Find your own heartbeat racing in your chest.
Slow your engine down.
Put your feet on the floor, your hand on your chest.
It’s OK that you’re tired and overwhelmed.

There is no crisis right now.
Breathe in the calm.
Revel in this time apart so you can show up for her with love untinged by annoyance.
Let her be, watch her figure out her world, give her space and hold her close.
Hold your tongue.
Hold her hand while she still offers it to you.

Reach for empathy even when the stretch feels too far outside your grasp,
even when you aren’t getting enough of it towards you.
Count the days, the hours if you have to, until the next break,
your next hands-free non-parenting moments.
Believe in their existence even when it seems you’ll never make it.

Feet on the floor.
Pen in your hand.
Listen to your heartbeat, slower now.
Find grace in yourself.

Waiting…and wishes

I haven’t posted anything here in so long (you may have noticed!) I am writing and writing, just not posting it here. But these ones I want to share. I wrote these bits at writing group this week about and for my mom who is dying. We don’t know how soon, but I don’t think it will be all that long. We’re talking weeks most likely.

The prompt was a poem by Li-Young Lee called Become Becoming and then either the line: wait for…, or I am becoming…

Wait for the elevator to open, the green ones in the lobby of the hospital. Wait for the doors to close, for everyone to push the button for their floor.

Walk down the sterile hallway to the same room she was in last time. Wait with your heart in your throat as you brace yourself to see her, frail and exhausted, curled up in her hospital bed.

Wait for her to peek her eyes open just long enough to notice you before those eyelids drop again and she returns to fitful sleep.

Wait by her bedside as you feel more emotion than you want to swim through rising up through your veins. Wait there for her to wake up again, for the shift change, wait there until you can’t bear to wait anymore.

Turn your attention to the view, forested hills to the north, evergreens for miles. Watch the clouds drift by in the bluest blue sky. Notice contrast and light. Feel hope and despair.

Take photos of the clouds to add to your collection, this week’s study of darkness and light strewn across the spring skies of Portland. Send a photo of the slightest wisp of a cloud to the person who carries your grief alongside you. Tell her it reminds you of your last time together.

Wait for her text reply, hope that this one won’t be swallowed in the ether, will arrive directly, an arrow of kindness and care sent right to your heart.

When her answer comes right away, breathe in her love. Relish the way she calls you honey, taste that sweetness in every pore of your skin.

Wait until you’ve been there long enough that it counts, even though she slept the whole two hours you kept a vigil at her bedside. Wait until the new nurse comes on, then go, walk back down the hallway, wait again for the elevator.

Wait to hear all weekend from your brothers. Wait for updates on her prognosis. Wait for the call you hope doesn’t come. When you’re at a party Saturday night, enjoying a moment of fun with your sister’s family celebrating your nephew’s college graduation, wait – don’t ask if there’s news about mom.

Then later, back in your room at the hotel, read the text from your sister, wait for her to come up to your room with the update.

Wait as words fall into your heart…hospice, a few weeks, dying.

And then more waiting.

The prompt was: I wish for you…
I wish you peace…for you to feel the freedom of floating in a love given without limitation or expectation. You may have only felt that fleetingly if ever at all. I want you to breathe in the contours of that love, let it tickle your insides, let it bathe you in sweetness. I wish for you a letting go that is gentle and quick, tender. I wish you calm quiet courage that growls at your fears and keeps you safe. I wish you the most brilliant home-coming you’ve ever desired. And I wish you all the love you never received and therefore didn’t have to give.

The toll it takes

I think today might have been a rough day for LittleBear to be with me all day. The day was a strange crossroads of difficulty in my life and since it was smack in the middle of a six days with Momo stretch, it meant she felt it too.

I woke up in a decent mood, let myself lie in bed a while once she got up to go play. I made breakfast, part of my goal to eat at home more instead of constantly buying food out. Especially when the two of us are together, I am wanting to make meals at home. I like eating out more than she does, and this way it saves money and also gives me a little bit better control over the choices she has. It is good for both of us to be eating more vegetables, less fried food.

Today is the sixteen year anniversary of Woodstock’s death. I’ve mostly not been paying much attention to it, other than knowing it was coming up. But this morning it hit me like a wave of sadness. LB wanted to watch an episode of MyLittlePony while I took my shower, like usual. Before getting in the shower I posted on FB about the anniversary, debating for a good ten minutes about linking to a story I wrote about grieving the loss of her and my sister. I went for it, also posting a handful of photos of Woodstock and some of her artwork. I turned up the music in the bathroom, letting myself sink into the album of Woodstock’s songs.

I coaxed LB into the shower after I was done, got us both ready to head to my parents’ house to help my Dad sort and pack the house. On the drive I played the album of Woodstock’s music again, this time singing along and telling LB stories about the songs. She asked if one of them (White Elephant) was about me. I said no, but there is one about me. When “Starting Over” came on with its lyric about sipping soda, she laughed. I told her that song was about me.

At my parents’ house, she played for a bit then I set her up with another movie (thanks Netfl*x for babysitting my kid!) so I could get some work done with my dad and sister. We made good progress, sorting through an extra bedroom and getting rid of lots of unnecessary stuff that had piled up – unused picture frames, wrapping paper, framed prints. LB was mostly satisfied with watching her show, but I felt bad for her, sitting all alone in the kitchen while we three adults were in the back of the house, not in any sort of contact with her at all. I made sure to walk through the kitchen to check on her regularly, but usually she just pushed me away, so she could focus on the screen.

One of the times she did that, I got mad. I told her I didn’t want her to be rude to me by pushing me away. She said something in her snotty “i’m pretending to be a teenager” voice and I got even more mad. I slammed the laptop shut, and told her if she was going to talk like that to me, she couldn’t watch any more shows. I walked out of the room, to cool off, and when I came back in I was surprised that she was genuinely crying. She gave me her usual litany of how I am so mean and I was being rude by interrupting her show. We found a compromise and I let her watch a different show, warning her that we would be leaving soon.

It was the real tears that got me. She so seldom cries real tears, she’ll get mad or frustrated or saucy with me, but she doesn’t usually cry.

I know that I have the patience of a gnat right now, in general not just on this anniversary. And the piece I posted on FB talks about how that loss was compounded by the death of my sister, and how they are tangled together by my memory of my sister baking me cookies last year when I took myself on a solo retreat to honor the 15 year anniversary of Woodstock’s death.

All of that, plus managing my mom being in the hospital or a nursing home (twice each) for over a month now, and I just don’t have much reserves. The timing of these stressors, paired with a shift in our parenting schedule that has me with two six day stints in two weeks, makes for some challenging Momo days. I am doing the best I can, but sometimes that isn’t all that great.

This got long-winded. Mostly I thought of it as a little note of empathy about how hard it must be to be the child of a parent who is under so much acute stress and grief right now. I can’t imagine that is very much fun at all for LB and some days I wish it was different for her. But this is the only Momo she’s got.



Make it simple (Sleeping Ink assignment #2)

I am in an online class called Sleeping Ink. Here is a link to it.
This is my second assignment for the class.

“Momo, can we go to Seaside again and buy another book with all the stickers in it? This one is almost gone.” I’m in the kitchen, LB’s in the living room. I ignore her question because if I answer it I might explode. But she persists, asks again, her voice fueled by indignation at not getting an answer.

I sigh in the way that she knows means I’m probably about to talk a lot. “Come here, please love.” She walks over, her mouth moving as fast as her legs, thinking I might actually say yes to a trip to the coast just to buy something. She really ought to know me better than that.

And then I launch. “Sweet one, life is about more than things. Life is about relationship and connection. Not stuff.” I’ve already lost her, but I keep going because I’m on a roll and a spiel like this isn’t complete without an empty threat. “And if I have to take away all your stuff to teach you this lesson…” I trail off. Even I don’t believe I’d do it so why finish the sentence?

LB ups the ante, busting out with, “Sometimes it feels like you don’t love me. Like you loved me when I was a baby but you don’t now because I do frustrating things.”

Damn! I didn’t know she knew how to wield a spoon that way to cut my heart out.

I take a deep breath and try to channel the friend and mentor who told me that it is LB’s job to be focused on stuff and not connection. It is developmentally appropriate, at almost eight years old, to want all the things all of the time, to constantly chatter about what she will get for Christmas and her birthday and please can’t we buy a toy today? and what will Santa bring me? and on and on and on until I want to scream. It doesn’t make it any less annoying or problematic for me to know this is normal for right now. I want it to, but it doesn’t.

So there we are in the midst of this values and developmental stage clash, and she says she feels like I don’t love her. Part of me marvels at her ability to notice she feels that, and her willingness to articulate it. The rest of me is still reeling. So I breathe and cuddle her up on the couch with me. “Tell me, Little Bear,” I say, “do you stop loving me when you get mad?” She shakes her head.

I try to explain that not everything that frustrates me in the world is about her, in fact most of it isn’t. And that people in relationship get mad at each other, they feel sad and angry and hurt, and it is OK. It is part of being in relationship together. Then I realize, from her lack of focus, that I’m saying too many words, again, like usual.

So I hug her close and make it simple. “I always love you. I loved you when you were a baby. I love you now. And I’ll love you when you are 45.” Thinking about being 45 makes her laugh. She doesn’t imagine much further than turning nineteen, her go-to age for anything older than she is now.

Then she asks, “Do you still love your sister even though she is dead?” Once my breath returns to my lungs from her stinging, insightful question, I assure her that I do.

“Yes, Angel, I’ll always love her, too.”

As we get ready for bed a few minutes later, she isn’t listening and I get annoyed again. We both have short attention spans for staying connected right now.

From within the dissonance of my own frustration I often miss the ways she is merging my values with hers. Almost every time she plays with the thing of the moment, she asks where we got it, so she can get one for her best friend because she knows River would really love it too. Yes, it is a focus on things from her seven year old brain, but it is melding with a devotional connection to a friend which I model almost constantly to her through my own enduring friendships.

Love from me to LB is remembering to be gentle, turning down my stern voice in favor of the voice that sounds like velvet and tastes like popsicles. Love is digging up the last shreds of my patience, the ones all covered in dryer lint from being stuck in the front pocket of my favorite jeans. Love is hours and hours of braiding on our weekend together for a finished style of a hundred tiny box braids with beads that click clack as she joyfully turns her head. Love is listening to, and sometimes even singing or dancing along to, KidzBop music in the car when all I want to hear is Sara Bareilles. Love is saying I’m sorry for yelling at her and not expecting her to absolve me for being an imperfect parent. (Love is taking this class so I make a point of writing about her.)

Love from LB to me is singing along with me to Sara Bareilles in the car or rocking her songs with me at karaoke. Love is using the sign language for Momo that I made up when she was a baby and just learning to communicate. Love is asking the cashier how their day is going and caring about the answer because that’s the way her Momo does it every single time. Love is the gentle way she asks if I look sad because I miss my sister. Love is watching her love on my siblings and parents and delight in her fourteen cousins the way I always have my own cadre of cousins. Love is hearing her yell “Momo!” as she runs across the dusty playground at the end of her school day. Love is her sweet good morning kiss to my cheek when she wakes up in my bed, even though I don’t remember her crawling in the night before.

At the Barn

I just started a new online class called Sleeping Ink. Here is a link to it.
This is my first assignment for the class. 

I’m not sure who was more excited about this first horse riding lesson – me or LB. I love horses, I always have. We drove out to the barn on our last weekday together before she starts second grade. Mostly we needed something to do, to fill the hours on our long stretch of midday time together. And I thought she’d like the horses.

The instructor is a typical, no-nonsense horse lady in jeans and boots. She is quick, nice enough, but direct. She expects LB to work hard. She expects LB’s mama to step back and let LB learn. That was the hard part for me.

I sat in the office filling out redundant forms releasing the owner, the facility, the horses themselves from all liability in case of injury. Outside the cluttered barn office I hear the instructor telling LB how to find her name on the white board, how to look next to her name for her horse’s name. LB’s emerging reading skills get shy in new situations. “That’s OK, if you can’t read it, remember what the letters look like, and find those letters on a horse’s stall!”

I swallowed my words – wanting to explain and encourage. It’s OK, she can read!. C’mon Little Bear, you can do it! Sound out the word!

Once the horse is located, we are taught how to open the stall door. Then we step inside and I remember that with horses comes poop, lots of it, all over their stable. Inside the stall, Audra explains to LB how to put the bridle on the horse. She explains to me that LB does all the work, but I can help with the height, which is funny because at almost eight LB is nearly as tall as me.

We get Butch, the horse, out of the stall and buckle him into place in the walkway so LB can groom and saddle him up. This part takes up most of the lesson and the work is hard. LB’s arms get tired with the grooming – passing two different brushes over Butch’s entire body. Then she has to clean his hooves, which she does through noisy complaining about how heavy the hooves are and how much her back is hurting. I feel embarrassed in front of Audra, afraid she will think badly of LB for not being stronger, for not having a work ethic. Finally the hooves are clean enough to pass Audra’s inspection.

Piece by piece we get the tack – saddle blanket, saddle, cinch. Audra teaches LB how to do it step by step and the movements come back to me from memory. I stand at LB’s side, attempting to coach her through each step, until Audra scolds me. “She needs to do it herself, Mom. You come stand over here by me.”

I walk over next to Audra, still close enough to LB to feel her anxiety start to bloom. I force myself to stay still, to send my encouragement telepathically instead of in words or touch. I listen for the sound of frustration in her voice, feel myself tempted to disobey Audra and rescue LB. Audra goes closer, challenges LB to remember each step. LB is tentative but she does it. She gets the saddle cinched to Butch.

LB’s lesson was learning to saddle a horse. Momo’s lesson was learning to let her do it on her own. Maybe horse riding lessons are going to be good for both of us.

20140903_122140 20140903_125502

That day

I want my sister back. I want to go back to that last day I saw her, chase her down for the hug and kiss goodbye I didn’t give to or get from her that day. I want to challenge her, speak openly about her brittle, jagged energy that day, ask the questions I’d been avoiding for months out of some unspoken bargain we’d struck.

The last time, months before, when I asked after her safety, point blank asked if she was suicidal, if she had a plan, she met my eyes and refused to answer. I had to back off, change the way I spoke to her, in an attempt to keep her as close to me as she would allow. It was an uneasy balance, going against my clinical training and my own small self’s desperate need for my big sister in my life.

And now I just want her back. I want to rewind that day, fateful in so many ways. That day was the first timid step towards writing my way out of the stuck place of my relationship with Mr. Lucky. That day I booked my appointment for the photo shoot that challenged all my fears about my body and my feminine presentation. That day at a workshop with a dear old friend and mentor I wrote myself a love letter for a time in the future when I would need love and encouragement. That day in session, I told my therapist I was worried about my sister, scared of the dark, tortured energy she’d had when I saw her last, three days before.

That day my intuition rang a warning sound in my veins, tying knots in my belly when I heard that none of the siblings had spoken to her that day. That day I felt an urgency, a pressing need to go to her, even though I was already almost certain she was gone.

I am scared and sad, tired of wearing this grief like an invisible garment, tired of feeling triggered by everyone’s sudden opinion about mental illness and suicide.

Saying goodbye

I’ve never made a date for the sole purpose of saying goodbye. How will I manage to dim the bright, wet longing for him that still swims in the freckles on my skin?

I can conjure within me a desire to be stoic, to offer a cold and calm farewell without letting him see the swath of destruction cut through me by his absence.

But I know myself. I understand that I will unfurl before him all nervous smiles and tender deference. Candor, not anger, will slip from my tongue – the tongue that once caressed his body with unrestrained hunger. I will give to him too much of myself, the only consolation being the truth of this being the last time. It is an empty solace.

I won’t allow myself to hide within a hope that this isn’t goodbye, that somehow in this brief public moment he will step forward again into the intensity of our connection, will meet me there to join, not dissemble. I will need to hold my heart back, curb her greedy longing, in order to square my gaze with his and let him go.