Shadow Puppets

I leave the door open because I know it is only a matter of seconds before I’ll hear the pitter patter of his tiny feet on the tile.

“Mama!” Henry calls out. He rounds the corner, spots me, and exclaims, “Oh! Poop!” he claps his hands, overjoyed to witness the magic of the toilet, which his brother has mastered but to him remains a mystery.

We’re in the tiny water closet off our laundry room and as he squeezes past my legs I wonder what he’s after. Did he spot a plunger? Is there a toy someone forgot to put away? His face sets in determination.

He slaps the wall, right against the shadow my trucker hat has cast, the same trucker hat he tried to pry off my third-day hair this morning as he giggled uncontrollably. The light bulb is out in the water closet–I make a mental note to change the bulb–and the sunlight that filters in through the laundry room windows make gray shapes dance behind us.

“No,” he whispers, his blue eyes widening, looking up into my face. “No. Biiiig rawr.”

Dinosaurs are his favorite, so I’m not sure if it is good or bad he sees a Tyrannosaurus Rex on the wall. But then he throws his arms around my legs and I know he is frightened.

When I pick him up, he wraps his arms around my neck and kneels on my lap, burying his face into my shoulder. His white blond curls brush my cheek.

“You are safe,” I whisper into his hair. “You are safe. Mama is right here. It’s just a shadow.”

I try to make him laugh with the silly shadow puppets that always drove out his brother’s fear, but Henry wants none of it.

“No rawr,” he says. “No.”

So I hold him even closer, smelling his sweet toddler scent, rocking him back and forth, back and forth, as I’ve done since he was new.

“It’s all right, I’m here. You don’t need to be afraid.”

I am pooping and I am rocking my son and there is nothing I can do but sit here in the stench and shadow and tell him I am here.

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Growing Hope

The afternoon before Jacob is born, I trudge up the stairs to my bedroom to lay myself down. September sun filters through the window, casting shadows from the orange leaves of the tree onto my bed.

As I crawl under the covers, I think, this is what hope feels like, and I exhale. I’ve been holding my breath for a long time.

I pull the comforter up to my chin, but not before hefting a body pillow between my legs. The comforter is soft and white and provides just the right amount of weight for a day like today, when I am all nerves and energy, waiting.

The shadows from the orange leaves dance across my body.

Something in me shifts—and it is good and it is holy—much like it did the night my therapist first said “it was rape” and my body filled with fire and rage and finally, acceptance.

I knew in my bones something was changing then. In my belly, new life was forming—new life given by God, and by my husband, who sat on the therapist’s couch next to me, and who only hours before had shown me his love in that way that only true love can.

A similar sensation burns in me now—not only am I growing a human but I am growing hope, too—an ember, but it is there and it is glowing. All that came before—all the confusion, the pain, the anger—will be redeemed in a new story. This body of mine that was once so ravaged is now bursting with the joy of new life.

My Creator, my Father, who designed me to carry this boy, has designed me to carry these stories as well. This is good, and I am not alone.

My belly is taut, but my heart is soft. I know in an instant, because hope does not disappoint: my son will be here soon.

We’re Good

IMG_6588It’s animal print day, but too warm to wear the entire Paw Patrol Marshall pajama ensemble, so we go with the pj pants only. Which means everyone keeps complimenting him on his cow pants—which is confusing to him because he’s not a cow! But also Marshall isn’t his favorite pup—Chase is. And blue is his favorite color. And by the way, Mommy, now it’s hot so let’s take off both pants and shoes.

(I worry, for a moment, he will run off in his dinosaur underpants, because dinosaur underpants.)

With new shorts but no shoes (“I put them in the bin, Mommy!”) he throws his arms around me and exclaims “I’m shy!” like it’s the most obvious thing in the world and as though there were any truth to it at all.

In this moment I look down and notice my shirt is on inside out. It’s a shirt I pulled from the back of the closet and it is a maternity shirt in extra large. It doesn’t really fit me now but it’s comfy and this was supposed to be quick. Instead he wails, “Don’t leave me, Mommy!” and tugs on my pants so hard they almost fall down, almost revealing my underpants, which have polka dots on them instead of dinosaurs.

My face is awash in red hot shame—shame that my pants almost fell down, that my tent of a shirt is on inside-out, that my child is throwing a fit.

But still, I smile and I leave and lo and behold, once I am out the gate, he is fine.

Later, when I pick him up, his teacher grins, seeming to burst with joy at the sight of me. He’s had a great week—every day this week has been great, which must be some kind of record. She puts her hand on my arm and tells me she is so proud—oh so proud—of all the progress he’s made. “Even the other teachers see it!” she announces, and she’s right, that’s no small thing.

“The light at the end of the tunnel,” I breathe, and she laughs and says “It’s true!” She tells me he is a good boy, and he is learning.

***

I take him for smoothies. We both choose mango. When I was pregnant with him I craved mango every day, and when I’d eat it he’d kick and dance and I’d feel like we were sharing some kind of secret.

This is another kind of secret: that we are both growing and changing, that even though I am the adult I am learning maybe just as much as he is each day.

I’m learning how wrong I’ve been about so many things, how often I get things wrong, not because I am wrong, but because I’m human. I’m learning about shame, and how it’s a liar, and how listening to it is a waste of time.

We drink our smoothies and he asks me if I want to be a teacher when I grow up. I tell him, maybe! But I’m already a grown up. But maybe.

“Do you think I’d make a good teacher?” I ask him.

“Yes! You’d be good,” he says, and he smiles a secret smile. “Because you are my good Mommy.”

He’s good. I’m good. We’re good. I’ll be holding onto these words for a lifetime.

On Ice and Fire and Goose Poop

geese-57739_960_720We are chasing wild geese in the early morning light. The sun slants through the trees and it is so bright I must squint to see.

My feet, bare and cold, are also covered in goose poop. These are the sacrifices one makes as the mother to a boy who is almost three.

Jacob runs ahead of me and then stops short, peering back at my face.

“Let’s go slowly and quietly,” I suggest. And he runs back to grab my hand.

Tiptoeing through the pungent wet grass, we clutch each other’s fingers. We creep so quietly, so slowly, the geese allow us closer than I would have imagined. My son is quieter than I would have imagined.

Not wanting to push our luck, I say, “Wait. Let’s stay here a minute and watch them.”

Jacob grins at me. He whispers, “I want to chase them, Mommy.”

As I nod, he lets go of my hand and runs straight into the feathery fray.

***

Jacob is fire and wind, a wildfire raging. In the wee hours of his first mornings I saw worlds behind those deep brown eyes, and I prayed the screaming and flailing and resistance to my love would settle into a peaceful, restful spirit.

Now he is belly laughter and barrel rolls and an encyclopedia on his favorite birds. He is tears over songs in minor chords and fears of Disney movies–even after the evil is vanquished. He so desperately wants to consume the world, yet the world is often just too much for him.

Someday, God willing, he will move mountains. But now? Now he is a little boy who desperately wants both freedom and control.

***

Our trusted nanny must leave us and we are trying someone new.

When I return from my errands, Jacob flings open the gate and runs through the carport, his wild sun-kissed hair glowing in the light of the setting sun. “Mommy!” he cries, all hair and limbs and Lightning McQueen underpants. I squat down to his level to give him a hug and I notice he is shaking. He won’t make eye contact with me. His words are coming out too fast, and he is moving too fast, too.

The sitter, who is feeding Henry, my sweet, roll-with-the-punches 18 month old, tells me Jacob acted jealous because she held “the baby” all day. She tells me Jacob wouldn’t listen (but she doesn’t call him Jacob, she calls him “what’s his name”).

She looks at me wide-eyed and tells me he is wild. She tells me when Jacob kicked his brother, she held a piece of ice to his foot and told him to pay attention to the way it burned.

***

What burns me is the realization I will always stand between what I know of my son and the way others perceive him. I am consumed by the desire to protect him, to explain him, to prove to the world that while he is wild, he is also beautiful.

But it goes without saying: an uncontrolled fire is dangerous.

I will have to shed my sensitive skin many times over to become strong, let the scales fall from my eyes to more clearly see. May God grow me into the mother he needs to help him flourish in a world that will not always love him.

Wildfires are a necessary part of the ecosystem, conduits to great transformation. As dead trees and decaying matter turn to ash, their nutrients return to the soil and provide a fertile place for new life to take root.

May God show me how to teach him how to control the burn.

***

It wasn’t until we took our holiday to the goose fields that Jacob ever wanted to share a bed. Now, every night he begs to be held, begs for me to stay with him in the dark, to curl my body around him and whisper that everything will be all right.

But can I promise him everything will be all right when I’m not sure I believe it myself?

Can I teach him how to lean into his good, wild beauty when for so long I’ve poured water on my own glowing embers?

The night after the ice, it is as though he is trying to crawl back under my skin, back to the place where he was first known and loved.

I whisper into his hair: “You are precious to me, Jacob. God made you so special, just the way you are. And I really, really like who you are.”

Quick as geese taking flight, he turns and presses his cheek against mine.

Cosmopolitan

This is a poem I wrote years ago and recently found in one of the many boxes of paperwork I’ve lugged around from house to house in various moves. There was a dive bar near my college called the Tropicana, and as I drove past, I often wondered what the people were like inside. (Incidentally, senior year, my girlfriends and I dared to go in and were roped into a karaoke contest, but that is another story entirely.) I began to imagine what a 40-year-old mother would feel like, passing by a bar like this, and out came these words. Aside from the bacon grease and Barry (I can’t stop laughing about Barry), I’m pretty struck by the insight of 22-year-old me.

Cosmopolitan
Hobart Park, 2004

It was 11 when I passed the Tropicana,
the grocery-crowded trunk rattling, clunking
(on my way home to bed so I could rise and fry the bacon, pack the brown paper sacks that lined the counter)
when I hit that bump going 40. Something broke,
shattered, something glass.
So I pulled around – it was one of those pavement-hugging, tire squealing turns,
the kind that you would see in a movie and wonder
how anyone could need a drink so badly.

I wanted something pink,
something that kicked, something with life
like the time I told Barry I wanted a child
and we left the sandy beach, tequila on our lips,
to make life in the bungalow.
My skin was smooth then, tan, taut;
if Brynn had been there (she wouldn’t have–
she was our life, our love in the bungalow),
if she had tugged upon the skin of my hands,
to watch it slowly melt back over the shape of my skeleton,
she would have been disappointed.
I had elasticity then.

But you tell me there is nothing like there here,
in this peanut shell smelling musty bar
where cowboys, rednecks leave ass marks on the stools,
George Strait, Kenny Chesney on loop in the speakers.
I’m sipping light gold bile from a bottle,
but beer has no memory for me,
not like vodka, not like rum,
not like tongue-tied cherry stems and displaced paper umbrellas
that we girls would toss gaily across the table, laughing.
I had a thin-stemmed dream, then,
perching lightly in my fingers.

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Exciting News – The Unofficial Guide to Surviving Life with Boys

One night last spring, I received a Facebook message from Tiffany, a writer and editor (#lifewithboys) I had occasionally bumped into in several blogger Facebook groups. Thanks to my brief stint as editor of the Good Mother Project, I’ve been fortunate enough to lurk perpetually in many writers’ circles, dreaming of one day adding my voice to the conversation.

And suddenly Tiffany was talking to me.

She offered an invitation to participate in an anthology about raising boys – and of course I said yes on the spot.

I wrote a story about Jacob, and about deployment, and about our big feelings. It’s called “An Orange Butterfly Day,” and when I told Jacob the name of the story I had written, I could see on his face he knew it was about him, and it was about love.

The book officially launches October 21, and will be available on Amazon.

My words will share space with stories from some of the wittiest, insightful, wonderful mama writers I’ve had the privilege of internet stalking.

While you wait for October, please take the time to check them out!

Tidal Wave

unnamed (1)My dreams are plagued by a recurring nightmare about a tidal wave.

It begins with a hush and a roar and the realization that it’s too late to run.

I don’t run — not because it’s too late, but because there’s something else for me to do before the water comes.

I believe there’s still a way out, but the way out isn’t by running.

I hear a cry and look up to see a little boy, perched high on an apartment balcony or a tree limb. He is terrified and alone and I know it’s my job to save him from drowning.

I do reach him. For a few brief moments there is peace as his small hand slips into mine. He smiles at me, and we are safe.

It’s not logical, to believe that a tidal wave will stop because of hands making contact. Yet in my dream, it always does.