Posted on: Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Violet

There was no heaving production, no screams, not much noise at all. A quiet push. Another. And then there she was. Nameless then, so small, she greeted the world with furious, skinny legs flailing. She was whisked away, purple-red. "She'll be just fine," a nurse murmured. I had worried about her being so early, but she was healthy. Small, but healthy.

When the doctors and nurses had mostly cleared out and Wayland was cradling that small bundle in his arms, we talked about names. And a name I had considered previously and dismissed came up right then, unbidden: Violet. Attached to the name was a sudden prickling certainty that Violet, this tiny, now quiet little one, was different. As sure as I knew anything right then at that moment I knew that she was different. I sensed some great possibility already blossoming in the tips of her spread, purple-red toes.

She's now a newly minted 7-year-old and oh, it's funny now to think of how usual her birth was, how simply it unfolded. I found myself trying to explain the state of things to Madeleine a few days ago, to help her grasp the enormity of what we're dealing with without actually scaring her. In the face of four different impending doctor's appointments, all with scary ologists attached to their names, these conversations must be had. We still hadn't had the conversation with Violet.

Meanwhile I find myself monitoring Violet, scanning her every behavior looking for some sign that things are getting worse. Mostly lately, though, I just notice the distance. She lets me hug her, stiffly, and she leans against me when she needs to. She tells me she loves me. But some part of her is locked up from me. And I don't know if it is something to do with all of her issues right now or not, but it's maybe the hardest part of everything. Because the part I can't get to, I know, is the part that needs help. I see it there in her eyes, and there is nothing I can do but continue: seeking out answers, shielding her from what I can, and loving her just the way she is, as much as she lets me.

Posted on: Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Green roof that covered a thousand foxes.

Deirdre Remembers a Scottish Glen
Irish, unknown, possibly fourteenth century
Glen of my body’s feeding:

crested breast of loveliest wheat,

glen of the thrusting long-horned cattle,

firm among the trysting bees.

Wild with cuckoo, thrush, and blackbird,

and the frisky hind below the oak thick ridge.

Green roof that covered a thousand foxes,

glen of wild garlic and watercress, and scarlet-berried rowan.

And badgers, delirious with sleep, heaped fat in dens

next to their burrowed young.

Glen sentried with blue-eyed hawks,

greenwood laced with sloe, apple, blackberry,

tight-crammed between the ridge and pointed peaks.

My glen of the star-tangled yews,

where hares would lope in the easy dew.

To remember is a ringing pain of brightness.

- Translated by Martin Shaw and Tony Hoagland

Posted on: Friday, June 6, 2014

HEAR MY CRY

The tell-tale signs of someone crying, or trying to cry, discreetly. Raising a shoulder and turning a head just so, to wipe an errant tear away. The dig at the corner of the eye: No really, I have an itch, is the message you're trying to convey. If I could just...Oh, the itch is in the other eye now. Allergies. Or the particular set of a jaw, the lips pressed, the unwavering focus forward, the slight head tilt, as if you could roll the tear back into your eye.

Violet usually goes for an open-mouthed wail, the tears streaming blatantly down her face. When she's sad, it's almost confrontational. Look, everyone! Look at all the feelings I am feeling! Lately, I've noticed a change in that, though. Ever since a teacher taught her that it's okay to cry as long as you do it quietly, she dips her head forward until her hair curtains her face and rubs her fists into both eyes at once over and over until her face is red. And now instead of the glorious wail of HEAR MY CRY and instant relief she holds it in as best she can and walks around all day with a certain heartbreaking weariness.

And then there is Madeleine, who almost never cries. She'll do anything she can to hold it in. I've seen her rake her fingers down her cheeks. I've seen her grit her teeth and claw and push and yell. She roars and rages instead of crying. She defies and refuses. I feel like I know her one minute and the next I realize I've never learned her language, the language that makes her know deep in her heart that she is loved, really loved. I say, "Madeleine, that's rude," when she's being rude, and she hears, "Madeleine, I hate you and you are terrible." I tell her she's wrong about that, that I love her very much, and she hears, "I don't understand you and I never will."

And still she doesn't cry. She pushes and yells "STOP IT" and runs away. Until she breaks and then her face falls and everything in her does, too, and she sobs "You never help me, you never help me." She buries her face in her beloved white blanket and cries and cries and cries. And there is no comfort to be had then. She cries the tears of the abandoned, as though I'm not standing right there smoothing her hair back and telling her I love her.

I am mostly bewildered by this, by all of this, teaching these young, complicated, volatile, beautiful young girls how to dive into the depths of all that emotion and realize that everything is going to be okay. I wonder if I can teach them that. If it's something you have to learn. I remember realizing at a very young age that people liked it best if you would stay calm. And so I did my best to do that. I wanted to keep the peace then and it was something I could maintain, mostly. I was quiet, I retreated inward. I read books and I wrote and I just stayed in that tranquil zone as much as I could.

I think I take that for granted now. I think that that tranquility should just happen, that my daughters should recognize how important that is for their own sanity and for the sanity of the people around them, that it just feels better to stay calm and not let everything upset them so much. In fact, I feel confused and lost in the face of the truth: That they don't have the first clue how to access that calm and peacefulness. That they have no idea how to calibrate their emotional responses to something that is more appropriate and more tuned to calm.

This is probably my biggest weakness as a parent. Because even as I confront the idea that I am not good at teaching them calm and how to calibrate their emotional responses I am growing resentful and angry by the day. The peace and calm that I take for granted as being a thing that should just always exist is being encroached upon by the loud, anxious, screaming, furious, sad and happy rages of my daughters. And it is changing me because I have lost my way. I don't know how to access that calm anymore, really, unless I am sitting in front of the TV after they have gone to bed and falling asleep on the couch. What a sad, sad life. A half-life. A getting-through-it life.

And like one of those horrible vicious circles that everyone talks about, they see that. An Ouroboros of negativty, it comes out of me and it sticks to them and they spit it back out at me and we just keep the negativity going and going and going.

We need to figure out another way. And I guess the thing that I've been avoiding is that it starts with me. Breaking a cycle like that is hard work, but it has to start somewhere. And for me it is here, where it always is: words.

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