Yesterday she made her own breakfast for the first time without my help.

And if it seems to you a little odd that my daughter would be doing this fairly simple task for the first time at age 9, well, I’d say you’re likely onto something.

Sigh. It’s hard, isn’t it — the letting go?

When they’re little, everything is so clear, so crisply defined. You hold their hand, you wipe their butt, you do what needs to be done – which is, really, everything or almost everything – because they need you. They need you and need you and need you, and there is no clear point at which they shift from that all-consuming needing-to-be-taken-care-of to the opposite pole of needing-to-be-let-go-of. There are no signposts, no obvious markers along the path to tell you when it’s time to release the parental death grip and give them control.

And allow me to let you in on something relevant here, something telling: I actually felt guilty for having her make her own breakfast. Yes, you heard correct: guilty. I know, I’m insane, right? But not making my child’s breakfast felt… strangely, almost instinctively negligent on my part somehow. Because isn’t that what Moms do – what *I* do? What does it mean to not do that? Am I being a bad Mom by not doing that? OH HAI, WELCOME TO MY NEUROSIS – PULL UP A CHAIR AND GRAB YOURSELF A DRINK, HOLMES.

Of course I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say something about how one of the difficult things about being a parent is that the job changes. That what your kid needs at ages 3, 5, 8, and 11 is not the same. That there comes a time when giving them control, power, and independence is what’s best for them, and that to do otherwise is to stifle their development.  Intellectually, I know this. I’ve read the same manuals you have. But the fact remains that my GUT – including my squishy-soft Mother’s heart – clearly didn’t get the memo, AND BESIDES SHE’S STILL MY BABY AND WILL ALWAYS BE MY BABY NO MATTER HOW BIG AND COMPETENT AND NOT-NEEDING-ME SHE GETS, GODDAMMIT.


This morning we arrived at school a bit too early for drop off.

Me: Just stay in the car with me until they open the doors. I don’t want you hanging around outside without an adult for 10 minutes.

Her: Mom, it’s right in front of the school. I do it all the time when Dad drops me off.

Me: Really? Oh. Well.

Her: Yeah.

Me: Uhh, okay. Well, then, umm, just sit on the steps right by the door then, okay?

Her, pecking me on the cheek: I love you.

Me: I love you too. Have a good day!

Her: I will!

Me: Don’t talk to strangers!

Her: [eyeroll, closes car door behind her]

I sat there in the car watching her slowly work her way toward the general area of the school’s steps, but somehow felt I couldn’t leave. I turned my left signal on, making as though I would merge into traffic and disappear, but I kept hesitating, watching her. Hovering, for crissakes. Finally, she caught a glimpse of me there, still looking at her, and her eyes widened in that exasperated ‘ARE YOU FOR REAL?’ kind of way. She made a quick flicking motion with her head, nudging me in the direction of traffic, urging me to take off and scram and stop looking after her already.

I put my foot on the gas and eased away from the curb. I did what she wanted and needed. I did what was right for her. But I didn’t stop looking back.

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Sweet and tender hysteroscopy

Hysteroscopy, derived from the Greek ὑστέρα “hystera” meaning uterus, is a procedure in which a thin camera is inserted into a woman’s vagina, up through her cervix, and into the uterus so that its interior might be viewed for diagnostic purposes. Back in ye olde old-timey times, mustached gentlemen would insert coins into large wooden boxes containing images of women’s uteri, which could be briefly viewed or “peeped” by pulling a corresponding string and gazing into a viewing hole carved in the side of the box. These devices were called “Raree Boxes” or “Peep Shows.”


It starts off resembling a date. The coy, witty banter. The questions about likes and dislikes. The offers to hold your hand. The sticking-things-in-your-vagina.

What did you do New Years Eve? He asks, smiling at you as he begins screwing something in-between your legs.

My boyfriend and I drank some Prosecco and watched Deadwood. It was pretty mellow.

Deadwood, huh? I haven’t heard much about that – take a deeeep breath now – why don’t you tell me about it?

Well, it’s pretty fantastic. Easily as good as The Sopra – WAIT WAIT WHAT THE FUCK THERE’S NO WAY IN HELL THAT’S SUPPOSED TO GO IN THERE.

Deeeep breaths.


Those breaths are a little fast. Try to breathe in sloooow and deeeep.


On the screen to your left you watch as images of shimmering pink vistas slowly begin to emerge from pitch-darkness. Then it occurs to you: you are looking at live images of your own working insides. Understandably, you begin to feel just a wee bit light-headed in the wake of this too-visceral realization. You squinch your eyes shut and try to think happy, not-having-things-shoved-up-your-brewster thoughts. But for some reason, the unwelcome visage of Charles Nelson Riley keeps materializing in your mind – his giant, twitching, guffawing owl head pushing you farther and farther away from your happy place and back into that room, the room with your big pink uterus pornographically displayed on a 24″ HD flatscreen, all discomfortingly fleshy and live and pulsing in living color.

Ow, says the witnessing medical student, who now resembles Charles Nelson Riley if Charles Nelson Riley were a tiny Asian woman.

What’s wrong? you ask, your voice trembling in anticipation of her response.

Ow, you’re kind of holding my hand really tight.


When it’s over the doctor asks you to sit up, but when you try to follow his command the entire room dissolves into static. Tiny Asian Charles Nelson Riley grabs your arm almost maternally. Yeah, that sometimes happens. You should probably just lay back down for a little while, she and/or he says. A cool wash cloth is gently applied to your forehead. The world pixelates into hundreds of tiny Hollywood-Squares-like boxes, each box containing several gallons of rancid split pea soup-colored nausea.

When you next open your eyes the doctor is standing beside you, saying that your malfunctioning uterus looks fine, just fine. The biopsy will tell the final tale, of course, but it’s something to hold onto at least, those slightly milquetoasty and noncommittal words – fine, fine. And so you find yourself humming softly and smiling as you make your way out of the building – down the tragedy-threatening and claustrophobia-inducing elevator, across the impossibly vast, football field-like length of the hospital lobby – until finally you burst out of doors, stepping into the finest patch of bright midday sun you believe you ever saw.


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Oh brave new world that has such iPod Messaging in it

The kid got a new iPod Touch for Christmas. She had a first generation version of the same for several years, but technology got ahead of it, and we finally reached the point where we stopped being able to update the OS for it. She’d used it straight into its obsolescence.

So it seemed a good gift, replacing it for her. At the time.

Some of you might not know this, but the newer versions of the iPod touch come with messaging. Basically, it’s just like regular cell phone text messaging, except 1) it’s free, and 2) these messages can only be exchanged between iPod Touches and other Apple devices – ie, iPhones, other iPod Touches, and iPads. AND THIS IS HOW APPLE TAKES OVER THE WORLD. FREE MESSAGING AND KITTENS FOR EVERYONE! LOVE, APPLE.

As you might imagine, the kid was pretty geeked about having this new capability – basically that she was now able to summon the attention of Her Adults to her, no matter where they might be, no matter what they might be doing or how important that thing they were doing might be, day or night, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Now she was the master with the whistle, and we adults were her obliging, smartphone-addicted canine-like servants.

But with great technological power comes great responsibility. Or, you know, not. AT ALL.

It started off innocently enough.


Yes, yes – big bad pig ate apple. But of course! Why, that makes total sense. And one could understand why any reasonable person would feel that needed to be shared. And in 5 separate individual text messages. Each coming in several minutes apart. For emphasis.

But things rapidly began spiraling out.


What I gathered from this is that the GOP had kidnapped her and taken her to IKEA. But I could be wrong. I tried reading it upside down to see if it was some kind of inverted secret code, but no dice.


Stupid Apple.

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Hearing hoofbeats

It starts one bright winter morning. You wake up bleeding. Except you shouldn’t be – it’s not that time, as your mother would say cannily. But as with so many other things, your mind agrees to spin a reassuring story about the blood for you – something comforting if slightly abstract, but nevertheless something that absolves you from having to actually do anything about it. You shrug it off as best you can, and boy howdy you can shrug things off with the best of them. Days pass. The blood is light, spotting. It waxes and wanes. You write to friends, needily, “is this something I should be worried about?” Doubt begins, slowly, to seep in.

You find yourself crying at stupid youtube videos and having dark fantasies about the grim phone call you’ll get from the doctor, that inevitable worst case scenario we all hope to stave off until our most geriatric of years. On the fourth day you feel shaky and light-headed and the blood is heavier, an ominous bright crimson. And when he looks at you – into you, as he does – you feel your face begin to slowly melt into a gigantic puddle. The jig is, as they say, up. “Something is wrong… something isn’t right,” is about all the admission you can manage. But finally saying the words, and hearing the undeniable lilt of pure terror in your own voice, makes your whole body sob.

In his office, the doctor lays out the possible scenarios for you, marking up a piece of paper with diagrams of internal organs on it, circling things and drawing arrows. You’re sitting down, but feel that in reality you’re floating in the air just above his desk, the detached observer of a terrible moment that, thankfully, does not belong to you. At some point you notice the woman’s hands – your hands – shaking, and he does, too. “When you hear the beating of hoofs on the street outside your door, you think horses, not zebras,” he says in a preschool teacher calm sort of way. “Cancer is the zebra.” You find this analogy reassuring, and immediately begin thinking of your lady parts as an aging thoroughbred, standing on a hill at sunset, serenely eating grass.

The exam itself isn’t terrible, at least not until he does that thing where he pushes upward and down on your belly simultaneously. Then you literally bolt up on the table screaming, all sense of decorum gone. Out on the imagined sunlit hillside, the horse whinnies and bucks, nostrils flaring in sympathy.

The doctor peels his gloves off finger by finger, smiling, and hands you all the paperwork. Forms and tests – weeks of them. You don’t know if something has just ended or begun, and you honestly aren’t sure you want to know.


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In which I valiantly half-ass yet another thing

At the ripe old age of 41, I’ve accepted, finally, that there are just some things I’m always going to suck at. I’m a decent writer, an okay Mom, a fairly good partner and friend – and in the Grand Scheme Of Things these are the biggies, so I’m grateful that I don’t completely blow at them, that I can manage some semblance of vague competency relative to those roles and their related tasks. But in other realms… well, as C would say in his down-home country-fried redneck sort of way, I’m kind of like a nun with a dildo (and yes, you can feel free to co-opt that charming turn of phrase and deploy with aplomb in every day life as if it was your own, and you’re welcome).

Such is the case with most things related to being healthy, staying healthy, and/or treating my body in such a way as to stave off death. This I suck mightily at.

Now don’t get me wrong, if given the choice between immediate negative consequences – say, between pain or physical bodily harm and doing something healthy, I’ll reluctantly and with much whining and heavy sighing “choose” to be healthy, as I did when I turned quasi-vegan because of my severe dairy allergy. EXCRUCIATING, MIND NUMBING PAIN AND CONSTANT SINUS/EAR INFECTIONS or AN ABSENCE OF CHEESE?

Wait, let me think about that for a minute. I SAID LET ME THINK, GODDAMMIT.


Of course in most circumstances in daily life the health-related stakes aren’t quite so high and the repercussions aren’t felt quite so instantaneously. And if they aren’t – if the outcome of my actions aren’t going to be felt for months or years (if at all), chances are I’m going to go the most slovenly, convenient, and immediately gratifying route. I’m not only not going to go out of my way to be EXTRA SUPER HEALTHY, but instead going to do exactly what’s easiest and most enjoyable until my limbs start dropping off and people flee in terror upon seeing my mangled-by-self-indulgance-and-dissipation visage. I’m a Sloth Enthusiast, I guess you’d say.

Which is why it should come as no surprise to everyone – myself included – that I’m totally EPIC FAIL-ing at doing a 3-day juice cleanse.

I don’t know what overtook my own common sense and general reason, but at some point a few months back I decided doing this cleanse thing would be a good idea. It’s as if for a minute I caught a case of viral amnesia and completely forgot who I am, what I’m made of, and that by and large I suck at things that involve any kind of deprivation. Also, that my taste in beverages tends to vacillate between two extreme poles – Crystal Light and very dirty martinis – rarely branching out beyond them, and motherfucker, what is Juice?

The juices arrived yesterday by Fed Ex (it’s like Juice Cleansing For Dummies – all of the juices come in single-serving containers numbered in the order you’re supposed to drink them each day, because yes, you’re just that stupid, you stupid dumb juice moron), and their terrorizing of my person instantly commenced.

Look at them. All smug and mocking me and shit.

I took one look at all them neatly lined up in my fridge and could only think two things:

1. Holy fuck I’m an idiot.
2. I’m really, really hungry.

And for the remainder of the day that’s about all I could muster the energy to think – Idiot! Hungry! Idiot! Hungry! THE IDIOT IS HUNGRY, MOTHERFUCKERS!1!!!

The juices weren’t all bad though, assuming you like that sort of thing. Flavor-wise, I’d place each of them somewhere on a continuum between Kale Dipped in Pencil Shavings and Apple with Extra Dryer Lint. But that’s what Healthy Organic Juice is supposed to taste like, right? It’s supposed to be difficult and unpleasant, so you feel like you’re really doing something special for your body, achieving something out-of-the-norm… so that you feel like drinking this medicinal-tonic-juice stuff will surely cause miraculous, spontaneous damage repair and healing. This juice is going to make you into an X-Men, you just know it is.

At about 4 o’clock in the afternoon I decided that all of this was bullshit and that I wasn’t ever going to turn into Wolverine (sob!) and that I needed a snack. Moreover, I determined that if I didn’t get a snack soon I was probably going to kill someone and/or stick my own hand in a blender, because I was suddenly feeling unnaturally curious about what Hand Juice might look and taste like. By 4 o’clock I had fucking lost it, in other words.

So off the wagon I fell, and decided that henceforth I was going to do this cleanse MY way, meaning the cowardly and half-assed way, which is doing it 9-5. Like doing the cleanse is my day job, but after hours I take off the work clothes and the 12 pieces of flair and it’s FUCKING PARTY TIME! Basically, I’ll follow the cleanse all day up until dinner time, at which point all bets are fucking off. Because I don’t think any of us really want to know what Foot Juice tastes like. OR DO WE?

And yes, I realize this is completely contrary to the idea of a cleanse and that many of you are probably going to tell me that doing it this way isn’t doing me any good, but hey, I had to get up in the middle of the fucking night last night to poop, and I have to believe that’s a good sign, because I never have to get out of bed in the middle of the night to poop, and night pooping is healthy, right? I’M EXCRETING TOXINS SO HARD IT’S WAKING ME UP AT 2AM. SURELY THIS IS WINNING.

Today is day two of the lamest juice cleanse ever. Pray for me and my in-the-line-of-fire underpants, kay?

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The neurotic parent’s guide to telling your kids about the epic horrors of humanity

So this happened.

It all started out so innocently. A few days back, the kid was perusing (which I think is awesome and wholly support, but have no affiliation with, lest there be any doubt), a site with all kinds of kid-friendly edumacational animated videos and other curriculum-based content covering everything from space exploration to civil rights to classical music. Oh, and did I mention – terrorism?

Yep, terrorism.

In the midst of video-hopping around the site, she stumbled on one about 9/11, and was intrigued – as one might suppose she would be – by the site’s stern warning to WATCH THIS VIDEO WITH A PARENT. OFMG WE’RE SO TOTALLY SERIOUS, KID. (And, to BrainPOP’s credit, that warning was really SPOT fucking ON.)

So, she approached me with this.

Her: It says I should watch this video about 9/11 with an adult. Will you watch it with me?

Me: *saucer-eyed terrified stare*

Her: I want to watch it.

Me: Oh, look at the time! I should start dinner!

Her: Mom, it’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

Me: Oh. Umm, isn’t there a nice video about trees or puppies or building codes you could watch?

Her: I want to watch this. I want to know about it.

Me: How about something on infectious diseases? OOH! OR ALGEBRA!

Her: *shakes head seriously*

Me: Gaaaaaaah. Alright. Fine. But I’m going to visibly wince and sigh heavily throughout, just so we’re clear.

This wasn’t the first time she’d asked about 9/11, mind you. It had come up before by way of something random on TV – a promo for a show she’d caught a snippet of months ago, but didn’t quite fully grasp the meaning and significance of – but back then I’d been able to delay her curiosity. Distract her with shiny things and whatnot. No more, apparently.

Let me just say up-front: it wasn’t horrible. The video itself was animated, so the realness of the whole thing was sort of tempered slightly. Which is not a bad thing when you’re embarking on visually demonstrating to a just-barely-nine-year-old how terrorists flew a passenger plane full of innocent people into a huge skyscraper, and then, and then, and then… well, you know the story. It doesn’t get any easier or better. The whole narrative, told as you must tell it – frankly and honestly and fully acknowledging the real and indisputable horror of it – is pretty much a grand tour of the darkest, grimmest parts of humanity. The exact place you don’t want to be the designated tour guide of.

Except maybe you do. Because as hard as it is to break these things to your kids (and oh god, it is), at least you’re the one there trying to help them understand. Though I’m going to admit right now, I didn’t really know how to help her make sense of 9/11, because I have a hard time making sense of it in any complete way myself.

Her: But why did these people do this?

Me: Well, there’s a lot of history behind it, at lot of backstory over many years – decades, really. It has to do with U.S. policies and the fundamentalist Muslim perspective that this specific radical group, Al Qaeda, had regarding those policies – generalized in their minds to America as a whole.

Her: *blink*

Me: Sometimes people do horrible things to other people and we don’t really understand why.

That last bit, simple-sounding though it may be, is the real and awful truth. And this will give you some indication of what kind of kid my daughter is: after all of this horror, and after all my fumbling and EPIC FAIL!-like attempts at explaining it, she turned, put her arms around me, and said, “I’m really sorry you had to go through that.”

I know. I totally hit the jackpot offspring-wise.

So then I excused myself, went into the bathroom, sat on the commode (as my grandmother would say), and sobbed into an enormous wad of toilet paper for about ten minutes. Because though *she* handled it like a champ and seemed okay with this new and terrible knowledge, *I* wasn’t ready for her to know something so horrible about the world and the people in it. I was crushed that I, her mother, had just helped to unveil and plant permanently into her mind one of the worst examples of humanity and what it’s capable of that I know. It strangely felt like a betrayal of some sort on my part. I mean, my job is to shield her from pain and sorrow and the horrors of the world, not drop them directly into her lap – TA-DA! Heeeeeeeeere’s Mindfuckery! Right?

It was an emotional, feeling reaction that had nothing to do with the truth, of course. That being, that my job is to shield her from pain and sorrow, yes, but also to help her understand the hard realities of life on this planet earth. One parental mission must be balanced with the other, always. I can’t protect her from the fact that awful things happen in the world. But I can hold her hand and try, however ineptly and incompletely, to make that awfulness comprehensible and not just wholly terrifying and overwhelming. That’s the real hard work of being a parent right there.

(Though, between you and me, I personally still find a lot of things like this wholly terrifying and overwhelming.) (But I’m doing my damnedest to not project that and lay my own personal head-trip(s) on her.) (I may still need a giant wad of toilet paper to cry into after shit like this in the future though, just sayin’.)

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Conduits of my self

Me, my daughter, and my first iBook, circa 2003

I’ve been immeasurably sad since I heard the news that Steve Jobs had passed.  It probably seems strange to some that I would mourn someone I’ve never met so intensely. But maybe it’s not so strange.

In the summer of 1998 I ordered my first Mac: the original iteration of the iconic Bondi Blue iMac. I’ve hardly touched a Windows machine since. On that computer I started down a path that leads me to today, as I began writing my first public journal on Diaryland in fits and starts at that time. The beginning of my Mac era was also, fittingly, the beginning of my online writing life.

Two years later I purchased a G4 Cube – the only machine in my twenty-plus years of computer-owning that I would describe as being objectively beautiful. I still have it, stashed away on the top shelf of the closet in my office, layers of dust collecting on its thick, translucent lucite. I always intended, and still intend, to give it space in my office somewhere as an object d’art, and an object of memory. On this computer I started the first blog I kept consistently – a LiveJournal under the embarrassingly nerdy handle “Migrainegirl.”

Shortly after the birth of my daughter, I bought one of the early iBooks. I have a whole photo album’s worth of pictures of The Kid in those early years sitting on my lap, pounding its keyboard and staring at its screen in wonder. On that iBook I started this blog. I used it, and the two MacBook Pros that followed it, to collect, transmit, and store all the recorded memories I have of my life and my daughter’s life, in photos and video. I built and rebuilt (and re-rebuilt) the website for MamaPop. I built my daughter a personal website of her own, and there curated – and still curate – a collection of things she loves. Over the course of a decade, I made friends, shared with others things that excited me, and openly wept while I wrote on those laptops.

Computers are more than tools, more than just machines. To me, and to many others, they are conduits of the self. Through them, I’ve transmitted self expression and shared who I am honestly with the world for the majority of my adult life. And what is more profound, more intimate, than that? Maybe it isn’t possible to love a piece of technology, not in the human-to-human sense, in the traditional sense of the word. But it is possible to love the incredible freedom of expression, limitless possibilities for personal and professional growth, and creative opportunities that a piece of technology has given you. My Macs have allowed me to grow into a life where I am self-employed and own my own businesses. My Macs have given me the tools to write for a living online. My Macs have connected me to people I now consider to be my closest friends in the world. How can I not love, in a different-thinking way, a thing that has given me all of that?

I have named all of them, since that first Bondi Blue iMac, “Singularity.” The name describes the source of all things, the original wholeness, the one that becomes many – fitting for the one device that contains, constructs – and ultimately helps direct and disperse – so much of my life. On each and every desktop, I titled the icon for the disk and attached an image to it resembling something akin to 2001‘s HAL, an act emblematic of my sense of the thing as more than just a thing. Many of us do this, I suppose. We name our cars and lend personalities to them. We ascribe character to machines and accept the quirks that come along with them, just as we do with people. My Singularities have all been faithful troopers, stalwart custodians of my digital self. And so I suppose it makes sense that the death of the man who made all of these things possible – these tools, and these loves – would seem personal, and that it would stir unexpectedly profound emotion. I look around my home and see his fingerprints everywhere. I pick up my iPhone – the only phone I use anymore, honestly – and still marvel, each and every day, at all that it is. I look at this computer screen, at this interface, at this blank space I am typing into, and feel the power of his genius and all it has given me.

Steve, I am so grateful. And I am so heartbroken. Thank you for everything.

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Where I’m from

I am from the Pine Barrens and Seaside Heights, from the snowcapped Rockies and broad plains below.

I am from small feet heavy with outsized rollerskates, from boxy red plastic Sears & Roebuck record players and buckets of legos, from delight in drippy Carvel ice cream cones with extra sprinkles.

I am from The Beatles “Something New” and “Abbey Road,” from The Kingston Trio and The Everly Brothers, from ABBA and ELO.

I am from the 1970s split-level, from dark wood panelling and yellow linoleum, from avocado green appliances and the long, beckoning metal limbs of a backyard swingset.

I am from the Wild Columbine and the Common Milkweed, from a strange, dense forest of knotted and sinewy pine. I am from big sky and tumbleweeds, from the land of prairie dogs and rattlesnakes, too.

I am from thinkers and dreamers, workers and soldiers and immigrants and fighters, from passionate men and strong women with sailor’s mouths.

I am from Choose Your Own Adventure and Snoopy and the Red Baron, from Hello Kitty and Where The Sidewalk Ends.

I am from memories of giants and fairies, from days spent adventuring and seeking, unearthing fossils from parched soil that once was seabed.

I am from pigtails and muddy sneakers, from dirtbikes and skinned knees. I am from a tomboy’s uniform of jeans and a grubby t-shirt.

I am from Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, from Star Wars and Jason and the Argonauts. I am from In Search Of and Star Trek, Charlie’s Angels and The A-Team.

I am from Hail Mary, full of grace, and Holy Communion – both lost to me now.

I am from endurance and hope and laughter. From parents who told me with conviction that I could do anything a man could do, be anything a man could be – be anything I wanted or dreamed of – and I believed them.

That’s where I’m from.

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Words against monsters

No one will come to your party. Not a single soul.

You’ll trip, you’ll fall. They’ll laugh – hands conspiratorially cupped around their lip glossed mouths, as if sharing a delicious secret.

The thing you’ve been counting on, hoping against hope for, was never possible to begin with.

It seems your house is, brick by brick, quietly disintegrating around you.

Your heart will be broken.

Your heart is broken.

And your heart will be broken again.

But in you, whole worlds, whole lifetimes, are exploding into being and passing away. Babies being born, beet red and screaming, and men screaming as they die – consumed by fire, or frothing, windswept seas, or rice paper-winged dragons. There, giant snowflakes pirouette through the sky of a blazing hot August noon in 1975, where your mother, forever young, still stands in the doorway of your childhood home smiling, her eyes full of wonder. And in the dark woods – the one you made specially for storybooks and fairy tales – listen as the soft din of firefly wings swells into a string orchestra, their luminescent bodies flashing pulses of morse code, calling out the letters of your secret name.

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After fairy tales

Her school looks out over a giant park – the largest unbroken swath of green in the entire city. When I think of it, it’s as a vital, still living organ surrounded by collapsing, dead tissue – the seeping decay of thousands upon thousands of derelict row houses spreading out around it like a cancer. The city, life-in-death.

I hold her hand as we weave through tight knots of kids clustered together on the sidewalk in front of the school – sixth and seventh graders, steely-eyed with sharp tongues, bused in from all parts of the city. I hear the words they spit – “motherfuckers” and “cocksuckers” and “cunts” – and my blood chills. I want to pick my daughter up in my arms and pad her ears with the palms of my hands, wrap her entire body in something soft but impenetrable, something that would protect her from children whose hard lives put those words on their lips. But I can’t, and I know there’s no such thing that could protect her. Those children are everywhere.

One by one they slide into the desk in front of me and read aloud the same simple, storybook passage from a text her teacher provided. Some of the children have stains on their clothes, bits of food in their hair, dark, indefinable smears on their cheeks. One girl stumbles over every word, struggling to wrap her mouth around what is clearly a foreign tongue to her, blushing hard with each correction I offer. Eventually I have to stop and tell the teacher that the girl simply can’t read at all. Somehow, I feel implicated in this confession. Somehow, the guilt of this admission is mine to bear as well.

Later I sit in the classroom and listen as the teacher tells the children about the people who came to this country before it was a country, about immigrants who sought freedom from bigotry and persecution. It’s a story about the persistence of hope in the face of great adversity – a distinctly American sort of fairy tale. As she speaks of the phantom Pilgrims’ struggle and their longing for the possibility and promise of a better life, I see the children’s eyes brighten with faith in this fair and just world – one where the virtuous always overcome by strength of their virtue, where the unjust always suffer misery for their injustices – and feel my face flush red with shame for the truth I know.

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