Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Kanga & Roo

Last August, for Trevor's birthday, I made plans to take him out for an evening of wine tasting and live music downtown with friends.  My mom came to town to stay with the boys and while getting ready for our night our, 3-month old Will threw a fit unlike anything I had ever seen.  I tried holding him, nursing him, rocking him, all to no avail.  I remembered hearing that skin to skin contact for infants can calm them down.   This practice, also known as Kangaroo Care, is very common after babies are born and I remember holding both of my boys on my chest for close to an hour after they were born.  But somehow in the hustle and bustle of parenting, the practice gets lost.  I can't recall doing it a single time after birth with either boy, but I decided to give it a shot.  So, desperate to calm my baby down before leaving for the night, I tore off my shirt and bra, stripped him down to his diaper and held him against my chest.  I took a cardigan out of my closet and wrapped it around us, nuzzling him to me in a warm mama cocoon.  Within seconds, he calmed down.  His body relaxed until the only noises he made were the sounds of him catching his breath, still calming down from the sobbing.  I sat there with him for about 10 minutes until it was safe to hand him over to my mom.  He was fine for the rest of the night.

Last week, 16-month old Will had outpatient surgery that required anesthesia.  For the first time I knew what the word faith meant.  It's a miracle of faith that parents can hand their babies over to gowned up pediatric hospital staff, who are absolute strangers, to operate on our absolute most important treasures.  So I had to have faith in these people and thank God for them because the surgery was very successful and Will is going great.  

The staff brings parents back once their child has woken up.  A nurse led us through a series of double doors until we came to a hallway that led to his recovery room.  I could hear the unmistakable sound of my baby's cries the minute we hit the hallway.  When we got to the room he was crying and completely entangled in wires and cables that were monitoring everything from his blood pressure to his blood oxygen levels.  The nurse was holding him, his back was arched as he wriggled and writhed around, confused and scared.  When I heard him cry out "Mama" I nearly lost it myself.  Will still breastfeeds and I asked the nurse if I could nurse him.  She said, "of course!"  She showed me to a chair where I gathered my tangled up baby into my arms.  As I yanked up my shirt to help him nurse, tears sprang to my eyes.  I was instantly taken back to May 1, 2013 in the minutes after he was born.  He was scared, crying, and unsure about where he was.  But when he found me he knew he was home.  Fast forward to last week.  He was scared, crying and unsure about where he was.  I looked up at the monitor.  His heart rate was 172.  But as soon as he started nursing, Trevor and I looked up at the monitors, amazed at what we saw.  His heart rate immediately went down- 160, 150, 140, 130 until finally settling around 120.  If there was ever a testament to the power of human touch, we saw it in that little room.  We hear about the power of touch, but I've never actually seen it with my own eyes displayed before me on a monitor.  Love and science all mixed up together.  I was his Kanga and he was my Roo.  A calm came over the entire room.  We all just held space together, grateful for the wonderful outcome of that scary day.  As much as I calmed him, he calmed me too.

I think back to those moments now and I reflect on how precious few opportunities we have to truly connect with other humans.  We never lose our need to connect, to touch, to embrace, to hug, to kiss, but we develop very rigid boundaries about how and when those things should happen.  I smother my boys with hugs and kisses while they're at an age when they'll let me.  And I want them to grow up to be men who aren't afraid to be affectionate with people they love.  And after a very scary day for both of us,  I will forever hold this image of Will, cradled safely in my arms, very close to my heart.  That I could be his harbor, his home, and his Kanga in the moment when he needed me most was a moment I'll treasure my whole life.

Kanga & Roo after the surgery

Friday, August 22, 2014

Summer Vacation

My brother found us a little cabin near Lake Michigan to spend a lazy week.  I can tell the story of our summer vacation, but I will let the beautiful words of these poets and the photos of my beautiful babies do it for me.  They speak to the art of presence, something that grows increasingly difficult with all of the many distractions we face.  To be far away, in a little cabin near the lake was a great gift.

The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-- the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down--
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver

God, let me be conscious of it! Let me be conscious of what is happening while it is happening. Let me realize it and feel it vividly. Let not the consciousness of the event, as happens so often, come to me tardily, so that I miss half the experience. Let me be conscious of it!

From the diaries of Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Now is the Time to Know

Now is the time to know
That all that you do is sacred.

Now, why not consider
A lasting truce with yourself and God.

Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong

Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside

When you can finally live
With veracity

And love.

My dear, please tell me, 
Why do you still

Throw sticks at your heart

And God?
What is it in that sweet voice inside
That incites you to fear?

Now is the time for the world to know
That every thought and action is sacred

This is the time

For you to deeply compute the impossibility

That there is anything

But Grace.
Now is the season to know
That everything you do is sacred.


The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Wendell Berry

The Open Window 

The old house by the lindens 
Stood silent in the shade,
And on the graveled pathway 
The light and shadow played.
I saw the nursery windows
Wide open to the air;
But the faces of the children,
They were no longer there.
The large Newfoundland house-dog
Was standing by the door;
He looked for his little playmates,
Who would return no more.
They walked not under the lindens,
They played not in the hall;
But shadow, and silence, and sadness
Were hanging over all.
The birds sang in the branches,
With sweet, familiar tone;
But the voices of the children
Will be heard in dreams alone!
And the boy that walked beside me,
He could not understand
Why closer in mine, ah! closer,
I pressed his warm, soft hand!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Day Bryan Higgins Died

Two days before Bryan Higgins died, I picked up a book at Barnes & Noble called "How It All Began" which tells the story of the mugging of an elderly woman on a London street and the ripple effect it has on a community- how our paths can be altered by someone we will never meet.  Stories of chance encounters and the connectedness of all of us spinning madly around on this globe have always fascinated me and so, on that rainy Monday afternoon, I picked up that book.

Two days before Bryan Higgins died, Robin Williams died and the world was awash with grief and sadness over the loss of this electric ball of frantic joy and energy.  Robin Williams has always reminded me of my dad- goofy, full of bad puns and from the same city outside of Detroit.  They're the exact same age and maybe, just maybe, they found themselves at the same park or block or intersection at the same time.  I scrolled through photos of his life and his career and I couldn't help noticing his eyes.  His sad eyes that stared off at some distant point much too far for any of us to see.  I wondered if we only see the sadness in someone's eyes once they're gone.  If this is true, I vowed to look a little harder at a person's eyes.

The day that Bryan Higgins died I noticed an old and faded roadside cross that had been erected after the death of a very young man, who worked with me years ago, who was killed on a black and snowy January morning four years ago.  His black car slid out onto black ice and by all accounts he died instantly on the scene.  The cross was on its side but I saw its white paint against the tall green grass.  It must be hard to maintain, that old cross.  There is no sidewalk on that side of that very busy street.  And besides, Bradley isn't at that old wooden cross.  He never was.

The day that Bryan Higgins died, a few friends posted an article about his death.  He was a young man who was found beaten on the streets of San Francisco.  He went by the name Feather.  I looked at photos of this transcendent man.  I found out that he had several chance encounters with my sister and while we had several mutual friends I never met him.  So why do I feel like I know him?  There are two answers to that question.  

Jack and Will.

Becoming a mother has been the most transformative experience of my life.  I can no more shut off the part of me that seeks to nurture and protect the innocent and vulnerable than I can stop my heart from beating.  Suddenly every baby is my baby, every person has potential and every tragedy rocks me to my core.

The mother in me sees the sad eyes of Robin Williams, it notices the old faded crosses on the side of the road and it weeps at the suffering of a man named Feather.  The day Bryan Higgins died I realized for the first time in my life that I see the world through a completely different lens than I did on January 6, 2011 because the next day I became a mother.  And everything changed.  The vulnerability I feel when my babies are away from me is as powerful and potent as the helplessness I feel at the ugliness and sadness of the world.  Because the mother in me sees the faces of my own precious babies in the face of Bryan Feather Higgins.  I see the face of someone else's baby.  I see a phone call at 6:30 on a cold January morning with the news that your child has been killed in a car crash.  I see the face of my son Jack in Robin William's sad eyes.  I see him when he disappoints himself, when he feels that he's let us down.  I see, at 3 how he's already learned that life can be sad and there is not a thing I can or should do to stop him from learning those lessons.  I just hope I can be vigilant when watching those eyes and that I can stop the world from swallowing him up whole as he makes his way slowly into it.

But that's not all.  That's only half.

The mother in me looks across the street to see a different memorial cross which stands in someone's front yard, someone who bore witness to that tragic accident, and I know it represents the fact that the boy who died on that black snowy morning is not forgotten.  I see people having meaningful conversations about love, loss, depression and suicide and maybe, just maybe, people are looking closer into someone else's eyes and finding some undiscovered sadness.  The mother in me sees the photo of the rainbow colored balloons that soared above the heads of all of those who attended a vigil on the day Bryan Higgins died.  The mother in me cradled both boys in my lap at 6:33pm when he was taken off of life support because when faced with the ugliness of the world, we all have no choice but to combat it with love.  And I have to see the love.  I have to look very hard to see the love in this world and not let the darkness swallow me up.  The mother in me sees the helpers, the friends, the love, the outpouring of grief and support for Bradley and Robin and Feather.

Two days before Bryan Higgins died I bought a book on the ripple effect caused by tragedy.  I find myself tonight standing on the shore of a great ocean while emotions and thoughts ripple out and away from me and will for quite some time. 

Don't let the sadness of this life cast you into the deep end of the ocean.  Stand bravely on the shore and as the water laps at your feet and the sand starts to shift, roll gently with the tide.

Two weeks before Bryan Higgins died I found a blue jay feather in our backyard.  It had been years since I held a feather in my hand.  Such a study in contrasts.  A hard, plain quill running through tiny tufts of down extending into the most exquisite blue barbs.  

Prickly and fluffy, brilliant and quiet, intense and subdued, soft and hard.  Just like life.

Bryan Feather Higgins- from his memorial page.  

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Magical Math of Love

Silly me.
I thought my heart was this part of me
that hit its capacity after I met your dad.
And when your brother came I thought,
No, this must be it.  
One heart can't possibly hold any more.
Then you.  Sweet baby you.
You, who arrived in the warm dark hours
before spring danced into town.
Like those lilacs that bloomed on the day you came home,
my heart expanded with so much love that we floated like clouds
out of the hospital into the warm spring air.
You, who we named for a great poet
whose deep soulful eyes are their own sonnet
to the wonder and magic of love.

And now you turn 1.

The light from a single, tiny candle will dance in your eyes.
One little candle that contains
An entire journey around the sun,
Every breathless new discovery you made,
Every single prayer, hope, and wish I have for you.

I gaze down to my chest where blessedly you still fit.
I see the rise and fall of your chest with each delicate breath.
Our hearts beat together mere inches apart.
Somehow my heart contains all of this love.
Somehow one candle holds all of my dreams.
They grow in capacity but never in size.
How wonderfully peculiar, mystical and sacred these feelings are for you.
Endlessly multiplied but never divided.

That, my sweet baby, is the magical math of love.

 My sweet baby Will.  Our world would not be nearly as lovely, fun and joyful if you weren't here with us.  With all of my wishes today and for every wish to come, 
happy birthday.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Rocket Boy

The little Rocket Boy sails across the hardwood floors
Knees bent, knuckles white
Atop his pirate ship

A Christmas gift from years ago, it has found new life
As our Rocket Boy's primary transport.

Get me!  Get me!  He cries
And dutifully we chase him from kitchen to dining room to living room to front door
Baby get me!  Baby get me!
And we hold Will like a jet sailing over Jack's head, tiny arms flailing
Getting his brother.

How many times has he sailed that path?
How many more does he have in him before
His legs grow too long
His interest wanes
He places his other foot firmly out of "toddler" and into "boy"?

But just today on the eve of birthday eve
I heard the unmistakable sound of worn plastic tires
Over smooth wooden floors.
Daddy, get me!  Get me, Daddy!
And so he does.
Baby get me!  Get me, Baby!
And so he does.
Mama, get me!  Get me, Mama!
And so I do.

And Rocket Boy goes sailing once more
Into the open sea
The choppy waves of boyhood beckoning him
The siren's call of manhood further ahead on the horizon.

A baby, soon to be toddler, eventually to be boy, someday to be man
Eyes that ship.
Soon baby, not just yet.
For today, go get your brother.

Rocket Boy takes a break from sailing. The ship parked up against the cardboard boxes used to protect the walls from his rough landings.  Sail on, Rocket Boy, sail on!
Happy birthday my darling Jack!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Deep Breaths Mama, It Doesn't Last Forever

Tuesday was such a busy day.  Days always start off busy as I am the person who takes the boys to daycare since Trevor has to be at school by 6:30.  They start busy, stay busy and end busy and sometimes I see life as a watercolor painting filled with blurred lines.

Tuesday was such a day.  My day started with teaching one of my favorite classes at work and I had approximately 1.5 hours to rush home, pump and then head downtown to help lead a teambuilding event.  I flew into the house, threw my coat on the counter, grabbed a banana and headed for the living room to grab the pump so I could pump in the bedroom while delicately balancing my laptop on my lap to catch up on emails from the morning.

As I crossed through the dining room on my way into the living room, something stopped me right in my tracks.  The midday light was streaming through the dining room windows and it illuminated a handprint on a chair.  And from out of nowhere a voice, a kind, gentle voice came into my head and she said (yes, it was definitely a she although the voice was not my own), "Deep breaths mama, it doesn't last forever."  I stared at that little hand and wondered when it had appeared.  How long had it been there without me noticing it?  How long will it stay there before time or a wet towel remove all evidence of the little boy who rested his hand on that chair for a brief moment before moving on.  Why is it all going so fast?  Why is life like a watercolor and not a work of pointillism where every moment is clearly identified and distinct?  In 20 years when I step back to look at these days, will I see a canvas of blurry images that, with the benefit of perspective will appear sharp and clear or will it still look like a blur?

"It Doesn't Last Forever"

The next day was Wednesday and the great dance of my life commenced again before the sun even came up.  With the haunting image of that handprint in my head I whisked the boys off to daycare, lingering perhaps a bit longer to see them off.  On my way back to my car I had my second stop-dead-in-my-tracks moment of the week and captured another image that to the casual observer might appear commonplace or ordinary, but to me, the message was clear.  In the midst of piles and piles of dead leaves, one, single, solitary brilliantly green leaf rested serenely on top.  How in the world did this little green leaf hold on for so long?  How has it still managed to retain this youthful perfection in the face of battering winds, rain, snow and sleet that have come and gone over the past few weeks?

Nowhere else on the entire curb did I see another one like it.  All manner of dirty brown, orange and gold leaves were scattered about, but only one tiny green leaf.  And the message was clear.  It doesn't last forever and the hands of time are forever ticking ahead whether we are aware of it or not.  But to let the passing of time cause some sort of paralysis is to forget that every single day is a chance to hold on to the moments we have been given.  For today, my boys are that little green leaf who sit perfectly in the present, in the moment, against a sea of what could have beens and missed opportunities.  It would be so easy as a parent to focus on the endless opportunities when we weren't present, weren't engaged, weren't connected.  I think it's worth much more of our time focusing on what we get today.  What we get today is that little green leaf.  What we had yesterday is that handprint.  Live in today.

"Deep breaths, mama"

After stopping to stare at my little leaf I sat in my car to reflect on all that I had learned over the past two days.  As I took my deep breath I was overcome by the horrendous realization that at some point in my walk from the little green leaf to my car I had stepped in what should be described as the freshest possible droppings of someone else's dog to keep this blog beautiful.  I can think of other words, but that might take you and I out of this magical place we're in right now.

Luckily our house is halfway between daycare and my work.  I tore into the garage and examined my left foot.  Clean.  Then the right.  Unclean.  Of course.  The foot I use to tap both the gas and the brakes.  The shoes were chucked onto the deck to deal with at a later time and after putting on new shoes I grabbbed Lysol spray and paper towels and went about cleaning my floor mats and pedals.  Satisfied that I had killed the germs and the smell I drove to work.

After one meeting first thing in the morning I had a few minutes until the next one and I used that opportunity to call the Disney Store to inquire about an order that I made for Christmas. 

"Thank you for calling the Disney Store, this is Charlene, how can I make your day more magical?"

Silence.  Then, absolute laughter.

Oh universe, how do you know just what to say?

"Charlene, I have to tell you, it wouldn't take much to make this day more magical."

But in reality, this has been a magical week, it's a magical life. I see these little signs all over that lead me to believe that there is a gigantic conspiracy going on to tell us that it's all going to be ok. If that was God who whispered in my ear, "Deep breaths mama, it doesn't last forever," then we have the kindest, most benevolent God.  And whoever is whispering in your ear  telling you that life is working out exactly as it's supposed to, I hope you take a moment to listen.  And if, for today, it's me, then I'll say the same thing to you...

Deep breaths my friend, it doesn't last forever, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Examples of pointilism
Touch the Sun piece was a school project developed by Hungarian artist Sakura Chrno in just three days.
A single image, brought together by clusters of thousands of dots.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Currency of Marriage

What is the currency of a marriage?

Exasperated sighs
Looks of disbelief
The same old stories
The same old excuses
Retreating to each other

Now add children

More of the above, plus
Stinging tears of utter frustration and exhaustion
Clockwork routine
Retreating to a book, a phone, a laptop, a TV

Summer 2013.  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of tricycles, it was the age of strollers, it was the epoch of chaos, it was the epoch of order, it was the season of failure, it was the season of success, it was the spring of endless possibilities, it was the winter of dead ends, we had everything before us, we had everything behind us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going to time out.

There is a hum to our lives, a rhythm, an almost unbelievable predictability in how our day will begin and end.  It is of our own creation, our own painstakingly precise creation.  We teeter precariously on a tightrope of routine and the four of us, even the little wee one must do our part to keep moving forward.  Routine is the bread and butter of parenting.  It keeps you going, but makes you fat.

Life with two small children, both in diapers, one a bit more communicative than the other (and on some days this doesn't necessarily mean the older one) can be so unbelievably exhausting that it's amazing that we get up the next day to do it all over again.

Trevor started school right after Labor Day.  We had whiled away a blissful summer together, home with baby Will while Jack spent a few days a week at daycare.  There was still a routine, but while I was on leave, we could fudge it a bit and improvise.  But then we both were back to work and Labor Day ushered in the best and toughest of times for our little family.

Our day begins at 5:00 in the morning and ends sometime around 9:30 at night when we're collapsed in our bed, the hum of 2 baby monitors reminding us that we're never alone.  If you stumbled into our bedroom after 9:00 at night, you might think you had wandered into a call center.  Each of us has our phones on our nightstands, laptops open on each of our laps.  The only lights in the room are the soft pale blue light shining onto our faces as we play games, chat with friends, read articles and occasionally shine our laptop into the other's face to show them something funny.  Then, the laptops would close and we'd lay our weary heads on the pillow, not to close our eyes but to open up our phones.  The light, dimmer now, would illuminate our faces in a smaller beam until one by one the phones would be put to rest.  "Good night!  Good night!  Love you!  Love you!" and a few hours later we'd get to do it all over again.

Then, one night, I turned to Trevor and asked "How did we get here again?  I feel like we were just in this very bed last night and all of a sudden we're back here again.  How are the days whizzing by so fast?"  It was clear that something had to change.  The routine that kept us sane as parents was killing us as a couple.  Neither of us had an answer, so we went to bed.

A few days later Trevor said he had a thought.  Trevor's thoughts are usually good so I was all ears.  "I was thinking of something we could do at night to break up the routine.  What if we started that 2,000 piece puzzle I gave you a few years ago?  That could be fun."  I love puzzles.  I sort of see life and people as big puzzles that I enjoy piecing together, I've always been that way.

When we got Jack's crib, the first baseboard had a hole in it so we ordered a new one, but kept the damaged one not sure if it would ever come in handy.  Trevor brought it out for us to use as a base for our puzzle.  After some quick measuring, we realized that the board was nowhere long enough for this massive puzzle.  Trevor remembered that we had kept the cardboard box that our 52" flatscreen TV came in.  He dug it out from storage and we happily discovered that the puzzle would fit perfectly on this box.  With the hum of 2 baby monitors and Jon Stewart in the background, we set out to assemble the pieces together.  

We shuffle pieces between us, we talk puzzle strategy, we talk life strategy, we recall the events of the day, we laugh about the funny things our boys do.  We remark on how much we miss them when they're asleep.  Cell phones and laptops are upstairs, it's just the two of us...and Jon.

This is the puzzle.  A colorful collage of world currency.

It is as beautiful and complicated as we are right now.  The puzzle and act of putting it together represents our lives right now.  I don't have all the pieces of this great puzzle figured out and neither does he.  We each have a corner of it that we're trying to figure out and through an ever increasing awareness of each other's purpose, we keep an eye out for the missing piece that will help the other move forward.  By remaining in a constant state of disconnection, we had forgotten why we got married in first place.  We absolutely enjoy each other's company.  We had forgotten how fragile a strong marriage is and how much tending you need to do to keep it alive.  We love each other as parents, but even more so when our arms aren't full of babies or diapers or wet napkins used to sop up spilled milk.  We still love the boyfriend and girlfriend we used to be when togetherness was the rule, not the exception.  When he passes me the critical piece to my part of the puzzle that I couldn't find, he reinforces our partnership. 

We don't work on the puzzle every night and we certainly still check our phones, but if I replace the act of assembling cardboard pieces of a puzzle with the need for loving words of affirmation or a listening ear, it's the same.  I may say, "Can I talk about my day?"  And when he says "Yes." it's me saying "I'm stuck on this part of the puzzle, can you look for my piece?"

We exchange those physical and metaphorical puzzle pieces every night now.  They have become the currency of our marriage.  If you're feeling that one of your relationships is on the verge of bankruptcy, it might be worth considering what its currency is.

Last weekend, Jack dumped out the pieces to a puzzle all over the floor.  6 pieces not 2,000. It was a picture of a horse.  His tiny fingers rotated pieces until they found their mate.  I did my best to help, but to also let him figure it out.  We don't have it all figured out yet.  Each of us gets up each day to put the pieces together as best we can.  But I've learned that if we can all be a little more present for each other, we just might have

the missing word, 
the missing hug, 
the missing smile, 
the missing piece that someone else has been looking for.