The memoir I won't have to write

Two weeks ago, I am at Children’s Hospital, waiting for the results of my daughter’s blood test. I am convinced my future looks bleak, hers even bleaker. Which is strange, considering I’m usually such an optimist. How am I going to write this scene in my memoir, I find myself wondering? How will I describe this night in the years and pages to come? (Such is the curse and the privilege of those who play with words, I suppose).

Just 45 minutes earlier, I am home in the playroom, reading with a feverish Zoe when our pediatrician calls with an unsettling white blood count, and urges us to get to Children’s Hospital for closer scrutiny. I drop everything and leave the house.

In this memoir, I am the mother of a cancer baby. First there are tears. Chapters full of tears and rage. But fast forward years and I am organizing walks to raise money for childhood leukemia, heading the local chapter of the fight to end this childhood killer. This becomes my passion, my raison d’être.

I stop this train of thought quickly and stare at the Triple-A baseball game on the muted TV hanging from the wall. I cannot get the remote to work and am stuck with this channel. I think about all the other mothers who have taken on the mantle of Cancer Mom. I selfishly do not want to join their club tonight.

With the din of the ER outside my door, I cannot escape my imagined future for long. In later chapters of my book, I find myself reflecting on my counseling experience: working with children who’d lost siblings and parents, the grief groups I ran in schools, the overnight camps I attended with these families who faced early and tragic death head on. It all makes sense now, preparing me for this moment with my own family.

I think about our experience with miscarriage. We tried so hard to bring my daughter into this world. After so many losses, we finally welcomed our little girl, and though we didn’t know it at the time, named her after the Greek word for life. How could irony be so cruel? I wondered as I waited. I should be used to loss by now, but this is different.

Because there is nothing else to do under the florescent lights, and scrolling through my iPhone somehow feels inappropriate at a time like this, I let my mind wander again. Would I miss her wedding? Her high school graduation? Her first words, even? Would we never get to shop for her first training bra together, her prom dress, her first pink lipstick? What about her first crush, her first heartbreak, her first kiss?

My eyes well up and I hope the doctor’s knock on the door will wait long enough for the tears to dry. She will be fine. She will be fine. She will be fine. I repeat to myself and to my daughter, kissing the top of her head.

And yet, I have somehow convinced myself that the doctor will return with the news that life as I know it will be forever changed. Every doctor, nurse and assistant that we see asks if I think she looks pale. She always looks this way, I say. But had I not looked closely enough at my own daughter? Had I never noticed what everyone else seemed to be seeing? I hold her tightly and look into her eyes; run my fingers over her hair, growing in ginger tufts at her neck; and rub her little belly, warmed by a slight fever. You be strong, you hear me? I whisper through tears. It feels absurdly dramatic, the two of us in the emergency room, huddled under the bright lights, waiting for life to change. (It should be Reese Witherspoon here playing this part, with some baby actor, in Hollywood. Not me. Not Zoe. Not in Milwaukee. This is too much Drama for us).

Turns out, she is fine. The doctor returns and quickly dismisses the disease I feared. She may have a virus, she’s definitely got anemia that we need to understand and then control, but she does not have leukemia, she does not have cancer.

Thank God.

On the way into the hospital, Zoe throws up all over the both of us. I had no idea she was even sick in this sense, so this feels like an ominous foreboding. I walk into the entrance with a garbage can in one arm, Zoe dangling in the other, and the nurse quickly shuttles us into the triage room. This kind woman says she’ll look for a new shirt for me in their closet and comes back with an extra-large blue scoop-neck t-shirt from Target with a faded Aztec design. Nothing I would ever choose for myself in real life, but this is not real life. During the wait, this becomes the scene in the memoir called the shirt I was wearing when I found out my daughter had cancer. And I was going to rip it to shreds. Instead it becomes the shirt I was wearing when I found out my daughter did not have cancer. Now I never want to take it off. She does not have cancer. But for two hours that night, I thought she might.

You take life for granted, until the moment you can’t. And then you don’t.
Hug your people tight tonight friends!


zoe at chw.jpeg

sisyphean days

I wonder if I should send him to bed hungry so he knows what an empty stomach feels like. I wonder if I should return the brown paper packages tied up with string (and blue Amazon Prime tape) piling high on my dining room table. Would an empty stocking on Christmas morning teach him the lesson I am so desperate for him to learn in this moment?

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Deep breath, Mom.

I had to take a lot of deep breaths today. I should have taken a few more. There were times I should have stopped to take one, but I didn’t. I yelled instead. I grabbed instead. I’m taking them now, while my boys are napping upstairs. Both sleeping soundly, something that doesn’t happen much these days.

Upon reflection, here’s what I should have said

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A long way to enough


We never gave our babies names. In utero, I mean. We never called them peanut, or sweet pea, or bubby or anything remotely cutesy like that. Even when family members named them for us, we didn’t really play along. We thought it too dangerous. We hardly acknowledged the fruit we grew through along the way. We might raise an eyebrow in passing. “We’re a fig this week,” my husband might say. “Nice,” I’d reply, spitting out my toothpaste and reaching for the floss.

We might have actually done this the first time. I can’t remember now. But we’ve lost too many since then to allow ourselves to get attached. Last week we lost number seven. I was twelve weeks along, but the baby was only five. I like to think she stuck it out in there because she knew she’d be the last. Maybe she felt safe inside and just wanted to hang with her mom as long as possible. (no idea if it was actually a she, I just like the sound of that).

And this concludes our attempt at becoming a family of five. Or six. Or seven. Not officially, not drastically, no measures have been taken. But we’ve decided (kinda-sorta, 96%, probably most-likely, pretty-much) that we’ve had enough. Don’t quote me on that. But I’m still going to say it. I’m tired. My body is tired. Our spirits are tired. We’re just plain tired.

But I’ve also been reflecting a lot this week on ‘enough.’ Because in saying I’ve ‘had enough’ I am also saying that I ‘have enough.’ And I do. This week more than ever, I am so incredibly grateful for what I have. And in a strange way, this miscarriage has given me pause to take stock in what I do have, and for the first time in a long time, call that ‘enough.’

This is NOT to say I was not grateful before. But for the last six years (OK, really since we tied the knot as far as I’m concerned), we’ve been looking at what we can add to make a family. For the last six years, I have either been trying to conceive, pregnant, or breastfeeding. And there’s always been the desire for more on the horizon. I’ve never stopped taking prenatal vitamins, I’ve kept myself mostly-healthy, limited my alcohol intake, peed on countless sticks to get the timing right, and constantly visualized a big crazy family.

But now, I don’t have to do that anymore. I can just sit still. I can just surround myself with my incredible husband and two beautiful boys and call us a family. This is it. This is us. This is everything. No more, no less. Exactly as we are meant to be. From here until the end.

Don’t get me wrong, this is going to take a SERIOUS amount of meditating on, sitting with, crying over, talking about and will (very likely) involve copious amounts of wine in doing so. (Because, why not!?) But I’m going to go ahead and give myself permission to be content. It’s been a long time coming.


(This is a nicely wrapped up little reflection, I’m aware. Miscarriage is a LOT harder than this, it f*$King sucks, believe me. I’m writing the hard stuff too. Maybe for another time, it’s a little raw right now).



Tomorrow I Will Do Better

Almost every morning, I wake up and head to my meditation mat. And every morning, I say the same thing.

“Today I will be calm. Today I will not yell. Today I will breathe deeply. Today I will not let a three-year-old infuriate me. Today I will be calm.”

And every evening, when my husband returns home and takes over, I say the same thing.

“Tomorrow I will do better. Tomorrow I will stay calm. Tomorrow I won’t yell. Tomorrow I’ll breathe deeply. Tomorrow I will remember that he is three, and I am forty.”

Yes, tomorrow, when I am trying my best not to yell because he has climbed up the side of the teepee for the third time nearly knocking the structure over, and I tell him that I need to step away and take a few deep breaths … And when I step away and watch him through the picture monitor whip down his pants and start peeing on the carpet …

I will stay calm.

Tomorrow, when he is angry because he cannot have forty strawberries and because we are out of animal crackers, and he throws over the stool, knocks the highchair backwards, tips a dining room chair sideways onto the hardwood floor, and then screams so loud the neighborhood dogs start their barking …

I will not yell.

And tomorrow, when he calls me evil, and spits on me, and shouts in my face, and tells me he wishes Ariel was his mother, and doesn’t want to be my friend anymore …

 I will take a deep breath.

Instead, I will close my eyes and try to put myself back on the mat where I sit when the house is quiet, when he is sleeping peacefully in his bed, his little body curled around his pillow. I will try to remember the faith I had in myself in the wee hours of the morning before the day has had a chance to make an unbeliever of me. I will try to summon the strength I started with, reminding myself that he is only three, and that he loves me madly, just as I love him.

No doubt I will fail. Oh yes, I will fail. And when I do, I’ll take another deep breath. And remind myself that I’m still a decent mom. I’m still learning. And that I deserve forgiveness.

And at the end of the night, after he’s cheered up because he’s fed, and bathed, and had his daddy time, I will hold him tightly and whisper:

“I’m sorry I yelled today buddy. Let’s have a good day tomorrow.”