Saturday, December 31, 2011

24 Hours

Follow Our Family Through 24 Hours! A Multiple-Choice Game Where YOU Decide the Outcome!

It's 1am. Mike is
a) asleep
b) creating witty statuses on Facebook
c) washing the dishes
d) sweeping the dead bird off the eave outside the bedroom window

It's 2 am. Rhys is
a) asleep
b) crying to be fed
c) wide awake for the hell of it
d) exhibiting behavior that Kitty will undoubtedly twist into something to worry about

It's 3am. Kitty is
a) asleep
b) emailing doctors
c) wide awake for the hell of it
d) writing in her journal in the dark

It's 4am. Emily Cat is
a) asleep
b) throwing up on the new futon
c) wide awake for the hell of it
d) “entertaining” a mouse friend

It's 5am. Isaac is
a) asleep
b) asking how to write five million billion two hundred thousand hundred thirty four
c) wide awake for the hell of it
d) informing us he has to pee

It's 6am. Mike is
a) asleep
b) going for a run in 20-degree weather
c) changing a diaper
d) being kicked by Kitty to get up and feed the cat (since she threw up her dinner and Mike took her mouse away)

It's 7am. Rhys is
a) asleep
b) cooing and smiling
c) downstairs making breakfast with Daddy

It's 8am. Kitty is
a) wishing she were still asleep
b) telling Isaac how to write five million billion two hundred thousand hundred thirty four
c) watering her succulents

It's 9am. Emily Cat is
a) asleep
b) asleep
c) asleep
d) all of the above

It's 10am. Isaac is
a) at school
b) home again for another freaking holiday, good god, how many fucking holidays can there be in a year?? have mercy!
c) playing quietly by himself

It's noon. Mike is
a) working from home without a hitch
b) making his lovely lactating wife lunch
c) thinking about buying snow tires, refinishing the living room floor, and insulating the pantry

It's 2pm. Rhys is
a) asleep
b) at another doctor's appointment
c) eating his Yummy Bear friend with relish

It's 4pm. Kitty is
a) starving
b) sitting in her newly renovated studio office fulfilling her true calling of writing
c) fielding another housecall from some well-intentioned college kid campaigning for an end to all the evils of the planet while really just freezing us all as she holds open the door and thinking maybe it wasn't such a great idea to move to a socially-conscious small town after all because did they see this freaking house, I mean, do they THINK we have any money?? And by the way my baby just had surgery, so stay the hell back and don't infect any of us with any of your collegey germs. And I want to save the world, too, okay, but really, it's been a hard year, so what do you say you just go on your way, back to Trader Joe's where your kind all have carts full of figs, peanutbutter and peppermint Jo-Jos, it's safer for all of us that way, you understand? Now, Buh-Bye.

It's 6pm. EmilyCat is
a) asleep
b) asleep
c) trying to trip Kitty while she carries the baby in one arm and tries to open her food can with the other

It's 7pm. Isaac is
a) asleep
b) complaining that Santa didn't bring him everything on his list
c) deciding he's still hungry after he's already brushed his teeth and that no, he doesn't really have room for any more beans or salad, but what he REALLY could go for is maybe, he thinks, um, one of the candy canes on the tree, but just a bite, just one, okay? One? One teeeeeeeny one? Teeeeeeny bite? Teeeeeeny weeeeeeeny???

It's 8 pm. Mike is
a) reading Isaac the same Captain Underpants book for the five million billion two hundred thousand hundred thirty fourth time
b) sneakily eating all the coconut M&Ms
c) researching by the glow of the laptop something no one but an engineer would begin to understand while the rest of his family is passed out around him

It's 9pm. Rhys is
a) asleep
b) crying to be fed
c) wide awake for the hell of it

It's 10pm. Kitty is
a) asleep
b) waking up since she fell asleep putting Isaac to bed hours ago
c) writing blog entries in her head while she nurses the baby

It's 11pm. Emily is
a) asleep
b) throwing up on the new futon
c) waking up the baby for the hell of it

It's midnight. Isaac is
a) asleep
b) wide awake because he can't sleep with the scary wind blowing
c) wide awake because the baby is crying, the cat is meowing, the mice are squeaking, and is that a dead bird out the window?

memoir titles

Trying to come up with titles for a memoir to cover this year. Here are a few contenders so far:

Chopping Vegetables on the Washing Machine: A Guide to Home Ownership

My Kid Might Be Allergic to Maple Syrup: How You Too Can Move to New England!

Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned on Craig's List

The Altar In Front of Children's Hospital Was Crowded, So I Threw Them the Bird Instead: When the Diagnosis is Positive

When I Tell You Where I Moved From, Do Not Say “WHY?!”: How To Miss Monterey in 5 Easy Steps Months

Blasting Begins 12/13. Please Expect Delays: Our Travels to Boston

Like Ripping Off A Bandaid: Snow in October and Other Ways to Get the Pain Out of the Way Quickly

My Home Inspector Quoted Rumi To Me: The Trials of a Poet Mama

When Roadtrips Go Bad: How to Fight in Front of Your Child While Eating at a Vinyl-Cushioned Booth in a Diner Somewhere in Pennsylvania

Mommy! The Cat Has More Playdates Than I Do! : Varnish and Varmints of a 110-year-old House

Happy New Year, All!

Friday, December 16, 2011


Wish I had time to write it all out right now, but suffice to say we are home from the hospital! It was pretty much record time. We are now exhausted and starting over on various counts, but home nonetheless. Rhys is smiling again and doing pretty darn well. Will try to post over the next couple days.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

post op

Just a quickie note to say Rhys is out of ICU and doing well. We're on to pain management right now - another hurdle but I suppose considering all he's been through, not terrible albeit more stress on the mama.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

my current obsessions / god complex redux

After 14 years I am still in the throes of learning what it means to be close to an engineer – someone with that kind of precision running through his veins, uber-focus, odd-world-out kind of mentality – and now, due to no choice of my own, I have run into another being so strange as to fill my mind with question after question, so bizarre as to boggle my every fiber and cause me to obsess about why he does what he does. The mysteries of Edward Cullen have nothing on this guy.

I am speaking, of course, about the masked one, who scrubs up to his elbows, the one with the steadiest hands, the beast known as (Say it!...Out loud...) Surgeon. (How long have you been cutting people open? ... A while.)

I am constantly thinking about the man who will perform the operation on Rhys. He is my age. He is personable (I'm told a rarity among his kind) and handsome. When we speak his name among nurses and other doctors, they sparkle like Hollywood vampires in the sun, clearly enamored of this person. When I finally met him I stared hard – looking for the trail of magical pixie dust in his wake, listening for the sound of the clouds parting and hymns of the chorus of angels to begin.

What possessed – and I do mean possessed – him to take up this profession? (I actually asked him and he told me some tired answer about seeing the difference made in people's lives, blah blah blah.) But, really, what is in him that brought him to medicine and then, to the freakish specialization of children's surgery? Is this the result of a happy childhood in which he learned he could do anything? Or a tortured one which taught him he must push as hard as he can to do better, be more perfect, and haunts him still?

What does he do in his free time? Does he have free time? What will he eat for breakfast the morning before he cuts open my perfect baby? What will he eat for lunch afterwards? Will he remember to look at his name on the chart or will it simply be another tiny body he must fix? Why does he think it normal to go to work and pick up a scalpel? Why does he shrug when I ask him details about ideal weights and ages for this to be done? How does he feel when things go well? When they don't?

When I flub my job, verbs fall flat or phrases fail to find a foothold in your mind's imagination. And for him?

Two weeks before Project Insanity in which I offer up my Rhys to surgery at Children's Hospital Boston. Escape is a very necessary tool at this point. And so, if you had told me a week ago that I would reach a time in my life when I would spend what small wakeful free time I have disappearing into a laughable fantasy world where a girl goes to her prom with a vampire, I would have said you were nuts. But thanks to a friend's suggestion (Yes, I blame you, Nicole!), there I go. Werewolves, baseball-playing vampires, armies of the newly undead, I embrace it all, while I place my faith in another kind of creature which to me doesn't seem all that different with regard to his rumored super-human abilities.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

god complexes and mothers and doctors and what's in a name

Two things Isaac is obsessed with right now are world records and looking things up on the internet. As you might guess, these two passions combine to make for hours of entertainment for my son as long as there is an adult to tell him how to spell and read what pops up.

About as skilled as I am with finessing his search language, Isaac sees the computer as a kind of a boardwalk palm reader -- “Ask it 'What is the biggest baby ever born?' Type in, 'Who-is-the-person-with-the-longest-ever-mustache-ever-in-the-whole-entire-world-ever?'”

“Let's look up 'Who is the most important person in the world?'” he pleaded recently.

“Who would decide who the most important person was?” I ask, devil horns sprouting from my curls. “Most important for what? To whom?”

“You know, just most important.”

“But that's a complicated question. To Rhys right now I'm the most important person in his world. Without me, he doesn't eat.”

“No, but you know. The most important person, like, the president that.”

“Rhys doesn't care about the president.”

“Forget it,” my six-year-old says, and, disgusted with me, stalks off.

I can't decide if I should be happy or nervous that our surgeon carries the name of a mythical deity. I can't decide to be grateful or not when our cardiologist squeezes in a voicemail to me “between meetings” and inquires as to my “availability.” Why “between feedings,” dear doctor.

Etymologically speaking, there is this --

doctor = c. 1300 “Church father”

mother = Proto-Indo-European, from “ma,” meaning breast

Latin - mater
Greek - meter
French - mère
German - Mutter
Russian - mate
Icelandic - modher
Sanskrit - mata
Irish - mathair
Welsh - mam
Arabic - oum
Hebrew - em
Swahili - mama
Chinese - ma
Hawaian - makuahine (maka first, beloved < *ma-k Proto-Polynesian, the mother (?) + wahine woman)

I've decided to spare you the ins and outs of how we came to this point, but know it is hard-won: Surgery date - December 9.

Friday, November 04, 2011

the door collector

Doors red, blue, brown, white standard sizes, white one skinny closet door. one blue with window and glass, I collect doors but can't take them! 10 each

That is an actual line from a Craig's List ad. The person was moving and listing a variety of things for sale. After the hand-painted boogie board and before the list of mirrors was this list. Doors.

Collecting doors? Maybe he or she didn't want to miss Opportunity. It might knock on the beige one with the half-circle of stained glass at the top. Or, it might favor the steel door, impenetrable though it may seem. The screen door, flapping gayly open and closed through summer nights might be where it comes to call, or the one painted white and red with the ornate handle.

The call and the challenge for the writer is to notice. Through this year of chaos, I try. Often anymore, it is the only thing I can do. I can't seem to do anything about things, either because they are out of my control to begin with or because I notice them while walking a fussy baby, or while falling into bed, exhausted.

Before I moved, I had started on a longer work, now temporarily abandoned, that deals with my mom's passing and my tendency to search for and, by turns, embrace or reject what might be signs of messages from the other side. One of the main things I am grappling with in writing it – or should I say grappling with and so writing it in hopes of at least (and this is no small part) laying bare the questions though the answers may never find me – is even if I were to find what I believe with all my being is a sign, so what? A sign of...? The meaning of which is...? Because of it I'm supposed to believe...?

That's where the noticing comes in. For now, I just notice. It is what it is, as they say. What to do with the information, I have no idea.

I just notice, for example, that my mother declined open heart surgery before she died. And that the last time I saw her was in a cardio ICU unit. I just notice that a year after her passing I had a baby that requires open heart surgery. And that I will be spending time with him in a cardio ICU unit.

I also notice that I have bought a house with a lot of issues regarding doors and passage ways. I refer to it regularly as a Feng Shui nightmare. None of the doors to the rooms close right, entrances are obstructed, unnecessarily complicated, blocked. If everything in the world wasn't at the top of my priority list right now, from buying winter boots to scheduling surgery, I'd say I'd have those doors fixed ASAP. My baby, born to this house in so many strange ways – born at home the night we moved in, his middle name meaning “new house...” -- has passages in his heart that are blocked and other spaces that are open where they aren't supposed to be. Just noticing.

I laughed and laughed at the door collector when I first hit upon it. But really, why should this hobby be any odder than any of our other neuroses? French doors teeming with possibility. Barn doors with their two halves swinging independently. We live among closet doors, pocket doors, solid wood doors with see-through key holes. All the while, looking for a way out

Thursday, October 27, 2011

just tests

Just wanted to clarify, since several people asked me...Rhys and I had to stay overnight for some tests, we are not doing surgery yet. Present tense as a stylistic choice and always a lag time in real time vs posts. Thanks always for reading.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

the graveyard shift

It was my first night in a hospital. I have spent the day standing on a cardio cath recovery floor because we are "overflow," the third "high risk" baby of the day. Rhys got to do his echocardiogram and I only had to force feed him foul-tasting medicine that put him to sleep first. Almost like a party. Nine hours after we arrived we got to talk to the cardiologist. It only took the surgeon 8 and a zap to the pager.

Now, Rhys and I are settled into our charming accommodations where his monitors sing to us about numbers on blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and oxygen saturation levels.Any time I lift him to nurse, we go code blue. It's not unlike a car alarm - no one pays attention anymore since they are always set off by accident. Beyond the curtain there is a 2-week old and his mom. The little guy has already had surgery for his time in our world and has yet to breathe the air outside a hospital wing.

In place for a night of monitoring, I am thinking of making a leaf rubbing of the springs on my cot. A handsome man breezes into our room around 10 pm or so and introduces himself as Dan. Hi, Dan. He looks like he just walked off the set of one of those medical drama shows. Dark chest hair curls out of the top of his scrubs. He has an easy manner, quick with the jokes.

"I'm the doctor on duty for the night," he tells me, and by way of further jovial explanation: "It's my job to keep everyone alive overnight."

"Mine, too," I say.

"Really?" he inquires, all earnestness and curiosity. "What do you do?"

"I'm a mom."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011



We are a people who, approaching an intersection on foot where 2 or 3 people are already standing waiting for the walk signal, immediately press the button, assuming, one is to believe, that the other people forgot to or somehow did it wrong, thus, their continuing stance at the corner.

However, we are also a people who are perfectly willing to believe that a surgical team can saw through the breast bone, stop the heart, empty it of blood, cut it here and sew it there with the ultimate in precision, presumably repairing, without risk of error, what is already the ultimate in perfection.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Mama Bear Goes to Boston

Rhys: over it with the doctors, but still trying to stay balanced in the yin and yang of it.

Black bears rarely attack. But here's the thing. Sometimes they do. All bears are agile, cunning, and immensely strong, and they are always hungry. If they want to kill you and eat you, they can, and pretty much whenever they want. That doesn't happen often, but –and here's the absolute salient point—once would be enough.
- Bill Bryson, from A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

The first 3 out of 4 days we spent in Massachusetts after arriving this summer from our final stop (the lower Hudson River Valley) at the end of our cross-country insanity, the front page of the local paper was splayed with pictures of bears. Bears, eating from people's compost piles. Bears, exiting people's homes through kitchen windows. Bears, just chilling in people's yards.

The animals were beautiful, striking in their bear-selves and the juxtaposition displayed: with an obviously wild nature that challenged everything about their domestic surroundings.

Despite the bear on the flag of California, I have never heard of one wandering into our old neighborhood. Judging by the construction drive that seems set on paving over every sage bush there, we'll be lucky if the skunks make it. The bears? They are long gone, having had to submit to things like the bear and bull fights back in 1800s Monterey with its red-tiled roofs and neanderthal modes of entertainment lit by whale blubber. But enough about our shining past.

The two times we came to see this house when it was on the market, the seller's realtor must have tripped over herself trying to mop up the puddles of drool she left on the floor after salivating about the young couple with the preggo wife who would surely be ensnared by all the charms of a 100-year-old farm house. She saw the belly and knew her marketing tactic immediately.

“Kathryn!” she'd coo to me. “Look at this!”

“This” would inevitably be some stupid-ass thing, like a picture of a laundry shoot window that once existed or her perceived convenience of the washing machine in the kitchen (?!?...coming in another entry...). She thought she'd found the perfect preggo, that sales push-over, the Nesting Mama. Unfortunately, she had me pegged all wrong. She'd found Mama Bear.

“Is that asbestos on those pipes in the basement?” I'd ask narrowing my eyes on her latest dream detail (“There's a light in this closet! And look, Kathryn!...”)


“If I can help the other 4 families you'll see this year with a kid with TOF, let me tell you, you need to explain more information up front. Nothing for nothing, Doctor, but that handout you left us with told us nothing and only made us scared.”

“Oh, well, I'm sorry. That was never my intention. My intention was to leave you with enough information to investigate. The name of the condition Rhys has is called Tet-tra-lo-gy of Fa-llot.” (Why, some of my best friends have Tetraology of Fallot!)

Bitch, start with me.

Can you say, fired? She's been replaced. (Why, some of my best friends are doctors!)

The local scene just beginning to show signs of hope with a new cardiologist on board, this weekend we also head to Boston – our first trip to Children's Hospital. We will be consulting with a cardiologist and a surgeon. Rhys will undergo a sedated echocardiogram and then have to spend the night for observation. I will stay with him. I'm packing my honey pots and holding my breath.

And since I don't yet know how to communicate the intensity of the stress we've been under for the last 4 weeks, that's all for now.

...Nothing worries and antagonizes a female bear more than to have people between her and her brood...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

rainy thoughts

I have been reading emails from friends. And friends of friends. And friends of friends of... Well, you get the idea. I put out a call to my peeps for anyone with information, connections, or personal experience with Tetralogy of Fallot and what I got back has left me dazzled.

So many people went out of their way to try to help us. So many words of encouragement, from all the crazy corners of my life. The poets and the doctors; the lawyers, the teachers, the pray-ers and the skeptics. I love you all. Thank you.

Any of you who've followed this blog over time may have gathered that our Isaac -- from here on out to be known as "our first-born," just because it amuses me and feels charmingly cliche and like something I'd never say, ever -- is a rather intense little person who demands a great deal of our time and attention. And while he is still that and in all likelihood will always be that, Isaac our first-born has been doing a fabulous job of busying himself lately. In fact, he never stops being busy. Ever.

One of this favorite things these days is cutting out snowflakes. You know, the fold the paper and snip holes kind. And while I might object somewhat to this premature winter filling my windows, considering I'll have a real, New England winter on my hands before you know it, I can't help but be charmed by my son's creations which include his very best writing.

Bundled into the center of his snowflakes are conglomerations of the words he can spell without thinking too hard, so that they usually say things like "IsaacMomDadRhysCatLove." And I take them from him and think, yeah, pretty much, that's it.

The authentic snowflakes are still a ways off for now, gratefully, but weather has been unusually rainy here these days. Downpours several days out of the week seem common.

Both my boys were born in the pouring rain. There is a sacredness to rainy days. I have always thought so. There is something to gain from the darkened scenery, the baptism of garden and asphalt alike.    

All I can do is just move through this time with Rhys. Move slowly through.

Everything wants to be the rain.
The yellow maple leaves
pinging against the walkway
gather first to fall in a gold sheet
of sound. The dry grasses
bending in the wind
thirst to be like the rain --
how it can calm the most hassled
day, put us softly to sleep.
The traffic on the highway --
especially the traffic -- puts on its best
mimicry, longing as it does
to be instead the beat and whoosh
of contemplation that is the rain.
And as the rain streams now, down
the windshields of rush hour,
it does not mock or scold its proteges,
does not deny them their allegiance
as it might, but simply continues, steady
in its example.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Imagine that you are delicate enough that the quarter-inch square stickers for the EKG they made you do left bruises behind on your velvet skin. Imagine now that you are so delicate that two hours under florescent lights, the ringing of phones, shuffling of folders left you so exhausted you slept the rest of the day and night, waking only briefly here and there to eat. Try hard to imagine it. Do. Because we are all that delicate.

My Rhys has been diagnosed with a congenital heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot. He will require a corrective procedure, likely open heart surgery, before he turns six months of age.

I wasn't surprised somehow when they heard the murmur. Not that part. Not the murmur. A month ahead of schedule he moved down that canal red with blood and love and into my arms, a floppy doll, quiet as I leaned in and whispered my greeting, praying he'd stir, rally in the dark room of hope. And then that beautiful heart had something extra to say.

Metaphors are real and I will not apologize for them. I am a poet for a reason. And it is not to talk prettily about spring. My boy's heart came with a space most of the rest of us don't have; it is more open than the average person's and sometimes, because of this, he cannot catch his breath.

“What a perfect little being,” the barrista says staring at my baby bundled in his carrier. “Yes,” I answer, “Yes, he is.”

It is a new world. Always new. Imagine.

Monday, September 05, 2011

what it means to have two

The other day Rhys' milk blister was back posing as a perfect tooth dead center on his upper lip. And since I've spent the last two weeks with the baby asleep on my lap reading Captain Underpants books to Isaac, it reminds me of a buck tooth – specifically the buck tooth of Sulu the Bionic Hampster. Not something the average mother normally says about her newborn.

photo could be better, took it on my phone.

I know I'm supposed to be goofy in love and showering everyone I know with photos of the most beautiful being ever produced, and most of the time I'm like all kinds of ready to call up Anne Geddes and be in her face with “Do you have a flower pot?? 'Cause do I have a baby for YOU.” But sometimes I look at my new son and I see Sulu the Bionic Hampster, and I want other mothers out there who spot mutated rodents from juvenile chapter books in the images of their children to have somewhere to put their feelings. I'm here to tell you, it makes you no less of a mother. It just makes you a candidate to write a blog.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

peaceful waters

Rhys is four weeks old. Today is his due date. Time is like water -- rushing, rushing.

This morning is one of those mornings when daylight enters the room to reveal two adults completely and utterly defeated by the smallest of beings – barely 7 pounds now – lying asleep on the bed between them, looking all of the miracle he is, any strains of the Midnight Devil we came to know hours before vanished.

Sleep. If only. Our 6-year-old is hungry, and we might have to feed the cat, too, although so far she's caught herself a mouse and a bat (!) for her time in the house.

It's the stage way before smiles and giggles, before clutching toys and eating toes. It is the stage when, if their eyes are open at all, they stare past you and over your shoulder with a great suspicion, tiny brow furrowed into deep gorges, mouth pursed. The question in the air is clear enough: did someone make a mistake? pull the parachute cord over the wrong cloud? Who ARE these people??

Last night, Mike and I tried to discuss our goals for the long weekend. The project list is too big to write down. The house is too much of a mess to start anything. I wanted to hear about floors being sanded, lamps being purchased.

“I think we should be patient with each other,” Mike says.




“I think we should be patient with each other.”

“We're not being patient with each other?” I ask impatiently.


Wake me up when you've got some goals, dude.

In the newly installed shower one of the two shower curtains that circle the claw foot tub is printed with a colorful world map – a long-ago gift from my sister, Rita. Due to geographic and stylistic considerations, as I stand in the respite of hot water, I spend no time looking at, for example, Australia or, as it turns out, the Arctic Circle, which is shown in detail in a callout much below its actual latitude. Instead, while I bathe I am regaled with décor such as Greenland and, particularly, the upper regions of Canada where I study the many fort towns with bemused curiosity.

There are Forts Nelson, Norman, Simpson and Smith – your garden variety embattlements. Then Fort Reliance and Fort Resolution that have a bit more to say about the state of things. Among all these is my favorite: Fort Vermillion, which bounds forward in my imagination, its brilliant colors streaming, its watch towers vibrant in wild shades of red. And through it all there is the Peace River, holding down the waters of hope that everyone will quit it and just get along. 

Friday, September 02, 2011

Excuse me, but did you just say the word 'casserole'?

blueberry muffins
homemade ketchup
homemade pesto
and the topper – a brown rice casserole.

This is the current list of things we've been greeted with my our new neighbors. We seem to have landed in some kind of wonderland of friendliness, not to mention, victory gardens.

Also worth noting is that we seem to be surrounded by Californians. The wives on both sides of us are California natives, the diaper service lady called Arcadia home before moving east, the mailman hails from Santa Rosa, the young couple running the groovy farm in the next town just moved out here the month before we did from Santa Barbara, the woman across the street lived several years in Palo Alto. Curious.

In my first couple weeks in the house, which of course were also my first couple weeks with a newborn, I have not been able to get out and about and meet these west coast transplants with good community habits. I am quite secluded in my tiny room filled with a collage of straws, washcloths, ibuprofen, pillows, and a squalling infant they say is mine. My sequestered existence only deepened when Little Guy, being pretty little, was not able to eat so very much, and I ended up with badly blocked milk ducts, near mastitis, that culminated in the precipice of delirium and a 103 fever on my birthday. (This child crowded into August, for goddsakes, when every other event in our lives happens. He knows how to find the party.)

Milk Duds? exclaimed Gerard.
Ducks! I shouted. Milk Ducks!
-- from Anagrams, by Lorrie Moore

When I complained I'd never get out to see anyone, that I felt like a ghost, here but not really here, Mike suggested putting on a long, black veil and walking slowly around the lighted porch at night, just to add to the mystery and mystique, charge up the rumor mill.

There are many, many things I have no memory of in my life. Many, many of those many, many things relate to the early days of being a mom. But there is one thing I remember with keen clarity. It took nine days for my nipples to stop being ripped apart and feeling like they were on fire. Nine. Not eight, not ten. This time was no different. Nine. Though there was a space in which I dreamed of a shorter penance.

I heard through the grapevine that my next door neighbor was a lactation consultant. She was also, as it turned out, on vacation. We waited in great anticipation for her to return.

When did my life turn into an Alanis Morissette song? I moved in next door to a lactation consultant...who was on CALIFORNIA.

Obsessed with someone I never met, the days ticked on and my tender nipples scabbed. Until one day, Mike was looking out the kitchen window and, adding on Mike's inability to remember anyone's name, you get this conversation--

Mike: Hey! There's Tim...
Me: You mean Todd?
Mike: Todd is putting car seats in the car; maybe he's going to pick up his family...You should go over and ask him if Natalie...
Me: You mean Cynthia?
Mike: Cynthia's coming home today.
Me: 'Hi, Tim-Todd. I'm Kitty. Is your wife Natalie-Cynthia coming home any time soon? Because I'd really love to show her my boobs!'

Won't you be my neighbor?

The deed to the house arrived in the mail and I set it on the changing table.

The weather added to my insular existence; rain just kept coming. There was nothing to do but wait for it to stop and heat up the casserole.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

family portrait

must update that sidebar.

notice the steps we're sitting on go nowhere. entries on more of such charms of the new house and more baby-related life coming soon. also notice surrounding us are some of the succulents I dragged 5,000 miles on our cross-country trip. they make me happy. those wacky boys pictured have also been known to do same. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Rhys' Birth Story

Hi, we were just in your store and I think we left a large, neon green rubber snake in your bulk section.

Did you say rubber snake, ma'am?

I'm afraid so.

This is how my labor started. Sort of. But let's back up to the morning of August 4.

I was excited to have just brought over that morning from our temporary Massachusetts accommodations of most of the summer to the new house, our house, what I needed to stay the night. It would be our first night all together there. It was also our 10th wedding anniversary, one I had always believed we'd celebrate in Monterey with lots of friends.

But things were not where I could have ever anticipated them to be 10 years down the road... The POD was unloaded and sitting empty at the end of the driveway. The correct gas company had been summoned after a dumb misunderstanding that had us paying for someone's gas at this address in a city called Waymouth, MA – not where we live. That morning we'd interviewed a doula about the possibility of staying with Isaac during the birth. She seemed nice, if not ridiculously young and beautiful. Isaac had two days left of summer camp and while Mike attempted a stab at work, sitting with his laptop on the porch, I walked the third of a mile into the small town center, headed for the bookstore and lunch at my favorite cafe.

It was hot, but not exceedingly so by summer 2011 standards. I was having some contractions, but nothing exceedingly unusual by summer 2011 pregnancy standards.

I was happy. This simple walk. Time to myself. Time to try to take in that this was my space now. This unfamiliar neighborhood with the old growth trees and peace flags.

When I returned, Mike informed me that my mother-in-law and his aunt were coming over to wash the windows. As they like, I thought, and toppled over on the couch, exhausted. The women of Windex arrived and conquered, exclaiming all the while about how I walked “all that way!” into town.

Suddenly, it was late already – 4:30 – and I had yet to get to the grocery store. I felt like crap by now, but compelled to work on the shopping list. Isaac decided he was coming with me and so was his green snake.

I think that about catches us up to the opening telephone conversation.

After I got home, I reluctantly mentioned to Mike that the contractions felt different – a little rise to them. He looked downright frightened, but tried to cover it quickly. “You're not having a baby tonight, are you?” “Uh, nooooooooo,” I told him. Still, I thought it best to call the midwives.

When Isaac was born, our midwife, Maggie, barely got there in time. Two weeks early, a day before the home visit that would have saved Maggie from having to search blindly in the middle of the night for our apartment, Isaac shifted into position for exit. Then, an hour after she got there - wham, blam, thank you, ma'am, Isaac was out. Done. “Huh. And I thought you were going to be a pain in the ass,” Maggie marveled at me afterwards. “Thanks, Mag. Thanks a lot.”

Consequently, my midwives here drilled me with precautions about calling early when ANYTHING felt different. So I called. Their advice? Get in the bath and drink a glass of wine. Reason number 904 to hire a midwife and skip the doctor route.

If it's real labor, it won't stop the labor, they told me. If it's not, it will relax things.

I lumbered up the stairs to put Isaac to bed while Mike returned to our former place of residence to retrieve Emily cat. With Isaac was out cold, Mike hadn't returned, so I drew a bath as instructed.

When we first came to look at this house – second on our list of showings we'd lined up the day after crash landing in Massachusetts, I spotted a neighbor outside across the street. Mike was chatting up the realtor about furnaces while I slipped out the porch and over to the woman standing knee high in Queen Anne's Lace. We discussed the area a bit, the ages of the kids on the block and how she used to live in Palo Alto (CA). She seemed quite friendly and I was heartened.

Before I returned to actually look at the house we'd come to see, she lowered her voice and leaned in closer. I hear there is only one bathroom in there, she told me conspiratorially. Ooh. Neighborhood gossip. I liked it.

It is true that our new house has but a single bathroom. But neighbor lady only had part of the scoop – the bathroom had a beautiful claw foot tub...and no shower. No shower. It's an old house. It's a house CHOCK full of poorly orchestrated do-it-yourself projects. Over the last century, it's been added to, half-ass renovated, and (sort of) updated prior to putting it up for sale. But no one saw fit to add a pipe dripping warmish water from above. Mike's comment: “In a hundred years, no one wanted a shower?”

There is now a shower in the one bathroom. It only took a hundred years and one week. Imagine what we can accomplish from here. Anyhoo, let's return to that day – Rhys' day..Oh yeah, HIM! Was I writing about the birth of my son somewhere here? Or actually, let's return to the day before Rhys – OUR day – our damn anniversary...

I got into the claw foot tub that still lacked a shower and waited for my husband to get home. Seemed appropriate for an anniversary protocol. The claw foot tub ROCKED by the way. It was deep and comfortable and even in early labor and late pregnancy, my enormo-belly protruding out of the water like a great volcanic island, felt super.

Mike got home with Emily and a bottle of Riesling called “Relax” and we proceeded to the porch. Like the bath, the wine was great. However, neither seemed to stop the contractions which only intensified and prompted another call to the midwives around 10:30pm.

Mike was still looking wary of this whole thing, worried about how early the little person seemed to want to make his appearance.

By 11pm the first midwife arrived and though she talked about us getting a few more hours of sleep and coming back after setting up a few things “just in case,” she never left.

Now picture, if you will, boxes. Lots of boxes. Not much else besides boxes.

And picture, if you will, Mike and midwife ripping through boxes looking for all the supplies we needed for the home birth while mama sweated and groped for the occasional hand to hold.

Sometime shortly after midnight the second midwife arrived and joined the hunt.

Although just as quick, labor with Rhys was completely different than with Isaac. A different that was indisputable, but difficult to define and no less dramatic. Kind of like the earthquakes that shake vs. the ones that roll. Why do I sense that this metaphor will serve me on a variety of occasions as the boys grow up?

I was getting no relief between contractions because of the pressure of the bag of waters, which had never broken. It was an amebic pain without any clear signals about when to push or what to do at all. I will tell you that, sadly, I had nothing interesting to add to the lexicon during these intense hours. You'd think I'd be coining new expletives or - at the very least - cursing my husband. But my most oft used word was “Ouch” with a couple “Helps” sprinkled in. I was about a million degrees and demanding to be fanned, demanding attention that took my attending trio away from their continual search for more stuff they thought they needed for me to have this baby, but other than that, I was just slightly more whiny than usual as far as I recall.

I never quite found my rhythm with the labor. It was just too fast. The medical term is precipitous. The end came as a surprise to me. I could have had five minutes or five hours to go by then, I had no idea. But on the very same daddy-built bed as his brother arrived six years earlier, at 1:10am, on August 5, just clear of our anniversary date, Baby-baby, aka Rhys, entered the scene. 

Mike woke up Isaac just before his usual wake up time in the morning and told him we had a surprise for him downstairs. Having gone from excited about witnessing the birth to (after watching a couple birth videos) unsure if he really wanted to deal with all that, Isaac was not disappointed to have slept through it. He was very pleased to meet his brother, however, whom he (and the rest of us) continued to call Baby-baby.

Who knows what comes ahead of what. Did the walk “all that way” help bring on labor? Or did I walk all that way because labor was already in the works? Did Rhys come early because of all the craziness we endured during the pregnancy, or did I worry from week 18 that he would come early because I intuitively knew something?

Rhys was born at 36 weeks – just at the cut off of when I would be allowed to have him at home. This birth would have majorly sucked in the hospital. Everything about it would have signaled emergency to a hospital staff. My fitful, amebic pain would have had to be contained within a sterile cot and restricted by a monitor – several monitors. They would have taken him away from me. Suctioned him with machines.

And, really, what else would a baby skipping four weeks of gestation need more than just to be held by his mama?

“This is your new uterus,” one of the midwives told me sweeping her arm around the small room we'll eventually use as an office while discussing what special considerations this little preemie would need. I took in the boxes labeled things like “Isaac's books/toaster/Mike's diplomas,” thought about the pantry with its grimy thumb-tacked contact paper put up sometime between Watergate and Flashdance, and swallowed hard.

But as the sun entered the non-shatterproof glass on the window with the broken sash and chipping lead paint and spilled luxuriously across the fake wood vinyl flooring in the dining room just outside the “nursery” door, I knew it was the start of a new day.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

1 in 80,000

Only one in 80,000 babies are born "in-the-caul." That is, still in all or part of the amniotic sac. The caul itself was very valuable through history as a lucky talisman and people who were born in this way were said to have special powers that help them see through the "veil of life," powers of premonition and clairvoyance.

...four weeks ahead of schedule...born healthy and home, while his big brother slept...on the first night in our new house...
...just on the other side of our 10-year anniversary...the boy everyone was sure would be a girl...

5 lbs, 15 oz.
19.5 inches
August 5, 2011, 1:10 am

Rhys = of Welsh origin, meaning "boldness," "enthusiasm"
Xavier = of Basque origin, meaning "new house"

(pronounced Reese ZAY/Vee/Er)

Monday, August 01, 2011

everyone's happy on closing day

Meet the latest challenge in Emily's life.


As you may be able to divine, Lucy is a ferocious beast, ready to maul my poor girl the minute she gets the opportunity. She's all fang and slober and malice. She's...okay, she's a pile of depressed fluff because her family left her here while they go somewhere in Maine I can't pronounce. She took one sniff of cat from about 10 feet and ran the other way. The problem, however, is that Emily is oblivious to her power over this other animal. We are staying on the second floor, Emily's food and litter pan are in the basement, and in between there's...


And here she was thinking she was queen again. Sure, she smelled the cat that used to live here, up to just a few weeks before we arrived. Oh yeah, didn't I mention in my "the living and the dead" post a couple back that even my poor cat had to live in the shadow of death? Our host's cat died two months before we got here. He's buried in the backyard.

Times are tough, BUT! It's August. It really turned into August, like I never thought it would. Soon, these posts will include news of a house - our house! It's almost too much to believe.

August 1st = Our closing date. And everyone's happy on closing day, aren't they?

Here's the picture I have -- a bar, lots of dark wood, the TV monitors tuned to the Red Sox game but muted, the bartender drying out glasses or cutting lemons, a few couples eating at the surrounding tables. Now, over in the corner, near the waitress station, there are the realtors - ours and the seller's, their arms around each other, swaying. And what's that they are singing? "We're in the Money," I think. Their words are slurred a little, the shot glasses in their hands tilting out some of their moonshine. Before we pan away, several "Iloveyoumans" can be heard exchanged.

Oh! And look! There's the home inspector. He's given up the knee pads and the rubber shoe covers; he's looking sharp in a pressed white collar shirt open to his navel -- is that a gold medallion resting on his chest?? -- and he's leaning in toward the bartender, tracing his finger around and around the rim of his beer glass. I think he just licked his lips.

The loan officer from the bank is looking gooooood tonight. My oh my, I wouldn't have though she had it in her, but damn if she's not got that fishnet thigh wrapped around the pole on the stage in the back of the room. What would the underwriter think if she could see her now??? And she's stuffing hundred dollar bills in her own garter belt! Wow! Where could all that money that have come from?

Our lawyer is there, too, and, aw, gee, this is a little embarrassing, he's stripped down to his boxers and he's climbing up on the bar. He seems to be twirling his clothes around his head and gyrating his hips while occasionally letting out whooping noises and sucking down his vodka tonic."Easiest money I ever made!" he shouts over the jukebox (Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive") and then rocks his air guitar. And of course the paralegal is standing nearby, his right hand man. He just called for another round for the bar on Kitty and Mike!!

Parrrrr-teeeeee, Baby!

So raise a glass tonight, wherever you may be. It's on us.

Friday, July 29, 2011


In most human cultures, birth is a social event not a potential medical emergency... - Geradine Simkins

When I left Monterey, one of the fabulous friends I left behind was my midwife, Maggie. She is an incredibly unique soul -- hilarious, insightful, grounded in layers of experience, politically and otherwise courageous, an amazing artist, an oasis of comfort.

She "caught" Isaac, as they say, and I wish very much she could be here for this baby. I got to spend the first trimester and a half with her.

She is one of the midwives featured in a new book called Into These Hands: Wisdom from Midwives, edited by Geradine Simkins. It is a compilation of the stories of midwives over the age of 50 who have been practicing for at least 25 years, how they came to be what they are and why they do what they do.

I miss you, Maggie!!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

the living and the dead

She has two rhythms now
Another heartbeat
Almost too delicate
To dance to.
-- Taelen Thomas

My friend and colleague, the ineffable Taelen Thomas, wrote that for me spontaneously when he found out I was pregnant with Isaac back in 2004. He wrote it on an index card while we stood off stage together at the performance poetry show I was hosting at the time. I doubt he remembers it. But I always have, and when we were packing and moving I found the card. It's now taped up in the van; it traveled across the country with us, a new dance its purview these days.

As confused as I sometimes become about our decision to have another child, there is a need. It's large and small and touches many circles that don't always touch each other. I think it's safe for me to write with philosophical wonder about some things that have driven me to distraction in the last 5 weeks in Massachusetts because very soon we will actually be in our own house and I won't have to deal with it as my daily reality anymore.

Since we've arrived I feel like we've been infused with the dead. We are staying with someone whose long-time partner is critically ill with cancer. We get updates several times a day after her visits. An understandable obsession of hers these days, death and dying are also what we are regaled with stories of as she sits out the heatwave in front of the newspaper. A couple killed in a car accident. “Isn't it terrible??” A priest who shot himself. “Can you imagine??” A life apart from this black-shrouded barrage of facts? I hope I still can.

Then, amidst other more removed deaths – someone's daughter's husband's father, a guy who used to go dancing with so-and-so... – that we nonetheless hear about often and in detail, a couple weeks ago, Mike's uncle passed away.

We mentioned in casual conversation that we have promised Isaac a bunny for his 7th birthday next year and he's very, very excited. “We used to have a bunny,” our host started. “A cute, black and white bunny. It lived out by the shed. Until one day a raccoon came – I think it must have gotten in through the top of the hutch...” You get the idea. Isaac and I sat shell-shocked at another blood-strewn tale where once there was just a furry pet.

The apparent “serendipity” of death, if you will, has reached such a fevered pitch that even the most seemingly innocent interactions steer in dangerous directions: “Have you ever seen a June bug, Isaac? Look, it's too fat to turn over again from its back!” “There are ants eating it,” my son informs her, taking a closer look, “It's dead.”

Even when we arrived here was curious timing. It was the same weekend I flew in to Jersey last year for my mom. The one-year anniversary of her death on June 19 came 2 days after we got here and continues to shadow me.

As you may or may not imagine, being pregnant, in a new town, grieving, buying a house, blah blah blah blah blah, has brought on more than one meltdown to this poet's constitution. At one point, Mike said, “Do you think you can ask your mom for help?” To which I snapped “NO! I'm tired of dead people. I've had enough of dead people!”

Of course I want her to walk with me, but at the same time it's especially painful right now. And of course the dead and the living can be in conversation, but even Persephone got to come the hell back from the Underworld for part of the year.

It is time for life. New life. Why do you think I am so addicted to farmer's markets? It's about abundance, a coming to fruition, displaying beauty, Demeter restored.

In a few weeks I get to hold the new. I get to feel brand new life, right there in my arms. And I remember this much, the wave of hope will be bigger than all the rest of this. It's time to clean things up, sweep away the June bugs. 

Don't pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living.” - Albus Dumbledore

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


If I were to post a wanted ad for friends, which I indeed need in my new home, I might require a quality that I can't quite put my finger on the name of. Rather, let me tell you a story that might illustrate it.

One day Isaac and I were at the children's museum and I happened to run into a good friend of mine, Alicia, with her twin girls who were probably about four at the time. All involved were please by this chance encounter and after the kids had had their fill of playing restaurant and hospital, we headed out together to a taquería close by.

Waiting for our food at the booth, Alicia pulled out of her purse a copy of Gabriel García Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. “I've been trying to read this,” she said simply. “I brought it along in case.” I have always had a deep respect for Alicia; we have fun together; we can talk about all kinds of things; we were friends before we had kids; we've stayed friends after having kids; she has wrapped her mother world into her preexisting one. Unflappable, she acknowledges the changes motherhood has brought to her life while maintaining her interests, her poise, and her personality.

And in that moment, when I saw the book, not only did I again fall madly in love with her, I understood on some level without a name how it was we came to be such good friends. Anyone who carries One Hundred Years of Solitude around hoping to catch a moment when her twin preschoolers are occupied long enough that she might read a line or two? These are my people.

I no longer have the option of having people meet me pre-kid(s). That's an interesting space for me to ponder.

I can remember when Mike and I first arrived in Monterey and I began my graduate program. It weirded me out slightly that everyone meeting me was meeting me as part of a couple. It was particularly odd seeing how Mike and I were very new to coupledom at the time. We'd taken off together after knowing each other not all that long at all and we had no idea where this thing might go, or if it might just die a quick and dirty west coast death.

I am still relatively new to motherhood and now I will become new all over again. Different baby. Different phase. Different rules. But soon, people passing me on the street will just see the ladywiththebaby. The mom. I have yet to reconcile completely with my mother identity, but in some kind of insane apprenticeship, I've decided the best way to get there is to try again.

We call the baby “Baby-Baby.” Since Isaac will always be my baby, the logic goes that this one must be Baby-Baby. Isaac has somehow shortened it recently to sound a bit like Elvis, lip curled: “Bay-buh-Bay-buh,” he'll pronounce. Our Vegas star will be here in another month or so.

I wrote so much poetry during the time I was pregnant with Isaac, and I've basically written close to zero in the last eight months. I feel the desire to get some out about this pregnancy before it's over, before the new little one appears. It will be the last time I carry a child like this, from within the intimate space of blood and darkness. I am cautious of what things the power of another being will shift in our lives, just as I am also enamored of him/her, protective, mama-bear-hormone in love. My belly protrudes into the world as a tease to me, a taunt representing the directions out and away.

Soon, Mama, I will have the ability to move out there. I will move away from you. I will leap unprotected and you will be lucky to capture the trail of my laughter as I go.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Matt of Matt's Garage

Some of my more faithful and astute readers may recall a passing reference I made to a bar in Iowa called Glenn's – the same one where I was harassed by the pig farmer for my dietary choices – in which I state that the owner's name as Jerry. This didn't seem all that odd to me since I had already under my belt the experience of the garage where the majority of work for the Van had been done before we left for our cross-country trip: a place called “Just Andy's,” the owner, none other than Pierre. I was getting used to this trend, until I met Matt.

Our Mazda 3 hatchback was waiting for us at my in-laws' house when we got to this side of the country. It was not a tearful, joyful reunion as I've always hated that damn car. If you have nothing else to do and want to read about how it entered our lives, be my guest. Here's the back story of why we needed to get it. Here's part one of shopping for the new car. Here's the Mazda deal.

I had to admit after some consideration that shipping the sucker rather than selling it was the route to take. But I wasn't going to like it. My best hope was if it got stuck in a snow bank over the winter, never to be recovered. Or its exhaust system choked with some a swarm of bizarre flying summer bugs, known only in the northeast, their infestations coming every 4.73 years. Or something that would completely kill it, forcing us to junk it and move on with our lives.

Spiteful little be-otch vehicle that it is, it was just the clutch that went, and right away to boot. Expensive enough to hurt, but extremely fixable.

We got a recommendation on a place close by called Matt's Garage and headed in. We discussed the problem with someone there and decided on a plan of action. As we turned to leave, I inquired of the man who'd been helping us his name. He gave me a funny look before answering. “Matt. I'm Matt,” he said, all but pointing to the sign on the building behind us. Oh. What was this new and magical world I'd entered where things are in fact what they appear to be??

After our first meeting and during the time the Mazda was at his place, Matt would call me often. Whenever I'd be expecting realtors, lawyers, inspectors, it was always Matt on the phone. He started every conversation the same way. “Hi. This is Matt.” Like we'd been buds for years. It always took me a second or two. “Matt,” he'd repeat. “Matt's Garage.” I hate that car. But I think I like Matt.

Pretty soon the clutch was fixed, and we were back on the road.

Then, at 8:30am my phone rings. Seems a little early even for my relentless realtor. It's my friend, Matt.

“You in possession of that Mazda?” he says, serious as all get out. “Are you anywhere near Easthampton right now??” he prompts. Having taken note of our California plates but deprived our full story, he was concerned. We were all of about a half mile away and as far as I knew the piece of shit was still in the driveway.

“We found a spot of oil on the ground where the Mazda was parked. I gotta put it on the lift.”

A spot of oil? Big flipping deal. Mister, do you have any idea the kinds of cars I've driven? A spot of oil??

“I can be there in a couple hours,” I told him still groggy.

“Okay,” he said, like he didn't really trust me to come.

The scribbles on scrap paper on my nightstand read like an amnesiac's to do list. I need a new everything, from pediatrician to bank account. I have no friends here; I do not recognize anyone around town. I get lost on the way to Isaac's school. I have no idea where to take my son on these empty, hot days before we are fully settled. But I think it's safe to cross “mechanic” off the list.

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