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June 17, 2009

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Wonder Girl Rides Again

June 12, 2009

I’ve been trying all week to craft a post about my sister and Tanner, about how they’re struggling right now, about how they keep taking blows, about how they keep taking blows but never stop moving forward, never stop pursuing happiness, never stop pursuing life. I wanted to craft a post about how my sister recently made the most difficult decision that a parent could ever possibly make, the decision to allow Tanner’s life to be shortened, probably significantly, so that it might be a better life. But the words just don’t come, because I just don’t know how she did it, how she found that courage to do what is absolutely certainly the right thing, but also absolutely certainly the hardest thing. And so I don’t know how to talk about it, write about it, make sense of it. Not without crying so hard that the tears blur my vision and make my head ache. Not yet, anyway.


Today is one of those days when I just love my children so much that my breath catches in my throat and my stomach hurts and tears prick at the corner of my eyes and I just feel all, you know, clenchy and overwhelmed by the feeling, the conviction, that this, this is what people mean when they talk about miracles and wonder.

Because they fly, they really do fly, and they take my heart with them when they soar.

(No) Money Changes Everything

May 20, 2009

I’ve written about abortion and depression and my relationship with my psychiatrist. I’ve written about perineal tears and my boobs and nursing another woman’s child. I’ve written about pretty much every uncomfortable thing that there is to write about, and yet it is this post that I don’t know how to begin. It is this post that I am reluctant to write. It is this post that will, I know, make me cringe in shame.

But I’m still going to write it. Because I need to say it – write it – out loud. I need to not be ashamed, and confessing shame is the only means I know to fighting shame. So.

We are – my family is – struggling financially. I know; who isn’t? There’s a recession going on. Everybody is feeling the pinch. Everybody is clucking about how tight things are, how precarious things seem, how challenging it all is. Everybody is worried. But that doesn’t make it any less embarrassing for me to admit that I am worried. I am worried. And a little bit ashamed. Because aren’t my husband and I supposed to be grown-ups? Aren’t we supposed to ensure that everything is always okay? Aren’t we supposed to be able to protect our family from the dark forces of fear and anxiety and indebtedness? Aren’t we supposed to be able to always, and under any circumstances, provide?

The downturn in the economy has compromised my husband’s industry, an industry in which he works freelance, and in which he has, historically, done very well. Historically. He hasn’t worked in well over a month. I wring a modest living out of writing – more than I did teaching political philosophy as a sessional lecturer – but it’s not enough to support us. Not nearly enough. And so we scramble, and we worry, and we fret about how to explain things to Emilia, who does not understand why we cannot go to her favorite restaurant for dinner, why we cannot take a trip across the country to visit Tanner, why we have begun to sell things. We tell her, dinner is nicer at home, we’ll go visit Tanner soon, it’s fun to sell things!

And then she asks, so will we sell more of our things tomorrow? And, will you sell my treehouse? Because I like my treehouse, and I don’t want you to sell it. And my heart breaks. Because I don’t want her to worry. I don’t know how to talk about this without causing her to worry. I am ashamed that we have to worry. I ashamed that I don’t know how to handle this.

I know that we’ll be fine, in the long run. We will be fine. My husband is very good at what he does, and although his industry might need – does need – to evolve and adapt, it won’t die. Even if it did – even if the work just ran out – there’d be something else to do. There’s always something else to do. And I am – all evidence to the contrary aside – not without skills. We’ll manage, whatever that looks like. And whatever that looks like will be good, because we’ll always have each other. Even if we’re living in a trailer in the woods – which, granted, is a lot less likely now that we’ve had to sell our trailer in the woods – we’ll be fine, because we’ll have each other. Which sounds unbearably trite, I know, but it’s nonetheless true for its triteness. We’ll have each other.

But that’s still hard to explain to a three-year old. Why we can’t, right now, have extras. Why we need to be content with ‘each other.’ Why we need to just make do, and to find some joy in that. Why we insist that this is good, this is fine, this is fun, when the worry is plainly written on our faces.

I see the confusion in her face, and I’m ashamed. Ashamed that I can’t explain it better. Ashamed that I set her up for this, by not working hard enough to let her know that her world of plenty should never be taken for granted. Ashamed that I took that world of plenty for granted. Ashamed that I am ashamed.

Which is, as I said, why I needed to say it out loud. Because maybe, maybe, if I can fight the shame, I can fight the worry, and if I can fight the worry, I can fight the confusion. For her. For us. So that it will, it truly will, all be okay.

So that I can say that, and mean it. For her.

Here is where I say, I so need commiseration. We need commiseration. Will you share your stories, or your advice? I was part of a call with Katie Couric yesterday, via the Silicon Valley Moms Group – of which Canada Moms Blog is a part – on the topic of children and the recession, and all I could think, throughout the call, was how it was easy for me to think abstractly about the recession, and talk about how to help the less fortunate, etc, etc, but that I was unwilling – wholly and shamefacedly unwilling – to talk about my own experience, and my own fear. Which meant, of course, that I had to suck it up and blog it, and it was – is – every bit as painful as I thought it would be. Anyone care to throw in her voice with mine, make it feel a little less scary? Or just, you know, tell me that I should be grateful to have a roof over my head and stop whining?

Bang Bang, Baby

May 14, 2009

All that worrying about guns, and I somehow forgot that I grew up in Western Canada in the seventies. With parents who collected antique rifles. You know: old guns. Which, apparently, they used as art.

I don’t know. It seems to me that if I spent my infancy crawling around a gun rack, and I turned out okay, well, maybe my daughter can be exposed to the odd game of shoot ’em up and not turn into a card-carrying member of the NRA and Junior Dick Cheney Fan Club.

Here’s hoping.

Janie’s Got A Gun

May 13, 2009

So, the other day, when I was worrying about the potentially deleterious effects on my daughter of too much exposure to princess culture? I think that I have bigger issues to worry about:

So here’s the thing: I played games like Cops & Robbers and – yes – Cowboys & Indians (it was a different time) and Star Wars – complete with Light Sabers and sticks wielded as guns and sound effects – p-chew! p-chew! p-chew! – when I was a kid, and I loved it – loved it – and yet I still managed to grow to be a liberal pacifist and so I’m not inclined to a knee-jerk reaction of horror at the idea of children engaging in imaginative play that involves weapons. In theory.

In practice, when my three and half year old daughter cocks her fingers in the form of a gun and points them at me, mock-execution style, I recoil and quietly freak the hell out before telling her, in as calm a voice as I can manage, that it is simply not nice not nice at all to pretend to shoot someone in the face.

Then I debate whether or not to march down to her preschool in the morning and demand to know how and why it is that the preschoolers are engaging in pretend gun-play – because she did not learn this at home – and where the hell are all the princess dollies, dammit? Then I contemplate home-schooling. Then my head explodes.

Then I calm down and ask myself why I need to freak out over everything. Why do I freak out over everything? Is this worth freaking out over? Or, you know, do all preschoolers make a game of executing their mothers every once in a while?

She’s only three. Three. This is nothing, I know, in the bigger scheme of growing up and going to school and making and losing friends and falling in and out love and – oh god – sex and drugs and gah gah gah, but still.

I’m going to need more Ativan.

(Thoughts welcome. Am I freaking out unnecessarily, or is home-schooling in order?)

And Then, There Was Monday

April 20, 2009

Emilia is going to be okay. Last week was full of worry – she was so sick, and in pain, and doctors could only guess that it was something either totally mundane or wholly terrible and all we could do was keep her comfortable and watch and wait to see if the scariest symptoms would worsen or abate – so full of worry and fear and all those bad things and I could not write (I would not, I should not? The distinction became unclear) and all there was to do was wait.

So we waited. And the symptoms abated over the weekend and the light came back into her eyes and so into ours and phew.

Now I just need to give my head and heart a shake and repeat to myself like a mantra: life is good the world is good things are GOOD. And maybe tomorrow I’ll be able to write again.

This Dark And Mourning Earth

April 13, 2009

And so God continues to call children back to him, and I – who watch helpless as my sister lives this loss, counting down the years, months, weeks, days, minutes until her son’s heart stops beating and she must make her peace with a last goodbye; I who know nothing of this pain, except from a distance, a distance that does nothing to keep me at a remove from fear – am contemplating faithlessness, am wondering whether faith makes it easier or more difficult to bear such fear, such loss. Does faith offer the possibility of meaning in loss, does it provide relief from the fear? Or does loss in the presence of faith feel like betrayal?

I have not suffered the losses that my friends have suffered, that my sister will suffer. I have not suffered these losses and so I do not know these losses. But I fear them. I fear them with an intensity that makes my hands tremble, that makes my breath draw short. I fear them, and in this fear I feel betrayed by my faith that there is something in this universe that gives our lives meaning. I feel betrayed, because I know, I know, that if I ever face this loss, I will struggle to find meaning and I will fail.

I struggle and fail to find meaning now – I recoil at the very idea that there is some meaning that I should find, that I should seek to make this better, that I should search for the thing that makes this all okay, as if this, any of this, could be made to be okay – and this has nothing to do with me, nothing to do with me at all. And I feel betrayed. By God. By life. By whatever force in the universe is supposed to make these things make sense.

They cannot make sense, of course. If these things made sense – if the world were perfectly comprehensible by reason – then we would have no need for faith, for God. For philosophy, even, although about this last I am not certain. It does not matter, though, because even philosophers quaver in the face of death, Socrates notwithstanding. It does not matter, because even if there were some answer, I am not sure that it would console. There is no consolation for the loss of a child. None.

Shale went. Tanner will go. And in the course of only a few short days, Maddie, and now Thalon (“who is that?” Emilia demanded, looking at his picture on my screen. “Just a boy,” I said, fighting the tears. “Just a boy.”) and who knows how many other unknown children of unknown parents, suffering unknown loss, untold betrayal at the hands of gods who, promising love, deliver death and pain. Who knows?

I don’t. And I am lost.

Pitiless, The Mercy Of Time

April 9, 2009

When a family loses a child, we feel it. Whether or not we knew that family, whether or not we knew that child, we feel it. We feel it because the shockwaves of that loss – that loss as felt by the mother, the father, the family, the friends, the community, that loss as felt by the world, because surely the earth itself shudders, a little bit, when one of its flowers is cut too soon – the shockwaves of that loss reach into our very souls, to the furthest corners of our souls where we keep, hidden in the dark, away out of sight, our worst fear. And the shockwaves of that loss – snapping, lashing, electric – light up those dark corners and awaken the beast of our fear and we tremble.

We tremble because we know. Every single one of us has imagined what it would be like to lose a child. Every single one of us has lived and relived this imaginary terror. Each and every one of us has held our children in our arms and felt the warmth of their breath on our neck and had a single, heart-stopping thought: what if? And then we’ve all squeezed our children more tightly and waited until our hearts resumed their beat before letting go, a little sadder, a little older, a lot more grateful for the time that we have.

So when someone runs out of time, when someone is forced to really let go, let go let go let go, we know. And our hearts stop for them, for knowing.

My heart stopped today. I am sadder, older, more grateful, now that it has resumed its beat.

Requiescat in pace, Madeline Alice Spohr. Your home, now, is timelessness.

(Donations to March of Dimes in Maddie’s name can be made here. Online memorial to Maddie is here. If Heather’s – Madeline’s mom – site doesn’t load when you click the link in her name, be patient; the server was overloaded and the site is being moved.)

Unicorns and Sparkles And Spandex And Rollerskates

February 26, 2009

This is what you’re in for if you support our bid for a Room Of Our Own at BlogHer. I promise:

You think I’m joking? I’m so not.

(Go to this page – you need to login to BlogHer – and click on the link at the top of the page that says, I Would Attend This Session. You don’t have to actually attend. You don’t even have to be planning to attend BlogHer at all. But if you would attend, if you could – and believe me, you should – then click. Because there will be unicorns. And sparkles.)

Good Girls (Don’t) Wear Underpants

February 24, 2009

My daughter is a nudist. She is an unrepentant clothes-doffing, underwear-eschewing, bum-baring, breeze-loving, parts-showing nudist. It’s sort of awesome, but also a little disconcerting.

She doesn’t try to leave the house naked, although she has, in the heat of summer, had more than one naked spree in the yard. She just prefers, while indoors, to conduct her day without clothing. Which, you know, I sort of understand. Sort of. If I was a compact little person and did not fear knocking over coffee mugs with my pendulous boobs, I might enjoy doffing my clothing while going about my day. But I’m not a compact little person, and I might knock over coffee mugs with my pendulous boobs and, also, frighten any passers-by who might look in the windows. So it’s just not for me. But for Emilia? It’s simply the best condition in which to pass one’s time.

So it is that she watches television naked, plays the piano naked, paints pictures naked, reads stories naked, does yoga naked (seriously), dances naked, eats cookies naked, and discourses on the superiority of Diego to Dora and Grover to Elmo and DJ Lance to Barney naked. Which, as I said, is sort of awesome, in a Platonic perfection of the forms kind of way (anyone who has ever doubted the classical argument that there is such a thing as the perfect form of any actual or abstract thing need, I think, only consider the tiny perfect physical form of a very young human being to be convinced that there is some force to that argument.) But it’s also a little disconcerting. We are – I am – accustomed to moving through life clothed, for the most part. To all of sudden be accompanied, always (in the home, at least), by a tiny little naked being is a disruption of my usual way of doing things. It is to be thrust, suddenly, into a landscape that bears no small resemblance to an all-toddler performance of A Midsummer’s Night Dream, full of naked sprites wearing funny hats and masks and giggling maniacally.

It’s a little strange.

I love that my daughter so exults in her physical being, that she is so unreservedly comfortable with her physical self. And yet I catch myself, sometimes, pestering her about sweaters and socks and underpants. Aren’t you cold? I ask. Would you like to put on socks? And, where are your underpants? Let’s put on underpants, shall we? You love your underpants!

And she rolls her eyes at me and says, no.

No, they’re lost.

No, they blew off.

No, because my pachina can’t breathe.

No, because my pachina gets scared in the dark.

No, because Swiper stole them.

All of which are entirely reasonable explanations for the absence of underpants, I suppose, but still: that she finds it necessary to justify her nudity to me – and that she demonstrates no end of creativity in coming up with such justifications – makes me feel, I don’t know, a little guilty? When I pester her about putting something on – sweater, socks, underpants – I worry that I am nudging the boundaries of shaming. That she feels compelled to defend her choice to be naked, that she constructs ever more elaborate explanations for shunning underwear (my pachina gets scared in the dark!) – is that evidence that she struggles under the gaze of an over-anxious, prudish mother? Am I sending the wrong message (naked is wrong, naked is bad, naked is not how we live, good girls don’t get naked, good girls wear underpants), even though I don’t intend to send that message, even though I don’t want to send that message?

I don’t worry about her becoming a lifelong nudist. I worry about her getting cold. I also worry about her peeing on the couch, which hasn’t happened yet, but still: one particularly engrossing episode of Global Grover and all the Scotchguard in the world won’t save our off-white sofa. I don’t worry about her being too fond of nudity. I don’t know that it’s possible to be over-fond of one’s own nudity. Her pleasure in her own nakedness is, I think, lovely. I love she loves her own skin, that she is most comfortable in the raw, that she curls up like a hairless cat on the sofa and tucks her feet under her bum and snuggles against her blankie and then waves one tiny hand imperiously to demand a cookie and some milk, both of which taste undeniably better when the crumbs and dribbles can roll down one’s bare chest and get caught in one’s navel. I love that she loves her little self, that she exults in her physicality, that she takes joy in feeling the heat from the fireplace warm her naked bottom, or the scratch of the wool rug against her bare belly, or the soft curve of the sofa pillows against the skin of her back. I love that she is so unabashedly, physically she. So I resolve to not worry about shame or unshame and to just let her be.

But if she pees on my couch, those underpants are going on with duct tape.