Will Write for Attention

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When I was pregnant with my first son, I spoke to a close friend who had given birth just a few months before. I was looking for reassurance and advice, and she told me that though having a newborn was hard, it did make her feel like she and her husband were on the same team.

A few weeks later I sat on the couch holding my newborn baby boy. I was crying. I didn’t know why. All I knew was that I didn’t feel like the person I had been before, and that my husband looked like a stranger too — one who couldn’t carry or feed our baby like I could; one who had been able to drink beer and eat deli meat throughout my pregnancy. Not that I was bitter. And as he looked back, I could tell he didn’t recognize me either.

We felt further apart than ever, with mere feet between us. Never had I felt less on the same team.

My latest for Mockingbird–read the rest here!

Through a Mirror, Darkly

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“…it does deepen you to be dark-minded…if you’re lucky or if you come out of the other end of it, it also brings you to compassion, I think, for other people.” –Mary Karr

The other day I had the thought–much like Carrie Bradshaw in her series finalewhat if this had never happened? The “this” in question was TK’s diagnosis, almost exactly three years ago. The denial afterward. The ache for so long about what it meant, what he and we had lost. The scramble to find a school and therapists for him.

The school we found for him. The therapists who came into our house every week. The people we met in waiting rooms and therapy centres. The school where we landed here in Sydney. The therapists who have become like family. The friendships we’ve made, deeper because of what they know and how they help.

Would I take it away, I wondered, knowing what I know now? Three years down the road?

A friend called last week during the wreckage that was the start of school for TK and Little Brother, in the midst of my guilt and anxiety and nausea, the ups and downs of an adjustment period knocking us all flat. She told me that she had spoken to TK’s teacher from last year about what a wonderful class it had been, how special it was and how they missed it, how it had been different from other classes. Why was that, my friend wondered.

The teacher spoke TK’s name. She said that sometimes “different” can pull apart, but sometimes it can establish. Bring together. Call out the best. That, last year, it–through TK–had done the latter. I put down the phone and cried: my boy, seen. Known. What could be better than that?

Differences can tear apart or mend. So, I think, can likenesses. Sometimes, when I look at my children, I think that what can piss me off the most is when they resemble me.

LB with his fiery demands, the latest being a line of PJ Masks figurines lined up just so before he does ANYTHING: using the toilet, brushing his teeth, BREATHING. His bottomless need for affection (“sit by me” meaning “let me sit on top of you”) doing battle with his independence and need for space, all on his terms. TK and his curiosity, reflected in a million whys a day, constant background sound doing battle with his occasional reflection periods, a processing going on beneath the surface that can be so easily missed. His anxiety raising my own, or maybe it’s the other way around?

I’ve had a voice inside my head my whole life, a constant narrator who serves as judge, and I’m only recently learning how to turn it off. Then TK shows up to replace it, or wrangle with it for preeminence in the moment, and I want quiet even while remembering the years of silent aching, hoping he would speak. The same friend told me that her daughter came home the other day, telling her, “I heard James on the playground today! His voice is so cute.” And I thought about that all week, this voice that I ached for and now could use a mute button for, how it can be all things at once–but yes, mainly very, very cute.

I like my kids better when they’re a window rather than a mirror: when they open up new ways of seeing things that are easier to write about in blog posts or capture on Instagram. When they crack jokes rather than whine, when they hug rather than pull, when they smile rather than cry. I want them to be better than I am in the moment so that the moment will be easier for me. That’s really ugly, and a hell of a demand to put on a child. It’s also being human, and it’s bound to happen within five minutes of my picking them up from school today.

Would I take it away? The hard parts, the things I didn’t want to hear, the diagnoses and the adjustments and the pain? Three years ago I would’ve. And in so doing would have erased everything that makes us who we are, who we’re becoming, who we’re meant to be.

Today at school drop-off, one of TK’s friends came up and tried to hug him. He tried to escape the embrace, but she wouldn’t let him. Despite his running and pushing, she kept on (#neverthelessshepersisted) until, finally, her tiny arms wrapped around him and he was still, his No turning into a Yes, the acceptance of a love that wouldn’t let him go.

Getting Known

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It has been a hell of a seven days.

I know God took that long to make the world–okay FINE it was six–and, not for nothing, I feel like we’ve been under some deconstruction and construction on the order of world-building ourselves this past week. Both boys were thrilled to be starting school: Little Brother in his new preschool, The Kid in his new class at his old school.

The sheen wore off quickly.

When faced with continuing to play with new toys and chasing me out the door screaming, LB continues to choose the latter most mornings. His friendly teacher holds him back while LB throws his arms toward me and I sneak away, feeling like the opposite of a mother. Then I take TK to school.

And hasn’t that been interesting.

Last week he was counting down to the start of school, popping out of bed the first two mornings two announce it: “FIRST day of school!” “SECOND day of school!” He was met, once there, with total chaos and a year one teacher who was away until this week, and he was. not. HAVING. IT. Yesterday he informed me that he hates school (a word–the “h” one–that upset me much more deeply than if he’d said “I don’t like that f@cking place” or “how about you don’t take me to that sh#thole today?” I blame YouTube). I explained to him, rule follower that he is, that it’s against the law for kids not to go to school and did he really want me to go to jail? (When, let’s be honest, we all know that I’d be headed to a mental institution first.) He responded by asking me to tell him a story about how James doesn’t go to school and Mommy goes to jail. Another stellar parenting moment.

Yesterday he sobbed. I walked away from another child, this one with a therapist at least, in the maternal guilt pose: one hand on my phone, the other clasping itself in prayer. Then I spent a few hours by myself and felt like I could breathe again.

Last week we also said goodbye to the Yankee Mom and Dad, visitors for a couple of weeks who were a wedding gift from my sister–at her wedding, to me, when she married their son and I welcomed them into my life as second parents during my stint in New York, when they lived an hour and a half away by train and always served dinner and wine should I need it (I needed it often). We have known each other for thirteen years–the length of my sister’s marriage SO FAR–and they’ve seen the ugly moments of me: the time I missed a brunch early on because I was hungover on my future bro-in-law’s couch; the time I left my sister’s wedding shower early to pin down an apartment in the city; the time I barfed after their niece’s wedding; the times I was super right-wing. They’ve stuck by me for some reason, and even seem to think I’m a decent person, which makes me question their judgment and enjoy their company. Having them around was tiring in the sense that having anyone around besides myself is tiring, but it was also relieving: being understood, and known. No play-acting required. Also, we drank a lot of champagne.

And every time we have guests, we get to know them more and show them this city we are knowing more. We are learning each other, and this place, by heart.

I’m learning my kids by heart, too. Which can sometimes be very painful for all of us.

TK said it from the back seat this morning: “I don’t want to go to school today. I’m just VERY SAD.” Thankful that my need for him to go coalesced with his best interest, I stood firm. “You have to go,” I told him, not bothering to ask again if he wanted me to go to jail–I’m too fragile that early in the day. “But I’ll share your sad with you.”

“You’ll share it?” he asked.

“I’ll be sad with you,” I said.

This quieted him. We arrived at school and he was less agitated than yesterday. His teacher was there for the first time–the (hopefully) last big change for awhile–and he pulled my hand. “I want to go talk to her,” he said, and my heart swelled with pride. He is constantly out-braving me. When it came time for them to line up and enter the classroom, he grabbed my hand and I sensed another epic goodbye meltdown. Then he dropped it and grabbed his therapist’s, and it relieved and saddened me. Joy and pain: the components of all the most meaningful moments.

Over the weekend, we drove out to Costco, a forty-five minute haul, and TK said he’d never been there before. We explained that he actually had, it’s just been a year so he doesn’t remember it. A lot can change in a year, after all: people in the school yard become friends, their understanding replacing uncertainty. A two-year-old turns three, abandoning his nappies for underwear and talking up a storm. Two boys learn to swim. Their mother cycles into a depression and, slowly, back out again. A mammogram comes back clear. A place becomes home.

As the four of us walked toward the entrance, TK skipped a bit, and, as though he hadn’t missed a beat, grinned, and announced, “It’s good to be back.”

Right Down the Middle

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This morning I dropped Little Brother off for his second day at his new preschool, which was going swimmingly until I decided to leave, then they had to hold him back while I walked out the door, his shrieks following me to the street. Assume the maternal guilt pose. Then it was The Kid’s turn, for his first day of year one, which he’s been counting down to daily. He took the news of his former therapist’s moving on well when I told him in the car last week so that I wouldn’t have to meet his eye and start crying, and he ran ahead of me as we approached the school gates so that I was afforded the opportunity to scream his name in the middle of the street in terror, then we entered the school yard and a sea of people. He remained excited, if a bit more subdued, as I had fed him the lie that his therapist was stuck in traffic and would arrive shortly. (“Stuck in traffic” = had a death in the family yesterday; “shortly” = by noon.)

What I’m saying is, WHO’S GOING TO POUR ME A DRINK?!

A learning support teacher stepped out of the crowd and homed in on us immediately, God being all anonymous and such, and she promised to stay by his side until his therapist arrived. I waited with the parents of some of TK’s classmates, all of us reluctant to step away just yet. One child cried in his mother’s arms and she gently led him to the class, then stepped out and cried into her husband’s arms. Our war-torn army of veterans then left the battle scene to head in our own directions.

I assumed the maternal guilt pose. Then I prayed. Then I went for a run. Now, I’m just…in the between.

For the first time in a month and a half I’ve got both kids at school. It’s exhilarating and exhausting. We wake up earlier and I’ve got lunches to make. The anxiety sets in when (before) my feet hit the floor. I love it and hate it. I sit suspended in this space, split down the middle: free and chained, happy and sad, concerned and distracted. And it appears that things will always be this way. YAY.

Both of my boys were pulled from my body; even at birth I was unable to push them away. I’ve a biological predisposition for difficulty letting go. But damn was I also ready for them to get out of there. It’s this life between extremes that is so tiring and confusing and fraught, and medication only partly helps.

Where is my drink? How are my kids?

A friend (let’s call her The Sis) told me once that when she’s away from her kids for too long (a year or so) she can’t wait to get back to them, but she knows that within five minutes she’ll feel weary again. SAME. Is it being human, or being mother, that lends itself to this ambivalent form of living? I tend to think it’s being part of the whole now but not yet, home but not life on this earth; the hint of more underlying everything and making a promise that hasn’t yet been fulfilled.

It’s hard, is what I’m saying. And this split existence carries over into the little moments with my boys, the ways they each show up with pieces of me. For so long I assigned LB to The Husband in terms of genetic inheritance: looks, laid-back attitude. TK, poor guy, got all my anxiety and nervous twitches. But each day brings something new: TK laughs like TH, or LB flies off the handle and I assume the maternal guilt pose, all “I resemble that.”

They have split me down the middle, but I’m still jagged. There are rough edges and curves and somehow this all fits together better than a clean cut. Complications persist, and the story goes on.

The other day I was thinking I should make a business card that reads “Professional (ha) Mother: When I say Yes I mean Maybe.” When I say calm I mean frazzled. When I say wired I mean tired. When I say terrified I mean…I am…held. Grace where I am, which right now is hours away from pickup, blocks away from my children, and somehow right where we’re supposed to be.

Tell Me Again

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We’ve begun our second year of life in Australia, and it’s going by faster than the first.

I remember the tedious days of January last year, when everything was an uncomfortable first: walks through the summer heat to different locations (typically, the gym, the bakery, and the wine store). The first day of school for The Kid and childcare for Little Brother. Our first time at church. First time on the ferry. First mental breakdown at IKEA.

Now, we’re circling back. But things can still feel new the second time around.

LB is meant to start a new preschool next week. In true helicopter mom fashion, I’ve arranged for him to remain at his current location also until I’m sure he likes his new gig. Which will come in handy when it turns out that LB School, The Sequel may not accept our doctor (not government)-provided immunisation form. Which I have to get signed by a justice of the peace. Which has to happen by tomorrow.

TK starts school next week: Year One, aka first grade. He’ll have a different shadow therapist this year, which I’m still crying about, and new people along with old friends in his class. We’ll walk the same path to both a new and different experience, one that beckons and looms, that leaves me hopeful and anxious.

We’re swimming this summer, every day, and The Husband turned to me last night from the pool and asked, “Could you have imagined last year that they’d be this far along now?” The question resonates across the facets of our life, these boys becoming seasoned travellers, students, friends, toilet users, nonstop talkers, and for over a month every waking moment (and some half-asleep ones) of my days have been consumed by them: their demands, their questions, their laughter, their fighting, their tears. No, I couldn’t have imagined where we’d be now, with LB leaping from the side of the pool and TK shooting underwater without floats attached, these boys who had to be carried around in water a year ago.

I could never have imagined it.

We have visitors, the Yankee Mom and Dad, and as we show them our city–our home–we revisit so many places we’ve shown other people, and places we frequent ourselves: favourite restaurants, the Opera House, our beaches. We see these sites through year-old eyes and new ones, knowing them and learning them all over again.

And these damn kids, man: as the summer rolls to an end, at least the non-school part of it, I want to hang on to what is beautiful about it even as I don’t have a square inch (centimetre) of mental or physical or emotional space to myself. I stifle screams when I’m asked to tell another of the same stories: James eats all the toys in the world and goes to jail; Will eats only junk food and becomes like the guys in WALL-E. The same narratives over and over, and I tell them to ears that know the ending but still need to hear it anyway.

Yesterday, when I was at a breaking point, I left LB with our guests and took TK to therapy and ventured out to a branch of my gym near his centre, one that I’d never visited. It was gloriously empty but for one or two others, and after my workout I wandered to the women’s locker room, which held signs pointing to a relaxation area. I hesitantly pushed the door open and inhaled the scent of eucalyptus and the sound of silence, and though I couldn’t stay, I was renewed.

Later, after a day full of joy and regret, patience and seething, I approached the boys as they sat on the couch. “Hi, Mom,” TK greeted me. “Sit by me,” said LB. And I sat by them, these two people who always welcome me back home to the same stories, reminding me of all the ground we keep covering and the grace that keeps meeting us there.


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Another week, another writing of the blog from the dining table while Paw Patrol plays in the background.

This past weekend, we took a family trip to Melbourne. If The Husband and I were on the trip sans kids, which we were not, we would have stayed in the city, wandering its quaint alleyways and drinking and eating our way through their restaurants. We would have lingered over brunch one morning, savouring mimosas and Bloody Marys. We would have caught a match at the Australian Open and ambled through the park afterward.

We did none of those things.

Instead, we stayed at the beach. At a family-friendly hotel. We eschewed dinner plans one night out of exhaustion (mine) and ordered in. We went to Legoland Discovery Centre and saw half of Coco after driving through the rain to find Paddington 2 was sold out. We went to Luna Park and endured endless whining there, and walked through Kids’ Day at the Open to watch a shitty PJ Masks concert while our children cried there too. All of this was after a solid month of my being with the kids day in and out, through plane rides and airport checks, in beds and pools over two continents and hemispheres. We have been solidly together, this family.

I’m so sick of them.

The Husband had planned another trip in two weeks’ time, a driving holiday to the Hunter Valley, a wine region near Sydney. The kids were coming with us. I politely (tersely) asked if we could cancel it. I think I’ve had about all the travel I can take: the laundry and the packing before, the unpacking and the laundry after, the unfamiliarity and the anxiety it entails for at least two of us. I love my family, they are driving me crazy, I want to be with no one else, I want to be away from them for a considerable length of time, and all these things are true at once.

The Kid has taken to asking hundreds of questions a day. This is not an exaggeration. He asks questions he already knows the answer to and questions he doesn’t. He asks questions that have answers and questions that don’t. I have no f-ing idea why it’s Monday, man. And if you ask me again I’m going to need more meds. Also, I love you more than almost anyone (excepting two) in the world. How is this all possible?

The Husband asked me, during one of my stares his way as TK volleyed another set of queries, if I remembered when I couldn’t wait for him to speak. He smirked, and I launched plans to find a slow-acting, undetectable poison.

I think about all we try to cover up and pretend is pretty because these contradictions, this ambivalence, might just make us look…well, crazy. We are only allowed to be one thing: grateful. Right? One of my friends (okay, many of them, which is why they’re my friends) will have none of that. Call a turd a turd and such. Especially the one you carry in your hand to the bin because your kid just excreted it in the shopping centre’s car park.

This is life: the people I love the most drive me the most crazy. They are most in danger of my ire, my impatience, my shortcomings. They require the most grace from me and give the most and then we fail and forgive each other. It’s not a dance, exactly, though it has a rhythm; it’s more of a flailing. We’re all Little Brother, swinging our arms and legs around to nonexistent music and praying it makes sense in the end.

Speaking of Little Brother–he is as emotionally authentic as they come. He will let you know if he wants nothing to do with you in the moment. He wakes up full of joy (except from naps) and he screeches when things don’t go his way. I don’t know what to do with all that honesty except learn from it.

I don’t want to sigh my way through my marriage or my sons’ childhood. Summer is hard, though. Togetherness can be fraught. Your confidante turns into your target, your kids turn into your therapy bill. But who else can you, at the end of a screechy, tense, trying day, eat fries in bed with? Who else will endure your Chinese-food farts (that don’t make sense because you haven’t even had any Chinese food)?

LB translated something TK said the other day when I didn’t understand. They are playing and laughing and conversing, and the next minute they’re at each other’s throats and crying, and I sigh again. As I do, I hear my sister and me across the decades, our afternoons spent playing and fighting and my mom’s sighing reaching across the years. The sighs don’t end anything; they give us breath for the next day, hour, minute. Maybe tomorrow we’ll do better. Maybe we won’t. But either way, we’ll be there together.

But thank God we canceled that trip.

Sun and Storm

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“One has to be done with the pretence of being just fine, unscarred, perfectly self-sufficient. No one is.” –Anne Lamott

My children are driving me crazy. My children are filling me with joy. My children are squeezing the life out of me. My children are bringing me to life. The king is dead. Long live the king.

It was winter a week ago, and now it’s summer.

My friend the Internet told me last week that this year’s colour (SINCE WHEN DO YEARS HAVE COLOURS?!) is intuitive violet. Isn’t that pretty? I’m confused, though, because I was pretty sure this year’s colour, based on recent life experience (recent meaning for the past six years) was a cross between urine yellow and fecal brown.

Potty Boot Camp 2018 started last week, and Little Brother was the only, and an unwilling, attendee. We were back from America and the kids’ club at the gym was closed so I figured if I were stuck with LB and The Kid, we might as well make it a productive time. And since I don’t do crafts, then toilet training it was. Which meant three days of housebound bliss (read: despair) filled with confusion, tears, standing piss on the floor, and boxes upon boxes of Swiffer wet. Like, seriously, I should get an endorsement deal. Three days of nonstop Netflix and DVDs, of my stationary exercises (read: hundreds of jumping jacks and a return to my kickboxing days of the late aughts), of never-ending laundry. Three days of disappointment and despair and looking at the clock to determine how early was too early to start drinking. Three days of taking breaks to swim and, while outside, saying things like, “Who wants to wee in the garden?!” Three days of LB proving himself capable of holding gallons of urine but unwilling to empty it where it belonged.

God rested on the seventh day. But LB? He finally got toilet training.

I had given up. I was wondering if we should call the preschool he starts next month and ask just how stringent their toilet-trained requirement is or I just send him anyway and let him decorate their floors yellow and brown. Then, yesterday, he turned and told me he had to wee. Later, he told me he had to poo. I’ve never been so happy to accompany someone to the bathroom. There were dances, lollipops, stickers, calls to The Husband. It was glorious.

But first, I remind you (and me), it was awful.

It still is sometimes. Last night, he dropped a turd in his undies and I tagged out on that one to let TH take over while I stared into the depths of my red wine and listened to Ed Sheeran sing about the past. Meanwhile, TK decides it’s time to rebel against his own training and drop trou on the couch for a golden shower. Today, it was LB’s turn to show ass in the barbershop chair.

I guess what I’m saying is that it’s not just always something, it’s always a bunch of somethings mixed together in a cocktail of alcohol and dirt, glory and pain, joy and disappointment. This is what life looks like, even though when I look back on my years in New York I seem to remember only good times without hangovers, dates without assaults, shopping without near-bankruptcy. I think it’s deeper than a grass-is-greener thing. I think it’s an inability, or unwillingness, to contain nuance: to make space not just for the intuitive violet but for the shit brown. We will polish those turds until we think we see the vague hint of a sheen and then keep polishing if it means a happier report or better Instagram rendering. But we won’t sit in the mess, in the standing wee, and admit that sometimes things just suck, and that this is just as vital a part of the story as what doesn’t.

Shit and love go together. Who knew? And why didn’t they warn us in the life manual?

I would like to now mention that I have spent a solid month with my kids–their summer break so far. That I’m writing this at the dining table while Paw Patrol plays a few feet away. That last week an electrician apparently let a bird in our house and it shit everywhere (because we didn’t have enough of THAT already). That I probably have PMS because this morning at the gym a Sam Smith video came on and I was reminded of how much I want to punch him in the face to make him shut up.

But I would also like to mention that it’s summer here. That I’m staring out at a harbour while my children (for the moment) sit quietly beside each other. That they’re both smashing their swim lessons. That the three of us go into our pool every day. That all of this makes it so different from last summer, when I was sitting on a hot deck feeding them iPads so I could drink rosé by myself and cry over This Is Us because I was on the precipice of a depression flare-up.

This summer we have friends over, and while their kids played outside with mine and we talked over wine, one of them asked me if I was able to relax while all those people were over. I feared for a second that she had spotted my butt sweat. I started to respond with the shiny turd answer: “Sure! It’s wonderful!” Then I ventured closer to the truth. “Oh you know…sort of…” Then a storm interrupted and we all gathered the kids inside and watched it from the window.

The next night, another storm. TK huddled next to me, all “Keep me safe” between ventures toward the window. The clouds were awful and beautiful, violet and yellow, and they made for the most glorious sunset.

No Fight, No Flight

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I have figured out the formula for the holidays: brief Christmas stop in wintry America followed by ringing in the New Year in summery Australia.

You’re welcome.

I realize not everyone has access to these choices; I wouldn’t have two years ago, due to grace not yet intervening and demanding it (although up to one year ago I would have written that off to my own refusal to participate in grace’s demands, i.e. a deluded sense of control over my own life, i.e. the operating system by which we all abide until the lid on our own plans is blown off and we realise we’re not running this show). But I’ve done the American Christmas/Sydney New Year Itinerary twice now and it works: short, cold days set to a soundtrack of carols; kicking off the year with a backyard BBQ by the pool.

It’s insulting what grace has forced me to acquiesce to, but I’m doing my best.

If I sound smug, it’s because I’m being a jerk. Every change that I’ve encountered in my life, every deviation from my plan, I have fought and resisted and complained about. I’ve requested a change in management. I’ve sputtered at the fact that this was all worked out a long time ago, by ME, and the rules I set aren’t allowed to change, DAMMIT. And so many of those changes were insulting: years of singleness during prime childbearing time, days spent in doctor’s offices and nights spent in hospital rooms, loss of a pregnancy in the bathroom at work, the internet going out for extended periods right when I was bingeing a new show. Not one of the changes to plan was without merit (except the internet failure; haven’t found the deeper meaning in that yet), but they all had their attendant struggle and pain that mired the good so much it seemed impossible to discern.

Sydney, though, after a year, seems without flaw. Without negative. Which is inaccurate, and revisionist history. Which is why I fight going “home” so much (quotations added for emotional analysis). Every time. You see, it complicates things: there is the re-encountering of family and friends and the re-realisation that it sucks to be away from them. There is the sense of familiarity provided by grocery stores that house all our bad food choices. There are the people whose accents sound like ours. There is crispy bacon, and there is (are?) grits. It’s much easier, emotionally and existentially speaking, to continue communicating with the people back home over internet apps and email and the occasional (gasp!) phone call rather than actually having to feel the feelings. Also, there’s no jet lag.

But we went “home” for Christmas anyway.

And while we loved, and were emotionally challenged by, the time spent with family and friends (really, we did and were), what stood out the most to me was the time spent with just the four of us. Specifically, time in the air and in hotel rooms, since that is where so much of it occurred, doors closed to the outside world and moments suspended in semi-wakefulness populated by just us: boredom and thrill, landing and takeoff, packing and unpacking, joy and utter irritation. Nowhere to go but to each other.

It’s about to be that way a LOT, especially for me and the boys, as we are staring down the barrel of a month of summer “vacation” (quotations added for sarcastic analysis) together. Blessed be the fruit, as they would say on The Handmaid’s Tale, which I watched through my fingers on the flight back to Sydney. A year ago we spent that time mostly alone but for us three, and by February I was on my way to a mental rupture in IKEA. This year, I have friends besides wine and the month is looking decidedly less…bleak. The boys and I know each other better, and this is not nothing. This knowledge has been forged in hotel rooms and on planes and in doctor’s waiting rooms and in hospitals and in all the ways grace has gently but firmly forced it to occur. We are reaping the benefits of staying; of saying yes (usually through gritted teeth). Of, really, grace not taking no for an answer.

I expect there will still be plenty of rough moments and regrets. But there will also be a higher dosage of Lexapro, and more support/witnesses. So what I’m saying is, I’m hopeful. And that ain’t nothing either.

On our flight back “home,” I took The Kid to the bathroom during one of those semi-wakeful moments, my contacts out and earplugs in, and as we navigated the tiny space together, he looked around and said, apropos of nothing, “This is where the magic happens.” I considered the surroundings: toilet, sink, questionable odors, our other two sleeping nearby, the four of us suspended between two countries, two continents, two homes. Magic in the moment, apropos of everything.

Bigger Than the Tree

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I’ve been waiting on something bigger than Christmas my whole life.

The sadness of the ending of a childhood Christmas–Santa long gone, school break zooming to an end–gave way to a post-Christmas depression for Adult Me: Christmas music silent, Christmas movies disappearing, the season of goodwill giving way to just…cold. The tree with no presents underneath became a burden, holding boxes of ornaments to pack up, the removal of each of them signalling the end of my favourite season.

A barren winter without twinkling lights and the promise of more on the horizon is perfect fodder for depressive tendencies to kick in, and I’ve battled them every year. Then, last year, instead of enduring that winter, we hopped on a plane and headed toward summer, and that move across the world–while allowing me to avoid climactically-generated blues–brought its own adjustments and breakdowns before joy and familiarity arrived.

This year is different.

The Sis said it in a message, how as an adult she’s always felt different about Christmas ending than she did as a child, and the word she used was one unfathomable to me before this past Monday night: relief. But this year I felt it too, the relief of Santa pulled off for another year, of happy children living still in the magic of it all, of a turkey cooked well and family gathered without bloodshed. And, not for nothing, relief at our family of four surviving yet another cross-country trip…and facing one more in the opposite direction. In another place that has become, also, home.

This Christmas night, a night that has always felt unbearably piercing to me in its comparison to the one before–the anticipation of Christmas Eve–I stepped onto our Atlanta porch and gazed at the twinkling lights, felt the icy air. My bare feet groaned against the cold of the wood beneath them, and I yearned: not for Christmas to swing right back around again, but for the warmth of another hemisphere, the longer days and the beaches and pools and summer break awaiting us. My feet firmly on the ground here while another place pulls me back.

And this being between two places, it’s inconvenient and uncomfortable and at times emotionally turbulent but it’s also this: a gift. A gift in the abundance it reveals us to have, family in one place and friends who are like that in another, but gift also in that it reveals, as all good gifts do, a deeper truth: that this yearning, this split way of living, this ache that never abates, is a sign of more. Of what is bigger than Christmas even as Christmas is what brings it, of what is bigger than twinkling lights and adorned trees.

Of what is bigger than unadorned trees, the limbs that are bound into crossbeams that shadow over a hill named Death. Of what is bigger than death and all the blows it brings before it comes. Because it’s just this year that I’m realising how Advent is not really a waiting, but an arrival. See, I’d always thought it was about me. Typical. But this year, from both sides of the world, I’ve known a love that chases me across the globe, that reveals itself in glimpses: the bi-continental blessings of those who show up for me, for my family. The army of people we never would have known without our move, without our challenges. I’d always wanted to dance through life, but now I’m to the part where I find out all I would have missed.

The old proverb goes, “God is not a kindly old uncle, he is an earthquake,” and I wonder if the dancers know him only as uncle. If the power of the earthquake is only met through struggle. An earthquake that is love that resettles families across the world and brings them back again, that shows up in every hello and goodbye and arrival and departure. That is, always, an advent.

When Doing Becomes Redoing

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The four of us sat around a bar, two on one corner and two on the other, because there was no room for us in the inn…or at least at the table one of us had reserved for the occasion, where four other women remained, lingering over a gift exchange. No worries, though, as the restaurant provided us with free cocktails for our trouble, and now, an hour into our time together, it was as though no time had passed since we saw each other months ago. The only thing that had changed, besides hairstyles and a delivered baby among our lot, was that we’d grown closer. So we talked, about family and friends and our favourite antidepressants, as always, and it could have been the same dinner as last year.

It could have been the same sendoff as last year, too, when our exit to America from Sydney for the holidays coincided with the end of The Kid’s school year and he and I stood in the schoolyard among friends, tears welling up in my eyes as they poured down the face of his therapist, a grown man who’s moving on to have his own kids, and I embraced the women who have become my friends, my life, their children an extension of my own. It could have been last year because we left feeling loved, feeling known. In two places now.

There are these reminders all around, repeats really, that pop up and each in their own way convince me further that there is design in this grand, beautiful mess of life. There is TK telling me he wants a dog named Max and one day, I’ll tell him that I had one–for one night during my residency–and that the next morning I was so sleepless and overwhelmed with the not-being-ready-for-it that I drove to the breeder and gave him back, my tears sourced by both grief and guilt, a fitting reaction and prelude to becoming a mother of anything. There is the trip to the grocery with TK while Little Brother, my usual companion, is at school, but on this afternoon TK has absconded early due to a Christmas assembly and early pickup, and as we amble conversationally through the aisles I remember trips here before that were not so similar, meltdowns barely managed and anger not even concealed, and I think that the repeats also serve to show us how far we’ve all come. How different things can be. Like the morning after a rough night with LB, when I left him to The Husband and exited his room to the sound of his crying and my seething after an hour spent lying beside him, trying to get him to sleep, and upon waking a few hours later I hear his tiny feet padding up the stairs. Next he’s at my bedside, holding his hands out, and I lift him and place him beside me, where he nestles in: all is forgiven. All is different.

Then TK enters the scene, grabs the iPad and lies down with us, and the familiar strains of Super Mario reach my ears both from this moment and from my own childhood. Everything old is new again. I read about the miracle of the loaves and fish, how Jesus snuck that one through management twice, the second time to a lesser degree, and after a moment I wonder, instead of why, if: if maybe these reminders are themselves acts of grace; there’s a reason the words assurance and reassurance both exist. I so need the re. The fact that it is given–through fish or moments–is a gift that feels made for me.

And at our Atlanta home, we’re lying in the same beds we were a year ago, yet so much is different. Outside the air is cooling and the day darkens and it’s Christmas once again, this season of second acts, and chances.