When your son comes to you with arms outstretched and pain in his cheeks, let him fall into you. Let him cry, let him soften, let him be cotton against this hard world.

When your son needs to be caught, catch him. When he needs to be propped up, stand tall against him like a dam. But don’t rush. Let him walk slowly towards you, so that he may learn to ask for the support he needs.

mom-and-son1-600x401When your son grows angry, sooth him. Be the cool against his heat. Show him that the world is bright, and that he is too.

When your son questions himself, question him right back, so that he might own the convictions resting on his tongue.

When your son asks about girls like they are puzzles, remind him that you are one too, and that the clues are the same.

When your son asks about love, don’t give him the answers. Let him wander through that magical universe and earn his stars.

When your son asks about my daughter, tell him she was loved with just the right amount of restraint, so that she can be her own dam. And that she was held with just the right amount of kindness, so that she can still be the cotton.

Each morning, as I ascend the stairs to your room, I know what I’m going to find-the static filled brown hair, the carelessly tossed limbs, the twists and turns of the covers-but today, today of all days, I forgot.

And for a split second, I expected cribs and baby breath, raised hands and awestruck eyes, warm cheeks and bald heads, shiny lips and the word “Mama.”

I had stop my stride and catch my breath.

AmyeArcher:

My review of Abigail Thomas’ What Comes Next and How to Like It, for Brevity.

Originally posted on BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog:

by Amye Archer

what-comesI first read Abigail Thomas’ Safekeeping as a new mother, my belly still plump, my babies still purple, and my world still so vulnerable and tenuous.  In Thomas’ beautiful memoir, I found someone who understood these things, the difficulties of becoming someone’s mother and someone’s wife, while still unsure of your very self.  Safekeeping was the right book at the right time for me in so many ways, and with Thomas’ new memoir, What Comes Next and How to Like It, I found that same understanding and reassurance at-once again-the exact right moment.

What Comes Next is the story of a lifelong friendship between the author and Chuck, a man we come to respect as Thomas’ equal if not soul-mate.  However, as with every book Thomas writes, this is a story of deep reflection and self-examination of herself as a mother, friend, writer, and most importantly…

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I don’t know when it happened, and at the time I was completely unaware of the first break in my parent’s marriage.  But looking back on it now, some thirty years later, I can see a very distinct line in my childhood.  On one side there is light, on the other there is a shadow.

We lived in a top floor apartment until I was six.  I spent a lot of time alone with my mother.  I had Billy Joel’s Glass Houses on cassette.  My father was a drummer in a band, so I was always surrounded by music.  The Beatles, the Doors, Led Zeppelin, I had young parents and was lucky enough to be engulfed in these bands from a young age.  But there was something about “You May Be Right,” Billy Joel’s anthem of indignation and unhealthy love that resonated with me at five or six years old.  So, I play the song over and over.  It’s not long before I discover I can tip the radio speakers to the floor and let my neighbors hear it.

My father gives Jennie and me a shower while my mother is out for the night at some aerobics class, (it’s the 80’s).  Jennie has a bathing cap and I don’t.  As the younger sister, I begin to cry and throw a fit.  The bathroom is blue, even the toilet is an aquamarine color.  My father finds an old New York Yankee’s batting helmet and puts Band-Aids over the holes.  There, he says, now you have a bathing cap too.  Later, as he dries us into the fluff of a warm towel he regales us with funny stories about doors and wheels falling off of his car on his drive to work.  We laugh so hard we almost shatter.
brett3My father’s belly is a mountain.  I sprawl out on the peak, feel his breath lift my little body up and down.  On a tiny black and white television, The Yankees are playing the Kansas City Royals.  The room is covered in shadows. George Brett is ejected from the game because he has used too much pine tar on his bat.  My father is whooping and yelling for my mother.  I bounce high into the air and fall.  Some nights the Yankees lose. Other nights, the Yankees win.  Reggie Jackson is my favorite player.  The world around us is pinstriped and perfect.

We come home from a camping trip to find our television has been hit by lightning.  My father places the small black and white on top of our mahogany console.  Jennie and I sprawl out on our shag rug and spend two hours watching Little House on the Prairie.  I fall asleep against the propped elbows of my sister.

This is the light.

03/11/2015

I could write an epic about your lips.

The way they puckered into a kiss before you could even speak, like you knew that love came first-before speech.

The way they glistened in the sun that summer I taught you how to swim and you went under for longer then I care to admit. Your tears slicking the surface of the quiver.

The way they snarled, contorted the whole right side of your mouth into disapproval when I pressed my hands against your small back and propelled you into Kindergarten, where you discovered that no, your teacher wouldn’t let you break out into spontaneous dance, or draw little purple houses on the backs of your hands.

The way they say “Mommy,” like you were always meant to say it to me.

The way the bottom tucks itself up under your front tooth when you’re damming up a river of sobs with the cotton of your interior.

The way they still pucker into a kiss for anyone who will have your kindness.

The way they soften, when the rest of the world is hard.

I’ve been working on a project for about a month now.  I’ve decided to write a book to my daughters.  Not for publication, but for them.  Each day I have written about 250 words, and I thought I would share the first with all of you.  So, here it is: the first page of this new project.

Love Letters

Everyone on Twitter knows how much I love you, except you. Everyone on Faceboook knows the apprehension with which I raise both of you. Everyone on Tumbler knows I have eight-year-old twin girls, that you came to me after a fertility drought, after a bad marriage, after a long, hard battle of thick to thin, and there you were like bulbs in the earth waiting to be plucked.

I write letters to you in this white humming space of a computer screen, and give them to other people. I write love letters to you in the crowded room of my mind, and never see them again.

In my sentences you are still my babies. I remember the smell of you at one week old, ripe with a rotten belly button cord, sweet with synthetic milk on your tongue. I still feel the shape of you against the inside of me, the press of your unborn limbs against my skin.

When you are old enough to know what these words mean, those memories will be dull. They will melt into others and fade against the drama of teenage strife.

This is your eighth year and I’m writing you a book. Every day, 365 total entries, not for publication but for posterity. So you can remember my words, my voice, my addiction to you.

Dear Girls,

This is yours.

I just finished watching the movie, Wild, based on the wonderful memoir by Cheryl Strayed.  And as I walked out of that theater, I couldn’t help but feel sad and more alone than I have felt in a long while.

I wrote a memoir about getting married and divorced.  I wrote a memoir about how lonely I was, about how it felt to have someone you love reject you, about how sometimes you need to start your life over again even if you lack the basic tools to do so.  An agent loved my book, took it on as hers, and I thought that was the beginning of something.  But publishers didn’t love it like we did.  They felt that nothing happened.  They like books like Wild, because in that book something happened.  So I had to make something happen.  Now it’s a different book.  I miss my memoir.

Crises are not always big.  Sometimes they are small and fall into the crevices of our hearts.  Hearts are not smooth, nor are they heart-shaped.

What if your crisis is that you eat too much?

What if your crisis is that you let your kids have too much sugar, or that you and your husband had exactly two therapy-worthy fights in front of them?

What if your crisis is that you told your father you hated him once, and have never forgiven yourself for it?

I walked myself to sanity once too.  It was not the Pacific Crest Trail, but it was South Franklin Street in Wilkes-Barre, and that path back to the one and only place I have ever lived on my own, was just as treacherous.

What if your crisis is that you don’t protect yourself from anything or anyone?

What if your crisis is that you don’t always know where to put a comma?

What if your crisis is that you loved someone that you shouldn’t have?

What if your crisis is that you don’t like playing board games with your kids?

What if your crisis is that you feel like no other person on the face of this earth understands you just as you are?

I don’t have one big crisis to sustain a book.  I have a million little ones that I carve into my chest day after day.

When I first held you in my arms, you were smoldering and you melted against me like burning tar.

In the beginning, our life together was slow and thick.  I questioned everything.  There are no answers, my mother told me when I called her for a twenty minute consultation about your seemingly endless crying, it’s just trial and error.  And I did. try. everything.

You were once connected to me through here, I whispered to you and pointed to your protruding belly knobs.  You smiled at me with shiny, slippery gums.

At nine months, Samantha fell down a flight of stairs because I turned my back to toast a piece of bread. At a year, she ate a piece of plastic only to be saved by my father’s quick thinking as he pulled it from her throat at just the right time.
At eighteen months, Penelope screamed herself to sleep every night for a month.  Inside of me, where the guilt was supposed to reside, lived only exhaustion and a weight the shape of your lips.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe mistakes I made were endless.  There was everything between you and safety.  Fear had moved into my belly, the space you left vacant.

I dreamed of fire consuming me.  I made my father call me every morning to make sure I was alive.  If I don’t answer, I told him, come and get the girls.

I dragged the two of you through early development, and you dragged me into motherhood with equal force.

Then, one day, it wasn’t so hard.

Yesterday, the two of you helped me put up the Christmas tree.  Samantha’s arms draped in soft white as she fed me a string of lights, and Penelope carefully hanging the ornaments we’ve collected since the origin of our family.  When it was all over and the glow was celestial, I looked at you for the first time in your short lives and realized how easy it is to love you now.

I once had a man tell me that I am hard to love because I demand too much of people.

You’ve never had a hard time with it.

I put you to bed tonight, the night before you turn eight, and I held you in my arms, pressed you both hard against me.  You were once connected to me, I whispered into the still of the darkness, through here, I said, pointing to your thin slice of a belly button.

Last night it was my husband’s turn to take our eight-year-old twin daughters to bed. In recent years, our bedtime routine has been downgraded from a full-on vaudeville act which included singing, dancing, and occasional joke telling, to a leisurely tuck-in full of questions ranging anywhere from “Can we paint our room black?” (No.) to “Is God real?” (Um???) Last night, the latter happened, and had it been me in the room, had I been the one to receive the God question, I might have been okay with what happened. But it was not me. And I was not alright.

I was born on a Sunday, and we all missed mass that day.

When my daughters were born, we made the decision to not have them baptized. They’ve never stepped foot in a church, and up until the age of five they believed our local churches to be mystical castles. They’ve heard about religion, specifically the Catholic tradition, from grandparents and various community members, but they’ve never been formally instructed by any stretch of the imagination. Then, at the age of four, my grandmother decided to introduce them to Ba, my long-dead grandfather. And with that came heaven, because how could I look at their faces and tell them that Ba was simply no more? Because how could I believe that myself? Because how could I allow them to be so jaded at four years old that they believe nothing but blackness waits for them at the end of this light we call life? Because it was 2:30 on a Monday and I was in a hurry to shuttle them from school to piano and to make dinner and do homework in between. And because heaven was easy.

My grandmother wrapped a rosary around her wrist and prayed for my grandfather’s return. I hung rosaries from my preteen neck and pretended to be Madonna.

Match-made-in-heavenWhen I was twelve, I asked my father if I could “drop out” of my Roman Catholic instruction. He sat on the edge of my bed with particles of light in the sunbeams around him. I told him I didn’t believe in God, or heaven, or Jesus, or any of it. He told me faith is walking off a cliff and knowing someone will be there to catch you. No one has ever been there to catch me.
When I was marrying my first husband, we were married in a church by a Catholic priest who was later revealed to have a fetish for the feet of underage girls, and I told him what I knew he wanted to hear. Yes, I believe in the institution of marriage. Yes, I will honor and obey. Yes, yes, yes. We divorced eighteen months later.

Father Penn told my second-grade Sunday school class that Satan was making us yawn during his sermon, and that we should resist Satan and all of his ignorance by staying awake.

When I found out about the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, the children who were exactly the same age as my children, I called my mother with hysteria in my voice and sobs in my throat. I don’t know what to do with this, I don’t know where to put this. I would have given anything for a jar marked ‘FAITH’ in which to pour that pain.

The most religious person I know is my grandmother, who believes with equal conviction that a Scorpio rising sign has more of an influence on your physical appearance than genetics.

Before my girls were born, I swore that as a mother I would “breastfeed, use cloth diapers, and smile a lot.” None of those things happened. I also swore that I would debunk the Santa Claus myth early, not spend money on Christmas presents, never let my kids have soda, and be painstakingly honest most of the time. I just finished ordering two Kindle Fires to place under our tree from Santa, and I’m pretty sure one of my daughters is hooked on Pepsi. And now, they think their great-grandfather is walking around on a cloud somewhere in the sky. And it isn’t that horrible after all, because I’d like to think he’s there too. So, maybe talking to my kids about God isn’t the end of the world. Maybe the best religion is made up of the bits and pieces that work for each of us. What would my life had been like if, during that faith conversation, my father had said he didn’t know? That he was confused too, and that it was okay to be uncertain. Would I have been the better for it? Or would I have struggled more, not having something-real or not- to grab onto in the face of a storm?

There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers.

What happened last night was the inevitable. “The girls asked if God is real,” my husband said.
Me: And?
Him: And what? I told them that I don’t believe in God.
Me: And what did they say?
Him: They said they don’t either.
And an incredible sadness welled up inside my belly, where they once lived, where I rubbed them, and sang to them, and prayed to God for them.

If there was ever a moment I believed in God it was when I first held them in my arms.

Shortly after Timmy and I started dating, he told me that his dream was to build his own house.  Now, that dream is happening!

We are on a shoestring budget.  We are building it from scratch by ourselves.  The only part of the process we are subbing out is the block (the foundation walls, hubs did the footer himself).  Anyway, the house and the move is going to be completely life-changing and traumatic for me.  I’m one of those that gets attached to place easily.  But, this is what Timmy and I have been working towards for the last five or six years.  We always knew we wanted to live in the country, and now we will.

As a poet, I am bursting.  I want to write about so much of it all at once.  The construction of this house is riddled in metaphor, from “bringing it out of the ground” to talking about hip roofs and roof lines.  He’s building us.  He’s building me.  Anyway, that’s how my brain works, and once I can get my head around some of these images, there will be poetry!!!!

Which, brings me to my next announcement!

My first full-length poetry collection, BANGS, will be out this fall with Big Table Publishing.  I’ll be touring a little bit, lining up some readings for that book, so check back in a while for that info.

In the meantime, here are some pictures of the building process!

The land "before"

The land “before”

The Hole!

The Hole!

2014-06-20 18.57.57

Block!

Block!

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