on loneliness and a deep, deep well

I’ve been really struggling lately with the nights away from the boys. Standing in the doorway of their room. Feeling something like paralysis. Knowing it will serve them if I use that time to rest, but struggling to do so.

I met someone amazing, someone with whom I share much connection, but I discovered that I’m in no way ready for that. It was escapist: not the connection, but the timing. As wretched as it is, I need to be standing there in the doorway of their room. I need to be alone when I do it. And I need to unlearn the things about myself that the end of my marriage taught me. I would be nicer to have someone kind unteach me those things, but it wouldn’t be real that way. It would be a propping up. I need the quiet. I need, even, the loneliness. And here’s something I’m proud of: realizing that I need that made me want it. And wanting it made me willing to take it. And that makes me feel brave in a way I’ve never felt brave before.

But brave or not: the loneliness. It is awful. The heartache of losing a marriage against your will. As a friend recently (and gently) pointed out to me, how we experience divorce depends a lot on our subject position in its ending. If we didn’t want it to end, if we lost our partner and time with our children through no choice of our own, the feeling can be a little like hostage taking. It can feel like being robbed. Still, all these months later, it makes me sit up in bed gasping in the night, struggling to breath.

Loneliness. And so I decided to reach out to a group on social media, a group of queer moms. And what’s come of that has been remarkable.

Here’s what I wrote in that space:

Hi all. I’m hoping for some community. My wife ended our marriage last year, and we’ve been slowly transitioning our boys, ages 5 and 3, to a two-home family. Until recently, they spent most of their nights with me, but that is shifting now to a more even division.

I never imagined that I would spend nights away from my babies. I have meaningful work and deep friendships and yet: parenthood is far and away my strongest joy. The nights the boys spend away from me are crushing. I can hardly bear their absence from our home, from their bed. Not adding an extra blanket before I fall asleep; not checking their breathing; not having my youngest wake up in the night and stumble in to me; not hearing my oldest call for me in the early morning. It is anguish.

I have an incredible support network, a strong prayer life, and well-established comfort and coping measures. And yet: those nights feel endless. I’m not really asking for advice, but I would love the witness of any of you who have experienced loss of this nature. I would love just to feel a little less alone.

The response? Dozens and dozens of comments from mamas who have experienced the same loss. Who are still in the depths of sorrow. Who are past that, mostly, and healing. Who have found strength and power and new life. Who haven’t yet. Who have drawn closer to their children. Whose children are struggling still. Who say:

Yes.

And: I went through this. 

And: Your words brought tears to my eyes because I remember.

And: This is crushing. I know. I know it is.  

You are mourning. It will get easier. 

I am so sorry for your pain. I am so sorry. 

You are not alone. We are here. 

Sister: you’ve got this. 

Know how they knew to say all that? Because every bit of sorrow I’m feeling has been felt before. And is felt now. And will be felt again.

I spent much of the first twenty-four hours after their comments started rolling in crying.

Though community and community experience is extremely important to me, I’ve been mostly coping with this in specific terms (i.e. with regards to me and my boys). I think that’s all I could handle. I wasn’t ready for empathy: for thinking about the scale and scope of this pain out there in the world. I wasn’t ready to know this was a community unto itself.

The thread on that page exploded the privacy of my experience, which felt a little like diving into a deep body of water: water that is anguish and pain and loss, but also water that is shared. That is healing. That spans time and space.

I have felt these past days a deep sense of connection with all of the moms who shared, and with the countless mamas and papas and parents who have had to face this loss. It is not a source of connection I’d have chosen us to share with one another, but it is a source of connection, and for that reason it is also a gift.

We suffer, and then we grow strong at those points of suffering. Maybe like the Japanese tradition of adding gold where pottery cracks: we grow beautiful there. What I saw in that thread was pain grown beautiful.

The moms on that thread, they offered me wisdom, and bravery, and honesty. They witnessed to me so that I could witness to them. Now when I stand at the door to my boys’ room, I know I’m doing it in the company of many. In blessed company. It is a deep well, and water heals.

this call

I’ve updated this space about my wicked sweet kiddos, and about our finding-sure-ground-again marriage. But I haven’t written much about this new work, which is not so new anymore, I guess.

When I think back two years to that first time we walked through the wide, old door and into the nave, I am flooded with sense memories. I remember the smell: melted candle wax and wood polish and autumn air. I remember the feeling of wrapping Lou in the back of the church during a hymn, his tiny body pressed tightly against me while he fussed: expanding lungs against tiny expanding lungs, heartbeat against heartbeat. I remember pacing the narthex until he finally fell asleep, and then wanting to go back in, but being unable to stop crying. The sensation was of release. Relief. Lightness that by necessity meant tears. I remember Bram’s toddler-voice during the homily: “Jesus Christ?! ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain’ has a Jesus Christ!” I remember the awkwardness of that first time at the altar, and the longing to go back, which hit me at once. I also remember the shyness of my longing: how desperately I wanted to be invisible, and yet also never to leave. To be held and yet left entirely alone. Like I had come home, but no one else would think I belonged there. That one took quite awhile to shake.

But when I remember that first day – how it felt – I see and feel other things too, things that weren’t part of the physical experience. This gorgeous downtown church feels, in my memory, like a simple, tiny chapel in the middle of some vast green countryside. I have the inexplicable impression of a wooden porch and creaky doors, of the smell of wet timber and pine needles. Of the warmth of radiator heat. Of having received real bread and not the small round wafers we use. Of not crying at all. Of not feeling out of place. Of a room with fifteen people instead of a hundred and fifty.

When I think of the start of my work in ministry, this is the day I recall. Not the day I was baptized (accepting a hand knit shawl as a symbol of our shared work), and not the day I sat at my desk for the first time, dizzyingly overwhelmed. Not then, but this first day and the open doors and the landscape behind me: both city streets and pastoral hills. All those years of feeling like I couldn’t find a point of entry were of service. As unlikely and naïve and providential as it must sound, a thirty-five year Advent season – waiting, wanting – was just right. Right enough to make me smile now. I don’t think I ever could have been casually religious, and it is a kind of suffering to try to imagine knowing this was here and not being a part of it. I was only ever built for immersion, and immersion wouldn’t have been right before now. For me, faith requires the offering of faith. Means serving as a conduit. I was called that first day at the rail. The families under my care. Their marriages and their struggles and their joys. Their longing and despair and peace. Their children’s ashes in our columbarium, which I visit and pray with, though none of them know about that. The welcome heaviness of loving them, and worrying over them, and taking seriously the privilege of it all.

I feel about parishioners differently than I’ve felt about people before. A different way, I mean. Differently than I felt about students. Differently than I felt about people I served alongside. Even parishioners who leave: whose work takes them elsewhere, so that I wait for e-mails and updates to know how they’re doing. So that I feel lightness and joy when I see their faces again. There’s a different thing my heart does. It is a unique kind of loving people, being a part of their work with God. It is soft and warm. It asks for investment, commitment, love, detachment, and connection. It asks for presence.

I’ll preach in this old church for the first time October 16th. I got to preach in a small chapel at a Benedictine monastery over the summer, but this will be different: hundreds of people, and home. Because my mom and wife are generous souls, I’ll wear a lace alb, which is feminine and flowy and also a kind of homecoming. And I’ll be standing about four feet from that place I first knelt to receive. Maybe I’ll also still be in that countryside chapel. But in the meantime, I’ll read widely and deeply and try not to give in to the sense that I’m wildly behind. The timeline I’d have chosen for myself would never have yielded offerings this sweet.

unchurched

I’m currently preparing for the sacrament of confirmation, which I hope to receive in January. Amusingly, I recently restructured our confirmation formation process, which now makes me the first person moving through a structure I built myself, and have yet to witness. If it isn’t a rich and pleasurable experience, I have only myself to blame. ;) This post is by no means a spiritual autobiography, but it is way in to that work: a brief examination of some sweet ways that kid-me found God.

Though I was what church folk call “unchurched,” it’s no effort at all to see the groundwork of the religious life I now adore shimmering throughout my childhood. I already needed all this back then, and the Spirit: she’s a damn good guide.

Prayer: We didn’t seem to pray. Not at the dinner table and not with much structure elsewhere. At least not with any regularity. I remember a song my dad used to sing about a father who sees his daughter praying at night. The image of her kneeling in her darkened room was so vibrant to me in its foreignness. We didn’t pray in any formal way, but oh how our prayers found voice. A whole chorus of voices: Kris Kristofferson. Leonard Cohen. Willie, and Johnny, and June. Bob Dylan and Carole King and Harry Chapin. John Prine and Rosanne Cash and all the storytellers. All the truth tellers. They lamented and longed and witnessed and hoped in ways I recognize now everyday in the Hebrew Bible. In the Gospels. Make me an angel that will fly from Montgomery; make me a poster of an old rodeo; just give me one thing, that I can hold onto. To believe in this livin’ is just a hard way to go. We sang off-key along with tapes on old decks. Together and alone. Whenever we needed it (and we knew when we needed it, and we needed it all the time). When I think about the pleasure I get now from prayer – the warmth that spreads from just below my throat – I know that we prayed back then. We did, we just never called it that.

All the company of heaven: There is a good bit of loneliness to my early memories, but there’s also a whole lot of community. I think of this sometimes during Eucharistic Prayers: joining our voices with angels and archangels. I look around and feel the presence of those long gone, of those around me, and of those yet to come. That’s something liturgy does. But I remember tapping into it as a child too, and not in a nave. The repetitive comings and goings throughout a community that was ours. The Cigar Factory for breakfast, the lock-up to bail people out of jail, where the cops would bring me something sweet. The music shop and the dress shops; the old curvy roads that bordered the lakes. Everyone knew us and we knew them. Coming and going: something bigger than us. Community. Not of God in any deliberate sense, but of one another, which feels to me now to be pretty much the same thing. The smiles and the kindnesses we’d pay, the kindnesses we’d receive. There was a boldness to the way we lived that suggested we were connected to it all. It was loud and communal, and that was nice.

The bread and the wine: The table. Only then it wasn’t one table: it was hundreds. And it wasn’t a sacrament, but it was an offering. Unconsecrated, but not unholy. Restaurants throughout our city. Tables and waiters and rituals we knew. Food we appreciated with enthusiasm and gratitude. Food we bought for others without reservation. Take, eat. Giving and receiving. No prayer, but thanks, which is prayer. Not the body and blood, but something that filled us and changed us nevertheless. Restaurants were our church. Eating was communal and ritualistic. It fed us far beyond the literal sense.

Churches: This is such a funny part to me now: the parade of churches. To my knowledge both of my parents always believed in God. My dad left the church out of shame; I think my mom felt let down by it. Or if I’m really looking at this, I guess I think it let them both down. Anyway, we went sometimes. A scattering of memories, we went. We shook hands. We sat with bulletins and waited. And then we heard the thing that cheapened it all. The thing that put women in their place, or talked about the sins of the abortionist or the homosexual. The prostitute. The vengeful God. The stuff that my mother could never abide. I can’t get a beat on whether it was five times or fifty, but I know in a bodily way the sense of walking down a center aisle and out a big set of doors – my small hand held in my mom’s grownup one – in the middle of some preacher or another’s bad sermon. There’s not much to my feminism (or for that matter my theology) that can’t be tied back to that side of my mom: it was fearless. When I went with me dad, it was different. Still the searching, still the trying, but then this quiet from him. I wish I could talk with him about God now.

So that’s a start. More, probably, to come; thanks for reading. I hope it’s a good, good day where you are.

this marriage

This is a hard post to write. Especially following that sweet update about our sweet, sweet boys. This is true mostly because this post is about marriage and – as many of you understand in personal, painful, tired ways – marriage is often not sweet.

And there’s not a lot to say about marriage that isn’t a cliché. Most of us have tried and lots of us have failed. It’s a wretched little trap on a good many levels. It’s also painful to talk about because even though it’s hard, and we all know it, we’re supposed to be getting it right. And it’s a gross and a flinchy feeling to confess that we’re not nailing it. Because what will people think? And so we’re often not honest. We sit in our homes, and we try, and we feel lonely. We feel lonely though chances are our neighbors aren’t nailing it either.

This is compounded, for great hordes of us, by the ineffably HARD variable of young ones. The child-raising. Which because I know you know how much I adore it, I feel free to characterize here simply as work. And in some ways, it demands the same bigness of us that marriage does. Grace, and kindness, and patience. Compassion, and curiosity, and openness, and humility. And really: when one, or two, or more little ones need these traits from us all the time, it is hard to find space to offer them to someone who can take care of their own self. Someone who doesn’t rate in the triage because they won’t run out into oncoming traffic outside of the library. Someone who can live without your grace, and kindness, and patience, and compassion, and curiosity, and openness because they are grown. Because you are not their parent. Except of course that marriage can’t live without that stuff.

This summer was one of our marriage’s darkest chapters. By its outset, we had both finally found profoundly meaningful work, and we had settled into our beloved home. Our kids were finally big enough to climb into their own car seats (when they happened to feel willing to do so). No one was nursing, and if we were content to let them sleep where they wanted, they’d pretty much stay asleep all night. There was, relatively speaking, more ease than there had been before. And maybe for exactly these reasons – because there was space – we looked at our marriage, and we felt betrayed by what we saw. What we saw made me sad, and Jax angry.

Some other making-it-hard facts:

  • Jax has struggled with that charming contemporary American notion that if this is hard, especially if it stays hard for awhile, it might be better to ditch. It is not surprising that Jax thinks this. This is exactly in keeping with what we’re taught about intimacy. I suspect that I only don’t think this because I have a natural proclivity towards suffering.
  • I have some abandonment issues. I need eye contact, reassurance, gentleness. My favorite moment in the original Pooh book is this little exchange:

 Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.

“Pooh!” he whispered.

“Yes, Piglet?”

“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

  • I feel a tremendous call to a third child. Jax does not.
  • Jax has some stuff around religion that has made my call to ministry a difficult thing. That has hurt my feelings. Jax responds to hurt feelings with anger. It’s a cycle. I’m sure we’re not alone.

The painful truth that this summer has yielded is that it is possible to imagine life on the other side of this marriage. And of course it is. When people say that some degree of suffering is “unimaginable,” they’re not being honest. Or what they mean to say is “I pray that never happens to me.” We’ve all imagined the hell of losing a child. We’ve imagined it precisely because it would be hell. So, it’s imaginable.

But the great glory – on the other side of a summer full of fleas in our home, and Trump’s bid for the White House, and great marital craters – is that I can imagine life without Jax, and I still don’t want it. I would be okay, and I still don’t want it.

There’s an us here that makes these storms worth weathering. Hurtful, but worth weathering. And not just because Jax is the only one who knows why we sometimes sing “Tina” instead of “Dinah” in “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” or remembers eating cold pistachio pesto pizza on the floor of my kitchen on our first date. Who held Bram’s other tiny hand when they took blood out of his newborn foot when his bilirubin was high. Who felt the biting sting of the hospital not putting my name on first Bram’s birth certificate, and then Lou’s. The only other person who knew the terror of Lou’s fall down the basement stairs. Who knows that Bram’s face lights up when his parents sing together. But it isn’t just the history: the eight million irreplaceable private moments that no one on the outside of a marriage could ever grasp. It’s that we chose each other. I chose Jax. And not just the valor or the passion or the boldness, but also the mood swings and the defensiveness. The hard stuff that gets bigger with sleep deprivation, and outside insecurities, and job pressures. The hard stuff that grows when that’s what gets noticed. I believe in this partnership. I am defeated by this summer, but I’m also in love.

My mom and I were talking the other day, and she asked if I was scared that we might not make it. I said I wasn’t, and I tried to explain why. I feel like one of the things I saw growing up was an (understandable and yet worrisome) willingness to let one’s struggles mean more than they need to mean. To let the drama of hard times lead one to the myth of greener pastures. But this middle class home in this Midwestern town. These deeply lived values. This dance of marriage that is so often not pretty: I don’t want anything greener. I mean, I want the fleas to be gone, but mostly, otherwise, this is what I choose.

It’s hard to be honest about marriage, which is maybe part of why we fail at it so much. So if you’re out there, and married, and some of this resonates, then I’m glad I wrote it. I have no big answers, but I think that this work is part of the thing that will save us. I can’t explain what I mean by that, but I feel it in both my guts and my theology. We are meant for these struggles, and for the messy graces we discover within them.

 

 

.charleston, my heart.

One week ago, Renee came to bed and told me that there had been a shooting in a church in Charleston. Several of our downtown friends were reporting helicopters and law enforcement engaged in a manhunt for the suspect. It wasn’t until Thursday morning that we understood the truth of the carnage.

Mother Emanuel, in the heart of downtown Charleston, is not a place I’ve ever worshiped in, but I did walk past it every day. For a time in college, I was a janitor at the public library one block away. I remember that on pretty days, the doors of the church would sometimes be opened onto Calhoun Street and you could hear music drifting outside. One of the victims, Cynthia Hurd, was a part-time research librarian (and colleague of my mom’s, also a CofC librarian) at my alma mater. Another victim, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, coached track at my rival high school. It’s very hard to not be in Charleston right now. When the full-story broke, my every instinct was to just go straightaway. The logistics/finances of spontaneous cross-country travel with two children under four are just too much right now. And what could I do? Witness, I suppose. Hug my mom and my friends. Grieve. Hold the space.

I moved to Charleston, South Carolina on April 17th, 1999. It was the spring semester of my junior year of high school. My first day of school was April 20th, 1999: the Columbine shooting. To that point, I had spent seven years in DC, four in Charlotte, two in Atlanta, and another four back in Maryland. I lived in Charleston from the age of 16 to 25. That’s still the longest I’ve ever lived in one city. My mom and many of our closest friends are still there. I graduated from high school and college there. I hit bottom and got sober there. I met and fell in love with my wife there. I learned all of the life lessons, heart breaks, and hard knocks of young adulthood in the backdrop of that very unique and picturesque peninsula. In the past, Renee has written eloquently here about her memories of Charleston. So to have this act of domestic terrorism happen in our former home has had us reeling this week. The nation is reeling, to be sure. It’s just so surreal to have the national media trying to unpack the pulse of a city I know so well. To feel so much a part of the community they are watching, and yet, not there at all.

Certain memories have been vividly resurfacing this week: I remember the confederate flag rally through Marion Square Park in 1999. I remember seeing participants with Klan memorabilia. I had never really seen anything so overt in its racism and hostility, though I came to understand over time that it was often more subtle racism that contributed to a larger culture of stress and fear amongst communities of color in Charleston.

I remember being shocked to hear a public high school history teacher referring, in class, to the Civil War as “the war of northern aggression.” It took a while to perceive the vast power of the so called “good ole’ boy” network. I remember the confederate flag flying at Bessinger’s BBQ in West Ashley. I remember when the local electric company forbid employees from parking work vehicles there at lunchtime because the restaurant was actively distributing pro-segregation literature at the checkout. I worked for a summer at the Palmetto Carriage Company, just around the corner from the ever-popular “Old South Carriage.” Wealthy white tourists clamored to see where the “real” slave market had been. They would cluck their tongues sympathetically (and, also, nostalgically?) while decrying the homeless and panhandlers poised around Market Street. Having been raised in racially diverse neighborhoods and schools, I was registering a different kind of racist, malicious ignorance than I had ever been exposed to before.

But I found my people there, too. And, in my queer community (both before and after sobriety), I found family and safety and camaraderie with men and women of color who were grappling with the complex intersections of their identities within the inflexible caste system of the south. My experience of queerness and gender nonconformity could never eschew my white privilege. Still, I learned the foundational tenets of my social justice activism and my anti-oppressive life work from living and working in and alongside communities of color in Charleston; communities suffering under the crippling expense of daily micro-aggressions and rampant gentrification.

Really, it makes sense that such terrorism should break across the bow of Charleston’s harbor. We’re at a frenzied pitch of denial and shame in this country. And Charleston is exceptionally poised to ache in the festering wound of its white supremacist history. But concomitant to the struggle, there is nowhere else I’ve been where the smell of jasmine can hang suspended in the air as you walk straight through it. There is no place I’ve ever been that can so awaken the sensuality of the human spirit. The weather, the language, the architecture, they all coalesce into a fully sensorial experience. I used to just walk the streets alone at night for hours…just aimless walking. I did this for years; it was my ritual of self-soothing and emotional regulation. And nowhere I’ve been holds such spirits. The whole city is deeply haunted. Over forty percent of enslaved Africans brought to America came through the port of Charleston. It is a city with a palpable wound that cannot heal. This is a living thing. This is something that, in my experience, most white people (myself included at different points) can choose to look away from. We can use our privilege to pretend that there’s some chasm between history and the present.

I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how “well” Charleston is responding to what’s happened, which is to say that folks haven’t taken to the streets in anger. But don’t be fooled, Charleston is the pinnacle of southern hospitality and it knows how to hash out its bloodiest conflicts out with a smile and a southern drawl. There’s much needed prayer and unity, to be sure. And I would venture that any community attacked in such a vicious way (and in a place of worship, no less) would rally around its city with a clarion call to heal. But the method by which that healing needs to happen will be a source of deep and painful division to come. Many feel that this was the tragic act of a mentally ill individual, but by deflecting our white culpability in the society that made this monster (and many others like him), we lose the catalyst for major self-reflection, empathy-building, and sustainable change.

I’ve heard some people say in the last few days that the issue of taking down the confederate flag at the statehouse is a distraction from the real work of combating systemic racism. And I can see their point; it is such a small step in the face of such an overwhelming violation. But it needs to just come down. Period. Take it down now. It should never have flown in the first place. Then we can move onto more substantive work.

We need leadership (locally, regionally, and nationally) that actually understands and acknowledges the truth of systemic racism in our culture. And we need healers in every place of life (streets, neighborhoods, places of worship, schools, and hospitals). We must conceive of ourselves as an anti-racist people actively working to transform our values and our structures instead of continuing to put our head in the sand of racist multiculturalism, colorblindness, and post-racialism (whatever that even means). And hand-in-hand with the work of anti-racism, we need sweeping gun reform in this country. That’s not even close to my wheelhouse, so I have no opinion on how it must be accomplished, but I know that it simply must.

Our priest sent out a note last Thursday concerning the Charleston massacre. In it he wrote, “murder, no matter how planned it may be, is essentially unconscious. Killing another is a refusal to look at one’s own pain and rage. It is also a refusal to be conscious of the other’s humanity. Biblical spirituality encourages greater consciousness and evil lives on the rejection of greater consciousness.” I am so disturbed by the fact of Dylann Roof’s having sat through the Bible study and prayer group for an hour before opening fire. And to not have been moved to change his intent: Stunning unconsciousness. I’ve had this Audre Lorde poem running through my heart when thinking about the betrayal of having welcomed him into their sacred space only to be turned on so viciously:

Memorial (Audre Lorde – 1950)

If you come as softly
as wind within the trees
you may hear what I hear
see what sorrow sees.

If you come as lightly
as the threading dew
I will take you gladly
nor ask more of you.

You may sit beside me
silent as a breath
only those who stay dead
shall remember death.

If you come I will be silent
nor speak harsh words to you
I will not ask you why, now,
nor how, nor what you do.

But we shall sit here softly
beneath two different years
and the rich earth between us
shall drink our tears.

I still haven’t been able to quite capture the tenor of my heart here. My emotional landscape eludes my writing. As ever, I stand with Charleston and I am ready to do the daily work of living differently and healing.

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Some of my favorite photographic memories of Charleston:

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a saxophone with heartbreaking meadow supplies

Every time I come here lately, I just stare at the blinking cursor. I’m not sure what to say. Things are both absurdly wonderful and incredibly hard all at once and I can’t find enough clarity of emotion to pin any of it down to concrete words and phrases. Maybe I’ll start with a conversation from this morning and go from there.

Bram: I’m Keith Richards, the guitarist.

Pomo: Oh, I know, baby. But maybe introduce yourself to your friends at school as Bram so they don’t get confused.

Bram: But I’m a guitarist.

Pomo: Of course you are! Bram, the guitarist.

Bram: Keith Richards.

Pomo: Okay.

That kid. Music is for sure his raison d’etre. He’s “been” Johnny Cash, Josh Ritter, Joshua Bell, Chris Isaac (for an absurd hot minute), Tim Perry (of Ages and Ages), Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, and (now, because of a children’s book by Keith Richards about his first guitar) most of the Rolling Stones. And his instrument bin is one of only four activities that always stays available/never gets rotated out. (The other three mainstays are books, puzzles, and Duplos).

This conversation fascinates me in its simultaneous willing suspension of disbelief (that he could BE Keith Richards) and hard-lined subscription to the facts (Keith Richards is the guitarist, so if Bram is the guitarist today, he must be him). So demonstrative of how our kid thinks.

After this, I loaded Bram and Louis into my new (okay, 2001) Mazda minivan — oh Lord… the ease of having my own vehicle… I’m scared to even talk about it for fear of it disappearing) — and drove Bram to his third day of preschool. My feelings on this subject are many and varied. Here are some of them. They jiggle around and rotate and sometimes come all at once in a cacophony of straight up crazy in my head:

  • He’s way too little.
  • He’s WAY too little.
  • How have I NEVER played with this wooden tower with Lou before? He’s SEVEN months old, for Pete’s sake! Oh, God, I have ignored him. Thank God Bram is in school so this kid can get noticed.
  • He’s going to learn so much.
  • WHAT IF HE’S CRYING RIGHT NOW.
  • WHAT IF HE’S ASKING FOR ME.
  • Lou is making “B” sounds! And he’s such a fast crawler! I love this time for him. His eyes are turning grey!
  • Is it 11:40 yet? Can I leave to get him?!
  • I want him home; I want him home; I want him home.
  • It’s so quiet here. When was the last time it was so quiet here?
  • Aren’t there friends I could visit? Someone to have tea with me? It’s so quiet here.
  • This was a mistake. He’s way too little.
  • He’s never cried there though. Not yet.
  • He MIGHT be crying right now.
  • He might be asking for me.
  • His teacher (guide) said he was perfect for the work. That his concentration is exactly what they try to teach, but most kids struggle with it. And he already has it! He’s perfect for that space.
  • But he doesn’t like all those people. It’s too much for him.
  • What if we break his heart?
  • What it I keep him here and he never learns to be around other people?
  • What if I break his heart?

I know this hits everyone this way, this first bit of separation. And I know how lucky I am to have it coming when my kid is almost THREE. I just: whew. I’ve said it before: parenting will gut you.

In a dizzying array of other news:

  • There is nothing in early courtship that even comes close to the sexiness that is listening to your partner nail (or, better yet, disastrously fail at, but attempt anyway) all the voices from your kid’s favorite bedtime books.
  • The job market. I have so many unkind feelings about the job market. Poor J, who is an absurdly amazing candidate and would kick ass at anything. It makes me feel all “America, I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing” Ginsberg-y.
  • Medical anxieties are lousy. They are lousy. A small lump showed up on my forehead, which seems to be either a bony growth or a hardened cyst. My nurse practitioner is NOT worried about it because lumps show up when you get old, and because forehead cancer isn’t exactly a thing. But then I had what seems to be an ocular migraine, only I’d never had one before. And I was an hour away from home with both of the boys. Driving. So I became pretty convinced that I have a brain tumor. Um, in my forehead. My nurse practitioner pointed at that I have a lit scholar’s understanding of anatomy. I guess because brain tumors aren’t in your forehead? I guess also because my optic nerves aren’t in my forehead either? Still: I spend about three hours a day obsessing. Medical anxieties. They are lousy.
  •  Louis has had a cough for a month. No other symptoms just a cough that’s bad enough to make him throw up at least once a day. And an unwillingness to sleep without us, and sometimes even to sleep. We’re thinking maybe GERD? He has most of those symptoms. J is doing some elimination stuff, and we’re doing a short medicine trial to see if we can rule it out or confirm it. He also just cut his third tooth, so that’s part of the sleep piece. We finally gave him ibuprofen for the first time the last two nights. I vacillate between feeling awesome for waiting for so long and like a wretched person for making him suffer through three whole teeth with nary a teething tablet. Parenthood. It will gut you AND torture your children.
  • In the last month, Bram has been obsessed with the original three Winnie the Pooh books, so he decided that he wanted to be Christopher Robin for Halloween, and that his pomo should be Tigger, mama should be Kanga, and Louie should be Roo. Pictures forthcoming, though I can’t find any of the right shoes for B’s costume, so don’t judge.
  • I built B a “book nook” yesterday so he’d have a place to go read that is just his (or ours by invitation). It means we have a toddler mattress on our living room floor, and yet I love it. It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen on my living room floor. Things change.
  • A couple of weeks back, Bram said I was “a mama instrument” that he could play. When I asked what kind, he said, “a saxophone with heartbreaking meadow supplies.” When I asked what kind of instrument his pomo was, he answered: “a boom sound like a heart instrument.” These are both flawless descriptions of my current life.

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the serenity to accept

I have a friend whose daughter is sick. Someday she will need a transplant.

I have an acquaintance, a professor I worked for once, who has to have brain surgery in a few days. She’s the single parent of a little girl.

Tonight I read a story for a class I’m teaching. The class is online, and the reading schedule is set by someone who is not me. Because I am behind, I didn’t read this story before my students had to write about it. It is about a toddler who is killed by a pot of boiling water that he pulls down onto himself. It is very imagistic. I am leveled by the single page I read. I am crushed that because I was not more on top of things, others have these same images in their heads. This includes a student who lost her toddler years ago. I did not warn her because I did not read ahead.

Like every parent before me, I have no fucking idea how to live with the vulnerability of parenthood. Something could happen to my children. On my watch or not. It’s a kind of death every time I let myself know this. It is suffocating.

There’s no lightness here tonight, folks. Just a quiet house and an unquiet mind.