When the Planet Shifts



Before we married, Jim promised me we would have five boys.

Because I was very young, somewhat gullible, and only took college laboratory courses because I had to (notwithstanding my lack of scientific skills), I believed him.

We had two boys in under two years. Promising start.

On a windswept January day the following year we had a few extra hours on our hands: my scheduled delivery had been moved to make way for an emergency one.  (I did not prove much more successful in the childbirth department than I had in the hard sciences.)

We took our toddlers to breakfast at a riverside restaurant where I managed–just barely–to slide my mid-section behind a sturdy stationary pine table where the boys laughed and gave us sticky kisses before we dropped them off to play with friends–and Winston, the venerable bulldog.

Jim had only sisters and I had only brothers, and despite having some experience growing up as a girl I never felt equipped when among girl friends to understand how that is, or should be, done.  I assumed that we would have a third son by mid-day; he let on to me that he thought we’d be bringing home a Holly or Fiona.

We stopped at a nearly empty restaurant near the hospital and Jim had something to eat; I was not allowed to partake before surgery.

The owner looked at me and smiled, “When are you due?”

I glanced at Jim’s watch.  “He should be here at 12:42,” I said.

She gave me a hug.

Then the two (almost three) of us went to the seashore,  and walked hand-in-hand down a snow crystal-glazed path to the ocean. A few hours later, beautiful Emma arrived, not with a howl but with a thoughtful, piercing and curious gaze from the second her enormous eyes adjusted to what we then knew as light.

The Wings of an Angel, the Wings of a Dove


Emma was a teenager when her father died. She is in such important ways like him, the man who taught her to love finches.

As sunset gathered on her birthday this winter I felt compelled to turn my steering wheel off course and drive back to that seashore spot, where layered gold and orange clouds settled in one spot to form unmistakable wings so bright they lingered as an after-image even when the sky turned gray and only the smudged plum outline of a single bird soared over the sea.


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Mother, May I?

HPIM7503 Not long ago I was gifted with the pleasure of hearing Billy Collins wryly read his poem about fashioning a plastic lanyard to present to his mother:

“No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips 
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother. . . .

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.”

At camp and at elementary school my brothers and I were instructed to use our fingers to form lumpy low-grade clay into ashtrays for parents who did not smoke.  Had that particular craft project persisted into my children’s generation, as a mom I no doubt would have held on to the ashtrays, too.

At school we dutifully used our Crayola crayons to make Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards.

I wondered even then how these exercises made children feel if they had no mother or father.

“You could make one for your grandmother,” I heard Miss Marsh tell one small classmate who had approached her desk.  I mentally filled in the rest of the conversation.

Billy Collins’ poem noted “the worn truth that you can never repay your mother,” but of course it’s never truly a question of repayment: whatever the connection that makes true mothering possible, it doesn’t create a debt–though we moms treasure those tokens because of the hearts which created them.

Magically, though, mothering as it is meant to be done creates bottomless love.   It’s the classic win-win.

Three of my friends, all mothers themselves now, have lost their mothers in the last two weeks.  I believe with all my heart that they are not motherless, that their mothers will continue to be with them as surely as my children will always have their father.



An Audience of One: How I Wish This Blog Didn’t Exist

Today’s daily writing prompt from our friends at WordPress is another irresistible one: “Picture the one person in the world you really wish were reading your blog. Write her or him a letter.”

The obvious, but impossible, choice would be my husband Jim, but this blog would not exist but for his untimely death.  So I’m going to do a linguistic semi-cheat and go for the single audience comprised by a collective noun: our children.

Sometimes it’s much easier to write than to speak.

How I wish this blog didn’t exist.  

Strictly speaking, it came into being thanks to one of you: you managed to figure out that after I had finished writing for you (a massive tome for you to read someday), I still needed to write for me.  You made the blog technologically idiot-proof, and even manage to stifle groans when teaching me baby steps like making a link and uploading a picture.  You are very patient.

But of course the blog exists–as one of my many forms of therapy–because of the audience of one it can’t have: your dad, whom you and I and the world should have had for so much longer.

When you all went back to school and plowed ahead with your education, work, projects, music, dancing, and vast arrays of art and hobbies, you honored him.

When you need to pause and reflect, that honors him, too.

Whenever you may need to ask for help in dealing with the unfathomable pain of all this, you honor him.  

Whatever it takes for you and for me to get through each day is what he would want for us.

You honor him whenever you learn something new, and whenever you teach something.

When you are able to torture your extended family with devilish word puzzles around the Thanksgiving table, that honors dad, too–as do the times you let a chuckle escape, or give me the set up to utter the words your dad would have spoken (“Can you take the cannoli, mom?”  You ask in a bakery, your arms already laden.  I pause the beat your dad would have waited, “Should I leave the gun?”).  

I think the only thing I could do to dishonor your dad would be not to do my best to take care of you and of myself (though I fall down on the job there sometimes), not to try to treasure the times when the Earth remains beneath my feet for both of us.  

He fought so hard to have more time to be with us, to take us away for a family adventure when he felt well enough to do it, and to be home with you when the time came to hand off this life and legacy to us. 

You make him so proud.   

Love, more than words could ever say, 


Paint My Spirit Gold

Raise my hands, paint my spirit gold . . . .

The group Mumford & Sons has released a wonderful album Jim did not have a chance to hear.  I cannot stop playing a particular song–“I Will Wait for You“–during my lengthy interstate morning commute, which begins in darkness and turns to daylight by mid-drive.

Mumford & Sons sings of raising hands as a joyful entreaty, a gesture of faith and grace, perhaps offering oneself over to a greater world and power as a kind of salvation.  It seems very unlike the needy raised hands which beseech:

. . . . If you are lying
Flat on your back with arms outstretched behind you,
You say you require
Emergency treatment; if you are standing erect and holding
Arms horizontal, you mean you are not ready;
If you hold them over
Your head, you want to be picked up. . . .

Continue reading “Paint My Spirit Gold”

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