52 Weeks – Week 2 – Gifts

Prompt: Anonymous gifts start arriving at the doorstep

Include: teenager, camouflage, birch, harmony, rifle, screen door, wrinkle, dive, pick-up, sticker

What is 52 weeks?

Read Anna’s Week 2 (my writing partner and collaborator on this project)

Photo/Bridgette White

The Biggest Little Gift

Ellyse wants to check the doorstep for a gift the second she wakes up, but she restrains herself. Yesterday when she rushed outside her grouchy neighbor, Old Bobsy the Gnome, saw her in her rose petal nightgown and shook his watering can at her and scowled. She should have punched his wrinkled old face and pulled his filthy white beard, but she’s not that kind of elf. Not anymore, anyway.

She changes into a maple leaf dress topped with her favorite cotton fluff sweater and takes a quick peeks out the screen door. Sure enough, there stands Old Bobsy wearing his stupid red pointed hat and doing his daily snooping under the guise of watering his vast mushroom patch. If Ellyse wants to avoid conversation, which she most certainly does, she better wait until after her morning cup of chicory root tea. She’ll wait for the sound of Old Bobsy snoring in his hammock and then do a proper check.

After heating the water on the stove, she settles into a place in the backyard where she can drink her tea and watch the birds dive and play in the birdbath. A pair of doves, the same ones she can hear cooing down her fireplace most afternoons, wash and splash until an enormous Blue Jay chases them away. If her knees weren’t hurting her, Ellyse would do something about it, but instead, she turns her attention to the treasures set on her table.

The gifts started arriving three days ago, all wrapped in bright green leaves and tied with a thin strand of white wool. She’d found them on her doorstep with no note, and not even snoopy Old Bobsy saw who left them. It’s a mystery, something she hasn’t had much of since her son Farryn headed out on his own last spring. She lays them out in a row, touching each one.

At first, she thought the gifts were from the pack of grubby goblin kids who live down the street. They are always running through her yard trampling her garden or knocking over the flowerpots. However, she can’t imagine those wild things sitting still enough to wrap something so carefully.

Her second thought was her friend Arylea, but she’s on a trip with her teenage son to visit some distant relatives across the ocean and won’t be back for another month. They had invited Ellyse to come with them, but she couldn’t stand to leave her garden and her animals.

When she was young, caring for a garden would have felt like a punishment worse than death. Back then, she was filled with energy and a restless spirit, adventure luring her with a song so clear and strong she could hear nothing else. Her parents tried to stop her, but when war broke out, she ran away to fight. 

The Great Fairy War, pitting the creatures of light against the forces of darkness, lasted decades and Ellyse grew up slinging arrows and fighting with short swords. She can remember the horrible blasts of the human rifles, the roar of the hideous snarling beasts, and the sting of magical rain. It still clings to some part of her and, although Farryn wishes he could experience it, Ellyse is happy he won’t have to. Peace and harmony have filled the land for decades now, and she does her best to keep it so.

The chickens squawk from their coop, and Ellyse slips on her rubber boots and lets them out. She sprinkles feed across the yard, lets the rabbits out, and gathers eggs in a wool-lined basket. The carrot patch needs weeding, and it’s time to prune some of the rose bushes. Her body aches, but it’s a good feeling, and Ellyse surrenders to the work.

Her stomach begins to growl around noon and she realizes she’s forgotten to check for another gift. She rushes to the front door and there it sits, another beautiful leaf package wrapped with a thin thread of white wool. She bends over to pick up the treasure and cradles it in her arms. 

She unwraps it carefully and finds a bundle of dried lavender, brown twine woven intricately around the stems. Breathing in the sweet herbal smell, she’s filled with memory. When Farryn was a small boy she taught him how to gather the lavender without stripping the flowers off, and how to tie them into bundles exactly like this one. They would hang the bundles from every beam in the house, letting them dry, and then give them as gifts to all their friends and family at Winter Solstice.

Ellyse begins to laugh as she adds the bundle to the row of gifts. Each one of these items is connected to a memory of Farryn, her only son. She can’t believe she didn’t see it before. The realization makes her heart sing with joy, and she touches each one again, feeling the energy and love of each.

The first gift was a fat dark brown acorn with a wide textured hat. Each fall, she and Farryn would travel two hours on foot to harvest acorns from the large oak trees near the fairyland border. They would carry home one bucket each to make acorn flour, but leave the rest of the acorns for the squirrels to hide. She taught him a little song. She can still hear his golden, high voice singing as they walked home swinging their full buckets:

Squirrel Nutkin has a coat of brown, 
quite the loveliest in woodland town;
two bright eyes look round to see where the sweetest nuts may be.

Squirrel Nutkin in his coat of brown scampers up the trees and down;
dashing here and swinging there, leaping lightly through the air.
All the livelong day he plays in the leafy woodland ways
but stop at night when squirrels rest in their cosy treetop nest.

The second gift was a dried seedpod from a white birch tree, the kind found in the backyard of Ellyse’s family home. When they’d visit for the Summer Solstice, they would collect the pods, dry them in the sun, and snap them open to release the seeds. The dried petal-shaped pieces would be made into jewelry or saved to make sweet, sticky syrup. She can still see Farryn balanced on a chair stirring a huge wooden spoon through the thick, rich liquid, making the house smell like caramel and honey.

The third gift was a greenish willow tree stick, the kind she’d cut from the trees lining the slow-flowing creek at the far back of their property. They’d stand at the top of the rocky bridge and throw the sticks in the water, rush to the other side to see whose stick emerged first. Farryn would then scramble through weeds to the water’s edge, balance on the slick rocks, and retrieve their sticks so they could play again and again. It took forever to pull all the stickers and burrs out of his socks afterward.

Ellyse looks up and sees the moon has risen high in the sky, and she’s amazed at how time can slip by so fast these days. Lost in her memories, she wonders how her son has been managing to leave her these gifts, and why he hasn’t shown himself. She devises a plan to catch him, and giggles at the silliness of it.

Dressing all in greens and purples, Ellyse hides behind the giant lilac bush beside her front door. She waits and waits, enjoying the deep, rich smell and watching the stars twinkle across the sky until she sees a familiar shape sneaking on silent steps. Just the way she taught him, dressed in dark colors to camouflage in the night. She watches him place another gift on her doorstep with an enormous smile on his youthful face. Her heart feels something she’d tried not to feel since he left, a sort of longing mixed with pride, and she elicits a loud sobbing giggle.

Farryn jumps and pulls aside the branches to see his mother’s face peering out at him.  

“What are you doing mother?” he asks.

“Catching you,” she says.

He lifts her to her feet and hugs her to him.

“What took you so long?” he says. “I thought you’d figure me out the first day.”

“Getting old, I guess.”

“Never.”

“Never.”

They hug and laugh so loud they wake Old Man Bobsy who emerges from his house wearing quite scandalously short red shorts, his wrinkled chest as white and hairy as his beard. He holds a stick in his hands and begins yelling a string of threats and curses at the mother and son. They duck inside, giggling madly.

Once they are sipping hot cups of mint tea by the fireplace, Ellyse opens the final gift, a large heart-shaped river rock. She glances over to a shelf covered in seashells, rocks, and bark, all heart-shaped items found by her boy. She holds his hands in hers and smiles.

“I’d have definitely known from this one,” she says.

“I’d hope so,” Farryn says.

“I love you, mom.”

“I know. I love you too.”

Author’s note: When I first read the prompt I had the idea of a time travel story where the items are left to help prevent something terrible from happening. However, when I sat down to write, my mind kept wandering back to stories involving a mother and son. I suppose I wasn’t done feeling all my feelings yet about my son turning 17. My first draft was a very sad piece about a mother and son not talking to each other, and he leaves little gifts out for her so she will know he remembers the fun they’ve had over the years. It was fine, but it felt too sad and too raw. So, I took another crack at it, and this silly little elf story took shape. I think it captures some of the same feelings, but it’s not nearly as heavy. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it!


Next week’s prompt: Week 3

Mash up two classic fairy tales into one story

Include: fireplace, sword, grove, stroke, underbrush, mourn, seven, friendship, cardboard, giver

52 Weeks – Week 1 – Igraine

Prompt: A new take on the Arthurian legend

Include the words: Avalon, crossbow, orphan, list, comrade, corruption, lake, enfold, disgraceful, grass

What is 52 weeks?

Read Anna’s Week 1 (my writing partner and collaborator on this project)

Photo/Bridgette White

The Heart and the Stone

Someone has swept all the dried leaves from the grey stone floors and polished the colorful wood of the massive round table until its surface gleamed like a mirror. I squeeze between two of the tall backed chairs and place my palms on the cool, smooth surface. My face looks dark and angular in the flickering firelight.

It’s been four days since I arrived at Camelot to find I was too late. It turns out the prophecy delivered to me was true, and my son has ridden with his armies into the thick of it. I pull my woolen shawl tight around my shoulders and squint at my reflection, searching my eyes to see if they’ve been altered by what I’ve done.

My mind slips into memory, not of things past, but of things which are to happen, or maybe not. The images torment me, taunt me, and I wonder if she’s the one who set this all in motion. I wish I could stop the vision, but it comes, as it has for seven days now. It comes, relentless and vivid, and I’m helpless to stop it.

My beautiful son lies bleeding near an ancient oak tree, its branches rustling in a terrifying wind. His bright sword, Excalibur, sits bloody and still across his body. His deep blue eyes, the eyes of his father, are filled with terror and fight. I see him mouth my name, Igraine. He doesn’t say mother, or beloved, but instead my name. Igraine. He knows not of my true undying love for him. He knows not of the burning ache inside, always longing to be with him, and he remembers not the embraces and kisses I smothered him with as a babe. No, he cries out the name of the woman he hopes will feel his dying and perhaps do something to stop it. A silver-clad comrade, a crossbow strapped to his back, appears from the woods running towards Arthur, screaming his name, but it’s too late. The light from his eyes fades and his lips stop saying my name.

I rode as fast as I could the day the vision first came, but I arrived too late. Camelot was empty, the staff wide-eyed and teary, but not welcoming. No, they had no love for the mother of their king, for they’ve heard the stories, and they believe the lies. I knew the moment I arrived that I would seek her out, that this would be where it happens, but it took me four days to find the courage to set it in motion. Now I must wait and I must see his dying moments replayed in my mind over and over until I can be sure it’s undone.

“My lady,” a small voice whispers behind me.

I’m startled, but I don’t allow it to show. I turn, holding my head high and my back straight. It’s a thin girl with pale skin, one of the half-dozen servants I’ve seen the last few days. Strands of dirty blonde hair escape from beneath an off-white cap, and she’s got smudges of dirt on her small freckled nose. She holds a heavily loaded tray out in front of her with both hands and bows her head.

She’s probably one of the many orphans Arthur has taken into his care. Stories about the compassionate king who pulled the sword from the stone have been told across the land. Told and retold in taverns, castles, and all the places in-between. These stories of kindness and bravery seem fantastical, but I don’t doubt they are true. 

While I haven’t seen my son in 20 years, I know his heart. The boy who would collect wildflowers and bring them to me, the boy who curled in my lap as I read to him at night, and the boy who rescued wounded animals and nursed them back to health. My heart could sing ballads of all the good of Arthur, long before he became king, and long before he wasn’t mine anymore.

The young girl makes a sort of small squeak, like a wounded puppy. She’s staring at the floor, at the soft brown leather boots on my feet, and at the mud and grass sticking to the sides, soiling the cleanliness of the majestic hall. I know what disgraceful things have been said about me, and I wonder if she believes them. She won’t meet my gaze, so I imagine she does.

“No thanks,” I say. “Take it away.”

The ceramic teapot and cup rattle on the wooden tray, her hands and body shaking as if raked with fever. She doesn’t look up from the floor but speaks again. Her voice is now breathy and panicky. I wonder who made her come in here. 

“My lady, I was told not to take no for an answer,” she says.

The poor child looks as if she may collapse, so I motion for her to set the tray on the table. She shakes her head no and makes the same sound as before. It takes a moment for me to realize, I sigh. The rules.

“Oh, that’s right,” I say. “Nobody may use this table until my son returns.”

It’s one of the many rules I’ve learned since my arrival in Camelot, always delivered by some young servant with shaking hands and downcast eyes. I’m unsure if there’s an actual list of these rules somewhere, or if they are created by someone who wants me to know how unwanted I am here. Whoever gives the servants orders, they must be scarier than me.

The girl says nothing, but silent tears fall down her face. I wish I could enfold her to my bosom and tell her all will be well, but I cannot. I have lost the ability to comfort others, as my son’s dying face fades in and out of my vision. I point to a small round table set near the fireplace.

“Set it over there,” I say, “and please leave me. I don’t want any more interruptions, no matter what anyone tells you.”

The girl sets down the tray with a thud and runs as fast as she can out of the room. A sick feeling rushes through me, making me weak and dizzy. I close my eyes and summon stillness and strength, calling it to me as I was trained to do during my time in Avalon, amongst the priestesses. I walk with silent footsteps to the oversized brown leather chair by the fire and sit stiffly with both feet on the floor in front of me. I allow the full force of the feeling to hit me.

It’s happening faster than I thought. I consider drinking some of the tea, but my body hums and vibrates, and I know it won’t be possible to swallow it. The coldness inside burns, but my body begins to sweat. I stare into the fire, trying to see the happy image promised to me. I see nothing but the flames and feel nothing but the chill, as I replay the night, the horrible details clear and naked before me.

***

She’s easy to find, far easier than I expected. Her hut lies in the exact spot I’d been told it would be, deep in the woods, past the boulder fields, and nestled on the shore of a long-forgotten bog filled with decay and death. The smell overwhelms me, but the sound of my son’s pleas moves me forward until I’m standing at the doorway of a sideways leaning shack, the wood covered in greenish grey moss and mold. I knock hard on the scraggly door of rotting, softwood, and it responds with a squishy, soft thud, barely audible.

“Come in,” a scratchy voice says. “I’ve been expecting you.”

For indeed, this is the way of things, I think. Prophecy and fate, for I must have known all my life I’d end up here with this wretched spirit. Her voice sounds familiar, the stuff of nightmares, and a terrifying internal tugging accompany the sound. My body recoils and I fall to my knees and puke onto a pile of dead leaves. Something stirs, moving through the brownish mound, and I stand before I can see what it is. The door creaks, shifting toward me, and I turn the handle. I’ve already made up my mind, there’s no turning back.

The hut is small and dark, but several shafts of sunlight spike through the tattered roof and illuminate the scene before me. A horribly thin woman sits naked in the center of the dirt floor, a pile of grey skin and bones. Her legs are twisted to her sides, bent at odd angles, as if she’d been crushed. Tall piles of too-white bones lay around her. Long grey hair falls over her face and breasts, tangled and filthy. I try not to think of the things she’s eaten or killed, but instead on why I’m here, and what I’ve come to bargain for.

“You know the price,” she says.

She laughs, a short screechy sound I feel move through me like a gust of wind. She picks up two long bones, femurs, and smacks them together before dragging them in the black dirt, drawing two spiraling circles weaving in and out of each other. She presses harder and harder, the bones digging deeper and deeper, creating furrows in the ground. Grunting, she presses harder and harder still until the bones snap in two. The sound lingers and moves around me, mocking me. She lifts one of the broken bones to her mouth and licks it, her tongue a snake darting out of her hair and back, one quick repulsive motion.

She hums deeply and rocks back and forth. Then pulls a rough stone from under one of her thighs and sharpens the broken piece of bone, rubbing it back and forth across the dark rock. The continuous humming and sharpening sounds make me feel weak, but I don’t dare sit on the floor. I’ve heard the stories of those who show weakness in her presence.

“Say the words,” she says, “and it will be done.”

She continues to rock, to sharpen, and to hum. I’m dizzy, and I don’t want to say the words, but the face of my boy dances around me. All the faces of my boy, from the day I pulled him from my body to his dying moment, they flash like lightning before me, a cruel horrible storm of time, love, guilt, and regret. 

 I know the moment has come. I have no other choice. It’s now or he will die. Fate, it seems, has no wiggle room. Stepping forward, I hold myself in the regal way I was taught. I let down my defenses, all my guards, and speak clearly and strongly. 

“Save Arthur. Save my son,” I say. “Please. I will pay the price.”

The words slice through the air, stopping all other movements and sounds. A wind rushes around us, moving the hair from her face, revealing dark holes where eyes should be. She leaps to her feet and rushes toward me, faster than a diving hawk. I watch, outside myself, as she stabs the sharpened bone into my chest, into my heart. I feel the blood pour from my body, the corruption of my soul, the death of all I’ve been or ever will be. I don’t scream, and I don’t cry.

We stand locked in this position, her boney body pressed against mine and a wide, toothy smile on her skeletal face. Her teeth are sharp, and for a moment I think she will lunge at my throat, but she yanks the bone from my body and retreats to her spot on the floor, to her pile of bones. She begins licking and sucking the bloody bone, a horrible slurping sound, and I walk, dazed, out the door into the moonlight.

Never have I seen such a moon, so full of light and life. Merlin once told me it’s a giant stone in the sky, nothing more. Like a boulder in the middle of the ocean, held in time and place, but responsible for the movements of the tides and the flow of blood in a woman’s body. I didn’t understand until this moment. It’s as if death, its icy grip tight around my throat, wants me to truly see what I’m leaving behind.

As I walk back toward Camelot, I feel resolved. I would choose to save my son every single time. My life hasn’t been what I thought it would be when I was young, my dreams of adventure and epic love dashed and broken. I’ve made bad choices, I’ve hurt those I love, and I’ve suffered. But I saved Arthur, and I loved him with all I am, and for that, I am beyond grateful.

I touch my chest, expecting a gaping hole, but find none. There’s no trace of blood or gore on my body or my clothes, but I can feel it moving through me. I didn’t know death would be so cold. As I reach the top of a small hill, Camelot comes into view. The sun rises behind it, making the glorious castle glow golden and pink. It could be in heaven, I think. Such beauty belongs to Arthur, not to me. 

“Arthur’s back! Arthur’s back! The war’s over! We won!”

The excited voice of a small boy breaks the silence of the hall, and I realize I’d fallen into a trance as I watched the flames, reliving the last few hours, and feeling the cold devour me, bit by bit. I’m empty of the truest part of me, and I know it’s nearing time. I want to gather Arthur into my arms and feel his warmth, feel the life in his body, and tell him I love him. He must know I love him, he must know all the things I’ve held back, all the truths, and all the sacrifices. 

No.

The hall’s alive with activity; colorful banners and flags appear on the walls, the large chandeliers burn bright with dozens of candles, enormous barrels of ale with shining silver spigots appear everywhere, and plates of hot food and large, pewter mugs cover the famous round table. Servants rush to and fro, smiles on their faces, singing and laughing. Arthur’s alive and so, it seems, is Camelot.

The sounds of horns, horses, and metal armor reach the castle, and I stand. Nobody notices me, as I take a final look at the place my son created, at the people he protects. This victory will usher in a new era of peace and prosperity for these people, his people. I know this to be true, the same way I know I shall never embrace my son again.

Weaving through the rushing servants, I exit the great hall. With all the strength left in my body, I hurry through empty corridors until I reach a small wooden door at the back of the castle. It’s left ajar, beckoning me outside, as if Camelot has decided to help me, to protect the king.

Nobody notices as I walk down the stone staircase, through the beautiful gardens, and to the shore of the lake. A bit of fog hugs the edges of the water, but it’s not too thick, and I can see the trees reflected in the glassy, smooth surface. I stop with my toe at the edge, savoring the sounds of celebration in the distance, and lift a large white stone into my arms.

I won’t allow Arthur’s victory and joy to be crushed by my death. It would be cruel to die in his arms, although my heart longs for nothing else. Oh, to hear his voice say, “I love you, dear mother.” I can’t think of it. 

No, my disappearance, if he’s told of my visit at all, will not seem out of character for me. My son has grown used to my comings and goings, my life seemingly my own. He knows not of the ways I’ve guided the world to bend toward him, and he will know nothing of my death or the price I paid to save him.

I step into the cold water, its iciness matches the chill already infecting my body from within. My dress and shawl absorb the water, forcing me to fight them, to fight for every step. I know not what awaits me, but I know this is the way it ends. I’d seen it as a child, felt it every time I was near the water. Yes, this is how it ends.

I step over slippery stones, see small fish rush away from my boots until I reach an underwater ledge, a drop-off so deep I can see nothing but blackness. Cradling the stone in my arms, as if it’s my baby, my Arthur, I step into the deep, and allow myself to sink below the surface.


Author’s note: With this prompt, I decided to play with the idea of the martyr mother. My son recently turned 17, and I’ve been experiencing some strong feelings as we navigate a new relationship. It’s been painful, and although I strive to not slip into martyr or victim mode, it felt like the perfect moment and story to explore the idea of giving all to our children without expecting anything in return.

Next week’s prompt: Week 2

Anonymous gifts start arriving at the doorstep

Include the words: teenager, camouflage, birch, harmony, rifle, screen door, wrinkle, dive, pick-up, sticker

Interview in the kitchen

IMG_2746Chopped onions, mushrooms and garlic simmer in the pan with a little olive oil. I add a handful of spinach and push everything around with a wooden spoon.

“Here we are in the kitchen of the famous writer,” says my girl.

Wearing her soft white pajamas with gold snowflakes, she points a camera at me and talks in a tumble of quick words, her sweet voice trying to mimic the cadence of the reporters she hears on NPR.

“You may know her from her famous blog, but she is also writing two novels which are sure to be New York sellers.”

She walks closer and I turn, aware of my dirty apron and unwashed hair. The camera is on my face now.

“Can I ask you a few questions?”

“Sure.”

“When you’re famous, will you allow your books to be made into movies?”

“I guess.”

“I know you doubt your acting skills, but if given the chance, would you star in the movie?”

“No. I’d leave it to the professionals.”

“You could, you know.”

“Thanks, but it isn’t something I even want.”

I stare at her through the camera, my tone serious. Teachable moment.

“You do know I may never finish my book, and it may never be published. You know that, right?”

She sighs and smiles.

“You will mom, and you are already famous,” she says. “Because you’re awesome.”

She turns the camera on herself.

“Well, there you have it, folks. A short interview with the famous writer as she cooks dinner. Tune in tomorrow when we interview a leprechaun about the true secrets of the rainbow.”

She walks into the next room and I hear her playing the video back to herself. I wonder what she is thinking as she watches it.

Does she see the bags under my eyes or the way I cringed when she called me “famous writer”?

Does she know how much I fear I’ll never finish writing anything?

Can she possibly understand the enormous feelings her little interview exploded inside me as I cooked a frittata on a Monday night?

Thank goodness the answer is no. She is 10 years old, all she knows is she loves her mother and she believes I can do anything. I’m still a hero to her, someone to look up to, someone to admire.

Like all aspects of motherhood, it’s crushing, suffocating, messy, confusing and fucking wonderful all at once.

I don’t want to let her down.

I’ve always told her she could do whatever she wants in life.

“You are only limited by your own fears.”

I worry I will fail, and she will watch it, and all her hopes and dreams will crash along with mine. She won’t believe me anymore and I will have broken her.

I worry she will watch the video years down the road, when I am gone, sad her mother never finished those books she always talked about.

She is watching me.

She sees me trying, hears me reading sentences out loud to myself, watches me rush to scribble something on a piece of paper, listens as I tell her something new I figured out about one of my characters and hears me cry when I think I’m alone and everything feels too big.

She is watching me.

Fear and self-doubt, like Oden’s ravens, sit on my shoulders. They mock me, tell me how foolish, stupid and boring I am. Famous writer. Blah.

Yet I keep going.

I’m crafting stories and characters and worlds. It’s hours of tedious work, reworking the same sentences over and over until they read exactly as I want them to, mixed with a tiny moment where the magic sends a shiver through my entire body and I feel life pure and whole and without edit.

I don’t know how this story ends, but she is watching me.

quote

 

 

 

The poise of a Punk Rock Unicorn

Digging through the bag of fabric paint, she knows exactly what she’s looking for. The body of the unicorn gets turquoise blue in swirling dabs, while the mane, tail and tiny hooves are carefully added with small, precise strokes of bright pink. Next, the horn and three music notes are added in dark purple.

Smiling, she dips a slim brush into a glob of sparkly gold and begins adding dots around the large black lettering of her band name, “Punk Rock Unicorn.”

“This looks so good,” she says.

She doesn’t ask what I think.

She doesn’t worry if her bandmates will like it.

She loves it.

“Can you paint my nails?” she asks. “Some blue and some pink. Oh, and with gold tips!”

I say yes, but I struggle to make it happen. The main color doesn’t reach the edge of every nail, and the gold tips are uneven.

“Sorry,” I say.

“They are perfect,” she says while wiggling her fingers in front of her face. “Thank you!”

It’s time to leave for her band’s show, the culmination of a week of Girls Rock Camp. She is wearing her favorite leggings, a faded swirling galaxy of pink and purple with visible holes in the knees. Her hair isn’t brushed and it’s matted in the back where she slept on it wet.

“Are you sure you don’t want to wear a sparkly skirt and brush your hair? Maybe add some color?”

“I look fine mom,” she says. “I’m comfortable.”

I want to fight her.

I want her to care more about how she looks.

I want her to look more put together.

But there she is, my Punk Rock Unicorn, smiling at me without any hesitation at all, while I changed my outfit several times and still wasn’t happy with my own reflection in the mirror.

This is all I’ve ever wanted for my girl, to be unapologetically herself, to not shrink for anyone, and to rock everything she does without fear or doubt.

Her confident smile is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

At the show, I watch her and all the girls playing instruments and singing with a reckless joy I don’t know I’ve ever felt in my life.

They are brave, free and strong.

They are working together, not in competition, lifting and rising as one.

I’m so happy for them…until I’m not.

Something inside starts churning up, this voice of perfectionism and criticism.

Why is my girl singing so quietly? She isn’t smiling and doesn’t look as confident as some of the others. Why did she act shy when she was given a compliment? I’m sure it’s my fault, something I’m doing wrong. I’m ruining this perfect girl.

After the show, she runs to me and hugs me hard. She has bright blue eye makeup and sparkly lip gloss her coach put on her backstage. Her arms feel strong and solid.

“Did you have fun?” I ask her.

“Yes!” she says.

“How come you looked so shy up there? Why weren’t you smiling more?”

The words come tumbling out before I can stop them. I recognize this voice, the very same one sabotaging my writing and stopping me from doing anything I might fail it.

Shit.

I don’t want it to be her voice.

I search her face, looking for any trace of damage my words may have caused.

“What do you mean?” she says.

Her face is as radiant as ever.

“I’m very proud of you,” I say. “You really rocked it up there! It looked so fun. I bet you are proud.”

“Thanks,” she says. “I am!”

She melts into me, the warmth of her body like a blanket soothing my critical voices and giving me another chance.

Always another chance.

I remember her plan to have her bandmates and coaches sign her shirt.

“People are starting to leave,” I say. “Did you still want to get signatures?”

“Yes,” she says and runs off to borrow a pen.

I watch her go and make it happen for herself.

Her confidence isn’t loud or boastful, but calm and careful.

She gently taps friends and coaches, asking them to sign her shirt, standing still as they do.

I see many are holding the tiny pink unicorn erasers she spent an hour digging out of the bins in her room, the ones she so thoughtfully brought for them all.

My heart nearly bursts.

This girl is everything.

After the show, we head to dinner and she gives the waitress one of the teeny unicorn erasers, a light pink one with a purple mane and tail.

“Did you see her smile?” she says. “I think she liked it.”

“Yes,” I say. “You make everyone smile, just by being you.”

“Thanks mom.”

*For more information about Girls Rock Sacramento visit http://www.girlsrocksacramento.com

 

Falling in love by the sea

beachShe 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.

foam

Searching for something

Almost four years ago, I began this blog to address the feelings of being drowned out and erased by motherhood. It was purely a selfish stab in the darkness.

Hello? Hello? Anybody out there?

Depression’s seed had already sprouted inside, but it would take a year or so before I began to recognize it. By then, the twisting thorny pain had wound itself through every cell, infecting all functions and clouding my vision with inky black lies.

Devouring. Suffocating. Obliterating.

I could not see.

I could not breathe.

I could not move.

This blog became the home for the words I didn’t dare say out loud, my refuge in the darkness. I could type silently the pain and anger I wished would go away, release some of the pressure, and reach my quiet hand up for someone to see.

Some of you read the words and nodded in solidarity, my sisters and brothers of shadow.

Some of you read the words and tossed me tendrils of hope, which I desperately clung to with both hands.

With every word typed and every tear cried, I’ve been ripping and untangling the dense thicket of torment and suffering I’d surrendered to.

Now, with only a few coils still attached, I’m feeling exposed and naked.

Stripped down.

Bare.

I’m free, but lost.

Seen, but scared.

I have no idea what to do next.

Depression became my identity, filling the emptiness up with dark and giving me plenty of lies to ponder and pain to feel. It became my voice; it spoke through me, providing a plethora of excuses to hide behind and inside.

Hello darkness, my old friend/I’ve come to talk with you again

I want to shed the deceitful sense of purpose depression gave me and embrace something new. I long to find the true voice inside me, the one buried by all the layers of bullshit I’ve let define me for so long.

I feel wobbly in this new space and unsure how to proceed.

So, I come here again, to this space of words and ideas. I come with eyes wide open, my heart engaged and my mind clear.

Do you see me? Will you accept this version? Will I?

Our country is so filled with division, misinformation and lies right now. We have joined the rest of the world, in a global sense of unease and unrest. There are so many things happening, so fast, it would be easier to retreat back into my self-pitying hole of depression and hunker down.

But this is the time for action.

The time to declare a new purpose and to find a new voice.

A time to say, I’m still here.

We are still here.

Now what are we going to do?

img_8553

My attempt at painting this new feeling.

 

If you need me, I’ll be in my love apartment

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.

img_8497I 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.

“What floor?”

“You pick.”

“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.

“3rd floor.”

“OK.”

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.

img_8496I 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.

Oh, the messes we make

There is a pile of cut yarn outside my bedroom door, and five stuffed animals hang from the bannister having “flying lessons.” Every box from Christmas I put in the garage to break down, is back in the house in various stages of transformation, surrounded by tape, scissors and markers.

The dining room table is home to a puzzle on week three of progress, and a half-completed robot model. Stacks of books fill every flattish surface, teeny-tiny scraps of paper are cut up and have been thrown confetti-style down the halls, and two tiny plants appear to be in the process of being repotted by someone in the bathroom sink.

The state of my house is not good, folks. It is a cluttered mess of intentions and creation. We are a family who likes to do things, make things, get lost in the “thing,” and what we seem to hate the most is admitting the thing is over.

If the puzzle is put away, it means we didn’t finish it.

If the books are on a shelf, they may not get read.

If we clean up the boxes, the fort will never be completed.

We are a family of potential.

I have been fighting this for a long time.

I would walk around the house picking up all the messes, bitching as I do, and feeling the overwhelming sense of futility as I turn around to see several new “projects” erupting behind me.

It was driving me crazy. Ask my kids. I had become the Cleaning Dictator often yelling “take this shit to your room” and “what the hell is this mess?” and “are you kidding me?”

I’d march around in full martyr-mode, always feeling a sense of being overwhelmed or buried by ALL THE STUFF. I’d throw projects away because I’d get tired of seeing them or throw everything into a closet and slam the door to have ONE EMPTY SPACE.

Part of this battle was because my insides were in turmoil and I needed my space to not be. I needed everything organized, because I couldn’t categorize all the messy, dirty feelings which weighed me down and made it impossible for me to move.

Another part was embarrassment, of imaging what people would think if they stumbled into our “in progress” home on a day I didn’t frantically shove things into closets or drawers. They might think I am lazy or I don’t give a shit about my family.

I was losing my mind over it.

I was on the verge of completely squashing my kid’s creativity, because I could not contain it.

I could not stand it.

Then I started writing again.

My writing is a mess; the characters are unformed, stumbling along trying to become real and struggling with the half-story I’ve placed them in. I’m having to slowly uncover the pieces and letting it be a jumble for now, while I figure out how it all fits together.

It almost stopped me completely.

Twice.

I’m still writing.

I’m accepting this mess is part of the creative process, and I’m trying to explore it with patience and curiosity. It’s hard to ignore the unease it brings, but it is necessary. I am not going to just sit down and write a novel. It is a chaotic, disorganized and jumbled process which requires both ignoring my fears and embracing them.

It’s fucking hard guys.

But doing this, being in the trenches, has made me look at the mess of my house, and even my kids, in a different way.

I’ve always been supportive of open play and creativity, actively fighting to provide them the space and time for it; we drive 25 minutes so they can attend a Waldorf school which is in line with these ideals. But at the same time, I’ve been a nagging bitch about the messes which come along with it.

Contradictions are apparently my thing.

There is a big part of me which would love my house to look like Restoration Hardware; seriously, everything in that store is gleaming and beautiful and fucking rad.

But it never will.

People don’t live there.

Duh, right?

I can’t remove the mess, because WE are the mess. I’d be replacing all the little stories they create with their stuffed animals, all the pictures they draw, all the badges and houses and forts…for some idealistic version of a home I’d probably hate.

I want my kids being loud and crazy and wild.

I want them making shit out of everything.

I want my kids to know their ideas are worth exploring fully.

The dishes and laundry are done. There isn’t anything rotting or smelling bad in the house. It is just projects, crafts and imagination exploding out in all directions.

It is the chaos of a creative life.

There is an important lesson for us all to learn about finishing things, cleaning up after ourselves and respecting the space of others. I’m not throwing up my hands in defeat. There is plenty of work to do still, and I’m sure we can get there.

For now, though, I want to stop yelling and allow more space and time for the messy creativity to happen. I want to stop struggling so hard against it, and learn to give things the time they need.

Maybe I can even learn to love the mess as much as I love the kids who create it.

Probably not.

But I can stop how I react and realize how temporary this all is.

So, bring on the Styrofoam sinks:img_8435The random piles of coins:img_8437Whatever this is:img_8439Bring it on.

Because we live here and this is what we do.

Saying goodbye after breakfast

He is bouncing in the back seat as we pull into a dirt driveway. The neighborhood is filled with ranch-style homes and there are horses in every field. He holds my hand tightly as we ring the doorbell, his sister on my hip.

My 4-H leader from when I was a child greets us and hugs me to her. It has been over 20 years since we’ve seen each other and she marvels at how grown-up I am. I introduce her to my children. My boy is 4-years-old and is wearing his favorite long-sleeve t-shirt with a kitty and a heart on it. His sister is 2 and she won’t let me put her down.

This woman I knew so well as a child feels like a stranger. She shows me pictures of her children and grandchildren. I only have vague memories of my time shared with this family and I feel suddenly old and slightly nostalgic.

We follow her through the kitchen and down three stairs to a dimly lit room. All along the back wall are cages, stacked five high, filled with guinea pigs. We can hear some moving around and several wheek a greeting to us. My boy is wide-eyed and bouncing again.

She tells us one of her guinea pigs was flown to Los Angeles to be used by the animators who made “G-Force.” This was the first movie my son saw on the big screen and he looks at me almost in tears from excitement. She takes out two little guinea pigs for him to choose from.

He only takes a moment. He points at the smallest one. She is the Teddy variety, a wiry haired breed known for resembling the stuffed animal they are named after. She is black, white and brown.

He names her Guinea The Pig.

This was seven years ago and she was my Valentine’s Day gift to him.

Since then, she has been featured in hundreds of his drawings, clay figures, short stories and even a few comic strip panels. He has created costumes for her, she has a stocking at Christmas and there isn’t a day he doesn’t pet her or watch her eat.

When I walk down the stairs every morning she greets me with her familiar wheeking sound, calling for veggies from the fridge and a little petting.

Her sound is as familiar to me as the hum of the refrigerator and I didn’t notice its absence until I saw the look on my boy’s face.

“Guinea is dead,” he says.

As he says the words, the reality hits him and he begins to sob.

We sit on the couch and his sister joins us and we all cry together for our sweet little piggy, our Super Guinea, our Steam Punk Unicorn Pig and my son’s favorite thing in the world.

We drive sister to school, but I let him come back home with me.

He sits down at the art table and begins drawing pictures and making pipe cleaner figures of his sweet Guinea. I can see tears come often, but he quickly brushes them away.

I want to comfort him, but something stops me. When he was little, I’d cuddle him in my arms and kiss the tears off his cheeks. He would tell me things and I’d listen.

He is 11 now and things are different. He listens to music with his door closed. He continuously turns the amp up while playing his guitar until I’m forced to tell him to turn it down. He reads books for an entire Sunday morning alone in his bed.

I don’t know what to do.

I try and busy myself around the house, but keep finding him near me.

I finally sit in my big comfy chair and he crawls in next to me.

We sit in silence for a long time and I just feel the weight of him next to me. My boy, whose feet are bigger than mine and who wears deodorant now, feels the same in my arms as always. I rub his head and he purrs into me.

I know exactly what to do.

I kiss his head and listen as he tells me how much he will miss her. We talk about other things too and the morning melts away in my chair.

We eventually make our way to the computer to look at pictures and videos of Guinea. We laugh at the video of him at 4-years-old trying to walk her on a tiny leash in the yard. We marvel at how little she and he both were.

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Then he asks to see pictures of himself as a baby. We start with the painting of the nursery photos, and move through newborn hospital shots, pictures of him in my soft blue baby sling, propped up next to his baby cousin, sleeping on a blanket in front of the fireplace, starting to roll, crawling on all fours, videos of him laughing, food on his face, 1st birthday, playing in the backyard, dressing up, riding the tractor with grandma and on and on.

After an hour of pictures, I tell my boy we’ve had enough and turn off the computer.

We decide to get dressed and go eat lunch at the bookstore. On the way out the door, I point at the giant stack of books next to my chair.

“Don’t let me buy another book,” I tell him. “You don’t need one either. We are just looking.”

We end up buying magazines, because they aren’t books, and sandwiches. We find a cozy place on the patio to read, eat and drink tea.

“Mom,” my boy says.

I look up.

“Do you see that napkin over there?”

He points to a brown napkin stuck on a small rosebush. It is blowing slightly in the breeze.

“Yeah,” I say.

“I’m going to free it,” he says. “It deserves to have an adventure.”

“You should pick it up and throw it in the garbage,” I say.

“That’s no fun,” he says. “It will end up there eventually, why not let it have a little adventure?”

He stands up.

“It is recyclable anyway,” he adds.

He runs over and pulls the napkin loose from the rosebush. It flies through the parking lot and out of sight. He smiles and returns to his magazine.

The mom bathing suit vs. the hipster pool

swimmingWe get off the elevator, round the corner and I see it.

No. No. No.

I want to turn around, but the kids are skipping ahead.

“Come on mom.”

Before me is the rooftop pool of the young and the hip. It is rectangular shaped with a giant mirror angled down at the end so you can watch yourself swim.

But nobody is swimming.

Oh, no. Not this bunch.

A few are in the pool, but they are only waist deep. The rest sit on couches or are standing in groups. Every girl is model thin and wearing a tiny bikini. Hair and makeup are perfect. I glance around thinking surely we stumbled onto a photo shoot.

Nope.

No cameras.

The boys are model ready too, gathered in various clusters with cut abs and perfect tans, all acting as if this is a completely normal thing to be doing.

This is not fucking normal.

I don’t know what this is.

Every hand is either holding a colorful cocktail or a tall glass of beer.

“This pool is so cool!” my kids yell and quickly take off their shoes and dive in.

All eyes are on us.

I hear a few snickers and endure a malicious stare from a girl drinking something pink from a sparkling glass. She is probably around 23 and I get it. Kids are so annoying when you are young. I smile back.

“Are you kidding?” I hear one of the pretty male peacocks in the shallow end of the pool say to his friends. He follows it up by something I can’t hear. They laugh.

A mother with kids at a hotel pool is apparently the funniest thing they have ever seen.

“What are you looking at freaks,” I want to yell. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

But I don’t.

I look around and find one empty spot left around the pool. It is a big brown couch with several large pillows. I grab a few towels and a glass of the free water. I climb into the oversize couch and find if I scoot all the way to the back with my book, I can almost disappear.

The kids are busy swimming laps back and forth. Their giggles and laughter fills the empty space.

I see my girl kick past a highly groomed beer drinker, splashing his back with a little water.

“What the fuck?” he says and shields his fluffy blond hair from any potential drips.

His friends laugh.

I don’t laugh.

I fucking don’t laugh one bit.

I sit with my black bathing suit cover over my black bathing suit dress and want to throw-up. Or maybe I want to eat. Or maybe I want a cocktail.

The insecurity and anger wrestle inside as I try and just not be here.

I never looked like these people. Never. Not when I was a teen. Not when I was 20. Never.

I hate them.

Then I’m mad for hating them.

I am judging them for youth and beauty, something they can’t help. These are someone’s children. They are just enjoying their vacation by the pool and don’t want to be reminded little human’s share the planet with them.

But they don’t have to be douchbags.

“Mom! Mom! Mom!”

My girl is calling my name. I nod her direction and all the lovely little pretties look my way.

“Mom!” she says again. “Come swim with us! You said you would swim with us. Come on mom!”

I sit there and think about all the things I want for my girl.

I never want her to see or feel what I am feeling right now.

I never want her to worry what all these assholes think about her body or mine.

I never want her to let anybody stop her from doing things she enjoys.

I love swimming and this was one of the things I was most looking forward to on this trip.

I smile at her and climb out of the big couch. I take off the bathing suit cover, put on my goggles and walk right into the pool.

The next hour or so I play a game where I am a water monster. The kids swim from one end of the pool to the other and I try and catch them. If I do, they stand on my legs and jump off while I lift them and push so they fly as far as they can.

It’s fun.

We laugh and taunt each other.

We swim until my arms ache and the sun is starting to set.

Eventually, we get out and dry off. We sit on the big couch together and talk about where we might go for dinner when daddy gets out his business meeting.

An older man with a very dark tan walks by wearing a g-string leopard print Speedo. You can see his…everything.

Both kids look at me and we burst into silent giggles.

Maybe we are assholes too.