may it not, therefore, dry up and blow away

I am home now, in a quiet house where my boys are resting. They are sick today: fitful sleeping and too-fast fever breathing. I’m staying near to their warm bodies. We have candles lit for their healing; we have prayed. We will read today, and touch, and wait for health to come. This stillness is a gift. There is coffee and the house is clean.

In the last couple of weeks, we watched our girl-cat die. We spent days and nights with her as her body shut down. The boys held bowls of water to her mouth once she could no longer get up to drink. They laid a favorite blanket on the floor for her once she could no longer stay safely in the bed when, for brief stretches, we had to leave. They whispered into her fur and kissed her head and diminishing body. She slept so close to them until the very end. Nearness to us was her final comfort, and we gave it. I hope they remember this: the love they offered and accepted, how unafraid they were to face the truth of her leaving. I hope they carry it into the losses they will go on to meet.

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She died stretched out next to me, taking up more space in death than she ever had in life. J came over in the night to help me move her body into a box and prepare it for the boys to see. I was overwhelmed; coming was a kindness. Later my friend Matt helped me dig a hole three feet deep, stopping to cut thick tree roots and unearth rocks. Matt is no stranger to grave-digging – deeper graves, and for much heavier reasons – having offered what he could in the face of injustice, preparing space for death row inmates who would be lowered into Georgia red clay. This was not that. Not state-sanctioned evil. Not Georgia heat. Just a beloved nineteen-year-old cat who died in my bed. A small three-foot grave and two boys watching.

And then, of course, we taught my sons how to lower a body they love into the ground.

I already understood myself to have made promises to this house. It is a century old. I am its fifth owner. We belong to one another. But digging so deeply into the earth has changed my relationship to the land. Surrendering beloved flesh to it. Using sharp shovels to tear it apart. Small-boy-handfuls of dirt to put it back together again. The land is changed. My sons are changed. I am changed. It took thirty-eight years of living to lay down such roots. It took grief and the fragmentation of loss.

I am made weary by the events of this year. I am still stunned by all that has taken place. But I am sturdier than I knew. I think a lot now about women of the past. My mothers as far back as they go. All our mothers as far back. Brave. Resilient. I feel myself lengthen into their untold stories.

These words by Kathleen Norris have stayed with me.

The Plains are not forgiving. Anything that is shallow – the easy optimism of a homesteader; the false hope that denies geography, climate, history; the tree whose roots don’t reach ground water – will dry up and blow away.

I feel I was given a legacy of hope. That it was passed down in both blood and stories, despite or perhaps because of all the reasons that wouldn’t be true. And I’m thinking these days about the responsibility of passing down hope: of offering it while taking care that it isn’t shallow or light. I watched as these boys met with this close, intimate death. Watched their hands cradle her stiff body without fear. They kissed her goodbye again and again. They never looked away. They know she’s in the ground; they put her there. In that way, they have roots now too. This moment denied nothing that is. This moment was not shallow. May it not, therefore, dry up and blow away.

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A tiny epilogue: Days later, we dug once more to build a fire pit deep into this small bit of land. We used bricks that came from the house J and I brought these boys home to, our first home. Then my mom and cousin Linzie lovingly painted this mural on part of our fence: an offering, a gorgeous and powerful gift. Death and community and beauty and hope. Deep roots and blue poppies. Resilient mothers as far back as they go.

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these boys

Today, like so many of us, I drove my big kid to school: in Bram’s case to his final year of Montessori preschool. He was nervous and reluctant, and also curious. He ran out the front door and kicked rocks around the driveway for awhile. He wanted to listen to Cloud Cult’s “Transistor Radio” on the way. He sang along, like always. I said, “That journey his grandpa sends him on? That’s like your journey, Bug.” I watched him gathering his nerve in the rearview mirror. I listened to him slow his breathing.

I’m writing this from a table in the coffee shop where I wrote a lot of my dissertation. Where we came after we lost E. Where we brought B the first time we left the house with him. That was a lifetime ago: two lifetimes, literally, for my kids. Not long ones, but of course we’d do well not to measure life by length.

At four-and-a-half, Bram is a firestorm of passion, focus, curiosity, and brave imagination. He is self-conscious about his physical abilities: nervous on playgrounds and critical of how he runs and bikes, as if someone has told him he isn’t good at those things (though to my knowledge no one has). He holds back nothing on the creative front, and is steady in his confidence in himself as an artist. If he asks you to describe some recent experience, to remind him of a detail from an encounter, it’s so he can go home and draw it. He’s a storyteller: he tells tales silently, with colored pencils, for hours; with Legos in deep concentration; in a loud, dizzying voice as he spins around the house. He is a careful and kind brother, son, grandson, and friend. He holds his fingers up in the shape of a square to tell me he loves me. I think he’d make eye contact for hours.

When I told him that some people think we are all of the figures from our dreams – so he’s not just the little kid who’s scared; he’s also the beast chasing the little kid – a smile stretched across his face for whole minutes. When I asked him if he wanted to finish a drawing he had started earlier in the day, he said, “I don’t want to, mama, I need to. An artist needs to finish what he starts.” He told me on a walk to the library last week – out of the blue, at an intersection – that he wants to be a baker, a construction worker, and a priest when he grows up. This would surprise no one who knows him.

At two-and-a-half, Lou is a wild and beautiful creature. His will is fierce and seems to come from somewhere profoundly deep within him. He is built mostly of courage and curiosity, and he’s like a cat: capable of immense and startling acts of love and loyalty, but on his terms. Once while working together with Play-Doh, he said – without even looking up – “I miss you when you’re at work, mama. I love you too now.” We just kept working. He has a head full of blonde curls, lashes that go on forever, and the last vestiges of the skinny bird arms and legs he had at birth. We still call him Birdie, and it still fits.

He is maddened by any suggestion of passivity: he wants to push the stroller, cook the food, wash dishes together, turn all the pages, get himself dressed, put on his own shoes, and fasten his own seat belt: “not you, not you!” If you look away for a second, he’ll sneak off to the snack drawer and situate himself on one of the benches at our dining room table with an absurd number of pretzels or graham crackers. If you call him from another room, he’ll run to you full force, shouting “My am coming!!” He is rarely cautious, though he avoids deep water and new people, and he constantly asks me to drive more slowly. Like his brother, he loves teases and inside jokes, and his eyes light up when he’s in on something. His favorite song right now is Josh Ritter’s “Cumberland.” It is entirely possible to imagine him living happily in the country. If you pretend to forget song lyrics and sing them wrong, he’ll say, every time and with endless delight in his voice: “not like THAT! Like this!” and sing them the right way. He’ll repeat this as many times as you’re willing. If he’s sad and you offer him a diversion, he’ll often say, “Okay. That would cheer me up.” If you’re sad, he’ll offer you pretend strawberries until you smile. Strawberries, every time. His favorite game is the Run-Hug, which his Pomo invented. It is exactly like it sounds.

This is a picture Bram came home and drew after meeting a girl he found magical. She is seven, and a dancer. Those marks are the colors he’s decided are good for making skin tones. He is always working on craft. Those are her hands folded in front of her body. She’s Native American and was wearing traditional clothing: those are feathers, moccasins, and bells at the bottom of her dress.

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This is classic Lou.

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This is a drawing Bram did of our church awhile back. Every time he sees it (hanging in my office), he says quietly to himself: “I need to do a new one.”

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These are tombstones the boys made when – as is his way – Lou killed a fly and – as is his way – Bram cried over its smashed body and made us bury it. Lou gave this task the cursory attention that he sensed his brother would require. Bram wrote this on his: “Dear God, did the fly have a good life? Was it sick or was it not? [Something illegible to me.] In your name we pray. Amen.”

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And this is a typical market Saturday: Bram with his best friend, Clara, sure of their little world together; his brother following behind: ever curious about B & C’s activities, but also absolutely on his own quest.

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dream chasing and a Bramble-Bug turns three

Ten comments to my existential-crisis-post of last week. Ten thoughtful, wise, loving comments. Thank you for that; you are deeply wonderful. Even the fact that – with your busy lives and your kiddos and your not enough time – you take the time to READ these meanderings is a gift.

Anyway, many of you are saying: do the community work. And that’s full of wisdom. My only thing is: I really don’t multitask well. At all well. When I have lots of little two- to three-hour things to do in a week – hell, when I have even two of them – I feel distracted. And when I feel distracted, I am not my wholly present self. And when I’m not my wholly present self, I panic. And I feel like I’m failing everyone. I don’t know how working parents do it. Even my wife: I watch her and how she moves in and out of roles and I feel at once impressed and disoriented. It took me a long time to see this part of myself – and even longer to stop judging it – but there it is: I lack a certain fortitude when it comes to balance. And hear this: I know what a privilege it is even to KNOW this about myself. It means that I’ve been allowed to step back. To do one thing at a time. It means that others have taken up the slack for me: in money making, in activism, in life. It is an indulgence. But I am easily knocked off my game, and I am scared of taking on a two-year responsibility that could chip away at my already shoddy equilibrium. So I’m not sure. But I have one more week to decide. At any rate, your comments warmed me. And lots of them made me laugh, as when a mama over at Queer Conceptional said “you sound like the sort of person who gets satisfaction out of the chasing of dreams, and there is value in that.” Yes: the thing I’ve most learned about myself through this journey of parenthood: I lack practicality. For better or worse – and make no mistake, it’s often for worse – we are dream chasers. J is better at covering that in herself than I am, but I sometimes think we’re unfit for practical life. But we’ll see. I’ll read your comments through a few more dozen times.

In terms of chasing dreams: we have a three-year-old KID in our house now. Yesterday was January 19th. A big big day in our little little house (Emmett Ever in 2011 and Abram Adrien in 2012, of course). It came on the heels of J taking part in a three-day anti-racism training. I hope (hope pray hope) she’ll write about that here soon. My mom spent the weekend with me and the boys (such a joy, and SO generous of her). B’s party is next weekend – I’m making these for a small gathering of our most beloved locals; we’ll all build snow-creatures outside before coming in to eat them – so this weekend and his actual birthday were all pretty low-key (a good thing since we’re all lousy with head colds). B had his first-ever Montessori walk around the sun on Friday, and we all got to watch. He was just pure light from being so happy. Then my mom gave B an incredible set of liquid watercolors (thanks so much for the recommendation, Erica!), and we spent the bulk of the weekend creating. Here are a couple of process and outcome photos; more to come on these, and why you should invest in them if you can at all.

Their first experiment:

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The hearts we made with glue, salt, and watercolors: the big Bram-Bubbie-Mama work of the weekend. B will spend the next few weeks writing his name on the back of each of these, and then we’ll use them as Valentines. I am in love with each one, and with the memories I have of watching my mom and son make them.

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photo 1

And here’s a photo of what our birthday kiddo saw when he came downstairs yesterday: a handmade banner, a Winnie the Pooh balloon, and the magical dollhouse that came to him courtesy of his Grandmom (J’s mom), his Pomo, and his Mama. It used to belong to our most beloved children’s librarian (Mr. Bill. You’ve probably heard of him. He must be quite famous.) which makes it doubly wonderful. We have somehow amassed nineteen dolls to live in this two bedroom house, so J has taken it to calling it the “Lesbian Duggar House.” She is (adorably) less reverential than me.

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Anyway, Bram is three. Lou will be one before we know it. J knows even more about the catastrophe that is American racism, but she is all kinds of fired up to use (and sometimes silence) her voice in the service of ending it. These head colds won’t last forever. I thought I was too sick to keep caring (alone) for these kiddos today, but then B went to school and I had a meltdown from missing him. They are nice, these reminders that you’re right where you should be. I look forward to the day when we can do really meaningful service work with the boys on MLK Day, and I think it’s magical that sometimes B’s birthday will fall on that day. And we get to share our lives with these boys. These brothers, who are ever learning. I just can’t begin to understand the grace of it all.

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