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.

 

 

Regrets

One benefit to aging is that I used to not believe in regrets, but now I do. Wise, I am not sure, but having regrets shows compassion I believe. I am big on compassion. Or I like to think I am. I am still learning.

My regrets are strange. They’re not huge, but petty little things. They creep up in my mind often and I wonder, should I call so and so? Should I dredge this up from the past? Would they even remember? What if they retroactively hate me once I remind them?

I feel like I can out my regrets on both my hands (probably not) let’s see:

-My exboyfriend in college was a sous chef at a Japanese restaurant. A girlfriend and I went to eat at his place. He’d come up with a fancy special—soft shell crab, whole, with some sort of sophisticated sauce and garnish. We both took a couple bites but couldn’t eat it. It was too strange/out-of-ordinary to my 22-year old taste buds. I would finish that crab now. I would eat every last bite. I still remember the look on his face when they cleared the uneaten delicacy from our table. I should have known better. Cooking was his everything.

-Also in college, a boy I worked with always wore a baseball cap. Always. What’s your hair like under that baseball cap?, I asked him in a teasing manner one day. He took off his baseball cap to reveal a prematurely bald and shining head. I wanted to crawl under the table and stay there.

-Leaving that workplace to move to Oregon, I decided to distinguish every person I had worked with in some special way. I worked there for four years, so my coworkers had become dear to me. I wrote out a goodbye note to post on the walk-in cooler. I wrote things like, “To Lexi: who always wore a smile.” The place was owned by two brothers. My first inclination was “To Pete: the cool one” and “To Brent: the cute one.” Instead, to keep it professional (or so I thought) I wrote, “To Pete: the cool one” and “To Brent: the hardass.” Pretty sure “cute” is better than “jerk”—and in my defense, “cute” was more true-to-my-feeling.

-I’ve used writing as a tool basically my entire life to handle unpleasant circumstances, deal with grief, etc. I’ve had my blog for about 11 years and throughout that time I’ve posted things that I would basically have written in a diary. (In my defense, that’s kind of what a blog is.) I have also taken those blog posts and put them on my social media. Sometimes, being that I write about my life, those things have been blasted out to an audience larger than I would like. Basically I write about my mom and my dad and then they see it. For better or for worse. What I regret is that not only are they witnessing my feelings about their shortcomings, but everyone else is too. At times this has felt good but most of the time this feels really bad. As an antidote I try to write things that are true, compassionate, and, whenever possible, self-deprecating.

-I regret any form of gossip or negative talk (I identify this as putting others down to lift up myself). Gossip and negative talk about others is easy to identify because you instinctively know when you’ve crossed the line. In your head you think “so and so wouldn’t appreciate this” but you keep talking—past the line. You might even lower your voice as if they were in the other room.

-I regret many incidences that involve past substance abuse. I will leave it at that. I will save the rest for another story but mainly the repercussions have included the deterioration my mind, body and spirit. And often times embarrassment.

-In the 5th grade an older cousin told me I needed to find someone to pick on. That way the other kids wouldn’t beat up on me seeing that I was so tough. So I chose this kid who walked home the same route as me. He was chubby and had curly hair and wore Wranglers and no one talked to him and he didn’t deserve it. Many years later, he contacted me on Myspace. Do you remember chasing me home all the time? He asked me. I can only hope my apology was sincere.

-I regret not buying an olive green pant suit I saw at St. Vinneys about two and a half years ago. It was one of those kind that were supposed to look wrinkled so it didn’t matter if it actually got wrinkled. It was my color and it was perfect. I almost flipped a U-ey but I didn’t. It was the pantsuit that got away.

-I regret leaving a good career job for an okay man and moving to another part of the state. That remains one of my biggest lessons.

-I regret snapping at my fiances grandmother when I was hangry in Hawaii. I’d knocked over the car seat and she’d said Good thing the baby wasn’t in it! ‘I wouldn’t have knocked her over if she were in it!’ I’d snapped back.

-I regret telling my dad his cooking sucked when I was a teenager. I regret calling him a dork and many other cruel things I did at that time. You’re mean to your dad, my best friends told me. I was mad at the world and took it out on him. I regret that.

-I regret that a woman I know sent me a poem recently and I haven’t read it. She wanted feedback but I haven’t got the time. I hope she understands what it is really like for a woman with a newborn. Time keeps on slippin slippin slippin. I can’t do all the things. I can’t even look at my own poem and I am sorry.

-I regret not going to see my good friend Connie more. She was a customer of mine when I worked for the post office. She is a lovely person, a wise old soul, and she cares for me deeply. I know because she sends me kind emails regularly. I regret that, because of our coupled anxiety, I believe, we rarely see each other in person. She will die someday. So will I. And I will regret it.

-I regret that, since my daughter was born, I am doing just an OK job at everything. Work, writing and cooking. Especially cooking. That is especially just OK. I regret that being ‘just a mom’ doesn’t seem satisfactory enough for all of society. I regret that I couldn’t be just a mom if I tried. Toys, I find, actually bore me. I regret that Autumn doesn’t want to just sit in the corner and read like I do.

-I regret throwing a golf ball through an old man’s front window in high school. Even if he was stalking my grandmother, and sending inappropriate things to our home, the shock of that golf ball and the cascading of the glass panels must have scared him something fierce. I didn’t actually expect it to connect. And until now, I never told anyone.

 

70 and Sunny

You’ll never be alone in your mind again. I forget who said that about becoming a mother. It wasn’t me, but I totally get it.

It is the afternoon at our home in Walton. We drove to town this morning–Autumn and I–for a work function during which, when it became my turn to talk, someone gracefully had to take the baby. They bounced her around the office while I gave my piece.

Afterward, I was scheduled to meet with my boss but my five month old wouldn’t have a minute more of it. We got back on the road, a forty five minute drive home. Autumn fell asleep immediately and I pulled into a Dutch Bros for an iced coffee that I consumed in a matter of mere minutes. $3.50 plus a tip down-the-hatch. I hadn’t had time for my morning coffee in our rush to get out the door. Absent of my ritual, a pounding headache loomed.

On the drive, I listened to NPR’s coverage of the climate crisis. I took a slidelong glance at my plastic Dutch Bros cup and straw. I could tell you I usually order hot coffee, which at least comes in a paper cup. I could tell you that yesterday I’d dutifully carried my reusable blue coffee mug from REI, but it wouldn’t soften the blow. I literally drove past droves of teenagers skipping class to raise awareness of the climate crisis, protesting outside the City Courthouse. I honked, in a pathetic attempt to join them. I honked four friendly honks and waved. But I was, clearly, part of the problem. I may have reused my coffee mug yesterday, but today was a brand new day.

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Back at home it was 70 and sunny. Autumn had not roused from her nap, so I opened the door of the minivan I swore I’d never own and paced around our property racking my  brain for what I should do with my newfound freedom. At least once, I checked on her to make sure she was breathing (it’s a mom thing). It’d been an unusually long nap. I checked the mail. Refilled my coffee. Eyed the mint and the other outside herbs. I wondered if, possibly, there were time to write a story.

Timidly, not sure to get my hopes up, I shook a large, fuzzy blanket out on the back pasture, under the trees. Autumn, still in the van with the door open, sleeping, was within eye and ear shot. It was the first warm day of Spring. I remembered how her father and I met on the first warm day of Spring several years ago. We’d walked his dog, Honey, who has since passed. She’d died in my arms, actually.

I grabbed a large yellow notepad I use for reporting in our small town. I grabbed my iced coffee and a pen. I grabbed a large mason jar of water and a pillow for when Autumn woke and needed to nurse. Writing is hard with a newborn because you can only get down so many words so ideally those words would be good.

I can do hard things but not easily, I wrote. A sort of mantra lately. I wasn’t sure if it was holding me back or what.

I kicked my Chacos into the grass.

70 and sunny. Never alone in my mind again, I wrote.

I managed to fill a couple of pages with words under the shade of a Rhododendron bush, in the shadow of our hollow. I wrote some short little clip of my life at this time. Of our life. A regular work day. Then back to the hollow. I didn’t find the time to remove the cheesy brand placement that never should’ve been there. The Dutch Bros. The REI. The Chacos.

I didn’t find the time to say I’m more of a Hillbilly Brews, St. Vincent De Paul, Birkenstock-type of gal.

But maybe I’ve changed.

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Autumn wakes and cries. Selfishly, I dart my eyes toward the van but keep on writing. I’ve just gotten to the part about the protesters skipping school. I don’t know what I’m trying to say but I think I’m capturing some glimpse of time. Another Spring. Another season. Another mom scrambling to keep her brain together while teenagers point to the real, true issues in the world like the climate crisis. The admiration I have for them. The shock of not standing there with them. The vows I make to reduce, recycle and reuse. How, in reality, I put Autumn in disposable diapers at night because they hold like a gallon of pee and don’t wake her.

When Autumn does wake, I will lay by her side in the sun on our fuzzy blanket and feed her for up to thirty minutes. Hogs do not mind this, humans sometimes do. I am required to do this five to six times per day. A wise aunt recently told me, “Remember, our children do not ask to come into this world.”

It is not easy being a mother. It is not easy being a child. But it is 70 and sunny and somehow we are perfectly undone and barreling toward some unknown, likely very disorderly reality. Not an easy pill to swallow for a perfectionist-ish like me.

The minute I pick Autumn up, her crying stops, like a faucet. I may not be everything, but I am everything to her. Like the Earth is for those teenagers. We cannot see what they see–perhaps too close to the elephant we have been our whole lives. But those kids, well I guess they see their mother barreling into space and away from them, toward her death. Resources squandered. No soft, natural place to land on.  The very real possibility of her milk drying up. They see their mother leaving, being held hostage, in great danger.

As a mother, the burdensomeness of the responsibility is only a matter of perspective. I take off my shirt. I let the sunshine warm my shoulders. I really struggle to reach down within my core and retrieve what I truly am as a woman now: a mother. Not some worker. But being a mother is harder than being a worker. Mothers don’t get breaks. I wonder how very tired the Earth must be. What relief it will be to her when she implodes. But she is probably one of those mothers who’s made for it. Not like me.

On our drive through the “country” to town, I got stopped for construction three times. It was bumper to bumper the whole way. I stared out the window at the trees, the forests, the wild. We don’t even know how to live out there anymore, I thought. At the bell of my alarm clock this morning, all I wanted to do was lie around and nurse my daughter. Instead, I slapped some powder on my face, I put on a skirt and I hustled. I ignored that animal instinct. I’ve been successfully rewired. It goes against my new role as mother. Is the Earth starting to think differently, too?

I floored it to the office, to the child neglect organization I work for. But it was worth it. Because our topics drive a good cause. The world is crumbling, but that is beside the point. For us anyway. We all have our causes, and our limits, sadly.

How many exhausted mothers, fathers and children did I pass on route to the office? How many of them would rather have been somewhere else? In their own metaphorical hollow somewhere?

How many other parents have no weekend, and work late into the night? How many other folks in the country have gotten so incredibly entwined, despite their best efforts, in the go-go-go, American daily grind? How many others actually sit in the forests that they pay to own?

70 and sunny.

Never alone in your mind again.

Here. Now. Home.

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Autumn lays in the sun with me. She nurses and when she is done she fusses not once. She taps my leg with her foot as I write. Lightly. She is mesmerized by the hum of nature (and, if I am being honest, the highway in the distance). She notices the breeze and the butterflies and the grass. Am I a bad mother because she is more familiar with the indoors than the out? Or might I be let off the hook because it is the first day that really feels like springtime in Oregon?

Autumn’s feet tapping moves to my right elbow, jarring my pen and lettering as I write. We do this for minutes, me writing, her jarring. I am obsessed but finally I get the hint. We lie on our backs, mother and daughter, on a large fuzzy blanket and stare at the towering branches of a walnut tree. There aren’t even buds yet, but behind the branches is an azure blue sky. There will be buds, I tell Autumn. There will even be leaves, you’ll see.

No title

We don’t come to the city much
it can cause me anxiety, just the cost of gas alone
tonight I find it pleasing, though—the scent of different
restaurants catching on the wind
Chinese, a steak house,
I even get a whiff of seafood
I push her stroller through the dusky mist to
the public library children’s section
where we eye the fathers of children,
innocently enough just observant and healthy like
I always was
then I take her out of her stroller and
walk the aisles, fingering the books the
staff has arranged face first,
Love You Head to Toe
The Good Egg
and
A Scarf for Keiko

A mother and daughter play on the
floor together with difficulty
“I won’t play with you if you make
up your own rules!” the mother says sternly
“It’s not fair!” the mother pouts
I wonder of my sweet Autumn
picking up on her negativity so
I turn on my heel, head the other way
I bookmark postpartum groups in my head
and vow to use them before getting to where
that mother was
I wonder what she thought motherhood would be like
I didn’t know either but…
her resentment is palpable
I say a little pray for her pink-haired daughter

I spot a children’s table with children’s chairs, crayons
and scrap paper
I grab an already colored on scrap—an orange daffodil
and with Autumn on my lap I try to scratch a poem that
my mother-in-law would approve of
I think about erasing the part about
watching fathers but I don’t
because library pencils don’t come
with erasers