He's Nine

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Joseph’s entrance into the world was not easy. During the last four hours of labor, I was feverish, passing out between contractions and wondering, in a small corner of my brain, if I was going to survive. I’d been in labor for over thirty hours when my doctor made the decision to move forward with a cesarean and what had been a loop of pain and exhaustion took on the frantic pace of a fast forward film.

I don’t remember much of his delivery. I read about it, sometimes, grateful for the presence of mind in those first few weeks of newborn haze that forced me to write about it. I remember Chad crying. I remember throwing up. I remember the doctors and nurses yelling, “Happy birthday!” I remember him being rushed to NICU. And I remember waking to a blurry Polaroid and Chad grinning ear to ear that he was “beautiful”.

Motherhood was not what I expected. I imagined myself as the quintessential Earth Mother, always patient and loving, never short tempered or frustrated. I was not prepared for the ugliness of motherhood - the sweat, the vomit, the pee, the poop, the blood, the tears; the earthiness less flowing skirts and picking flowers, more elemental.

Today marks nine years of motherhood. Nine years with my Joseph. He’s reached the halfway point of childhood. Another nine years and he will be an adult, ready to conquer the world, or, at least, explore it. The glimpses of the man he will be are becoming more and more visible as we inch closer to the mirage of adulthood.

There is such kindness in him, kindness that humbles and inspires me to be a better person. It’s in the way he snuggles Elizabeth when she’s afraid or patiently rubs my shoulder when I cry at Hallmark commercials. It’s there when he holds my hand because, “I know you need me to, Mama.” It’s in his voice as he matter-of-factly tells me he’s been giving the class bully part of his lunch not because he was forced but because, “He was hungry and you’d be mean if you were hungry too.” It’s there when he gently plays with his baby cousins, helps his toddler friends feel like big kids, and looks after his “little buddy” at school with all the diligence of an older brother.  

I see other glimpses of the man he will be. They appear sporadically, little bursts during an otherwise mundane evening between arguments with his sister over who needs to feed the rabbit and who has to empty the dishwasher.

He wandered over to where I was sitting at my computer and asked, “If you could live for 45 seconds and have them be the most amazing 45 seconds or for 45 years and not accomplish anything, which would you choose?”

“Years,” I replied instantly, barely glancing up.

“Well, if you think about it, if you live an amazing 45 seconds and then die, then you die happy and feeling like you did something really awesome.” He stopped for a moment and said, “It’s what I think about with R. Maybe he lived an amazing three years and that should make us feel better because not everyone has that.”

He shrugged and walked away leaving my mind blown at his ability to process and accept the death of a friend with such profound wisdom.

He knows who he is at such a young age. I hope he always keeps that confidence, that ability to be perfectly content not to do something he doesn’t want to do even if all of his friends are doing it. I hope he always remembers, “I don’t know why you are so concerned with how my hair looks or if my shirt is inside out or if my neck is clean, Mama. It’s not as important as what’s on the inside.”

I hope he always believes in himself. "I signed up to play violin at the school variety show."

"But you don't know how to play! You don't even own a violin."

"I could if I tried. I have two months to learn."

His is a gentle, curious soul. His humor is dry and sarcastic without being caustic. He teases and jokes with a twinkle in his eye and a smirk on his mouth. He’s not a rough and tumble boy rolling around like a puppy, but a cautious explorer, a careful friend.

"Why do you let her hit you like that. Push her away and tell her to stop."

He looked at me in surprise, "She's a girl. And she's smaller than me. I can't push or hit her!"

That little baby I held in my arms with legs so skinny I could encircle them with one hand is now wearing bigger shoes than I am. He’s less than a foot shorter than me and when I drag him down for a snuggle, I find it more and more difficult to fit him in that snug place under the place where my heart beats for him and his sister.

We are halfway there, halfway to adulthood.

And while a large part of me wants to pull him back and wrap him tightly in my arms, another part of me is waking and watching, excited to see him fly.

Introducing Damselfly Inn

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A little over four years ago, a woman I met in The Red Dress Club asked me if I'd be interested in beta reading her novel. I was new to the world of long form writing and only had a vague idea of what she expected of me, but I was already a huge fan of my "brain twin" so sent an enthusiastic yes and smiled when the file popped up in my inbox.

I spent the next few days falling in love with two characters who were so three dimensional and real that I was sad when the story ended. I had a long chat with the author, letting her know my thoughts and then waited.

And waited.

And waited.

The author was, of course, my dear friend Cameron D. Garriepy and the book, Damselfly Inn. In the years since I received that email, Cam has written short stories, another novel, and has pushed and prodded me to work on my own creations. She's an inspiration, a force of nature, and I'm so incredibly proud of her.

It's not easy in the world of indie publishing. Readers are hesitant of authors who do not of the backing of a corporate publishing house. They might have good reason - some of the self-published novels I've read could do with a good editor and a firmer grasp of grammar - but as the saying goes, cream rises to the top and Damselfly Inn is cream - rich and utterly delicious.

I invite you to join me in Thornton where you can taste Kate's chocolate cherry cookies, take a spin in Jack's sports car, cheer on the home team while tailgating with Nan's famous potato salad, have a beer on the front porch of Joss's cabin, and watch two people fall in love.

Because sometimes, we all need to escape into a love story.

Bearing Witness

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I'm sitting at my desk, the words swirling in my head and fighting to be let out. My head is pounding, my eyes are dry and itchy, and my heart. My heart aches.

A woman in my circle of friends lost her son suddenly and unexpectedly on Easter morning. He went to bed on Saturday night and he never woke up. Shock and grief have ripped through our little community and all week I've seen grace and generosity. Meals have been made. Their home was cleaned. The family was pampered and loved and taken care of in a way that makes me glad to be a part of this little place in the world.

I've been lucky in my life. I can count on one hand the number of people I've lost to death.

One hand.

All week I've struggled with my role. My friend is a new friend. Someone with whom I've shared too many bottles of wine and too many late night confessions. I had - still have - diaphanous plans of summer evening dinners and board games, of growing and nurturing our friendship. But I am not a part of her inner circle. Our history is too clean, too new. And right now she needs those who have seen the smudges of her soul and know how to bring light.

I've kept the amazing Ring Theory in mind. Comfort in, dump out. I wonder what comfort I can offer. What help I can give. I signed up for a meal. I checked in. I donated. I'm not one who knows the right thing to say in the right moment. Words do not magically come to my lips, but are drawn from my heart to my fingers where they can be edited and pruned. In their greatest sorrow, both she and her husband have assured me it's okay not to know what to say and for that I feel gratitude and shame that they are comforting me rather than the other way around.

Today, I went to the memorial services where I saw a hint of what might have been, a glimpse of little boy who will always stay a little boy in our memories. I think of the time I babysat him and had the stark understanding that I was a stone skipping across his life. There for an instant and never getting to truly understand what an amazing and funny little person he was.

I sat in the back row of a church filled with hundreds. I listened as his father spoke so eloquently and bravely. I watched as their pastor prayed over them, offering them peace. And still, I struggled over the role I played. My heart ached and tears soaked my tissue until I finally gave up and joined those sobbing around me. 

All week, I've looked at my children differently. I've seen the incredible, fragile gifts they are. I've said yes more often, snuggled them until they squirmed to be set free, inhaled their scent and imprinted their faces more deeply on my soul. In this way, death brought a gift; a small treasure in the wake of grief. 

While sunlight streamed through the stained glass window, in the middle of a detailed description of what happened less than a week ago, I suddenly came to a realization.

I am here to bear witness.

I am here to bear witness to their grief and pain, to stand sentinel at the outer edges. To sob for them and take, in some small way, a portion of that pain into myself and say yes, this happened. And yes, I grieve.

Internal Compass

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"Those birds are flying north," Elizabeth said between handstands in the sand.

I glanced up and nodded my head. It's easy for me to tell the points of the compass when the ocean is in front of me. "Where did you learn about that?"

She shrugged and turned a cartwheel, yelling over the wind and waves, "They always fly north except when they fly south."

I pondered that piece of five-year-old wisdom and took a slow breath.

Chad's move has been rough. It's amazing how many little things I took for granted while he lived locally. I had the flexibility to call and switch days when work had given me a headache or to ask him to drop the kids of after dinner so I could go for a walk or run. If the kids wanted to stay an extra night with one or the other of us, it was a quick phone call, an easy agreement.

Then there are the bigger things.

For the nearly four years, I woke up nearly every morning and made my way to the front door to flick the security latch back before stumbling to the bathroom and the hot shower awaiting me. By the time I got out, I'd hear him fixing the kids breakfast, checking the calendar, asking why I still had leftovers two days after ordering Chinese.

I haven't seen him in almost two weeks. It's the longest we've gone without seeing each other in thirteen years. It feels odd. I sometimes walk to the front door in the morning and pause with my fingers on the latch before remembering our routine has changed.

I suppose in some ways we'd settled into a new rhythm, a mostly easy friendship born in the calm after the storm all those years ago. I look at him and no longer see my husband. I do, however, see a friend and the father of my children. I miss that guy.

Nightly phone calls or Skype chats are built in to our nightly routine. Sometimes the kids fight over the phone, each having more to tell their dad than can be said in a half hour. Sometimes they show him Lego creations. Sometimes they sit, content to know he's watching them, his face filling the screen while they draw or play.

It's hard to explain this fissure I'm feeling. Before and after have cracked, leaving a gulf I can no longer deny exists. The kids and I are struggling to find our footing in the shifting sand. We have our routines and when the pressure becomes too much, we run away to the beach where we watch the sun kiss the sea and collect pebble size shards of glass.

I worry, sometimes, what this division is going to do to them. I worry they'll feel divided, robbed of experiencing the picture of the family their dad and I grew up in. I worry they'll spend their lives struggling with their own relationships, questioning their value, their hearts.

Then, sometimes, I see signs they might be better than I was. Than I am.

"Do you always know which way is south?" I asked Elizabeth.


I spun her around in the violet twilight until her laughter is louder than the waves. "Quick! Which way is south?"

Stumbling and laughing, she stood up and pointed with confidence. She held the compass needle of her finger steady while I fished my phone from my pocket to check what seems slightly more east than I'd put south. The app lit her grin and confirmed her accuracy.

"But how do you know?"

"Because it just is."

Pondering 2015 Thus Far

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As I sat on my rowing machine while watching Food Network - because that's how I row (you missed me, didn't you) - I realized I had yet to write a blog post for 2015 and last year, I was nothing if not an absentee blogger. 

I'm not sure if I could put a finger on the reasons why blogging has fallen to the back burner. Part of it is probably because I'm trying to fit thirty hours into twenty-four and it was only natural something would fall and if something was going to fall, it should be my silly little blog rather than feeding my children. All of my writing time has been poured into working on my novel, writing for Momtastic, freelance beta reading and editorial development, and, sometimes, writing quick little stories. Stories that might have at one time found homes here.

I think another part has to do with this being the fourth year post-separation. The first year I was in survival mode, barely able to recognize myself. The second year, I found my footing to a certain degree. Life began to settle into a routine that took me into year three and then four. To me, at this point, I should have my act together. And yet, sometimes, I still have trouble finding my feet - though I have no problem finding anxiety. It seems odd, though, to write about that here. It's as if my statute of limitations has expired and without being able to formulate exactly why I'm still filled with fear of the boogie man, I elect to instead just not write.

I'm starting the year that will end with me turning forty. I have made no secret of the fact that I'm having trouble with that number. It also means I'm trying to set my house in order because shouldn't a woman of forty have life somewhat figured out or, at least, think of herself as a grown up?

(I'm also planning my mid-life crisis, but that's another post.)

Life is good. Don't get me wrong. Life is very good. There were key moments over the last few months when I've felt such intense love for the people in my life, my heart hurt. Over Christmas, we went to the Lake Park where the homes surrounding a now dry lake were decorated with flashing lights and smiling snowmen. As I sipped wine out of a red Solo cup and laughed at my children dancing in the disco lights with their friends, I looked around me and realized how important these people are and how vital to my life they've become.

And it's not just my friends. Rachel gave me a new little niece to love. Baby Ivy arrived on Benny's birthday and brought memories of rushing to see a new baby, of holding a wee little bundle, and the feeling of time I had when I looked at my baby sister holding her new baby.

I've been spending more time with actual people than with my virtual friends. Hiking, coffee dates, First Fridays, tea parties, movie nights, game nights, bike rides, beach days...most spent with my phone sitting silently in the bottom of a backpack or tucked safely on a shelf.

All of these things bring me peace and joy.

Still, there is upheaval in my future. Chad got a new job and is moving next week. He'll be living an hour and a half away, starting his next chapter filled with people I'll never meet and living in a house I will only rarely see. Our custody arrangement is shifting with this move, ending the easy flexibility that has made this whole experience so much easier.We're both worried. Worried he won't be able to see the kids as often as he wants. Worried the full weekly weight of childcare will be too much for me. Worried the kids won't adjust easily. They've had to adjust to so much already; it hardly feels fair to ask more of them.

Still, he's getting a second chance and for that I am truly happy.

I'll settle into a new normal, I'm sure. I have an amazing network of friends and family and people who feel like both. 

And I got a housekeeper. That alone might keep me sane.

Christmas Letter

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Season's greetings from Mandy and the Gingers! Though, honestly, if it were up to them, we'd be visiting each of you in person, cookies in hand. They are somewhat sticklers for traditional proprieties, as is evidenced by the sighs when I forgot to send out their birthday thank you cards and the patient "Mama's" when I confessed that I forgot to order Christmas cards. Again.

Ever since Chad and I separated, I've tried to get Christmas cards out on time. And every year I've failed. The ridiculous thing is that I love receiving Christmas cards. I love seeing families grow, smiling faces of those I adore, and messages from those I wish I were closer. I find myself saving them, wrapping them in string, and pulling them out each year to smile fondly at their cheery greetings.

It's not fair for me to receive and never send.

I'll try to do better next year.

In the meantime, since I've also been slacking on my blogging, I thought I'd attempt a bit of a Christmas letter. I've never done this before, so bear with me.

Dear friends and family,

We've had a busy year, though what year isn't? When I pulled out the Christmas decorations there were a few forgotten items on top the box that I swear I put out in the garage just last month rather than last January.

So what did we do?

Joseph played Little League and, while he wasn't the best player, won over his team mates with his easy smile and willingness to keep trying. In return, his team mates won of my heart for not chiding him when he ducked as the ball was being thrown at him.

Elizabeth spent most of the year jumping around in gymnastics. She was quite good. Not in that "we're training for the Olympics" way, but in that "Oh hey! She can do a pretty kick ass tumbling run."

Can I say "ass" in a Christmas letter? I'm thinking so since most nativity scenes seem to feature one or two. No. Literally. I'm not calling the Wise Men asses.

Joseph finished out second grade and started third. His report card came home with a jumble of letters and numbers and a note to parents to not mentally translate said digits to traditional grades. I, of course, ignored the note and am pleased to share that according to my calculations, he received at 5.9(S)(E) during his first trimester. His teacher also assured me he was a "very polite young man with exceptional manners".

Elizabeth started Kindergarten this year and in typical Elizabeth fashion, has completely taken charge of her educational career, informing her teacher, repeatedly of her displeasure in not learning how to read whole books by the end of the first day, week, month, and trimester. Her teacher has relayed to me that this displeasure is often expressed with hand on jutted hip and sighs of disappointment. Thankfully her report card also assured me that Elizabeth is a very polite and helpful young lady.

Either that or her teacher is afraid of her.

As for me, I'm still working on that damn novel. "Damn Novel" is currently the working title. I thought getting the initial story on paper would be the most difficult part.

Then I started to edit it.

I spend a lot of my lunch breaks listening to music while I trying to sort out plot holes and make my characters more realistic. I also spend a lot of my lunch breaks staring at the screen with my finger hovered over the "Delete All" command.

I'm still dating Steve. I'm still not sure why he hasn't run away. Probably because I have chickens and everyone knows dating a chick with chickens and who cans is the best idea ever.

We've traveled a bit this year -to Washington, a few trips to Disneyland, some day trips to Monterey. The older they get, the easier it is to jump into the car and take off to where ever the wind blows us. Honestly, except for the fact that all three of us get car sick, we're fantastic travelers.

We still live in our little cottage with our garden and our chickens. There was a little bit of fluctuation in that department with the gruesome death of Miss Clucks, the purchase of Ava, Peeps, and Gertrude who might or might not be George, and the departure to Nana's house of SnowWhite (Houdini) and Getrude (in case she's a George). If it all sounds confusing just nod your head and ask if we are still getting eggs.

To which the answer is yes. It was a bit barren there for a couple of months, but after I put golf balls in their nest, they started laying again. (Hand to heart. Golf balls.)

We've spent a lot of time with our dear friends and family, not as much time as I'd like, but there have been Supper Clubs and wine tastings, BBQ's and Grease sing-a-longs.

As I sit in my snug cottage, the heater humming, my stomach full, and the Christmas lights twinkling, I look forward to a weekend filled with dinners out, trips to the movies, and a party. I can count my blessings; healthy children, healthy body, cherished friends, phenomenal family, a passion I'm free to pursue with partners who support and encourage me, an ex I can still call my friend, in-laws that still treat me like a daughter, a boyfriend who tries to understand the dynamic, a job I enjoy with co-workers who make me laugh every day, and a boss who understands that sometimes I need to take a sick day to be home with a little girl who's biggest ailment is cured with hugs and snuggles and kisses.

Sometimes this year has been messy, stressful, and even heartbreaking, but in whole, it really is a Wonderful Life.


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