feel the warmth of the egg nog coffee in my hands.  I rock. I think.  The New Year always comes with a cosmic musefulness to it.  I allow myself to wander and remember.  This time last year, my internal world was crumbling.  Too much doing and not enough being.  Too long picking up other people’s pieces and imagining I was holding them together.  That weight became heavier than my frame could bear and in revolt, my insides raised a white flag with as much subtlety as  stampeding buffalo.  Even now, I feel the emotions swell within me as I venture to recount those months – but today, with a new year ahead, I take the time to be a part of the swell, to feel what I didn’t have the capacity to feel back then.  Each emotion is so vivid, strengthened by the suppression.  (Never be fooled, putting emotions into dungeons only gives them more strength, a loudening static deep within making it increasingly difficult to live in the present).

In the difficult months of the early year, I can now see how much beauty lay there as well.  My lover became a stronghold for me and our children as he gently dealt with all the details of our life.  He not only took care of our three children, but also did all the mundane things which make life move – the laundry, the shopping (guess who didn’t set foot in a grocery store for 3 months!), the toddler mediation, the baby rocking.  He let me (made me) rest.  Through those long weeks, he was directing me to “do whatever was nourishing in the moment”.  I would read a book until it became tiring, then stop.  I would sleep for hours in the midday. I would walk or run or roller blade whenever it struck me to.  In that valley, our friendship and marriage were fortified into a mountain.  We had luxurious amounts of time together as a couple and as a family.  We made a new family friendship that was fast and furious and deep.  We planned for a new adventure ahead.  These things were beautiful and good.  I want to remember that they were the result of the struggle because vision is so often found in the valleys.

In the whirlwind of Spring, we moved a couple thousand miles from Dallas to a place in Northern California you’ve never heard (though treasured by its 1,647 inhabitants).  We unexpectedly lived with my gracious parents for 8 weeks while Escrow was delayed and delayed and delayed.  We bought our first home.  We planted a Japanese Maple in the yard.  We got two milk goats and a hog.  Our goats ate the Japanese Maple.  We had the great pleasure of being a part of the community pulling together to support a Farmer’s Market. We sorely missed those we left behind in Dallas.  We soaked in the grandeur in the landscape all around us, a salve for the weary soul.  We harvested and preserved pears, apples, plums, potatoes, cabbages.  We weathered the morphic unrest that followed in the wake of the election.  We enjoyed a white Christmas. We watched the Cubs win the World Series for the first time in 108 years.  We have laughed and cried and laughed again.  We have found, yet again, that God is present in the valleys and on the mountains, though more clearly seen and poignantly sought when in the valleys.

While I cannot yet say in full honesty that 2016 was a great year, it was a year where we changed and grew and loved and stayed open – to ourselves and others.  It was a very vulnerable year.  Maybe that’s how years should be.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

              – Leonard Cohen

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Fear-Frosted Veins

The cold wraps around me.  Like an unwelcome guest, it breaks through my skin and hits my bones.  Iowa excels, once it hits freezing it decides to keep falling, skydiving and hoping that the rope catches before zero.  I sky-dove once and was sore for days.  I didn’t feel immortal.  Gravity pulls, always pulls, towards solid ground as though it wants to consume everything into itself whole and entire.  The dirt stops it.  We don’t fall into the earth’s core because of dirt and earthworms.

I have hairs in my nose.  I forget about them most of the time.  The only time I remember them is when my breath turns to steam and comes rushing out of my lungs to gleefully greet the atmosphere only to be shocked motionless at my nose hairs. Mini icicles form in my nostrils, reminding me of their existence.  FEAR, like gravity, pulls insatiably towards the depths.  But earthworms don’t stop it.  It’s a sinkhole for the soul.  It will encompass you like the cold and seep into your pores, leaking by osmosis into your bloodstream.  It doesn’t belong there, but given the right permeability, it will let itself in without knocking.

Window frost occurs when glass is not properly insulated.  Most of the time the inside air and outside air know their places, neighbors that have conversations only in the warm Spring or Summer months, maybe even when the first chill of Autumn heralds and the novelty of it causes windows to fling open.  Frost breeches civil niceties.  It senses the warmth and moisture inside and in the cold of winter, creeps up the window under the pseudonym of Jack and makes pictures on the glass.  Most of them are pretty.

Fear is not pretty, but it does creep.  It doesn’t belong inside us.  It craves our peace – not to abide in it but to devour it.  It feeds on peace like hoarfrost, it makes our green souls aged and grey before their time.  Caring not for dermal layers, it dives deep into our veins with its icy breath and spreads like frost in the night.  Only it doesn’t leave pretty pictures.  It etches into the heart like a Blackhorned Pine Borer.  The borer rarely chooses healthy trees.  It chooses stressed ones, the kind that have low defenses to creeping things.  It injects larvae and they do their work, eating away at life.

Souls are trees.  Sunshine, water, roots in healthy dirt – these provide the nutrients needed for survival.  If the pine borer has taken a limb, it must be cut off.  Cut off the old man. Embrace the incensive power of the soul.  Find the rot and be rid of it.  Be thankful, always thankful.  Where you are not, you will find discontent and hungry larvae winding their way under your bark.  Cling to joy and in its warmth, the frost will melt.  Grasp to truth and the deadly pestilence will flee.  Angels will guard you, they will protect your toes.  That’s what the psalmist says.  Gravity will always pull and fear will always creep but the souls of the redeemed will soar.  In the moments of clarity, insulate your windows.

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We’re All Terminal

I wake.  I write, I write it all, I write it now because now is all I have.  The moment to come may bring a waking child, a mosquito vibrating around my ear, or a jack-hammer trying to break through the concrete and my reverie.  But now, now is silent.  Now is mine.  In the recent past (recent is, of course, relative to your sense of time; for here I will say recent is few years), I have not written for fear.  Fear of being too full to write.  Fear of starting in the wrong place and not having time (when did time become so precious?) to end where I wanted.  These are surface things.

I am not secretive. My thoughts are scarce my own before they’re shared. This is how I live, how I’ve always lived.  Open.  Flowers stay open under the right circumstances: water, sun, earth, chlorophyll and photosynthesis.  They take droplets of light and turn them into life.  During the span of time which I’ve called the recent past, there is a deeper reason I have not written.  It has something to do with nyctinasty, that mysterious lot of flowers that close at night.  The nyctinastics elude scientific explanation.  Some think that the petals grow at different rates of speed, so the top petals are forced to shut.  Maybe. Others say that the flower is protecting its powers of reproduction by closing at night, when the dew is the heaviest.  No one knows why they close, but scientists keep making up answers.  We will never know because flowers are not emotive nor, under most circumstances, talkative.

A butterfly cannot always be beautifully fluttering about.  We grew butterflies in our living room.  They started as specks and grew into caterpillars at an alarming rate.  Then, magic happened.  The greatest change occurred out of sight.  Somehow a speck grabbed a blanket, wrapped it close around itself with hot cocoa and came out a butterfly, fully equipped with the latest flying paraphernalia.  Magic.  I, too, closed up for the night.  Special blanket in tow, I plopped a marshmallow into my cocoa and cocooned myself for an indefinite length of minutes.  Or years.  Grace abounded. I’ve changed and been changed. Marriage changed me, changes me.  Motherhood transformed me, transforms me.  My wings may not have hardened yet, but they will soon.  I feel it coming and I will fly.

The first butterfly we released into the great outdoors burst out strongly.  She almost made it to the sidewalk when a mockingbird dove and tackled it, quite brutally, to the ground in front of my two-year-old daughter.  Life is bloody. Death is inevitable.  What would I write if it were my last day?  What would I write to you if it were yours?  We are all terminal.  I write again because now is all I have.

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Gravity (and a Southern rainstorm)

The clouds roll in like Poseidon on his chariot of waves, across the expanse above. The voice of thunderclaps shatter the silence as what was dark becomes light as day for a brief moment. The moon washes out, or perhaps hides her face while none can see her, as lightning illumines the earth – well, at least the part I can see. No drops of water serve as messengers, no precursors given.

Then all torrents break loose.

Someone turned on the cosmic showerhead to drown and drench me. Why does it smell so fresh when I know it is bringing with each little drop the “impurities” of the air – smog, dust, pollen, and all of China’s pollution? But I don’t smell chow mein – not even as the drops get bigger. I smell freshness, and it is lovely.

Over my face and down my neck the streams descend – apparently gravity can even bully these storms around. Pulling, always pulling everything to that place called “ground”. Ground may not be the prettiest thing ever, dull, brown and rocky, but it has gravity on its side. Perhaps gravity knows something I don’t. I know that it keeps me here on the ground, and right now pulls all the elements down to it. I have become merely a bridge from sky to ground, with water walking (sometimes running) over me.

I seek power, not for myself, but in anything which man cannot contain. This rain has power, this gravity has power, this wind (oh, this wind!) has power – and NOTHING man can do could contain it or stop it, govern, harness, or rule it. So I love it. And so does my hair. It likes to break out of its bun and be free and wild, surrendered to the forces. Powerless, alone, free; if it stormed like this everyday I might just start a revolution. I don’t know against who or what, but I know gravity would be on my side.

The Ear


This amazingly intricate structure contains the smallest bone in the body, the stapes – I remember that section of the ear because I say the parts in the same rhythm we are taught to say “The Niña, Pinta and the Santa Maria” – try it: “The Malleus, Incus, and littlest Stapes”. Well, it worked for me at least. The Tympanic parts make sense as well, because timpanis make lots of sound (notice I don’t say they make lots of music, it’s a much different thing altogether). The various forms of “Cochlea” also ring memory bells because it is Latin for “snail shell” and came from the Greek “kokhlos” (land snail) – and were I a snail, I would want a window in my shell, so am very excited to find that the snail of the inner ear has just that – the “Round Window” (NOT to be compared to a square window, which are much more commonplace and less hobbitish, and therefore less appealing to me). I usually think it slightly pompous when people name discoveries after themselves, as is the case with the “Eustachian tube”, so I can also keep track of that guy hiding in there.

You see, I understand these things about the ear, as a unit it makes perfect sense to me, even the anatomical bits, all the way out the External Auditory Canal into the wide world of sound waves. What makes absolutely NO sense to me at all is the Auricula. I know it has the anthelix, scapha, tragus, crus, cymba, fossa, helix, lobule, incisura, concha, and sulcus, those things I had to study in college A&P. But somehow the professor skipped the intriguing part, the part where the whole class

STOPPED.

And wondered…

WHY?!?

Because ears are just plain strange lookin’!

Pretend for a moment with me that you have never seen a face before. A semi-conical symmetry of eyes, nose, mouth, cheekbones, and chin making a perfect frame for that illusive thing called the “countenance”……then, as you muse upon the well-laid plan of the face – POP! – what in the sand-hill blazes are those thing?!? Just stickin’ out, always uneven with one another on the horizontal plane of the face, bazaar curves and dents and dimples. Some people have tried to reconcile their oddity by piercing them here and there . Now, being a pragmatist to the core, I can find uses for them: they can improve or tie together an outfit, and are wonderful for tucking hair behind (they are amazing at doing this, and if you have short hair or no hair at all due to hereditary balding, I am very sorry that you have not experienced this). And, for some, it may serve as a welcome distraction from the main part of the face.

Am I just being weird? Usually. But really, ears are quirky, wacky, and just plain crazy. Spend a day looking at ears, and I think you will concur.


(I just can’t get over how they’re just stuck there, on the side of the face, pretending they belong with such confidence that we believe them!!)

Nostalgic Starry Moment

I would never disrespect the moon in all her beauty – but in her absence such glories fill the heavens! Like small woodland animals who only appear in my absence, or when they think I do not see – so do these stars and planets come forth while Luna’s back is turned. Three skies I will always remember, they are imprinted on the dome of my mind: the first because it was the first time I wondered at the expanse, the second because of with whom it was shared, the third because I was alone and my thoughts were free to roam without any inhibition from star to galaxy to constellations I have no name for, nor need for one.

Curious to me that these lights appear best when the Ruler of the night is away from home. I wonder if they feel the short-lived liberation of a people right after the victory of a revolution: all in revelry until in sobriety they stop their dances as the fear of unbridled liberty creeps over them – in the darkness anything can happen.

Tonight they truly do dance, the scholars call this a “meteor shower, but I know that the little starts have gotten tired of wearing shoes and staying put, and want to jump into a river yet unbeknownst to them – a planetary pool of delight. The larger ones, they leave a longer tail behind as they are pushed out of their nesting places by the older ones. “Time to fly” their parents say. My very favorite, though, are the ones which linger a moment to make sure I am watching – these are the wise sages of the bunch, and as they move slowly across the years of timelessness, they impart wisdom to all they pass. It is the echoes of these voices which pierce the imaginary divide between them and me, and I am wiser for their words unspoken yet comprehended.

I sadden knowing the starry host will soon be hid from me, not by light of moon, but by light of man as I move to a “city”. I can only hope some of those which I have come to know so well will peek out from time to time to tell me the stories I am missing, the tales told while I’m away. And perhaps they’ll fall in my direction. I can always hope.

The Heart

“Nowadays the word heart always sounds a little naive or commonplace. When I was young it could still be spoken without embarrassment, but now it’s a term no one uses anymore. On the rare occasions when it gets mentioned, the reference isn’t to the heart in the fullest sense of the word, but only to some malfunction, anemic tissue caused by a blocked artery, say, or problems with an auricle; there’s no longer so much as a hint about the heart as the center, the essence of human nature. I’ve often wondered why it’s been ostracized like this.
“He who puts his trust in his own heart is a fool” – Augusto often used to say that, quoting the Bible. But why on earth should such a person be a fool? Is it because the heart is like a combustion chamber? Because there’s darkness inside there, darkness and fire? The mind is as modern as the heart is ancient. These days people who follow their hearts are considered to be close to the animal world, to uninhibited nature, while those who follow reason are close to the upper spheres of reflection. But suppose things aren’t like that, suppose they’re just the opposite? Suppose it’s this excess of reason that’s starving our lives?”
-susanna tamaro

18 August 2009

When I awoke this morning, all was going to be well.

Then I had lunch with some lovely people, and enjoyed the wife’s dessert immensely. Five minutes later, when my mouth felt like fire ants were fighting a war in there, I calmly asked if there had been walnuts in the dessert. “Why yes,” the kind woman responded, “finely ground for the best flavor.” Benadryl. Home. Bed. 2 Hours of induced sleep. Check.

Feeling I had timed it all spectacularly, I went to work feeling quite well, though my mouth was perhaps a little itchy still. Minor offense indeed. I should here suffice it to say that my Lymphatic System is working spectacularly these days. The walnut bit went off alright, so why not add a little something to the pot and see if the ol’ body held up?

How about…..oh yes, a scorpion sting……..make that a triple shot.

The little bugger had crawled up inside my pantleg while I was working, because, really, I need more excitement in my life.