Or The Holiday Blues
Or Sometimes My Smile's Fake on the Cards I Never Get Around to Sending
It's been rough here lately.
Here's a snapshot:
I sit on the couch crying.
"Do you want me to go get a tree or not?" Nick asks.
Its Wednesday night, the 10th of December, all our Christmas stuff still sits in the garage, including our two advent calendars, packed away last January in plastic bins and shoe boxes, stuffed with newspaper and paper towels, stifled like the holiday spirit inside me.
"I don't know. I want you to...but I also want to go as a family. I just ...I'm not in a place to make decisions."
"Alright, I'll be back."
Instead of getting a tree, Nick returns with the boxes from the garage, I watch as he opens them. He pulls out the kids' santa hats, the second one purchased at a thrift store after they fought over the first, he unveils a dried flower wreath from our neighbor Anne, the reindeer candle holders I brought back from the Senior Center, and a whole stack of Christmas stories.
The books get me: We should have been reading them already.
You know, that judgmental voice that monitors our motherings and constantly marks our failed attempts with red F's.
What's wrong with me?
Sitting here now on a Sunday, high from hockey and my husband's love, I can answer that question.
I just needed to sing sorrow's chorus, hold the low notes, and mourn with the moon, with the child in my office who sat across from his father only to hear he lost his mom, with the darkness where my Aunt Patty's spark once lived, with the women worldwide daring to speak their truth about powerful men, with the harmonious shouts of "Hands up", "I can't breath", "Black lives matter," with the wild weather pummeling us for neglecting the meaning of that word-- wild-- in our quest for more fabricated things, with the longing, still, after ten, almost eleven years, for a smoother parenting road, without so many miles between stones, one that brings me a little closer to typical, to the pathway I imagined before the premature arrival of my son.
I just needed to sing sorrow's chorus.
Sometimes we need to release all the sad songs, so our mind can settle enough to hear love knocking on our dooor, singing joy to the world.
Joy to the world...
The world lost one hell of a lady yesterday
My great Aunt Patty
My Mom's second Mom
The elder who always saw me as me
Who lit every room with her voice, her smile, the way she laughed
Loud and proud and bold and wise and wonderful and I can't believe...
My Mom made me call her on Thanksgiving
I didn't really want to call
Didn't want to have an awkward conversation with an old relative of mine, I was in the middle of something, the timing wasn't right, It's awkward, my kids needed me, I wanted a moment to myself, I hadn't been thinking about my Great Aunt Patty...
...but when the sound of her voice traveled
from her New England kitchen
to my Anchorage one,
why it mattered.
I walked to the laundry room so I could focus,
so I could hear over the lung cancer that slowly crept into the cadence of her words.
"Ah, sorry about my voice," she said. "It goes in and out these day."
"I can hear you."
"Oh good, Christy its awful, but hey, how are you, tell me about Alaska?"
So we talked about my life and hers,
in that way you do,
with a select few
where years apart still find you aligned
"He's great. He and I are really good."
"I still remember your wedding. I remember thinking you two were the most beautiful..."
My Aunt Patty.
The most beautiful minded woman I knew.
The light of every room.
I loved her.
As so many do.
Lying here with my back out, my sciatica nerve all aflame, thinking about mobility, or lack there of, and how much I take for granted my ability to move.
I'd like to tell you I hurt my back playing hockey, but, no, I injured it taking my sock off in the locker room.
Taking my damn sock off, something I do every day, without thought.
Elias's nemesis when it comes to getting dressed. The balance and flexibility it takes to pull those small scraps of fabric over toes is beyond him.
This morning, when I stepped out of the shower, I realized I couldn't dry my own toes. Couldn't bend, couldn't reach, but I figured out a way to step on the towel and use my feet as hands.
We all improvise.
Elias walks by over-arching his back and waving his arms about. Its not pretty but it works.
Today, I walk slow and straight, careful not to twist, only moving from bed to chair to floor, trying to find a position that doesn't hurt, hoping this pain eases by day's end, not willing to fight it for long, eager to run and work and play.
Man, I'm soft when it comes to being injured. A bit of a puddle on the floor.
And then there's my boy, body contorted, bruised, scraped, never complaining, never whining about wanting more.
If only I could be a little more like him.
I sit here listening to the Zach Brown band and drinking Omission as my kids sit on the couch with my parents watching football. Our windows are all steamed up with the smell of turkey cooking and my mind feels more at ease than it has for days.
Four days off school and work and alarm clocks and the harried routines of modern life. A break from responding to the cries of other people's children. My own are enough. For now.
Earlier today, Nick and I rode rented fat-tire bikes though APU and Russian Jack parks, as Nana and Papa walked the kids on their bikes to the playground at Takishla Park.
Life is good.
Last night, as I lay in the dark with Olive, snuggling her before bedtime, she asked, "Mom, why does Elias need help with so much?"
"Well, his body has to work a lot harder than yours or mine to do things."
"Remember how he was born early?"
"Well he was injured, or hurt, when that happened, because his body wasn't ready to be out of my belly."
"Why was he hurt?"
"He just was Sweetie."
"Was I hurt?"
"No, just Elias. But, you know, there's a lot he can do."
Today he rode his three-wheeled recumbent bike through the neighborhood over a dusting of snow and ice. He helped us clean the house for Thanksgiving, taking his turn vacuuming and putting the throw pillows on the couch just so. "That's how they do it on the home shows, Mom, like that."
"Thanks, they look great."
"Do you like how I did the pillows?"
"Thats how they do it on the home shows I watch with Ms. Julia."
"I like them."
And I like you exactly as you are, and your sister, and your Dad, and my parents and his and our siblings and our friends and this oh so wild but tame place we live.
I like everything about my life right now, a loving family, a warm house, and food cooking. What more does a girl need?
Its been awhile since I wrote. Been off in the woods, both in my mind and the literal ones.
Recently returned from a weekend out at Cuzuncle David's, up above Resurrection Bay and Lowell Point, outside of Seward, the place that feels the most like home.
When I fell in love with Nick during a hiking expedition across the Alaska Range, I remember lying next to him on a rare sunny afternoon as we dried our gear, and in his glacier blue eyes I saw us together in the future, a cabin in the woods and us walking towards each other.
This is what I want.
Wilderness for the wild side of me that strains against all this plastic and organization.
Life outside of it all--that's what called me to Alaska all those fourteen years ago.
Nick too came to the call of a Lynx leaving footprints out your back door.
And the possibility of trails beyond what's known.
But for us the unbelievable came not in an epic adventure but in the breaking open of who we were and what we knew, through the tiniest of souls.
Today is world prematurity day, and so I hear-by salute every family with a child born too soon. And every medical professional who holds those tiny babies in the palms of their hearts keeping them alive when no prayers could.
The mountains I expected to climb when I came to Alaska hold nothing over the obstacles conquered in neonatal units daily.
And now, ten years later, no longer bound to the hospitals and therapy clinics of Anchorage, we again imagine life outside.
On Saturday, Nick helped David pull trees for firewood, while Olive, Elias, and I snuck up on them through the woods.
Without trails, we did what call "bushwacking", ducking through Alder, breaking branches, climbing over downed Hemlock and Spruce, avoiding the talons of Devil's Club.
All this with a boy who walks with the help of two canes.
Olive led the way, balancing on fallen trees, pretending to cross shark-infested water, Elias laughed every time his cane fell in a squirrel hole or his feet caught on roots, and I trailed them both, longing for a quicker pace but also somewhat content to stroll along, and every so often lift Elias up.
Somewhere between the mossy lair and the Devil's Club jungle, we became an Olympic team of Bushwackers racing imaginary opponents to David's cabin.
We, of course, were in the lead, but the other guys were closing in on us, so we needed to work together to find Strawberry hill.
As we made it to the top, Olive raised her hand in the air and said, "We won! We won!"
"Yay team!" I cheered.
And Elias just leaned into both of us and laughed in that way of his that makes everything alright.
I sit at the Fire Tap drinking beers with my 35 and up coed soccer team. Its my first time hanging with this crew in this setting. But we have played over five games together so I have a good sense of my teammates characters, and I like each and every one.
One asks me about my kids and when he comments on the six-year age span between Olive and Elias we fall into a conversation about Elias's premature birth and subsequent challenges.
Cerebral palsy, autism, visual impairment, to name a few.
"What's he into?"
Wait, wait wait, let me say that again: He responds with, "What's he into?"
That is the question. The perfect question.
The one that keeps me from describing my current vision of Elias--Whats he like? Well, he has his challenges...-- but forces me to describe Elias from the perspective of what motivates him.
"He really likes maps and the design of houses."
"Oh yeah, me too..."
And from there we speak from a place of commonality, merging understandings instead of remaining caught in the gridlock of perceived differences.
What's he into?
What's he into?
What's he into?
Sometimes I need to stop and remember how this all started.
The first day of Christmas vacation 2003, after a night of dancing to Pamyua, I went in for my first ultrasound, excited to find out if I carried a boy or a girl.
"Do you want to know?" the ultrsound tech asked.
"Yes," I said, my hand held firmly in Nick's.
"Its a boy."
I remember looking at my husband and seeing him inside of me.
A boy, we're having a boy!
I wish I remembered the exact words the technician said, but all I know is before I could fully wrap my head around the male body growing inside me, I learned he was in peril.
My cervix, a body part I can't even see, was failing me.
Incompetent, they call it.
"You're gonna have to take it easy for awhile," I remember him saying.
I pictured yoga instead of soccer and walks instead of runs but my midwife burst this image when she said, "You need to go home and lie down."
"But we are suppose to fly to Oregon tomorrow."
The perinatologist was called, an appointment made, and our flight cancelled.
And so I lay down.
And at the time, I couldn't imagine anything worse.
Stuck in bed, removed from the world, from movement, from life.
Forget dancing, I wasn't even allowed to sit up to eat.
No lovemaking or walking underneath a starlit sky.
No cooking, no cleaning, no shoveling snow, no stretching, no playing, just no, no, no, no.
I hated calling the head of PNA to say I could no longer teach Humanities at the small private school that didn't have Family Medical Leave due to its size.
I hated asking Nick, my husband of all of five months, to fetch me water after almost 30 years of fighting to do it all by myself!
I can do it!
I don't need help!
I don't need to be saved by no man!
And yet here I was, helpless, vulnerable, stuck horizontally, dependant on the man I fell in love with while climbing mountains, carrying half my weight on my back, while post-holing through a foot of snow on Cody Pass.
The guy who told me the moment he knew he really liked me is when the professor of our Leadership Expedition trip tagged me as the front-runner on our trail-less route across the Alaska Range, and I didn't even hesitate when the gravel bank of the river petered out and we were forced to bushwhack through Alders and Devil's club along the mountainside.
And yet here I was totally dependent.
But he loved me.
And when Elias arrived, six weeks later, that time in bed seemed like a honeymoon compared to life in the NICU...
...never knowing if this would be the day our son would die.
Still now, almost 11 year later, I can't fully write about the terror of those first few weeks.
Trauma numbs the brain, allowing us to forget the details even as they imprint on the very fibers that make us real. What we lose in words we claim in visceral memories--and they replay in our daily interactions, coming out as an exaggerated reactions to moments of stress. Like a loose switch they trigger emotional responses to scenarios that offer the slightest of reminders to the initial event.
And yet my boy, Elias Everett Jordan, survived.
This afternoon, Nick and I sat across from his 5th grade teacher, Ms. Becker, who said, "I am amazed at all he can do, knowing his history, and all he has been through."
There was a time when I wanted nothing more than to see my son through the night, to wake up in the morning and cup my hand around his tiny head. To see his chest rise as oxygen filled his damaged lungs, to feel the pulse that stopped.
As time stopped.
And it didn't matter that the world went on without me, because nothing mattered more than the breath of my son.
My baby boy trapped in a world of plastic wires and machines that mirrored my womb, but resembled nothing of his first warm dark room.
And I wanted nothing more than for him to be back inside, and for my body to be whole like the round women I saw sashaying through the maternity ward in all their invisible glory.
I wanted the normal pregnancy I expected, the full moon belly and the plump baby that cried at birth.
Not this silent science project they called my son.
But blood runs deeper than expectations, and this struggling child of mine soon lassoed my heart, tying him to me indefinitely, and carving me into the mother I am today.
So proud of my ten-year-old boy