Choices, Mindfulness

From To-Do to Done

Eero Saarinen list
Eero Saarinen’s list of Aline Bernstein’s good qualities, ca. 1954.

Every day I wake up to a checklist panting in my face. Every day for my entire adult life. I never considered questioning it. Bottomless need? Multiplying demands? Expect only this, nothing less, certainly nothing different. Tasks on the to-do list comprise a responsible life.

Wake up and get to work, Smirk.

Oi vey, what a wretched way to start each day.

Continue reading “From To-Do to Done”

Family, Home, Parenting



He slides into bed next to me, his left side far warmer than his right.  His chilled skin  presses in as he drinks from my heat.  “Can you put your arm around me?” He asks.

“Sure, scoot down.”

A shifting.  The sheets tangle and we kick ourselves back to softness.  Dark lingers.  December morning takes her sweet time stretching awake.  We wait her out.

“It’s funny how the neck is shaped,” he says in his dreamy murmur.

“How so?”

“It’s like it’s designed exactly right so someone’s arm can fit underneath.”

Continue reading “Burrowing”

Friends, Living in the Moment, Music

Dance Myself to Sleep

The remarkable sifter and curator, DMF, over at SyntheticZero posted a comment to Everything is Music with a link to Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Paul Simon playing Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes.

On the eve of an unwelcome anniversary and bracing for another night fighting off the devils that eat sleep, here I am in bed now, singing and dancing — yes, dancing alone in bed! — with the warmest thrill from smile to toes.

Now this word from Ernie & Bert:

Thank you for the most buoyant lullaby a girl could hope for, DMF. (And thank you, lambies.)



Children, Growing Up, Love


Slow-Swinging Sea
He stirs as I tiptoe past. It was the quietest of midnight bathroom visits, but sensing proximity, he surfaces. The butterfly nightlight gilds the unfurling comma of his body. He mumbles and I bend down close. Is this just a ripple as he passes beneath or is it a call up to his divemaster in the waking world?

“I had a nightmare.” A moan chokes the almost-whisper, tears bubble under the almost-plea. He asks still sometimes. More frequently now, he turns into himself and finds uneasy comfort in his approaching PCS.

He reaches for me from the small bed we’ve tucked into a nook in my room. For one night, this night, he is here. I must remember what I so easily forget: Tonight is the only night.

The only guarantee is this.

When does it go? Does the wind change, do we get any warning at all? The story has its own arc and rarely does it show mercy to the players.

Our neighbor died last week. Every day, he walked his goofy dog named Mulligan. Every day, he beamed out a smile. So many of us here lock our gazes on the ground as we stride headlong across the face of the day, but he spared a moment for a hello.

We rode the bus together to the metro in the mornings. This summer, along with his tattooed son, intermittent daughter-in-law, and 5-year-old grandson, he went camping in Minnesota. We rode together then too, taking bus to metro, the clan lugging duffel bags and airline tickets. He came back with sunburned cheeks.

The tattooed son walks Mulligan now. He smiles and says hello just like his dad did. Mulligan wags and sniffs and strains at his leash, doing the same.

In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon.

When was the last time we read aloud the book we used to know by heart? Who can call up the final Sweet Baby James?

Tonight is the only night.

Tomorrow, my boy will sleep in another place. Behind a closed door, in a dorm room, alongside his troubled lover. He will rest on the shore of the cove he’s found following his own songlines. He’ll plunge into caves that crack open in his private sea floor. He’ll battle the Leviathan that has fed on his leaked blood and whispers.

I sit down on the carpet next to him. Our dog is curled into a ball on a tattered wool blanket on the other side of me. She is a soft pulse, a shuddering exhale. I stroke my son’s hair, its tangled gold, its damp heat. He sighs. Then he touches my arm and pulls it down across his middle. Turning, he tucks me in under him, extending my reach, strapping my slender weight across him like a harness. I lay may cheek against the warm place his head left on the pillow. His discarded breath is my oxygen. His scent, my surf.

Soon he is rhythm and release. When his grip relaxes, I plant a kiss his slack cheek then roll away.

It is deep night and I am so very tired.

I fall into the passing current of sleep, drafting in the slipstream of my son’s swift descent.

Image credit: Asleep in the Arms of the Slow-Swinging Sea by Ruby Levick

Children, Family, Things I Can

90. Things I Can Keep: My Promise

Bedtime Story

We climb into bed at 7:45pm for the sole purpose of extra cuddles. After two chapters in the thawing forest of Narnia, I close the book and tuck myself around him. He scoots over and pulls my arm around his middle. We slip into our rhythm. Light and steady, whisper and pulse, we course along the curl of our twin spines like water smoothing a riverbank. He sighs and goes still. It is barely 8:30 and my boy breathes softly in my arms.

Image: Elizabeth Shippen Green, Five Little Pigs, illustration for “Mistress of the House” (1905)

Family, Home, Mindfulness, Things I Can

84. Things I Can Snap: The Family Photo

. . . and they found a certain contentment, living more or less happily ever after, which is what “now” is while one’s in it.

From Robert Coover’s “The Frog Prince”

I lay flat on the stained carpet, felled by a muscle spasm with diamond-tipped talons. My boy, stung pink with sun, is sprawled across a twist of sheets and pillows. He has been complaining about a stomach ache. “I just don’t feel good,” he keeps repeating while he looks at me with a mix of longing and irritation.

Beside us, Noodle mopes in her crate. All the pacing and fussing and nosing  to spur one of us to action had the opposite effect, and now she sighs heavily and frequently while staring right at us.

A pillow props up my knees up and I grit my teeth against waves of pain as I read. We’ve just begun The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which we’ve inexplicably overlooked during the previous eight years of literary peregrination. Bug sips from a cup of seltzer water and kicks the blanket further down the bed.

Right in the middle of Edmund’s box of Turkish Delight, Bug turns and reaches across me. Scootching his hand under my shoulder, he inches me closer to his mattress. Then he leans in and plants a slow, soft kiss on my cheek. I see a smile ease loose across his face as he lets me go and flops back onto his bed.

“It’s all three of us right here,” he says. “Wouldn’t this be a perfect family portrait?”

I put my finger in the page, close the book against my chest, and look around.

My boy, the dog, a home, this night.

One story, one kiss.

Our perfect family.


Children, Family, Learning, Things I Can

80. Things I Can Clear: A Place for Him

Ewe and Lamb

He likes daddy’s house better. “I get to be in the same room,” he says.

I like sleep better. So here, he has his own room. He is almost nine, and still, he begs for me to stay. He pulls me in after books and cuddles, “Just one more hug,” he pleads. “Just one more minute.”

On weekends, he tries all over again. “We can go to sleep in your room tonight, right?”

No. I tell him again, no. Not this night. No every night, two years of no in this house, eight years of no in this life. No, mama needs to sleep alone. No, Mama has trouble resting when she shares the bed. Mama is a monster who trips into a churning, troubled cauldron of demons night after night after night after night. Any chance this mama has of sleeping soundly, she’ll protect with all her might. Even if this means earplugs, eye masks, a bolted door, a lonely son.


Then suddenly, my boy wakes with the dawn and pads into my room. Hair wild and eyes gummed with dreams, he crawls into my bed and folds himself into the warm pocket of comfort around me.

Gangly, humongous, heavy as stones.

A boy? My boy?

I feel the height and weight of him, the crackling and waking up of every surging cell in him.

My boy is finished being small.


From here, he only grows up. Out, older, taller, away. He grows into himself.

How much longer will he want to be so close?

How many chances do I have to be his home?

His longing for nighttime company is more than a craving, more than a passing interest. Beyond the clutchy acquisitiveness children have for Pokemon cards and pizza nights and winning at Stratego, this hunger is something deeper. Primal even.

Every time he begs and cries for me, every time in all of his eight years, he is asking to feel bound up in something, to feel tethered to place and kin.

In the purest form of humanness — mammal and existential alike — he needs to be held.

Now, in this quickly closing chapter of his life, I can be the one who holds him. This web I weave around him — alternately flimsy and rugged — tightens into the vault from which he launches the man he will become.

This web I weave around him — alternately capacious and secure — sinters into the vault in which he stores the stars and wounds and whispers that he gathers along the way.

Tonight I decide: We will find a way to climb in close together. Close, so he can worm his way deep into the heart of the comfort he needs. Close, so I can protect my precious sleep and still love my boy the way he wants to be loved.

Tonight, I ask: “Do you want to make a nook in my room?”

He stares, checking my face for tricks. Then his spreads into a grin and he actually shivers with delight.

In record time, he finishes dinner, stacks dishes, helps walk the dog, and lops nearly 20 minutes off bath time. Then we plop ourselves on the floor of my room. The rack of toy bins in the corner needs to go.

“Okay,” he says picking up a matchbox car. “Donate.” He tosses it in a bucket.

“Easter bunny ears?” I ask.

“Trash,” he says.

We go like this. Legos, mardi gras beads, pirate eye patches. Toss, donate, keep. The box of trinkets he wants to hold onto is far emptier than I imagined. The toys are meaningless. What he wants is the absence of them. What he wants is the treasure their departure promises.

By bedtime, we’ve done it all. Vacuumed, dragged in extra mattress, unfurled sheets. He carries in a stack of books to line the windowsill, fetches the lamp with its denim shade. He keeps smiling at me. Smiling and smiling. “It’s so comfortable,” he beams, settling himself into a heap of red and turquoise linens. “Want to come try it?”

I bring my pillow and cuddle up in his nest. We are tucked into an alcove under the window across from where my big-girl bed lives. Bug can look right into Noodle’s crate. A few moments later, she tip-taps in and sniffs around the new setup, talks at us, then heads over and curls into a ball on her blanket.

Bug thrums with sleepy rightness, with a satisfaction rare in his bull-headed, only-child world.

He sighs and rests a damp head on my hip. “Put your arm around me,” he says. “All the way across.” He draws my hand over his chest, slips it into the fold between his torso and the blanket. In my other hand, I hold Cornelia Funke’s Thief Lord and pick up where we left off last night. The conniving Barbarossa has spun backwards on a carousel and toppled out as a toddler, while Scipio — wounded and obstinate — has chosen to careen past adolescence and emerge as a man.

We stumble towards infancy and whatever comes before. We surge towards dying and the end we refuse to imagine. On either side of us, these memories, these wishes, they stretch like corridors lined with swords and feather beds, disappearing into dark. When fortune spits us out against unforgiving walls, when moments choose us before we have a say, we carry our soft landings with us. We bear our own rending.

For our children, we dull what blades we can.

Even when they are certain they are done needing us, we tuck beneath them a pallet of silken rope and down.

We hold them anyway.

Image from “The Nursery,” March 1881.


Fitness, Things I Can

77. Things I Can Honor: The Body’s Cry

Sleep is one of the most important predictors of how long you will live — as important as whether you smoke, exercise, or have high blood pressure or cholesterol. . . Unhealthy sleep remains American’s [sic] largest, deadliest, most costly, and least studied health problem.

Sleep scientist William Dement in Secret Life of Sleep by Kat Duff

It’s possible to plug my ears and soldier on, but who’s the hero of that story? Push too hard for too long and you end up with blistered hands and a dead battery.

The weary frame begs for rest.

This family, this work, this creature living out her days in this one-and-only body has to release her stranglehold on momentum. It turns out that the slick promise of Forward Harder Better More actually pays out in stumbling weakening poisoning collapse.

What we knew once we can know again:

Sweet dreams invite sweeter days.

I return to chapter one to learn this lesson all over again.

Last night, I clocked eight hours. Tonight I will do the same.


Growing Up, Poetry, Things I Can

75. Things I Can Lay Down: A Nest under Sky

From the dining table of a rich absent landlord,
from a rooftop tilting over
screaming streets,
from the hide of a man
whose soft fangs belie
battles he claims
as the source of his scars,
I plucked splinters
and locks of discarded hair.

I was ravenous
even for hollow breath
echoing against a bare wooden
belly. Strings cut flesh to callous
and every song clanged
like paper against my hunger.
I tried to pry frets
from the neck. I tried to harvest
spider legs.

A sign was necessary. A silver
ring or maybe a strip
of fur curling on the tip
of a thorn. I walked
not away. Something else.


a canopy of sumac, bent like a crooked
house, I passed
through to the first division
and pressed petals
back into their seed.
I swaddled my thighs
in creek water. I bled
into moss.

I lay down a bed like a bow
to the half open moon.
The voice I used to call
up the shape of a home in the sky
Goodnight you moonlight ladies
was the same lunatic jabber
of coyotes coursing through folds
in a mist forever closing
between us.

I wake now to the face of a frozen sun,
my bones young and brittle, hung
with crystal globes and gloved
in frost. I glitter like grass
and shatter in the light. Blowing
out from a depression
in the earth shaped like someone
I catch a full spectrum
of morning

in each one
of my birth’s hundred
billion prisms
every time
I refuse
to die.