Breathing Under Water


Good morning friends! My new essay Breathing Under Water is up on the Brain, Child blog today. I hope you’ll give it a read when you have a chance. My heartfelt thanks for all your support!

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Yoga and Poetry

photo source

I’ve been waking up grumpy. Almost like a teenager. Like, pleeeeeease just five more minutes.

After two years of sleep deprivation, we are finally sleeping through the night. I should be rising with the smile of the well-rested. But every morning at 4 or 4:30 or 4:45, my toddler leaves her bed and crawls into ours. Sometimes she settles down, but most times she tosses and turns, thrashing her body against mine. She will say, “I love you so much!” and “Remember, we go party yesterday?” Because apparently every day is a party.

My friend Rachel wrote about her morning yoga routine with her little ones and it got me thinking. I have to turn this around. What if we started each morning with five sun salutations? What if we woke each day and recited this Mary Oliver poem like a prayer?

We practiced this afternoon. Hands together, namaste. Arms stretching way up. Bending forward to touch our toes. When I moved into other poses, like cobra and downward-facing dog, she started to climb my body. But a few sun salutations… I think we can do it. Tomorrow morning, we start anew.

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Why I Wake Early

-Mary Oliver

Hello, sun in my face.

Hello, you who make the morning

and spread it over the fields

and into the faces of the tulips

and the nodding morning glories,

and into the windows of, even, the

miserable and crotchety—

best preacher that ever was,

dear star, that just happens

to be where you are in the universe

to keep us from ever-darkness,

to ease us with warm touching,

to hold us in the great hands of light—

good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day

in happiness, in kindness.


I was going to tell you about the perfect summer evening. Of the cerulean sky. And how I feel dead honest when I write cerulean, entitled to that word because I was a painter, and if I had my tubes right here, cerulean would be the one I would choose. Maybe now you’ll think of Bob Ross and van dyke brown or titanium white, fan brushes, happy little trees.

The summer after college I worked a two-week stint for a small but renowned oil paint maker in upstate New York. Archival quality paint, the stuff they use for restoration work at the Met. The paint a young painter does not need but thinks she needs. I labeled tubes and they paid me in paint. It was boring and bucolic. Twenty years later, I still have some tubes with the life squeezed out of them, congealed linseed oil sealing the tops shut forever.

I was going to tell you about the perfect summer evening. Geese flying against the cerulean sky. My view from the library window. I was going to tell you how I should be walking the beach with my husband and daughter. Instead I’m here, pulling Adrienne Rich off the shelf, and then Kay Ryan, only because she’s right next to Adrienne Rich and the cover art of her book is Joshua trees in silhouette. A deadline looming, and I’m reading poetry.

I never meant to tell you about the paint. The way turpentine smells like drunk youth and dreams.

The way this writing project feels like an excavation of self. Like so many hours of nothing but dust, for the rare days I hit bone.

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Toward Light

7:00 a.m. The toddler and her dad are beach bound with the push-along trike. I’ve scrubbed the cat vomit from the carpet. And the coffee is still hot. Oh to drink hot coffee, uninterrupted, while I type.

Time is limited, the day will be busy, but already I am distracted looking at the dollhouse. It’s safe to say, I’m excited. I showed my mom pictures of it yesterday, and she said, “Who are you kidding? This dollhouse is for you!” Well, maybe it’s for us. Like the Erens’ quote from yesterday, children bringing back pieces of the past. I have looked at many, many dollhouses. From an adult perspective, I’m thinking about styles that best facilitate imaginative play. But I’m also very much able to see it all with my child’s eye. Which would I have enjoyed the most? Which would allow the most room for my sister and I to play together and separately? Which doors and windows are big enough to go in and out? And here, the little nursery set of my childhood dreams. I’m thinking of the miniatures we will collect. Or perhaps we will make some ourselves. We could carve a tiny Christmas tree, make little papier-mâché pumpkins, a minuscule birthday cake, the smallest paper chain you’ve ever seen.

The dollhouse isn’t just a connection to the deep past, a fossil that I carry in my body. It is an ever-present part of me. It is me. The one who imagines. The one whispering her stories for hours in a quiet room. This is the uninterrupted time I seek; to follow my imagination, down the quiet corridors and into a bright field. To argument and celebration, death and joy and hushed conversations, birthdays and friendships and betrayals, the skinned knee, the chipped tooth, the race won, the hill we rolled down, smell of sweet grass, eyes shut tight, body bumping the earth until we hit bottom and split open with laughter.

And you stop caring so much if what you wrote was good or thoughtful or sublime. You make art because you have to. Because no one can take it away from you. Because your worst critic is you. Because your thoughts move into darkness, but you write toward the light, always toward the light. Because as much as you know you can not capture the moments as they fly, you will forever try to contain them.

 “When it comes to the world, I want to know it, touch it, taste it, and indefinitely hold it.” – Gary Shteyngart

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Meet Me Here

Last week I read Pamela’s Erens’ Eleven Hours, a portrait of childbirth that juxtaposes the stories of two women, one who longs for a baby and the other in the throes of labor.

A passage I keep returning to: “She would like the surprise of children, the way they bring pieces of the outer world back to you, pieces of past, present, and future. The way they are always in a place where you cannot quite meet them.”

It’s true in a way, that children often seem to be in a place just shy of our grasp. The moments we’re able to shift our adult brains to child-wonder, to allow ourselves to be fully immersed in that world, are transcendent and fleeting. Just as I come to fully understand exactly where my daughter is, the phase disappears and she transforms again. I wonder, is it less about capturing these ephemeral joys and more about seeking to meet her right where she is?

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A friend’s post has me dreaming of dollhouses. Tonight my daughter and her friend played with a wonderfully tall dollhouse. I loved this form of play as a child, and it’s magical to see my daughter enjoying it too. We’re thinking ahead to Christmas, trying to decide which one to get for her. The wooden Waldorf style are my favorites, like the ones at Elves and Angels. 

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Fossil palm frond with fishes. Early Eocene (50 million years ago). Lincoln County, Wyoming. Currently on loan at Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, CT. 
I believe that during times of transformation, when we are vulnerable and malleable, experiences and images, people and places, imprint upon us deeply, the way they do during childhood. We carry fossils in the soft clay of our bodies.

When my daughter was a baby, when I was a malleable new mother, the days stretched out long before us. We read lots of books and took lots of walks and sang lots of songs. Around the time she was 7 months old, I discovered that the Peabody Museum had free admission from 2-5 p.m. every Thursday. The timing was ideal since my daughter only napped in the car. She would fall asleep on the drive to New Haven, and then I’d let the car idle in the parking lot, enjoying a blissful half hour of reading while she slept.

Inside the museum, we spent most of our time in The Great Hall, a place imprinted upon me from childhood. I would slowly circle her stroller around the colossal Brontosaurus. When she was learning to walk, she toddled between the smooth benches and the exhibit railing, the great skeletons towering above her. Soon she was off exploring, walking through the different rooms, making her way up the stone stairs.

Today, a rare unplanned afternoon before us, I ask if she wants to visit the dinosaurs and she says, “Yes, yes!” This place, imprinted, feels familiar and sacred.

Today we did not need a stroller. She follows the dinosaur prints herself and swats my hand away when we reach the stairs, announcing, “I can do it myself!”

We practice pronunciation as we go. She recites: Triceratops, Neanderthal, javelina, sarcophagus.

She points to Darwin and asks if he is Santa Claus.

Darwin’s work showed that at a very basic level all life is related. The vast diversity of plant and animal species, including humans, has evolved over time from one original source. 

We make our way to the fossils, the palm frond and fishes discovered in Wyoming, preserved for 50 million years in siltstone. Underwater evidence. These things we get to keep. Does that many years count as forever?

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Horseback Riding

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I’ve spent too many posts relying on subtext to tell the truth of each day, so here’s one where I’ll state it plain.

I rode horses for a few years as a kid. Western style, not English. I remember the excitement of picking out real cowgirl boots. I know how to saddle, bridle, brush, and clean the caked mud from hooves. My body knows the rhythm of walk, trot, cantor, gallop. I love trail rides, but the ring is best for galloping. During a competition when I was ten, the saddle wasn’t tightened, and on the return loop, it slid from my horse taking me with it. I don’t remember the fall; I want to say I might’ve even landed on my feet. I know I managed not to get trampled. Once during a lesson, another horse bit mine and he reared up, front legs reaching into the air, chucking me backwards, but I held on. Those were the only memorable events, those and the time a horse stepped on my foot. I loved driving to the stable, the routine of readying the horse, just being close to those majestic creatures, and of course I loved to ride.

At some point during my pregnancy, I told my brother I missed riding horses. I don’t know what prompted it, I just wanted to be out in the woods horseback riding. A fleeting notion. Many months later, when my daughter was just 5 months old, my brother stopped by with a birthday present that he and my siblings had arranged. I’ll never forget, it was the middle of the day and he was dressed in his suit looking so polished and handsome. The baby had just dozed off and I was lying in bed with her, delirious from long-term sleep-deprivation. The place was surely a mess. By then my brother had a 2-year-old and understood, but I still felt embarrassed. He smiled, handed me an envelop, and whispered, “Open it.” Inside were two gift certificates to a stable a few towns away. Apparently the stable did not routinely offer gift certificates, but were happy to accommodate the request and created two by hand (see above picture). The font on the backside is mismatched and each certificate contains different information. He had to wait a bit while they made them up. We laughed and laughed, silent-don’t-wake-the-baby laughter bubbling into tears streaming down my cheeks, which turned into real tears after he’d left–I was so moved by the thoughtful nature of the gift, that he remembered after all that time, a whim from a passing conversation.

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Round and Round

Tonight is the first time in a long time I almost forgot to post. It’s one of those periods where I feel stretched by daily writing. If it were earlier in the project, I’d be asking, why am I even doing this? By now I’m far enough along to know.

The weather finally broke. Dry air, open windows, an evening chill. We ate fried clams for dinner. And Isabella went round and round on the carousel.

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