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Quiet Time

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Back when I was pregnant with Ella, I went out of my way to spend a few quiet moments every day, thinking about where I was, how I was feeling, and the massive life change that was just ahead of me. I’d wait until my husband left for work in the morning and bring my bowl (or three…) of cereal into the nursery we’d prepared for the baby, and I’d sit by myself for just a few minutes before I needed to rush out the door to catch my own train to work. It was my favorite part of every day and having our growing family and my changing role in it at the front of my mind before I went out into the world each morning helped me keep the rest of our chaotic lives in perspective.

I’d like to say I’ve kept up that practice while we wait for Baby #2, but I’d be totally lying, and any of you who have children already probably wouldn’t believe me anyway.

Although Ella and I have gotten into a pretty good morning routine, there’s not a spare second in it if we’re both going to get where we need to go on time, reasonably clean, somewhat fed, and hopefully wearing all the appropriate clothes and footwear. And don’t even get me started on the sprint from daycare to dinner to bedtime.

It’s easy, then, to get distracted by chaos – and we’ve had plenty of it recently. Back in May, we bought a house on fairly short notice – an old one, in a new town. Suddenly there was a house to sell, a life to pack, renovations to plan, and a move to prepare for. Things got hectic, quickly.

Add to that weeks of brutal “morning” sickness and some persistent pregnancy congestion and by the time we finally got into to our new house, I was running on fumes – and still I couldn’t quite figure out how to slow myself down.

Funnily enough, when my head wasn’t able to get out of racing mode, my body took over. The day after the big move, I literally stopped in my tracks and announced to everyone that I had to take a nap.

Right. Now.

And I did. I curled up on an arm chair in the living room, surrounded by boxes, and fell asleep for two hours in the middle of the afternoon, completely oblivious to Ella’s noise and our family who were there to help out.

It makes sense, really. Any time Ella is run down, she ramps right up instead of crashing. This is prime time for injuries and meltdowns, but it’s a black out zone for naps or resting. So, as her mom, it’s my job to make sure she gets some quiet time. She gets sent to her room, not as a punishment, but for a few minutes of less stimulation, to slow herself down physically. And, once her body isn’t in constant motion, she often settles herself mentally, too.

That’s what my body did to me after our move – sent me to my room for some quiet time. I needed it, badly, and I could feel the difference afterwards.

So now, three weeks later, I’m trying to make a conscious effort to get myself the quiet time I need, even if I can’t indulge in a bowl of cereal in the nursery every morning.

I’m in a strange place, personally. The baby we waited so long for is finally on our way, and I almost don’t know what to do with myself emotionally now that I’m not in constant angst about not being pregnant. We’ve been so wrapped up with the move that we haven’t thought through what our life is going to look like and how we’ll function as a family after the baby comes. I’m in a bit of a holding pattern even at work, not sure what my next priorities are or how I should be stretching myself.

Tara Mohr calls this “Chrysalis Time,” when you’re between stages. I’m trying to embrace it. And I’m trying to take it slow, because that’s what I need – even if my body knew it before my head did.

It’s hard to know how to honor that in-between feeling when you have so little time for yourself. So, in the midst of all our family’s chaos, here’s how I’m trying to get myself a quiet time out.

I’m spending time in my kitchen. Ella loves to help cook, so it’s not really down time, but I am finding that when I’m making food I’m excited about, I don’t mind the work or the company.

I’m reading a lot, whether it’s a book I read with my eyes or a book I listen to in the car. It means setting time aside at the end of the night when I put my phone down and pick up my Kindle instead. It means not using my commute for work or personal calls. But it’s recharging me, a bit at a time, so I’ve been happy to make those concessions.

I’m splurging a little. I sprung for a Stitch Fix delivery of some new maternity clothes, probably the only ones I’ll buy this pregnancy. But more than that, I’m keeping my hair appointments instead of rescheduling, even when I feel guilty about the time away from our tasks at home. I’m taking Ella to get our nails done together. And I’m finally using the spa gift card I got for Mother’s Day for an afternoon to myself.

I’m taking advantage of the summer hours at work. This has been amazing. We close at noon on Fridays, and since I work from home on Fridays anyway, I’ve been faithfully shutting that laptop down at 12:01 and letting myself take a nap instead of launching right into my errands.

I’m asking for time when I need it. Sometimes that means leaving work early, if I’m not feeling well, when otherwise I might push through. Sometimes that means staying behind when my husband takes Ella to the park. A small break here and there makes all the difference, and it seems to keep me from stretching myself too thin.

And most importantly, I am going to bed really, really early. Like, 8:30 early. As soon as Ella is down for the night, usually between 8:30 and 9:00 (did I mention she has a hard time slowing down? Must run in the family!), I am crawling right into those sheets. If I can, I read for a while. And if I can’t, I’m snoring in minutes. I miss my husband – we’re like ships passing in the night right now – but we’re looking for ways to sneak in more time together, which I’m looking forward to.

As long as it’s early…

And I’m trying to keep in mind that this is temporary. After we’ve recovered from the move a bit, after I’ve adjusted to this pregnancy a little more, after we settle into our new life somewhat, I might be back to normal. Or I might arrive at some new normal.

But in the meantime, I’m trying to mother myself and give me what I know I’d give Ella in the same situation. Just a little quiet time.

 

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The Best We Can

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I wrote this awhile ago, before I was ready to fess up about our fertility problems but just after the first executive order travel ban was signed. I’m in a better place about all of this now, but I’m visiting NYC today with Ella, and our hotel looks down on the WTC memorial, and I’m feeling this same tension between being so grateful for what I have and so despairing about the damage we humans inflict on each other. Seemed like the right moment to share.

……………………….

It’s 8:30pm on Sunday night, and this week has already exhausted me.

It could be because I spent Friday juggling a packed work agenda with a strep-stricken toddler. Days when my professional responsibilities are in direct conflict with what I know is best for my family wear me out like nothing else. Days like Friday make me feel like I am fighting an uphill battle for no good reason at all.

It could be because Saturday we missed a much needed and long overdue grown up night out. No way could we leave a fever-y kiddo for the night, and even when she’s sick I’m happy to have extra snuggle time. But we’d been looking forward to a night out together, to help remember we are still people, and we ended up missing a big family function.

It could be because I spent Sunday celebrating my nephew’s first birthday. This was a happy occasion, and I wanted to be happy, and I was so happy for everyone else. But I also spent the party fighting back panic, trying to convince myself that somehow we are going to have another baby. Even though it’s been so long that we’ve been trying, even though I feel like my body has taken such a beating since we got so easily pregnant with Ella June, even though I feel like I have aged 100 years since then. Please don’t let this be over for us, I kept pleading with God in my head, as we sang happy birthday and ate cake and watched a photo montage of Daniel’s miraculous first year. There is no reason to think we are done having children, and still after a year and a half of trying, there is no baby. I do not know what I will do if I can never be pregnant again.

It could also be that it seems our leaders are hell bent on burning this world down around us. Every time I close my eyes, I see a toddler, like Ella, blue skinned, face down in the sand with the waves washing over him. I think of his mother and father, everyone who loved him. I think of his miraculous life, the one he will never get to live. And I think of what terror he must have felt, slipping under the water alone. Ella is afraid of the noise of the toilet flushing, and I think of this child dying with the sound of the ocean roaring in his ears. It burns me to think of this.

We are inhuman for allowing this. Maybe we should all burn for allowing this to continue.

I stand in the kitchen for a moment, numb with despair and futility, staring at my dark reflection in the microwave door. But Jon calls me into Ella’s room to sing a goodnight song. I kiss my daughter’s precious cheek. And I go back into the kitchen to make her lunches for the week. There’s something comforting about seeing all of her food lined up and ready. And in the end, this is all I can do. Feed my family, love my family, pray for my family and for our human family that everything will be all right. That god, however we understand him or her or it, is with us. That we are doing the best we can, and that somehow it will be enough.

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I have to tell you something.

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I have to tell you something.

It’s OK – don’t panic, no one is dying. But I’ve been keeping a secret from you. It’s gone on for too long, and now it is too heavy, and I just need you to know.

For the last eighteen months, we have been trying to get pregnant. And it’s not working.

We don’t know why yet, and maybe no one will be able to tell us with any certainty. I am hopeful that someone will help us find a way forward, even if we don’t really know what brought us here.

I didn’t tell you at first because I thought it would be easy. It was so very easy the last time.

And then I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to feel like a pot, watched carefully for signs of boiling.

And then I didn’t tell you because I knew I would have no patience for your supportive optimism.

And then I didn’t tell you because I couldn’t tell you without succumbing to melodrama and desperation – and, possibly because there is so little dignity to be had in the physical processes of fertility testing and treatment, dignity wherever I could get it seemed paramount.

And now I am telling you because I can’t quite bear the weight of doing this quietly anymore. I am going to have to talk about it, and this is scary for me and possibly uncomfortable for you, and I’m sorry.

Maybe we will all luck out and this will be resolved in a few months and we can all breathe a sigh of mutual relief that we can talk about a baby instead of hormones and eggs and sperm and mucus.

I recognize that eighteen months is the blink of an eye to some people who have struggled with infertility. This is a pep talk I give myself regularly: it could get much harder. Have courage now.

So I am trying, and telling you is part of this effort to have courage. Please have patience with me. This is unfamiliar ground for all of us, and I am continually praying for the grace to navigate the path we are on.

Courage and patience and grace. Repeat as needed.

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Home

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We leave Allston because of the bats. Most people leave Allston because they have gotten too old, and we have. But the thing that pushes us out of Rock City is that in the course of two weeks, we have not one but two bats in our apartment, and our landlord doesn’t seem to understand that this is an issue.

One night on the couch, Jon jokes that we should move, so we plug $1500 into the maximum rent search field on Craigslist, just to see what will come up. We don’t think to filter by location, so what comes up is a second floor apartment in a historic home on a quiet side street in Salem. It’s one of those fancy houses with the little plaque showing the date it was built and the builder’s name. 10 minutes’ walk to downtown, the listing says. The photos zoom in on an antique staircase, wide planks of original pine flooring, and two working fireplaces – one of which includes a brick oven for bread or pizza.

“This is too good to be true,” we tell ourselves. But we decide it might make a nice day trip.

I respond to the posting and the landlord calls me back while I am trying on sweaters at the GAP.

Walter, the landlord, tells me this house was actually built for his ancestor and has been in the family for more than a century and a half. “It’s special to us,” he says, “and we only want to rent to people who will take care of it. We want it to be special to our renters, too.”

I tear up, because I have not had a real home in a long time.

We end up chatting for a while – long enough that someone knocks on the fitting room door to let me know there is a line and could I please hurry up with my phone call.

That Saturday morning, Jon and I take the “scenic” route up 1A, past the airport, through Chelsea and Lynn. We laugh the whole way there, because of course we’re not moving up here. But then we turn onto the road that leads us through downtown, and it’s a game to shout out the earliest years we see on these beautiful houses with their date stamps.

North Salem, where the apartment is, is a little rough around the edges, but the street we’re looking for is lined with sugar maples just starting to turn their colors. Walter meets us out front, and I see how impressed Jon is with his beard and his knowledge of historic restoration carpentry.

Walter gives us the tour, but we keep raising our eyebrows at each other behind his back. We already know. If he’ll rent it to us, this is going to be our new home.

We give the commute a cursory rehearsal before we commit, but a week later Walter cashes the check that gets us the keys. We break our lease, and we leave Allston behind.

Our first morning on Buffum Street, we wake up early because we haven’t remembered to put the shades down, and the master bedroom is flooded with light. Outside, the sugar maples are on fire with October orange.

“I can’t believe this is our home now,” I tell Jon, and he kisses me, all wrapped up in fresh sheets.

This was nine years ago yesterday. Since that morning, we put down roots in Salem. And then we left.

Now, two years after abandoning Witch City for country life in Bolton, I am still not at home. We left because we needed more space. We thought the schools would be better in a more affluent area. We hoped our new location would be more convenient for our parents and siblings. We imagined we would settle in.

The truth is that we don’t. They aren’t. It isn’t. And we haven’t.

We miss the cozy, quirky apartment, where we grew up, where we threw a boozy cookout the day after our wedding, where I labored all day to give birth to our daughter, where Ella fell asleep on the rug in front of the fire the day we brought her home from the hospital.

We miss our friends, the amazing intergenerational circle of people I met at church, the badass women from my prenatal yoga class, the guys Jon played music and drank beer with, the kindred spirits who moved in downstairs and made the house a little community.

We miss the restaurants where we had become regulars. I have a picture of Ella, just a week old, in her car seat, perched on the big orange couch at the Gulu-Gulu. The waitresses who watched my pregnant belly grow were so excited to meet her in all her newborn glory.

We miss the city itself, the paths with the best views to get downtown, the alleyways with hidden shopping gems, the likelihood of stumbling on an outdoor concert or a magic show outside Old Town Hall, the bench behind the Peabody Essex Museum where Jon proposed on a muggy summer morning over ham and cheese croissants from A&J King’s Bakery.

We miss the North Shore, the sea breeze, the easy drive up the coast to Newburyport where we were married, the state park where we tramped through the snow for a winter picnic, the local birth center where we received such patient care during my pregnancy.

I know I am a large part of the problem. I never meant to leave New York permanently, and I still miss it like there’s a hole in my heart. Salem helped fill that hole. And out here in apple country, I feel an abyss of loneliness and of not-belonging in my chest.

I am grateful for our house. We are lucky to have found it, we are luckier to be able to afford it. We are lucky we are in such a privileged town, the town we thought would be perfect for us. I am grateful for our kind neighbors. I am very grateful for the wonderful school and amazing teachers who have taken Ella to their hearts here.

We aren’t unhappy, really. Not all the time. But if I am being honest, most days I still find myself thinking that I want to go home.

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Something that Matters

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Like every reasonable human being in America with functioning ears, I’ve been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack recently. I’m not particularly into hip hop, and I very rarely listen to musicals I’m not currently rehearsing, but this show has blown me away.

I get that I’m not the first person to have this reaction. I’m pretty late to the Hamilton party. But I’ve been surprised by the impact this show has had on me. I’ve been mulling it over, and here’s where I think that impact is coming from.

First, there is a sense that this show matters. When I studied musical theater history in college, there were a few milestone shows that everyone could point to and say, “YES! This one here! This one here changed the trajectory of theater as we know it. Pay attention to this one!”

Showboat is the one that stands out most in my mind. Showboat (from what I remember of my NYU education) took all of the loose threads of various theater traditions and tied them together into a form we can recognize now as the modern musical. There’s been an evolution, obviously, in the last century or so, but Showboat was clearly a turning point.

Hamilton feels a lot like that. Maybe it’s the implications of the intentional racial makeup of the cast, turning American history on its fat, white, patriarchal head. Maybe it’s the timing, that this is happening against a backdrop of what seems to be escalating racial injustice in this country. Maybe it’s just that Lin Manuel Miranda is a freaking genius and we are all lucky to be alive right now with him.

Even though I can’t say for sure why, I have the overwhelming sense that people who study theater a hundred years from now are going to look at back at this one and say, “Yes, that one mattered.”

And second, when I listen to this show (because I sure as hell can’t afford a ticket), I’m struck over and over again by the sense of awareness these characters seem to have that what they are doing matters. This is not a new idea – I remember hearing about the founding fathers and their obsession with legacy building in my AP American History class in high school and thinking, “That is a lot of pressure to put on yourselves, guys.”

Now, though, I’m jealous of that surety. I have struggled for a while with uncertainty over whether any of what I put out into the world actually matters.

For all of my artsy, creative leanings, I’m a pretty pragmatic person. I have a hard time committing to something if I am not really clear on what the point is. I don’t like going to the gym, but it’s not the exercise that’s the problem, really – it’s that spending an hour on a treadmill or wrestling with a machine doesn’t accomplish anything other than having spent an hour sweating. Even Zumba felt flat for me – where’s my new skill? What did I get out of this, other than a catchy Europop song stuck in my head?

Sign me up for dance lessons or martial arts or something like that, and I barely notice that I’m sweating or that I can’t technically use my legs for three days afterwards. Because I can understand the goal: a new skill acquired, a new move perfected, and usually a new challenge to look forward to.

Maybe that’s why I’ve been so inconsistent about blogging. I’ve always been a writer. For as long as I can remember, I’ve almost compulsively filled notebook after notebook with stories and essays and ideas. You would think a blog would be a great outlet for that kind of person.

But the internet is a big place. It’s hard for me to make writing and sharing blog posts a priority when I have no idea if anyone is reading them, let alone connecting with them.

Then, earlier this month, while my husband was away doing an annual “Flags on the 48” hike in honor of 9/11, I sat on my couch and decided to share my experience of that terrible day and its aftermath. I told the unflinching truth as I remembered it because I didn’t really think anyone would read it. And then, because I was happy with how it turned out and because it was the middle of the night and because I was feeling brave, I shared it on Facebook, thinking for sure that it would be lost in a deluge of 9/11 posts and pictures of the Twin Towers on fire.

When I woke up the next morning, that thing had gone as viral as anything I write is ever likely to go. I had a minute or ten of total panic – what Brené Brown calls a “vulnerability hangover,” that terrifying moment when you realize you’ve been too honest and it may have been too big a mistake and now it is too late to do a damn thing about it.

Then I started to read the comments. For the record, I often avoid reading other people’s reactions to stuff I write – but clearly something new was happening with this one. It wasn’t just that I was surprised by the sheer volume of people reacting to this post (which got more than 1,000 views in the week after I posted it). It was that so many people took time to say that I’d expressed something they’d been feeling, too, or that it helped them find a way to talk about what their experience of that day was. So many people took time to thank me for writing it, and so many people took time to then share it with others.

It resonated. It mattered.

It’s taken me awhile to get my head together about what that means, and what I should do about it. I’m still not sure I have a plan, other than this:

Write more. Share more. Be as brave as I can more, and tell the truth more. Do more of this writing thing that makes me happy.

So that’s what I’m going to do. Even on the bad days, and even on the days when it feels like I’m just throwing words out into the abyss. Because I might be and that might be pointless, but I also might stumble on something that does really matter.

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Fifteen Years

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I move to New York on August 26, 2001. In a family most of whose members live within twenty minutes of each other, I am the first to move away, one of the first to go to college. The day I leave my hometown, I have not spoken to my father in almost exactly three months, so it is my mother, sister, and a bevy of aunts and uncles who load a minivan and drive me to what seems like another world. We stay in a hotel, crammed like sardines into rooms that I am sure cost more than one of the cars we brought with us.

The morning I move into my dorm on E 10th Street, we eat brunch in an overpriced restaurant on Park Avenue that calls itself a French bistro, where the only recognizable breakfast food is French toast. In hushed tones, my uncles joke about two men sitting at a small table across the room. “Men wearing scarves,” one of them says. “Pompous assholes.” But with our accent it sounds like “scahves” and “ahhseholes.” I am Toto, and this is not Kansas.

We don’t waste much time with goodbyes. “This is New York,” someone warns me. “There are bad neighborhoods everywhere. Don’t go more than two blocks away unless it’s for class. And definitely don’t go further East than Broadway.” I nod, not knowing how far away class is or what direction East is anyway. An aunt hands me a book called The Gift of Fear as a parting present. My mother and sister hug me and cry, and then they all pile into the van and go back to Massachusetts.

I am 18. I have never had a drink, other than a few sips of a Kahlua sombrero offered to me by my aunts at my high school graduation party. I am beyond virgin: I have never made out, I don’t know what the bases are, I am not sure I even like boys. And now I am in New York, and I think I am free.

I start classes, which are equal parts terrifying and exactly what I dreamed studying theater in New York City might be like. I attend Mass at the campus Catholic center. I make my first friends. I find the bodega around the corner – it’s the closest convenience store that doesn’t require crossing Broadway, which I have promised not to do. I use a debit card, attached to my own bank account, for the first time ever. I have no idea what I am doing.

On September 9, 2001, my roommates and I visit the World Trade Center. It is my first subway ride since moving to the city, other than an RA-supervised trip to Brooklyn to visit Junior’s. We wander around a bit, but to me these towers are just more visual noise in a city that feels like a magic eye painting. I have no sense of them up close. I am overwhelmed with the feeling that I have betrayed some promise to my family by going this far afield. Getting back to my dorm is a relief.

On September 11, 2001, I am in an 8:00am intro to narrative essay class. I sit in the back with a boy named Ryland who I am already a little infatuated with. I think his name is exotic, and I have never met anyone from Iowa before. We throw around the word bisexual a lot and are disdainful of our grad student instructor. That morning is noisy. “Must be a fire downtown,” Ethan the instructor says, and he closes the window to the street.

After class, we walk North with our backs to the South. As we approach 10th Street, I realize there are crowds gathering on every corner.

“Must be a tour,” I say. Ryland turns left to go West. I turn right to go East. I never turn around to see the sky falling behind me.

In the lobby of the dorm, a girl I think I might have a crush on is crying with the security guard while they listen to the radio. I start to get the feeling that I have missed something important, that something has shifted, that something has changed.

“Your mom called,” my roommate says as soon as I open the door.

The TV is on. Through it I can see that the world is on fire. “What is happening?” I say.

“They attacked the World Trade Center,” one of my roommates says.

I stare at the screen. “Who is ‘they’?”

No one answers, so I call my mother. I assure her I am all right. I assure her I am far away from what is going on, although I honestly have no idea. I assure her I will not leave my dorm.

In our room, we speculate as we watch the endless litany of news coverage.

“Maybe it was an accident.”

“If there were two planes, it can’t be an accident, can it? How does that happen?”

The TV starts to flicker and the phone stops working. I decide to break a few promises at once.

I leave my room.

I cross Broadway to Grace Church, because I’m not sure the Catholic center at school will be open, and it feels too urgent to wait the eight blocks or so it would take me to get there. I feel like I need to do something, and the only thing I can think to do is get in a pew and pray. Also, walking those eight blocks to the Catholic center would require me to go South, to look South, to face what is coming. I cross Broadway, and I do not look up from the ground in front of me. I see only the white lines of the crosswalk, the gum on the concrete, the stairs up to a wrought-iron threshold.

The church doors are locked.

On the steps in front of Grace Church, it dawns on me that there is no sanctuary today, no safety. I realize I have not heard from an RA or from the University. I don’t know if we will have classes, or if the dining halls will be open.

I do not know if whatever is happening is over, if this is the worst of it. I do not know if whoever “they” is, is done.

And I am still not ready to look South, to face it.

I cross Broadway again and turn right, North, to my bodega. I haul an armful of non-perishables and a can opener to the counter. The Middle Eastern men working there are weeping openly with eyes wide as they watch the news through a veil of static.

We don’t speak, but I hand them my shiny new debit card. One of them runs it through the machine, but it doesn’t work.  He tries again, and they exchange a few words in a language I don’t recognize. The other man picks up the phone and shakes his head.

“No phone, no card,” he tells me.

No card, no money. No money, no food.

I leave the bodega. And I finally turn South, to face an apocalyptic cloud on the horizon, blossoming upward and outward, obscuring the sky.

On my way South to the bank, I am a fish swimming upstream in a sea of ghosts. Caked in a white and yellow dust, they shamble North up a deserted Broadway. Some of them carry briefcases. One woman bleeds from her nose. Many of them have tracks of tears revealing their skin beneath the bizarre whiteface.

I don’t realize until I see the ATM error message that no phones means no cash, too. I stand in the fishbowl of the HSBC lobby for a minute, trying to imagine what my next step might be.

A ghost slumps against the outside of the glass and slides to the ground with his head in his hands.

There is no next step. I go back to my dorm.

Later the phones start working again. My mother calls to tell me that my father, who haven’t seen since my high school graduation, has parked his car somewhere on a bridge and is walking into Manhattan. She has called to ask if she can give my address, my phone number.

I meet him on the sidewalk hours later, an awkward hello without a hug. He meets my roommates. We agree to get together in the morning. I promise to stay in my room.

I go to a vigil in Union Square, where public art has already sprung up, calling for peace, celebrating the city. A stranger offers me weed out of an Altoid tin.

The next day, my dad and I take an empty train up to an empty Times Square. He asks if I’ve been eating, because I fainted in a voice lesson the week before. A coworker of his fainted recently, hit his head, and died. I’m eating, I tell him, which isn’t strictly true.

We wander around, but there is nothing to see. He asks me to ride home with him, but I’m worried about missing class. We still don’t know when the school will re-open, and my performance program has a strict zero tolerance policy about absences.

The subway stops at 14th street instead of 8th, and we see when we get above ground that a barricade has been set up, dividing everything below Union Square from the rest of the city. We are asked for ID to get inside, but I don’t have a driver’s license, let alone a passport. This is the first time I have ever been asked for official identification in my life. The police let me in with my NYU ID but warn me not to leave again or I might not get back in.

Dad asks me again to come home, but I kiss him goodbye and wish him luck finding his car.

On Thursday, the wind shifts. We have our windows open, and someone mentions that the BBQ place two blocks away must be back to work.

It isn’t BBQ. It is ash. Burnt buildings, and paper. People.

We close the windows and stuff newspaper in the drafty spots, but the whole room gets coated with a fine yellow mist. Don’t go outside without a mask, they tell us.

I tie a bandana my dad left me around my face and go out. I visit one of the volunteer centers that have cropped up in the village to try to donate blood, but I am too anemic, and my blood is rejected. I try to leave a note at a memorial in Washington Square, but the faces of the missing that have been tacked up by desperate friends and family render me wordless.

We get a notice that classes will be canceled until at least Monday. I book a train to Boston knowing I might not be allowed to board it without government ID, and that because of the barricade I might not be allowed back to my dorm if I’m turned away at Amtrak. Between the dust of the dead and the blue blockade at 14th street, I am suffocating, and the risk is worth it.

I am home for about half an hour before I realize this was a mistake. Whatever happened in the last three days has made me belong more in New York than I am ever going to belong anywhere else.

Everyone is so relieved, so grateful that I am all right. Patriotism runs rampant, but I don’t feel it. I’m not a part of how the rest of the country is processing this atrocity, because I am a part of the atrocity itself. I was there, I saw the things, I heard the things. I smelled the things, and they were not just things but also people and I breathed them in, the dust and the death are part of me now. I can’t just sing an extra round of the anthem at a football game as though it’s some kind of rallying cry and feel like it is good or right or enough.

I become aware very quickly that there are competing levels of ownership over this tragedy. I have a visceral reaction to people at home who try to talk to me about an experience I know they cannot begin to fully understand. But I was thirty blocks away, with my back stubbornly turned South. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who saw the towers collapse. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who was five blocks away. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who saw the men and women jumping. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who died, on a plane, in a staircase, in a pile of rubble over the subway station I visited less than a week before.

Everyone knows someone, and no one really knows anything, and I decide to keep my mouth shut about the whole thing. I keep my mouth shut about the whole thing for most of fifteen years.

Posted in Uncategorized

Threenagers, and Trying

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I wasn’t a great mom yesterday.

It’s been a rough week.

Between a few midnight potty wake-ups, disruptive seasonal allergy attacks, plans in the city that didn’t end until after midnight, and a 3 a.m. tornado warning, we’re all running short on sleep.

Add to that a Monday morning ear infection that kept us home from school and work, and some prescription mix ups that took two hours to sort out. At Target, in person, with a tired, uncomfortable toddler in tow.

And the cherry on top of all of this is that some Ella Junes have decided to fully embrace threenagerhood a little ahead of schedule.

The thing about parenting that I didn’t really understand before we had Ella, is that as soon as you’ve adjusted to one stage of your child’s life – as soon as you feel like you have your feet under you, like maybe, just maybe, you don’t totally suck at this – they change it up. I don’t quite know what to do with the person Ella is becoming.

Some of this is normal. She’s testing boundaries, testing our limits, testing her own independence. She wants to know if she is able to call certain shots. She wants to find out if she is capable of some of the tasks we instinctively move to help her with. She wants to know if she will be allowed to stretch and push and grow.

Some of this is me. Since the first moment of her existence, Ella has been one step ahead of me. I was the last person to fully believe I was pregnant, not trusting symptoms and tests until I was weeks into pregnancy. But in the meantime, she had been growing, developing, taking over. Even Ella’s birth, like clockwork on her due date, felt like it was driven by the little human inside me. The work of my labor was to wait, trance-like, unobtrusively, while she fought her way into the world.

At four months old, Ella took up all the space in the tiny cradle I’d so lovingly chosen and outfitted and set up next to my side of the bed. I waited to move her to the crib in her own room until she could actually grab the bars on either side of the cradle while laying on her back.

I’m not ready, I kept saying. It’s too far away from me, she’s too small in that crib. I’m not ready.

But Ella was ready, and the second we put her in that crib, she curled herself up and slept through the night.

Oh no, I thought. This is the first time I held her back.

I continue to lag behind. I am always a bit late switching her clothes over to the next size up. I am always a bit shocked when she calls me “Mom,” instead of “Mami” and “Mumma.” I am always a bit surprised to find she knows how to ride a bike or brush her own teeth. Where is she getting these things? Where does she learn these skills?

I have no idea, really. It might be school. It might be things she picks up from her older cousins. Or it might just be that Ella – like her ambitious, driven, high-powered aunts, and so unlike me – already has a roadmap inside her that she is following and we are all just along for the ride.

I want to be supportive of that drive, as much as I can. I want to let her set some limits around things that are appropriate for her age. I want her to know it’s OK to push. I want not to hold her back, but to support her while she’s moving forward.

But I am again not ready. I still want her to need me. And I definitely want her to do things like pee when she gets out of bed, and wash her hands afterward. Or eat dinner at the table. Or close the damn door so the bugs don’t get in. Or put away the toys she’s dumped all over the floor.

Seriously, what do you do with a person who is still learning English and who is yelling “I NO HAFFA GO POTTY!” at you WHILE ALREADY PEEING IN THE POTTY?! Threenagers defy logic.

I try to give choices. Would you like the blue shirt or the red shirt? The answer is still that she has to wear a shirt, but she gets to decide which one.

I try to set expectations. OK, Ella, you can color for one more minute, but when the buzzer goes off, it’s time to get ready for school.

I try to be patient. I try to leave enough time so that her need for negotiation doesn’t conflict with my need to not get fired for being an hour late for work again. I try to be the calm one in the inevitable struggles.

But yesterday I was not a great mom. Yesterday I was so tired. And we were already late. And she was pushing every button I had. I was not patient or calm. I yelled, almost from the second we got out of bed until the second I left her at school. She yelled, too, and screamed, and threw herself on the floor. But she’s the toddler, and I’m the mom, and I try to be better.

It ate at me all day, the knowledge that I’d left her at school while we were still mad at each other. I finally left work a bit early so I could pick her up, instead of Jon. All the way there, I pictured a big make-up hug, snuggling on the couch with an after-school snack, and a peaceful, conciliatory bedtime.

It didn’t happen. She was still the monster I’d brought to school that morning, and I was still exhausted. We spent the afternoon in a tug-of-war, with me setting limits, her breaking them, an endless loop of time-outs and consequences and fury, from her and from me.

She finally wore herself out and basically collapsed in bed. About an hour later, I did the same. Last night, we all slept.

And today, we are trying again.