Nourishment

I didn’t get published in The Sun Magazine’s “Reader’s Write” section as I had hoped, but I will share my reflection from the January 2020 “Nourishment” prompt below.

“The Sun is an independent, ad-free magazine that for more than forty years has used words and photographs to evoke the splendor and heartache of being human.”

NOURISHMENT:

Dad sat me down and told me two things: one, we were now vegetarians and two, we would sing the Mahamantra morning, noon, and night. That was part of being a Hare Krishna. So that’s what we did. No more Kentucky Fried Chicken. No McDonalds. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Hare Rama, Hare Rama. Morning, noon, and night. Every summer we took our epic road trip to the temple in the Bay Area. At the temple we were surrounded by other Hare Krishnas instead of being the only ones in town. At the temple, we rose at four a.m. to shower, which was required. At the temple, brown-skinned women with large, sagging breasts painted red Bindi dots on my forehead and brushed and braided my hair. I felt comforted by the touch of a woman, even though they didn’t speak to me. It was almost like having a mother. Almost. At the temple, I wore my pea-colored sari with little flowers on it every day. I felt so free as I danced with my father in the ballroom before the deities. At the temple, we were sometimes required to fast all day long but come night there was a massive feast with scrumptious vegetarian food—samosas, curried cauliflower, pineapple chutney—all piled high and sufficiently blessed.

Steps to Honoring Your Path

Hold your dreams up to the light. Natural light works best. So hold them up to your window in the morning. Or under a desk lamp, or full moon, at night. Take a few minutes to inspect the foundation: what is it built on, these expectations?  Brick? Loam? Are they your wishes or others wishes for you? How many children are stacked upon the thing? Remember: the children go on top.

Now that you have identified its strengths and abilities, decide what tools you’ll need, and use them with intention.  Fix any weak spots. If writing is your goal, grab a pen and paper and S P E L L I T O U T. One letter at a time. Get real specific. It is a brand-new decade, we haven’t got the time to waste. Yesterday’s gone. What’s done is done. Keep your toolbelt close, you’ll be needing it.

Be rigid. All that gray-area crap is just bs. For some the opposite is true. For you it is not. You need all the stability and predictability and tough love that was withheld from you in childhood. Black. White. Life. Death. Yin. Yang. It’s been twenty years now since you’ve see your mother. Twenty years since you were 14. Since Y2K. A natural rebel, reign yourself in. For even when you wake and say light, light, light, be the light, you cannot shake the darkness at the root of you. Scorpio sun, Aries moon. Befriend routine, the sister to stability. Come to like them. Come to love them. Routine. Stability. Come to understand how much you depend on them. Day. Night. Repeat. Stop stepping into the worn, predictable trail of chaos. You are a parent now. Be sure to act like one. This is your one chance and you won’t get another.

This life is all you ever wanted—a sentiment that’s ringing truer and truer.

Husband. Marriage. Scary.

Know how you feel and know who you are by examining your truths in the light.

Husband. Marriage. Means trusting someone with my heart.

Husband. Marriage. Likely someday, certainly with him. But I want to make sure I can love and trust fully first. Humbly, I am still learning how to do all of that.

Like your child, grow everyday. Grow taller, grow better posture. Study the letters and shapes. Practice your walking: walking into situations that will encourage you to blossom. Walking out of situations that make you feel like you are wasting your precious time.

Do not let others distract you. Even those you lie next to in the night. They have your path and you have yours. Respect your differences. Laugh/brush them off. Your future depends on it. You do you. Sparkle. Shine. Let him laugh when you talk like that. Come back to him in your heart. Only a fool would not. He is your touching stone in this world. Stone. Rock.

Focus on finding your voice through your fingertips. Remember what you care about. Keep coming back to it. Remember: the children go on top. But do take advantage of naptime by writing. Spell it out.

If needed, refer to quotes from your Yogi Tea bag: Appreciate yourself and honor your soul.

If needed, shake off comments and ridicule from others: those who don’t really know you, your past, the unique combination of circumstances that make you tick. For better, for worse. Shoot. You’re here and kickin’. To you, sometimes, that feels like a miracle. If needed, tell yourself you are loved, even if you don’t always feel supported by the world outside your door. You. Are Love(d).

Make art. You always did. You always have. Except for those few times you slipped back into the gray mundane. Make art of the clothes you put on in the morning. Go ahead and wear that yellow dress. Make art of parenting. When you’re throwing the frisbee for the dog on a rainy day, draw flowers in the mud with the toe of your boot.

Do not forget the lessons of your ancestors: Be bold. Be bizarre. Begin again. Begin anew everyday if you must. Queen of the comeback, kid.

Do not forget your longtime mantra: Focus and follow-through.

And this one: Don’t start anything you can’t finish yourself.

Rigid. Bold. Brazen. Independent.

Most people say ask for help when you need it. But you know better. You know the world will poke at your weak spots so burrow down inside yourself and emerge with your wisdom and insights. Do what you know works. Stick with what you’ve learned. Imagine you are a caterpillar, now visualize the miracle of the butterfly, and emerge. Now fly.

Hold your dreams up to the light. Natural light works best. The moon will do.

Now that you’ve spelled it out, what does it say? (For example, mine reads: “I want to be a writer when I grow up. Or a dancer. It was an old thing I’d written on a scrap of paper as a kid.)

Hold space for that little dreamer. Hold the scrap of paper you scribbled on as a child in your hand. Whether metaphorically or physically. Whether your dreams have morphed into something more realistic or not.

Notice all the steps you took to get here. Literally hundreds of miles walked, circling as if you were walking a labyrinth. Notice when space was not honored for your dreams and you had to fight hard for them. Literally gallons of tears cried, remember all the swimming you did to get out of there.

Say this out loud, “This is my space. These are my dreams. Mother, wife, or not.”

Say, “Yes, my dreams. They take up space and they take up time.”

Say, “Now or never. Here to stay or gone forever.”

Hold your dreams up to the light. See how they glisten and shine.

One billion bursts of color, uniquely yours for the taking.

Dear Aunt Dorothy

Dear Aunt Dorothy,

Remember when you lived on that street I can’t remember the name of now—the one way on the outskirts of town, after you moved back to Crescent City for the second time? You were many years sober by then so our conversations happened around mugs of coffee, your second love. 

You had kitschy coffee mugs: Garfield, mugs with quotes about motherhood, one of the lady with the crazy hair, robe, and slippers. You weren’t a grandmother yet, which boggles me now since “Grandma” became your definitive role. Back then your mother-ness extended to me, your niece. 

Remember that night? We were jabbering, catching up. I was visiting from out-of-state and we only had so much time. There were lots of laughs. Cigarettes and ashtrays. If we ever watched television it was just the home videos you’d recorded of our childhood: Your boys reciting Jeff Foxworthy. Me doing cartwheels on the concrete pad outside the trailer on Olive Street. Crystal, who was just a baby then. 

Without having planned it, WHAM, I dropped the bombshell. The bombshell that would blow up your whole world: your present, past, and future. Probably you mentioned his name. My face must have shadowed. And then your openness, your vessel for others pain and suffering, allowed to me tell you—to tell anyone—what had happened to me right there inside our family. It happened in-between recordings, on set, hidden behind the inescapable patriarchy that permeated our culture and society.  

I was seventeen and had never told anyone before. 

I saw the lightbulb go on behind your eyes. This is the moment you that stubbed out your cigarette. Wait, what? 

I saw the quick well of anger and heartbreak rise inside of you. 

Disbelief. 

Guilt. 

Wonder. 

In a dark corner of your mind, I’m sure you were reaching for a gin. 

It was late. Your house was so small. As if turning on my heel, my laughter quickly turned to painful sobs. The burning-apple-in-your-throat-kind of sobs. My racking sobs filled your entire home, probably shook the coffee mugs in your cupboard as you held space for me. 

You didn’t call it that: holding space. Poor, white people don’t have vocabulary for our experiences. But other people do. We live through the tragedies, other people label them. People with food in their bellies and books on their bed stands, free from the everyday challenges we’d faced, free to think things through, I guess. 

Did you know that by now whole fields of study have been dedicated to our resurgence? There are probably university students somewhere right now discussing the phenomenon of the crashing white, rural American class. You would have hated that sentence I know. It made you crawly when I used words like phenomenon because it put you on the spot. You were an Army girl, a farm girl, and to no fault of your own you were never a scholar. We didn’t have the language to get to the bottom of what happened to me–the scary thing that I told you–so we just cussed a lot that night. Fucking sicko. Rot in hell. 

You probably had to go to work at the casino in the morning, but you held space for me. You always did that for others. You always gave more than you had. In the end, I believe, that’s what killed you.  

Cousin John, one year younger than me, must have heard everything that through the thin bedroom wall. In fact I know he did. He told me as much years later. Said he’d pressed his ear up against the wall listening to every word I’d said, welling up with anger, maybe tears. Cousin John is one of those sensitive men—men with single mothers tend to be. Yet another gift that women like you give.

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Do you remember the day you died? What was it like? Was it sunny? Cold? Did you argue with people that day? Hold space? Both? Did you start the day out watching FOX news? Looking at old photographs in your albums? How many cups of coffee did you have? Did you eat breakfast? What did you eat? I want to know. I want to hold space for you. Come back from the dead and tell me.

Years later you admitted that my “telling you” had a hand in your decision (if you can even call it that—the swift, perplexing fall from grace) to drink again. It was a single poke that sent you closer to the edge, eventually to fall from maybe ten years sober. At least over five. (I need to get my facts straight with the family.) 

I myself never felt guilty for that. I can’t take that on. I know there were others things, too. Men, maybe, who drank. You thought you could “be around them.” You couldn’t. No one could. You thought you could walk down the wine isle at the grocery store. You couldn’t. No one could. “And what are we drinking with the steak?” A waiter asked you with a wink, mentioning a wine pairing. You couldn’t. No one could. The billboard with a cold, sweaty beer on a hot, Sacramento day. (You didn’t even look at the billboard but your brain saw it and stored the information.) You couldn’t. No one could. A career waitress at a casino, you served drinks day in and day out. You couldn’t. No one could. 

It was your genes, expressing themselves. You couldn’t. No one could. I myself was never a drinker, but I have my “things.” 

Do you remember the day you died? Was it a pleasant day? Did you catch the sunset? Call your boys? It was springtime, I know that. Cousin John called me, it was two, maybe three, a.m. 

It must have been warm in Oregon because I stepped out on the back porch to take the call, having been alerted from sleep and knowing John wasn’t calling to casually chat.

“She’s gone,” he managed to get out. 

“Hello? John? What?” 

One never says the right things in these moments.

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We spread your ashes up on the hill above the farm. Your baby sister and her husband handled all the arrangements. Rented the town hall down by the river. Sprinkled photographs of you on the tables and designated a childhood friend to make the centerpieces. They managed to serve one hundred people pulled pork, potato salad and fruit. I don’t know if it was pork. I didn’t eat. I was juggling the newborn baby and rubbing John’s back, trying to be a friend to him. Suddenly he was hard to get through to. 

You meant a lot to a lot of people, so a lot of people were there. Later, in photographs taken above the farm on the hill, someone said the plume of your ashes looked just like an angel when the boys blasted it into the air.

It was the kind of thing you anchor to in times like this.

I didn’t know what to believe. I was reeling—angry—from your fall from grace to death at 61. Alcohol poisoning, the coroners report stated. I was thinking: one little sip—one little slip—then blip, you’re done. You were getting sober again. You were always getting sober. News would travel through the family grapevine: Dort hasn’t been drinking, 3 months now. Dort hasn’t been drinking, 1 ½ weeks now. Dort hasn’t been drinking, 5 months now! Honestly I stopped keeping count. There were so many starts and stops. But that, dear one, is what made you beautiful. Most alcoholics I know don’t even try. 

This was not your legacy. Don’t get me wrong. I am using your lessons to guide my voice. There is a point I we are getting at. I promise. Hang tight. 

You were always transparent about your alcoholism. You were almost curious. You talked to me about AA. How they make you have a sponsor. That they wanted you to pray. You struggled with both of those things. You weren’t vulnerable by nature. Not open with those who you weren’t close to. You just wanted it to be done and dealt with but you lived with a drinker, your second husband, and that, I believe was your biggest downfall…not leaving him to save yourself. 

Vodka in the freezer, you told me. You couldn’t. No one could.

You always gave more of yourself than was even there. Leaving ghosts of yourself behind for others to feed off of. Always wanting to give more, more, more. A pleaser, left thirsty.

I am using your lessons to guide me.

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Man. 

I was so distanced from all of this at the memorial. And now that I’ve said that about your second husband everyone’s going to hate me. At the memorial for me it was just this: one foot in front of the other. Don’t slip like she did. Your message to me seemed loud and clear: Keep your head up, don’t look down. But everyone else was crying and carrying on, while I was in some state of blissed out focus. How was I going to explain this? What was going on with me? 

Back in Oregon it took me many months to come around to how I really felt about your death. I saw posts on Facebook, “I think about her every day. I am so sad. It just makes me want to cry every time I think of her.” 

Why didn’t I want to cry? I did think of you. I looked through the scrapbook you sent me, your script written in black Sharpie: Love you always, sweetie niece, it read. 

I thought of how much you had going for you. I thought, don’t slip. I thought, dead at 61. I thought of you, as a girl, going off to Germany with the Army. Your glory days. You went from California to Connecticut to Germany. You made good friends—eased the awkwardness of socializing by drinking. Most of us do. For you it was different.

You had a boyfriend out there in Connecticut. I wonder if he was as different from you as the Connecticut boyfriend I had was from me. We looked the same: white, young, scrawny. We partied together and all of that. They thought we were “pretty.” They could never know the rural swamp from whence we came. We never knew the dollar amount of the steak on our plate. That the cost of that plate amounted to our weekly grocery allowance. 

I remembered that night you held space for me. How when you ran your hand up your forehead—holding the bangs out of your eyes briefly—I saw we had matching widow peaks and dark, thick hair. I saw we had the same oily, pocky skin. I could have been your daughter. 

I did think of you. Fact I walked out on the porch one day and said your name out loud. It was a rough day for me. I was weighing this and that. I was torn between saying “fuck it” and staying on the strait and narrow. I was grappling with my “things” like we all do. 

Exasperated, I asked you for a sign. I toy with spirituality, having given some of it up with I paired up with an atheist. 

“Just, anything,” I told you, in a way I hoped was sincere. 

I held my coffee mug in both hands. The one that reads “Mom is just Wow upside down.” I latched on to the wisdom that you taught me–dare I say telepathically–with your death: Relationships matter. Don’t do what I did. Don’t throw it away for the brief, frequent explosion of addiction and harm. Turn to the light. Every time. Walk away, completely, utterly committed, from the things that threaten you. Physically. Emotionally. Walk away completely. Don’t look back. 

I was open to receiving it. That’s what I was doing at the memorial, when I couldn’t stare down a gin and cry. Actually, I was honoring you. Head up, focused on the future.

It’s what you wanted me–what you want all of us–to do. Perhaps others have experienced this phenomenon. 

Maybe it was because I was looking for a sign so hard that it actually happened, but just then the wind picked up out on the porch. It was a warm wind on an otherwise calm day. I couldn’t fucking believe it, but I wasn’t going to look away as the breeze carried to one single tree out in the yard. Just one tree. Of all of the trees. And it was the tree that was closest to me, a five leaf maple. The wind blew my hair back just a little, and I closed my eyes, gripping my coffee mug in silence. It was late summer, early autumn, and the leaves had turned but were yet to fall from the trees. When I opened my eyes that breeze—your breeze—was whipping around that maple tree like a whirling dervish or Tasmanian devil from the old Looney Tunes cartoon. I mean it was really whipping. 

I even thought to run get my phone to capture the odd, rare event but of course I didn’t. You don’t fuck with something that sacred. You don’t exploit messages from the great beyond.  

I watched as that narrow, focused breeze stripped a previously full tree of most of its orange autumn leaves. It was a clear enough message that I thanked you, looking out to see the one bare tree among the others full of leaves. I breathed in, I breathed out. I felt validated and whole again. 

I didn’t care what anyone thought. I only cared that I was around to see my grandkids, should I have them someday. So I was willing to latch on to anything, even this crystal clear sign from the no-longer-living. I only cared that I was downloading the accurate message that you wanted me to have all along: Do not mourn me outright in the traditional way. Please just walk away completely from the things that threaten your health. Walk away and don’t look back. 

And in-between the lines: Spread the message. Relationships matter. Turn to the light, every time. And this: you are worth it. 

Remember that night? You were many years sober. You lived on the outskirts of town on a street I don’t remember the name of. It was your Demi Moore days: short, cropped dark hair. I was visiting from out-of-state. You were a fulltime mom to two teenage boys. You didn’t want them to come home to an empty house anymore, so you were there waiting with your recipe books and kitschy coffee mugs when they got out of school. Even when drinking though, you were a good mom. Excellent even. Clean sheets on the bed and all of that. You threw Thanksgiving together for the family year after year. I remember the time you had us cousins over to make gingerbread cookies during Christmastime at the house on A Street. You set up your camcorder and had the radio on. Bette Midler sang “Wind Beneath My Wings,” which may have been a new song then:

It must have been cold there in my shadow,
to never have sunlight on your face,
you were content to let me shine, that’s your way,
you always walked a step behind.
Thank you, thank you,
thank god for you the
wind beneath my wings. 

 

Love, 

Your niece,

Terah

 

Let Them See The Blood–Finding Gratitude in Grief

I want to Google “How to recover after your child almost dies in your arms,” but I don’t. Just writing about the day—the natural way I process things—would be time better spent. Pen and journal, I lay beside Autumn watching her breathe. It is five a.m. The day after the “incident.”

Becoming a parent must come part and parcel with experiencing “incidents.” That’s what they called Dad’s near-drowning as a boy. An “incident” or an “accident.” Ours wasn’t nearly as bad as Dads. But ours wasn’t nothing, either.

Now, I am not a god-fearing woman. I don’t believe that because I prayed twenty-five-some-odd times that god had a hand in saving our daughters life. That’s just not me. Too many other unhappy endings to be spared ourselves. It’s all hit and miss. Chance. Circumstance. But did praying bring me comfort? Yes, yes it did. Immensely. At times during the “incident,” it was about all I could do. And I’d needed to do something.

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It had been a truly ordinary, yet remarkable, day. Things were just flowing. Our normal Saturday routine included laundry in the morning, cleaning out the refrigerator, some other chores. Autumn was in a breezy, happy mood. Her father was at work but we were expecting him home around five. It was around four o’clock so I put Autumn in my Ergo-pack, facing outward, and we went to collect some eggs from the chicken coop.

We walked from the back porch that overlooks our small farm, through the worn path under the walnut trees, and then through the tall grass scheduled to be hayed in a few short weeks.

As soon as we approached the chickens paddock, ready to step carefully over the hot electro-netting, as we had done one-hundred times, Autumn began making strange choking noises. Because I couldn’t assist her while strapped in the Ergo, I made a quick dash back toward the house—running through the tall grass we had just come through.

It had only been a few brief seconds since we’d turned around and Autumn was still making the strange noises but I couldn’t see her face. I stopped under the walnut trees, where there was a nice flat surface and some shade. I quickly took her out of the Ergo. She appeared to be choking. I opened her mouth with my index, middle finger, and thumb–but I didn’t see anything so I began to smack her back forcefully. I was hoping to dislodge whatever it was that was blocking her passageway. Then she began vomiting. Her face was beet red. Now she was choking and vomiting at the same time. I was perplexed. Heart pounding, I ran with Autumn in my arms into the house.

Not quite sure what to do, I gave her some water to wash down whatever it was. It was too small to see. I was already thinking of the tall grass. But the water didn’t work. So I smacked her back some more. Whack. Whack. Whack. She was still choking. I wasn’t producing any results so, hands shaking and trembling, I called 911 on my cell phone.

Meanwhile, I tried to console Autumn with my words—jagged and fraught, and my touch. I sang her the ABC’s and Spring is Here Said the Bumblebee, two of her favorite songs. Our home is a forty-five minute drive from town and I wasn’t sure how long it would take for help to come. The 911 dispatcher told me not to hit Autumn’s back anymore. She had now spent a full, I would estimate, five to seven minutes choking, sometimes vomiting. But she was somehow able to get in the periodic labored breath.

Along with the 911 call came the madness of repeating my address back to the dispatcher while Autumn struggled for a breath. Then having me describe the color of her face—red, purple, blue?

Suddenly, I was colorblind. This wasn’t happening. “Red. Magenta.” I told her. “Red. Purple.”

I kept telling Autumn, “It’ll be okay babygirl,” and “Mama’s here.” Her gaze was looking straight into mine. Help, she seemed to be saying. Then I just started praying. “Be with us dear Lord.” This was old habit, from Dad and my upbringing. Dad always told me from a young age: If you’re dying, talk to god.

This was like that.

“Is she breathing?” The dispatcher asked.

“She’s vomiting blood. There’s blood. I need them here. NOW.”

“Is she breathing?”

“Not really. I mean, kind of.” Not like she should be, I could have said.

“Okay, I need you to place her on her back. I’m going to instruct you to do CPR.”

“Okay.”

“I want you to locate the space between her nipples. With four fingers, press three times.”

“Okay. Okay.”

I’d learned this in a CPR class years earlier. CPR on an infant seemed horrific and is, verifiably, risky. I did what the dispatcher asked, but Autumn seemed to be breathing, just a little, so I intuitively stopped pumping down on her chest. It just didn’t feel right. As I sat Autumn upright, she continued coughing so hard that blood and saliva were slowly pouring from her mouth. I prayed so fucking hard.

The 911 dispatcher kept trying to engage with me—but trying to focus on the phone screen was distracting. I didn’t want to hold the phone. Autumn seemed distracted by it too, so I gave her my full attention. I held her. I prayed some more. I told her “Mamas here.”

I thought I might lose my little girl in this moment. The blood. Her magenta face. I’ll be damned if it was going to happen with me on my cell phone.

I asked the dispatcher to please refrain from speaking but stay on the line. She agreed but made me vow to tell her if Autumn stopped breathing, or turned blue.

Worst. Day. Of. My. Life.

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A local, rural EMT made it to us first, within 20 minutes of the 911 call. Autumn was still running her cycle of choking, fierce coughing, saliva and blood. I didn’t know which was worse, the blood or the choking. When the EMT saw Autumn’s symptoms, she instinctively propped her over her lap and began smacking her back, just like I did. She also did a flip-flop maneuver. This caused Autumn a lot of distress, so I told her what the 911 dispatcher had told me not to do. Though I could empathize with the instinct.

With A’s condition not improving, I asked the EMT to place her on the floor again in an upright position, and I consoled her as she gasped for enough breath with which to scream and cry. Now, we were both perplexed.

I prayed some more. Out loud. Repeatedly. The EMT, a mother herself, seemed worried. Autumn had another episode—choking, coughing, saliva, blood, as we looked on.

“My partner, Steve, will be coming up the driveway in a few minutes,” I told the volunteer EMT. “If he gets here before the ambulance, I need you to quickly brief him. He has no idea what’s going on.”

“Okay,” she agreed.

“When they get here, we’re going straight to Riverbend Hospital.”

“Grab what you need,” she told me.

I didn’t want to leave Autumn for even a second, but I grabbed a change of clothes for A and I changed my shoes. The diaper bag was in the van in the driveway.

“Where are they?” The EMT questioned.

Finally the paramedics and Steve arrived at the same time. The EMT was able to brief Steve. There were about eight paramedics. They all stood around staring at Autumn and I. I briefed the paramedics.

Autumn was crying, choking, crying, choking; demonstrating the scary sequence of symptoms I had come to fear so much.

“Well?” I finally asked them. “Look if no one’s going to do anything we’re read to get in the ambulance and go!”

I didn’t pause or use commas in my speaking.

An older gentleman who appeared to be the leader of the group clearly approved of my suggestion. A choking infant was pretty difficult territory—it seemed—for the team to navigate. I felt better when, within moments, were in the back of the ambulance: me on the gurney, Autumn on my lap. Steve would be following us in the van. I’d asked him to ride with us but Steve, a little more optimistic, said we’d be needing the car seat for our drive back home.

I was only half-sure we’d make it back with her. Every few minutes Autumn was still choking, turning magenta, and vomiting blood. It had been one hour since the whole ordeal had started.

The “incident.” Our “incident.”

The paramedic hooked her up to some instruments and verified that Autumn had a semi-healthy level of oxygen. “I’m glad she’s crying,” he told me. “That’s a good sign.”

“You cry all you want, sweetheart,” I told her, rocking her gently.

Her blood pressure was stable, but it was clear something was still blocking her passageway. I told the paramedic about the chickens, about the grass.

She’d made a delightful sound when we’d seen the chickens. A sound of glee. A yippie. An inhale. Then the choking had started. Was a grass head lodged in her throat?

When not fighting for her breath, Autumn watched the trees and the hills roll beyond the large, picturesque windows of the ambulance. It was the same scenery she saw every day. With every landmark, we were getting closer to the hospital.

Badger Mountain. Noti. Fern Ridge Reservoir. Beltline.

On the Beltline, Autumn’s oxygen dropped significantly following an episode, and the paramedic called for Code Blue—otherwise known as lights and sirens.

I was so grateful because it meant we’d get to the hospital sooner. I’d already asked for lights and sirens but the paramedic didn’t think it was necessary. Maybe grateful isn’t what I’d call it after all—since it meant we were in danger—but my focus was on getting us to an expert, a doctor, asap.

I was just focused on getting Autumn to the hospital intact. I was still praying. Out loud. Often.

“Thank you. So much. John,” I told the paramedic as we deboarded the ambulance. I do not remember the walk from there to the hospital bed. I do not remember being escorted to the room where we waited for the doctor. Now I was talking in short clips. Get to the point. Save a life.
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Two doctors. Both male. Ended up liking one, not the other. Liked the second one better.

The first one I had to relay the whole story to. He smiled gently while a nurse pounded the keys of a computer. Autumn had another episode. Her blood and saliva were covering the chest of my black dress like a massive bib of slime. The nurse took notice and handed me a cloth, seemingly suggesting that I wipe the blood and saliva from my top.

I gave her the look of death. I said something along the lines of “I do not care about my top, I care about my daughter! Someone needs to do something. Jesus!” I pushed the rag away. I remembered Jackie Kennedy’s words, to the effect of: “Let them see the blood.”

The doctor retreated to his corner office to contemplate our situation and look over his notes. I could see him if I positioned myself right in our temporary pediatric room. Steve sat in a corner chair and closed his eyes.

“How can you sleep at a time like this!” I asked him.

“Hold her for a minute, please,” I demanded.

He didn’t say a word but seemed exhausted, concerned, and happy to lovingly hold his child during such a difficult time.

I stepped out into the hallway and cried.

A few nurses passed me, but they didn’t say a word. A janitor passed me, he said he hopes it all works out for my little girl.

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Doctor #1 came back into the room. We’d been there an hour or more. The doctor didn’t seem convinced that anything was trapped in Autumn’s throat; and yet he didn’t have a clue what was going on. Autumn’s episodes were becoming less, and I asked the doctor if I could nurse her.

“Sure,” he told me, then turned his back to me to talk to Steve.

“I’d appreciate it if you could both observe this,” I asked them. I knew what was about to happen.

Reclined in the hospital bed, with the doctor at my side and Steve at the foot of the bed, I brought Autumn to my breast. She seemed to be relieved to be offered to eat, as she hadn’t been able to for hours—but as just as soon as she latched on, she tried to swallow and something blocked her passageway. She started screaming again, frustrated. She started choking again, visibly in distress.

“Okay, okay.” the doctor said, relenting. “The only option is the OR.”

They were to insert a camera inside her throat, travel down through her esophagus, and into her stomach, if needed, to see what the helk was going on in there.

“We’re not leaving until we know what’s in there. And ‘til she can eat,” I professed.

Autumn had another episode and we all were there to witness it. Steve. Doctor. Me. It seemed a little tamer than the others, and afterward she fell asleep in my arms. My little being was exhausted.

Another hour went by. Autumn woke up as we were being escorted to the OR. At the entrance to the OR, we were doing the paperwork and Autumn perked up at our OR nurse. Then Doctor #2 came out, the surgeon. It didn’t take me long to brief him, as Doctor #1 had already told him the gist of things. Or maybe he was just smart and with it. I liked his speed and no bs-ness. I asked him if he thought Autumn should still go under for the procedure, since her condition had improved. He said that, like me, he was curious to get to the root of this and get us some answers.

So we said goodbye to our little sweetheart and the doctor wheeled her into the Operating Room. He said the procedure would take thirty five minutes.

There was a place for families to sit and wait. Steve and I hadn’t been without Autumn. Ever. I thought of all the sad feelings that must have been experienced in that room. Family members on the brink of death. Ones that didn’t come back. Pain, if alive.

I ran into my hairdresser (I periodically have my hair cut) and she said her daughter had fallen off a horse and broken her arm. We hugged. She was bringing her daughter McDonalds. Worst. Day. Of. Her. Life. She said.

The doctor came back in and said we could go see Autumn. He had a specimen in his hand inside a plastic container. We peered into it. It was a two inch piece of orchard grass.

I brought my hand to my heart. The doctor said Autumn was awake and doing well. We could go see her. I gripped the plastic specimen jar in my hand. It was just as I’d suspected. What I didn’t know was that the head of a blade of grass is naturally engineered to catch on things. The one inch head of grass had burrowed into her throat like a screw—at five months old Autumn’s throat was only about the width of a pencil.

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Witnessing a child choking even once is enough to make a lasting impression. Something you won’t forget. I’d witnessed my daughter choking on that one inch head of grass about fifteen or twenty times over the span of four or five hours. Mahogany face. Saliva. Blood.

It’s four in the morning now. I can’t sleep. I have that PTSDy-feeling. The one where you jump at the slightest rustle and your nerves are frayed.

We live on a farm. I know how fragile life is. Things die. Baby things even. Sometimes there is no good reason for the death. It comes as a mystery. Other times little freaky things happen. Like the time our two year old dog ran into a tree trunk, snapped her neck, and died in my arms.

I think of what a huge responsibility it is being a parent. The huge responsibility of loving something so much that you would be walking dead if they died. That you might could die yourself. That you might could not recover.

I think of all the parents who’ve really lost them. Their children. Because of the freak little accidents like this one.

It hurts. Boy does it hurt. BOY DOES IT HURT! to think like that.

And maybe I am overreacting. Maybe I am taking this too hard. Too seriously. I have something to be happy for! Autumn’s here. Saved by the grace of god. Halleluiah! It wasn’t even that close, some might say. Her father. The doctor. Both sleeping now. In peace.

Who knows. Who knows if that one inch head of grass might have been angled differently, what could have happened. Who knows if Autumn might have given up if the struggle to survive, if the breathing was just too much on her. Who knows. She certainly didn’t have it easy for all those hours she was choking, but who knows.

All I know is I am barely not walking dead. I am jumpy and teary.

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All I know is that now I tell child care providers about the “incident” on intake paperwork and ask that they please be mindful of Autumn playing with anything “smaller than a film canister.” I read that–“smaller than a film canister”–somewhere. All I know is I cringe when Steve leaves beer bottlecaps around. Or even traces of mud from his boots on the floor. All I know is that for the first several weeks after the “incident” I saw flashes of Autumn’s mahogany face and wide, saucer eyes. I couldn’t get that image of her choking out of my mind. All I know is that Autumn amazingly discovered that if she coughs, instead of cries, I come to her rescue quicker. All I know is that now I smash all her food to smithereens. The other kids her age can snack on apples and carrots. I wouldn’t dare! All I know is I want to Google “How to recover after your child almost dies in your arms,” but I know the answer to that: Stop obsessing. Be grateful. Do the yoga. Do the acupuncture. Do the thing. Put mittens on her when you go outside for chores. Also, know that you can’t control everything. Not even close. But yes, as a parent: be vigilant. Scoop the things out of her mouth. The dirt. The coffee beans. All I know is that I was almost walking dead. But I wasn’t. We weren’t. We were spared, not by god, but by circumstance, I believe. God didn’t save us, no. But did praying bring me comfort? Yes, yes it did. Immensely.

The eggs will need to be collected from the coop. I don’t care to collect them this morning, not at all. But I know eventually, we’re going to have to. There are just somethings, no matter how hard, we’re going to have to do. All I know is that I was almost walking dead. But I’m not. We’re not. We are here. Together. Closer than ever.

Some would say my grandmother never really recovered from the “incident” with Dad. He was in a coma for weeks. When he came out of it, he had to learn to speak and walk again. The eight years he’d gained we’re almost lost. For the first time in my life, I feel a kinship with my paternal grandmother. It is my guess that her suffering, her guilt, the shaking her to her very core, was never addressed, never consoled, and never expressed. A drinker, she’d died in her late fifties. The coroners report stated “Respiratory Failure,” but ask anyone in our family and hers was a drowning-related incident.

The responsibility of becoming a parent is immense, just in terms of survival. You don’t think initially that your children will gravitate toward every dangerous thing with no sense about what is hot, what is not. What is just a step versus what is a cliff. What is safe to eat and what is dangerous to ingest. That part comes as a surprise. That part creates a lot of anxiety, compounding already fragile nervous systems inside of mothers with pasts and the simple hope that their children bring with them the promise of a brighter, lovelier future.

The sky is lavender now. The song birds are really going nuts. Do they do this every morning? I clasp my hands together, as if in prayer. I look at Autumn and marvel at the rise and fall of her chest. It’s the little things, they say.

Indeed, I agree, vowing not to let a moment pass without silently whispering, thank you to the gods of transportation, medicine and circumstance.

 

Science Over Silence: Climate Crisis Demonstrations in Eugene, Oregon

Nearly 150 countries worldwide participated in demonstrations during the first day of the annual Global Climate Strike week (Sept. 20-27th). The following are photos of the youth-led demonstration at Eugene Oregon’s Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza outside the Lane County courthouse on Friday, September, 20th. 

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150 countries worldwide rallied for the global climate strike, including the city of Eugene, Oregon (pictured here at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza).
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“Sorry 4 the inconvenience. We’re trying to change the world,” one poster read.
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Logic and wisdom drive our youth to ask that world leaders take action. Like, now!
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Well put. Simply put. #naturenow
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Loud and clear.
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“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”

 

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Know better, do better. Mothers for climate justice.
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Friday’s demo largely revolved around the governments blatant knowledge of the climate crisis for decades past. Notice the #govknew sign and president’s heads on sticks in front of the crowd.
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I ask myself: What can I give up today to ensure that every living thing has a chance at survival?
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We’re with her. #motherearth 

Thank you for viewing my short photo essay. It would be an understatement to say I have respect for the organizers of these demonstrations worldwide. I echo their sentiments. I feel/fear for our future, too. I feel for our today. If you know better, do better. If you don’t know better, snuggle down in your bed and read National Geographic regularly. Tune into NPR during breakfast. Google the climate crisis. Talk to an educated person: a scientist, a concerned youth, a farmer about the weather. Kids are pointing out the facts and we as leaders (in the home, in our communities) need to be considerate, consistent, and demonstrate our own common sense in concrete ways to help them. We can set clear examples of how to be gentle on this earth. We can grow out of our habits, on micro (personal) and macro (governmental) levels.

For sustained local involvement in Climate Strikes in Lane County, Oregon, hook up with:

Global Climate Strike Team

Working, Mothering, Warts and All

No one can ruin you without your permission. Every step of the way–you were complicit in your downfall.

Every couple of weeks my brain hones in on a message. Simple or complicated. A few words or just a couple. For the past two weeks my mantra has been “Quit while you’re ahead.” Now it’s “No one can ruin you without your permission.”

WHO is trying to ruin you?! You may wonder. Me only. There is no one person, but there are demands from all directions–child, partner, boss, even friends–that at times makes it feel like the world is out to get me. Demands popping up every time I turn around. But the problem isn’t the world or these people. It’s me. I consented to a) having a child/baby b) living with my partner on a farm c) taking a job with a decent level of responsibility c) volunteering my time in different capacities d) forming relationships and bonds with so many people that it sometimes feels hard to keep up with, kind of like a part time job in and of itself.

I said YES. I keep saying YES. Week to week these demands lessen and grow. Honestly, I wouldn’t even have it any other way. I thrive on this level of responsibility. But some days I wonder what happened to the girl who felt so in control, relaxed, and beautiful. Because the person I see in the mirror is hanging on by a string and frazzled. Like the mamas I saw pre-baby who I vowed I was never going to be. Top knot. Walking fast. Little pooch. I guess the thing is–I’m not a girl anymore. And being a woman, well…it comes with a lot.

I will admit it, I was thinking negative thoughts this morning. I thought “He’s ruining me,” about my partner. I thought these things because I am not fully satisfied with who I am right now, and with all the things I’ve sacrificed to have this beautiful, full life that we have. But you know what? He’s sacrificed a lot too. Shoot. He might think “She’s ruined me,” as I am responsible for things like him not being able to stay out at the bar on Friday night, or go away for a weekend music festival, or do some of the things he would like to do. So in a sense we’ve ruined each other, though I’m not so sure it’s ruined as much as forced one another–complicitly–into a whole new way of being. A way that kind of just smacks of…parenthood, and aging. Yeah. Tough pill to swallow for sure. But here we are, making the best of it.

I vow to not be bitter about the whole thing. In fact all I can do now, to take back control, is to take responsibility! What is it that I am not happy with? My body? My hair? I can spend a little more time on those things if it makes me happy. “He’s ruining me,” I thought, when I saw my reflection this morning, harried and hurried, trying to help Steve out on the farm. Putting these things before myself. Always putting work, baby, life before myself. The question remains…what defines my self?

I guess I worry when things don’t fit together. I want a perfectly clean house and a successful farm business. I want a happy baby and an attractive outfit/hair do. But honestly, these things don’t go together. Just look at them. They go against each other. If you’re a mama or a business owner, you know what I’m talking about. Yoga pants and babies go together. Farms and dirty kitchens. That’s just the way it is. The way it’s always going to be. But every day I try to make it different. Now I’m trying to awaken to the truth.

Because it isn’t even all that. The attractive body/house thing. The greatest sense of satisfaction that I get is from writing. When I write, I feel hot. When I have ignored my passion–let the obligations and to-do’s take center stage–emphasis on LET–I feel ugly. I FEEL UGLY! And the fix is simple and beautiful–to write! It’s just masked in the “I don’t feel good about the way I look thing.” But there’s something deeper going on there, thank god.

No one can ruin you without your permission. You can say no. You can carve out time all to yourself. A little or a lot depending on your needs. You can disengage from a conversation if it’s bringing you down. You can leave the party early. You can go to the page in the middle of the night. You can wash your hair. You can write a line. You can write a whole book, but it’s going to take a thicker line in the sand: “Do not cross.”

It’s those little boundaries that add up to a world of difference. A world where you’re not getting shit on, but you’re thriving. Your world is not spiraling out-of-control, but spinning beautifully like a girl who took the chance to dance. You are becoming a woman–working, mothering–warts and all. No one can ruin you without your permission. You are complicit, every step of the way. Every. Single. Day.