Inspection Station


I’ve been driving around with my car uninspected for eight months. My inspection sticker expired last November. I have zero valid reasons why I didn’t just go get it inspected sooner. I’ve been driving around on borrowed time.

According to the State of New Jersey-Motor Vehicle Commission:
“Driving a vehicle with an expired inspection sticker may result in fines between $100 and $200 and/or imprisonment for up to 30 days.”

I’d been practicing my excuses in case I got pulled over. My plan was to do one of those “shocked and surprised” faces. Like the kind Taylor Swift makes when she wins an award. *PLEASE NOTE I LOVE TAYLOR SWIFT!

But yesterday I decided to finally take the drive down the industrial Route 1 corridor to the Department of Motor Vehicles. It’s only a few miles from where I grew up. I pass the familiar fast food places, the Linden airport, the Walmart, and other big box stores. There are fenced in truckyards and factories. It’s not a pretty ride but it is a familiar ride. And sometimes those things are one in the same.

Not only was my 2004 Jeep way overdue for inspection, but I realized my 1968 self was also overdue for inspection. Yes, I just had my physical. Yes, I’m up to date on my pap smear and my mammogram. And yes, I’ll be scheduling my first colonoscopy this year. Honestly, I’m looking forward to the cleanse and the anesthesia.

I’m talking about emotional inspection. As a writer and a mom, I’m in a constant state of introspection. I get lost in my self-doubts and dreams and goals and find myself in a big bucket of wallow mixed with determination. But inspection involves taking a step outside of yourself. And that’s the hard part.

As I followed the arrows to the inspection station lanes, there was only one delay. It wasn’t a long line of cars in front of me. It wasn’t an issue with my license, registration, or insurance card. It was geese. Loud, honking, Canadian geese. A hundred of them blocking the road. Taking their sweet ‘ole goose time, crossing the road at their leisure.

I burst out laughing. Laughing until I was crying alone in my uninspected car. All this time I’ve waited to get inspected and I’m being stopped by geese. It was perfect timing.

I passed inspection. It was a very pleasant experience, in fact. A lovely man who called me “beautiful” and “sugar” no less than five times turned that cavernous garage into a insecurity-soothing party. It took under two minutes and I was on my way.

I was now street legal. No more practicing my Taylor Swift surprised face in case I got pulled over. No more putting “get car inspected” on my to-do list month after month. I finally just did it.

I recently confessed to a friend that I feel like an emotional mess. And that makes me so sad because my daughter deserves a better version of me. My friend’s response: “YOU deserve a better version of you.”

So even though I was driving around with an expired inspection sticker for eight months, it wasn’t too late for me to still pass. And it’s never too late to drive myself in for inspection. I hope those leisurely geese slow me down some days and cause me to laugh out loud until I cry. An ugly cleansing cry.

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The Wiggles & Real Life & NJ

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If there’s one thing that happens to me when I see The Wiggles (yes, the Australian children’s music super group), I cry. Noah LOVED the Wiggles. They were one of his favorites when he was still here. He watched them sing their songs on our giant television in our disaster of a living room -filled with toys, books, stuffed animals, clothes, crumbs of every known food, and laughter. So much giggling. Incessant. And one day he started acting out the songs along with them. Spinning, arms in the air, clapping. Watching our children absorb and mimic is fascinating. Seeing what appeals to them, oftentimes with no rhyme or reason. His favorite song was “Rock-a-Bye-Your-Bear” and it feels so fresh still, watching him nail the motions that went along with the lyrics.

Today, with the daughter we never knew we would have, we went to see The Wiggles. We’d kept this surprise for a few months. We told Miriam about it just two days ago.

“The Wiggles in real life?! In New Jersey?! Is New Jersey far away?”

We thought The Wiggles would be the actual surprise but apparently finding out we live in New Jersey was an even bigger shocker.

Miriam is a very good audience member. She sits nicely and she knows how to shush me. Often. Especially when I’m singing along.

Fueled by a giant lollipop and her all season favorite of candy corn, we watched as the audience filled up with children. And then when the lights dimmed and The Wiggles came out waving, Miriam’s eyes lit up with wonderful disbelief. Hal and I smiled at each other over Miriam’s head. And then Simon Wiggle announced “Let’s start our show with ‘Rock-a-Bye-Your-Bear’. Sing along everyone!”

My tears flowed instantly. They almost sprayed out like a sprinkler. But these were different tears. Not the tears of the early years when every brutal reminder hurt like a mofo. Like a hot knife in my most tender spot. The tears were sweeter than saltier today. The fears I battle of Miriam disappearing like Noah did are still there always. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is real. And it is a constant struggle.

I’ve been thinking about fragments. How fragmented life can be. How sectional. A chapter book. I’m always struggling against that fragment of my life when Noah was here. Watching The Wiggles, eating PB&J Uncrustables, and laughing. Laughing innocently along with him. Never in a million years thinking this could end. Just a fragment.

So I try to see the flow of each fragment into the next. And some days are harder than others. Never did I think I’d have a network of grieving mothers (and a few fathers) from around the world. Never did I think I ‘d need them and they’d need me. Never did I think my life would be anymore than it was. Ordinary. Normal. Without stigma. The joy of an uneventful day would take on new meaning.

Some of my mothers have been struggling lately. More than usual. Anniversary dates. Summertime. Holidays. We text each other and message each other and send heart emojis to each other and that is the best we can do for each other. Because there is no way around this. My heart breaks for their pain.

And I try to back step to the innocent days. But we all know that’s impossible. For any one of us. Whether your child has died or not. You lose your innocence in life with every breath. And if you’re doing it right, it becomes wisdom.

So as I watched Miriam watch The Wiggles on stage “in real life in New Jersey” and I mouthed the words rather than sang out loud, I thought about my current fragment of this life I have now.

I’m a joy catcher, even if that means waving incessantly at Anthony Wiggle from the 12th row until he waves back. I’m a happiness chaser even if that means a trip to the park when I really just want to go home. Even if that means staying up too late to finish a story when I should be asleep. Because writing helps me put these fragments on a shelf for seven to eight hours per night. And then I hope my dreams are kind to me.

The Wiggles “in real life in New Jersey” was a bridge between two fragments. Like two tin cans joined by a string. Noah was one can and Miriam was the other. And that string is long. Some days longer than others.

 

 

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Please Stay…

 

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My husband and I have this thing we do. It’s called “celebrity death”. We text each other as soon as we hear about a celebrity’s death in the news. We give clues until we guess it correctly. Usually it’s followed by sad emojis or words like “awwww” or “I really liked ______ (insert celeb name)”.

 

We hope they died at a ripe old age and went as comfortably as possible, leaving behind family, friends, and adoring fans. Life comes to an end eventually. Just not always in the  way we’d imagined.

 
The two shocking suicides this week of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have my mind going in a pensive direction. Even more pensive than normal.

 
Here’s how it goes in my head when I hear of a celebrity suicide:
1. But they had so much success!!?? Why?? So much money, so many fans, so much talent, so much…
2. I’ll miss them. Their contributions to my little world through their music, movies, songs, comedy, words…however they made their mark.
3. They were suffering. Suffering to the most extreme level. To the nth degree. And it was hidden by their talent. That is irony.

 
Then I think about myself. My own desperate times. The closest I’ve come to thoughts of suicide was after my son, Noah, died. It wasn’t so much actually killing myself but more of an “I don’t care if I live or die” mindset. I stopped short of any serious self-destructive behaviors, like taking too big a dose of xanax or too much alcohol or dangerous driving. But man, I understand being on the edge. The biggest edge there is. And it felt like an out of body experience. You are not in your right mind. Or even in your body. You’re just a ball of desperation, trying to make the pain stop.

 
I’m not talking about the clinical terms. Because I’m no therapist. And I know there are connections in the brain than can go haywire and lead someone to this decision. I’m just human. And the way I get through is through writing. And talking about the shit no one wants to talk about and revealing the shit no one wants to reveal for fear of judgement. Or being seen as weak. Or frivolous.

 
I’ve got a list of people in my life that I can call or text or show up at their door, whether I’m wearing pants or not. I can be kept safe until anxieties and bad thoughts pass. And I’ve learned coping skills as well. They don’t always work. But I’ve learned them. I’m lucky.

 
I know this idiot. She thrives on drama and most of it is made up. She will one-up anyone even attempting to talk about anything in their lives. Big or small, she’s always got a story and it will be more grandiose than anything you can imagine.

 
When the news of Kate Spade’s suicide broke, this idiot said, “If anyone should commit suicide, I should! With all my problems and my life!”

 
I was really taken aback at that. And I don’t get taken aback very often. It’s not a contest, you idiot. It’s that kind of talk that make people feel so alone and invalidated. Just more talking without listening.

 
I hope my friends are ok. Deep down okay. And if they’re not okay, I hope they will always say something.

 
Because it’s hard as hell out there. And it’s not a contest. Your pain is your pain. And we want you here. Please stay.

Eleven is Steel…

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We do traditional gifts for our wedding anniversary. This year, our eleventh, was steel.

 
He searched the local Facebook marketplace and found an older lady about half an hour away. She had no idea this old typewriter would one day become an anniversary gift.

 
That the steel hammers pressing the letters into paper would be so symbolic.

 

That the steel letters would type out a story of what these eleven years have held so far. And will continue to hold.

 

Because steel is strong and hard as hell to break.

 
And these keys reminded him of my necklace I wear every day. My mother’s chain with our children’s initials hanging from it.

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Typewriter font makes my heart beat fast. Because our stories are all so incredible, it’s almost too much to handle.

This One Goes to Eleven…

As the dandelions turn into “wishers”, Miriam picks them from the grass almost frantically. She blows the white fluff until she’s out of breath and scans the grass for the next one. When I ask her what she’s wished for, she stops to think. She looks around.

 
“Umm…I wish for a cherry blossom tree!” she says.

 
We are standing under a cherry blossom tree. If only wishes came true that easily. Can you still wish for something you already have? Can you wish for more of it?

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Before I met Hal, I’d make the same wish every year as I blew out my birthday candles. I’d wish that my parents would both still be alive for my wedding day. No matter who the groom would be, I wanted both my parents to walk me down the aisle.

 
And my wish came true as both my parents walked me down that grassy aisle eleven years ago today.

 
They walked me to the guy who loves me more than anything…although popsicles are a close tie. They walked me to the guy who works hard. They walked me to the guy who would be loyal and try his best through it all. The guy who lets me cry even though he doesn’t always know what to say to soothe me. They walked me to the guy who will always be dedicated to making this work.

 
So I’ll wish on a “wisher” with Miriam when we go on our next nature walk or trip to the park. I’ll wish for more of what I already have. We have it all.


Happy anniversary, Hal Landis. Happy anniversary of us. Because just like Nigel says, where do you go from ten…

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Co-Working…

Yesterday was “Take Your Child To Work Day”. While that would’ve provided Facebook fodder for weeks, my job is not conducive to having a small child with me. It’s too bad, though. Miriam would’ve been subjected to many colorful characters.

She would’ve been amused by my coworker, Melissa, explaining that it was not actually Saturday to a confused regular. She’s always “making penne vodka” as we ring her up for her pint. Every day. Sometimes twice a day. The days of the week are sort of hard to keep straight. There are seven of them after all.

She would’ve enjoyed watching me ring up many teeny tiny bottles during the lunchtime rush. She’d be amazed by my abilities to double bag every thing.

She’d enjoy watching me look up wine after wine that someone had in a small Lithuanian village ten years ago and then watch the shock on their faces when I tell them I don’t carry it. Even though, yes, I’m sure it’s very good. And yes, try the store down the street.

So today, Miriam woke up with a slight temperature and was very sure she didn’t feel well enough to go to school. Today is my day off from my afore described job. But today is when I cram all my submitting, editing, creating, networking, and brainstorming in while Miriam is in school. And while all that writing work goes better when I’m alone, Miriam was by my side as I sent in a draft of an accepted pitch and while I scanned some networking groups for some new opportunities. She knows this is also “mommy working” and I’m proud of that.

So after I came home from a colorful visit to the DMV (license renewal complete with terrible double-chinned picture, of course) and then Daddy left for his later shift at work, Miriam and I sat down at the kitchen table together. Me with my laptop. Her with her tablet. She sang along with her videos and I typed.

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She gave me courage to send some applications and story pitches I might not have sent if she weren’t with me. Because…why not? I owe it to her to be as happy as possible. And brave. Because that’s what I want for her, after all.

So thanks for coming to work with me today, Miriam. I’m pretty sure I learned a lot more than you.

Sock It To Me…

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When my father and his girlfriend brought these socks back from Disney World for Miriam, she was just a few months old. I couldn’t imagine them ever fitting her. I was still in that newborn exhaustion phase. I was still in the early days of disbelief of finally holding a baby again. My baby. This second child and second chance. As much as we worked towards it and prayed for it, we were still in disbelief that it actually came. We were not first time parents even though there was no visible big brother to teach how to handle his little sister. How fragile she is and how much she will need him to teach her so many things.

I looked at these socks and was instantly terrified she would never grow big enough to fit into these 4T-5T red socks with Minnie Mouse on the frilly cuff. She would disappear. It’s a common fear of parents who have lost a child. A part of the post traumatic stress disorder. A part of how you change forever. Forever. No matter how much time has passed since your child has died, it’s as if a part of you is right back to their last day on earth. Trying to stop time. To stop them from leaving. No matter how they left you.

So I put these socks on five year old Miriam’s feet today as she ate Apple Jacks and watched her video. And it was as if I was right back to her newborn days and weeks and months. And that memory of being afraid of these simple socks came rushing back.

Can I make a confession? I haven’t been doing that well the last few weeks. One thing leads to another…totally unrelated to Noah…and I fall into a rough state. And it’s never truly unrelated to Noah. Because this is hard as hell. And it always goes back to how my core has been shaken. So instead of having a little too much sake or more likely too many clandestine trips to Taco Bell, I reached out with a simple message to some of the moms in this shitty club filled with wonderful people. I simply wrote:

“How are you doing?”

I got answers back of varying degrees. Ranging from “pretty okay” to “not okay at all” and everything in between. And I needed them. I needed to hear the gamut. I needed to be amongst my people. My people who understand first hand. We needed to bounce this insanity back and forth with each other. Our loneliness in a roomful of people. Our fear and anger at judgement…not the judgement of having lost a child whether by accident or illness. But the judgement of how we should be living our lives. The dreaded “but you seem to be doing so well” and the even worse “it’s been a while now, you should be _______?” Fill in the blank.

She sneaks up on you. That crazy bitch that lives inside your head that wants to tell everyone “MY CHILD DIED!!!!” She’s as fragile as she is strong. She’s as crazy as the proverbial loon. But she’s also the most sane person you know. Because she knows what’s real. She has little patience for the bullshit and has a hard time playing by the rules. Because the rules have all been broken in her life.

Barbara Bush has just died as I write this. And as her biography is shown on TV, I stop and gawk at the news. She and George had a daughter, Robin, who died of Leukemia at age three. And all I see now is another mother in my club. I instantly love and revere her. Because she kept living.

But she must’ve had these rough days too. Hearing a child cry or a mother complain about minutiae must’ve set her off into darkness just like me and so many of my fellow club members. Questioning your purpose. Questioning your value. Questioning your sanity.

A very good friend of mine told me early on after Noah’s death, as we turned down invitations to big events and small gatherings alike, that we get a “a pass”. In fact, she firmly told us that we get a pass “for the rest of our lives.” Because that is just how big this is. But the rest of the world doesn’t really believe that. Especially if you appear to be doing so well.

I just want to use that pass when I need it. And I’ve needed it a lot lately. Like a bathroom key on a giant piece of wood at the gas station. It’s not your top choice of where to pee. But when you gotta go, you gotta go.

No one wants us to be better more than we do. And some days we are. And then, there are the dark times. The fear, the anger, the crazy bitches inside our polite and pretty heads.

So thank you to my moms. From near and far. I hear you all and thank you for hearing me.  This shorthand we speak is the most tragically beautiful language I’ve ever heard.

 

 

#Happy

For this Friday’s Show ‘n Tell, Miriam needed to bring in something that begins with the letter “V”. My husband and I muttered words like “vodka” and “vagina” much to our own amusement. And when Miriam asked what we were laughing about, we pulled ourselves together and came up with an idea. It’s too early in the season for actual violets. So we went to Home Depot and bought seeds. Pretty smart, right? All set for Show ‘n Tell.

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But when we stopped to fix her sock because her foot hurt and the world was coming to an end amongst the bags of grass seed, I put my keys down. And then we walked away. Without my keys. Up to the cashier named Corinne who learned all about why we were buying seeds. Whether she was interested or not.

When we couldn’t find our keys, we re-traced our steps. We went back to Corinne. We went back to the grass seed. I dumped out my purse onto a patio set floor model. Nothing. So I put Miriam in a Home Depot shopping cart and pushed her about a half mile to my husband’s job. He had spare keys. When I called Home Depot, they told me someone had just turned my keys in. Whew! So back into the Home Depot shopping cart for the walk along South Avenue. It was starting to get dark.

There aren’t many days I feel like crying. I turn to writing instead. Or eating, quite honestly. Or the occasional glass of sake. Usually just a hug from Miriam, a venting session to my husband, or a text exchange of a dirty meme with my friend Erica will help squash the inkling of tears that were about to fall.

But lately, there have been a few days that some salty teardrops leaked out. And it actually felt good. Because when you get to the point of actual tears, it’s time for action.

I had some quality kitchen-table-time with two of my favorite mom friends the other day. As our kids played like maniacs, we talked for real. About insecurities I never would’ve guessed existed, job crap, family crap. As our kids shared actual toys and snacks, we shared too. The stuff that matters. And it was all about happiness. For us, it’s all about our kids and time. And making ends meet.

We made suggestions to each other about changes we could make and threw some ideas around. And now it’s up to us to see if anything sticks.

I’ve always chased happiness. Fleeting or not, I made decisions by the seat of my pants. I still go for the immediate and inappropriate laugh. I go for the instant gratification. I go for the impractical more often than not.

But I will always have this insane sadness in me. Some days, its shadow will be bigger than others. Some days, I’ll have it under control better than others. Some days, I won’t.

Everyday, I’ll work hard at dreams for my future.

Some days, I’ll get lost in dreams of Miriam’s future. Because for a mom who’s lost a future for her child, that’s huge.

When Miriam woke up this morning, she told me she had a “very good dream.”

“I dreamed I was in the Olympics! And I won a trophy!!”

“What sport did you play?” I asked.

“For running. I won for my running. My super cat speed!”

There’s no trophy for running in this world. Unless you’re getting somewhere you want to be.

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A Public Apology

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I turned fifty years old yesterday. And honestly, it feels exactly the same as forty-nine. Or any age that’s come before it. Sure, forty-nine held the joy of a detached retina, procrastinated tooth yanking and root canals, and an introduction to perimenopause. I’ve lost weight and gained weight and lost it again. But all I really need are a few pairs of pants that fit. And some pretty dresses that are completely impractical. It seems anything impractical makes me happy.

What I need are the days to wear those dresses. Days where I can put on that big chunky necklace I never get to wear and the dress I need to pick up by the corners so I don’t trip over myself.

What I need are the minutes it takes to call my friends and family and let them know that I am thinking about them. More than they would ever think. A quick, silly text just has to suffice.

And I feel guilty.  I just always feel guilty…

But my brain is so overworked. It’s overworked to the point of stagnation. Where all I can do is stand still for a few minutes and stare at a pile of Miriam’s artwork, junk mail, bills, reminders of bills, and booklets of family activities we don’t have the time or money to do.

And now, just a little shout-out to my friend, Grief! That sucker will make everything harder, for the rest of your life. And I remind myself everyday to try not to be so critical of myself for my social shortcomings. Those unreturned phone calls. Those forgotten birthdays and check-in calls.

I just need to be in my bubble sometimes. My little family and my writing. Paying the rent late. Putting gas in the car when it’s running on empty. And so am I. Searching through the laundry basket of all the stuff that doesn’t fit for the one pair of pants that do.

We went to the Museum of Natural History yesterday. We used our birthday money from my father to take Miriam to see the dinosaurs. We took her on the train for the first time and her first time in a taxi. She’s a great little adventurer. I hope that never changes.

As my phone buzzed with texts and messages, I was smiling a big, goofy, wide smile at them all. And then I’d look back up at the dinosaurs and smile at them too. Miriam told me she didn’t really like “these kinds of dinosaurs.” She wanted to see the friendlier dinosaurs. “The ones with skin.” She also just really wanted to say ‘hi” to all the security guards in the museum. I think they enjoyed it too.

Outside, on the way back to the train, we saw a bridal party coming out of Central Park after taking their pictures. The bride, of course, was beautiful and Miriam wanted to say “hi” to her too. So we waited on the other side of the street as they all crossed. And when the bride got close enough, Miriam shouted,

“Hi Bride!!! You look so BEAUTIFUL!!!!”

The bride stopped and said thank you and gave my little girl a moment she was still talking about on the way to school today.

Thank you all for the wishes and messages. Thank you all for understanding that we all only have so many moments. I try to keep them all as authentic as I can. Whether they involve dinosaurs without skin, random brides, museum security guards, or days that we’re all running on EMPTY.

Find the moments, Wear the chunky necklace. And at least try not to feel guilty. I’ll try too.

 

 

 

Joy Catching…

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A surprise package arrived in the mail a few days ago. The return address was an old friend. Mandy wrote in her note that she was unsure about sending me this gift. It was a picture frame that she’d had for a few years. She’d never even put a photo in it. She just liked the rust colored leaves and the pearly dragonfly perched on its lower left corner. And she wrote that it reminded her of Noah.

But she almost didn’t send me this package. She tried a few times and kept changing her mind. She was afraid maybe it would arrive on a bad day. On a day that I just couldn’t handle a reminder of Noah. On a day where one thing just compounded another. You know those days, I’m sure.

She was afraid I wouldn’t like the frame as much as she did. I wouldn’t like the color or maybe even I wouldn’t want a hand-me-down as a gift. As I read her note, her honesty and sincerity was a gift in itself. And of course the tears flowed as I realized someone like Mandy was thinking about me. And Noah.

The frame (which, by the way, I LOVE) came in a box that, perhaps, was no accident. Mandy packed this frame in a box that originally contained a caterpillar kit. The kind for kids where a butterfly appears out of a cocoon in a matter of  weeks. Mandy has a five year old son, Atticus. I could just picture him opening this box for the first time. But the message on this box stopped me cold.

“The Miracle of Metamorphosis is About to Begin!

It’s Time to Grow!”

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Mandy’s timing could not have been more perfect. Because I’ve reached a point in my cocoon. I’m battling my inner voices. The voices that tell you to “BE THANKFUL FOR WHAT YOU HAVE…BECAUSE IT’S MORE THAN MANY HAVE”. And I totally agree. One million times over, I know this to be true.

But at what point does this stop you from reaching for more happiness? More fulfillment? More joy for me and my little family? I can still be infinitely aware and thankful for what I have while still growing into my butterfly. But it’s the fear and the self doubt that usually stops me. Just like Mandy doubted whether sending this gift was a good idea repeatedly, I also doubt myself on just how much more happiness and fulfillment I’m entitled to. Just how capable am I? Just how many chances should I take? How happy should a person really be??!

I recently referred to myself as a “joy catcher” in a story I wrote about our failed Easter Egg Hunt.  My goal of finding joy in as many places as possible never wanes. For all our sakes.

Thank you, Mandy. Thank you a million times over for this reminder. And look, I put a picture in this frame. And I placed it on the ledge in the sunshine. ❤

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