Swallow

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Breathe.

The simple act of pulling the world in and swallowing. When I was a kid I used to hold my breath underwater for 74 seconds. I remember that number clearly because it was the neighborhood record. It was a feat to balloon my chest and deprive my body of the very thing it needs most.

Breathe.

When I had my daughters, the doctors had to put me to sleep. It was predetermined that I would have a cesarean, I don’t remember being asked or offered an alternative. The epidural didn’t work. The nurse tapped something against my spine and I jumped. He did it again, I jumped. Twice they tried. Then, they laid me on my back and slid a mask over my face. Breathe deep, a voice said. The lights were stars, the doctors were magicians. I was so passive. I so easily turned my body over to strangers.  I didn’t even know what agency meant. But I knew how to fill my chest with air.

Breathe.

There are nights when I wake up breathless. I have somehow pushed the air from my lungs, extricated the oxygen from my body. In my dreams there are kids- six, seven, eight years old. The same age as my twin girls. There is a gunman. They don’t know that he’s coming, but they know that something is sour. There are people screaming. Then, a door opens.

 

There is a space here-a pause.

 

Between the moment of knowing and the moment of dying. I sometimes imagine this space as a breath. A long, 74-second breath like the one I treasured as a child of their same age. I wake gasping for something.  I want to suspend these children in that breath, and I cannot. The air runs low. My daughter falling down the stairs when she was three years old. That scream. The one that woke me from a daydream. The one that cut through the air like a siren. I imagine a classroom full of those screams. How the walls must’ve ached with their echo. The air runs lower. The swallows in my chest fade, collapse, die.

Breathe.

The shooting happened on a Friday. My daughters were six. One was home sick. The walls could not contain my grief. I pressed my spine against the molding of our kitchen door and sobbed. The building could not hold me. The world could not hold me. Not tight enough. I wished for a jar to pour my heartache into and seal away. There was no shelf wide enough. My breath tasted like vinegar-it foreign in my mouth. I mourned the obvious-lives cut short, parents devastated, and the collective heartbreak of a community. But I obsessed over the terror in that pause. That 74-second exhale of air. The swell of life leaving their lungs.  That’s when the swallows moved into my chest. They’ve never left.

 

*A poem for the children of Sandy Hook.

To donate to the wonderful people who work tirelessly to prevent another Sandy Hook shooting in our country, click here.

New Column

I was so honored to have a column on Mothers Always Write today! Please check it out if you get a chance!

“If I’m to tell you the story of me as a mother, then I need to start at the very beginning. I need to start on a warm, muggy night in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where a song came on the radio that drew “I love you,” from a good man’s mouth and poured it like honey into my ear. That’s the night my daughters were born, in every sense of the word. Because that was the night they became possible.”

Read the full column HERE.

 

Everything I Wanted to Know About My Grandmother I Learned From Her Palm.

 

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My grandmother as a young woman.

Everything I wanted to know about my grandmother I learned from her palm. A strong, deep life line with little attachment meant she was fiercely independent. She held two jobs down when most women didn’t work. She ran away from home, married a Catholic, lost babies, disowned siblings, and lived the last thirty-two years of her life alone. She loved to work in her home, rarely ventured out, liked order, and respected routine. Still, there was so much I didn’t know. I never knew the cut of her love line, still like a river across her hand, until it was cold in my palms the day we lost her. I could never imagine the woman who wouldn’t answer her door in anything less than full dress as a honeymooner rolling around in the backseat of my grandfather’s Lincoln. I never knew her as young. She was an old lady my whole life.

In the first section of my memoir, I have sex with two different men in three different places. In the second section, there’s two more. In the third, yet another. And when I write these scenes, I hold nothing back. My book is about divorce and body image. It’s about feeling insecure and using men to feel better about myself. I write myself the fool for sure. I write about myself as a young woman, as a divorcee, as someone who is so woefully unsure of herself that I cringe even now as I read the words. Because of my writing, this is the version of me that my children and my grandchildren will know. They will not wonder, they will not question, they will have an insight into my heart and mind that I would have given anything to have with my grandmother, or the mothers who came before her.

It’s not easy to write about our lives, especially if you’re accustomed to writing fiction.  Many of us worry about ex-husbands, parents, children, etc. We worry about splitting open our lives on a page and allowing the world a front seat. And as a memoirist, let me assure you, it never gets easier. That vulnerability is always there. But, the gift we give the generations that will come after us by allowing them access to the inner workings of our lives is invaluable.

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This makes me slightly nervous…

At first, the thought of my twin daughters-now nine-reading the perils of my life someday was terrifying. I imagined them pouring over the chapters in which I fumble, give myself over too easily to love, make the wrong choices, and laughing, losing respect for me faster than I can rewrite my past. Then I realized something. Someday, they will be me: a middle-aged woman with a cobbled-together sense of confidence, doing the best she can to raise her kids with love, hope, and strength. Then, their babies will have babies, and so on. What a beautiful heritage we can help create as mothers when we write down our stories?

You don’t have to write a memoir to leave a written record of your life. You can write a journal, write essays, poetry, or thinly-veiled fiction. The day my girls were born, I started a journal. I don’t write as much as I should because I’ve been busy with other projects, but I try to write once a month or so. I write a lot about what’s happening in the world around us and how I react to these events. I wrote about the sun bursting in my heart as I watched our country elect the first black president. I wrote about the absolute anguish I felt after the Sandy Hook shooting. But I also wrote a detailed description of every home and apartment in which I lived, stories of the men I’ve loved, and tender memories of my relationship with their father. I plan on giving them this journal when they become mothers.

I can’t help but wonder how different my life would have been had I been gifted a written record of my grandparents or their parents as young, hot-blooded men and women. How fascinating would it have been to read the secrets locked inside my grandmother’s heart? To know what she was afraid of, what made her cry, what she thought about life and love? Instead, what I know is highlights and recycled memories handed down through the generations. Lines on a palm with no stories attached.

As a writer, I can do more for my children. As a mother, I should. When you’re given the gift of being able to write, you should ask yourself what responsibilities come with that gift. I never knew where my writing was born from. I have artists in my family, sure, but mostly musicians and visual artists.  So, I’m the writer. I’m the record-keeper, the storyteller, and the one who should be taking it all down. I don’t question this, I welcome it. I refuse to be a stale story, someone remembered vaguely by a distant grandson. Someday, my grandchildren will be able to say that everything they learned about their grandmother, they learned from her own words.

A Letter to My Twin Daughters as They Turn Nine: Or, How We Failed You…Again.

For the first six years of your lives, your birthday was a joyous occasion. I help parties, crafted invitations like a Pinterest mom, baked you cakes, and bought you toys. Your daddy came home from work, painted us with kisses, and tickled your soft bellies until your laughter rained on us. We had a normal life. We had good days and good years, and the promise of a better tomorrow. When I asked you either of you what you wanted to be when you grew up you answered through crooked smiles and missing teeth: artist, teacher, singer, painter.

Then, the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School happened. You had just turned six two days prior, and one of you-Samantha-was home sick. The news broke that a shooting had occurred in a school. Having lived through Columbine as a college student, Virginia Tech as a young adult, I had weathered these types of events before in this country, and I’m embarrassed to say that I gave little mind to the headlines when they started to pop up across the TV screen.

Your fever climbed, your cheeks burst into red, and the network news anchor was breaking into our regularly scheduled programming. I will never forget that moment, the sippy cup of ice water in my left hand, a damp washcloth in the right, I stood motionless as I watched lines, ropes of screaming children being led from their elementary school by even more distraught adults. I steadied myself against the wall and watched as we learned of the dead, the massacred, the innocent.

“I wasn’t sure how the parents of those slain children would go on, but I thought maybe, no I was certain of it, I was sure that we would pull together as a country and help them through this.”

Hours later, the names started pouring in, floating across our TV screens like a fog. I did what every parent in America did that day: I hugged you both like it would be the last time. I held you against me until I was afraid you would melt.  I held you to fill the void for those parents, all of those parents in Newtown who would never see their babies again. I called my mom with a sob in my voice I had never felt before. I don’t know what to do with this, I cried, this pain is unbearable. I wanted somewhere to put the anguish, a jar with a tight lid that would never open again. If I feel this way, I thought, I cannot imagine what those poor parents are feeling. I wasn’t sure how the parents of those slain children would go on, but I thought maybe, no I was certain of it, I was sure that we would pull together as a country and help them through this.

I thought that day was the hardest. But I was wrong. The hardest part of the Sandy Hook Massacre for parents around the world was ever trusting that our children would be safe in school-ever again. The next morning, it was all I could do not to keep you home. What if there’s a copycat? What if someone tries it here? What if? What if?  But Daddy insisted, we keep going, keep moving forward. That morning, there were more parents outside of the school than usual.  I will never forget letting you walk through those doors again. I stood there, with at least a dozen mothers and fathers, just watching you with tears streaming down our cheeks.

I thought that day was the hardest. But I was wrong again. The hardest part came in the days, weeks, and even years afterwards, when-despite twenty children and six adults being murdered in an elementary school by a lone gunman-we as a country continue to fail them and you by doing nothing.  There have been efforts made by many, the strong voices in a choir of ignorance, singing out for justice, for help, for empathy, but the choir is loud and those voices are drowning by themselves.

Your birthday has never been the same for me. Not because the events of that day overshadow your life, I don’t want them to. But because I can never give you what you truly deserve on your birthday and every day in between, and that is a safe place in this world.  I can’t yet say to you that a really bad thing happened and we fixed it, or at least tried to make it better. Instead, the deaths of those 20 children have made our world less safe, and now a simple trip to Target or the mall is a risk. Your birthday has never been the same because I have never been the same. I have failed you, the country has failed you, and I don’t know what to do to make it right.

At night, even now, I close my eyes sometimes and imagine the fear and panic those who died and those who survived experienced in those classrooms. It haunts me. I look at parents walking through the streets with a gun tucked in their belt and a first-grader on their arm, and I wonder how on earth you can reconcile the two? I think about the 52 parents in Newtown who are celebrating the holidays with one less person at their table this year. It’s unimaginable that you will grow up in this world, that you will fear taking your kids-my grandchildren-to school, that you will be in a crowded space and have your heart pound out of your chest because someone bursts through a door or moves in a way that could signal terror.

On your birthday, my sweet babies, and every day, I am sorry my voice isn’t strong enough, but I pray every single day that it will be heard.

Mommy

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To help: Please consider donating today to either of these groups:

Moms Demand Action 

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Score One for Moms!

The MOST amazing thing happened to me last night. As a mom, we often operate unnoticed hoping our love will be enough even if they can’t see it. But, last night, I learned that Samantha sees it, as she remembered something from many years ago.

I wrote a little bit about it.

Noise

Our life together is loud.  Work, homework, school, lunches, backpacks, permission slips, book reports, library days, gym days, art days, dinner, clean-up, gym time, me time, reading time, tubby time, and bedtime are the static. I search for a loose thread, something to pull on to slow the speed, but our daily tasks still orbit us with urgency.

Then last night, you are sick. Mommy, you beg, please put me to bed. Lay with me. Comfort me.

I pull the nest of your brown hair to my chest and hum a song I have hummed a million times when you were a baby, but haven’t done so in close to five years. The notes are automatic, like they’ve been buried inside of me just waiting to be uncovered. They cling together and form the melody of your infancy. Suddenly, with the glow of the nightlight holding us in the darkness, you begin to join me. Note for note, exactly right. This tune, this song, it is an echo of our life together.

“You know that song baby girl?” I ask welling with tears.

“Yes, you used to hum it while you rubbed our backs at night.”

With those words a bomb explodes inside of me as I remember the fleece of your onsie pajamas under the palm of my hand.

And all of the noise is gone.

And all that is left is a soft lullaby.

The “F” Word

Two weeks ago-yes it has taken me that long to recover from this incident-I brought my 8-year-old twin daughters to Target for an impromptu shopping trip. As we were sitting in the cafe’ chomping on a very salty soft pretzel, one of my daughters asked me who I thought would grow up to be fat, her or her twin.  Puzzled, I choked down the ICEE I was slurping and asked her why she thought one of them would be fat. Why would you think such a thing? She looked at me, slightly embarrassed, and said softly, “well, because Daddy is skinny, and you’re…not.”

iceeBefore you jump to the conclusion that my daughter is a jerk, let me just say this: I am fat. I have always struggled with my weight, and when I had finally gotten to a point where I was happy with my body, I was blessed with a twin pregnancy. The road back from that birth has not been easy, as most mothers will attest. Being a mom consumes you, and one day you realize that you haven’t really cared for yourself in that way in a really long time. Or, maybe that’s a nice, convenient excuse, I don’t know anymore. All I know is my daughter’s words hit me like a freight train, not because they hurt my feelings-I’ve been called a lot worse-but because her words opened my eyes to this: My daughters have no idea what makes people fat. They have no clue how to keep caloric intake down, which foods linger longer than others, or any of the other helpful and necessary information they need to help control their weight as adults, and you know what? It’s all my fault.

After having read 95,888,888 articles about how we as women are destroying one another with words, or how mothers can imprint their body image issues onto their young, I issued a moratorium on the word “fat” pretty early on. My daughters have never heard me say it, and thankfully have never heard anyone call me by that moniker. I’ve never weighed myself in front of them, or even uttered the word “diet.” I’m pretty strict about what they eat, and try my best to model “good behavior” and “self-control.” But now, here I was faced with a teaching moment, and I couldn’t help but think of it this way- In the effort to prevent future self-loathing, am I setting my daughters up for an unhealthy lifestyle? Would it be the end of the world if my daughter knew that sugary drinks and candy make you fat? So here’s what I said:

“You’re right honey, Mommy is a little fat.  But, I’m working on eating healthy and exercising so that I can be healthier. That’s why Mommy doesn’t eat a lot of junk food.”

I don’t know what I expected. But what I got was a crooked little smile and a quick story about some Minecraft video they had watched earlier that day. My other daughter wasn’t even paying attention.

Look, I don’t know what the answer is, how to shape the outcome of my daughter’s self-image. All I know is, I tend to lean towards no information being on par with misinformation. I want my daughter to love her body, and to accept whatever shape or form it may take, but I also want her to be healthy and to work towards being healthy as an adult. Not skinny, healthy. And I believe it is my job as Mommy to make sure she has all of the information she needs to make the best possible decision she can.