Of Course

Of course I am lucky.

Lucky to have had them,

lucky they lived so long

lucky to have loved them so deeply

and felt that love returned ten-fold.

Of course I understand.

I understand they live shorter lives than we do,

that it was always going to come to this and

that I did all I could with all I had

to keep them here and happy and healthy.

Of course it will get better.

Of course life will move forward and so will I.

One step will become twenty will become a thousand

and I’ll be in another time

where missing them is not white hot and searing

but a golden glow–

warm sweet memories I can sit beside . . .

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And of course,

none of this helps at all.

Welcome to Grief,

where knowledge is not power

and there is no way out but through.

My Pleasure

It is my pleasure (if also my pain)
To turn and wait,
as you amble along
stopping to rest here and there
pretending to sniff
when we both know you’re quite tired.
I remember well how you used
to turn and wait
cocking your head
as I tried in vain to keep up
with your racing paws.

It is my pleasure (if also my pain)
to forgo the kibble you have eaten all your life (17 years!)
but do not eat anymore
with your old dog teeth.
You may have the
tastiest morsels of meat
from our table
you have earned them.

It is my pleasure (if also my pain)
to clean up without fussing
when outside is too far
for old hips and thin cartilage
between well-loved joints
that have carried you so many miles.
I wish we could do them all again.

It is my pleasure (if also my pain)
to curl up in your bed with you at night
to rub your ears and scratch all around and over
the tumor that grows and grows
on your fine neck.
And to wipe your crusting eyes
and to remember old stories
of wonderful things we have done.

My sweet Why?lee,
what wonderful things we have done!
The places we’ve gone,
the people and animals we’ve met and loved . . .
how lucky we are to have enjoyed so much together.

It is my honor (if also my near to unbearable pain)
to know that this must be our last adventure–
your growing old, and my trying (if failing)
to let you go.

Spring 2017: The Flurry

Spring came late that year.  It was still bitter cold and snowing in late March.  The family had been making regular visits after that first and every time she heard them coming up the walk, she hoped that maybe, just maybe, that day would be the day they stayed.  In the meantime, she treasured each moment they spent with her, mostly sitting in the kitchen together, talking quietly, and dreaming their dreams.

She began to file away the feeling and sounds of their lives–the slight weight of the baby (it was a girl!) when they laid her in her little bed to nap, the old dogs turning their circles to lay down after running around outside awhile, the woman’s soft voice murmuring about ocean colors, and the firm step of the man checking this or that.  She didn’t want to waste any opportunity to know them better, if they were going to be hers, and it would seem that they were . . . (She was still sometimes struck with terrible bouts of anxiety that they would not come back and she would be alone again, uncertain of her fate.).

One night, shortly after they arrived for an early evening visit, she felt a slight tug and heard a pinging sound.  It was coming from the window over the kitchen sink . . . with no further warning, she felt the last of the day’s sunlight flood in, pure and bright, pouring onto her counter tops, her walls, and her floor!  Oh, to be touched by the sun again!  It had been years since the plastic was stapled there, to keep the heat in through cold winters and to keep the heat out through hot summers.  She appreciated it, since there was no one inside to look after her, it offered some protection from the elements and changing seasons, but it was also terribly suffocating.

She had heard the phrase, the eyes are the windows to the soul many times in her life and had decided, in turn that her windows were the “eyes” to her soul.  A house could not see, of course that would be silly, but through her windows, she could feel the sunlight warming her everywhere it fell, no matter how cold it was outside; when they were opened she could feel fresh breezes and hear the birds and the people outside; and with the plastic gone, her body was filled with light–just as it was meant to be.

Windows were also a point of pride.  At her birth, she’d had only three, but after a few updates and additions somewhere in her first hundred or so years she was blessed with forty two!  And every last one of them had the shade pulled down and thick plastic stapled over it.  Well, every one but the one over the kitchen sink, that is . . . if she could have sighed, she would have, it felt so lovely.

That was how it began–The Flurry, as she would later think of it.  They peeled the plastic off that one window and watched the sun set, then began bringing in bags and setting them in the pantry.  They pulled up the old carpet in the living room, they scrubbed the sinks, counter tops, and the cupboards, and when they left late that night, she gleefully noted that they did not take any of the bags with them.

Over the following days, more and more boxes would come, they brought friends and proudly showed her off, they vacuumed and they bleached, they drug out the old kitchen shelves that the mice had ruined, and the man came one night by himself and stayed very late painting the living room floor.   The day after the floor-painting, they didn’t come in the morning or in the afternoon and as the day wore on, she found herself afraid again, even after all of their cleaning and care, even as she held boxes and boxes of their things.  It is hard for an old house, one that has held and loved so many over the years, to be alone.

That particular day was sometime early-spring, though she couldn’t have given an exact date for houses do not mark such things.  The last of the winter snow still lingered, but the sun had been staying longer and longer, and she was lost in her fretful thoughts when she felt the key wiggle in the deadbolt. She could tell by their shuffling steps that they were tired.  Moving quietly, they placed the baby in her little bed in the downstairs bedroom, brushed their teeth, made their way to their bed (which they’d set up in the living room of all places!) . . . and went to sleep.  It was the night she’d dreamed of for so long and she spent the whole of it listening to the sounds of their soft and steady breathing and dreaming dreams of her own.

That night would have been the highlight of her year if it weren’t for a few weeks later when she felt a small and strange thump, thump, thump, WUMP in the kitchen followed by the woman’s squeal of delight.  It had been so long since she felt such a thing, she didn’t recognize it for what it was until the woman spoke.  “Oh honey!  You did it! My sweet Sunshine, papa is going to be so excited!”

The baby had taken her very first steps: three of them!  Thump, thump, thump!  Before falling on her bottom with a WUMP!  A house cannot cry, and that is good, because she would have absolutely flooded herself so moved was she by the feeling of those tiny feet and the sweet sound of a mother’s joy.

The Flurry continued all through spring; furniture and appliances came, electrical and some plumbing were updated, old shelves were torn down and new ones put up in their place and it was glorious.  After spending years wondering if she would molder right back into the earth from whence she came, she delighted in all the activity . . . but it was just a touch more than delight.

That spring, the perfect season for such a change, her dread and loneliness were replaced with joy and the bright energy of a new beginning.  As they moved in, placing all of their possessions along with themselves in her care, she felt her sense of purpose swell, filling every dusty corner of her being.  And at the rate they were cleaning, soon there wouldn’t be any dusty corners at all!

Despite her age and current state of disrepair, she took great pride in the fact that even after hundreds of years, she still stood strong under and around them.  She may have lost much of her outer beauty to peeling wallpaper, chipping paint, worn out floors, and broken windows, but inside she was as sturdy as the day she was made–with wood hewn from the forest she stood beside, hand-forged and driven nails, and horsehair plaster.

After so long standing empty, she felt deeply the precious weight of their life–something only a house could truly grasp.  And knowing, as she did, how quickly lives came and went, it was a gift she meant to cherish.IMG_4195

Home

My sweet Sunshine started saying the word “home” this week.  It’s adorable and comes out sounding more like “ooohhm.”  Every time she’s done it, I’ve felt my heart squeeze in my chest.  Home.

I grew up living in lots of places: California, Idaho (four different times, two different towns), Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee every summer, Oregon (two different times, two different towns), and now Massachusetts.  Most of those houses were parsonages, meaning they belonged to the churches where my dad was preaching and we were just temporary inhabitants.  If there’s one thing moving so much has taught me, it’s that sometimes home must be a fluid concept.

I’ve met lots of people who feel a sense of ownership over the places where they grew up or have lived for a very long time: people who have a deep sense of pride in their roots and not just living somewhere, but being part of the fabric that makes the place a place at all.  For someone like me, though, without those particular roots, I have no sense of the places I’ve loved belonging to me, more I feel like a part of me belongs to them: little pieces of my heart, scattered across the country.  I can’t get them back (and wouldn’t if I could) but I can visit them and I feel whole in different ways each time I do.

I think that’s why her sweet, tiny voice saying “oooohhhm” squeezes my heart in that achingly, lovely way.  She is not quite two, but for her, this old, yellow farmhouse by the woods in a tiny town in Massachusetts is  warmth, safety, and fun.  She is surrounded by love here, she can be herself without reserve, and wherever else we go, whatever adventures we go on, this is the touchstone we return to-to rest and refuel.

This little farm already has a piece of her heart.  Maybe she’ll stay here her whole life through and be woven into the fabric of the town.  Or maybe one day her heart will break and she’ll leave a bit here as she moves on–learning to love another place . . . and another.  Only time will tell.

For now, I am filled with gratitude for this beautiful town, this incredible house, and the fairy tale landscape that altogether make my sweet Sunshine’s first ooohhm.

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Sunday Randoms

Every memory I have of feeling alone, when I look back, I can see I wasn’t.

I’ve learned to work on forgiving myself first.  If I can’t manage that, then there’s no path to forgive others and being forgiven doesn’t help.

As my sweet Sunshine gets older, so many long-forgotten memories of my own childhood are coming back to me.  My favorite from this morning is a memory of my mama playing hot lava with us in the living room when I couldn’t have been more than four.  She was jumping from the couch to a cushion on the floor and belly-laughing.

It takes so much more than love to make a long-term relationship work well.  But when hearts get broken, great love can sometimes hold you together while they mend.

If I could only choose one word to describe my twenties, it would be “big.”  I had big fun; I made big mistakes; I felt big hurt; and I found big love.

I can’t choose a word for my thirties yet because we aren’t even halfway through, but so far, “humbled” and “grateful” are neck and neck.

I am falling in love with Massachusetts.

Snowy days are my favorite–beautiful, sparkling, white.  My thoughts swirl like snowflakes in the wind while my fingers chase after them over the page like children with their tongues out.

I cannot get used to the sky here–each day a new shade of blue I’ve never seen and can’t describe and the clouds move so fast there’s no time to decide their shape.

And when the morning sun hits winter tree limbs after a freezing rain, it looks as if diamonds blossomed overnight.

We are rich, indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

Firsts and Lasts

I nursed you for the very first time on a sunny, Sunday morning in July.  You’d been here less than an hour, but seemed to know what you needed.  Your father stood by watching over, nurses came in and out of the room, and I answered questions here and there, but even so, it was somehow just the two of us.

I nursed you for the very last time on a rainy Sunday in February.  You were eighteen months–some might say too old, some might say too young, but for us, it was perfect.  It was quiet and we were alone, watching the sunlight fade away from the living room window as water drops ran down the glass.

Now, I’m sitting here thinking about firsts and lasts.  All at once so happy and proud of how you are growing up and so unbearably sad that this beautiful time we’ve shared must come to an end.

It’s a feeling I know well a year and a half into being your mother.  I will never forget the first time I went to put you into a pair of newborn sized, footie pajamas and you simply didn’t fit.  Your little shoulders were pushing at the neckline and your tiny (but not so tiny as before) toes were bent against the ends of the footies.

It was an amazing and terrible moment.  I sat on the floor of the bedroom in our apartment and cried and cried.  You were only six weeks old!  How did it happen so fast???  Since then, I can’t even count the number of times you’ve grown out of something I specifically remember looking at and thinking it would take forever for you to grow into.

I love being your mama.  I am so proud of your curiosity, intelligence, strength, and independence.  It’s been my absolute pleasure to give you every opportunity I can to learn so you can do life on your own one day.  And it’s heartbreaking having to say goodbye to a version of you I love so deeply and will never see again without looking at a photograph.

That said, my sweet Sunshine, every time my heart is broken in goodbye, it’s put back together with love that just gets bigger and more as you get bigger and more.  Regardless of how much or little you ever need me, I will always be here.    After all, if you and I are anything like me and my mother (that’s Granny Bee, to you), you’ll be calling about how to make the biscuits, how to get that stain out, and just for giggles over mimosas long after you’re out in the world, making your own way.  : )

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All the Updates!

Big changes coming for Mac n’ Cheese Manor!!!  We are working with the Get the Lead Out program to certify our house as lead free which will include: new windows, siding, doors (inside and out), and trim.  We’re working with MassSave to insulate!  It will likely be a few months yet, but the contractors who will bid on the work have been here to look around and after months of paperwork and phone calls, I feel like we’re finally moving forward!

I have never had a garden and know nothing about growing things, but we’re going to give a small garden a try this year.  Wish me luck, I’m going to need it, or rather, our poor plants are going to need it!  On a similar but different note, we are also planning to build a chicken coop!  I mean, can we really call it a farm, even a little one, if there’s no garden or chickens?

On the battle front, we continue to lose to the squirrels.  We have four traps (three live/one kill) and every day the bait is gone but the traps are empty.  We’ll be welcoming two cats to our home as soon as the construction work is complete and hopefully they can succeed where we are failing.

I stopped using shampoo about a month ago and I’m never going back!!!  I’ve started using New Wash which is completely fantastic, but is also quite expensive.  So when I run out, I’m going to try the curly girl method and see if that works for me as well.  I have a friend who does it and her hair looks great so I’m crossing my fingers!

As it relates to writing, I’ve changed my mind about rewrites.  As I’ve gone through it, I find that most of what I wrote doesn’t want to be rewritten;  It was what it was at the time and looks too different in hindsight for me to even know where to begin.  I’m still going to fill out the rest of my Cancer Files, but by adding to them, not rewriting them.  Everything else I’m leaving be.  There are so many new chapters to write!

It’s been a lovely and difficult winter for me.  It is so beautiful here.  I haven’t loved snow like this since I was a child.  I fall more in love with our creaky, old, farmhouse and rambling eight or so acres every day.  We’ve made wonderful new friends, and I love being home with my Sunshine.  And yet, when the anniversary of my mid-December move arrived, I felt so sad for all we’re missing by not living closer to our families and friends back West. There is a certain kind of loneliness for much-loved people and places that is unbearably bittersweet.

2018 is just going to be a big and busy year for us.  Between repairs to the house, additions to the farm, and our wild baby, we’re going to be hopping and that’s not a bad thing.  I feel like I need to be this kind of busy right now.  Lots to do, but not sooooo much to do that I can’t sneak in a momosa and some writing time here and there.   : )

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Lines

Having just finished reading through my older writings, it feels like a good day to re-post one from a few years ago that still resonates.  It was inspired in part by who I am and in part by the beautiful artwork of my friend Sara, which is included at the end.

Lines over lines

I am made of mistakes

Every try, every fail

Recorded in my skin

While success,

somehow more temporary,

comes and goes with a smile.

If you could see underneath,

there are miles of

lines over lines

I’ve drawn over my mistakes

Inerasable.

Bleeding ink over the page

When my veins are empty

and even my breath is drawn dark with regret.

Fingers clenched–

my unsteady hand continues its path.

I cannot stop,

Or, I suppose I could, but

I won’t.

I am seeking

the perfect slope of cheek and chin

The right touch of stubbornness and

intelligence about the eyes,

wisdom and courage,

compassion and discipline . . .

Falling short, picking up, beginning again.

I am made of mistakes

Lines over lines over lines over lines . . .

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Your Daddy

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He is a strong hand to hold when you’re nervous.

A flip in the air that makes mama nervous.

He is crooked diapers and all the best snacks,

adventures at the hardware store,

and getting to swing a real hammer instead of  just your plastic one.

He is books read in the funniest voices

and silly sounds whenever you touch his face.

He is your rescuer when you cry in the middle of the night

and tucks you back in when all is well again.

He is tall towers made of just about anything that will stack,

broad shoulders that never seem to tire,

and big bounces on your little trampoline.

He is safety, confidence, fun, and big love.

He is yours forever:

your daddy.

 

 

 

The Cancer Files: Who Are You if Not What You Can Do?

One of the more insidious effects of cancer in my life, was the slow degradation of my ability to be what I had firmly placed in the column “Things I Just Am.”  I thought those qualities were an integral and unchanging part of me, but from the moment I was told I likely had cancer, they began to slip away.

For instance, when they shuffled me from one room to the next after giving me the news, scheduled me for a surgery I knew nothing about with a surgeon I had never met, and then sent me out the door: the me I was so sure I was would have never smiled, signed paperwork I didn’t read, and then left.

The me I thought I was would have asked ten thousand questions and insisted on coming back later to discuss surgery with the actual surgeon before agreeing on a date and a plan to move forward.  The me I thought I was would have advocated for myself, refused to sign papers until I was sure I understood them fully, and made sure I had researched all of my options on my own before just accepting what I was told.  Not only did I not do any of that, I didn’t even notice or care that I wasn’t doing any of that.

When I got home and handed Carl the blue folder with my surgery information inside, he was furious.  If you know him at all, you know that fury is an uncommon emotion in his life and it certainly wasn’t what I expected.  I’m not sure I knew what to expect, but I remember being surprised when right before my eyes, my happy go lucky man, grew three feet taller, put on about fifty pounds of muscle, and developed the ability to fly.

Within a few hours, he knew everything the internet knew about thyroid cancer and the surgeon I was scheduled with, he had developed a list of 23 questions for said surgeon, and scheduled us for an appointment prior to my surgery date to ask them.   He was incredible and would maintain his role as my fierce and shameless advocate throughout my treatment and recovery and, well, our married life, as it would happen.  : )

When all was said and done, we cancelled that surgery, found another ear, nose, and throat specialist in the valley who we were much more comfortable with and I went forward with a biopsy (that the original office recommended we skip) to see if any of my thyroid could be saved.  And when I say “we,” I mean my superhero husband who swooped in and saved the day, while I wandered around bemused and generally useless to myself.  I don’t like talking about my time as a damsel in distress (so much so that I never even brought it up in my original Cancer Files).

I wouldn’t realize until much later, after years of wrestling with the question, “Who are you if not what you can do?” that those feelings of helplessness and uselessness and the knowledge that I could not take care of myself (much less be there in the lives of my family, friends, and animals as I was used to being) had devastated me more than the illness itself.