Wednesday 19 December 2018

Saying Goodbye to Gump's

Friends, my heart is heavy. I know there are other things going on in the world, but today I had a sad milestone, and it's weighing me down.

This morning, I did my last holiday shopping at Gump's. I went back, baby-free, to see what was left and to say goodbye.

I took one of the cardboard totes stacked at the front door, the kind you'd pack your things into if you'd just been told to clear your desk after a firing, and gently tried to persuade a beautiful, sculptural thing to fit into it.

Upstairs, I found a pair of ceramic flowers I had admired from the catalog, sitting lonely in a display case. I nestled them in, and looked through the art books selling for a mere $5 or $10 apiece.

As my time was running out, I made my way to the cash register. I talked with the lady helping me, and offered her my canvas shopping bags for the heavy haul back to the parking garage. She commented that I had done pretty well, and I agreed, though I was so unhappy with the circumstances. "Tell me about it," she said.

I had wrongly assumed that a lot of the folks staffing the rapidly-emptying store were from the liquidation company, but no. My associate, and her colleagues, were imparting their expertise on handmade carpets and fine crystal for a few more days. Their professionalism remained, even as the ship was sinking.

She came to my total, and took a breath before telling me. It was a fraction of what it should have been. I let her know that I didn't wish to find a bargain this way.

She said, "I hope you had a wonderful treasure hunt, and that you're taking some lovely memories of Gump's with you." I let her know about finding the ceramic flowers, a set of salt and pepper shakers in the shape of poppies, and she smiled. "They were probably the ones we photographed for the catalog."

Tears sprang to my eyes. I remember finding Gump's as I wandered around San Francisco starry-eyed and young. The catalog followed me, and reminded me of grown-up things that could sparkle in my home, an aspirational image of refinement.

Later, I found out my Grandma received the same catalog, and I was surprised she knew about my secret treasure store here in the city. Some of the last gifts I sent her came from there, and I hope it delighted her to see the careful wrapping. I'm glad she didn't have to see the end of this chapter.

Whenever I was nearby, I would wander in and catch a glimpse of glittering jewelry. Every year, I came to shop the ornaments, buy some special Christmas cards, and hunt for books and gifts.

And so, eyes closed against stinging of tears, I completed my last Christmas pilgrimage.

I used to work in retail. One of my first jobs in that sector was in a store that was liquidating. I sold jewelry at similar counters. I feel the loss of those jobs, especially among the seasoned staffers who took such pride in their work. I would have been proud to work there.

And, evidently, the lady who rang me up and her assistant on packaging felt the same. They took such care to lovingly wrap everything for my way home, with twine and bubble wrap and professional attention. Just as if I had paid full price for it all.

The sales associate that helped let me take the cardboard tote, and let everyone know she had said I could. Her assistant found me a brand-new boxed number of one of my finds. One the way out, they wished me a merry Christmas.

I'm going to miss this place. One of my last treasures was a bunch of faceted rainbow moonstone strands, very fine, intended for a jeweler to create pieces sold under their brand. The stones should have been nearly $800, but instead were a mere $157... one dollar for every year Gump's had been in business.

I will make something beautiful out of them. But, today, I just held them and cried, and tried to let go of a place that meant something to me, that I shared with my grandmother, and which seems to belong to a dying world.

Sunday 9 September 2018

Lavender and Love

Sharing some sweetness here. Almost every day, Dash and I do a garden happy hour. (Typically a dry affair, short of his splashing in hose water.)

At some point, I carry him up the hill on the flagstone path, and he demands a lavender flower. Dutifully, I pick out just the right one, with some foliage for good measure. He holds them in one chubby little hand while pointing ever higher on the trail.

When we came inside today, I set his flowers and foliage on his play table in his room. We got whisked away for dinner, and I forgot about them until James asked, "Where did he get the lavender?"

At bedtime, he had his flowers in his hand, and he held onto them as he was nursing. He knows I love to smell them, so he held them up for me to sniff as he nursed until his little arm was too tired. Even then, he held onto them, his hot tiny palm warming up that relaxing scent as sleep gradually took hold.

I was going to put him to bed with them, letting him keep the comfort of them in his grip and building the association with lavender and calm, but he eventually let them go into my lap. I will keep them for him, a sweet shared treasure from my loving baby, who already knows I love to smell flowers with him.

Thursday 6 September 2018

Within Their Sights

So, just a reminder: This awful administration is going to damage all of us, even you have not yet internalized a sense of being squarely within their aim.

My baby was delivered by midwives. My husband has a foreign accent, and is an immigrant even if he is also a US citizen. It would be convenient to imagine his documents would be respected, if we were afforded due process, but we are actually seeing US citizens with legitimate birth certificates deported right now because federal agents independently decided they were insufficiently American.

The erosion of due process has already begun. That applies to all of us.

I already know they are coming for me. I know it as a woman, as a protester, and as a traveler. This is a misogynistic, xenophobic, insecure government, and I tick all of the boxes to trigger them. They will come for my bodily autonomy, but they will try to restrict my rights in other ways first, I have no doubt.

I have also been worried about my family, knowing that my husband would present as foreign first, and there might not be an opportunity to protect him with papers. One of my contractors told me that one of his employees, Irish by birth but a US citizen, was rounded up at a job site here in San Francisco and taken to an unspecified detention center because he forgot his ID at home one day. He also has a family and children.

I must admit, however, that the stories of border region midwife deliveries being called into question open up a new avenue for concern. It hadn't occurred to me that my child's citizenship might be on the block. Here it is, though.

And it makes me so angry. I chose to give birth in the wonderful care of our midwives because they are excellent, attentive, and diligent, offering practical and supportive care to pregnant women and newborns. That the professionalism of these women would also be called into question, while simultaneously throwing children into bureaucratic chaos, is yet another reminder of the pernicious attitudes of this administration and its supporters.

I know they are coming for me. But you shouldn't have to know they are coming for you to push back against this.

This woman's story could easily become my own. This is how the slide into statelessness begins, and threatening citizens in such a manner is chilling, racist harassment:

Thursday 16 August 2018

Choice, Time & Imbalance

I totally understand the dropping birth rate. I love my son so much, and I also often feel swindled about the motherhood deal.

The thing is, it's not even close to enough to have one reliable person at your side when it comes to kids. I have a wonderful husband, who is a fixer and a doer and an excellent daddy, who also works for a company that is portrayed as "family friendly," and I am still stuck with no help incredibly frequently.

I am the only one I can count on to look after my kid.

I am lucky that I do not have to choose between a conventional career or my child, because I do not see how I could reliably get to an office right now. And I'm the person that bears being constantly on-call so that my husband can have a conventional job. (Hats off to the households that are pulling off two parents having 9-5 gigs. I literally do not know how you do this.)

While it is an honor to be with my child each day, I also feel very stuck here. I have the flexibility to never be able to reliably plan anything, lest someone else's time become more important without notice.

It used to be the case that new parents had family nearby to ease the stresses of parenthood, extra hands that could either hold the baby or do the dishes or generally pitch in to the work of life. There used to be an economy of scale, with similar ages of children occupying each other, allowing for something less than a 1:1 ratio with supervising adults.

Women, very rationally, are doing the math, and realizing that at about the time they have built up enough stability in their own lives to support a tiny human, they will be constantly on the verge of giving up that vocation to ensure the little one has a caregiver. Kids require resources, but they really require time, and there is an unbearable tension that remains unresolved, pulling at mothers far more than anyone else.

In almost everything I do these days, I can feel how our society is not built to support women and children. I feel it like sandbags heaped upon my shoulders while I'm trying to carry a beautiful little being through the world and grow him up right.

Tuesday 31 July 2018


This story is breaking my heart. It reaches right into new fissures in me that pulse with the primal universality of motherhood, and the suffering of children lost.

Today, I cried for this whale and her grief. I cried for black mothers interviewed on the radio, who were never told of extra risks their babies faced, part of the stresses of living under racism. Tears for the ruptured families seeking safety here in my country, only for infants to be kidnapped by a hostile government and misplaced within uncaring chaos.

I grieve with these mothers, even as I hold my own child close. I rage at the specific cruelty of humankind, but also find myself impaled on the animal emotion of delicate new life broken in so many ways, despite the love and care bursting forth from mothers of every kind.

I think of the lost children in my own family, those missing from their places, whose absence echoes through generations. I feel the pain of friends whose babies did not make it, often secretly held in the silence of miscarriage.

Tahlequah swims with her precious baby, her grief echoing that thing all mothers know too well. Her devotion cannot carve out a place for her spirit to rest, holding in her heart the intimate knowledge of the little being that is gone.

I despair that that love is not enough, because it is the core of my offering and I quake in fear that it will be bereft and inadequate.

Would that I could mend the Earth, and spare these sacred bonds such harm. There is so much healing to be done in us human animals, and our pain multiplies in the world around us. Life's longing for itself perseveres, fragmented and wounded by injustice and disregard.

May we all be kinder, and work to buttress each other. Strength is so tender, really.

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


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.