Birth and Death


This is not going to be a very deep or philosophical post.  I put the picture of seashells in there just because they’re pretty, and if I don’t put a picture in my posts, it looks funny on Facebook.

I am very groggy.  Not quite “new mom” groggy, but definitely “new grandmother” groggy.  I can’t seem to concentrate on anything.  I try to do things like pay my bills, but my brain won’t function normally.

All I can think about is our little Ellie.  Her fingers. Her eyelashes. Her lips.  Her sweet little round belly, that fits perfectly in my cupped palm.

I tried to do some errands yesterday, walking through the grocery store with my shopping list in hand. I walked out without half of what I needed. I forgot to buy the orange juice that I get every single week.

I looked at the people moving around me in the store, putting things in their cars in the lot, driving on the highway.

How could they be acting as if nothing had happened?  It literally seemed unfathomable to me that the world could just be moving along in its normal path when for me, everything had changed.

And I was suddenly and sharply reminded of the weeks after my father’s death.  I was in a daze, foggy and numb.  I remember being in the same grocery store and feeling a spurt of anger at the people who were acting as if everything was just fine.

“Everything has changed!”, I wanted to scream at them. “Dad is gone! The universe will never be the same.”

I feel the same way now, almost.

Everything has changed.  Ellie is here! The universe will never be the same.

That Perfect Gift for Mom

This post is for all of those lovely young women who are considering pregnancy/dreaming of pregnancy/in the middle of pregnancy.

You know those pesky gift giving days (Christmas, Mother’s Day, Mom’s Birthday….) when you just can’t figure out what to give your Mom? Those relentlessly repeating days when you are supposed to present your mom with a lovely gift, all tastefully wrapped and accompanied by a ridiculously drippy card all about love and flowers and dancing angels…..You know what I’m talking about! I know you do!

Well, here’s the secret that they don’t tell you in the “how to please your Momma” textbook.

Your  Momma doesn’t actually need another #1 Mom coffee mug, or another pair of Ultra Comfy Slipper Socks.  Or a gift certificate to the local grocery store.

Nope. She doesn’t.

If you really want to make your Momma happy, and fill her heart with love and gratitude and joy and hot chicken soup, this is what you should do.  I promise you, this is a fail-safe, guaranteed Make-your-Momma-happy plan.

Here’s what you do:

You go into labor, and you insist that your Mom be in the room with you. You labor for hours with your Mom in the room.  You let her sit back and watch as your husband, her “you’re not my real kid” son-in-law strokes your forehead and whispers how much he loves you. You allow your Mom to rub your back when the pain hits, and you let her run down to the cafeteria when you crave a treat.

If you really want to give your Mom the ultimate gift, you let her stay up all night with you as you labor. You let her sleep in a chair so that she can watch over you as you sleep.  You let her reassure you in the deepest part of the night, when you are Googling “Epidurals and Hard Labor”.  You allow her to refill your ice and water cup. You let her share the “breathe” routine with your husband.

When its time for the doctor to come and check your progress, you reach for your Mom’s hand, and the two of you think together “please, please, please, please say 6 centimeters!”   When the doctor looks up with a surprised grin, you let your Momma yell to your showering husband, “Honey, hurry up! It’s time to push!!!!”

You let your Momma stand there and watch you as you do the hardest work of your life. You let her cheer you on as you push and breathe and growl.  You hold the hand of the man you love best in all the world, and you let your Momma watch you.

And when at last that beautiful baby is born, you let your Mom and her “You are really one of mine” son-in-law embrace and shed a few tears together.  You let her watch as that young man cuts the cord and you allow her to watch that very first moment, when you snuggle your little one on her chest.

THAT my friends, is the ultimate, not to be beaten, never forgotten gift to a Momma. After this, you’ll never ever need to buy another coffee cup in your life.

Thank you, thank you, Katie and Sam!!!!  I love you!

Is This Too Creepy?

My daughter is pregnant, expecting her first child.  I spend time with her every day, because we commute to work together.  So I hear her talking about the fears that she has already about hurting her baby.  “I can’t eat soft cheese”, she tells me “Because it might have listeria.”  She is avoiding some fish (mercury), all cold cuts (listeria), alcohol and caffeine (obviously), hot baths, salicylic acid, ibuprofin, face wash with chemicals……..

I smile inside, and a little piece of me thinks, “Oh, brother!”   But then I think about how intensely and completely parents love their children, how overwhelming and overarching that love is, how immediately we understand that we would give up all of our comforts, our routines, our favorite foods….that we would give up our own lives in a heartbeat if it would protect our babies.

And I think about my own babies.  I think about how much I still love them, even after all these years. Even after raising them to adulthood. Even though I can’t really remember the details of my pregnancies with them.  Even though they are no longer a part of my day to day life.

I still feel them in my heart, in my soul. I feel them in my DNA.

I am still acutely aware of their existence in the world.

And I am acutely aware of their absence in my home.

When my firstborn was about a year or so old, we left her for the first time overnight.  We had a party at our house, and we had fun.  I loved being able to socialize and to relax.

But I missed her so much, it was if one of my limbs was suddenly missing. I felt that phantom pain in my heart.  “Only 14 more hours,” I told myself as I went to bed that night, the first night in over a year when I’d been separated from my child.  The first time in more than two years, if you counted the months when she’d lived within me. “I can do it. Only 14 more hours.”

As the years went by, and my children grew, I learned to last more than a day. I learned to live without them for a week.  A month.  A semester.

But here’s the funny thing: even after all this time, I still get to a certain point where I begin to crave my children like an addict craves a drug.

I get to the point where I HAVE to see them, hug them, assure myself that they are OK.  I need to feed them, I need to ask about their lives. I need to hear their laughter.

I need to touch them.

Is that really creepy?

See why I miss them?

See why I miss them?

photo 2

Walking away from me.

Katie's first sneakers looked just like these.

Katie’s first sneakers looked just like these.

My absolute favorite part of every school day is our “read aloud” time, right after lunch recess.  The kids come in all excited and energized from the free time outdoors.  Their cheeks are flushed, their hair is tousled and mussed.  The smell like childhood; warm and fresh and sweet.  They chatter and laugh as they hang up coats and pull off boots, then they toss themselves onto the rug in our meeting area, gathering around my chair.

I hold the book in my hand, waiting for them to settle in. I take a deep breath and begin to read.

This is the moment when my students are at their youngest and most innocent.  They gaze at me with wide eyes, their faces reflecting every event as it unfolds in the story. Sometimes they mimic the actions of the characters (“She grinned with delight”.  “He narrowed his eyes as he thought.”)  I can watch them think; its a priceless gift!

But this is also the moment when they are at their most intuitive and mature.  It is a miracle to watch a ten year old as she recognizes a metaphor and turns to her friend to describe it.  I watch them as they begin to understand grand themes of love, fear, courage, persistence, pride and patriotism.  They blossom like flowers under the influence of powerful literature.  Its a gift to be the one who reads to them and guides them as they grow.

Today I started the book “Heartbeat” by Sharon Creech.  I decided to read them this story because we’ll soon be writing and studying poetry, and I wanted them to hear the lilting rhythms of the book.  I chose this story because kids are supposed to understand character development and in this story, the narrator really comes of age.

I didn’t choose “Heartbeat” because of its universal themes of maternal love, but sometimes a book just reaches out and grabs you by the throat.  Even books that you’ve already read six or seven times.

In Sharon Creech’s story, the twelve year old narrator is a girl who loves to run. She runs for the sheer joy of the experience, and she tells her story as her running footsteps create the percussion line. “Thump-thump” goes the refrain; her footfalls creating the repetitive rhythm that is echoed by her heart.

In the story, the girl talks about how her Mother felt her “running” even before she was born, and how as she soon as she was born, her Mother feared that she would run away. That she would run right out of her Mother’s life.

And as I read those lines, I suddenly, sharply remembered the day when I bought my first child her first pair of shoes.  They were tiny pink sneakers, perfect and funny with their little bitty laces.  I remembered with perfect clarity how I sat my little girl on the changing table and slipped those tiny shoes onto her feet.  I remember cupping each foot in a palm, and running my thumbs over the toes.   I remember the aching in my throat, and how my eyes brimmed with tears.  As if it had happened today, I remembered myself looking into my baby’s deep brown eyes, and whispering, “Now you can walk away from me.”

My baby is a grown woman now, about to marry and ready to buy her first house.  She is independent and mature and strong.  She can run.

Sometimes, though, a book or an image or a line from a great piece of literature can remind me all too clearly of how briefly I held her in my arms and kept her close to my heart.

Blow out your candles, honey.



I think that every milestone is more poignant when it is reached by your youngest child.  The first step, the first word, the first day of school.  For me, every “first” for my baby was my “last first”.

Twenty one years ago tonight was a warm one, as I recall. The windows were open, and crickets were singing.

We had put our kids to bed, our Katie and our little Mattie.  She was a big girl of six, sleeping in her canopy bed, her pink and white bear in her arms. Matt was a baby still, not yet two years old, sleeping in his crib with blue pajamas on his sturdy frame.  Paul went to bed, but I stayed up for a while, resting on our pull-out couch, feeling the various aches and pains of late pregnancy.  I remember feeling very calm, very safe that night. I remember pushing a pillow behind my back and settling in to watch TV.

And I remember realizing, somewhere around midnight, that my baby was going to be making an appearance before too long.  I remember looking at myself in the bathroom mirror, smiling at my own reflection.  “Hello, Momma.”, I thought.

This was my third birth, my third time around.  This time I felt prepared.  Unlike the other two times, I didn’t know the gender or the name of this baby.  This time I wanted to be surprised.

I remember lying on the comfy pull out, watching the stars move across the sky, listening to my body as it readied itself to give me my last baby.  I rested and dozed and waited, confident that I would know when it was time to head to the hospital. Trusting that all would be well.

I think it was about 3AM when I decided to wake Paul up and tell him that it was time to go.  I remember so clearly going into Kate’s room to wake her.  I kissed her forehead and smoothed my hand over her silky hair.  “Honey”, I whispered, “It’s time to wake up.”  I remember that she curled away from me, grumbling into her pillow, “No, Mommy. I don’t want to get up!”    I remember that I knelt beside her bed as my body cramped hard. “We’re going to have our baby tonight.”   I’ll never forget her turning, so quickly, and throwing her arms around my neck.  “Let’s go!” she cried. “I want to see my baby!”

I remember holding Matt on my lap, still half asleep, as Paul fed the dog and put her outside on her lead. I remember Katie’s excited chatter as we climbed into the car.

And I remember with perfect clarity how happy and whole I felt as we drove down the highway, into the rising sun.  Our two children fell back to sleep, and Paul held my hand as he drove.  We had Pachelbel’s Canon playing on the CD player, and the morning was quiet and blue and sweet.  We watched the sky ahead of us turn slate gray, then orange, then lemon yellow as the sun rose up to greet us.

At two o’clock that afternoon I gave birth for my third and last time.  I held and kissed my sweet baby Tim. I looked at his beautiful face, his little dimpled cheek, his tiny hands, and I felt that my life was complete.

Happy Birthday, Baby Tim.  I love you as much as I did that night twenty one years ago.  I love you as much as I did when you sat on Grampa’s lap at your first birthday party. As much as I did when I saw your first step, heard your first laugh, watched your first hockey game, handed you your first drum stick.

You’re as sweet as I knew you’d be.

Happy Birthday.