pull up a chair

where wisdom gathers, poetry unfolds and divine light is sparked…

Tag: motherlove

empty room, full heart

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this is my little boy’s room. only it’s not his anymore. not officially. not where he plops his head at night, and tumbles into sleep.

he’s moved three steps down and around the bend.

everything at our house shifted this week.

one boy’s heart was broken, his summer days of soccer hollowed, left to wonder — as his friends, all his friends it seems, dash off to practice twice a day — why he couldn’t have grown just another six inches, maybe even 12. or more, if we were being greedy, really greedy. a goalie needs every inch he can get. our goalie has only 63. the other goalies have 77 and 75. the arithmetic of soccer is harsh, makes no allowances for size of heart.

another boy moved out, not too far away, 13.21 miles as the crow flies, to his first grown-up apartment. and the night we dropped him off, said goodbye, the little one’s tears soaked the t-shirt of the one who for the past year — for as far back as he can remember, really — has been his bumper pad and protector from all life’s knocks.

monday morning, while the older one drove his first load off to his apartment, the little one and i drove to the sterile pen where numbers are called, papers are signed, tests taken, and permits issued. we drive at night now, he and i, taking to the broadest swath of uninhabited parking lot we can find.

by wednesday, i was scrubbing, dusting, clearing out the last few bits from drawers. i tend to clean like crazy when my heart is upside down. i hauled this and that down from the attic. shoved a few things up for storing. boy no. 2 moved into what had been the long-time chamber of boy no. 1, a fellow more than likely never coming back, except for a night here or there, a stretch of nights if we’re so blessed.

and while we made a room for a boy who’ll find his way through the halls of a new high school, iIMG_8152 made a room that’s something of a relic of the boyhoods i so loved. the ones where books were tucked in corners, slid from shelves, pages turned. the boyhoods populated by wooden blocks and trains. now, a little chair sits empty. the alphabet rug, the one i once bought for a nursery, it’s off at the cleaners and the rug repair shop. i seem to be preserving a chapter of our lives, pressing it onto the pages of my heart. a little part of me, perhaps, is hoping that some day a new crop of little people will climb the stairs, turn the corner and see the wall of books, and the bins of blocks and puppets. but mostly, i think, i’m making a room for me, the mama who will never ever forget.

a room where when i walk in i hear the echoes of boys from long and not so long ago. where i pull any book off the shelf and turn a page, and suddenly i can picture the little hands and the voices who once begged for me to read that page over and over. and over.

the rooms in a house are like that, when they’re no longer used. one by one, most houses surrender rooms to time. a room once strewn wall-to-wall with elaborate block constructions becomes a room with sweaty socks and inside-out jerseys. years go by when you hardly see the floor. and then, there comes a dawn when the first beams of sunlight fall across hardwood slats that all but glow, so exposed they are, and not a hand puppet nor a book is out of place. when what you find in the morning is exactly as you left it at noon the day before.

but rooms hold memory, hold the rhythm of a heart that will not fade.

as certainly as the wooden soldier stands guard on the window ledge, as welcoming as the old bear now slumped against the wall, that room will harbor me. will wrap me in its particular embrace. will be my tucked-away respite at the top of the stairs.

for the days when i need retreat. for the days when all i want is to step back in time, to remember how it was and how we got here. for the days when nothing soothes my soul so much as the far-off whisperings of the room that grew my sweet, sweet boys. the room that holds my heart.

do you have a nook or a cranny in your house that holds more than a life-size relic of your heart? IMG_8121

revisions

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the sentences don’t go to sleep when i do. they follow me to bed. romp while i flutter closed my eyes. pay no attention as i turn down the dial, try to quell their insistent chatter. they carry on merrily, words slithering here and there. one taking a bow, an exit bow, another squeezing in its place on the stage. whole sinewy chains of words, traveling en masse — some sort of compound-complex-intricate dangler, something i’m sure my third-grade teacher warned me never to try without trapeze — they migrate across the page. appear out of nowhere. demand a splot of real estate somewhere on the vast black-and-white tableau.

that’s how it is when you’re up to your neck in what are called revisions, an episodic literary state of being, from which there’s no escape.

you all but nibble tables-of-contents for breakfast. you inhale paragraphs, exhale footnotes. you slow the pumping of your heart to near stand-still (a dangerous state of affairs, to be sure) as you ponder permissions, and zap off begging sorts of notes to those whose words you’re so hoping you can borrow, set off with frilly quote marks that trumpet, “these lovely words came from minds far richer than mine.”

your days and nights are a melee of “delete,” followed frantically by “command-z,” every writer’s salvation keys, the ones that undo whatever ding-dong doozie you’ve just done. i’ve been known to “command-z” for unsightly spells, whole minutes it might seem, so grateful all the while to that unknown programmer who long ago thought to provide mere typers with escape hatch. if only sin and cruelty could so swiftly be erased, undone, made to disappear. but isn’t that why catholics have confession booths?

what i’m revising — day in and day out, and late into the nights — is my next go at this semi-livelihood i’ve taken up, the one in which you find your name spelled out in pretty letters across the front cover of a stash of pages, pages that slide in and out of bookshelves. more simply put, a book is what i’m up to. and what i’m writing — er, revising — is a book i might not have mentioned here, not by name i’m fairly certain.

it’s called motherprayer: lessons in loving, and my friends at abingdon press are once again behind it. if all goes according to plan, and believe you me, i’ll do my part, it’ll land in a big squat box on my doorstep in a mere 10 months, next march to be precise.

it’s a book i’ve been writing for years and years. it’s a book, the one book, i’ve long felt most pulled to publish. it’s the one stash of writing i want to leave behind. and by leave behind, i don’t mean dropped off at the side of a curb, or abandoned, only to crumple into so much flaky yellowed dust. i mean these are words i hope and pray might be left in the hands — or on the bookshelves — of my boys. it’s a stack of love letters, really. ones that began even before here, before the chair was the place where i turned with my truest, tenderest, unpracticed whisperings.

all my life the one thing i’ve always done is write love letters. it’s the medium i know best. it’s what turned my life from nursing to newspapering, really. it was a love letter to my papa that started it. the one they read at his funeral, the one that made the ad man say, “kid, you can write.” what he meant was: “kid, you can write a love letter. you can uncork a heart, and put words to what’s spurting out, spewing merrily and frothily.”

if i pause to think about it, and suddenly i am, it’s how i found my way to that long, lean bespectacled architecture critic with whom i spend my life. and it’s how i made so many friends in high school — my nightly mission, one that shoved aside all homework, was to sit and pen notes to friends who were aching, lost, or lonely; and sometimes simply happy.  i’m pretty sure my love letters are what made me my high school’s unlikely homecoming queen.

but there has never been a love letter that mattered so much as the ones i’ve penned for my boys. the ones i’ve penned here, too, when i hold up to the light some moment, some fraction of time, some quandary or conundrum, some twist or turn in the plot that leaves me breathless, or in tears. and, so often, throwing up my arms to the heavens, turning pleas to prayers, “dear God, show me the way….” “dear God, stitch this shattered heart….” “dear Holy God, thank you…”

it’s motherprayer.

and for the life of me, i can’t seem to shake my sense that it’s here, in these front lines of the mother-child tangle, that so much blessed wisdom pulses. and so i keep close watch, i plumb the depths, i poke around — year after year, chapter upon chapter.

which is how i came to gather up a stash — each in the form of an essay, a chance to catch the fleeting moment, some crucible of childhood and motherhood — and why i’ve culled and tossed, boiled down the lot to the ones that just might hold a glimmer of the elusive truths we’re after.

it’s motherprayer, a love story. one i’ve been deeply writing for the last quarter century.

what’s your best medium, the one in which your heart and soul most deeply feel the muse? 

 

he gave us a year: this mama will never forget

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the first inkling came a year ago december. it was a bitter cold sunday, and the voice on the line was one that had been making my heart skip since the first time i heard it. the words that followed were these: “mommo, i’ve been thinking. i want to do something meaningful in the year between college and law school, and i can’t think of anything more meaningful than being there for tedd. i think i’ll come home for a year.”

such is the sound of wishes come true. of prayer you hadn’t even put to words, come tumbling true. a mama’s wildest hope.

so, back on a sultry june afternoon, the old black sedan pulled down the alley. out spilled a boy and a thousand some boxes. a childhood bedroom was duly re-ordered. carpet was ditched; floorboards, exposed. old books, the books of a boyhood, were pulled and tossed in a box. college tomes took their place. jobs were procured, the ones that would keep him busy by day. by night, he made his place at the side of the much younger brother, the brother just finding his way into high school, a high school with corridors known to be steep.

DSCF1307for one whole year, a year now gliding toward its close, big brother and little have entwined their hearts a little bit closer. there’ve been late-night runs for grilled cheese. and sartorial counsel unfurled at the bathroom door. there’ve been soccer goals saved in front of the cheering — and very proud — older brother. and shoulder-to-shoulder talks on the couch, in the car, on the all-night airplane ride.

it was into his big brother’s arms that the little one fell the morning our old cat died. the two of them crying, together. one of them wailing, “he was our third brother.” both of them wholly understanding the depth of that truth.

he was here for his brother, yes, but he was here, too, for the whole of us — night after night, as we sat, held hands, and whispered a prayer before picking up forks. not one single dinner for four did i ever take for granted. each one felt sacred. felt numbered.

he was here in this unforgettable year, this year of loss as much as gain. he was here the day we got word that his grandpa had died; that very night, he stood by the side of his papa, both wrapped in their prayer shawls, at synagogue, on the eve of the most solemn day of atonement. he was there, to hold his father’s elbow during the hebrew prayer of mourning. he was there to notice the tear that spilled from his father’s eye. i was too. i saw and felt with my whole soul the presence of father and son standing shoulder-to-shoulder, prayer shawl-to-prayer shawl, in the hour of that father’s deepest grief.

he was here, too, when friend after friend said goodbye before dying, in this year of hard loss. he was here to wrap his arm, and his laughter, around the grieving widower who has spent most every weekend with all of us, sopping up the pieces of his deeply shattered heart.

he was here for me, his old mama. the one who will never tire of long talks at the side of his bed, or chopping in sync at the kitchen counter. i never even minded the piles of laundry, knowing with each pair of boxers i folded that it was a task that wouldn’t last. i considered it something akin to charming to iron old shirts, to track down orphaned socks.

the what’s-next isn’t quite worked out. but the calls are out. the interviews, scheduled. a move will be in the mix. i know that. i’ve always known that.

which is what made this year the most priceless gift i could have imagined. a mother’s gift beyond measure.

it was all a blessing. all wholly unexpected. all counter to cultural norms that these days send kids sailing post college. he came home. he didn’t mind — not so much anyway — the questions from neighbors, the ones who might have looked askance at a kid whose only post-college option appeared to be a return to the roost. we knew otherwise. we knew the whole time.

he’d come home for one reason only: love.

he’d come home for the rare and breathtaking gift of stitching together two hearts. hearts born eight years apart. hearts whose plots on the lifeline had necessarily thrown them into parallel orbits — when one was learning to drive, the other was learning to read. when one was finding his way through a college quad, the other was starting out middle school. but this year — one starting high school, one a man of the world and not too old to remember well the poignant trials of this particular high school — there was much deepening to be done. they could laugh at each other’s jokes. play each other’s silly screen games. bolster each other’s hearts when either one was pummeled. photo

what they grew, over the shifting of seasons, over late nights and not-so-early mornings, was a brotherly love to last a lifetime.

i often flash forward in my mind’s eye, imagine them calling each other in the long years ahead. i imagine their faces, lined with deepening grooves, the ones that come from living. i imagine their manly voices, calling long-distance — just to laugh, simply to celebrate, to be the front line in each other’s rescue squad.

i once feared that the older one — long the only one — would be all alone after we’d gone. i know now, i pray now, that they’ll long have each other’s company — shared stories, shared love, unbreakable bond.

and so, on the brink of that second sunday in may that honors motherhood, i find myself sated. i need no toast points ferried to bed. no violets clumped in a vase. i don’t even need a hand-drawn card. i’ve lived and breathed a year i never expected. in the short story of my life there will always be this one radiant whirl around the sun.

and that’s more than i’d ever have dreamed when someone once showed me the flickering spot on the ultrasound, the one they said was his heart, very much alive. the one that ever since has quickened the pulse of my own. my very own metronome, come home, all in the name of pure love.

happy blessed day of mothering, to all who mother in the infinite ways of that certain brand of loving. to my own mama, and the mother of my heart, the one i was gifted through marriage. may your days be filled with the knowing that the children you birthed simply adore you. and may the memory of the mamas who birthed you, and loved you, fill your hearts on this day of honoring a mama’s rare love.    

what one gift do you wish for, what one unimaginable gift? or have you found it already?

pulled by heart

lunch

the hour hand had just nudged itself past 5. the tableau out the window was black-on-black. the bedsheets, warm, toasty warm. the soft folds of the flannel, pulled snug against my shoulders, invited one last episode of sleep. all i wanted was one more hour. but then i remembered.

the light down the hall was already splintered through the crack under the door. the soft bells of an alarm were faintly chiming. the whoosh of the shower broke the pre-dawn hush of a house just beginning to rouse. i knew my firstborn was up and getting dressed. i knew he’d soon be barreling into the morning’s bitter cold. the headlights of his little black car would shine down the alley, turn toward the city, to the west side, to the streets where just a week ago a bullet pierced the window of the pre-K classroom in the school where he teaches. the bullet shattered glass. sailed across the room, ramrodded a metal pipe, ricocheted. hit no one. thank God. but the cluster of little 4-year-olds, who by the grace of God had been clustered at that instant on the far side of the classroom, away from the bank of sidewalk-level windows, they heard the blast, the ping, and at last the thud of the bullet dropping to the classroom’s hard tile floor. deadly sounds. sounds that shouldn’t be heard in a pre-K classroom. or any classroom anywhere.

a week ago, at 2:46 p.m., i got this text from my firstborn:

There’s been a shooting outside school. We are in lockdown, but I am okay, so are my students. Do not call, I don’t want there to be any noise in my room.

a mother’s heart all but stops when she reads those words.

it would be another hour till he called, till i heard the rush of air i knew as his voice. it was over now, he told me.

the children had all been shepherded into the hands of parents. or grandparents. or some adult who’d get them home. he, too, was headed home, he told me. shaken, so shaken by the news of what happened in the pre-K. shaken by the holes in the metal screen and the pane of glass. shaken by the glass that shattered in what looked like a cobweb of shards. shaken by the long hour’s lockdown, not knowing the whole time — as he tried to keep his sixth graders quiet — whether the shooter was inside or out of the building. shaken by footsteps that ran down the hall, toward his classroom, where the door had been locked. shaken by the news that a mother who’d come to school early to take home her young child had stepped out the school’s front door into the direct line of two men with guns chasing down the sidewalk, shooting. the mother threw her little one to the sidewalk, then threw herself — hard — on top. she waited, she’d told a teacher, lay stone still, not knowing if she’d be hit. fully expecting the thud of a bullet to her back. or worse.

monday, my kid came home with word that 46 kids of 180 kids hadn’t come to school that day. parents kept them home. they’re not used to bullets piercing classroom windows. not even on the west side of chicago. he said, too, that the only two white kids in the school, kids whose parents teach there, they’d been pulled. “a social experiment they weren’t willing to risk any longer,” was how he put it.

and then he said, “mom, if i tell you something, promise not to freak out.”

ooo-kay.

“there’s apparently a turf war in the neighborhood, and (school) is in the middle of it.”

and so as you hear those words, as they barely begin to settle onto your eardrums, onto your heart, you somersault into prayer. your every inhale breathes in prayer. your exhale begins the next, an endless loop of prayer after prayer.

you settle yourself down, slowly. over the course of hours, as you turn round and round the heartache, the insanity of it all, as you sift through the shards, examine from all angles. imagine the worst. consider the kids who call those streets home. who can’t leave.

you pray mightily.

and then, yesterday on the front page of the newspaper, there was a story with eery echoes. it was a story that happened last friday, just five hours after the bullet shattered the window of my kid’s school. it happened three miles due south. a bullet — out of nowhere — pierced the driver’s side window of a parked car where a young 25-year-old woman was sitting, talking on her cellphone to her dad in san diego. suddenly, he told the reporters who had called him, she started to say her head hurt, her head hurt. then the phone went dead. the dad in san diego couldn’t figure out what happened. frantic, he called his daughter’s boyfriend, who called her roommate, who ran out onto the street and down the block where she found the woman slumped, near dead. the woman died from a bullet that “came out of nowhere;” two men chasing down the street with guns. the stray bullet — a bullet not meant for her — killed her.

as i sat there reading the news story, tracing the lines that connected her story to the one i knew from my own kid’s school — same day, same short span of hours, same damn  scenario, guns and chasing and flying bullets — i shuddered at the tragedy, shuddered for the father who now told the story, who now tried to explain how — as she sat in her car on her quiet street on her way home from a job where she’d just gotten a promotion, in a city she loved and had moved to after college — he was now burying his daughter, “the only one in her preschool class who could read, a straight-A high school student, a magna cum laude college graduate,” the father told the reporters.

and so this morning, knowing my kid was getting dressed to go back to the school where the pre-K window is now covered in plywood, while they wait for new glass to come, while they all pray for calm in the streets, i yanked back the sheets, and i planted my wobbly feet on the cold wood floor of my bedroom. i shuffled down the stairs, and i opened the fridge. i piled turkey on slabs of bread. i tossed in an apple. i poured a tall to-go cup of coffee.

not for one minute could i send my kid out into the cold, back to school, back to streets where a gang war wages, and not do the feeble things a mama does: i slathered mustard on bread, i folded slices of deli turkey, i tucked it all in the little brown bag he uses day after day. i prayed the whole while. i prayed mightily.

when he tumbled down the stairs, and saw me standing there with my mustard knife in hand, he looked surprised. “mommo, what are you doing here?”

just packing lunch, was all i said. he knows me well, my kid of 22 years. he knew without me saying so that that sandwich was super-packed. stacked with prayer upon prayer. besides the turkey.

as i closed the door behind him, as i told him i loved him, called out,”be safe,” i traced a sign of the cross onto the back of his thick winter coat. it’s all i could do.

it’s the truth of motherhood, or one of them anyway: we’re armed with so very little. especially when up against a world of flying, piercing, life-taking bullets.

yet we don’t abandon our station: we rise before the dawn, we shuffle down the stairs, we do what little we can. we pack a lunch, with a motherlode of prayer.

we are pulled by heart out of slumber. we are pulled by heart into prayer. deep into prayer.

what will we do? what can we do? is there any way out of this insanity that spills blood on the front seats of cars, on front porches, and playgrounds, and too many sidewalks and streets in this city?

final push

final push. will bam

it’s the promise i made, long long ago. the deepest surest promise i ever made.

before he was even a bump in my belly, before anyone in the world knew he was there. in the moment i first knew, i tumbled out these words: dear God, let me wrap this blessed life in a cocoon of pure, unbroken love. let me be the shield. let this child know only undiluted full-force light.

it wouldn’t be long till i found out how porous that cocoon might be. i couldn’t keep the 105-degree fevers from spiking. couldn’t even take away the sting of the shots he got at 2-months-old, when the nurse turned to me and icily offered: “what are you all nervous for?”

i surely couldn’t keep the chipmunk from darting before his bike’s front wheel on that autumn afternoon when he hurled across the handle bars, and landed in an unconscious heap on the side of the woodsy trail. couldn’t keep the bone from cracking in his neck, on that october day when he was all alone and all of 13. couldn’t keep the bone from cracking straight across his thigh just 10 months after that. nor stop the crushing commentary from the camp counselor who saw his staggered gait as reason for ridicule.

in the nearly 22 and a half years since i whispered that promise (i’d whispered it a full nine months before he was born), i’ve not veered, not lost my most determined grip.

there are rare few promises you make in life that define you. my promise to my firstborn was one.

and now, at the end of his senior year of college, in the final hours before he turns in the more than 150 pages he’s been typing, editing, eating-drinking-sleeping, i am once again putting muscle to my words. his senior thesis, a compendium of deep thinking and determined scholarship, will soon be walked into a white new england house, one with columns stretched across its porch. it’s the poli sci department, and the thesis, a probing examination of the intersection — and entanglement — of law and religion, is due in just five days. at 3 p.m., eastern time. (not that i’m watching the clock.)

i’ll not be breathing much this weekend. the thousand miles between us will, once again, have collapsed into the paper-thin space between two hearts that once beat just micrometers apart.

i’ve realized (because i tend to think that way) this might be the final push of all the school years — from preschool when i nervously watched him try to make a friend in the blocks corner, to third grade when he carried off to school the landmark chicago stadium he’d struggled to build out of cardboard, poster paint and glue (lots and lots of glue), to the junior year of high school with its tension-building, sleep-disrupting 20-page AP-english theme (oh, that seems so innocently succinct, now looking back from the distance of 150-plus footnoted pages), to the long-distance breath-holding as every college semester’s close brought with it a slate of deadlines and exams and will-he-make-it doubts, to now, the mountain climb of all type-written mountain climbs.

and so i’ll enter this final round of breath-holding, of leaping every time the phone rings, of literally falling asleep and awaking with that boy’s welfare on my mind, with all the mama-dedication it deserves.

the truest truth is that as i’ve reached out my hand to guide my boy up steep climbs, through narrow passageways, i’m the one who’s found my way. he’s plunged me into life in ways that, until he came along, i might have skirted. if i’ve lived my life one drop more deeply, more authentically, it’s because he was at my side. he was asking me — without words — to be the best of who i might be. to not flinch. to not be afraid. or even if i was, to walk forward anyway.

that’s what mamas do, after all. that’s the unspoken pact. it’s at the front line of whatever life hurls our child’s way, where we are truly put to the test. it doesn’t mean we’ll keep at bay the brokenness. it doesn’t mean we’ll stanch the tears. it means we’ll wear it all, as if our own. it means we’ll be there on the phone whispering, “i believe” till the cows come home. it means that when we’re dead asleep and the phone jangles us awake, we’ll take the call, shudder off the somnolence and stay on the line till daylight erases darkness.

in this latest round, it means we’ll read and re-read, check for misplaced commas, look up “constitution” in the world book encyclopedia, grasping to understand this free-exercise clause that seems to be absorbing so much of our kid’s attention.

if that’s what it takes. whatever it takes.

day after day, year upon year.

this is the one job for which there’s no check-out clock. our hours on the factory floor do not end.

oh, we might get long spells of reprieve, when all is humming along as you’d hope it would. but then, duty calls. stakes are high, and the fire bell clangs. so you leap into the nearest phone booth, and you whip on your mama cape. you toe the line. you’ve made a vow, and you’re sticking to it. you’re here for the long haul, and the long haul is now.

so much is stitched into every single saga. unspoken volumes. volumes that swell your heart. volumes that teach and re-teach just what it means to love as you would be loved.

it’s holy gospel, this mothering as mountain climb. he’s nearly there, the kid i love. i can see the summit, and so can he. i’ve one last weekend to stay the course. to promise him he’ll make it, and to let out a holy roar when, at last, he does.

bam will hand in hand

that’s me and my sweet boy, walking hand in hand, a long, long time ago. i nearly melt studying the snapshots, the one just above, and the one up high where you can practically feel my straining to implant some sort of mama inoculation on his irish-jewish cheek. it’s what we aim to do, aim most mightily: to embrace, protect, infuse with all that’s good, infuse with the best of what we’ve got and all we didn’t even know we had to offer. 

do you have a tale to tell about someone loving you across the finish line, no matter what the line? 

and happy blessed birthday to two of my life’s dearest oldest friends who today and tomorrow tack on another year. love you, divine miss M, and sweet sweet paula, angel of my dreams….

when the past pops out of nowhere: “can you help?” a search for motherlove

baby patrick screenshot

the message popped up out of nowhere late saturday afternoon. this is what it said:

Are you the individual that wrote the article in the Chicago Tribune back on March 10, 1987 – Titled, “Police Hunt Mother of Abandoned Baby”? If so, I wanted to ask you a couple questions. And by the way…, I am that baby!

my heart nearly pounded through my chest. i wracked my brain. i couldn’t for the life of me remember writing the story. how could i not remember? i typed the words into a google search, and sure enough, up popped this:

Police Hunt Mother Of Abandoned Baby
March 10, 1987|By Barbara Mahany.

that was me, all right. so i started to read:

Baby “Patrick Doe,“ oblivious to the stirrings about him, lay docile in his incubator at Central Du Page Hospital Monday, interrupting his sleep only for bottles of baby formula every four hours–or an occasional grimace for one of the many news photographers parading with cameras through the nursery.

Outside the nursery, Glen Ellyn police undertook their first-ever search for “a missing mother,“ said Lt. Dennis W. Jamieson, and the bureaucratic machinery was put in gear to assure safe-keeping for the baby should his mother not be found.

In the western suburb, a team of police investigators was dispatched to track down “a recently pregnant woman, . . . no longer pregnant and without a newborn,“ Jamieson said. Police were distributing flyers with black-and-white photographs of the baby, and a teletype bulletin to neighboring police departments had been sent over the wires.

Baby Patrick, a healthy white infant thought to be 4 or 5 days old and weighing 7 pounds, 10 ounces, was found early Saturday morning lying next to a redwood planter along the driveway of a home in an affluent Glen Ellyn neighborhood.

The baby, wrapped in two nightgowns and a plastic diaper bag, was discovered at 9:37 a.m. by George G. Dickey, of Lorraine Road, in Glen Ellyn. Dickey told police he first saw two plastic bags in his planter at about 6:30 a.m. Saturday, but thought someone had dropped garbage there.

When he went outside three hours later, he saw the baby`s head poking out from one bag. The other bag was filled with five disposable diapers and diaper pins.

Dickey rushed the baby inside, his wife changed it out of its soaked nightgowns. The couple then called the police and the infant was taken by ambulance to Central Du Page.

He was initially considered at risk because his temperature registered below normal, 96 degrees Fahrenheit, but doctors said Monday that Patrick was “in very good health“ and listed him in good condition.

Because the baby`s umbilical cord was tied with a rubber band, hospital officials and police surmise the baby was not born in a hospital, preventing them from tracking down his mother through hospital records or birth certificates.

By mid-morning Monday, calls from prospective adoptive parents were trickling into the hospital in Winfield, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and the Adoptive Infant Center of Illinois.

“As far as prospective adoptive parents are concerned, this is a dream come true,“ said DCFS spokesman David Schneidman. “But for the poor soul who decided to leave this baby for adoption, this is the biggest tragedy on earth.“

On average, DCFS gets involved in about two abandoned infant cases each month, Schneidman said. But, he added, those babies are rarely Caucasian, and “never before from an affluent suburb like Glen Ellyn.“

Officially, DCFS is now the baby`s legal guardian, Schneidman said, and if the baby`s mother is not found by the time Patrick is discharged from the hospital at the end of the week, DCFS will coordinate foster care and eventually recommend the baby`s adoptive parents. If the mother is found, DCFS will be one of the complainants in a child neglect suit, and if deemed advisable, will assist in counseling the mother.

For now, though, the curly-haired baby is content to lie sucking his baby bottles, lullabyed by a crew of doting nurses. It was one of them who thought “Patrick“ to be the perfect name for a babe born so near the feast day of the Irish patron saint.

nearly 28 years ago.

and, through mysteries and miracles of this cyber-age, the baby, now grown, now wise to the ways of the internet, had found me. he’d been banging on doors, getting no answers. he was trying to find his birth mother.

he found me.

for the next couple hours, a flurry of emails zipped back and forth. he told me what he knew. i leapt into reporter mode. and, most of all, mother mode: i too am a mother now. and i have a boy of my own, two boys, the older of whom is a mere six years younger than “baby Patrick.” i couldn’t imagine my boy trying to find his mother. i couldn’t imagine how achingly dark and lonely it felt, on the cold february night when “baby Patrick” wrote me, to be emailing strangers trying to find a shred of hope, a thread that just might lead back to his mama.

every word i typed to “baby Patrick” i tried to type as if i were a long-lost mother, searching for my long-lost boy. i tried to fill each keystroke, each space in between, with all the love a mother would ooze, if she’d been away for nearly three decades.

in a stroke of sheer miracle by the end of the evening, i found the detective who’d worked the case. he’s retired now, lives not far away. i promised “baby Patrick” i’d call the very next day, sunday, when it wouldn’t be so odd for the phone to ring. when i stood the best chance of squeezing in the words, “former tribune reporter,” the only words that i thought might get my foot in the door, might keep the call from clicking into the hopeless drone of the dial tone, the sound of getting nowhere.

i called, not long after church on sunday. after two or three rings, someone answered. hope rose in my chest. i heard a “hello.” i shot right in with, “Lieutenant Jamieson?” using all my reporter politeness, using all my don’t-hang-up-on-me hope. i figured the lieutenant might warm to being remembered by his rank. i was right.

he warmed, all right. and, as soon as i explained the story, how i’d gotten an email from this blessed kid, this kid searching high and low for his mama, soon as i explained how the kid was getting nowhere, couldn’t get anyone to return his calls, how we had to try to help, and i wondered if maybe he remembered if there’d ever been any leads in the case, had anyone ever gotten a whiff of the mother, the lieutenant wrenched open the file cabinet of his memory, and promptly riffled straight to the folder marked, “baby Patrick, 03/87.”

in piercing detail he told me everything he remembered. how the particular house where the baby was left was one tucked back from the road. but, he explained, there was a planter, a flower pot, he called it, down by the curb. “good place to leave something if you want it to be found,” the lieutenant offered.

but here’s the part where you might wince: the fellow living in the house could see from the window something sticking out of the pot. “he thought it was garbage,” the lieutenant recalled. the fellow walked down the drive — three hours later — saw two plastic bags, and that’s when he saw there was a baby in one. a real live squawking baby.

far as the lieutenant knew, no clues had ever turned up. he was pretty sure he would have known if they’d found the mama, or any hint of the mama. he even mentioned how, over the years, he’d driven his wife by the house, thought of “baby Patrick” every time. and since i asked, since i’d called on a quiet sunday afternoon, made him think back over the decades, he did have ideas of where “baby Patrick,” now all grown up, having been adopted and deeply loved but still in search of whoever it was who dropped him off at the flower pot, the lieutenant had ideas of where “baby Patrick” could turn. in other words, at least a trace more hope.

sure thing, i hopped off the phone and wrote “baby Patrick” as swiftly and furiously as i could get my fingers to type. i drenched each letter of every word with all the love i could muster, with mama love.

i wasn’t his mother, not remotely. heck, i’d barely remembered the story at first — a fact that rinsed me in shame. but in the hour of his darkness, in the hour of his hope beyond hope, i could imagine — piercingly — just how deeply his mama might be typing if she were on the verge of finding her boy.

so i infused every word with mama love. i prayed mightily that that love might — through some wild-eyed, otherworldly, transitive property — flow from his faraway mama’s heart to mine and to his.

we signed off, at the end of 24 hours, with what i hope was a lasting trace of something that felt a wee bit like mother-and-son connection. but, honestly, i worry it might have left him emptier than before.

it hurt to tell him that there’d never been a trace. it hurt to tell him the part about the man in the house seeing what looked like garbage bags. (i couldn’t bear to type those words, “garbage bags,” so i didn’t; i wrote, “i think of how your mama loved you enough to tuck you in what she thought was a safe place..”)

it made me think how in life we never know when we’re called on to be the instruments of love, of stitching together a shattered heart. it made me think about how, in a story i’d not even remembered writing, there was a someone who found in it the one trace of hope he so needed.

it made me think how much it all matters.

i wish like anything i could have helped him find his mama. and, short of that, i’m so deeply grateful that for one short day, and a flurry of a few dozen emails, i could imagine the love and the fear that would have riveted that mama’s heart as she left her newborn curly-haired boy on the side of the road, in a place she was sure he’d be found, with the few bits she could gather — the extra sleeper, the five disposable diapers, and, most of all, the prayer that must have slipped across her lips. and lasted forever in the deep down crannies of her heart.

and that was sunday, the very same day we found out a dear dear friend was in the ER, and would likely be going in for brain surgery. which happened wednesday, her daughter flown home from her first year of college, her highschool-aged son sitting tight, on a hospital couch, pressed against his papa’s side, all through the very long day that stretched into the night. it’s been a week in which all i could do was pray, and pray, and pray. an apt beginning to lent, the season of repentance on the road to redemption.

the reasons for prayer are many this friday morning. and the question to ponder is this: have you ever discovered that you were an unsuspecting player in one of life’s core dramas? and did that discovery make you remember, all over again, how very much it matters that, at every turn, we live a life of pure attention to all that is holy and good and filled up with love?

turning 21: a mother was born

willie baby with kiss

nothing had ever — has ever — so deeply captured my attention. you can see it in the gaze above, the eyes locked between mother and child. you can see it in the parted lips, my lips, can almost hear the gushing in of breath, of pure and utter undiluted amazement.

deep down, i think, i never really believed it would happen. had so little faith in my body — in the flesh and bones that made me who my vessel was — i gasped when they handed me that bundle. i so distinctly remember drinking in his eyes, whispering, “hullo, my sweet, so here i am, and here you are, answer to my deepest prayers, my dreams come true beginning now.” and then, before i could stop myself, i zeroed in on the thighs. the thighs i am blessed to report were duly “pudged,” rolls of flesh and perfect fat, a fat so deliciously dimpled it nearly melted me off the birthing bed.

i’d been afraid i might grow a baby without the requisite fat. in fact, i doubted my capacities as birthing chamber all along. in one long weekend, after an early set of ultrasounds, i convinced myself my baby had no brain. all you could see inside the skull was black space, blank black space. oh my god, i thought, they’ve not yet broken it to me, but i think my baby might be missing his brain. i even called a radiologist friend — on a sunday — to find out if he’d confirm my fear.

he confirmed it not.

and in fact, on the sultry start-of-summer tuesday when at last that babe was born, he was a whopping eight pounds, nine ounces — a good chunk of that birthweight duly tucked in the cranial cavity, where in the years since he’s proven how undeniably that brain was where it needed to be, doing precisely what it was wired to do.

my beautiful beautiful boy turns 21 on sunday, and while my letter to him will be deeply private, the one i’m writing here is the one in which i proclaim to anyone who pulls up a chair how very deeply his birth birthed the depths of me, allowed at last the core of who i dreamed i could be, who i prayed i could be, to begin to take form, to emerge in light and shadow, to rise from the gauzy netherworld, to be defined in sharp outline and tender spots, and to be forming still.

it just might be most every blessed mother’s story: we stumble upon the best that we can be, sometimes, when living, breathing, squawking, ever-hungry babe is cradled in our arms. our trembling arms, to be sure. our arms that grow stronger, surer, over all the sagas and the chapters and the countless hours of two lives entwined.

when i think back over the 21 years that he and i have been essential factors in each other’s equations, i stand in wide-eyed wonder. i bow down low in deepest gratitude. i wince at my mistakes, moments i’d give anything to do over. and i marvel at the times when i stepped to the edge of the precipice, mustered all my courage, and leapt — that eternal life-saving instinct nestled deep in every mother’s heart, the one that propels us to put form to whatever is the holy vow we take when we’re first told that life stirs within.

it’s unbreakable, the mother bond. it defines our days, puts order to our must-get-done list, sets us off to the ends of the earth, if need be, in search of the essential whatchamahoojie — be that the medical specialist who can peer inside a child’s shattered bone or merely the USB cable that’s gone missing from his laptop at the very hour the paper must be printed and turned in for a full semester’s credit.

and it keeps us awake, long night after long night.

we learn, once motherhood comes upon us, just how long we can go without so much as a spoonful of cereal (it took me a couple weeks to figure out how to inhale breakfast with a baby wailing in the infant seat), and how many consecutive nights we can curl up on the bathroom floor cradling a fevered child or one who’s upchucking till the wee wee hours.

when necessary, we discover we can make the scariest of phone calls, can dial up the mother of the slumber-party bully, can look the teacher in the eye and say, i’m sorry, i don’t think you understand my kid. we can even will our knees not to buckle when the ER doctors start tossing around words like “airlift” and “cervical fracture,” and “severed spinal cord.” we can make promises to God — ones we swear we’ll keep — when, for longer pauses than we ever thought we could endure, we’re begging to be spared a kid who can’t flinch a muscle from his neck down to his fingers and his toes.

in rare sweet moments, we find out how it feels to catch the wind and soar. we turn and see the kid we love dashing down the block to hand a crunched-up dollar bill to the homeless guy he knows by name. we nearly fall in the river as the kid who couldn’t catch a fly ball now rows mightily across the finish line. we read the words his college professors send to us in emails that knock us off our chairs, and leave one of us brushing away the streams of tears.

we hope, we dream, we pray. we reach down deep, deeper than we ever reached before. we listen till the birds of dawn begin to sing, if that’s what it takes some long dark hollow nights.

we find our voice along the years. we exercise our heart. we wrack our brains. we love, and love some more.

and suddenly 21 years have happened. countless picture frames loop before our eyes. words and stories bubble up and fill page upon page. our hearts are 21 times the size they used to be — at least.

we have paid most exquisite attention, to each and every breath and utterance all along the way. we’ve driven ourselves nearly mad. we’ve cared beyond reason. in fact, there’s little room for the rational when it comes to this particular brand of love story.

we were handed a treasure. we owe it to the treasure. we owe it to the bequeathers of the treasure.

i, for certain, was handed the treasure of my life. june 22, 1993. the day the best of me was born.

a work very much in progress. the best work in all my oeuvre.

i love you, sweet will, with all my heart and all my soul and everything that dwells between.

chair people, thanks for indulging me in this morning’s labor of truest deepest love. i found the photo above — my sweet boy’s forehead stamped with a “stork kiss” from my beloved obstetrician, who made it a habit of smearing on bright red lipstick to mark her babies shortly after birth — while working on a little picture project. i’ve been compiling a little something for my sweet boy’s birthday and this frame floated to the top.

feel free to tell what birthed the best of you along the way….

never enough will

 

dear mama, for all of this…

grammy tedd chess

day after tomorrow, it’s the day when the globe pauses in its spinning so toast can be sprung from the toaster, violets can be clutched by little hands, and college kids can shoot a quick text: “luv u mom.”

otherwise known as children-remember-your-mom day, a wholly artificial slow-down in the whirl so cinnamon-raisin crumbs can be hansel-and-greteled between the bedsheets, violets can suffer strangulation, and mothers can get bleary-eyed at being remembered. or not.

sometimes, though, the day affords much more. it allows us to dig down to where our memories lie, and pull a few good ones out by the roots. that’s the notion at the heart of a breathtaking essay written by a friend i met a few weeks back. my friend is laura lynn brown, and before i met her at a crowded noisy dinner table, i’d read her essay, the one the iowa review printed in its esteemed pages, and the one slated to run on slate, the uber cool website, today.

her essay, “fifty things about my mother,” started out as an experiment in crafting pure-gold sentences, one at a time, in no particular order.

laura, then and now a daily newspaper editor in little rock, arkansas, was getting close to 50, the age at which her mama had died, and she found herself aswirl in rememberings. around that very time, twitter, that 140-character writer’s challenge, was gliding onto the horizon. rather than scoff at such syllabary confines, laura was intrigued by the notion of power-packing a sentence.

you’ll read, as you scroll through her sentences, how magnificently she mastered that challenge. and why no less than susan orlean picked the whole lot of them to win the 2013 iowa review nonfiction award.

what happened next was that laura’s essay caught an editor’s eye, and, lo and behold, a book was born, everything that makes you mom: a bouquet of memories. only five of the original 50 sentences are tucked in the book, and rather than making it a book in which you’d read only laura’s memories of laura’s heavenly-sounding mom, she’s made it a book that tickles the reader’s heart and uproots some of your own most delicious mama memories.

laura brown book

laura wondered if maybe a gaggle of her writerly friends might open the pages of the book and see what happened. i got to page 108, and found my assignment, under the heading “essay question”: “remember when Mom taught you how to write a thank-you note (promptly, saying thank you, naming the gift given, and telling how you will use it or why you appreciate it or why it was a just-right choice)? write your mother a thank-you note now.”

here at the chair, i’ve written over the years what amount to thank-you notes to my mama. the original mother nature is one, and so is grammy tuesday.

but borrowing from my writerly friend laura, i’ll take a crack at crafting a few thank-you sentences to my very own mama, who, at 83.5 and ticking strong, still parks her sleek silver SUV at the curb of our old house every tuesday, ambles up the walk with her blue-plastic cooler of whatever groceries she needs to cook and lay on the table one of her ever-revolving repertoire of the dinners i grew up with: chicken rice grammy, 3-4-5 stew, meatloaf crusted with catsup, and bags and bags of frozen carrots and peas.

dear mama,

for tucking me by your side on the hardwood stairs the summer’s afternoon the hive of yellow jackets shimmied up my skinny little legs, trapped inside my jeans, and stung me mercilessly straight up to my bum. for making like julie andrews and singing into my ear, “when the dog bites, when the bee stings, when i’m feeling sad, i simply remember my favorite things, and then i don’t feel so bad,” the tune from “the sound of music” that still clicks on auto-play when i find myself inside-out, upside-down or just plain afraid.

for flipping open my bedroom window shades on especially sunlit mornings with robert browning’s song from pippa passes, “the lark’s on the wing/the snail’s on the thorn/God’s in His heaven/all’s right with the world!”

for the image of you in the rainy cemetery i’ll never forget: you with your sturdy sole to the cusp of the garden shovel, slicing into the oozy earth, at the mound of your beloved’s — my papa’s — grave — right above his heart, you whispered to me — digging the hole for the mahogany jewelry box that held our stringbean-sized baby girl, the one stillborn in the hollow of night, the one you helped us lay to rest, tucked snug against her grandpa’s stilled heart “where they’ll both always be safe,” you promised me.

for the 1,048 grammy tuesdays since boy 1 was born, and the 572 grammy thursdays you tacked on once boy 2 arrived. for forging connections to those two boys that are at the bedrock of who they are and always will be. for knowing the instant you met my “old shoe” of a newsroom friend, the one with the holes in his penny loafers and the hanging-down hem on his seersucker shorts, that despite the fact that i was a lifelong catholic and he was a devoted jew, i’d met my soul’s desire. 

an abbreviated list of what you taught me: love like there’s no tomorrow; don’t ever stop; poetry is prayer; 101 things to do with frozen peas; and if you want julie andrews, plop her on the record player.

for all of this, and so very much more, dear mama, thank you and thank you and happy blessed mama’s day. please come for 3-4-5 stew, washed down with slippery buttery baby frozen peas.

what would you write in your thank you note to your mama?

photo above is my mama playing chess just this past tuesday with boy 2, aka teddy. and here is one more thing she taught me to love…

viburnum

korean spice viburnum, blooming just this morning outside my kitchen door, a bouquet for my mama..

and for all my beautiful friends whose mamas are no longer here, a bundle of extra deep hugs. it’s a bottomless loss, stirred all the more painfully on this day when it seems everyone else is bathing in the very thing that brings you heartache. 

laboratory for loving

laboratory for loving

dispatch from 02139 (in which most of what was learned this week came in the wee hours of the night, in the dark, uplit by glow of cellphone, and the voice on the other end of the line was the kid who’s taught me more than just about anyone else on the planet about what it means to love…)

long ago and far away, last sunday in fact, easter sunday, the piled-up collisions on the highway of my life seemed daunting, seemed as if i’d never find that skinny path between crunched fenders and broken glass, to ease myself to the side of the road, where i’d call 9-1-1, and see if blaring lights and roaring sirens came riding to my rescue.

(note to mother-in-law and all those who worry: all metaphor, no one really got hurt. not much anyway.)

there was, come to think of it, one case involving bodily injury, and that came, of course, because too often i forget to watch where i’m going. especially when i’m hurdling toward one of my sweet boys.

what happened is that the monday before easter, the first night of passover when the calendar was a bit more jammed than usual, i was dashing out of a lecture hall, because i’d just realized the school bus was disgorging my 11-year-old at the very moment i was leaving postwar fiction, and no one had reminded the boy to wait patiently on the stoop. i charged full throttle into a protruding (potentially decapitating) oak ledge (a big mother sucker, one i’ve since gone back and examined, and i’m talking two inches thick, 12-inches deep, cantilevered in thin air, jutting brazenly into the path of oncoming traffic).

i hit the darn thing straight on, as if a linebacker to quarterback’s helmet, only the parts of me that hit the former titanium-grade tree were those bones — sternum, clavicle and one or two ribs — that course across the upper chest, first line of defense against crushed lungs and heart and wind pipe.

ol’ wind got knocked right out of me, all right, and apparently, bones crunched too. as did my top back molar, which on impact somehow smashed and cracked into the tooth just below. so, for the next few weeks, i am spending too much time getting to know my lovely cambridge dentist. and because i’ve decided there’s not much to do in the cracked rib department, i am self-medicating with ibuprofen and watching the ugly chest bumps go down-down-down.

other than that, all the week’s collisions have been the sort that scramble up the heart and head. out of respect to all involved, all i can say on that is that my prayer list grew mightily in recent days. (and cure from breast cancer is among my prayers for a dear, dear friend.)

oh, there were the usual not-life-changing worries on the list: the sixth-grade math project (due today), the taped phone interview with one of the icons of the american feminist movement (yesterday), the newspaper assignment (due monday), the all-weekend narrative writing conference, and the cat who keeps forgetting that the rugs are rugs and not patches of grass thirsty for his fertilizations.

but the one who stretched my heart, and once again plunged me into the laboratory of what it means to really truly love, was my beautiful two-hours-away college kid.

i remain convinced that, more than anything else, i am on this planet to learn how to really deeply exquisitely love.

and from the moment my firstborn tumbled into my life, he has been my masterclass zen guide and professor.

the most essential truth, of all the truths i’ve learned so far: you don’t give up. ever. not when you’re bone-tired. not when the going gets really rough. not when you’re afraid to breathe. not when you really think you’re plumb outta solutions. or even make-shift stabs in the wilderness.

i vividly recall the first time that lesson crossed my sketchpad: i’d been home from the hospital with that little bundle of perfection for maybe one or two whole days. he was a hungry boy. he mewed and rustled in my arms, to make sure i always caught his drift.

i’d just finished a good hour or two of nursing, and then, hungry boy, he wanted more. well, it had been a long day already. one that had launched with little sleep, and one that barely allowed for spooning porridge to hungry lips (and the lips in this case were mine). but the sweet boy cried. all he wanted was the thing that i alone could give.

i remember, at precisely that moment, glancing at a window, a dark, mirror-like plate-glass plane shielding the abyss. i saw a frantic face in that window (mine). and i remember thinking, oh, now i understand how it is that overwhelmed mothers dump their newborns at the police precinct door. can’t i just take this bundled lump back to the land from whence he came? ask for refund. wipe my hands of all of it, and go merrily on my way? really, i don’t think i’m cut out for this round-the-clock unrelenting equation.

the temptation, i tell you, nearly flattened me.

but then, i plunked back down into the crushed pillows of the couch, yanked up my T-shirt, and attached babe to breast. i rode out the impulse to surrender, abandon ship, ditch it all and call in reinforcements.

and ever since, that’s been the bottomline of each and every mother-and-child encounter.

when you sign on, as i have, to life-long passage on the good ship motherhood, you are bound to find yourself in dark and murky waters now and then. it’s how life works. most especially in this day and digital age.

so the kid i love got hurt a few weeks back. all tied, it turns out, to when he broke his neck back in eighth grade. this time muscles spasmed. shot him through with pain. so bad he could barely breathe. and then the headaches came. pounding, unrelenting. two long weeks of unabated brain wedged inside a vice. or so it felt to him.

that makes it rather hard to read hundreds of pages, and harder still to sit through midterms. so, if you’re a kid who cares about not flunking out of college, you begin to panic.

and the worse it gets, the more you check in with that one soul on your list who’s shown herself to have a fairly bottomless bag of tricks.

thus, the phone rang the other night at 11:55. the first words were, “mom, i’m kind of scared.” that pretty much catapults you into the land of wide-awake and ready to hit the gas pedal clear up state route 2.

all i wanted in that deep dark moment was to be right beside him, the way i always used to be. with warm washcloth at the ready, sponging his pounding brow. i wanted the room he was in not to be the dingy college dorm, the one splattered still with blood from when he stepped on broken glass and forgot to spritz the cleaner. i wanted not to be sitting two hours away, but was deeply grateful it wasn’t the usual 17 hours away.

i needed to employ long-distance mothering, which might be one of the more wrenching brands therein. i stayed on the line a good hour, till he was yawning, till he was sure he could finally fall asleep. first thing the next morning, i was on the line with the doctor back in chicago. i was emailing the extraordinarily compassionate english professor who’d vowed to be there for whatever the kid needed. i was texting the kid, asking if he remembered to take the excedrin. asking if perchance the vice was loosening its squeeze.

i pretty much lost track of every other worry on my plate.

during the hour i was strapped into the dentist’s chair, i remember a tear trickling down my cheek. and not because the shot of novacaine hurt so much. only because the boy i love was far away, was hurting, was scared, was not so far from panicking.

i checked in a couple times that day. because when you are loving through and through you don’t get to forget the deep dark place where your firstborn dwells. you stay on it, check back with the doctor’s office, make sure they got the message, make sure the doctor’s set to call the kid.

you know it’s not yet time to leap in the car and drive out there. you want the kid to learn to fend for himself, to find his way, to take up the reins of his own life, and taste the sweet joy of self-driven resurrection.

by nightfall, you get a text, telling you the doctor talked to him not for five measly minutes, but for 45 glorious ones. he knows what to do. and, by the way, the headache’s lifting.

next day, he meets with the professor whose midterm he is due to take, whose reading he’s nowhere near finishing.

by week’s end, the headache’s all but gone. he sounds pretty much his usual ebullient self. he’s got a reprieve on the midterm, and all weekend to catch up on reading.

and you, the mother of this child, you’ve steered through the narrow channel, figured out all over again just what it means to love as you would be loved.

you’ve kept your whisper up against his ear, late into the night. you’d not let on that you’d been sound asleep till the moment the phone jangled you awake. you knew, because that’s just how it is, that you’d clear the calendar and drive straight through to the horizon if that’s what he needed. and, most of all, you knew there was no stopping you, no hurdle, no ledge, no nothing you wouldn’t brave for him.

in the laboratory for loving, the kid keeps teaching you the depths and breadths and heights of your hard-held vow to make this the one wee spot in your life where, no matter the blunders, you try — oh, God, you try — to get it right.

who teaches you the depth and breadth of love?

stitching the homesick blanket

dispatch from 02139…

here on the banks of the charles river, it’s seeped in, that one thing i knew was coming, that one thing i prayed might be kept at bay.

but of course, it couldn’t, wouldn’t be.

not when traveling with young soul, tender soul, boy on the brink of those tumbling years, those years when friends mean everything, when the familiar is lifeline, is equilibrium.

and so, at the dawn of most days lately, and past nightfall, when the bedclothes are tucked up around his chin, that’s when i hear the sigh, the deep, deep hollow sigh. the boy misses home, misses friends, feels unmoored.

please, can we go home?!?!” he asks, begging and insisting in the same short breaths.

are there words in a mother’s lexicon that cut more sharply against the vessels of the heart?

one morning, not so many days ago, when i’d dried the tears, whispered words meant to stitch together the tatters, when i’d coaxed and promised and pleaded, at last he climbed down from the top of the bunk bed, surrendered more or less to the school day up ahead, and as he stood there, calm by then, bravely slipping arms through soccer jersey, he asked:

“mom, has there ever been a time in your life where you wished you could go back to a decision and make it over again?”

and i knew, of course, before the last word of the sentence rested on my eardrum, that the decision in mind here was the one back in january, around the dinner table, when we’d asked that fifth-grade boy what he’d think of up and moving to cambridge for a year, and he replied, without missing a beat, “sounds great. i need to see the world!”

and here, standing on the hard-planked floor of his little room on franklin street, in cambridge, in the heart of 02139, he was wishing with all his might that time was silly-putty, could be pulled and twisted, turned back, re-formed. that just maybe he’d said nope, no way, i’m stayin’ put.

but fact is, we’re here. for a mere nine more months.

and i know, deep in my mother heart, that he’ll be all right.

that this hurts, absolutely. (after all i’m the girl who sat on the garage stoop for my whole kindergarten year, every sunday night, oozing emptiness and sorrow as i watched my papa pull down the driveway, turn and fade into the darkness, gone again till friday, week after empty week, for most of that whole year.)

the thing that keeps me steady are the words some wise soul said in passing, just before we packed up all the boxes back on maple avenue, when she said: “a parent’s job is to teach our children to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.”

well, it’s uncomfortable, all right. for him, at least. for this kid who travels to a school where he claims just one friend, though when i pick him up on the basketball courts after school, he’s amid a thicket of ball players, all smiling, jostling. and they call out his name in a way that drips with honey, pure sweet, our little scrapper of a hustler on the court. and with that big ol’ smile to boot, he seems to be the proud owner of a formula for instant affection.

if i didn’t believe, deep down, with all my soul, that this year was in fact a trip through the accelerator, that shake-’em-up-machine that can’t help but infuse life knowledge, heart, a deeper wider understanding of the world, whether it comes from sitting on my lap while i read a story from our south african journalist friend about the 1,802 footsteps it takes along a muddy mountain path to fetch a jug of water (twice, each day), or whether it comes while kicking around a soccer ball with four kids, not one of whom speaks english, i would never have emptied out his dresser drawers, stuffed it all in duffel bags, and squished them into the back of the little black sedan that pulled out of our alley back home, and kept chugging till it got to the curb here on franklin.

but that doesn’t mean i’ve not, once again, pulled out my mother bag of implements and tools for stitching back together the tattered heart of a boy who’s been stricken with a nasty case of homesick blues.

and once again i’ve come to that blunt line, the precipice, where words run out, where there are only so many ways you can whisper hope, promise deliverance from this heartache.

and so, as always, i’ve turned to the alchemies of comfort.

i am simmering cider and spices in early morning hours so that even before he flutters open an eyelid, he’ll have breathed in a comfort note, a pungent autumn mix of cinnamon and clove and apple orchard.

i’m frying sausages and bacon. making whopping batches of french toast on weekends, so all week long he’ll start the day with a platter that tries to whisper: you are loved. you’re not home, but home is here, is where the ones who hold you up promise to sustain you, to keep you from being swallowed whole by the rocky waters of your achiness.

i’m snatching samples of hard-rock candy from the white house pastry chef who lectured to my “science and cooking” class, so that he knows, without words, that even in the thick of my dailiness, he is front and center in my mama brain.

last night, dashing out of a mind-blowing talk from five journalists who covered the arab spring, from egypt to liberia to yemen and tunisia, five journalists who barely missed bullets, and didn’t escape arrest, dashing out because i had to get to the soccer field, to fetch my homesick boy from practice, i spied a vat of goldfish crackers, and scooped up a whole cup because even when my head is swirling with images of war and foreign correspondents, i remember that little boys’ tummies growl when they are empty, and the drive home in cambridge traffic is always longer than it should be, and so there i was dashing along the cobbled streets, weaving and darting between college kids plugged into iPhones, with my plastic cup of bright orange goldfish.

because mamas never stop the art, the craft, the hope of being mamas. our one true work is nestled deep in that cord that forever connects us: we are, if we choose to be, the beginning and the end of someone’s belonging to this holy earth. we are womb. even when it’s emptied.

and our prayers are without end. our prayers, without words when we come to the place where no vowels, no consonants exist to capture the whole of what we ask, what we beg for.

dear God, please fill this child’s heart. please stitch together the gaping hole, the oozing-out place where it hurts so very much, where it feels like you’re falling, spinning, down a big black tunnel. where you think you’ll never again get home. where the comfort of your big old bed, the wallpaper that you know by heart, the sounds of the creaking at the top of the stairs, it’s all you long for. that and the footsteps of your friends, tramping in the door, encasing you in the whole cloth of friendship and familiar that you so miss.

dear God, pass me, please, the spool and the needle that i need here. as i try mightily, morning after morning, bedtime after bedtime, to stitch the homesick blanket. so i can tuck in the boy i love, wrap him in the holy cloth of comfort that only angels bring.

chair people, if you’ve an extra word of grace to spare, perhaps you might send up vespers for all the children in this world who don’t quite feel that they belong wherever it is they are.  and if you’ve tricks in your sewing kit, or recipes tucked into files, please do tell: how do you stitch comfort for the ones you love when they are aching, oozing, and wholly at a loss?

dashing to send this off because any minute now, the power’s going out for the whole day here. i’ll have to nip and tuck later. but for now…..my morning’s meander….