Friday, September 30, 2011

Balancing a Tray of Sundaes

It's 12:39 AM.  I'm awake. 

These midnight hours are familiar to me; we've come to know each other well in these last many months.  I've run out of my sleeping pills (yes, I'll refill them), and that is often the acquaintance that introduces me once again to my old friend, Midnight.

But tonight it's not bad.  It's okay.  I'm okay. 

There aren't flashbacks happening in my head, the trailer reel of specific horrifying moments.  I do feel them whispering and wakeful though, so I won't nudge that monster.

So many writing ideas come to my mind in that half-awake place, and I think to myself, "Remember that one.  Write about it tomorrow."  And I put myself to sleep by reciting the list of ideas over and over, promising myself I'll remember.  But usually I have forgotten when sunshine brings the morning dance.  (This is why many writers keep a notebook and pen at their bedside table.)

Tonight, I indulged.  Oh, just get up already, Tricia.  Go write.

So I sit at my kitchen table, a most inviting work space when it is clear and my kitchen is clean.  I'm wearing a favorite hoodie over my jammies because Robb conditioned me to keep the house at a frigid temperature at night.  That's what I prefer now, all these years later.  I've poured myself a coffee mug of water, because coffee mugs are my favorite to drink from (a large reason I learned to drink coffee) but steamed milk is gross and a pot of decaf seems like a major undertaking.  Water it is.

Here's what I want to write about: a waitress tray.

I was a waitress (or server, for the more current and politically correct term, or Food Transport Consultant for those who need to put it on their resume) for six years in high school and college.  I started at Friendly's, a chain restaurant in the midwest that features ice cream and sandwiches.  (Let's hear it for the Fribble.)

In the later years, as I moved up in the restaurant world, we didn't use trays to deliver food to the guest.  We had a careful choreography of balancing plates and bowls up the length of the arm, through the crook of the elbow, and resting on the shoulder. 

But that's hard to do with ice cream sundaes.  So we used trays - round and brown, always stained with sodas and syrups by the end of the night.

It was daunting at first, but I learned the balancing act.  And I did just fine with a steady tray of a half dozen sundaes or more, as long as some schmuck didn't reach up to take the one he ordered.  I couldn't explain the science of it, because in case you haven't noticed, I'm more of an adverb girl and not so much a physics specialist.  In other words, I don't know how I'm doing this, but I am.  So please don't touch the tray.

I'm in a good place right now.  I've found a good rhythm.  Both feet are under me, and I'm standing. 

I can't really explain it.  Maybe it's the passing of more than nine months; maybe it is this short reprieve from holidays and anniversaries; maybe it is the cocktail of medications; maybe it is exclusively the grace of God; maybe it's all of the above.  I don't know - and frankly, I don't really care.  It just feels really good to be okay.

I've found a careful rhythm for our days, and the boys are doing really well (with the exception of the classroom reminders to stay in one's personal space).  I've resumed the evening routines once again, dismissing my parents after nine months of sharing the dinner, baths, and bedtimes of nearly every evening together.  It is a tremendous sign of my emotional health: I am looking for my independence. 

A handful of successful afternoons and nights with my little boys, and voila!  I feel like I've left for college all over again.  My support team is nearby, but I'm stretching my wings and giving this a go.

July, August, and September were a hard push, a strong current.  I have a little time to float downstream, to catch my breath before we hit the rapids of the holiday season and all the newness they will bring to our home.  For now, I'm catching a little sunshine.

And it feels really, really, really good.

(I just made a trip upstairs when Tucker woke up calling me because he dropped his water bottle off the top bunk, and then I made a second trip when Tyler woke up crying because "I couldn't find you sleeping right beside me, Mommy."  And that's my cue.  Better wrap this thing up.)

Anyway, bottom line: I don't know how I'm doing this, but I've found a rhythm and a balance that seems to be working well.  I'm doing it.

(As long as some schmuck doesn't topple the tray.)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I Resorted to Throwing the Broom.

So, either the spiders have gone overly crazy with their web designs in the lofty corners of my front porch, or that is something Robb routinely took care of without telling me.

I suspect the latter is the case.

I suddenly realized that the cobwebs were visible from the street.  That doesn't make a home so inviting, but more like the haunted house of the neighborhood.  No need to start any of those rumors.

So I headed out there with my broom, and I began sweeping away at the corners, clearing out all the muck.  I reached as I high as I could.  But the spiders had reached higher.  I stood on my tiptoes.  I reached with my broom. 

Finally, I resorted to throwing the broom at the cobwebs, hurtling it up in the general direction, and ducking out of the way before the broom or the cobwebs hit the ground.   Repeatedly.

In the end, I resolved to bring the step stool outside - the task I was avoiding as if it involved a donation of my bone marrow.  By the time I finished, I had cobwebs in my hair, in my flip flops, and I'm pretty sure in my teeth. 

But my entryway is inviting again.  All to make room for the autumn wreath. 

I took on the cobwebs.  (Robb would never believe this to be true.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Philosophy v. Aesthetics

I have always said Cinderella is my favorite princess.  And I think she forever will be because I'll never in my life get over that ball gown of hers.

But I think I like Belle better. 

She is smart, she isn't distracted by the wooing antics of Gaston, and she loves books.  She has her head on straight. 

Perhaps Cinderella is aesthetically my favorite, but Belle is philosophically my favorite.

I think I'll start asking little girls to clarify. 

"Ah, yes, princess-shmincess.  Tell me your comparisons, aesthetically and philosophically." 

If we're going to do the whole princess route, I think I have a valid argument.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Six years in Five Pictures

Tucker brought an assignment home:

Complete a timeline of your life story, with five pictures and simple captions.

Now this is an excellent assignment.  Brilliant, really.  Personal, timely, and filled with learning objectives about self, milestones, and sequencing.  They will hang their timelines in the hallway, and their oral presentations begin this week.

(Why didn't I do this when I was a teacher?)

Six years in five pictures.  That's a significant task, and it calls for some seriously careful selection.

Here's what we came up with.

Tucker was born.

Tucker became a big brother.

Our family went to Disney World.

Our family went to the mountains.

Tucker is in kindergarten.

And this brings us to today.  

We chose not to post Robb's death as a milestone.  Not because it isn't one, but because there's a lot more to Tucker's daddy than the fact that he died too soon.  Robb was in every picture except the current; he was present for every milestone except the current. 

I asked Tucker, "What do you want to say if someone asks about Daddy?"

"Well, he's not here anymore."

"Oh, but he was here.  And he's still in our family.  You can talk about him if you want to."

Tucker smiled.  "I will.  He's my dad."

I don't know if someone will ask.  I don't know if Tucker will choose to tell that part of the story.  But I wanted him to know he could. 

It's his timeline.  His life's story.

Monday, September 26, 2011

More Than a Finish Line

I ran a 5K yesterday.  My first race.

I trained, I ran the 3.1 miles, and I crossed the finish line.  I did it.

It was many things, but it was not easy.  After the first 100 yards, it stopped being about propulsion and more about intention.  I will finish this thing.

My mind raced with metaphors.

The differences between running in the shade or the sunshine; I felt hidden and safe in the shade, and I felt exposed, vulnerable, and hot in the sunshine.

The differences between running uphill or downhill; I almost preferred the running uphill, because then it made sense that my legs were burning with that productive ache.  Running downhill seemed like it should be easier, and but it didn't necessarily stop hurting.

I learned from the parallels of keeping my own consistent pace, even while some ran around and past me, others stopped and started in sprints and breaks.

I learned that it's hard to run and drink water from a Dixie cup.  But I was oddly thankful for the splash in the face.

I put one foot in front of the other, sure only of the fact that I could take one more step. 

As I neared the finish line, I could hear the din of the crowd cheering us home.  And above it all, louder than the roar of the crowd, like a balloon suspended above the noise, I heard my dad cheer my name.  That's a voice that has been cheering for me, my whole life.  I raised my hands to the sky as I ran; I can't see you, Dad, but I hear you.  And I'm almost there.

Hand in hand with Melissa, my running companion and friend for more than twenty years, we crossed the finish line.  The boys spilled with hugs, high fives,  and clapping hands, and Tyler promptly untied my running pants.  (From runner to mommy in .2 seconds.)

"Mommy, did you win?"

"In my own way, yes, I did."

"Well, I wold be more proud of you if it hadn't taken you so long." 

"I wasn't trying to win, kiddo.  I was trying to do my best.  And I did.  So I won."

Keep this in mind in your own races, little man.  And I'll try not to rush you.

I feel a certain exhaustion and weariness on this morning after, a blend of those and quiet victory.  And I'm allowing myself rest today.  I mean, for real.  I ran my first race yesterday.

But even as I rest, there are parallels.  I'm reminded of the rest I must allow myself after other taxing laps of this journey - long, hard pushes that that might not be so visible.

Practiced runners remind me to stretch and drink water today, perhaps even go for a walk.  And there lies the reminder that I'm not really out of the race; even in the day after, I have to take care of myself.

Am I a runner?  I might be.

May it never be simply about time or a finish line.  Yesterday's race was much more than that.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

I say: Break the Rule.

Are you reading a bad book?  Then stop.  Life's too short.  Pick a new one.

Too many people buy into the 'rule' that you should finish any book you start.  I disagree. 

Sometimes you need to read just a bit further, sometimes you need to get to know the characters (or the author) better, and sometimes you can skim this part and settle into the next.  

Sometimes the season isn't right, sometimes the story is too long, sometimes you can't find the voice, and sometimes it's just not a good book. 

Not every book is for every reader. 

And it's possible that the great literary love of your life is the next one you'll read.  So if you don't love this one?  Pick a new one.

That's what I say.  And I teach reading, writing, and how to love both. 

You're off the hook. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Even if I Didn't Hope for what I Hope

I am not moved, my God, to love you
By the heaven you have promised me.
Neither does hell, so feared, move me
To keep me from offending you.
You move me, Lord, I am moved seeing you
Scoffed at and nailed on a cross.
I am moved seeing your body so wounded.
Your injuries and your death move me.
It is your love that moves me, and in such a way
That even if there were no heaven,
I would love you,
And even if there were no hell,
I would fear you.
You do not have to give me anything
so that I love you.
For even if I didn't hope for what I hope,
As I love you now, so I would love you.

~ John of the Cross

"I have always taken these last words to mean,
Even if what I hope for is not what is going to be,
no matter what,  I would love the one who made me."

~ Madeleine L'Engle

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Too Big A Guest

I dreamt that there was yet another funeral for Robb.  This one was filled entertainers.

Street performers, ballerinas, a clown on a unicycle, a barber shop quartet, balloon vendors, a hot dog stand, a mime, and tap dancers. 

A full-on Busker Festival.

And everyone was invited to leave their gifts, wrapped in bright colors and frilly ribbons, in the Gift Room to the left.

It was one big celebration.

I revolted.  A complete temper tantrum, toddler style, worthy of an Oscar.  I kicked and writhed on the floor, pounding my fists.  "Stop making me celebrate!  Stop!  Stop making me celebrate!" 

Where did this dream come from?  What is my brain trying to say, other than I'd rather not have another funeral for Robb, and I don't want to invite all of Barnum & Bailey?

It is this: I cannot celebrate.  Anything.  I've tried.  I wish I could.  I miss the joy.

Birthday parties, anniversaries, milestones, anything loud and excessive, really anything bigger than a cupcake.  Others are welcome to; please, feel free, celebrate.  Thank you for inviting me, but I have to decline. 

Celebration is too big a guest; she allows no room for me.  So I have to step aside, slip out the door.

If I stay, I might revolt.  And that could ruin the party for everyone.

"Wearing mourning in the old days was not such a bad idea, 
because it took into visible account the fact of death, 
which we now try to hide, so that it won't embarrass others."

~ Madeleine L'Engle,  
Two-Part Invention

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Seat 23 B. In the Middle.

Dallas to Denver.  Seat 23B.  It's in the middle.  I sat between two men, one young, one old. 

(Young = high school.  Old = retired.) 
(At least in this story.)

The young man looked out his window, looking back at the airport.  "It's depressing to leave my family."

(I don't talk much to strangers anymore, but this was a sentence I could acknowledge.)  "Oh, I'm sorry.  Yes, I bet it is." 

"My family lives in Texas, but I go to school in Colorado.  Are you from Texas?"

"No, I'm from Denver."

"Oh.  'Cause you sound like you're from Texas."

(I had handed him 12 words.  And in them, he found a Texan accent.)

I raised my eyebrows in response, not really sure what else to say.   In another season, I might have fluttered with paragraphs about where I'm originally from, how interesting accents are, the Salad Bowl of the United States - really, any number of topics.

I simply raised my eyebrows.  Nodded slightly.  The unspoken, "No kidding?  Texas.  Huh."

But he was finished with his observation anyway.  Back to his longing looks out the window.

Once we had reached prime elevation, I broke out the laptop.  Type, type, type.  Click, click, click.

"So, is that like some summary or something you're writing for a class?" asks the young man.

He had been reading over my shoulder.  (I can't say I haven't done the same thing.  There isn't much privacy in the forced intimacy of plane flights.)

"Oh, no, I'm working on a manuscript."

He looked at me squarely.  "Dude.  You're a writer?"

"I am."

"Oh.  That's weird."

I raised my eyebrows.  Nodded slightly.  The unspoken, "Weird.  Well, huh.  Nobody has actually ever responded that way."

He looked out the window.  I typed and clicked.  I'm sure he kept reading.  Over my shoulder.

"We'll need you to power down now, ma'am," says the airline attendant, gathering one last round of trash.

I shut down the laptop and exchange it for my current paperback, another from the collections of Madeleine L'Engle.  Man, I love her. 

The older man speaks from the other side, "So, as a writer, don't you worry about reading other people's stuff?  Like you might plaigiarize it or something?"

This was our opening dialogue, at the end of the flight.  We hadn't exchanged words yet, although I had retrieved several things for him from the floor between our seats, since he didn't have a left arm and kept dropping things.

"Well, I'm pretty careful."

"My goodness, if I were a writer, I'd never read anybody else's book ever again.  All I'd do is write.  So I could make sure it was my own stuff.  I mean, don't you ever write something and then think, wait, did I think of that, or did it come from somebody else, something else I read?"

In another season, I may have launched into a diatribe about the benefits of a writer's reading, about building one's thoughts on the inspiration of others, about the truth that good writers are good readers. 

Instead, I said, "Well, I've always got a few books going at once, so I guess there are always a few voices speaking into my writing."

"So, do you write for children?"

"No, mostly adults."

"What do you write about?"

I should have said, "A public journal of the perils of dog walking."  But I wasn't quick enough on the draw.  I was honest instead.

"I am recently widowed.  I'm writing about this first year without my husband."

"Ah.  And what did your husband do?"  (Not typically the first response, but I'll roll with it.)

"He was a corporate trainer for Farmers Insurance."

"Oh, so he probably knows that actor who does the Farmers commercials about their specialized training."

(Wow.  Um, just, wow.)

"Well, no, he doesn't know the actor, but he was on the team that wrote that curriculum."  (And he traveled 20,000 airmiles that year, as I recall.)

He elbowed me with his half-arm.

"I'm just kiddin' with ya'.  Just joshin'.  You know, that actor?  He used to play the psychologist on one of those law and order shows, and he has always played such a smart guy until he played that one role in a movie with Tom Hanks.  I'll tell ya, in that movie he played such an idiot, a real know-it-all.  Blew off his own dog's face."

Oh.  My word.  I open my book.  Madeleine is so much safer than this.  (Robb would say, "Tricia, this is what you get for talking to the person next to you.  Just keep your headphones in. That's what I always did.")

He paid no attention to my nonverbal cues.  He plodded ahead.

"You know, the bottom line is whether they sell more insurance."

(That's really the bottom line.  Really?)

"You know, I'm old enough to remember the old beer commercials with sophisticated humor, and those commercials were a really big hit.  But the problem is that the people with sophisticated humor weren't the ones buying all the beer, so really their ad campaign didn't work at all.  The bottom line is whether they sell more of their product."

"Yes, I guess it is."

I opened my book.  I put in my headphones, even though the FAA denies the use of all electronics during take-off and landing. 

Madeleine and I cruised together to a safe landing, between these two oddballs. 

I'm taking her with me everywhere.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Same Moon, Same Song

"Tonight, we will both look at the same moon."  Ah, the language of love.


But encouraging somehow to the two who are far from each other, perhaps hours away, states away, a world away: there is one moon, and it can connect our dots.  The plea for something in common between two, far separated.

I encountered anew a familiar song this weekend, O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.

It holds this stanza:

Glory to God and praise and love
Be ever, ever given
By saints below and saints above,
The church in earth and Heaven.

I remembered that plea for commonality.

Somehow I don't think Robb looks at the same moon I do at night. Perhaps he does, but I suspect his sky is far more celestial than the one I can see. 

But, as I sang, I wondered about him singing the very same song, along with me.  Just as we have sung for more than a decade of Sundays beside one another, still we sing together, the church in earth and Heaven. 

He is where he is, I am where I am, and together we sing.  Maybe the same song, sometimes.  Always to the same God.

He connects our dots.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Little Ballerina

She danced all around me, this little ballerina.

I attended a conference for the students of John Brown University, and the children of many of the staff and faculty came along to enjoy the perks and amenities of a large camp with horses, canoes, kayaks, and ropes courses.

And the children worshiped with the community of college students on retreat.

And she danced all around me, this little ballerina.

As we sang the truths of the psalms, the cries of our heart, the laments of heartache and the joys of grace,

she danced.

I said to her mother, "She is a lovely ballerina."

"She does that all the time.  She can't read yet, but she wants to sing along.  So, she dances."

She wants to engage, but she doesn't know how in the language everyone speaks around her.  So she dances.

I think that's what I'm doing too, little ballerina.  As I string words together to find the voice of my heart, I join you in your chorus of praise.

Dance away, little one. You inspire me.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

(Don't) Outen the Lights

We sleep with a lot of lights on in our house. 

Night light, closet light, hall light, bedside lamp.

Because fear of the dark is real and avoidable.

And it's a small price to pay. 

And we all need the little boost to carry us through to morning.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

One and The Same?

"Mommy, when you get to Disney World - oh, I mean, heaven - will you run to Daddy and hug him?"

The boys are pretty sure the two places can't be terribly different from one another. 

I think they suspect Daddy is hanging out all day on Splash Mountain.

Friday, September 16, 2011

After the First Year

We stood across the sidewalk from one another at kindergarten drop-off.  She is a tall, slender blond with lovely accessories and a shining smile.

"I heard you and I have something in common," she said.

"We do?"  As she walked toward me, I suddenly connected the dots.  Several of the teachers had told me about the young woman on staff who is a new widow.  I smiled gently.  "Oh, you're the one they've been telling me about."

She stepped beside me so graciously, so carefully.  "I am.  And I'm sorry you're in this club."

"I hate it."

"I hate it too.  My husband died 15 months ago, and I wish I could tell you the second year is easier.  Everyone's telling you it will be, right?  I have to tell you, it sucks in a whole different way."

Her advice reminded me the honest perspective I've received from other patients who have undergone something before me, whether it was surgery to remove my wisdom teeth or a scheduled C-section to birth my son.

Sometimes it's good to hear someone tell me how it's really going to go. 

I suspect when Christmas Eve arrives this year, I won't wake up and think, "Phew.  Wow.  That was a rough year."

Perhaps it is a recipe of time, processing, therapy, and grace that will heal my heart. 

Perhaps I will realize someday that this week was easier than last week, this month more than last month, this year more than last year.

But probably I shouldn't hang my hat on an anniversary.  As if I'll turn a calendar page, and voila.  It gets better today. 

That's probably not how it will go.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Other Side of Catatonic

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the ER.  Anxiety had put me in a catatonic state, and when I realized I had been sitting motionless in my car outside Starbucks for 45 minutes, I thought perhaps I was in over my head.

Panic and anxiety win sometimes. They're tough competitors.

I don't really remember very much of the day, which my therapist says is terribly unfortunate, since she was having a really good hair day.  (I adore her.)

I do remember some things, like the isolating feeling of hearing conversations happening around me, and my inability to engage.  People asked me questions. I couldn't answer.  They talked about me, around me, over me. 

I could only communicate with my eyes. 

My mom understood that language.  She said to me, as I lay gowned on the gurney behind the curtain, "I know you're thankful, Sweet Pea.  I can do this as long as you don't look at me that way.  Tricia, please.  I know.  You don't need to tell me." 

I looked away because I was making her cry.

My parents communicated well on my behalf, as this is their story too.  And most of the nurses, administrators, and physicians assistants talked exclusively to them.

Except for one doctor.  The Chief Resident.  He talked straight to me.

He pulled a stool next to the bed, he took my hand in his, and he looked at me.

"Hey," he said so gently, "I hear you're having a bad day, Tricia.  I hear you had an episode outside Starbucks.  I hear you have a broken heart.  We're taking care of you.  We're going to help you."

He didn't feel my pulse, listen to my heart, or check my vitals.  He just talked to me.  And I could only look at him.

If ever I have reason to visit someone who is in a coma, I will talk directly to that person.  I will hold her hand.  Because it's really, truly possible that she will be able to hear me. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"How is she?"

"Tuck, how is your mom?" a teacher asked him during his lunchtime.

"She's beautiful.  And when she gets dressed up for church, she looks like a princess."

Seriously, who taught him this?

I mean, really, Tuck. 

"How is she?  She's beautiful."

I love this boy.  I could gobble him up. 

Dream Sequence

My mom dreamt that we were actresses on our movie set. 

In a story set a dozen decades ago, she and I were dressed in corsets and hoop skirts, and everything was in shades of sepia. 

You know, 'cause that's how things were in the 1800s.  The century of sepia.  (The whole dream is a blend of timelines, so try to suspend reality with me for a moment.  Since it was a dream and all.)

In this scene, we were to walk from one wooden veranda to another in the downtown city block, traipsing ourselves across the dusty road.

Take One.

We step into the street, and suddenly a car zooms past, nearly crushing me.  She pulled me back just in time.

And, cut.

Take Two.

We step into the street, and snipers are shooting at us from atop another building.  She pulled me back to safety, just in time.

And, cut.

Take Three.  Take Four.  Take Five.

We tried many times to cross the street, and each time, we narrowly missed a dangerous curveball.

In exasperation (and a corset and hoopskirt), she shouted to the directors, "How am I supposed to know what's coming?!  I can't do this scene if you don't give me the script!"

It doesn't take a skilled analyst to draw the connection between her psyche and her dream world.

How am I supposed to know what's coming?  Does anyone have the script?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Over the Handlebars

He flipped over the handles of his scooter, head over heels. 

(Not my son.  This time it  was someone else's little boy.)

He was zooming along the sidewalk at the park, hit a crack or a twig or a toy or anything else, and he did an aerial flip.

There was an audible gasp among the collective parents.  Several came running, helping him to his feet, giving him the once over.  I scrambled in my bag.  "Band-aids.  I have Band-Aids."  It was a community effort.

Screaming, screaming, he took one look at all of us, and he tried to part the waters to find his mom. 

"Mom!  Mom!  I need my mom!"  We made eye contact with each other, the silent question, is it you?  Are you the mom? 

She appeared then, and he breathed easier once he saw her; at that age, breathing easier means crying more freely.  He cried and cried.

The spectating parents gave her the details.

"He was going so fast..."

"He was really scootin' along!"

"He ran over something, and he just flew right over the handlebars..."

"Good thing for that helmet, eh?"

She looked sheepishly at the team of reporters, her eyes offering a silent explanation: I'm not a bad mom.  I just didn't see it happen. I just didn't see it.

Oh, I get that.  Fear not, nameless friend.  It could have just as easily been my child, my easy distraction, my sense of guilt for not catching or at least watching his fall.

In fact, last week, it was my child.  I gave myself extra points on the tally for Mom of the Year when a stranger at the pool had to tell me my son was standing by the ladder crying, after he hit his head coming down the slide. 

Nothing feels quite better than when somebody else nurtures your child because you simply weren't paying attention.  That's awesome.

It's a full time job.  And even if you never take your eyes off them, they're still going to fall. 

It's what you do next that matters.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Widow Brain

'Pregnancy brain' is a real deal affliction.  I did the most absurd things when I was pregnant, and I attributed it (with good reason, I consistently contend) to the fact that my brain was focusing largely on building someone else's circulatory system within my body. 

I mean, for real.  That's legit.

Robb's favorite story (perhaps you've heard it) was when he came home from work to find all the doors left open, frozen meatballs in the pantry, and his great-with-child wife asleep in bed with her puffy ankles.

I read somewhere, I'm pretty sure, that a woman's brain decreases in size and/or capacity up to 5% (or was it 20%...) with each pregnancy, and she only partially regains it back in the postpartum recovery. 

I'm pretty sure that was a reliable source.  Or I made it up.  Also entirely possible.


I have what I call 'widow brain.'

I forget the end of a sentence after the first half has left my mouth.

I forget the day of the week, the plans for the afternoon, how to load the dishwasher or fold the laundry with any degree of efficiency, where my keys (or shoes or glasses) are, to get the mail, to turn on the lights, to eat lunch... I forget.

My closest friends have become as comfortable as I am with the word 'widow.'  I toss it around easily.

"Don't take advantage of me.  I'm a widow."

"Whatever. Laugh at my jokes.  I'm a widow."

"Do you think they offer a widow's discount?"

My girlfriends will toss out things that, taken out of context, would sound ridiculously insensitive.

"Oh, shut up, widow."

"I think you have it worse than I do."  "Why, because I'm a widow?"

"Whatever, widow.  Take your meds."

We laugh every time.

One of them once said, "I think it's so silly to call you a widow, because it's just so ridiculous that you are one."

It is ridiculous.  It's ridiculous and absurd.

And you know who would tease me the most about this mental incapacity of 'Widow Brain'? 


And I most assuredly recognize the irony in that statement.

Holding out for 32

Tuck ate his last piece of birthday cake.  It was turned backwards on his plate, so the 6 was upside down: a 9.

"Ha.  Look.  I'm nine."  Quick wit on occasion, that boy.

"Tuck, you'll be a great 9-year-old.  That will be good year.  And 7 and 8.  But let's do six.  I like six."

"I do, too."

"I liked every year differently, Tuck.  Well, 31 didn't turn out so well."

My mom chimed in.  "Neither did my 29," her age when her dad died.

"But how old are you now, Mommy?"

"I'm 32."

"32 will be good, Mommy.  It will be better.  I'm holding out for 32."

Good call.  Fingers crossed.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Birthday Inspired

Dear Tricia,

So, Tuck's birthday reminds me of a great story that I don't think you've ever heard. Others have for certain, but I think you will cherish this little nugget.

Jason and I were married for a long time, really long depending on who you ask, before we even considered the thought of children. The truth is Jason didn't want children at all, and it certainly wasn't something I could see myself enjoying.

In fact, we were the last of our closest couple friends without children. They had all gone the way of parenthood several times over. Every time we visited to meet and adore the newest little bundle, we left with the greatest sense of relief that it wasn't us!

We would ride home and talk about how weird new babies were, how much work, how much money - how MUCH everything a baby is - and how grateful we were just to be us. We almost always talked about how they look like aliens.  We commended each other on how hard it is to lie and say 'oh, she's beautiful,' and then get in the car and remark that you need a full cup of coffee before looking straight at her.

We were also well aware of the cases of a couple who hasn't particularly figured out how to be a successful couple, and so they decide that having a baby will somehow help this scenario.

But then.
Then we came to see you.
And Robb.
And Tucker.

He was brand new and peachy and angelic. He was wearing a blue and red onesie, wrapped in a yellow, snuggly blanket.

And, he. was. perfect.

And you were so natural, as if there had never been a Tricia not holding this baby.

And Robb was beaming. Literally.

If you could see the photo from my memory, there is light emitting from your joy. All three of you. Like when the clouds have sun behind them.

We got in the car and it was quiet. We probably got all the way to I-25 before there were words. And then Jason said, "That wasn't terrible."

And I said, "Yeah, that was weird."

He said, "I've never seen a man so content. That man was made to be a dad."

There was dialogue of how perfect Tucker was, how parenthood somehow seemed to further enrich you (this was puzzling at the time), how you guys were going to be amazing parents, how he was the luckiest baby on earth.

Whether it was you two, your solid marriage, your delight in the gift of this child, how beautiful you made it all look - whatever it was, that was the first time it wasn't scary for us.

And on that day, the tiniest spark of hope was born in both of us. Our son was born 12 months later.

That's a pretty big change of heart for two people who weren't even considering having children. I consider Tuck's birth to be a divine appointment, for my own selfish reasons. :)

Happy Birthday, Tucker.  You changed the world.

~ Jenn S.

She captured us in some of our happiest days.  However sleep deprived, we felt like we were staying up all night at the best slumber party ever. 

(The balancing act got {*much*} harder later, but those first few days were bliss.)

Now this is a beautiful story. Indeed, a nugget I will cherish.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

More Years than the Fingers on One Hand

This is a song for my sons for when they understand it:
You know how life is full, you know we couldn't plan it.
Your dad and I prayed for strength and understanding
for things we couldn't see or comprehend.

This is a song for you, to carry in your pocket:
take all our love with you in all the paths you walk in.
I can't say your life will always go like it should,
but I can say that God is always good.

And when the cold wind blows, like I know it will,
and when you feel alone, like I know you will,
and when the cold wind blows, like we know it will,

Don't let your love grow cold.

~ Sara Groves, Song for My Sons

Happy Birthday, my six-year-old.  
You are more years than the fingers on one hand.
I love you, my 
loud as a train,
gentle as a breath,
hug of a boy.

Show me what six looks like, Tuck.  
It looks great on you.

Friday, September 9, 2011


"How do you wish for people to respond to you, when they hear your story?  I mean, crying seems a little over the top every time, but it's hard to know what to do or what to say."

"I don't mind if someone else is crying for our family.  In fact, I'm pretty cried out.  I can't cry as often as I once did, and sometimes I wish I could.  There is a beautiful, cleansing release that comes with a flood of tears, and I wish for that on many days.  So when I can't, it blesses me that someone else will.  They usually apologize, as if they're sorry for crying if I'm not.  But they don't need to apologize.  It really truly blesses me."

Really, any authentic response blesses me.  Anything that someone truly means, when they don't know what else to say.  Because I don't know what to say most of the time, either.

I just hope they aren't surprised if my emotions don't mirror theirs.  Someone's response upon first hearing my story might not match the one I carry in my heart, this many months later.  It's impossible to cry all the time, but people don't know what to do with a laughing widow, or even one who is occasionally willing to talk.

Two girlfriends joined me on the day I got my tattoo.  Jen has two boys, Melissa has two boys, I have two boys.  The tattoo artist, so intricately decorated that he's running out of canvas on his body, has one little girl.  We talked about the differences between boys and girls, the basic polarizations.

He said, "You know, you moms have it made with those boys.  When he grows up, you still only have to worry about where his one penis goes.  When my girl grows up, I have to worry about every penis in the neighborhood."

A fair and funny assertion from a man open to the truth that his three-year-old will one day be a beautiful woman with her own sex drive.

Then he said, "So, are you three each happily married?"

And there it was: the tangible pause that follows a posed question that my protective girls aren't sure how I want to answer.

"I'm a widow, actually."

He lifted his tattoo iron from the inside of my forearm, and he looked me in the eye.

"Dude.  For real?" 

"For real."

"Woah, man.  Dude.  That's f*cked."

Now that is authenticity. 

I said, "Yeah, it is."

"I mean, I'm sorry.  I'm sorry I said that.  But, seriously?  That sh*t is f*cked."

Yeah, it is. 

And his was perhaps my favorite response ever.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What Fathers Tell Their Sons

I confess: I was eavesdropping.  But it sounded like something I should hear.

We were all whiling away the ten-minute "breakout" at the pool, passing around juice boxes and snacks, trying to rehydrate and nourish the guppies.

The dad at the next table said to his son, who was perhaps eight, "That kid wasn't very kind to you, was he?  No, he wasn't.  Buddy, sometimes you have to ask a grownup for help.  And sometimes, even though I hope you never have to, even though I hope you can always handle it in a better way... sometimes, buddy?  Sometimes you have to hit him back.  You be loud.  Be loud and proud.  Be confident, and take care of you."

Oh, my goodness.  My ears perked and my subconscious heightened.  This is what fathers tell their sons, when push comes to shove. 

We all start with the peacemaking approach, the Parents' Guide to Conflict Resolution.  And then we realize  that not all of us have read the small print, and not all the parents are teaching their kids the same rules. 

And sometimes there comes a season when you just have to teach your child to stand up, to do okay out there.  Once we've established the expected protocol, then we talk about when to break the rules.

I might have leaned more toward the peacemaking route, perhaps longer than I should.  But a boy has to become a man someday.  And a man knows how to defend himself, and later his wife, and ultimately his family.

This is what fathers teach their sons. 

I wasn't just eavesdropping.  I was taking notes.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Polaroid Snapshot

"Imagine if someone had handed us a Polaroid of this ten years ago."

My family has often used this rhetorical toss-out to lightly reference the passage of time, the way things have twisted and turned in ways we could haven't explained five or ten years ago.

(I'm not sure why we always refer to a Polaroid.  I suppose we could have lent our illustration into the 1990's.)

For example, when my brother was in the high school marching band, and I, the college student, was waiting tables and racking up tips on a Friday night, my boyfriend (Robb) and Rob's girlfriend (no longer) went to see the football game and halftime show with my parents.

So, there were my parents, bundled under blankets at a football stadium, seated with two young adults who were apparently their companions, but who belonged to neither each other nor my parents.

"Imagine if someone had handed us a Polaroid of this ten years ago."

Who were these two young adults?  Where was Rob?  Where was Tricia?  It would have been sketchy to piece together.  But that's how it went.

A similar scene popped up this week.  The boys were in bed; my mom was away teaching her post-graduate course; I was reading in my chair; my dad was sitting by himself in the kitchen, eating chips and salsa.  We barely spoke.

"Imagine if someone had handed us a Polarod of this ten years ago."

Where was my mom?  Where was Robb?  Why was my dad hanging out so late at my house on a Wednesday night?  Why wouldn't we sit together?  Why would we have our backs to one another, and still verbally discuss the day over our shoulders to one another, using as few words as possible?

It would have been tough to explain or imagine.

But that's how it goes.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Thanks a Bunch, Silver Screen.

I just wanted to go see a movie with the friend who came to visit.  I just wanted to see a movie.  That's all.

We chose "One Day," marketed as a romantic comedy of two who take years to fall in love, dancing in and out of the boundaries of their friendship.  Light, easy, and marketed similarly to When Harry Met Sally (one of my all time favorites, and I could quote any scene for you right this minute, I swear).

(You may be thinking, "Tricia, what on earth were you thinking, choosing a romantic comedy?  Why would you want to look in on someone else's love story right now?"  But you know what?  That genre has always been my favorite.  Sometimes I want something to still be my favorite.)

***Insert: Spoiler Alert.*** 
I'm going to tell you the ending. 
Read at your own risk.

So, two hours into their duet of love and friendship, shifting values, finding oneself and losing another, they finally commit to step over the line in the sand, the transition from platonic to so-much-more.

And then she goes for a nonchalant bike ride, and out of nowhere comes a city bus.

We watch her get hit by a bus.  Blindsided.  We watch the collision, we hear the crash, and by the grace of cinematography, we see her get dragged for several city blocks.

We watch her die on the sidewalk.  Emma, whom Dexter finally realized he loved, loved, loved.

Step out of the movie's story line now, and place yourself  in the movie theater with me. 

I just wanted to see a movie.

As soon as the bus crashed into her, I gasped and covered my mouth with my hand.  I was unsure what might escape otherwise: perhaps a scream, perhaps vomit.  Both threatened in my throat.

Laurelyn froze, with her hand on my arm.  "Oh, Trish."

I closed my eyes.  I listened to the movie until I was sure there was no turning back, that she was truly hit, that this movie was taking a turn for the worst.  It took me maybe ten seconds to be sure: I'm done.

And then I said, "We need to go.  Can we go? We need to go."

Never have two girls more quickly gathered their soft drinks, popcorn, and purses.  Come to think of it, I don't remember us grabbing our popcorn or our drinks.  Maybe just our purses.  This was an exodus.

We raced out of the theater and into the hallway emblazened with posters and backlit theater entrances.  I took no further steps.  Laurelyn caught me before I fell to the ground.  We stood perfectly still, without a sound in our tableau, until my nausea subsided and tears came instead. 

She cried with me.  "I'm so sorry, Trish.  I had no idea."

"I know.  I didn't know either.  We just didn't know."

We stood, frozen like witnesses to a crime scene.  And suddenly, we heard, "Ladies, you okay?"

I turned and saw a pimply, college-aged young man in the employee uniform.

"Did the movie upset you, ladies?"

Oh, for crying out loud, do you think I would come running out of a theater because the plot was just too upsetting?  I mean, I guess I just did.  But it's not because of the freaking dialogue or the magnificent writing.

Laurelyn stammered to answer on my behalf.  "Um, well, yes..."

I stood straight and looked at him, suddenly unleashing my frustrations, as if he himself were the movie producer.  "I am 32 years old.  I have two small children.  My husband died suddenly eight months ago.  Now I am a widow and the single mom of two little boys.  I wanted to see a romantic comedy, and I just watched someone die before my eyes.  And by the way, it doesn't look that way in real life.  They should put warning labels on movies like that one."

I later said to Laurelyn, "I'm sorry if that made you uncomfortable, for me to hand all those details to a total stranger.  But I just needed for him to feel as uncomfortable as I felt, or at least to try to imagine how horrifying that was."

"You're always teaching, Trish.  Always teaching.  You could have let him think it was just your issue, but you brought him in to your life.  Always teaching."

After catching my spewed details in his unsuspecting mind, the movie guy said, "Let me get you some free passes to come back any time.  If you want to, that is."

"Thank you."

He issued us our passes, we walked out into the summer's air, and I looked directly at Laurelyn, my companion for this bump in the road.

"Laur, you just made it into the book I will write someday."

We burst into obnoxious, preteen laughter, doubled over on the sidewalk.  It was the kind of giggling that comes from heightened emotions with nowhere to go, the cry for release that demands to be unleashed.

We laughed and laughed and laughed.

We got beignets in a box to go.  And we finished the evening in a dazed stupor of over exposure and overflow.

"So, new rule.  Prescreened only.  Deal?"


No Energy to Waste

"Do you feel like you can cry in front of your children?"

"I absolutely do."

"Do you think that's scary for them?"

"I think if they never saw me cry, then they would think they never could.  And we don't have energy to waste on stuff like that."

Monday, September 5, 2011

It's Not Like That.

"Sir, sir, are you okay?!"

I look to the left of my pool chair, into the corner of the swimming area.  A man is lying on the cement floor; a young lifeguard is kneeling over him.

My heart races as I reach for my phone.  I know this scene.  I'll call 9-1-1.  I've been here.  I know what to do.

I watch closely, before I actually press Send and contact the dispatcher.  Why is nobody else responding?  Surely, they can see the emergency?

And then I look more closely at the scene.  The man is lying still on the cement floor, and the lifeguard is leaning over him.  She loops her long, cheerleader hair behind her ear.  Another lifeguard is standing next to them, and she holds a clipboard in her hand.

And she says, "Begin chest compressions."

The long-haired lifeguard pantomimes the lifesaving process, without actually touching the victim.  Her hands hover over his chest, pretending the rhythm of compressions.  She leans over his face and pretends to listen for breath.  Of course she hears it, because he's not in danger.  She audibly counts the breaths she would breathe into his lungs, if he really needed anything at all.

They're just practicing.

Part of me wants to fly wildly out of my chair and scream at them, "Can't you see there are people here?  Can't you see that I am here?  Do you think I want to watch this show of yours?"

But they're not putting on a show.  They are preparing for disaster.  And they don't know my story.  And it's awfully narcissistic of me to ask them to take their training elsewhere.  And if I had never had my own CPR training (through health class, summers as a camp counselor, and years in an elementary classroom), I would not have known what to do. 

But I knew.  I knew what to do.  And I don't have to wonder if I did all I could.  I didn't stand helplessly.  I knew what to do.

At the very least, I want to say to those calm, reserved, checklist-marking lifeguards, "It isn't like that.  It doesn't happen that way.  You don't count to thirty.  You don't do that 'one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand' bit.  You just do your best.  You do your damned best and you fight like hell."

Instead, I take my book and move to sit by the splashing fountain.  There, I can watch my big boys play, but I can neither hear nor see the practice rescue techniques. 

It seemed to me the pool would be a safe place for us to go.  I mean, aside from the water danger (which is in itself signficant, although I comfort myself with the false security that no greater harm can happen to us, that we have survived the worst).

I would like to have a written note dismissing me from all CPR training and exposure for the rest of my life. 

For the rest of my life.  Please. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Gender Specifics and Foreshadowing

"Why are mommies girls?" Tyler asks me.

"Because God made us that way."

"Yes, but why?  I want to know why you are a girl."

I wasn't sure how far we were going to take this: philosophy, anatomy - this questions lends many directions.

"When I was a baby inside Grandma, God decided that he wanted me to be a girl.  And girls are the ones who grow up to be mommies."

Tucker piped in, "Yes, and when God made you into a girl, he had two little boys on his mind.  He thought, I want to make two very good brothers, so I need to make their mommy now.'"

Just when I think he's not listening, he drops a nugget like that in my lap.

You are right, sweet Tuck.  When God made me, he was thinking about you.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Entire Potluck

"Tricia, you're not responsible for the entire potluck.  
Let other people bring dishes, too.  
Some people make a good casserole, 
some a great vegetable, 
some the best desserts.  
Let them feed you.  
And then enjoy the feast."

~ My Therapist

Friday, September 2, 2011

Not Just Coffee Beans

Starbucks has a consistency all their own, and it's not just about the coffee beans.

A friend of mine has done some significant relocating in the last two years, in search of the 'wild goose' that is her life's calling.  From sea to shining sea, she has found herself all over the country.  And, she tells me, when a new city feels overwhelming, she has learned the key to feeling grounded once again: Starbucks.

The environment, the menu, the colors, the green aprons - the whole enchilada (or shall I say the whole milk iced grande mocha?) - they welcome her with a comfortable familiarity.  "It's okay.  You can do this.  Some things are still the same."

I learned today that when a crisis or national disaster strikes, Starbucks aims to get as many stores open as possible, as quickly as possible. And it's not just for the sake of revenue; when they open their doors again, communities can breathe once more.  They have a safe place to return.  The environment, the menu, the colors, the green aprons - they welcome them with a comfortable familiarity.

Upon today's visit at my Starbucks, I met the regional directors.  They told me that 'my barista' has been nominated for manager of the year. 

I said, "Can I tell you why I personally hope she wins?" 

He said, "Well, ma'am, we know your story.  We heard about you from Howard Schultz." 

(That would be the CEO of Starbucks.  He has heard about me, the sanctity of my corner table, the safest place in my storm.)

We shook hands.  We were pleased to meet one another.  And I complimented him on a stellar team, a job well done, a grander picture of community. 

Man, I hope she wins.  Her store has been my sanctuary for the last eight months.

Really, it's not just about the coffee beans.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Carefree for a Moment

5:21 AM  - "Hey Mommy?  I'm not worrying about anything right now."

Thank you, Lord.  I'll take the hit on the sleep meter just to know my sweet boy took a break from worry.

"I'm so glad.  I love you, Tyler."

"I love you, Mommy."

Famously Labeled

I walked out to my car, burdened with all my belongings.  I travel nowhere light; Robb was always the first to say so.  Each trip to Starbucks includes three bags.  I need them all, and all the pens therein.

(Anne Lamott says she carries one 3x5 card in her back pocket, folded in half, no less, lest she appear bulky as she gathers her writing ideas.  I have some paring down to do before I may begin to look light on my feet.)

Anyway, I was traipsing to the car, with an unwieldy girth of bulk on my shoulders.

"Tricia!  Tricia!  Tricia!"  I heard frantic calling behind me. I took a quick mental inventory of my many bags, since such frenzied shouting could only mean I had left something behind.

I turned to see 'my barista.'  She was frantically waving a beautiful red, famously labeled, salt shaker in her hand.

"Tricia!  I just had to tell you: we got the salt today!  On Monday we can make you your salted caramel mocha!"

Now this is service, I tell you.

I asked her to please write my name on one shaker.  I mean, they have six of them.  That way when the season comes to an end and I must somehow come to terms with this change that is inevitable, they can bridge the gap for me with a special stash that has been mine all along.

Salted Caramel Goodness, you're only three days away.  Okay, four.

An Anger This Deep

"I imagine it's hard to know what to do with these emotions you feel.  I mean, I'm sure you don't want to be mad at God, right?"

"Oh, I have no problem at all being angry with God."

"Really?  But what does that teach your children?  They are just growing the seeds of their faith, and aren't you afraid that you're teaching them the wrong things?"

I paused, thinking of the magnitude of the answer, the magnitude of the calling.

"You know, I think that's exactly what I want my children to learn from this: that God can handle anything they feel.

If God is,
and if he is the Creator and Sustainer of life,
then he is bigger than life,
and he can handle our response
to anything life hands us.

God can handle our anger, but life cannot.  If I get angry and hurt a friend, I may not get to keep that friend.  If I break something, I no longer get to have it.  If I do something to hurt myself or others, there are consequences.  Real, tangible, painful consequences.

I am trying to teach them that we get to keep God, no matter how angry we are at him.

We were dealt a bad hand, kiddos. 

But there will still be breakfast on the table tomorrow. 
And I will still get you to school on time. 
I will make sure you have clean clothes to wear.
And I will kiss you good night at the end of every single day.

I'm not angry with you.  I'm angry with God.  He can handle it.  He's really the only one who can handle an anger that runs this deep."