the magic days

Somewhere along the way, I stopped writing here. This blog that gave me a place to put my heart and hands for five years became something I let sit on the back burner. I started writing my advice column to myself on Medium. I started working on a collection of tiny essays, on my laptop, in a complicated maze of half-written pages and broken thought.

Those other things are valid and have been good for me and I don’t begrudge them. But I have missed the gentle placement of my observations, here. Like a table where I set down a bag of fruit. My offering. My offering to the day, to the host – to ultimately, myself.

**

Before we moved, I said to my friend Macee, “Mace. I am scared. I am deeply scared that I am about to walk into one of the hardest periods of my life.” Moving to a new city — at a time that I didn’t feel prepared to move and I didn’t want to leave where I was. Moving to a new city with a toddler. Moving to a new city with a dog I have moved into ten houses in the eight years since I adopted her. She has barely claimed the patch of grass she pees in in the morning before I yank her leash and move her, once again. “I’m scared to stay home with Oliver until we find daycare and I’m scared of trusting another daycare  and I’m scared of trusting neighbors and I’m scared of feeling alone.

And I did. I walked into one of the hardest periods of my entire life. The first six months here in Madison challenged me in ways I was not prepared to be challenged. I honestly felt hopeless for possibly the first time in my life. Macee took every angst-filled phone call I placed to her. God bless her.

**

But we’re in the ninth month and things have changed so much. Jobs settled into. A new apartment. Sustained exercise. Oliver enrolled in activities. The weather sitting in between two extremes. Friendships solidified. Falling into routines. And suddenly, I realized, I might feel happy. Again.

I also realized I am in the midst of some serious magic. Oliver is three and a half years old. Hard as shit. Like, no joke – parenting a three year old is hands-down, flat-out the Very Hardest Thing I Have Ever Done. I’M SO CONFUSED! ALL THE TIME! DOES HE LOVE ME DOES HE HATE ME DO I LOVE HIM DO I HATE HIM HOLY SHIT SOMEONE HELP ME!

But. He also still has little pockets of fat above the knuckles in his hand. His head still fits into the palm of my hand, and sometimes when he’s sleeping, I walk in, stand over his bed, and do just that. Move his head into the palm of my hand and kneel there. I made this little human. How I adore this little human. 

And how this little human has forced me into magic.

**

On Monday night, we walked down the block to a bar. Me, Nic and Ollie. It was quiet where we walked in, and I thought maybe I had gotten something wrong. But then we turned the corner, into a big, weird, old room with a big, weird, old stage and a weird, older man on the stage with a guitar. And a pile of little kids in front of him – waving their arms, swaying their hips, opening their mouths, singing – free.

We sat next to the friends who had invited us there. Next to them and to their other friend, who quickly felt like our friend. We ordered beers and hamburgers (made of crushed walnuts bc this is Madison) and cheese curds (bc Madison) and settled in to watch our children tear up the floor — in a place where they were allowed and encouraged to tear up the floor. At one point, the man with the mic called out, “THERE IS A CHILD LYING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DANCE FLOOR ON HER BACK EATING A GRILLED CHEESE.” It was my friend’s daughter. She was FREE.

We were sitting, smack-dab, in the middle of magic. When else will we be able to sit and watch our little lovethings jam out in a bar while we sit and laugh and make fun of them with friends?

And that is what Madison has given us. Families with small children with whom we can sit and laugh and make fun of them with, while drinking a beer or a coffee or water or nothing. Call me in five years. This won’t be happening. Oliver will be eight and toddler dance time won’t be on our shortlist anymore. We’ll be home, ignoring him. Ignoring our friends.

Too depressing? Yes. Hopefully also untrue. But these magic toddler days won’t still be happening.

A few months ago, I was biking Oliver home from school and we decided to go a route I hadn’t ever gone and Ollie saw a park and yelled for me to please stop and let him play and I couldn’t rationalize not saying yes, so I stopped and then we wandered onto a stage, and I asked a man what was happening and he replied, ‘omg. you don’t know? it’s one of the coolest shows that exists! people show up here hours before it starts to put a blanket down to save their spot ((blankets were, yes, everywhere)) — and then he ran to his bag, pulled out a spare blanket, walked over to where I was standing, placed it on the ground and said — ‘here. now you and your son can watch the show when it starts.’

m-a-g-i-c.

**

Yesterday, Ollie stayed home sick with me, and it was one of the sweetest days of my life. He was a little more subdued, but his heart was big and kind. We played the matching game, he ordered me to draw like 14 monster trucks for him, we took two walks together, I made him lunch that he didn’t eat, he asked me to sit by him while he watched a show (which is not the norm now. usually, I’ll saddle up on the couch next to him and he’ll look over, and sweetly say: “mom, can you please not touch me..?”)

And he took a nap. Not the kind of nap that I force him into. Not the kind that I make threats about and where I physically restrain him or hold the door shut or where he ends up crying. Probably the first nap of its kind. I said, ‘hey Ollie, it’s time for your nap,’ and he walked straight into his room and crawled into his bed. I would have done a celebratory lap around the house but I knew the only reason he did so was because he must have genuinely felt like shit so I kept my excitement down.

But there is something about your child napping in your vicinity – in the middle of a day -that is unlike anything else. The satisfaction of it. They are close by. They are quiet. They are safe. You are in the sun. You are quiet. You are safe. You will see them on the other side of sleep.

**

On our second walk yesterday, we went to Walgreens. I had to pick up a prescription. While waiting in line at the pharmacy, Oliver stood next to me, repeatedly opening not-one-but-two Jake the Pirate musical greeting cards. Imagine that. The sound. Two renditions of the song going, one a couple beats behind the other to make it extra aggravating, with the general store muzak sitting behind that. The people in the pharmacy area must be wildly annoyed, I thought. I looked towards the man, seated behind me, waiting to take a test. He was older, with a weathered face. It looked like life had been hard on him. Like it took a significant amount of muscle command to force his face into a smile. I immediately reached out to him, in apology. ‘Sorry if that is just horrendous; the sound,’ I said. He looked up at me and sort of shook his head, gently, as if he were coming out of something.

“I didn’t hear a thing. I honestly can’t hear any of the sound around me; I was so caught up watching him and remembering the time my daughter was the same age. How I loved that age. Is he three?”

**

 

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The Ever-changing Shape of Home

When I was eighteen, I walked into a tattoo parlor with a friend. We were going to get matching tattoos on our wrists. Tiny little black birds – an outline, merely – of wings – this was what we sought. I didn’t believe in tattoos – I have never believed in anything so permanent. But if permanence, then this. An exhibition of our ability to take flight. An exhibition of the impermanence of our presence.

I had my wrist splayed open for him, when I looked up and saw the back of her head. She was walking out of the front door. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t do something that permanent. I stood up, shocked. This was all her idea, at least in my head. I apologized. I left.

**

That was twenty years ago. The tattoo hasn’t haunted me, but impermanence has. I keep flying in, sticking a landing, collecting things – and then, almost silently, lifting my wings back up again. I have moved twenty times in those twenty years. My wings are so tired.

**

I started watching HGTV when I got to Iowa, four years ago, with a fervor previously reserved for food. I stayed up late watching renovation shows and first-time-home buying shows and tiny home shows. You know what I never watched? Vacation home shows. I wasn’t interested in the temporary nests. Much to my own shock, I was interested in the stuff that lives were made out of.

I told the man I met that I wouldn’t be staying here. Staying was not what I did. I was prepping to fly again. I wanted him to know.

But I was falling in love. I was rooting down when I couldn’t even see it. I folded my wings and started planting my feet. Iowa became my friend. Iowa was the place that grew him – this man I had met. He, in turn, grew me. Into a different person. And then we grew a little one. Our baby.

**

Home can mean a million things. Our mothers. Our fathers. A nook in the world that knows us well. A city. A food.  A structure with walls. An idea.

Home is now split in my mind into two things. Nic. And Iowa. Can a place that changed you by way of love ever not be home?

**

It came to me in a flash. I saw it, there, on my wrist, in a vision. It surprised me, but it was mine.

The wrist that had waited for a bird to land so many years ago, now outlined with the shape of a state. A state of grace. Of understanding. Of the welcoming of love. The outline is rectangular in shape, and permanent in my heart. The shape of Iowa.

Pendulum.

 

Last night, I was surrounded by a bunch of Nic’s family in a hand-built, antique-filled, aluminum and wood-outfitted gorgeous house in the middle of open fields and wide skies and there was so much love and laughter and generosity of spirit. Deep into the evening, I looked over and saw the matriarch of the family, the one whose four sons and their kin had exploded all over the room in red and green — shaking. Her hands were shaking as she was bringing them to her face and then I noticed her dabbing her eyes and her cheeks and I realized the shaking was that borne of a cry. I should have gone to her straightway, but like a coward, I passed the task to someone else, fearful I could not due it justice, not being her blood relative. I asked Nic to go immediately to the table, to see if she was alright. He sat across the table from her and began to speak.

Moments after sending him, I had to make my lack of action right. I pulled up a chair next to her and placed my hand across her back. I rubbed her back like I had the power and the right to calm her nerves, ease her pain, erase her fear. She looked into my eyes and explained her state. “I just don’t know how much longer I’ll get to see all of this. I don’t know how much more time I’ll get to be with all of these amazing people in this room.” She shook her head back and forth, in joy and wonder of her beautiful, giant family.

“But — You made them all. You’ll be in this room for all of time. Because you literally created the entire room,” I said.

She looked into my eyes, pride beaming from hers. “You’re right,” she replied, and then she squeezed my hand and thanked me for reminding her.

**

I can feel Oliver’s body extending itself right past mine. When I transfer him from our bed at night to his, his feet keep hitting lower on my legs. He’s elongating. He’s making full sentences and becoming too cognizant — this morning he found a piece of candy from last year’s stocking at the bottom of it and almost convinced me he hadn’t found a thing, by way of his genius body language alone. When he opened a present this morning, he bellowed, “Ta-da…!” before stacking it up on the floor. He is two parts unbelievably annoying and three parts wonder and joy. He has made me feel like I’m suffocating and swimming with ease at the same time. I know a period is coming when I won’t feel this way anymore. He and I will distance ourselves from each other, per the natural course of time.

**

I thought Bev was crying last night because of loss. She has lost her husband fairly recently, and she has lost the home she was in for so many years, and she has lost going to sleep in a house where all four of her boys were sleeping at the same time, too.

But she wasn’t crying over loss. She was crying over privilege. She was overwhelmed at the privilege of sitting at a table surrounded by the beauty of her family. She was insanely proud and insanely honored and so happy to be present that her body shook from it all.

**

Of course, she is scared, too. The same way I’m scared. Loss and privilege are two sides of the same coin. They are the left and the right side of the pendulum. They replace each other — keeping time — over and over and over again.

Non é finto.

 

We have two plastic candy canes on our Christmas tree. We have to keep telling Oliver they are fake. “Finto,” I say — in Italian. They are fake. I know they look real and shiny and glossy and good, but they are fake. Don’t eat them. Don’t crush them. Just let your eyes gloss over when they fall upon them. They are nothing more than a mirage.

**

I thought images of families in living rooms laughing were mirages. Until I became one of those people, there on the soft floor, giggling like someone just said the funniest thing in the whole world. Someone did. It was: Look. You’re happy.

**

I share images from my life compulsively. Impulsively. Round the clock. Joyfully. And though I share them with you — I’m really saving them for me. So that when I am walking down the street alone, or sitting on the couch, and I’m tired or sad or angry or confused, that I can look down and see Vivid. Proof. That I am not alone, or sad or angry or confused — well — not really. Momentarily, yes. But not really.

But I am uncomfortable. I am uncomfortable nearly every day, that I play happy. That I play mommy. That I play family. I am constantly uncomfortable in this happy, happy life. Because I thought this was a mirage until I infiltrated it. My old eyes don’t like being fooled and my new eyes seek their old way of seeing, sometimes.

**

This morning, I posted a picture of Oliver. And then another. And I shared an Instagram story, and I watched other people’s images and stories and I reveled in all the **ddamn love. And then I felt a fool — like it’s been going on too long and I should shut it down or shut something out or just stop inviting everyone in — to my mirage.

I disabled my account.

**

Iowa is the place where I first started believing families on soft floors laughed and really meant to. That they wanted to be on those floors to begin with. That not everyone who refurnished their hardwood and reproduced and drove roundish vehicles hated their lives. Some people are genuinely happy in little square-like numbers like four. 

**

When Oliver and Nic are out on the highway, I wait for texts that say they made it safe and that they both love me, and that they’ll be home soon, and that I’ll get to keep this happy picture we have painted.

But I also wait for a phone call. A notice that I don’t get to keep it. This bounty. This feast. This lovely image we created.

If they were both to leave me, I could light this life of mine on fire and finally dance around the flame, again. I could really thrive, high on loss and pain. Wouldn’t that be comfortable. 

**

We are moving in three weeks and I am scared. Can I leave this land and remain who I’ve become? Can I walk across a state line and stay this person?

Who am I? Was it fake? Was Iowa a mirage? Do I get to be happy? Do I get to keep them?

the magic of children

I remember when my niece was born, that I used to catch my dad holding her on the couch, tears seeping out of the tops of his cheeks. No one could hear him; he didn’t produce sound. He just silently wept, overcome with what he was holding.

**

My friend had a baby and she let me kiss it when it was six days old and I couldn’t believe the privilege. I kept telling everyone. I texted my sister. I texted Nic. “I kissed a fresh new baby,” I told them. I got to get close to something that precious. I held her on my chest for a moment and the sheer rhythm of her breathing calmed my entire body down.

**

Yesterday, we took a walk in the woods. It was late in the afternoon, with a warm winter sun. When we came across our first bridge, I told Oliver that he should look for the trolls that live underneath of them. He grabbed a stick and began hunting, his intensity honestly a little surprising. He was angry at those non-existent trolls, and he was going to get them.

We passed many people while we were out. The weather was mild and people were enjoying the day. In order to downplay his angry stick-wielding, we divulged his task. “He’s hunting trolls,” we told them. “Don’t worry; we’re on this. The trolls won’t be bothering you today.”

Closing a roundabout, we came upon a family we had already seen at the onset. Two children and their parents. I watched the children dart ahead, after they saw us come though a clearing. And then, I heard them. “DON’T YOU DARE STEP ON OUR BRIDGE, CHILD!” They yelled. “GET OFF OF OUR BRIIIIIIDGE!” Oliver ran towards the bridge, desperate to take out his trolls. Then – I saw their arms reach out to grab him. They were fully committed to their act. They did not back down. Oliver ran screaming, back towards us. Their parents called them off task.

I could not believe it. 

I still can’t.

A child’s commitment to a child. A child’s commitment to another child’s fantastic vision.

**

I bought a hardboiled egg-with-eggplant (what?, I know) sandwich today and as I was picking it up, I watched a woman with dark skin and tired, wise, dark, crinkled eyes swipe her hand across the head of a blonde-haired child that wasn’t her child, and wasn’t her grandchild – but was most certainly hers. She didn’t even swipe it fast, for fear that the mother would see. She almost held it there, above his head, crowning his head with her palm, mid-air.

I felt a rush of air on my face, like an angel was swatting me in the face gently. I had to look away fast as I blinked, blurring the tears in my eyes.

**

These damn kids. These damn magic kids. My life feels insanely small now. And insanely big. I am sobbing — trying to understand what happened, and how to make sure none of it ever comes undone.

We are – at our root – every bit as beautiful as all those people crying and swiping heads know us to be. Our children are magic. We were once magic. Go back with me.

 

The Tornados That Brought Us to Hickory Hill

We are in our new house now. Our new house. La nuova casa, I keep telling Oliver, because I almost exclusively speak Italian to Oliver. We left ‘la vecchia casa’ and now we’re in ‘la nuova casa’, I tell him, over and over and over again.

Our new house is not a stand-alone house, and Nic is somewhat bothered by that. People love stand-alone homes — they love property and privacy and their names on things. But I love the division of property. And I privacy only some of the time. I revel in the gain you gain from sharing homes and lives and time with others. I learned this because I kept running from my own home when I was young, so I learned it as a result of some kind of lack, but all it did was GIVE BACK AND GIVE BACK.

A tornado dropped us here. It started in the cells of a man across the street from us — a neighbor that honestly lost his mind — due to drug use, perhaps combined with some other issues. As his behavior spiraled, our lives became intertwined in only the worst of ways. Fear became the most common feeling I had at home. So we started thinking. Maybe we should move? Then we started looking. We talked about Iowa City. How much we would love to live in the same city as Hickory Hill.

When I first moved to Iowa, it was to Iowa City, and it was almost 4 years ago exactly.

I came here to stay with a friend — and much to my surprise, I immediately felt a sense that I was home. (I was only supposed to be here for a couple months; I had plans to head off to another big city and to “figure out how to become a writer.”)

I was staying in Emily and John’s house with their two little boys. Emily was a friend from college. I was living amongst her family — and I kept staring at it, wide-eyed, like a little girl. Here are happy people. In a stand-alone house. With CHILDREN. How weird. I had been apartment-jumping and love-avoiding and I felt as far away from their state of being as I could have. Yet: I liked seeing it. It stirred something up within me. A tiny tornado of curiosity.

Emily lived right near a park that was essentially tons of semi-manicured woods: Hickory Hill.

I started walking every day in Hickory Hill. I filled me in ways I hadn’t been filled since I was a girl. I came from the woods. They have always been where I have found the most peace. Amongst the trees, amongst the green.

Then Nic and I fell in love there.

And I think we all know how that story went. Nic and I GOT MARRIED (in Hickory Hill) AND BOUGHT A HOUSE (forty-five minutes from Iowa City/Hickory Hill) AND HAD A CHILD.

And just like that: my plan to leave Iowa, my plan to stay single and childless — my life plans were obliterated.

(and that’s okay.)

**

Life kept spinning.

That child we had needed a doctor, and Emily had a sister who was a doctor (and a friend), and so we took our little baby to her after he came into the world. She measured him time and again, and calmed my fears when I had them.

And we kept living in Marion,  but visiting Emily and her sister in Iowa City, and taking occasional walks with Oliver and Béla in Hickory Hill.

Then our neighbor erupted and we started thinking it was time to leave our home, and maybe if we were lucky, we could get closer to that park…maybe we could figure out someplace nearby. A twenty-minute drive would be nicer than a forty-five.

Then the sister bought a house. With a mother-in-law apartment in the bottom of it. A home, underneath a home, with a separate entrance and a separate outdoor space, yet tied together with walls. Our ceilings are quite literally their floors. She has two children, too, and so, all together, we have three — Oliver has two brother figures built into the foundation.

And — well, the location could not be better.

Because.

THE BACKYARD IS HICKORY HILL. 

**

We moved in last weekend, and boxes are strewn about still. It looks wild in here.

But this is merely the calm after the storm. This is the calm after all of the storms.


 

if you want to page back through my blog, you can read the blog post I wrote when I first moved here — Iowa 75% Vowels, 100% Awesome  — and the one I wrote when I finally admitted I was in love with Nic — Fuck It; I’m In Love. I have no idea how to link them here bc I am not technologically advanced enough to even link my own blog to my own blog wtf

 

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The Non-Subtlety of God

I am supposed to be busy right doing some very important things. Things like “de-personalizing” the home [for sale purposes], walking Béla (but it’s hot as shit, she doesn’t want to, right?) and editing a piece I wrote that I really need to resuscitate.

But something happened this morning while I was working at Starbucks and I’m just sitting here, thinking about it.

I was leaning out of the drive-thru window, talking to woman in the driver’s seat, when she raised her head to the back, listening to her children speak. The windows were tinted, so I couldn’t see their faces. But her face. All of the sudden, her face sort of tilted to the right and she drew a tiny, hiccuped breath in and, looking shocked, revealed what they had wanted.

“They want to know…   [she paused] ….. if [short pause again] …you know God.”

My chest was leaning against the metal shelf that provides the bridge between the in- and out- of doors, and had my weight not been so properly anchored, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have slipped. It felt like the floor dropped from beneath me. My ears rang with the blatancy and directness of their question.

Do you know God? 

**

I met God when I met Béla and I met him again when I met Nic and again when I met Ollie. I meet him on the street twenty times a day, in the face of every dog I see. I meet him in the eyes of people on the sidewalk, in line at the grocery store. I meet him when my friends bring me into their homes and feed me and love me, like two dear ones did this week alone. I have talked to God a thousand times before bed, and in the middle of the day sometimes, and the night years ago that I asked him to give me a motherfucking sign if I was seriously in danger of dying ((and he did — and I was. I got to the hospital when a good portion of my left lung was already dead and both lungs were filled with blood clots)) So, yeah, I know God. He’s been a total homie and my saving grace and I have found him in the stars and the grass and bugs and flowers and trees.

And those little kids? They knew I knew him. They were just reminding me.

We all do it. We ask people if they know someone when we have a hunch they do.

You know — when you’re like — “Oh, hey — do you know Macy? She lives three streets up and has brown hair and a little beige dog and…”

We’re looking for confirmation, to know that our hunch is right and true.

I’m not looking for confirmation that I know God anymore. I’m done. This life has all been too sweet and too good.

So to the little angels in the backseat today — yes, I know God. Of course I do. He’s right in front of me. He is every last one of you.