Thursday, 21 June 2018

Excising the Heart



Babies crave closeness. I read this somewhere amongst my wanderings through child development literature. It sticks with me as I read the news today, of children torn from their mothers' breasts and put into cages where the instructions for staff are to not touch or hold traumatized children to comfort them.

I think of how my own baby, almost a toddler, clutches my legs and implores me to pick him up when we are in the kitchen together, because the safest spot in the world for him is my right hip. I think of how his closeness sped my healing in the immediate postpartum period, and how his proximity still enables an almost psychic connection to his rhythms and needs.

At the ripe old age of one year, my son is much more mature than the 8- and 9-month-old infants that have been showing up in the dead of night in unmarked holding facilities for migrant children. Their parents cannot find them, are caught up in a different, invisible court system, often across state lines from their little ones. They may be deported without notice. These families may never be reunified, and our government has no plans for doing so.

I think of my own breastfeeding baby, and how he struggles with bottles. I think of that mother's milk supply dwindling in a prison, her aching breasts and endless tears, her baby crying elsewhere, both unable to understand what is happening to them. I wonder if her baby will eventually relent, and take formula from a stranger who has been instructed not to cuddle or coo, or if the baby will succumb to dehydration and abandonment.

I read of children, forcibly injected with powerful, misused drugs to calm their wild grief among unfamiliar faces as they are secreted through a slapdash system of empty Wal-Marts and tent cities, clutching copies of their parents' ID cards and speaking a different language than their captors.

I weep.

We are a carrying species. Our young cling to us to move through the world, just as our cousins' baby gorillas and chimpanzees channel all of their strength into strong little handfuls of fur to survive. Close, so close, never apart. I think of the long journeys to the dream of safety, how desperate and scared one must be to leave all that is known with a babe in arms, to carry that child such a long way for the hope of something better. To take your precious child elsewhere so they might thrive, only to have them taken away with the promise of a bath in a detention center, never to be seen again.

This is being compared to torture. There is no comparison. Take my fingernails or my breath, but do not crudely excise my heart. Do not take my child.

It is a wonder that any of these ICE agents and private prison staffers are still alive. They are messing with something so primal, it seems inevitable they will be overrun by grieving parents with nothing left to lose. Whether the lack of violence is a testament to the remaining hope of these parents or their debilitating devastation, I do not know.

I think of these things every time I hold my baby now. His peaceful, gentle little world seems so fragile, with a ruthless government that idealizes brutal dictatorships and withdraws from accountability on human rights.

Hot tears burning my eyes, I fight to keep him safe. I am ready to fight for all of these tender, tiny people and their protectors, who have already been through so much. We all deserve better than this horror.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

First Mother's Day


A few minutes before midnight, I’m washed up and ready to crawl into bed. You cry, just a little, and I go into your room to see you standing sleepily and looking over the rail of your crib for me.

I scoop you up, bundled in your little sleep sack, with your puppy pacifier that you really don’t need so much anymore. I snuggle with you into the rocking chair to nurse, half asleep. A moment later, I look up at the clock in your room, and it’s midnight. 

So begins my first Mother’s Day. It’s late, and I’m gently rocking us back and forth, lulling the two of us into slumber. 

Illuminated by a gentle nightlight, I see your perfect little face, relaxed into rest. I stroke your silky, silly baby hair. I feel how my cheekbone fits just right against your temple as I cuddle you close. I kiss your soft baby cheek, eyebrow, forehead. 

I whisper softly how grateful I am that you came down from the stars to be my baby. I love you so much, it’s just impossible to ever put words on it. Tomorrow, I will wake up loving you even more. This feeling of being your mother grows greater, stronger, prouder every day, even though the days are often hard and I am always tired.

I scoop you up close to my body, stand rocking you next to your crib, and settle you down into bed. My next wakeup call will come too soon, but I bet it will make my eyes burn with tears again, as I marvel at the wonder of you and this deep wellspring of blessing and transformation.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Drifting and Landing

It's a gorgeously warm night, and a lovely breeze is drifting through the house. BBC radio is playing and all is, for the moment, calm.

In the past few days, I've gotten some lovely invitations to dance and also had the opportunity to recount my own history of dancing in the UK.

Is twelve years of life many or few? Marveling at the audacity of my youth and the peace of now. Life is so rich; difficult at turns but gorgeous and so full.

Exactly now, I feel the strength, the weft and weave, of all of my threads together in a private tapestry. I have crafted this little scene that is London and San Francisco, everywhere and singular, and it is mine--temporary and lovely.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Enough

I spent today marching with my little family down Market Street, alongside countless other parents, children and tiny babies, speaking up against chronic, awful inaction in the face of school shooting after school shooting. So many signs clearly made by children. So many teenagers relishing the protest, raising their voices and their spirits to fight against death and apathy. Many times, I looked at my little boy, laughed with him as he rode high on his daddy's shoulders, and watched him take in the energy and spectacle of the march. May he never know an active shooter drill. May his teachers never have to argue that they should be armed with a proper budget for paper and pencils rather than firearms. May our nation finally advance to the level of civilization enjoyed by other countries who acted swiftly and definitively to protect children in places of learning.


Monday, 19 February 2018

On Columbine, Sandy Hook, Stoneman Douglas & Righteous Anger

I remember, when I was 19, being new to San Francisco and talking about guns with a friend who was slightly older but vastly more worldly. I was straight from Colorado, having been transplanted there not many years before from rural Missouri. 

I trotted out the “guns are just a tool” line, and this friend offered her argument against guns, especially in urban environments: They simply escalate conflict and violence. Having a gun in a confrontation instantly increases the lethality of the encounter.

That idea percolated through me for years. In my Midwestern upbringing, I shot guns on our acreage and nailed clay pigeons at the range. It was an exciting, powerful thing to do. I experimented with holding a weapon just right in my skinny little arms so that the recoil didn’t bruise me up or make me too sore, because the rifles were too big for my childish frame. I was a kid playing with the most adult thing imaginable, supervised by my dad, in the name of education and safety. 

But, what if knowing the basics wasn’t enough to transform gun ownership into a safe pursuit? What if simply having a gun raised the risk of someone being killed?

…..

When I was 17, I was in school just a few miles away from Columbine High School on the day of the famous massacre. At Bear Creek High School, we watched as the news shifted from a mysterious thing going on over there to an active shooter situation rumored to be heading our way. 

For several hours, I was on lockdown with my classmates in a temporary classroom, the walls of which were certainly thin enough to be pierced by bullets. I remember feeling like a fish in a barrel. Our building was right alongside the back entrance to the campus, and the likeliest place for shooters on the move to come in. 

Our afternoon class became a hideously long waiting game, with no updates and no idea what was actually going on. We all had to go to the bathroom, with no facilities in our little trailer. We were not allowed to leave for any reason. We waited.

Once the lockdown was lifted, and we were sent home with no more clarity about what was happening at Columbine, I called my workplace. 

I had an after-school job at a daycare center even closer to the scene, and I wanted to know if they needed me to come in. They did—the chaos of the day had left them very short-staffed, and they were still on lockdown because of their proximity to the shooting.

So, 17 years old, I got on a bus and headed to work, late after being locked in a trailer because our teachers and administrators feared we would be shot.

When I got into my classroom, I was the only teacher in a room that usually had two. It was peaceful, full of 3- to 4-year-old children that looked to me for care and guidance. 

I remember looking out of the windows of my classroom, and knowing enough about guns to be sure that if the gunmen came our way, I could not prevent those children from being slaughtered. I imagined what I would do to buy them time. 

Yet again, I waited down the clock for word about what was happening and what we would do next.

…..

After a few years in the Bay Area, I moved to the UK. For most of my 20s, I watched America from abroad. I had the gun conversation many more times, and struggled to feel so certain that firearms were a tool like any other. 

I felt myself relax into London, which was certainly full of peril when I first arrived, though the dangers tended to be slower moving than a semi-automatic shootout. I didn’t find anything to fear in the police, who were more likely to talk through disturbances than use their batons. 

I arrived into the city the day of the 7/7 bombings. I saw London at its most shaken and armed, and it felt unusual, but not actually as paranoid or trigger-happy as lots of moments I’ve had on a typical day in the USA. Within a couple of days, people were riding the Tube again and getting back to the business of living.

For a handful of years, I lived totally without the fear of gun violence. I didn’t really notice the calm that lent me until I moved back to California. I stopped making arguments about the value of guns to society.

…..

I got settled back in San Francisco just in time for Sandy Hook. I watched our president, Barack Obama, plead again and again to deaf ears that we needed common-sense gun reform. I watched nothing happen.

I’ve cried a lot of times since then. I sobbed over loops of the Pulse shooting terrorizing the radio, good-byes to mothers and the recorded horror of waiting in a bathroom for a shooter to come for you.

I’ve never had to make that call, but I’ve been close enough that hearing them splits my heart open every time. 

…..

Now I have a baby of my own. Before he was even born, I shed tears of fear about him being arriving into a country of escalating tensions. As he grew within me, I watched idiot arguments about arming ourselves against the government and panic-buying guns. The specter of toxic, broken masculinity loomed over my son’s future.

Every day, he gets closer to preschool, and closer to a time when he looks like one of the children from Sandy Hook. And those kids today would have been about the same age as these high schoolers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas are now. And they remind me of myself, teenaged and waiting to find out if I would make it home that day.

…..

Something I didn’t remember, until my mother mentioned it recently, was going out to the park in Littleton where crosses and memorials sat out in the mercurial Colorado spring elements, commemorating Columbine’s casualties. I remember it was chilly. I remember feeling so tired, spent of tears. My mother held me, and we thought of those kids and their terror within the walls of their school. 

I hadn’t thought of that day in a long time. Watching these kids in Parkland now, raw with fury and disgust at the generations before them that made stupid arguments about guns—stupid arguments that I myself made when I was younger—watching them rip this idiocy to shreds makes me feel hope that this can finally change. 

It’s been most of 20 years since I was locked in that trailer. That should have been the last of this. That should have been our Dunblane, but it wasn’t. Sandy Hook should never have happened, but it did, and somehow that wasn’t enough, either. 

I’ll tell you, though—there’s now a whole generation of young adults coming to the fore who know just how senseless it is to huddle in fear for our lives to protect a misapplied Constitutional amendment, and there is no more patience for it. 


May the fire of this righteous anger burn away the prospect of future tears.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Thinking of my Grandmother

Remembering a school project about asking a family member what it was like when they were younger: What did milk cost? What has changed? Interviewing Grandma at her glass kitchen table, her telling me answers that I recorded on some long-forgotten paper that has now become precious, lost in an inconsequential stream of homework.

I wish I could hear her voice again, her gentle cadence recalling girlhood. I wish I had her answers memorized.

Thinking about conversations on race and religion, knotty topics we'll never butt heads over again.

Seeing my baby son meet his other great-grandma, and wishing my Grandma had that quality time with him, too.

The postcards I bought for her everywhere I traveled but never managed to send. I saved them up to put in an album full of stories she can no longer read.

The autobiographical book of her remembrances on my list for Christmas, unbought and now unnecessary.

A Thanksgiving phone call I didn't make this year. Christmas glistening on the horizon, full of a million reminders of her absence.

Her presence in my heart, her ring on my finger as we drive through autumn near her part of the country. I can't even come close to forgetting.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

November 18th, 2017

While breastfeeding my son:

Looking down at you, my lovely little elf baby. I am so grateful for now.

I’m so glad we found each other across space and time.

Remembering a few days before, reaching out into the ether for my grandmother, and she has been scattered back out into the universe. 

And to my mother: I finally understand, “You will always be my baby.” I wish you had made other choices, that we could be nearer each other in so many ways, and I love you. 

The anniversary of embarking upon a relationship with the father of my child.


Like spring come again, my summer baby in autumn, my Thanksgiving. Winter lies ahead. I am grateful, and delighted for the sparkle in those dark days to come.