There are stories in my body that I could tell: Of the hip sway I found in the lead of a grey-haired woman with a sign on her Antigua door that read, “salsa lessons.” Of my left palm touching my right forearm when I outstretch my hand to receive change, a show of respect acquired in the Himalayas that I still offer to the cashier in the Rockies today. Of the scars left from volcano-esqe mosquito bites erupting staff infection before I feverishly limped into a Thai pharmacy and was sent to bed for a forgotten-week. Or of the way my pores flushed one Senegalese summer as the son of a Sufi chief and I cross-compared cultural parables until the intersecting storylines merged as one. Or of the blisters on my heels pierced with hot needles and colored thread, one of a hundred pilgrim secrets whispered in my ear while walking 1,200 miles across Europe. But when I put my pen to paper, my hand is inclined to curl the script into a different story as to how I ended up here.
My mother once said to me, “You know we’re the same? When I was 21, I had all your same urges and inclinations and had I the option to fly into dark skies and wake up in inconceivable places, with a eye on the landscape and pen in hand, I would not have hesitated….” She continued, “…but it was not within my realm of consciousness. I was in the first class of women allowed at my university. In 1962, that was pushing the cultural boundaries. The day I graduated, the world cheered, “Congratulations! Now you can get married and have children!”
So I got here by a cadre of boundary-pushing great-great grandmothers and great-great-aunts and great-great intrepid strangers. An ancestry carried luggage and loads to the homes and hospitals where they birthed the potential to take the story a chapter further, to this one, where the pages flip furiously in the choosing of own-adventures. An army of explorers took timid first steps onto boats and planes and over borders, and each of those paths in some shape, stone, or step, contributed to mine.
As he rubbed sleep from his eyes this morning, my son said, “Mama, can we get on an airplane today?” In recognition of the obvious inheritance of my travel gene, I marveled at the canvas of his perfect body, wondering what deserts and waters and landscapes might leave their imprint upon it. Where will I carry my children and what ceilings might I also shatter to break open the world in ways I might characterize to my daughter 30-years from today — as inconceivable?
I consider it my highest mission as an intercultural educator to foster and encourage empathy, humility and vulnerability in my students. And as it is in both my personal and professional cultures to express gratitude where it is due, I want to say this: Dear Barack Obama, thank you for your humble leadership. For shedding a tear at the podium, for the depth of your bow in Asia, and for going to places (geographically and metaphorically) where no President has gone before. Your humble leadership made me (newly) proud in a world where the revelations of my country’s history within others’ left me red-faced. In 2009, from Asia to Latin America, the word “Obama” became practically a greeting in the universal languages of high fives and welcoming smiles. Speaking for the troops of humility-builders on the ground, I want you to know that — all over the world — something shifted when you entered office: gentle understanding was extended in exchange for your humble gestures of recognition and respect. And when I came back home to the US, I felt I could work with confidence leading from below, knowing you were doing the same from above. In this politically-desolate world, I’ve felt you as both ally and friend; inching together towards a common mission, inspired by your grit to build my own in this increasingly complex world. But I hope you haven’t felt alone. I’m only one of millions, but I want to shake your hand, give you a high five, and (seriously) hug you. Thanks for going gray for us. I went a little gray too. But am ever so grateful for the 8-years of shared journey.
The prompt: June: Historical, Cultural, Personal Memories
Eternal summer. Who doesn’t want 70 degrees 7 days a week? That’s what they say in San Diego. And wasn’t life sunshine. The money flowed. The boyfriend had soccer calves and prince-dimples. The sunsets dripped like honey. And I stayed till it was dark. Waiting for something. That blazing ball snuffed, the revelers had left. They just turned their backs and went home. Why couldn’t I? But I couldn’t stop focusing my eyes on the space in between stars. There had to be more. If I watched, it would surface. When nothing did, in that waiting space, I whittled away my belongs to nothing. And bought a one-way ticket into that dark sky.
I could see the ground passing through a hole in the floor of the taxi cab. Dust and rocks and pot holes and pot holes and pot holes. Each contributing to the bruising of the jungle of elbows, thighs and heads that paid a meager fare for a meager ride on a meager road. Through a narrow side window from my back seat, I saw something flash green in the desert. Disbelieving, I asked my neighbor: “What are those?!” But I knew what they were. Sweet American summer staple. Checkered picnic spread archetype. Drippy treat of childhood dreams. And I MARVEL: Round, red, wet watermelon. Fields of them. With Tasmanian devil ferrying across the road between them. November watermelon in rural Senegal. Smashing my sense of season and place to pieces.
His tiny 3-year old hands have not yet learned reluctance. And they plunge into the dirt. I have to bite my tongue, as all good parents often do. The child should feel liberated in the garden bed, where my copper toppers with neat handwriting are like road signage in the redwoods or the desert. “Right here, mama,” he says, burrowing two fingers into the middle of the bed. And who am I to care if a patch of rainbow chard comes up in the middle of the carrots? He counts three seeds with the purpose of one who has just made the connection between numbers and objects. He takes another handful of dirt and sprinkles it on top like powdered sugar. The creases and cracks of our hands lined still with earth, we fall back into a hammock hung for just the reason. Horizontal outdoors, I see the sky for the first time this summer. “Mama!” he exclaims, “there are leaves on the trees!” And indeed, the fluffy little pods have burst and given birth to summer shade. I take immense join in his recognition of the new season. And his perfect moment of presence. We swing, and I think: Blessed season of light, I have finally found you.
As always, I apologize for my absence. One thing keeping my fingers busy is the creation of these grief & gratitude malas. The following is the letter I enclose when I send out the mala that I’ve crafted specially in recognition of the rite-of-passage of miscarriage. I post it in the absence of anything else to post, and in the case it randomly reaches anyone it needs to touch. This mala project (beading, letter, stone research, etc.) is a work-in-progress and posted with a tequila drink in hand. So please excuse the errors.
There are no words that can rightfully honor your loss. I/we know because I/we are among the countless quiet women who have suffered the same silent sobs, rocking themselves over the same empty belly, feeling the same hollow self. She who you used-to-be, as far away as the moon.
Not that you’ve looked up for her. The loss of a child, no matter how small, is the most downward, inward, and lonely, of all journeys. And exclusive to woman- and motherhood. On that matter, let there be no mistake: Your body has conceived and nourished. Your blood is inundated with maternal hormones (and will still be yet for weeks to come). Your brain has softened and neurologically attuned with the sharpened instincts of mother bear. Is there any wonder you feel simultaneously fierce and lost and primal and injured and wild? If it is any consolation, you might never again in your life feel so human. And if there is any opportunity in this one, it is to feel the collective heart of womanhood reaching out to cradle yours.
“What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is your candle.” – Rumi
The only advice that offered me a true hand through my losses were these two reminders: Feel the pain. Cry the tears. In the cavity of loss, your pain is your chisel, and your tears are diamonds. The labor of grief may bury you. Your pain may be the sole remainder of your humanness. So grow it. Shed through it. Surface from it. And cry diamond tears all along the way. Howl if you feel inclined. For there is nothing as satisfying to your woman bones as the vibration of your mourning song.
“Grief is a form of praise of life. You’ve got to love the thing you lost, just like you’ve got to love the thing you’ve got. When you’re grieving the thing you lost, that’s called praise. And when you’re praising the thing you lost, that’s called grief.” – Martín Prechtel
I have come to call the enclosed strand of beads a Grief & Gratitude Mala. Mala (ma-la) in Sanskrit roughly translates to “garland from above,” or “heavenly garland” and in this form it is meant to mark your motherhood and loss rite-of-passage. The strand includes a sacred-number of 108 semi-precious stones, each researched and selected in intimate knowledge of the trauma of miscarriage and the healing journey (of mind, body and spirit) ahead. The mala can function as prayer beads should a particular mantra (a word, sound, hymn, quote, reminder, prayer or poem that conjures up a sense of peace) find its way to your heart. You may also meditate on any particular stone as each has a specific healing resonance (which you can reference in the enclosed storyboard/map of your mala). In one sense, it is sad that I have already made so many of these malas. In another, know that there exists a tribe of women, to which you belong, who have suffered and survived similarly and wear this same mala in recognition of the shared scar. I hope you will feel the hands of your sisters, mothers, and female ancestors when you hold and wear this mala.
“…Carry grief in one hand, gratitude in the other and be stretched large by them…” – Francis Weller
Trust your body. And trust that little elusive spirit with whom you shared your body and life. Both have great common (all-knowing) sense that we merely-human beings tend to under- and over think. There are some mysteries for which there are no keys. I also cannot emphasize enough the importance of being gentle on yourself. (And gentle on your partner, for whom it is physically impossible to empathize.) Women love shame, but it serves no purpose here. Let it go, with your tears. Take space, and more space. When you are ready for the slow climb of recovery, I found that there was great healing in the first morning rays of sun and the detoxing and rejuvenating effects of getting my hands in the earth/dirt. Sister, I am incredibly sad for the immediate shock and pain of what you’re going through right now. As much as the loss crushed me, it’s also part of my story, and so I do not regret or wish to live without it. So my ultimate advice is to let your loss be a part of you.
One of many holding your hand,
*Disclaimer: I am a geologist and beader only by hobby and inspiration.
This post for all the former-free-bird mommas out there. The ones that prided themselves on traveling on a shoestring and day-bag. Mommas who sang in the silence of their own, simple, presence. Mommas who marveled the passing world through their reflections on airplanes and chicken bus windows. Mommas who now have a backpack-sized babe on their hip or clinging to their thigh (in my case, both). Mommas who spend their days alternating between regurgitating life in tiny-bite-sized pieces and marveling at the reflections in the eyes above those bite-size mouths. Mommas whose souls itch for movement like scratchy wool sweaters in winters of domesticity. Mommas who are ready to integrate their single and motherhood passports into one. Mommas who ask: Is there any reason why I can’t travel with my child(ren)? And, importantly, for Mommas who need a voice that isn’t a naysayer. For Mommas who know it’s not risk-free and will definitely be uncomfortable (as every bit of parenthood, always, is) but who who need another Momma to say: Hey Sister. Yes, you can.
Hey Sister. Yes, you can.
Tips for Traveling Internationally with a Baby (*To be followed with 50 Tips for taking a sabbatical with your family. And 100 Tips for doing a Family Bridge/Gap Year Abroad. Because: Hey Sister. Yes, you can.)
Get passports in order. I took this babe (my 2nd child; not sure I would have pulled the same stunt with my first) to an island in Mexico when she was two weeks old. Was able to get a birth certificate in one afternoon, and turn around an (expedited) passport in one week. She’s 4-days old in her passport photo. Vaccinations might be in order for travel depending on what country you are visiting, so check-in with your pediatrician. I’ve run all my travels by my pediatrician, who has always said: “Hey Sister. Yes, you can.” (Add one of those-types-of-pediatricians to your check list.)
Call the airline. You might not know this (I didn’t!), but most international flights have seats where a bassinet can be attached to the wall in front of your seat. #brilliant. Often there’s only one or two bassinets per plane, so CALL and book it as early as possible. There’s no cost, and the bassinet seats are in bulkhead – so you get a little extra room as well. I’m unsure as to other airline policies, but I know United offers the upgrade to bulkhead for mommas with babes for free. (Thank you United!). On my return, United accidentally gave my bassinet seat away, BUT traded me for my very own ROW of (3) seats. #deal. I snugged her into the car seat, curled up in the adjacent two seats, and we both snoozed the whole way home. #insanestrokeofdumbluck
By the way, in Europe I was twice approached by airport personnel who coo-ed at my baby (in Portuguese and then French) then offered special access passes that allowed me to skip over long security and immigration lines. In the United States, I was greeted with a 3-hour immigration line that backed all the way up to the escalators, offered no place to sit or nurse (a hungry, crying baby), and ultimately resulted in a missed connection/flight. That about sums up the difference between the US and Europe in regards to family-friendliness. #americanfail
Take your best friend BOB. For those not familiar, the BOB Revolution is a fancy (and expensive) fold-up SUV stroller. It was the most expensive item on my baby registry. AND the CPU (cost-per-use), for me, has come down to mere coins. But I hail from a mountain town and need fresh air at least an hour a day and am on my 2nd child (and 1st BOB). My BOB has flown on over 40 flights; It goes everywhere our family does. We essentially consider BOB an extension of our family (we refer to it as Roberto in Spanish-speaking countries and Robert in French-speaking ones) I tend to think of the BOB as something like a small mobile home: It’s a bassinet in which kids (babes & toddlers) can take full naps (especially on long soothing strolls). We typically store all our carry-on bags (including heavy laptops) under and above it. It has a variety of pockets (especially with a console) to accommodate a full arsenal of child-pacifying devices: snacks, bottles, binkies, sippys and everything else that ends in -ie or y. The BOB folds down in a quick two-step flip maneuver that you can actually manage with the one hand not in the act of pacifying. The BOB fits in the back of a taxi (sometimes you have to remove a wheel) and through the airport x-ray (although when I travel without my husband, I plead ignorance and opt for the stroller pat-down instead). In addition to being a portable crib (offering both shade and seclusion when needed) the BOB gives you wheels for that impossibly heavy car seat. (It will save your back in addition to your sanity.) It might be counter-intuitive that something so big can be so essential to travel, but IT IS. And it’s free: Airlines do not surcharge you for it. You drop it off as you enter the plane and pick it up as you get off the plane. It’s like the ultimate, free, goes-everywhere, travel cart. (Also, these vehicles are often so good that you can easily buy one used and get the same ROI out of it.) I like the Revolution BOB Revolution (specifically) because I do a lot of “strolling” on snow, ice, gravel, sand, and mud. I won’t lie – it was embarrassingly eye-catching in Paris next to all those prim prams, but I’m only buying ONE stroller, and I need my baby-vehicle to take on sandy beaches, airports, and icy mountains alike. In this case, I will accept my American-ness.
Change your pace & expectations. It took me about 10-minutes to book my tickets (oh, those ticket-booking adrenaline rushes!). It took me about 2-weeks before the reality hit: Wait a minute. I’m going to travel alone, on multiple (and red-eye) planes, with a 6-month old baby, and no husband, with over 24-hours of transit time in each direction? It’s at that point that I sent out apologetic disclaimers to my host/friends in France about the potential realities of the trip: sleepless *nursing* nights, jet lag issues, sleep schedule maneuvering, baby-food making, cranky baby = cranky mom, on-and-on-and-on. I have great friends. They replied that they had adaptable schedules and eager arms – which turned out to be true and essential. (See point below.) And the trip, in the end was incredibly enjoyable. Yes. The nights were rough (but aren’t they always? Home or away?) and the baby had her good moments and bad (#par).
Here’s the thing: you just need to flip your thinking – and shift your strategy to capitalization. It’s all about capitalizing on nap times for long brunches and even-longer country-side strolls. It’s about creating a simpe centerpiece for your day such as visiting a local famers market, where babe can enjoy the foreign colors, smells and flavors as much as you. Or spending the day on an educational tour & truffle hunt or a long walking tour of a biodynamic vineyard. It’s about early bedtimes, and long, late dinners with exceptional company. It’s about loving the urban trekking and street scenery, perhaps in lieu of quiet museums.
You know how having a child makes a solo trip to the grocery store a vacation? Well it’s the same. Those simple travel experiences that you maybe took for granted when you used to travel alone – you still find those moments, and because they are a bit more rare, a bit more hidden, a bit more elusive — when you do capture them, lord, they are glorious. That baby sleeping under the tree through your 3-hour lunch in a garden while you sip rosé in the sun. Uh-mazing. Those French grandmothers sneaking a peak and checking to make sure your baby isn’t too warm under her blankets? Priceless. That best friend sweeping your child away just when your eyes begin to water in exasperation? Heart-expanding. That flight attendant or seat-neighbor who offers to hold your baby while you use the restroom. God bless her. And that rush of love for humans inspired by your gratitude for her.
Get creative. I’ve only got two arms and I’m not going to waste one carrying around a travel crib or roller bag. So here’s what I did:
I investigated all my host’s largest suitcases but settled on a large cardboard box for my babe’s crib. I put it right next to my bed, where she was able to see me. She slept about as well as 6-months old sleep. (I’m not a sleep-training nazi, which means I was stoked if I was up less than 3x a night.)
Similarly, scarfs and baby blankets tend to run in the same shapes, so I opted for scarfs in the softest fabrics and patterns & colors that fit into my capsule travel wardrobe – so that they could do the double-duty (triple if you include nursing cover) of blanketing baby. Pictured: babe wrapped in Lululemon Vinyasa Scarf and also in Patagonia’s (soft as a blanket) Better Sweater Coat.
Go Hands Free. The reason for all the double-duty, of course, is that my goal was hands-free luggage. And hands-free luggage means no rolling-bags or suitcases. Rather, I opted for the following combination which keeps my hands free for pushing the Bob or carrying the babe:
- Collapsible/Ultralight Baby Bag (I love the ultralight Patagonia bags.)
- Shoulder Bag/Purse (that can also get tucked away & double as a baby-bag). (Latico has an awesome line of shoulder bags that function perfectly as baby bags, such as this one: Latico Shoulder Bag in Poppy).
- Duffle bag that converts to a backpack. I use Patagonia’s Black Hole 60L Bag. It’s perfect. As is everything made by Patagonia. (I work in the guiding industry and am lucky enough to receive Patagonia pro-deals, which is the only way I can afford their products, but you will not find a bigger fan of Patagonia the company, gear and ethic
than me. They do regularly have 50% off sales – so get on the email list.)
- Some kind of baby wearing device that can be stowed away into my shoulder bag
and/or baby bag (depending on which combination I’m sporting). I preferred the ERGObaby Carrier and Infant Insert when my babies were small (which allows them to snuggle in and sleep all day) and the BABYBJORN Carrier after 6-months (after which my babes like to face outward and watch the world).
Bring and make friends. Now this was a bit of a surprise for me, but as it turns out, nothing attracts new friends and sweet acts of kindness like a baby. And it was a cross-cultural trend! Young mothers appeared suddenly to help me clip my baby carrier. Waiters pulled up iphone pictures of their toddlers. Pilots stepped out of cockpits to (try to) break down or set up the Bob. Couples coo-ed and played peek-a-boo from between the plane seats. Older mothers shared stories of how they used to travel with their babies in the 70’s. And gentlemen rushed from all corners to the overhead bins if I so much as glanced upward. Really, the kindness of strangers has never been so showcased in my life. I was humbled and honored.
Of course I ALSO had the good fortune of meeting three of my best girlfriends in-country. And, well, enough said, right. A good girlfriend equals (and sometimes beats) a husband when it comes to helping out with a babe. I had three. Three who encouraged me to nap while they cooked and go to bed early while they cleaned. I was drowning in gratitude, admiration and love for them. And also thankful for the shared adventure, which deepened our friendship further, as all quality excursions out-of-the-norm do. Moral of the story: Find a friend/sister for your adventure.
Create Capsule Travel Wardrobes for both mom & babe. If the term “capsule wardrobe” is new to you, google it and you’ll literally get the picture.
The concepts are:
- quality over quantity
- a cohesive color-scheme that allows for endless mix and matching options with adaptable basics (no one-hit-wardrobe-wonders allowed)
- travel-friendly fabrics like Tencel (this stuff is wash-friendly, wrinkle-free, supposedly a sustainable fabric and all-around-amazing)
- bringing in the color & character with accessories (scarfs, jewelry, etc)
- versatility: shirts/dresses that can be dressed up or down, pieces that offer a thousand layering combinations, t-shirts that can wear as pajamas, etc.
- a plan that involves washing items or all your clothing on occasion
- a strategy (imagine that!) other than toss everything in your bag till it’s full
The end result (for me on this trip) was two tiny stacks of clothing (one for momma and one for babe) that packed down to nothing. There was actually swimming room in my duffle. The hardest part of this strategy is resisting the (oddly insane) urge to fill up that emptiness. But that space came in so handy when I wanted to fit both my shoulder bag and baby bag in there. And imagine my surprise and delight when I didn’t have to buy any additional bag for souvenirs! Capsule travel wardrobe = game changer.
Keep calm. Have fun. Not like constant fun. But moments of fun. Okay. Here’s a good place for the disclaimer that despite all the sweet, smiley pictures of happy/sleeping baby, this trip was far from floating on clouds of baby powder.
The pictures I didn’t take:
- Me scrubbing out a diaper blow-out out of the baby carrier in the airport restroom.
- The bags under my eyes the night the baby woke up every single hour and I was feeling enormous angst about keeping hosts up all night.
- My panic attack on my last flight (after missing my connection) where I was seated in a middle seat and I didn’t move an inch for 6-hours in fear of waking an exhausted-prone-to-crying baby.
- My emotional breakdown upon return, collapsing from travel exhaust yet having to pick up full-time work and full-time motherhood without pause.
- My toddler (at home) tantrums for attention after his mother was absent for 2-weeks. My fried-husband needing a break and, rather, receiving a wife with her energy tank on empty.
But here’s the deal. I keep trying to recall, for example, how I dealt with the jet-lag for the baby – and while that subject feels so foggy I can’t even offer a tip on the topic –it is moments like THIS that puncture my memory in clarity and flavor the trip in its entirety…
Okay. For those specifics-seekers out there. Here’s my visual and affiliated/linked packing list:
- BABYBJORN Carrier
- Pacifiers & Pacifier Clip
(b/c you do NOT want to lose those).
- Baby Bunting Suit
- Purse or Shoulder Bag that doubles as Baby Bag
- The Sun Magazine (advertisement-free literary magazine that I LOVE more than anything that comes in the mail. Short stories, interviews, poetry and photography that will melt your heart and making you feel human again. And in perfect motherhood-sized reading snippets.)
- Electronics/Phone charger(s)
- Lululemon Vinyasa Scarf that doubles as baby blanket
- Passports & Appropriate Travel Visas
- Lavender Essential Oil (to calm baby and give her a sense of stability in all the movement)
- Lightweight Muslin Swaddle Blankets for accidents, spills, and all the other whoops-stuff.
- Patagonia Better Sweater Jacket (soft enough to double as a baby blanket)
- Ear buds
- Sunnies & Lip Gloss
- Manual Breast Pump. I bring and use only for emergencies (if I need to give the baby a bottle rather than the breast for some reason)
- Vitamins (in travel case)
- Baby Monitor (never used on this trip, but has come in handy on many travels)
- Momma’s travel capsule clothing
- Stainless Steel Water Bottle (with no plastic parts)
- All-weather boots that can pull off Paris as well
- My favorite (Le Mystere) Nursing Bra. 2nd child means there’s a lot of public nursing action. For some reason I believe that a pretty bras neutralizes the spill on my shirt.
- Another versatile (soft and wash-friendly) scarf that doubles as a baby blanket
- Bibs – in effort to save baby’s limited wardrobe
- Travel Plug Adapter Kit
- Baby Nail Scissors
- Not pictured. But THIS Panasonic (DMC-GM1KD) Mirrorless Digital Camera is the perfect travel-sized mirrorless (similar to DSLR) camera. (I’ll give it a proper test drive in Brazil next month)
- Emergency baby meds/NSAIDS
- Snacks (like teething wafers) that involve lots of chewing
and buy momma an extra few minutes of quiet time
- Baby Boots (the only that I can get to stay on my kids. Expensive. But cost-per-wear is low.)
- Baby Tights. So much easier than pants & socks!
- Baby capsule travel wardrobe.
- Versatile baby toy (like this Lamaze Moose) that clips onto car seat handle (and won’t get lost)
- Blow-out outfit (for the carry-on). Don’t ever leave home without one.
- Diapers (by The Honest Company). *I also had my host in France pick up some diapers locally, as they would have taken up too much room in my bag otherwise. So I packed only the diapers that I needed for transit.
- Wipes (by The Honest Company). Handy for all kinds of messes and stain removal.
- ultralight Patagonia bag (it packs down to nothing!)
- A bag of baby formula for emergencies (a godsend when I got trapped in the 3-hour immigration line in DC)
- Silicone Baby Bottle (by The Honest Company)
- Baby jammies and muslin swaddle blankets
How to hatch an inspiration.
Sit on it, but notice it flaring up every time you go for a walk in the woods.
Note that you hike faster and arrive sooner.
Try to write it down, but find you letters dyslexic in their excitement.
Sum it up in three words and buy the URL.
Do research. Drop vision-seeds on the people you’ll involve.
Wait for blooms.
Think of your commitment to the vision in the past tense.
Till it is.
Buy a flight that you haven’t thought through.
Know that you have 24-hours to cancel without penalty.
Let the next 24-hours get busy.
Assume permission from your partner.
Ignore some realities.
Picture a photo from the yet-unrealized adventure.
Hold it. Turn your head sideways and stare at it.
Note if you are smiling.
Talk about it.
If someone looks through the window and retorts with the things they regret or don’t in life.
Know you’re onto something.
Watch for recurring themes surfacing from the mundane,
Things you never noticed before, now a chorus of encouragement in one direction.
Look for puns.
Subconscious’ hallmark humor.
Let your mind spin out. Fall deeply asleep.
Wake up to the feeling of having engaged in a profound conversation.
Go about your day.
Note if you feel lighter.
Let it knot your stomach like a cup of coffee.
Let it leak from your subconscious like yellow evening sun.
Let it expand till you feel yourself about to lose balance.
And keep sitting.
Till it cracks.
Wisdom, they call it, at the root of that reptilian-twitch,
I put the mundane down, look over my shoulder and slowly follow my body out the door.
His words are muffled by the back of his bent curious head:
“Mama, I found something!”
Of course he did. And I immediately know it’s that something that righted my spine like an antenna.
I tread quickly across the grass and very intentionally throw a thick blanket on my inclined-haste as I pull him closer to my body. To inspect the under-belly of stone we step over daily.
And there she is. Upside down and in full display of that most-notorious mark.
“Love, this is a very dangerous spider,” I assess.
He bends in closer and asks, “It is?”
I pull him back, “It is.”
After I explain indepth, I ask him to summarize his understanding.
“So if this spider bites me, I have to go to the hos-bi-tal. And get lots of band-aids. Dora band-aids.”
I hesitate. And then concede.
I send a picture of the red hourglass to my husband and father-in-law.
They confirm the diagnosis with the echoing commands to kill it.
Everything in me curls inward. Killing is not my thing and I cling to my standby, transparency:
“Your papa says I have to kill it. But I don’t want to.”
An invisible hand clutches my heart as my 2-year literally shuffles a step forward and says, “Mama. Don’t worry. You don’t have to kill it. I will kill it for you.”
Adoration aside, I get lost in mysterious feelings of gender-challenge, and thus go looking for an appropriate tool.
A snow-shovel seems to provide me the level of distance from the task that I seek.
I apologize outloud. And the deed is quickly done.
But I couldn’t hang my new heaviness up in the garage with the snow shovel.
And not a day later, I found my toddler thumbing the life out of ants.
My talk of momma-ants and pappa-ants and their haunted, empty, lives in the absence of their thumbed-out son and daughter-ants,
The trip to the science center where a Theraphosidae took huge, hairy, deliberate eight-legged steps up his tiny arm,
“It was a NICE spider Mamma!”
I praised this declaration with all heights of sing-song recognition.
But the daddy-long still lost all his legs in the single unsupervised leg of travel between the bedroom and patio.
“Can I put fire on the bumble bee?”
My heart stubbs out like a cigarette.
And just when I have convinced my tortured soul that this might simply all be the natural course of 2-year old boy’s experimentation with life and death, he will say something like:
“But Mama, you killed that spider.”
And my shoulders slump in defeat.
I did. I killed that spider.
And although my son will, certainly, learn through his own trial and error of the distance between life and death and snow shovel.
It’s my lesson on teaching,
that has sunk in.
On the day you were conceived, July 2nd, 2014, Mama fell into a deep afternoon nap and woke up to a “familiar knocking” in her womb. Her cobwebby recollection was of a dream in which she was searching for the permission to name her to-be-born. Ten days later your conception was identified by a rarely recognized dip in basal temperature; a clue your hopeful mother clutched secretly and close to her heart. Four days later, the pregnancy in which you were enveloped was confirmed with the faintest of purple lines that your Papa insisted he could not see. But Mama knew. Only days later, a local healer with a reputation for eyes that sometimes saw more than you wanted to know, glanced over your Mama’s left shoulder and declared that the pregnancy would be healthy and a reunion of lives long-bonded. On that day, Mama cried a fountain of salty, happy, relieved tears. In the months that Mama carried you, she was often sick with insomnia, pains, anxiety, exhaust, and a dizzy belly. But she gave of herself graciously and embraced her belly with endearment. On the day you were born, Papa wanted to fish, but Mama refused to let him; she had a feeling something big was stirring in her belly. Ten days beyond the due date calculated by your conception, Mama was feeling the fire of readiness. In a truly sour mood and moment, she called a best childhood friend who inspired undulating waves of belly laughs which your Mama would later call out as the catalyst for her labor. On the day you were born, which was the 14th of days in which she clutched her belly in hourly contractions (yes, 14th), Mama felt a slight progression in her laboring while sitting in the grass of the lower homestead park, watching your black-lab-buddy-to-be backflipping in aggressive attempts to catch a flailing frisbee sent into the air by your madly-giggling 2-year old brother. Momma took a long hot shower when she got home, and in the process of getting dressed, reached inside a deep laundry bin and felt a foreign cracking inside her belly as the waters in which you floated broke and announced your impending arrival. Mama instructed Papa, without hesitation, to pack the hospital bags. In the car, Papa called your grandma Patri and doula Emma. When Mama and Papa arrived at the hospital, Mama calmly checked in downstairs while Papa got lost looking for her on the second floor. When they finally united in the birthing ward, your parents were told that all the rooms were full with a wave of other mothers inspired into labor by the pull of the full “blood” moon. On the day you were born, Mama began her labor by bouncing on a birthing ball, excitedly chatting about how much energy she was feeling for the first time in weeks after nightfall. Not more than an hour later, Mama got quiet and closed her eyes as you would the shades for the evening. She crawled through dog, cat and child poses on a mat on the floor in search of a position, any position, that would ease the pressure. In the room you were born, the lights were low, soft hypno-birthing affirmations streamed from a speaker, and voices murmured gentle encouragements as hands were laid on Mama’s back, hips, and shoulders in soft touches of encouragement. Mama’s doctor later recollected that each time she came into the room, she would pause in the hallway and take long, slow, intentional breaths to leave the quick steps and general angst of the birthing ward outside the door; malaise had no place in the sacred space into which you’d be born. On the night you were born, Mama only occasionally opened and uplifted her eyes, in the short pauses between intensifying contractions, to look up through the dark windows and witness the blood moon traversing the night sky on its way into eclipse. Having chosen to labor naturally, Mama’s contractions increased in severity until she could barely murmur that she didn’t think she could do it. Mama would later remember the confident caresses of your Papa and the whispers of your grandmother repeating, “You’ve got this. You’ve got this.” On the hour of your birth, Mama crawled onto the hospital bed and pleaded, “Can I push yet?” When the doctor nodded her permission, Mama sighed with relief and the pain immediately eased off as she worked to find an elusive position to bring you into the world. When Mama gave up on finding a perfect position, she resolved to just urge her entire body in unison, and sighed deeply when she finally heard the encouraging words of her doctor declaring, “There you go. Here she comes….” Mama engaged her full body in a final exhalation. The pain blew out like a candle and your rigid, purple, screaming body was placed on your Mama’s chest. In her ecstasy, she barely noticed your distress, and simply cradled your cries in the arms of her trembling, tearful, grateful being. It wasn’t until your paternal grandmother remarked, “I’ve never seen a Cogswell cry like that!” that your Mama finally focused on your face; upon this first lock of eyes, you immediately calmed in a pattern that foot-printed the following months of your infancy. The day you were born was April 4th, 2015. Throughout the day your were born, Papa ushered away the nurses that wanted to bathe you, and thus sweat, blood, and vernix mingled in your first skin-upon-skin embraces with your parents. Before any heads were laid to rest, the hospital staff had written your name on the nursing white board: Riva G. Riva, as a root of Rivera, a family tree of which your parents wanted to emphasize the connection and branching. In Hindi, riva means, “one who moves” which was determined fitting to the union of global travels and the birthplace — India — of “Slina” (Slade & Christina). In Latin, riva means to, “regain strength,” a tribute to the arduous path of miscarriages that led to this final birth blessing. In Spanish/French, riva means, “from the river bank/shore”; a gift of respect to the Rivera lineage and their ancestral relationship with water. Your middle initial/name, “G” pays homage to the Cogswell Family, and in Hindi, जी, which is phonetically pronounced the same, is an honorific suffix given to those of earned wisdom, age or respect. On the day you were born, you were placed on a scale that registered your weight of 8lb and 2oz. It would not be until weeks later that your Mama would notice the tan and quarter-sized birthmark on your inner thigh that you share with your mother, Aunt, Uncle, two cousins and grandfather; a true stamp of the family heritage and affirmation of the appropriateness of your given name. On the day you were born, your brother kissed your forehead and without a single hesitation relinquished his single-child status. On the day you were born, your Mama and Papa’s hearts cracked, again, in two, as scar-tissue replaced the emptiness of what would never again be the same without you.
(posting some older drafts before they are outdated by the seasons)
If you have ever stared suspiciously at the stars,
you have wondered what it feels like to be pregnant.
Both states stammer in the face of other-worldliness.
In the suddenly quiet corner of the room,
the run-on sentences of scientists, priests, and atheists all stutter to silence the same.
There is a human being hiccuping in my belly.
And there is nothing,
that can follow, from one side to the other, the leap of that crevasse.
can respectfully touch the feet of that fact.
There is a human being hiccuping in my belly.
The statement itself tremors.
No amount of repetition stills it.
For a tiny season in my human life,
and one yet permanently obscured to all males on this planet,
I simultaneously house
and surrender to
the involuntary flutter
of a miniature practicing diaphragm.
Tiny perfect practice grasps for air.
That will one day become
sighs, gasps, laughs, snores, heaves
and even a last, subsiding, breath.
But will mostly spend the 86400 seconds of every day
unconsciously streaming and stringing one moment
to the next.
Existence hiccups to life.