A Letter to My Daughters as You Turn Ten

Dear Girls,

Last year I wrote you a letter about how we failed you as a country. How we should have done more to protect you from the overabundance of gun violence in this world. How you should not have to live through “lock-down drills” in which your principal bangs on your classroom door and tries to lure you into the line of his imaginary gunfire. You were nine. These things were impossible for me to imagine.

This year, so much and so little has changed all at once. You are ten, and in every way you have grown more than I have expected. You have boyfriends now, little boys who tell you that you are pretty and buy you bracelets and necklaces to prove it. You don’t want toys for Christmas anymore, preferring instead clothes, earrings, and pretty-smelling body spray. Also, our shared history has started to reveal itself to you. You say things like “I used to think you were a bad mother…” followed by a very specific example of when I was. I no longer have to protect you from gun violence only, the web under which I need to hold you now has grown larger and less secure: boys, peer pressure, bad memories and sadness have all tried to sneak their way in.

Every year, as much as you grow and change, I’d like to think I do as well. I learn something new about how to be a mother, how to parent you, or how to love you in a new light. But this year, the lessons were hard. This year, I had to parent you through grief: yours and mine. This year has been a year of loss. For all of us.

We lost Grandma Gigi, the woman who lived just to love you.  At almost 80 years old, she watched you three or four days a week for most of your life. She taught you to do puzzles, to play Solitaire, and to hold a special place in your soft hearts for “old ladies.” On her death bed she said to me “Oh, Amye, you don’t know how much I wanted to see those girls grow up.” It was and remains to be the single most painful thing anyone has ever said to me. Those words have strung themselves together in a little bow around my heart and squeeze hard enough to break it most days. This first year without her has been like finding my way through the darkness with only a match.

We lost Hope. You were too young to remember the Obama elections, still I bought you shirts that read “My mama’s for Obama” and posted pictures of you wearing them on Facebook without your consent. But this year, this cycle, you were able to participate. I bought you Hillary shirts in which she was made to look like Rosie the Riveter, and you wore them proudly. It was fun for you, to root for a girl. You had no idea of the struggle behind those words. Your elementary school became a hotbed of political conflict. Everyday you came home with a new story about a new friend with whom you were upset because he/she told you they were supporting Trump. You couldn’t wrap your nine-year-old brain around it. “BUT, he wants to kick all of the Mexicans out,” you would decree in shock and anger. I lacked the ability to explain it. I didn’t understand it myself. But we held fast to the idea that Hillary would win. I baked Stromboli and vowed to let you stay up to watch the results. You were in bed by ten. I cried myself to sleep wondering how I would explain to you that someone filled with such hate could be chosen by so many. Trump’s America will be the very opposite of Obama’s America, and I realize now how lucky I’ve been to have raised you in the latter.

My mother was 20 years old when her father died, and I often wonder-now that I’m a parent-how she managed to keep the ship floating in the wake of all that grief. How her sadness didn’t just overwhelm her, pull her under the surface and hold her there for a long while. But she didn’t sink. She kept swimming, kept moving, and she and we survived. Each day I have to learn to swim all over again. What once came so naturally to me-moving forward, moving on, moving… has become difficult. I smile for you, shove the pain of losing my grandmother and the shame and disappointment I feel for my country into a black box inside of me and I struggle to inch forward against the current.

There has also been some good. Everyone is healthy and my heart is full when the entire family is together. You have grown into amazing individuals with different outlooks on life and the world. I’m so proud to hear from your teachers that you’re excelling. I’m so proud to see you question the world around you. I published my book! The thing that pulled me from you in every way for the previous five years was finally a reality! We also saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time. It took me thirty-eight years to get there, it took you nine. I stood on that coastline, closed my eyes, and breathed the salty air deep into my lungs. I had waited and wanted to see California my whole life. And there we were. In that moment, there was hope.

2016-08-06-18-13-02

Here is what I know to be true: I love you more with each day. I love you differently than I once did. I love you in spite of yourselves, sometimes. I love you enough to give my life to protect yours. I love you in ways I never thought I could. I love you enough to keep swimming for you-every day. But, most importantly, I love you enough to teach you to swim for yourselves. There will be hope again. There will be paths forward. You and I will find them together. In the darkness, I will be your match.

Love,

Mommy

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

 

2015-12-23 23.11.51

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.

2016-01-22 15.30.09

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

******

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

Moms Demand Action 

Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence12365995_886863594764895_674355557877059667_o

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.

A Letter to Mothers of Sons From a Mother of Daughters

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.

Grow

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.

Lips

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.

Love Letters

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.

Three Things to Keep me From Jumping off a Cliff

This week, no, this year, I have been met with more disappointment in my professional life than I know what to do with.  Jobs I was certain I had -slipped through my fingers, publishers I was sure would offer-passed, everything I thought would happen, the plan I had dreamed in my mind for myself, is gone.  Each week there are rejection slips in my inbox, each month there’s another person/publisher/editor/chairperson telling me I’m not good enough, my writing isn’t good enough, my credentials aren’t good enough.  This is the life of so many of us who write and teach or teach and write.  It’s what you sign on for when you decide to become a writer.  It’s not just my experience, this trampling of ego echoes through the masses, I know that, it’s just so, so, so…. humbling.  And before you send me hate mail, or call me a whiner, yes, I know there are writers who are way more talented than myself who have been plugging away for twenty-some odd years without catching a break.  This is not a competition.  This is just me, telling you, how I plan to deal with this influx of negative energy.

girl_cryingI’ve been here before.  After my divorce it was the same feeling only the destruction and utter disappointment was happening in my personal life.  I had broken up with my ex to search for a better life, a better mate, a better fit, and I was finding…well, not that.  So I slowly began to work on the things I could control.  I began to exercise, lose weight, read more, focus on my job, and in the end, I was better for it.   More importantly, I took the risk of leaving a bad yet comfortable relationship in hopes of finding something more, and in the (very) long run, it paid off.

Four years ago, I took another risk.  I promised my husband that if he supported my decision to go back to school, it would pay off someday.  I told my kids as I dropped them off at daycare every morning so that I could finish my MFA, that this would all be worth it someday.  Now, that someday seems to be fading further and further into the distance.  I know it will come, the risk will pay off, but it’s getting harder and harder to keep looking up.  But these are things I have no control over.  I can’t control the fact that publishers and editors don’t think a book about a fat girl is going to sell right now.  I can’t control the fact that the job market is in the toilet.  The only thing I can control is me, and what I do with my life and my family, my writing.

In honor of this, I have decided that I’m going to do what I have done in the past at every lull in life.  I have reinvented myself more than once, and I’m ready to do it again.  I’m going to commit to doing three things everyday.  If I can do this for a month, I will add another.  So, just in time for April, I’m asking you, too, to make a list of three things you can do everyday to nourish your mind, body, and spirit.  Here are mine:

Mind:  I’m going to read for thirty minutes a day (at least.)  My life right now is full of “too busy to read.”  That needs to change.

Body:  I’m going to drink 100 ounces of water each day.

Spirit:  I’m going to spend an hour a day doing something my kids love.  Playing Candyland, reading Pinkalicious, building with Legos.  Whatever they want, one hour.  That’s the deal.

These three small things will help me to feel better about myself, connect me with my children, help hydrate my body after a long, cold winter, and help my writing by reading great stories every day.

These are my three things.  I will do them every day in April.  This may not solve my problem, but it helps to exercise control over something.  By the end of April, I will have read, played, and hydrated myself to a better frame of mind.  Hopefully.