A Farewell Letter to My President

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Dear Barack Obama,

I was keeping a journal for my two-year-old twin daughters when you began your campaign all those years ago. The night you were elected, as they slept soundly in their cribs, I sobbed. I sobbed so hard my body shook. And when you and Michelle walked out onto that stage in Grant Park with your little girls, my chest swelled with pride.  We, as a nation, had chosen HOPE, and I couldn’t have been more proud of this amazing country. In my journal I wrote: This is the beginning. This is the beginning of a beautiful chapter in our lives.

And it was. Your presidency hasn’t been easy. But, despite the harshest of opposition, you kept our hopes and dreams with you at all times. You made decisions based on logic and facts. You weighed consequences, listened to opposing views, and made choices that you felt would benefit most rather than some. Under your presidency, my marriage and my family bloomed. I was able to go back to graduate school and earn my MFA because my husband’s union was strong and secure. And once I graduated, I was able to secure health insurance even though I did not have a full time job. As a nation, we moved forward as we saw some of our most vulnerable communities get the rights and protections they deserved.

When you were first elected, we saw a well-dressed black man in Target. My girls were three, maybe four, and they yelled out “Obama! Obama!!” The man smiled and kept walking. I was immediatly embarrassed, but quickly realized how wonderful it was that when my young daughters saw a black man, they saw a President.  They are now part of the most inclusive and racially diverse generation, embracing all colors and backgrounds, and I’d like to think you had a lot to do with that.

Then there was that fateful day, when a madman gunned down a classroom full of first and second graders at Sandy Hook Elementary. I’ve written so much about this, about how that day affected me not only as a mother, but as a human being. I remember that day so clearly, and I remember looking to you for a comfort I knew I would find. When you came out into the press briefing room, you were stoic and composed. But as you spoke, as you recalled what had happened, the tears streamed down your face. There you were, not the President of the United States, but Barack Obama, Daddy to Sasha and Malia. I remember feeling that raw emotion with you. You made something impossible hurt a little less that day.

I don’t know what’s next for you and your family. But I wanted you to know that your presidency was not a shadow, but a shimmer over my daughters’ lives. You showed this country what it means to be a grownup, a thinker, an intellectual. And for the short eight years that we had you, I was proud to have called you my President.

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2008

Tales of a Capsizing Mommy

I finished my book just in time to miss the best years of my twin daughter’s lives.  My MFA, two chapbooks of poetry, and an unsold memoir had consumed me for the better part of five years.  I guess I half-expected that they would wait for me, that the milestones: the walking, the rolling over, the talking, the first night sleeping all the way through, would be there for me on the other side, ready to repeat themselves and allow me to linger and actually pay attention this time.

Instead, when I finally lifted my head through the skin of the water, I found a pair of little girls, almost six, ready to cross that invisible threshold into “not a baby anymore” land.  Suddenly there were too-tight shoes, missing training wheels, a pint-sized boyfriend, and sight words that rolled off their pink shiny tongues like water rolling downhill.

Don’t get me wrong, I did what I could.  I kept copious notes in a black journal with embossed flowers on the cover.  Triumphs and achievements stretched out across each page like webs catching every date and every age.  But I had never really slowed down to experience them, to inhale their importance, and when I pulled that journal out weeks ago, after the dust had settled and my writing was dormant, it was as if I was a stranger glancing through a history book full of events I had never witnessed.

So, when Penelope, the baby (by one whole minute), came to me three months ago with a pain in her tooth and it was discovered that said tooth was loose, I reveled in the emotion of the moment.

tooth“Your tooth is loose!  Your tooth is loose!”  I cried as if she had just informed me of a full scholarship to Harvard Law School.  The afternoon sun lit up the kitchen and I danced her around the bare floor draped in the warm rays.  I called all of her grandparents, and acted as if this loose tooth would be it: the one event, the one benchmark of her childhood  I would remember forever.   I imagined she would call me up twenty-seven years from now and I would relive the loose tooth with as much vigor and detail as I had remembered her birth.  Still, just in case, later that night through weary eyes, I pulled out the journal and wrote: Loose tooth, October, 2012.

Now, three months have passed and already that moment is gone from my mind.  I remember the date, obviously, but I can’t remember the sequence, the order in which anything happened.  Did she wake up with the tooth pain?  Had she pointed it out earlier and I blew it off?  Did I know to look for the wiggle of the tooth or did she mention it first?

This is what has happened to my brain since I decided to live the writing life.  I used to remember moments effortlessly.  In my early twenties, I could have told you every single detail of every relationship I’d ever had:  How the leather back seat felt under my bare skin the first time I went parking with a boy, the smell of Jeff’s cologne, and how my stomach flipped every time I heard Mike’s voice.    I was able to recite the phone numbers of my very first girl friends, my employee badge number from SEARS, the first nine numbers of Pi.  Now, I cannot recall the simple historic moments of my own children’s lives.  The events most mothers have living on the tips of their tongues.

Sinking-shipIt’s easy to make excuses.  I’m teaching six classes this semester, that’s 120 students give or take.  That’s a lot of papers, a lot of deadlines, and a lot of emails to answer.  I’m also involved with a few literary magazines, host of a reading series, and mentor to some budding writers.  I’m overwhelmed, clearly, but that’s not all. What’s taking up so much precious real estate in my mind is my next book, play, poem, short story, essay, and haiku.  On any given day, there is a whole host of images and characters just floating around my head, taking up space.  I do everything I can to hold onto the important things, to tether Penelope’s loose tooth to something that will help me remember.  Penelope’s first tooth wiggled one week before Halloween.  I was teaching Creative Nonfiction, it was right after I finished the book.  I secure the rope tightly, but deep down I know it’s in vain.  A little loose tooth is no match for the high tide of unwritten stories.  The memory of my daughter and me in the kitchen, spinning on the balls of my feet while she laughs and beams with big-girl pride will be lost someday soon, the magic of the moment relegated to four words in a handwritten journal.   This is the life of mother, a writer, a captain of uncharted waters just trying to stay afloat.