Category Archives: Writing

Autumn’s Mommy

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.

Habitat Over Habit

HABITAT
I felt I needed to express “Habitat Over Habit” not just in writing, but visually too. I created this sculpture from a book that was already falling apart, “Magical Child” by Joseph Chilton Pearce, plastic, trash, wires, old digital materials, and ferns and sticks from outside our door.

Habitat Over Habit

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.

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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?

WOW!

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.

How, I beg, will we answer her calling?

Why Social Distancing Feels Right For Me

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.

 

 

Water Signs

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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.

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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!

Steps to Honoring Your Path

Hold your dreams up to the light. Natural light works best. So hold them up to your window in the morning. Or under a desk lamp, or full moon, at night. Take a few minutes to inspect the foundation: what is it built on, these expectations?  Brick? Loam? Are they your wishes or others wishes for you? How many children are stacked upon the thing? Remember: the children go on top.

Now that you have identified its strengths and abilities, decide what tools you’ll need, and use them with intention.  Fix any weak spots. If writing is your goal, grab a pen and paper and S P E L L I T O U T. One letter at a time. Get real specific. It is a brand-new decade, we haven’t got the time to waste. Yesterday’s gone. What’s done is done. Keep your toolbelt close, you’ll be needing it.

Be rigid. All that gray-area crap is just bs. For some the opposite is true. For you it is not. You need all the stability and predictability and tough love that was withheld from you in childhood. Black. White. Life. Death. Yin. Yang. It’s been twenty years now since you’ve see your mother. Twenty years since you were 14. Since Y2K. A natural rebel, reign yourself in. For even when you wake and say light, light, light, be the light, you cannot shake the darkness at the root of you. Scorpio sun, Aries moon. Befriend routine, the sister to stability. Come to like them. Come to love them. Routine. Stability. Come to understand how much you depend on them. Day. Night. Repeat. Stop stepping into the worn, predictable trail of chaos. You are a parent now. Be sure to act like one. This is your one chance and you won’t get another.

This life is all you ever wanted—a sentiment that’s ringing truer and truer.

Husband. Marriage. Scary.

Know how you feel and know who you are by examining your truths in the light.

Husband. Marriage. Means trusting someone with my heart.

Husband. Marriage. Likely someday, certainly with him. But I want to make sure I can love and trust fully first. Humbly, I am still learning how to do all of that.

Like your child, grow everyday. Grow taller, grow better posture. Study the letters and shapes. Practice your walking: walking into situations that will encourage you to blossom. Walking out of situations that make you feel like you are wasting your precious time.

Do not let others distract you. Even those you lie next to in the night. They have your path and you have yours. Respect your differences. Laugh/brush them off. Your future depends on it. You do you. Sparkle. Shine. Let him laugh when you talk like that. Come back to him in your heart. Only a fool would not. He is your touching stone in this world. Stone. Rock.

Focus on finding your voice through your fingertips. Remember what you care about. Keep coming back to it. Remember: the children go on top. But do take advantage of naptime by writing. Spell it out.

If needed, refer to quotes from your Yogi Tea bag: Appreciate yourself and honor your soul.

If needed, shake off comments and ridicule from others: those who don’t really know you, your past, the unique combination of circumstances that make you tick. For better, for worse. Shoot. You’re here and kickin’. To you, sometimes, that feels like a miracle. If needed, tell yourself you are loved, even if you don’t always feel supported by the world outside your door. You. Are Love(d).

Make art. You always did. You always have. Except for those few times you slipped back into the gray mundane. Make art of the clothes you put on in the morning. Go ahead and wear that yellow dress. Make art of parenting. When you’re throwing the frisbee for the dog on a rainy day, draw flowers in the mud with the toe of your boot.

Do not forget the lessons of your ancestors: Be bold. Be bizarre. Begin again. Begin anew everyday if you must. Queen of the comeback, kid.

Do not forget your longtime mantra: Focus and follow-through.

And this one: Don’t start anything you can’t finish yourself.

Rigid. Bold. Brazen. Independent.

Most people say ask for help when you need it. But you know better. You know the world will poke at your weak spots so burrow down inside yourself and emerge with your wisdom and insights. Do what you know works. Stick with what you’ve learned. Imagine you are a caterpillar, now visualize the miracle of the butterfly, and emerge. Now fly.

Hold your dreams up to the light. Natural light works best. The moon will do.

Now that you’ve spelled it out, what does it say? (For example, mine reads: “I want to be a writer when I grow up. Or a dancer. It was an old thing I’d written on a scrap of paper as a kid.)

Hold space for that little dreamer. Hold the scrap of paper you scribbled on as a child in your hand. Whether metaphorically or physically. Whether your dreams have morphed into something more realistic or not.

Notice all the steps you took to get here. Literally hundreds of miles walked, circling as if you were walking a labyrinth. Notice when space was not honored for your dreams and you had to fight hard for them. Literally gallons of tears cried, remember all the swimming you did to get out of there.

Say this out loud, “This is my space. These are my dreams. Mother, wife, or not.”

Say, “Yes, my dreams. They take up space and they take up time.”

Say, “Now or never. Here to stay or gone forever.”

Hold your dreams up to the light. See how they glisten and shine.

One billion bursts of color, uniquely yours for the taking.

Let Them See The Blood–Finding Gratitude in Grief

I want to Google “How to recover after your child almost dies in your arms,” but I don’t. Just writing about the day—the natural way I process things—would be time better spent. Pen and journal, I lay beside Autumn watching her breathe. It is five a.m. The day after the “incident.”

Becoming a parent must come part and parcel with experiencing “incidents.” That’s what they called Dad’s near-drowning as a boy. An “incident” or an “accident.” Ours wasn’t nearly as bad as Dads. But ours wasn’t nothing, either.

Now, I am not a god-fearing woman. I don’t believe that because I prayed twenty-five-some-odd times that god had a hand in saving our daughters life. That’s just not me. Too many other unhappy endings to be spared ourselves. It’s all hit and miss. Chance. Circumstance. But did praying bring me comfort? Yes, yes it did. Immensely. At times during the “incident,” it was about all I could do. And I’d needed to do something.

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It had been a truly ordinary, yet remarkable, day. Things were just flowing. Our normal Saturday routine included laundry in the morning, cleaning out the refrigerator, some other chores. Autumn was in a breezy, happy mood. Her father was at work but we were expecting him home around five. It was around four o’clock so I put Autumn in my Ergo-pack, facing outward, and we went to collect some eggs from the chicken coop.

We walked from the back porch that overlooks our small farm, through the worn path under the walnut trees, and then through the tall grass scheduled to be hayed in a few short weeks.

As soon as we approached the chickens paddock, ready to step carefully over the hot electro-netting, as we had done one-hundred times, Autumn began making strange choking noises. Because I couldn’t assist her while strapped in the Ergo, I made a quick dash back toward the house—running through the tall grass we had just come through.

It had only been a few brief seconds since we’d turned around and Autumn was still making the strange noises but I couldn’t see her face. I stopped under the walnut trees, where there was a nice flat surface and some shade. I quickly took her out of the Ergo. She appeared to be choking. I opened her mouth with my index, middle finger, and thumb–but I didn’t see anything so I began to smack her back forcefully. I was hoping to dislodge whatever it was that was blocking her passageway. Then she began vomiting. Her face was beet red. Now she was choking and vomiting at the same time. I was perplexed. Heart pounding, I ran with Autumn in my arms into the house.

Not quite sure what to do, I gave her some water to wash down whatever it was. It was too small to see. I was already thinking of the tall grass. But the water didn’t work. So I smacked her back some more. Whack. Whack. Whack. She was still choking. I wasn’t producing any results so, hands shaking and trembling, I called 911 on my cell phone.

Meanwhile, I tried to console Autumn with my words—jagged and fraught, and my touch. I sang her the ABC’s and Spring is Here Said the Bumblebee, two of her favorite songs. Our home is a forty-five minute drive from town and I wasn’t sure how long it would take for help to come. The 911 dispatcher told me not to hit Autumn’s back anymore. She had now spent a full, I would estimate, five to seven minutes choking, sometimes vomiting. But she was somehow able to get in the periodic labored breath.

Along with the 911 call came the madness of repeating my address back to the dispatcher while Autumn struggled for a breath. Then having me describe the color of her face—red, purple, blue?

Suddenly, I was colorblind. This wasn’t happening. “Red. Magenta.” I told her. “Red. Purple.”

I kept telling Autumn, “It’ll be okay babygirl,” and “Mama’s here.” Her gaze was looking straight into mine. Help, she seemed to be saying. Then I just started praying. “Be with us dear Lord.” This was old habit, from Dad and my upbringing. Dad always told me from a young age: If you’re dying, talk to god.

This was like that.

“Is she breathing?” The dispatcher asked.

“She’s vomiting blood. There’s blood. I need them here. NOW.”

“Is she breathing?”

“Not really. I mean, kind of.” Not like she should be, I could have said.

“Okay, I need you to place her on her back. I’m going to instruct you to do CPR.”

“Okay.”

“I want you to locate the space between her nipples. With four fingers, press three times.”

“Okay. Okay.”

I’d learned this in a CPR class years earlier. CPR on an infant seemed horrific and is, verifiably, risky. I did what the dispatcher asked, but Autumn seemed to be breathing, just a little, so I intuitively stopped pumping down on her chest. It just didn’t feel right. As I sat Autumn upright, she continued coughing so hard that blood and saliva were slowly pouring from her mouth. I prayed so fucking hard.

The 911 dispatcher kept trying to engage with me—but trying to focus on the phone screen was distracting. I didn’t want to hold the phone. Autumn seemed distracted by it too, so I gave her my full attention. I held her. I prayed some more. I told her “Mamas here.”

I thought I might lose my little girl in this moment. The blood. Her magenta face. I’ll be damned if it was going to happen with me on my cell phone.

I asked the dispatcher to please refrain from speaking but stay on the line. She agreed but made me vow to tell her if Autumn stopped breathing, or turned blue.

Worst. Day. Of. My. Life.

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A local, rural EMT made it to us first, within 20 minutes of the 911 call. Autumn was still running her cycle of choking, fierce coughing, saliva and blood. I didn’t know which was worse, the blood or the choking. When the EMT saw Autumn’s symptoms, she instinctively propped her over her lap and began smacking her back, just like I did. She also did a flip-flop maneuver. This caused Autumn a lot of distress, so I told her what the 911 dispatcher had told me not to do. Though I could empathize with the instinct.

With A’s condition not improving, I asked the EMT to place her on the floor again in an upright position, and I consoled her as she gasped for enough breath with which to scream and cry. Now, we were both perplexed.

I prayed some more. Out loud. Repeatedly. The EMT, a mother herself, seemed worried. Autumn had another episode—choking, coughing, saliva, blood, as we looked on.

“My partner, Steve, will be coming up the driveway in a few minutes,” I told the volunteer EMT. “If he gets here before the ambulance, I need you to quickly brief him. He has no idea what’s going on.”

“Okay,” she agreed.

“When they get here, we’re going straight to Riverbend Hospital.”

“Grab what you need,” she told me.

I didn’t want to leave Autumn for even a second, but I grabbed a change of clothes for A and I changed my shoes. The diaper bag was in the van in the driveway.

“Where are they?” The EMT questioned.

Finally the paramedics and Steve arrived at the same time. The EMT was able to brief Steve. There were about eight paramedics. They all stood around staring at Autumn and I. I briefed the paramedics.

Autumn was crying, choking, crying, choking; demonstrating the scary sequence of symptoms I had come to fear so much.

“Well?” I finally asked them. “Look if no one’s going to do anything we’re read to get in the ambulance and go!”

I didn’t pause or use commas in my speaking.

An older gentleman who appeared to be the leader of the group clearly approved of my suggestion. A choking infant was pretty difficult territory—it seemed—for the team to navigate. I felt better when, within moments, were in the back of the ambulance: me on the gurney, Autumn on my lap. Steve would be following us in the van. I’d asked him to ride with us but Steve, a little more optimistic, said we’d be needing the car seat for our drive back home.

I was only half-sure we’d make it back with her. Every few minutes Autumn was still choking, turning magenta, and vomiting blood. It had been one hour since the whole ordeal had started.

The “incident.” Our “incident.”

The paramedic hooked her up to some instruments and verified that Autumn had a semi-healthy level of oxygen. “I’m glad she’s crying,” he told me. “That’s a good sign.”

“You cry all you want, sweetheart,” I told her, rocking her gently.

Her blood pressure was stable, but it was clear something was still blocking her passageway. I told the paramedic about the chickens, about the grass.

She’d made a delightful sound when we’d seen the chickens. A sound of glee. A yippie. An inhale. Then the choking had started. Was a grass head lodged in her throat?

When not fighting for her breath, Autumn watched the trees and the hills roll beyond the large, picturesque windows of the ambulance. It was the same scenery she saw every day. With every landmark, we were getting closer to the hospital.

Badger Mountain. Noti. Fern Ridge Reservoir. Beltline.

On the Beltline, Autumn’s oxygen dropped significantly following an episode, and the paramedic called for Code Blue—otherwise known as lights and sirens.

I was so grateful because it meant we’d get to the hospital sooner. I’d already asked for lights and sirens but the paramedic didn’t think it was necessary. Maybe grateful isn’t what I’d call it after all—since it meant we were in danger—but my focus was on getting us to an expert, a doctor, asap.

I was just focused on getting Autumn to the hospital intact. I was still praying. Out loud. Often.

“Thank you. So much. John,” I told the paramedic as we deboarded the ambulance. I do not remember the walk from there to the hospital bed. I do not remember being escorted to the room where we waited for the doctor. Now I was talking in short clips. Get to the point. Save a life.
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Two doctors. Both male. Ended up liking one, not the other. Liked the second one better.

The first one I had to relay the whole story to. He smiled gently while a nurse pounded the keys of a computer. Autumn had another episode. Her blood and saliva were covering the chest of my black dress like a massive bib of slime. The nurse took notice and handed me a cloth, seemingly suggesting that I wipe the blood and saliva from my top.

I gave her the look of death. I said something along the lines of “I do not care about my top, I care about my daughter! Someone needs to do something. Jesus!” I pushed the rag away. I remembered Jackie Kennedy’s words, to the effect of: “Let them see the blood.”

The doctor retreated to his corner office to contemplate our situation and look over his notes. I could see him if I positioned myself right in our temporary pediatric room. Steve sat in a corner chair and closed his eyes.

“How can you sleep at a time like this!” I asked him.

“Hold her for a minute, please,” I demanded.

He didn’t say a word but seemed exhausted, concerned, and happy to lovingly hold his child during such a difficult time.

I stepped out into the hallway and cried.

A few nurses passed me, but they didn’t say a word. A janitor passed me, he said he hopes it all works out for my little girl.

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Doctor #1 came back into the room. We’d been there an hour or more. The doctor didn’t seem convinced that anything was trapped in Autumn’s throat; and yet he didn’t have a clue what was going on. Autumn’s episodes were becoming less, and I asked the doctor if I could nurse her.

“Sure,” he told me, then turned his back to me to talk to Steve.

“I’d appreciate it if you could both observe this,” I asked them. I knew what was about to happen.

Reclined in the hospital bed, with the doctor at my side and Steve at the foot of the bed, I brought Autumn to my breast. She seemed to be relieved to be offered to eat, as she hadn’t been able to for hours—but as just as soon as she latched on, she tried to swallow and something blocked her passageway. She started screaming again, frustrated. She started choking again, visibly in distress.

“Okay, okay.” the doctor said, relenting. “The only option is the OR.”

They were to insert a camera inside her throat, travel down through her esophagus, and into her stomach, if needed, to see what the helk was going on in there.

“We’re not leaving until we know what’s in there. And ‘til she can eat,” I professed.

Autumn had another episode and we all were there to witness it. Steve. Doctor. Me. It seemed a little tamer than the others, and afterward she fell asleep in my arms. My little being was exhausted.

Another hour went by. Autumn woke up as we were being escorted to the OR. At the entrance to the OR, we were doing the paperwork and Autumn perked up at our OR nurse. Then Doctor #2 came out, the surgeon. It didn’t take me long to brief him, as Doctor #1 had already told him the gist of things. Or maybe he was just smart and with it. I liked his speed and no bs-ness. I asked him if he thought Autumn should still go under for the procedure, since her condition had improved. He said that, like me, he was curious to get to the root of this and get us some answers.

So we said goodbye to our little sweetheart and the doctor wheeled her into the Operating Room. He said the procedure would take thirty five minutes.

There was a place for families to sit and wait. Steve and I hadn’t been without Autumn. Ever. I thought of all the sad feelings that must have been experienced in that room. Family members on the brink of death. Ones that didn’t come back. Pain, if alive.

I ran into my hairdresser (I periodically have my hair cut) and she said her daughter had fallen off a horse and broken her arm. We hugged. She was bringing her daughter McDonalds. Worst. Day. Of. Her. Life. She said.

The doctor came back in and said we could go see Autumn. He had a specimen in his hand inside a plastic container. We peered into it. It was a two inch piece of orchard grass.

I brought my hand to my heart. The doctor said Autumn was awake and doing well. We could go see her. I gripped the plastic specimen jar in my hand. It was just as I’d suspected. What I didn’t know was that the head of a blade of grass is naturally engineered to catch on things. The one inch head of grass had burrowed into her throat like a screw—at five months old Autumn’s throat was only about the width of a pencil.

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Witnessing a child choking even once is enough to make a lasting impression. Something you won’t forget. I’d witnessed my daughter choking on that one inch head of grass about fifteen or twenty times over the span of four or five hours. Mahogany face. Saliva. Blood.

It’s four in the morning now. I can’t sleep. I have that PTSDy-feeling. The one where you jump at the slightest rustle and your nerves are frayed.

We live on a farm. I know how fragile life is. Things die. Baby things even. Sometimes there is no good reason for the death. It comes as a mystery. Other times little freaky things happen. Like the time our two year old dog ran into a tree trunk, snapped her neck, and died in my arms.

I think of what a huge responsibility it is being a parent. The huge responsibility of loving something so much that you would be walking dead if they died. That you might could die yourself. That you might could not recover.

I think of all the parents who’ve really lost them. Their children. Because of the freak little accidents like this one.

It hurts. Boy does it hurt. BOY DOES IT HURT! to think like that.

And maybe I am overreacting. Maybe I am taking this too hard. Too seriously. I have something to be happy for! Autumn’s here. Saved by the grace of god. Halleluiah! It wasn’t even that close, some might say. Her father. The doctor. Both sleeping now. In peace.

Who knows. Who knows if that one inch head of grass might have been angled differently, what could have happened. Who knows if Autumn might have given up if the struggle to survive, if the breathing was just too much on her. Who knows. She certainly didn’t have it easy for all those hours she was choking, but who knows.

All I know is I am barely not walking dead. I am jumpy and teary.

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All I know is that now I tell child care providers about the “incident” on intake paperwork and ask that they please be mindful of Autumn playing with anything “smaller than a film canister.” I read that–“smaller than a film canister”–somewhere. All I know is I cringe when Steve leaves beer bottlecaps around. Or even traces of mud from his boots on the floor. All I know is that for the first several weeks after the “incident” I saw flashes of Autumn’s mahogany face and wide, saucer eyes. I couldn’t get that image of her choking out of my mind. All I know is that Autumn amazingly discovered that if she coughs, instead of cries, I come to her rescue quicker. All I know is that now I smash all her food to smithereens. The other kids her age can snack on apples and carrots. I wouldn’t dare! All I know is I want to Google “How to recover after your child almost dies in your arms,” but I know the answer to that: Stop obsessing. Be grateful. Do the yoga. Do the acupuncture. Do the thing. Put mittens on her when you go outside for chores. Also, know that you can’t control everything. Not even close. But yes, as a parent: be vigilant. Scoop the things out of her mouth. The dirt. The coffee beans. All I know is that I was almost walking dead. But I wasn’t. We weren’t. We were spared, not by god, but by circumstance, I believe. God didn’t save us, no. But did praying bring me comfort? Yes, yes it did. Immensely.

The eggs will need to be collected from the coop. I don’t care to collect them this morning, not at all. But I know eventually, we’re going to have to. There are just somethings, no matter how hard, we’re going to have to do. All I know is that I was almost walking dead. But I’m not. We’re not. We are here. Together. Closer than ever.

Some would say my grandmother never really recovered from the “incident” with Dad. He was in a coma for weeks. When he came out of it, he had to learn to speak and walk again. The eight years he’d gained we’re almost lost. For the first time in my life, I feel a kinship with my paternal grandmother. It is my guess that her suffering, her guilt, the shaking her to her very core, was never addressed, never consoled, and never expressed. A drinker, she’d died in her late fifties. The coroners report stated “Respiratory Failure,” but ask anyone in our family and hers was a drowning-related incident.

The responsibility of becoming a parent is immense, just in terms of survival. You don’t think initially that your children will gravitate toward every dangerous thing with no sense about what is hot, what is not. What is just a step versus what is a cliff. What is safe to eat and what is dangerous to ingest. That part comes as a surprise. That part creates a lot of anxiety, compounding already fragile nervous systems inside of mothers with pasts and the simple hope that their children bring with them the promise of a brighter, lovelier future.

The sky is lavender now. The song birds are really going nuts. Do they do this every morning? I clasp my hands together, as if in prayer. I look at Autumn and marvel at the rise and fall of her chest. It’s the little things, they say.

Indeed, I agree, vowing not to let a moment pass without silently whispering, thank you to the gods of transportation, medicine and circumstance.

 

Working, Mothering, Warts and All

No one can ruin you without your permission. Every step of the way–you were complicit in your downfall.

Every couple of weeks my brain hones in on a message. Simple or complicated. A few words or just a couple. For the past two weeks my mantra has been “Quit while you’re ahead.” Now it’s “No one can ruin you without your permission.”

WHO is trying to ruin you?! You may wonder. Me only. There is no one person, but there are demands from all directions–child, partner, boss, even friends–that at times makes it feel like the world is out to get me. Demands popping up every time I turn around. But the problem isn’t the world or these people. It’s me. I consented to a) having a child/baby b) living with my partner on a farm c) taking a job with a decent level of responsibility c) volunteering my time in different capacities d) forming relationships and bonds with so many people that it sometimes feels hard to keep up with, kind of like a part time job in and of itself.

I said YES. I keep saying YES. Week to week these demands lessen and grow. Honestly, I wouldn’t even have it any other way. I thrive on this level of responsibility. But some days I wonder what happened to the girl who felt so in control, relaxed, and beautiful. Because the person I see in the mirror is hanging on by a string and frazzled. Like the mamas I saw pre-baby who I vowed I was never going to be. Top knot. Walking fast. Little pooch. I guess the thing is–I’m not a girl anymore. And being a woman, well…it comes with a lot.

I will admit it, I was thinking negative thoughts this morning. I thought “He’s ruining me,” about my partner. I thought these things because I am not fully satisfied with who I am right now, and with all the things I’ve sacrificed to have this beautiful, full life that we have. But you know what? He’s sacrificed a lot too. Shoot. He might think “She’s ruined me,” as I am responsible for things like him not being able to stay out at the bar on Friday night, or go away for a weekend music festival, or do some of the things he would like to do. So in a sense we’ve ruined each other, though I’m not so sure it’s ruined as much as forced one another–complicitly–into a whole new way of being. A way that kind of just smacks of…parenthood, and aging. Yeah. Tough pill to swallow for sure. But here we are, making the best of it.

I vow to not be bitter about the whole thing. In fact all I can do now, to take back control, is to take responsibility! What is it that I am not happy with? My body? My hair? I can spend a little more time on those things if it makes me happy. “He’s ruining me,” I thought, when I saw my reflection this morning, harried and hurried, trying to help Steve out on the farm. Putting these things before myself. Always putting work, baby, life before myself. The question remains…what defines my self?

I guess I worry when things don’t fit together. I want a perfectly clean house and a successful farm business. I want a happy baby and an attractive outfit/hair do. But honestly, these things don’t go together. Just look at them. They go against each other. If you’re a mama or a business owner, you know what I’m talking about. Yoga pants and babies go together. Farms and dirty kitchens. That’s just the way it is. The way it’s always going to be. But every day I try to make it different. Now I’m trying to awaken to the truth.

Because it isn’t even all that. The attractive body/house thing. The greatest sense of satisfaction that I get is from writing. When I write, I feel hot. When I have ignored my passion–let the obligations and to-do’s take center stage–emphasis on LET–I feel ugly. I FEEL UGLY! And the fix is simple and beautiful–to write! It’s just masked in the “I don’t feel good about the way I look thing.” But there’s something deeper going on there, thank god.

No one can ruin you without your permission. You can say no. You can carve out time all to yourself. A little or a lot depending on your needs. You can disengage from a conversation if it’s bringing you down. You can leave the party early. You can go to the page in the middle of the night. You can wash your hair. You can write a line. You can write a whole book, but it’s going to take a thicker line in the sand: “Do not cross.”

It’s those little boundaries that add up to a world of difference. A world where you’re not getting shit on, but you’re thriving. Your world is not spiraling out-of-control, but spinning beautifully like a girl who took the chance to dance. You are becoming a woman–working, mothering–warts and all. No one can ruin you without your permission. You are complicit, every step of the way. Every. Single. Day.

 

 

Regrets

One benefit to aging is that I used to not believe in regrets, but now I do. Wise, I am not sure, but having regrets shows compassion I believe. I am big on compassion. Or I like to think I am. I am still learning.

My regrets are strange. They’re not huge, but petty little things. They creep up in my mind often and I wonder, should I call so and so? Should I dredge this up from the past? Would they even remember? What if they retroactively hate me once I remind them?

I feel like I can out my regrets on both my hands (probably not) let’s see:

-My exboyfriend in college was a sous chef at a Japanese restaurant. A girlfriend and I went to eat at his place. He’d come up with a fancy special—soft shell crab, whole, with some sort of sophisticated sauce and garnish. We both took a couple bites but couldn’t eat it. It was too strange/out-of-ordinary to my 22-year old taste buds. I would finish that crab now. I would eat every last bite. I still remember the look on his face when they cleared the uneaten delicacy from our table. I should have known better. Cooking was his everything.

-Also in college, a boy I worked with always wore a baseball cap. Always. What’s your hair like under that baseball cap?, I asked him in a teasing manner one day. He took off his baseball cap to reveal a prematurely bald and shining head. I wanted to crawl under the table and stay there.

-Leaving that workplace to move to Oregon, I decided to distinguish every person I had worked with in some special way. I worked there for four years, so my coworkers had become dear to me. I wrote out a goodbye note to post on the walk-in cooler. I wrote things like, “To Lexi: who always wore a smile.” The place was owned by two brothers. My first inclination was “To Pete: the cool one” and “To Brent: the cute one.” Instead, to keep it professional (or so I thought) I wrote, “To Pete: the cool one” and “To Brent: the hardass.” Pretty sure “cute” is better than “jerk”—and in my defense, “cute” was more true-to-my-feeling.

-I’ve used writing as a tool basically my entire life to handle unpleasant circumstances, deal with grief, etc. I’ve had my blog for about 11 years and throughout that time I’ve posted things that I would basically have written in a diary. (In my defense, that’s kind of what a blog is.) I have also taken those blog posts and put them on my social media. Sometimes, being that I write about my life, those things have been blasted out to an audience larger than I would like. Basically I write about my mom and my dad and then they see it. For better or for worse. What I regret is that not only are they witnessing my feelings about their shortcomings, but everyone else is too. At times this has felt good but most of the time this feels really bad. As an antidote I try to write things that are true, compassionate, and, whenever possible, self-deprecating.

-I regret any form of gossip or negative talk (I identify this as putting others down to lift up myself). Gossip and negative talk about others is easy to identify because you instinctively know when you’ve crossed the line. In your head you think “so and so wouldn’t appreciate this” but you keep talking—past the line. You might even lower your voice as if they were in the other room.

-I regret many incidences that involve past substance abuse. I will leave it at that. I will save the rest for another story but mainly the repercussions have included the deterioration my mind, body and spirit. And often times embarrassment.

-In the 5th grade an older cousin told me I needed to find someone to pick on. That way the other kids wouldn’t beat up on me seeing that I was so tough. So I chose this kid who walked home the same route as me. He was chubby and had curly hair and wore Wranglers and no one talked to him and he didn’t deserve it. Many years later, he contacted me on Myspace. Do you remember chasing me home all the time? He asked me. I can only hope my apology was sincere.

-I regret not buying an olive green pant suit I saw at St. Vinneys about two and a half years ago. It was one of those kind that were supposed to look wrinkled so it didn’t matter if it actually got wrinkled. It was my color and it was perfect. I almost flipped a U-ey but I didn’t. It was the pantsuit that got away.

-I regret leaving a good career job for an okay man and moving to another part of the state. That remains one of my biggest lessons.

-I regret snapping at my fiances grandmother when I was hangry in Hawaii. I’d knocked over the car seat and she’d said Good thing the baby wasn’t in it! ‘I wouldn’t have knocked her over if she were in it!’ I’d snapped back.

-I regret telling my dad his cooking sucked when I was a teenager. I regret calling him a dork and many other cruel things I did at that time. You’re mean to your dad, my best friends told me. I was mad at the world and took it out on him. I regret that.

-I regret that a woman I know sent me a poem recently and I haven’t read it. She wanted feedback but I haven’t got the time. I hope she understands what it is really like for a woman with a newborn. Time keeps on slippin slippin slippin. I can’t do all the things. I can’t even look at my own poem and I am sorry.

-I regret not going to see my good friend Connie more. She was a customer of mine when I worked for the post office. She is a lovely person, a wise old soul, and she cares for me deeply. I know because she sends me kind emails regularly. I regret that, because of our coupled anxiety, I believe, we rarely see each other in person. She will die someday. So will I. And I will regret it.

-I regret that, since my daughter was born, I am doing just an OK job at everything. Work, writing and cooking. Especially cooking. That is especially just OK. I regret that being ‘just a mom’ doesn’t seem satisfactory enough for all of society. I regret that I couldn’t be just a mom if I tried. Toys, I find, actually bore me. I regret that Autumn doesn’t want to just sit in the corner and read like I do.

-I regret throwing a golf ball through an old man’s front window in high school. Even if he was stalking my grandmother, and sending inappropriate things to our home, the shock of that golf ball and the cascading of the glass panels must have scared him something fierce. I didn’t actually expect it to connect. And until now, I never told anyone.

 

No title

We don’t come to the city much
it can cause me anxiety, just the cost of gas alone
tonight I find it pleasing, though—the scent of different
restaurants catching on the wind
Chinese, a steak house,
I even get a whiff of seafood
I push her stroller through the dusky mist to
the public library children’s section
where we eye the fathers of children,
innocently enough just observant and healthy like
I always was
then I take her out of her stroller and
walk the aisles, fingering the books the
staff has arranged face first,
Love You Head to Toe
The Good Egg
and
A Scarf for Keiko

A mother and daughter play on the
floor together with difficulty
“I won’t play with you if you make
up your own rules!” the mother says sternly
“It’s not fair!” the mother pouts
I wonder of my sweet Autumn
picking up on her negativity so
I turn on my heel, head the other way
I bookmark postpartum groups in my head
and vow to use them before getting to where
that mother was
I wonder what she thought motherhood would be like
I didn’t know either but…
her resentment is palpable
I say a little pray for her pink-haired daughter

I spot a children’s table with children’s chairs, crayons
and scrap paper
I grab an already colored on scrap—an orange daffodil
and with Autumn on my lap I try to scratch a poem that
my mother-in-law would approve of
I think about erasing the part about
watching fathers but I don’t
because library pencils don’t come
with erasers