Thoughts on Remaking

Just a little over 17 years ago, I went out on a run in order to think. In order to make a decision: accept the teaching position that was offered to me or not? On the outside, it didn’t seem like a hard choice. I had just finished up a year of school followed by a semester of student teaching. I had my second degree and my freshly-minted teaching certificate, a tight grip on a sort of surety that through teaching I could make a difference and that I would matter. Why wouldn’t I accept it?

Because in my heart of hearts, and in my discussions with my husband, I didn’t want to go to work. I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I wanted to walk Jake to kindergarten and walk home with him and Haley in the afternoons. I wanted to drop off Nathan at preschool. I wanted to have lazy afternoons at home helping my kids do their homework. I wanted to have another baby. That was what I wanted.

But what my reality was was that Kendell had just come off of a year of unemployment. He had found a job again, finally, but it didn’t pay much. We were just barely making enough to survive. Me going back to work—even if I had to pay for daycare for two kids on a teacher’s salary—was the best solution.

So I interviewed at several different schools that summer. Down deep, I hoped no schools offered me a job. But, three weeks before school started, one did. And I had to decide: did I chose what I wanted (what I wanted so desperately) or what would seemingly help my family the most?

I took my kids to a friend’s house and I headed out on a run. No music. Just thinking. Just weighing my options. And right as I was running past the library (the library where I now work), I was filled with a certainty: take the job.

Take the job and one day you will understand why.

That day I was prompted to remake myself. To let go of who I wanted to be and to embrace who life was directing me to be. In some ways, I never got over that remaking. I never stopped mourning those lost days of being a stay-at-home mom when Haley was only seven, Jake five, Nathan three. The lazy mornings and after-school afternoons I never got to have with them. The meals I didn’t make and the life-changing stress I didn’t experience.

I did my best to remake myself, until I had the chance to have Kaleb, and I grabbed it. Were the three years I got to stay at home with him a remaking or a reacquainting, a way to try to get back days I could never get back? I don’t know, but eventually I got another opportunity to remake myself when I, on the spurt of a moment, applied for a job at the library when Kaleb was almost three.

That remaking was far less painful, because I could control the choice. I felt like I had a choice, and I chose to do it. I didn’t know I would uncover an identity I hadn’t guessed was in me. I didn’t know I would find my librarian self. But I did, and for the past twelve years I have worked at the library.

I’ve been thinking about that run from 17 years ago a lot, recently. You’ll understand why…I thought I already understood: being a teacher was a sort of gateway into becoming a librarian. That it happened right in front of the library where I would eventually work didn’t feel portentous then, but looking back, I thought what I would understand was just that because I became a teacher I could become a librarian.

But I am wondering if it is something more that I haven’t seen yet. That I will only understand when I look back from some place I cannot yet even catch a glimpse of right now.

Maybe this is the clichéd mid-life crisis, I don’t know.

But I feel like I am reaching another turning point in my life, a hinge that is a decision my life will bend on.

For twelve years I have worked as a librarian. I have been defined as a librarian. I have felt a thrill every time someone asked me what I kind of work I do, and I could answer “librarian.” I have loved it and I have felt like I was doing something that mattered, even if it only mattered to a few people.

But some experiences I have had over the past year or so have stripped me of that feeling—the feeling that my work as a librarian matters and the feeling that I mattered as a librarian within the library where I work.

Unlike that painful, painful choice 17 years ago, to change myself from a stay-at-home mom to a teacher, my reality isn’t really forcing me to make a change. Unlike my choice twelve years ago, I am not stumbling fortuitously into a new career.

Also unlike those other decisions, I am no longer the person I used to be. Along the way, I lost my confidence. In my abilities, in my intelligence, in my sense that I matter. I no longer have the religious faith to believe that if I just work better at being “good” I will be led to an answer or to the desires of my heart.

This choice is on me. This remaking is the one I must accomplish on my own, without serendipity or financial struggles or heavenly promptings.

I can keep working at the library for the next twenty years.

Or I can change.

The world doesn’t care what I do.

I have only one teenager still at home—that baby I wanted so desperately—and while I know you never stop parenting your kids, I am working through the process of understanding how much less they need you as they become adults.  

Do I want to remake myself?

Do I want to stay the same?

How do I remake myself when that confidence and faith I used to have are both gone?

How do I stay the same when faced with the sadness that my recent experiences have brought me?

Do I do what I want? Or do I do what might be best for my family?

Do I choose something more financially secure or do I commit to my writing dreams?

Who do I want to be for the rest of my life?

What part of my reality is set in stone and what part can be changed?

Can I remake myself? With this body that is starting to feel like a pair of worn-out jeans that is just about ready to be left in the bag of one-day-I’ll-make-a-denim-quilt jeans? With this brain that sometimes feels every second of its 48+ years, feels soft and quiet instead of sharp and quick?

If, in 48 years of living, I have come to this place where I am struggling to feel like I have ever mattered, is there any point to seeking out a new direction? Why would I matter in some different situation if I don’t matter in this one?

To be honest, I feel deeply mired in my life. I feel backed into a corner, and it seems like the potential for achieving the ambitions I had for myself is in the past now.

I’m not ready to let go of them, but I also don’t know how to achieve them from this place I have put myself through the choices I’ve made.

How do you remake yourself when you feel entirely lost in the dark?


Book Review: Wizard and Glass by Stephen King (The Dark Tower series)

So do we pass the ghosts who haunt us later in our lives; they sit undramatically on the roadside like poor beggars, and we see them only from the corners of our eyes, if we see them at all. The idea that they have been waiting there for us rarely if ever crosses our minds. Yet they do wait, and when we have passed, they gather up their bundles of memory and fall in behind, treading in our footsteps and catching up, little by little.

(for this book “review”—it’s not really a review—to make as much sense as possible, you’d have to also read the “review” I wrote for the first three books in the series, which you can find HERE . This is less a review than a piece about my reaction and connection to the series, how it is influenced by my dad, by my reading history, by who I was and who I am now. No real spoilers but if you’ve read the books you will understand more of what I write.)

Wizard and glassWizard and Glass (the fourth book in The Dark Tower series) is a book that’s hard to categorize. Is it a retold fairytale? Yes! Is it a western? Well, there are horses running across long, grassy ridges, and desert landscapes, and shoot-outs, so, sort of. Is it horror? There’s a terrifying witch, so, partly. Is it fantasy? Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz come into the story, so, yes, there are definitely fantasy aspects.

I haven’t finished the entire series yet, as of this writing (although I am very close!), but I think this book might be my favorite. It completes the cliff-hanger of an ending from The Wastelands and carries us forward into Roland, Jake, Susannah, Eddie, and Oy’s travels, but it is mostly looking backward: it is mostly the story of Roland’s coming-of-age experiences. (Historical fiction about a fictional character in a place that seems like it could be a historical, if fictional, place in the United States?) After besting Cort and becoming a true gunslinger, Roland is sent, with two other friends, to investigate the workings of the Good Man in the far edges of the community (also to get him out of sight of the court wizard Marlen). Here, he discovers a town that is being corrupted by outside forces that might threaten to destroy the world. He also meets, and falls in love with, a local girl named Susan Delgado. His primary task is to figure out what is truly happening in Mejis, but of course this is complicated by the love story.

I loved this book. It plays with many elements of literary tropes, so it feels both familiar and unsettling, all at once. Plus, the rest of the series feels like it focuses more on the male characters, Susannah notwithstanding, but this feels like Susan’s story most of all (although she is not the only character we experience the story through). As the story progressed, I knew where it was headed—once you know enough of women’s tales, it is not hard to guess what will happen to Susan, even if you are hoping it doesn’t. In fact, I set the book aside for at least two weeks because I wasn’t ready for what would happen. When I took it back up again, I read it without stopping, lying on the couch in my front room on a rainy Sunday, because I might not be strong enough to pick it up again.

This was the last book in the series with a physical copy that my dad might’ve read. (Also the last one that wasn’t a reprint and that included the original color illustrations.) I had it in the cupboard under the bookshelf in my bedroom with the other three books he and I both read, but I honestly don’t remember if I bought it or if I just found it at his house and brought it home. Maybe he even read it first and then passed it along to me. I wish I remembered for sure. I can say that this book felt the least Don-Allman-ish book of the series. (As I’m now reading the last one, I can say that for certainty, but even while I was reading it I felt that way: I’m not sure Dad would’ve loved this as much as I am.)

But it was a fairly Amy-ish book. It does a good job at recreating how intense first love is, how it makes the roots of your teeth burn and strips logic and care away, and how it is made to be a thing that will be destroyed. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a feminist work—not at all, in fact, but it peeks just a little bit, side-eyed, at those tropes. More than anything, though, it made me think (again…and perhaps that is what I need to take from these books at this time) of how choice influences life, and what might life might be like if I had made different choices. Also of how some stories circle around your life, long after the events have passed, and how they continue to impact the way you make your choices. How memory haunts you, I suppose. And how the telling of the stories also is important, is almost a continuation of the experience itself.

Storytelling always changes time.


There is No Cure for Knowledge: Part 1

One of my most abiding memories from childhood is the cold autumn Saturday my dad took me to a BYU football game. I don’t know why this happened, as I was not a fan of football and we weren’t like other families I knew, who bought season tickets. But there we were, walking across a college campus together. He told me that he hoped one day I would go to college. He said “one day you can go to college classes and learn everything you want. You’re smart. Don’t be like me and waste your time and your smartness. Spend your time learning.” We stepped into the stadium; he bought me popcorn and a hot chocolate, and while I remember absolutely nothing about the football game (I was likely bored out of my mind, or maybe I brought a book with me), I remember so clearly sitting on the cold metal bench, eating popcorn one puffed piece at a time, imagining myself going to college. By the time the game ended and we walked back to the car, it was a certainty for me: I would go to college.

Of course, life got messy, as life does, and once I’d destroyed my chances at the university I wanted to go to the most (the University of Utah) and my scholarship opportunities, I found myself twenty years old, married, and trying to live in a religion that focused on women having families, not getting an education. But I still had that same certainty that I wanted to go to college. So I pieced it together. I worked at a software company that would pay for some college costs, so I went to the local community college while I worked full time and got my Associate’s degree. After that, we built our house and I had Haley, but I wasn’t done yet. When I was laid off from my job, I had access to a reeducation grant, so I grabbed the chance, swallowed my pride, and did what I had never wanted to do: walked back onto the BYU campus and applied. (It’s another entire blog post to explain why that choice was hard for me.)

For me, college was always about books. During the two years I wasn’t going to school, I vowed to learn everything I could about books, reading, writing, and literature, so I haunted the library. (The library where I work now, strangely enough.) Those years of scattershot reading taught me about feminism, history, mythology, racism, oppression, ingenuity. Even grammar! I found genres I’d only had vague ideas about before, like essays and microfiction. I delved into poetry and discovered poets I still love today. I read novels. I read some Shakespeare. I tried to read what I thought I was supposed to read: Hemingway and Hawthorne, Fitzgerald and Faulkner, but I found I liked women authors better.

I was shaping my reading and learning tastes at that time in my life, and I think that my ability to be unencumbered by professors’ opinions during those years was immensely helpful. I learned to like what I like rather than what someone else thought I should like. But I was also learning. About history and other cultures and writing styles and genres and how writers are grouped. I was also learning how to think. All those books taught me that there are uncountable ways of being in the world, and mine is just one of them, neither right nor wrong; the myriad ways of looking at human existence is one of the astounding parts of human existence.

 I ended up loving many things about my experience at BYU. While I didn’t have the traditional college experience with dorms and roommates and making life-long friends, I learned. Yes—even at a conservative, religious university, I learned so much. Those two years of studying on my own meant that I had odd pieces of knowledge that my classmates didn’t have, and sometimes (OK, quite often) their perspectives were baffling to me, but again—it was about learning all of the things one learns from an English degree, but also it was about learning more of people. I had fantastic professors and horrible ones. I finally learned what people meant by “critical theory.” I learned that in literary circles, Dead White Male Writers are revered by many…but there are counter cultures, too, and I explored those whenever I could.

When I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree, Haley was four, Jake was one, and I was unknowingly pregnant with Nathan. A friend asked me, a few days after I graduated, what I would do next. At that point, I was exhausted. I wanted to just spend time with my kids. So, for a couple of years, that’s what I did. I graduated, and then I became a stay-at-home mom. I still held that image of myself I had created during the football game so long ago, a mental picture of who I would be as an adult. It had crystalized: I wanted a PhD, I wanted to be a college professor.

But again, life got messy. For a long time, I have felt like the Universe has wanted me to understand that sure…I’ve learned a lot about humanity, but it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t have value because it is sort of invisible. My form of knowledge means I can go to a museum and tell you stories about many of the things there, but I can’t create anything anyone can sell. I can’t program computers or write software programs or create apps. I don’t have medical knowledge; my skills are just in understanding, and that isn’t very marketable. I ended up being a high school English teacher, and then a librarian. Am I done? I wish I wasn’t. I want to get a Master’s degree. Somewhere in the messiness, however, I lost that ability I used to have, that belief that my dad was right, that I was smart enough to do anything. I don’t feel that anymore, so I don’t know how to take another step. Part of me started with what the Universe wanted me to know: my accumulated knowledge is sort of useless. The world doesn’t care.

But also within the messiness, I have continued to read. I thought that getting a Bachelor’s degree would teach me everything I wanted to know, but of course it didn’t. Knowledge is endless, and it is spread out everywhere. It’s not just found in one source, and almost everything has a piece of truth in it somewhere. I might not have advanced degrees, but I do still have knowledge.

So here I am: a middle-aged white woman with a couple of Bachelor degrees that don’t matter much to the world at large. I know a whole lot about books and history and about finding information. I can teach you how to structure an essay and I can give you a book of poems that would change your life if you read it. I could tell you how to correctly use a hyphen and what the difference is between an en- and an em-dash.

Meanwhile, the world is insane with a pandemic and racial uprisings. What do I have to offer?

Every day, I read Facebook threads and listen to conversations where people say things that I consider to be shallow and narrow-minded. And while yes, dear Universe, I so thoroughly understand your point, I also have started to realize: education matters.

I mean, I know that. I have always known that.

But the world’s current issues are telling me more and more: education matters. Knowledge matters. Most importantly, the knowledge that your way of looking at the world is not the only one—knowing that matters.

My next post will continue these thoughts. It’s the one I sat down to write this morning, but I couldn’t write it without explaining these pieces of my history. In the largeness of today’s social issues, my little thoughts are likely unimportant. But I’m going to share them anyway, because I also know this is true: narrow-mindedness got us into these issues, and the only way out of them is with the wide-open thought processes that education can bring.

[You can read the second part of this post HERE.]


Thoughts on The First Three Books of The Dark Tower Series

"Perhaps you saw what place our universe plays in the scheme of things—an atom in a blade of grass."

Back near the end of February, I helped Nathan figure out how to use his library card to download audio books, so he could listen to stories while running and weight lifting. I gave him some suggestions of things he might like, but told him to search and see what spoke to him.

A few days later he told me he’d downloaded The Gunslinger by Stephen King and wondered if I’d ever read it. We were texting so I didn’t expound much, but yes: I’ve read it. Gunslinger cover

In the 80s, when I was a teenager, I was discovering books. I had always been a reader (I don’t think anyone who really knows me could separate reading from my identity) but in my teenage years my relationship with books changed. They weren’t just stories or a way of spending an afternoon in sunlight, or even a place where I went to find friends anymore. Reading, I was beginning to understand, was a way of saving myself. It was as if all the answers to all the questions had been scattered into all the books, and all I had then were questions and a world full of books at my feet.

I’ve been looking for answers—and finding them, often, in books—ever since.

My dad was a devoted fan of Stephen King and likely read almost everything he wrote (until his last illness took reading away from him). In those teenage years, I also loved Stephen King. I don’t know exactly when I read The Gunslinger. It was published in 1982, but I don’t think I read it when I was ten. My guess is I read it in 1987, when the sequel, The Drawing of the Three, was published. My dad bought the first two books, and what piqued my interest in reading them was listening to him chuckle to himself as he read Drawing. He liked to read lying on his side on the floor of our front room, with a cup of coffee for company. I asked him why he was laughing at a Stephen King book—as everything I’d read by him had been scary and I hadn’t noticed any humor—and he read me a little bit of the beginning, where the lobstrosities attack Roland. He wasn’t really laughing because of humor, he told me, but because he just admired King so much. “That man can write a story,” he said, and then sipped his coffee and went back to his book.

Drawing of the threeI read, and discussed with my dad, the first three books of The Dark Tower series. Even years later, sometimes he’d just say “did-a-cheek?” or some other lobstrosity sound at me, and we’d laugh just a little bit.

The Waste Lands, which was published in 1991, was probably one of the first fifty or so books I bought for myself. That was the year I was dating Kendell and trying to create my adult life. I was still living at home and there is another memory of my dad lying on the living-room floor, talking again about King’s genius, because in this book he managed to make a train into a malicious monster, and wouldn’t it be great if we could also have a billybumbler?

There was a long gap between the third and fourth books, and in that time, I changed. I got married, I had Haley, I went to college. By the time Wizard and Glass came out, in 1997, I was pregnant with Jake and in my last 18 months of my English degree, buried deep in critical literary theory, classic British novels, Greek mythology, and writing techniques. My dad bought the book, and handed it to me after he finished it, but I only read the introduction (which reacquainted me with the story at least) before setting it aside. Precocious little book snob that I was, I thought it would be a waste of time.

My dad continued on the journey with Roland, Eddie, Susannah, and Jake, but I did not.

So when Nathan asked me “have you read it?”, all of these connections passed through me. Remembering how much I loved the first three books, and how ashamed of myself I am for not reading all of them with my dad, and how I’ve thought about rereading the series every time a new book has come out, but it didn’t feel like it would be the same. No one I know now would respond to “dad-a-chum?” with anything other than a blank stare. I told Nathan that, and he said “well, how about you read it with me this time then?” and I said “done!”

(He lost interest and didn’t finish the audio, but that is OK. One of the things I have learned from books is that some books must come to you at the right time, and sometimes your initial interest in a book doesn’t spark an actual affection, because the book isn’t the right one for you at that time.)

Rereading books that were pivotal to your younger self is sometimes a dangerous proposition. You might find them empty or shallow instead of brimming with knowledge and beauty. You bring a different self to the story; you know different things and have been changed by your experiences. You might be disappointed. Wastelands

So I can say: I couldn’t read these first three books with the same innocence I had when I read them the first time. Parts of The Gunslinger were disturbing to me. I didn’t understand feminism or rape culture or the persistency of violence when I read it at fifteen. Did Roland rape Sylvia Pittston with his gun? Even if he is the protagonist and carrying on the noble tradition of eliminating evil that disguises itself as religion—I can’t forgive this scene, and it was so startling to me. How had I forgotten it? I also can’t decide: is his depiction of Detta Walker in Drawing racist? He spells it out that she is like a caricature of representations of black people, so he is using the imagery that white people have created about black people in a sort of sardonic way. But he also calls her (not the depictions) evil. (I cannot imagine anyone writing a character this way now.) She hates white people, but is also evil, so I don’t know how to balance that. And, over it all: this is a violent story. There is so much death.

On the other hand: I know so much more now than I did when I read these as a teenager. I didn’t understand the archetype of the hero’s journey, and the way quest novels influence our society. I hadn’t read Tolkien so I couldn’t be delighted at the way the story nods its head across the universe toward the fellowship. I know the lines of poetry that get slung slantwise. I recognize almost all of the songs that are referenced (although I had to look up “Velcro Fly”).  I even can pick up some of the Easter eggs from other books.

Here’s what I didn’t expect, though.

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about how we don’t always understand the impact of our choices. I am certain there are choices I’ve made that have altered my life in ways I will never completely understand, ever. It is easier to see how other choices altered my life. It’s like…maybe one day, seemingly at random, you decide to drive a different route to work. You still get to work and you move on with your life, but what you don’t know is that if you had taken your usual route, you would’ve been in a horrific car accident that left you missing your left leg. (Or whatever else you can imagine.) You never lived the life that could’ve been made by one random choice, so you don’t know that life, and you don’t even really know that you missed that life. Except sometimes I think you bump into it anyway. (In my head I also carry half-formed images of who I might’ve been if I had made different choices.) I bumped into this…this doubling of possible outcomes, I guess, several times as I read. Like Roland with his doubled memories of his story with Jake and without Jake, and the same for Jake with Roland. I couldn’t see, of course, so clearly as they can. But there is something of my alternate selves in these books, and I didn’t expect to find it there.

This concept forms the backbone of the story of The Dark Tower, at least so far as I have gotten. (I finished The Wastelands this morning.) The rose that Jake crouches next to in the abandoned lot in New York, and the suns inside: to me, all of the could-have-been lives are inside that rose. “It was a moment of passage,” Roland tells Jake. “A time such as must be at the Tower itself, when things come together and hold and make power in time.” Those moments of power in time are the choices we make, and we don’t always get to see clearly how they bind us.

Here’s another example. Remember, I was a wild, angry, rebellious teenager when I read these books. I was in a dark, dark place. Whenever I wanted, I could’ve jumped right in to doing whatever heavy drugs I could get my hands on. But I never did. I wonder about that a lot—in that rose full of the possible lives of Amy, there have got to be several addict versions of myself. And when I got to the chapters about Eddie when he was in his junkie days, it hit me. It was as if the person I had been reading that book—this exact copy of this book, the one I held in my 15-year-old hands—left an annotation. I clearly remembered feeling what I felt as that version of myself: a deep aversion to becoming like Eddie, to having a monkey, to being taken to awful places and terrifying experiences and the thread of jail because of drugs.

It might be too much to claim, but reading it I felt it anyway: Partly I’m not a drug addict because of Eddie Dean.

(Or, to be more specific: because I decided to read the book that had Eddie Dean in it. If I didn’t chose to read it, Eddie Dean never existed for me. It is the choice that matters the most.)

And o how I wish my dad was here so we could talk that idea out. He would understand.

So, today: I finished The Wastelands. I can’t believe how long I have left Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy riding on Blaine, starting their riddle competition. I still have mixed feelings. I still feel like I am reading something that is not quite my style, even if the metaphysical, layers-of-time concepts resonate. When I’ve mentioned my rereading to other people online, some have warned me that I will be disappointed by the ending, and some have promised me I will love the rest of the books. So I am expecting nothing, just picking up what I left off more than twenty years ago. These books—as with many others that have changed me in some way—are much like the doors that appear over and over within their pages. There was a drawing of myself, between one world and another, when I started the story so long ago. Maybe the rest of it will only be a story, just a thing I read during a quarantine. Maybe a new, altered version of myself will be drawn along the way, into some subtly-altered life I didn’t know I could find a door to.  Either is fine with me, because I swear: there’s a little bit of my dad, peering over my shoulder, reading along with me.

There are other worlds than these.


On Corona Conspiracies: Two Truths, or, The Group You Don't Want to Belong To

Two truths I have learned about medical issues over the past twenty years:

  1. What happens to one person in a family happens to every person in a family.
  2. Doctors, hospital, medical procedures: these things fix you. They repair you. But “fixed” doesn’t mean “the same.” Afterwards, you will always be repaired. There will always be a scar; there are always repercussions.

Facebook_1587048003638_6656561789854605205_683115615255973As we’ve reached this phase of the corona virus pandemic—the phase where people start to say things like “see, it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be” and “the number of deaths didn’t justify the shutdown” and even “it was a hoax designed to strip us of our liberties”—I keep thinking of these two truths I have learned.

Until you have experienced severe health issues within your own family, you cannot understand the full impact of the issues, how they pervade almost every aspect of your life, how the fear, once ignited, is sometimes less noticeable but never stops burning.

Once you fully understand the frailty of the human body, once you witness it with your own eyes, you can never stop knowing it.

So when I read things like “people are overreacting” or “this isn’t as bad as the media is portraying it” or even (especially!) “we should all just get the virus and move on with our lives because then we’d all be immune” I almost can’t breathe in the face of such unknowing ignorance.

It’s a luxury, really. A privilege to be in the group of people who don’t understand those two truths. I almost envy that person I used to be, who didn’t know these things.

(I say “almost” because I will never not value the pieces of knowledge I have gained in my life, even if it hurt to learn. Especially if it hurt to learn.)

But I’ve learned them, and the other truth is that these are painful pieces of knowledge to acquire. Part of the staying-home, part of the mask-wearing, part of the everything-is-closed: all of those efforts will help some of you never belong to this group. I think of the people I love who nevertheless do not belong in this group, and I want to spare them this inclusion. (Even though I know life can bring it to anyone at any time.)

When you mock or doubt the quarantine procedures you are illustrating you don’t know these truths, and I hope you never have to learn them with your own body and psyche. So here: I will expound.

  1. What happens to one person in a family happens to every person in a family.

I don’t only mean that if one person in your family catches develops COVID-19 you’re likely to all get it (even though that’s true). Let’s say, just for the sake of illustration, that only one person in your family develops COVID-19. Let’s say it’s your 17-year-old daughter. She is the one who will suffer physically, with the fever and the body aches and the inflammation and all of the other symptoms. Maybe it gets so bad she has to be put on a ventilator. All of these things she experiences within her own body. It happens to her.

But it will also happen to you, too. If you are her parent you will anguish over not being able to heal her. If you get to be in the hospital with her, you will anguish for days by her unresponsive body, watching machines move her lungs, while you wonder in terror what the outcome will be. You might be faced with impossible decisions to be made in behalf of this person you love but can no longer communicate with.

You, yourself, will forever be changed. It will scar you emotionally forever. And it doesn’t matter if you are the parent of this sick person, or the sibling. The sick person experiences the sickness but the whole family suffers alongside of her. Her brother watches their father weep and is changed. A husband cannot console his wife; a preschooler doesn’t receive the emotional help he needs because everyone is consumed with fear and worry.

And it’s not just the days of sitting by her bedside. Your relationships with your other children will be affected, as will your marriage. You will see your parents in a different light. Sometimes you will look at your friends or your extended family members who didn’t have that experience with bitterness. How blithely they go about their lives, making decisions without ever having had to stare right at death.

“Let’s all just get it and move on” is not a solution. It is a hypothetical concept that is only appealing if you do not know completely how medical challenges change everything.

Your family will never be the same.

  1. “Healed” doesn’t mean “restored.”

Let’s go back to that teenage girl hooked to a ventilator. Let’s say you don’t have to make the choice; let’s say she starts to improve. She comes off the vent, she breathes on her own, the medications work their way out of her body and she wakes up.

Let’s grant her no mental deficiencies from being on a ventilator.

She will still never be the same. On the vent, her body has broken down some. Her muscles have deteriorated. Her body has changed. From now on, on the other side of COVID-19, she is different. We don’t know all the ways, exactly, she will have changed, because this is a novel virus. Novel here doesn’t mean fiction. It means new. It means we don’t know the story of how it will continue to affect the body.

We don’t know exactly how, but it will.

Once your body has experienced such devastation, you are always, from now until your death, fixed. You are always repaired.

Because our bodies can’t be restored. They can’t be remade to their former non-fixed, non-repaired condition.

That’s not how bodies work, and this is true for any medical condition.

You can have cancer and be healed, but your body is changed.

You can have a heart attack and survive; they can fix your heart with surgery but you will always have a repaired heart.

Even ortho surgeries: they can replace your knee or your hip, possibly your ankle if you are truly unfortunate, and the surgery will (probably) fix the pain. But the replaced joint will never be the original joint.

Are you doomed to a life of horrible weakness because you’ve had a medical crisis? Of course not. There is life and happiness and everything else on the other side of it. Once you heal.

But you have to learn your new limitations. You will eventually realize you are not the same, and you will grieve for what you lost.

And this grief and those changes will also affect your family.

❦❦❦

These two truths rotate around each other endlessly. You will all move on, your family and your repaired daughter.

But none of you will ever be the same.

I share this knowledge not because I am a doomsayer or full of fear or overreacting, but because of the empirical data my life has brought to me.

Some things you can’t avoid. Cancer, congenital heart defects, diabetes, lupus. Arthritis in your hip or knee or back. Alzheimer’s. Life just happens.

But a virus? With a virus, you can make choices that at least will make smaller the possibility of you having to experience it.

You can protest.

You can reject social distancing.

You can seek out sources that dispute scientific facts.

You can refuse to wear a mask.

You can refuse the eventual vaccine.

But none of your refusals will change those truths: everyone you love is affected and no one is ever the same.

This is bitter knowledge. This is a group no one wants to belong to.

But I am saddened in knowing how many will soon be joining me within it, especially knowing they didn’t have to.

Choose wisely, my friends.


COVID-19 Experiences So Far

I have often wondered, when I read historical fiction set during periods when my grandmothers were alive, what they thought about them. My grandmothers were born in 1910 and 1911, so they were young children during World War I and probably only had vague, if any, knowledge of it. But they were in their twenties during the Great Depression and in their thirties—having their families—during World War II. Why didn’t either of my grandfathers, who would’ve been right in the middle of the draft age, get drafted? Did they grow victory gardens? How were their lives impacted by rationing? What did they think of having babies during the middle of a world war? How did they help with the war efforts? Did they have any friends who went to war? Did they pay close attention to the war or was it just background noise to their regular lives?

It has always bothered me that none of my ancestors wrote down much of their history. That bothered feeling is one of the impetuses behind keeping a blog. During the 14+ years of The English Geek, I’ve written about my response to many social issues. Maybe no one in the future will care, but it makes me feel a sense of…fulfilling a responsibility, I guess. Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic is a huge social issue right now, so I wanted to write down how it has impacted our life so far.

Kendell was already working from home, so for him this hasn’t been a huge change, at least as far as work goes. He works in the two-window bedroom, which has been the computer room for a long time. The PC is in there so that is the computer he uses, along with his work laptop. He had three heart doctor appointments in March and they were all cancelled until it is safer for heart patients to gather in groups again. His heart doesn’t make him more susceptible to catching it, but if he did get it he would have a harder time recovering.

I am mostly working from home. For the past two weeks I’ve gone into the library once and then spent the rest of my work hours at home. People get puzzled at the thought of librarians working from home, but unless you work at a library you probably have no idea how many projects we work on. Yes, helping patrons is a big part of our job, but we still have a lot of non-patron work that keeps the library going. I am working on rewriting all of the discussion guides that go with our book group sets. We have more than 175 sets so there is plenty to be done. I have my laptop set up on the desk in my scrappy space (the old desk I inherited from my grandpa Fuzz), which is in the one-window bedroom. I like the other room better because it has so much more light, but my tables and supplies work better there. In my non-work time, I’ve been scrapbooking again, but I think next week I am going to work on a table runner and some masks to donate to hospitals. I have been blogging less because I usually write my posts in the morning and that’s when I’ve been working.

Haley’s job is considered essential, so she is still going to work. She said that her hospital has cancelled all non-emergency surgeries and is working on getting everything stocked and ready for a large influx of patients. Austin is recovering from pneumonia so he is staying in their apartment. Three cats, one bedroom…hope it is going OK! We are keeping in touch with texting. I am trying not to worry about her being in a hospital during a pandemic. (But I worry anyway. Even though worrying won’t change it.)

Jake is still living at home and we have been so grateful he is here. He works for a call center that manages rentals and is able to work from home. For him (as for me), working from home is a mixed bag. The reality of never leaving “work,” because work and home are at the same place, can be draining and emotionally problematic for both of us. He is spending time at his friend Geoff’s house to get away. Mostly, though, we’re glad he’s here because he doesn’t have to deal with the stress of paying rent or finding groceries. I’m glad we can take care of him.

Nathan is still in Monterey doing his guard training. I think this has been the hardest for him (or maybe Kaleb). His classes are done online now, which isn’t an ideal way for him to learn, and the base is on lock down. (Meaning he can’t leave at all.) We are helping by sending care packages. Haley sent him a hammock and he’s found a little spot in some trees where he can hammock and read. I sent him cookies, art supplies, and books. We talk on the phone, text, and sometimes I even remember to check my Snapchat!

Kaleb…whoosh. I don’t have any little kids so I can’t say for sure, but I feel like this is hardest on teenagers. He out of all of my kids is most involved with his friends. He LOVES spending time with his friends, especially playing basketball. So, now that school isn’t meeting and he is doing his assignments online, and he can’t hang out with friends except for online gaming (they are all playing Fortnight together a lot), he’s kind of sad and frustrated. I haven’t done a great job at getting him on a healthy schedule and I’m going to work on that this week, but the has been good at staying on top of his schoolwork. He and Jake both use the computers downstairs, and I am really glad we have enough technology for everyone.

For the most part, we’ve been able to find the food and supplies we need. I had already stocked up on toilet paper, which is one of the things that people are panic buying. I’m low on paper towels but we really don’t use those very often (a habit from my childhood…my mom wasn’t a big paper towel user!) so we’ll be OK. We got lucky one Sunday at Costco and found both rice and flour, and another day I got a bag of sugar. Rice was worrying Kendell, so I’m glad we found some just so he won’t worry about it. Sometimes we’ve gone to Costco and they’ve been out of milk, eggs, butter, and bread, but we’ve still found them on different days. Baking supplies are especially hard to find, and it took me two weeks to find brown sugar, but, again…with patience you eventually get what you need.

My friend Wendy had to self-quarantine so I’ve been bringing her groceries when I go out. We also have been helping Cindy out with getting groceries. We bought a just-in-case bag of basmati rice, before we lucked into getting the kind we like better (Calrose sticky rice), so we gave that bag to Jeff. Whenever I go to a store, I check for baby formula because that is really short right now, too. I think that helping others has been one of the positives of this experience.

My biggest struggle has been stress eating. I just can’t seem to stop snacking. Like Kaleb’s schedule, that is one of my goals this week for things to improve. I need to end it now, at the start, before it gets to be a real problem.

What about you? How are you recording your experiences with the pandemic? The details I wrote today are the broad strokes---there are so many other small stories I could also tell, so maybe I will write about it more often here. I also want to think about ways I could photograph this experience. More next week?!


Fabric for The Plague Year

When I was a kid living my Jack Mormon life deep in the heart of Utah County, my mom had an on-going joke. Whenever anyone mentioned something about food storage (and living in Utah County in the 70s and 80s, even as a Jack Mormon, “anyone” might mention this often), she would say “I don’t need to have food storage. If the apocalypse happens, I will trade my fabric for food.”

Even then, she had an enormous stash of fabric. (She also had, in the very same room as her fabric stash and sewing machine, two floor-to-ceiling cupboards that were filled with food she’d canned during the summer, anything from apple pie filling to refried beans, green beans to a weird pickled succotash with carrots and jalapeños that I don’t think anyone ever actually ate, even shredded beef and of course salsa and tomatoes. Was this not food storage?)

By the time she passed away last year, she had a dragon’s hoard of fabric. If trading fabric for food ever really became a thing, she and her family and her neighbors and probably some of her neighbors’ families would’ve never gone hungry.

What’s the likelihood of ever actually trading fabric—or any craft supply, really—for food? It was just a family joke.

Of course, until now none of us had ever actually gone through anything apocalypse-esque, so we really had no idea.

But now there’s COVID-19. There is shelter-in-place, and no sit-down restaurants, and the library is closed. The movie theater is closed and school is online and the stock market crashes every single day. There are riots in the aisle of Costco. (Literally: TWO Costcos in Utah have had to call in police because of fist fights.)

It’s not really the apocalypse. At least, I don’t think it is, but it is surreal. I came out of Costco yesterday feeling like was floating because I was so relieved that they had milk. When in my life have I ever worried about being able to go to the store and buy milk? Never.

Yesterday morning, I woke up with a quilt. Meaning: I dreamed about making a quilt, and when I woke up I knew exactly how I would do it. What it will look like, where I will put it. (It’s a table quilt if you were wondering.) I don’t simply want to make this. I need to make it. I lay there in bed, figuring out fabric measurements in my head, fueled with creative energy.

Except, you know? I don’t have a fabric stash like my mother did.

Sure: I have fabric. Scraps from previous projects, of course. I have four different boxes where I am accumulating small scraps for different types of projects. I have a huge box of 6x6 squares and another of 8x8. I have fabric in the closet under the stairs and in a box in the storage room and in stacks next to scrapbooks in my crafty space.

But the quilt I brought out of my dream is yellow, blue, and green. Colors, especially yellow and spring green, I don’t have a lot of.

And plus, shopping for fabric is one of the fun parts.

I’m serious: it almost felt like a compulsion to go to the fabric store. Like a deep itch that could only be scratched by looking at bolts of Moda and Riley Blake.

I tried. I tried to talk myself out of it. I tried to be logical and calm and socially responsible. Fabric isn’t a need, it’s a want. Nevertheless, I found myself in the Fabric Mill parking lot later that day. It was completely empty, but the store was open, so, I confess: I use some hand sanitizer and then went inside.

I bought the fabric for my quilt.

Fabric for a plague year

Maybe this wasn’t my mom’s intent or understanding. Maybe it really was a joke. But at that moment in the fabric store, where I kept my eye on the door just in case someone else came in, where the feeling of guilt for not being socially responsible battled with that fabric-store joy of being surrounded by color and print and possibility: right then, I understood our inside joke in a way I never had.

In times like these, we don’t only need the essentials. Yes: toilet paper and canned chicken are required. We have to eat. We have to take care of our bodies.

But if all we do is exist, that isn’t really living. And for me, a large part of living is making. Creating things helps me feel alive. It is, in fact, one of my reasons to be here on this earth in the first place. Making things gives my life meaning. And if we can’t have lives with meaning, why try so hard to stay safe from the virus? Life without meaning is life without joy. And during stressful times like these—not just individual trials, but social ones—we need joy. Maybe we need it more than we do in regular, non-pandemic times.

So even though it goes against the goals I made for myself when March started (and doesn’t March 1 seem so far away? So long-gone, those times when we didn’t get anxious about getting milk or shaking someone’s hand?), I’m going to make my dream quilt. I’m going to make it because I am alive right now, and because making things makes me happy.

I’m also going to bake cookies (as soon as I can find a source for dark-brown sugar, that is; I’ll trade a fat quarter or ten sheets of patterned paper for two fresh bags) and make scrapbook layouts.

I’m going to work on the other thing I brought out of a different dream, which is a poem about protective kittens.

Because in addition to loving my people, I make my mark on the world by making things. Maybe you make your mark by collecting stamps or by perfecting your golf swing. Doesn’t matter what it is. What matters, especially now, is that we honor who we are by doing what we love, because in the end—and that is the terror, yes, that this coronavirus experience could be our end, or the end of someone we love—that is what we have to offer.


Thoughts from a Shadow Dancer

A memory I thought of this morning:

In the 90s, there was a short story magazine called Story. It was a beautiful publication, bound like a paperback rather than a magazine, with heavy cardstock covers and thick paper. I’m not sure how I found it, but once I did, I subscribed to it and when it came in the mail I would read the whole thing. This was during the years when I was a newlywed and then when we were building our house.

In one issue, the first one that came to my mailbox at our new house, there was an advertisement: Story was having a contest. You could submit your work and if you won, your story would be published.

I wanted to have a story published in that literary magazine. I wanted a copy of it, with my name in the table of contents and my words printed on that thick paper.

And at that point, I was always writing stories, so I finished and polished the one I thought was best, printed it, and got it ready to mail.

But that’s not really the memory. Honestly, I’m not even sure what story I sent in. The memory that surfaced is different, and more painful.

There was a five dollar submission fee to enter the contest. Five dollars is not a big deal, but right then—when we’d put literally every single penny of our savings into our house—it felt like a big deal.

More than that, though, was that I didn’t want to write a check for $5 because I didn’t want to have to explain it to Kendell.

I literally never talked to him about my writing aspirations. Just the thought of it made me blush. (Literally…not the sexy blush, the ugly one.)  Writing—the act itself, as well as the idea that I might think I could be successful at it—has always felt a little bit…shameful to me. Like it’s a cute aspiration a child might have, but not a grown up in the adult world. I didn’t want to tell my mom about it either, or my friends; it isn’t only true in my marriage, but everywhere. “I want to be a writer” is both my deepest, longest desire and the one that embarrasses me the most.

So I didn’t want to tell my husband what I was doing. Part of me imagined my story winning and then showing it to him as a surprise. Part of me imagined my story not winning, and if he knew I’d submitted it I’d have to tell him it didn’t win, and how awful would that be? If I didn’t tell anyone, I could avoid the embarrassment altogether.

So I drove to the grocery store and used cash to buy a money order.

And that is the memory I came to this morning, after my sister-in-law shared this article on her Facebook page: sitting in the car (we had a Honda Accord then and it was my favorite car we ever owned) in the Macey’s parking lot, putting my submission together, full of hope and also of embarrassment and not able to put into words then how much hurt was involved in that hoping. I licked the manila envelope, fastened the clasp, and drove to the post office, trying not to cry.

Why that memory this morning? Because of something from that article. It’s about how women in their 50s should do something new or big, something life-changing. It divides women of this “certain age” into three categories: the retirement pushers, the I’m-just-a-moms, and the shadow dancers. I am a shadow dancer:

In their 20’s, these women labeled their dreams as foolish, and chose related (but sensible) careers, instead. (I chose Marketing Manager over author at 20. Just in case I wasn’t Hemingway….) The shadow dancer’s dream has never died; but a little bit of her soul has, every day.

Because, of course my story didn’t win the contest. Of course it didn’t; I was young and full of dreams and ambition but not much skill or knowledge. Since it was a contest, I didn’t even get a rejection letter. Just waning hope at the mailbox. (That is much, much worse than a rejection letter.)

During those years, before I had kids, I wrote a lot. I read Writer’s Digest and I submitted a ton of things. I had one poem accepted in The Daily Universe, BYU’s student paper (even though I wasn’t a student there yet), but that was it for success. Then I had Haley, and I started working on my undergrad degree, and I had professors tell me things like “I’ll be lucky if I find one real writer in my entire career as a professor” and “don’t get your hopes up about being a writer because most of you won’t succeed.” I read over and over, in different spaces and approaches, that success as a writer is basically impossible.

So I did exactly what that article describes: I chose more sensible things. I didn’t keep pushing and get a PhD like I had originally wanted. Instead, I taught high school English and then I became a librarian.

That dream didn’t go away. I’ve blogged, I’ve written for scrapbook magazines. I had an essay published in an anthology and a few in some LDS publications.

But life just chipped away at that thing I had in my early twenties, the absolute belief (even if it was tinged with embarrassment) that if I tried hard enough, I would be a writer.

And let’s be honest: I haven’t tried hard enough.

I let the shame overwhelm the belief.

I let sensible take the place of ambitious.

And I just carried it around.

I never stopped wanting to be a writer. I never stopped filling up with envy when I went to a book reading or signing or I met a writer in any form. I never stopped reading and thinking “I want to do what this person does.”

But I didn’t do it.

I made a life with my children and it has been a good life. I love them. I am grateful I got to be a mom and I wouldn’t give that up for anything. I’m grateful for the years I got to be a stay-at-home mom, short as they were. I get to work at a place that I love and I get to use the knowledge I gained from my degrees to help people.

But, here’s another truth: the shame is still here. The embarrassment. How dare I still carry around this dream? How could I think that I would be successful at writing, when so many others have tried and failed? There is also shame at not trying, too. And at the fact that maybe I am selfish for even my sensible choices, because it’s not like I’ve achieved any sort of financial success by working part time at the library.

But I also am not that girl in the Accord in the grocery store parking lot. I can at least find the words to describe what I am feeling. I have more to say than I could that day in my car, because of what life has brought me, good and bad.

I want to do what that article describes. Take a big, bold step. Reclaim that glittering, positive hope I used to have. I don’t want to be held back anymore by shame and embarrassment.

I just don’t know how to take the step, because even as I consider it—and I have been seriously considering it, the next step which would be getting an MFA—I am again filled up with worry. All these years I’ve worked as a teacher and then a librarian, I haven’t really been contributing much to my family, at least not monetarily. And now I want to use more money to get a degree that has a teeny, tiny silver of the possibility of success?

It feels selfish.

And that feels shameful.

The shame makes me go back to the sensible. Maybe instead of an MFA I should get a Library Science master’s. Or do something different. Law school? High school councilor? A total change—nursing? Hospital chaplain?

I could do those. I could choose something that makes more money.

I could stay where I am and change nothing.

But the tug is still there—the one that has tugged me since tenth grade, when, in my honors English class, another girl shared a poem she had written. She didn’t seem embarrassed. She read it in front of the whole class. And I thought—wait. We can do that? Not write, I was already writing. But share. Without shame.

That would be big. It would be bold to say “I am still worth pursuing what I have always wanted to do.” Because I only get one life, and I have this life right now, and that is it. I have years left, but not as many.

I want to be ready, and maybe that wanting is the thing that will make me actually be ready?

I want to give myself permission.


Something Comforting that Murmers

When I was a kid, I lived within two or three miles of my cousins (on my dad’s side), but we only saw each other once a year: at Christmas. Until I was 9 or 10, we went to my grandma Elsie’s house (my dad’s mom) every Christmas afternoon, where we’d eat dinner and open presents. When my grandma got older, we switched to the Cousin Party, which rotated between the three houses each year; we opened gifts and Santa came.

But that was mostly it: the time I spent with my cousins.

I grew up thinking that the reason for this was that Grandma Elsie loved my dad the least out of her three sons, and so by proxy she loved me and my sisters the least out of all of her grandkids. I don’t know if the memory I have of my mom saying that is a memory of me overhearing her say it to someone else, or if she said it to me directly, but it is one of the surest childhood memories I have.

So all through my childhood, I both revered and feared my cousins. I thought they were so glamorous and beautiful (I was a decade younger) and just cool, while I was the perennial uncool baby. (They gave me dolls as Christmas gifts for far too long.) Of course they must’ve had something I didn’t, because my grandma loved them more.

Today, I went to the hospital to visit my aunt, who was married to my dad’s brother (they’ve since divorced). She is dying from congestive heart failure and diverticulitis, and is going home to receive hospice care today. I had planned on going running, but Becky called and I decided not to run but to go there instead.

I am so glad I did.

Cousins bw

When we got into the hospital room, I hugged my aunt. I also immediately started crying, because even though it was a different hospital it felt the same: the strangeness of the end of a life, which is still so raw to me.

Some of my other cousins also got there at the same time, but my aunt was holding my hand, and she told me a story about how she had written a card to me after my mom died (my mom was her sister-in-law), even addressed it and put a stamp on it and carried it around in her purse, but she kept forgetting to send it to me. Then she squeezed my hand and said “I want you to know that I always loved you, and I’m sorry we weren’t close when you got older. I wish we would’ve been closer.”

Then I pulled a chair up to her bed and sat silent for a few minutes, while Becky and my cousins chatted, because I was feeling overwhelmed.

My aunt didn’t have to say any of that. Maybe it was just the Dilaudid talking. But as I sat in the aftermath of her words, I felt something strange happening in my psyche:

A little bit of healing.

I thought about my mom, who I loved, but who had a very strong personality. And my grandma Elsie, who also had a strong personality. How much of the third-best grandchildren feeling was actually a result of both of their strong personalities? Their inability to put aside their differences so that the four of us could feel like we belonged and were loved?

No one is around anymore who can answer that question for me.

But my aunt saying she loved me and that she regretted us not being closer? That was like someone taking that little girl I used to be, wrapping her in something soft and warm, and whispering a soothing murmur: you matter, you matter.

I sat thinking and watching, feeling something sharp lose some of its edge, in a sort of reverie, until my aunt laughed. Some of her grandchildren had come in and brought her presents, and she laughed in exactly the same tone of delight she used to laugh in, when we were kids opening presents at Christmas, and for a few seconds I felt just like I did as that little Amy version of myself, young enough to love dolls and happy that my aunt love what I loved.

When we left, one of my cousins said, “you know, we might not be as close as we should be, but we are…we are something important and strong.”

And maybe for the first time in my life, I felt like that “we” included me, too. That I mattered just as much, that I had as much to offer as anyone else in the room, that maybe other people love me, too, that I don’t know about.

I’m so sorry this had to happen on the day that marked the beginning of my aunt’s death. Why couldn’t I have known this twenty years ago, why couldn’t we have all been closer and supported each other through babies and divorces and crises and weddings and joys and losses?

But today, right now: I feel different. I feel stronger and a little less bitter and brittle. I feel lighter: not as heavy, but also more full of light. Less damaged.


First Mother's Day without Her

Mother's day has always been difficult for me, because it asks us to overlook damage. To see our mothers & ourselves as mothers in a glowing, beautiful light. This year, many friends have said "this will be a hard Mother's Day for you, because it's your first without your mom." I love my friends for seeing and knowing this, and for being supportive. But if I am honest (but not raw, because raw is unbearable right now), this year is only hard in different ways. Mother's Day is about celebrating perfect mothers, and I didn't have a perfect mother. I was not a perfect mother. I wanted to be—I thought I would never damage my children, but despite my best intentions, I did. I know that my mom also had the best of intentions, and I don't really know that perfection is what motherhood asks of us anyway, despite this Hallmark holiday. But that is my truth: my mom couldn't always give me what I needed, I didn't give her what she needed, and it goes the other way, forward, into my children's generation. Logically I know that no one's mother is perfect & no one is a perfect mom. But it seems that other women are able to just see the good parts, the perfect parts, if only on this one day, and I can't. It's my fatal flaw: over thinking, over feeling. I know only this: we cannot bring perfection to motherhood. We can only bring ourselves. And while I didn't bring perfection, in the end all I can hope for, on this day and all the days of mothering, is grace & forgiveness.

This is what I wrote on my Instagram yesterday (I’m @amylsorensen there if you want to follow me). I received a whole bunch of comments about my post, and it also elicited a discussion with Kendell (who doesn’t really understand my use of social media) that devolved into tears as I thought about the ways I have hurt my children and the mistakes I have made.

I think I went into this Mother’s Day—the first one without a mother—thinking it wouldn’t be a big deal because I’ve always struggled with Mother’s Day anyway. That is part of why I wrote what I did, because I was trying to coax myself off the edge, to get myself to believe that it wasn’t a big deal and it wouldn’t hurt more than any other ones. But as I curled into a crumpled, weepy mess on my bed, I had to let myself admit that yes: this one was harder.

Amy sue christmas 2011 5x7

I want to set something straight, based on one of the comments on my post: I don’t think I failed as a mother. I think that failure would look like something different; failure would be giving up, would be not continuing to help them in whatever ways I can, would be not admiring or loving them. And that is not what I meant. I love them—so much. I could add one million “so”s to that sentence and it still wouldn’t say how much I love them. I am proud of them and the people they are becoming. I think they are amazing, each and every one of them, in their unique ways. They are all strong and have each overcome obstacles; they are each continuing to push forward and find their way. They make me laugh; I love talking to them, hearing their opinions and ideas.

IMG_3964 4 kids meeting kaleb 8x8 bw

I love them and it is because I love them that my disappointment in my mistakes hurts so much. But I didn’t fail as a mom. I just wasn’t as good of a mom as I wanted to be.

Motherhood, though, is tied tight between generations; it’s not only that I am a mom, but that I was a daughter. My mom’s influence on how I mothered my children is immense, which means each generation influences all the ones that come after, often in ways we can’t even see. Maybe the mistakes my mom’s mom made influenced mine, I mean. So the painful parts of my relationship with my mom seep into my relationship with my kids. The most painful part of yesterday was seeing other adult daughters with their mothers, saying kind things about them. Celebrating their relationship.

I was able to do this when my mom was still here, however imperfectly, because she was still here. I still thought there would be a way to fix, to repair, to move forward in an easier way. And now she is gone, that hope is also gone.

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I loved my mom. She was an amazing woman who could do any craft she set her mind to. She was a sewer in every sense of the word; she made clothes and quilts and stuffed fabric rabbits. One season she sewed all of my gymnastics teammates’ sweats. She made excellent meals and I doubt she ever once served a dinner that didn’t include vegetables. She was a protofeminist who taught me many things about resisting the ways society tries to limit women. She sacrificed for me so I could be as involved with gymnastics as I was growing up. She took care of several of my friends in high school. She took me to the library and bought me books for Christmas and books from the book fair; she left me alone to sit on the back patio, reading away entire afternoons. She was beautiful and always dressed well. She was determined not to let expectations or her body’s limitations stop her—I will always remember her at 68, walking uphill in the desert outside of Cabo San Lucas with me, Haley, and Jake, from one zipline to the next, and the astounded look on the faces of the men helping us attach to the lines. Is this old woman really going to ride? their faces said, and she didn’t even answer their unspoken questions, just went. Amy sue palmilla beach 2012 5x7

I loved her.

But as I became an adult, got married, started my life, things got complicated. This was both of our faults, but I think I felt more guilt about it than she did. I married someone she didn’t get along with (partly because I married her; my husband and my mom are so much alike, and you know what happens when two fires try to interact? Someone gets burned, and it has always been me) and I worked within my marriage in different ways than she did in her marriage with my dad. I had a daughter and my mother loved her, but then I started having sons. She loved them, too, but she didn’t know how to interact with them. There was the tuna-noodle-casserole wedge. There was the fact that I didn’t feel like I could ask her to help me because I felt like I was imposing, especially with my kids. She wanted me to be one way and I wanted her to be another way and neither of us could do what the other one needed.

As time went on there were more wedges. I think my mom had unwavering faith in me that I could do anything in my life—that I was, in fact, meant to do something amazing. Isn’t that strange: her belief in my intelligence and abilities became a wedge because of the dissonance between her faith in me and the reality of my life. I was supposed to change the world but all I really did was what most everyone does, got married, had a family. I graduated from college but “only in English.”

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But maybe what was most damaging to our relationship was the differences in our communication habits. My mom is the type of person who assumes that everyone wants to talk to her, to include her, to be involved with her. I’m the type of person who assumes no one wants that from me. So she needed me to be assertive when I didn’t know how, and I needed her to be inclusive in ways that were foreign to her. Neither of these traits is wrong or bad; there isn’t a moral judgement here, but just an acknowledgement.

My sister summed this up for me very neatly in the days after my mom’s funeral. “When it comes right down to it, Amy,” she said, “Mom just didn’t understand you.” The tone of voice in that kind of statement is essential, and hers was patient and loving. That sentence helped me to start letting go of my guilt, because it’s not that I am defective, but just baffling. And that is OK.

So here it is: the first Mother’s Day without my mom. And despite my bravado (which I only shared with my own psyche), it was painful. Much more painful than any other Mother’s Day. It was painful because she wasn’t here, of course. But it was painful because it was a reminder that even if she was here, it wouldn’t have been what other people seem to have. (I’m fully aware of how social media only presents us in one light, and usually it’s positive, which is another reason I wrote that post on Instagram, because I refuse to put myself in a false “Amazing Amy” light.) And since she is gone, that will never happen.

I didn’t get to have an uncomplicated, healthy relationship with my mother, and now I never will.

Which is why I wrote that last sentence of my Instagram post: forgiveness, grace. Forgiving not just my mom but myself (although I can’t imagine what either of those would look like). And letting grace work forward, so that while yes, I wasn’t a perfect mom, I was a mom who tried her best but made many mistakes—while that is true, it isn’t the only story. What I have is whatever future I have left with my smart, funny, caring, unique children and my relationship with them. And what I want to accomplish is that, when they eventually have their first Mother’s Day without their mother, they won’t have this snarl of emotions. They will know (I hope, I hope that is what I can give them) that I love them and that I am proud of them and that they didn’t disappoint me, not once, not ever.

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