Blog a la Cart

XXVI

Hi, Mom,

Sunny is proving to be quite the fish. She competed in her second ever swim meet this past weekend and wound up placing third overall in the girls 8 and under category. I am so proud and impressed by all of her hard work. She so clearly loves to swim, and has been finding meets exciting and rewarding.

“My tummy is all filled with butterflies. I guess that means I care!”

I’ll continue to drag my butt out of bed at 5am on a Sunday to watch her race if she continues to put in the work and find pride in the outcomes. The kid swam a 100 IM in under 2 minutes! I’m not sure that I can do such a thing.

She had to miss a few practices due to our mini holiday with the Swedes, and after he first practice back, she came home and declared, “I just really missed my time in the pool.”

Dad is taking particular joy in her accomplishments, as I’m sure it feels very reminiscent of my days in the pool. How I know you’d delight in her successes as well.

143 Your Ashley

P.S. The meet was at Smith! Particularly meaningful. We talked all about your mama, and the benefits of a women’s college. Gosh, Northampton is a special place, and that campus stunning!

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XXV

Hi, Mom,

Yesterday was Halloween. And for the fourth year in a row, we executed another ridiculous team costume. The girls are currently steeped in the “Harry Potter” series, and so they requested that we each pick a character from the books. Sunny was Hermione, with her stack of books and wild hair. Courtland was Ginny, badass and strong and chalked with red hair for the part. Dad was Dumbledore, and ordered the most epic costume to complete the look. The man has never had to manage so much hair and fashion tap! James was Harry, and Sanderling his snowy, white owl Hedwig. And I wore Momo’s epic velvet cape to pull off Professor McGonagall. As ever, you were deeply missed.

143 Your Ashley

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XXIV

Hi, Mom,

Your 1st grade granddaughter is so stinking wise. You wouldn’t be surprised to hear this. You were always her biggest cheerleader. You understood what a thoughtful and sensitive child she was. You saw through her tantrums and tears, and saw a beautiful and kind soul. I mourn for so much, but the loss of Courtland’s biggest fan is one of the most devastating elements of life without you. How I wish she had the privilege of navigating her teenage years with you by her side. It is so fucking unfair that your love and comfort and the safety it provided are no longer a part of our future.

While sitting on the beach earlier this week (yes! A beach day in late October, with Maja and her family no less!), Courtland sat apart from the group, lazily gazing out at the ocean, burying her feet in the sand. After some time, I approached her and asked if she was okay.

“Oh yes, mom. I’m just listening to the waves. It is the most peaceful sound in the whole world.”

While watching Sunny compete at a swim meet, one of her friends bemoaned, “Sunny’s not winning the race!” And Courtland responded, “That’s okay. What matters is that she does her best and feels proud of herself.”

Upon handing me her 1st grade school photo. “Mom, at the time, I thought I did such a nice smile, but now I see that I look like a first grader, with all those missing teeth.” (I assured her that that is what made it such a nice smile, because it represented this stage in her life so perfectly). Admittedly, it is a classic and hysterically awkward school photo awash with awkward, Jack-o-lantern grin, and I love it.

And lastly, she was in the midst of a meltdown after refusing to brush her hair before bed. Full screams and cries and refusal to follow directions. In those moments, I feel so frustrated as this behavior was long gone in Sunny’s world by the time she hit 1st grade, though I know it does no good to compare the two. After fifteen minutes or so, we had both calmed down and she was merely whimpering into her pillow. She turned to face me and said, “Mama, I know you feel so frustrated when I do this. But I just have so many feelings. Sometimes I don’t know how to not cry.”

And god, my heart ached with the clarity and honesty of her words. Her self-awareness so far beyond her years, beyond what most adults ever possess in a lifetime. You would be so moved by the brilliant and challenging and candid person she is.

But you understood that about her, even though you only ever knew her as a preschooler.

143 Your Ashley

XXIII

Hi, Mom,

Meg shared this poem by adrienne maree brown, and it spoke directly to the most broken pieces of my heart. I’ve bolded what struck my gut most profoundly. What I have discovered as my truth, that which she put to words so succinctly.

Spell for Grief or Letting Go

Adequate tears twisting up directly from the heart and rung out across the vocal chords until only a gasp remains;

At least an hour a day spent staring at the truth in numb silence;

A teacup of whiskey held with both hands, held still under the whispers of permission from friends who can see right through ‘ok’ and ‘fine’;

An absence of theory;

Flight, as necessary;

Poetry, your own and others, on precipice, abandonment, nature and death;

Courage to say what has happened, however strangling the words are… and space to not say a word;

A brief dance with sugar, to honor the legacies of coping that got you this far;

Sentences spoken with total pragmatism that provide clear guidance of some direction to move in, full of the tender care and balance of choice and not having to choose;

Screaming why, and/or expressing fury at the stupid unfair fucking game of it all (this may include hours and hours, even lifetimes, of lost faith);

Laughter, undeniable and unpretended;

A walk in the world, all that gravity, with breath and heartbeat in your ears;

Fire, for all that can be written;

Moonlight – the more full the more nourishing;

Stories, ideally of coincidence and heartache and the sweetest tiny moments;

Time, more time and then more time… enough time to remember every moment you had with that one now taken from you, and to forget to think of it every moment;

And just a glimpse of tomorrow, either in the face of an innocent or the realization of a dream.

This is a nonlinear spell. Cast it inside your heart, cast it between yourself and any devil. Cast it into the parts of you still living.

Remember you are water. Of course you leave salt trails. Of course you are crying.

Flow.

P.S. If there happens to be a multitude of griefs upon you, individual and collective, or fast and slow, or small and large, add equal parts of these considerations:
– that the broken heart can cover more territory.
– that perhaps love can only be as large as grief demands.
– that grief is the growing up of the heart that bursts boundaries like an old skin or a finished life.
– that grief is gratitude.
– that water seeks scale, that even your tears seek the recognition of community.
– that the heart is a front line and the fight is to feel in a world of distraction.
– that death might be the only freedom.
– that your grief is a worthwhile use of your time.
– that your body will feel only as much as it is able to.
– that the ones you grieve may be grieving you.
– that the sacred comes from the limitations.
– that you are excellent at loving.

You taught me that last one.

143 Your Ashley

XXII

Hi, Mom,

It’s hard to believe that you have been absent for all these moments. And yet, look at all this love… you are so clearly a part of that.

143 Your Ashley

XXI

Hi, Mom,

I’m currently holed up in bed with a bum knee. Your grandson ran full tilt down a bowling lane this weekend, and in my effort to stop him from dive bombing into a row of bowling pins, I fell, hard, on my left knee. I had no idea that bowling lanes were so damn slick. Sanderling and I managed to make a rather low risk sport dangerous. And fuck. My knee is in rough shape.

Of course, as with all things in life, when it rains, it pours, so Sander has a fever of 102 and is a snotty, drooly, coughy, disgusting beast. Since I can only move very slowly and deliberately to avoid further injury slash pain, James had to stay home from work with both of us to manage the energy of the toddler, and the demands of his relatively immobile spouse. The joys!

Fortunately, we’re coming down from a glorious long weekend with Steve and Justin and Adam, and their love and generosity and brilliance and good cooking has provided the positive vibes I need to get through this unfortunate hurdle.

On Sunday night, as I lay propped up on your 40th birthday present, that ridiculous Victorian sofa, and the guys cooked and entertained the kids and provided an endless stream of champagne and ice packs, I sat talking about you and what it felt like to lose a mother at this particular stage in my life when I am in the heart of parenting young children. It’s something I think about regularly, and the difficulty of not having you a phone call away on days like today are notably painful.

But I found that as I talked, I reflected on Courtland’s friend whose mother died this summer. Tears welled in my eyes with a mix of sadness and gratitude. How lucky am I to have had you in my life as a child. To have been created and loved and raised by you. I’m still pissed AF that you are gone, but I had you, for 32 years, and that is a part of me forever. And for that, I know deep wells of love and longing and gratitude.

But damn I wish I could call you and bitch about this stupid knee. You were always there in solidarity with a brilliant combination of sympathy and wit.

I miss you, Mama.
143 Your Ashley

XX

Hi, Mom.

Recently I heard asked, “What lonelier question is there than “Who do I want to be?”

And for me, the loneliest question is related, although not exact. “Why do I matter? Why do any of us matter? Why do how I chose to spend my day and live my life and raise my children and spend my money and love my family and grieve your death and invest in my community and care about the world matter? Why does any of it matter?”

I am currently sitting alone in tiny cabin on the MASSMoCA campus willing myself to write. As though securing a “writer’s retreat” for an afternoon and secluding myself in a vertical pine box, something so akin to a coffin, will inspire the words and knowledge to capture my grief. As though language will suddenly come, language that will defy cliché. Profound, insightful, moving words will spill on to the page and finally capture my pain and sadness and gratitude and love and loneliness and anger and peace and anxiety in all their complicated, contradictory, mixed up forms. As though this exercise in intentional loneliness will somehow negate the inherent loneliness I feel.

I realize it will not. But still I try. Because what else is there but to persevere? What else is there but to believe that I matter. That you mattered. That all of this living and dying and loving and losing matters. The impact may be small, and yet, even the smallest stone can move an ocean. 

143 Your Ashley

XIX

Hi, Mom.

Here are five things I want you to know about your grandson.

  1. Moments after Sanderling was born, one of the nurses cooed, “Oh my, he is just so sweet.” It didn’t strike me as all that unique a comment at the time, as new life is undoubtedly sweet… and pure, and fresh, and squishy, and mind-bendingly awesome. But that sentiment has been a recurring one ever since that moment, from our nearest and dearest, to his care providers, to his doctors, to complete strangers. He is a sweet, sweet boy. And I comment on his gender, as I worry that society does not value sweetness in men, and how I want nothing more than for him to be able to carry forward this defining trait since his birth through adulthood.
  2. He is also happy, a happy, content baby. Quick to smile and engage. As one of his teachers commented, “That boy is so dang jolly!” Music and dance and social interaction (whether with fellow humans or any living creature) bring him most joy. And it is a true delight to parent.
  3. James and I secretly refer to him as “Pig-Pen” as we can practically see the filth and dirt and sand radiating off his sweaty, sticky body. The kid is a fucking mess. Some of it is undoubtedly his personality and his love of any tactile experience. Sand. Dirt. Spaghetti sauce. Water. Dog food. Sun screen. Rocks. Bubbles. You name it and he wants to hold it and roll in it and stick it in his mouth and smear it on the floor and rub it in his palms and fully and completely experience it. And ya know, James and I let him. I think with the girls, we were quicker to stop or clean up such experimentation. As the third child, we don’t have the bandwidth or energy to attend to such messes with quite the rapidity we did the girls. And given that he is an extra sweaty person a la his father, the dirt and grim tend to stick with him much more readily than with his sisters. Baths are a necessity daily, if not more frequently, but fortunately, soap and water and bubbles bring him equal pleasure.
  4. His hair is long and wispy and white blonde. I am repeatedly told what a beautiful daughter I have. And I do not mind. Until the day that he asks me to cut it, it shall remain long and flowing and gorgeous. And I know how much you would support that decision (and delight in it).
  5. Mostly, I want you to know how much I adore being this boy’s mother. You more than anyone knew how much I feared parenting a son, for many personal reasons. And yet, no surprise to you or anyone who has parented a household with a mix of genders, I am over the moon in love with this boy just as I am over the moon in love with my girls.

I wish you were here to bear witness to that love. But you knew I would feel this way long before I ever believed it possible. He is what I wish you could know.

143 Your Ashley

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XVIII

Sanderoutfit_092717

Hi, Mom.

You always said that people who complained that boys’ clothing was not as cute as girls’ clothing weren’t looking hard enough. And man, today’s outfit, replete with Wesley’s hand-me-downs, sure proves your point.

It was back to school night at the girls’ elementary school, and given that the weather is so unseasonably warm, I figured this was a perfect opportunity to dress Sander in these overalls you had custom made for his Uncle Wes 27 years ago. They won’t fit next season, so might as well squeeze in one final wear. And dang, those red leather shoes of Kimmy’s! I do so appreciate, more palpably than ever, your desire to covet and save. I am so grateful to have these bittersweet reminders of my childhood and your care infused in our daily life.

143 Your Ashley

XVII

Hi, Mom,

The other night I dreamed about you. This is a fairly common occurrence, although often they feel more like a nightmare than a dream. I’m haunted by visions of you dying, your medical emergency at our home in Pownal three years prior, what it felt like to hold your hand as you lay in an ER in Albany, how desperately I wished that that moment would transform your awareness and approach to your own well being. How Valentine’s Day 2016 proved otherwise.

But this dream was in fact that. A dream. We were seated around our dining room table and you were schooling me, Kimmy and Dad on the proper pronunciation of some French word or the correct etiquette for some antiquated behavior. I can’t recall the specifics, but I can recall the physical happiness I felt, the comfort, safety and familiarity of that scene and that experience. In my dream, I consciously paused to connect with that feeling. And I awoke happy. Contented. I relayed the feeling to James, and tears prickled in the corner of my eyes, that ever constant balance of yearning and gratitude that so defines grief.

I miss you, Mama, and those animated conversations around your dining room table.
143 Your Ashley