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Learning and trying to be kind and living my life as fully as I can stand it.

Friday, December 9, 2016


I feel so happy today and I am reminded to work from my strengths. Work, play and love from my strengths.
Feels good to be a part of planning Black Santa with East Bay Families for Social Justice.
Feels good to have decided to skip school with my sick, snotty kids after we all slept late and the idea of fighting tears to get dressed and hustle to school sounded bleh. The house was a mess. Instead I called us in sick and we hung out, watched a lot of TV, played together with fewer tears than normal and then headed in to San Francisco for some visiting.

That was yesterday. Today is Friday and it's drizzling outside. Kids are eating dry Kix out of plastic Ikea bowls colored like the rainbow. I'm drinking tea, reading through Pantsuit Nation posts, opening up ten browser windows at once as an online, visual to-do list:

New York Times
Girls Gone Child
Mom.me 15 Fierce Books about Females

I've eaten three partly-burnt chocolate chip cookies for breakfast, despite recently finishing a cleanse that had me feeling energized and great. Drinking cinnamon tea.

Wearing my Boston College sweatshirt with the cuffs torn to shreds, exactly like the one I borrowed from a friend in Tijuana when we were there for a volunteer, Immersion trip with our high school the summer before our Senior year. The first time I'd heard of the school, no clue I would one day end up going there.

There is a line of beautiful holiday cards stretching across the shelf of our out-of-tune piano, faces of kids whose parents I love smiling out at us. Nikole and Annie's is the best times a million. We don't send one this year because I haven't put it together yet. Perhaps one for New Years.

The tenth load of laundry of the week spins its cycle, set to gentle because of the two Calvin Klein work dresses that will then go in the bag of clothes to donate to the clothing drive. Meena's Clothing Drive

Later today the kids and I will drive to Oakland and then Berkeley, first to deliver a Santa suit and then to go play at Habitot.

I am a community-builder. I am a continual learner. A questioner. I am opening up to become braver about putting my vulnerable heart into the world. To even let myself feel the pain of vulnerability. Of being scared and letting people see that.

There are a lot of scared people out there. I have to imagine that even many of the people saying the most hateful, vile things to their fellow citizens must on some level feel deep fear because the alternative is too hard to accept. And fear doesn't excuse it at all. It does help me try to understand.

I'm going to go eat a vegetable or something.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A story, unedited

I stood at the curb by the valet station in front of the hospital's main entrance, waiting for my Uber. It was already dark and I'd spent the day in the ICU, explaining death to a large family and helping volley the moments of grief and hope from person to person as they sat, stunned, trying to understand that their man had died. Suddenly, gone. There was regret in the room, at not having said "Thank you" or "I love you". There were smiles and stories passed across the tables, talk of getting together more regularly and not just waiting for tragedy to bring people together. It was a good day for me because I felt like I'd made a connection and I felt like by being there they were able to create a sacred space.

My attention slowly focused on a parked SUV to my left at the curb into which two women were slowly trying to climb. Well, one woman was attempting to coax an older woman into the passenger seat but the step was big and her legs were weak, unsure.

A couple weeks ago I probably would have turned my head back around, assuming they would work it out on their own. Instead I put my bags down and walked over to ask if I could help. The older woman work no shoes, her feet snug in yellow fuzzy socks with white flor de lis spotting them.

Can I help you? I asked.

It's dark, the younger woman who was older than I am said. Usually she has no problem getting in but it's dark and she can't see. She has Alzheimer's.

I'm Megan, I said. I will help you.

The older woman. She was an old woman, not just older. She didn't flinch as I gently put my hands on her. I flinched imagining someone touching me unexpectedly. She kept trying to grab the seat belt or something to help her hold on. Together the other woman and I gently tried to encourage her to step up, suggesting where she might put her foot or what she could hold on to. I held out my left hand and asked her to hold onto my hand but she wouldn't. I might not have either.

It's ok, you can do it. It's a big step. I said.

We weren't making any progress. The younger woman went around to the driver's side to see if that would help. It didn't really. In a way it was like watching one of my children try to navigate a stair or a step up a ladder, a foot held here and then there, testing the footing, putting it back down. She wasn't small but she was smaller than I am, shorter and with less mass. I felt like I could probably pick her up briefly and put her in her seat but I didn't want to hurt her or scare her or violate her in any way. We kept trying.

Through a series of small, shuffling moves we ended up with my foot up on the floor of the car, the old woman sitting on my one-legged lap. She didn't flinch, just rested her entire weight on my strange leg. We stayed like that for a while as I wondered how we would get out of this position. She was facing the seat and it was hard to imagine what Twister move would swing her around the right way.

She whimpered as we gently manhandled her around. The transition required her to give up her hold on herself. I imagined it felt like sky-diving to release your own control over your body, your safety. I thought of how scared I would be to be alone in my mind. I would hate it.

No one got mad or frustrated, at least not out loud. She never took my hand, we never really made eye contact. I buckled her seat belt and her grown daughter thanked me, told her mom to thank me.

That's Megan. She helped you.

I stepped back to my bag, checked my pocket to see two missed calls from my frustrated Uber driver who greeted my call with "Why didn't you answer?! I almost left."

He drove me to my next stop, both of us helping one another navigate the confusing GPS in a town neither of us knew. I went home.

I have been unable or unwilling to write these past weeks. The entire month of November has been silent as far as my written words though the words in my mind have been unceasing. So much happened in November that at any point it felt like if I were to try to write it down I would scatter like dust. I could try to write out a summary, at least a list of major themes, but it would read like a stone settling in the gut. Grief. Suicide. Loneliness. Marital strife. All that and then the world changed with the election results. Where would I start?

I grew up in a city, a city girl through and through. I revel in and rely upon the experience of being alone in a wave of strangers, soaking in the humanity without having to touch it. Putting up invisible walls against the person ranting to himself on MUNI or the sexist comments I've grown up with--I am untouchable, I am watching, it doesn't hurt me if I don't let it.

The walls are being torn down, painstakingly and at times ineffectually. I'm afraid to speak up. Afraid to put myself out there to be seen even as I write this for you to read and talk about wanting more than anything to be seen. I'm afraid to fight, having never been a fighter.

I am in this world and I will keep working to turn towards and not away. I don't know where I will find the words or the courage to share the words, raw, as they beat like hearts inside of me. I'll start here.

Sunday, October 16, 2016


My veins are shot. The ones in the crooks of my arms, at least. The rest of them still work ok. Spending most of September in the hospital last year is what did it--made my hard-working, long-suffering veins give up their ghosts. What does that phrase mean?

I remember hating shots as a kid. Being afraid of needles. It hurt so much I wanted to scream.

When I was eleven and got diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, blood draws became a not uncommon occurrence. Maybe a few times a year my mom would take me to Children's hospital to get some lab tests done. The blood lab was on the first floor. We would wait in the hallway that had no toys until it was my turn to go. The fear was still there--I felt it in my stomach. I wanted to cry. I didn't want a shot and this was worse than a shot.

Blood draws became IV sticks which were even worse. Those are bigger needles and they need to be jiggled into your vein and held there. The pain is a white-hot fire followed by streams of aching, stinging pain. I had a colonscopy every year so I got an IV every year--the tubing leading from the needle in my vein bringing me the forgetting meds they give you when you enter the weird dream state they put you in when they need to stick a flexible tube into your butt, into your colon, taking turns around intestinal loops that you can still feel in the dream state, just like you feel like you're falling off the bed even as they assure you that you are not.

After being discharged from the hospital following my liver transplant I was driven back to the hospital every morning, to stand hunched around my abdominal incision as I waited for the double-glass doors to opens so I could go get my labs done, first thing in the morning as my nightly dose of immunosuppresants was wearing off, before I took my next does. Every morning for thirty days, getting my blood drawn, my labs and med levels checked, tracking the function of the liver that was now mine. More needles, little cups of juice in my hand afterward.

Somewhere along the way I adopted the habit of turning my head away as the needle readied to enter my skin, enter my vein. I looked away and tried not to clench my body, gradually learning to take deep breaths. The pain got less intense. Sometimes the phlebotomist, the nurse, would ask me if I was ok. I assumed they were worried I was trying not to faint. Now I wonder if some among them noted that I had left my body and checked in because they felt the difference and wanted to draw the pieces of me back. Probably not. Or they noticed but couldn't tell what they were noticing, just that something had shifted.

I took my kids' to get flu shots a few weeks ago and for the first time had all four of them in one room with just me. They have varying comfort levels and levels of interest in their doctors' appointments, one or two of them gladly interacting with Dr. Miller the pediatrician I adore who has taken care of them and me since I first drove tiny Lily across the Bay Bridge the day after she got released from the NICU, the first time I'd ever had her in the car, the other one or two either crying out to me that it was time to leave or silently sitting in watchful judgement. As a mother it has been one of my jobs to soothe my babies, looking into their eyes as I hold their hands still as nurses plunge needles into their soft perfect skin. I've seen the flinches, felt them, as my kiddos get violated by pain for a second.They usually cry, snuggle into me, and get over it pretty quickly. This time I watched as the memory became permanent, embodied, in at least the oldest two. They will remember and they will be afraid the next time, I think. It made me sad. More than sad it made me feel like I was watching life happen in front of my eyes, catching the moment and holding it as it demonstrated it's universal truth to me. That the needles don't become less painful, we become more used to them.

I learned to leave my body, which felt necessary. My body got attacked, from within and without, over and over and over again. I did not know how to survive it, the pain and the violation, and so I left. It didn't feel like a choice I made. I didn't weigh the consequences. It just. . .happened.

The problem is that it became a habit. Unconscious. It wasn't like slipping in and out of a comfy robe that I pulled around me when I needed to soothe myself. I found that place, that out of body place, without putting rules or boundaries around the practice and soon I started to live there. I have been living in my head, in my thoughts, in my words, talking and thinking and observing. Narrating. I thought everyone did this. And even when I realized not everyone watched and thought about and narrated everything going on them, I didn't know it was something that was hurting me. Deadening my ability to feel anything at all. The trick was that still felt like I felt things. So I guess I did. Just not very much. So it's taken me decades to wake up to the sad bargain I've been making, trading away my body and the pleasure it can feel. Turning away, not just from the needles, but from the finely-tuned compass of my physical self and all the messages it has been sending out, in hope and increasingly in desperation.

I shrug things off. That's my style. Some people admire my calmness, my Zen. Sometimes I've felt cool, as though the things that bothered or worried others didn't make me sweat. But neither of those descriptions is accurate. Well, maybe accurate but not real.

The real me, the 9-year-old girl who stands shyly before me, grateful to be noticed now that I'm finally paying attention again, says its time to stay in this body, this precious vessel, and see where it takes us. Even though that means staying in the pain.

I get my blood drawn once a month now to check my liver function and my med levels, among other things. The same woman has tried every time for a year to draw from my antecubital veins, even as she frowns as she prods, feeling the scar tissue inside. She gamely tries anyway, as I keep my mouth shut because part of my almost life-long experience of leaving my body includes quietly receiving practitioners mistakes, the process of abandoning myself already begun. She stuck the needle in the crook of my right arm and the pain zinged through my body to the top of my head and the tips of my toes all at once.

 After a minute, I was glad. Because I'm coming back. And it hurts like hell.

Thursday, September 29, 2016


This is the second day in a week when all four kids have been asleep at nap time in our own home. Glory, glory Hallelujah! There is nothing better than this. I can't go anywhere because the kids are asleep (actually I technically could go somewhere because my friend Phyllis is still here I think). I'm not driving around, getting the kids to sleep but getting no rest or break for myself. Even better, I am in Lily and Cyrus' room and told them I'm stay here the whole time. Hysterical with freedom! And when I turned around and saw my laptop sitting on the dresser it felt like someone snuck in a left me a present. The laptop is in here because we got some nightlights to replace the flashlight we'd been turning on for the Bigs these past few weeks at night and the new nightlights, though already loved, require either batteries or a USB cord that only plugs into a computer. Why is this a design? Do many children have computers in their rooms for such a thing? Or do many adults have the adapter thingies that plug into the wall and into the USB cord? Or do other adults read the fine print about the weird way things are made? I do not know.

So I'm trapped and my kids are angelic and I get to write and read through the dozens of articles I have saved on Facebook and my life is great right now. Naps! I just can't tell you in enough descriptive words how wonderful four napping children in their own beds is for a mama. I need to cover myself in exclamation points and caps and do a twirly dance and drink a martini and then take my own nap and eat some cake and get a massage and a pedicure and collapse smiling into a pile of down comforters and chinchillas.

As usual there is way more in my mind than I can ever get down on fake paper. This is what there is today.

Here is something I read today. I share it because I want to keep talking about racism in our country and what we can do to fix it. Eradicate it. And because I am learning and thinking about it all the time. Do you have something you think I should read? Please share.

Talk MLKs name out your mouth: An open letter to Clemson football coach Dabo Sweeney

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Black lives need to matter too

I started this in July 2016, after the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Then I got self-conscious and scared and put it away. Unbearably, here is another opportunity in the aftermath of the murder of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed 40-year-old black man who was killed in Tulsa yesterday. Video in Tulsa police shooting shows black man was unarmed with hands up

The flea infestation in our house has not been cleared, We have bombed, sprayed, had the exterminator out twice, washed almost everything in hot water more than once. The dog died. The fleas still live. The last time the exterminator came he looked at me standing with four toddlers at my feet and said in all seriousness that it would work better if we took everything out of the house and washed it at a laundry mat. I stared back at him blankly. Ummmm. And we will do that how?

I sat in a chair for three hours this week, getting a $13,000 drug pumped into my veins through an IV chemo-like. This drug has silenced but probably not healed my ulcerative colitis. Insurance pays for 70% of it and I get it every two months. And I am so damn grateful to feel so much better that I don't even want to think about another way I could treat my illness right now. I'm going to enjoy the absence of pain for a while.

My marriage is buffeted by the normal winds of raising young children, of sharing space and responsibility and limited free time with another adult and trying to figure out how to even come close to thriving every now and then.

All of this and I do not fear for my life.

I started that list because it sums up my day-to-day life, the stressors that make it hard to be me. But I am not special in having personal shit to deal with. I am special in that when a black man my age gets shot and killed by police, I don't feel it in my gut and think "That could have been me." Never once have I thought or felt that. In my last post about race I used some stories my friends had shared about experiencing racism for the first time, when they were children. This is an exchange I had with one friend:

Me: Hi Friend, May I put the story you shared yesterday on Antoine's page in a blog post?

Friend: Absolutely! How are you and those beautiful babies?

Me: Oh thanks! We are good. I mean, they make me feel like a crazy person 98% of the time and I'm not sure my marriage will survive parenting this litter but aside from that good And you?

Friend:Four babies... you and your husband are rock stars! I have two and I sometimes wonder if my marriage will survive them. Keep going...one foot in front of the other!

That friend looks like Michael Brown and Tamir Rice and Eric Garner and the many other black men who have been murdered in the past two years, except he looks absolutely nothing like them other than the fact that they are all black. So when he says that's all we can do, put one foot in front of the other, he is acknowledging that as spouses and parents and professionals we are working hard every day. He has a list similar to mine above, although probably without the fleas. A list that looks like daily life. But he also has to add worry and fear and despair what might happen if he ever has a run in with the police. Oh, there's the fear and sickness in my own gut. Even writing those words about someone I know and love made it real. The point is that none of us has time or energy to try to fix the systemic racism and oppression that is killing black and brown people every day, in myriad ways, in our country that we love. But some of us can turn away from it and some cannot. For those of us who have white skin, please let us join the conversation. Please let us find something, somewhere, to do.

My last post On Parenting and Privilege included an article that talked about PTSD experienced by people of color as a result of the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. A friend shared the post and someone she knew commented, taking some issue with the reference to PTSD. He said PTSD is a legitimate medical diagnosis and should not be taken lightly. That's the point.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Mayo Clinic
What will it take for us to see that black lives do not matter as much as white lives in this country, in this time? That if any of us (myself included) do not viscerally feel the trauma of these men being shot and killed by police, we are living a different life than our fellow citizens?

What will it take for us to see that there are different countries within this country? That black and brown-skinned citizens watch people who look like them being killed on TV, by people paid to serve and protect, and nothing happens to the people who killed them. One of the most powerful things I read in the weeks following Alton Sterling and Philando Castile's murders was a personal essay written by 31-year-old Brian Crooks in which he wrote: 
"That is why Black people are in such pain right now. The deaths are bad enough. But having the feeling that nobody will ever actually be held accountable for the deaths is so much worse. And then watching as the police union, the media, and conservative politicians team up to imagine scenarios where the officer did nothing wrong, and then tell those of us who are in pain that our pain is wrong, unjustified, and all in our heads just serves to twist the knife."
I feel afraid when I even consider writing the word "murder" in my posts or my essays. I keep having to check myself--why am I afraid? Why don't I want to do it? This is what I've come up with, ranging from being generous with myself to hard/honest with myself:
-I don't think I've ever written the word murder before. It's not a word in my vocabulary, it scares me and I try not to do anything that brings me into the realm of using the word.
-It feels like a legal definition and by using it I'm stepping outside my sphere of knowledge. I feel okay about "killed" because I can see and read for myself that it happened. But murder? Am I sure?
-It feels so divisive, like I am taking a side. If I write "murder" people will think that I am anti-police and I am not anti-police so wouldn't it be better to use a safer word? 
I'm afraid to hurt people or make people mad by what I write here, in this sacred space that I have finally created, where I put myself into words where other people can see them. I feel like I should start with a bulleted list that says I do honor the fallen police offers in Dallas and I'm also honoring the people killed in Nice and. . .do I need to say all that? Can we give each other the benefit of the doubt that it is not either/or?It is not either/or.
My chest is full of uncried tears for all the death, all the fear, all the anger, all the pain. The familiar desire to just yell what's the point anyway? It's too hard! What difference does anything I do make anyway?
Some tears came last night as I lay on the floor in the kids' room, having literally thrown my daughter into her bed after an hour and a half of trying to get them to go to sleep. I was so done and felt so powerless and I reacted by scaring this precious, innocent person who means the world to me because I was just so done and I didn't know what else to do. I lay in the dark, covered in shame, listening to her quietly talk herself to sleep, wanting to climb up and apologize to her, to make amends, but not wanting to mess with the quiet that was finally arriving. It was a day full of good, of effort, of togetherness. And I wiped it all out, at least within myself, with the final moments of the day.
I feel so tired. Every parent I know feels so tired. It is so hard and it is so tempting to turn everything off and fold into a private corner of my own space where I and mine feel safe. Even if it is an illusion. Because I can tell you--there is no safe. Living is not safe.
After my last essay about the racial divide in this country my friend wrote: 
It makes me so angry that I will have to teach my son "Don't do this.. Don't say that.. Stand still if... ". I could scream and then I want to cry. Because it's so wrong, so very very wrong. This is not the life I dreamed for my children.
That is not the liberal media. I hope it doesn't even need to be any kind of "us" vs. "them". It is a real mom talking about trying to raise her brown son in this country we all want to be part of and proud of. I don't teach my children that lesson. Do you? If not, why not?
I'm going to keep writing about this. I hope you'll keep reading. I hope you'll reach out to me to ask questions or open conversation. I don't know how to write about parenting and my experience as a parent when parents right next to me can't turn away from this discussion just because they're tired. We can't stop talking. We can't stop trying. And for those of us who don't feel traumatized by what is happening, we have to ask ourselves why not?

Friday, September 16, 2016

A look back

Sometimes I think if I actually wrote about how hard it is to raise four kids under the age of two-and-a-half people would just start showing up at my house trying to save me. Or save us. I just started a sentence describing this past week, with a handful of sick kids and a sick mama and I got bored in the middle of it. Who really cares? Everyone has sick kids, every parent gets sick, everyone tries to keep their house clean, their bills paid, their dog's nails clipped. It's nothing new or special--it's just in bulk and it is relentless. But I think all parenthood is relentless.

I love these bright, beautiful children so much. I could stare at them for hours. It's the spilling, gate-smashing, screeching, bottle-spilling, whining, needing, door-to-the-bathroom-opening everything  that makes it so hard. The projectile vomit just when I was already at a breaking point, making me burst into hopeless tears in the kitchen before taking the blue Ikea highchair out to the courtyard to spray it off.

Complaining feels at best lame, at worst risky. Like tempting the gods of fate to even think it's too hard.

A year has passed since I wrote the words above. Not exactly a year because a year ago today I was in the hospital for a colitis flare that wouldn't end and I wasn't doing any writing in the hospital. I was resting and ordering meals from food services. I broke, physically in a way that got me hospitalized, but I know that physical break was caused by the mental and emotional breaking that had been going on for months. That and the stupid colitis that I wasn't ignoring so much as was just gritting my teeth and bearing it because I didn't think there was anything I could do to make it better. Except for maybe entirely change my diet to eat only whole foods and no dairy and no gluten and no sugar and. . . no. On some level I want to try that because I know it would be good for me, even if it didn't entirely heal the colitis. On the other levels the only way it could happen would be if someone would shop for me and cook for me and pack lunches for me and then provide me therapy when all of the emotions that get cuddled up in all the food I eat come raging out to devastate the earth around me.

What is really possible? I don't mean in the sense of "Anything is possible if you try" though I guess I do mean it in that way. The truest of true ways which for me comes down to what will you give up or change in order to do the thing you need to do? If you can even figure out what the thing you need to do is.

Months ago I picked up a Brene Brown's book Rising Strong for the third time. It hadn't been meeting me where I was up to that point, though I'd loved her earlier books. I picked it up because it was in front of me on the table and I brought it with me on BART on my way to see a play at the Berkeley Rep. The chapter grabbed me, because it started with a personal story and because it ended with her therapist asking her "What if everyone is just doing the best they can?"

This question sent the author into a rage and she fought it, the idea, for weeks. She asked everyone she came into contact with, coming up with her own qualitative data about what it means if you believe that is true about people and what it means if you don't.

I usually don't. And I haven't believed it about myself for most of my life.

I put the book in my bag as the train pulled into my stop and walked up the stairs into downtown Berkeley. As always, the energy of a city, of people walking quickly around me, dressed in different styles, talking about different things, pulled my heart up and out into the world. It's one of my best mes, the city me. Also the alone me. My god do I love to be alone. The best alone is alone in a sea of people. My favorite. I walked to the theater and met up with my younger brother. Better and better.

The play was Aubergine. It was exquisite. It was about grief, which I wasn't expecting, but was welcome and timely as I had just started my new role at work where I'm learning to specialize in grief. The characters were quirky and bold. And at one point one of the people in the show asked "What if people are just doing the best they can?"

Zing! Okay, god and the universe. I am listening. This message is meant for me today.

So I've been carrying that idea around with me for months, holding it up as a lens when I need it to see others in a different light. It helps. More than that, I've been wrapping it around myself as a cozy blanket when I need it. Maybe I'm just doing the best I can.

Right now, with what I have. With the energy I have possess, with the mental toughness available to me in the moment, with the truth surrounding me, the what is actually happening surrounding me. I've started to understand the concept in a different way. That it's not exhorting me to do the best I could if everything else cleared away and I could just focus on doing my best at this one thing. Because let's be real, I can do lots of things really really well and I expect that of myself. Expect it to the point that if someone says I did great and lists ten things I did well, I shrug as if to say but yeah that's what was expected. But if someone says one thing I could have done better, I wear that like a mantle until I can force myself to stop thinking about it. Because all this time I've been interpreting Do your Best to mean--imagine the most wonderful way in which this thing can be done and then get as close to that image as possible, whipping yourself for missing the mark which will almost always happen.

Sheesh. It hurts me to write it out. So very hard on myself and often on others. People have said that to me about myself for years and it has pissed me off more than anything. What does that mean? Or I know! But I didn't really know. I knew because enough people said it that I thought it must be true even though I couldn't feel it to be true. I didn't know how to shut it off.

What I learned last year in the hospital was that I could not trust my own self-assessment when it came to my physical health. I would simultaneously feel like I needed to do better/work harder even as my body was breaking down to the point where two doctors would look at me eyebrows raised and said This is going to take months to get better because your body is so messed up right now. I have become an expert at living, even impressing others, while in the pit of desperation. In crisis mode all the time. And my body paid. My heart and my mind have paid too but I'm still unpacking that damage.

Three weeks ago I took my four kids and my dad to a hospital where I was going to meet with my financial advisor. My kids looked cute and as though I'd scooped them out of the gutter where they'd been hanging out with PigPen in their pajamas, brushing each others' hair with Brillo pads. We shuffled our way into the lobby and past the security guard, a black woman a few years 5-10 years younger than I am. She said Are those all your kids?

Yeah, I said.

How did you get your body back?? she asked with admiration.

I didn't know how to respond. It felt good to hear, as much as it surprised me. Mostly I wanted to say, and would have if I'd come up with the words sooner, I'm getting myself back. It shows on the outside.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Little blurb

Sometimes my kids look so relieved to get to Stephanie, our babysitter's house, that it's impossible to miss the change in them. Sometimes I wonder what that means but today I just accept it and feel grateful for it. Relief in any form must be good.

It won't go on any resume but today I ordered four new-cubby photos to be printed at Costco, took all four kids there, got groceries, wipes for the Bigs' new school, five hot dogs and five drinks and walked out with five happy, fed, entertained people enjoying each other and I felt like a damn super hero.

Related to that, we got two of my favorite comments today. The check-out guy remarked upon how well-behaved the kids were as they sat in the cart having food loaded around them. A woman we passed said, without looking shocked or aghast, "You have four small children? Bless your heart."
If I had a choice that would be the only thing anyone ever said when they see us.

We got two new kittens, Posey and Cow also known as Cowie. I named one, Lily named the other. It is a relief to have cats.

Last week I worked Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and then had the kids Thursday and Friday. On Thursday we went to the San Francisco Zoo where we met up with our beloved Phyllis. On Friday we went to Aquatic Park in Berkeley where we met up with our beloved Nana. By 3pm on Friday I was a burnt-out husk of a person. The exhaustion and ill-feeling throughout my entire body and my mind were total. Complete. There was nothing left in me. I was a wash cloth with every drop forcefully, mercilessly, wrung out. It made me feel better, actually, to experience that feeling and remember feeling like every single day back when my main job was taking care of my kids. It made me feel sad that I'd gone on like that for so long, a wisp of myself trudging through days as though I was doing anyone any good. Sometime soon I will get down on my knees and thank every heavenly being I believe in for helping me survive that period of my life.

I wish I could write in more detail about my work, about the families I meet and the stories I hear. You would be better for knowing about it, about them. People all around us are somehow getting through the day with broken hearts and they don't wear signs so it's hard to pick them out in a crowd.

I will be forty next year. I used to wonder what people, especially women, meant when they told my younger self how much they loved their 40's. I don't wonder anymore. I am opening up, putting down burdens, understanding that not only can't I be everything to everyone but I don't want to be. I want to be me. I like me.

I miss this blog when I don't write and I have so many half-written essays, so many half-discovered ideas that never make it onto a page, that I sometimes feel sad and frustrated at all that I'm not able to write down for you to read.

The gladness I feel when someone tells me that something I've written touched them in some way is gladder than almost anything I've felt before.

I've got a cat purring next to me on the couch, a house cleaned by other people who are good at it, kids sleeping at someone else's house and a new book that I can't wait to dig into. My heart needs all of that right now, just as it needed to sit for a minute and write to you.

September, somehow still the start of a new year so long after I stopped being a student. Now I'm the mom to little students. I love the freshness, the breezes, the promise of this time of year. I hope you have some or all of those things in your pocket or around the corner.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A way of being

I am a Family Resource Coordinator with the local OPO which stands for organ procurement organization. My job is to support families in their grief when someone they love, or loved, or never liked, has died or is about to die, in a hospital. My job is also to talk to them about organ and tissue donation, to explain the process and answer questions, to help them get the information they need to make an informed decision about whether this person who has died or is dying would have wanted to donate or whether donating this person's organs feels like the right thing to do for the decision-maker.

When I tell people about what I do most look at me with some version of horror on their face. Fear. Afraid to even imagine being in that situation--either in the position to be with someone they know dying in the hospital or the position to have the job that brings them into the room of strangers in those moments. "I don't know how you do that," many say.

"I don't know how you do that" is what a lot of people said to me and say to me in my non-working life when they see the mass of toddlers twining themselves around my legs.

I am learning many skills in this new role, so that is one of the ways I do it. I know a lot about donation, that is another. I am comfortable in hospitals, in ICUs. That is another. I feel honored to be allowed to do it, that is another.

Beyond the skills and the traits and the life experience is something I've written about once before--the way of being somewhere with someone. Of being very present and very open to sit with someone in acute, baffling, violent grief and stay seated. Not run away. It takes a lot of energy, sucks it out. It is confusing to go back and forth, from the sunshine in the parking lot to the hallway walking past a mother who has come to the hospital in her bathrobe for the second day in a row. She is praying so hard for her son the young man to survive and I know he won't. Not because I don't believe in prayer but because I know enough about the human body and what it can sustain to know that his has been broken beyond recovery. It is hard to hold those two truths in my heart and not to get sick with the ache and dread of it. It is hard to invite myself in, not to where she is because I can't go there and I shouldn't go there, but I can go to a conference room adjacent where I can lend my hope and quiet and energy to the process she and he and their family have unwillingly entered.

I feel it in my body. I feel some of the pain and sorrow in my skin. My hands. My heart. My gut. Not always but often. And that is one of the many, many reasons I wanted to do this job. Why I probably needed to do this job. There's not much I feel in my body. Due to some combination of my own medical trauma, my own mental strength, my refusal to go to my own anger and fear and sorrow and grief for so many years, and our culture's lack of focus and training on how to be present with and slowly heal and recover from the trauma we all experience by being alive my body is often numb and, when it does try to talk to me, I have mostly shut it the hell up and ignored it. I want to change that. I need to change it.

The laughter comes as sweet relief. I am always grateful for it. Because at some point, eventually or immediately, there are moments of laughter. Will they always come?

I hope so.

What does this have to do with parenting, one child or four? The way of being needed to do the job I get paid for reminds me of the way of being needed to parent. I can't be this way all the time--it's too hard. Too much. Too raw and too painful and too tiring. In some ways it is the realest of the real, in other ways it is something rarer and more special. A place to go sometimes. The edges of the day-to-day. I will keep practicing. Stepping in and stepping back out. Finding the laughter. Allowing for escape. Trying hard to forgive myself for the great failures. Finding rest.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The reason my kids still drink bottles

My kids are two and three. If you're new to the blog it bears mentioning that we have two two-year-olds and two three-year-olds. It hasn't gotten easier yet although people keep saying it will.

These toddlers each drink a bottle of milk before milk. Our babysitter thinks we should have kicked this habit long ago. In fact, when the kids spend the night with her they don't drink bottles. That's one of many differences in how they are with her and how they are with me, or with us. At her house they take naps. Not just one but two. At her house they go to bed easily, without fighting. At her house they don't get up from the table until everyone is finished eating. At her house they have structure. The last few times she's been with the kids and with me she's looked at them with eyebrows raised and asked "Who are these children?"

Because with her they behave and with me, with us, they go nuts.

But that's not why they still have a bottle. That's a brief commentary of some of the challenges that come with sharing the raising of your children with someone else. It's not just hard that I dread bedtime and I know that were they at her house they would go straight to bed, it's hard knowing that we seemingly could change the routine in such a way as to improve bedtime. And yet we can't. It's not them, it's us. Or it's probably them with us. Sigh.

My kids still drink a bottle at bedtime because they love it. They go soft and relaxed, their little hands curved around the plastic bottle, their little lips pursed around the rubber nipples. We usually all sit on the couch, which we're rapidly outgrowing, and they drape themselves on limbs and under blankets, and we enjoy the ending of the day in some type of quiet. Then the bottles are empty and we get ready for bedtime which is in no way impacted or made easier by the bottles. It still takes over an hour for the four of them to settle down and one or both parents is tight-lipped and menaced by the whole procedure. So why keep the bottles anyway?

I thought I would be a breastfeeding mama but I was mostly a bottle-feeding, pumping mama. That was one of the first departures from my idea into the reality of what parenthood would be and is for me. During the decades of wishing for a baby and hoping to someday be able to get pregnant, I imagined not just the physical changes of carrying a baby inside me but the intimate moments of looking down at their sweet littles heads as they suckled, feeling the closeness, the quiet sighs, the connection between a mom and her child. What happened instead was my babies came early and went straight to the NICU where their intake was measured and commented upon and we feed them with the smallest nipples and bottles out there. That was after they graduated from the gavage, where my milk was dripped into their mouths and down their throats in the early days when they were still figuring out the suck, swallow, breathe combo that early preemies are two underdeveloped to know how to do on their own. I spent every two to three hours in the little pump room, experiencing my first session of mom failure as I compared my output to the moms around me and blamed myself for not pumping often enough, for not eating the right foods, for being two old, for my body being too messed up from all the meds over the years. Although I occasionally breastfed my eldest daughter, they were mostly bottle babies.

Those first several weeks even Lily would stop breathing when she drank. We referenced As and Bs, the asystoles and bradycardia preemies go into when they forget to breathe because they're focusing on sucking or swallowing. Those fucking monitors would go off and we learned to stop and wait for the baby to start breathing again, on occasion needing to rub a body or a head to get them going. Those were the bad ones. I'm used to the ICU more than most, both from personal experience and from work, but it still got to me, that being on high alert and learning what every sound meant.

My son came home on a feeding tube, taped to his little face and threaded up one nostril down his throat and into his belly. This was two months after he was born and he still wasn't efficiently eating enough on his own to be allowed to come home. It often took an hour of holding a tiny bottle to his mouth to get even the lowest acceptable amount into him. My husband was so patient, trekking up to the NICU for as many feedings as he could, coming up with the complicated dance that was needed to get Cyrus to keep drinking. Put him on your lap but don't touch him. Unswaddle him when he starts to lose steam. Undress him and change his diaper when he needs to be re-stimulated. I think there was some head rubbing. I did not have the patience. I was holding in screams of frustration at needing this baby to eat so we could leave and feeling disappointed by this tiny human when he didn't eat enough. We finally told the team we needed to leave and they taught my husband how to insert the feeding tube and we got to go home. He was still a bottle baby, just not really that committed to the bottle yet.

Their babyhood was a combination of me pumping, trying to nurse Lily, trying to nurse Cyrus, trying to get Cyrus to drink from his bottle, and giving Lily a bottle. They started getting formula in the NICU the day after the night I chose to sleep a few extra hours while others cared for my newborn twins. Their demand outpaced my supply after that and I felt awful. Like I wasn't doing enough.

Did I enjoy their babyhood? I don't think so. I got pregnant when they were four months old, we found out when they were six months old. The closest emotion I can come up with to describe the feeling in our eyes as we looked at each other with the news is despair. The big twins were just starting to sleep more at night and we were just starting to think that maybe there was a light at the end of the tunnel. . .and then we fell into a new, darker tunnel that we'd have to navigate each with a baby on our backs. The pregnancy explained why my milk supply had dried up, though I know some moms who are able to still nurse while pregnant. Not me. I was not enough.

The little girls were born when the bigs were just a year old. They came early too and went into the NICU. They drank bottles too. Each of them nursed right away, the first day I held them, and I felt hopeful. This time I was determined to pump more diligently and be able to feed my babies. I saw the lactation consultant. I tried a nipple shield. I did produce more. But I didn't live in the hospital this time, because I had two other babies at home. I wasn't there for every feeding and it took coordination to be there at  the right time in order to try to nurse and also be able to pump. They did better with the bottles. I stopped pumping when they were three months old and the relief was deep.

By that time I was taking Zoloft for PPD. The idea of being left alone with my four babies made me feel so anxious and hopeless that I never let it happen. Our babysitter came five days a week and she fed my little girls more often than I did. Those moments I dreamed of, of gazing down into my baby's eyes as I fed him or her? They almost never occurred.

We propped lots of bottles. You're not supposed to do that, according to. . .I' not sure who. The experts. I think it's not safe or they might choke or something. We did it all the time, propping bottles on folded blankets. Some of it started because my son preferred to not be held while he ate. And some of it was because the times the babies ate were times when we could . . .not hold babies. Take a break. People often asked and ask us how we do it. How do we have all these children around the same age. Lots of shortcuts. Lots of doing what works. Lots of lowering of expectations. We just do it because what else is there to be done?

I knew some moms stopped nursing when their kids were around one, and I briefly considered stopping the bottles for the bigs at that time. But they suddenly had two baby sisters and they were still so little themselves and I didn't see the need to take them away, even though they also drank from sippy cups by that point.

I thought about it when the bigs turned two. But it didn't seem fair to take the botttles from the littles after only a year and there was no way we would be able to give bottles to two of them and not to the whole crew.

So now they are two and three and they still each drink one bottle of milk a day, before bed. Sometimes more if we're travelling because a bottle on a road trip is a better guarantee of a car nap than a sippy cup.

These babies came so hard and so fast that I hardly had time or energy to enjoy them. I look at my kids now and marvel at the fact that they are long and lean, that they are kids. Not babies. I have never once wanted time to slow down since becoming a parent; I've been keeping my head above water and trying to make it through the day. I have never had a moment of "Oh, my baby is getting bigger, maybe it's time for another one." It happened too fast for those windows to open up.

I know I won't have another baby and I do not mourn that fact. I have enough children. And they are still little and still exhausting but they are growing and changing all the time. They are aware of the world in new ways, as evidenced by the questions the big ones ask and by the way they all act. They aren't babies anymore. But for a moment each day they snuggle in and drink a bottle and relax in the safety and coziness that comes from being little, being cared for. They will grow up fast enough and I'm not ready to take the bottles away yet.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Family person

With my new job I work three twelve hours shifts each week. On a work day I find out at six thirty or seven in the morning which cases have been been assigned to me for that day. I open up our charting system and I read the notes about a patient, sometimes two patients, to find out the cause of events that have brought this person into our sphere of awareness. Reading the notes I enter a little bit into a different way of being--imagining this stranger's last day of life outside the hospital. Imagining the family or friends who are at the bedside or travelling from far away. Imagining what they already know or what they have yet to find out. Holding them in my heart for a moment. Then I get dressed, drink coffee and help get the kids ready if I have time. Head out into the world, onto the highway, into California or Nevada towns, into ICUs where I sit and wait to see if I will be talking to any family members that day.

My body and my mind and my heart feel different, depending on what I am doing. It is a bit like leaving one person-suit and stepping into another person-suit. I am comfortable and easy when I am in problem-solving mode. Not clinical but..fixed and firm and clear. It feels good to think critically and assess situations. To talk to people about making a good plan or about addressing a need or fixing a problem. This is not family resource coordinator mode.

If I am going to talk to a family I don't leave my body, I don't become someone else. I do. . .quiet myself down and step to the edges so I can make room for what is going on. To make space for the reality that death is in the room and that people are slowly or quickly emerging into a new skin, with new eyes, in the new world that no longer has their son or father or brother or wife walking around in it. When I worry about saying the wrong thing or finding a way in to ask these people I've just met to let me support them, I try to remind myself that none of this is about me. I am here because I have chosen to be, because I can be, and because people need other people to be there. It is hard. And scary. And so holy.

I can't stay in that mode indefinitely and I can't be in it if I am doing other things. Problem-solving or doing my expenses or filling out forms. It is hard to switch back and forth and I am new at this so I am learning how to be both. How to be all the things that I am and need to be, at different times. How to carry a family's story from afar but not drown in it.

Prayer helps.

There is so much pain in being a person. So much devastating, confusing, gut-clenching pain. I can't take it away and I try to remind myself not to try, even when it is so uncomfortable to be next to the hurt and suffering. We need people to be there though. To be next to us when we are hurting. To listen. To receive the gift that is the story of someone they have loved so fiercely as they try to figure out how to say good-bye.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

On parenting and privilege

In Medford, Massachusetts last month I sat on the grass with three of my college roommates surrounded by our husbands and fathers and kids laughing and talking about marriage and parenthood and drinking and life. We were dying, making faces and cracking up about stupid shit and real shit. Feeling so good to be together. At one point my friend made an almost offhand comment about her teenage son and some random conversation or experience he had at the mostly-white private school he attended. Part of the story was her telling him Oh you can't do that or act like that or be that because you are a brown-skinned boy. It didn't stop the conversation for long. I don't remember many of the details but none of it involved guns or violence or acting out--it was something small and insignificant and everyday she was talking about, some regular kid behavior. The straight-forward, accepted, acknowledge reality for everyone in that circle but me was that at some point they would or had begun teaching their brown-skinned sons how to try to keep themselves safe in a world where they are never safe. Of note, not that it should matter, his brown-skinned older sister so far has a full ride to Bryn Mar but doesn't want to go because it's all women. His mother has a Masters in Education. His father works in local politics.

Yesterday after the murder of Alton Stirling in Baton Rouge one of my friends posted the story of the first time he experienced racism. This is what Antoine Kinch wrote:

Racism has a lasting effect. It's not easily solved, fixed or "gotten over". After the first time you experience something racist it breaks you down. I remember for me it was when I was about 11 years old. In Jericho, Long Island my friends and I were playing basketball at a park (J-3) and some white kids were yelling "Nigger, nigger, nigger" from their window.
We rang the doorbell. Told the lady that answered what happened and she started yelling at her kids and made them apologize to us. Maybe she even spanked them. We knew they learned the word from somewhere. But that night I came home and told my mom and I cried. Why did they treat us like that? We were just kids playing basketball in the park.
And here I am at 38 with a 16 year old of my own and I still remember the trauma that I felt that day. It stays with you and comes back like an open wound whenever you hear news like that of ‪#‎AltonSterling‬. To quote President Obama when speaking of ‪#‎TrayvonMartin‬: "It could have been me".

My friend Geri Charles wrote this:
Growing up in Somerville, MA getting spat on and called the N word on my way to and from school was a daily occurrence... Riding public transportation was the scariest of it all... My concern for today is not the N word but those who hold power in government, schools and in the judicial system that enacts polices to keep us locked up, uneducated, poor, and disenfranchised.

My friend Kevin Small wrote this:
 I just turned 14 and was 3 weeks into my stay at my new, boarding high school. Several new friends all black and latino from NYC, and I were ballin' at the gym. Some white students joined us. My friends and I started doing tricks, making goofy passes and, y'know, just having some fun. One of the white kids, grabbed the ball and growled, "we're not playing that nigger sh*t here!" I was stunned. I heard the word nigger all the time on the block or just around, but not like that. It felt like someone tossed a bucket of hot coals in my face. We stopped playing and left. It is said that there are no rites of passage for Americans, however, there are several for black Americans: Being called a nigger, getting harassed by a cop, making it to the age of 25... Black people are at a boiling point.

These are educated, strong, beautiful, connected, athletic, wise, intelligent people in their 30's. None of those details should matter but I know they do to many people. And these are stories about WORDS. Not physical threats. Not actual murder. Just stories about the hurtful, ugly, detestable things that children said to them when they were children. Just. I sat in Peets in tears, sick to my stomach, confused and raw to find myself out in public where life was going on as usual as I read about these stories forever burned into people's life story maps. If if feels that way to read it, two or three decades later, what does it feel like to live that? And that's just the first time. And these people are all alive to talk about it. Imaging any child being scared and stunned and thrown out of one world, the one we all like to think we lived in as innocent children and the world we all like to think and hope our own children live in for as long as possible, where you can live and play and learn into the real world where you are not just told but shown that it is not ok to be you. Not safe. Not just not safe but actively, violently, murderously dangerous. 

I am afraid to go protest in the streets when that happens because I am a mother of four small children and I don't want anything to happen to me. I can't even fathom taking them into that environment, putting them at risk. But maybe that's the realest, truest thing I or many of us can do right now--step into that fear, that risk of being hurt or killed by either the police who end up quieting the protest or by the angry, afraid, sick-to-death people who right now have nothing to do but stand there alone in their very real fear wondering what in the hell there is left to do to get something to happen to make something be different. To help them be safe. To help them feel like the rest of us, the ones who don't have to worry about any of it, give a shit about the fact that if you are brown or black skinned in this country you don't get to stay home and stay out of danger. Can I lend my privilege? My safety? Can I share it? Is it time to find a way to give it away? Would I if I could? Would any of us?

There are conversations that need to be had.
Books that need to be read.
Pages and people that need to be added to your Facebook feed.
Actions that need to be taken.
Creativity and bravery and conviction that needs to be found and used and shared.

One conversation: Ask your HR department what services and support they are offering to people of color who are suffering real PTSD as they try to show up to work in the wake of two black men being murdered by police within a 24 hour period? http://fortune.com/2016/07/07/police-shootings-black-employers/

Some books:
Justice in America: the separate realities of blacks and whites (Mark Peffley)
The New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander)

Some Facebook pages:
Showing Up for Racial Justice
Southern Poverty Law Center

Some places to give money:

This post is rough and far from perfect. It never will be perfect and it could always be better. Please have this conversation with me, especially my friends and family who feel mad or threatened or disbelieving at anything that I have put down here. We can do better and we need to do better. If it were me on either of those videos being shot and killed by police, would you react differently? If so, why? Let's start there.

I wrote this because I know there are people I love, good-hearted, educated people, who do not see these stories on their news feeds. People who don't know what to do. People who do not believe that this is a real problem. Good people who know me and love me and try hard to make a difference in the world. We are the ones who need to work to change this.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Morning coffee

In the night when I wake up to go pee, which never used to happen, I still carefully navigate the floor to make sure I don't step on a dog who isn't there anymore. It's been a week and two days.

This morning as I heated up a cup of coffee in the microwave, careful to grab it and open the door before the beep sounded because I hope to get a few minutes of solitude before the kids wake up, I noticed the eagerness in my body. The anticipation. Coffee. Mmmmm. I love it.

"You know this is an addiction right?" my friend Brian, the barista, asked me one morning. Not because he was trying to be a dick but because that's who he was. Serving up truth to the masses who waited for him to pour them drinks and top them with latte art. He's the one who taught me the term "latte art".

Six years ago..probably closer to seven, I moved into a loft apartment on Third and Mariposa. The building is still on the corner, though it used to be across from a broken down building and now it's across from the new hospital. When my roommate and I got the keys that first day we found the place, a friend from growing up told me to meet her down the street on 22nd at a restaurant called Piccino. It sat on a corner too and there we ate oysters and drank rose and generally toasted the feeling of being young, thirty-two, and free. It was a time filled with hope because it I was making decisions based on what I really wanted to do, not based on what I thought the good or nice or appropriate thing to do was. I lost a friend in the process, which I wish hadn't happened, but the rest of life felt good. Actually, I was just starting a job that it turned out I hated, but the rest of life felt good. Well, ok, it felt a lot like life with some good days and some lonely, sad days. But I do know that the time I lived there was a time of feeling free and extremely myself. Brian and Piccino were a big part of that.

Every morning I would walk Sadie down the loud, metal stairs from our top-floor loft down to the street. My bedroom wasn't on the very top floor but it was still a couple flights of stairs up and down, with no elevator, which was fine for Sadie at the time and fine for me too except if I was trying to move furniture or carry groceries. It was a cool, funky building that felt like a 2009 version of what San Francisco Melrose Place might have looked like except we weren't friends with any of the neighbors and the guy immediately below us hated us for being loud. The time we flooded my bathroom and it leaked into their apartment probably didn't help either. It was very cool though. Cool-looking and in a cool part of town that I knew nothing about, except for vague memories of coming nearby to go to the Espirit outlet as a child with my mom and then once driving down a dirt road, with orange cones in a spread, into a deserted, blank neighborhood where I tried to find the nightclub SnoDrift when I was in my early 20's. It was a new land for me, Dog Patch adjacent, and I was surprised to find that it really suited me. It wasn't traditionally beautiful--very industrial without much greenery. But the weather was warm, it was easy to get to Oakland where I worked, and I could walk get to SoMa or the ballpark. There was a good sushi restaurant on the corner called Moshi Moshi, which is still there. There was fancy restaurant a few blocks down called Serpentine, which is still there. There was a locals bar down on 22nd called. . .something to do with a dog I think, which is still there and which turned out to be owned by the father of one of the hottest guys at my high school. . .swoon, I digress. It was a cool place to live and it was on the cusp, or in the middle, of getting more developed. By the time we were moving out, only a year and a half later, the broke-down structure across the street was getting torn down to make way for the multi-billion dollar new children's hospital.

So every morning Sadie and I would walk down the stairs and head up Mariposa or down 3rd, on our way to the little park hidden a few blocks away. She and I had our friends there. Depending on how much time we had we'd either hang there for a while or keep walking down two more blocks to 22nd, to Piccino. I told you about the restaurant on the corner with the oysters. I haven't told you about the coffee. . . shop? Wrong word. Pocket. The coffee pocket. A town hall of sorts.

It was a door in the middle of the block that opened into a room about the size of public restroom with three stalls. It bore no resemblance to a restroom. It was bright and sweet and pretty, simply so. There were two stools near the one window that opened out to the street. Once I started going every day I would try to snag one of those so I could see Sadie outside, laying on the sidewalk by the window. She bit more than a few people there. . .well, maybe not actually bit but reacted to, acted like she was going to bite. Brian scolded me for that after several months.

There were the two window stools and beyond that a small bench against one of the walls. That was it for seating. The rest of the small space was a rectangle of floor facing the barista's space which was just  big enough to work through the hour-long list of drinks. Hour-long because there were so many people and it was slow-drip, single-cup coffee. No frozen, whipped, flavored anything. Drip coffee. Espresso. Cappuccino. Latte. Americano. Gibraltar. Iced coffee brewed overnight to be super-strong, made with a little sweetened milk.

I'm outgoing and shy, depending on the place and the circumstances. I was usually in and out, ordering my drink, waiting and quiet. I do not know what drew Brian to draw me in. I can't imagine I made small talk because in the small space, with him performing a coffee symphony, talking to the others in or right outside the door, it would have felt like talking on stage. However it happened, he and I became friends and he introduced me to some of his other regulars, his friends, in a way that went something like "Christine, this is Megan. Megan, this is Christine. You are both awesome." A benediction.

Brian is tall and lanky, with brown eyes and brown hair. He sometimes wore funky, 70's eyeglasses that I don't think helped him to see. He played great music anytime he was there. He ran that place and he was spectacular. He was smooth, talked to people in a way that made us feel good, made great coffee. I mean, great.

He taught me about anxiety, for which I will always be grateful. That sounds like a funny thing to say. Somehow in one of our morning chats, that happened in between drinks in the moments before he got another rush and I had to leave, he talked to me about his social anxiety that he often suffered from though almost never when he was behind the counter. He told me I was anxious and it was this moment of Ohhhhhhh. He was right, I was. I just didn't know to call it that. I thought anxious was people feeling nervous in a crowd, nervous meeting new people. I didn't know that my constant experience of having my mind constantly running, like an engine, like a propeller, like a voice-over from a film I would have liked to watch, a stream of questions of why am I like this, what is that person thinking, how would it be different if I said this and he said that. . .that was anxiety. In some ways he gave me to myself. I was able to switch a bit from "how can I stop thinking so much?" to "My mind is racing, I must be anxious about something, let me sit with that and be in it to see what happens."

That neighborhood, the walks Sadie and I took to and fro our place and Piccino, the morning greetings between me and the handful of people we always saw, the chats with Brian and later with Noah and with Christine and with the sexy heart surgeon and with some of the others I saw a lot, it was the place and the time that I started to claim who I am and who I want to be. I was being myself and people were looking right at me and opening the doors of themselves to let me in further. It felt so good.

More than a decade ago I started an essay about coffee and the different rituals around it, just in my own life. Of how different two different Mr Coffees can be and how I need to learn how to make coffee every time the apparatus changes. Of the different people I've made coffee for in the mornings, the powdered Nespresso and sweet milk I drank in the mornings in Madrid, of the way I feel sitting alone with a hot cup of coffee with a touch of milk. The happiness it gives me. The peace and solitude.

We are layers upon layers of our different stories, our different morning windows or tables or street corners. The stairs walking out of the metro station into the light that start out new and become commonplace. The shadows of many hats previously worn sit on my head, in my heart, and sometimes burst forth in fits of longing, of mourning for times done forever, of the realization that I won't go back there again. Some of this comes right to the surface when a fifteen-year-old dog dies, because our time together, the streets we walked together, stretch back to when I was twenty-five and through all the things that have begun and ended since then.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


My lovely, crazy, loyal, loving dog died today. We had her put to sleep. She was around fourteen years old. I got her in 2003 off Craigslist from someone who rescued her from the high-kill Pinole shelter so I never knew much about her. They said she was around two when I got her which would have made her fifteen this year, but she gained so much weight in the first few months I had her that my vet at the time thought she was probably closer to a year old when I got her.

I grew up with dogs though my mom really did most of the work. I wanted a dog for years as a young adult and spent hours at my less-than-fulfilling desk jobs look on Petfinder.org and Craigslist. When I found Sadie I was living on Steiner Street in a huge Victorian with four roommates. I didn't ask any of them if I could get a dog. I thought I was just fostering her, that's what I told them too. But the first time I took her to an adoption event as her foster mom, tying a bandana around her neck like they tole me, like the other animals up for grabs, I knew I would be keeping her. My roommates were not thrilled. More like pissed. The first night she was home, after getting spayed, I went out with some friends and a roommate ending up taking care of her. I often did not deserve her.

She was completely nuts for a long time. She was afraid of furniture. Wood or linoleum floors. A couple times I had to pick her up and carry her out of a house after she'd crossed the slippery floor and then refused to cross it again. Afraid to get in the car, afraid to come inside the house. She barked at every black man she saw which was incredibly awkward for me. I kept wanting to shout "I didn't train her to be racist, I swear!"

She was house-broken and trained as far as knowing how to sit. She pulled like crazy on the leash. I had no idea how hard it would be to have a dog. How hard it would hit me right in the place where I have some of my biggest struggles--dedication to doing the same thing over and over, showing up and taking care of someone even when I didn't feel like it. Giving a whining being love and affection when the whining made me crazy. I yelled at her more often than I would like to admit. I was impatient. I was not as good at being a dog mama as I thought I would be.

The first time I took her to the beach she was, and still is, the closest thing to joy in living form I've ever seen. She embodied pure, deep, true joy. She ran and ran and ran, blood pumping, legs stretching, tail flying. She looked like she felt free and fully alive for the first time. I will never forget that.

I took her to Alamo Square park every day, twice a day. Those were her dog park years. We made dog park friends and it was a good routine for both of us. She would steal these soft little squeaky balls from other dogs and run huge circles around the park forever until I despaired of every catching her and getting the ball back. She drove me crazy. She tore up every toy she ever had except for these soft, rubber squeaky balls with the little faces on them when I finally got her some of her own.

She slept in my bed, all seventy pounds of her, and I always had sand and black dog hair in my sheets which was disgusting. I eventually kicked her out of my bed and she was pissed and hurt for months. My hairdresser Rosette scolded me for kicking her out and told me I should let her back in but I didn't

She drank tons of sea water at the beach as though she was dying of thirst and could not tell that it was salty and not thirst-quenching. And then she would puke all over the place. She rolled in any dead thing she could find--dead seals were the worst. She rolled in shit many times and I would have to wash it off her, cursing her all the way.

She and I moved at least ten times together. The big Victorian with the roommates first. A studio apartment with just the two of us. Into my dad's house with my ex-boyfriend and me. Into the new apartment that boyfriend and I shared. That's where she first started biting people--mostly nipping ankles but sometimes breaking skin and making me question whether I needed to put her down then. Into a friend's house for a few months where I left her in the beautiful, fenced, grassy yard during the day and she apparently barked all day driving the neighbors crazy but I didn't hear about that until after the fact. Into a big loft apartment in the Dog Patch that we shared with another friend and eventually a new kitten who peed on my bed every day and on the clothes in my closet the other days mostly because he was scared of Sadie who chased him constantly. Into a one-bedroom on Beaver Street where it was just the two of us again. That's where she jumped out of a window for the first time--a high-up window onto the street below where she sat waiting on the corner for me to come home. Out of San Francisco and into the 'burbs where she jumped out of every window in the house at least once and squeeze through a hole in the wall left by the broken air-conditioner. She disappeared that time and I thought I'd lost her for good. A guy down the hill found her running across a busy street and enticed her into his yard where he fed her hot dogs and wanted to keep her. After a couple days he called the animal shelter who called me to let me know a dog matching my description was down the street. She ran away another time, I can't remember how, and some little girls found her up the street. I went to get her from the shelter that time.

She was my animal familiar and a lot of times I didn't really like her. I did not fall immediately in love. I often took out the anger I couldn't or wouldn't direct where it truly belonged on her. She reflected so many of my moods. My anxiety. She started having anxiety attacks a few years ago and we tried Prozac, the thunder shirt. They got less frequent when I started staying home with the kids all day.

This last house was her final house. A huge rambling yard which would be many dogs' version of heaven. She was never one to hang out and explore outside on her own though--she wanted to be where I was. She got depressed and withdrawn when I left her to go on a trip, often not eating until I came back. She got upset when suitcases were packed. I was her person and she loved me in a way no one ever has and I don't think I deserved it. Other people in our lives throughout the years were much sweeter to her than I was. My mom. Terry. Grey. She was a great dog.

I knew it would be time soon. I knew she would tell me. She was in pain and old and mostly blind and pretty deaf. Other people maybe thought it was time before now. But I knew she still wanted to be around, even if it was hard. When I took her in to the vent a couple weeks ago they admired her greatly, saying what a beautiful dog she was, how good she looked considering how old she was. We agreed that we would try to feed her lots of treats and love her while we could. As we were getting ready to go to Vermont for a week as a family Stephanie asked me what my wishes were if it looked like Sadie needed to die while we were going. I was taken aback and appreciative that she had asked because I truly hadn't thought about that. I knew Sadie would want me to be there with her and I just figured she would wait for me. That kinda sums up our relationship. I knew she would do what she needed to to do what I needed.

When I got home from work last night at almost 1 am I knew she would die today. She was done. I laid on the floor with her, stroking her and loving her. I brought her water bowl right up to her face so she could drink. Then I went to bed in my older kids' room because I missed bedtime and everyone was asleep and I knew one of them would wake up soon looking for me. And I wanted to be near them.

I woke up this morning and went to check on my dog and she was laying on our bedroom floor, in much the same spot. She was working harder to breathe. I brought her water again and she drank and laid back down. The house woke up like it always does, with a vengeance. The reality of regular life, little kids needing me, needing stuff, the reality of trying to make a plan so that I could take her to be euthanized filled me with irritation. I wanted everyone to go away, to leave me alone, to take care of everything without my needing to ask.

My dad came. My husband called his parents who are in town and asked them to cover over. I sat on the floor with Sadie and wondered what to do about the kids. What to tell them. How to tell them so it wasn't too scary. They get shots and they go to sleep...how do I explain that my dog, now their dog, is going to die? My husband and I talked about it a bit and he offered to tell them. I wasn't sure yet. And then they all wandered in and it took care of itself like so many things do. I was crying and they could see that. I explained that Sadie was old and tired and sick and that we had to say good-bye to her today. My son cried out, quickly, and then was done. They patted her. In the words of the great Anne Lamott they sat shiva for this dog, in a toddler way, which looked like Cleo bringing in three kernels of dog food and holding them up to Sadie's nose and then handing them to me when Sadie didn't eat them. It looked like Daphne going out to grab fistfuls of dog food and bringing them in to dump into the water bowl, like they have done countless times, only this time I didn't tell them to stop. Lily was feisty and lashed out at her siblings and I asked her to come sit with me a couple times. And then I left them to my dad to watch so I could lay next to my dog, because no matter who else has been in the picture she has always been my dog, and I started saying good-bye.

My teacher. My friend. My companion. My protector. My irritant. My shadow. My responsibility.

My dog died today. She looked into my eyes the whole time, shining with love, knowing she was safe, knowing it was time. She drove me crazy, I wish I could have been better for her, I know I saved her life, and I will miss her so much.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

PW, part 2 unedited again

If you had told me that one day Phyllis, or PW as some of us called her, would be folding piles of my kids' laundry on my dining room table, I would not have believed you. Not because I wouldn't expect her to do something kind and helpful like that but because. . .I mean. It's like the coolest girl in school offering to come over and fold your laundry. Wait, no. Not the coolest girl in school. The coolest, young teacher at school who you love talking to and learning from and want some day to be like and can maybe some days imagine being friends with because you have a connection and if she weren't a grown up and you weren't a kid and. . . .yeah, it just never would have crossed my mind. I can tell you that I'm not the only one who feels this way because when I mention to some colleagues, the ones who have worked there for a long time and who worked with and for Phyllis, that she is home watching my kids they look at me as though I just said "Oh yeah, Sting came over to babysit today."

Not exaggerating.

There are so many things to say. I already described what it was like to have her as a boss. It would be another essay entirely to describe what it was like, organizationally and professionally and personally for many people, when she retired so I won't do that here. I can say that we have been friends for years--sharing books (well, mostly she brings me books) and going to Giants games (she took me to Giants games) and talking about love and friendship and travel and work. About motherhood and how much I wanted to be a mother.

We had one another's phone numbers after she left and we stayed in touch, going out to dinner (she took me to dinner). Sometimes we talked about work and I always wanted to know her opinion about things, especially when I was a manager and struggled with so many different aspects of the role. She always kept her commentary about work brief. I could tell she missed it. I could tell she had opinions she wasn't sharing. We never got deep into the dissection of challenges or practice changes or people. She was a mentor and a dear friend. She came to our wedding. She bought us china.

Somehow she started coming to my house once a week after the big twins were born. Was it once a week back then? I can barely remember anything but if not once a week, close to it. She is a loving grandmother to two girls who are growing up and she was happy to spend time with some little babies. She was already coming when I got pregnant with the little girls and noticed how wan and exhausted I was, before I knew the reason why. She just kept coming, holding babies, helping, taking care of us.

The littles are almost two and she has rarely missed a week. Every Tuesday she drives across the Bay, bringing me coffee, lunch for the whole family, snacks and treats for the kids. She was always a great dresser at work and she somehow manages to have the same style now but in clothes that can be muddied and streaked with paint and snot and everything else that propagates our house and covers those eight little hands. She changes diaper and diaper. She climbs into the back of the minivan to load kids in and out of those hard-to-reach car seats. She reads and plays and takes kids to the playground, puts them down for naps, talks to them. They call her Aunt P, or Auntie P, and they not only love her they expect her and ask for her and position themselves temporally in the week based on when she is coming. My husband and I absolutely do not know what we would have done or would do without her.

When I started working at the donor network again she not only wanted to keep coming on Tuesdays but she offered to go solo--to watch all four kids alone, all day. Let that sink in. There is nothing I have ever done in my life that is more exhausting than taking care of my four kids. At the end of the day I flop onto the couch and do not want to get up, not even for food or water. I am done. The only other people who take care of them alone are Stephanie, our babysitter, and Haku, our other babysitter. I was worried about Phyllis when she said she would do this and gave her as many windows as I could to change her mind or back out. She hasn't yet. And though I worried, I knew absolutely that she could do it. She's PW. She can do anything I think.

All of this is to say how much we love her and appreciate her. But I haven't said yet how hard it has been for me to, slow by slow, relax into the reality of having this person whom I admire so hugely come into the most exposed version of myself. The true truth. The mess, the food stains and poop and crazy hair and no bra and dirty clothes and crazed eyes. The rawness of how hard this life is with all these kids. It took many many months, more than a year, for me to stop feeling like I needed to entertain her and talk to her and treat her like a guest. That was hard hard hard for me to do. We keep peeling back layers, talking about death and the hard parts of marriage and health issues. We have been friends for years but this is something different. Family is a good word for it but it's something different than that too. I'm not sure I have the word for it yet, just the feeling.

But Tuesday, when I was practically overcome with rage at the shit on the floor, at the overall powerlessness of my role as a mother, I had moments of wishing her away. Not wanting her, or anyone, to see how ugly I could get. How miserable. How mad. I stalked around, I hid. I was tempted to release her, to release myself, by suggesting that she leave. At one point, even after I was mostly calmed down, I came back out to the living room where she was folding laundry and huffed "Well motherhood doesn't live up to the dreams I had about it!"

She didn't say much but and she didn't get scared away. We didn't have a big talk about it and we mostly moved in symphony for the next little while until she left. But the next day she sent me this text:

"Keep thinking how hard you are working at being a good mom. You don't give yourself enough credit for handling an overwhelming responsibility. I just wish you had more time to spend with them one on one. Lily is never going to let anyone take advantage of her; Cyrus will be the love of life for so many people; Cleo will be that great observer and then will throw herself into things full force; Daphne will always have that cute smile on her face and will get away with a lot because of it. They are amazing kids and you are responsible for that."

This is my love letter to her, to PW, Auntie P, to Phyllis. To my friend, my mentor, my boss. The gifts you give and have given will stay with me, have lifted me, continue to save me and humble me.

Thank you forever.