I can place myself squarely in her shoes: the 25-year old who worked for the National Park Service, in a cave in Southern Oregon, dating, hiking, staring down the past, one handwritten page at a time. Thirsting for a domestic life in the woods, with a love and a child.
And now: the 35-year old part-time nonprofit worker, fulltime mama, committed in love, still hiking, staring down the past, one handwritten page at a time…living a domestic life in the woods, and (unexpected twist) on a farm, with a love and a child.
I used to write about longing. Longing for love. Longing for a child. The theme crept into all my poetry, and it embarrassed me. But it was the truth, and as a memoirist, it was all I had. But my essays about domesticity ran counter to my feminist frame-of-mind. I was sometimes surprised at what came out on the page: scribbles about sweeping, cooking, and romantic ideas. And after becoming a mother, I realized that it was family that I was always after. (If you’ve read any of my memoir, you know I was raised by a single parent.) So I just had to experience what I’d never had: A complete home. A triangle, not a line.
And now here I am. My dream-turned-reality. Reporting from the field.
That’s why I’ve given my blog a new name, to reflect where I am now, ten years down the road…and 195 miles up Interstate-5. Mama Bird will continue to be where I share my stories of domesticity, parenting, farming, and anything else that sparks my soul.
Testing, testing. Is this thing on? October 2020 finds me fatigued–not unlike the rest of the world, I am sure–for me personally I am fed up with the artificiality and lack of priorities in our culture and our lifestyles, of which I am an active part. Though lately my mantras have echoed simplicity: “Make your world small,” and “Be here now.”
This morning, I sat at the kitchen table, ate a scrambled egg on toast, and listened to the radio. A former mantra came to mind: “The universe is a friendly place.” A mantra that ended up not being true, because it was then that Autumn choked on the head of grass, and someone’s child got swept out to sea on the Oregon Coast, and a friend told me she was getting pushed around in her house, and my Grandmother lost her mobility, eyesight, and independence, and a pandemic came, and then the wildfires “ravaged the west,” and who knows what else is in store for us.
So I took a bite of my egg sandwich, Autumn drawing with Crayola marker on my bare leg, and I thought “Make your world small,” and “Be here now;” which really means to me: Eat your sandwich and listen to the radio without trying to simultaneously email/text/scroll/make a phone call/a to-do list/pay a bill.
So. Much. Multitasking.
In line with my quest to simplify, my obsession with time (I want more of it), and to unconvolute my mind, I’ve taken a dramatic step back from social media.
My accounts are still there, in fact my Instagram can be viewed from this very page on my blog, but I am no longer making time for social media in my life. The documentary “The Social Dilemma” aired on Netflix recently and I watched it, confirming what I’d suspected all along: Social media is not a tool, as tools can be put down and used only when needed. Elegant, simple and functional social media is not.
I’m not saying I’m not going to use the platform. But it’s been days, a week, maybe more since I’ve been on there and, mentally, I am still waiting for the chatter and glitter to settle.
On an index card pinned to my bulletin board in my office are the words “More Blogging. More Creativity.”
Mantras of sorts. Intentions.
But honestly I’m still waiting for the creative vigor to come rushing back in. It’s hard, in a sense, not being propped up by the snappy gratification that comes from curating a portrayal of my #writerslife on Instagram. But I’m banking on finding more meaning in my work, nailing down some real time to write, and seeing my creative projects through to publication.
I am hopeful about the shifts happening organically within myself. Even before viewing the documentary, I’d deactivated my Facebook due to–frankly–emotional drainage. I am hopeful that my departure from social media does not impact my family and friend relationships–and keeping one foot in still will help insure that I do not lose track of them completely.
This rusty ol’ blog has been my soapbox since its conception in 2010. By its nature, the reader spends more time with a single piece. With me. Though I am admittedly missing some of Instagram’s features, my long form was suffering…dare I say on its way to being lost completely..due to social media. Perhaps this is just the beginning of me becoming a blogger again, now that the spell has been broken.
Is this a fever or not-just-any-fever that our daughter has Am I tired or too tired to wake up next week Why do I keep justifying a cup of coffee from the drive-up shop Why do I manage to laugh when a waiter pulls down his mask to reveal his smile I cannot ignore the numbers or the signals all around me I won’t Why do I feel like I am being pushed into a corner the odd duck out inconveniencing others by setting appropriate boundaries by drawing a line in the heavy granite sand on a Labor Day weekend beach when I know and you know we should all be doing something anything else at home safe and away from others protecting those who do not know better yet clearly we all do not know better and all we truly know is the insatiable habitual power of Instant Gratification of Get it Now and Get it Hot and Get it Cheap My takeout sandwich laughs at me, without a mask on and I know and you know that somewhere deep down within us there is wisdom the size of a particle of sand (but it is there) that does know better and can do better and can build fire and can carry water and can resist temptation and can make their own sandwich and can stop being grossly negligent carrying on practically licking the shopping carts laughing in the faces of others and thinking it won’t happen to me because I am ________ because I eat organic because I am me and we are us this blatant display of gluttony and luxury that our culture has come to know and love so well will love us to death if we let it.
Motherhood is complicated. Before I became a mother, my goal was to try to not become one of the moms who changed her social media handle to “Autumn’s Mommy” or who, when talking to non-parent friends, only talked about parenting. Popular opinion seemed to say that moms like that had “lost themselves” and that losing yourself, or changing, was a negative thing. But I want to point out now how very strong those mommies are, and how necessary their transformation was for their child to thrive.
The truth is that there are all different types of moms out there. And the mom who proudly displays her love by saying she’s “so-and-so’s mommy” is probably a really good one. There are moms out there who can manage a household of four kids with grace and a genuine sense of happiness, and others for whom one child seems plenty. There are Scary Mommies (whose “confessions” can be downright frightening) and there are women who have never become moms at all. I think that those women, too, deserve recognition.
I’ve meditated a lot on the things I think women should know before they become parents. I’ve found there are two types of women who I believe shouldn’t have children at all: those who cannot take care of themselves, and those who have a lot of exciting personal or career opportunities going for them that they don’t want to give up.
Of course that’s a generalization, but I’ve found that idea that parenting is mutual now—that dads will step up and meet you equally in the household—is an idealistic one. Statistics point to women taking a huge hit economically when becoming moms, and have even linked becoming parents to the wage gap. (See the “Explained” episode on wage gap which describes the 1-5 years that women take off to manage the household the actual reason responsible for the difference of pay in men and women. Mind blown.)
So as I line up fifteen blueberries in a row on the countertop in hopes of occupying Autumn for fifteen seconds of peace and introspection, I think about Mother’s Day and what it means to me. One aspect of what it means to me is having honest conversations with women about what parenting is and isn’t. And making this information accessible to young women, who may have idealistic visions of what modern motherhood will look like for them. Another meaningful aspect of this day for me is the opportunity to point out how important the work a mother does really is. (See: unpaid work of women in a society that equates high monetary return with success.)
Becoming a mother is such a deeply personal choice, dependent on factors like your current career possibilities, your ability to communicate effectively with your partner, your marital status, your ability to pay for childcare, or your access to free childcare (i.e. grandparents), or not.
I know for me the last factor really impacts my choice to not have any more children. It’s easy for a mom who has both sets of grandparents in the same city to feel that one should have a second child because “no childhood is complete without a sibling.”
But that logic just isn’t going to work for a mama like me.
Many of my readers know I have an estranged relationship with my own mother. Yesterday, I was driving my minivan and I was doing this ultra-mom move where I was throwing french-fries to Autumn in her car seat, which was facing away from me in the back. It dawned on me that my natural mom and I never had a relationship on even this level. The ease of communication that I have with my one-and-a-half year old is the first time I’ve experienced this natural state of a mother-daughter relationship.
“Didja get that one, babe?” I asked Autumn.
“Yea!” She responded, and I could imagine her shoving the salty stick into her chubby face.
A few nights ago, we both started giggling uncontrollably and couldn’t stop. Love joy. A similar warmth like the closeness I’d experienced with the french-fry incident enveloped me. Autumn has become an extension of myself.
My own mother, a nineteen year old, hadn’t made the transition to mommy in time for me to experience it. Luckily, when my brothers were born, she did.
I think one misconception is that this transition happens naturally, and for some women, I’m sure it does. But for many others (maybe more than we know), it is a choice.
So if you know an “Autumn’s Mommy” or an “Emmett’s Mommy” or a “Marigold’s Mommy,” consider yourself blessed. It means that despite the world wanting to preserve her “coolness” or “sexiness” or “youth” or whatever it is they don’t want to see change, the woman stepped into her role. And she makes that choice every single morning she wakes up.
A friend invited me over for a visit but I know it’s all I can do to just put the three square meals on the table, support Autumn through her toddler learning, keep our house picked up and in order….and maintain some sense of inner peace and sanity today. I may even proudly call myself “Autumn’s Mommy” and hope that my man sees how hella sexy—and important—the title really is.
This Mother’s Day, I ask that we embrace—celebrate!—the natural changes that come when women adapt to their new roles and realities. Because the truth is that (with the exception of a few) dads change a little bit, but mamas change a lot. And the second that your household mommy stops doing what she’s doing is the second your world becomes unmanageable, messy, and chaotic.
Women of my generation are educated and have more opportunity than ever before yet many have adapted to become someone’s mommy. I want to point out the absurdity of expecting them to not lose some aspects of their earlier selves during the transition to nurturing, teaching, and raising our young. I raise a strong mug of coffee to Somebody’s Mommy today. You sexy as hell.
Disease is an equalizer—it does not discriminate. Now Mother Earth has a captive audience, the world over. WOW!
Disperse across the earth and feel her pulse.
Now we may finally choose Mother Earth over the economy… not just for three weeks, but entirely and for the good of humanity!
Now we may open ourselves to the actual possibility of EARTH REGENERATION. Now we may all SHIFT—all of the earth’s children, today and forever.
This global pause is an opportunity to reflect, repent, and ask forgiveness from our one true creator: Mother Earth! The form from which all life springs. Her ecosystem is so delicately dependent on a multitude of species, on clean, non-toxic reservoirs and waters, and on the trees that give all life breath! Make no mistake, Mother Earth is asking for our attention with this pandemic.
Now we may take the right type of non-action, a permission slip which has never before been granted. We have less air and ground traffic. We have disease everywhere but the Arctic. We have the collapse of distant goods. We are called to sit, face to face, with our loved ones in our homes. We are called to sit, face to face, with our habitat: a living breathing thing. Make no mistake.
How compelling that the safe place to be now is in the open-air, mountains, or sea! Make no mistake.
Now we may open ourselves fully to the concept of habitat over habit. We may REGENERATE, my people. We may SHIFT now, in this moment, today and forever.
Now we may think of the children. Now we may listen to them. Now we may protect them from things they do not even know are coming, by acting intelligently, responsibly, and humanely. By cutting our ties with non-renewable resources and maddening consumption. (See: toilet paper!)
Now is the time for scientists, not politicians, for empaths, not conquerors, for mothers, not tyrants, for native wisdom, not industry.
This is a window of opportunity that Mother Earth giving us. Brilliant, really, as if Mother Earth has a mind all her own…an intelligence beyond our knowing.
Now we may reset this maddening pace of life and habit of consumption.
What is more important than our elders, our earth, and our children? What?
Everything is connected, we can see that now. So let us connect with our micro-tribes: our neighbors, roommates, and families, and figure this thing out. Let us back up our lifestyle-changes with policy-changes, locally, state and nation-wide, and globally.
“You are but a drop of rain
clinging to the edge of the sumac leaf
by the grace of that same surface tension
that tethers you to your work and gives you traction.”
– Nina Gaby
Make no mistake, she’s warning us: lighten, lighten, lighten the impact.
We can’t buy our way out of this one, so let’s stop trying.
Where energy goes, attention flows: shut down Costco and support local economy. It won’t collapse in times like this!
Support local farmers, if you are fortunate enough to have them in your region.
Support your local soap-maker.
Wipe your ass with cloth. It’s really very simple.
Think about things like light pollution, and how it impacts species. Think about the interconnectedness of all things. Research what type of non-action or change-of-action would be beneficial in your unique ecosystem, whether you’re an urbanite or a ruralite. There’s hope for everyone, everywhere.
Let us choose Mother Earth over Father Economy.
This is the global SHIFT we’ve long been needing to restore our habitat. It can be done. Environmentalists and scientists know the action and that must be taken. If the Coronavirus response can be coordinated between nations, couldn’t saving the earth be, too?
Shut. It. Down.
Rebuild with wisdom from our native and aboriginal elders, who understood interdependence and acted accordingly. Rebuild with our leaders in environmental science.
Let us choose habitat over our habits, today and for good. Now we may act wisely for the greater good of humanity, in the name of Mother Earth.
Social distancing restricts gatherings in an attempt to stop or slow the spread of infectious diseases, in this case I’m talking about COVID-19…who isn’t? Social distancing may include canceling events, slowing or stopping business, and requires just staying put. It has a long list of social and economic repercussions that I know nothing about—yet. As of today, I sense that I am taking this COVID-19 thing more seriously than other Oregonians, a fact that probably just boils down to my being able to stay put more than anything. As a freelancer who works from home, I have this luxury amidst a crisis. But I’m beginning to think it’s the most practical step for everyone.
I see social distancing (specifically self-isolation) as temporary. It requires a huge sacrifice upfront. Here in Oregon, we seem to be waiting to get a pass from our employers, school districts, universities and state officials on when to stay home. I’m not exactly waiting for that pass, but rather I’m thinking for myself as I watch the uptick of cases of COVID-19 world and state-wide.
Really, I’m self-isolating because I’m sick. So I am taking public health advice on that: stay home if you don’t feel well. But probably even if my daughter and I didn’t have runny noses and coughs, I wouldn’t be heading out to do shopping or work or anything else. In the past 18 days, we’ve stayed home 13 of them. This seems to be a logical approach to me, given everything that’s been happening with COVID-19 and the fact that we still have these stubborn colds!
Yesterday I left the house to go to the bank. Wearing a pair of large ski mittens, I cashed my check through the drive-in window. There was a shiny slate of glass positioned comfortably between the checker and me. Then I drove home, taking the long way by a winding creek. I didn’t see one soul in sight, and I didn’t have any bumping-into-anyone-guilt.
This week, I’ve had to reschedule three engagements. Even with all the infections happening worldwide and in the state of Oregon, I get a knot of anxiety inside my belly cancelling things. I feel the pressure to perform. Don’t we all? I also feel a glob of snot travelling down the inside of my right nostril. So this is not just precaution and I am not just paranoid. I’m being realistic and considerate. Autumn and I got back-to-back colds this spring with the second one hitting us on February 25th, five days after returning from our trip from Arizona. We flew and had layovers both ways, one in Seattle and one in Salt Lake City. So contraction of COVID-19 was possible, though not necessarily plausible. I am being extra mindful anyway. (Note: a Lane County public health official informed me that only those who had traveled to China, South Korea, Italy or Iran are currently being tested for COVID-19, as of the publication of this blog.)
I am fortunate that I can finagle social distancing, professionally and lifestyle-wise. I get that most people don’t have the option of staying home, and I empathize with them. But maybe they should draw a thicker line, and think about the long-term repercussions of this disease: the impact on our elders and the fact that it’s now a world-wide crisis.
I feel I am making the right choice for me, but the thing is: we’re all in this together. In fact my partner Steve breaks quarantine daily, bringing in and taking out whatever germs, however benign, we are carrying. To his credit, he is limiting his lifestyle too, and doing only the absolutely necessary engagements. As our primary earner, he doesn’t feel like he can just stop going to work.
As of Tuesday afternoon there are 15 positive cases in Oregon, across seven counties. The state of Washington, just north of us, has more than that number in sheer deaths. Some experts believe the numbers are projected to rise thousands, and that the virus has already been circulating regionally for well over six weeks.
As I reach for my handkerchief to blow my nose, I wonder if ingesting as much news as I have—listening to NPR, reading The New York Times and The Washington Post—has literally kept me snotty and coughing for the past two weeks. It can’t be helping.
Despite that, I know we are slowly getting better. I am hoping when we do recover from our colds, the threat of community-spread COVID-19 will be over.
My choice to semi-self-quarantine—to quarantine to the very best of my ability (I can’t make the same decision for Steve)—coincided with a 50% increase in Oregon cases on Sunday, March 8th. That’s double the number of cases overnight. So I am relying on my own judgement on this one, not just heeding the public opinion. If hypothetically we were infected, my conscience couldn’t handle infecting others!
I trust that everyone is doing the same and thinking for themselves. The good news is, we can all share different opinions. The bad news is that we will all be affected equally by the outcome of this disease.
COVID-19 or not, Autumn and I deserve to get better from our colds. So for this week I will be working exclusively from home, staying close to NPR and OPB news coverage, and praying for the health of our state, nation and world. I will also be drinking lots of mint tea, eating chicken soup, and wondering—as I see cars flying by on the highway—what everyone else is doing to stay healthy out there.
-You will always have more to offer than the shape of your body or the red of your lips. So reach deep within yourself for something substantial to contribute to the world.
-Moments are for living, not for capturing. When you realize that, you hang onto the sacred. The scared is slipping into the darkness of vanity. Don’t let it. Bow, caress, whisper your wishes into the wind. Do things just for the sake of doing them. Not for showing off. For so many centuries, this was how it was done. There is something lacking as we slip into vanity. The sacred is worth hanging onto, I promise.
-There was a time when humans cared about way more than likes and follows. I was there. I remember that time. Laughs were laughed louder then. Breakfasts were enjoyed more fully. When you looked into someone’s eyes, it really meant something. It mattered. When you looked into the sunset, and really focused, prayers were answered. And if you got to know someone, you really got to know them, not with some device between you. In junior high, a girlfriend of mine and I sat in a grassy median staring into each others eyes for a full five minutes. Let’s try it sometime. This is called peering in to another’s soul and there’s something to it. Discomfort is a natural part of living. Our addictions try to cover up that discomfort, that natural discord.
-I want you to practice getting up in the morning, making your breakfast, brushing your hair, reading a book, and setting your goals…all without the nagging of your phone and social media. If you watch me, I will show you. I will let my phone get buried in my purse and go dead and I will not worry. I will relish the sound of the natural world buzzing on around me. I will do this for the whole of the weekend until, for work, I must emerge and “connect” with the world again. I will do this and I will fail but I will reset and do it again. Phone dead and buried at the bottom of my purse.
-Take a trip to the sea or mountains or museum…without your device on you. Let’s do it together. Let’s stop and notice what is being offered, what is happening around us. Really noticing this time. Let’s witness some miracle and have it be our little secret.
-Skills like building things and growing things and poetry even and communicating respectfully through eye contact and spontaneous conversation…these things are being lost. I want you to preserve them. I will teach you skills that you will pass down to children, or people older than you or younger than you, it does not matter. Just share them. In real life. Learn to cook. Learn to love to cook.
-If all of your friends jump off bridge, don’t.
-Sparrow recently published a piece in The Sun Magazine stating that meditating is like playing the guitar, except without the guitar. I’d never meditated regularly until I read this, and his bit about meditating four minutes per day, instead of five. Four minutes per day isn’t too torturous in exchange for heightened long-term bliss and contentment, right?
-They call it a feed because it’s taking away our appetite for everything else.
-The people you should be working at impressing are the people around you, through kindness and respect. I vow to do this with you. We will do it together, dear daughter.
Dad nearly drowned in the mouth of the river in Fort Bragg, California, but that was before I was born. He spent the rest of the summer in the hospital. That didn’t stop him from loving the ocean and water. You can’t trust it, he said. You can’t help but love it either.
Dad was in a coma for most of one month. When he came to he had to learn to talk again. He had to learn to walk again. He was just nine years old at the time. Somehow, though, Dad still knew how to swim. A photo of him and his parents posed alongside the doctor was published in the Fort Bragg newspaper. He was the boy whose life was almost taken by the river at Van Damme State Park. “Miracle Boy” the headline read.
I came thirteen years later. The daughter of Miracle Boy and Moonbeam.
When I was six years old and he was twenty-eight, Dad took us sea-kayaking off the coast of California. If I remember correctly he was trying to impress a woman who wasn’t my mother. We almost got pulled out to sea and I remember being frightened. Or maybe my memory doesn’t serve me right…maybe we did have fun. But the waves, they were so large and I was so little, how could I have? I just remember fearing for my life, I think the girlfriend did too.
I was around one years old when Moonbeam left us (I’m not looking for pity, those are just the facts). Some man I never learned the name of had lured Moonbeam away. I’ll never know the things he promised her. I’ll never know what tempted her. All I know is she took the Ford Pinto when she left. She didn’t go far—just down the road to Eureka. She wasn’t far, no, but she was gone.
Dad took to doing the dishes by hand, very slowly, with hot soapy water. But this wasn’t so strange because Dad did the dishes before she left too. I think he just liked being in the water.
As a toddler, I crawled around on the sticky linoleum floor. I remember looking up at Dad doing my mother’s job. He was in his work clothes and it was after dark. I saw a flash of myself in the kitchen sink before Moonbeam left. I could almost see her standing there washing my body—a dishwater blond with no face, just legs and shoes like the moms in those old cartoons. Comfort just for the fact that they were there. Dish-doers and diaper-changers and dinner-makers and ice-tray-fillers. An essential tool: missing.
Several years later I had my birthday party at the beach. I invited my entire sixth grade class and to my shock everybody showed up. Dad embarrassed me by bannering long streams of white toilet paper from the driftwood poles on the beach, a marker of where the party was. A store-bought stream of purple tissue paper had not been considered.
A couple of the mothers who dropped off their daughters off looked warily around for signs of my mother. But they found none. I just wanted them to go away. I did not even want them to stay because their judgement and misunderstanding was palpable. They finally left, not quite sure what to think. These are the ones who returned first for their daughters.
Dad warmed hot dogs on driftwood sticks over the campfire and we all ran around like we were still kids, which we were, but barely. My peers brought gifts, tons of gifts, each one of them. Dad bought me the expensive black and white Adidas jacket I had wanted so much. The ocean was lapping at the whole scene, father and daughter, fire and friends. The sun went down while we were still out running and playing up and down the beach. And even though I didn’t have a mother…well I thought life was just about perfect.
I had been so excited about my abundance of gifts but was so busy running and playing that I didn’t notice when tide came in and took my birthday booty— piece by piece into the setting sun. It was all gobbled up by the great inhale-exhale of the Pacific Ocean. And there would be no getting any of it back. It wasn’t far, no, but it was gone.
When Dad was a boy that same beach was at least 70 feet under water. The tsunami of 1964 picked up dive bars and fish n’ chip shacks and set them back down, upside down, right on top of Highway 101. To this day Crescent City, California is the only town in the continental United States where a tsunami has killed people. True story. Eleven people died. You can’t trust the ocean, Dad said. You can’t help but love it either.
Water Signs is an essay from Earthside and Other Everyday Miracles which I am publishing through Groundwaters this spring. I will keep you updated on all the details here on my blog, and also over on my Instagram page! (See sidebar to follow me there.) Thank you, faithful readers!
I didn’t get published in The Sun Magazine’s “Reader’s Write” section as I had hoped, but I will share my reflection from the January 2020 “Nourishment” prompt below.
“The Sun is an independent, ad-free magazine that for more than forty years has used words and photographs to evoke the splendor and heartache of being human.”
Dad sat me down and told me two things: one, we were now vegetarians and two, we would sing the Mahamantra morning, noon, and night. That was part of being a Hare Krishna. So that’s what we did. No more Kentucky Fried Chicken. No McDonalds. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Hare Rama, Hare Rama. Morning, noon, and night. Every summer we took our epic road trip to the temple in the Bay Area. At the temple we were surrounded by other Hare Krishnas instead of being the only ones in town. At the temple, we rose at four a.m. to shower, which was required. At the temple, brown-skinned women with large, sagging breasts painted red Bindi dots on my forehead and brushed and braided my hair. I felt comforted by the touch of a woman, even though they didn’t speak to me. It was almost like having a mother. Almost. At the temple, I wore my pea-colored sari with little flowers on it every day. I felt so free as I danced with my father in the ballroom before the deities. At the temple, we were sometimes required to fast all day long but come night there was a massive feast with scrumptious vegetarian food—samosas, curried cauliflower, pineapple chutney—all piled high and sufficiently blessed.