If You Were

If you were a bird, I would want you in a cage.
But would I need to possess, bind, or clip your wings?
If you were a play, I would want to be on stage.
But would I try to direct the simplest of things?

If you were a star, I would want to see you shine.
But would I buy a rocket ship and fly a million miles?
If you were a jewel, I would want to own the mine.
But would I fashion you to jewelry with many different styles?

If you were a rose, I would want you in a vase.
But would I sacrifice your growth to have you here within?
If you were a wine, I would want you by the case.
But would I horde away your joy and not share with a friend?

If you were a river, I would want to see you flow.
But would I need to put up walls or even build a dam?
If you were not precious, I would want to take it slow.
But could I ask for nothing and still be who I am?

On My Way Home

I ease into the driver’s seat of my Jeep after another long day at work. As I turn the key the engine comes to life. I am watching the clock on my car radio. It’s like waiting for the Powerball numbers to display on the screen. The clock reads 5:03PM and I exhale. Factoring in the time it took to walk the quarter mile to my car, I did not work one minute past 5:00PM.

“Good job, Dee!” When I accepted this job, I promised I would never overwork myself to make some huge
corporation more money. It is the biggest exercise in foolishness and what is the gain?

If I run really, really fast and really, really hard on my hamster wheel for the next 30 years, will they graciously invite me to take over as CEO? And who would want to be? To my mind, a corner office in a company you don’t own is just a bigger cubicle. It is my job. It is not my work.

With music pouring from the speakers, sunglasses tinting the world to a honey hue, I merge onto the highway. Traffic is not surprising at this time of day. I am at peace as I line up and take my place. Graciously, I allow others to merge ahead of me. We are all in this together.

In the time it normally takes me to arrive home, I move from Exit 4 to Exit 8 and something occurs to me.
This is not normal traffic. This is accident traffic. Bad accident traffic. My heart starts to race.

Looking in my rearview mirrors, I make sure I am not blocking the way of any first responders who may be trying to get to someone who needs help. I begin to pray, “Father, give swiftness to whoever is coming to help. Father, give them clear minds and a sense of urgency. Father, make us all mindful to move out of their way so that we do not impede the help you are sending. Father, send peace to those who maybe hurting. Comfort them so they know they are not alone.”

As we inch closer and closer to the cause of the delay, I speak this prayer over and over. I feel a building intensity. Finally, I see the flashing bar of lights atop the CT State Trooper’s patrol car. I exhale deeply. Help is with them. They are not alone. It is only then that I realize there are tears running down my face.

I wipe my face and breathe myself calm. Looking at the scene, I can see the tiny sports car is facing the wrong direction. From where I sit I can also see the rear end of the car is being hugged by the now U-shaped guardrail. The hood of the car stands open like a giant mouth. There is a white powdery substance covering one side of it. My mind says, “Fire extinguisher.”

The trooper is leaning into the car on the passenger side. It is clear from his movements he’s speaking to someone. He steps back only to immediately lean back in and begin speaking again. He’s talking to someone and the person inside is talking back to him. I exhale again.

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a turn signal and I am confused. The person is in the right lane and is signally to merge into the left. Why would you move into the lane closest to the accident and thereby moving the slowest? My question slows my reaction to forward motion and the woman noses her army green Jeep Liberty in front of me. She waves to say thank you for letting her in. I’m still confused.

It’s not until she is directly parallel to the mangled car that it becomes clear. She stops completely. Through her rear window I can see her and the other passengers in the car pointing. They are discussing the accident even as someone sits waiting for an ambulance to arrive. They are pointing even as the trooper tries to calm and comfort the person inside the car.

Disbelief turns to anger. How is this entertainment? That is someone’s child in that car. Maybe it’s someone’s spouse or someone’s parent. It is you in that car. It’s is me in that car. Suffering is never entertainment. As we move past the scene of the accident, I am on this lady’s bumper.

I am fuming. I am raging! I want to put my hands on her. For a split second, I think I should tap her car with mine to force her to the side of the road. We can see if she likes being entertainment for people who pass as I give her a bit of home training.

Reality reminds me of the damage I would do to my new car, so I decide against hitting her. She merges into the right lane and I pull up next to her. I turn and face her. I want to look her in the eye. She could not see the humanity of the person suffering in that car so let me see if she recognizes me.

Her car window is up so she would not hear all of the venom in my mouth that I long to scream out to her. Instead, I wait until she looks towards me. I point at her. “You!” She gives me a quizzical look. With my index finger, I raise the tip of my nose into a snout. “Are a pig!”

She is stunned. She shakes her head as if not to understand why I would call her such a thing. I drive off before more crazy ideas pop into my mind, but there is still smoke coming from my ears.

A small voice inside me asks, “Why are you so angry?” Because it is wrong to be entertained by someone else’s misfortune is my answer. The voice says, “No. That’s not why you are angry.” I sit in stillness and try to find out why. Because the person in the car is a human being. They are important. They matter. “Nope. That’s good and true, but that’s not why you are raging.”

It becomes clear to me why I am so mad. I’m angry because she does not know who she is. She does not know we are all connected; that we are many appendages of one body. She does not know their pain is her own, just as it is mine.

She does not know she is from an honorable being. A being that rushes into the burning towers to save people you have never laid eyes on, knowing they will not make it out alive. A being that rises up to overtake hijackers, knowing the plane is plummeting towards the earth; giving your own life to save people who do not even know they are under attack.

I am angry with her because she does not know I am her sister, I am her mother, I am her daughter. She does not know who she is and I am angry because it breaks my heart.

To the Tips of Your Wings

High on a ledge no creature without wings can reach, Baby Bird sits and looks out from the fortress of his parents’ nest.  His belly is full and his Mother perches protectively close to him.  He does not need to turn to see her to know she is there.  She is always there.  But on this early summer morning, he is caught in awe as he watches his Father fly far overhead.

The rising and falling looks like a dance.  His wings beat against the air like thunder.  His call pierces the sky like lightening.  With the slightest movement of his tail, he shifts and spins and soars upon the wind.  It seems effortless for him.

“Momma?”

“Yes, My Love?”

“Will I ever be able to fly like Father?”

“Of course you will… when you are older.”

“And will I be able to watch over and provide for my family, no matter what, the way he does?”

“Yes.  Your vision will be great.  Your hearing will be sharp and clear.  What you don’t see, you will hear.  What you don’t hear, you will see.”

“When danger comes against my family, will I be able to protect them and keep them safe?”

“Yes.  You will protect them from all danger even, ones they may not see.  And you will have help.  Your mate will be watchful, fierce and strong.  She will rise up and fight with you to make sure no harm comes.”

Shaking his head in disbelief, Baby Bird looks at his Mother.  “How?  I mean, look at me!  How can I do all that? I will never be that big!  I will never be that great!”   He stretches his downy feathers out to offer as proof.

With a smile, Mother Bird speaks. “Look at your father.  Look at him.  Do you really see him?  Do you see how he makes himself large and stretches his wings out to their full length?”

“Mm-hmmm…”

“That is the secret, Son.”

Baby Bird frowns.  He thinks for a moment.  “So, the key is knowing how to fly?”

“No, My Love.  The Sun was born to shine.  The rain was born to cleanse.  The earth was born to nourish.  The key is to do what you were born to do. You are an Eagle, Son.  You were born to fly.

“The way to live the life you want is to stretch yourself out wide.  Be your whole, big, amazing self.  Feel who you are from the top of your head down to the end of each talon.  Trust in the greatness of you and live your life all the way out to the tips of your wings.”

A Letter to My Daughter

Dear Jewels,

To Grandma Julia’s dismay, I had a very unique habit as a child. I would walk up to random pregnant women and place my ear on their stomachs. Grandma was a Southern Christian woman who believed in “proper behavior.” She must have been mortified. As a small child of 5 or 6 years old, I didn’t have the words to tell her what I now know to be true. I was searching for you.

In most cases people use the term “unexpected pregnancies” as a politically correct term for “opps.” The many doctors who told me I would never get pregnant would probably call what happened to me the same thing. But there was nothing unexpected about you.

Time after time I sat staring at one blue stripe trying to turn the other stripe blue through my will, my prayers, my curse words, my longing. I would buy the tests two at a time and take them both, one after another every single month for years. It was almost two decades later and I was still searching for you.

One morning in June 2006, I woke up early and lay in bed next to your dad. We were vacationing with his family in a rental home in New Hampshire. I laid there in the quiet of the dawn waiting for the house to wake up. On that day it became crystal clear to me. I was pregnant.

Four weeks to the day to be exact.

There was no question or thought that I might be. There was no “I think I could be.” It was as clear as if you had walked into the room and introduced yourself to me. I was pregnant. You were finally here with me.

Your father was less convinced when I told him. “How do you know? Did you take a test?”

“No.”

“Then how can you know?”

“Because I know. I didn’t take a test to find out I am black or a woman or a writer. There are some things you just know. I know I am pregnant. I am.”

We decided to wait until after the vacation to take a test but that did not sway me in the slightest. Each morning we woke I would greet him with a number. “4 weeks and one day. 4 weeks and two days.” The fact he could not “see” proof did nothing to what I could “feel.”

Even knowing what I knew was true, seeing those two blue stripes on the test made my heart want to explode. I took pictures of it. I took both tests just to see the second stripe turn blue again. “My baby is here! It’s finally here!” And I curled myself into the fetal position right on the bathroom floor and wept in celebration. I could stop looking for you. You were here.

During our first ultrasound the doctor said, “We can try to see the sex of the baby but you are only 12 weeks so we may not be able… uuuupp. Never mind. It’s a girl.” I laughed as I stared at all the shades of gray on the screen. I could see your head and your heart. What else did I need to see? A daughter. My daughter.

Over the first five months I lost ten pounds instead of gaining weight and did not show until my 8th month. I had morning sickness for 27 weeks straight. My blood pressure rose enough to cause real concerns to my doctors. They were afraid I might die while giving birth. Everyone seemed to be worried because they did not “feel” what I felt. She’s here now. She’s with me.

I spoke to you as if you were already born. “Mommy loves you, Baby Girl. Be tall like your dad and have his long curly eyelashes, but look like me. Be light brown and have curly hair so people can see we both belong with you. Be healthy and strong. Be kind and generous. Be smart and funny. And more than all that, be you. Be you.”

I also talked about our living arrangements. “You do know that’s Mommy’s lung you have your foot in, right? Are you looking for the remote control or the exit? You have a condo not a mansion so take it easy in there.”

You had shown yourself to be decidedly independent already. Case in point, I believe you had dance parties everyday at 4:30AM. Your little feet would push out the perfect shape of a small foot and I would touch you with my index finger. The first time was so amazing. “I just touched my baby and she’s not even born yet.” Long about night number 35, well needless to say I was a bit sleepy and less amazed. In fact, I would put my stomach against your father as he slept and you were so strong you would kick him until he woke up.

On February 19th, your dad was laying in the bed sick from food poisoning. Despite being on bed rest, I had an hour drive to see my doctor to check on your growth. I stood at the end of the bed, looked him in the eye and said, “I am going into labor today.”

“What? How do you know?”

“I just know.” Mind you, at this point it was not something I wanted to know. In month 6 of my pregnancy something inside my head said, “You do know where babies come from, don’t you?” Aaaaaahhhhhhh! A medley of clips from those TV birthing shows flashed in my mind.

There I would be with my business on display and ten thousand people in the room all saying, “I see the head.” Not what I wanted to do. I know that sounds ridiculous that I had not thought of giving birth, only of being pregnant.

I tried to say, “Oh, it’s beautiful. It’s the most natural thing in the world. Women have been doing it for centuries. Blah, blah, blah.” Truth is those women on TV looked like someone was making them push the baby out through their nostril. I was terrified.

At 10PM when the first contraction hit there was no doubt in my mind. I was in labor 4 weeks early, on the day I told your dad I would be. Just as you somehow told me you were with me before the pregnancy test, you told me when you would arrive. By midnight I was crawling back and forth in the hall wondering what would ever possess women to do this.

When we arrived at the hospital it was 3AM. Each contraction would make my eyes cross and take my breath away. I was ready to push, pull or do the running man… anything to make this pain go away. They asked if I wanted an epidural as I filled out my paperwork. “Lady, I expected you to have it set up so I could get it in the parking lot.”

After the medicine started to work, I lay down to get a bit of rest. Imagine my surprise to awake and find 6 residents crowded in around my bed. It was a mash up of the Keystone Cops and Grey’s Anatomy. I gave them the warm, heartfelt greeting of, “What the hell!?!?!”

My doctor walked in, visibly trying to appear calm. She parted the residents like Moses parted the sea. “It seems the baby’s heart rate has dropped. We need to perform a C-section.”

“What? Lets go!” I tried to get up out of bed. Yes! Yes, I was going to walk down to surgery with both cheeks visibly hanging out of the back of my gown! I was going to yell, “Stat! Stat!” like they do on TV so everyone knew to move out of my way. Luckily, wiser heads prevailed and I allowed them to take me in on the stretcher.

I wish I could tell you a magical story about this part of your birth but the truth is they gave me so much medicine I was only there for parts of it. I asked for your dad only to turn and discover the person I asked to get him was in fact your dad. The nurse called out to the doctor, “4 pounds, 9 ounces,” and I remember yelling, “Is she okay?” Even loopy I knew that was a tiny weight for a baby.

“She’s perfect!” the nurse called back to me. I couldn’t see her but I could tell she was smiling and there was relief in her voice. I flipped the words over in my mind. She’s perfect. She’s perfect.

Funny thing about having a baby by surgery is they don’t let you actually hold your child. I’m not sure insurance would cover a child falling because it’s mother’s body is partially (or in my case very) drugged. They gave you to your dad and he brought you near. You were the tiniest thing I had ever seen.

You were also the pinkest thing I had ever seen. Not a single stitch of color anywhere. And even though I know babies get darker as they get older, I admit I flashed forward to images of us at the park being mistaken as the nanny. Dang! Oh well. It didn’t matter if other people knew you were my daughter. I knew and you did to.

I was soon to learn that Pediatric Nurses at Stamford Hospital are kind and loving and as protective of the newborns at Mother Eagles. I mean they “like” the parents, but you are not their main concern. I say it with much love and gratitude. They did not ever keep you from me, but I could tell by their treatment of you and the other babies, nothing would go down on their watch.

While I was in surgery, they put you on the tanning bed or hotdog warmer thing to keep your body temperature up. Then the whisked you off the secret fortress of a nursery. Back in the recovery room I asked to see you. My nurse spoke with an Irish accent and told me you could not come down until I could feel my legs again.

When she left the room, I grabbed my legs in my hands and began lifting them and stretching them. I was hoping the increased circulation would make the drugs wear off faster. I even made your father help me. “Hey! Come over here and help me. I got to get my baby.”

When the nurse gave you to me I expected to feel some wave of emotion, some rush of love with the appropriate classical theme music in the background. Instead I felt like I was seeing an old friend whom I had searched for and longed to see. I had always loved you, from the beginning of space and time. Even as a child listening to the bellies of other women trying to find your voice, I loved you and searched for you. Looking down at you as you slept on my chest my first words to you were “There you are. I’ve been waiting to meet you for such a very long time.”

You were always within my heart and will be for all time. You are the power of ten thousand suns wrapped in flesh and called my daughter. You are the most amazing human being I have been honored to know. I am humbled by the gift of being your mother. I love you.

Your Biggest Fan,
Mommy

It’s the Little Things

3:00AM finds my eyes open, my body rested and my mind scheming on how to get out the bed without waking him.  For an hour I ponder my situation until I decide I’ll risk his look of disapproval to sneak a few hours of writing in before I go to work.  I slide from the bed, make my way down the stairs and open my blue notebook.

I write for an hour while Gauge, my Black Lab, sits patiently at my feet.  When I am done, I decide to take him on his morning walk.  Generally, on a weekday morning, my joy is waking and dressing my daughter.  Today I have time to do both.  What a great morning.

As we head out together, it once again amazes me to have a 110 pound dog that stands as high as my hip do so well on his lead.  I am holding his leash with my index finger and thumb without the slightest pull or correction.  This is a meditation to me.  It is a symbol of how powerful I am.  It also shows how things that are supposed to be in my life will line up and walk alongside me peacefully.

My inner voice says, “I’m amazing!  My dog is amazing!  He was sent to me to show me to myself.  I am baaaddd!  I am a beast!  I should have theme music!”  In this moment, anything seems possible.  I feel as if I am vibrating light.

Something snaps me from my inner dialogue.  A woman turns onto the street at the far end.  The sun is not quite up and it’s drizzling so I might have missed her in her all black outfit, but she stops so short it startles me.  I can literally feel her fear screaming down the street at me.

Oh!  She’s one of those!  People see the size of my dog and they turn to run.  As she spins on her heels, I see two bite sized dogs in tow going back the very same road they just traveled.

I want to say all the things people say about their big dog.  “He does not bite.  He’s gentle.  My baby uses him as a pillow.”  Then I get the urge to yell, “My dog is NOT your problem.”

As it happens, the road she retreats upon is my normal walk with Gauge, so he and I follow at a distance.  Her fear is not going to stop me from going where I want to go.  I put my hand through his leash and slow his “big boy” stride as not to overtake them.

Gauge stops to pee and I am grateful they have time to put more space between us.  I am relieved for her when they make a right turn at the next corner.  I don’t want her to fear us.  She keeps looking back and walking like a scared animal being hunted.  Who would want that for another human being?

She rounds the corner and her dogs decide to stop to poop.  It is too bad for her.  I can feel her anxiety.  She looks up and her eyes stretch so wide that even on such a dark morning from a distance, I see the whites of them.

I am sure her mind only sees my dog as a killer; big and black and savage.  (Yes, I do know I could go in on that point.  That is another story for another day.)

All she sees through her filter of fear is how he could pounce on her little ones and rip them to shreds.  And that I, the teeny lady on the end of the lead, is in no way capable of restraining this dog.  I am irresponsible to even have a dog this large.  She underestimates us both.

As we reach the dogs, their owner is visibly shaking trying to get poop in a plastic grocery bag.  The two little dogs freeze and look at Gauge.  Bad sign, by the way.  Balanced dogs meet you with their noses first.  These two should have smelled us a block ago but it’s clear the sight of us startles them.  These are “eyeball dogs”.  They react to sight first.  “Eyeball dogs” are never balanced.

We are about to pass them when they both lunge at us.  Gauge walks forward but lets out a small whine.  Unbalanced dogs make him nervous.  I correct him to let him know, “I got this!”  He looks up at me as if to say, “They got issues!”  He and I keep moving forward without as much as a bark from Gauge.  He is, however, now walking backwards as he never turns his back on an “eyeball dog.”

I hear all the high pitch barking and growling behind me.  The two little dogs work themselves into a froth trying to get at my miniature horse of a dog.  Being kept from Gauge is all they can emotionally handle.  I glance backwards as they turn on each other.

These two little puffs of hair are attacking each other, biting and making horrible sounds.  The owner is doing all she can to separate them.  She’s trying to get them apart, but still has the poop bag in her hand and she is tangled in their leads.

I smile.  I want to walk myself and my big dog right up to her in the midst all that foolishness.  I want to look her in the eye and say, “The moral of the story is it’s never the big, obvious thing you have to watch.  It’s the little things you try to excuse, overlook and ignore that leave you twisted, frustrated, and covered in shit.”