Defining death. To a child.

I love words. I love reading and writing and hearing peoples’ stories, and telling them, myself. Anyone who knows me will freely say that I’m not often at a loss for words. I’m finding, though, that as a parent of a nearly three-year-old child,  attempts to describe or define the meaning of words and actions often leave me without the means to accurately convey a concept. To be sure, some of it is developmental; small children are not the most abstract thinkers. But beyond that, there’s a desire to shield him from the ugliness of the world, at least for now, while still making good on my values to raise him in honesty and reality.

As we walked through the cemetery in our neighborhood yesterday afternoon, I thought of my mom, as I often do, and that I should visit her grave. It’s been awhile; I have a hard time ascribing meaning to that space. I asked D if he wanted to visit Grandma Patti’s cemetery, and he said yes. He immediately started chattering as we walked home, about seeing her, bringing her some of the chocolate strawberries his dad had made for me the day before. We talk to him about my mom a lot, show him photos, tell him stories, to help him understand her importance in our lives. It broke my heart to listen to him, knowing that I needed to try to explain the reality of the situation.

We got to her grave, and he smiled, recognizing my mom and dad on the etching in the headstone. “Is Papa Steve coming here, too?” he asked. I told him no. A car pulled up, and he stood, wondering aloud if that was Grandma Patti. He really believed he was going to see her. I took a breath, and asked him to sit with me. I said, “Grandma Patti isn’t with us anymore.”He asked where she was. Knowing that he attends church with his other papa, I tried to use terms that he might have some concept of; “She’s an angel now. She’s all around us. She watches us.” He just looked at me. I finally decided to try to level with him, as leveling with a three year old is always the smart choice (ha ha). I said, “Honey, Grandma was really sick. There was something in her body that made her very, very sick, and it made her heart stop working. We need our hearts to live-so we can breathe, and play, and be with other people. She can’t do those things anymore. Her body didn’t work, and now it’s here, in this ground, to be kept safe. This big stone helps people to remember who she was, and lets us come visit her and think about her.” The entire time, I kept telling myself to stop talking, to stop being so pseudo-biological and blunt about it.

He listened, looking at the ground and running his fingers through the thick grass around him. “She’s in heaven?” he said. “Yes, baby.” “Oh.” For a moment, he looked like he might start crying, and I regretted all of it. Enough of us had shed tears over her loss, and I didn’t want him to take on that burden. Not yet. He never even got to know her, just being held by her once, when he was three days old. And then she was gone. But, I think he understood, as much as his three year old abilities would permit him. “You miss your mommy, Mom?” I blinked back tears. “Yes, I do.” He gave me a little smile.

We started to get up to leave, and I said my goodbyes aloud to my mom. He followed my lead, and said, “Bye, Grandma Patti. I love you and miss you. The doctors will come and fix your heart to work again, and you will come back to life”, blowing her a kiss. More blinked-back tears. That innocence over the permanence of death, the desire to make someone else feel better, made me both incredibly sad and happy at the same time. He’s trying to understand how others feel, while learning to manage his own emotions within those contexts. That’s a hard thing, something that most of us struggle with well into adulthood.

As I drove home, him watching a show on my phone, I thought about what happened. Maybe it was OK that I shared what I did; after all, life does not exist within an absence of conflict and sadness. I want him to grow with the understanding that it’s OK to display emotion, to communicate pain in a constructive manner. Maybe he can’t really grasp the concept of death, but he can understand sadness and hurt and love. Something that my mom instilled in us was empathy, and to truly see people and their complexities, even if they aren’t on full display. This experience with D yesterday made me hope that perhaps I am starting to lay the same foundation for him, to help him intuit what is in other people’s hearts, even if he can’t fully know what has hurt them.


What’s warming my heart and making me cry on this Tuesday.

So, those of you who know me, know how much I love Michael Franti. I love his spirit, his music, his message, and his heart. I also love his partner, Sara Agah, who is also an incredible human being. Together, they created the Do It for the Love Foundation, a nonprofit, wish-granting organization for those with life-threatening illnesses, and other traumas. In short, they are two amazing people individually, and even more magical together. This weekend, they got engaged. Michael posted this video on YouTube that he made for her as part of the proposal.  I have probably watched it 10 times today, choking up each time.  Finding love is a beautiful thing, but it’s made even more beautiful when you share that love with the world around you. Take a look, and feel free to weep tears of joy along with me.

Also, if you’re so inclined, get involved with Do It For the Love!

Full-On Mom Jeans.

That’s the nickname I’ve given myself-Mom Jeans. Alas, I have become that asshole that I have always hated-posting a million photos of my baby on IG/FB (that no one ultimately cares about, I know this; I mostly didn’t care about your baby, either), posting inane status updates about my lack of sleep/loss of independence/back pain/baby screaminess, and commiserating with other moms about the glamorous life of parenthood. It’s annoying, and here is where I issue my blanket apology-I’m sorry. I will also not stop, so it might be a good idea to remove me from any social media feeds or defriend me altogether. Maybe block my phone number too, if I’m texting you unwanted photos. But it’s a baby! In tiny shorts!

Even more startling are my behaviors in private-perpetually tiptoeing around the house, squealing D’s name over and over again so I can get through a shower without him losing his shit (this only works 14% of the time), singing every ridiculous made up song I can conjure off the top of my head, and putting more thought into his outfits in the morning, than my own. Oh, my eating habits? That consists of anything I can grab with one hand, and stuff into my mouth, like a raccoon. This runs the gamut from healthy (apple) to disgusting (finger swipe of peanut butter). I know this is normal, and I don’t hate it. It’s just..shocking, sometimes.

And don’t even get me started about my appearance. My crowning achievement has been that I shower and dress every morning. That’s a non-negotiable for me (although I understand how many people don’t get to it). However, my mascara wand has never seen less activity, my hair is in a perma-knot atop my head, and I don’t so much care that there’s a rivulet of baby spit/drool/milk all over my shoulder. My dirtiest little secret? Even though I fit comfortably back into my pre-pregnancy clothes, I cannot make myself stop wearing my maternity jeans. Please note, I know this is in no way flattering, as they are huge and baggy on my legs and butt, but weeee! Jeans that also feel like sweatpants! Just toss a longer cardigan on, and no one is the wiser…unless you’re walking behind me in Wegman’s, and watching me hike my pants up every 2-3 strides.

It’s all just interesting to me, how you become almost unrecognizable to yourself once you become a parent. Maybe not everyone feels this way, but I do. Like I said, I certainly don’t dislike it, nor do I find it to be a bad thing, but I didn’t always intend to be a parent. I never daydreamed about having kids and all that jazz, nor did I ever think it would actually happen. But now, here I am, with this little redheaded, doe-eyed boy, and I love him so much that it almost takes my air sometimes. He has taught me so much about myself, made me happier, much less willing to abide nonsense from other people, and has given me a sense of purpose that I thought I always got from my career, but is so much more fierce now. I feel incredibly lucky to be his mom, and to have the opportunity to help guide another person to the best life possible. So what if I AM doing it with bags under my eyes and ill-fitting pants? He will grow more independent, and I will look presentable in public again. And I bet, when all is said and done, that I’ll probably miss this time.

For my mom.

I lost my mom last week. Fifteen months of battling lung cancer that spread to her bones and kidneys, and it finally became too much for her. I knew on the very day of her diagnosis last year that this would take her, and the manner in which it would do so, and so I began to prepare. We all watched as she dealt with the side effects of her chemotherapy, losing a startling amount of weight, her hair, as well as her normally endless energy. We almost lost her last year after her first round of chemotherapy left her so weak with pneumonia that I still don’t know quite how she survived it. I often felt frustrated at the universe for giving my mom so many “sick days”, when I would see other women out shopping with their friends and daughters, clearly battling some sort of cancer, but healthy enough to enjoy life regularly. My mom didn’t get that. I remember telling her that, and her getting upset, having taken what I was trying to say the wrong way. She thought I was blaming her. I wasn’t, I was trying to communicate my sadness for what she was experiencing, but that was the nature of our relationship. Contentious, edgy, misunderstanding each other around every corner.

I never understood who she was, thought she had no interests or hobbies, wondered silently throughout my life why she didn’t “get a life”-go out with friends, cultivate interests, be her own person. In turn, she often felt that I was uptight, had self-absorbed interests and ideas, and I believe that she often thought that I believed I was smarter than her. In fact, she said as much to me, a few years back. During what I thought was a pleasant conversation, she suddenly erupted, “You think I’m stupid, that I’m not as smart as you are.” I remember confusion being replaced by shock, and my dad quietly suggesting to her, “That is your thing, not hers. She’s not implying that.” Our conversations were frequently a near-miss.

In all the horror of her illness and death, there was a beauty in learning about who she truly was. My mom DID have interests, joys and hobbies-her family and friends. She loved my dad with her whole heart, and never wanted to be a day without him. And each of us, even me-she worried endlessly about our happiness, even if it came out wrong sometimes. “Call or text me when you get there”, she say to me as I left town for work. I would roll my eyes, and say, “No, Mom..I’m a grown woman, I’m not going to do that.” I wish now I had just appeased her anxiety, and said, “OK, Mom”. Her passion and caring often erupted from her in a loud voice, and I would shut down, feeling “yelled at”. She was just trying to convey how much she felt what she was trying to communicate. In the last few months before her death, I spent many days caring for her, and while it broke my heart to have to remind her multiple times about why she was taking medication, or to wash her bald head with “that soap that smells so nice”, I feel so lucky that I had that time alone with her, for us to really connect for the first time, to talk about life and what her greatest joys were, what she would miss. She worried endlessly that she wouldn’t meet Dempsey, and it made me so happy on the day that she was able to rub his little head and kiss him. I feel at ease knowing that she died knowing how much I really did love her.

In the days after her death, there was an outpouring of stories from my mom’s friends, family, co-workers and students about her impact on them. The common thread in all of them was that she made them feel cared about, accepted, worth something. Despite all our differences, I always knew that my sense of social justice, of inclusion, of doing the right thing came directly from her, but I was humbled at the far-reaching impact this seemingly simple woman had on so many people throughout her entire life. I can only hope that I’ll have half the impact on others that she did, that I will raise Dempsey to be a man of strong moral character, with a heart of love to offer the world. Those were her gifts to the people that she loved, and even now, I can feel those things all around me.

To everyone that has shared their love and support with our family over the past year and a half, and particularly in the past week-thank you. You will never know the gratitude that we feel. Each of you has been a beautiful tribute to my mother, and her life.

The goodness of people (or lack thereof).

Despite my snark and sarcasm and at-times judge-iness (is that a word? No? It is now), I really do believe in the general goodness of people.  I believe, against all logic, that people have good spirits and souls and hearts and have a deep, basic need to connect to others in a meaningful way.

And then I get confronted by drunk, college kids.

I got home last night around 12:15, and there was no parking in my building’s lot. You know, the off-street parking I pay for, monthly.  I drove down my one-way street, looking for alternative spaces, of which there were none, due to all the excess snow mucking things up. So, I circled back into my lot, and created a sort of non-space, that was obstructing an already snow-blocked sidewalk. I got out, and saw 6 guys and 1 girl walking my way, clearly fueled by an evening of Monroe Avenue boozin’.  The exchange went like this:

Girl: Excuse me, but you’re blocking the sidewalk.

Me: Excuse ME, but I live here, there’s no parking and I am 5 months pregnant.

Girl: Ooooh, sorry…just trying to look out for your slut, knocked-up ass.

Entire group erupts into laughter, and are now within feet of me.

Boy, getting nearly right into my face, yells  “SLUT!” at me.

The sudden gesture, and his entrance into my space caused me to lose balance on the uneven snow, and I fell back into a fairly large snowpile. I didn’t get hurt, but given the shock of all I immediately started to cry, and they all just continued laughing and went on their way, still yelling things over their shoulders. Now, I share this with you not for you to feel any pity, but because I fundamentally can’t wrap my head around what would allow them to feel as though they could do or say any of that.  Nothing in my  heart would ever, EVER permit me to feel as though I could treat someone that way, alcohol or not.

I take issue with the girl, for violating all that I find sacred between women, with her attempt to demean and humiliate me. A stranger she doesn’t even know.  To paraphrase Tina Fey in Mean Girls, a woman calling another woman a slut or a whore just makes it OK for men to think they can call you that.  A silly example, perhaps, but it’s fundamentally true.  And for that boy to feel entitled to enter my personal space because I’m a woman, to invade me that way, and call me something that tries to subdue me, intimidate me, made me wish for things to occur to him that I am not proud of, in the clear light of day.  And for the rest of them, complicit in their laughter, their unwillingness to do the right thing, and call their friends out, is also highly foul to me.

The thing is, it’s hard not to understand how people develop such hardened hearts when it comes to the world-at-large, when there are things like this happening  everyday, and on much more severe levels.  I laid awake last night, still fueled by adrenaline, and felt alternately grateful and horrified by the fact that I’m naive enough to believe that people wouldn’t do such things.  I’m so sheltered from experiences like that, and I wonder now if that’s a good or a bad thing.  I want to keep an open heart, I don’t want to grow fearful or resentful of others, but I also don’t want to hold a blind eye to the fact that people can be kind of shitty (and that’s a charitable description).  And how I help this child we’re having navigate a sometimes nasty world with the strength and fortitude to defend him/herself, and be a force for good, in all situations?

I witnessed a very small, yet still hurtful, example of unprovoked hate last night-which is the very worst variety.  And I believe those are the seeds that produce the large-scale atrocities that we see around us-because no one does anything to stop it.  It’s virulent if left unchecked-even if it seems harmless enough.  So do me a favor, my friends…and join me in doing the right thing, and committing to be more proactive about  being that force for good the world so badly needs, even when it’s hard.  Because whenever something happens to one of us, it happens to all of us.

Happy Holidaze.

It appears that I’ve survived another Christmas.  Another year of rushing around for gifts, vowing to “start early” next year, and ultimately forgetting that idea once I see that people are digging the things I bought them.  Pffft, I work best under pressure. Although, I did do most of my shopping in November this year, which technically is early for me.  Maybe once I’m wearing my Mom hat next year, I’ll be magically motivated to get it done in September.  More likely, though, I’ll forget Christmas is happening until approximately 27 hours prior.

Christmas felt a little off this year.  I think it’s a combination of things-my mom being sick (and fresh out of the hospital, after a week-long stay), Matthew, Jess and Jack not being around, and the general feeling that no one was really into any of it.  It’s such a stark contrast to the way Christmas felt when I was a kid.  I know that’s part of the deal that comes with adulthood, but sometimes I wish I could get even just a drop of it back.  Everyone has been telling me that once you have a child of your own, Christmas feels like magic again.  I look forward to that, being able to see the holidays through the lens of a child.

It’s been a very difficult year for me, in a lot of ways that are not worth delving into.  I was sitting here this morning, reflecting on how much life changes in twelve short months.  During my Christmas break last year, I sat parked on the sofa for most of it, eating candy, drinking wine and watching all the seasons of Mad Men.  This morning, I spent nearly three hours researching strollers and breast pumps, before deciding on (and registering for) them.  Last year, my normal jeans fit me.  This year, I only fit into jeans that lack a zipper and have a panel that pulls all the way up to my ribs.  A side note about aforementioned jeans: 1)I’ve developed a very deep love affair with them-their comfort makes up for their hidden horrible-ness; 2)I am continually shocked by how many people have asked me to pull up my shirt so they can get a better look at that f-ing panel.

Anyway, my point is…we’re taken down roads that we don’t expect.  And this year has made me a little gun-shy about anticipating what might come next, but it’s my hope that it’s nothing but goodness and love and light.  And I wish the same for all of you-I hope 2013 brings you joy and health.  Thanks for sharing little glimpses of my life with me.