Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Thread

Years ago, when I was a junior in college I became fascinated with the pregnant female shape. My sketchbook became swollen with images of round pregnant bellies with wings and murky fetus shapes. I obsessively created a series of etchings from these sketches and my professor, as I recall, was concerned. Was I pregnant? No, I think it was just my love affair with all things womb-full beginning.

I had completely forgotten about those prints until last week when they suddenly popped into my mind. I was driving home, thinking about my upcoming surgery, and so, as soon as I parked the van, I rushed into the house, unearthed my college portfolio and dug through the papers until I found them. There were more than I remembered and they were perfect.


Perfect because those images fit with a concept I’d been brewing for the past couple months.

On Monday I am having a hysterectomy. I was diagnosed with a large uterine fibroid and adenomyosis (fibrous growth within the uterine wall). After years of debilitating, heavy menstrual bleeding I am borderline anemic and nothing I’ve done non-invasively has been able to change that. After a lot of soul searching, a lot of interviewing of women who’d gone through the operation, and a lot of research I decided I needed to proceed. But I did so with a very heavy heart. Losing my womb felt very big. Very, very big.

I started to think about my uterus, the wonderful work it’s done (as evidenced by my three strapping young men), and my pregnancies. Those musings uncovered a thread that’s run through my adult life and those long forgotten etchings were like a link completing the circuit. When I found them I could feel the electricity sing.

The summer before my second year of college I was blessed to attend a birth, my very first one. My boyfriend’s sister-in-law was having a baby and the room was filled with friends and family (really, it was filled!). The only other birth I’d ever witnessed was my cat having kittens, which was wonderful in its own right, but this, this was different. I practically swooned (hospitals do that to me) and I had to leave the room. But I righted myself in time to see that little baby emerge from his mama and that experience changed my life.

The miracle of birth…a baby grows inside the mother…the baby emerges from the mother…this had never occurred to me before. Not like that. Not really. And that vision of it, that realization, was mind-blowing to this young woman.

I always knew I wanted to have kids and I looked forward to my first pregnancy. What surprised me was how ferociously I loved being pregnant. My pregnancy with Harry was perhaps the best physical time of my life. I got big and round immediately because I tend towards that pregnant shape naturally, and being able to let it all hang out was like taking a warm bath in my body all the time. I was meant to be this pregnant shape.

I took prenatal aerobics classes two or three times a week. I loved being in that room dancing around with other pregnant women. My limbs thinned out and my belly grew larger. I was HUGE by the end.

Throughout that pregnancy I was loving life so much that I considered the possibility of being a surrogate mother for infertile couples as a possible career! I did not want to live un-pregnant. As my due date approached I mourned the end of my pregnancy.

Having my baby, of course, changed that. Who has time to mourn the end of pregnancy when the outcome is as delicious as my adorable baby? (A baby who, by the way, just turned 18 last week!) I don’t remember thinking much about being a surrogate mother once he arrived. And my subsequent pregnancies with Ben and Toby were if not miserable, certainly never as easy and comfortable and enjoyable as that first time.

I started to help my friends during their labors. I quickly realized that I came into my essential self when I was guiding a friend through the relaxing, visualizing, breathing and pushing that happens at a birth. That feeling culminated when I coached my sister Mara through her labor 11 years ago. She was such a goddess and we got into the most incredible groove, forehead to forehead, nose to nose, breathing together, groaning together, holding each other till my beautiful niece was born. It was another life changing event. I was more present for her than the midwife in some ways. It was just us in that room (at least it felt that way) and I was her guide and protector.

Over the years I have begun to craft an idea that one day, I will do this. I mean, I will do this. Be a doula, be there to carry a mother through her labor and beyond. Last year, when Chanel asked me to be present at her second child’s birth (via C-section), to hold her hand and be her support, I leapt at the chance. It’s a long story, which you can read here, here, here, here and here, but suffice it to say that while helping her, my memory was recharged: I want to do this. I want to guide women in mothering, in birthing, in breastfeeding. This is my calling.

The experience with Chanel confirmed that when I grow up I want to be a doula (birth coach) or lactation consultant. I plan to wait until the boys are old enough to be self-sufficient for a period of time (the days I could potentially be away with long labors and new moms). Being a doula is bigger than just the birth experience, they often work with families before, during and after the birth, with preparing, with laboring, with nursing, and caring for the child and the mama. Just thinking of this makes me excited to move forward with it. But I need a bit more patience. Toby is only 10 and not ready for me to take on this other responsibility.

Hearing from the gynecologist that I needed a hysterectomy was a shock. Talking to many women who had had the surgery was a shock. “You don’t need it any more.” “Uteruses are for growing babies and then cancer.” At my pre-op appointment the surgeon actually used the word “amputate” (I know, surgeons, right?). I feel like my connection to that part of me is so different, so filled with appreciation and gratitude. It is that thread that runs through my adult life and goes to the deepest places of who I am.

I took a walk with my friend Madeleine the other day. We walked along the beach talking about transitions from one period to another in life, about moving through and beyond periods that define you in order to find new definitions. We talked about the sorrows and the joys that come with each new chapter. I drew my earth-woman-fertile-mother figure in the sand and let the waves caress her. I blessed myself, my core woman mother self. I have come to this realization: The earth mother in me is not going away, the core of woman- and motherhood that rests energetically in my womb will remain in me.

Tomorrow morning I will stem the out-flow of my own vitality. Though I will enter the hospital womb-full and leave womb-less, I will not be losing my self. I will be entering my next stage and it is a beautiful stage, that of wise crone woman, guide and caregiver, and the thread will remain. Think of me when you can and send me your healing blessings. Thanks.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

feeling blessed

I participated in an Interfaith Thanksgiving service at my synagogue tonight. I was part of the planning committee and was asked to play my guitar and sing and to speak on the topic of gratitude for the blessings in our lives. Following is what I wrote and read. I'm dedicating it to my friend Svetlana.

My sons and I enjoy playing a storytelling game when we’re in the car on long drives. It’s called Fortunately/Unfortunately. You take turns going around the group, each person adding a sentence to the tale. It goes something like this:

First person: There once was a kid who had to walk to the library.

Next person: Fortunately, he lived only a block away…

Next person: Unfortunately, it was an extremely long block…

Next person: Fortunately, he only had one book to return that day…

Next person: Unfortunately, it was a huge book with about 1,000,000 pages…

You can see how it goes. Fortunately/Unfortunately. Your fortune can turn on a dime. This game reminds me of a wonderful Zen story, you can find it in this book, Zen Shorts. It’s the same idea, a tragedy befalls a farmer, and his neighbors say “Such bad luck!” and his response is, “Maybe.” Then, something good happens because of it and his neighbors say, “Such good luck!” and his response is, “Maybe.” As you find out in the story, your perspective can definitely change your experience of life.

It was raining the other night when I was thinking about perspective while I tried to fall asleep. It was raining, and it was a particularly cold night, and our heater had not been working in over two weeks, and winter was coming on. My nose was cold. The temperature in our house was 54 degrees!

I rolled over and grumped at my husband. I grumped and wished to be warm and complained and felt oh so sorry for me. Me and my cold nose in my house with no heat.

It’s easy to get negative. It's easy to look around and notice what’s wrong in your life. We all have something to complain about. Aches and pains, someone suffering whom we love, the heater’s broken again, the internet’s too slow. And then there’s the world with all of its aches and pains and suffering.

Very recently I made a discovery that if I shift my focus, if I take a different perspective, I can release myself from some of the burdens I carry around. I suppose it’s one of those lessons I need to learn over and over again. It’s not earth-shattering, it’s very simple.

I decided to say to myself: This is your life. Be in it, be in it right now.

I don’t say: Enjoy it. I don’t say: Count your blessings. I don’t say: It’s not so bad or It could be worse. There’s no judgment. I say: This is your life. This is it. Your life isn’t yesterday and it isn’t tomorrow. It’s happening now and you need to be present for this moment.

Six years ago my family was hit by a tidal wave of what some might call misfortune, but what I would call Life. My father-in-law passed away very suddenly, a month later we had to move into the house my husband was building earlier than expected, and a month after that we found out our 8 year old middle son needed immediate brain surgery. That would have been enough, enough to keep most people busy. But then the recovery didn’t go well, there were complications and infections, spinal fluid leaks, several more surgeries and ultimately, 40 nights in the hospital, mostly in the pediatric ICU.

Months later I’d look back at that extraordinary experience, the days and nights in the hospital, the four surgeries, the months away from my other children, and I would find myself feeling very blessed. It was odd really. My lovely little boy had gone through something truly excruciating (we all had) and I felt wrapped in golden light. Throughout that grueling time we had been surrounded by friends and family. People we loved and people we barely knew had come to hold us, to be with us, to give us food, to give us a break, to tell us their stories and to tell us we were in their thoughts and prayers. I felt such gratitude for being held in that way. I had never felt quite so blessed before in my life.

You might wonder how we got through that difficult time and all I can tell you is you do what needs to be done. If ever there was a time in my life I needed to be present, that was it. Of course, I did worry about the future, especially for my son, but my focus got incredibly tight: Be in your life right now, right this instant. Don’t look away.

The day after we had finally returned home I sat in our loveseat in our not-quite-finished new house with my two younger sons on either side of me. Ben, my middle son, was 8 and Toby, my baby was 5. We sat there, right next to each other, with a big pile of books and I read to them for hours. We were all so relieved, so content, so good just being there together on the couch with our books and our bodies snuggled up next to each other. I remember thinking: This is all I need.

So the other night, when I rolled over and grumped at my husband about my cold nose in my house with no heat, I could have gone on. But, I stopped myself. I told myself: This is your life. Be in it, be in it right now. I changed my perspective and my focus. Electric blanket, wool socks, roof over my head, loving husband, happy kids. Blessings one and all.

Friday, November 18, 2011


I feel that I've been so selfish, keeping this information from you, but I want you to know that Ben has turned a corner.

Something shifted with this last surgery. Something shifted in such a big way that it feels like we're suddenly in a much sharper, more spectacular focus.

Ben is happy.

Sounds deceptively simple, doesn't it? Happy. Content. Cheerful. Laughing, telling jokes, smiling, willing, open. Seems pretty run of the mill, as far as states of being go. But for this boy, this boy on the verge of his 14th birthday, this boy who just underwent his 9th surgery, happy is a HUGE shift and it hasn't gone unnoticed.

Perhaps it was that he chose the date. Ownership, a sense of control over his own life. That has to be big. Think about it. You're almost 14 and for the past six years you've been handed a bill of goods that just felt completely unfair. That just was completely unfair. Time and again you were told "You're having surgery." You had no choice. You've spent countless days in the hospital, know your way around the needles and vocabulary and procedures in the OR and anaesthesiology and the surgical ward...and you're still a kid. This was your life and yet you were dragged along on this horrible, painful ride and no one ever gave you the reins.

But this time was a bit different. Ben was away on a trip with my mom to Washington DC and the night of their return he walked into the house and the first thing he said was, "We need to schedule my next lengthening. My back is killing me. I need to do it NOW." It just so happened that I had two possible surgery dates in my back pocket (the time for the next lengthening was definitely looming, but there's always wiggle room) and I offered them up. It wasn't a great choice: October 26th (and miss Halloween) or November 28th (and have surgery on your 14th birthday). He chose the former, there was no hesitation. I scheduled it the next morning.

The next possible factor in the shift was one I made. In September I attended a talk given by Gordon Neufeld, a psychologist and parenting expert who wrote Hold on to Your Kids, one of my favorite (if not my favorite) parenting books. I've heard him before, but love to get refreshers so I went with a couple friends to listen. What I heard was so eye opening that I gripped my seat. I leaned over at one point and whispered to my friends, "I so needed to be here tonight." I knew immediately that this was the information that was missing for me.

Gordon talked about resilience in kids. He talked about what is necessary for them to learn (not just mind-know but body-know) that they will survive. He talked about frustration and futility and the tears that come with those experiences. And he talked about how important it is, as the parent supporting that child, that you allow them to feel all that hard stuff, you don't redirect them just before they hit the wall. This was the key for me. I saw immediately that what I'd been doing with Ben was holding him close and not letting him feel it. I was so sad for him, so afraid of what would happen if he felt the totality of his difficult path, I didn't actually know what would happen. I was afraid of what he would do if he felt that huge sadness. And then I heard Gordon talk and I realized that I was not allowing Ben to get through it himself. I wasn't even getting through it myself. Hearing and knowing that, I was suddenly able to visualize how Ben would survive his experience and it was such a relief. Everything shifted for me that night.

When I next spoke with Ben about his scoliosis and his upcoming surgery I didn't hide an anxiety of how he would handle it. I didn't have that anxiety anymore. I knew that he needed to have his feelings about it and having them would aid him in moving through the experience with strength and the knowledge he'd make it.

So, the days before the surgery date passed by and he was not depressed. He packed for Philly and I did not hover. We said goodbye, he had a great trip there and an even better arrival (thank you Ritz-Carlton). And the morning of the surgery he texted me from the cab, "I think my brain doesn't realize I'm about to have surgery. I'm not nervous at all," and I texted back, "I think your brain knows that you're going to be fine."

Ben got through the surgery that day with flying colors. His mood was positive and upbeat. He was up and moving around within hours of waking up and he was happy. Happy. How is that possible? I thought to myself. Happy.

He was discharged 36 hours after the surgery (we again must tip our hats to the Ritz, a better incentive to get out of the hospital there never was) and I asked him if he thought his physical therapy was at all a piece of how good he was feeling. His response: "Oh, definitely!"

The third piece. Ben started physical therapy at my request after a friend of mine whose son also is going through the procedures at Shriners told me that it was making a positive difference for her son. I thought it couldn't hurt, but it was another thing I was making Ben do (if you asked him at the time) that he wasn't happy about. For several months this year twice a week he'd work out at the PT gym, which really didn't seem like a punishment, but if you're 14 and This is Your Life and you're surrounded by grandmas and grandpas recovering from strokes, let's face it, it's not the activity that makes you say, "Jeez, I LOVE my life!" At least, not Ben.

But again, that's shifted. Several times since the surgery we've talked about how the PT made a big difference in how his body felt post-op. I can tell that Ben's attitude is different. He's gained an appreciation for it. Then last week I asked him when he thought he'd like to start back up with it (See, I'm learning! I gave him the reins!) and he said with a smile, "Well, definitely sooner rather than later."

Yesterday he told me it was time to make the appointment! Now I'm happy!

Since returning home, Ben has had 99% happy days. He has not woken up and said "My life sucks." He has not been blue. He's been moving around and playing and laughing and cracking us up.

Shift. It's like a gentle earthquake. Emotional plate tectonics. I wanted you to know.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


I got a call today on my cell phone from Ben.

"Well, Mama, I'm getting out of here today. Going back to the Ritz."

"That's GREAT! How are you feeling?"

"I am awesome, Mama. Let me repeat that: I. AM. AWESOME."

His voice was full. Full of pride and happiness and awesomeness. I haven't heard him sound so strong in months. Years maybe.

Earlier today I called Emily at the Ritz. She's the Assistant to the General Manager. I told her the story of Ben's text message from the lobby upon his arrival. I told her how he loved the desserts. My voice cracked when I thanked her for all the Ritz does to change Ben's experience of his medical travails. The Ritz is like an incentive program on steroids for Ben. Get up and walk. CHECK. Get up and pee. CHECK. Eat something. CHECK. CHECK. CHECK. The sooner you do all these things the sooner you get to go back to your comfy digs at the Ritz. Oddly enough, Ben does not respond to most incentive programs. He is not easily coerced, manipulated or motivated. But, he now knows the routine at the Ritz and it's pretty sweet.

That's it for now. Just an awesome update. So very happy to have it share.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


When Ben was born I was quite sick. I was dehydrated, running a fever, some kind of virus was in charge. I went into labor two weeks early and even after several hours in the hospital on an IV the nurses weren't convinced that it was "time." Eventually, though, Mr. Ben made his appearance, and even though he was early he was a nice 8 pounds.

But, due to the distress in his last days inutero, for several weeks he wasn't able to maintain a stable body temperature, so we were sent to bed together to have skin-on-skin contact. I'd peel down my nightgown (and pray I wouldn't leak milk all over him) and we'd undress his little body. We'd wrap up together under flannel sheets and flannel blankies and a heavy down comforter and nap...and nurse...and nap. I mean, what better to do? He was a sleepy new baby and I, a sleepy mom. Now that I think about it, of course all mamas and babies should be so, tucked away in warmth and safety, sharing the heat they shared for the first nine months. But, at the time, not being quite so earthy-crunchy (or informed...or evolved) as I am now, it was a prescription for a fragile time, for a fragile baby.

Last night, as I lay in bed trying to sleep, heart racing, thinking of my baby across the continent, laying in his bed trying to sleep, my mind paused on that memory and I was struck by the significance. Because, really, in all I do as a mother, it's that, absolutely. Even though he is 3000 miles away from me, I held him to my skin and I gave him the warmth, and security, and stability he needed to know that I, his mama, was there to keep him safe.

And when, at 3 am, I awoke, my body aware that 3000 miles away he was awake, and sitting in a cab on his way to the hospital, I began our two hour text-versation with these words: "I'm here."

* * * * * * * * * *
Update: Ben is out of surgery. All went well. He has a new 17" rod installed. He's resting, eating ice chips, and watching TV. It's not his best day, but I can also tell you, it's not his worst! More later...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

the usual

Frozen Snickers cake ala the most lovely chef at 10Arts at the Ritz
 It's that night again. The night before. The night before Ben's next surgery.

I am here, sitting in the darkening office, twilight upon me. He is there, in Philadelphia, a tummy full of Thai food, tuning out the future, watching TV with his dad.

I didn't hear from the hospital this time. Days ticked by and no call came from Dave in Anaesthesiology. So, one day last week I picked up the phone and called him myself. "Dave," I said, "Ben's coming in next week for his surgery and I was wondering if there was anything you needed to tell us?" "Oh no, Mrs. M," says Dave, "We know you and Ben and we know you know the drill. We figured you'd call us if there was a problem."

Sigh. We're regulars. Regulars in Anaesthesiology (and the OR, and the surgical floor, and the cafeteria, for that matter) at Shriners Hospital on N. Broad Street in Philadelphia. This is definitely not something to which one should aspire. It's not like when I was in my 20's and was so familiar to the guys in my favorite downtown Oakland Cambodian restaurant that they knew my voice on the phone. No, it's not quite that good.

Ben is so familiar with the drill that he knows, at age almost 14, which needles they use for his IV, which needles he prefers, in fact. That's too much. Too much information. Too much surgery.

Of course, a plus is that he's also a regular at the Ritz. That is good. Last night, after an easy cross-country flight, Ben sent me a text that read: "Hello ritz it's good to be back." And a little bit later a platter of delightful desserts arrived at his doorstep. Then this text came to me: "HOLY SHIT THEY JUST COMPED DESSERT AND IT LOOKS AMAZING IL SEND PICS BRB"  (*that's Be Right Back, for those of you who don't know the lingo).

Alas, there's a silver lining. Our story at the Ritz is beyond Good. Good Samaratin. Please don't think this is a silver spoon story. Oh no. This is a good-to-the-last-tear-get-out-your-hanky story.

But, tomorrow he will have his ninth surgery. Mine too, if you want to think of it that way. It's sort of a two steps forward, one step back kind of deal. They're replacing the rod that's hooked onto his spine and rib cage with a longer one. After this he'll probably be an inch taller or so with a straighter spine for a bit. And then, as he grows and he is in a big growth spurt right now, it will curve up again...and we'll schedule another surgery. Dave won't call us, but the Ritz will put on, well, the Ritz, don't you know.

Not sure how soon we'll be back there for "the usual," but we will be back.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

student of the net

I decided to indulge myself this fall and signed up for two online e-courses. It's a bit like ye olde correspondence course but using all the latest technology: internet, email, pdfs, videos, photo pools, conference calls, etc. These types of classes are popping up all over the 'net offering opportunities for people to dabble in writing or photography, home organization, cooking, crafts, women's health, and probably just about anything you could possibly be interested in.

I found my classes through the blogs I frequent. I am devoted to both of the women teaching these courses and after reading about their classes for quite a while, I dove in...two at once! The two classes I enrolled in are How to Cook Real Food from Nourished Kitchen and Unravelling: Ways of Seeing Myself from Susannah Conway. Traditional diets cooking and photography/writing/self-discovery. Some of my favorite pastimes.

I am enjoying the pace of the classes. You can check in and do everything as it comes out, or you can let things slide, do two assignments in one week, or skip the parts you don't want to do, or do them later. No grades, no critiques. This is how learning should be...just for the intrinsic value, just for the love of it. How to Cook is 13 weeks of recipes and cooking lessons. Unravelling is eight weeks of photography and personal journaling activities. In HtC I've learned how to make broths, roast grass fed meats, make cultured dairy products, put together a fantastic salad and utilize seasonal vegetables. In Unravelling I've taken a lot of pictures of my feet (and seen a lot of other people's feet too), shared some of my own stories, read lots of others', and done some very interesting contemplative writing. Both classes are giving me an opportunity to carve time out for me to indulge and do something wonderful. The cooking has a direct affect on the whole family, of course. And the photography and writing make me feel whole, so that has a trickle down affect.

I'm sure you'll see more about what I'm doing here if you stay tuned. But, I encourage you to look for your own inspiration online. There's a whole world out there!

Thursday, September 29, 2011


I've been feeling twinges in my midriff lately. Apparently there's a fibroid tumor (cyst?) lurking there but I really doubt it is so enormous as to cause pain and discomfort. Not that that couldn't happen, but my fibroid is not of such a size as to cause pain. At least, that's what I've been told and that's what I want to believe.

I've had twinges elsewhere, too. It's that time of year, Yontif, New Year. A time to look back at the past year, look forward to the new one. It's a time to atone for your transgressions, to face your detractors, to own your own shit. It's a time to look in the mirror, or worse, make a phone call to someone you've had an issue with, and say, "Um, well, yeah...Can we talk about what happened?"

I've been feeling twinges in my heart that have me twisting a bit. I have some loose ends to tie up, but I honestly don't know if I have the energy to deal with them. Energy is so hard to come by these days. And yet, what I really want to say about these twinges is that as much as I want to run away from the problems they foretell, they draw me back again and again. As much as I want to walk on by, they call to me and beg me to stop and look, look closely and do something for the better, something maybe no one else I know would do, but something all the same.

I might take this week to consider making a move. I might take a few moments to think about my life. I'm hoping for more energy in the new year, but first I need to face myself and my stories. I need to do more or do less, but I need to do...DO.

I'll be going to the doctor on Thursday to see about the fibroid. Ironically, or not, the next day is Yom Kippur, my day of reckoning. I hope I'm able to make something of it, do something with it, move a mountain. We'll see. We'll see.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sending blessings to the planet

Today was a grey day, low clouds, moist air that required windshield wipers on my drive into town. I have felt low and defeated all weekend. My plate is full with challenges and sadness, illness and questions. Today's anniversary only deepens that feeling.

Today I am processing, I am sobbing, I am resting and knitting and closing my eyes in bone-tiredness. I am turning my head away and wondering where I can hide.

Today I am anxious about an upcoming surgery for me and for Ben. I am grieving the loss of a friend, my friend's husband, her son's father. Today I am grieving the loss of a childhood and a fatherhood. And I am grieving the loss of innocence of our country, watching the movies online which bring me to tears with the music, the stories, the recordings of last phone calls from desperate fathers and daughters and wives and mothers and sons. They bring me to wrenching, clutching, soul-searing wails.

Today I am sending blessings to everyone in my life, no, everyone on the planet. There is so much healing to be done. I am still meditating on healing.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

some spiders never learn

I found this web this morning, strung between the handles of the manure wheelbarrow and the green bin. Same as two days ago. So beautiful with the beads of dew strung across each rib. Toby and I admired it for a while and then we unhinged it...just like the last time...gently.

The pasture must get cleaned.

But this time I made sure to leave the wheelbarrow far from the green bin. I hate to waste a spider's efforts, even if she doesn't learn.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


I came across this beautiful spider's web this morning when I was down at the pasture. It was strung so perfectly between the handles of the manure wheelbarrow and the green waste bin.

I needed to go clean the pasture, so I had to move the wheelbarrow. But the beauty and fragility and amazing strength and commitment of this spider's web made me pause.

Things are never black and white. People are rarely only fragile or only strong. Sometimes we pour ourselves into an endeavor and yet we find in the end we've chosen the wrong place or time or moment for it. Life is full of contradictions. Doesn't a spider's web capture that perfectly?

Scooping up manure is my meditation these days. There's something about the fog, the quiet of the country, the animals quietly munching on their hay. There's something meditative in the repetitive action of scoop, lift, heave, scoop, lift, heave. I do some good thinking out there.

But first I had to deal with the web. There really wasn't a choice. Silly spider, didn't she know I was going to have to move the wheelbarrow? What a construct her net between two transient objects.

I really didn't want to destroy that beautiful web. So, I moved the wheelbarrow slowly and slowly the web unhinged from the handles. Ultimately, it draped down from the green bin, useless, broken. The spider, luckily, was nowhere to be seen, so hopefully she did not witness the destruction.

I've been caught in a sticky web of conflict these days with some people in my life. Hurt feelings, silences, tears and rage. It's so easy to make blanket assumptions about people and to forget how complex they can be. It's so easy to destroy something beautiful, something that took much effort to build. It's also so easy to spiral down and down into a pit of anger, crushing the forward progress you've already made. Out in the pasture, my thoughts kept spiraling to a conversation I recently had and the things I wished I'd said and the things I'm relieved I didn't say. My anger bubbled up and my heaves of manure got pretty rough.

I stopped and breathed deeply and shook my head to clear it. My heart was racing. Again.

If we storm through, without taking in that quiet, without those moments of meditation, we're sure to cause damage. What I want now is to move through this, to carefully disconnect the sticky web, gently put it aside, yes broken, but gently, and move on through.

For some reason though, right now it seems to be about the destruction. I wonder when we'll get to heal?

Friday, August 19, 2011


We’ve been getting a weekly box of produce from a local farm since June. It’s an incredible bounty to absorb each Wednesday. Bags of greens, shiny cucumbers, fragrant apples, huge brown eggs. I love going to pick up our box at a neighbor’s front porch, stepping over a pair of tiny blue flip-flops and carefully avoiding tripping over the tricycles and scooters strewn across the floorboards. It’s a very country spot, down a gravel road, across from an apple orchard, a stack of produce boxes sits waiting right there in the shade. I open our box and walk back to the car, arms full of bags bursting with Mother Naturey goodness. Sometimes there’s so much I need to make two or three trips to the car. Sometimes, I come better prepared with sacks of my own to carry all the loose carrots, turnips, corn, beets, and onions.

The way summer is we’ve had several weeks where we barely could touch all the great food in the fridge what with camping trips and homeschool conferences to pull us away from our kitchen. A couple times we had a friend pick up the box instead so her family could enjoy it, but mostly we just bring it home hoping to eat it, save it or haul some of it along on our travels.

Oddly enough, our own vegetable garden was a complete failure this year. Deer have gotten in either over the fence or squeezing in past the gate at least three times eating our beans, lettuces, and tomatoes down to nubs. We replanted the beans and tomatoes at the beginning of the summer only to find them eaten up again and so we gave up on those crops. We’d planted over 30 of each and it was a real disappointment to walk away. At this point we have some zucchini (who doesn’t?) and a possibility of pumpkins in the fall, herbs, and some radicchio, I think. I have a sinking feeling every time I look over the deck railing down into the garden since I’m afraid of what I’ll find.

So our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box has given me an alternative happy farmer feeling.

What is required each week, however, is a certain amount of processing as soon as it all comes home. It’s a serious job and if I’m not feeling up to it, I stuff everything into the fridge and hope for the best. But, the reality is that the lettuces need to get washed, spun, torn and stored in a large bowl in the fridge, covered with a paper towel to absorb the moisture and plastic wrap. The root veggies need their green tops removed and to be bagged and put away. The onions need to be tossed in the pantry. And the cherry tomatoes and fruit need to get eaten! Fast! Otherwise they’ll be compost.

Last night, one day home from the biggest and final camping trip of the season, I cleaned out all the bins in the fridge and processed all the veggies we had. There were a few things hanging around past their due, a few that luckily lasted, and all the new goodies I’d picked up yesterday afternoon.

Besides a large bag of amazing compost material (looking on the bright side, of course), I was left with a huge bowl of lettuce, three full drawers of satsoi, spinach, cukes, scallions, parsley, basil, broccoli, turnips, and carrots. A bowl of Gravenstein apples sits on the counter. Red and gold beets roasted in the oven. My bedside table has three cookbooks on it (Local Flavors:Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets by Deborah Madison, From the Cook’s Garden: Recipes for Cooks Who Like to Garden, Gardeners who Like to Cook, and Everyone Who Wishes They Had a Garden by Ellen Ogden, and Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon)…I’m looking for some inspiration, something good and different for a bounty of sweet carrots and a large bag of spinach.

Friday, July 29, 2011


Ben with Tess the day she arrived.

Today I am:

{blue} The morning feeding out in the pasture felt huge and empty without my girl Tess. It's impossible to not be reminded of her in every little thing. In time I know this will pass. But for now I am aching.

{quiet} Boys still sleeping, heavy fog outside. Weed is no longer calling for his girl. Even the birds are quiet this morning.

{planning} A long list of sewing and knitting projects ahead. Organizing my craft areas (again). A workshop I'll be teaching for new homeschoolers at the HSC conference one week from this morning.

{exhausted} From days of crying and saying good bye to my horse.

{expectant} Picking up my little one (not so little, I'll admit) from a week at camp. I'm expecting big smiles and lots of dirt!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

She earned her wings

Today I said good bye to my girl, Tess. We had two and half sweet years together, but they were two and a half years of pain and discomfort for her and anguish for me. Last week I made the difficult decision to end her life before she got to the point of complete agony. Some have told me it was the brave thing to do, I just know that hard as it was for me, it was right.

Tess came to me at age 16 with a long history of hard labor behind her. In her 19 years she was a rodeo horse, a pack horse, a dude horse, and my horse. For me, she was my very first horse after over 40 years of wishing and dreaming of having one. For me, she was my girl...the only other girl on Three Boys Farm. She was sweet and calm and expressive. She'd say hi to me every morning when I came down to feed her her breakfast. She'd rub my arm with her lip when I massaged her back. She'd blow warm air onto my face when she sniffed at me to say hello.

I could tell you the whole long story about what was wrong with her and how these past two and a half years were mostly spent in search of the treatment that would heal her poor feet. But it's technical and honestly, I don't have the energy to do it. What I want to tell you is that having her in my life was a blessing and I am only regretful that she had to live so long with so much pain.

Tess tolerated the donkeys, but she loved our old guy Weed, our gentleman border horse who came to live with us two winters ago specifically to keep each other company. They fell in love over a fence and spent the last two years like an old married couple. Every evening I'd let him out of his side pasture (where he was fed his high calorie diet) and he'd romp into the main pasture (where she'd eat her low carb diet), go straight to his girl and usher her into the barn shed for the evening. "Go home, Woman," you could practically hear him say. They were both chestnut quarter horses (though she was a papered Appaloosa...however without any spots!) and they looked like bookends. He would move her around the pasture whenever he wanted...go here, go there...he was her boss.

Tonight he walks the pasture calling and calling for her.

It breaks my heart to hear him.

We'll all adjust, Weed will adjust, but it will take time. Weed will remember the donkeys are there (he seems entertained by them) and will bond more, maybe even usher them into the shed, if they'll listen. I'll miss my girl every morning when I go out to feed and clean. I'll miss her whinny and her soft sweet hay smelling breath, her dark copper coat and her beautiful long tail that swept the ground. I'll miss seeing my horse, the one I always wanted, when I look out my window. But I'll be comforted in knowing it never got to the point where her feet hurt so much she couldn't get up. That is a good thing.

Tess earned her Pegasus wings. She worked so hard in her life and she endured a lot. Our two and half years together were a peaceful end to that life. 

(A big thank you to Mark and Joanna for being right there with me at the end...and to all my friends and my sister, Mara, for checking in with me and making sure I was ok. I love you all!)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A month done and gone

A month has passed.
My oldest chick has returned to the nest, having stretched his wings and grown in ways that are immediately evident and ways we have yet to see. It was an amazing month for him full of new sights and experiences. I was warmed to see how well he knew himself in the face of new opportunities, how brave he was in undertaking new challenges, and I was also reminded that "no matter how far you go, there you are." He is who he is who he is. Just as I am, of course, but why is this lesson so hard to learn?

I hope you followed along on his blog, as this one was totally silent (sorry) and he has a wonderful writer's voice. This makes me extremely happy, chip off the old block and all that, but I so wish my dad were alive to read it, too. Harry's grandmas both loved it and drank it up daily. (It was wonderful to be so close to the action and he was faithful in getting posts out almost every day.) That helped to assuage their worries about our boy so far away in a big, scary city! (I can say it helped me, too!) But, his Papa Joel would have enjoyed the storyteller in his grandson and the adventurer in a new port. He was like that himself. And loved to live vicariously.

This past month I have had writer's block, I suppose. And the longer I go with no words on the page, the harder it is to encapsulate all that's passed. There have been many moments I've thought "Oh that'd make a wonderful blog post." But alas, I never got the words out.

During the month Toby went to camp again for two weeks by himself and had a blast. Toby is known for his happy nature and will have fun wherever he goes.

During the month Ben went to stay with Nana and then Cousin Ruthie and then several different wonderful friends. He cooked, baked, chatted, played games, chilled, meditated, played more games (and video games), watched fireworks, camped and LARPed. And that was only one week out of four!

During that month Mark and I went away for our "second honeymoon" as he so lovingly referred to it. Despite the fact that he had just thrown his back out moving hay bales and was in terrible pain, we still had a wonderful time at Rancho Pescadero. We relaxed and relaxed and relaxed. Jumped (okay, hobbled slllooowwly) into the pool, sat on our terraced deck and listened to the waves on the shore, watched the waves on the shore for that matter! It's the most relaxing I've done in, well, my whole life I think. And it was much needed. Mark also visited a chiropractor while we were there...a well recommended ex-pat surfing chiropractor who worked his magic on Mark a couple times. Finally, a couple weeks later Mark is feeling somewhat better. Sigh. We're getting old!

Summer moves on. More to tell later. Thanks for your patience!

Sunday, June 19, 2011


It took 40 hours but Harry finally arrived in Buenos Aires last night just past midnight. He was greeted by his lovely and warm hosts, who apparently said, "Welcome home, Harry!" He sounded exhausted but quite happy when we talked to him last night at almost 2 am Argentina time.

Throughout his ordeal at Dulles International Airport he kept such a cool head, it was astounding. His plane took off 15 hours late and through it all he was riding the wave, just dealing with it like a pro.

Oh, and texting his mama.

I had a deja vu moment yesterday morning. He texted me at 6:45 am west coast time to tell me he was finally boarding the plane. We texted back and forth for a couple minutes and then he found out that they'd changed their minds, there was some mechanical difficulty and everyone needed to sit down. Though it was probably the hardest moment for Harry (he had stayed up all night long and was totally and completely exhausted), he sat down and waited. We texted back and forth on and off until he actually did board (at 11:45 am), buckled himself in and shut his phone off.

At that moment I realized it was just like a morning about a month (to the day) ago when Ben and I had texted back and forth for a few hours until the moment he was wheeled into surgery at Shriners Hospital. It felt so familiar, the light-hearted chit chat, the reassuring comments I would make, the palpable nervousness on their ends, but the good humor throughout it all, the fact that they both came to me, their mama, in this time of anxiety and anticipation because that was safe haven.

I love that. I love this technology. I say "bah" to all the folks out there who judge the texting generation as not being connected enough. I don't believe it. Those "textversations" are real and deep and would have felt awkward and irritating if we'd had them on the phone. Somehow the silences between comments don't add up the same way in a textversation as they do on the phone. I suspect if we only had the phone we wouldn't have talked for an hour and a half.

And you can't do the cute little emoticons if you're talking to someone, either. ;)

I also love my relationship with my boys. I love that they open up to me, want to be with me during those times, text me. Me! I love that we are so connected and I am their safe harbor. It's a wonderful role to have and it's really all about the relationship.

I urge you to read Harry's blog: Don't Laugh at Me, Argentina. He's quite amusing and has a strong voice. He's already devoted to filling us all in on the details of his life across the equator.

Today, on Father's Day, I am thinking of my father, of course, and feeling bittersweet about Harry's trip. It's a trip my father would have been so thrilled to observe. He would have read each of Harry's blog posts with a huge smile and a large and loud chuckle at the end. He loved good stories, especially about foreign ports, dashing young men (dancing tango?) with sexy young women. Harry's story would have fed him immeasurably. Today I am feeling the space my dad left behind this past year...and am still baffled by the fact that he won't be coming back. I really keep having this sense that he's just on a long vacation...out to sea in a way. But, I remind myself, he's gone...the final voyage, I suppose.

I won't be writing much in the next few weeks [we head off to a LARP campout tomorrow (until Thursday) and then send Toby off to Camp Tawonga on Sunday, Ben to Nana's house and Mark and I head to Rancho Pescadero for our 20th anniversary celebration week], so check on Harry at the link above and I'll catch you back up when I can.

Friday, June 17, 2011

red-eye night

Did I say momentous? Did I imply today would be a new beginning, his first solo flight?

No one knew what the universe had in store for Harry today, now did they?

I am exhausted, so I will make this short and to the point: Harry is stuck at Dulles Airport in DC, the entire United Airlines computer system having crashed around 7 pm tonight. For hours we texted and called back and forth trying to support him in dealing with this very unexpected situation. Finally, about 30 minutes ago he found out that his flight will be taking off tomorrow morning at 10 am, only 12 hours late.

Quite the adventure for my hatchling, no?

Waiting for his plane in SF...this one was on time and we were blissfully
unaware of the chaos soon to hit airports worldwide!
What is so amazing to me is that Harry has always been a person for whom changes in plans are very distressing. It's not that he's inflexible, just that he likes to know what's coming down the pike. Last minute changes throw him way off balance and cause spikes of fear and anxiety. He doesn't just get upset or grumpy, he goes sky high in his response. With Harry it's always ExTrEmEs. Never gray areas. He's either c a l m or he's on HIGH alert.

I knew that this trip would push the envelope on that because I would not be there to help him navigate. (I am often a buffer.) He'd have to ask for help, make his own plans, be responsible about schedules and waking up on time, and the like. He'd have to roll with the punches (as my master teacher, Polly McCall used to tell me). All of these things are challenging to him, but they're all a part of living in the world, so I looked forward to him having to figure them out.

But not quite like this. I never envisioned the universe saying, "You don't like last minute changes? You don't like not knowing what's coming next? Oh, do we have a situation for you!"

And yet. Harry is hanging out at Dulles, on his laptop, watching movies on Netflix, texting his friends, keeping us up to date on Facebook. He's got a blue blankie from United and an outlet to plug into. Rather than a red-eye flight to Buenos Aires, he's got a red-eye night in Washington DC. Tomorrow at 10 am, so they say, his flight will take off.

I pray it is uneventful.

Until then, I'm keeping him close to my heart.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


photo courtesy of

Tomorrow will be a momentous day.
Tomorrow will be a life passage, a milestone.
Tomorrow your world will begin to grow in size, exponentially, immeasurably.

Tomorrow you'll wake up on one continent and journey to another.
Tomorrow you will really be on your own.

Tomorrow I'll wake you early: you'll be grumpy from a bad night's sleep.
Your expectation of it being so did not make this morning arrive more quickly, or come more gently.
I'll make you a cup of tea: you'll wimper a bit at me.
You'll shower and dress and look at me with soulful eyes.
Tomorrow we'll load up the van and pile in and drive the miles to the airport in the big city (stopping along the way in Chinatown to load you up with dim sum delights).
Tomorrow I'll walk you to the counter where you'll show your passport and deposit your luggage. Tomorrow, I imagine, you'll want to do it yourself.
You won't need me tomorrow as much as you feel you don't need me today.

Tomorrow your wings will fully come in.
Your feathers will fluff and you'll step to the edge of the nest.
You've taken some test flights, yes, but this time you'll step up to the rim and then push off.

You'll soar.
I will sit back and watch, feeling the mix, the familiar mix, of joy and sorrow, sorrow and joy.
Watching my hatchling take to the skies.

Every mother on the planet must do this one day.

My day is tomorrow as is yours.

Safe travels, Hatchling. I look forward to hearing about all that you've seen.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


About a month ago I started back up with my yoga practice. Well, that all sounds so professional…my yoga practice. Really, all’s I did was start back up at the yoga class I used to attend which has gone on without me for almost two and a half years. The last time I was a diligent yoga student was before Ben’s scoliosis situation had hit the headlines of my life, it was on the way back burner lurking. Once I got busy taking him to a million Feldenkrais and osteopathy appointments every week, however, those mornings on my aqua blue yoga mat fell by the wayside. In fact, taking care of me in many ways fell by the wayside.

Over the past many months I’ve been turning my focus back onto my Self: my body, my mind, my heart, my health (sounds like the 4-H club motto). I’ve been lightening my load in so many ways. It’s been an excellent process. Changing my diet (removing wheat and most grains), taking bio-identical hormones and a panoply of supplements and vitamins to bring balance back to my very depleted systems, hiring someone to do the heavy lifting in the pastures to relieve the compression in my upper body…all of these things have contributed to my feeling better all around. This wasn’t some overnight turn around, and it’s still in process.

But, I was surprised to find that returning to yoga has probably made one of the biggest differences of all. My sister, Mara, who I should mention is in the most amazing shape and is gorgeous, kept telling me that stretching would help my aching joints. I am not a physical person generally, the opposite of her. But she was right. As soon as I started stretching on my aqua blue yoga mat I started to feel better. And now my body is asking for more every week. It’s amazing.

I will admit that I didn’t return to the yoga class because Mara told me it’d be good for me. I returned because Mark and I are celebrating our 20th anniversary this month. Late in June we’re flying down to Baja California to stay at this most lovely hotel, Rancho Pescadero, for a whole week. A WHOLE WEEK!! Besides being remote, small, beautiful, on the beach, having their own organic garden, and no kids allowed, one of their offerings is yoga classes every day, sometimes twice! When we made the reservations for our penthouse suite I hadn’t even started back up with my yoga practice, but I knew I wanted to, I knew it’d be what I needed to get to the next level in my recovery. I returned to my yoga class because I didn’t want to arrive at Rancho Pescadero and look like a dork in their yoga classes. And now I’ve had a couple months to warm up, to stretch.

At the same time that I’m preparing to head to the beach with my most amazing of all husbands on the planet to celebrate twenty incredible years of togetherness and life building, I’m also preparing to send my oldest chick across the equator on the first huge adventure of his life. Harry has been studying ballroom dancing for the past three years and this summer will take it to another level in Buenos Aires, doing a month abroad studying Spanish and tango. He’ll be living with a couple in the city, close to the language school he’ll be attending. I imagine he will return quite changed. I’ve sent him off before, to camp, to the JC, to weeklong meditation retreats. But this is different. This is a whole new world for him and it’s causing me to really expand my world, too. So far…Argentina is soooo far away. Tell me that this stretch will feel good in the end, too!

The other chicklets will be at camp (Toby) and with friends and family (Ben). It took some serious planning to make this week available for a trip away. It’s been 17 years since Mark and I had a whole week away from home together just us!

I can feel my arms stretching, I see them reaching to touch my children in their far flung locales. It feels good to stretch. I might be wanting more.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Doing well

This is just a brief note to let you know that Ben is doing beautifully. He is cheerful and happy. His pain is minimal. He only needed meds twice today and even then, it was not to deal with overwhelming pain. We're not going out, or driving in the car (the travel-home day, Monday, was more than enough of that for a while!). And no hikes or carrying things or bending over. (We learned our lesson last time.)

But, video games, Scrubs, bowls of pasta and slices of pizza, and many rounds of Quiddler and Yahtzee with the family seem to be bringing our boy back into the land of the hale and healthy!

Oh, and a new charger for his cell phone (his old one was left at the Ritz). How's a boy supposed to communicate with all his "homies" with a dead phone? The horror!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

happy, healing boy

Ben and I texted each other yesterday morning. He didn't feel very good. He seemed pretty blue. Not that that should be surprising.

They'd moved from the hospital to the hotel the day before and he'd felt really crummy the rest of that day. Hadn't eaten anything except a breakfast of French toast ("It was surprisngly good.") in the hospital. I'd talked to him on the phone in the late afternoon (here)/early evening (there) and his voice was so weak and creaky.

"Hi Mommy."

"Hi Baby. How are you feeling?"

"Really bad."

"I'm so sorry, hon. I'm so sorry you have to feel this way. You'll feel better tomorrow."

I got off the phone and turned to my own mom (I was sitting in her kitchen) and said, "It's so unfair he has to go through this over and over and over." I felt a wave of self-pity and pity for Ben. Why? Why eight surgeries? Why repeated experiences with pain and medications and recovery? To what (ultimate, greater, existential) purpose?

People have told me "It will make him strong as an adult." Yeah, but guess what, he might have been strong anyways. And you know what else? Put your kid under a surgeon's knife 10, 12 times before he's 20 (it will more than likely be that, by the way) and have him sleep in a hospital bed 50, 60 nights before he's 20 (he's already hit 48) and see if that "strength in adulthood" consoles you.

Odd, when I started writing today I didn't realize I was angry.

I was actually going to tell you that later yesterday, after the morning's blue text exchange, Ben called home.

"Hi Mom!"

"Hi! What's up? How's it going?"

"I'm feeling great! And I looked in the mirror and I really think I'm taller now!"

"Wow! That's awesome. I'm pretty sure you must be. Dr. C really got some great extension this time, right?"

"And my curve is 25 degrees! I've been walking around and I ate some Thai curry chicken soup. I'm feeling so much better."

I swear he sounded better than he's sounded in months. Chipper mood, bouncy, bright. A totally different voice. Like a new man.

Did I tell you that after the phone call from my mom's kitchen Mark texted me this: "Post call FYI: he was way better 5 min before and 5 min after your call. Not better, but not as bad. It's great to be a mom." Well, I knew that. Really I did. Mamas get the unfettered emotion. The raw "I feel lousy" stream of whining. It's our job to receive it, especially after our child's 48th night in a hospital bed. Especially when you're way the hell across the country and not by his bedside, where you should be.

But it felt so good to hear that bright and chipper boy on the other end of the phone. It certainly washed away my blues.

Can't wait to see him tomorrow night. And give him a gentle mama's hug.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

touching a nerve

Of all things, I had to have an emergency crown set today at the dentist's office. The culprit, a cracked molar, started giving me trouble on Tuesday and luckily, I squeezed into Dr. McN's schedule before he left for a week off.

Not a great day to have a painful procedure. But I didn't have much choice.

It just so happened that at one point early in the procedure Dr. McN hit the crack with his drill and pain sizzled into my numb jaw. I jumped. I waved my hand (as instructed). "Oww, that hurts!" I said. I had actually been trying to be brave. It had been hurting a little as he neared the really sensitive place and I had tried to hold it together. But when he hit that crack it hurt so much. It was a zing not just to the nerve but to my whole confidence and composure. I suddenly was holding tears back and trying to breathe. I imagined myself at the end of the procedure going to sit in my car and having a really good cry.

About Ben, of course.

I talked to Mark after Ben came out of surgery and found out that Dr. C had gotten tremendous correction (we'll know more tomorrow). That is excellent news. Last time he got only a little and it seemed so much to do for so little a difference. Having a big adjustment is more bang for your buck, I guess. But, big adjustment also means big pain.

Think about this: They go in, move around his muscles, tendons, ligaments. They mess with the ribs, unscrewing the rod. They use pressure and gentle force to move his spine into a straighter position. They tighten the screws. They get out. And, of course, getting in requires an incision and getting out, stitches. That's a lot, for a "minor" surgery.

The after-effect of all this moving around is heavy duty muscle spasms. They come on if he's pushed or poked (think overzealous friends or brothers). They come from nowhere too. They're like Charlie horses in his back. Not easy to deal with. I'm getting myself prepared.

As for me, a second shot of Lydocaine and I was good for the rest of the dental appointment. I sat there in the mint green dental chair, listening to James Taylor, Carole King, and Crosby, Stills & Nash flowing in from the ceiling (ah well, some of my favorites are now dentist office music, sigh) and I breathed as deeply as possible. I didn't try to be too brave, just enough. It really didn't hurt any more after that one zinger. Not really.

When I got out to the car I didn't break down. I did call Mark and Ben as soon as I got into cell phone range (my dentist is in Occidental and there's ZERO coverage there). Ben felt horrible, and not just very, very bad, but really quite sincerely bad. So bad that he suddenly had to get off the phone and Mark said, "We'll call you back!!" and hung up so fast I felt that zing again. Right to the bone.

I took a deep breath. I went to pick up Toby at Shawna's house. Mark called back and told me things had improved. Shawna gave me gluten-free gingerbread she'd baked. I washed the horrible taste of dental cement out of my mouth.

Now, hours later my jaw is hurting. And now, I'm feeling how hard it is, and how hard it was last time, to be 3000 miles away from my boy when he's hurting.

text me you love me

About a month ago we broke the news to Ben that we had a surgery date for his next lengthening. We softened the blow by telling him in the very next breath that we were (finally) getting him a phone. He'd been begging us for one for months because 1) Harry got one and 2) he needed one to text his friends. (Yes, phones are for texting even more than talking with the teen crowd, don't you know.) As with almost all the technology that I have been resistant to (and to which I have finally caved due to pressure from my children), I have found that texting is an amazing form of communication and has opened up doorways between us.

There is a beauty in the brevity of text messages. Had we not been texting, I'm sure we would have chatted a few times on Mark's phone. But all my boys (Mark included) are reticent to chat on the phone, so that call would have felt more awkward. Via text Ben was open to joking, being sweet, being vulnerable, and being present up until the very last moment when (I imagine) he hit send and handed Mark his phone and was promptly wheeled away. And, I have a record of it on my phone to look at and remember.

I've (laboriously) typed it all up for you here and I've left it pretty much as is (spelling mistakes and shorthand left intact). The incredible sweetness of my boy is palpable. It's like poetry. Well, maybe just for me. (I should tell you, especially if you're not familiar with texting, that sometimes the messages seem out of order since I might be texting him a response while he's texting another comment. You might have to jump back and forth a bit to get the drift.)

You can see that Ben was in fantastically light spirits (confirmed by a phone call from Mark right after he was taken into the OR). This surgery is only the second in his memory that is "minor," although, remember they are going all the way to his ribs to do the adjustment. Minor is relative, yes? Anyhow, it is a short surgery comparatively (2 hours) and that is a huge difference for him. Having the knowledge that he got through the last one fairly easily and was out of the hospital in 13 hours, I believe made all the difference.

So here you have it, for text conversation with Ben in the early hours of today.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
[3:25 am]

ME:  Just want u to know I woke up and am thinking abt u

BEN:  Hi mommy

ME:  Hi ya doin?

BEN:  Good i slept very nicely

ME:  Excellent you're such a trouper

BEN:  :)

ME:  R u in the taxi?

BEN:  Yes

ME:  Ok that's what i thought. What's the weather like?

BEN:  Blue skys with a couple of clouds

ME:  Sounds nice. It rained here most of the day yesterday. Dark now of course. It's 3:37 am!

BEN:  Haha

ME:  It was weird...I just woke up a few minutes alarm or anything, like my body just knew u were awake and on your way so I should wake up

BEN:  I woke up 2 minutes before my alarm went off

ME:  Yeah. Sometimes there's like a sixth sense

BEN:  Its like my body just new that i should be up u know?

ME:  Yep same with mine

BEN:  It was weird

ME:  I know I couldn't see a clock so I had to turn on my phone and I went "hey perfect timing! Ben's gonna be up now too"

BEN:  Wow thats cool

ME:  I used to wake up in the middle of the night every night, but I haven't for a while now. That's what made this really diff for me.


ME:  I just want to send u a big hug

BEN:  thanks

ME:  I love u so much

BEN:  I luv u 2 mom <3 [heart on its side]

ME:  <3
xoxoxox ((((you)))) [hugs around Ben]

BEN:  :)
We are almost at the hospital

ME:  I was just going to ask
We'll text more later

BEN:  K we are there

ME:  Love u!!!!!

BEN:  I luv u 2

ME:  xoxoxox

BEN:  :)

ME:  Toby just giggled in his sleep!

BEN:  Wow thats kinda creepy

ME:  I guess he's having a funny dream...I'll have to ask him about it in the a.m.

[a little time passes]

BEN:  I just got my wrist band and we are going into the elevator

ME: Ok tlk [talk] later

BEN:  Kk [Okay]
They just took my whigh [weight] and i whigh [weigh]128

ME:  Congrats. :)

BEN:  :(

[Two hours pass, no texts, I slept]

BEN:  There about to come get me for surgery

ME:  Ok I love u!!! How r u?

BEN: Good me and dad watched very funny tv

ME:  sorry u had to wait so long

BEN:  Its ok actually it was nice

ME:   Excellent! You're gonna do great and I'll talk to u when u get out
I'm so proud of u

BEN:  Ok

ME:  It helps knowing what to expect
Doesn't it?

BEN: I like the shoe sock things there comfy
And yes

ME:  Great get a few before u leave

BEN:  To take home i like socks much better than these

ME:  Oh whatevah
No iv yet?

BEN:  Ya anyways mom i luv u vry much

ME:  I adore u

BEN:  Nope get that in surgery

ME:  xoxoxox
(((((hugs from me to u))))))

BEN:  (RE: ((((hugs from me to u) K im in the bed

ME:  Oh thought u were already

BEN:  Im a little nervous
Bye mom ttyl [talk to you later] luv u

ME:  That's to be expected
I luv u!!!!!

[break of several minutes]

BEN: Hiya mom it turns out that i only was going down to talk to the docters and i'll be under in 15 mins so hows it going?

ME: Oh!!!! it's going fine!
I was sending you big blessings.

BEN:  Thats nice im less nervous

ME:  Amazing

BEN: Thank u

ME: How come d'you think?

BEN:  Thats good

ME: How come youre less nervous?

BEN:  I dont know everyones very confedent and calm

ME:  That's great that u can take that in
What did the doctors say?
And did u have an xray this morning?

BEN: That im going to go in breathe then fall asleep and no

ME: Ok
Sounds easy

BEN:  Yup im gonna be fine

ME:  u definitely r

BEN:  Yup u should take somthing to calm down

ME:  And when u get out it's gonna be even easier then the last time
I'm calm, cuz u r

BEN:  Yup

ME:  I should say calmer
I was more nervous last time
But thx for thinking abt me

BEN: Still u should

ME:  I'm fine, sweetie
Just lying in bed
Txting my boy

BEN: Hmm anyways calm down i can feel it in your txts

ME: Oh sorry I really am fine
Maybe I'm asking too many questions...?

BEN: Sure u r sure

ME: Lol
I wouldn't send u there if I didn't believe they would take excellent care of u
Well it's my job to be a little nervous!
But really I'm just fine

BEN:  Yeah

ME: =)

BEN: Sure u r sure.......O.o

ME:  8)

BEN: jsshdikisabusukjkszdekjdszeksejzjzjedsmeds im not crazy BOOGA BOOGA MOOGALY tell that to tubs [Toby]

ME: Um...ok...when he wakes up.

BEN: Wait what time is it

ME: Hey! did they give u something to make u loopy? Cuz it suuuure seems like it!
7:33 am

BEN: No im just naturly crazy and oh thanks

ME: Too much time on your hands, it seems...

[long break during which I play Spider Solitaire on my iPhone]

Hey u there?

BEN: Barely
I am about to go
i luv u soooooooooo much

Love u more!!!

BEN: <3<3<3<3<3<3<3
         <3<3<3<3<3<3<3 [32 lines long!]

ME:  You're the best! xoxoxox

Sunday, April 17, 2011

another surgery

The anticipation is the worst part. The waiting and the knowing. It's really all well and good for other people to talk about how hard this is and to talk about how quickly it'll all be behind you. But for you it is another story.

This next surgery will be your eighth. (Started with a hernia at age 5, four brain surgeries/followups at age 8, the implantation of the rod and staples a year ago, and the first lengthening last summer.) Eighth. You have had more surgeries than most people have in a lifetime. A lot to hold. And this one won't even be the last.

So, if you've done this eight times then you know what to expect. You know that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you see the doors slide open to the hospital lobby as you climb out of the taxi. You know the flutter in your diaphragm when you put on your hospital gown and stow your things in the cabinet next to the bed. You've done this before. You lay down on the gurney in Anaesthesiology and watch the tiles on the ceiling, the lights and goofy posters on the walls slide by your vision as they wheel you away from your dad into the OR.

This operation is small potatoes compared with what you've experienced six of the eight times. Even the recovery is less work for you. But, you know the feeling coming out of the pain killers and it makes you tired, exhausted even, to contemplate another month passing by in your young life, a month of Valium and Hydrocodone and Ibuprofen keeping the edge off and the muscle spasms at bay. A month of shuffling around like an old man.

You're doing ok, though. You've chosen many days this past month to spend extra time in your jammies and wallow a bit in your life predicament. But for now, a few days before you say goodbye to your mom and brothers and head to the airport with your dad, you are upbeat, laughing at raunchy sitcoms and filling yourself with Indian food.

You are so strong and so fragile. You are only thirteen. Some boys at thirteen read from the Torah, their rite of passage to the next phase of their life. You, my son, you crossed that river years ago.

Weary traveller...blessings on this journey and may your doctor's hands be guided by the angels and may your healing be swift and easy.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Farewell, Oh Beautiful Swing Tree

A few weeks ago during a tremendous storm we lost our beloved swing tree.

The enormous old twisted oak that was the anchor for our new home, on whose swing I first fell in love with our property, silently gave up the fight. She had been unwell for a while now and we'd cut the swing's ropes a couple years ago to prevent a terrible accident from happening. She fell down over our pasture fences in the middle of the night, didn't even wake us up. Though Mark and Harry have sawn up much of her limbs and branches, her huge trunk still lies across a part of our field and when I look at that fallen tree I grieve her loss. We designed our house around her architecture, we watched her leaves bud out each March in fuzzy pink new growth, we enjoyed the screen she gave us from the road when popping in our hot tub on the deck, and the shade she gave the equines in summer.

In honor of the tree I am remembering one of my favorite books from childhood: A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry. And, I am posting, below, a piece I wrote eight years ago about our decision to move up here to Sonoma county. Our beloved swing tree figures in essentially, at the very read it all!


Blame it on Cooperstown

You’re not sure if it’s the stretch of white board fence, the old white clapboard house, or the verdant green lawn shaded by trees, but your eyes are pulled over to that little photograph in the back of the magazine. You are ruefully perusing the section they have every issue that advertises old, sometimes ancient by your California-girl standards, houses for sale across the country. This one has definitely caught your eye. “Horse Lover’s Fancy” it reads. “7 acres of beautiful countryside, lovely 5 bedroom home, plus carriage house and 8 stall stable. Excellent condition.” There’s more, but you speed through the details. You’ve already peeked at the price. You can barely buy a shack where you live for that.

You sit back and sigh. There you are, tucked away in your comfortable Northern California neighborhood, each home within spitting distance of its neighbor. Your eyes wander back to the ad. “Near Cooperstown, NY.” You take a quick look at to check out the exact location of the city of Cooperstown in the state of New York. Far north. Not even close enough to the in-laws to justify a cross-country address change.

Whoa! What was that? Here you are innocently reading the ads, like they’re open houses on a Sunday afternoon. (Just because you like to look doesn’t mean you’re going to buy, does it?) And suddenly you’re planning, actually looking for a rationale to move. To Cooperstown, NY.

It’s probably the horses. The possibility of horses. You’ve been a horse-fanatic from the age of 3, but never did convince your parents to buy you one. Living in urban Los Angeles didn’t help, not exactly horse country. And even though your knees hurt every time you’ve ridden in the past ten years, having a horse of your own isn’t a fantasy you’re prepared to give up just yet. Even at 40.

Maybe it’s the seven acres. That’s a lot of land. You can’t even picture seven acres if you tried. Your mind drifts out of the office, down the stairs and into the bedrooms of your three sons. Lately, you think, lately life has been loud and chaotic here in your snug house in your snug neighborhood. Your mind flashes to the postage stamp-sized brick patio you knew would never be enough. Three boys need a place to run at full speed. Like an expanse of lawn. Three boys need some trees to climb. And maybe their mom needs a horse. Or eight.

You plot driving directions from Cooperstown, NY to the Long Island house your in-laws have lived in since before your husband was born. Maybe it’s not so far.

Later that night you casually ask your husband, “How far is Cooperstown from your folks?” wanting some verification that it’s just too far. Some really good reason to abandon this fantasy. “What’s it like?” you ask. He laughs, and describes winter in Cooperstown. Snow, piles of it. Weeks and months of it. You can barely imagine that much snow. At the high school you went to in Southern California, you could take surfing for P.E.

But that vision won’t go away. The next day you find the website dedicated to the sale of “Horse Lover’s Fancy”. Just for the fun of it you search their other listings and find yourself gazing at a ranch in northern Montana, copper-colored grasslands with a view of snow-covered mountains. And then there’s the home in southern Oregon on 40 acres (why dream small?) with miles of trails already groomed for you and your horses.

A visit to your therapist feels like the thing to kick this tickle-that-feels-like-an-obsession-brewing out the door. But when you mention “I’ve been dreaming about moving to the country,” she says “Go with it,” and you go deeper and uncover some visions you have about your sons, about the over-stimulation that comes with city living, about how you gave up on the big backyard when you were looking for the bigger house because big yards are just hard to come by in the city. And you talk about your husband, now one-year unemployed, a casualty of the dot-bomb era. Even though you were the one who convinced him to stay home and enjoy a slower pace for a while, you’ve been worried about the rut he’s gotten into, the amount of time he spends on computer games, and the grayness that seems to be hovering around him like an aura.

At the end of the session your therapist says, “Go with it,” again. So you return home thinking about moving to the country.

When your husband asks how your session went (he does that more now that he’s in therapy, too) he’s pretty surprised that you didn’t talk about him and the fight you had the other day about your sex life, or your lack of sex life. He’s shocked, really, when he hears what you talked about and he even looks a little worried. He knows what you can be like when you get an idea in your head.

And, like a bull dog you persist. Later that night in bed you have a long talk about this fantasy and he says, “I’ll look into it with you, but I’ll tell you right now I’m not moving.” The first part of his statement is really a victory and you know that. Before this year off and the time he’s had for his own evolution (therapy) he never would have entertained even thinking about something that scared him like moving. You remind him that when you moved into your current house he said, “The next time I move is in an urn,” and you both laugh. You, nervously.

Calendar pages fly off the wall. Hours spent doing research on the internet and in books and magazines. You love a project like this. Ordinarily, you do this for trips, but this adventure is more than just looking for motels, restaurants and museums, you’re looking for schools, community organizations, and local newspapers. Together the two of you make lists of pros and cons of moving and staying. Together you name the things you need and the things you want. Need: Good schools. Want: Good politics. Need: Jewish community (three bar mitzvahs are on the horizon). Want: Good produce. There’s even a list of what you can’t abide: Rednecks. Skinheads. Airports three hours away.

You notice he’s gotten interested. He’s been doing some surfing, too. Eyeing pieces of land in the Sierra foothills. And then he suddenly bites onto the concept of building the house himself. He’s an engineer, he knows his hammers from his rat tail files. He has a workshop in the garage that he never gets to use because it’s too cramped and there’s no room to spread out. He did contracting work in college. He’s a fine carpenter. Your favorite piece of furniture in your whole house is the big kitchen table he made from a length of bowling alley. He can do the electrical and plumbing, too. Loves that stuff, in fact.

All of a sudden, this adventure is taking shape. You can feel the movement and you no longer feel that you are in control. The electricity that sparks between you is making you stronger. The fantasy becomes a project and the project is driving you.

The worries arrive just about then. The questions and regrets. You start a new ritual: the listing of the things you’ll miss. Walking to school, your friends, short drives to the market, the preschool you love. And suddenly the house you live in is perfect, the city you live in is perfect and the friends you felt were only acquaintances are professing their love and admiration for you. Your nine-year-old has a teacher who completely understands him. Your business is picking up. Everything seems to be gelling. How can you entertain the idea of moving away from all this?

The more people you tell about what you’re contemplating, the more their responses make you question your choice. You never knew how many people harbored dreams of moving to the country. They live vicariously through you. But you weren’t someone with that long-term dream. You feel like a fraud. You want to stay put. One friend warns you about other friends of hers who had problems in their marriage, moved to the country, built a house, and when the house was done their marriage fell apart. Those stories make you think of all the people you know who had the problems, stayed in one place, and then their marriage fell apart.

You bring the boys up to the country to see different properties you’re considering and they always freak out. These wild, grassy, overgrown places intimidate them. The one who’s always adventuresome becomes clingy and the other ones get bored and whiny. “They have to learn how to play in the country,” someone says.

Then one day you find yourself swinging on a tree swing on a property in western Sonoma county. The swing has incredibly long ropes and when you swing you go out over a slope so far that at the farthest, highest point you’re probably about 20 feet up. It swings so slowly that you feel like you’re flying. You look around. The place is scruffy, there’s no verdant lawn, only an old vermin-infested mobile home and a rickety three story well tower. There’s no white rail fence, but lots of beautiful gnarled oaks, more than you can count. It’s only four acres, but that seems like plenty.

You sit back on the swing, hang on the prickly, lichen covered ropes. You pump your feet, push off from the ground as hard as you can. You want to go high, higher, higher. You fly. You fly on that swing and you can feel your chest expand. You breathe deep.

Your mind floats off the swing and up into the trees. Slowly it comes to you that it’s not about the horses anymore. It’s about living your life as big as you can.