parenting prose

Fireflies trapped in a jar, the days, prose

Leaving Germany late October for 90 days in the UK

Some of the days flew by so fast, others you could trap in a jar. They were on the internet or in your computer on a spinning carousel, going back as far as you could right up to the present. They moved the way old style animated films do, “motion pictures,” each pane a still. I had those stills and they were like a deck of playing cards scattered on the floor. The one with Charlotte’s face framed in the window of the school bus pulling away. Those days compiled. I saw myself in the mirror and it got worse, but maybe it’s just been a long winter. I got older. I regard myself over the hand sink and snort, slap my face with the tap water, shake it off. I walk in the mornings to scrounge up something to write, hide my soul in uncommon places, come back to the jar to see what’s left. I thought the ground was so wet it squished like a sponge, the air pungent with it. I walked Charlotte to the end of the road and turned around, to start my day. I kept seeing her pull away.


Lightning strikes

img_0143The work ethic was strong in me then, like the Force. It was a Monday for our checkup on Dawn’s pregnancy. I decided not to go into work, to make breakfast and enjoy time with just the two of us, before the appointment. For reasons I don’t remember when we got there they said it’s time, go home, pack your bags and come back. We lay in the hospital room that night with the sounds of the machines, some images on monitors. There was no sleep that night: any good sleep was behind us, at that point. Dawn wanted it natural, in the water. They had birthing tubs but there was something with the legality where you couldn’t technically deliver in the tub, there was a workaround. I leaned over her massaging her back as she pushed and my back hurt like hell too, but no one cared. Right then my role was defined, as was hers. It was a girl, we named her Elizabeth, Lily for short. Lily wasn’t breathing right and Dawn was hemorrhaging, blood and color draining out of her. When we got to the car someone had broken into it and there was glass on the baby car seat but they let us borrow a vacuum to suck out the small pieces. They stole my briefcase and Dawn’s backpack with our ID and SSN (Dawn was on unemployment, left the paperwork in her bag). We had to get the locks changed. We were deeply paranoid, suffering from sleep debt. A large black woman at the halfway house down the street was putting handwritten notes in our mailbox with Pagan symbols claiming her kids were in our basement and she wanted to see them. We called the police and had her dealt with. She was hanging around the back of the house by the alley, looking in our windows.

A few days later I went to the store for the first time and fell in love with it. I walked up and down the aisles picking up things and looking at the labels. I realized I needed to get out. The reality of our new life was urgent, unmistakable. Even Dawn’s cat knew it, the order had changed. We couldn’t give a damn about the cat and then its kidneys went out and they said we could like manually drain it in the bathtub with a dialysis bag (along with diaper-changing and breast-feeding) and we said no way, and had her put down. Then the mice turned up, the rats: literally coming in through the basement behind the refrigerator into the nursery for the milk scents in the crib. I found the turds in the closet one day and stared at them, unbelieving. Dawn’s dad got sick, real sick, and we took him to the hospital. Dawn started smoking again, on the front stoop. We were onto our second by then, Charlotte. Christmas came and went and we put up a tree in her dad’s hospital room but no one felt like celebrating. We put our house on the market that summer and then the economy crashed a month later and we decided to stay at Dawn’s mom’s house through the winter. Couldn’t stand the idea of moving to the suburbs, never considered it. The following summer I took a sabbatical and we moved to Germany for three months. Charlotte was still in diapers.

Some mornings I’ll lie in bed while Lily’s downstairs getting ready for school, just listening to the sounds she makes eating her cereal or opening and closing the pantry doors in the kitchen, the refrigerator. So many sounds. She mentioned it a few times tonight at dinner, her birthday’s coming up in five days, and while we’re excited you can tell there’s a shift; it’s not the same. Maybe we’re all just tired and getting a bit older. I do my damnedest to remember what I can from that night, though: the beeps from the machines in the room, the news “it’s a girl,” you hear if you’re lucky in life maybe once, maybe twice.


The Life is the Story

The Punishment of Sisyphus, source: Wikipedia
The Punishment of Sisyphus, source: Wikipedia

I had to give up caffeine because it was giving me anxiety and sleeplessness, and I positioned it as a way to be less of an ass to my family, a kind of sacrifice for them, which was part-true. But now, on the best Saturday of the year, I’m online pushing my pen around because I don’t have the devilish distractions of house work, yard work, or work-work.

And it is like that Greek myth of the guy pushing the boulder up the hill, that’s the pointlessness of reconstructing the house or losing myself in the details of the yard. So without the caffeine, we just sat on the sofa as the sun came up and two hours went by, Dawn and I talking, dreaming about Europe.

I got back from sunning myself, remembering the black, volcanic sands of southern Italy, how the kids were so young they just spread it all over their arms so that it bound to the lotion and clung there. The pointlessness of sunning ourselves, the two or three options of things to do, like going down to the sea, going to the bar for a drink, or just flipping over.

I had to put my phone down and didn’t remember where, I didn’t care. The kids didn’t thank me for their milk and I didn’t care about that, either. And I went to the den to the corner of the sofa and put on The Pixies, and went to another time when I was younger and coming around the bend, seeing the Atlantic ocean for the first time and that feeling of freedom, that anything could happen and probably would, and there was more of it than I could drink in, then.

I wrote in the corner of the sofa so my kids could see me sitting there barefoot and writing, moving my hand like a puppeteer, creating characters and complications, funny voices, scenes.

I wrote to feel better and feel myself after what feels like too long, too many days getting older too young in life, too early, the times you catch yourself in the mirror and realize you’ve changed, that’s because of you.

I sat in a spot on the sofa where the sun hits and makes a greenhouse effect, where the dog naps illegally, so much so it dips. And while it seemed a crime in Seattle to be inside on a sunny day, it felt good to shun the world of pointless tasks.

And I thought about my boss, watching him walk up the hallway for a 4 o’clock meeting yesterday, how he walks with a swagger when he adjusts his belt and lifts his chest, and it’s because he’s full of himself in the best possible way, doing just what he should so that he’s become fulfilled, and really shines a light of contentment on everyone around him.

I remembered a time I probably looked that way too, when you feel you can do anything because of course you can, you’re right. But you have to feel that way for it to be really true, whatever you do.

The singer sang a song about flying, a dream about death, how the mountains and trees look from up above, the view of the soul looking down from up there, how it feels when you learn to see that way, when you learn to let yourself go.


As a punishment for his trickery, King Sisyphus was made to roll a huge boulder up a steep hill. Before he could reach the top, the massive stone would always roll back down, forcing him to begin again. The maddening nature of the punishment was reserved for King Sisyphus due to his hubristic belief that his cleverness surpassed that of Zeus himself. Zeus accordingly displayed his own cleverness by enchanting the boulder into rolling away from King Sisyphus before he reached the top which ended up consigning Sisyphus to an eternity of useless efforts and unending frustration.

 — From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.


Song for winter

The ocean pounds the rocks and the sky’s
gone to slate,
and it’s the sound of lovers dashed
to pieces, in the mist:
and it’s all we ever wanted,
to disappear to the roar
of the applause and go back
out to sea, to where the earth
ends at the start of the sky,
where we can disappear into the horizon.

death poetry

Love binds you in sleep

I saw your face through the frame of a dream
I put it together from memory, like a snowman:
The eyes, nose, smile

I said I love you and looked back for a reaction,
To see if it was real
Your eyes moved, but your mouth made no sound.

We say more with our faces,
How we hold each other:
You and I never let go.


Life is a special occasion

I had a $150 gift card I got from work, for a high-end steak restaurant in Bellevue. It’s not the kind of place I would normally go, but figured we would make the best of it; it was a nice gift for a project I led.

We got there before our reservation and had to wait while they got the table ready. We stood to the side, trying to look normal. That’s when I saw the case with beef in it: like a jewel case you’d see in a museum, it had plates of beef on it displaying the marbling, with names of each cut etched in silver placards below.

We were seated, surrounded by staff. They all wanted to know if it was a special occasion, and Dawn and I fumbled with what to say. We ordered cocktails and checked out the other tables: Dawn, taking bets on which couples were doomed and which ones would be okay.

I ordered three cuts of 4 oz. beef for $128. It felt ridiculous saying it to the waiter, but he nodded and said something like “good choice” (which is what he said to everything), and I had to wonder what he was really thinking.

We had a bottle of wine my boss gave me and eased into our meal. Surrounded by wealth, soft light, servants…it was hard to get comfortable, but I had to toast to Dawn and all the people we wanted to be there with us, to experience this kind of place. To feel lucky for that moment.

I went to the bathroom, across the marble lobby and the chandeliers. They had a leather recliner outside the door to the men’s room, with a fresh floral arrangement and a basket. The bathroom was so nice, even the sound of men’s urine sounded good, like a warm fire.

We talked about our dads, my grandparents…what they’d think of this place, how we wanted them to be there with us, too. It’s not the restaurant, it’s about being together that makes it special.

music technology

Dream about a boy who turned to stone: online loneliness

We go to our corners, the family. There’s the TV and the kitchen for the genders to split, devices for the teenagers to keep them docile, interested, present.

Life spins in a prism of thoughts and distractions, frames. Most you forget, aren’t worth saving, isn’t enough space. The repetition of role-playing at work, at home, tired performances repeating lines, gestures, dramatic displays. The sink, the closet, the coffee maker: Have a Nice Day, out the door.

Art’s got a way out of this, to make art out of work and life, to live with wonder despite the seeming toil of it, finding mystery in the banal, objects and people we pass unseen, holding them up at the right angle and saying, Here…look…art is falling in love with your world.

But we go to our corners because we need space and distance. Love is natural and real, but love is hard, and so are people.

Which is why I understand those who need to live alone, but I can’t help seeing the sadness that hangs on them still. When I lived alone, how I spent most of my time conspiring not to be. How I carved my days toward a time when I would be with someone, that’s who I was: the absence of someone else.

And now to have most everything anyone could want, probably more, and still feel a loneliness…we go to a corner to talk to someone, anyone, who might be out there somewhere, and all of us in the coffee shop are really alone right now, right next to each other, recording what’s happening here and transmitting it to the darkness of the infinite, the internet.

I’m here now because I want to be. And you’re here with me now, too.


Gray on Brown

The colors mirror my insides
this time of year,
the muted tones and
dampened smiles

The earth settling in,
parts of it fallen to repose
in piles and patterns,

Wisps of wood fire smoke:
the crackle in the leaves,
the rain, the geese,
some are bedding down,
others leaving town —

Mushroom hoods gather the gloom,
the sky is running out of room —

Bursts of last light
as the wick goes down,
the room gets dark
and we say good-night.

death humour

The Life Transfer


I wasn’t sure I wanted to have kids. It wasn’t one of those things on my list. But when Dawn and I got pregnant and I found out at the bus stop, I felt it inside me too, and I knew.

It was a reckless night of drinking around Christmas at a romantic, 200 year-old inn on the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border in a town called New Hope.

We started with cocktails, then a bottle of wine with dinner. I got some kind of shellfish stew and when it came, one of the components was still moving, a white finger stroking the air, calling for help. I laughed and jumped right in: isn’t that funny? It’s still moving!

When Dawn worked on the boat in Alaska, they ended the night with a B&B. She described it to me, warmed Brandy and Benedictine in a snifter. And so we had one with dessert, and then discovered something called The Honor Bar, back in the lobby at the inn.

The Honor Bar was an open cache of mini bottles of booze with a basket for donations. The honor was you being honest about what you took. I tried Scotch for the first time, and didn’t put any money in the basket. An act of intercourse followed in the room, and because I didn’t want the party to end, I placed an order for a bottle of champagne to be delivered around 8:45 to our room, the next morning.

The drive home was hard: the road follows the Delaware River with many tight turns and 20 MPH zones. We stopped at my grandparent’s house, which was always too warm and stuffy, and then home to my mom’s. I was starved, unable to eat all day, but all they had in the refrigerator was spiced cheese curds, and so I ate them in handfuls, standing.

The sickness got so profound that my step-dad summoned the J Collis Browne mixture, a substance that members of the Velvet Underground abused, according to a recent Google search.

But that night yielded our first real thought of parenting, which led to expedited wedding plans, which carried on in spite of the fact that the baby didn’t.

The Life Transfer starts as you see yourself living on, through your kids. It’s not a loss or a gain per se; I see it as a transfer. I want to relive my favorite memories of childhood, and make them better for my kids.

The Halloween my dad thrashed about with fake blood on his beard and chains, in bed, for my friends: that was the kind of dark humor imprint I am stamping on mine, now.

The times we bundled up on the toboggan and flew down the hillside with the spray of snow in our faces…memories weren’t recorded then the way they are now. They’re impressionist watercolors, better less-defined.

Saying goodbye to my step-dad in the dialysis center in Germany five years ago now, the exchange of love and tenderness and the acknowledgment of all there is to say that can’t. He hangs on in our dreams; we hang on to one another, and remember.

Dawn turns 44 next week; Charlotte just turned 6. The days fold over themselves like socks in a drawer, like pages in a book. You can’t feel how much is left and it’s probably better that way.

Days of cheap sushi

Dawn and I, walking to the neighborhood sushi restaurant from our rental apartment. The little place on the corner, people cueing on the outside. The kitchen is so small, they must have six in there. Everyone is huddled over their tables, leaning-in over their teas and small bowls. We sit and dream there, The Good Life, with a twinkle and a smile, holding hands.

On our walk home we pass the houses we dream about and their yards, their cars. Days of waiting, now they’re gone: no more waiting, they just called our table.