Tag Archives: motherhood

A note to my boy, who is ten today

Chasing pigeons in lower Manhattan.Dear Declan,

Now you are ten. Declan’s first decade is a wrap.

Ten. Like all of your fingers or all of your toes, like the first syllable of your name. It’s the number of inkblots in the Rorschach test, the percentage you are supposed to tithe or take down to weaken an army, the atomic number of neon, the minimum number of players on a baseball field during play, the Wheel of Fortune card in a tarot deck.

It’s a powerful base number that can take you to infinite places, like the Eames’ film, Powers of Ten, that you used to watch over and over and over again when you were three. You loved it so dearly that you wanted to go to the Chicago lakeside to lay yourself down exactly where the man in the movie did, maybe thinking that it was a place where you could travel to the farthest reaches of the universe and the depths of the microverse.

“Ten is the number that allows all the numbers above it to exist because it’s the first use of zero,” you told me the other day. We had your birthday party cake decorated with 1+100 zeroes – a googol – because it is ten to the power of ten to the power of ten, and it was named 100 years ago (10 X 10).

You are an initiate into the double digits, a place I hope that you’ll remain vibrant and healthy for the next 89 years. You seem like a guy who could still hold his own well in the triple digits too.

Age nine has been eventful. You liked impersonating Rene Magritte’s “Son of Man” by holding apples and balls in front of your face and demanding that I snap a picture. You researched dark energy and dark matter. You learned to knit. You met Michio Kaku and nearly jumped out of your skin with excitement. You were a neuron for Halloween.

You asked to take refuge, the formal step of becoming Buddhist last summer, and did so with a lama who had taken refuge in Tibet when he was nine. The refuge name you were given means “glorious wisdom,” Karma Sherab Palzang but Lama Karma kept calling you “Chocolate” to see if you’d answer to it. And sweet you did every time.

I gave you a sign that says “I want to have adventures with you” for your room, and I’m happy that we still do. We do things like wake up early and drive around in our pajamas to see a lunar eclipse. We walked all over Manhattan together last August, exploring Battery Park, Chinatown, Little Italy, SOHO, The Skyscraper Museum. I let you play in the fountain in Washington Square Park on a steamy day. You emerged after a good hour, soaked and joyful. “God knows I loved that,” you said as we took back to the sidewalk.

You fell in love with the Met, the way I was as a kid. When you walked into the room with the Temple of Dendur, which you last saw at age 5, you said “THIS is where this room is! I have had so many dreams in here!”

You wake up the morning and ask me things like whether or not I know how George Washington really died, or if I realized that chocolate chip cookies and plastic were both invented by accident. I never know how the day is going to begin. I am happy that certain things seem to be outside of your purview. The other day, you told me someone had knocked you down at the roller rink and when I asked, startled “on purpose?” You replied within a beat, “of course not!”

I met Larry. And eventually so did you. (Plus his dogs, Walter and Leelu.) Your first impression of him was “he’s funny and he’s kind.” But what I most remember is that when I told you that he made me feel safe and loved, you hugged me so hard. You put your hand on my face sweetly and said “I think this is important for you.”

We celebrated your birthday on Sunday with so many of your friends at the bowling alley, which – of course we did, because the game has 10 pins and ten frames. You have this beautiful exuberance for all things and people. I loved the way some of your friends talked to you, how excited they were about presents that had gotten you or the cards they had picked out specially.

There was nothing in particular you asked for on your birthday today. You decided you wanted to give something instead – ten inches of your hair to Locks of Love. Your hair is beautiful and has been such a signifier of you as a person – this boy who hasn’t cared about being called a girl, this unfazed, self-possessed individual who I admire so, so deeply. You are such a dynamic and lovely person, Declan. And as earnest and delightful as you are, you’re also goofy and funny as heck.

It’s so exciting to wake up every day and find out more about who you are, who you want to become.

I love you so much my sweet boy,


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A note to my boy, who is NINE today

spaceboyDear Declan,

Now we begin your tenth orbit around the sun. It’s the last year that your age will be identified with a single digit, the closing of your time as a primary student, the beginning of who knows what? You are an ennead of enchanted and perplexing years. Everything is possible.

Nine is beautiful and mysterious. A stitch in time is said to save it, and isn’t that the truth? Dante said there are nine rings of hell, while Tolkien wrote of nine rings of power. There are nine consciousnesses in Buddhism, nine months in human gestation, nine innings in a regulation game of baseball, nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court and nine squares on each side of the Rubik’s cube that you are so enamored with these days. Mathematically, it’s a square number, a composite number, a lucky number, a Motzkin number, an exponential factorial and a bunch of other things you seem to be really interested in. It’s the atomic number of Fluorine, which is some pretty scary, toxic stuff. I know, because I once read to you about it at bedtime by your request and thought to myself “if this isn’t a mother’s love, what is?”

When I was pregnant with you I drank water from the Castalian spring on Mount Parnassus in Greece, the consecrated ground of Apollo and the nine muses. Everyone who knows you knows that you have the inspiration of Urania, the muse of astronomy. But those who know you best know that poetry, dancing, music, theater and history give you joy as well. I suspect you will draw encouragement from all nine muses in time, my sweet, sweet boy.

When I asked you what you remembered best from this past year, it was mostly about the world around you. It was things like the confirmation of new element 115, temporarily called “Ununpentium,” which made you dance all over the house when you heard the news. Or the steps toward a unified theory of everything humanity made when it was announced that the signatures of gravitational waves were detected by a team of scientists led by your religion teacher’s brother.

You remember the conversations you have been lucky enough to have with OSU astronomers and physicists and the day you surprised math professors when you discovered a new configuration in their circle-packing game. And that you finally saw meteors one night in Woodstock last August, as one after another streaked the sky.

I remember a lot of things, too. Like the way you thought you’d need my help when you tried ice skating for the first time, but got out there on your own and felt so fast. Last summer we wandered through Manhattan together for the fourth summer in a row and you lit up on the rocks of Central Park, a place so familiar and comfortable to you now. We laid down on the floor of the Guggenheim to look at James Turrell’s installation and the American Museum of Natural History to stare up at the blue whale. I hope we can lay down on the floor of the Louvre or the Uffizi together someday.

I remember when you shook Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche’s hand sweetly and gently last fall and smiled with your whole head. We took a couple of containers full of nightcrawlers home from his teaching for a “life release” practice and buried them outside of my bedroom window, liberating them from their sentence as fish bait. Almost every creature from the bug world makes you uneasy, but for days after, you spoke to them through the glass.

“I hope you have a good life now, worms,” you told them. “I hope the soil is rich. You’re free!”

You were a d-brane from M-theory for Halloween, which had you lamenting the lack of physicists in the neighborhood on beggar’s night. You researched the possibility of warp drive for your project at the school Interest Fair. Right now, you are learning to knit from a woman who deeply impressed you with her hyperbolic plane made of yarn.

At Christmastime, you were cast as “the voice of God” in a school play and projected your lines like a pro, then sang “Away in a Manger” all by yourself in front of a church packed with people. You are so brave. You made a special book to give to friends and family that you named “Declan’s theories and other things he likes to think about.”

And when it comes to wisdom you are no slouch. Once, when I asked you about how you respond to children at school in a conflict, you were thoughtful about it.

“I try to let people be who they are and hope that they shape themselves into someone kind,” you said, pausing for a moment. “Unless they’re sociopaths.”

Your humor isn’t bad either. You reenacted the birth of the universe as you cracked a glow stick into action one night. As its blue light emerged, you waved it around and said “hey mom – do you know what chemical element is in this thing?” I said I did not.

“It’s hilarium! Because it’s a glow schtick.”

You look out for me. When I took you to see the movie adaptation of Ender’s Game, I flinched during the violent parts, so you covered my eyes. I was roller skating too fast for your liking a few weeks ago. “You could get really, really hurt,” you said, and insisted that I slow down and hold your hand for a few laps.

You say thank you in unexpected moments. You try not to take things for granted.

Parenting becomes less and less about the choices I make for you every year. I try to put you in the best places that I can find to feed your thoughtful and curious spirit, but you are making your world happen, finding your own confidence, discovering and expressing your own feelings and convictions. It’s such an honor to witness your becoming.

A friend of mine told me he could see my imprint on you. “You circle all around him like a field of (William) Blake’s angels,” he told me. “He knows, absolutely, that he is loved. It’s safe for him to become who he is.”

God I hope that’s true, now and always.

I know that being your mom has helped me become kinder to my imperfect self, less afraid and more accepting of the life I have, even when it hasn’t gone the way I thought it should. I believe that might make anyone better at loving others.

I love you so, so much Declan and I couldn’t be prouder of how you you are.

Love \infty


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A note to my boy, who is eight today

decsweetDear Declan,

You are 8 today.  Eight.

Eight is the atomic number of oxygen.  There are eight spokes on the Wheel of Dharma, which symbolize the interdependent principles on the path to self-liberation.  It’s the billiard ball that you don’t want to sink, the number of drivers required in every Mario Kart race and the second magic number in nuclear physics (I don’t really know what that means, but you probably will soon).

Kick eight on its side and you have the infinity symbol, which suits you, my boy.  There seems to be no end to the things you already know and continually thirst to understand. I can hardly imagine what you will teach me in the future. Your mind is limitless.

Infinity is one of our favorite words. We make the symbol with our hands. It’s how much we say we love each other every day. At the classroom doorway or snuggled up at bedtime, we whisper to each other: I love you infinity.

Every year, when I write you one of these letters for your birthday, I seem to tell you how much you love babies and dogs. You still do. Sometimes when we can’t get rid of a particularly scary thought, we spend time looking at Cute Overload, where there are babies and dogs. And baby dogs. Baby pigs too. Hedgehogs, even.

I also always seem to tell you how kind you are. And you still are. To your Giga, to other kids – to everyone, really – but especially to your mom. You bolt in my direction and fling your arms around my waist like you haven’t seen me in weeks every time that I pick you up from school. If I shed a tear in your presence, your arms are wrapped around my neck in under a second. You invent secret handshakes for us. And you still blow kisses to me from the back seat. When you sang at a concert two weeks ago, they told everyone it was time to stop waving at their parents. You beamed right in my direction and winked at me instead.

Some great things have happened during your eighth tour around the sun. We drove to Alabama and joined my dad (you call him Papa), for Space Camp, a place where grown men who hold day jobs as accountants or computer technicians can safely wear flight suits without an iota of shame. We did space shuttle and International Space Station simulations, launched rockets and nearly had a heart attack watching your grandfather spin inside of a geodesic human eggbeater contraption.

Last November I took you with me, like I always do, as I exercised my right to vote at the early voting center. I snapped an image of you with a voting sticker on your palm, which landed – by way of an old college friend – in the hands of an ABC news producer. The day after the election, your sweet face moved slowly across the screen during Good Morning America. When I told you that four million people watch that show, your face went pale. But all of your color returned when you told your friends at school what had happened. They made you feel like four million bucks.

We’ve done some empirical research together, like trying to figure out whether Dr. John or Tom Waits has a “growlier” voice.  And we talked about all kinds of song lyrics at length because nary a word can get past you. It can get pretty tricky at times. Trying to explain the meaning of your grandmother’s “ART SLUT” mug felt particularly tricky. But we seem to have agreed that there are no bad words just bad ways to use them – particularly if it’s to inflict pain on another – so “stupid” and “jerk” are as bad as any.

You also played a lot of Minecraft. And you spoke a lot of Minecraft to in-the-know peers as well as several confused elders. You speak Mario, too, but a lot of adults understand that.

You grew our your hair out like a medieval knight, which seems to have made one gown-up after another believe that you are a girl. But it doesn’t seem to bother you. One winter afternoon, a barista in a Downtown coffeeshop brought you a cup of hot chocolate and referred to us as “ladies.”

“I am a boy,” you told him clearly, looking him in the eye. Then, seeing his face begin to redden, you quickly added: “It’s okay. I’m not upset.”

“I admire that attitude!” He said to you, giving you a big thumbs up.

We had some down moments too, but our struggles were much more ordinary than the string of deaths and losses we experienced when you were five and six. When I asked you about things that you felt had been important about being seven the other day, you told me that you don’t have as many fears as you used to. You’ve been working on those.

The other night I shared some of my fears with you. One of them is how scared I get sometimes that I’m not doing a good enough job at being your mom.

You grabbed my hand and pulled it to your heart. “You shouldn’t,” you told me sternly.  “You are.”

The librarian at your school stopped me one day to tell me about a report you had done about birds. There was a question on a worksheet about mother birds and their young.

“If mother birds are like my mother,” you had told her, “then they must protect their babies.  My mom always does everything she can to protect me and make me safe.”

Declan, somewhere in the time since you made me a mom, I began to learn and really understand that we always have the power within us to make others feel good or valued or heard or seen, and that actively practicing living that way always elevates us.  We always have the power to make people feel bad, too, but that’s easy, especially if we’re careless, and that usually ends up hurting us more than anyone else.

Love and kindness are things I have to practice to do well, but you make them seem effortless.  You are a tender, gentle soul. Even when you’re whirling and jumping and seem not to be paying attention, I find that you pick up more detail about those around you than most people.  You don’t ask for much, materially speaking. Your most formal, serious requests to me have been for time and attention. You are grateful for what you have.

You make me feel like being your mom is something I’m pretty good at. Whenever my life gets rough or painful, I see how loved you feel and I feel like a success.

I love you infinity, my sweet, sweet son.



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A note to my boy, who is seven today

Dear Declan,

You are seven today.

Seven sounds magical when you say it out loud: Seven. Declan is Seven. We can look at the Pleiades and assign a year of your life to each sister. Or one year to every day of the week. Or one to each note on the musical scale. Or to each color in the visible light spectrum. You are seven, my baby. You are everywhere.

And you are magical. You do magic tricks with cards and bags and handkerchiefs and coins. You practice and practice your sleight of hand and then perform for people who ooh and aah. You almost always want to share the secret of each trick, prompting your audiences to say things like “a magician should never reveal his secrets” (especially when your audiences include adults).

But you have a different idea, which goes a little something like this: Everything worth knowing is worth sharing. Truthfully, I can think of little that is more magical than the way you still constantly, enthusiastically learn and then share what you’ve learned, like a treasure hunter who enjoys the gems and fine metals he uncovers best when he can give them all away. Abracadabra.

And there is always more that you want to know. You come home from a day’s work of doing long multiplication at school and ask me how to multiply using Pi so that you can compute the circumference of a circle. I try to do it longhand with decimal points on paper only to find out from the calculator that I have no idea what I’m doing.

“That’s okay mom,” you say to me, patting me on the shoulder. “You’re just a little tired. You’ll figure it out after you think about it a while.”

I wear a meteorite on a necklace that you gave me for Valentine’s Day. It’s the ultimate reminder of my boy and his infinite love for the universe. You laugh when I interrogate it about what part of the galaxy it is from.

“It can’t be that far,” you tell me. “It has to be from this solar system. But who knows? Maybe as far as the Kuiper belt.”

You’ve always been kind-hearted. And lately it feels like kindness has become not only something you do, but something you have come to believe in. One day after school, you told me that a friend of yours had been crying, so you crouched down next to him and put your hand on his back. A teacher saw this and said “you are a very kind person, Declan.” You couldn’t wait to tell me that an adult had called you kind. It made you glow with pride.

Sometimes friends of mine see how often you smile in pictures and ask me “is he ever unhappy?” And certainly, you can be, and I try to give you the room to be, because unhappiness is an important thing to feel sometimes. But it is surprisingly rare for you. You’re so excited about the experience of being alive.

You love babies. You smile your face off whenever you’re around one. You touch them gently on the feet and look them in the eyes to make them laugh. You also love dogs. Sometimes you lie down next to Arrow to see things from his perspective. You think about what it must be like to be him.

Anyone who knows you and me knows that you are the love of my life. And for the time being, I am still yours. I’ve done a lot of crying in the past few months because I miss people who have died. You wipe the tears off of my face as you let me tell you something about why I loved whomever I am missing. Then you hug me so tight that it’s hard for me to stay sad. When I think about what a loving, perceptive son I have, all I can feel is grateful.

We talked in the car one night this spring, about all of the feelings that grief can bring, how those feelings aren’t always the most obvious ones.

“I know mom,” you told me from the back seat. “Anger can mask sadness.”

The last time you saw your nanny alive in March, you held her hand and her gaze so sweetly. “Good lookin’,” she said to you, examining your face. “You have beautiful blue eyes.”

When I was your age, I remember being irrationally afraid that my grandmother’s broken wrist might be contagious. You, not yet seven, knew more than a lot of adults about what death really looks like, and you stood there holding your nanny’s hand. I would have given you the space to be afraid. But you knew that she was dying and you stood there, smiling calmly and gently at her for minutes and minutes at a time, giving her such comfort and joy.

I hope that I can become more like you.

At the funeral, you wiped the tears off of your daddy’s face. And mine. You got to hug your beautiful half-sister for the very first time. You were surrounded by people who loved you. You were completely overwhelmed. Especially by the thought of a boy losing his mother, like your daddy and his brothers just did. That night you hugged me so hard I thought you might bruise my neck and you whispered I just can’t imagine not having you, mom.

A few mornings later, we walked into your classroom. A small rainbow was reflected on the ground. You scooped up the colorful light with your hands and rubbed it all over my face.

“Is that for good luck?” I asked.

“No, it’s to keep you safe,” you told me.

Declan, I am so far inside of your heart, it’s a wonder that you don’t hear my voice every time that it beats. I don’t take credit for your intelligence or your kindness – you arrived here with those things.  But I see how loved you feel, how confident and secure you are, how much room you have to become yourself, and I know that I have something to do with that, which makes me proud.

It makes me cry, too. Really good tears. Big happiness is also important to feel sometimes. And you’ve given me a lot of that.

I woke up this morning and wrapped you up in my arms and said “happy birthday my sweet boy! You are seven!”

“I know. It’s so exciting,” you told me.

It is.

(Insert our secret greeting/goodbye here, including one kiss on your hand that goes to infinity.)

I love you to pieces, my son.



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You rite baby, you rite

While listening to the new Dr. John record in the car the other evening, Declan and I had the following conversation:

Declan: Mom, who is this? I feel like I’ve heard this voice before.

Me: It’s Dr. John.

Declan: That doesn’t sound right. Did you play him on this iPod before?

Me: I don’t think so. But… well, there’s a lot of Tom Waits.

Declan: Is his voice all… scratchy like this?

Me: Yeah, kinda gravelly…

Declan: What’s gravelly?

Me: Low and scratchy, I guess. Like he has gravel in his voice.

Declan: Oh yeah, it’s Tom Waits I’m thinking of.

Me: You are a pretty hip six-year-old, trying to tell the difference between those two voices. You met Dr. John, you know.

Declan: I did?

Me: He played your uncle’s festival one year.

Declan: Why did I meet him? What did he say? I don’t remember that. Did you meet him?

Me: We all met him. We ate lunch together. You were a baby. Your dad had him sign a book for you.

Declan: I haven’t seen that.

Me: I’ll ask him to look for it.

Yeah, what he said.

What we were listening to:

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A note to my boy, who is five today

Dear Declan,
You are five today. That is a little bit of a relief because I can’t remember the last time you met someone new who would have guessed that you were only four. Between your tall physique and your extensive vocabulary, I’ve had more than one person look at me like I must not remember the actual day that you were born.
There is no doubt that you are growing up quickly. And that I can barely remember the time before you were able to talk to me, when you were a babbling bundle of rolypoliness with ticklish, chubby folds on your legs.
These days I’m reading A Wrinkle in Time while you pick words you recognize off the page and ask me to tell you when I reach them. You work out math problems on your fingers. You close yourself in the storage ottoman and tell me you’re headed through a black hole, out a white hole and into some other part of the universe. You mix up magic fairy dust in a little tin and whisper wishes into it. You love dogs and babies. You laugh hysterically at mispronounced words and plastic dinosaurs that bite. And no matter how much you rationalize that they can’t hurt you, you seriously cannot stand bugs.
I’m grateful to Stephen Hawking because he reasoned that the imperfection of the universe is what made us possible. Now, when you make mistakes, I have a higher authority than your mother to invoke, which helps to keep you from being too hard on yourself. Sometimes this works for me too. Beautiful things can come of mistakes, now we know what to look for when we mess up. “Perfection is not possible,” is your new mantra. I made this point to you once. You’ve made it back to me at least a dozen times since, probably because I’ve really needed to hear it.
You’re also growing up in ways I wish you didn’t have to. Your preschool experience has taught you, and re-taught me the value of going through our feelings instead of around them, so maybe we’re at least better prepared for several of the challenges that are right before us.

Hospice workers, with all their loving care, have just descended on our family. And as much as I don’t want you to be burdened, as much as I want to protect you from feeling that you have the obligation to help, that obligation lives in you. You like to push your Grandfafa’s dining tray in so he can reach his food. You pick up things that he drops. You ask him what he needs when he calls out for help and you help him adjust his chair. Most of all, you do what a lot of us have more trouble doing around him – you laugh, you talk to him about all the science dancing around your brain. You impress him with ballet jumps and happy energy and provide him with little glimmers of pride and joy. You snuggle with his wife, my mom, your Giga. You are one of the best caretakers I know.


A few days ago you asked me not to put you in any summer camps for a while. What you want, you told me, is for us to have our own adventures, to do projects, to be together. You know you’re starting Kindergarten this fall, and they say a summer filled with shared experiences is the best preparation for this transition. I’m hopeful it will prepare me too, because I’m pretty sure you’re going to soar in school. I’ll be the one who is a wreck, having less of you in my day.
I wrote this thing after you were born. And every day you give me new answers to the question I asked that day in Delphi. I have been privileged to have a lot of amazing teachers in my life, and you are one of the greatest. I am so proud to be your mom.
I love you as brightly as a quasar, as infinitely as the stars in all of the galaxies in the heavens and as powerfully as a hypernova.
Happy birthday.

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Human worlds and Hello Kitties

One of Declan’s best friends at preschool is an extremely sweet little girl (I’ll call her Nora). The intensity of her smiles and happy bounces make it seem like she’s about to explode into a big, shimmering firework of pure joy when she tells me how much she likes my son.

She made him a gigantic valentine, replete with a big blue glass gemstone and a poem that she dictated to her mom about him. According to him, she wants to sit next to him every day at lunch. And he likes that. On the playground, they pretend they are Jack and Annie from the Magic Treehouse and go on adventures together.

The other day, her mom told me that Nora has been worried because when they grow up, Declan will no longer “live on the human world.” Declan’s affinity for space is known by pretty much anybody who knows him. She’s going to miss him a lot when he’s off on his galactic adventures, but she and another boy from their class will plan elaborate “welcome back to Earth” parties whenever he comes home for a visit.

Earlier this year, Dec started asking for Hello Kitty things. First he asked for band-aids, then stuffed Hello Kitties. He has one dressed in a lamb costume and another in a panda costume. They go most places with us, especially to his school. He feeds them at mealtimes. He puts them in the cupholders of his car booster to keep them safe. He tells me what they are thinking. He sleeps with them.

It’s been hard for me to figure what makes him so attached to them. Until I asked him one day in the car.

“I told you, it’s because all of the girls in my class love Hello Kitty so much,” he told me.

He loves the ladies, my boy. He wants to stay in their good graces. He’s a four-year-old that’s begun to unravel the mysteries of social currency with so little self-consciousness.

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Mean girl, reconsidered

She was my mean girl in high school.

I dreaded going to school. I dreaded the classes we had together.

I was sure it was her that scrawled the word “bitch” on my locker or my notebook that one day in French class, that she convinced one of her friends to do it. I remember the whispers, the loud mocking laughs paired with sharp glances my direction. There was a boy we had in common. And I had just switched back to public from private school, which automatically branded me elitist.

She and I made dramatic gestures to turn ourselves into friends in front of teachers and counselors, or at least make ourselves into non-enemies, but they didn’t seem to last. There was weirdness, and fundamental mistrust. She, like so many things about high school, made me restless and anxious to leave. So I did. I made my junior year into my junior/senior year so I could be far from proms and football games and mean girls and graffiti before I turned 17.

The other day, Facebook sent me some message that one guy or another wanted me to confirm that we were classmates on some application or other. I clicked there and looked around and suddenly there she was, the same big eyes, the same perfect makeup, the same smooth hair.

For some reason her profile is public, so naturally, I look. I wonder who she has become, if I could learn something that would make her more or less horrible in my memory, if we share anything. She is single, I see. There are a lot of pictures of her alone or with pets. There she is at our reunion, which I’d never dream of attending, photographed with a couple of other women that I hope to never see again. And then there are pictures of her with family. Of her radiant and pregnant. Of her pained and in labor.

And then one of her with severely bloodshot eyes, her face smeared with tears. She is holding a tiny, swaddled, lifeless baby. She looks throttled by grief. Or shock. Or something I can barely begin to know how to understand.

“Don’t be sad,” the caption of the picture says. “We loved her very much.” There are no comments or condolences, no words of encouragement beneath it. Just those words. Her own.

I feel it in the pit of my stomach – how brave this is, putting that experience of motherhood, that grief, right out there where high school bitches can run into it haphazardly. It answers questions. It keeps out the riff-raff. It shares something horrible and intimate and defining.

I wonder if I was a mean girl, too. If we were mean to each other. Did I steal her boyfriend? Not according to him, but he was a teenage boy, and I was in that private school at the time, so maybe I don’t know. Did she know how cruel her actions felt? Maybe she did. Maybe she didn’t. Did I do anything cruel? I don’t remember. I might not have had the social currency that she did, but I know I was hurting in that environment, so probably.

I don’t live with mean girl scars on the surface of my life the way they do in the movies. There are moments when they suddenly swell and pulse, but I don’t long to show up at reunions with high hair and fashion gear, claiming that I invented the Post-it note. High school wasn’t always a social joy, but I’ve had lots of social joy since then.

I wish she could remain my two-dimensional high school mean girl. I could go on with my reunion-less life, letting her be one of the caricatures from my teenage years that I haven’t seen since. I wish that grief-smacked expression never had to cross her face. I wish I could look at her Facebook photos and see her daughter alive, twirling in the sunlight. I’d buy her big, stinky red permanent markers and offer up my locker, my car or my teenaged forehead for 100 bitch stamps to change things for her if I could.

I wish. I wish. I wish.

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It’s my 500th post! Let’s talk about death…

“Why are these big rocks covering them?” he asked me, as though someone had put the gravestone there to hold my grandparents under the earth.

“They help you and I to find the place where their bodies are buried,” I told him.

“Where are they? Have they turned to dust yet? Why can’t I see them?”

My last grandmother died a year before Declan was born. My grandfather five years before that. He knows them from pictures and stories.

“They’re buried six feet below here. Inside of a casket – a big wooden box with… pillows.”

“But why can’t I see them?”

“Most people don’t like to be remembered the way they look when they’re dead and turning into dust — they want to be remembered the way they looked when they were alive, like they look in the pictures we have.”

When I went to a parent education session about sex, death and lying in early spring of this year, the teachers warned me that age 4 is when these issues come calling. Don’t offer him a bunch of information about it, they suggested. But when the questions come, be honest and answer them. If you make stuff up because you don’t want to worry or upset them, they’ll eventually find out. Better to be with them through the hard feelings instead of thinking we need to protect them from them. Better to be compassionate and someone they can trust.

It took Dec all of a month after turning four before the questions began this summer. We had big tears before bedtime for two weeks in a row when the thought of my ill stepfather (Dec calls him grandfafa), dying left him breathless. And the questions… Does it hurt when you die? When will grandfafa die? Will I have to die when grandfafa dies?

For weeks, it continued to emerge at all hours. We’d be talking about kids at play camp in the car, then I’d hear his throat suddenly start to tighten and he’d ask me “why does everything have to die? I don’t want anyone to die, I don’t want things to change.”

I was afraid that science was going to be our foil as the intransigence of these biological truths hit him. I was afraid of the day when his knowledge of black holes and colliding galaxies and dark matter began to merge with an understanding of mortality. How overwhelming to be four and have such a sense of the vastness and forces of space, which often make Earth’s Mother Nature look as ferocious as a gnat.

For a few weeks, that fear felt justified. He was scared about the sun, because he knows it will expand in 4.6 billion years and likely incinerate the Earth, but it was hard to convince him what a long time from now that really is. He came up with complicated methods to save the earth from burning. I tried, gingerly, to explain that we, and no one that we now know will be here when that happens. He worried that the sun could become a black hole until a nice physics student told him it wasn’t big enough to do that. And somewhere in that barrage of constant questions and explanations, he finally drew his own tear-filled conclusion that he will die, too.

But science has actually been our savior though this process. I took the box with my dog Samson’s ashes from the china cabinet and let him examine them, tried to help him understand how much I loved my dog and that I knew it didn’t hurt when he burned because he was dead. We’ve talked about all of the things that dust has helped create – planets, moons, dinosaurs, us. We talk about perennial and annual flowers and how things regenerate. Our cat brought us a dead mouse the other day and I buried it in the yard. For days afterwards he asked me, “is it turning to dust yet?”

We explained heaven and reincarnation as ideas that some people believe in. We told him that death is one of those things that no one understands for certain. He seems to find the greatest comfort in some of the scientific certainties about what happens to a body or a flower or a star, which I honestly didn’t see coming.

He likes to die dramatically, repeatedly on the playground, preferably in slow motion. And we are still constantly addressing questions about what dies, how it dies, how long it takes it to die. I’m sure we’ll be in this process for a long time. But I’m so much more hopeful and less afraid about his capacity to emotionally process these things now.

Last night we were talking about what he dreams his life might be like when he’s older. Do you want to dance? Sell tomatoes? Be a dog doctor? Teach kids? Study the stars? Paint pictures?
(I try not to make a career in science a foregone conclusion. I want him to be comfortable choosing whatever he wants to be.)

Becoming a daddy keeps coming up first on his list.

“Someday, when I die, I’ll be a grandfather, and then I will turn to dust,” he told me. “It’s all part of my journey to become part of everything in the universe.”

Declan= MC2

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Does Brian Williams live in our world?

Sesame Workshops 7th Annual Benefit Gala
The last few weeks of no camp and parental work scrambling and no preschool have led to far more television consumption in this house than I would like to admit. Combine that with the onset of four, which has meant a thousand questions about death and birth, and I’ve been dancing in between the real and fictional universe, trying to draw lines in the air that help make the distinction between the two a little clearer to Declan without diminishing the fun and beauty of fiction and fantasy.

Enter questions like:

“Will Santa Claus ever die?”

“Will I ever be trapped in a warp bubble?” (In a kid world where I keep meeting Star Wars kids, mine is Star Trek kid, which I’ve found to be far less common, possibly because it’s easier to describe combat and war than it is to venture into “a warp bubble is a scientific theory, sweetie.”)

We’ve spent a fair amount of time discussing the fact that cartoon characters come out of someone’s imagination, even if they do regular-people type things. Then he sees commercials for things like Dora Live! where cartoon characters seem suddenly touchable. He gets really excited and yells “MOMMY, WE NEED TO GO SEE DORA LIVE! WE NEED TO SEE THE PLACE WHERE DORA EXISTS IN OUR WORLD! DORA! IS IN! OUR! WORLD!”

Sesame Street is one of those shows that I love most of all, but can be hard to explain because of the combo of real people and puppets. Brian Williams recently guest starred on Sesame Street and reported on all of the characters coming down with a case of “Mine-itis.” A chicken kept stealing his microphone and yelling “MINE!” (As much as Dec loves science and documentaries that seem way beyond him, he also loves to get his little kid on.)

So last night, as I was explaining that the president was about to give a speech that was really important to mommy, Brian Williams appeared. Declan’s brow furrowed. He grabbed my chin and turned my face to the screen.

“Mommy? Does Brian Williams live in our world?”

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