I Didn’t Eat the Booger

It’s my birthday. I’m 49 today.

I’m also in the midst of recovering from shoulder surgery, in a semi-diminished state that has left me feeling grateful for many things on this day of taking stock.

Example #1:

Last week, Byron and I were standing in the bathroom, with him waiting to assist me in some small act, perhaps applying deodorant. He was waiting because I needed a minute to blow my nose. With my right arm in a sling system, I was blowing my nose using one hand. I am as good at this task as I am at running a six-minute mile. Just as I was starting to feel proud of myself for getting the Kleenex around both nostrils and for managing to emit some snot into the tissue, a bad thing happened.

A Kix-sized booger flew out of my nostril, dodged the tissue, jettisoned upwards, and landed with an audible splat upon my glasses lens.

It was a marvel, that thing. Bright neon yellow. Perfectly gunky. A rogue with great character.

Because Byron and I have been through childbirth together, a lively, glowing booger is hardly worth an eyebrow twitch between the two of us.

“Sorry about that,” I said. “I’ll just…”

“Yeah,” Byron agreed. “You’re going to need to deal with the actual booger, but once you get it off, I’ll be happy to clean your glasses for you.”

And he did.

Example #2:

Paco is usually very tired by the time he gets home from his school day. He needs a snack, something to drink, and a few gentle touches to remind him that he’s with us now — that the tiring world is locked away outside our doors. Often, this means I play with his hair or scratch his back for a little while.

A few days ago, he leaned in for a forehead-to-forehead hug. Although I have not been engaging in many hugs since the surgery, I enjoyed the feel of his arms around my shoulders. Quickly, though, he retracted one arm and apologized, saying, “Oh, no, that must have hurt you! I’m sorry, Mom.” Telling him I appreciated his solicitousness, I assured him that no one’s touch is more gentle than his.

“I’m just really glad it didn’t hurt you,” he almost whispered, looking relieved.

Example #3:

By the end of each day, my shoulder is aching, and I’m forced to admit that my energy is still on the rebound. At that point, there is nothing more welcome and comforting than sliding into the castle of pillows on my bed.

Last night, as I lay there, messing around with my phone and reading a few pages from a new book, Allegra got up from her chair at the computer where she had been plugging away at her homework and came over for a good night kiss. Before I pecked her cheek, however, she settled onto the edge of the bed to tell me about some of the career presentations her classmates have been giving in English class.

For the past several weeks, all the sophomores have been working on research projects focusing on potential future professions; this research culminates in a video that is then shown to the class. For Allegra, choosing a possible future career required a lot of thought and discussion — because the beauty of being a sophomore in high school is that everything is still possible. After talking through her interests and passions, she narrowed it down: she is genuinely excited when it comes to travel, cultures, and various countries around the world. Thus, I suggested she consider researching the profession of a Foreign Service Officer, someone who works and lives abroad, helping with visas, finances, tourists, expatriates, all the associated issues of an embassy. This suggestion and her decision were bolstered by the fact that she was required to do an interview with someone who currently works in the chosen job, and I have a high school friend who is a Foreign Service Officer.

Once I knew what my own girl was doing, I started asking what her friends were researching and what careers they were contemplating. Also, I warned her I would be eagerly anticipating updates about all the presentations given in her class.

So there she sat last night, telling me about the first couple days of presentations. A few of her classmates wanted to be teachers, and there were also presentations about being a meteorologist, and animator, a veterinarian, a physician’s assistant, a pilot, and all sorts of other options that made me want to go back and be young again.

As I leaned against the pillows, feeling the ache in my back relax, I watched her lovely face in the dim light, that lovely face that came into my life out of my own body 16 years ago, and I forgot about the phone in my hand, the book by my elbow, the painkillers on my side table, the plate of chocolate cake awaiting me as soon as midnight struck. All I thought about was how much life there was in her big, blue eyes, and how she was sitting next to me when I was aching, telling me about her day — because she knew it mattered to me.

Example #4:

A few days before my surgery, I received an email gift certificate from my best friend, Colleen. To help distract me from my anticipatory worry about the surgery, she had sent me an early birthday present: a hefty amount towards a pair of Fluevogs— shoes that are quirky, whimsical, well-made, and expensive. After tearing around the house to find Byron — to tell him of my excitement — I was surprised when his face only looked semi-happy at the news.

“At the risk of blowing my birthday present to you,” he said, “I’m just going to tell you now that I was planning to give you the exact same thing, right down to the same dollar amount.”

His disclosure in no way ruined my birthday present. Rather, it provided a delicious delight: to have both a best friend and husband who are so attuned to even my smallest desires, who are so thoughtful about who I am, is the very definition of a perfect gift.

Just as good: when I buy a pair of those shoes, I will smile with every step, thinking about how Colleen sponsored the left foot while Byron sponsored the right.


On this special day of taking stock and feeling gratitude, then, I am thinking many things.

I’m thinking about how my glasses are clean.

Because I am loved and supported.

I’m thinking about how good a hug can feel.

Because the people in my life are gentle and respectful.

I’m thinking about how I am not lonely, and I have company in the dark hours when pain creeps in.

Because someone lovely takes a minute to sit on the edge of my bed.

I’m thinking about feeling seen and acknowledged and beloved.

Because those who have known me over the years show me that they understand exactly who I am.

When I was young, I would not have known how to ask for this life.

But here it is.

And it is so good, so full, that I can’t even have candles on my cake.

Because I wouldn’t know what to wish for.


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Bappy Hirfday to Me


I turn 48 today, and, oh, the joy of it! Behind me are the days of wishing, hoping, longing, wondering. Here now are the days of loving, laughing, appreciating, and clarity. I’m in the thick of it, this business of a happy life, wanting to hug it all to me, hard, while it’s happening. There are things I still want to do, places I would love to explore, adventures I’m eager to have. And, of course, there are people I can do without, too many hours spent in windowless rooms, the agendas of dissatisfied minds.

But still. Even when I get a leg cramp at three in the morning that is like no Charley horse I’ve ever had, and I have to stomp around the bedroom, then the bathroom, jamming my thumb into it, eventually grabbing the side of the sink, bending over it, and lowing like a cow in labor–as happened the other night–I can’t fathom my fortune. Then it happens again three minutes later, and I can’t fathom my pain.

My leg cramped like a mother-plucking chicken de-featherizer because I had exercised so much, so hard, so well.

At least I have legs to battle.

I have a sink to grapple with.

I have water to regret not drinking.

I have fluffy covers to crawl beneath when I’m shivering.

And even when my ancient car suddenly starts doing a scary shuddering thing whenever I push on the gas–as it did a couple days ago when I was driving to pick up Paco from Pokemon Club–making me whisper under my breath, “Please, let me just get to the school so that my sensitive lad isn’t the last one there, waiting in uncomfortable silence with the recess monitor who agreed to stay past six p.m.” as I simultaneously plan how I’ll push the car to the shoulder of the road if it does break down, I can’t help but turn my face to the sun at a stoplight. Then the shuddering gains a companion in the form of a loud clanking noise, and I’m back to whispering “Please…”

I get to worry about my car breaking down because my life has been felicitous.

At least I have a car to make me anxious.

I have a son, and he gets to go to school.

I have a boy who is a boon companion, who has good ideas about where the closest auto shop is and who counsels me into doing an after-hours key drop.

I have a cell phone, friends to call.

I have neighbors who launch themselves away from the dinner table, saying “No problem. Be right there” when I send out an SOS about my deadbeat car and hungry son.

I have lungs and quadriceps that power me five miles uphill the next day when the repair shop informs me my car is fixed, that they close in an hour.

I have a credit card to hand over when the car repair shop presents me with a staggering bill.

I have a husband who got a new job, a darling of a guy who is proud that his income will help pay that bill.

I have a daughter who, as I start to grouse internally about the cost of “labor and parts,” asks, “Why don’t you join Instagram, Mom? You have that tablet now. If you join, you can follow me and see all my pictures!”

Indeed, it’s the stressful moments that slap me in the face and remind me of my good fortune. How can I think anything’s going wrong, when so very much has gone gloriously right?

Our first years are about developing.

Our next years are about figuring things out.

Past that, we have a time of learning nuance and gauging our course.

Then comes a period of growing, moving, settling.

And now: the season of gratitude.

I’ll take 48 for the win.

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A Forge and a Purse. That’s All We Need. Oh, and Cake. Plus This Candle. And a Bow Staff. A Unicorn.

The baritone saxophone doesn’t so much toot as blare. Rattle. Shake the house. When the boy is practicing, blowing all his lung air into the mouthpiece, conversation in another room is impossible. The floors vibrate; then he finishes a scale and calls out, “Playing this thing is loosening my ear wax!”

Recently, Paco turned twelve.

I want always to remember who he was at this stage of life:  sweet, sensitive, musical, bull-headed, mellow, clever, rules-minded, funny, soft, self-conscious, smart, observant, intuitive, sometimes anxious.

In other words, he’s exactly who he’s always been–only with every passing year, he’s less of a Creature Who Needs Tending and more of a Comfortable Conversation Companion. He just gets better.

All of the traits that were in him when he was two are magnified a decade later. The only difference now is that he accessorizes less when he sings his happy little songs.


In the week before his birthday, Paco took part in two activities that illustrate the breadth of his abilities. First, he completed a day-long blacksmithing class, the foundational course in a series; six days later, he went purse shopping with his mother.

He could have handled either of these as a two-year-old, as well, but the parent in me was grateful he’d outgrown his clown wig phase before standing over the fire in a forge. Too much risk of a stray spark igniting a purple patch of whizzy curls before leaping cheek to smolder on the red nose. I’m also fairly certain the two-year-old Paco, had he been drafted into helping select a new purse, would have been more interested in choosing a shiny gold one with rivets, leopard spots, and a dangling whistle for himself than counseling his mother into the best choice of bag.

True confession: part of me wishes my twelve-year-old were still interested in choosing a shiny gold purse with rivets, leopard spots, and a dangling whistle for himself. We would use it to tote scones and bottles of mineral water when shoe shopping–and to signal each other when stumbling across a noteworthy find (Trumpet that whistle: Dansk clogs are on clearance!).

Alas. His interest these days is weaponry. That’s what led him to the forge: he wants to make a sword.  Of course, the road to a sword starts with a single step, in this case Blacksmithing 101, during which he learned to build and tend the fire before whacking at rods of rebar with a hammer for six hours.


The day after the class, our almost-twelve-year-old was whupped. This was not surprising; one of the descriptors listed above with regards to this lad should also have been “low energy” or, phrased more gently, “easily sapped by activity.” He gets that from his mother. After a day of significant exertion, he feels run over; there is no quick rebound or shout of “Where’s the unicycle? I need a balance challenge!” Nae. This kid will need to lie on the couch for a good ten hours the day after effort, persistently promoting the nuances of his sore neck. He will sleep with a heating pad for two nights. He will accept ibuprofen and massages. He will nestle his brain stem on only the softest of fleecy fabrics. When the bathroom calls, he will walk gingerly, guarding his person against offending walls.

I feel this child. I am this child.

Seriously. One time I had a C-section, and from the way I still go on about it, you’d think the surgeon used nothing but a dull butter knife and her left incisor to cut me open.

Interestingly, the ball of blood and tears the surgeon gnawed out of me that day was this very kid, the one who’s just turned twelve.

When he forgets to moan, there is no one better. He works diligently at learning to spin his new bow staff, acting out Daffy Duck and Porky Pig’s famous “Guard! Turn! Parry! Dodge! Thrust!” scene as he twirls.


He loves his softie buddies in the bed and invites them to read in the dark with him, using a head lamp to illuminate a Nate the Great or Rick Riordan book.


And he goes purse shopping with his mother.

It was a spontaneous outing. I’d noticed that my year-old purse’s straps had worn through and were on the verge of giving way entirely. I figured that at some point I’d dash into my favorite store and seek out a new one.

That opportunity presented itself the night before Paco’s birthday. He and I–teeming with vitality and non-sore necks when I suggested an expedition to check out the newest series of Lego mini-figures–had driven to the shopping area in town and done some focused groping of various bags of mini-figs, attempting to discern which figures might be held within the mystery packets. More than anything, we were hoping to detect a unicorn horn; to turn twelve the next day while clutching a Lego unicorn would be, well, like being the forty-seven-year-old mother of a twelve-year-old clutching a Lego unicorn: THE APEX OF AWESOME.

Once we selected our bags of figures and made our way out to the car (“I’m going to open one now and one tomorrow on my birthday; since I’m not having a party this year, that gives me something to look forward to”), I noted that we were conveniently near my favorite store.

“Paco, I feel The Mothership calling. The computer chip in my brain that’s linked to the main hive is pinging and pinging. Can we answer its call? Do you mind doing a little more dinkin’ around before we head home?”

The immediate response confirmed his status as Best Playmate. “What are you asking? I LOVE dinkin’ around.”

When we got to The Mothership, he had no interest in wandering off and looking at things that might interest him. He never does. Always and forever, he would rather stick close. Better conversation that way.

Hip to hip, we entered the square footage of Purse.

“So, what kind of purse are you looking for, exactly, Mom?”

He posed a hard question–for the criteria are variable, so long as the purse speaks. It’s a love thing.

“Hmmm. Well, you know the colors I like. Actually, even though I don’t usually like oranges and reds, I could do them in a purse. I just would need to be careful never to hold the purse next to my face, and the only time I can imagine my face ever nearing my purse would be when I’m digging for a quarter, Kleenex, lip balm, bandaid, dental floss, car keys, phone, or wallet, so what I mean to say is no reds or oranges. Also, I really hate blingy stuff, and all the random hardware they like to attach these days feels painfully Try Hard to me. Let’s just say we’re looking for a classic purse without a lot of crap jammed onto it. Oh, and also: always remember that fringe is the devil’s work.”

Having processed my words, Paco wandered over to a luscious navy blue dreamboat and gave it a heft. “How about this one? Nope, wait: it’s open across the top, and you need a zipper so all your stuff doesn’t spill out.”

Carry on, small man.

Moving to the next navy blue bag, he noted, “I like the shape of this one, and it’s so soft. Do you need a long strap, or do you just want to wear the handles over your shoulder?”

Negotiable, kid. I won’t know ’til I see it. It’s a love thing.

Then he looked at the price tag. “Oh, no. I’m worried about the cost of this one. It’s pretty high. That’s why it’s so nice.”

Teachable moment: you get what you pay for, buddy. Sometimes, when a purse has nice shape and is soft, that’s because it’s well made.

“Okay, then,” he continued. “You should carry that one around for a little bit to test it out. Also, it’s the last one, and you don’t want anyone else to take it until you’ve decided.”

I clutched it to my chest and petted the softness, just as I had this boy when he was a baby.

We wandered to the next display. “Yuck,” Paco noted. “Beiges and whites won’t be practical. They’ll get dirty so fast. Plus, they’re boring, and you like fun. Keep walking.”

Moving to the clearance rack, our eyes were drawn to a bright blue bag, smallish, zippered-but-not-too-much. “Ooh, I like that one,” I got squealy.

“But isn’t it too small, Mom? Your wallet won’t even fit in it.”

“Yea, but I could use it when I travel and only want to take the essentials–some cash, a credit card, a Burt’s Bees lip balm, ibuprofen, and a unicorn mini-figure. Those things would all fit easily!”

I grabbed the bright blue purse and smashed it against the navy blue one. Cuddling two babies, I followed my young man.

“Hey, Paco, wait! Isn’t this one kind of funky? The flap is asymmetrical, and it has two different chains for each shoulder strap. That’s fun, right?”

I’d gotten so off track, my counselor had to turn and give me a dead-on corrective stink eye. His gaze burned into mine, laser-like, as he countered my whimsy. “Mom. No. This purse is red. Would you say it’s ‘classic’? Can you undo that button on the flap easily every time you get in and out of your purse? No, Mom. No.”

He was right. In fact, rack after rack, every time I tried to derail my original intentions (Jocelyn Superpower #47) and get excited about impractical, silly, or ridiculous, the last-night-as-an-eleven-year-old’s voice brought me back from the edge.

“When you put that one on, it juts out really far. You’ll always be knocking things over with it. Since I’m always one step behind you, I could lose an eye.”

“I don’t think you should get two purses. That gets too expensive, and how many purses do you take out with you each day? ONE.”

“You think that’s cute right now, but when you look at it next week, you’ll realize it’s ugly.”

“That looks like a dead lizard on a string. You can’t.”

“I don’t want to know someone who would carry that heap of sequins on her shoulder.”

“Look at the lining inside that one. It will rip by Tuesday. And it looks like barf.”


We turned a corner.

And saw.

The racks of green purses.

Green and I have a history. Green might actually be Paco’s father.

Exhibit A:


Our steps slowed; our fingertips grazed. Green was promising.

While I soaked in the big picture, Paco went specific and started digging to a barely visible hook in the back. “Mom! Look at this one! Lime green! And you know how we feel about lime green!”

I helped him extract it from the tangle of purses. It was lime green all right.

“And it doesn’t have dangly junk or bling, either. It’s like a real purse. Would it hold all your stuff? ‘Cause, Mom? I think this is the one. This is the best one, right? Let’s look at the price. Hey, not so bad! You have to get this one, don’t you? No question about it! LOOK AT THE GREEN! Mom, we love it; don’t we love it?”

Fortunately, I’m open to lime green. Fortunately, it was a good size. Fortunately, it was a good price. Fortunately, it was well made. Fortunately,

even if I’d been on the fence, unsure if it spoke to me, not completely sold,

I realized that–on the cusp of my son’s twelfth birthday–this was a moment to tuck into my heart. The next few years will see him moving further away from me, separating healthily and painfully; he will always be my boy, but he’s about to become less and less my boy, more and more the world’s man. He will always be part of my pulse, yet I will miss him forever.

Rather than yielding to the wash of melancholy that threatened, I focused on what he was right then, in that moment, in The Mothership, standing next to the green purses, enthusiastically holding up his choice.

Almost as tall as I, this young man was sweet, sensitive, musical, bull-headed, mellow, clever, rules-minded, funny, soft, self-conscious, smart, observant, intuitive, sometimes anxious. And he was applying all of his everything to helping me with my cause.

There was no question. Even if he’d been holding up a red purse dripping with sequins and fringe gilded with seven gold chains, I would have bought it.

It’s a love thing.


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Steadily Growing

“At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.”–Salvador Dali

Today, Byron turns 42.

He has been, and in some cases still is,

son, brother, friend, father, student

custard scooper

corn cross-pollinator

park ranger


anthropology and earth science instructor

newspaper delivery boy


office manager

book seller



greenhouse worker








bill reckoner

splinter remover

kickball roller

beer brewer


crossword puzzler

logistics coordinator



sounding board

voice of reason

purple beard sporter.

In recent years, he’s also been Artist.

For this piece, Byron laid out 275 one-inch by one-inch squares, and then, for each of 275 successive days, drew a mini-diary entry. There’s a teensy ink sketch of a necktie for the day he went to a meeting with the mayor to strategize about how to re-imagine park funding in a way that could keep libraries open. There are also minute depictions of a shovel, an owl, a planter, a pumpkin…among 270 other Lilliputian moments of life, all harmonized by the presence of emerging sight lines that meet up in the lower righthand quadrant.

Byron, the least OCD person on the planet, makes art that presents as fairly OCD.

He had a show this past summer and spent weeks deciding which pieces to include before working on matting and framing and layout. Below, you can see where we laid out the final drawings in an effort to figure out how they’d fit on the public wall space to best effect.

Our time living in a Muslim country affected him. Upon our return to the States, he spent some time studying Islamic art and the use of variations within sets of geometric shapes, as we had seen all across Turkey in the tile work of madrassas and mosques. Here is one result:

He is pulling together a website to showcase his art. Here’s a link to his “galleries” page, which includes both pen & ink drawings and digital collage: Laying Fallow. I love the precision of the pen & ink and the whimsy of the digital collages (the one with the Amish figure on the ship was a commissioned piece; he bartered his services, and, gollee, have we enjoyed the blueberry-lemon bread, pickled beets, and other baked goods from the recipient).

Tonight, we will celebrate with white bean/bacon soup, pumpkin bars, limited-release Surly Darkness beer (gaspingly expensive), and a night of music seeing his favorite group, Cloud Cult (having conveniently driven their biodiesel van to Duluth to perform on the anniversary of his birth).

This talented grown-up boy,

still discovering the myriad vagaries that constitute “ambition,”


quite simply,

the best.

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Twelve Years Since the Blue Moon

Once again, I beg the forbearance of my long-time readers with this post, as it’s a re-run (but I’ve added new pictures at the end!). However, because it’s a personal favorite, I hope you’ll hang in there for a re-read…or perhaps for a first-time through.

“Twelve Years Since the Blue Moon”

I got engaged and pregnant on the same day.

Even better, it was “Buck Night” at the local ball park, so I also got to drink eleventy dollars of watery beer on a humid July evening while feigning interest in an All-American sport.

You might be trying to forge a connection between all that cheap beer and my getting knocked up. Damn your clever mind. Does it never rest?

Suffice it to say, though, that pretty much all of my days since then have been anticlimactic. They’re all “go to work, read to the kids, sweat through a run, fold some laundry” and ever-so-rarely are they “get engaged, drink beer, get pregnant” kinds of days. I suppose, though, that a girl can only have so many splendid Whopper Days; otherwise, I’d have a whole lot of husbands, hangovers, and kids. And frankly, one or two of each is about all I can handle. Ask both my husbands. They’ll attest to my treating them with an air of benign neglect. Fortunately, they are a comfort to each other.

So, yes, from that sticky July day came good things. I still dote on my groom, and the issue of that pregnancy is just cresting twelve years old (since I, personally, remember a lot from Age 12, this implies to me that I should start being nicer to Girl, now that the threat of lifetime recall is firmly in place).

It’s all good now, but the growth and arrival of our Girl weren’t as straightforward as her conception. In fact, Girl started out as two.

All I knew was that I was pregnant, and the hospital in our town would confirm that but would not have me see a doctor or midwife until the end of the first trimester. So I took some vitamins, ate a lot of Ben and Jerry’s, exercised, and dreamed an entire life for the child inside of me.

Until one night–the last night of that first trimester–when I got off the couch after watching some bad reality tv and went to the bathroom. After pulling down my shorts, I discovered the pregnant woman’s nightmare: blood. Lots of it. And when I sat down on the toilet, there was an explosion of more blood, along with many miscellaneous floating bits…of tissue.

My brain reeled, of course, and all I could think was, “This can’t be good. I’m pregnant, so this should stop.” At the time, Groom and I weren’t yet married, and he lived almost six hours away. I called him; he lurched out the door and into his car; then I called a Best Girlfriend, and she was at my house in minutes.

We went to the emergency room, where I spent a long, long time with my feet in stirrups. I heard words like “she’s dilated” and “tissue in the cervix” and “no heartbeat.” My friend stood by my side, crying quietly into a Kleenex. My own tears ran down my cheeks into my ears.

After some time, I was told that it looked as though I’d miscarried. But, they told me, I was young, so future pregnancy could happen. And, they told me, a miscarriage is Nature’s way of ending a non-viable pregnancy. It happened, they told me, all the time.

But here’s the thing: it hadn’t happened to me before, and so I was ill-equipped to handle the absolute, immediate grief of losing a life I had already planned. Sure, I’d heard of women having miscarriages, but no one had actually ever brought that experience alive for me; no one had shared their experience publicly–and if there’s one thing I do, it’s find ways to process the world by touching the experiences of others. Yet miscarriage proved to be one of those last female taboos, one of the hidden subjects that no one acknowledged. So all I really knew was that I was in significant physical pain (I didn’t even know enough to realize a miscarriage is actually a mini-labor, with a contracting uterus and everything) and in even more profound emotional pain.

When, at 4 a.m., Groom finally got to me, we just cried. And the next day, and the day after that, we cried. A baby isn’t real to the world until it’s born, but it had become real to us from the minute that stick turned pink.  Even more, the promise of a life we’d made together confirmed our rightness of being.

Some days later, we went to see the midwife at the hospital, to have her check my uterus to see if all the tissue had been expelled that night in the emergency room, or if I’d need to undergo a D & C, to “clean things up.”

As I lay there, again on a table, she palpated my uterus, noting, “There’s still a fair amount of tissue in here. If you don’t mind, I’m going to roll over the mobile ultrasound machine to see how much we’re dealing with.”

I didn’t want to see the remains of the babe, so I stared at the wall as she worked, not registering her words of, “Hmmm. I see a heartbeat here.”

How cruel, I thought. Why is she taunting me?

But. Then. It. Sunk. In. A heartbeat?

My head whipped to look at the monitor, where I saw a most-contented-looking little figure, reclining in the tub of my belly, a strong and regular heartbeat emanating from its chest.

My memory of the next few minutes is the feeling of Groom’s tears hitting my face, as he stood above me, and the midwife exiting the room, saying, “I’m just going to give you guys a few minutes.”

So my grief had prayed for a miracle–for the miscarriage not to have been real, for that pregnancy to still be happening. Suddenly, it was. Gradually, we pieced together that I had been carrying twins, and one of them had not made it. This, according to one nurse, happens more frequently than we know, but it is still a “once in a blue moon” event.

For the rest of my pregnancy, we called the kid inside of me The Little Gripper; I pictured it hanging resolutely onto the walls of my uterus by its tiny, soft fingernails while its twin fell out of me. Assuredly, I will never stop missing The Kid Who Fell, but mostly I can only marvel at the child who hung in there.

Today, March 31st, it has been twelve years since The Little Gripper became our Girl, twelve years during which she has emerged as reserved, smart, sweet, wry, amiable to a fault, Love Incarnate.

The Birth Day: Groom cries some more, as Girl greets the midwife. Under the white sheets, once again relegated to laying on a table, I wonder how long it will be before I can have a bowl of Peanut Butter Cup ice cream.

Girl Was One

And Then She Was Two

Same Dress at Age Three, But the Wheels Were New

Four Was Fun

Five Became Her

She Grew to Six (Plus Two on the Lap)

Then She Was Seven, Feeling Crafty

Eight Flowed Easily

Nine Popped with Color

Ten Took Her Places

At Eleven, Ancient Landscapes Broadened Her

Twelve Promises More of the Same and the Start of Much That Is New

As the years tick by, I love her purity of character above all else.

Even she was six, a wee first grader, her unalloyed caliber was evident. One night, at bedtime, her overtired Brother Wee Niblet (now Paco) cried in his bed, sobbing: “I don’t want to go to sleep, ever. I wake up in the night, and I am alone. I’m always alone. I’m never going to close my eyes because sleep is too lonely.”

We had already pushed the kids’ beds next to each other, strung the room with lights, played music on a CD player through the night, and tried everything to get him to appreciate sleep as an opportunity, not a burden. But no matter what I suggested that night, he cried even harder.

Then an almost-seven-year-old hand snaked its way across his bed and extended itself onto his torso. With all the compassion of two souls, Girl said, “Here, buddy. Just hold my hand while we fall asleep. And when you’re asleep, I’ll just keep holding on to you. You know I won’t ever leave you all alone.”

Happy birthday, Toots. Every single day for twelve years now, I have thanked the sky above for that blue moon.

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birthdays dad

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[audio:|titles=12 – The Circle Game] ——————————————-

One year, when my dad’s birthday rolled around, my mom didn’t know what to buy him for a gift–he already lived under Montana’s Big Sky and possessed a lovely tenor voice, both of which made the case for him as A Man Who Had Everything. So she did as many a clever gift giver had in the past: she made his present.

She made him a baby, and that baby was me.

I was wrapped in a soft blanket and presented to my dad on March 25th, 1967. That day, I was zero; he was thirty-two. The day before, his own mother–born in a dugout sod house forty miles away from the hospital where I was delivered–had celebrated turning fifty-two. Thirty-three years and six days later, Baby Jocelyn would give birth to her first child, a Girl. From March 24th to March 25th to March 31st, the last week of March has always been loaded with birthdays in my family.

One of the many beauties of my life has been my status as Baby of the Family. As the third of three kids, I enjoyed the best of everybody: I was Mamma’s Girl, Sister’s Girl, Brother’s Girl…and, of course, as his special present in 1967, Daddy’s Girl.

As the years passed, we always enjoyed sharing a birthday. Naturally, Dad didn’t get feted the same way I, a kid, did. For me, there were party hats and friends gathered ’round and much-observed blowing out of candles.

But for adults, life is just life, including birthdays. I blew out candles; my dad went to work. Then the next day would come, and then the next week would roll around, and then it was April, and then it was summer, and then there was gardening.

Mixed in to every year were the birthdays of others, such as my sister below, turning twelve, much to my delight (CAKE!).

Then the summer would end, school would begin, and it would be fall, then winter, then a new year, more holidays, more birthdays, more life.

Always, my mom was there, my brother was there, my sister was there. My dad was there. We took road trips; we ate chili; we watched tv; we dusted the knicknacks.

Eventually, it was our birthday again. Eventually, I turned sixteen.

All words–all possible apologies–fail me as I try to make amends for the hair on that sixteenth birthday. Chalk it up to 1983 and the exuberance of youth.

I blew out the candles. I opened gifts. I wished my dad a mutual happy, happy day.

Cake demolished, we carried on. Back to life. Back to studying and practicing and visiting. Always back to music.

Here, Dad is all tarted up for his role in The Magic Flute. Is there really a dinosaur-lizard creature in Mozart? I was too busy frizzing up the back of my hair to pay proper attention.

A few more years passed, and I went off to college, where I was surrounded by new friends, foregoing even silverware on my 19th birthday.

As ever, March 25th was followed by March 26th, which then spun back into studying and dancing and lolling.

At home, in Montana, the music continued.

At some point during college, I became enough of an adult that Dad and I could share a cake on our shared day. I’d started from him, gone off onto my own, and come back to rejoin him with more deliberation.

Of course, as children do, I then hopped back in my car and drove away. For Dad, there was gardening, music, tv. Life.

I graduated and began my own career. And then my grandma, born on March 24th in that sod dugout on the prairie, died.

I sat next to my dad at the memorial service and pressed my leg against his, absorbing the shudders of his body as he wept. Later, in both the hollowest and most meaningful of gestures, I put my hand on his knee.

Then I got in my car and drove away. He taught. Gardened. Sang. Observed.

As the seasons went ’round and ’round, my brother got married and became a father. I became an aunt. My dad became–most joyful of things!–a grandfather.

With a few more spins of Earth’s axis, I, too, married and had a child. My parents’ joy grew.

But then we all would get in the car and drive away. He would dig in the dirt, watch his shows, look for coupons. Always and ever, there was music.

Sometimes, he and my mom would get in the car and come to us. His thousand-watt smile never beamed more brightly than when we was with his grandchildren.

My father has four grandchildren, but he only ever met two of them. He was in his final decline in the hospital as I gave birth to Paco. Fifteen days after that emergency C-section, Dad died, alone, still hopeful of a recovery, his heart and lungs finally giving out after years of chronic ailment. Two months later, his fourth grandchild was born.

It’s his not knowing his grandchildren as they grow up that slices me most. Now, a decade later, they are, to a one, intelligent and creative and funny and poised. His death at age sixty-seven means his most amazing legacy will never know what they missed.

Now it’s March 25th again, and he would be seventy-seven. This is my tenth birthday without my father. I am not maudlin or overly-sentimental about his passing. His death means he was alive.

That he was alive means I’m alive

and that Girl can spend all day holed up in her room with a book

and Paco can ask to play baseball at dusk.

Birthdays are, of course, our way of marking time, of slowing down long enough to take stock, of noting where we are in the arc of our lives, of taking a guess as to how much more we might still have in front of us.

Dad and I won’t share a cake this year. We won’t wish each other “insider” birthday greetings. I won’t put my hand on his knee ever again, nor will he ever again slide into the driver’s seat, snap into his seat belt, and put me at the center of everything by asking, “Where do you want to go?”

I was his most-original birthday present.

He was my gift of a lifetime.

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On My Mind

The Shape of a Girl

Bjork once described herself by saying:  “I am a fountain of blood in the shape of a girl.”  Although I like how her thinking strips away all pretense while still acknowledging the overlay of gender, I wish her words had gone on to include the importance of whimsy: “I’m a fountain of blood in the shape of a girl draped in the skin of a swan.”

At our house, we have a fountain of blood in the shape of a Girl, too.  She doesn’t own a swan dress–nor would she agree to wear a dress of any kind at this stage of her development–but she has enough playful whimsy buffeting about inside her hoodie-clad being that I hold out hope for, at the very least, a faux zebra-skin strapless number paired with a tortoise-shell cape somewhere in her future.

The blood pumping through our Girl is turning 11 today (hey: divisible by 11).  This past week, whenever I’ve been out running, or whenever I’ve been vacuuming in preparation for my mother and brand-new-step-pappy’s visit, I’ve mulled over what I might like to write in commemoration of my firstborn’s birthday.

What I’ve realized is that I have no angle on this one.  After a silly opening  salvo involving an Icelandic singer, I’ve got nothing.  Here’s the thing:  our Girl is simple, and not in the fashion of a Jethro.  She is the beautiful, pure, easy, uncomplicated kind of simple, and trying to fashion anything fancy about her would feel false and overwrought.   She’s simply, marvelously, genuinely simple.

When I gave birth to a girl, I never saw that coming.  Even before the placenta was expelled, I worried about our future clashes, about her hyper-sensitivity, about the feelings her peers would crush into little red pepper flakes, about the tears, about the emotional aches.

Based on my own life experience, I knew all too well what was coming.

To my endless delight, she is stunningly not like me.  She is simple.  She is confident.  She is brave.  She is singularly kind.  She is thoughtful.  She is nurturing.  The worst thing I can say about her is that she often cries when doing math.

When family and friends have asked, these past months, what they can send to her that would be a welcome part of a care package, her answer generally has been, “I don’t need anything.  I’m fine.”  Trying to ferret out if there really is something she’d like, I make suggestions and ask in a different way, yet the answer is always, “Nope.  I’m good.”  Even more, as she’s grown taller and taller, and her pants have all become several inches too short, I’ve told her we can make a real effort to find her some longer ones that fit.  However, knowing that we plan to leave behind as many clothes as possible when we return home, so as to save on weight in our luggage, she merely looks down, takes a gander at her peeping socks, and says, “I don’t need any new pants.  I’m good.  These are fine.”

Recalling the wellspring of need inside myself as a kid, I am bewildered by her unflappable goodness, her fineness.  Her steady responses are doing an excellent job of teaching me to shut up and back off, though.  She is good.  She is fine. 

Here in Turkey, she has no social life.  Although she adores her crowd of friends back home, she accepts that having no friends is part of the deal for her in here.  Moreover, in Turkey, she has no out-of-the-house activities.  Sometimes she takes out her viola and saws on it for me; we can’t find her a teacher here.  Other times, she kicks a soccer ball around our courtyard.  She likes helping me bake.  She reads.  She horses around with Paco.  As the slideshow below reveals, this pre-adolescent is getting through her days in a foreign country in admirable fashion.

Indeed, it’s fine.  She loves Turkey, says she’ll miss it when we leave.  Every trip we’ve taken this year has struck her as the best of adventures, and while we were in Italy, she was already planning a future trip to Norway; when we were in Antakya, she was wondering when we could go to Marden.  When we sat in the basement of our hotel in Gaziantep, eating the free meal that comes with the price of the room, she eyed the set menu of plain yogurt and lentil soup and avowed, “I can eat these things.  I want to be someone who can eat anything.”

I am grateful for this time away from home, then, for the way it’s defined her.  She doesn’t need stuff; she likes experiences.  Her face shines upon the unknown.  Maya Angelou, who said, “I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass,” would need to clap hands on her buttocks to shield them from Girl’s pummeling, would need to rev up the presses to make a million copies of a Grabbing the World by the Lapels poster featuring this kid.

Speaking of being a poster girl, and to undercut every assertion I’ve just made about our fifth grader, there is something Girl wants for her birthday, and it’s not an experience.  With the lack of friends around her this year, she has forged a strong interest in a ‘tween magazine called Discovery Girls: she knows the names of all the girls in recent issues; she tracks which states were visited in which year and if they’ll be coming to Minnesota in 2012; she watches behind-the-scenes videos online; she dreams of one day being chosen as a Discovery Girl herself.  She’s a little obsessed, which is a relief.  It means she’s human.

As a result of this passion for Discovery Girls, she has a strong desire to own every back issue so that her knowledge base can be complete.  She would go nuts to have even one more issue in her hands.

She knows Grandma is bringing the two most recent issues in her suitcase, and that anticipation has caused several days of excited monologuing already.

However, this lovely Girl has no conception of is that there’s something else in store for her birthday.  She has no idea that we won a lot of 22 back issues of Discovery Girls off Ebay, that our friends Kirsten and Virginia carried them to London in their suitcases, that I then transferred them to my bags and carried them through Istanbul and Kayseri and to Ortahisar,

that they are hiding right now in our bathroom storage closet.

When she opens her gift, she will be astonished, gobsmacked, excited, overwhelmed, delighted, floored, ecstatic,

maybe a bit more than

simply fine.

[flickrslideshow acct_name=”70029074@N00″ id=”72157626366151658″]
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