Monday, December 17, 2012


Wedged between Noah's actual birthday (Thursday) and his four year old birthday party (Saturday) was Friday, December 14th, a day when the most unspeakable horror possible took place in Newtown, Connecticut. I first heard about it on NPR while driving to the mall to pick some things up for the birthday party. My first thought when I heard, my unfiltered, split second, automatic thought was that I didn't think I could handle being alive at that moment. Because being alive meant that what I heard was true and it was always going to be true and I just couldn't handle knowing it. And if I couldn't handle knowing it, oh my God, how could these parents be experiencing it right now, be living with it starting today.

My next thought was I need to cancel Noah's birthday party. We couldn't have a party, we couldn't be happy; it seemed callous; it seemed impossible at that moment, to have a joyous party the next day. I wanted to fold up and lay in bed and stare at the ceiling and cry and I was sure that every other parent - and person with a soul - would want to do the same. And I thought... how dare we have a party when these parents of these angels are barely breathing today, barely moving, shells of themselves.

And suddenly, the concerned and little voice of Noah, strapped in his five point harness, speaking up from the seat diagonally behind me. "What, mommy, what? What are they saying? What about the kids?"

(Though I remind myself all the time, sometimes I forget that he listens. To everything. And he notices mommy quietly freaking out, swearing silently over and over.)

And all I could think to do was mollify the horror for him as I processed it myself last Friday afternoon. I am honest with my son a lot, almost always. I tell him when I am having a bad day and if I think I really messed up. I tell him when I'm sad about my mom. I explain that I am really surprised at him when he doesn't behave in a respectful way and wonder aloud if I did something to make him think that's OK. He knows that I was as (more) nervous for his first day of preschool as he was.

But he couldn't know this, my little boy whose favorite place these days is his cozy little school in our snug New England town. My little child, who knows what death is already, but not that it can happen to kids.

I told him that some kids got really hurt by a person. But that this kind of thing almost never ever happens. And that it was far away where this happened. And then he asked where and I said "Connecticut" and he said, "Have we been there?" and I said "Yes." Because it's really close. All of it is so close.

Here I was, sitting in the car, feeling the need to hear every piece of news as it broke, and I did what I of course had to do. I turned on Noah's favorite pop music station and listened to Katy Perry or whatever other drivel that sounds just like her. And I kept driving to the mall to get birthday gift bag treats. When we arrived, he was asleep. And instead of waking him up because we had to scoot into the mall fast fast fast, I picked him up and held him and carried my four year old baby into and through the mall in my arms.

This tragedy brings out the most fierce protective instinct in all of us. So, we ignore any self preserving desire to hide ourselves from life for awhile and instead put on the best damn four year old party we possibly can to convince our children for as long as we possibly can that *this* is what life is all about. We pick our babies up more than usual, we stare at them a little longer when watching them play, we forgive naughtiness a little quicker, and we hold them tighter as we tuck them in. That is, if we are among the lucky ones who can still do this.

We throw our arms around a devastated community as far as we can possibly stretch them. We want to fix it and we can't. We want to send money to make it better, but money can't make this better. We push harder for congress to reconsider the second amendment. We begin to open up about mental illness, but at the same time we want to protect our little ones and older ones who suffer from such difficulties from more stigma.

And then there's the type of protection that occurred on Friday, teachers of their students, their children. I have read many stories - of the principal lunging at the gunman in the hall, of a young teacher locking her kids in a closet and telling the gunman they were all in gym class. I have read many stories, but these are the ones that I hope will stay with me.

Even our children feel compelled to protect, as I am learning. I didn't know if I should be proud, sorrowful, or stunned today when out of the blue, more than two days after our only conversation about this, Noah said to me, "If children ever get hurt by a bad guy again, I will send in an alligator after them. If mommies' and daddies' children are ever getting hurt by a bad person in a school, I'll protect them with the alligator."

We need to figure this out. And no, certainly allowing alligators in school for protection is not the answer. I understand his instinct, but he's four and four year olds have no idea how to handle alligators or how much damage they can cause.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Amazing Grace

I joined this mother's group online a few months ago. They do outings and have all sorts of subgroups, like Stroller Striders, SAHMs (well known acronym in the world of Stay At Home Moms), New Moms, Depressed Moms, Overly Happy Moms, Moms who Love to Cook, Moms who Hate to Cook, you get the idea. One group, I noticed, was called "Motherless Mothers". I had to read it a couple times before I figured out what it was saying and I thought, "oh God that's sad." And then I realized I could belong to this group. It hits me unpredictably, I guess.


She told me she would send a good one down. About a month before she left us, she spoke to you through a recorder, a message I haven't the courage to listen to since I heard her say it. Someday we will sit down and listen together, and you will hold me as I listen. I think if I had really believed she was dying, even as I sat in her hospice room with her, I would have made her say more and write more... to you, to Noah, to me.

I learned I was pregnant with you, dear Grace, in my mom's, your Grammy's, room at the Haverhill hospice house. Yes, I took the test in her private bathroom. I choked back my happiness throughout the day and waited to have Grandpa in the room too, before I told her, so that he could see her reaction and remember it always. She cried a little and she laughed when I told her where I took the pregnancy test: "I bet that's the only pregnancy test anyone has ever taken in this place." It was funny and the truth of it is painful. That in hospice, life only ends.

She told me she would send a good one down. She heard your heartbeat; we recorded it at eight weeks. She heard your heartbeat weeks before she left me and she smiled and whispered, weaker now,"strong heartbeat" and later, to my dad, "it's a girl."

Your Grammy sent a good one down. She sent the best one; she sent you. You, who clear my mind from everything as soon as I see you each day. You, who instead of screaming when I wipe your face, stick out your tongue and try and lick the wet cloth. You, who reaches out and grabs me around the neck and pulls me as close as you possibly can so often (what baby actually does that?). You, who giggles and laughs and then laughs harder when I pat pat pat the bottoms of the shoes I'm putting on you, trying to get you to uncurl your toes. You, who loves doggies as long as you're looking at them from my arms. You, who crawls up the stairs laughing as you look behind you when I forget to close the gate. You, who dances and sings with music always. You, who starts to laugh your contagious laugh when you see me laugh and then we're both laughing and it's all over. You say so much with your two words, "dada" and "hi....". (Maybe all any of us needs is a couple words and just a lot of expression).

I believe mom hugged you closely before I ever met you.

The other night, at your first birthday party, I got to sit next to you. The table was a circle and so we got to see Heidi and Anna, Annie and Scott, Daddy, Noah, and Grandpa and Aunt Jan all at the same time. I was the luckiest girl in the world. Noah on one side, Gracie on the other. You wore an off white lace dress and your bald head was adorned with a giant red bow, and on your feet, sparkly red shoes. I dressed my little girl in her lavish birthday dress, proudly, unapologetically, frillilly. And yes, mom's voice was of course in my head (oh, the dresses she would have found for you!). "Oh... Jaaaanet. Oh! Where did you find it?"

Her voice is so often in my head, Gracie. And I am so sorry it won't ever really be in yours. I guess I do fit into this category of Motherless Mother, but the truth is I've never felt motherless in the 19 months wherein I've technically been so. A mom, as I hope you find and never question, is with you always. Always in your head, always in some way engrained in your beliefs. And in my case, her casual pirouettes (in the kitchen, always) have become part of what I do when I'm waiting... or showing off for you guys. And her expressions, you hear those from me every day (though you don't know what they mean yet... don't worry, I still don't know what some of them mean..."I looked all around Robin's barn"... what does that mean?). Her opinion will always matter to me and I think I will always know what it is. You will know her through me, your Grammy in "heavena" (as Noah has often said), even when I'm not spelling it out for you.

Mom and me
It is hard for me not to think of you as her final gift to me. I do the math and (sorry, avert your eyes if you want) it seems, Grace, that you began one or two days before we learned her doctor was out of treatments, that this fucked up cancer-chemo-cancer-more chemo-more chemo-more cancer trip we'd been on was, in fact, going to be terminal for mom too. She and I had time to celebrate the thought of you, she lying alert in her bed, me in the chair next to her, leaning over limply, lying on her lap. We allowed ourselves to dream again of the little girl we'd talked about me having since I was a little girl. We thought about names for a boy and then just in case it was a girl, we thought about girl names. We had time to share this thought of you. And you were with us that whole time. And after she was gone, you were still here, and I was never alone.

Gracie and me

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Molehills to Mountains

I must have been about eleven years old at the time, climbing Tuckerman's Ravine with my family and some family friends. It was the most simple thing, this tiny moment of time, but I've thought of it so often since, this little footstep in my life. I had been blankly staring at the ground throughout the hours of this hike, thinking of things I don't remember now, taking in little to none of the beauty that surrounded me. Something subtle took me out of my fog, perhaps a change in pace, a stronger than usual gust of wind, a laugh from a family member. And suddenly, strangely, it occurred to me that I would never have this moment again.

I stared down at one particular, unremarkable rock and committed myself to this thought: I won't forget this moment, no matter how ordinary it is. Someday, hopefully... okay... IF I ever become older, clearly older than I am right now and I know more about how my life turns out to be, I will appreciate where I am and remember where I was one normal summer day on a mundane walk up another boring mountain. I promised myself I would remember that moment and say, wow, eleven year old Janet, you are not at that rock anymore, you are not on that mountain. You are not eleven nor do you care about most of the things you cared about at eleven. I couldn't imagine I would ever be anywhere else. And I knew I would never remember that moment. But I do.

I have tried, through the years, to have other such mundane, uneventful moments, times where all I was doing was *being* who I was in my life then, where I could remember that moment later in life and appreciate it for all that it was and stare plainly at my past and how real it was to me at those moments. But throughout the past 33 years (damn, 33 years), only the day on the mountain has stayed with me.

Two nights ago, my baby girl Gracie whimpered for a moment when I put in her crib to sleep. So, instead of letting her settle on her own, as the books and the experts would say to do, and as I will typically do at such moments, I picked her up in my arms and walked her into our darkened bedroom, where I sat down at our rocking chair. She sank softly into me, hands wrapped around my neck, head nuzzled onto my shoulder, soft wisps of hair slightly covering the warmth of her tiny head. We have been here before, holding each other a little bit past her bedtime, rocking slowly, taking one another in for our own reasons. Here was my new moment, my current ordinary me, one that I had a feeling I would remember always. It hit me in the same sort of way, with nothing particularly unique to trigger the thought. This moment was fleeting; I could not imagine any other me than this me.

I know that I was afraid when I was eleven. I was afraid I would never be here. I don't think I thought of it as such when I was eleven, but I know what I've always wanted to have. Here it is, in my arms, the other sleeping in his bed. And now, at 33, I am suddenly all too aware that moments, even mundane moments, pass quickly and so does time, no matter how tightly it is held, no matter how long we try and draw our moments out. So, thank you, Grace, Noah, John. Thank you for now, for this.

Noah and me, March 2009
Grace and me, March 2012

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Hurricane Sandy gave me my husband for two extra days this week. An unprecedented stock market closing - two days in a row. I'm not excited that Sandy happened, that it damaged people and places and all kinds of things in between, but I think it was a brilliant move to cancel the stock market for the day and then the next day. Worth it, Wall Street, to keep people home and hopefully safe.

It would have been close to impossible to take care of two kids in the dark all day yesterday, after our power went out, by myself. And yes, as I write this I am acutely, horrifyingly aware that there are millions of single moms and dads and caretakers taking care of one or more than one kid all alone, every single day, in the dark. What I could learn from them.

Grace (11 months) was just confused all day. She thought it was night throughout the day and was pretty livid with us by 6:00 pm for keeping her up so long past her bedtime. It was a strange day; she was right.

Noah and I spent a good 45 minutes creating a witch's spell to protect us from the storm: a sun, a fire, a mermaid in tropical water, an orange and black oreo, an orange, and a banana. We added the ingredients and then made our own spoon and then flung our spell around the house. It protected us beautifully from the storm. Perhaps if I had added a peach or a plum, or maybe a merman, our power lines would have been protected too.

On discussing the *spell* as I mixed, I created one confused little three year old. "What letters? What letters do we have to make to make 'spell'? What are we going to spell to protect the house from the storm?"

And so I explained to him about homonyms. I had time.

Later, the kids played in the dark. This was okay, I guess; it sort of feels like they do that every day, with their little bodies flinging in all directions regardless of inanimate objects sitting heavily in their paths, and with Gracie attempting to eat anything at all that ends up in her hands: pebbles, leaves, pieces of popcorn, worse things.

I wrote letters in the last sliver of light coming in the window and now, today, in the light, I can confirm that my handwriting was as atrocious as it felt when I wrote.

We ate dinner by candlelight and I was relieved by how terrified Noah is of fire last night. One less thing to fear. He will keep himself clear.

At night, at 6:00, all was black but the tiny little candles (bought for aroma, not so much for light) scattered around, and the house smelled of gingerbread lavender vanilla cranberry chutney orange dreamsicle with a mixture of wet clothes, half clean, from the washing machine, slung over the furniture.

I decided it was time to tell GHOST stories by the unlit (because the damn pilot light went out) gas fireplace (too lazy to light our own wood). I began with "a dark and scary night", but when I caught the look of Noah's eyes as they grew wider and larger, I quickly turned the scary baker in my story into a magic baker who accidentally made ant cupcakes instead of chocolate ones. You weren't there, but trust me - it was hilarious and brilliant. Noah, my three year old and biggest and only fan of my work, laughed so hard, "I peed out into my pants. They are wet now."

His overtiredness/overstimulation/confusion about what on earth was happening led to an even sillier round of giggles which resulted in at least three head-butts (two to me, one to John) in a row, which everyone knows is the prelude to an immediate, fast forward version of the bedtime routine (though, do that bedtime routine in the dark and it actually ends up being in slow motion).

I experienced one day of this... ONE day... and the romance of the whole event was completely gone by 7 am this morning when I didn't see blinking on my alarm clock and random lights and fans, still switched on from the day before, had not come back to life in the night.

I had two kids and one husband, but only a *little* hot water and no milk and no coffee and no heat and only a tiny bit of power left on my iphone. I wasn't panicked about this, but I wasn't happy. And sitting here now, 30 hours later, power radiating through our house in so many ways again, television humming, microwave beeping, I don't even think I actively appreciate all of this as I now should, as I know I absolutely should. Maybe one and a half days wasn't enough.

Oh, what we have.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Putting out fires

He hears everything, so often when I don't even realize it. After a quiet discussion with my husband about how we should really veer the firefighter (fire truck, firehouse, forest fire, city fire, house fire, fire safety, airport fire) focus in a new direction ("Farms! We have lots of great books on farms he could get into" suggests his preschool teacher... "that would be a... helpful gear shift"), I felt pleased with our plan to find some new, interesting subjects at the library the following Tuesday.

The general fascination and fear of all things related to fire has decidedly gone a little too far in the past couple weeks. "This church looks sturdy... it's got big stone walls... it wouldn't fall down in a fire, daddy... right, daddy?" He said with a questioning look last Saturday during a memorial service for his great grandmother. Frequently, I have heard, "Mommy, now, this fire alarm should probably have its batteries changes soon. I don't see the green light that's supposed to be on."

There was a week where he reported to me whenever he stepped close to a wire, the fireplace (not on), the oven (also not on), electrical sockets. All this just to hear from me that he wasn't going to catch on fire from that accidental step or sideswipe. He had learned too much and not quite enough. And it seemed it was time to make new choices with him, to find new interests and perhaps pacify his passion a bit.

And so, operation: obsession redirect. Farms?

Back at the library, armloads of fire books placed on the return desk.

To the librarian, "Where are the construction books?"

Success... without even the need for an alternative suggestion!

"Right around where you are, Noah." (Yes yes! She knows his name! All these library visits! Does that mean I'm a good mom? A supermom?).

"OK, oh, I see the fire truck books right here... mommy, which ones haven't we taken yet?"

Wait, no, wait... construction books! What about construction books? You love construction! Farm books? "Hey, Noah, check out this book over here in this different section... on Obama! We can read all about Obaaaaaama!"

"I want this one, mommy, on fixing stuff." He holds up Build your own car, rocket, and other things that go. "And I'll take the one on Skid Steers. And the Scooby Doo." I slip Barack Obama, Son of Promise, Child of Hope into the pile.

On the way home from school today, he stared closely, carefully, thoughtfully, at each page of his latest selections, flipping through page by page from the back of the book to the front. And then, as he placed one book down and picked the next up, "I'm reading all these books now about other stuff than fires and it just makes me more sure that I'm all about fires. Fire trucks are important. They save lives."

Tonight, the night of the town hall debate (#2), without knowing anything about tonight or THE debate or even anything about any debate or what a debate is (he's three), he chose Obama for our book. "Tonight I'm all about Obama," he said as we cozied up with our big picture book on Obama's life.

The name "Toots" (BO's Grandma) was hilarious to Noah... and the idea that Barry became Barack was funny, but a different kind of funny, the scrunch up your nose and tilt your head and say "really? he did that?" kind of funny. He asked me to define Hope, a word mentioned on each page, written in just that way... "Hope". I started to tell him it was a name too (*my* middle name, even), but then I just went for it and tried to describe Hope as a word that is written like a name and important as a name, but meaningful in a different kind of way. "Obama cares about people... soooo much, I think. And he wants to change things that are hard for them. He wants to make their lives better. It's his hope; that's what he hopes he can do. Does that make sense?"


"Hope is really really wanting something and believing and wishing so much that it will happen. OK? OK. Great. Bed time!"


It occurred to me later tonight, when the debate and the tv were off and the lights were being turned out, one by one, and it was quiet and I was silent and alone, this is what I should have said:

"Noah's Hope is riding in a big red truck that can save lives."

Hope with an "H" can't be pacified.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hand holding

Today in the car, I was driving slowly, so, as I often do, I reached my right hand back and held it out for Noah, who took it in his hand and held it and then dropped it, grabbed it again, dropped it, grabbed it again. Toying with my heart, this child, I thought. He loves it when I beg for his attention.

But then, "Mommy... you can't... you should just drive. You should keep both your hands on the wheel." And there it was, more sage advice from my three year old. His hand holding hesitation a mere attempt to give me the opportunity to make the right decision before he had to make it for me. I laughed and told him he was right and in my head, I cringed at myself a little and said, 'Damn girl, Noah is right."

I've never been afraid to admit the amount of things I don't know and even now that I have kids, kids who seem to be way smarter than me, I guess I'm still okay with it, and still open, probably more than ever, to understanding what I don't but should know. And I just became a stay at home mom, after being a mom who was hardly ever at home, so I'm here embracing a new day to day life I'm building with my little ones  - and frankly, a lot of it is pretty amusing to me... and possibly to others. Some of it,  most of it, is even worth learning from (for me), whether it be about paying attention to the road on the advice of my three year old or learning that 10:08 is far too late for a stay at home mom - or a work all day mom - to be wide awake and writing.