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Having a Baby at 50

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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.

 

Web MD Interview

From AARP to Web MD, this menopausal mom is getting out there!

Click HERE for the article

Wean

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Wean: (verb) [with object]
1.     Accustom an infant or young mammal to food other than its mothers milk.
1.1    Accustom (someone) to managing without something on which they have become dependent or of which they have become excessively fond

Wane: (verb) [no object]
1.     (of the moon) have a progressively smaller part of its visible surface illuminated, so that it appears to decrease in size
1.1   (especially of a condition or feeling) decrease in vigor, power, or extent; become weaker.

It is January 16th and my son is 10 months old today, which means he has been outside living in the world longer than he was inside my body, in my womb.  It feels like a minor graduation and I miss him already even though he is always with me.  He is also not dependent upon me for survival anymore. You see, my milk is waning. We, my son and I, did not come to an agreement about this; it just started happening. I was nursing him less and less.  Scheduling. His and mine. Timing. That he craved other foods. It’s not a surprise, given that, from the beginning, we have had to supplement with formula, as he was rapidly losing weight because did not latch right away and the whole nursing experience was traumatic. The first month my nipples were cracked, broken, bleeding, raw, I was in excruciating pain and acting like I could handle it until I couldn’t and we hired a consultant who took one look at me, hugged me, and advised me to stop nursing, to pump to get my supply up and keep it up, and to get antibiotic ointment on my severely infected nipples. So while I healed we fed our son a combination of pumped milk and formula to get his weight up.  It took a while, but my nipples healed, I got the hang of nursing, it stopped being painful once we retrained Huck’s latch. I felt that bonding I’d read about as I fed him. I was protective of my breastfeeding. I wanted my husband to have a part in feeding him, so he took the formula shift to have that experience of bonding and feeding our son, but if I’m really honest, I wanted to solely breastfeed him.  I wanted him to be only mine, like he was in my belly, when I’d whisper to him all of my secrets.

I think it was only for a few months, though, that I was his sole source of food, as we started introducing formula at night to help him sleep, then we introduced cereals at 4 months and by now, 10 months, he’s fully into finger food, my pureed vegetables and fruits, even meatballs I make for him. As well as formula and whatever he is getting from my breasts. Which doesn’t seem like much these days. He’ll latch onto me at 6am, when he first wakes. But he used to lie with me for 30 minutes, sucking while both of us were half-asleep and I’d hold him and wake-dream.  But now, I’m lucky if he stays latched on me for 5 minutes, as he’s so easily distracted by our dog, by the covers, by the promise of climbing the back of the headboard like his own mountain. He’s in motion. He’s ready to move. Move away. I hold him and he pushes me away. I kiss him and his hand slaps my face.

I am waning.
He is weaning.

I’m not ready to let go and yet he’s completely ready to go go go.

The two words are so close it’s painful. I have this gripped pain in my plexus, this homesick twisty feeling, like heartburn in its most onomatpoetic way.

I have heartburn. Because my 10 month old son is crawling fast away from me and my breasts are drying up of milk.

I am 50 years old and it is just now occurring to me that I cannot do this again: I cannot be pregnant again. I cannot breastfeed again. This entire experience has been a bonus to an already full life. A complete miracle. Unexpected and head-twistingly beautiful. I never thought I’d get to experience a baby growing inside me. Or a baby sucking at my nipple for milk. How is any of this possible? But it was and it is and it’s all going by so fast and evaporating like water on a summer sidewalk and I’m grasping at the ending edges of it desperately thirsty for more. My husband, when I tell him how I feel, says to me, “Why do you always live in a place where it’s not enough?” and that sounds cruel, but he’s right. It’s not enough for me. Now that I’ve done this, I want to do it more. I want my son to feed off me for another 2, 3, 5 months. I want to have another baby. I want to be pregnant again for 9 months and check into a hospital one night and wait there in that gown with my husband and our family and all the terror and joy just percolating in the room with the heartbeat monitor on me and the baby inside just spinning around in the fluid waiting to breathe air.

I want more.

But I am waning and he is weaning and there is nothing I can do about it.  And I’m grieving. And I’m bleeding. All today. All happening today on his 10-month birthday, the day that he stood in the center of the crib, balancing between the rails, and one foot went out in front of the other without a wobble and the other too. A step. His first step.

Without me

Away from me.

Managing without someone upon whom he is no longer dependent.

Me, managing without someone for whom I have become excessively fond.

 

Auld Lang Syne

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On December 31, 2017 I was 6 months pregnant with swollen legs and feet and bad heartburn. I was working a part-time job at Apple at a Mall in Nashville which taught me a humility I didn’t realize I needed to learn and was, surprisingly, a fun way to spend a few hours, as I was always the one the older folks would find, ambling up to me and saying “I’m a tech idiot and I really need someone to explain this cloud thing to me.” I always felt like that job was a kind of walking meditation and prayer – practicing patience and kindness, explaining things with slow metaphors while the bright flourescent lights and loud pop music threatened at the edge of my center. We had closed on our new home, my first house purchase, a big girl step, and had moved on the 30th. I’m pretty sure we didn’t really do much on New Year’s Eve. I probably came home from work, feet swollen, and collapsed on the couch and fell asleep by 10pm. 

It’s one of those evenings where people are posting their Best of 2018 lists, all their accomplishments, their gold star, fireworks moments. Some are brave enough to post their great disappointments. Of course. That’s what Year End Lists are for, aren’t they? For us to reflect on the hours we have passed and to self-assess: were we good? were we good enough? It’s a kind of spiritual practice to stay in the moment and not do that, to not lean into the ‘enoughness’ of any of it, for in there lies the devil of judgement. We all want to love New Year’s Eve. We want to dress in gold glitter and be our best selves, surrounded by our best friends, with love at the edges of the storyboard, ready to sweep us into it’s promise as the ball drops in the big city and the sirens roar. And we all know it’s a false dream. The party mostly disappoints. We get stuck in traffic, in bad weather, in argument. The kiss never happens. We wake up hungover and hungry.
 
I spent 20 years in New York City. Living there was the fulfillment of a childhood dream – to live in “The Village”. To be an artist in Greenwich Village, Soho, Brooklyn. It took me a while to get the City in my bloodstream, and when it took, I was home. But I never belonged. 
 
I once was invited to the Penthouse NYE Party of a Famously Fabulous Editor of a Glossy Magazine. I remember being stuffed into a cab with a handful of other drunk, overdressed friends, speeding downtown to get to her apartment in time for the ball drop. I’m not sure if we made it. I remember feeling rushed. Rushed to get to THE place. So that we would be at THE party. Which was full of people in magazines and I think I ate crab rangoons and drank champagne in the corner with a guy with a cocaine mustache and felt lonely.
 
I once worked with Lainie Kazan, the actress and singer, and she’d play The Rainbow Room at the top of Rockefeller Plaza every New Year’s Eve and I wore a velvet long mermaid like dress to be the hostess/personal assistant for her show, welcoming Gregory Hines and Bette Midler and Dan Rather and Abe Vigoda and what seemed like the entire cast of The Sopranos well before that show was even written. I had brought a date, some actor who was very pretty and very smart but mean to me, and I let the glitter swirl around and drank champagne and laughed with everyone and I felt lonely. 
 
I once stood on the roof of a building in Soho, a roof in Hoboken, another in Brooklyn, with a clear view of the NYC skyline and the fireworks, with glasses of champagne and cheap laughter and false promises and real hopes and dreams, some of which have happened, most I have forgotten.
 
I was lonely.
 
I have been to the fabulous New Years Eve Party. It was a bust.
 
I would like to go back to that 20something30something woman in a party dress in NYC and tell her this story about this past year, the year I turned 50. I’d like to tell her to hold on.
 
2018 was the year I had a baby. I am madly in love with my husband, my 2nd husband, which means there has been a 1st husband, which, further, means there has been failure. Big failure. But the failing of that one – and the subsequent few years of trainwreck tumbling and grasping at others to save me from the codependent wine-soaked blindness that was killing me – is exactly what had to happen for me to be here: madly in love with a man I see clearly for exactly who he is and love him for all of it. Pregnant and newly mothered, this year, I made a record with my favorite collaborator who is now nominated for a Grammy for another record and it’s a quiet record and I’m not sure how or where it will land but I am content with it in a way I have not yet been artistically content previously. In 2018, I decided to say outloud that I am writing a book or a thing and I’m doing it and committing to it. Also, and not leastly, I think I finally figured out the right chemistry of the perfectly crisp and chewy thin chocolate chip cookie.
 
In 2018, I have somehow managed to continue to figure out how to make all these pieces fit together in a way that is perfectly chaotic and beautifully messy. I’m done with the champagne toasts, racing from one scene to another. I’m done with chasing the kiss in a cab. I like that my husband and I agree that our gold star goal is about getting to the couch in our comfy sweats with our beautiful son asleep and well fed. 
 
I look up to women who walk through life toward the 2nd half with extraordinary honesty. Joan Didion. Patti Smith. Amy Kurland. Kathy Mattea. Elizabeth Crooks. Marshall Chapman. Beth Nielsen Chapman. Mary Gauthier. My mother. My mother in law. My friend Doug Williams’ mother. My late grandmother.
 
Here, on the last day of 2018, I want to write that it’s been a privilege to share 2018 with all of you out there in the virtual world. It’s a weird weird thing, this communion we have. We mock it. We despise it. We are addicted to it. We want pithy pathos. We don’t want length and over-share. So forgive me for the length of this missive, but my son is napping and I have a few minutes before my husband and I will put on something less comfortable than sweats so that we can spend a few hours with our dearest friends at a perfectly hip, perfectly low-key, perfectly Inglewood New Years Eve party without pretension, with a whole lot of love and gratitude for the 365 days we just shared together. I will brush my hair and put on something fun, as costume, for I now know it as costume not skin and can enjoy the play. And tonight, I will kiss my beautiful son and dreamy husband but most likely all of this will happen well before midnight and we will be cozy and asleep as fireworks go off somewhere over the river for a younger set of dreamers who will think of 50 as a land beyond their imagination, as old, as irrelevant and tired, as a landscape without fantasy and color. Those crazy kids…wait till they see what I have seen… The fireworks I see from here are way brighter now than they were from the racing taxi rides of my seemingly extraordinary youth.
 
This is where we belong. To each other. To ourselves, finally. To God or god or Goddess or The RiverBird or your own Council of Mermaids. In the quiet of companionship, whether that is with ourselves, another human, a plant or a dog. Or a cat (although I’m iffy on cats).
 
May we all have an explosively quiet and extraordinarily ordinary New Year’s Eve.
 
 

Dear Patti Smith

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Dear Patti Smith,

I am a stranger to you as you are to me no matter that I have devoured your images in black and white and your prosetry that flows in books I read while nesting my egg of a little boy last year in a rocking chair waking where night and morning met in the quiet of 3am, when I couldn’t sleep for anticipating the birthing.  Not so long ago, I walked the same streets as you, on the Bowery at the end of the CBGB days, when yellow cabs had dents and needed a fresh coat of paint and smelled like cigarettes and semen.  Where drunks slumped in alleys with paper bag-hidden cans of Colt 45 and called out for quarters or subway tokens, when there were still tokens that landed in slots with a clink to ride a train from the 2nd Avenue stop to Brooklyn or to 42nd Street, where the spiderweb met in the middle and I’d change from the N/R to walk up the stairs and down the hall, passing the sleeping men on flat cardboard beds near the blind flutist playing Ravel with a Choc Full-Nuts coffeecan full of coins to go up and then down the stairs again to catch the red line, the 1 and 9 the uptown line to 66th or  72nd or  96th where I lived just south of Columbia south of the Hungarian Pastry Shop where I lingered for hours drinking latte and writing sophomore poetry in a leather bound journal not knowing where I was going or where I’d been before.  I walked the lower East side streets that were the Soho of my time, the lofts and the fire escape iron staircases perched just above where single pots of Rosemary grew on windowsills and we’d stoop with cigarettes in the narrow grating to catch a breeze on July nights when the city would spill to the ocean without us as we had no money to go to the Rockaways, so we’d wander the empty Lower East Side and drink tequila shots at Motor City on Ludlow with the juke box full of Lou Reed and Television and the smoke piss stink from the subway grates would always smell like home to me at a certain damp 5am time just as the party was ending on the way to the all night diner for coffee before we’d fall asleep in a stranger’s arms too drunk to fuck and too tired to get back to wherever it was we called home.

I bought a $24 men’s wool coat, brown flecked greygreen, at some thrift shop on Rivington, 3 sizes too big for me and I’d throw a worn leather mail bag around my shoulders full of journals and Sam Shephard plays and whatever book I’d bought at The Strand sidewalk bins that day, and I’d walk from 11thand A up 1stAvenue to eat spaghetti Bolognese at a small 6 table restaurant that served red wine in juice glasses feeling like a poor sophisticate. I’d eat breakfast at The Sidewalk Café on 6thStreet with poets and actors before their waitress shifts, scrambled eggs and a bagel toasted with light cream cheese with a salted tomato slice.  And then I’d wander down St. Mark’s Place to Café Nine where a tall pale boy with a Buddhist name who wrote poetry would smile and bring me coffee as I stared out another full-paned window hoping for an idea, for inspiration, for a vision, hoping to fill the blank space with importance.

In the days of the Lower East Side, I was searching for my voice, bouncing from flat to flat, from bed to bed, from bar to bar until I found a guitar and tried out the sound of melody on it.  I couldn’t hear you yet as I didn’t understand the beauty of the raw, I was looking for something easier then, something that wasn’t so sharp and guttural, something that didn’t scare me but made me feel safe. I didn’t find it at all, I just kept trying to pose for a nice picture with a pretty dress on until I was spinning around in that dress to keep it from touching the dirty downtown street.

I once laid in the square grass of a sidewalk tree, too dizzy from tequila, and hugged that zoo creature birch until I threw up all, hugging the bark. My crowd laughed with me and we all sang our way onto the next bar.

I would wear that woolen coat in September over shorts and worn cowboy boots long before I found my way south to Nashville and I’d stomp through puddles on MacDougal with a boy with lion green eyes, a stolen night upside down that felt like the promise of Paris in the 20’s, a heaven I’d never have found staying in Pennsylvania like the others.

No. I wanted Bohemia. I didn’t know what else I wanted but I wanted to taste a cinema life. I didn’t know what I’d do when I got there but I wanted to taste the city of the poets who’d drunk themselves to death in bars along Abington Square, in Chumley’s Speakeasy on Barrow with white dogs that roamed the wooden floors layered with peanut shells, a fire roaring throughout the winter. I wanted to walk by the Cherry Lane Theater in the morning, around the corner from my apartment I shared with someone who’s name now I have forgotten.  I wanted to expand into something more than was expected of me.

I wanted darkness and danger and light and joy and explosions of art and color. I wanted the spotlight of theater borne in the Bowery and folk singers in corner clubs and endless glasses of red wine to soothe the restless fear that fluttered constantly in my chest that told me I was better than all of this.  That told me I was fooling myself by even being here.

I found you later, Patti Smith. Much later. Your voice a brave howl of a thing, ugly and unglamourous, unwomanly, unmanly, genderless — just animal growl. Yet your writing feminine like a heavy-footed goddess and I knew you were the mother I needed to become. I brought you into my dreams, my meditations, the beautiful non-chalantness of your straight hair down in grey braids, the pale lined skin, your kind soft eyes that matched the harp of your spoken voice, a polite question, an apology. I found you just in time for the end of my youth, the crest of the 5thdecade’s wave crashing over me as I was about to give birth. As I was about to surrender to the complete unknown, maybe give up everything, throw the dream out with the baby in the bathwater, to choose the baby in the bathwater over the dream that would always just slip through my fingers as I could taste the salt from the oceans it promised, falsely, falsely like the mirage of Prospero wielding his triton arms.

Dear Patti. There are not many of you that can show me how to age how to art how to grieve how to mother how to create how to dress how to be brave. Happy birthday dear Patti Smith who I have not met who I may never meet.

So, today, happy birthday to my muse my spirit animal my goddess of poetry and song and freeflung creativity and taking time off the hamster wheel to choose love and motherfulness and coming back unmadeup unpretentious joyfully vulnerable who dances through my meditations as my older self draped in a men’s overcoat found in a Salvation Army bin in Detroit with long grey braids and looks over her shoulder as she walks me out of the grove of the cedars as if to say, ‘follow me…there is nothing out here beyond youth that is terrible if you walk directly into the sunlight of the crone’.

December 30, 2018

 

You Are My I Love You

Unknown

My mother in law gave me this nighttime book for my son in his first month. I have a bookshelf full of books I recognize, “Goodnight Moon”, “The Velveteen Rabbit,” “Are You My Mother?” and a host of Dr. Seuss, CS Lewis, Mark Twain (of course) and a boxset of A.A. Milne. But this one I have never seen before. The first time or two I read it I thought it was lovely, but it didn’t hit me with the stillness, the vast empty beauty of “Goodnight Moon” with its blank white page and black lettering, devastating “goodnight nobody” and the last two pages that dropped into a freshly made vulnerable space in my chest: “goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere.” That book took a grip around me and squeezed that place in my heart and head that bring me back to my own single bed, my grandmother’s rose talculm hands reading stories to me, the glow in the dark stars on the footrest of the Van Gogh blunt blue painted child’s bed that I had before my sister inherited it a few years later when I graduated to an adult-sized four poster single bed. I’m sure my mother read that book to me. But this one: this one was new.

Tonight, I am alone with Huck, which is rare. My husband is out listening to music with some friends. His boy’s night out. I am never here alone and I’ll admit it’s nice here, on the couch, stretching out, the Christmas tree lit up, the rain and wind against the window panes, cookies baking in the oven, a flour stained t-shirt and sweats, a quiet mix of music made by soft-spoken men that threaten to break my heart – Ray LaMontaigne, Damien Rice, Gregory Alan Isakov, the softer Jason Isbell songs, Iron and Wine. A playlist of deep mellow that I unapologetically love. Like Yacht Rock, I’m afraid soft-spoken-male-singer-songwriters will one day be mocked. But hell, I also love America and that crazy song “Horse With No Name” even though the lyrics are stupid. I just love that sound. It reminds me of the early 1970’s, which is exactly when I’d have been lying in that royal blue bed staring at the stars by my feet, the sounds of my parents voices softly flowing in through the crack in the door.

I am baking, which is what I used to do to soothe my sadness. And then I took it back up when I married Jamey and was trying to do things differently in this marriage – to not only really commit all of me all in, but to not eschew domestic femininity and goddamn it, bake some cookies (Hillary Clinton be damned). I am baking for the neighbors who drop little plates of cookies and fudge, or hamburgers and fries, little gifts they leave at our door, knowing we are new parents and may not be eating. I am baking for the ones who live across the street and stopped by in Huck’s first week to give us gifts of clothes and blankets and I have yet to personally thank them. I am baking for my morning meeting of drunks, a crowded room of men in overalls that are not worn ironically but because they farm and mulch and haul dirty things for a living, full of women with grey hair and grandchildren. I am the youngest woman in the room and I have grown to love these people over the past year, for it is tonight, one year since we moved into this Hendersonville house, 20 minutes north of hipsterville, of bohemia, of where the cool kids are moving to plant their flag on Music Mountain. Making their mark. Starting out. I am long past starting out. I have been here now for 20 years, quietly making little grooves. No flag is flying anywhere. Just two handfuls of records and a respectable but under the radar and always emerging career.

I am baking to soothe a sadness I am indulging with whispering men’s songs that comfort me. The Milk Carton Kids. Peter Bradley Adams. Many of these men I have met on stages we have shared. I am baking cookies for myself and banana bread for neighbors and friends. These songs are all about longing: a longing for what they don’t have – love, a town, the moon, a memory, a long drive somewhere else. And these songs wrap their loving fingers around this heart of mine, open wide, and squeeze.

I bathe Huck in the bathtub, now, without the infant tub. There’s a soft mat that keeps him from slipping and toys that float and squeeze and Huck loves to lay on his belly in the shallow water and splash and put his tongue in the body-temperature water. He smiles at me with wet blue eyes as blue as the azure Mediterranean in a painting. I feed Huck in a high chair and he eats oatmeal and sticks his tongue out at me and laughs the most beautiful laugh, a wide smile of 2 bottom teeth and pink gums. His eyes dance like the waves and that laugh snakes its crescendo fingers around my heart, wide wide open, and squeezes. I have never seen anything so beautiful in my life as his laughing eyes.

I have stood in front of The David in Florence, Italy and wept in awe.
I have stood on the steps of a temple in Angkor Wat, Banyan Trees wrapping their smooth thick vines in and out of the earth around it like boa constrictors and I’ve wept at impermanence.
I have stood on a houseboat on the Seine and watched the sunset, drunk on red wine with an old friend and wept over mistakes and chances passed.
I have stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon with a friend to catch the sunrise and wept at the emptiness of future promise.
I have stood at the grave of my father’s identical twin brother and wept in grief and, twinly, in anticipating fear.

Tonight, my son lay on my lap and I read him “You Are My I Love You”:

I am your parent, you are my child
I am your quiet place, you are my wild…
I am your water wings, you are my deep
I am your open arms, you are my running leap.
I am your way home, you are my new path
I am your dry towel, you are my wet bath.
I am your finish line, you are my race
I am your praying hands, you are my saying grace…
I am your lullaby, you are my peekaboo,
I am your goodnight kiss, you are my I love you.*

I wept. He looked up at me, I think because he heard my voice change, the tone went from calm and soothing to cracked and breathy. His hand reached my cheek as a tear fell down and his head leaned against my chest.

I have been working on a record of songs I wrote last year and recorded right before and after he was born. And it feels large and small at the same time. All projects feel large and small at the same time, as if I’m grasping for more meaning than I am due right now. As if it’s audacious to ask the Gods for more than just this perfectly healthy miracle of grace that I was given when the jury is still out on my deservingness. I am working on things, creative things, and I am not sure I am finding my voice or if it’s messy, or if it’s perfectly messily chaotically vulnerable. I am a whiplash of hormones and tears and “I don’t knows” and forgetfulness and losing things like keys and wallets and words and songs half written and melodies and lyrics. But I have not lost the desire to be seen and be heard and be validated and yet I know this is not my season for that. I am home with a 9 month old who tugs at my pants and puts his arms in the air and says “Mamamamamama” and cries if I put him down for too long. He needs me. No one ever needed me because I wasn’t really available to be needed. I had it, you know. “I got it,” I’d say, staving off help or care. I didn’t need you so please don’t need me.

Can I be honest here, in a way that maybe I haven’t been honest so far. I really really really wanted the stars. I did. I wanted that brightness. I wanted to have that happen to me. And it didn’t. Maybe I got a taste of it. I got closer than most, I travelled adjacent, I reached my arms up and tugged at coattails and a few even pulled me up in their arms close to their light and pointed out the constellations and whispered in my ear and told me, assured me, allowed me to belong in that light. For a moment. But then, as we do, they’d put me back down, as they should have, to find my own way up without the lifting, and I was back on earth not knowing how to get back to the milky way.

I wanted that so much that the hurt on my chest tonight as I read to my son. And that comes back like lovely fingers that softly touch my chest and trail their touch down between my breasts, swollen with milk, and trace a path down my neck under my hairline and then gently press into my skin and through it and through the bones and blood and thread a net around that same heart, still, so wide open, weeping from awe and art and anger and grief and fear and desire and emptiness and vastness and understanding and confusion and surrender and grace, so much grace, and those fingers…they are soft and they …

…squeeze…

Here’s one thing I think I know. Nobody deserves anything. We get what we get. Sometimes we work hard for it. Sometimes it is given. Sometimes we stumble upon it. Other people will talk and tell stories about our getting but those tales won’t be wholly true, they won’t know. Only we know. And sometimes we hide what we know and spin our own tales for others to oooh and aaah over. To not belong. To soar above, as if that will justify the deserving.  But that only separates us from the ground. Because the stars are lovely but they are farther away than they seem and they are only clusters of old old fire that has died a long, long time ago.  The stars are a myth we keep telling.  And that kind of knowingness is an emptiness in the loudest, most echo-filled beautiful way.  It is truth. And truth isn’t easy.  It’s an emptiness that tugs at the heart and squeezes and hurts. Like love.

I still desire a flight amongst the stars. Don’t we all? I want that flying so much my own 50-year old arms reach up high, stretching as far as they can toward it, aching, weeping, wanting, needing comfort. Just like those little 9-month old’s hands stretched up my leg, tugging at the fabric on my sweatpants, crying “Mamammamamama”, those hands that need me more than he needs stars. And I lean down to say to him, as I have to trust the stars to the Gods who will also say to me, too:

You are my I love you.

__________
*You Are my I Love You, by Maryann Cusimano Love, illustrated by Satomi Ichikawa. Used without permission. Forgive me. Go buy it from a small independent bookstore like Parnassas Books in Nashville.

Hormones are real

Unknown

December 13, 2018

I am on my knees in the living room of my house next to the out-of-tune piano with my screaming, crying, snotting sick almost-9 month old wrestling out of my arms. I am crying. I know that what I am crying over is not life threatening. But right now it feels like it is.

“Uncle,” I think. Almost out loud. “I. Need. Help.” I say to nobody in my house. Quietly. Desperately. My small voice, almost stuck in the back of my throat, like the one I used to use when I was 15 and terrified of the tomorrows that lay ahead. Similarly, for no discernible reason that would convince anyone else I was in danger.

Talking to god. Lower case god. Because I haven’t committed to believing there is anything listening, despite the evidence of miraculous happenings in my own current life. “Please, send me something or someone to help.” And my child cries harder and so do I.

The phone rings and startles my tantrum. I pick up an 800 number, unfamiliar, confused. There is a recorded message, “This is your requested return call from Godaddy.com. If you are…” — and my own recorded voice states my own name robotically — “please stay on the line and someone will be with you shortly.” I wait through looped electronic holiday music. A lot of synthesized strings. Mostly “Jingle Bell Rock,” the worst of the worst.

Finally, a voice. A woman, calm and kind. “Hello, this is Angela with GoDaddy, what is your account number, please?” And I proceed to try to explain the mess that I’ve been trying to untangle for the past 4 hours. That I am not a customer of her company, so I don’t have an account, but that my server or domain host or registrar or, ok, I’m not even sure what it is I’ve paid for, but this one company that houses my business email has been hacked and my email is sending out racist emails to thousands and I can’t get anyone from that company on the line to help and so I’m just trying to find out if I should quit that company and send everything to GoDaddy and I don’t even know what I’m talking about and that I’m holding a crying 8 month old who is sick and I’m sick and I’ve yelled at a lot of people and I’m freaking out and this whole debacle is bringing up all sorts of out of proportion reactions to this internet mess that is pointing out that I. Do. Not. Have. My. Shit. Together. And…and….and…

I stutter. I lose control. I cry.

And the miracle starts to become clear. Angela calmly says to me, “I get it. It’s so confusing and I would be overwhelmed too.  An 8 month old? Whew. That’s a hard time for you, I’ll bet you are feeling really strange. Hormones start to change and kick in and mess with you. I cried a lot when my children were that age.  What is your son’s name?”

“Huckleberry.”

“What a perfect name,” she consoles and I start to calm down. And then Angela, dear, sweet miracle of a call-center rep tells me of her 4 grandchildren and 1 great grandchild on the way, and while I’m re-learning to breathe, she explains to me in very clear terms basically the difference between a domain registrar and manager, a domain host and an email server and what each of my company’s I’m doing business with are doing for me (or, some of them, not doing for me). She doesn’t try to sell me anything. She simply explains and then says, “it sounds like you are paying for something you don’t need, so here’s what you do,” and then Angela walks me through the steps to correct the tangled web. At the end of this call she says, “I’m going to email you a screenshot of all of this so you don’t have to remember it because I get that you are overwhelmed, of course you are overwhelmed,” and she ends her call with “Merry Christmas if you celebrate that holiday,” which sounds like the kindest most inclusive way of saying that that I’d ever heard. I profusely thank her and hang up.

And look up at the ceiling, through the ceiling, to the sky, to where the GOD of my childhood lived and still may, that white God hanging on the cross cross-legged and nailed naked to wood, behind my grandmother’s single bed with the antique lace bedspread right next to the single bed of her late husband, where I slept as a child, with the palm fronds always dried and yellowing stuck behind the crucifix. I look up at that God, the one I’d committed to before I understood what a sacrament even was.  The one I’d fired a few years ago when I was given permission to find another ‘god’ that worked for me. And now I look to that God, still, once in a while, when things get unmanageable, embarrassingly small things like feeling overwhelmed by technology which makes me feel like a failure and that I should just quit even trying to do business at all. Now, I look up at that God and in that small voice, a whisper, barely, I squeak out between tight vocal chords–

“I’m gonna take that as an answer to that prayer. Thank you.”

As a beautiful song goes, “God speaks to me through you.*”

There are days in the past 8 months I don’t recognize myself. Days of knowing how to take care of a child without asking anyone or reading a blog, but just instinctually knowing how to do something. How to nurse him. How to calm him. How to sing to him. How to play with him.  There are days when I don’t recognize myself because the rage erupts without much warning and spills out over everything and everyone in my path, from my husband to strangers on Facebook simply posting advice that, even though it doesn’t answer the damn question I asked, is just their way of belonging to the conversation and being helpful (even if it isn’t and, at the time of my eruption, feels like a distraction from the panicked need for a real solution. Note to self: never panic post on Facebook). I should probably wear a t shirt that says, “Possibly peri-menstrual mother of an 8 month old who may be weaning. Hormones are out of whack. Steer clear.”

In the meantime, I keep re-learning that surrender is never an easy ride. It’s always hard, it’s always bumpy, someone always gets bruised. But that’s why it’s surrender. You learn on your knees that you can’t control much in this world. The best way to surrender is the way we learned when we were in kindergarten. Breathe. Count to 10. And if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all.

 

* “God Speaks” by Travis Meadows. 

Mama

My son said Mama.

He has crawled. He is pulling himself up to standing and moving alongside furniture. He pulls himself up to the piano, his hands reach keys and he bangs on clusters of notes, then picks one or two keys out and a melody happens. He hangs by one arm, sways back to see me, to see me see him and breaks out into a full faced smile.

My son is sick and I’m not there and he coughs and I hear him through the monitor and he wakes himself up and says “mammamamamamamama”.

My son sleeps through the night and doesn’t need to feed off me now every few hours. My son lays in my lap for only a few seconds before pushing my hands off him to squirm away, eager to move to the next place. My son is 8 months old today. My son is moving away from me and today I drive north to spend the weekend doing shows so I can pay some bills and I don’t want to drive away from the boy who is pushing away from me already, too soon.

My son said Mama, looked at me in the eyes, his hands outstretched toward me and said “Mama”.  Just that. Not the stream of vowels, humming on the ‘m’ to break up the moan. He said a word and looked at me and put me together with that word.

My breasts are not full to bursting anymore. My son feeds off my breasts in the early morning, lingers on the left more than the right. My son feeds off my breasts after he cries, to calm, to soothe, to chew on a nipple with his new two teeth. I let him for a minute until it pierces and hurts. My son reaches out with his hands to my nipple and bats at my breast, a toy.

I am not necessary for my son to stay alive anymore. My husband feeds supplemental formula to my son as we have done since the beginning when my son hadn’t latched and was losing weight. We keep this up so that my husband is a part of the feeding of my son, so that it’s not all on me, as I need to be able to separate myself sometimes, and I feel guilty about this, but then, none of this is normal, this having a child at 50 with a full life that was challenging to put to pause. My husband always seems slightly jealous of the connection I have with my son, him on my breast. This may be something I am imagining.

My son said Mama.

The tendons in my left arm are in excruciating pain typing this. I have a tennis elbow injury from holding my son, from lifting him. I can barely lift a glass of water without pain. The pain was localized to just the elbow but is now spreading down tendons of my forearms and up the inside of my arm to my shoulder, under the scapula. It pulls and burns. My arm burns from holding the heft of my son. My playing arm is now compromised by my motherness.

My right hip burns too. Bursitis. Or inflammation. But I can’t walk straight after being seated for too long. I can’t lay on my left side and allow my leg to lay on top of the other as the stretch of the outside muscle of my thigh burns.

Burns from carrying the weight of my son inside for 9 months.

My arm burns from carrying the weight of my son outside for 8 months.

In one month he will have been out of my womb as long as he was in it.

My body aches in different places on opposite sides.

My heart aches right in the center.

My son said Mama.  So, none of the rest matters.

November 11, 2018

6 Months (days and nights and concerts)

September 14, 2018

 The whirring creak of the ceiling fan.  A staccato rise and fall of the cicadas. Crickets answering each other from across the lawn. A bird caws, another clicks. Traffic hum. A plane overhead. Late summer moans as I sit outside on our porch with my son, 6 months old in two days. He is in a bouncy seat, a circular plastic saucer of bright colors and things that go buzz and beep when he grabs, soft objects tethered to the base, to pull, large buttons to push and animals and clowns to pull from a padded arch.  He puts it all in his mouth. Yellows. Orange. Red. Blue. All the brightest colors and noises. He is talking to the green piece, a large musical note shaped thing he is trying to get wholly into his gummy mouth.  He squeals and moves his lips into shapes that start with “m” sounds, so everything ends up sounding a bit like he’s working out “mama” although I know it’s just random sound. He’s trying on his voice for size, taking it out for a ride, cawing like the bird, calling out to the fan. Swooping high and low in his tone arsenal. Mimicking me and his Dad and all the noises he hears inside and out.

At 3:45 am he woke me, as he has done for the last few weeks, so that it feels like a sign of something: 3-4-5.  He touches my arm, curled next to me in the large bed, between me and my husband, as I’d left him there after the 2am feeding, which I know he doesn’t need, but I’m too tired to wait out his cries and I’ve been giving in to taking him out of his bassinet and bringing him into our bed, the only thing that will calm him these days.  At 3:45am, I looked over. He was on his belly, propped up on elbows, staring right into my face, swooping his voice “Moooooomamamamamooooahhhhhhh!” Seeing me seeing him, his wide grin burst out across his cheeks and he squealed. My husband, sleeping, grunted and rolled away from us. I propped my son up nipple-height to feed, once again, as I listened to his cooing before his fingers loosened, his arms slackened, and his mouth slipped off my breast into sleep again.

It is 9am and he has eaten oatmeal and had milk and I’ve changed 3 diapers in the past hour, wiped green sludge off his back, my hands, gone through about 20 wet wipes warmed by the contraption somebody gifted us. Put cream on his backside over the redness.  Sang my morning song I make up every day for him that always says hello to the sun, the birds, the trees, our dog. I balance him on my hip as I wash my face with one hand, brush my teeth with the same. I forgo brushing the hair. It stays wound in a high top-knot secured by any band I find near my bed or on the sink. It feels like an accomplishment to have learned to brush my teeth while holding him.  I set him down in his swing, another thing to buckle him into as he bucks his back and grabs hold of whatever is near to pull him out of the thing I’m trying to strap him down into.  He is impatient to move, to talk, to be a part of the world that has opened wider to him in the past week. He stares at our dog, Flo, and endures her licking his fingers as if he is one of her own.  He does not like to be stuck in anything: a car seat, a swing, a crib, a bassinet. I put him down on the floor, on a blanket on the rug and he rolls over, pushes his knees underneath him and rocks back and forth, knowing that forward is the way to go even if he’s not yet figured out the mechanics of knees and toes. He continues his conversation stream to the rug, to the wall, to the chair, to the light streaming through the window.

I sit, laptop open, catching the ephemera I witness in sentences, in short bursts. It has taken me 43 minutes to write these last three paragraphs.

Mother-Artist-Protector-Writer-Weeper-Wife. They have all blended into one now. Before, it seemed, were the luxurious days of the freeing limitations of the one thing. The career. The answer to “what do you do?” at parties which pares us down to our essential worth in this world. Now, what am I but all of it, together, at once. And Mother is first now because it is up to me to keep him alive. Which means I can’t be kept to plans, commitments, dates on calendars. I keep flexible and hope my world and friends in it are liquid enough to give me room to feel my way into this new state of being.

6 months. In recovery world, when someone reaches the goal of being 6 months sober, they get a blue chip. A brilliant blue coin. “6 months…days and nights and concerts” someone may say. On Day One (the silver chip), 6 months seems like the impossible task: forever away. One day at a time is a no joke kind of promise you make to yourself: to not look too far ahead on that road. To just look at your feet. Stay on the mat. Stay in the breath.

I didn’t imagine I’d make it past 2 months. I barely remember those days. And nights. Now it all seems to be speeding by and I catch myself in the in-between spaces of his needing me. Like a breath. My own. I write what I can and hope to juggle the puzzle into sense later, while feeding my son with one hand and brushing my hair with the other. It’s a high wire balancing act. No net. Just faith in the flight.