“We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to.”—Brené Brown

*This is the 3rd installation in a series of posts. If you missed the first, you can find it here and the second can be found here.

The drive from Dallas to Houston on I-45 is long with stretches of road in ill-repair—narrow where under-construction—and lined with ranches as evidenced by sprawling pastures and tall, drying grass that seems to go on for miles.

My mother held herself gingerly in the back seat while my sister and I attempted levity in response to the grueling situation with comments about the cowboy church we passed and the git er’ done sticker on the back of the pick-up truck window—beneath the gun rack.

I looked through the messages on my phone hoping for something new to pop up and take my mind off my desire to skip over the drive and get to the treatment. My heart seemed to beat at a quickened tempo in response to my thoughts.

Residents of just about every state relish their unique slice of sky. Texas could win a prize for most-opulent setting sun—golden and radiating in the drawn-out center, all-wrapped-in-red-at-the-end like a pair of shiny boots.

We switched drivers just before the glow dropped below the horizon and later when I pulled into a rural gas station, it was dark. My sister returned from the bathroom and I got out of the car—stretching—watching through a window from outside the building as three men—traveling together—walked toward a long hallway inside where the restrooms were located.

I contemplated whether it was safe to enter the narrow hallway—outnumbered. I ended up waiting, slowing my pace and slipping in to the women’s room when they were out of site.

The likelihood they were predators was slim, I’m sure.

In the hotel room my mother got into bed wearing her clothing—something she would never have done when well. I curled up next to her and my sister joked that I just didn’t want to sleep next to her.

Humor soothed the anguish of our mother’s suffering—so-on-display. Our shared sense of irony was a private language between us, our closeness a shroud of protection.

I waited—more than slept— and checked for the time when the alarm would sound and the neurologist would meet us at the hospital.

He had called me earlier to find out when we would be arriving—too late for admittance that evening. His tone was grandfatherly and when we met, his wide smile and straight, bright-white teeth were familiar.

His accent evoked his heritage and a way of treating people that seemed of another time.

Weeks later—on a day in which my mother was improving—we shared with him about how our father had flown regularly as an airline captain to a neighboring country near where he was from. As a young child, it was a mystery to me where my father was much of the time, although the souvenirs were good clues when he returned home—colorful, velvet sombreros that were hung on a wall, miniature stone castles for the tops of our dressers and endless sets of plastic wings to wear on our shirts.

When I was a teenager and the news was bad—like when a Boeing 757 crashed into the side of a mountain in the country where my father flew most often, or a hijacking was underway—I would go scrambling to find out where he was and whether or not he was safe.

Airports and airplanes were familiar places to me in the way that a school might be for a teacher’s offspring.

Chicago O’Hare had the tall, red, popcorn machines and three-letter airport-abbreviations lived in me like a part of my genetic code—BUF, DFW, LAX. A plethora of old-school ticket-stubs hung around our house piling up and finding alternate uses as bookmarks and scrap paper.

Marilyn—the pilots’ secretary—filled toilet paper rolls with candy and wrapped them in tissue paper with ribbons on the end. Whenever we passed through, she would open the drawer to her metal desk and hand one to me and my sisters.

In all of those hours of sitting and waiting and traveling, I fell-in-love-with reading and have rarely-since left home bookless.

For this trip I had packed in my carry-on the first of the three books I had recently purchased, having already read the second.

I still hadn’t connected with the fact that the author of the current book—Brené Brown—was from Houston. At that point, I didn’t even know for certain that I would be going to Houston. I only thought it convenient that at such a difficult time, I happened to have the perfect book-in-tow.

We entered the hospital-admittance waiting room just after dawn—beginning our lengthy wait for a bed. We stood in front of the art display cases lining the wall filled with delicate sculptures of birds and other nature scenes, encouraging our mother to rest in a reclining chair covered with a blanket.

It was noon before we finally had her settled in a shared-room with revolving roommates at the end of the hallway. It would be days before we would move into a private room where we set-up camp.

We read on the nurse’s board how some of the patients had been there for many weeks, even months.

As the days passed, I did whatever I could to help the nurses help my mother all-the-while composing letters in my head thanking them.

Donna with her braided hair and upright posture, the way she thought things through and answered yes whenever she could—her dad re-married and moved to London, she living at home with her mom to save money.

Kara with her stamina and return-to-kindness again and again, her rapid response to a rapid drop in blood pressure— saying she was prayin’ for us and telling about her grandfather with Alzheimer’s.

Montoya—a nurse’s aide and possibly part-angel with an unflappable—yet palatable— positivity and willingness to help in any way she could.

I thought about the privilege of having access to attentive, 24-hour-care in juxtaposition with the bedraggled man I had been noticing each day when I came and went from the hospital—stationed in a wheelchair out front—his leg propped up, his head drooped down, his body curved in the shape of the letter C.

One nurse—the exception—demonstrated for me the power of our being there, of our witness.

I watched as she inserted a new IV—the third or fourth in an already battered arm. When she accidentally moved the needle and catheter backward—forcefully in the wrong direction, under skin—I nearly jumped out of my own skin and my mother gasped, crying out in pain.

The nurse’s comment about what she had done was dismissive and unapologetic. In that (however brief) moment she seemed to have lost touch with her patient as a human being.

I validated my mom’s anguish at her situation as a whole and held her hand and did anything I could to comfort her in those weeks—regardless of the futility I felt—and when there was a quiet moment, I would drop-my-own-head-down and read a little from the book in my lap.

In many ways I was already living out the author’s suggestions for meeting challenges with the courage of curiosity and a keen eye for erroneous inner-storytelling as a means of dodging growth and personal responsibility.

I was right there with her and while there were certainly things for me to learn or experience more deeply, it was having the book with me—and the act of reading it there in Houston Methodist Hospital—that became relevant to me, flipping time around on its head and revealing the inherently, circular nature of life, once again.

My sister and I offered each other breaks from the intensity of our experience by encouraging the other to go down to the lobby of the hospital and sometimes we would go there together.

It was a beautiful and peaceful place with an arching atrium where light poured in on sunny days.

Lines of trees and plants surrounded tables where hospital staff had lunch alongside visitors and patients and even the building grounds crew took up a table occasionally.

There was a fountain in the middle with a life-sized sculpture of a turquoise-God-I-couldn’t-name riding a dolphin. Water cascaded over the rounded edges of the pool and seemed at the same time to be both flowing and static—like plastic wrap had been pulled taught in a curved and striated position and filled up with liquid.

There was a grand piano near the entrance with two large vases set beside thick columns—none of which would have seemed out of place in a museum.

Occasionally an individual would approach the piano and play—a concert musician’s serenade to a somewhat weary crowd.

At first, I kept to myself what I had read from the book there in my lap—the magnitude and gravity of my mother’s care overwhelming the impact of the coincidence I had consumed and for which I had felt a deep sense of awe.

But then, one afternoon, my sister and I were in the lobby about to sit down to a three o’clock lunch we had finally gotten to. With only two restaurants to choose from in walking distance—and nearly a dozen days of needing to eat —it might be fair to say that I have finally had my fill of Chipotle, another bowl of which we were about to consume.

We were standing by our table, setting our things down—when a couple approached us. It took me a moment to process the fact that they were homeless or nearly so—and they were requesting our help.

They led by sharing about their embarrassment in approaching us—it was a Sunday and the lobby was nearly empty, they had likely snuck in.

Given the subject-matter I had been reading about in my book and the fact that I was where I was, everything around me, suddenly came into clear focus.

I knew—without a doubt—it was no accident these individuals were approaching me now.

I brought my whole attention to them—specifically making a point to look directly into their eyes while internally asking myself the question, can I look openly at the pain and need before me and hold space for it, not diverting my gaze or rushing to end the interaction?

The man’s bright blue eyes contrasted with his dirty jacket and need for a shower. I was glad they had each other. I told them I understood what they were going through and immediately felt a little sorry for saying that—knowing how little I actually knew about what it would mean to be in their situation.

What I meant was, I see you—I see my own need in you—and I do not judge you for where you’ve found yourself.

I gave them money and when my sister and I sat down, I flooded her with the story of what had been happening between the pages of my book and how profoundly aligned it was with our experience.

I explained that Brené Brown had written a story in the book I just happened to have with me about her own experience in the lobby of Houston Methodist Hospital—when her mother had become suddenly ill.

I bought the book in South Portland, Maine—near where I live— at a time when I imagined I would be spending the fall admiring the colorful transformation of leaves, sending my children off to school and returning to my work.

I described to my sister how the parallels did not stop there with our presence in Houston.

Brené Brown had also described the way her curiosity around a characteristic she had noticed about herself in her interactions with homeless people had culminated into deeper understanding through an experience with a homeless man she had witnessed playing the grand piano a few feet from where we stood.

Her quest for understanding was prompted by the question of why she was able to give readily to a homeless person in her presence and yet, she could only do so hastily and without looking into the person’s eyes nor lingering in their presence—an uncharacteristic manner for a seasoned social worker and compared with her normal way of being with people.

After she had encountered a homeless man at a restaurant across from the hospital (perhaps Chipotle) where he was being shoved out of the place and then witnessing him the following day in the lobby playing the piano, she had also come to attention—knowing life was speaking to her.

She entered into a conversation with her mother about the history of need and self-reliance in the story of her family eventually coming to terms with the fact that her reticence was rooted in an avoidance of facing the presence of  her very own need residing in her being.

In some ways my sister and I were blown-away by the seeming coincidences of the book and the way it was lining up with our own experience.

It also felt like of course this was happening—we knew we were exactly where we were supposed to be.

Later when another person—clearly in need—approached us on the street, I asked him if he was the one who liked to play the piano in the lobby—I had to try— and he said, no.

I know that guy though! he’d said.

A few days later, toward the end of our time at the hospital and after a particularly stressful experience, I decided to walk outside around the medical center—something I hadn’t done much of.

There was an abundance of concrete and almost no-green to be found in the area.

I walked past the children’s section of the hospital where large, colorful letters lined the walkway and found the door to the playground area with benches and fountains locked.

I looped around through cancer centers and other specialty clinics and after not-too-long I was back where I started. In the distance I saw the man who I had been noticing all throughout my time there stationed in his wheelchair with a towel draped like a triangle over his head and his leg propped out in front of him.

He had been moved or someone had moved him away from being right-out-front in plain view. Now he was under an overhang and out of the regular flow of traffic in-and-out of the hospital.

I began walking back up the ramp toward the entrance and suddenly something stopped me. I turned around and walked back down, looking into my purse to see what I might be able to give him.

I walked slowly toward him and finally stood directly in-front of him. His head was drooping down and when he sensed my presence he looked up at me, raising his head just slightly.

I looked into his eyes watching as they widened in surprise at someone standing there before him. I observed his rounded spine, drooping skin and ragged clothing. He was really thin.

Our eyes continued to be locked and I somehow managed to say, I’m so sorry you are suffering.

His eyes widened, again, and I saw tears spring up into their corners—emphasizing the already liquid nature of their rich, chocolately color.

A flood emotion came washing over me—my mother, the suffering, the inequity, this world—and I held it all back like you might hold a door closed with your whole body against a powerful wind.

Tucking money down by his hand, I told him I hoped someone could help him get some food or help or whatever he needed.

It was clear he couldn’t speak but he stayed intently in my gaze. It felt like we both knew this interaction was not about the money or at least that is what I told myself.

I didn’t know what else to say or what I could do so I said again, I’m so sorry you are suffering and walked away down the street and away from the hospital where I could breathe.

I finished the last few pages of my book in the final days my sister and I were together and handed it over to her for her flight home.

The third of the books I had recently purchased was sitting in my lap on the runway as we began barreling forward into the morning sun and lifting smoothly into the air. I opened its hard cover and began reading as I listened for the wheels being drawn up and tucked away, and headed for home.

 

*Due to the lengthy nature of this story, I decided to break it up into a few installments. This was the 3rd. Thank you for staying with me! I do not intend to regularly create such lengthy posts. If you missed the other two posts, you can find them here and here. I hope you will enjoy my journey through three books that spoke-to and supported me during a difficult time caring for my mother who is now recovering.  

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“When we allow story its soul, we can discover our own depths through it.”—Thomas Moore

*This is the 2nd installation in a series of posts. If you missed the first, you can find it here.

 

I was on a high from a stretch of days at beaches near-and-far—channeling Jonah and Adrian’s end-of-summer animations away from each other and out into the ethers in places where the sky was vast, the dunes lined with beach roses and the forceful gusts of Maine sea air had a way of whisking away any discord and landing us back in equanimity.

We had gathered smooth and colorful stones—some of them speckled like granite—arranging them in a spiral formation, a coiled serpent in the sand. There were new—more durable—blue and red wave boards picked up at an end-of-season-sale, tried-out and shown to be less-bendy.

I had been lured back into icy waters—a reunion with the cold, a reconciliation with important-parts disowned.

Imagine the splendor of a world in which all-original-qualities-renounced are reclaimed by their rightful owners—the genuine power and delicate force of a planet filled with intact human beings operating at full-potential.

I thought we could maximize our beach-time on Labor Day Weekend by being settled on or near a shoreline—not venturing back-and-forth daily, nightly laundry removed from the equation.

The five-star reviews—the rugged description of the cabins—supported my blind-spot.

I read on the hotel website that depending on the tide, we might need to row a small boat—along with our beach gear—across a tidal river situated between the cabins and the shoreline to access the beach. I imagined a symbiotic arrangement ensuring a row-boat would be available on either side of the river when needed. I pretended the beach gear for a family of four could be made light and compact, that the river would be narrow.

I completely skipped-over the video that, perhaps, with its vivid description of what exactly it would take to reach the waves, might have sent me looking for another hotel completely.

A caravan of traffic weaved slowly south along US-1 as we neared our destination. Checking-in I noted the distance from our room to the start of the river’s crossing—a pilgrimage-length journey worthy of a water break for even the most seasoned trekker.

Our two double beds were fit snug in the room and there was a large picture window that looked out into a field overlooking a modest swimming pool and the wide expanse of the river that stretched between us and the midnight-blue Atlantic.

Slight in size and a seeming page-turner, I had packed the second of the three books I had recently purchased. I began reading it the first night—the light on low—and was quickly drawn back into the narrative of an author I had become familiar with some fifteen years ago.

Immersed once again in the subject of a soul’s journey though time, I thought about my son Adrian and how just about as soon as he could talk, he expressed to me that he would like to change his name to John. His favorite game for many years—beginning when he was still unsteady on his feet—was called Captain on the Ship where his name was John. He and Jonah would rock each other endlessly on our backyard hammock—sailors at sea on rough waters, calling out the various dangers in the distance.

I couldn’t help but think about my great-grandfather, John Anderson, who I only recently have come to know more about—a ship-captain who had survived the storms of Cape Horn and the typhoons of the Indian Ocean only to die young transporting passengers on his personal vessel from Boston to the Long Island Sound.

Held deeply in the grips of the here-and-now, my focus is on Adrian in all of his current uniqueness and magnetic life-force, and yet, it was interesting to think about the parallels—about his seaworthy name with an origin meaning sea or water and to consider the mystery of how we come in and out of our existence—the potential for one soul to occupy many bodies over the span of time.

There may be no more-defining-role to be steeped-in than that between parent and child—not one of us exempt from some part of this dynamic.

From the moment of their births I have believed my children to be capable of teaching me at least as much as I am capable of imparting on them and still even with some vague sense that we might have traveled together before—perhaps in some other arrangement entirely—I have found myself swept up into the momentum of my current role as mother, a position I both love and cherish.

Even so, as I read about the possibility that our roles might in-fact (or in-theory) be interchangeable over lifetimes, I began experiencing a sense of peace and a freedom from the many—sometimes dogged—expectations that this role of mother and the many other roles I have engaged in can require.

Suddenly—that length of river to cross—seemed more manageable.

Without all of the baggage of who we are supposed to be for others—in both relationship and experience—everything becomes less-pressurized.

Without the concept of who we are expected to be, we are—paradoxically—freed to embody our original essence in all of its natural power and capacity.

These thoughts became the backdrop in my mind as we embarked on our weekend away. I found myself a little-less-defined as wife and mother and a little-more just-me, taking it all in.

It turns out the weekend was a practice-run for this looser way of viewing who we can be for each other and would be the answer I gave to my sister a few days later when she asked why I thought all of this was happening.

We are all just playing out various roles for one another across the span-of-time so that we can learn and grow.

I woke early the first morning and read some more until Adrian stirred. We slipped out of the room quietly in search of coffee and breakfast treats. In the lobby of the main building, Adrian found muffins, I tried out the flavored cream in my coffee and we set up a game of Chutes-and-Ladders where Adrian ventured to make the game more challenging—as he often does—by playing two pieces at once. Mid-way through, he accidently bumped my coffee and it spilled on the game. I ran to get napkins and quickly cleaned it up—only a small amount getting absorbed into the checkered, blue and cream couch pattern.

I listened to another guest talk loudly with the hospitality worker at the front desk. He had muscular arms, wore work-out clothing and I imagined he owned the black hummer at a neighboring cabin with a pink decal on the door advertising a personal training business. He was scheduling his next stay for the following summer.

He had children with him—twins—and he was bragging a little to the clerk about how accomplished they were at their sports—the girl a gymnast and the boy a hockey player. I thought about how he possessed hopes and dreams just like I do. I thought about how proud he seemed of what he had created—it was palpable.

I didn’t love the raucous sound of his voice in the early morning and I didn’t really want to talk to him all that much when he sought to include me in his conversation, but I felt a swell of love for our collective humanity and the wide array of forms in which we might show up.

Adrian beat me repeatedly in the game and we headed back to our room.

We skipped the beach on the first day and I left my vision for the weekend in the hotel room on the messy bed trying to land in the place where the beach was hard-to-get-to and the sun, hidden. We decided to walk a well-known stretch of pathway along the coastline surrounded by steep drop-offs.

We drove around looking for parking among the throngs of Labor Day revelers and a place to eat that wasn’t overflowing. We found a spot for both right at the entrance to the pathway.

In the spontaneity of my planning, I had completely forgotten that we had ever been to the beach-town where we were staying. As we were parking, I suddenly began remembering not one—but two—day trips we had made there.

Once we had come in the off-season when Jonah was an infant. We walked down a steep path to the shore careful not to slip on an icy surface, the air frigid. A second time we had driven down in the late summer on a warm evening to meet cousins for ice cream. The memory became vivid as I thought back to ordering a cone for a pre-schooler and toddler under a street light, reciting every flavor twice and negotiating toppings, way past bedtime.

Mid-way through the crowded walk, the sun appeared from behind the clouds and began heating up the air. I took off one of my layers and tied it around my waist. Jonah and Adrian ventured off the path onto a rocky shoreline where Jonah began lifting a large, fallen birch tree trunk and attempting to tip it into the water.

He and Adrian played for a long stretch finally getting the log into the water and then trying to get it back out again—perched from the top of a boulder. It looked both dangerous and engaging to the heart-and-soul of them. I felt apart from the many people walking—the tourists, taking in quintessential Maine—and for a moment, at home again.

We arrived at the river’s edge the following morning with as few belongings as we could manage for a day at the beach. The temperature was up and the tide was out and so there was no rowing required on this first passage.

We didn’t give all that much thought to how we would get back.

I walked barefoot across the drained riverbed pleasantly surprised by its relatively dry and firm surface given my experience living on a tidal shoreline where the low-tide surface becomes like a mixture of wet, gray clay and quick-sand that can steal away your shoes if you don’t move across it quickly.

We were on the opposite shore within less-than ten minutes. We climbed a steep set of stairs over the dunes and found the temperature on the other side distinctly cooler. Even so, we laid out our things close to the water—Jonah and Adrian grabbing their boards, running for the waves.

I eventually got in as well.

Our section of the beach was spacious and uncrowded. We bundled up and peeled away layers over and over as the sun disappeared and reemerged again and again. We sat in chairs low-to-the-ground and read and built sand castles and then trenches to keep the tide away and then finally watched as the waves became overwhelming to our work dragging it out in one final surge of the sea.

We left our things and walked a long way toward the town and the spot where we had entered the cliff-walk. We only carried a little money to buy a very-late lunch. The tide was in now and so the shoreline had shrunk incredibly—all of the people scrunched up into a small section of beach.

We walked around sand sculptures and took in the festive atmosphere—music playing, people living with abandon, free to be themselves. We made our way up to a row of food stands where the pavement radiated the day’s heat and warmed the soles of my feet. We found a table in the sun and soaked in the end-of-summer day, the warmth.

I looked down from where we were sitting and recognized the steep pathway where I had stood nearly ten years back with my first baby in my arms on a snowy day.

After eating, we made our way back through the masses of people and as we walked the crowd thinned and we eventually came upon a wide-open stretch of beach where many seagulls peppered the expanse burrowed down in the sand as if they were nesting.

We walked quietly past them trying to understand what they were doing and also attempting to avoid disturbing them.

We lingered a little while longer and then it was time to climb back up the stairs and over the dunes where we saw a woman coming toward us in a rowboat—the river filled-back up.

We approached her as if to trade places but then as she was exiting the boat with her own-two-sons, she began taking the oar with her away from the boat. When we asked her about it, she said the hotel manager had told her to do so in-order to ensure her passage back—something I likely would have known had I watched the video or read the fine print.

We called the front-desk to find out our options and eventually began walking along the river’s edge toward a distant bridge that we would need to cross on-foot in order to catch a trolley on the other side so that we could be transported back to the hotel property.

I have found—and it was true in this case—that cultivating a sense of spaciousness, and a bit of humor—can be extremely helpful in this kind of dicey moment when we must ask those around us to try a little harder—to push-on a little further—because of our own mistake or erroneous inner-story-telling, as was the case for me.

I picked up as much of the extra weight as I could—gathering up one of the wave boards—and encouraging us along with an awareness of the story-of-us unfolding. My husband valiantly carried the heaviest bag.

Soon we made it to the bridge.

We watched as an adventuresome child jumped off the side of the wooden railing into the river. On the other side, I helped Jonah and Adrian clean off the sand from their damp feet at the trolley stop so we could put on their sneakers to ride back to our room.

In the morning we decided to forgo crossing the river again and to instead head home with a stop in mind at another state-park beach along the way.

Just as we were leaving, I received a call from my sister. Our mother was very ill again—after being well for five years—and in need of our support and immediate care in another state.

Driving home, I thought more about the varied parts we enact for one-another throughout our lives and in many different scenarios in-order to engender growth.

I imagined gathering together the ways in which we show-up depending on the relationship and situation—wounded and strong and defiant and graceful and passionate and angry and calm.

I could see myself placing all of these qualities into a container, shaking them up, tossing them—high-up into the air—so that they might all get rearranged and then come drifting back down like the colorful, celebration-confetti that is our shared humanity.

 

** Due to the lengthy nature of this story, I’ve decided to break it up into a few installments. This is the 2nd. Thank you for staying with me. I do not intend to regularly create such lengthy posts. If you missed the first, you can find it here. I hope you will enjoy my journey through the three books that spoke-to and supported me during a difficult time caring for my mother who is now recovering. Thank you for all of your many good thoughts for her healing.

 

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“Faith is a passionate intuition.”—William Wordsworth

This book is different than what you might find in a mainstream bookstore. The cover is a combination of white and pale-shaded blue—remarkably smooth to the touch—the illustrations fanciful and drawn in a pastel palette.

It has the feel of a children’s picture book more than a middle-age reader and was a gift for two boys’ birthdays celebrated two months after-the-fact.

From the drawing on the front they could see an adventure would be found within, yet Jonah and Adrian still wondered aloud whether the story would be adventurous enough.

Oh-how-enticing the lure of excitement can be.

Adrian will sometimes exclaim in certain situations—usually in response to the presence of a spread of sweets and some parental limitation—I’m so tempted!

I smile thinking about his words and wide-eyed expression and imagine all of the ways in which the world will call to him as he grows and the temperance he will need to harness at times.

I think about the restraint we all need to exercise so as not to be swept up into the appeal of instant gratification and constant diversion so available in today’s hastened reality.

When I check-out of these ways of being too-hurried and too tapped-into the perspectives of others, I notice a new—a renewed—energy rising up in me.

To shed constant noise and popular narrative is a little like being reborn.

I find myself engaged again with the rhythm of my own ready voice filled with the valuable instincts present in the spaciousness of conscious breathing, alive in the drinking-in of my child’s long and detailed story, whispering as I peer at clouds inching across the sky—draped in shadow, then in light.

The natural world sharpens into greater focus—branches of trees outlined thickly as if with a stick of charcoal, as if my contact lens prescription has suddenly been increased.

A greater nuance of color is revealed in my sight and my heartbeat steadies with every moment less I spend absorbed in a world of endless chatter.

Time seems to expand and worries around outcome lessen.

It will all get done. Or it won’t.

I will be known. Or I won’t be.

Stripping away the collective voice, we may arrive at the solitary—yet deeply fruitful—precipice of our own unique being where we may quietly mine our personal truth in living.

It was my kind of drawing—whimsical with an elegant boat made from the body of a swan—a delicate, lavender flower decorating the sail.

Aboard were three children with rosy cheeks and a gnome with a long redish-blond beard wearing a pointy hat standing at the helm where the swans neck rose up and curled forward in the shape of a hook or an umbrella handle.

A mermaid rode portside with green flowing hair and beneath the boat swam three single-eyed sea creatures.

I attempted to read in an animated voice to garner enthusiasm when we began huddled together in one twin bed where the light is better.

It wasn’t necessary though—the story was packed with compelling happenings from the start.

We finished a couple of chapters before we packed for our own adventure and I tucked the book into the boys’ backpack to read while we were away.

I was surprised by Adrian’s early awakening given our long journey and his brief slumber and had to peel my eyes open to greet him.

I had stayed up into the night unpacking, learning my way around our new accommodations and hunting for the coffee I knew would ground me in morning ritual the following day.

We found a wide chair with a giant ottoman to lounge in while I drank from a dreamy mug and then eventually made our way outside—into the back—where the sun cast heat in a way that we hadn’t felt upon our skin in Maine for many months.

The book was far from my mind.

There was a wooden shrine along the edge of the flourishing space with a large Buddha from the Indian tradition seated in the earth-touching position—an emblem of determination—and based on the story of the Buddha’s enlightenment.

I admired and photographed it from a particular angle to highlight a single strand of flora in the path of the sunlight landing at chest-height in front of it.

It became a touchstone in the coming days to gaze at the Buddha amidst the ruckus of kids in a pool—a flash of serenity among splashing chaos.

A wall of fuchsia bougainvillea almost-completely camouflaged a fence and there was a pool with a giant, inflated swan-boat-raft—seated at the edge—ready to be launched.

It was completely lost on me at first.

The white swan raft with its black markings and yellow beak looked fantastical and fun but I didn’t initially make any sort of connection.

It might have been the second night when we pulled out the book to read before bed that I finally looked at the cover and had a revelation.

We had arrived in a place where there was a literal swan boat available for our enjoyment mirroring the cover of our book and the story within.

On that first morning, I allowed Adrian to launch the swan into the pool.

He pushed it off the ledge and then leapt onto it fully-clothed, shortly after falling in.

There was practically incessant riding-on-the-swan-boat, leaping-onto-the-swan-boat and nearly-destroying-the swan-boat’s neck by four children for five days.

Clearly the one with the long, curly, blond locks was the mermaid and any of the other three could have been the gnome or the sea creatures.

When we weren’t by the pool we were absorbing sun and beauty in other nearby locales.

We had just come from a hike in Topanga Canyon and from scarfing down food from In-N-Out Burger.

We were exiting into the parking lot from the restaurant when a man we had passed by the doorway, called out to me.

Jonah and Adrian were sun-kissed with white and blue hoods pulled up over their heads in protection from the strong rays—slow and sleepy from the activity and the food.

The man began following us.

He was sun-burned, too, and appeared to be either homeless or nearly so.

I heard him say something again and I quickly scanned my inner alarm-system for any signals that I should gather my boys more near.

Instead I received the opposite message and knew distinctly to turn toward him—not away.

He began telling me in his drawn-out voice that he had recently heard a radio program about penguins and that my two boys in their white and blue hoods somehow reminded him of those adorable creatures wobbling along.

I could see his point entirely and his comment had immediate significance given our family’s recent association with penguins.

We thanked him for the message—taking in his weathered face and watery eyes—wishing him well.

Enjoy those bambinos, he’d said as he strolled off.

After he’d gone, we all began talking at once.

Penguins! Can you believe it!

This message wasn’t lost on any of us.

Life has a way of speaking to us when we have hearts to listen.

Sometimes it can take time and reflection to understand the directions in which we are being guided.

Often the world is offering reassurance that can only be understood in hindsight.

There are vast meanings attributed to the symbolism of the swan drawing from ancient mythology to dream analysis to Shamanism to Native American Totems.

The thread that seems to weave the many interpretations together is the emphasis on intuitive listening—our abilities to live gracefully within this invisible dance with something greater than us—and our receptivity to messages delivered from another realm sometimes by angels who walk right here among us as if in disguise.

This might be the slowest entrance into Spring that I’ve experienced since moving to Maine nearly nine years ago.

Wool and blankets are staples still.

Tiny buds have begun to appear on branches—though you have to look really closely to notice them.

Strangely, there will be a spike in temperature with a high of 80 degrees forecasted for tomorrow—a welcome relief from the low-draping clouds and the chill.

My hope is to be among the natural world soaking in the warmth and the silence and listening intently for the exquisite call of the swan.

 

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“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”—Omar Khayyam

The housekeeper called to us from down the hallway with the swirling Caribbean carpet. She wore a distant stare on her bronze face that softened when we met. Her smile was generous, her body moved as if weighted down by more than her slight frame.

She offered us water rafts left behind—clear plastic tubes decorated with sky blue and chartreuse stars. We thanked her more than we needed to and Jonah and Adrian promptly pulled the inner tubes over their heads and around their bodies and began bouncing—like inflated Sumo wrestlers—down the hallway.

I slightly regretted the new acquisitions.

The pool water was much colder in the mornings than the more tepid, aqua sea. Jonah placed himself gingerly on his new raft—on his belly, just barely getting his chest wet.

He paddled out to the concrete island in the center of the pool with the imported palm tree planted in the middle—not indigenous to the desert climate where we had traveled for a rest.

He climbed carefully onto the enclave and stood up with satisfaction—his blue eyes sparkling, highlighted by his tan skin.

He folded his arms proudly and with his foot, pushed the raft away out of his reach, theatrically announcing, “Now, I’ve done it!”

“I’m stranded!”

“Now I’ll have to get in!”

A few seconds later he leapt off of the ledge—cannon-ball style—emerging gleefully, breathless from the extreme change in his body temperature and impressed by his strategy.

I lured them to the water’s edge with the suggestion of building a Hogwarts castle in the sand. This worked again and again and we created the structure at two separate beaches in three locales.

I began building drip-castles with them when they still thought it was a good idea to shove a chubby fist full of sand in their mouths.

There was a time when it seemed these days of leading them into play and creation would go on forever.

Now I recognize how brief a moment this stage will occupy across the timeline of living—a narrow sliver on a row of yardsticks across a stretch of years.

They think we will not need one, but I buy a cobalt blue bucket at the gift shop anyway.

I carry it to the shore, fill it with water and bring it to the place where the dense, wet sand meets the softer, lighter-color layer of powdery disintegrated shells.

Adrian makes the connection in this—his 7th year—that sand is the accumulation of billions of ground up shells and rock formations broken down over millennia by the tireless churn of ocean waves.

I once read that sea glass could be created at home by combining water with broken bottles and spinning it around and around in a household cement mixer.

In the past I thought about making the investment in this apparatus so that I—and my children—could experience this process first hand. I might still.

In the place where the wet and dry sand meet I situate myself on the upper layer where I begin building the base of our castle. Jonah and Adrian position themselves beneath me where they begin digging a long trench beside a thick wall—both constructed to protect the castle from the rolling tide.

I pour handfuls of soft sand into the water until I find the right mix—about the consistency of a thin cake batter.

With my fist full, I begin dripping a stream of sand into the formation of individual towers filling the rectangular outline. I watch as the sand sifts through the spaces between my fingers and fist accumulating into mini sculptures—each attempt unique.

It reminds me of the vast scope of lives among us. I think about the many ways that we may cultivate our unfolding—each development organic and coming to life in response to our every thought and vision.

Sometimes the sand cooperates forming a thick base, gradually thinning and growing more and more steep. Occasionally the accumulation of the dripping sand will reveal a form like a body or another figure—an hunched beggar, a mother with child, a towering tree.

My husband notices my whole-body exhale each time we arrive at this place of creating along a stretch of beach and joins in trying out my technique.

Jonah reserves the task of making the tallest drip-castle in the structure.

Once he decides to build it along the side of the building instead of in the center combining many towers into a large triangular wall.

I observe him as he surpasses what I have taught him and I imagine all that he may create in his life—my heart swelling at the thought of it.

I imagine what it means to be encouraged—all possibilities open like a river flowing swiftly through a gorge. The vision—only your heart’s deepest longing, whatever that might be.

The rain comes and goes rapidly.

When we see the nimbus clouds crowding together and darkening across the sky in stark juxtaposition with the turquoise water the boys rush to gather all of our belongings and begin sprinting toward the pool area where there is a hot tub and an awning to protect our things.

I think about how hard it can be to get them moving at times and the disparity of their speed with the threat of a storm.

I relish in the tingling of my skin when I sink into the Jacuzzi—a gentle, cold rain dampening my hair.

We do this again and again when the rain comes—hoping for the most extreme contrast we can experience—a powerful, heavy rain coupled with a warm bath.

Adrian loses his second, front tooth in the pool. He doesn’t notice until we’ve gotten back to the room and he remembers that he felt traction between his mouth and the water when he was swimming.

When his eye swelled up and we took him to the clinic, the doctor commented on the wide garage space in his mouth.

His new, toothless grin both matures him and anchors him more deeply into this place in time in which his r’s are still absent and his lens of the world still soft and hazy.

I was coming from our room by myself and entered into the elevator. It was just after noon.

An older couple—likely retirees—came inside the elevator along with a bellman.

The older man said to the bellman, “good morning.”

His wife promptly corrected him; “I think it is afternoon, now.”

The bellman said, “Yes, good afternoon, it is afternoon now.”

I watched as the older man composed himself. I could almost feel his energy zip into a line inside of him—taught.

A slight brightness came to his eyes. I knew he had something good to share.

“May this be the morning of our lives, then.”

I wanted to hug him.

Back in Maine, snow keeps getting swept out of the forecast by the rain.

Spring is here in full force with her elbows wide nudging aside the snowdrifts and making herself known through the mud and the sweet call-of-the-birds at dawn’s first light.

 

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“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” —Anais Nin

I was wearing a favorite dress the day we closed on our house in Maine— the front beginning to fill out with my rounded, stretching, pregnant belly. This was our second attempt at ushering in a new life, the first lost just a few days before the departure for an intricately planned trip back to Spain—a place I had lived and studied in my final year of college.

I somehow blamed myself for the pregnancy ending. It was my body I had no control of and I couldn’t seem to will the hormones in the right direction. My skin crawled when people minimized the loss with their relentless insistence that it happens all of the time. They seemed not to understand my attachment to the dream—a vision that had died along with the tiny beating—I had briefly seen it beating—heart.

While I was living in Spain—with my youthful rounded face, platinum dyed blond hair—I had joined a group of students traveling and together we had boarded a ferry out of Le Havre, France heading to Ireland and spent a spooky Halloween night crossing the Celtic Channel. We played cards, smoked Fortunas and never slept.

We were greeted at dawn in Cork by a white sliver of light glimmering off the water and the rocky coastline—much like the Maine landscape. Eventually we made our way to Galway where we were met at the train station by a woman offering her home as a hostel. Boats rocked gently in the bay painting the horizon in vibrant pastels enhanced by the sun—pink, mauve and baby blue.

We slept in twos lined up together in feathered beds and woke to an Irish breakfast like that of my childhood, the table filled with fluffy eggs and buttered toast, pancakes and tea. I felt at home in a way that seemed woven within my DNA, tracing back to my Irish heritage. I thought that I could have lived there or had been there before.

We found a second hand store and bought old, woolen sweaters to keep off the chill and made our way to a bar where we mixed with the locals. I met a young man—a fellow student—who asked me what I thought about “the troubles” and the recent strides toward peace. I could hardly make out what he was saying through his thick brogue and the hum of the packed pub but I knew he was referencing the years of conflict in Northern Ireland that has spilled over into his and other parts of the world.

Later we huddled together by an enormous ventilation system of a warehouse building, trying to stay warm with the rush of air from the fans. I saw him once again a few years later, this time on the other side of the pond. We took a night-time carriage ride together through Central Park, his friend was our driver. We flipped through a copy of LIFE Magazine—where I worked at the time—marveling at the image of a giant sea creature that was featured within its pages. Only now do I fully understand how much the peace—the glorious end to the troubles—had mattered to him.

My dress on the day of the closing was argyle and matched the colors of the season with its golden yellow and pumpkin orange diamond design. I remember stopping to buy an additional layer—a grey sweater—the weekend we drove up from New York City to contemplate a move one last time. There was a chill in the air that had a way of working itself right into your bones. It was familiar and met the hover of fog and dense sea air in the perfect dance of climate and mood.

Keys in hand we drove to our new home, the route winding and long. We didn’t yet anticipate every steep hill and sharp turn, we didn’t yet know intimately the trees, the places where friends lived, the spots where cell service could be lost or found.

I had lived out a pattern of moving—either across the country or across town—every seven years for much of my life and this move fell precisely into the timing of yet another shift. Still, on that seemingly long drive from the nearest town onto the peninsula where our house sits perched on a tidal cove, I wondered whether we had made a decision that would nourish the tender nature of my soul.

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“Only that day dawns to which we are awake.” — Thoreau

It is late and the house is still. I’m sitting at our dining room table, lights dimmed, listening to the whir of the washer one floor above me sifting sandy garments from golden days away. The heater clicks like an off-tempo metronome and the tulips on the counter across the room open their petals one-by-one in the spaces in between my thoughts—we’ve just discovered today that they are a pale and pretty yellow.

I’ve come from my studio where in my latest work I entered the third dimension, bringing alive a nearly life-sized sculpture of a woman draped over the earth in a posture of protection. Her hunched body is covered in American flags, images of the Statue of Liberty and other monuments. It is a slower work than I am accustomed to with periods of gathering hard to find imagery and awaiting things to dry. A few weeks ago I sat on the floor of my studio examining a Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund calendar that had been donated to me to be used in my work. Within it were letters from the loved ones of soldiers who died in Vietnam. All these years later, the pain is still so raw in those who were left behind. Through tears I read how one man wondered what his life would have been like if his older brother had survived. I thought about what it would be like to live with this question for a lifetime. I thought about what else that brother could have done if he had lived. I can almost see him, tossing his daughter up into the air—taking in her giggles like angels’ song. Holding his wife’s hand at church or a ballgame. Getting a call—his mother has fallen. Oh, beautiful humanity.

I stood in an airport security line recently coming into the United States from another country. Like a herd of cattle, the people were lined up, stripping their snazzy shoes and straw hats, piling up all of their many, many belongings to be placed on a conveyor belt for screening—my we all carry a lot of baggage along with us on this planet. I stood outside of myself for a moment in that line and I thought about all that we have dreamed up and created to protect ourselves from one another. I thought about the mind-boggling extent of our very existence that is controlled by a fear of each other that dates back millennium. I thought about the weapons and the dogma, the metal detectors and the courts. I thought about the bombs and the border patrols and the sharp-shooter perched at the top of a tower. I thought about what we have all collectively done with this opportunity to live a life here on this miraculous, living planet.

Throughout my travels, I took in the wide variety of human form. This pastime can be especially captivating on a beach where clothing hides far less of our being than under normal circumstances. We come in so many packages. There is size, of course. And color. And then there is essence and aura—the energy with which we navigate our lives and the world around us. This varies greatly as well and none of it is wrong. I could sit all day looking at we humans with our wide smiles and wrinkly legs, with our love of adornment and loud talking. With our limps and with our strides. Let me linger in paradise taking in your unspoken knowns and big bellies and slender arms. Let me immerse myself in your sadness, your gladness your silly songs and oh-please-let-me-be-with-you-and-your-dreams—each one of them alive and pulsing within you like a beating heart on a mountain’s climb.

Some humans are deeply steeped in the overarching stories we have been telling ourselves as a global society for generation upon generation. Others are untethered to these tales or as I have come to imagine myself—tethered—to an entirely different worldview and reality that is not bound by the constraints of time and space. It is not bound by fear, at all, but pieced together instead with the most powerful particles that exist in the Universe—particles of what we might call, “love.” These same untethered (or tethered) souls are often infused, as well, with an understanding of the illusion of “other.” They know about the backdrop that connects us—even with the most broken among us.

It is no easy task, navigating a life with this contrary perspective. It doesn’t save you from the pain. Quite the contrary. It is well-worth the cost of shedding the regular narrative, though, to be able to slip back and forth from here to eternity time and again, back into the glorious, salty sea air so readily, the sand now clinging to my skin again, lying near my sweet son as he drifts off to sleep—his silky cheek against mine in the softest of touches, meeting a kindred-spirit in of all places a gas-station to dance, following the trail of breadcrumbs—the tether I hold onto within my tight grasp guiding me from moment to moment to moment as I raise my face up into the sun’s glorious rays for a touch of warmth to power on. I wouldn’t trade this way for anything. I feel awake. I feel so very, very awake.

 

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“Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.” —Rabindranath Tagore

In this season, the birds awaken so early, beginning their morning song a good hour before our household stretches its sleepy limbs. I’ve been listening to their song and heard them clearly this morning—the door to our bedroom kept ajar in the night. Lingering in the space between sleep and wakefulness, I experienced their chirping coming to life and then my bigger boy Jonah called out to me from his room down the hallway. I jumped up quickly and went to him trying to ensure that he didn’t wake our littler boy Adrian with whom he shares a room. It is a big job protecting these two birds from each other, soothing over ruffled feathers and quieting the squawking when one has seized a valuable find from the other. “It’s so cold in here!” Jonah exclaimed as he stumbled into our room still half-asleep. I suggested he crawl under the covers quickly and from the swagger in his walk I knew he would be back to sleep in no time. It seemed much later than it was and I was surprised when I looked at the clock and saw that we had more than an hour before we needed to rise for the boys’ first day of camp. I had just drifted back to sleep when I heard Adrian call out. I glanced over at Jonah and saw that he was soundly sleeping again. Even as he grows quickly into his more mature six year old self, his face still appears like an angel when he sleeps—his lips full and pink, his skin so smooth with cheeks still slightly rounded. He seems younger than he is under the big fluffy white comforter. I pull back the covers quickly and head back down the hall to Adrian—this time trying to protect Jonah’s sleep. Adrian asks for me to lay with him and I crawl into his tiny twin bed. It is toasty warm there and a luxury to curl up next to his still, little body. He is coming into his four year old being with the speed of a bullet train and the stealth of a ninja. And so this moment of calm is that much more treasured.

A few summers ago, our family ventured out on a three-hour whale watching excursion launched from a dock in Portland, ME. The “before” picture is a favorite of mine with a special aunt and uncle journeying along with us, the sun shining down and smiles across the board. The boys look so small—Jonah with a wide brimmed sun hat and Adrian decked out in a plaid shirt, tucked into my arms. Shortly after leaving the Casco Bay we found ourselves out in the deeper sea on a vessel spouting heavy fumes and with the gait of a slow-motion, bucking bronco. It wasn’t long before I found myself in the boat’s tiny bathroom with Jonah where he was loosing his lunch and my head was spinning.  Adrian was draped over my husband’s slumped shoulder escaping his nausea and this tumultuous situation through a deep and abiding sleep. Our relatives were stoic but now donning gray complexions. The whales were elusive and the minutes were counted until we would return to shore. We all envied Adrian in his slumber and the sip of Ginger Ale from a kind stranger was a life saver. The photograph at the end of the journey would have been a very different one than the one that was taken at the start! I have found myself recently in this same place of enduring some of the things that life has thrown my way, of counting the moments, of holding on until the waves have settled and we may come safely back to shore.  I am heartened by our ability to share this story of our excursion with such laughter now and of our dream of still owning a boat one day.

I attended my first yoga class in New York City in the 1990’s. I remember looking up from a congested Manhattan avenue and noticing the fluid, muslin curtains draping the sprawling windows of the second floor. I remember the start of my practice, of comparing myself of being somewhat outward-focused. Last summer, I was able to begin a more consistent, deeper practice at a studio that opened near my home here in Maine. I find myself now in class often with my eyes closed heavily, my attention drawn deeply inward. I find myself lingering in the spaces within me, strengthening my ability to be with the varying sensations that arise as we travel the asanas sometimes holding for longer and longer periods of time. I notice the way that anchoring in my breath and feeling my way around the many facets of my being, I am able to witness the rise and fall of these sensations. There in the wake, I find myself in peace and I find myself growing stronger.

 

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“I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.” —Henry David Thoreau

It was the final day of an eight day stretch that I had spent alone—largely in solitude—with my 4 and 2 year old sons, Jonah and Adrian. As we sat together on our living room floor that last morning, memories of popsicle painted faces and sand covered floor boards—of transferring slumbering toddlers to cozy beds at the end of long and salty days—left us all content in only the way that happy summer exhaustion can. My strategy had been to treat our time together like a treasured vacation. We had explored tide pools aplenty and ridden rickety carousels and filled the tub at the end of the day with sand and suds. My boys were well worn-out and when I asked Jonah if he would like to go to the beach or have a “home day” that morning, he seemed almost wistful in his reply that he would like to stay at home—this coming from a boy who would eagerly make an impromptu plane trip at bedtime in a snowstorm. This is how the three of us found ourselves late that morning—still in our pajamas—sprawled out on the living room floor putting together a wooden necklace. Jonah and Adrian doled out the pieces. Adrian would have circles. For Jonah, squares.  And for Mommy, stars and ovals. Jonah decided on the pattern. First, Adrian would put on his pieces. I watched as Adrian slid the shoelace style string through the holes in his multi-color circles, Jonah encouraging him and commenting on his, “nimble fingers.” Next it was Jonah’s turn. He was more independent and quick in his contribution. I took my turn next—slowly—noticing the energy of our work together. Noticing the peace. There was a synergy to our interactions that had come alive in the long hours we had spent together in that week unencumbered by plans or appointments or obligations to keep. We worked this way for a while. We chatted about whose turn it was and such. Then Adrian stood up—a little abruptly—and began backing away from Jonah and I slightly. I didn’t have time to wonder what he was up to when he suddenly turned to Jonah and I both and closing his eyes—just a little bit—and with a tiny, little bow he said to us, “Namaste.” In our living room surrounded by wooden blocks and of his own volition, Adrian presented himself to us—as if on a stage—and shared this powerful word in what could only be described as a reverent and loving voice. My heart was marked in that moment, my breath taken away. Jonah and I quickly joined in responding back to him with the same word and with our own little bows. Jonah and I then looked at each other in amazement and giggling a little and with wide eyes we celebrated what Adrian knew that we did not know that he knew. As I write this, I can hardly believe that this scene actually unfolded, but it did and I know that in that moment Adrian was sharing with us that he felt the presence of love between us all. He was letting us know that he felt seen and that he could see us too. There are so many moments that I treasure and hope to always remember from these precious years with my boys. This moment will surely stand among the most dear.

 

“Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.”—William Wordsworth

Yesterday was a scorcher by Maine standards. Temperatures in the upper 80’s sent those of us without central air-conditioning scurrying to the beach. My two boys and I were among the earliest to arrive. Traveling down a winding, narrow road to reach a far-away, sprawling spot on the ocean with tumbling waves and a desert like quality, felt like an adventure. Once we arrived we were like camels making our way from the parking lot to a distant tide pool a football field’s length from the entrance. Even from our tide pool we were still another long stretch away from the rolling waves. It was worth the journey. My boys—Jonah with his wide rimmed, navy blue sun hat, Adrian with his ripe orange baseball cap—took their buckets, shovels and wave board into the shallow pool and were busy at play within moments. Adrian piled sand ice cream into his bucket while Jonah pulled the buckets around on top of the board. I set out our blanket and then lying back on the small bag I had packed, took in the rocky cliffs in the distance thinking about the turn of events that brought me there alone with my two boys instead of where we had planned to be—back in the place where I grew up, surrounded by family, cuddling my little niece and nephew who I missed like a drought misses rain and hadn’t seen since winter winds were blowing snowdrifts at Christmastime.

I was sitting in the parking lot of a very large adventure travel store when I received the call. My husband had run into the store to pick up a last item for our travels. The following day he was heading West for eight days for work and I was heading to a family summer home to be with my sisters, their children and my parents. I was looking forward to the companionship. I was looking forward to the comfort of “home.” I was looking forward to the fun of all of our children being together. A few days before, my son Jonah had come down with a virus that gave him two painful sores in the back of his mouth and a low-grade fever. He was feeling well enough to travel though and my sisters had agreed that exposing their children was not ideal but that we should come anyway and just be mindful of washing hands, of separating sippy cups. I had not thought about my Mom, though. I had not thought of the terrible illness she had battled this past winter and how exposing her to something now—even something minor in the world of childhood illnesses—would not have been wise. With an immune system compromised, she could be a magnet for such a virus. She told me as much when she called. She didn’t want to say those words—she wanted to say anything but those words—but she had to and in the blink of an eye we were staying home for the next eight days without any activities planned and quarantined from our friends because of the illness. My husband would be 3,000 miles away. I sat stunned in the car wondering how I would break the news to Jonah who was deep in sleep in his carseat now.

I spent the afternoon and early evening mourning the loss of precious time with those I love so much—time that we have so little of. I felt angry, too. I wanted to blame someone but there was no one to blame. I cried and thought about how hard it would be to shift gears and refocus. I told my sisters and Mom that I was looking for the silver-lining but I couldn’t find it. By nightfall, though, I knew that I had a decision to make. I knew that I could easily spend the next week regretting every moment not spent with family, or I could lift up these precious days and discover their purpose. My greatest concern was with how I would remain present and responsive—not reactive—to the mercurial nature of my children for—what to me felt like—a long stretch of time. I bow down to the wives of deployed servicemen for whom this is their nearly constant state.

At the beach, we were a few days into our time alone together and we were finding our rhythm. With our self-imposed quarantine and everyone feeling better now we were completely free to roam and go and play as we wished. We eventually left our tide pool and made our way down to the crashing shoreline. Jonah timidly dipped his toes in and observed his board bouncing around in the waves. I sat with Adrian and followed my breath noticing the way my stomach, my chest rose and fell with the waves. We meandered down little paths of water that flowed along the sand into bigger and bigger tide pools. We found ourselves finally in one pool deep enough to soak our bodies in and for Jonah to float on his wave board. I should have been tired—Adrian had made a before dawn wake-up call that morning—but instead I felt invigorated. I was pulling Jonah on his wave board from one end of the pool to the other and suddenly I began running with him in tow, splashing a good amount of water up onto my legs and some even onto my face. Adrian was in a very shallow part of the pool, lying on his stomach, propped up on his forearms. His face was filled with a grin. Soon I discovered that if I ran with Jonah for a long stretch and then suddenly let go of the string that was pulling him he would go sailing ahead of me with delight, riding on his board up onto the sand like a surfer with so much momentum. I was doing this for him over and over and at one point I was running and I could feel the water splashing my face and I could hear the pure joy in Jonah’s laughter and I could see Adrian luxuriating in the water and I let Jonah go and then I just stopped and I looked up into the sky. I stopped and I looked into the sky.

It was so vast.

It was so vast.

I could feel my heart beating from running and I could feel my heart expand.

It was so vast and beautiful and miraculous  it took my breath away.

I felt alive.

I felt so very alive and I knew in that moment what it meant to live.

I knew the ecstasy that is complete oneness with life.

“All good things are wild and free.” —Henry David Thoreau

This morning as I stepped into the shower I asked myself how I might spend my few hours alone in a way that would truly serve my soul, fuel my spirit. This was precious time and I wanted to spend it well. The answer came swiftly, poured over me like the warm water wetting my face now. Go and write in the woods. What about all of the gathering that needed to be done for a ten day journey with my children? What about the banking? Go and write in the woods. The message was strong and so here I am nestled in a little forest overlooking the Casco Bay. It is chillier than I expected even with a forecast of 80 degrees today. I am grateful that I wore heavier clothing than I originally planned— still I have goosebumps. It’s a crisp feeling though, almost like a taste of fall—my favorite season with its aroma of new beginnings. The sun begins warming me from a distance as I witness it’s glow through a grouping of trees separating me from the shoreline. An early morning hiker strolls by and says hello. I envy her sunrise routine.

I’ve been thinking about how I might better allow my boys to experience their true essence. I’ve been thinking about ways to preserve space around each of them so that their souls may always be at the forefront guiding them along. I’ve noticed how much correcting I do—especially in the summer months with so much more unstructured time together. I’m noticing how much stopping of activities and saying of “no” is coming through me. Often I am inserting myself just at the moment when wrestling becomes warring and someone is about to fall off of the couch. I am my children’s protector. Often I am interrupting conflicts when voices begin reaching decibels that could shatter glass. How else would they learn skills for peacefully resolving disagreements? I am their referee. I am their teacher. I am noticing that there is other correcting that could be withheld. I see the spaces in which I could loosen the reins and be more allowing. I notice it in the keeping of manners and the keeping of kind speaking. I could instead keep sacred more space for breathing and being.

I am thinking back to a precious moment from a recent family vacation.We were in a sparkling pool, overlooking the ocean. Caribbean music was beating rhythmically, languidly in the background. It was toward the end of our trip and there had been a fluidity in the way we had moved about our time away that has connected us all back a little more to who we truly are. My bigger, nearly four and a half year old boy, Jonah was standing on the steps of the pool snug in his swimming floaty. I looked over at him, taking in his sparkly blue eyes, the lightness in him. He looked back at me and then noticing a new song beginning to play, he started to dance. Like an old man, he brought his hands up under his armpits and leaned back a little bit shaking his chest from side to side. His lips were pursed together and turned up in a little grin. He knew how silly he looked and held back a little laugh while giving this performance. And while it was a bit of a show, I could see that his spirit was soaring. I could see that he felt free and was in alignment with his being, in alignment with his sense of fun. I was holding Adrian and he wanted to join in. I began bouncing him up and down in the water, in rhythm with the music, and he revealed himself also as a boy of great facial expressions. For him it was a little grin that came across his face and then with the music, he began moving his tongue in and out of his mouth with a little curl. His head jutted forward slightly with each tongue curl. He was teasing me with this little dance and laughing as he curled his tongue in and out. I hold dear that look on his face, that moment. He too, like Jonah, was fully alive and fully enjoying this world and his body and himself and me—his mother. Cultivating these sorts of moments is my greatest work. Yes, I am the protector of these two little bears always rolling about. Yes, I am their referee—at times—when they become more like little wolves than cubs. Yes, I am their teacher. There is so much to learn about living in society when you first arrive here. And most importantly, I am their guide. I am their guide to help them always remember the essence of their beings. I am their guide to help them remember that from which they came. And as their guide, it is my greatest privilege to step aside, get out of their way and allow them to be and to feel free in exactly who they are.

10 Gems for a Better Summer, 10 Gems for a Better Life

In the snowy wintery months that now seem so long ago, I discovered knitting again. It was with the encouragement of a teacher at my sons’ school that I found my hands nestled around a pair of slender, wooden knitting needles, my fingers gently finding their way in a dance with a ball of sea green, woolen yarn. It was while my younger boy Adrian was deep in play at our parent and toddler class that I found myself moving rhythmically in a rocker immersing myself in this meditative work so that Adrian may be freed to find his way around the room independently. The teacher—a lovely woman with a deep dedication to recognizing and cultivating the inner lives of children—helped me along. She used wonderful imagery of a fisherman’s work as a way of demonstrating the way in which my needles and yarn should interact. It was the same kind of imagery she uses with the children and so I was learning both about knitting and about ways that I may teach my own children. I fell in love with knitting again in that quiet room and since have begun a couple of very simple projects. Mostly I just make rows—back and forth, back and forth—creating rectangles that can be used as baby blankets or perhaps sewn together into hats or purses and such. I have found deep relaxation in this practice. I knit sometimes while my children play which has allowed me to be both present with them and interact with them while still transporting myself into a place of deep inner calm. I knit in the passenger seat of the car when my husband is driving which has deeply calmed my unnerving backseat driver nature.

Recently I was talking with Jonah about the various jobs that people have and he was explaining to me what he thought my job was. His description included my most important job of caring for he and his little brother, Adrian. He also seems to have picked up on the fact that I am a writer despite my never really having talked with him about it. And finally, he said that my job was “knitting.” I have thought long about what I would like for my children to remember about their childhoods. One aspect of that is what they will remember about what I was “doing” in moments when I wasn’t engaged directly with them. I am heartened by the idea of them remembering me knitting. I am heartened by the idea that my hands will be remembered as being filled with something as natural and colorful as wool and wood.

This addition to our lives has created a subtle shift. It has increased a sense of peace in me—especially at times when I might not otherwise feel peaceful. I can also use knitting as a meditative tool to come back to center when I am feeling out of balance. I’ve come to realize in life that real and lasting transformation often occurs with seemingly minor adjustments like this one. I’ve also been thinking—as the summer is so very quickly unfolding—about other ways in which we may all benefit from small changes that yield hefty results. These are a few suggestions that I have come up with. I hope that you may find a few gems here for yourself. Wishing you a rich and memorable summer. Wishing you peace. Wishing you continual growth and connection with your beautiful children for they are living miracles in our midst.

  1. Put something in your hands that isn’t electronic. For me it has been knitting, for you maybe it could be wood working or clay molding or drawing or strumming a guitar. As I begin knitting I notice my heart-rate slow down. I notice that there is a space present in me that wasn’t there before. I can take it anywhere and both be with my children and also provide them a little space to just be in what they are doing. What would you would like for your children to remember you holding in your hands when they were young?
  2. Pack and travel lightly. There is a great temptation when we travel—especially with children—to bring every comfort of home along with us, even when we are just heading for a day at the beach. As a single woman I used to be notorious for traveling lightly—sometimes with only a small sling purse—and yet always having everything that I needed when I got where I was going. Embrace your inner Bohemian and try leaving some of what you think you need behind as you go about your adventures this summer and notice what happens. Great ingenuity may be found in times when we must do without or be creative and make things work. This practice may also be used as a metaphor. Choose to let go of some of the heavier things that you carry around with you in life—painful memories, grudges, injustices, mistakes—and notice how much more fluid your travels can be. Notice the lightness in the steps of your little ones when they see that you are carrying a little less.
  3. Learn about the true nature of self-care. I recently had the privilege of attending a woman’s retreat at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health to celebrate my 40th birthday. Author and teacher, Renée Trudeau introduced me to a more nuanced concept of self-care than I had previously considered. It went beyond the idea of self-care as simply creating time and space for ourselves as mothers—as parents—and explored more deeply into the realm of moment-to-moment intense listening to our inner voices, allowing our inner-wisdom to come forth and guide our days. This concept may be explored simply through a 5 minute dedicated morning meditation in which you create intention for your day or through studying Renée’s book “The Mother’s Guide to Self Renewal” or one of many other books which can be excellent sources of inner work such as: “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle, “Seat of the Soul” by Gary Zukav or “Wishes Fulfilled” by Wayne Dyer
  4. Be open to what the Universe has in store for you and befriend the moments of your life. Befriend even the seemingly “bad” moments. Life is filled with so many ups and downs. Our most fiercely planned days often end up being the most disappointing. Let your children be your guides as you embrace each day with excitement and anticipation and curiosity for what it holds for you. Given the opportunity, each and every day is ready to wow us with it’s beauty. A simple stroll, a game of ball, a conversation met with intention can change your life and the lives of your children.
  5. Try new things. I am generally a gentle yoga, peaceful music kind of girl. I remember hearing Sean Corn—a well-known yoga instructor—interviewed on Oprah Radio talking about the proliferation of yoga studios across the United States today. She happened to mention that sometimes she recommends to her gentle yogis to try a more intense class and to her very active yogis to try a more gentle class. This message resonated with me and when I recently had the opportunity to try both Dance Yoga and Zumba I understood the power of this suggestion. After both experiences I felt invigorated in a way that I hadn’t felt since my days as a sprinter on the track team in high school. Drive home on a different route. Eat an ethnic dinner if you are usually All American. Try being an observer if you are normally the life of the party. Notice new and worthy parts of your being and enjoy.
  6. Try old things. My son Jonah has recently come to the age where he can really begin engaging in sports. We have set up a pseudo soccer field in our front yard and a basketball court in our driveway. It has been such a joy to play these games with him. I am impressed by his use of the word “diagonal” to describe his method of kicking the soccer ball into the goal and the way he processes the rules of basketball and how he is learning that in this instance it is ok to “take” or even “steal” the ball. Playing with him has also unearthed a part of me that I haven’t seen in a while. I’m remembering that I can feel a sense of excitement with competition. I am remembering how it feels to belly laugh when you get head to head with someone in a soccer rally. I am remembering what it means to play with my whole body. I am remembering. Revisit the parts of your being that you haven’t seen in a while. You will be welcomed back with open arms.
  7. Be process oriented. I recently heard a friend talking about the fact that the more she accomplishes on her to-do list the more she finds that she needs to do. I really relate to her sentiment and I am coming to realize that I will never, ever finish all that I think I need to do. At the end-of-the-day—at the end of our lives—the completion of all of these tasks will not matter so much as how we did them. May we all ask ourselves, how are we approaching these tasks and most importantly, how are we approaching these tasks with our children in-tow? Dinner at my house is infinitely tastier when my son Jonah has cut the carrots for the soup, when I have a happy Adrian playing with mixing cups at my feet. It is infinitely tardier and messier, but it is always a process that I can feel good about.
  8. Find peace in the chaos. There is a wonderful story that Eckhart Tolle shares in his book “A New Earth” about J. Krishnamurti, the great Indian philosopher and spiritual teacher who spent 50 years traveling across the globe trying to convey in words a message of inner peace and acceptance that can hardly be put into words. At one of his talks in the later part of his life he offered what he called, “his secret.” “I don’t mind what happens,” he said. That was all. This is not a message of apathy. It is a message of acceptance. I notice that in my life when I sit with this level of acceptance, the pain of chaos, the pain of things not going how they “should” is significantly lessened. I notice that in the joy I am not so afraid of fully embracing it. I’m not afraid of when it will leave me. Give J. Krishnamurti’s secret a try and observe a powerful shift occur. Your children will benefit most of all. It could even change who they turn out to be.
  9. Enlist the help you need. Parenting is nothing less than a transformational journey. Feelings—both old and new—have arisen in me since giving birth to both of my sons that I could never have imagined. How could I ever have known the sorrow that I would feel for Jonah recently when he shared a precious gift of nature with a friend and it was carelessly discarded? How could I ever have known the rapid change in my heart rate that would occur each time Adrian cried when I needed to leave him for even a short while? How could I ever have known the impact of my history on my children today? There is so much that I have needed to examine and even transform and release in myself in order to continue on the path of mindfulness with my children. I have not taken on these challenges alone. I have recently enlisted the help of a wonderful therapist in sorting out my old wounds. I have sought the help of loving family for support and encouragement. I have leaned on friends who are mothers (and some who are not) to share in our journeys and just be together in community. I have counted on my husband to travel along this path with me. Whatever your challenge may be in connecting with your children in a mindful way, know that there is no shame in asking for help. Whether you need a therapist, a clergy member or a friend’s shoulder for support, do not travel this path alone. Reach out. Heal. Release. Be renewed. I am here with you in spirit.
  10. Always be gentle and kind with yourself. I’ve said this before. Find at least one thing you could do for yourself to care for your own inner child. A warm bath, quiet writing in a journal or a long talk with a friend, will go a long way. The way we treat ourselves translates into the way we treat our children. Love, forgive and celebrate all that you are and all that you can be.

Hurray! Happy summer to you all …..

 

“Freedom is from within.” —Frank Lloyd Wright

A meeting with Jonah’s teachers at his lovely, pink straw bale school house fills my early morning. A babysitter is home with my boys and I steal a little extra time to stretch my legs and my soul at the local YMCA. It’s a rare luxury these days, time alone on a treadmill mid-morning. I have forever loved exercise but lately my spare time seems to be filled-up with errands and long ignored doctor’s appointments—or with just finding a quiet place to sit and breathe. On the treadmill now, images of Jonah brought to life by his teachers swirl around in my head. I’m thinking about how they say they have noticed his depth, his wide-eyed observations of the world. I’m thinking about how they say they have noticed his “goodness” and how he—like all of us—is also interested in discovering the other, varied sides of himself, the varied sides of life. I am reminded of my own struggle to be accepting of the many facets of my being and how I would never want for Jonah to feel the need to live up to an unreachable standard—a need that I have been working to shed for nearly two decades now.

Nostalgic and poetic lyrics speak to me through my headphones and I am transported away from thoughts of Jonah—away from thoughts of my entire family who are almost always the main occupants of my heart and mind. On this day, I am no longer exercising at a YMCA in rural Maine, looking out at a wooded, still-wintery scene but back in New York City instead. I am meandering through the city with my dear friend, climbing over the Brooklyn Bridge. I have no diaper bag in tow. It’s September 11th now and I am stepping out of my apartment looking at the ash on my street and wondering if I should flee. I am meeting with a another friend in her Upper West Side apartment, plotting to save the world. I am looking for love in all the wrong places. I am schlepping giant paintings on the F train to fringe art shows in Brooklyn. I am being photographed on a tire swing, under the Manhattan Bridge—feeling like a dolphin. I am taking a leap of faith and buying an apartment, buying my first set of real furniture. I am dressing up as Pippi Longstockings for Halloween and staying out until dawn. I am picnicking in Central Park on my 31st birthday, falling in love in a better, more final way. I am so very, incredibly free and yet so incredibly filled with longing.

I’m walking on the treadmill and as these images flood my mind—and my heart, and my soul—I am wondering how that girl from long ago can be the same person who is now the mother of my two boys. I am wondering how that free-spirit with her total disregard for bedtime can be such a force of reliable rhythm for her children now. How can that young woman who teased her then boyfriend—now husband—about his constant need for an itinerary now be the one often in need of more certain plans. How can that girl, then on a constant roller-coaster of emotions now be the one kneeling down before her boys—often creating a lap for two—offering comfort and stability. I am wondering which parts of that girl have been tucked away and which parts of her have permeated her (my!) life today.

A few weeks ago my husband and I had a morning to ourselves and visited a few art galleries in Portland, ME. There was one studio that caught my eye from a distance—it was the vibrant colors of the paintings in the windows, colors in my own palette, that drew me in. We made our way toward the gallery and stepped inside, discovering an artist at work amongst his many paintings for sale. He and I had an instant camaraderie—we shared my maiden name. He was around 80 years old but his eyes were as shiny and tickled as a twenty year old. We chatted for a few minutes and he asked us where we were from. We said we were from “here.” He said, “Hmmm. I would have thought you were New Yorkers.” His comment made my heart sing a little. That life in New York—that decade plus a few years—unfolded me. It made me into the woman that I am today. It made me into the mother that I can now be to my two precious sons.

It turns out that artist—my namesake—is looking for someone, an abstract expressionist like myself, to take over his studio so that he may go away for a while. It did cross my mind that maybe our meeting meant that I should be the one. Ultimately, I knew that it was not for me. Crossing paths with him did reinvigorate something within me though. It reinvigorated my need to not  fall in line. It reinvigorated my need to live unabashedly and to allow my children to do the same.

Looking around my home and at the way in which I live my life, I see that girl has been making herself known in the best way that she could between diaper changes and nursery school pick-up. I see her in the colorful drawings pinned-up in nearly every room. I see her in the picture collage on our hallway wall. I see her in the wild imaginations of both of my boys. Still, as my little ones grow, I hope to unearth her further and share with them a little more of the fun that can be had when we set ourselves free.

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” —Henry David Thoreau

My newly four-year-old Jonah has an adventurous spirit. In a past life he must have flown fighter planes or climbed mountains. He loves to go to new places and together we have already begun a sort of “bucket list” of adventures we can look forward to exploring together when the time is right. At the top of his list is visiting “the desert,” riding on a roller-coaster and going on an African Safari. He is also fascinated by space and imagines himself becoming an astronaut. Sometimes when I am lying in his bed with him—erroneously believing he is about to drift off to sleep—he will suddenly perk up and announce, “Mommy, do you know that it is really, really hard to get up into space? And did you know that the sun is very, very hot?” With a long-standing wanderlust of my own, I very much enjoy imagining the experiences to come. I try not to think of the many adventures he will choose to have without me.

It was with this curiosity, this need for exploration in mind that I decided recently to go outside of our normal routine and take my two boys to a community play space that we had never been to before. Clearly not Kenya, but still a little farther from our home than we would normally travel and unexpected, so exciting for Jonah. I felt excited too as we journeyed down the highway, glancing in the rear view mirror at two happy boys.

The play space was very “hip” feeling and very promising with it’s industrial frame, cafe with lattes on the menu and a wide variety of toys new to my boys. All three of us bibliophiles, we bee-lined for the book room. There was an old Walter Farley book, “Little Black Goes to the Circus,” that we read. I winced at the themes, the images that seemed so coarse now. Adrian—my littler guy—found a familiar book, “Mr. Brown Can Moo,” only this version had even more sounds to make than our smaller copy at home. We snuggled up. I felt at peace. I hadn’t eaten though and there was that cafe so we ordered some food next and the boys wandered off finding various other toys and children to play with. After a while I noticed another mother come in with her two children similar in age to mine. They settled into play at a large barn with many animal figures surrounding them. Jonah became interested in these new faces and in what they were playing and found his way to them.

In the meantime, I was sprawled out on a fluffy couch with Adrian where he was surrounding himself with cushioned blocks. I needed to stay near because I thought he might bounce right off if I left him. Jonah was not far and I could see that he was struggling. His horses were acting rough, like they were wild—a little too wild. I thought it might be a tip-off to his being tired, too much “travel and adventure” after a full morning of play at nursery school. Or maybe this was Jonah’s way of exploring the full range of how life can be. Jonah is well acquainted with the beautiful—the kind doctor and heroic life guard, the delicate nature of a flower petal, a sweet song. He seems now— as his 3T’s become high-waters—to want to complete that circle of knowledge. He is so interested in discovering and understanding the scary dragon now, the “mean guy.” Oh, how I wish I could keep him from ever wanting to know about the “mean guys” of the world.

Sometimes when I give my boys a bath I will sit on the floor beside them reading as they play. Tonight though, bathing them before coming out to write, I curled up on a towel in front of the tub and emptied myself to them. I set aside my worries for what life could do to them. I set aside my fears for how I will handle it all. I even set aside my hopes and dreams for all of the beautiful ways in which the world will open up and allow them to unfold. I dedicated those moments instead to truly seeing them. I saw them outside of what I want them to do and or not do. I saw them for more than what I hope for them and fear for them. I saw them only as the incredibly beautiful and magical creatures in my midst that they are—new and fresh and oh-so-very-full-of-life. First I witnessed Adrian, reveling in a little time in the tub all by himself. It is rare for him—play without the directives of a bigger boy hovering over him—and he seemed so at peace. He spun three little wash cloths around with his still-tiny-hands and toyed with a baby duck sitting in an inner tube. When Jonah joined him, the water became less calm, but I observed how they moved about each other like a flock of birds flying in a v-formation, only rarely running into each other and causing a commotion. Then I saw Jonah. For a brief moment, the boy he is so very quickly becoming—older, more aware, less pure, decisive—was gone. Instead I saw him in a total state of purity, knowing that on some level this still remains. This still remains in all of us. I saw his rosy cheeks. I saw how earnestly he played with a little plastic monster, joyously squirting water from it’s mouth. I saw his body, so vulnerable still. Leaning forward I asked if he would like for the monster to sing a little song. He wasn’t sure at first but then suddenly, eagerly agreed and I took the monster and sung a silly song with a funny voice that I hadn’t done in a while. He remembered and his face absolutely lit up and he began to laugh. His laugh is contagious and his brother and I both began laughing too. There was no listening or not listening in that moment. There was no getting along or not getting along. There was no past or future. There was only bliss. Pure, simple, heart-warming bliss.

 

 

 

“Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.” —Aristotle

It is 2:30 am in a hotel room in Wisconsin. I am awakened by the sound of my son Jonah—a shiny, new four year old now—crying from the queen bed next to mine. He’s twisted in his sheets.  “My leeeeg huuuuurrts,” he sobs. This pain has been happening to him on and off now for over a year and seems to be related to his growth, both mental and physical. The wind howls outside along with him and I crawl into his bed trying to soothe him. I’ve learned that these moments need to be waited out and so I whisper my words of comfort and allow him to cry. I’m temped to remind him of the man downstairs who complained of our family making too much racket the night before. I restrain myself and wait. I think about the fact that my alarm will be going off in less than an hour so that we may get ready and catch our 7am flight out of Milwaukee. We are heading home from our Christmas holiday away. Jonah suddenly realizes he needs to go to the bathroom and jumps up from the bed. I follow him, grabbing his clothes already laid out for our travels. I change his first layer. He’s calm now as I walk him back to bed and he snuggles right up in his fresh skivvies, pants and turtleneck. With Jonah nearly dressed, I decide that we will try to transfer Adrian into the car in his sleep and dress him at the airport. I turn my alarm off knowing that my day has begun. After quietly showering and getting myself dressed I go back to Jonah and sit near him. He is in deep slumber again. The bathroom light illuminates the room enough for me to gaze at his cherubic face. He still has soft baby skin and even his chapped, rough lips look beautiful to me now. I stroke his hair and kiss his cheek gently. I bring my face so very close to his and tell him I love him.

I think about how at home I lay with Jonah every night as he drifts off to sleep in his new big-boy-bed. I’ve been advised not to but I do. Sometimes he will tell me what he is thinking about while we are laying there and his thoughts go on for a while. He turns back and forth from one side to the other and I am meant to turn in whatever direction he does although recently he’s taken to our facing each other. He tells me that he likes to look at me and we hold hands. Sometimes he drifts off very quickly, having been like a spinning top for twelve hours straight. Sometimes he will sit straight up and put his hands behind his head and then slowly fold back down, like a man in a hammock. He resists closing his eyes until just before he is deeply asleep. Sometimes I fall asleep too. Once he’s drifted off, I always lean over close to him and kiss him softly and tell him I love him. I tell him that I will always be there for him. I whisper the things that I want for him to know at his very core, at the place before his thoughts. I wish for my words to wipe away any indication I might have given him otherwise. I want them to wash away my impatient outcry at his rivalry with his little brother. I want them to wash away all of the many, many “shoulds” of the day. I want for my words to become his words to himself, the place where he lands as he grows into a man.

I finish dressing Jonah in his sleep. I delicately pick up each foot and put on his shoes. I sit him upright and put on his sweater—thankfully, a zip-up. He’s an excited flyer, so as I’m finishing I begin to tell him that it is time for us to get up for our flight, and he is happy about that. He manages the early hour very well. I walk over to where Adrian is still fast asleep. Before I wake him, I lean down slowly, bringing my cheek so very near to his, giving him a kiss and a testament of love.