She Was Home

She couldn’t remember how she got here, but there was an overwhelming clarity in this new place.

It was as though all the missing pieces she’d lost along the way had somehow made it back to her, filling her lungs with air and lighting her soul on fire.

It was unmistakable now. She knew exactly who she was and what she believed.

Distant hums of string instruments quieted the commotion of her consciousness.

She was home.

The brick walls around her were painted all the colors of her convictions — vibrant murals depicting all she cherished, loved, and lived for. And as she stood, as confident and unwavering as her harbor of masonry, she knew what wholeness felt like.

But it can be scary, isolating at times, in this space of stark certainty.

And in that moment she longed for something different.

Not something new, no — that wasn’t it.

Just something from another era.

The brightly painted walls began to peel and crumble.

The blood red clay beneath revealed; threatening.

The mortar continued to fall away faster than she could repair while the metallic tones of the violin inched their way closer,

and closer,

no longer calming now, but growing louder and faster, piercing her eardrums with their shrill high notes.

Each brick fell one by one to piles of dust at her feet, leaving her exposed and surrounded by unfamiliar paths.

But finally, silence.

It was then that she understood what the music was trying to tell her:

“Once you’ve arrived home is when the true journey begins.”

Baby spotted dove in front of peach sunrise

The Cracks that Make us Whole

I was seven months pregnant when I found an injured baby bird hopping around the middle of the road in front of our house.

He was lethargic and in a daze. I didn’t know if he had a broken wing or had just been tousled by a passing car. Either way I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him scared and alone, to starve or fall prey to the foxes I’d seen around the neighborhood.

I had no clue how to care for a baby bird. There were stacks of baby books in my house but none were going to help me with this. Still, my pregnancy emotions had hijacked all logic and convinced me I had to nurse him back to health. I was going to be a mother soon — I should be able to do something.

I placed the little guy in a basket full of grass and twigs with a tiny bowl of water and took to Google…

Grey and white speckled bird
New York state bird species
bird grey beak
how to feed baby bird
give baby bird water
heal broken wing

It said I should place some bird seed in a shallow bowl nearby. It said I should keep the bird near a window where he could get sunlight. It said the bird I had found was a baby mourning dove, just around the age where they start flight training, and so they often fall from the nest unable to return.

And then it said that if you find one, you should leave it where it is because its parents will be watching over it to chase away danger and bring it food until it learns to fly.

My heart sank.

In trying to protect him I had probably done the worst possible thing. There was no returning him to his habitat now. Dusk was setting in and I knew a predator would snatch him up before his family found him again.

I set the basket with the bird and seed and water under the window in my daughter’s soon-to-be nursery — the safe space I had created for protection and warmth. I went to bed and prayed, but deep down, I knew I had sealed his fate.

I woke before sunrise and ran in to check. All of the seed and water was still there and he was lying on his side slowly opening and closing his beak as if struggling to call out to me for help. My eyes flooded with tears as I scooped up the basket and rushed outside to where I found him thinking maybe if I placed him on the ground his mother would swoop down with food and save him.

She didn’t.

I ran back and forth from the house to the basket, sobbing, desperately hoping for some revelation that would help me save this tiny, helpless creature I’d doomed. I grabbed the water dropper and cupped him in my hand in a last ditch effort to get him to drink, but he closed his beak one last time, and I watched the light fade from his eyes.

I fell to my knees, head in hands, and wept — crying out I’m so sorry! over and over and over again — to the baby bird, to God, and to my unborn daughter who was destined to be raised by this obviously unfit mother.

Why? It was just a bird.

But it wasn’t just a bird. Not to me. Not at that time. In just 12 short hours he had become a symbol of new life, of nature and nurturing and maternal instinct and the embodiment of everything I was about to embark on in my new journey; and then suddenly became the manifestation of all of my fears of inadequacy and failure.

I sat and cried, one hand on the baby bird and one around my belly, until the neon coral sun breached the horizon wrapping me in a warm, peach haze.

For a brief moment, I felt comforted.

Nearly two months later my daughter entered this world, but not without a struggle. Not that childbirth is ever without struggle, but it was a much different struggle than I’d envisioned.

There were oxygen masks and a dropping heart rate and a vacuum extractor and a chord around her neck. There was the panic in my husband’s face as he watched our daughter emerge; silent, still and blue. There were abnormally low APGAR scores and a diagnosis of neonatal encephalopathy and an ambulance ride through a snowstorm to the NICU. There were 72 hours of watching her shiver on a cooling blanket from induced hypothermia to prevent brain injury, wishing I could comfort her, already feeling like I was failing her.

That first night after her birth as I lay next to my rock of a husband, the deluge of emotions consumed me. I curled myself up into the tiniest ball, and

I.

broke.

down.

It was the primal kind of cry that pushes out from within, expelling all the blight that’s twisted up and knotted inside — the physical agony, the emotional exhaustion, the fears, the guilt, the shattered expectations.

It was cold, but as my tears settled I felt a familiar warmth; and in that reprieve my mind flashed back to the baby dove and that summer sunrise. I remembered the anguish I felt, and I knew in a way that that heart-wrenching morning was preparing me for this.

Because baby books and Google searches don’t prepare us for the unexpected; for the uncontrollable. They don’t tell us how to grieve the loss of something intangible, like an experience or a hope. They don’t tell us how to not blame ourselves for things that aren’t our fault or how to forgive ourselves for things that are. They don’t teach us how reach down and pull our strengths up and out of our weaknesses, and emerge ready to face the day.

Nothing can prepare us for life except for living.

And when we live out our nightmares — the aches that shake us so deep to the core that they almost break us — those are the cracks that make us whole.

The Backbone of the American Dream


If you’d asked me as a teenager, I’d have told you for sure I’d be getting out of here. That there’s no way at 33 years old I’d be living in my hometown where the biggest attraction is the Baseball Hall of Fame, 40 miles away. That I’d be raising a family not two minutes from where I grew up and an hour from a city that only makes national news when its basketball team plays in the Final Four. 

I’d have told you I wanted more. A bigger house in a brand-spanking new development, maybe near a major metropolitan area with bigger and better job opportunities.

But looking back I’m not sure if this was me talking, or the echo of so many voices around me saying that’s what I should do, that’s what I should want or that’s what would make me happy. And as I took my daughter for a walk through our quiet development tucked among clusters of 100 year old trees, it became clear that it was almost certainly the latter.

The sun is shining and birds are chirping. Dots of pink and yellow and purple paint the foreground amidst canopies of blossoming bushes. Spring breathes life into our little neighborhood.

It smells like freedom and fresh-cut grass.

A contribution to post WWII suburbanization, there’s a sense of history and work ethic here, and it’s palpable. The houses are imperfect with chipped paint or dented siding. Some are older cape cods and ranches; some newer, larger colonials; a few small brick cottages scattered throughout. They’re far from the “ticky tacky little boxes” of Melvina Reynolds’s 1962 satire on suburbia—far from shoddy or cookie cutter—all of them physical structures of craftsmanship and strength, beautifully reflective of the hands that built them and each owner’s individual pursuit of the American Dream.

The first people who built lives in quaint suburban neighborhoods like these poured out their blood and sweat and tears so that their children could have better lives.

My grandparents’ childhoods were poverty stricken. Their immigrant families had flocked to this country for the promise of work or freedom from oppression. And with a whole lot of grit and determination they built lives that were comfortable—each subsequent generation starting out a little better off than the last.

I had the pleasure of getting to know the previous owner of our home. She shared with me her family’s story, and some old photos of the house that her parents proudly built as the first and only home they shared together. One photograph shows her as a child held in the framework of the original kitchen window with her father, a wounded war veteran whose fortitude is an inspiration—like that of my father and grandfather and all the brave men who risked their lives for us.

So many stories like these—stories of hardship and hope—are woven into this backdrop. You can feel it in the air—the reality that nothing came easy for the past generations, and that those who are here now work hard every day to maintain what their predecessors carved out for them. 

Beams of lumber lean up against houses and piles of brick pavers lay scattered on lawns—evidence of DIY projects unfolding slowly as they’re squeezed in between family errands and hectic work schedules. Pride of ownership radiates from every rooftop. 

Some people say that undeserving things come too easily to those who don’t work hard. Some insist those who work hard never get what they deserve.

Both can be true, giving me an ever-deepening appreciation for places like this. These sweet spots where tough choices and sacrifice have paid off—where money isn’t spent frivolously and materialism rarely manifests because appreciation is far too abounding. Where there are few thoughts of entitlement and little is taken for granted.

Life.
Liberty.
The pursuit of happiness.

The destination of that third one looks different to everyone, and it doesn’t always include the suburbs and a white picket fence

But that’s the beauty of choice in this land of opportunity, and those who have unlocked their unique version of happiness have this in common—they never abandoned determination, hope, humility, and most importantly, gratitude.

Thanks to the sacrifices of those before us, our generation still has freedom. We have possibilities. We have choices.

For our family, choosing to plant our roots where the soil is already saturated with the values we hold dear helps us to never lose sight of that.


A special thanks to the previous owner of our home for sharing her family story and photos.

If When You See Her, You First Think “Dull”…

Here’s to the comfort-zone loving girl who also dreams big.

The one who fears change but steps out to embrace it. Who fancies her box but steps up to break out of it.

To the shy. Reserved. Self-conscious. Unsure.

You’ll never see her first on the dance floor. You won’t see her let loose ’til that glass of wine kicks in. Words like “she’s a blast” or “party girl” won’t paint her picture.

She feels awkward in a room full of strangers and she’s pretty sure she shrinks two inches standing up in front of a crowd. She’s an artist constantly fighting the urge to color inside the lines. She feels things out. Tests the waters. Always keeps the nearest exit in sight.

They say it’s the bold ones who change the world. The overtly confident, slightly crazy, dance-like-nobody’s-watching ones that become the movers and shakers. And maybe it’s partially true.

But don’t be quick to discount the girl who doesn’t always speak up. The one who sometimes watches from the sidelines or fades into the corner. Don’t assume she’s just a wallflower or another stone to crush on your own path to success. Don’t assume she has no plans.

Just because she’s quiet doesn’t mean she has nothing to say. Just because she’s cautious doesn’t mean she’s not strong. She refuses to be a slave to her inhibitions. She fights back against her very nature to move the mountains in the way of her feats. She’s plotting a course and digging up courage that often gets pushed too far down. She’s listening, strategizing, and taking it all in. She’s building an unforeseeable strength and waiting for the right moment to pounce —

with a game-winning move, a genius idea, or a perfectly timed joke.

So if when you see her you first think

“Dull”,

you simply have yet to see her

Shine.


Poster Design

Inspired by introverts everywhere, this poster celebrates laid-back girls with big dreams and unwavering persistence.

closeup of two sneakers on a red track surface, blue sky with pine trees in the distance

A New Season

Something changes when you become a writer.

Time slows.

You begin to savor the tiniest experiences.

You breathe in the details and your mind races for the perfect descriptions to relive them through written word.

Simplicities become complexities, yet somehow, everything seems simpler.

Spring is breaking, and it’s a perfect day for a run on the track outside the college
where I work.

I’m completely alone, with no noise but the rustling trees among distant creaks and
bellows of construction equipment. The bite of the hot sun on my forehead is tempered
by the stubborn breeze.

The track ahead is wide and striped, inviting me in like a blank sheet of notepad paper
awaiting a story.

What will the words be today?

There’s no feeling quite like the moments just before that first stride, especially in
solitude. But am I ready? It’s been so long.

I stare down the center lane of the track to where the lines converge and disappear
around the first bend.

It seems so far away.

“4 laps.”
The Mom in me urges in one ear.
“Just 4 laps is a mile—you can handle that.”

“No.”
The Writer in me argues back.
“Just one lap. Just do one lap and see how it goes. Just take it one step at a time.”

I’m nowhere near the athlete I was before my daughter was born.

It was always my intention to maintain it as much as I could, throughout pregnancy and
after she was born. Not being a very emotionally resilient person, I’ve always defined my personal strength by my physical strength—logic being that if I can’t carry the weight of life with a strong heart, I’ll do it with strong arms and physical endurance. But new priorities yield new bodies, and now it seems I can barely make it up the stairs without feeling winded.

I start down the track at a light jog, and pin my eyes to the rows of pines on the horizon
instead of the next distance marker painted on the brick-red path.

Last year, I may have picked up speed and tried to beat a time.
Today, I pace myself, allowing the wind to fill my lungs with every intentional breath.

Last year, I’d have stayed tight and narrow between the lines.
Today, I waver back and forth across lanes, focused more on relaxing my shoulders
than the placement of each foot.

I don’t want this uninhibited moment to become a chore.
I won’t push myself or chide myself, for once.
I’ll move my body because it feels right, not because I have something to prove.
Today, I want to slow time; to bottle up every intricate detail of this moment so I can
hold this story.

The pounding of my shoes on the hard rubber drowns out the sound of far off voices
and singing birds. I can feel my heartbeat rising and I’m tempted to increase my pace
in tandem, but my chest feels heavy and burdened.

Running is a stranger to me now.

It feels choppy and a little forced—so much different than the smooth glide of my pen
on paper that I’ve come of relish.

I slow my pace to a fast walk rounding the fourth bend, and come to a stop at my
starting place.

I think that’s enough for today.

The track surface is warm and grainy as I lower myself down to my back. I tuck my
hands tightly to my sides and stretch out, perfectly centered between the middle lane
markers, gazing up at the unobstructed sky. Wiry clouds streak across the vast blue
canvas like cotton stretched on a loom. A blissful end to this chapter.

Something changes when you become a mother.

Time quickens.

And the desire to slow it down alters perspectives beyond measure.

I’m not the same person I was before motherhood.
Not physically. Not mentally. Not emotionally.

In this new season I no longer feel controlled by my limitations. I know what my body can do. I’ve seen what my spirit can conquer. Any strength that left my muscles has infiltrated and reenforced my mind. Though my lung capacity has waned, my heart is overflowing with love.

In these poetic complexities—this is where my time slows.

In embracing new gifts—this is where everything feels simpler.

And in this new season, my life is full.

Digital illustration by Brian Michael Sfinas

But, I Don’t Dance Like you Dance

How was I the last to know?

I must have been so engulfed in the sleepless nights of a two month old that I missed the memorial Facebook posts and mournful tributes to your life.

There were thousands of miles and year’s worth of living between us, but after hearing of your passing almost a year to the day later, I was overwhelmed with emotion. The forceful tears that followed were the kind I would have expected in grieving the loss of a close friend or relative rather than an old high school acquaintance I hardly knew. I’d gather my composure and hours later I’d lose it all over again.

It continued this way for days and I kept asking myself why I felt so strongly. Was it simply because you were far too young to leave this world? Was I grieving the loss of what your brilliant mind would have gifted society had you stayed? Maybe it was just too poignant a reminder of the impermanence of life — how could you be just fine one month, and gone the next? I was devastated for the grief of your family and loved ones.

But then I realized that maybe it was OK for me to simply mourn the loss of you. That maybe some people just touch our lives in ways we may never fully comprehend.

We met on the first day of sixth grade where the four separate area elementary schools combined into one middle school — an unfamiliar place surrounded by strange faces. You sat down at my table in art class along with a friend of yours and introduced yourself. I remember feeling comforted by your confidence and your friendly freckled face. You had cartoon-like jet black hair combed to one side, a chipmunk-cheeked grin revealing a perfect row of bright white teeth, and you spoke with a baritone eloquence that was far beyond your years. I remember this in detail because you were different — you were kind to me when many others weren’t. You didn’t bury yourself in your familiar world and you seemed unfazed by the negative opinions of others. An old soul; a free spirit, perhaps.

I immediately admired you for these qualities that were completely uncharacteristic of me. I wished I could brave the cruel world of adolescence with the same fearlessness you seemed to possess.

A poem you wrote and read aloud in eighth grade English was my first glimpse into your creative exploits. The lyrical fluidity of your words evoked such powerful emotion and sparked in me a desire to tackle the art of prose, though I never really attempted until much later in life.

You were a walking oxymoron. It was as if any darkness you carried you released through your art and your morose sense of humor, leaving you light and free. You exuded an honesty that was often mistaken for arrogance, but anyone paying attention could see the difference. I pitied those who dared enter into a debate with you. Your strong convictions and calm, quick-witted comebacks were a deadly combination, leading many to explode in their own frustration and left standing speechless. You didn’t filter your contempt for ignorance or apathy. You were judgmental, but in a way that a lack of hypocrisy makes judgement acceptable. What you expected from everyone else, you demanded from yourself tenfold.

Before graduation we each submitted quotes that were to appear beneath our senior yearbook photos, and I still find it amusing that the editorial staff let yours slip in:

“Have fun pumping gas Class of 2004.”

I think the only people that were upset by it were the ones who feared you were right. The rest of us took it as a challenge that we’d better make something of our lives and prove you wrong.

We had no contact the first few years following graduation, but then, by the grace of social media, high-school classmates around the world were connected once again and calling each other “friends”.

One day, an abstract digital illustration of my face appeared on my timeline with the caption “But, I don’t dance like you dance.” You said you had been playing around with a drawing app on your computer and pulled a few random profile pictures to experiment with. It was an outside view of my likeness I’d never seen before, and I cherished it in a way.

We struck up a conversation when you wrote a post about the TV show Gilmore Girls and how the writing was so underrated. I was glad there was someone else out there who rejected the notion that it was just a cheesy 90s sitcom about a teen girl and her mom, and I gained even more admiration for you through this ridiculous commonality.

You sent me some YouTube videos of songs you’d written and a PDF of one of your books, but it wasn’t one you ended up publishing. I tried reading it but I couldn’t get through it. It was far too explicit and violent for me to stomach, which speaks both to my own fears and limitations as well as your imagination and elaborately descriptive writing.

We occasionally kept up with each other’s random musings on Facebook and I enjoyed reading your religious and political commentary with others. Though I often disagreed with your viewpoints, it was clear that you held society to a high moral standard and were all-too-often disappointed. I appreciated that you remained as steadfast and unwavering in your convictions as you’d always been, and I purposefully (sheepishly maybe) avoided the self-sabotage of openly countering one of your positions.

And then one day, you faded away — from my news feed; from this world — and I didn’t even know.

Because we all have our own lives with people and places and things that are so in-our-face that we become temporarily blind to everything outside of our immediate reach. There are jobs and there are kids and bills and housework and we’re all just trudging along trying to stay sane while still maintaining some control of our own lives and our own self-worth.

But how hard your absence hit me showed me something.

We aren’t all just moving through this life like ants marching. We make stops at various intervals; we share space with one another to different degrees and learn from each other, making marks and planting seeds. From your presence in my life I gathered small insights into my own creative desires, proof of concept that opposing ideas can and should respectfully coexist, and a basic foundation of the importance of being true to yourself, making the most of your life, experimenting, and always trying to be better. From your absence, I discovered a profound truth about the interconnectedness of humanity, and that it’s possible to take comfort in one’s existence on earth even if they aren’t directly in sight, or part of our everyday world.

You didn’t believe in God — you made that clear in many of your ramblings — and the part of me that refuses to believe in a Godless Universe struggles to understand what that means for you, and desperately hopes you were wrong. I choose to believe that your spirit is still out there, being a smart-ass, playing guitar and writing poetry and sending inspiration down to all who cared for you.

“But, I don’t dance like you dance.”
I’ll never know what it meant because I never took the time to ask.

But you were right — I don’t dance like you danced, and I doubt that many do. You were truly one of a kind.

May you Rest in Peace, B.M.S.

Dining room with parquet flooring and moving boxes scattered about

The Hole in my Heart Where Home Used to Be


— *at home
1 : relaxed and comfortable : at ease


This morning, Facebook reminded me that exactly one year ago was the last time I set foot in the house I considered home for nearly 30 years.

Two years after my parents put it on the market, the sign on the lawn now read SALE PENDING, and my husband and I were there to sift through boxed up items that I may or may not want to keep. An interesting process—digging up childhood memories and then painstakingly choosing which of them are worth keeping evidence of. There’s simply not enough room in one’s basement for an entire life’s worth of sentimental trinkets and mementos, especially not with a baby on the way.

I don’t know what it’s like to move around multiple times throughout your childhood and teenage years. But I do know that when home is one single place for that fundamental time of your life, the physical space becomes so much more than a dwelling. It takes on a life of its own—a permanent fixture that deeply roots itself in your soul, grabbing hold a little bit stronger with each passing day.

For me, up until a year ago, 123 West Street was home. We moved there when I was three years old, and it’s the first house that my memory can recall. A sparkling new cape cod set up on a hill; a mansion in the eyes of a three-year-old. I remember going to see it before we even moved in—standing in the doorway staring into the empty kitchen—the cherry cabinets and the white and grey speckled linoleum floor.

It was almost a blank slate; kind of like I was. And then, year by year, I watched it grow and evolve right along with me. The brick red siding changed to a muted taupe after a damaging hail storm. The front door, once robin’s egg blue, turned to a peachy salmon. The bare backyard sprouted a multi-level deck, and the barren land behind it slowly transformed from dirt paths and tall grass to a grid of houses and connecting streets.

The formal dining room with parquet floors remained empty for a few years while my hardworking parents saved to fill it with furniture that would do it justice. When we first moved in, every morning my father would carry me down the stairs on his shoulders.

OK, now close your eyes, he would say—

—then briskly walk me around the house, stopping suddenly in one place and telling me to guess what room we were in. That empty dining room, always the easiest one for me to call out. Something about the way the morning sun shined in through the bay window—I could feel the warmth on the side of my face, and it seemed brighter than any other room as the light infiltrated my tiny, translucent eyelids. It soon became the central hub for our family gatherings and memories, packed so full of love and life that you could barely squeeze by the table to make it to your seat.


— *at home
2 : in harmony with the surroundings


Saying goodbye was so much harder than I expected it to be. Sure, I had left it behind when I moved out for college, but it was always there for me to return to if I needed familiar ground to feel rooted and secure. Whenever I felt suspended and hanging in the balance of an uncharted future, I always had the key back to that comfort.

But on that final day, the reality knocked me over the head like some stranger in a dark alley putting me out to rob me of my identity. This was actually it—I’d never be able to go back.

I paced the house, sitting on the floor of each room and stared at the bare walls, as if they were screens projecting scenes of my past before my tear-filled eyes.

I was five again, bursting with excitement as I pulled a piece of torn, red-velvet cloth out of the fireplace on Christmas morning—the one that my dad had cleverly deposited there as proof that Santa was real.

I was nine or ten, sprawled out on the teal colored living room rug, watching in awe as the giant colorful balloons moved across the TV screen in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I breathed in deeply the smell of turkey and pumpkin pie, anxiously awaiting the arrival of loved ones.

I was 16, in the dawn of self-discovery, whispering teen girl chatter with friends in my brightly colored, flower-adorned bedroom—clusters of photos and band posters plastered on my walls screaming to anyone who entered, this is me! (though I really had no clue yet).

I was 21, visiting home from college and sitting peacefully on the covered back patio as torrential rain fell down around me. I watched the flashes of lightening and listened to the crashes of thunder, feeling sheltered from this storm, and from the chaos that had become my life.


— *at home
3 : on familiar ground


One of the reasons I fell in love with the house my husband and I purchased together was that it immediately felt familiar the first time we walked in. Maybe it was the fact that it, too, is a cape cod (though older and a little smaller). Or the fact that it had only belonged to one family (for 60+ years) prior—so I understood the ache they were feeling when they had to turn it over to us.

Their real estate agent had told us it was important to them that the home went to a nice, young couple who would raise a family there. And so it did. Now, it’s slowly beginning to take root in our hearts, as our first home as husband and wife and as the first home our daughter will ever know.

I’ve only driven by 123 West Street a handful of times since the day I had to say goodbye. It’s home to a new family now—a family of four that apparently hated the salmon colored door and clearly doesn’t enjoy landscaping upkeep as much as my mother did. But it’s theirs now to make their own, to shelter them in this chapter of their lives and become a part of their own story.

In my farewell post last year, I wrote:

It feels like 2200 square feet of roots and familiarity being ripped out from under me

—and I still feel that void.

It’s gradually filling though. Each new memory and life experience; each month spent in my now home with my husband and baby girl, is a shovel full of dirt piling into that hole in my heart.

The familiar structure of wood and warmth that I left behind will never crumble under the weight of new years, but forever be an anchor that grounds my past.

I will cherish it always.


*–Merriam Webster Dictionary

tiny human, baby sleeping

Tiny Human

I stand leaning over the side of your crib, forearms resting on the hard plastic frame. At least I think it’s plastic—or some other man-made material that they texturize and paint to make it look like wood. Because nothing is actually made from real wood anymore—at least not anything that new parents can afford. Real and authentic are commodities these days, and therefore expensive. But not you. You are the most real and authentic thing in my life, and yet you’ve cost me nothing. In fact, you’ve given me everything. 

I’ve come to know this position well—this slightly bent at the waist, spine curved, head half-down—position. My body readily takes this form throughout the day, nursing you, bathing you, playing with you. And from the mere weight of holding you in my arms, balanced on the cusp of my hip. Someday, standing upright will feel natural again. When you’ve grown so big that you no longer require my body as a vessel to feed you, entertain you, and move you from one place to the next. When you’re so tall that I no longer must crouch to meet your gaze. When I long for the days you were little.

I just laid you down on your back (the position they tell me is safest) and watched you stubbornly flip, wriggling into your favorite sleep position. You let out a long, squeaky sigh—the sound I’ve come to learn is the sign that you’re down for the count. Only new parents know this bittersweet feeling of freedom and somberness. I could finally straighten my back if I wanted. I could go stretch out and relax. Read a chapter of my book. Drink that glass of wine that sounded so good an hour ago when you were screaming in the bathtub and I couldn’t figure out why. You’re sound asleep and you don’t need me right now. But I can’t pull myself away. I miss you already.   

Your puffy diapered bottom distends in the air, your knees curl under you, little feet resting one on top of the other, your arms awkwardly tucked under your belly. I bend down further and listen closely for your soft breathAre you still breathing? Of course you are—it seems silly to check—but I just need to hear it.

What a perfect, tiny human you are. I’ve called you this before, but you aren’t, really. Perfect and tiny, yes. Human, no. I mean, literally and scientifically you are, I suppose. But I’m not sure I’m ready to label you with all that accompanies that word, not just yet. There’s far too much baggage and negativity and responsibility attached to it. Sure, humans possess many distinctively beautiful qualities. But humans also sin. They lie and they hurt, ill-intentioned or not. They have insecurities. Faults. Scars. You have none of these.

You’ve yet to develop the critical thinking that, when mixed with selfishness, is the perfect recipe for hurting others. You feel no contempt for those that hurt you. Despite your relentless screams and squirms when I try to suck snot out of your nose, or wash your face, you still beam with joy when I walk in the room.

You’re entirely free from preconceptions and judgement; the kind that will ultimately be imposed on you by those around you, including, unintentionally, by me.

Your smile, the truest possible depiction of genuineness. Completely uninhibited by insecurities; unmasked by facade, unlike the smiles of grown-ups. You don’t care that you have no teeth, or that your jaw goes crooked when your grin is stretched to the max. It’s nothing but the deepest, most primal emotion of happiness that turns the corners of your mouth upward, glittering your eyes with wonder and lighting up my life. 

And then there’s your laugh. So free and guttural, bursting up and out of your belly so fiercely it could knock me off my feet. 

Babies are often referred to as angelic, and this makes sense to me now. There’s simply a ‘not-of-this-world’ quality about you. It’s somewhat unfortunate that you won’t remember yourself this way—unscathed by society and life experiences. It seems almost too coincidental that your first childhood memories will likely coincide with your earliest human-like behaviors. The ability to lie and manipulate based on fear of consequences. The feeling of disdain for not getting your way. Or even the positive human traits like kindness and empathy. The time will come when you will need to choose which traits you exude, but right now, you don’t have to.

When these infant days are behind you, so too will be the flawless innocence that defines them. I can’t help but sense a metaphysical disconnect between the being that you are now, and the being that you will become—as if somehow they are two separate individuals with their own souls.  

This crib that contains you now, keeping you safe while you sleep, will not do this job forever. You will outgrow your crib, and you will outgrow your ignorance. The world will crush you as often as it inspires you. It will twist you and bend you and shape you and mold you, tearing you down and building you up, and you will have to fight to become what you want to be against what it will try to make you. And when you’ve reached it, well, there’s yet more bending and shaping to come. Because you’re never truly done learning and growing—trying to be the best version of you that you can be. And the world will never stop finding ways to teach you. 

So I stand here—watching you sleep, staring intently, partially wishing I could freeze time—but mostly looking forward to being by your side as all of your transformations unfold.

vintage photo of mother with baby girl in lap, 1988

What My Daughter Taught Me About Grace

It was a typical Thursday morning, but the gloomy clouds and drizzling rain poetically accompanied a nagging sadness that I tried to ignore as I went about my routine. My mom left early that morning after staying with us for a month-long visit.

I missed her.
But I didn’t expect to.

The feeling of emptiness that filled me moments after she walked out the door crept up on me like a child hiding around the corner, waiting to spring out at you as you pass. A startling surprise that makes you smile once the adrenaline wears off.

***

This warm-and-fuzziness was not typical for me, at least not in conjunction with anything having to do with my mom. When she left our upstate NY hometown to put down roots in North Carolina, I was already 30 years old and living on my own with my now husband, so her departure was less than life-changing for me. We’ve always struggled with our relationship. She says it’s because we’re so much alike, a sentiment that I guiltily dread to be true.

I constantly ask myself why I feel this way. Why do hold back when she tries to hug me or express emotion around me? Why do I see so clearly her traits I fear to emulate, and struggle to see the ones I appreciate? The awareness makes me sad but it has long been a reality I can’t fight. A feeling I desperately hope does not manifest in my own daughter, towards me. How deeply it would hurt if someday I knew she felt this same way.

My mom was a wonderful mother, so I can’t attribute my negative feelings to any sort of neglect or abuse. She did what moms are supposed to do, and then some. She nurtured me as a baby and child, loved me fiercely, played with me, came to every figure skating show, hooting and hollering with pride. Our home was always tidy and cozy and on Holidays it would fill with the aroma of her homemade pies. She held my hand through my first torturous OB/GYN visits, relentlessly tried to find a solution for my painful, teenage acne that I likely inherited from her, put me through college and always encouraged me to think big and do great things.

I have every reason in the world to have that best friend relationship with my mom, and yet, it eludes us. It hangs around though, like that itch you can’t scratch but keep trying to. I reach for it every now and then when I share something with her that I think we’ll connect over—a movie, a song, a piece of writing—her response often falling short of my expectations.

Expectations—a thematic word for our struggling dynamic. A common contributor to our never quite reaching the storybook mother-daughter status.

She expected me to be selfless, to express gratitude, and display fundamental virtues that any mother would want from their daughter. I expected her to be more forgiving when I’d slack in these areas. My mother never filtered her disappointment or judgement if I failed to meet her standards. Words like ungrateful, selfish, and irresponsible ring through my head in her voice. Not that she never praised me. She absolutely did. But it’s the cutting words that leave scars, not the kind ones.

She expected me to leave the area for a job with a six-figure salary, or marry a man that would use his to give me the world. I expected her to impart her hopes and dreams for me through a quieter, more hands-off approach. But subtle comments and frequent meddling would create a bitterness in me.

I expected her to take responsibility for how she’d make me feel. She expected me to believe that my feelings were not justified.

It took me a long time to understand that she’s blind to her dust cloud of conflict. That she’s not very self-aware, or if she is, she chooses not to admit her faults. I knew if I wanted a relationship with her, I needed to be accepting of her as a whole without trying to mold her into someone she isn’t. But none of these realizations eliminated the turbulence that bounced us further apart, leaving me sadly stoic and apathetic in our exchanges.

It’s hard to feel around someone who dismisses your feelings.

When the question of her staying with us for a month while she visited our new daughter arose, needless to say I was more than hesitant. But we said yes, she came, and it was, for the most part, what I thought it would be.

She helped out, as I knew she would. I’d often come home from work to the smell of a delicious meal cooking and baskets of clothes folded and we shared pleasant-enough moments together. Her entire visit, an overall enjoyable experience mixed with bickering, a dash of harsh dialogue, topped with a sprinkle of judgement and resentment.

Resentment?
Maybe I do resent her a little.
For pushing my father away. For moving so far from her family and future grandchildren.
Maybe that’s unfair of me.

On her last night, she asked if she could rock the baby to sleep.

Sure, I said, knowing that it would be hard for her to say goodbye.

She spent a long time in the nursery, and I glanced occasionally at the empty crib on the video monitor before watching her finally lay my daughter down. I could hear her sobbing. My mom, not the baby. And for the first time in a long time, I felt a connection to her.

How painful it must be for her to let go of her granddaughter. To choose between her family and a life that truly fulfills her. How painful will it be for me, to finally let go of my own daughter one day? To accept whatever relationship I have with her once she’s grown? Once I’ve done my own maternal damage? My mom’s heart was breaking and my heart was breaking for her. For us. For the relationship we never had.­

It’s in this moment that I desperately hope for a touch more grace from my daughter than I granted my mother. That she’ll be the tiniest bit understanding of why I’ll inevitably fail her in some ways.

Perhaps in her life before me—as the last born; as the daughter of hardworking parents whose capacities were spread thin—my mom had to fight for what she needed or wanted and so tact does not come naturally. Maybe she lived with nothing for so long that she pushed too hard to make sure I had everything. Perhaps no one ever acknowledged when they’d hurt her, leaving her blind to her ability to hurt others.

Later that night, she joined me as I was finishing a movie on TV.

I don’t know how you’re watching this, she said at first.
I don’t like movies like this.

Of course
, I thought to myself through an eye-roll.

But she sat with me anyway.

The dim light of the floor lamp washed over my hands cupping my mug of tea, my feet stretched out in front of me under the blanket, my mom sitting beside me in shadow. I watched my legs rub together restlessly like hers always do late at night. Like they always did when I was a little girl and I’d wonder why they wouldn’t stop. And I saw her in me. In my movement. In my gestures. In my smile in the picture next to the fireplace.

***

The next morning when she said goodbye, I tried to tap into the connection I felt the night before, and hang on to her hug a little longer than I typically would. She left, and I returned to pouring milk into baby bottles for the day, wondering if my daughter will ever truly know how much I love her. I stared out at the dreary skies, tears welling at the base of my eyelids the same way the rain drops pooled on the window sill outside. And I leaned in, a little further, to this unfamiliar feeling of emptiness.

I missed her.
I missed being cared for.
Being tended to.
Being criticized and judged.
Being annoyed by her little idiosyncrasies.
She is part of me.
She did her best.
She is my mom.

I let the tears dry up before falling to my cheeks. I’m not quite ready to go there yet. But I smile a half smile to myself, and am grateful for this awareness. Grateful for her.