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Motherhood: it’s full-on.

“There’s always magic.” –James Phillips

We’re moving house, which is Australian for moving into a new house, in a couple of weeks. The change will be swift–two weeks to pack up our Aussie life and unpack it again–but not far, as we’re relocating to a street just across the road, a couple of minutes closer to The Kid’s school on a block where several classmates live. It was a property that The Husband and I gazed adoringly at on our phones. There’s a wine fridge. Still, it will be strange to say goodbye to the walls that welcomed us our first day here and have held us every day in the year since.

But, as I mentioned, there’s a wine fridge.

I will miss the balcony off our master bedroom, which, when my first friend here saw it, prompted her to exclaim what a great place it would be to drink wine. Then she faltered, asking if it was a bad sign that she associated wine with everything. I don’t remember how I assured her this wasn’t the case, but I remember thinking that we were perfect for each other and she was always welcome here. I thought about that the other day, as I sat on that balcony while TH bathed the boys down the hall, and the sun dipped below the horizon. I took it in: the view of the suburb beyond ours, the countless trees, the harbour, the boats. I took it all in and considered how a glass of wine, like a good rug, would really pull the moment together, but I was done with my quota for the evening, and then I wondered, like my friend, why I felt I needed the boozy add-on when there was already so much beauty. And for once, it wasn’t guilt or accusation that spoke first, but this idea: that this need to celebrate beauty as fully as possible, with all resources available, could be a gift. A thirst that is a sign of design, of the ever-present more that is just beyond our grasp.

I mean, I’ve had a lot of therapy, and we’ve ruled out alcoholism.

The Australians have another phrase I love: full-on. What I’ve gathered from context tells me that this means intense, unabated, complete. What an appropriate time in my life to learn it, as I’m pelted with hundreds of questions a day from two boys, one of whom is making up for four years of silence and it shows: “what if we don’t” and other contrarian positions constantly offered up for my explanation; discussions of the shape of brake lights and other conversations I never expected to have; and, perhaps most fraught and wonderful, questions about his special brain and entreaties to tell me its story again and again. We have identified so far that within his head lies an Apple operating system while his brother’s is an HP; that he hears sounds, and sees lights and the world, differently, and that, as he repeated to his therapist the other day, God gave him this special brain for a reason.

It’s a weighty responsibility, to provide the framework for a narrative that will so powerfully impact how he sees himself for years to come. It’s all the things: hard and awful and wonderful and not enough and too much. It’s full-on.

On Saturday the boys and I went to a birthday party that, between lunch and cake, included a disco room filled with lights, music, and a vaguely menacing life-sized plush monkey who doled out hugs and high-fives. Taylor Swift blasted from the speakers and my two–at turns shy and bold, serious and comical, all in their own ways–took to the dance floor without a second thought and began breaking it down, limbs flying, knees bouncing, heads bobbing. It was gorgeous. Then they pulled me with them, and I hesitated before noticing the other parents out there. In another life or locale or from a more commonplace cynical attitude I might have later identified the moment as absent of dignity, but what it actually lacked was fear. We partied alongside our children and it was unabashed and beautiful. It was full-on.

The next day we had the family of one of TK’s classmates come over for dinner, and the adults sat on the deck while the kids played. “Isn’t it so amazing that we get to live here?” the other mum, a lifelong resident of this suburb, observed, as we all stared across the harbour. Before their arrival I had taken my first Xanax in months because of my social anxiety and, in the moment there on the deck, I embraced the help of it rather than the guilt that is so often more readily available. I had sorted out dinner for eight people and I was actually relaxed. Minor miracle there, perhaps. Or, as the kids might call it, magic.

I’ll go with grace. Like the rain that began falling while we sat protected under a roof, or the wind and salt that had ripped through me on a solo trip earlier to the beachfront: nothing lacking. Full-on grace.

Dying Again

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This morning I was awake at 3 am, hacking up pieces of lung while The Husband slept peacefully beside me and The Kid lay between us, having crawled into our bed at some point in the night as he always does, despite the rules I set about cosleeping before having children. I could barely catch my breath, inhaling raggedly just to sputter into my pillow. This happened, naturally, in our bedroom, which some recent child-sized guests referred to as a playroom because of all the toys on the floor there, despite the rules I set, pre-kids again, about not allowing such objects to take over our decor.

We actually have a real playroom. It is currently being used for storage.

Mondays are our (my) hardest day: Little Brother is home at “mommy school,” I have to clean up and leave the house for hours to accomodate the cleaners (#typeA; #firstworldproblems), we pick TK up early from school and rush from there to our suburb’s village area for speech therapy, then we rush from there to another suburb for his behavioural therapy. All the while I’m with either one or two kids, answering questions and refereeing fights and driving on the left side of the road. By the end of it, I’m too tired for even wine. We open the door to our takeaway dinner and I review, from a hot bath (#firstworldproblems), whether I have any deep regrets over how I’ve parented over the last twelve hours. Then two small boys fall asleep in their bedroom on either side of me and I sneak away to my own room, where I pass out and occasionally awaken briefly to hack up a lung.

This is the list-form version of our life. Of our–ugh–Mondays. I have lived so much of my years in list form, hopping from one activity to the next, setting goals and reaching them/re-assessing them. Ticking items off lists. This morning, I struggled to drink what coffee hadn’t spilled from my mug when someone or other bumped into the table where it was sitting. Two boys climbed all over me, demanding to play. I took my sore ribs into the kitchen and set out the makings for TK’s lunch, and he followed me over, whines accompanying him, yelling for me to play Monopoly with him even as he directed me on how to prepare his food. And I don’t know, maybe I was too tired to snap. I do know that I wanted to, and that I’m usually so up for it. But something’s been happening lately; I don’t know if it’s spring and its longer days and cool breezes, or the relationships here that are becoming part of my emotional scaffolding, or the book project that has, with my writing partner, become a lifeline, or the very real divine love I’ve been feeling more strongly than…maybe ever. But I looked down on him and in some other person’s patient voice explained the situation and that I’d be there in a minute.

Then I gave myself some mental space to acknowledge how f#cking ridiculous it is to have two small people making insane and impossible demands on your time, and how normal it is to grow weary of that.

Then I checked Twitter.

Then…then I sat down. And I played Monopoly. And as I did that, I looked at TK across from me and LB, who had by now climbed aboard my lap, and I could see, briefly, what was really going on here–what I miss when it’s all become a list. Which is that they want more of me than I can give. But I can give some. In this case, I gave five minutes. And it was enough. They were thrilled. It filled them. And, contrary to expectation, it didn’t empty me, but filled me too. In five minutes, something dead within me was raised to life.

Not bad for a Tuesday morning.

TK has been asking a lot of questions about death lately, and heaven, and man is that shit hard. I want to engage his curiosity even as I feel not up to the task in any way. But we’re all doing it, together, and I suspect it won’t all be resolved by tonight at dinner, and that has to be okay. Can’t tick it off the list yet. What we’re ticking off instead, which is adding up, really, are moments. Moments of friendships growing deeper, of kids their age coming over and falling asleep beside them while the adults laugh and drink way too much downstairs. Of being welcomed into other homes ourselves. Of having full calendars and exhausted bodies. Of putting up a Christmas tree by an open door in seventy-degree weather at 7 pm when it’s still bright outside and feeling so wrong about it, even though I’m listening to the Christmas music channel on Amazon, because some things may never slide completely into place and that has to be okay too.

This morning I drove home by myself, both boys ensconced in their beloved schools, and felt the quiet. I considered how it is most of the time, with one or two in the backseat keeping me awake. Killing the quiet. And how one way of looking at it might be that they are waking me up. Bringing me back to life.

Falling and Staying

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“They’re called jacarandas,” she told me, as we stared out the window after The Kid’s therapy session. “They have those purple blooms and they all come out at the same time. You see them everywhere.”

She wasn’t lying. A couple of weeks prior, I’d pointed out the trees to the boys on a car ride. “Look at the purple flowers!” I told them, and we all stared. Now they notice them everywhere we go, Little Brother pointing and exclaiming, “Look, Mommy! Purple flowers all over the ground!”

Because that’s what the petals do: they fall, covering the ground beneath the trees, concrete and grass alike, in purple. A floor of purple, the same colour as the hydrangeas at my wedding. They’re everywhere, and I love them.

Because I’m falling too, in this season of spring, our first spring here in Sydney. I’m falling for the sea of purple outside my window that, from the corner of my eye, looks like yet another body of water next to the bay that’s always there. I’m falling for the kids in my boys’ lives: the way LB’s friend ran up to him at school and grabbed him into a bear hug and they both fell to the floor laughing; the mum who told me through tears in her eyes about how her own boy came home and told her, “Sometimes I don’t understand James,” and as she wondered how to respond to his inevitable questions, he instead concluded, “because he’s American.”

I love him.

I love the rest of the mums, who all gathered around a table for dinner and way too many drinks the other night, discussing our kids and life and everything. For the friendships that were formed and continued and solidified then and now. For the friends who read my writing (and like me anyway) and whose kids bounce toward me during reading and call me by my name and walk to school with us.

I love the speech TK gave to his class last week–his life thus far, because damn has it been a doozy–and I love how he giddily and shyly stood in front of them and they all clapped and he finished by yelling, “TA DA!” I love the tears in his therapists’ eyes at his progress and joy over his accomplishments, to which they remain committed. I love the way TK bounded into school this morning, when months ago he would have fought it, to pass out an invitation to each kid in his class for his birthday party, shouting some of their names across the school yard.

I love going to the movies (cinema) and not feeling compelled to immediately locate an exit in case a deranged gunman shows up.

I don’t love hangovers, but I’m working on that.

I love seeing my kids grow here, and remembering that phrase I used to hear before they were born, when people would say they were falling in love with theirs, and I would gag on the sweetness of it. Then mine came along and I knew I loved them, but in love? That was a stretch. But feeling TK nestle into me on the couch, or hearing LB say, “I keep you safe, Mommy. I love you,” I feel it: the falling in love that is so sporadic but true, fraught but there, interspersed among moments of insanity and irritation and discipline and fighting, but there. And it strikes me that the truest part of love isn’t the falling, nice as that is (especially in New York with The Husband over endless tapas and wine), but is this:

The staying.

We love most not by feeling the fall but by choosing to stay.

And I wonder what that means for us here, when TK told me over dinner the other night, “I want to stay in Australia forever.” Will we? We have years to decide and a new house to pick in the meantime. We have progress to make and homesickness to endure and fights to weather and tears to dry and laughs to release. We have stories to tell, and chapters to add on to those stories. For now, though, there is so much life here. And I love it.

TK’s teacher told me the other day that she heard him tell it to another teacher, the thing I’ve been telling him: “My brain is different.” She and the other teachers present all looked at each other and felt the beautiful weight of it, this difference and his awareness of it and pride in it. I think about the crepe myrtle outside our house in Atlanta and how much I loved it, how I dreaded missing it, and how it’s been replaced by the jacaranda: something different.

I’m living, and loving, the different.

Do You Know Who You Are

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Sometimes the world seems against you
The journey may leave a scar
But scars can heal and reveal just
Where you are
The people you love will change you
The things you have learned will guide you
And nothing on earth can silence
The quiet voice still inside you
And when that voice starts to whisper
Moana, you’ve come so far
Moana, listen
Do you know who you are?

“What will you be for Halloween?” I asked her, when her grin had greeted us on the school grounds. “I’m not very excited about it,” she answered, and I asked her why. “Because if I’m bad today, then I don’t get to go out for Halloween!”

I laughed. “Can’t you just be good then?” I asked.
She considered it for a moment, glum. “But being bad is my THING!”

There are days like these, when the boiling heat of yesterday has given way to cool breezes, and The Kid holds my hand on the way into school and, hours ago, sidled up next to me on the couch, placing his hand on my back and smiling conspiratorially at me over the antics of Little Brother. Days when life feels easy and light and full of promise, and I notice the blooms on the trees and tell TK and LB about them on the way to school, mentions of spring in the air directing our conversation.

Then there are the days that are supposed to be easy: the weekdays I’ve claimed for myself that instead become reclaimed by stomach bugs and sick kids. The weekend days that are claimed by birthday parties that end up becoming existential crises.

Saturday was one of those. Birthdays and their parties have been dropped across our year like gifts, invitations extended in a gracious series of welcomes into other lives. For me, though, they are fraught. I gear up mentally, coaching myself: Let him be him. Don’t hover. Just relax. Meanwhile, I stay clenched and sweaty for the two-hour duration, monitoring his social involvement and snack consumption while ruing over my own unavailability for adult conversation or just the sheer exhaustion that leads me to the periphery with him, gritting my teeth at his need for me expressed in a constant pulling of my arm even as I know what it feels like to be an outsider and want nothing more than to be his safe harbour.


These social events are full of kind people, one of them asking me in typical Australian phrasing, “How’s he going?” And I replied in positive terms. Later, I wished I had been more honest: That during the week, when he’s with his therapist at school, he’s going great, the reports are uplifting, his involvement certain and comfortable. But now, in this non-structured environment with a Batman entertainer who looks like he just stepped out of a bar and would very much like to go back, TK struggles to find his place, and it’s often right beside me. That this worries me and takes me years into the future, wondering how he’ll fare socially–whether the kids will continue to be kind and embrace him, or if they’ll leave him behind. I want to say that when I compare him to himself, he’s doing phenomenally well, but that when I watch his classmates climbing trees and interacting easily, I feel like crying. At how each step forward for him is a victory but also a battle. I forget sometimes about the battle part. I want that part to be done.

I don’t say any of that, because six-year-old birthday parties aren’t the place to empty your heart and guts in polite company over deep talks about identity. So I smile, and save it for later.

And there is, thankfully, a later. There is prayer and there are talks with The Husband and voice messages sent across the sea and there are chats here, around tables while our kids are playing, with friends who fight their own battles and who dive into the depths with me. There is another Aussie phrase–“Ah yeah, but look”–a preface that I’ve grown to love because real shit usually follows, not the polite Southern cliches of my youth. This particular day, over morning tea, I mentioned to my friend a story I’d heard recently, of a young mom with an awful diagnosis, and when I told her that comparing my life to hers made me aware of how grateful I should be, she said it:

“Ah yeah but look, you can’t go comparing to everyone else.”

And it didn’t end the conversation, but started it, the talk turning to how we take inventory of our own existences in comparison to others, and how there must be room to vent, to grieve, to talk about all of it. When we went to a movie later that week and I felt tempted to sneer at the neatly-wrapped ending, she had a different take and suddenly, I was free to shed my cynicism.

I am the sentimentalist and the cynic, the one in denial and constantly confronting, the warrior advocate and the one at the edges wishing to curl into the fatal position. I am all over the place, my fears and grief and love and anger and faith and lack of it propelling me over an emotional spectrum that leaves me exhausted and wondering:

Will we all be okay?

LB showed up to soccer ready this week, his lack of participation last week eclipsed by a near over-participation this time around, as he responded to every command from the instructors whether they were addressing him or not. My on-the-periphery TK suddenly arose and turned to me. “I want to go out there too,” he said. “I want a soccer team.”

We can all bring out the most surprising things in each other.

And after a birthday party that amounted to psychological warfare for me, TK and I walked out hand-in-hand before he bounded ahead, my fears eclipsed as he skipped, superhero cape trailing behind him, and smiled back to me conspiratorially at the secrets only we share.

Replacement Therapy

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I don’t even like soccer.

Our family of four was at the drill hall on a Saturday morning at 9 am, though, because I pushed us there. A friend from church told me about a preschool-age soccer league meeting there weekly. Her son was on it and she wondered if Little Brother might be interested? I am a Yes person when it comes to my kids, motivated partly by love and largely by guilt, and I considered the fact that LB accompanies The Kid and me to so many therapy appointments, waiting patiently (usually; with the occasional “This is fuck” thrown in, but bygones) for his brother to emerge. It’s time for him to have his own thing, I thought. So we talked it up all week: “You want to play soccer?” And he responded affirmatively: “YES!” he’d exclaim, with a little jump thrown in. Skies were blue, the coast was clear.

Then we arrived. The other kids, who already had one session under their belts, were socialising and kicking and playing. The room buzzed with activity. And LB was all, “Oh HELL naw.”

He wouldn’t put on the shirt. He wouldn’t touch the water bottle. He wouldn’t grab a ball. He climbed up on The Husband like a jungle gym and refused to have anything to do with it. TK begged to go outside; LB begged to go home; TH managed them both while ducking out to take a work call briefly.

And I? I did what I always do in these situations. Outwardly, I drew toward the activity, to remind the kids and instructors that we were still here. Our family was represented, and I was its placeholder. We would make this work, dammit. But interiorly? I retreated. I curled up into a dark corner of myself and the dark thoughts began.

It’s happening all over again.
This was the kid who was going to be your chance to escape from the sidelines, from the questions, from the explanations, from the stares.
But here you are, standing alone again while your child cries. Here you are, in inner turmoil with a fake smile plastered on your face, your insides seething at yet another thing not going the way you planned. At yet another child making things more complicated than you chose.

And, finally…
Life is never going to get better.

These are the whispers and hisses I battle daily, that I confront in the glow of my computer screen and manhandle until I’ve managed to unearth the beauty, or at least choose to believe it exists whether I see it or not. I don’t start there–it’s a road, and the first steps are in darkness. This is no “chin-up” exercise; it is clawing and sweaty and tear-streaked and blood-stained. It’s real, and it’s hard.

(That’s what she said. Thank you, I’ll be here all week, oscillating between extreme moods!)

TH asked me if we should just leave, and I dug in my heels, gritted my teeth, and refused. I’d paid good Australian dollars for this and I’d be damned if we’d give in too easily. I looked at LB, lying on his stomach on the ground at this point like some kind of asshole, and my anger grew. Why are you making this so hard for me? I seethed silently, and then he looked up. He saw whatever horrible look was on my face. And I felt the knife-wound through my heart of all the demands I’ve placed on my children, on myself, on my God, to capitulate to my plan. To what I think is best. And I think, further, of how none of my plans would have gotten me here: to this country, to this family, to this computer.

I want to run, yet I stay. And this, somehow, is grace.

Later, at home, LB puts on the shirt. He kicks the ball around and says he’s going to play soccer next week. And I grin, while thinking that I’ll believe it when I see it. He has about ten weeks to prove it, and maybe it will take that long. Maybe it will take even longer. Maybe it won’t work out at all this season. I’m learning that it takes time for a kid to unspool, to bloom.

At one of the many therapy appointments later that week, LB is not with TK and me. TK climbs into the occupational therapist’s hammock swing, the one he hated and ran away from the first time he saw it, much like LB at soccer practice, and this week he doesn’t want to climb out. He laughs, spinning himself tighter so that we can’t see him, and when we act playfully in return–asking where James is, wondering if he might have fallen asleep–he starts his fake snoring, and giggles from within what now looks like a cocoon.

His therapist turns to me. “He’s had an amazingly successful year, hasn’t he?” she says, and the words are like a balm to the many knife-wounds of the heart of a mother, some self-inflicted by trying to choose my own path, my own sacrifice; some inflicted by the troubles of this world and the hurts our children must endure within it. I think about how often I inwardly accuse my children of misplacing things, plans, goals I had, when the truth is that they’ve replaced them. With what is often harder, and better.

There is room for grief, the space that must be made when the plans we had must die so that new ones can be born in their place. Grace makes the space for that grief, and it has the power to transform it into something different: not the “yes, finally” of triumphant parenting and living and faith that meets our expectations, but the “oh, I see” recognition of what we’re actually meant for. For sidelines and fields, for explanations and silence, for pain and joy. TK slowly unspools from his tightly-wound state and pokes his head out of the cocoon, grinning, and the only word I have is yes.

Will Write for Attention

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My fingers hovered over the keys, wondering whether this was the right or wrong thing to do. Forty years’ practice keep me coming back to this default: not the nuanced, winding halls of grace but the black-and-white certainty of law. I considered and weighed, and I posted.

There are three memories right off the top of my head, and who knows if more lurk beneath? Time continues to march on, though I gave it no such permit to do so, and it’s been around twenty years since the last one.

Read the rest over at Mockingbird.

Found in Translation

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“That can’t be a boat,” I told him, my back bent over the bath and the weariness brought on by a full day settling into my bones. “It has holes in it. It won’t float. A boat has to float.”

The Kid narrowed his eyes, stared at the piece of plastic, and finally stopped arguing. Stopped asking questions–the question-asking being a skill he has artfully mastered. He got it, and placed the erstwhile “boat” back in the water.

I, on the other hand, keep staring at it. And thinking. About all the things, all the people, I’ve tried to turn into boats. Into something other than what they were made to be. Which, I’m coming to understand, is the culprit behind every frustration, every harsh word, every rolled eye and sigh and expletive-laden tirade: this need for everything/one to follow my orders.

I am being broken of it, beautifully. Painfully, and beautifully.

My memory has no time for details, so I remember in sepia-toned Instagram posts now, forty years stretched out in snapshots. And I remember being on the mat at a New York Sports Club one weekday morning during my five-year tenure in the city when Tim Keller drifted through my headphones. The title of the sermon was “The Advocate,” and it changed me. The idea that Someone powerful would be on my side was so intoxicating as to be almost unbelievable. The promise that I had a defender, someone who argued my case and settled in all at once? Freeing. It made the loneliness ebb, and my world looked different. God did too.

Little did I know that I was heading toward that title myself, straight into the hurricane of grace’s primary tool for beautifully and painfully breaking me: parenthood. Specifically, parenting my first child, the one I was convinced was a boat. I kept trying to make him a boat. But neither of us could float on the ocean that life handed to us, so we held hands and sank together.

I’d like to think this part is the resurrection. The beginning of it, at least.

It takes being around him for awhile to understand him, and I’m watching that happen. I’m translating less. With strangers, I still echo him, in a voice that articulates the sounds with which he still struggles. But around the people who are knowing us here, I’m getting less sideways glances, less questioning stares, and more grins. Better, he’s getting more responses, more conversations, more back-and-forth. To know him, it turns out, is not just to love him, but to get him.

And he feels it, the understanding. His confidence is soaring. There was a dads’ breakfast at his school the other day and he marched right up to all of them, showing off his latest toy. “I want to show that guy my car,” he declared with a boldness I never had, and those who know him exclaim over a toy the likes of which they’ve seen a hundred times, and I love them for it. Being understood, having people in his corner and on his side, it’s changing him. He’s trying new things and getting, as he calls it, cheeky, following Little Brother aboard the comedy train. The other night he tried using chopsticks, for God’s sake, as I fumbled with mine, and these are the tiny, constant celebrations that are huge, and we get to have them all because he’s not a boat.

“I wish I had taken a video,” his school therapist said to me the other day, describing TK’s weekly delivery of his “news,” at which he excels now, proudly standing before his class to speak and answer questions. Won’t be long now before he’s telling his own story, before he is his own advocate. Until then, I’ve still got translating to do and asses to kick, because I’ll be damned if he walks through life being dismissed by those who are too impatient to try to understand. And for now, I’ve still got a few stories to tell him, like the one we fixated on this weekend: of another boy with a scar, a boy who was different and didn’t find the place where he fit in until he was eleven, and then discovered what he was made for. What his mother’s love did for him, left upon him, protected him from. The boy who lived, and became a wizard.

The aspirations around here are, for the time being, less lofty. LB says he wants to be a monster for Halloween–fitting. And TK, for his part, answers, “Car.” Fitting also. Neither of them were, I suspect, made to be plain old boats.

We Know the Way

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We keep our island in our mind, and when it’s time to find home…we know the way.

“Where’s James?” the voice carried from the top of the stairs down to where I was sitting, at a table, sparkling wine in front of me and friend to my right on a Friday afternoon. “There he is!” came the reply, and two pairs of legs bounded into a playroom above us, where The Kid and Little Brother were playing, in the home of the girl who found him and the boy who was with her, both classmates of TK’s. The boys and I spent the next couple of hours there, LB doted on by the sisters and egged on by the friend, TK popping onto and off of the trampoline, into and out of conversations. I had a couple of glasses and some conversation of my own, feeling more at home than I could have imagined a year ago. Feeling settled.

I’ve gone from white-knuckling the steering wheel and nearly hitting everything to my left, to relying heavily on GPS to get anywhere other than down the street, to learning backroads and shortcuts like the palm of my hand. And when I think about how I learned the routes, how I found my way, so much of it is owing to paths that came before, that I never would have chosen but that became Our Way, the roadmap for our family engraved through blood, sweat, tears, and, finally, singing.

There is a lot of singing these days. A lot of Moana, specifically.

And a lot of talking. TK did both this week at the speech therapist’s office, a new one closer to our house. New introductions used to be daggers to both of our hearts, the anxiety within each of us fueling the other until we both left the situation besides ourselves…and each other, still, somehow. Now TK walks into a room and gives the stranger The Story of His Life, heavy on the info regarding which car we have and…well, everything, come to think of it, this little fount of knowledge where once there was silence. I had collected him early from school for this appointment and caught him telling the teacher he wanted to pick up the lunch order from the canteen, grinning after a successful gymnastics class, and if you had told me a year ago this would be the scene I was walking into on a Monday afternoon, I would have demanded you sit down and drink the good stuff with me. But at the speech appointment, the therapist could barely get a word in, then as she packed up toward the end he began singing. We’re having conversations about articulation and tongue placement, not coaxing individual sounds out of him, and I am just…in awe.

Both TK and LB have been wanting to hear their birth stories on repeat, and I’ve been telling the blood-free version, though I remember this: that TK’s began with a drop of blood and LB’s with a gush of water, and there was a time between which when I didn’t understand how someone could love their children the same, could avoid having a favourite, could have anything left over once she’d already been through it once. But I think now, after the blood and the water, the therapy and lack of it, the silence and the typical speech development–I think this: what a blessing that it’s all true, that you can love differently yet the same, that the fear your heart won’t expand for the second as much as the first is unfounded and erased.

I think now about how I can lie beside each differently: TK being head to toe with the occasional digging of his hand under my torso for warmth; LB placing his head right next to mine, his breath hot on my cheek. How, after my friend and I spent two hours in a cupcake-decorating class (followed by two even better hours at a wine-tasting festival), I knew from looking at my half-dozen which LB would want and which TK would choose: the brightly-coloured chaotic one stacked high with icing for LB and the shimmery intricate one for TK.

I think about how they each call me the same thing–Mommy–and the word from each can sound so different yet exactly alike.

And these children, these brothers, these paths, are more beautiful for being exactly what they were made to be.

From one therapy appointment to another, I hustled TK into the car he loves to describe to others and consulted GPS for the fastest route. When it refused to work, I just went the way I already knew, the Monday afternoon route. I thought while we drove about last Friday, when in a moment of wine-spritzed calm and clarity I had abandoned my typical worrying and just watched him and LB playing. How LB was right in the mix, loud like a waterfall, and TK was quieter on the outskirts. True to their birth stories. True to themselves. And in the momentary ebb of the anxiety that threatens to rule me, I saw them both in the future, being some version of their now, being right where and among whom they’re meant to be, and something settled within me when I saw the similarities and differences both as beautiful.

Will Write for Attention

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In this week’s episode of Bad Theology and Good Intentions, a podcast/film/concept album I have no intention of actually creating, I read a friend’s post on social media in which she admitted grappling with her short temper around her kids. She cited having a newborn and a young toddler and not getting any sleep as contributing reasons for her blown fuse and confessed to yelling at her children and feeling horrible guilt about it. The flood of responses that followed were wholly supportive–but with an undercurrent of law. I saw verbal nudges to take a rest wrapped up by barely veiled threats–but they’re only young for a little while! I groaned over Bible verses transformed into memes with swirly writing: “Be slow to anger.” I read pep talks on the order of “chin up, you can do better tomorrow!”

I wanted to write my own comment: “Chin up! You may do worse tomorrow! You’re definitely screwing them up one way or another! And a swirly Bible verse isn’t going to save you from your worst self, which parenting totally brings out every day because we suck at it!”

But I kept silent. I’m getting more restrained in my old age.

Read the rest over at Mockingbird!

The End of Me

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I was headed to Isengard. ISENGARD, people.

I mean sure, my terrible memory couldn’t actually recall where in the Lord of the Rings narrative Isengard popped up, but it was epic, I was sure, and I was going to see it. In 30 kilometres or 40 minutes, whichever happened first. Or last. Or whichever–I was slightly confused, jet-lagged, and carsick. The twirling curves were getting very…twirly. The pasta from lunch was sitting very heavily. I sipped my water, The Husband manning the steering wheel beside me, while the rest of our crew hung in the rear of the van. Little Brother had dropped off to sleep, his eyes sealed shut and his head beginning to droop. He dozed through The Kid’s protests, delivered repeatedly and high-pitched in a whine that threatened, along with the curves, to break me.

Then it happened.

There’s the moment before the storm hits, the instant of quiet before an explosion. In this case, TK’s whining ceased so as to accomodate the reversal of digestion that occurred next. Before it happened, I knew it would, and then it did–all over our rental car. Yet another way he takes after me: this stomach sensitivity, all the stress of life showing up through the gut.

And so, he hurled.

I whipped around, somehow omitting the exclamatory “Oh shit” that has accompanied such eruptions (i.e., all of them) in the past. I cupped my hands and placed them in front of him, where a second later another oral waterfall began. The vomit pooled in my palms and fell through my fingers–why did I ever think they would contain it? I dove for plastic bags, wipes, yelling at TH to pull over on the non-shouldered edge of a New Zealand mountainside. He finally found a spot and we did, while LB woke up crying and TK tumbled out of the car, ripping his clothes off. Within a minute I was doused in puke beside my naked American boy overlooking stunning Kiwi scenery, wiping both of us down and wondering why we’d let him eat thirty-seven blocks of cheese at that mountaintop buffet lunch. #badideajeans.

I operate better in crisis mode than real life, the lack of time for subjective interludes and interior monologues clearing the path for forced decision-making, my biological instincts taking over: protect the children. Reach safety. CLEAN UP THE CHEESY BARF. I don’t like crises; I shun and resent them, but they bring out some essential piece of me that dispenses with nonsense and pares down to necessity. I am efficiency instead of emotion.

Luckily (?), most of life is not crisis. Which is part of the trouble, I guess.

Because earlier, we had been standing outside the hotel, our family of four, and TK had been fighting our plan to walk down to the lakefront, preferring instead the familiarity of our room. He had melted down on the steps while other guests passed us. LB was going with the flow, occasionally murmuring, “It’s okay, James,” while TH bounced between the two of them and I turned my back on the whole scene to just breathe. “I can’t do it. I’m so done,” I finally turned and said to him. “This is a nightmare.” More of a nightmare than the subsequent puke and the resulting three-day stench in our rental van. More of a nightmare than scraping regurgitated cheese from upholstery. A nightmare because I was reduced to emotion, rather than efficiency; a nightmare because it is these moments–people witnessing and judging, my patience evaporated, my own issues with shame and insecurity suddenly and forcefully tapped into–that take me to the end of myself and what I can power through, go on autopilot for.

I don’t like reaching the end of myself, the deep pits where the old secrets lie, where the truth is exposed: that there’s not enough of me for this. That I need more.

But this end, it is where so much of parenthood, so much of life, occurs: these moments between my deep regret and falling to my knees. This is where grace meets me: not in the cool efficiency of a seasoned cleaner, but in the dark emotion of a tearful mother, a broken girl, who must grieve the space between what I’d planned for and what is. The space between easy and real. The space between predictable and breathtaking.

It hurts to have my breath taken.

I sent messages later to a few of my spiritual advisers, also called friends, and lamented my reaction not to the puke but to the meltdown: my rigidity and harsh words. “Oh no,” The Sis said. “Turns out you’re human.” And then: “Don’t let this overshadow everything else.” Everything else: which is everything, really–the whispered recounting of his birth and growing up, which he’s been asking about lately; the burrowing into my body and shared moments of laughter and all the other graces that are too big to be wiped away. Another trinity of sisters texted back their own failures from that day, in their typical honesty that manages to move me while also allowing me to be still, where I am, in the grief and beauty.

There are relationships, and moments, where “I can’t do this” is not the end, but the beginning.

On the plane later, where we were so far south I swore I could see the slope of the earth from the window, we headed through the clouds. As a child I always wanted to do that: pierce the pillowy white shapes so far above me, feel the softness of them. As an adult with flights and clouds under my belt, I know that a view from the ground can be deceiving, that the journey through clouds can be fraught, that they conceal within their hazy borders bumps and frights. Turbulence. My children know that for themselves, earlier than I did. But they also know the moment we emerge, coming out the other side, together.