mama-baby stuff

mommy & Posey watching by o&poecormier
mommy & Posey watching, a photo by o&poecormier on Flickr.

long before my grandfather died, i stole my childhood photo album from his house.

‘stole’ is perhaps too strong a word. i laid my claim to the psychedelic satin-covered relic, waved it in front of my grandfather, asked if i could take it home. he was gracious. or rather, he laughed and said, “well, i’m not looking at it!”

honesty. it rids your house of clutter.

i was the eldest grandchild. seven of the eight of us were born before my grandmother died in 1988, but it was me and my cousin Angela, born in 1972 and ’73, on whom my grandmother lavished the largesse of her documentary attentions. two matching albums, each with a garish cover, captioned in her handwriting. in each shot, i am labelled the full and complete “Bonnie Elaine.”

in most of the photo albums of my childhood, there are only a couple of pictures of my mother and i together.

the majority are scratchy snapshots, square and white-rimmed, with a seventies patina Instagram would die for. they follow a pattern. child – generally trussed up in finery – stands perched in front of adult – equally awkwardly trussed up in finery, frequently with a Christmas colour scheme. both smile. my mother’s smile is determined, mine distracted. in one, her hand gently but firmly grips the square jut of my chin and points my face to the camera.

i think of myself as having always been a ham, a camera hog. but that came later. only in the photos that my mother snapped when i wasn’t looking do i recognize myself and the shape of our lives then.

that small child alone, bent over her drawing, tongue sticking out? i was in the kitchen with my mother, drawing while the dishes got washed. i filled pastel pages of newsprint with characters, worlds, stories. i was not alone. we were there together. there are simply no pictures to testify.

it is hard to capture a twosome without a third around.

but in this album retrieved from my grandfather’s cupboard, i found another version of my earliest days. the pictures are mostly black & white, my father’s experimental eye evident behind the lens. me in my mother’s arms, shot after shot, a sticky-out-eared infant and a young woman i barely recognize. my mother is twenty-three. her hair hangs long and black. within the year, i know, she will have cut it short forever, and the gray will start, taking over by the time she reaches thirty. within the year my father will be gone, and there will be no more random shots of mother and child.

it was his mother who kept them, and i wonder at the heartache and family politics behind that innocent orange- and pink-covered photo album.

i tell stories and take pictures because i need them, somehow. the blog, #thehomeproject, the flickr account with its 3000+ photos of the mundanities of our children’s passing days…they are the tools by which i reflect my world back to myself. the art makes it real. the reflection allows me to see.

Dave teases me that i cannot pass a mirror without looking at myself. it’s true, almost. but i am looking for myself more than at. not vanity, but confirmation. i am here. i am in this skin. this is what they see when they look at me. and i nod and step off again into the strange sea of living, in which i flounder blind.

whether my children will ever want or need these glorified digital photo albums, i do not know. a part of me hopes they will somehow be solid enough in themselves to weather their days without needing them reflected back, diffracted out. maybe they will.

a part of me wants that for them.

but just in case, i store away for all of us these random shots. here we are, me & Posey, watching Oscar in his first gymnastics show. this is my daughter on my knee. this is my face in my fortieth year. these are the lines and the spots and the tired eyes of my adulthood. this is my tongue sticking out as i concentrate, just like when i was a kid.

we were here together.

just in case they need to know. just in case i do.

what do you document? keep? look to?

the end of April brings taxes and mortgage renewals and home insurance and end-of-term papers and the opening of lobster season and two birthdays within a week. Oscar, then Finn, always out of order, the second child born 51 weeks to the day after his brother. both Friday’s boys, loving and giving. both early. one safely so.

he would be six today.

last week, Oscar turned five and the first of his baby teeth came loose and suddenly all that we lost hovers phantom-like on the edges of my consciousness. because just-five and the cusp of six are not so far apart, no longer unimaginably separate. Oscar has friends the same age as Finn would be, almost exactly. and i found myself imagining, just briefly, what it would be like to have the impossible two of them, brothers, both five for that single week.

a glass darkly, rare and precious. i want to sit with it, chew it over, understanding all the while that it is not real, that i have to give it back.

but there is a royal wedding and a stopover of less than 24 hours at home between Dave’s keynote in Halifax and the trip up to northern New Brunswick to help his parents put out the lobster traps at dawn tomorrow, kids in tow all the way. goodness. busy-ness. in November, my silly heart broke when they announced the date of the wedding, the dates of Dave’s conference.

lobster season, i already knew. it was after they came in from the boat six years ago that we told Dave’s parents their grandson had died.

what time is there for a birthday for a child who is not even here?

my mouth twists up in a wry little smile that it’s his loss in the shuffle that i mourn, when he is, after all, already lost. the forest and the trees. how much time do you need to honour something so brief? i know the world does not stop. i no longer ask it to.

(but when he was born, it did.)

all was in motion, fifteen yellow-clad masked professionals racing like dancers to the warmer and the shrill sound of the emergency alarm still in the air and so much blood as they whisked him silent from me, all of it in the longest breath i ever took. i really saw only his ear. one perfect, tiny, reddish ear.

and my world froze on its axis and altered forever. i had never seen anything so ludicrously beautiful. wish made flesh, mundane and miracle, mine mine mine. for all that would unfold across that room and through that night, in that moment, i was any new mother. and he was my boy.

maybe it happened for you, too. if it did, you were lucky. so was i, in that moment on Friday afternoon six years ago. 3:24 pm.

yesterday, in Halifax where Finn was born and lived his whole short life, we packed up the kids after Dave’s conference ended and we drove a tiny ways out of town, to the park known as the Dingle, where an old colonial tower flanked by lions has stood for a hundred years on the granite bedrock of the Northwest Arm. my mother and my Nannie took me there as a child.

i had not been back for six years, since the Sunday afternoon i left the hospital without my baby.

on that day, Dave drove…and i sat in the car like a skinless thing, staring bewildered and raw at the world around me. i climbed the hill to the tower on shaking legs, because i had been on bedrest nearly three weeks and had not walked further than from a wheelchair to a toilet. it had been less than forty-eight hours since i had given birth.

i stood in the rain, quiet. only when Dave stepped away did i dare speak him aloud for the first time.

i had a son, i whispered into the wind and the water. his name was Finn.

we went back yesterday, with some of his ashes. for six years, i haven’t known what to do with the ashes. some are under the trees in our backyard, but most have sat in the small urn by our bedside…i don’t know what we’ve been waiting for. not for the courage to let him go – that was done long ago. perhaps for the courage to invest him with the ritual of letting go. i have been afraid, for six years, to make too much of a deal out of him, except here. i have been afraid to make a formal space to honour him, for fear the world would tell me it was busy with business and royal weddings, or would look at me with pity.

i have been afraid of being silly.

i am not afraid anymore.

the tower and the lions of the Dingle are under reconstruction, robed in white. we showed the kids the outcroppings of rock, so different from here in PEI where all is sand and sandstone. we showed them the plaques that commemorate the bygone Empire. and we picked our way in the mist down a path to the wharf, each of us holding a small hand, and me holding a small bag.

human ashes are gritty, flecked with tiny pieces of what must have once been bone. i ran my fingers gently through them, and poured them into the palm of my hand.

irreconcilable, this dust and that child who held my finger tightly in his own.

irreconcilable, that it has been six years.

life, a hundred irreconcilable, sometimes silly things all thrown together.

the four of us traced our fingers in the dust that was his body and let him go floating down to the water. Oscar threw in shells to make it pretty for his brother. we each chose a rock and we put it in our pockets to take home.

today, we will bring another handful of ashes with us to New Brunswick, and tomorrow, once the lobster traps go out from the beach behind Dave’s house, we will scatter them there, too. set them free.

i will whisper, i had a son. his name was Finn. i will smile, because he was my boy.


my boy.

we spent your last day of four home sick together yesterday. this morning you are five and the cupcakes for the preschool party are iced in blue chocolate-milk icing, a jujube dinosaur parked garishly in each.

you have a cough that will not quit, but we will go to preschool with the cupcakes no matter what. what are germs amongst cupcake kindred?

all is ready.

five, Oscar. by your next birthday, you’ll probably be reading.

you can sound out words, already, and when you print your name your “s” is more and more frequently right-side-up. you love to make things, grow things, imagine things. you hoard my empty tin cans for building robots and dinosaur pod-cars and pirate ships. you lust after Bakugan, but i am not sure you know why, not yet.

in the last few weeks all the people you draw have eyes of a matched size, two perfect circles in their face. it disconcerts me in its suddenness, that fearful symmetry. but there it is: it seems to have come to stay. your cock-eyed days are behind you, my son. welcome to the tyranny of aesthetics. don’t ever let it win, entirely.

i still don’t quite know if you are right- or left-handed, at five. your teacher is baffled. i am amused. i tell her maybe you are neither. or both, like your uncle Stephen before you.

five. the year most kids start reliably remembering things.

SCREECH. dammit. i think i missed my window.

there i am, meandering my way through a mother’s love letter when my legs begin to spin in thin air like Wile E. Coyote in that split second before gravity triumphs and the freefall begins.

before my fingers can even telegraph it all to the keyboard i clamp down. i am aghast.

it’s not that he will not remember, these castles and kingdoms and Jurassic days and too-early mornings. i know it and i knew it every day of these past five years even if i waited until today to acknowledge it to myself, aloud.

it’s that i waited anyway. suddenly i realize that the time is not coming back: that he will remember. that his own narratives will take over, soon…that they already are. that he will read soon. that all those last gasps of truth and nuttiness i always wanted to somehow convey to my children when they were small and helpless and believed everything i said?

i waited too long.

one day he wakes up and the dinosaurs start shooting at each other and i say, “dude, that’s violent. that’s not okay in our house.” and he says “Mom. you’re dead. bang.” and just like that, the window closes.

Oscar, my heart.

when you are reading, i suppose i’ll need to make some adjustments to the wishes i write down for you.

(not that someday these words won’t be all yours – yours and your sister’s. but what is here is for the someday you. not the five-year-old who makes dinosaurs into wild and ravaging pirates on a paper boat.)

this morning i told you five was magic, because five-year-olds can listen extra good. and it worked and you zipped up your coat when asked just like a little Prussian and i was shocked and grateful and terribly impressed with my own genius but here’s the secret.

i want you to be a little Prussian and i don’t want you to be a little Prussian. for the moment, in the right now, i fuss with all these manners, this making your bed, this silliness. it is my job.

but it is my job, too, to teach you that the world is heartache and beauty and worth living in. what life does, little one, is rips by you until last week and twenty years ago seem equidistant and you do. not. believe it but there it is. a fact. you won’t believe me, now. you can’t, i know.

but take pictures, Oscar, so you remember.

and here’s my advice, on life. for five-year-old pirates and fifty-year-old pirates, because i secretly hope you’ll keep a little of your swashbuckle.

the world requires more than politeness and tidy beds to be a decent place.

(ssshhh. don’t tell.)

sure, be on time. and look people in the eye, always. and say thankyou and i’m sorry. especially i’m sorry.

but don’t stop being fierce. don’t stop throwing yourself into the arms of those who love you. don’t stop being able to say, i’m scared. keep working on doing stuff even when you are scared. keep making up naughty rhymes to songs. try not to sing them in front of your Nannie.

you told me yesterday you weren’t really turning five; that you were already eighteen. and i looked at you and realized i will blink and it will be true.

but you will shine, then, like now. i know it. just don’t let them steal your shine, kid; the real pirates, the ones who try to make us all conform.

because you are amazing the way you are, and you have been from the moment five years ago when they first laid you in my arms.

i write this for the someday you, so you will know what it was i meant to tell you, all these busy, distracted, beautiful days. soon the window will close, and you will not hear me much, for years. but if you ever wonder about the sounds my mouth is making? it’s just this stuff.

it says i love you. happy birthday, Oscar boy.

love Mama


she is almost exactly half his age.

this occurs to me as they are going to sleep. bedtime is a bit of a cacophony these days, punctuated by singing, bouncing, and shouts of Mamaaaa!! from the smaller one.

we made a mistake, one night, a month or so back.

we broke the cardinal rule. we went IN when shouted for, because one had been sick and we were weak and foolish. o ye who hear the words of my mouth, take note: IF you have a cardinal rule, whatever it is, do not break it. because then your ass is forfeit. ahem.

our wily daughter has not forgotten. for awhile, her brother egged her on: they share a room. but it got tiresome for him, the chatter and howling of his sister’s newfound nighttime rebellion. the Oscar, hey buddy, hey buddy Oscar are you SLEEPING?!? hey OSCAR!! makes me shake with laughter as i stand outside their door, my voice a melllifluous drone of uber-calm. but it gets to him eventually and then we have two of them shouting, back and forth.

jolly good.

they are both on the cusp of a whole new frontier of emotion these days. Posey’s is wild abandon, fury expanding outward. a plate was broken. tantrums are thrown. one night, we were woken at 1 am to the shrieks of a small child raging in her sleep. we lifted her from her crib and tried to bring her into bed with us: she leapt free and – still asleep – wailed the shit out of our laundry pile before suddenly subsiding hotly in my arms, a limp and sweaty bundle.

Oscar, too, is dealing with anger, but directed anger. even at two, he never tantrumed. for him it is not sheer limits but perceived injustice – disappointment – that cannot be suffered with equanimity. last week, after a speech therapy appointment at an unaccustomed time, we took our ritual trip down the elevator to the snack shop, anticipating our ritual snack. the shop was closed. apparently they board up the place at 3pm.

my boy was beside himself, almost literally. i watched his mind ping and pong from possibility to possibility, and as he came to terms with the fact that the locks were locked and there was nobody there, he exploded. like a small, righteous rhinoceros, he lowered his head and glared. he stamped. i saw the shout build up in him like a steam piston and it blew over me and my ears rang. this child, who’d never shouted in public in his life. and i took him by the arms and looked straight into his face and then, i couldn’t help myself, i laughed.

not unkindly. with full recognition, because he is so much like me sometimes it pains me. Oscar, i said, i’m sorry, buddy. i’m sorry they’re closed. i know you’re disappointed. but you CANNOT shout at me. you cannot shout just because you don’t know what else to do. i wish i could tell you what to do with it, all that fury, that frustration. but you need to find a way not to take it out on other people. can i help?

he glared. then we practiced stamping our feet until we felt better. i showed him what his face looked like when he was made like a rhinoceros. he laughed. then we went elsewhere for a snack.

we abide. it all will pass. someday i will say, lay your head on your pillow, honey, and Mama will rub your back and behold! my girl’s small body will prostrate itself. i believe this. someday, maybe, my boy will look disappointment square in the face and do better with it than i ever have. i hope this. we are learning together.

still, last night as i listened to the fading protests – the last burst of energy from Posey as she bounced up and down singing O My Darling Clementine, which she believes to be about our cat – i realized, she’s a big girl now.

and cribchronicles will soon be without a crib. perhaps is an available domain?

Dave’s father is building Oscar a twin bed for his birthday in April. if bedtime returns to a dull roar by then, Posey will inherit his toddler bed.

it’s time, past time.  they both seem so big.

when we brought her home from the hospital, tiny and wizened, barely six pounds, he was the age she is now. his was a quieter two, less verbal, less bouncy. yet in both of them, a strong, strong streak of sweetness at this age. i remember how huge his hands seemed suddenly, when he held her miniature fingers. i remember how he patted her and giggled, how i wondered what they would be to each other, how i hoped.

last night, as i heard the last little hey Buddy, night Buddy! peeps from through their door, and his world-weary but gentle goodNIGHT, Posey in return, i thought, we’re doing okay.

what’s bedtime like at your house? how do you help your children deal with anger?

dear Oscar, dear Posey…

this is your mother speaking.

you won’t fully remember this Christmas, not either of you, not yet.

(hell, neither will i. in this life you never fully remember anything, my sweets. especially when you start Christmas day off with Baileys in your coffee. take that one from your old mother.)

by the time you read this – if you ever do – you’ll have figured out that the jolly jelly-belly who eats the Christmas cookies – and most of your Hallowe’en candy – is really Mommy. or your father. or whoever can get to them first. but for this year, in spite of our refusal to entirely corroborate the idea that a fat man will squeeze himself down our non-existent chimney, you’re both pretty sure that Santa’s on his way.

we exist right now in a magical in-between world, where Christmas is a wild mythical mix of Santa and Frosty and Cindy Lou Who and Mommy’s overblown renditions of O Holy Night. the fact that you like my caroling has secretly earned you each an extra present under the tree.

i’d like to wrap this time up in tissue paper, like all the precious things. but time isn’t like that, little ones. it’s now, and only ever now.

you are two and four. you like each other, mostly. and yet, the autumn has been hard. and so i write the now for you, for someday when all is different and you wonder if any of this was even real.

Posey, you’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that you used to be a baby.

sincere and earnest, as if sharing a secret, you offer up this story of yourself and time and the mystery of change, over and over. i suspect you’ll want your own blog, soon.

last night, on the solstice, you woke at 11 pm and promptly threw up all over us both. you said your neck was sore. and you were calm and strange, your sweetest self but oh so quiet, limp in my arms, and i was afraid. and so we slept on the floor in the playroom by the glow of the Christmas lights with a windstorm howling outside, so i could watch you. the longest night of the year indeed. your fever broke at 4am and you stood up and announced, “i’m feeling better.” and then i could sleep.

Oscar, all you asked for from Santa this year was Hungry Hungry Hippo. but last weekend, on an ill-advised trip to a giant store to pick up last-minute gifts for extended family, your eyes lit on a giant walking IronMan. and so it came to pass that later that evening, as i stood in front of the children’s toothbrush display at the drugstore, i found myself weighing a Diego toothbrush in one hand and an IronMan toothbrush in the other and wondering about the magic of superheroes and singing Puff the Magic Dragon, a right maudlin old elf.

for the record, you got the Diego toothbrush this year. but Santa did spring for a small IronMan transformer. because you are growing, leaps and bounds.

you teeter on the verge of boyhood, thrust suddenly into the power games, the shows of force that are both play and practice, uber-serious. you came home from school the other day with a scraped up nose and a scraped up heart, left out of playing monkeys and then pushed around under the jungle gym. and you tried to turn your face from me to hide your hurt and your confusion, and i wanted to gather you to me and hide us all in the house until you’re twenty. maybe twenty-six.

but we talked and we role-played, you and i. strategies and encouragement. such a thin armour. yesterday i talked to your teacher and sat with you at the daycare lunch, staring down les amis.

i wanted to stand up in the middle of that classroom and tell you you’re doing a good job. that i hope with my whole heart it gets easier for you, that it doesn’t take you as long as it took me to figure out that power’s just a game, and there are always other circles if some try to shut you out.

i wanted to shout Charles Bukowski from the tiny tabletop: don’t let your life be clubbed into dank submission! be on the watch! there are ways out!

Bukowski isn’t on the pre-k curriculum, of course. but i hope you hear me, somehow. i hope you feel the hands that have your back. always.

one late Saturday afternoon in December, almost dark, i watched the two of you string ornaments on the short fat real tree your father dragged home – our first real tree in the ten Christmases he & i’ve spent together. he did it for you, this funny little tree. you won’t remember, because you were too young to notice, but i shot him a deadly look when he squeezed it in the front door and announced its presence. all i could see was needles all over the floor and the fact that we’re not even here for Christmas this year and my papers weren’t done yet and i was rushed and panicked.

but the two of you gazed at that tree like it was the loveliest thing in the world. and so we opened the boxes of old ornaments – most of them relics from my own childhood, knitted monstrosities my Nannie bought me annually from the Women’s Institute Christmas bazaar – and you slung them on the small tree’s ample hips and the sight of them in your hands was good for my grinch soul.

somewhere in the mayhem, Oscar, you shot this, your first-ever photo using the big camera. perfect. the blur is your sister.

in your stockings, you’ll find letters made of chocolate, and wooden tops and an orange each. but what’s really in there is just a big jumble of love and hope and happiness and vomit-covered laundry and our own childhood fears and this deep, gutting gratitude that you two are here. just our regular lives, lit up by strings of lights.

love you. Happy Christmas.


six years ago today was a Monday, just like today.

i lived halfway around the world then, in a little dot on the South Korean map that housed a million people. the end of November is crisp, there, too, though it was not snowy. the andoul – the in-floor heat that races under the linoleum to warm toes and keep life closer to the ground – was pumping. i think i wore Dave’s coat when i slipped out that morning, around the corner, but i cannot for the life of me remember which coat it might have been.

i woke up early, which was memorable in and of itself back then. my years in Korea were far more bohemian than the almost-year Dave and i eked out in Eastern Europe. we lived a life of poetry readings and ashtrays and 3ams in the Hermit Kingdom, punctuated by twenty-hour work weeks and vacations in Thailand. it was mundane and decadent, both. yet i had been keening for two years for roots, for belonging. we were six weeks away from a plane ticket home for good.

i slid out from under the quilt, off the two-inch thick mat that was our bed. i padded across the warm floor into the kitchen, then into the tiled box – replete with toilet and a shower head – of our bathroom. i slipped on yesterday’s jeans and Dave’s coat and closed the door gently behind me.

we lived on the third floor. when i emerged onto the street, a fruit truck, laden with persimmons and blaring a prerecorded barrage of fruit salesmanship and tinny organ music, inched its way loudly past. i smiled at it. i smiled at everything. i was brimming.

the yak was only next door, on the corner. it was a spartan place, nothing like the drugstores here, with their soaps and hair products and trashy magazines. the yak was more like an apothecary shop of old, particularly for an illiterate like me. a thousand products lined against the walls, in minimalist packaging. no aisles, only open space. i played mime with the girl behind the counter, then waited, patiently, while she fetched the mysterious box. i took it home, hoping it came with picture instructions.

i remember noting that it was the 29th of November, my father’s birthday.

i chewed my lip, feeling silly for even making a production out of what my rational mind told me was ridiculous. it was our first month trying. i was only a few days late…a week at most. i was usually a few days late. and yet…i woke Dave up, shyly wielding a freshly dipped pregnancy test.

you haven’t lived until you’ve waved a plastic stick soaked with your urine in front of your partner’s face. i figured he was the one who took up with a thirty-something worried about her aging eggs.

pregnancy tests in Korea turn blue, not pink. we waited the full requisite two minutes before turning it over.

two bright stripes, unmistakable. i blinked and beamed.

the ancient Greeks and Romans valued memory. for most of human history, ideas and knowledge and experience could only be catalogued through painstaking hand-work, and only by the rare and privileged literate. the information overload in which we swim, we citizens of Google and Wikipedia, is so new in human history that the fact we navigate it at all is a marvel.

the ancients constructed memory palaces to hold what they needed to know. a system called method of loci saw the best of them able to file hundreds of items in detailed order in their minds, using familar locations and detailed visualization. they could then traipse through the halls of memory and the wisdom of the ages would pop right out at them like the scary bits on a haunted spook ride.

i grew up before Facebook kindly took over the task of remembering people’s birthdays for me. and as an only child with a family divided, it fell on me, largely, to remember and honour the special days of the people i loved. i accidentally developed a memory palace built on the calendar.

on any given morning, if i happen across the date, a mechanism in the back of my brain will churn and suddenly blam! out pops a visual reminder of the numerical date, and with it, the useful realization that the girl who sat behind me in eighth grade math is, say, 40 today. handy, no? well, increasingly, erm, no. but there they are, the numbers, the dates. a giant 13; an italic 22; today, 29. and then, trailing along like mittens on string, the birthday list and its addenda, all those events of my own life that have fallen, mostly unrelatedly, on the birthdays of people i know.

my cerebrum is a wonderland.

i don’t know that it serves any purpose to remember, today, that this is the anniversary of the day i first found out i was pregnant. it feels strange to memorialize something so embodied as peeing on a stick. i do not remember the date i got my first period…or my last, for that matter, and may god bless vasectomies for that delightful peace of mind.

but pregnancy is far more than a physical thing. it is also a watershed, an identity experience. whether wanted or not, a positive pregnancy test forces you to look in the mirror, to confront who you are and want to be.

i wanted to be. oh, how i wanted. i couldn’t believe my luck, that morning halfway around the world, on a Monday with the same date six years ago today. it was the easiness of it all that blew me away.

you know how the story ends, and that it was not easy. five months later to the day, at 26 weeks and a little wee bit, i delivered Finn. and eleven hours later, i held him as he died. and it has taken a long time in the interim for anything to seem easy again.

but here’s the thing. the memory palace is a gift in its compartmentalization. because in the moment this morning, when i thought, the 29th of November and i remembered my father’s birthday and then that other morning in what seems like another life and yesterday all at once, there i was in that yellow room with the warm floor under me and that magic plastic stick in my hand. and it was the sheer surprise that flooded back, the metallic tang of hope, the quiet joy. i know the rest. but the memory palace does not, and i am glad for the way it plucks each day out, vivid and unto itself.

i looked in the mirror that day, and saw in myself, for the first time, someone’s mother.

for all that happened, i started this journey far more easily than many. for all that happened, i did not begin broken. i began early on a Monday morning, shy and eager and brimming, full of grace.

i can’t not remember. method of loci remembers for me, and i just hold on to the ride and nod at the ghosts.

last night i was at yoga with my mom.

(the above sentence entertains the ever-lovin’ crap out of me. part of me wants to wrap it up in shiny paper and turn it this way and that, like a spaceship that fell from the sky, because yoga with my mom sounds so pleasantly suburban and banal and normal and first-world problem-y, and i feel like i should follow it with charming antics about our trip to Starbucks after and our little shopping escapades and pedicures. which i can’t. my mother drinks tea. she sometimes buys us diapers. we have a storied history, my mama and i, but it has never involved exercise or girlfriend hobbies or shopping as therapy. and so we are rather imposters in this story. and yet, there we were, at yoga.)

we show up a little late because yoga starts at the awkward hour of 7pm and getting outta my house at 6:50pm is akin to extricating oneself from the grasp of a slightly hysterical octopus. we grab mats from the bin. my mother has not yet committed to purchasing one: after waiting 62 years to try an exercise class, she is not prepared to marry the first novelty that happens along. i just haven’t gotten to a store this crazy fall.

every week at yoga, my mother and i have set our mats down beside each other along the wall of the little pine-panelled room.  at first, she was nervous, careful and defensive and controlled, uncertain whether she was doing it right. i watched her out of the corner of my eye, whispered little encouragements or explanations. mostly i just watched. i listened to her breathe beside me, took in the shape of her back as we lay on our sides. i am like her, i thought. tiny wrists,  short waist, legs that prefer to be curled under.

it is a strange thing, to watch someone and marvel that body was where i began. it has never occurred to me before. we have never spent much time, my mother and i, just being, taking each other in. or if we did, i have forgotten. children betray their mothers’ care, oblivious.

but i catch sight of her hands beside me as we stretch. her winter hands, rough and cracking with the drop in temperature. for a moment, the 38 year old grunting through downward dog disappears. i am a child in bed, those hands on my hair.

forgotten is not the same as gone.

last night, though, when we walked in the room, there was no space for two mats beside each other. and so we ended up at opposite corners of the classroom.

and i missed her.

i was LESS CALM without her. that sentence is almost as funny as the first. when i was in labour with Oscar, and panicking, my poor mother hid behind Dave’s shoulder, hands raised to God, hyperventilating. i did not find this calming. i have found little about my mother calming in at least twenty-five years, in spite of her earnest efforts.

yet there it is. perhaps if we breathed more, talked less.

i know that my children will forget most of these days, this brutal frog-march into winter where i feel like i am failing everyone and everything around me. i feel powerless and inept and uncertain. too many essays churned out, sourced and tidied, sentences cropped into submission. now the words stutter from me, hesitant, timid.

in class later today, i will stand up and talk about blogging, and identity, and how digital technologies have made it possible for whole worlds of conversation about mothering and motherhood and being mothered to exist and to be shared.

i thought it would be the easiest thing in the world to research. what do i know better than blogging and mothering? what am i doing here if not trying to write myself into some kind of coherent existence?

today in class i will them that i started to write two weeks before Oscar was born. almost a year after Finn died. i will tell them i was afraid to speak the open wound of my once and future motherhood, and so i wrote it down, that in-between place of uncertainty and hope and fear that was all that i knew.

i kept writing because that place of uncertainty and hope and fear has never gone away, only changed.

i keep writing because i have no other place to tell my mother that i missed her last night.

but i am afraid.

my life as a student this fall has been a drop down a rabbit hole of half-remembered existence. blogging has spoiled me. i have built a place here where i have grown steadily less afraid to speak. i have unlearned a lifetime of being careful and defensive and controlled, uncertain whether i was doing it right…whatever “it” was. i have grown accustomed to being in a shared conversation.

what i say and write as a student, on the other hand, is graded, judged.

and to stand up and talk about writing my motherhood to a room of mostly childless people, while i swallow the guilt of yet again missing supper with my kids, is to get naked. to expose myself. to judgement that does not come from being inside the conversation of the messiness of motherhood and identity.

i hope they understand. i hope they judge with the same generosity i’ve found out here.

i hope these stories matter, these stories of writing ourselves into some kind of coherence. i hope i can find that coherence again, by opening this life to that other one.

do you open the Pandora’s Box of your online life with people who know you in the flesh?

for a couple of hours yesterday, i picked myself out of the crumbs and the bookpile on the couch, and pretended to be their mother.

there’s nothing i love so much as a Hallowe’en party. i mean, i like being there. i like pumpkins and candy and especially that toffee stuff that makes your teeth feel like they’re actually stuck together and you will never, ever open your mouth again and you get just a wee thrill of scared down your spine until you think of the weightloss advantages and then crr-aaack!! the stuff gives way and your mouth goes boomeranging open just as everyone turns your way. yeh. that’s fun.

fun sorta like this:

i call it, “my children, the happy savannah creatures.”

what i remember about the actual Hallowe’ens of my childhood is the little beads of cold sweat that collected inside those funny plastic facemasks they used to let us wear, the ones with the teeny noseholes and slashes for eyes. i remember trundling round the neighbourhood half-blind, narrowly avoiding being hit by cars, freezing and sweating at the same time, magically free to roam in the dark and beg for candy. i remember losing a loose front tooth to the sticky chilly caramel of my very first mini-sized Mars Bar, and trying to convince the lady down the street from my grandmother’s house that no, i hadn’t been there once already and actually, my twin sister had the same costume on this year. i remember the burnt smell of pumpkin in the air at the end of the night, when all the candles were blown out.

those are the things that i love about Hallowe’en. but every year, i forget.

i get seduced by the getting ready. because in spite of all that i love about the crisp, grim magic of Hallowe’en, getting ready for Hallowe’en is a whole other marvel entirely. its magic is not of the senses but of the imagination. in the hour or so before you go out trick or treating or take off for the soiree or whatever it may be…why, you could turn into anything. you are liminal, in transition. by the time you leave to actually GO out, you are wearing a costume. but while you are getting ready, you are BECOMING. the fairy godmother’s wand is at your shoulder.

the year i was nine, i went to the YMCA after-school Hallowe’en party dressed in a black garbage bag with some striped socks and a pointy hat on. i have seen the pictures. i was a scary witch, alright; i’d looked like a scary witch with a bad hangover had done my makeup. but that was the first costume i ever made for myself. in the time it took to prepare my ensemble, i lived a thousand cackling lives of wicked joy. i didn’t win a prize. i was baffled.

my kids, thus far, have had equally non-Martha-Stewart-esque Hallowe’ens. we have a tickle trunk of stuffed animal costumes. we put ’em on. we prance. we transform. we trumpet our elaborate sno-orrrrts! voila! to date, this has sufficed.

but Posey’s fingers are peeking out the bottom of the sturdy, puffy elephant costume that has served us every year for the past four. i looked at her yesterday, and realized this will be the last year the elephant rides in our trick or treat parade.

we got our money’s worth.




yesterday, 2010.

it goes faster than i thought it could. i understand now, the difference between toddlers and preschoolers. suddenly Oscar, my open wee boy, has this life, this world unfolding for him beneath the surface of everything. he has eaten from the tree of knowledge; he knows now, that the world is a naked place.  “i don’t want to tell you,” he declares, when i ask about his day at preschool. it’s partly not knowing how to collapse seven hours into seven seconds. it’s partly the complexity of realizing that his answer could – perhaps not to me, but could, somewhere in the mystifying judgement of the prosaic world – be wrong. and then we laugh and he makes up something to tell me and he cocks his funny little head and i can see him, at fourteen, twenty-four, forty-four, the man inside the boy.

i look at Josephine, my inscrutable imp, so clearly no longer a baby.

i look back at wee elephant Oscar, with that open gaze, who could have been anything. and i see. the elephant costume has been our hour of getting ready. we are leaving the liminal spaces behind.

the fairy godmother world does not survive long once words and worldliness creep in. i see my children emerging from it, hand in hand, one a little ahead, both stubborn and human, fully separate from me. mine own, yet never again quite like this.

i sniff a little sno-orrrt! behind, and then grab my treat bag and rush to head out alongside them into the real magic of the cold, crisp night, for as long as they will let me.

advice wanted: i need mySELF a costume. i leave for Blissdom Canada tomorrow. i am entirely unpacked, mostly dishevelled, and covered in crumbs.  i will rock the cocktail parties. luckily, there’s a Hallowe’enie karaoke night on Friday. which means i can dress up without needing to look All Fancy. i was hoping sweetsalty Kate, Schmutzie, The Palinode, Earnest Girl, and i could go as the Village People. then i realized there seem to be six Village People. still, i hold out hope. any volunteers? i call dibs on the leather guy.

if that doesn’t pan out, i own a blond wig and some striped socks. should i haul out a garbage bag and reprise my witch costume of 1981? halp! best Hallowe’en costume ever, that can be cobbled together out of sticks, lint, and leftover grant application drafts?

cause i tried the elephant costume, people. and that ain’t happening.

i dream i am on a boat, an exile. you are the shore. you are getting smaller. i pinch my fingers around the image of your head, smiling at the optics, playful in my powerlessness. i do not believe my voice will carry across the water.

i nod to the ache of it. sand swallowed, carried within me.

this is not the way i meant to go. i would have stayed…but launched, i sail. there is no swimming backward.

i trail my hand in the water when i should be sleeping, sending messages in bottles.  they all say, tell me you do not need me there. i think you try. i don’t believe you. it is too hard to hear over the waves.

i thought there was water between us.

last night, i listened to Jess read aloud the names of hundreds of loved and lost babies. in love. in remembrance. October 15th is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day…an awkward holiday, if ever there was one. even for us.

the first year it came across my radar, Oscar was eighteen months old. i was pregnant again, for the briefest of spells.

we lit a candle in bathroom while Oscar played in his bath. he splashed and laughed, and the yellow light played across the walls. in my mind i called Finn’s name.

he did not answer. but names did. a hundred names, all the babies and children and promises of babies i had come to know in the year and two years before. and i stopped, and cleared my mind, and tried again. Finn. Finn Liam Ferdinand Bug Maddy A the twins Thomas…the names began to trip again.  i could not still them, could not hold in my mind my small son with his perfect fingers and the just-so curve of his ear. into the river of names he slipped, away from me, water between us. i blew out the candle, gutted and guilty. i’d failed him. failed at remembrance.

sorrow becomes less specific with time. not less, exactly: only less sharp, less exact. and less exacting.

last night i sat and i listened to Jess, and all the names, and tears ran down my face. but i was not sad.

in the river of names, somehow, i found him. i found them all. a tide of tears that has become something bigger, something unto itself, something beautiful. for me these lost children are like Finn’s friends, his peers. this comforts me. no mother wants her child to be alone.

three years ago, in the candlelight, i was trying to remember what Finn had been, to bring him present. i cannot. he has not been that baby with the broken body for years now. if i try to hold him in that moment, he will wash from me, slip away again, over and over.

instead, last night i sat and listened, and i let them run over me until i too was in the water, no longer an exile.

and i smiled. in love and remembrance. in celebration. of all of them.

my Posey girl is two today.

last week, from the back seat of the car, she piped up, when i was a baby, i was CUTE!

she then rocked her back and forth Stevie Wonder-style with her surefire cute-as-a-button face on, revelling in her former status as something adorable. i suspect Oscar may have been reminiscing for her. she’s at the age where nothing is cuter, in her mind, than a baby.

in truth, her wise, sweet, chatty, constantly-in-motion little self, with her apple cheeks and her wild pique and her guerrilla hugs, gets cuter every day. she blows my mind, surprises me at every corner.

but when your baby is able to say things like, “when i was a baby…” in complete sentences, you gotta face it. you don’t have a baby anymore.

you started big-girl school this week, Josephine…and it has been hard on you. a classroom, for the first time, and all in French, napping on mats: it is a lot for a little soul to adjust to. it broke my heart to wonder if yours was broken, when you burst into tears that second morning.

but you bounce. it seems to be your way. i went to your classroom yesterday afternoon, early, with cupcakes, to make sure you were okay and celebrate your birthday with your new petits amis. you were lined up at the door, a party of one, hopping up and down and squealing, i want to go outSIDE! then, oh, hi Mommy! oh, hi cupcakes! it’s a SPECIAL day!

it is a special day, indeed, my girl. my big girl. my bright and beautiful smallest, my sweet wild thing.

we stayed home today, together, you & i. we snuggled, we iced a cake, we played in the yard. you made me laugh. you made me want to pull my hair out. you made me stop, in the middle of my kitchen on a mundane Friday afternoon, and sweep you up in my arms and give thanks from my bones for the gift that you are.

you’re right: when you were a baby, you were cute. but every day, you grow more lovely, more headstrong and yet considerate, more entertaining, more full of wonder. keep it up. happy birthday, my smashing Josephine.

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