Five Fingers

Unknown

I wrote this last year, September 2018. It lands with a bit more weight for me these days…

I remember falling asleep on the edge of the woods in Frederick, Maryland in a large log home my parents lived in until the woods became too much woods for my father to take care of.  My father: slowing down, breathing heavier.  A house my father built.  This house smelled like a campfire: pine logs and woodsmoke. One wall was entirely stone, a fireplace you could stand inside that would heat the house from September through March. The rain would rattle the floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out to acres of tall deciduous trees, long smooth stems reaching skyward that would bend to and fro in the Autumn winds like a yoga class of lean women, reaching up, reaching over, in a slow-motion current.  Things would drop and clang on the roof: acorns, branches, squirrels. Sharp pings, loud thuds, scattering claws. This was my father’s dream home – a large log cabin, the bookend to the smaller one he had built when I was about 1 or 2. That was Timbuktu. This was Timbuktwo. Complete with a carved wooden bear on the stone front stoop holding a welcome sign (or, the flip side: “Get Out,” rarely used, but used a few times my mother doesn’t like to talk about: a joke gone bad). My parents were to grow old here, shaded by the maples and elms. We would bring our families to the large open living room to sit in front of the stone fireplace on chilly days, play Scrabble, pass the years in the same woods we had passed our childhoods.

I always had this dream that one day one of my songs might make enough money that I could pay off the house for them and buy their worry off their back with my dream that they helped pay for when I was much younger. That never happened, at least, not in time.  The economy fell, their stocks fell, their retirement shrunk, my retired mother went back to work as my father could not and they did what people do: they downsized. My mother’s colon was removed so that she carried part of her insides on the outside in a small pouch. Always bird-like, she shrunk to brittle.  In the hospital, I was the only one of us to ask to see the stoma, which surprised my mother as I’m the most squeamish, but it felt like an amends to her, to see the thing we all feared and it surprised me that it looked less like a grotesque monster of an aging organ and more like a rose colored petal. Just a small opening to my mother’s side. Her own stigmata, I told her and she laughed.  My father had been having a series of “episodes” as they called them and I wasn’t sure what they were – stroke-ish? Clogged artery heart skips? Or vertigo but not cute like the vertigo a kid feels on the edge of a cliff. A vertigo that makes reality swirl and unbalance you and you go from retired but active to just, well, retired.  My father’s blonde hair finally went grey when 80 approached, his beating heart beat more slowly and he shrugged his dream to inevitability, selling and giving away much of what they had collected in their 50 year marriage, having outlived every one of his siblings. They sold the log cabin and moved into a smaller home nearer to town with a fraction of what they had before, a few paintings, smaller furniture, a small gas fireplace you could turn on and off by a wall switch.

For years while touring, I’d detour to Frederick for an evening off to come to the cabin and have dinner with my parents, watch an old movie in front of the fire no matter the season, and listen to the falling rain on the large windows that look out to the creek and the acres and acres of trees through which, when I was much, much younger, my father might have taken me on walks in order to collect and classify the leaves to identify the trees, shadowing the forester.

***

A few weeks ago, my parents came to Nashville to visit to spend time with my family, my husband and my 6-month old son, their last grandchild, the miracle from their eldest daughter who was never meant to have a child. My father’s tired blue eyes light up in the presence of my son and years melt away in his face as Huck smiles and babbles to him from one of the various brightly colored bouncy toys full of noise.  We call one of them ‘the office’ and my father delights in the narrative I’m improvising – Huck in his regional office, impatiently waiting upon his associate, the fictional “Johnson,” who is forever late or absent, most likely a drinking problem, I say, Huck very patient as Johnson was his mentor before getting old and forgetful, he lost his wife, you know, and it’s been a hard year.  “Has Johnson called in?” my father will ask, fully playing along with our game.  “Poor Johnson,” my mother will chide. My father reaches to my son, held upright in the sling of the bouncy thing. My son reaches his small hand, stretching his fingers and my father places his palm against his grandson’s, each on the other side of an imaginary glass pane, reaching across time.

We take an afternoon to go visit Andrew Jackson’s home. A plantation, a history lesson.  We walk the estate, my mother and I ahead of my father, who ambles at his own pace. “Is he all right?” I ask. She smiles her patient nurse-like smile. “Your father is slowing down” she says gently, matter-of-fact. We in my family deal with aging in a plain-spoken, no frills manner. There is no romanticism about it. We slow down. We accept the dying of the light.  My father, who just a few years ago could whip my ass at tennis, who ran circles around men 10 years younger, who would forever be the architect of fun and games for our extended family – my father is now…old. I hesitated there, can you tell? I wrote that word and a lump surprised me and caught my breath and I am refusing to let tears fall down my face as I let this sentence spill slowly in order to relax into this feeling that makes me uncomfortable. We are born. We age. We die. This is fact. We watch those we love and count on become those who weaken and we hope for more time, knowing whatever time we are granted is only gift. That I am here walking this path with my father who is in his 80’s, having outlived his entire family, with my own son who is 6 months old who was miraculously born to me at age 50…this is more gift than I deserve.

But still: I would give the world for more time. I would give everything for my father to watch my son grow into a man, or even for him to be there for Huck’s 5thbirthday. I would love for my father, a forester once, to teach my son about leaves and trees and to tell him about the time Aunt Betty’s boyfriend who drove a convertible took Dad and his identical twin Will and their mother Charlotte on a fast drive through the Elkton farmlands with the radio turned up loud, my grandmother’s Baptist stoicism breaking into unexpected laughter. Or to tell him about the time his own father lay dying, his last wish that his youngest sons take care of their mother and that after the funeral, these tow-headed 7 year olds burned their teddy bears in a backyard ceremonial pyre as a promise to their father.  Or about the time ten years ago he held his twin brother’s failing heart with his own hands as Will lay unconscious and dying on a surgical table, his chest cavity held open by metal tongs.

I would give the world for more time.

I slow down to wait for my father. He is standing in front of a tree, looking up. I stand next to him. “Red Maple,” he says. “You can tell by the leaves. Five fingers,” and he spreads his own five fingers out, laying the leaf flat on his palm.  Three large fingers with two smaller ones at the bottom of the leaf.  We walk a bit. Next tree. “Black Gum,” he says. I look closer at the mottled bark, in small square patterns. If I were a child, I’d put my fingers in the cracks, or nudge a stick in between. I put my flat palm on the side to feel the bark. Rough – circles and squares. Black – tall and straight. We walk. He stops in front of one that’s on its own, taking up space.  He smiles. It is a wide tree, smooth papery bark, branches like a wing span, arms held out in embrace. The lobed fat leaves a canopy that seems perfect for picnicking or leaning your back up against the trunk with a book. It is the kind of tree you can imagine in stories where the boy falls asleep against the side, hat over eyes. A lone tree in a yellow grain field.

“Sycamore,” he says and looks at me. His grey-blue eyes seem greyer and I think there’s a mist clouding the color. “We had this tree on our farm. This is my favorite tree of all,” and he clears his throat of emotion, looks once more, shakes something off, and continues on the path. I don’t ask any questions, just let that statement sit in the air like a prayer.

What lingers in the air today, on this path, is my history. A small farm in Eastern Maryland, a few cows, a vegetable garden, five children and a widow in plain dress.  A black leather bible with my father’s initials embossed in gold on the front. A dapple mare in the fields. Faded scalloped-edge photos of two blonde boy scouts in the 1940s. 1970 Ocean City July’s with our cousins and that uncle who was the gentle version of my father, softer-spoken. My aunt who looks remarkably like my own mother so that my cousins look like siblings. Today, my mother ahead of us on the path, a leaf twirling between her thumb and forefinger, pushing the stroller with my sleeping baby, her own mother having giving birth in her 40’s, who lived to 103, who loved me more than anyone has loved me and spoke poetry and stories to me as I slept in her Baltimore row house. My mother’s mother, also a widow, her husband a sailor on the Atlantic, sea salt and cinnamon at the Baltimore harbor, the smoke from a pipe, a red leather chair, and a grief that hung like a loose garment on rose-scented skin.

These are things that I am made of: talcum powder and Jean Nate, the afterburn musk of a campfire, a bushel of hard shell crabs slathered in Old Bay on a Bethany deck, the hum of my now 18 year old niece when she was the size of my forearm cradled in warm bath water while I sang to her thinking I’d never have my own child to bathe, the Boston accent that slipped and slid from my grandmother’s words, oyster stew and lemon meringue pie, a hound leaning on my knee and letting go, an oversized Red Jesus Bible, a Maryland rain lullabye and a five finger spread against a red gold leaf flat against the mottled palm of my father.

Father’s Day

In 1847 Christina Potts Moore had a baby at 50.

In 1857 Margaret Ripple Wirick had a baby at 50.

In 1858 Catherine Elizabeth Rowe Dribble had a baby at 50.

All were by natural conception.

In 2015, singer Sophie B. Hawkins had a baby at 50 by IVF. Her own eggs. I think.

In 2017, Janet Jackson had a baby at 50. She claims it was by natural conception.

In 2016, at 72 years old, Indian Daljinder Kaur had a baby by IVF with donated eggs. In fact, it seems there are a bunch of women over 50 and up to almost 70 (and sometimes over) who live in India who have had babies at seemingly impossible ages.

I thought I was special. But, as my sponsor likes to remind me, best to see myself as a beige used car. Because I have spent my life seeing myself as a Pinto disguised as a Ferrari. 

The Crone and The Mother. At the same time. Woven together. I worry about how old I’ll be when my son goes to college. If I’ll still be here. I worry about car accidents and world destruction and cancer and spider bites. I worry about things differently than I did a year ago. I was slightly worried about Climate Change. Now I’m terrified.

I’m terrified about President Trump. I would be anyway, because he’s the Worst Person In The World. In Huck’s Baby Book there’s, of course, a “Current Events Of When You Were Born” section, printed in super fun cartoony squiggly scroll with balloons and kittens (because these kinds of books are supposed to be full of joyous things and memories for our children to cherish) and at the top of the page it asks “Who Is President?” and leaves a line to fill in the name.  That day I decided to begin writing in his book, my pen poised above that line, I gripped it tighter as I gritted my teeth. Jamey saw what was happening with me and said, compassionately, “I know…just write the name down and leave it be so.” I felt this impending apology to my son, having to read this someday, knowing that he was born into a world where that joker was voted into the highest office in our country. I would have loved him to have been born during Obama’s presidency. I’d even have taken one of the Bush’s. Which Is shocking. But Trump? The worst.

50 is the middle of 100. Which is what I assume, always, that I will make it to, as if that’s a goal. It seems fitting. A good mile marker. Even numbered. Outpacing the national average. I assume, too, always, that I will make it there coherent and agile, still walking and reading, and, like my own 103 year old grandmother (who had my mother at 42 in the 1940s and this is a fact I quote often to whomever will listen), mentioning things like “Proust must be read in the original French”. I assume I will be alone. At least husbandless and loverless. That used to be a given but now it makes me sad (and given that Jamey is younger than I am, I’m sure he’ll outlive me anyway).  That I would out-age everyone in my life. Me with my collection of photos and journals, perhaps a dog, not a small one, and god forbid a Paris Fleamarket apartment collection of cats. No. But I could live in a city again surrounded by youth and noise. Alone. I’d drink again. Martinis this time. Alone. Champagne too. I’d be cranky and arrogant and I’d affect an indiscernible accent. Who would question me? I’d tell stories like my old drunk queeny acting coach Jimmy Tripp would tell in his Chelsea apartment in the crowded living room, walls painted a bold green, red Persian rugs under the black baby grand piano that took up almost ¾ of the room, a silver double decker Samovar cart with crystal jars of red and amber liquid.  We few, we happy few would gather there at night for a private session which inevitably ended with Jimmy putting on vinyl 78 records of Rosa Poncelle singing Verdi, and tell us stories of acting with his idol Stella Adler on Broadway. In the 1950’s. That she was known to play pranks, like opening her skirted legs wide to him, the apprentice, stage left, a full beaver shot that the audience could not see, so that he would have to reckon with the hairy, wet, lips-parted vagina of an acting legend and keep his shit together.

My father is dying. Cancer. This came out of nowhere. I knew this would be a consequence of having a baby at my age, that my own parents would be very old. But my father is ageless. He is eternal youth, despite his 82 years. He thought he’d live to 100. So did I.

But he won’t. And he will most likely not be here as this year folds into the next. And my son will most likely never remember him.

It is June. It is Father’s Day and I have flown to my own father with my own son to spend it with him, possibly for the last Father’s Day. I hate having these thoughts, the “lasts” but there they are and I try to pretend they aren’t while advance mourning the whole way through. We laugh and cry and we tell stories from the past and he says, “Now that I have nothing to look ahead to, I will look back in these next few months” and I think, I will write it all down, Dad. Like I always have.

 

Braids

Unknown

My grandmother’s bay window had a large white sill that was full of small painted pots on matching saucers. Each one held an African Violet. Like dolls posed to sit in the sun all day, facing West. I used to think of them as mine. Violets were my flower, she’d say, because I was born in February and February’s flower was a violet. They had soft furry green leaves, thick and puffy. Forehead high, I’d stand on tiptoe and stare through the violet pots, through the tryptic window decorated with suncatchers made in the oven, colored glass, beveled by heat, one strawberry, one plum, one a star.  I’d stare through those Saturday afternoon craft catchers of light through the window with the white sheer lace curtains pushed aside and held by brass hooks, through to the narrow shared side-yard with stone round lily pad steps, across the lone birch tree, over to Mrs. Philes white clapboard house with black shutters, hoping to catch a glimpse of her peering through the sheers.

Mrs. Phile was the Wicked Witch of the West. Childless widow. Stern and tall. Scoldy. I imagined her locked inside her house most days, no husband, no children, no laughter. She seemed dark and sad and disapproving. My mother told me when she was a young girl, she’d call her “Phile Babes” behind her back, and that became a running joke in our family. Even my grandmother, Roro, would laugh out loud, then, catching herself in gossip, stop the giggle with a “sntch” through her lips and teeth that was directed at us and with feathery fingers make a quick sign of the cross just in front of her chin and chest.  “Don’t call her Phile Babes, children,” and hearing the name in my grandmother’s Boston accent brought a fresh round of giggles.

That was the time of the cicadas. Baltimore, 1972. They emerged, flew and filled the sky black and loud and then fell again, leaving the backyard a wasteland of empty amber shells, a graveyard.

The money tree plant leaned up the shared chainlink fence in the long backyard. On the other side lived the neighbors who once had a girl my age come visit for a few weeks. We’d play hopscotch in the alley out back, right in front of Mrs. Daniels’ garage. Money trees. Skin like a Bohrain drum, round like a mirror, like the mirror the lady on the television held up at the end of that show to look through and call out names of boys and girls and not once, not ever, did she say my name.

I loved to stomp the crunching carcasses in my patent leather maryjane shoes before church. I loved the word “cicada”. I loved that the “c” was an “s” sound and that some people would mistakenly say a “ch” sound, “chicada,” which was a much less threatening word.  In my memory, they covered the gnarled roots and stone steps up the alley so that no grass was seen for an entire summer, like a strange picnic blanket. Magicicada. Supernatural skeletons.

Every 17 years they’d emerge from the damp earth, adults. A storm. I would be old by the time the cicadas came back, I thought. Old like Roro.

When I moved to Nashville in 2009, the Autumn I was 41, I had left a marriage but was still legally tied to a man I had fallen out of love with, or, more accurately, had never loved him as he deserved to be loved. He didn’t know this (or maybe he did and held his tongue) and tried hard to win me, even as we were clearly just an exoskeleton of a marriage, me silent and he with his 11th hour attempts of somber wooing by cooking and cleaning and not asking any questions.

I left finally, and, in the leaving, I kind of forget to get the paper that said we were no longer, but I acted as if we were no longer. It would take me 5 years to remember and by then it was complicated as in Jersey somebody had to blame somebody, you couldn’t just tiptoe backwards out the door and leave the china.  I just wanted it over, so I offered my neck on the block.

In East Nashville, I rented a small blue cottage built in 1911, slanted wood plank floors, large windows and a wide front porch with a faded wooden swing held up by rusted chains that squeaked as I rode it each morning, rocking back and forth, sipping my coffee. I had drawn it in my notebook before I saw it.  The ad in Craig’s List was a magical paragraph of wonder written by a loving couple moving to China who wanted someone artistic and similar to care for their home. When I knocked on their door, they asked how I’d found them because, as they told me, they had taken the ad down months ago.

I named the house Brigadoon for it’s disappearing act, waiting for me. I’d watch the morning unfold under the large Hackberry tree filled with buzzing cicadas, swooping the scales like a steel guitar, louder than my sadness.

By the time I moved South, Roro was dead. She lived to be 103 and was clear to the last few weeks, still telling me that I should read Proust in the original French someday, as it would never be the same in English. I was the only one in the family who wasn’t present at her passing. But after, she followed me for years, like a breeze, whispering in my ear. I was alone and in love with another man who couldn’t choose me and impassively letting my youth slide away in a wine-soaked ambien haze.

Roro got married in her 40’s and had my mother in her 40’s and lost the love of her life only a few years later and so, spent her entire life talking to the birds and gathering violets and dried palms that were tucked behind the blond, blue-eyed Jesus who hung in her bedroom, in the center, above the two single beds with eyelet lace bedspreads, where she and my grandfather used to sleep and where I, when visiting would sleep next to her, just a breath away as we dreamt. She went to Mass most days of the week and told me she missed the Latin. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine. Et lux perpetua luceat eis. Fidelium animae, per misericordiam Dei, requiescant in pace. Amen.

There’s a picture of my mother from childhood. She stares at the camera in black and white, long brown thick braids on either side of a moonface. My mother in a white dress and white veil, her gloved hands brought together under her chin at her chest her heart in a prayer. Her first communion. She was probably about 7, because that’s how old I was when I wore a white dress and a veil and posed in color outside our Maplewood Lane house on the corner of Route 99, speeding trucks and cars to Baltimore a half hour away, and across from the vast cornfield where we buried Midnight the Cat and where I went looking for the grave with our favorite babysitter Laura Shoda, who also had two long brown braids, and where we stumbled upon 3 gravestones, partially buried in the dirt, with dates from the 1700s.

My mother cut her braids off when she was 13. She had grown her hair all the way down her back and to the curve of her rump. She saved them in a wooden box. I never saw the braids, but I knew of their existence, as I knew of her diary’s existence in which she wrote every day and where one entry was written that year she was 13, in pencil: Daddy died today.

A few years ago, my parents were selling their home, a large log house, a beautiful cabin on 5 acres that abutted a State Park full of hiking trails, deer, eagles, snakes and fallen leaves. Their home backed up to a small creek and my father had built stone landing above the creek with chairs around a fire circle. He also built a wooden staircase down the bank and a curved bridge over the creek. It was an enchanted place for their grandchildren, and my nieces and nephews who grew up near them loved it there. My parents planned to live out their lives there, in front of the stone fireplace you could stand in, looking out the cathedral windows floor to jutted ceiling to the tall pines outside leaning to and fro in heavy winds over the woods of Western Maryland, Land of Mary, where we all come from.

Before they had to sell the cabin, my mother told me she went down to the patio above the water and lit a fire. She said she took the small wooden box that held two pairs of braids tied with ribbon, and she laid all four on the fire.

The other pair was Roro’s. She had cut them off when she was 13.

I never saw my mother or my grandmother with long hair. My grandmother was already old with a Robert Frost face when I was small, brown spots dotting her porcelain skin, her eyes drooped with hanging lids over the outside of the almond, weighted with grief and devotion.

My son’s eyes are almond and blue, bright blue like his fathers. I see the Romanian girl of his egg in the shape of his eyes, none of the Irish of mine. We are baptizing him next month in the Episcopal Church where Jamey took me on our first platonic outing. He sat next to me, the Church of Christ raised man who found God again in this foreign ceremony, led by a barefoot woman preacher. I closed my eyes to take in the frankincence breeze and Roro put her hands on my cheeks, whispered in my ear “Princess,” and I wept for the homecoming.

We braid together our sad pasts, our greying hair, our eyes, through generations, through late-blooming choices to become mothers after our prime. My grandmother, my mother, myself. All of us, braided like bread, woven in the incense that wafts like clouds above the flickering tea lights under the Great Mother, her arms outstretched marble, the blue cape faded in the cathedrals’ sunlight.

On Mother’s Day, 2019

 

Dog vs. Baby

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Dog Vs. Baby. Baby wins every time.

I have done the unthinkable. I have abandoned my dog. She lay in her bed, her snout on the pillowed edge, her nose hanging over, her hound eyes expertly wrinkled into disappointment and despair. Hounds look this way most of the time, but she can really exaggerate it. She whines, looking up at me longingly.

I put on my pink running sneakers, new in the past few months, as I have made a promise to myself. The minute the laces start tightening, she is up, shaking off the doldrums, panting, jiggling the jingly things on her chain, aroused and expectant for the run she knows is to come, as it always did in the past after those laces were tightened. Alas, she will be left behind. Abandoned to the Baby Jogger, a tripod off-road thing with wide knobby wheels, perfect for me and him, too much to add a dog to the mix. Balance is everything.

She was my baby and she’d curl up in my bed beside me, not waking till I woke, snuggling her long fur-red body against my lonely one. Then HE came, the man, the love and he took up so much room, she slept on the floor, in her own bed, whining at the injustice.

And now this. The baby. I have read of this abandonment. I swore I’d never be that mother. But I have become that mother. The dog is no longer a canine facsimile of a nurtured child. The dog is now a dog.  May as well throw her in the garage and put a doghouse out in the yard.

I call Huck Flo. I call Flo Huck. My mother would do this with the four of us, a string of a one named thing to at least catch which one of us was in motion to be stopped: “Amyleemattdanny!” Now I do it with the dog and the baby. And I mix genders, “here good boy” to the dog, who is a girl. “Cmon girl” to the boy who is, well, a boy.

13 months. He’s waking in the middle of the night again. Teething, I suspect. But last night blood curdling screams out of the monitor and we shot up in bed and Jamey went to him. I fell back into the soft pillow, barely aware of the time, the dark, the sounds, as if underwater. I woke again at 5:30am with a toddler perched on my chest, smiling and cooing, ducking his nose into my breast like that cuckoo doll that dips it’s red top-hatted head into water.

We are, again, sleepwakewalking, forgetting words, snapping at each other for silly things. Overreacting, overtired. We are, it seems, back at the beginning. Just an endless wheel again of routines we have carved being upended by a growth spurt some app has explained. Neurobiological changes each month. I followed these like astrology at first. I’ve abandoned all of my apps now to an inner guidance of “I’ll figure it out if I need to.” Maybe it’s a built confidence after a year of keeping him alive and well. I’ve figured it out already. I steered the ship through the shallows and we all survived.

I think about starting a new business for new mothers. What would I have needed? It would have been nice to have a mobile truck come by, like a Mommy Wagon, to take over for an hour, force me to nap, take a bath. To clean our bedroom, the bathroom, deliver us some healthy food, but not gross healthy, yummy healthy. Take me to yoga. Bring yoga to me. A Mommy Wagon that delivered me a Lactation Consultant, a real one, a kind one, who would check in on me after a week of being home and bring me Lanolin. Or, a service for mothers that would be a nursery I could have dropped off Huck while I went to yoga for an hour or 90 minutes, as I could never figure that one out. I just started back after 13 months, because I’ve finally gotten the rhythm of the Mommy’s Day Out schedule.

What if the Mommy Wagon brought information on Low Cost Childcare, Mommy’s Day Out Programs that are nearby, places that offer free childcare, like the YMCA where you can drop your baby off for an hour and go sit in the sauna, or just check your laptop on the couch. No need to even break a sweat.  What if the Mommy Wagon was also a food truck and a place to register to vote or a free dental clinic for mother’s who forget to get their teeth cleaned within the first year of their child’s life. The Mommy Wagon would for sure be stocked with Diapers and Wipes and bananas.

I think of angels that showed up in my life, people from my faraway past that sent swaddles unasked for that worked! Or the college friend turned Mommy author who sent a book on parenting. The emails of lists of things to pack when flying with a baby. The woman who just did my registry for me because she knew what I’d need and what was bullshit.  I think of the generosity of my older parents showing up 3 days before Huck was born to get my mind off things and then stayed at our house while we stayed at the hospital for 3 days after, my mother cooking casseroles and freezing them for us and cleaning our house, my father making an organized list of all of the trees on our property and what state of health they were in. And then, graciously leaving after 2 days to leave us with our baby alone.

I think of the friend who sent us a gift certificate for one of those meal services we could choose a weeks’ worth of food from. I think of the people who stopped by and left after a half hour (Jamey called them “Professionals”).

My parent’s in-law who drive 2 hours to come visit, to take Huck when I need to work, which means I have to travel away for a few days, and they happily take him to their river home which he loves and they love having him.

I also think of the first smile, the first sound, the first time he opened my eyes and really saw me and his face lit up, his first roll over, his first crawl, his first step, his first walk down the hallway.

We went to a friends’ 1st birthday party a few years back and I remember thinking “Oh this is a lot for a 1 year old. We don’t need to do this.” And I swore I’d keep it to just my parents who were flying into town and Jamey’s family who are in Tennessee. But the closer we got, the more people I wanted surrounding us to celebrate Huck’s first birthday. The more people I wanted to show off that we kept him alive. The more people I wanted to fill our home with warmth and celebration like it felt the day after he arrived when our friends and family spilled into the hospital room overjoyed to meet our new son. Huck smashed his hand through the cake and then smeared the blue icing across his face, his first taste of sugar. Then Kira just put her hands in the cake and grabbed the corner and Megan took a chunk out of the center and before you knew it, we were all just hand-eating the cake, smearing it on our faces and laughing in joy.

The dog even licked the blue icing off the wood floors and when Huck got out of the high chair and wobbled around like a little drunk munchkin, Flo licked his face and Huck squealed with delight. They are becoming friends, dog and boy. Flo has decided Huck can stay and Huck loves to stumble over to Flo’s bed, lay down in it and curl up like a puppy.

I never thought I’d have a family. I figured I’d grow old with a dog. Here I am, with a husband, a dog, a baby and a house with my name on it. And although to many people this is the no-big-deal normal life, to me this is gold. To me this is ‘making it’. This was harder fought for than any spotlight applause I’ve ever received.

Dog vs. Baby. I win.

 

 

 

 

Can I?

Last Fall, I tried to hang out, as I usually do, at a music conference in town. Usually I’m playing shows, networking, schilling my music and myself around like a well-oiled independent machine, self-branded, dressed very carefully to say a certain thing about who I am and what music I make but also, very importantly, to look like I just threw whatever was nearest on and barely brushed my hair. I mean, don’t we all? Even the women who I admire and respect the most, the ones who look like they don’t give a shit, I know for a fact they give a shit and they think about how to portray their notgiveashitness in clothing/shoes/hair/jewelry. It’s part of the job. It’s part of the game. And sometimes, most times, I have thought that it was a really fun game.

But last Fall I was a new mother and a stay at home (ish) one at that (as I had taken a long hiatus from touring), so the kid came with me everywhere I went. So last Fall, during that conference, I got out of my sweatpants, got dressed, put on some makeup, threw Huck in a wrap and went to a few industry parties. To network. To see and be seen. To remind myself, and others, that I’m still here, making music, making art, while I’ve taken some time off making a human.

I carried Huck in a sling wrap, which I loved so much. It was a swath of soft yellow linen-silk in a bronze ring that lay on my shoulder where Huck was nestled inside, against my chest, a womb-like bright accessory that I thought was lovely and made me feel a bit, well, tribal. I carried Huck into an afternoon party, with music, with drinking, with schmoozing. I couldn’t stay too long, for him, for my own soul, but I stayed long enough to hear some beautiful music and to say hello to a few friends and people I want to or am already working with. And, to be honest, part of me wanted to show off my baby and that I had a baby. I felt large, beautiful, spiritual. I felt like a goddess.

One man said to me, “Oh are you still here?” He didn’t really say that. I don’t even remember what he said. But he said something that felt like that. I think what he meant was “It’s good to see you/you had a baby/I know that’s a huge change/are you working on another record or are you going to take time off?” He didn’t mean it as condescendingly as I took it. But what he didn’t know is that there’s a very very loud voice in my head, and I suspect in all new mothers’ heads, that screams “Can I?” So when someone seemed surprised that I’m still in the game, as if there’s a choice for me, I mean, really? I’m going to do something else at this point? I’ve been making things forever. Plays, poems, essays, songs, whatever. I don’t know how to sit at a desk and clock in and clock out. And his question, innocent though he may have meant it, felt to me like a banishment.

Are you still here?

Today I took Huck to an indoor playground because, well, to be honest, I was bored with watching him play with the same blocks and toys in our home and I was tired of chasing him down off the stereo off the gate, off the couch, watching every single move so he won’t trip, fall, break something. I needed more padding. And I needed to see if maybe there may be other mothers around.

I have Post-Partum Depression. Have I not talked about this yet? At first I thought it was just my normal self-pitying whiny depression that creeps up before I get my period. Having not had a period for over a year, when mine came back a few months ago, it came with a painful, weepy vengeance. Then the depression turned from ennui to despair to fleeting thoughts that there was no point, that the world would be better off if I just flung myself from the interstate overpass. And luckily, I know that this is not normal. Been there. Done that. Don’t want to go there again. So I called my doctor. I called a few friends. I told my doctor that I was, well, slightly suicidal (really, only slightly, because I would say that the only thing keeping me tethered was the love for my son and that I would not do that to him) and maybe a bit off my hinge. I felt like a firecracker.  I threw more than a hissy fit over the kind of milk my husband bought. This was a problem.

I asked my doctor. I told her how I felt and she laughed a bit and said “The struggle is real” and then told me she’d suffered PPD with all three of her kids. I also found out that the depression can come on with weaning. Which is what I’m doing. What my son is doing. And it’s not a sudden stopping of nursing, it’s a long slow thing. I’m not done. He’s not done. But my milk is not the only thing sustaining him so it’s waning.

So, Zoloft. And after a month, the zoloft is finally starting to work and I’m evening out.

My doctor also insisted I meet other mothers. She said, “I don’t care if those mother’s groups aren’t your people – you need to meet other mothers.” So, I went to the indoor playground. And I saw someone I know and waved and went over to talk with her and there she was with two other women, mothers, musician mothers and one of them I had never met but I knew of (and loved her music) and I think she’s somewhere around my age and for a moment all four of us stood around talking truth about being a mother and an artist and the road and our love for our kids and our worry about being irrelevant and how the “F” to do any of this now that we have these little beings who need us.

It felt like such a relief. Like a relief I’d been waiting for for, um, 12 months. Huck is 1. And I just met another singer songwriter with a 1 year old who felt like touring had lost some of its shine. I felt like I belonged again. And I talked about my new record a bit and how I’m afraid of how to make it work to get back out there. And one of the women said “We’ll figure it out.” And I immediately loved her.

Are you still here?

Yes. I am. I never left. I got better. That’s what I want to say. I may be sleep deprived. My thoughts aren’t linear. I didn’t know Post Partum Depression could rear it’s head during weaning, so being despondent and wanting to throw my hands up in the air and say “Uncle” a few weeks ago was such a disappointment, until I realized perhaps this was biochemical and not just me being weak and self-pitying. I feel everything more. But words pour out, sometimes melodies, mostly words. My desk is a clutter of scraps of paper and multiple notebooks and midnight ramblings and nap time poetry.  Empty bottles of milk, one tiny shoe that’s lost his pair, a few blocks, lots of Kleenex. To Do lists everywhere. A tornado of ideas.

I’m still here.

In fact, I’m more here than I was before. I don’t even know how to explain that but as fuzzy as I feel about Time and Purpose and Money and Sleep and Schedule, I feel razor clear about being Here. Being present. Being on fire. Being very aware of smells and sounds and silences and what I lean into and what I lean away from. I know things I didn’t know before. I know what’s bullshit and a waste of my time. I know what I love and need.

And I love being 51 years old with a little boy who turned 1 last week.

So, can I? I am.

Conception

Unknown

The day after Independence Day. The day after the party after the barbecues when the hangover is still throbbing in the frontal lobes of the collective head, when the fireworks’ smoke still lingers over the summer grass like a haze, before the sprinklers get turned on to wash the lawns clean of reverie. The day after the country gathers with pies and fried chicken, greasy food on plastic picnic blankets spread out on lawns, on rocks, on beaches, against a river or ocean, on rooftops, anyplace with the best view of the starburst sky when the evening settles into darkness and the cymbals crash and the flags fly and everyone wells up with a kind of inbred patriotism, baseball and small towns, fathers and sons, drunken post-grads looking for a hookup.

July 5this the day of your conception. Or at least, the date they placed cells that would become you inside of me.  The day you were placed in the nest of my womb to grow.

The conception of a thing. The beginning. A small explosion of hope. You were so much that and more.  You were the impossible become possible for these two broken people who collided together, both of us newly sober and walking with training wheels, stumbling to make up time, putting the pieces back together, making apologies and changing directions. Trading in tumblers of bourbon and gin and wine for coins marking time. Then choosing the speed of our own falling, making sure the ground was soft and our bones were strong. We fell in love in middle age but past the season of conceiving, at least for me. Then the impossible in the nick of time, again, at least for me, and so, for us. My own eggs, long past viable. And we had mourned that loss together and moved on. What I’ve learned is to not be surprised by the unexpected.

I was not that hopeful. I was like that 4thof July hangover, head hurting from the failed attempt a month before, my heart afraid to soar.  The months of preparation of pills of shots of vitamins of more pills and more shots. The first implant, a few months prior, was a sacred moment that I’d choregraphed. I meditated with intention before the sky filled with morning. The birds woke with my silent sitting. We drove east to Chattanooga and I was a smiling Pieta, dressed in blue, the color of the mother, with a prayer shawl and a necklace of blue topaz that hung right at my womb.  Who I thought was you was placed gently inside me as I prayed to all my goddesses and after, we drove home the 2.5 hours in certainty, stopping at a Cracker Barrel for breakfast so I could eat all the things, as I already felt pregnant. I was certain. My breasts ached with milk, I supposed. Something shifted in my abdomen and for 2 weeks, I ate donuts and kale, slept soundly with deep drowning dreams until the day we called in for the results of the pregnancy test and heard, “I’m sorry. It’s negative,” and the sky fell dark around me and I had to grip the furniture tightly to keep from falling, to keep from grabbing at the bottle of wine, to keep from drowning again in that river.

Your father let me howl. Later, we went for a walk in the woods near our house, along the river that swelled with rain, near to overflowing again, dangerous and loud.  It was late Spring and the wind would swirl into little tornados and the path was damp. A deer emerged from the trees, lost, looking for its family, and backed back into the brambles. We looked at each other and stopped walking. He said to me, “We’ll try again. It was not meant to be. The next time may be.” And that was that.

So, then, here we were again. 2 months later. Waiting out my period to come back, an interminable few weeks. Stopping the shots to start them up again. We had one more round of IVF paid for by benefits and then we would be on our own dime.  It would cost us up to $4000 to do a 3rdtry and I was already weighing whether or not we could put THAT on another credit card. Jamey would be hard to convince as we both had decided to only do 2 tries. To not keep going. We’ve known people who have gone through many tries and we didn’t want to bear that grief.

So the 2ndimplant would be on July 5th. A tedious word on a nothing date. Rainy, thunderstorms, lightening all around us. The drive back again to Chattanooga was a foggy mess through the mountains and I tried to keep a light conversation going but gave up, and Jamey put a podcast on to divert our attention.  When we arrived, they led us back into the area behind curtains, our own gurney bed, a pair of scrubs for us. Jamey to put in the gown and mask and booties over his shoes. Me to disrobe from the waist down. I waited half naked and untied in the back on the papered bed and tried to smile, but inside I was numb. Ready to be told again “Negative”. The embryologist came in. “I’m so sorry to say, we unthawed the best embryo but it fell apart so we would like to unthaw one more. It will take about 18 minutes.” We asked, “but didn’t you pick the best of them?” “Yes,” she said. “This happens sometimes. It won’t be too long, so just wait here.” We had 12 at the beginning. The best didn’t create a pregnancy. The 2ndbest fell apart. This would be the 3rdbest. Didn’t bode well. I took a deep breath and tried to look like this did not phase me. It did. But I sat quietly and counted breaths.

Thunder clapped and the lights went out. The embryologist excused herself, calling over her shoulder, ‘Don’t worry. We have backup generators.’  Jamey and I didn’t look at each other. The lights blinked back on with a surge noise. Generators. Ah.

18 minutes. What an arbitrary number. But I remember it. As I remember the storm. And that it felt like we were the only ones in the clinic that morning, the rest of the world sleeping off their hangovers in the storm.

They wheeled me in a wheelchair. I think. Or maybe I walked in and sat on top of the surgical bed, lights above me, stirrups at the end. The fertility doctor specialist was there. Not the one we had been dealing with as she was on a family vacation but her partner, the kind one who called me the day after our first one failed to tell me it took he and his wife 3 times to get pregnant and that he understood how disappointed I must be and how we must be feeling but that he thought I had a wonderful chance of getting pregnant and that we should try again. I was happy he would be doing the implant.

Implant. The banal word we have to use for your conception. The act of placing a thawed embryo made from Jamey’s sperm and the egg of a donor we will never meet nor will we ever know her name. Donor #24563. That’s a made up number because I have lost her number. Implant. Something someone does to you. Like intercourse. Putting one thing inside of another to create a pregnancy. I guess, it’s kind of similar. And considering the effort and expense we took in this kind of intercourse, you were extraordinarily well thought out, well timed and very very very much wanted. There is a romance in this science.

The storm threw another arm of lightening and thunder hit the side of the wall shaking the clinic and the power went out again. We held our breaths in the dark. I wondered will our embryo die in this millisecond? The lights flickered, something surged and the power was back on. “Generators” said the doctor. “Ah,” I said, squeezing Jamey’s hand.

I heard a voice from behind a glass confirmed a transfer with the doctor then to me and then back through the glass. I imagine a water bubble, a glass bead, a pearl on the end of a translucent tube, you were the pearl, and the doctor-wizard wove the tube, the wand, up inside me and placed you gently inside of a nest I had been making of sticks and cotton, desire and prayer, a soft nest full of hope, and you were placed gently there in the darkest shade with warm walls of my womb surrounding you so that you could reach out with little hands from some part of this zygote to hold on, to stick, to stay, to attach and become part of my uterus, to become part of me, so that my blood could feed you through that reaching so that it would be my body feeding your growth as blastocyte becomes more than just a cluster of cells but a human embryo, a fetus, and finally, a baby.

You were made of equal parts faith, science, desire and patience. You took an extraordinary amount of belief to emerge from our wishing. You were made of failure and surrender, car crashes and DUI’s, lies and amends, broken hearts and double rainbows.

Your conception happened on July 5th, in a fertility clinic in Chattanooga, Tennessee near the winding river, the day after the fireworks, the quiet day after the sky exploded into color.

Yes

In remembrance of my friend Lori FitzGerald, an extraordinary woman, the most positive person I have ever met in my life, a retired teacher with a wide Chicago accent and an exuberance that is rare in this cooler than cool town.  A woman who could wear a tutu skirt with a rock and roll t shirt and a flowery hat.  A woman who wore purple lipstick and laughed from her soul.  A woman who passed from this world on March 6 of brain cancer. I wrote most of this after the last time I saw her, a few weeks ago, when I gathered with a few other women at her house, sitting for over an hour next to her bed. I did not know that would be the final time I saw Lori, but as I left her house, the tears spilled out and something broke and I think, now, looking back, I knew. 

“Yes” is the only word she has left now. Variations of yes. Inflections of yes, that can sound like an affirmative to a question posed (“Do you want some water?” “Can I rub your hands/brush your hair?” Do you want me to turn the lights down so you can rest?”) or a resignation (“Are you tired” and her eyes may cloud over, her chin lower, and she will whisper, “yeah” like a child).  Or, surprisingly, sometimes it comes full flower like a bright yellow balloon, a powerful “YEAH!” and her eyes light up and the light dances in there, somewhere, and for a second, I think, there she is, there she is.

Lori is dying. And it is coming soon. This came on too quickly.  Weren’t we just walking the path along the river, talking about my pregnancy? Weren’t we in yoga together, sweating on our thin mats? Weren’t all of us just spending New Year’s Eve together at a John Prine concert, smiling and singing along?

Although how could I not know it would come. Brain cancer. Not a thing you recover from.

She lays in a room in her small house in a hospital bed that has been rented and brought in just a few days ago. The dressers and tables are lined with framed photographs of her family and friends. There’s Lori smiling and laughing with her daughter, there’s Lori surrounded by women laughing and hugging. There’s Lori and Bob on their wedding day, laughing and smiling at the luck that brought them together for their 2ndchance (3rd, 5th, 7th…). The walls are lined with posters of musicians, most are friends, most are in recovery, like Lori. Some are famous. Most are not. There are flowers everywhere. There’s a portable toilet that, no surprise, has a cover on it with a cat. Someone last night joked, ‘It’s a pussy pot’.

We sit around her bed, we few, we women of the program that have shown up for her. Her daughter arrives with pink hair and a black t shirt that match her black painted nails, bitten to the quick, shredded. She leaps into the hospital bed, pulls her legginged legs up on the quilt, her hands find her mother’s face and she leans in and kisses Lori fully on the mouth. “YES” Lori says.

Yes oh yes oh yes oh yeah yes yes yes

Like James Joyce’s Molly soliloquy: “yes I said yes I will yes” all slurred together without commas and periods nothing to stop the rush of breathless wonder at the beauty of love and life and all that was before and all that would come.

There is a stillness at some point, after we’d all shared around the elephant, about being present and being grateful and being blessed and community and the elephant is Lori’s daughter on the bed and what I imagine she must be thinking “Fuck your gratitude. I don’t want this blessed god to take my mommy”. I can’t imagine her silence being kindly towards us self-congratulating sober women.  But maybe she is and maybe she knows and maybe it’s my own still quiet voice saying “Fuck this gratitude and fuck cancer and fuck all that is taking my friend from this world when I haven’t even had the chance to tell her I love her.”

Silence. And to me, in that space, God shows up. God is in the breath in between the words. In between the awkward anger and the reigned-in grief.  God is there and Lori has not died and Lori is there in her Yessing that may or may not mean yes but may mean fuck you or I’m thirsty or dear god get these women out of my house and get that hospital toilet out of here and could I just make out furiously with my husband one last time before God steals the rest of my brain and my body?

There is poetry in her dying and I know that this thought can come only for those not near enough to feel the absolute devastation of her loss but near enough to know how that must feel. Near enough to feel the empty space now left in our world.

In the end, the cancer could not beat her:  it stole language but left her one word. Her only word. The perfect word. The word that defined Lori.  And embodied in this word, I realize, is the service that one human passed onto the rest of us.  The greatest gift.

Yes.

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The Blue Hour

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For roughly 20 minutes, during twilight, which can happen in the morning or the evening, red light passes through space while blue light is scattered into the atmosphere, creating a soft light of deep blue in the sky.  The sun dips down between 4 and 8 degrees on the horizon allowing this indirect light to take on a kind of melancholy shade. Photographers love this light. They call it the “blue hour”. Atmospheric scattering. A transitional short period of natural beauty, saturated in colors. A calm, mysterious moody time.

My blue hour lasts two days.

Roughly.

I like the work ‘roughly’.  It leaves room for the seeping out of time to the edge of the landscape. Two days can spill over into three, five, a weekend, or be compressed into, say 20 minutes, a twilight of sadness that clouds, softens and dims the light.  Morning or night.

The light today is definitely soft, dim and drab here in Tennessee. In the middle of February, the cold snap has passed, leaving us in the middle of everything: the middle of winter, the middle of the country and, at 50 degrees, the middle of hot and cold. Neither one nor the other. It’s raining. The cloudy sky darkens the late morning, matching how I feel inside. Neither here nor there.

Blue.

I think of that song, the four-note repeated motif of minor melody that rises then falls, unfolding then folding back in on itself, a wheel inside a wheel:

Everybody’s saying that hell’s the hippest way to go
I don’t think so
But I’m gonna take a look around it though
Blue….

I love my blue, like a blanky, like the piece of my old blanky I found stapled to my babybook and rubbed between my fingers to see if it still worked like a drug.  I brought out the book last evening to show my husband, to see if there was any possible resemblance between our son at this age and me in that photo, me at one sitting in front of a pink birthday cake, red cheeks, puffy eyes. I’d been crying. Alone in the photo with a stained bib in front of a bright pink cake, brownish blondish hair sticking up, tear-stained cheeks, eyes that begged to be held, and a downturned bottom lip right above the red nose.

There – I see it. I thought I’d see it in the eyes. But his eyes are almonds, sly and sneaky at the outer edges. Mine were gumballs, marbles, round and direct with no secrets yet, too wide open without protection of the lid.

My son and I do not have the same eyes at all.

But the nose. There it is. In the shape of the brow that slopes down to his nose, a small button, a round curve of a slope, there is my one-year old brow and nose. We share a forehead and a nose slope.

Or I can make myself believe we do.

In truth, we probably don’t. I am stretching the photos to match, expanding the edges of truth to embrace a dim wish. I am willing him to match me, somewhere, anywhere.

He won’t look like me. I shouldn’t say it like that. I shouldn’t grieve it. I should be happy and grateful and not look at the four photos I keep contained in a Russian Doll of a filing system on my computer (a file inside a file inside a file) so that I even forget where it is, which is the point, so that I don’t look. She is Romanian. Not Irish/Welsh/Dutch like me. She is Eastern, with slanted sloped almond eyes. His eyes. She has high cheekbones. Like his. I stop looking at her to look for him to take me out of my own picture, to banish myself from my own son. If I stay too long in this locked inner file I may lose my motherness. Despite the fact that it was I who carried him in a pouch in my belly for 9 months, it was my blood he lived on, my milk he drinks, my skin he slipped out of.  Despite the fact that I absolutely 100% without a doubt know that I am his mother. True blue mother.

But in the innermost file there is the smallest doll that does not open, the solid doll, the one that always gets lost, where I keep the wish that he wasallmine and that somehow, by dragging my feet during my own fertile era, I missed the chance of it being myskin that wrapped him, my DNA embedded in his hair, his eyes, his saliva so that he is mine and I am his and scientifically it is so.

Some people say he has my eyes but I know the truth.

The blue hour lies to me with her hazy foglike hues. With her seduction of slipping quietly into sadness, below the surface of the horizon. As if this dreaming is soft and romantic. It is anything but romantic. It is not the shallow end at all, with lovely women making breaststroke waves symmetrically lapping the shoreline.

This is the dangerous shallows. This is the violent undertow.

This is a haze that creeps like the fog over the Mission, stealing the air. It is a deep muscle ache, a piriformis pain far inside the hip flexor that no massage will reach, where the only relief is holding pigeon pose until the sharp hurt can only ease into a dull ache.  This is not a disconnected detaching sadness. This is the opposite. This the kind of terror where I don’t want to leave him for work, for daycare, for a nap, where I need to breathe in his baby skin, lick his tears. This is a deep inner longing to put him back inside me for a few minutes where he is just mine, only mine, not of the world yet, still a vague idea of a melody not even a song.

I am weaning. My milk is waning. And I am in a darkness that comes in like a tornado rain, lightening shards of rage that flash and punch.

 ink on a pin
underneath your skin
an empty place to fill in

My milk slows and my son stays on the nipple for only a moment until everything distracts him. He bites me with new teeth. But still, we are not done with each other. In the early morning, he rolls toward me and nuzzles up against my nipple. When he’s tired in the afternoon, he’ll lay his head against my chest for a minute then, as if on a scent, he’ll push himself up, look directly at my breasts and pat his palm against one, as If to demand his feed. At night, if he’s restless, I’ll rock him and let him sip a bit from me. He doesn’t drink much, but it’s enough that I know. We are not ready to let this go.

The blue hour set in on my birthday last week. I turned 51, definitely well past the average middle, and I can’t deny that I’d like the years to slow down. I’d like more time. The days used to drawl by like a Mississippi accent, a winding muddy river, a falling feather on a muggy day. Now they zip and speed like a racecar and one day blends into the next and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do tomorrow but more of the same. I lose track of To Dos while I listen to my son napping in the room next to me as I write. An hour can go by while we build paper blocks up to a tall tower momentarily before he swats at it and giggles into spitting as it falls down around him.

I have a long keening cry inside me that I’m afraid to let out because I’m afraid it will never end and I will collapse into a deep sleep and be unable to play blocks with my son or speak coherently to my husband and none of my friends would understand this as they don’t have babies and as much as they are supportive and love me they hold me at arms-length and call me brave.  I am alone here on my island.  And it feels at times like there is nobody that can lean into the blue hour with me and rock me back to the sunlight.  Nobody human, that is.

 Blue
Here is a shell for you
Inside you’ll hear a sigh
A foggy lullaby*

 __________

 *Joni Mitchell, “Blue” from the 1971 album “Blue”. My first introduction to Joni, to folk music, to where poetry and melody tangled and created a world that expanded all musical possibilities in form and formless sound and made me cry for 2 days straight when I was 19.

Photo: Laura Schneider, Nashville

 

 

Having a Baby at 50

Unknown

Having a baby at 50 is like wandering into middle earth without a map that’s all in Elfin and having never even read (nor ever wanted to read) Tolkein. Everyone’s speaking gibberish and seems, well, naïve and kind of silly – like all those Dungeon & Dragons friends of mine from high school. Having a baby is like being thrust into a land of hobbits and forests on flatland when you feel like you’ve been hiking mountains for years, thinking the point was the ascent.

Having a baby at 50 is a particular kind of solitary confinement.

Having a baby at 50 is watching the late 20’s and 30-something moms at the daycare who have years ahead of them to fill their homes with more babies. More time. More time. More time. They’ll be my age when their baby, who is my son’s age, is 20. I’ll be, well, very old.

Having a baby at 50 is waving across a chasm to your friends who are, by choice, childless and ambitious and still wearing the masks at the costume ball, drinking the frothy drinks that turn their insecurities into titteringly perfect conversational bomb drops, knowing when and how to move discretely from polite chit chat to humblecareerbrag to a name drop meant to place oneself squarely in the ladder of ‘where do you rate in this world?’ when you stand on one side alone, watch the swarm move, seeing the potential train wrecks and remembering to ask everyone how they are before saying anything about yourself but being very tired of the posing and wanting only your baby in your arms, not this non-alcoholic champagne, that baby drooling on your sequined shirt, reminding you that you are just another flawed human being.

Having a baby at 50 is crying all the time and not knowing if it’s joy at the miraculous beast in your arms, PMS, hormones from weaning or hormones from possible menopause creeping up behind your late-blooming fertility like a scythe-carrying goon.

Having a baby at 50 is saying your age under your breath while holding your 10 month old wriggling in your arms.

Having a baby at 50 is always having someone in awe of you. Always being in awe of yourself.

Having a baby at 50 is being 15 years older than most ‘geriatric’ moms and feeling more than geriatric, feeling down right senior citizen.

Having a baby at 50 is having 30 years of patterns developed into a full-blooded adult torn away by an infant who poops in your hand and can barely say ‘mama’ but knows exactly how to reduce you to skinless vulnerability.

Having a baby at 50 is like stepping into your own newborn skin when yours is just showing signs of wrinkles and age spots.

Having a baby at 50 is the cape around my superhero shoulders.  Having a baby at 50 is saying fuck you to anyone who looks at you oddly.

Having a baby at 50 means you don’t belong anywhere. Except where you are supposed to belong.

Having a baby at 50 means the kind of tired that the word ‘tired’ falls short of describing.

Having a baby at 50 is a roller coaster when you’ve got vertigo and a migraine.

Having a baby at 50 is always feeling grateful but also wanting desperately someone to whine to.

Having a baby at 50 is missing your own mother.

Having a baby at 50 is a wilderness of extraordinary.

 

 

Dreams #1-3

Amy Speace Pinecone

Dream #1: Hope

I had a dream when I was awake
That I was floating in a circle of taller than tall cedars
Sequoia’s, most likely, although I’ve only been in a grove of Sequoia’s once or twice
Sequioas are not my tree
But they were so tall I could not see the tops of them and they covered the sky
Red bark like feathers hanging down, frayed
The forest floor in the circle was red and brown pine needles
Heather: that color that trees and bushes turn in late November before the first snow in Indiana
Brown-red so soft you could lay your cheek against in sleep
The kind of undercolor I’d like to wrap around my skin, a neutral to balance, a cashmere dress clinging to my long dancer body

If I had a long dancer body

I was floating in a circle of taller than tall burnt umber cedars
On my back, my hands and arms out
Sivassana
But airbound
In a gossamer gown made of pale blue
My hair was not my hair
It was the hair of my dreams: reddish gold, long ropey curls, my skin
Alabaster

I was floating

And I held to the center of my chest a pinecone
A single pinecone pointing up at the sky shaded by the trees by the cedars in a circle of women in a dance in that sculpture that holds candles and feathers on altars at yoga studios and new age bookstores

This image emerged from the black behind my eyes
In a meditation
She is me she is Snow White in that blue dress with the blonde hair updone in a white plastic hair band
She is a little girl holding the ferns with her grandmother

She is alone with a pinecone

I was floating in a circle of taller than tall trees
Half awake and dreaming

The pinecone was a seed and the seed was a dream and the dream was a child in a storm and the dream became a face in a backwards image of heathered browns and purples and burnt umber dusk that I kept on my desk as my belly grew swollen and heavy until I bore a child that was that face that was that seed

That is you

And you sit on my chest and stare at the taller than tall trees that sway outside our window and you smile down at me from your resting perch
As if the world could be a nest of tall cedars made of feathers of Crayola colors and birdsong and the dreams of your mother who once dreamt of you as faraway as the shadings of the sequoia

Dream #2: Song

Mother is a country
A little land in the middle of an ocean
Where the edge of the sand is swallowed by a dream

An island in the milky way
Sleepwalking the swell of the waves
Up and down floating out to sea

Mother is a country
A pebble pile of glass and shell
That make a nest of stars and fallen leaves

No one hears the prayers that sing
Like whispers in the mossy moonlight
Nightly watches spent on rocking knees

LoooLalee
Hush now baby don’t you weep
Close your eyes I’ll rock you back to sleep
Mother is a country

Mother is a country
Where tidepools fill when gravity calls
The sun and moon to take their place in line

Peace was made with the storms that came
Arms were laid at the foot of the harbor
A betting on the wrecking ball of night

Mother is a country
A whale beached in the brine of the shallows
Counting her breath while laying on her side

And the needle drips and the voices blur
The pull of bones and he slips to earth
She knows she’ll grieve the separating life
She knows she’ll grieve the separating life

Looo la leee
Hush now baby don’t you weep
Close your eyes I’ll rock you back to sleep
Mother is a country

Dream No. #3: Fear

I had a dream where my son was a piece of raw fish. Red, like tuna, like sashimi. A large piece, one I could cradle in my arms. No one knew it was my son, a baby, a human. They would just see the fleshy familiarity of Japanese food, an urban thing. Something exotic. And I could see them shake their heads as if to say, ‘Oh, Amy, she’s so eccentric with her sushi and her New Yorkyness”.  I was holding my son who was raw tuna, cradling it/him from harm, in a home that resembled the home my family had in the 80’s, from junior high through high school graduation, the last home of my childhood, in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania, in a town that held pretensions it didn’t deserve from wealth it stole from the land it raped of taller than tall trees and shade. A town of old money from a logging boom where the children of the children of the parents who’d clear cut the forests would inherit the construction businesses built from that wealth and then, in the mid 2000’s, sell their land to Texas oil companies who had come to dig the ground for natural gas, ruining the fields, bringing toxic water and disease, making the rich richer and the poor just angry. The same town I knew I’d leave from the minute I stepped my 12 year old feet on its soil.

In my dream, I held my son the fish while looking for a bag that held my shampoo, a small zippered thing of blue and white herringbone that I’d bought at Target a few years back, room enough for travel sized toiletries. That I had just seen but couldn’t seem to find now that my brother was finished lingering in the shower and it was my turn. I thought I’d seen my sister-in-law, the drunk sweet daughter of the American revolution, a Burr, or a Hamilton, I could never remember which, but she’d qualified to be present every year at the redueling on the Weehawken cliffs overlooking the Hudson in her matching cashmere sweater sets, her red button nose and smart blonde haircut. I swore she knew where my bag was and was lying when I asked her. “No, I swear, I haven’t seen it, have you Josie?” she asked her copycat daughter, a mean little thing, 10 years old with sharp angles and edges and lizard eyes who surprised me when she’d turn soft and needy, wrapping her arms around me and cooing “Aunty”.  I didn’t trust them, both of them, amphibious creatures, slithering around my childhood home. My mammalian sister, ever cheerful was downstairs making things, or doing dishes, or generally just taking care of everything and everyone around this holiday. She was our true north and I know she knows this and I’m not sure she likes this but she accepts this. She’d be the only one who would see, really see the sashimi son as a human and she’d take him and protect him while I showered. But I couldn’t find the bag and without the bag I couldn’t shower and I was terrified to put the meat of the fish down as I knew the dog would eat it, pull it apart, or the lizards may throw it away, or worse, play with it and eat it. NO one could be trusted with my son, now a piece of fleshy skin, exposed to my past. My heart was caving in on itself every minute I carried him not as human. He was dying or he was sick or he needed something else, and I couldn’t figure it out, so I just carried him from room to room, cooing at him. I felt like I hadn’t spent enough time with him as a baby, a real baby with real peachy skin that began as raw red skin straight from the womb, a bit crinkled and closed up, fresh from the slit of my stomach, wiped off and swaddled and placed between my breasts in a recovery room that was loud and very very cold. I shivered and I was falling backwards still, just like I was during his delivery and I couldn’t reach the now, I was a beat or two behind what was happening and I wanted to catch up to purge the drugs from my spine to come back out of the rabbit hole so that I could see things clearly so that I could remember what was happening as it was happening in real time not in molasses time, like on that yellow and brown plaid couch in that Bowery apartment, sinking into a heroin high. I wanted to see him in that moment again, that first moment he was mine, all mine, out of my womb out of my mangled abdomen as they tugged and pulled and now stapled and glued me back to whole. My little sashimi boy, raw and exposed to the nerve of the world. And me, pacing my adolescent home, hiding my only son, who chose me, part mermaid, part crone.  I couldn’t hold that slithery piece of flesh close enough to protect him. I knew that. And I wandered lost and alone through my dreamscape, terrified to watch the inevitable, when he would slip away into the folds of the seawater sky.