Thursday, June 21, 2012

Two If By Sea

This is the third part of a sequel started on my blog, chronicling my two year old’s voice.  Go here here for Talking Two.  And then, for part two, Talking Two-and-a-Half, go  here.

Eating yogurt with his stuffed Barnaby Bear:

Cayce: Hello!  I’m Cayce! Want some yogurt?
Cayce (as Barnaby, deep voice): Oh Yes PLEEZE. I’d LOVE some.


In bath, his hair lathered with shampoo:

Cayce: Do you like my hat?
Me: Yes, I do!
Cayce: No!
Me: Oh- I’m sorry. You’re right. That’s not the way it goes. (Trying again) I do NOT. I do NOT like your hat. Goodbye!


At the ship’s wheel at the playground with a girl who told him she’s from New York.

Cayce (pointing out to the harbor): There are crocodiles.  There are crocodiles out there.


At Crosswinds Restaurant, watching the line cooks prepare his pancake.

Cayce: Who are those guys?
Me: Those are cooks. They’re chefs.
Cayce: Those are not chefs. Those are people.


Sharing a hot dog with his little friend M at the ACK Shack:

C: This is scrrrrr-UMP-tious!
M: Hahahahahahahaha!
C: This is REALLY scrrrr-0UMP-tious!!!
M: Hahahahahahahaha!


After buying a roll of wrapping paper:

C: I want to use it as a telescope!


About his miniature animals scattered on the floor:

Me: Put these babies away, okay?
C: Those are not babies. They animals.


Laying down on my lap to nurse with Barnaby Bear under his arm:

C: Barnda-by wants some too.


Down at the water’s edge, looking at the smooth, steel blue water with small bobbing boats, water going on and on as far as the eye can see, thinking of Mickey in batter In the Night Kitchen, thinking perhaps of the boy swimming naked in that giant bottle of milk under the stars:

C: I’m not the milk, and the milk’s not me. I’m Mickey!


Me pulling the car out of the drive, having finally packed it with everything we need for our outing.

Me, starting a line my mother used to say when I was a child: And we’re off--

-- like a herrrrrd of turrrrtles, my child finishes.    

Monday, May 21, 2012


At the supermarket: It’s very delicious in here.

After taking oral medicine:  It sounds like cherry. It sounds like candy.

You have to come and see.  You have to come and see this tower I built.

May I knock it over… with my tongue?
[Walking over to block tower on toy box, sticking out tongue, knocking blocks over with it]

About the pretty cirrus clouds: May I catch one?  May I catch one, Mommy?

As we’re walking toward the path to the woods: Maybe we see deer. Maybe we see butterflies. Maybe we also see dinosaurs.

As I’m strapping him into the car seat:  Are we going for a drive?  Will you text Holly?


On our way to help daddy, who’s truck has stalled on the side of the road.
ME: We have to go give daddy a jump.  His car is stuck.
CAYCE: Are we going to get daddy out of a hole?

Singing, singing constantly. Songs from nursery rhymes, songs from cartoons, theme songs, Christmas songs, especially Christmas songs…It may be near June, but my wee one is still enchanted with Frosty the Snowman, was a jolly, happy soul… Rudolph-a-nose-a-reindeer…had a very shiny nose… You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch… Lately he’s been picking up sticks and putting them in his mouth, saying he needs a corn cob pipe… I haven’t been too fond of that… Of course, Frosty is old school, before the days of political correctness…

The made up songs are the best… last week, on our way to music class downtown, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom.
ME: Look at those big pink trees, Cayce.
CAYCE: They cherry trees.
ME: You’re right, Cayce. They’re cherry trees.
CAYCE: I need to sing a song about cherry trees… I’m singing a song about cherry trees… I’m singing a song about cherry trees…[he sang all the way to town].  

After Daddy takes [something] away from him: Hey, wait a minute. We need that for our contest.

Holding up a broom handle diagonally, squatting beneath it: Let’s do lumbo.  Let’s do lumbo.  

Putting the easter basket upside down on his head:  I am a knight in a-shiming armor. I am a knight in a-shiming armor…

Handing me the basket: Will you be a knight in a-shiming armor?

Whenever we come across a lone person, be they male or female: Who's that guy?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Mom Wars: One Mother's Perspective

As a mom who still nurses a toddler well on his way to three, I had mixed reactions to the controversial cover to the new Time Magazine. A three something boy is standing on a stool, next to his svelte mom, onto whose exposed breast he is firmly latched.

I confess I haven’t yet read the article, but I have read a vast array of responses, from the often enraged and repulsed comments on facebook links to the article, to the more comprehensive open letter response from Mothering Magazine here……. to the refreshingly funny take from comedian Jason Good here.

While I was glad to see extended nursing getting news coverage, the provocative title, “Are You Mom Enough?” is divisive in ways that do no good to us moms. At first I was glad that if it was going to be divisive, it at least appeared to come out on the side of extended nursing. But in the end, I feel that such an extreme cover image is only about selling magazines, and not about building communities of mothers. In fact, it would be useful for us moms to remember that people are profiting by putting us at odds with one another.

 What’s wrong with the picture on the cover of Time? Nursing a toddler doesn’t look like that. I have never seen a toddler nursing standing up. A mom and her nursing toddler do not look like an exhibitionistic, infatuated young couple walking down the street immersed in a slurping, smooching public display of affection.

 Generally, a mom nurses her toddler sitting or lying down. The child may curl up, assume a fetal position to nestle into the warmth of mother’s body. While it may not be very common to see moms nursing their toddlers in public, when you do, it’s not nearly so blatant or audacious. If you look, the toddler will not look back at you looking at him. Most likely, if a child approaches out of curiosity, the nursing toddler will unlatch and go about his merry play. At least that’s what my child does, since he never wants to miss out on any of the fun playing with other little people.

 I remember years ago, I was walking through a Whole Foods store on Houston Street in the East Village. It was before I had my own child, or even knew that becoming a mother would soon be my fate. My friend and I were making our way to the bathroom at the back of the restaurant area. Right in my line of vision, as we walked toward the east wall, a woman was sitting at a table with a large toddler boy on her lap, nursing. I looked. Or, I should say, I didn’t look away.

 “It’s called breastfeeding,” she snapped, with that oh so New York, talk-to-the-hand attitude.

The mom in the Whole Foods might be surprised if she could see me now, fast forward a few years, looking much like her with a long-legged toddler sometimes dangling from my lap while he fuels up.

It saddens me to think that I may lose friends, and worse, that my son may lose friends, because people are turned off somehow by what to us is the most natural thing in the world. Whatever choices we make as mothers, it seems that every mom is on the defensive these days. I guess that’s because moms in general are under attack. We are constantly being judged. It is always, it seems, Damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Women are judged if we don’t have any children, and we’re judged if we have too many. We are judged if we don’t breastfeed our babies, then we’re judged again if we breastfeed them too long. We are judged if we put them in day care, and we’re judged if we stay at home. All this judging tends to put moms in separate corners of the boxing ring, when we should be holding hands in the center, saying “Ommmmm.”

 I recently wrote about the messy house factor in my life as the mom of a toddler. I wrote that I hoped visitors would be so enchanted with my friendly and engaging child that they wouldn’t notice by bad housekeeping. Well, I would also hope that my community of moms and dads and nannies and teachers would forgive us our brief public transgressions into the private world of mama’s milk, and notice instead that my son is happy and well mannered and loves to sing and play and treats them and their children and their pets with kindness and respect and something more, something just a little bit more… something in fact more like reverence, more like love.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Ever So Brief Type A Moment

Good morning. This is just a quick post to say, sorry for my absence, to have been "remiss", "aloof", whatever it feels like when I don't get on my soap box and blog a bit.

I thought it would be cute and Martha-esque of me to post a pic of a Type A moment. I don't have them very often, you know, or if I do, I don't tend to brag about them.

But alas, here we are, with this photo-worthy berry muffin.

I couldn't resist the opportunity to boast my baking skills. Our baking skills, I should say, since the two and three-quarter year old helped me with it, standing on a dining chair C pulled over by himself. He beamed with anticipation, pouring and mixing ingredients I measured in a cup, saying things like Cima-mom. I love cia-mom.

Poor kid. Lately he's been getting the short end of the stick on childhood delights like pancakes, muffins and cookies, since all of it was putting my gut into a tizzy.

After numerous tests, two visits to the doctor's office and a Sunday trip to the E.R., I learned that the horrid sounding diverticulitis that I thought was raging inside me was in fact the more ridiculolus and nerdy sounding splenic flexure syndrome. [Spell check, please?]

While I'm reassured that I'm not going to die, I'm not so keen on learning that I'm officially an old, nerdy mom whose body does embarrassing things in public. It will bellow it's wind and C will ask, What's that sound? and I will borrow a line from his paternal grandfather, whom neither of us ever knew except through his famous one liners, Low flying geese.

C will laugh a wonderful, hearty laugh.


 Hopefully, by the time a few years roll around that may teach him to be ashamed of such things, I will have become a greens devouring diva whose colon won't cause a scene at school events, one who has mastered the art of a long and joyous life.

 But may that life olease include a blueberry muffin or two.

 I'm happy to be writing again. I'm also so glad to announce that I'll be writing for an exciting new Nantucket community website,, which is going live this Monday. So look for me there, as well.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

City Music

Roar of trains.
Din of traffic.
Seas of people and live
lions, tigers, bears
monkeys. The iron
chimps on the clock
turning as the bells
chime. Seals
clapping and playing
whiff of hot dogs
mustard pretzels
steel drums
of calypso
blair of car
stereos. Eagles
classic Slip
Sliding Away
or Clapton’s
Some strain
bright as new
as rain.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Going Outside

Early spring, and life suddenly takes on a third dimension. We turn outward, shed layers, and lift our faces to the sun. We penetrate distance, pull the old dead leaves away from the green shoots pushing up through the soil. Babies, babies, my wee one bleats and points..

With the assembling of C’s new old play fort, down in a nook among the trees, we have literally been ascending upward. In two short days our toddler has mastered the stationary ladders and the climbing wall. He hurls himself down the slides with a new sense of daring and prowess. Almost overnight, his two year old torso's grown pecs and abs. Even though he’s still in diapers, he is suddenly a little man.

I can sense him expanding, unfolding on the inside as he masters these physical skills. He has crossed a threshold. My little destroyer has become a creator.

Perhaps it began down at the fort with his dad during the construction phase. He sat on one of the platforms with a monkey wrench in hand, cranking a real bolt into the real wood. This was a far cry from his toy hammers and saws. But more real, and palpable than anything, I know, was the sense of his father’s nearness as he took in the gentle, guiding tones of his voice, breathed in his earthy, masculine smell. Perhaps it was in that moment that he acquired this new pride of ownership. May I help? has become his question of the day.

And suddenly, instead of knocking down the tower of blocks before you could build it with him, he’s calling you into the room, taking your hand, pulling you over to the coffee table where he has constructed a tower ten blocks high. He wants to put his dinosaur puzzle together, and admire the complete picture it makes, maybe even count the number of flying taradactyls, or tell you which dinosaur is the daddy.

An old friend of Daddy’s stops by to pay a visit while we are down in those woods, pulling up roots, raking up the chopped down shrubs to make a smooth surface for the mulch. Our little C begins, in monkey fashion, to climb the high tower. Look at me, he says. I do-nin it all by myself. I stand behind him, supporting him ever so slightly, just in case. Then he whizzes down the high slide, takes Sam by the hand. Come and see, I want to show you something. Little man leads the big man to the edge of the play area. These for our greenhouse, he says, pointing to the framing poles stacked in a pile. Leading Sam past the pile, C adds, And this our garden [a little weed grown place that is still filled with promise] And this our watering can.

It’s as if our small child already knows the secret to life—that we build our happiness from the inside out. That when we tend to our environment, our yard, our flowers, our forts, we are creating the space for that inner joy to make its appearance. By cultivating a strong sense of place, we lay the groundwork for our true wildness to emerge. We create a safe, sound haven in which to fully and freely live.

Smart kid.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Where The Heart Is

A spiritual crisis is at hand as I spar on Facebook with my friends and neighbors about plans for yet another development, this time a forty-six lot development, in the undisturbed wooded land across the road from our home in Surfside, on Nantucket Island. It will sprawl across nine acres of land, abutting another development, both of them surrounding an Indian Burial Ground.

We are finding out about it at the eleventh hour, a month before it will come before the Town Meeting. I’m finding out because the FinCom just voted it down, amid rising concerns that such an immense project could bottom out an already soft real estate market. The voters still get to decide it’s final fate later this month at Annual Town Meeting.

We knew of plans, but we didn’t know the details. We never received a mailing even though we are right next door.

In some ways it felt easier not to know, not to try to find out. We had a baby now, we were exhausted all the time, busy living our lives, and we were frankly emotionally exhausted by the idea of yet another onslaught of development in the neighborhood, another psychic battle as loud, stinking trucks and machines are brought in, as trees are raised and grass is sprayed on and tar, lots and lots of tar, is poured everywhere.

We watched as first a bike path was put in. Then senior living facility was put in, soon followed by a Forty-B, each time pouring more tar, tar, tar across the rustic dirt roads. We heard the constant cutting and sawing, the whir of machines. We watched as the senior living facility filed for bankruptcy. We watched as the Town voted to increase the taxpayer burden to deflect the hard effects of what has amounted to almost disastrous overreaching in planning. We watched as the nearby Plum Village “affordable” housing development up the way was left to languish and become a ghost town of unoccupied buildings and more aquifer spoiling tar.

And now, while we were living our lives, focused on new parenthood,
another affordable housing project comes along, this one monstrous in size—almost twice the size of anything that’s been done before. Forty-six houses built, to justify the existence of maybe a dozen.

We live in a small community. We know everybody. And it’s really hard when friends start fighting and pointing fingers and accusing and pushing back and forth. It’s YOU…No, it’s YOU…. No, it’s YOU. It’s hard to sense so many feeling shoved out and victimized, and no one seeing eye to eye. It’s hard to feel that you were not consulted…that you were not brought into the conversation…never a mailing…and yet, to hear it claimed that “there is no neighborhood opposition.”

It’s hard to have people imply that you are being selfish, or worse, hypocritical, when you consider yourself a fair and honest person.

It’s hurts to hear people scoff because you raise the concern of property value. They don’t understand, or consider, that maintaining the value of your home means making sure that your investment pays off, that what you have sweated and toiled and sacrificed your life[in my partner's case, try twenty plus years] to keep remains an asset. It's the glimmer of light in your eye when you think that one day, at the end of all this toil, you will be able to pass what you have worked for onto your son.

I’ll tell you about our home value. It comes from the fact that, despite all the crazy development that has already besieged our neighborhood, we still have some vestige of open space left. In our backyard we are treated to birdsong, blue jays, cardinals, finches, doves, you name it, crows… can’t forget the crows…And the woodpeckers with their funny staccatos. We get bunnies hopping through, although, truth be told, we used to see many more, before so many more cars started joining our once quiet roadways. We still have a family of deer that wander through our lot. Our chances to glimpse them out the window with our two year old, or examine their fresh tracks in the dirt drive, have been the magical moments we live to experience again. Like the sight of the sun setting over the treetops on the southwest side of the house, while standing at the kitchen window, while setting the table for the evening meal. Or standing outside in the blackest of nights and drinking in the starry brilliance of the Milky Way, so close overhead you can almost taste it, as you trace Orien’s sword, or the shape of the Big Dipper, and think of the sweet pouring of endless sustenance.

That swath of land over there where some people are pushing to build a new village is the last patch of land that’s left for the animals to hide in. The deer venture through our yard because they know they can still feel safe, and scamper off, in a moment, among the pines. Once those woods are gone they'll stop coming here. The geese too will make their semi annual pilgrimage honking to and from the pond no longer over our house and that swath of once open space, but seeking out some other, calmer route, before eventually they, too, stop coming at all to the place once referred to, way back in some distant dream, as home.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

How I Became the Incredible Shrinking Woman

Sometimes you just can’t win. I’m the skinniest I’ve been since my twenties. But a lot of people, instead of thinking I look good, ask me if I’m sick. I guess it’s an unfortunate byproduct of being forty something, and being seen as closer to the death end of the spectrum than the birth, or birth-giving end.

I was never that heavy, but I guess I was never that skinny, either. After college sports, my lifestyle became more dormant. The idea of abdominal muscles seemed completely unattainable for most of my life, save the years when I rock climbed in my late teens.

Enter a baby. Motherhood has, quite unintentionally, whipped me back into shape. Your child is an increasing weight that you are lifting multiple times daily, into his high chair, into your arms, up onto the bed for a diaper change, into his car seat, for piggy back rides, back flips off your shoulders and flying around the house splayed out across your outstretched arms.

Never mind the small child I’ve been caring for part time. Between the two of them, it’s like I’m constantly juggling weights. Moms are weightlifters.

[And yet, instead of being seen as bearing heavy weights with heroic strength, we are seen as weighed down.]

Now add to the regular physical workouts of parenthood, add to the playground antics and the tickle fests and the somersaults, the fact of nursing a toddler.

But of course, if I tell some people that, they’ll tell me that I don’t just look sick, I AM sick.

The truth is, extended nursing is kind of like an extreme sport. It turns you into an instant superhero, if you get out alive.

But seriously, I have been going to La Leche League meetings since Cayce was wee, getting information and support to nurse my baby. And I learned about self weaning and knew that I would want to let my child self wean. And I am so blessed to have the support of a partner that has enabled me to have this lifestyle that supports my nursing our son.

So I’m here to tell you that I’m not sick on either count. And I’m not on crack. And I’m not any goddamned negative thing. I’m glowing with fucking life, damn it. I may be inwardly exhausted, but I finally get to be something like slender again, at least, for all my hard work. So I’d just like to ride this wave for a while, if I may. Skinny legs and all.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Why I Don’t Want to Rush This Part

Can I just say that I’m having the time of my life over here? I may grow weary, or snap from time to time, but mostly I am asking my child, Have I told you, in the last half an hour, how much I love you? These days spent with my Mini Me, this one who gets me like no other, who laughs at my silliness and mimics me in a way that makes me laugh, at myself, at him, at the wonder of it, of this that we are, this incredible loving and bonding and becoming that we are, together. This little person who makes me more myself than I ever was. Who gives light and air to my hidden flame. Who shows me the magic in things my eyes had long forgotten how to see. Who in a stubborn moment reminds us of tenderness. Or who in a moment of frustration, reminds me of the music of innocence. But I want to crack eggs, Mommy. Why not?

I love this time of piggy back rides, of learning songs with infectious inflections. You’re a meannnn onnnne, Mr. Grinch-a. You really are a heeeeelllll… bad banana… greasy black peeeellllll. Of constant dialogue about the imagined or observable world. There’s the windmill. There’s the houses. There’s a octagon, and a triangle and a square and a rectangle… I love this daily delight in the ordinary. The enormity of small things, the routine of repetition, expanded conversations with neighbors inspired by this chattering boy who pulls you in, pulls everyone in.

I won’t lie. He’s my drug. My antidepressant. The thought of letting him go in sixteen years wrenches my heart. I’m addicted. Dependent. Hopelessly devoted.

I still love nursing him, even though he’s thirty-five inches long and counts to thirteen, then skips to seventeen. Sometimes when we're out and about and I carry his dangly form on my hip, he presses his soft cheek to mine. I’ve never been so important to somebody before. To experience this so often throughout the day can take my breath away. And to see the beauty of what he learns from me played back to me in his lilting voice, in the expressions of his perfect, god-made face piercing my soul, teaching me that I am, in fact, more than I ever thought I could be. I am the mother of this amazing, sentient, delightful creature. And to be someone’s mother— well it is really something.

Everything that came before in my life was just preparation for this, these few years, this teaspoonful of hours to quote Nick Flynn, in which I get to really matter, and make a difference in the life of just one other-- my child.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Reluctant Parent: Riding Out Those Do-I-Have-To? Moments

So here we are. One of those moments when I balk at being a parent. A moment where I wait for the bread to rise and listen to the coffee percolating into the pot and I draw in my breath bracing for yet another social event I don’t really feel like dealing with. Tonight I’m taking my two year old to a pajama pizza party at the local library. I know. Adorable, right? Tots in pajamas with pizza sauce cheeks. What could be cuter?

But you know, we just came from one of those tot music classes at the library which was kind of hard work. I found myself feeling momguilt almost immediately, because all these other moms and their children had clearly come before. They knew the drill. I had not brought my son since last year, and to a different teacher. So we were learning new songs and C is learning to wait his turn and of course the turns went in the other direction so he had to wait till next to last and he was wiggling out of my lap trying to grab the ball and do his alpha male with outside energy thing inside where there was a program and an expectation of a two year old compliance with it.

Somewhere in the midst of his b-lines to the teacher’s electric keyboard I realized he had a serious load in the pants. Always puts him in an animalistic frame of mind And I don’t know if it was when I was deciding to keep him there a little longer despite his rich smell wafting up to civilized noses, or when I was spinning around in the dance and putting a little too much oomph in the song that one or two of those moms shot me that, You’re a Piece of Work Look. You know the look. That Please Don’t Put Any Pressure on Me to Look Ridiculous Like You Look. That Simmer Your Inner Child Look.

So anyway, we had to cut out of that scene early and my momguilt was ratcheted up to high. I must be a lousy mom if I can’t get my kid through forty-five minutes of fun. A good mom would have checked his sweet little diaper ahead of time, and avoided this scenario. Seems everywhere we go we get caught with a load in the di-di, just as all his female peers are going di-di free.

The pizza-sauce cheeks might have greater charm for me if I did not have this claustrophobic feeling as I contemplate the next eighteen years of pizza parties. Bake Sales and home games and PTA and parent-teacher meetings and doing all the admirable role-modely things to help my kid blend in and also stand out enough to get the scholarships.

Sometimes when we go to the Early Childhood Center, which is housed in our local public high school [where my son’s father when to school, and where I used to work] I get this strange feeling, as we walk the long hallway toward his playroom, of being inside a telescope, zooming in on the future. C stops to admire all the trophies in their glass cases, the swimming, football, basketball and baseball trophies. He loves the rubber duckie and the beach ball in the case next to the pool desk, beside the goggles and swim cap, and the garments bearing the local team emblem, the Nantucket Whalers. Even at two he is a Whaler in the making. He walks that hall with pride of ownership. It his place. His domain. And it will be for years to come, for year after year of homecoming games,

Sometimes I watch him and am filled with that soccer-mom pride. And other times, instead of being that role model mom who glows with her inner child, my annoyed, inner teenager rears her ugly head, and she just wants to play hookie on the whole scene.

But alas. The dough has risen. It’s time to go find that cutest-of-cute pair of pj’s, because somebody is all revved up for the pahty. But rest assured, once he falls asleep with his happy pizza face dreams, wine will be poured.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Talking Two

[Some of the things my son is saying at twenty-eight months]

Where EAR you? Where EAR you, Daddy?


Where ARE way?

You HEAR dat? [Cupping ear] You HEAR dat [noise/song] Mommy?

I see Captain Hook! [Holding cardboard telescope] I see Captain Hook in house!

I find Captain Hook lost at sea… Row row boat… down stream.


I do it. I DO-nin it.

YOU do it. YOU do it, Mommy.

You got yogurt all over you face. Me too.

Rudolph A Nose-a Reindeer…

SO much FUN.

Piggy back ride. Piggy back ride to couch.

Turn me ‘round. Flying! I flying!

The milk’s not me. I’m Mickey… Mouse Clubhouse… Come inside, come inside…

Friday, January 13, 2012

Love and Death on Facebook

[In February of 2009, when I was expecting my child, the first child to be born to our generation of the family, I joined Facebook. I was soon followed by my brother Conor, my sister Gaby, and our mother, Colette.]

I’m reading the diary of a madwoman. The entries are the last notes my sister wrote and posted on Facebook in the weeks before she took her own life.

I’m oddly comforted by these notes, although they disturb, and portend the terrible and final thing that was to come. First, I am able to read the comments of the friends that were still willing to reach out to her publicly. It is truly heartwarming to see that people cared, that they tried to get through to her, to pull her back to sanity. But there is also a transparency to the notes that I find satisfying, as well as a freedom and boldness to her expression that seems wholly new.

Sistah’ could write, man. In the midst of her mania, she was also experiencing a liberating creative freedom. And in many ways her Facebook page became the outlet for that freedom of expression. In that sense, Facebook may have fueled her mania. To this day I find myself wondering about the role Facebook played, quite innocently, in fanning the flames of her sickness. She was someone who had always used boundaries to protect her illness, and Facebook, by design, broke those boundaries down. It loosened the boundaries she kept between people, as well as the close, protective guard she had kept on her expressive, creative self. Creative expression had a way of unleashing her illness. That’s perhaps why she preferred to apply her mind to science. Science was strict, controlled, cautious. It would keep those darker demons under wraps.

I am only able to access two of the notes, but it’s more than FB’s administrative powers that be allowed heretofore. She had blocked me and I couldn’t read them at the time she was writing them. I did get to skim them from my mother’s account, on her apartment computer, when we had convened there in the days after she died. But in many ways being blocked got me off the hook with having to muster some kind of adequate response. I have saved them on my hard drive. I get to press my face up to the glass window of her mind and get a good gander. I get to take my time, notice the nuances, close the notes and open them again later. From her last note, entitled Today Really Fucking Sucked.

The subway ride over there was really interesting because David started doing his jumping around in other people's bodies trip and started picking his nose rather thoroughly (rooting around in the nostril would be a more apt description) when he was in this Asian guy's body. I was laughing out loud and had to try really hard to stifle myself because, you know, people really think you're crazy when you laugh out loud all by yourself but really because I thought if I let it rip I might explode or spontaneously combust or something equally inappropriate in a sensible world and you know we can't have that.

At the hospital she’d received a bipolar diagnosis which she staunchly refused, along with any medication. While there she played the savior of her ward mates, who, according to her, were being mistreated. Her rational mind took over. Or a brilliantly conceived duplication of a rational mind, which was in fact the ruse of an exceedingly irrational and sick mind, created to protect itself the same way any disease of the body produces antibodies to fight the antigens, the medicines, that try to kill it. It is that scientific, that cunning, that brilliant.

And that is how my sister, at forty-seven, and as unwell as unwell could be, managed to convince the psychiatrist, the nurses on the ward, and even her own mother, who is a psychologist, that she was exactly the opposite. Even Steven. Good as gold.

Gaby was released after a three week stay at the Elmurst General Hospital psyche ward in Queens, where she had remained unmedicated, and without access to alcohol. She had pulled down tight the lid of her pressure cooker to form an airless, impenetrable seal. Once she got back home, she logged back on, and the lid flew right off, its contents exploded on Facebook.

She didn’t have Facebook in the hospital. She didn’t join Facebook, or any other social network, until the last year and a half of her life.

As Sylvia Plath wrote in her book of poems Ariel, in the weeks before she took her own life:

There is a charge.
For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart-----
It really goes.
And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood
Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The House that Cayce Built

Every morning before his father leaves for work my two year old Cayce builds a fort in a nook he has found between the living room sofa and the wooden toy box. He pulls the pillows down around him, makes a pillow door, and beseeches us. “Come in Mommy. Come in Daddy. Come into my fort.” He opens his pillow door and we go in, sometimes still clutching our cups of coffee, but we abidingly enter and huddle together for a few moments. The space is impossibly small for the three of us, but we make it happen in this land of make believe. This little ritual, each morning, is our pact, our promise that we will play our parts in the story our child is writing, where we stay close together and keep our house whole.

I have always been afraid of love. Love in my family came with great risks. It meant watching your father, your role model, your pillar of strength, fall sick, subsumed by drink and an underlying mental illness. It meant equating loving with making others sick. Because that is just how a child thinks, that everything begins and ends with them. So if things aren’t going well, it must be because of them. And if all they know is the fierce, unconditional love of a child, it just follows in the child’s logic that her love is making her father sick.

As a small child my father was hospitalized several times. At first I was protected from any knowledge of these events. But eventually it became impossible to hide.

I think I was about nine when his delusional state caused him to get severe frostbite in all five toes of his left foot, requiring amputation. Some months later my mother was sending me to visit him in the city. He would be taking me swimming at Jones Beach. I would see his foot, the toeless stump of it, and the scars. I would be full of questions. So the story of my father and his mental illness had to be told. He had become paralyzed, in a delusional state, where he stood on a frozen pond in Martha’s Vineyard, a place where his good friends lived, a lady named Rachel, after whom I was named, and her carpenter husband. He’d become endeared to the Vineyard after many visits, and even some stints of work. On the pond that day in January he stood stock still for hours, terrified of God knows what. There is some story that he perceived the tall pines surrounding the pond pointing down at him, persecuting him. I don’t know to this day whether he was found or whether he walked off the ice on his own, but he would be irrevocably, physically altered by the acts of his own mind that day. It’s kind of a hard thing for a nine year old to process.

He wouldn’t have to live that way for long, though, because it wasn’t much longer before he bit the big one. I was eleven, and had just returned from soccer practice, when I got the news. I guess all that booze on an empty stomach over and over again and then not bothering to go to the doctor till you’re on Death’s door will do that. Death’s doors were the doors to the Emergency Room. He was admitted, and within the hour he was gone.

Because the loss of our father was each of our faults, because that was a truth whose light we could not dim, we continued fumblingly, holding one another at arm’s length, loving from a safe distance. Whenever we came close to one another, we seemed to set off trigger springs of hurt. Then we’d recoil. Hibernate. Come back out again when it felt safe.

My sister Gaby was always better than anyone at cutting herself off. The excuses to get out of family plans were prolific, balancing between work obligations and stomach bugs. Sometimes she’d go for months without talking to anyone in the family. In fourteen years of my living on Nantucket she never once came to visit me. But at Christmas, she’d always get a special gift, and if I made it to the city, she’d take our mom and I out for drinks at a fancy midtown bar. She liked making money, and being able to spend it. And she was always generous with her money.

Although we grew up learning the vernacular of mental illness, and knew full well about its genetic underpinnings, we were slow to recognize its signs in Gaby. I guess it’s like not being able to see the forest for the trees. You are just too close to it. And Denial ain’t a river…it’s an engulfing ocean. And sometimes when you are given the choice between having someone in your life in a denial state, and not having them at all, you choose the denial state.

The arm’s length thing hasn’t improved any since my sister died. Breakage always seems imminent when the ground is laid with freshly cracked shells.

These are the background thoughts that clatter and clank in the winter wind as my son calls me into the present, into the here and now, where love is abundant and undeniable and unafraid. Sometimes it’s the child who teaches the adult the way into the heart.