treasured memories locked
within silken threads
slowly, slowly unraveling
pressed elbows leave
life’s strong imprint
gently, gently fading
circling butterflies through
cloudy skies forever
softly, softly loving
treasured memories locked
within silken threads
slowly, slowly unraveling
pressed elbows leave
life’s strong imprint
gently, gently fading
circling butterflies through
cloudy skies forever
softly, softly loving
“The morning steals upon the night, Melting the darkness.” -William Shakespeare
A gorgeous friend of mine writes and talks a lot about joy—seeking it out, the importance of recognizing it, and fighting for it even when it feels ridiculous. She inspires me all the time and this morning I did something purely for the joy of it. I hiked to a park by my house with my camera to capture the sunrise. It felt luxurious and I basked in the beauty of the world for an entire hour alone.
My mother-in-law has entered hospice care within the home of my kind, caring, and incredibly giving sister-in-law. This time in our lives is hard. Watching a woman of immeasurable strength and love fade before all our eyes is beyond difficult. While I don’t know what this next part looks like, I do know that even within these hard moments we can find gratitude and even joy.
All the photos above were taken with my Olympus OM-D and edited with ON1 Photo RAW.
Here’s a bonus iPhone self-portrait:
a hundred full moons
since chaos burned my
curvy landscape to dust
ashes swirl within cobwebbed
trapping festering gray memories
inside oily rancid darkness
sandbagged alone I await
electric sharp thundering to
storm my hollow heart
we’ve never formally met
shaking hands, exchanging names
we’re beyond such things
green watered dream river
living within shared bones
—marrow of continuous life
passion tugs weepy core
toward lover’s inevitable embrace
slippery rocks rattle beneath
unsteady, unstable moving feet
liquid kisses, fluid caresses
flowing fast, free, fierce
losing power inside your
deep roaring wild whitecaps
fingers touch fusing together
foaming—equal dance partners
last minute quick turn
freckled face warmed red
singing in sweet harmony
until we meet again
While visiting Oregon last week, I stood on the bank of a beautiful green river and was completely overwhelmed by how familiar it felt. Had I dreamed of this place? Did I visit its rushing waters in another lifetime? I wanted to be within its icy water and feel the power sweep me swiftly away. It called to me. This poem is an attempt at processing this strange and odd feeling. Has this ever happened to you?
silent cypress crouches
philosophic fern leers
kingly chrysalis sways
intake, inside, evolve
joyful wild whispers
dancing damp locks
freckled face freedom
After spending the weekend surrounded by messages of peace and love, I traveled to the lush coolness of the Oregon coast. I spent the morning whale watching on a boat with my daughter. The world seems to be whispering to me to be still and observe. I’m listening.
would you have trusted me more
if I’d known about fingertip sparks
and fluttering hearts?
or if I’d really looked at
tiny pencil drawings on matchboxes and
folded paper napkins?
you’d pass notes I didn’t understand—
messages scrawled on scraps of paper
palm to palm
rainbows hung around your pretty neck;
delicate lovely things refracting light into
everything you did
you left without goodbyes—fleeing rejections
spurred by fevered religious hate disguised
as family love
you drew naked ladies in Paris
seeing worldly wonders dreaming nightly with
fingertips stained black
floating down stone steps in tailored
suits you charmed everyone with your
soft blue eyes
returning home sick, thick sketchbook under
heavy arms we talked about everything
but the truth
you left without me seeing you
kiss your lovers, pink-skinned blushing
on ornate bridges
or watching you dance under moonlit
skies with flowers tucked into your
fluffy blonde hair
driving nowhere we sing with windows
down, wind blowing tangles into your
fluffy red hair
I sense something brewing behind quiet
lips, fingers fidget with your many
bright silver rings
with a trembling voice, you say
you like girls—scared of rejection
bare legs shake
you’ve known since kindergarten, but it
wasn’t something you wanted to explore
or talk about
honored, I listen to your deeply
held sacred truths; as you discover
who you are
my old friend breathes words of
comfort through me helping me ease
your coming out
grabbing soft hands tightly, I squeeze
three times letting you know my
love remains unchanged
balancing stone words we build together
walls to fight against those who
would seek destruction
inked drawings, musical explorations, the Heartstopper
you share everything with me, showing
me the way
crying at pride, past present swirl
promising to do better armed with
free mom hugs
In honor of Pride Month, I dedicate this poem to a dear high school friend who died of AIDS and my beautiful daughter who trusts me with her truth. I reference the show “Heartstopper” on Netflix and can’t recommend it enough for its sweet portrayal of love. Happy Pride Month!
I help my nephew slip off his dark blue crocs and hold his hand as he gets used to the shift of energy from hanging with me to playing with kids his age.
He will turn three in March and I’m lucky enough to spend time with him a few days a week while his parents work. I treasure the time we have and love taking him to some of the places I took my kids when they were little. Today, it’s the indoor playground at our local mall.
There are about a half dozen kids ranging from baby to age three. They stumble around, bumping into each other, and climb on the soft playground equipment designed to look like animals in a forest. There are glass butterflies hanging from the ceiling, rainbow-colored lights, and the delicious smell of fresh baking pretzels.
When my nephew feels ready to join the play, I take my place on the sidelines with the other adults. We exchange polite smiles and watch these little humans burst with energy and excitement. The kids follow each other in circles, take turns on the slide, climb on everything, fall down and get back up. My nephew beams at me, running occasionally into my arms for a big hug before returning to his play.
Although we are indoors, it’s a wide-open space and most of the young parents and their children aren’t wearing masks. I don’t think much about it until a set of grandparents arrive with their small granddaughter. Both adults walk slow, the grandfather with a shiny black cane. They are wearing high-quality masks—the kind you wear when you must be careful. They sit as far away from the others adults as possible but are nearest to me.
The child, probably close to 4-years-old, has light brown hair pulled into high pigtails, blue jeans, and a bright pink princess t-shirt. As she slips off her sparkly silver shoes I hear her talking in a low excited voice.
“I hope I make a friend!”
“I hope so too,” her grandmother says. “But it’s okay if you don’t.”
She hugs both her grandparents and walks toward the other children. Sitting close together and holding hands, her grandparents exchange a weighty look. They appear worried and protective. The small girl runs a lap around the playground and spots a girl her age climbing up the slide with messy blonde hair, a purple mermaid t-shirt, and striped socks. She stands at the bottom of the slide and calls up to her.
“Hi! Do you want to be my friend?”
Her grandparents beside me lean forward.
The blonde girl smiles wide as she slides to the bottom. She runs to where her mother sits nursing a younger sibling. Without saying a word, she rummages through her mother’s purse and pulls out a mask with tiny pink flowers.
She puts it on.
She runs back to the other girl and hugs her.
“Let’s play!” she says.
It was such a simple act I could have missed it if I’d not been watching so close.
Yet it felt enormous.
This young girl saw a friend with a mask and put on her own mask to join her.
The innocent kindness of children never ceases to amaze me.
Her guardians and I exchange teary smiles.
I watch the two girls for several minutes. They laugh, climb on the giant brown bear, jump off the blue spider, and go down the slide. They hold hands forming a tight circle and sing “Ring-Around-the-Roses,” a song about the Great Plague. They fall down giggling, hugging, and rolling together on the cushiony ground.
As my nephew and I walk out of the mall, I can’t get the scene between these two girls out of my head. It’s probably not a rare thing to witness with children, but in our messy often polarized world it felt like a magical gem. It made me think about how kindness can really be so simple.
It really can be as easy as meeting someone where they are.
One moment, no more than 30 seconds, created a rippling impact I can still feel.
I strap my sweet nephew into his car seat and kiss him. This might be a messy time to be starting out little one, but I have so much hope for your generation.
Being a parent is like walking blindfolded into the wilderness. You have to use all your senses, listen to your natural instincts, surrender any idea you know what you’re doing, and you can’t call it quits.
Before the pandemic, my kids were involved in all kinds of activities and I felt the rushing movement like a giant truck I was simultaneously riding and driving. We would fight to get out the door and I’d yell. There were too many car meals, bathroom clothing changes, and exhausted tears. I felt overwhelmed and busy, but confident. I did my best, and at the end of the day, I felt good about the efforts I put in.
During the pandemic, all the things my kids claimed to hate but secretly loved, stopped. The life I’d helped them cultivate away from media and technology suddenly revolved around screens. I was here with them all the time, yet I felt like I didn’t really see what was happening. Our lives became a series of solitary moments in our rooms with our phones or computers, interspersed by nature walks and car drives to nowhere. It went on forever, yet it felt like a blip or a bump we’d get past. We expected it would return to normal, but it didn’t.
The pandemic has transformed me as a parent.
This is not what I expected my life to look like at this moment. I suspect some of you, perhaps all of you, can relate in some way.
For me, the fundamental shift is this; my belief my kids will be okay has been replaced with fear and anxiety.
I can trace how it happened.
Early in the pandemic, my son was in a skateboard accident. He got a road rash on his face and arms, knocked out his front teeth, and had a fairly serious concussion. Each first responder and hospital staff member took a moment to yell at him, and by extension me, for him not wearing a helmet. They rubbed it in thoroughly, and I felt their words chipping away the image I had of myself as a mother. I felt bruised and beaten as I nursed my son back to health in a dark room for several weeks, blaming myself for his accident.
A few months later my grandmother died of Covid. I tried to call her once at the hospital, but she was asleep. I didn’t try again. I was scared to talk to her. There’s was so much unsaid between us, and I wanted her to get better so I could say the things. The lost opportunity felt huge while bringing fears of Covid closer to home.
While I tried to convince myself my kids were strong and would fight Covid easily, I was terrified of unknowingly passing Covid onto my mom, who has bad asthma, or to my mother-in-law who is elderly and fighting cancer. Each time I had a tickle in my throat, I’d worry it would develop into something more, and I’d be one of those who weren’t so lucky to fight it off. It wasn’t a rabid fear, but rather a slow-simmering background of fear which chipped away at me bit by bit.
In addition to Covid, I began to fear how people were acting. The division of those who refused masks contrasted with those hoarding supplies and preparing for a sort of social war. All of these things made leaving my house feel risky and dangerous. I stockpiled dried beans, rice, and bottled water. My neighbor and I talked about his guns and how he could protect us; the conversation felt appropriate at the time.
I watched my kids implode in a way I didn’t understand, and still don’t. It wasn’t simply losing school and friends; it was a sort of reckoning of what kind of life they wanted to have. The trajectory of their accomplishments stopped, and they had nothing to be proud of. They had too much time to think about the world, to see all the ugliness of it, and it changed them.
Six months after his first accident, my son had a second one. This time he was hit by a car walking to the store to buy a soda. The police came to the door as I was doing the dinner dishes and I followed in a daze to the hospital. More scraps, another concussion, and a fresh batch of fears for me. The moments of that day play over and over in my head and it’s hard to let him out of my sight. I’m only truly comfortable when he’s home. I worry when he’s at school or with his friends. I obsessively track his phone throughout the day in an attempt to ease the anxiety. If his phone dies or I can’t get in touch with him, I panic.
My daughter, through the isolation from her peers and anxiety of the world, has developed some mental health struggles. I won’t share the specifics to maintain her privacy, but I missed the signs for too long. I felt another blow to my parenting ego, but worse; I felt a terrible sense I’d let her down in all the ways that matter. I had missed the big stuff. I felt selfish and scared.
All of this has changed me as a parent.
I find it hard to return to the way we were before because much of my mental energy has transformed into anxiety and fear.
My kids miss a lot of school and I don’t care about homework. I let them hang with their friends as much as they want, drive them to therapy and support groups. I’ve put thousands of miles on my car listening to their music and hoping they will feel better.
I want them to feel better.
I am also not requiring enough of them so that they can grow in the ways I know they need to. I’m scared to push and to hold them to the standard I did before. They are not falling short; I’ve simply grown fearful of requirements because I don’t want to lose them. I don’t push.
I’m not exaggerating when I tell you I’ve been more worried about my kids dying in the last two years than I did the entire time they were little. I was all about letting them climb a tree, or take a risk. I thought it was good if they got hurt because it showed them a boundary and allowed them to grow.
I’ve lost that.
Now, I fear pushing them will result in dire consequences.
It’s a tightrope of wanting to require more so they feel proud of themselves and grow, but also holding back because I see them as fragile. I know they aren’t as fragile as I’ve made them out to be, but I am.
It feels perilous.
How do I become the right kind of hard while still protecting them and myself?
I don’t know.
There’s another component, a sort of social reckoning. What they have experienced has shifted the momentum of their lives. They see their life path, their goals, as something far different than I did at their age. It’s no longer as an individual, but rather how they will be in the world.
They are examining complex things: gender constructs, systematic racism, global warming. There’s a sort of punk rock attitude forming; a kind of new version of the “fuck the man” mentality. Instead of music and drugs, they want marches and social justice reform. They want the world to do better, to be better.
They aren’t going to sleepwalk through their lives, moving from one checked box to the next like I did; high school, college, career, house, kids.
I moved through each thing as if I had no say in the matter; as if all the decisions of my life were preordained and I was simply saying the lines written for me. After all the boxes were checked, I felt cheated and empty. I missed so much because I did what I thought was expected of me. I didn’t slow or pause to examine if the path was what I wanted or if the roles I’d cast myself in fit me anymore.
My kids aren’t doing that.
They think about the kind of lives they want, and although the images are still so unclear, I don’t think they will settle. They don’t believe the story my generation did, and they don’t want the same outcome. I see them looking at me and their father and shaking their heads at how much we don’t question things or fight for a better world. They check us on the language we use and talk about things it’s taken me over 40 years to recognize.
They are facing forward and not shrinking from it. While I see them as fragile, the evidence doesn’t support me. If they can look at the problems in the world with a sort of determined energy of change, how can I see them as weak?
I have hope that all this social awareness is leading to something amazing for their entire generation and, not to be too grandiose, the planet. This outward focus and the ability to accept and empathize with all kinds of people has to be leading to a better world for all of us.
None of this, however, makes it easy to be a mother right now. There are days, more than I care to admit, I wish I could hop into a time machine and do a better job of protecting and shielding my kids. I’d put them in a bubble and not let anything in.
I know that’s not actually true and it’s the fear and the pain talking.
It’s my desire for growth to not hurt, but that’s not how it works.
The story my kids are living, well…it’s their story. All the things they have been through are shaping and molding them. And they are incredible kids.
My challenge has become to support them, to love them, and to go slower. To continue to sit with them in the discomfort, to listen as they question things, and, most importantly, to see my fear as separate from their experience.
The last one has been the hardest for me.
I have to work on healing my own fears around losing them, and not let my decisions be based on either guilt for what they’ve lost or fear I’ll lose them permanently.
I’m trying my best.
Maybe the pushing will come when it feels right, but for now, I observe and I listen. I try and see the ways I can nudge and build on those. These kids have been through so much, and it’s made them strong.
They are freaking rock stars.
My daughter has started having friends over again and they laugh so much. She pours herself into her artwork. It’s for her, not for show or attention. She does art to express her feelings and she holds people accountable for their actions. She sets boundaries, even with me.
My son began working out at the gym and he plays basketball with his friends. He plays guitar in his room for the pure love of it, not caring to impress anyone or show off. He makes everyone laugh, can size up his teachers, and isn’t afraid to call them out when they are being unfair. He forgives me when I hold too tight or freak out, but doesn’t let me off without a fight.
My kids talk to each other all the time. It’s not fake. It’s not superficial. They talk about real stuff and lean on each other.
All of these things are beautiful and real.
My kids aren’t fragile.
I’m facing forward and I’m doing the best I can, and for that, I need to give myself grace.
No looking back.
I’ve come to realize, parenting doesn’t get easier, and maybe that’s part of the complexity of my own feelings. A bit of sadness my kisses and hugs aren’t magical anymore. A bit of the rose-colored glasses slipping as my kids enter the imperfect world-not the careful world of fairies and magic I crafted when they were little.
While this part of my life feels unsteady and hard, all I can do is keep loving them and trying to do better. As the Everly Brothers sang:
Love hurts, love scars
Love wounds and mars
Any heart, not tough
Nor strong enough
To take a lot of pain
Take a lot of pain
Love is like a cloud
Holds a lot of rain
She sits with her back against me, both of us watching the sea in silence. Our breath and hearts remembering the synchronization, falling into pace again.
The black rocks bob up and down in the murky grey waves, like seals playing, like we just were; hand in hand darting from the cold foam, testing our footing on crumbling rocks and watching the sand create light circles around our feet as we step together.
The deep, grey clouds mute the color of everything, making even the stark whitecaps of the waves seem wiped away of color.
I put my hand on top of hers, and breathe in the scent of salt caught in the gilded strands.
She’s talking about life, her philosophical nature equally captivated by the waves as my own; motivations, dreams, memories, fears and ambitions.
Our voices match in pace, harmonized.
The clouds gradually shift, the wind gently pushing away the platinum grey, allowing tiny patches of bright blue to appear. With the blue comes white, brown, green and gold. It’s as if nothing is truly a color without the sun’s rays to warm it to life.
Shapes appear far out in the sea, hidden before in the dreariness of grey; black triangular rocks topped with white splashes, golden strips of land carved smooth like rising waves, royal green hills and shiny black birds suspended like kites on a string.
Our tummies growl and I know the moment must end, but I stretch it, savoring the vast warmth as if I may never feel it again.
My baby will be 10 this summer and, as cliché as it is, all those moms who stopped me in Target when my kids were little are right, it does go by so fast.
Chubby pink babies with soft folds you must lift to wash are suddenly explaining why they feel empathy for the mean girl at school with shocking insight and depth.
I feel confused; like I’m Alice shaking my head as the Mad Hatter explains the nature of time, only I’m watching my little baby perform mock episodes of both “Elmo’s World” and “Dance Moms” and wondering where her wit and timing comes from.
She has a feisty resistance to people who don’t listen to her and a sweet devotion to those who do. I see so much of myself in her, but also recognize a strength and determination which is entirely hers alone.
I trace the freckles on her arms as we talk a few more minutes. The sound of the waves, crashing and retracting, the soundtrack to our love.
I know she can’t understand the intensity of my emotions, my devotion. She doesn’t understand why I get irate so quickly when she whines; undone thinking she will have the same negative soundtrack locked in a loop inside her head. I want to shake the pain away from her, make her see only light, only good.
I vow again, silently, like every mother does, to try and be more patient and to do my best to build her up so she can handle the weight of everything to come.
I whisper I love you into her head, and it doesn’t feel like enough. Adore, admire, cherish, treasure; each word like a piece of the puzzle. She can’t know the weight of it, I decide.
She eases off my lap, so I can cook us grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. She begins to sing and my heart is as full as the moon, pulling the waves back and forth, pulling us closer together again.
I circle the same three blocks, looking for a parking spot my minivan can fit into, feeling a sense of apprehension and anticipation. I pass the stark white walls of the 1800s fort-turned-museum and the ornate catholic church with its tiny monk statues.
These buildings are markers and judges, watching as I cry, sometimes before, and always after. I find their presence either comforting and protective, or mocking and dangerous. I’m the sinner or the saint. The settler or the native.
I’ve been making this weekly trek for several years. It has become a sort of personal pilgrimage, one I either appreciate or resent, depending on where I am in my cycle of emotions.
Up and down.
Round and round.
The fucking never-ending ferris wheel of my feelings.
Some days, walking up the steep steps of the Victorian house feel impossible, my broken heart not able to pump enough energy into my body. Other times, like this week, I fly up the stairs eager for my time with my very own listener.
“I’m not in chaos.”
I proclaim it to my therapist boldly, as I take my seat on the couch and face him. He smiles back at me in the quiet, thoughtful way he always does.
I try and expand on my declaration, but as I do, I feel the truth of the words slipping away from me.
No, I don’t want to run away from my family or hurt myself anymore. I don’t spend hours curled up crying until my stomach burns like acid. I am not drinking myself to sleep every night.
In those ways, I am not in chaos.
Yet, I see the patterns in my life I still can’t break. I feel the familiar panic, simmering under my skin, ready to first whisper, and then scream, the lies which tear me down. It’s a demon, and it will devour me if I don’t keep fighting.
I fear I’m only at the top of the ferris wheel again and I’ll come crashing back down any second. I want off. I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m so tired.
The walk back to the van is silent, as it always is. I hold my keys in my hand, the longest key sticking out between my index and middle finger, prepared to defend myself.
I didn’t cry on the couch tonight. I held it in, standing fast to my assertion I’m not in chaos, even as the doubts swirled inside. I faked feeling good.
I climb into the empty van and lock the door behind me. I sit until the interior lights turn off and I’m alone in the dark. The paper bird, Leonard, in his soft blue paper cage, hangs from the rearview mirror watching me.
I reach into the little compartment below the radio, past the mints, the earbuds and two kazoos, to the seashell and the dried leaf I know are there. I don’t take them out, I just feel them. I let my finger trace over them both, gently, as I release all I’ve held in, even from my paid listener.
I’m not in chaos.
I start home, the monks winking at me tonight and the white walls looking small and easily penetrable.
I walk into my dark house full of my sleeping family. There is a line of plastic geckos on the living room table, a stack of books, an opened bottle of glue, colored pencils and the “love drawing” my daughter did earlier in the week.
I sit on the couch and stare at the drawing, thinking of our conversation before I left.
“Do you want to move into the Love Apartments?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said.
“We don’t have an elevator, so you might want a lower one, that’s a lot of stairs to walk up. But not the first floor, because the views are better higher up and you’ll want a good view when you write.”
“Whatever you think.”
“You have to decide mom, and I’d act quick. There gonna sell fast.”
I barley glance at her.
I can’t remember hugging her goodbye or saying I love you.
There’s a second picture on the table, a new interior view of the apartments. She must have created this while I was gone, using the big table because of the size of the paper.
I see “sold” and “BKW” on my new 3rd floor apartment.
I smile and picture myself sitting in a big comfy chair, licking an ice cream from the shop next door and looking out the window at the perfect view for writing. A grocery store, the “Bank of a Heart” and music lessons all within walking distance.
No tall white walls.
No judgmental monks.
No plunging ferris wheels.
I kiss my sleeping children gently, slip into my pajamas and cuddle up next to my husband.
“You OK?” he asks and sleepily puts his arm over me.
“Yes,” I whisper.