Storytelling as a Salve

For a while now (November 2016 perhaps?) this country has been a difficult place to be. And this summer, politics has reached a crisis level. The news is very very very difficult to contend with. Daily, gruesome cruelty towards people trying to enter this country, and the near constant gun violence, due to the fear, racism and the misogyny of those who support this administration, have been a terrible, dull, drumbeat. For a person like me, a woman who lives in a very comfortable world for the most part, this is such a heartbreaking and confusing time to be an American. I’m very anxious, like so many are, about where we are careening with this dangerous administration at the helm. It can be hard to just keep doing your regular thing, doing your best to parent and work and live with joy. I say this as a reminder to myself, when things I’m doing or thinking about seem futile and self-serving. It’s really just hard sometimes to exist in both places. My life is actually good and lucky right now, and yet more people are openly suffering and struggling than I’ve ever been aware of.

There is no snappy thing to say here, no immediate answers, other than that I am doing what I can to make sense of this moment. We have lost our way, but we all have to keep going, listening, learning the truths, amplifying the good, and hopefully we will get through this terrible time. 

This connects to my work on MILK. Though I’m taking a selective look at loss, through the guests and ideas and stories that are available to me, I’ve realized the transformational power of writing and talking through pain and grief, and creating narratives that are ours. The last several episodes of MILK have focused on storytelling and how writing or telling another person about your loss can help not only you, but offer a salve to others.

An organization like The Moth, a revered, powerful live storytelling organization, is run by artistic director Catherine Burns, and does such wonderful work. I was so happy to talk with her about working in a  space where she can coax healing stories out of people, and watch them transform a live crowd, and later, offer those stories more widely to people listening intimately to The Moth’s amazing podcast. Catherine has been through her own losses and shares her beautiful, optimistic take on her community and the joy she takes in her job.   

Molly Rosen Guy is a writer/editor/teacher/ who is using Instagram as a forum to write about her father’s illness and death, the end of her marriage and of her very popular wedding business. She is unflinching in her sharing, and tells the truths that she needs to tell. I loved talking to her about books, leading workshops, her own writing, about mothering two daughters, and about her dad, Robert. She is working on a memoir about him, and I look forward to reading it.

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Nadine Haruni has taken her experiences and used them to write books that help kids deal with transition and loss.  Her Freeda the Frog books help families deal with divorce, with blending families, moving houses and schools, and losing a loved one or pet. Nadine had always wanted to write books for kids, and worked hard to do so while practicing law full time, and raising two children after her divorce. She’s a force!

 

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Speaking of loss, I left my little boy in New Hampshire last weekend at overnight camp with his sister, who is there for her 5th year. It is the weirdest feeling, knowing that your kids exist in the world without you. This too, is of course a type of loss – from the time they are born, every phase and stage that helps them find their independence and move away from us is truly that. I miss them, but know the experiences away from us are important for us and them.

So, I’m connecting dots with this Loss Season and the other work I’m doing. Having the kids out of sight for the few weeks is helping me to do that.  Kids are distracting! But, we can learn so much from them! I recently hosted a new, wonderful podcast series called “How to Raise a Parent.” It’s a branded project from Slate Studios and Dairy Pure. I interview experts about how we can get back in touch with the purity and innocence of our own childhood, and what we can learn from our kids in the process. I got to work with my kids on some of the promos for the podcast, you can hear one here: 

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It was a blast and I’m proud of the series. You can see and hear the podcast here:

 Also, In case you missed it, my episode of ZigZag Podcast with Manoush Zomorodi ties together a lot of the topics I’m thinking on, and interviewing MILKs about this summer. The episode is about commodifying motherhood and what success means to me, the loss of certain media industries and how I’m personally pivoting. Its very open and honest and it made me think and make connections.

 Yours, in loss, love, success, honesty and parenting.

It's Just Like Riding a Bike

I’m just back from a 7 day cycling trip in Tuscany, without the kids. It’s not an overstatement to say this situation was epic.   

The trip, “Tuscany by the Sea,” was organized by Back Roads, a cycling/travel company, and took us from Rome to Montalcino to Castaliglione della Pescaia and Ortebello, to Monte Argentario (among other spots) and back to Rome, and was incredible. The rolling hills, the sea views, the churches, the old men sitting on a benches in every town square, the pasta, the Brunello, the espresso, the wonderful guides who told us what to do (my favorite part – being told what to do) – it was such a joy to use my body, to enjoy my family, and mentally put aside all the brutality of recent events. Especially the past few weeks, watching the Kavanaugh heinousness like it was my job, and teetering on the edge of feeling like the result would produce a moment of redemption or healing for all women. But. Of course, we know how that went and honestly, the hits just keep coming and show no sign of stopping. I know that being able to escape the madness of the current political climate for a week was a total luxury, and to do it in ITALY OMG, but man, did it feel good to have a break. I totally unclenched. 

mallory kasdan

Leading up to the trip, I had been training on a Peloton indoor bike, which my apartment building purchased back in January. I had never been one for indoor spinning in a gym – the few times I tried Soul Cycle I didn’t really get it, I was self conscious, it was too hard for me, or the instructors made me do a little too much woo-hooing for my taste. My sisters both got Pelotons last year, and particularly Lanie, the middle sister, became a spinning animal.  She talked about it all the time, she loved all the metrics, which wasn’t surprising given her type A tendencies. She rides every day, and eventually, I got on the one in my building’s basement, and just freaking went for it.

So it was likely some sisterly competition that got me into this unique home biking business, but I’m so glad it did! Peloton has re-introduced me to endorphins, to pushing myself cardiovascular-ly, and I’m seeing fitness results with efficiency and crazy convenience. Though I have a very strong yoga practice, I had been needing something to kick my butt a little, as I get older. Riding alone in my basement to fit and funny instructors live or on demand in a Manhattan studio, oddly, was something I hadn’t known I needed.

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The world can be so hard for all of us, and if you have the strength and good fortune to be able to exercise, then you are lucky as hell. I felt so happy being able to rock up those Tuscan hills on a real bike this past week, alongside my sisters, my husband, and my dad, and I’m grateful for all the miles I put in ahead of time to prepare.       

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Cycling is a metaphor, and on this trip I found myself looking through it as a lens for relationships, like my marriage. Evan and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary last week on one of these rides and slipped away from the group for a seaside lunch for two. Cycling has long been Evan’s passion, and on this trip we got to enjoy it together. It’s hard not to be so literal on the hills, valleys, difficulties of the climbs and euphoria of the vistas, in thinking about our life together and the joys and struggles we experience in the moment, and over the long haul. Again, I feel lucky to be able to make these connections.

peloton series MILK podcast

In that spirit, check out the MILK Podcast/Peloton mini series I recorded with the lovely Peloton instructor MILKs, Jenn Sherman and Christine D’Ercole.

peloton milk podcast mallory kasdan

Riding with them at home has been a fascinating experience, and getting to know them personally in these interviews just highlighted their talent and deep motivational vibes. They are both super inspiring, and I think the episodes are terrific. Jenn and Christine are wonderful women who motivate and lift up others, and getting to meet and interview them, especially just before this trip, has been a wonderfully bright light.

cycling mallory kasdan

And by the way, the day after we returned from Rome, I was right back in it, planning, food shopping, taking the younger to a car racing birthday party and managing a tween temper tantrum over packing her own lunch. So these wonderful experiences, they are over before we know it, and we’re back at the bottom of the hill, working our way up. I feel lucky for all of it.

Evaluation

My son has “stuff.” Stuff that allows him to be in a special program in an (awesome) public school. Stuff that creates exceptional behaviors and skills in some areas, like intelligence, memory, reading and writing, and deficiencies in others, like processing language and understanding social cues. Some stuff I worry about, and some stuff I don’t.

Today and yesterday from 9:30 am – 3:30 pm, I sat in a room while a brilliant woman tested him and made conclusions about how his brain works. It was fascinating and exhausting, definitely for me, and most likely also for Miles. The neuropsychologist, who I’m obsessed with, was excited and animated. She clearly relishes her intense job of detailing and understanding children’s complex, beautiful brains. She knows A LOT. I think I might love her. 

My son has it much better than so many. First of all, he has me, and I am a stone cold killer when it comes to protecting him and his sister. I believe in him with all of my Mallory-ness, and I’m obsessive about getting him what he needs to learn and to be safe and happy. I won’t be able to always arrange things for him in this way, and right now it is seductive to think that I can.

Then there’s the fact that he is a kind, soulful and hilarious guy. He doesn’t always know that he’s being hilarious, but he is seriously interesting, and all that know him agree that he is a deep dude with a lot of panache. 

And the fact that he has this stuff: this language processing stuff, this executive functioning stuff, this attention stuff, this social cues stuff, well, it has just been super eye opening for me as a parent and as a person living in this world, just how many people have stuff. How many kids I grew up with had stuff.

I truly don’t know what is normal anymore. I don’t think I even like normal. 

For a while now I have been struggling with the language to write about my son’s stuff. I have been trying so hard to articulate this stuff, because it’s important for me to be to be able to understand him. Certainly, I will continue to struggle with my own stuff in order to communicate on his behalf, as he gets better at communicating and advocating for himself.

parenthood

The anniversary of my mom’s death is tomorrow. I’m approaching the date with sadness obviously, but nowhere near the numbed out pain I felt saying good-bye 2 years ago. Nor is this moment as hard as waiting for the milestones of that first year to pass.

But I suspect the spring weeks between Mother’s Day – June 6th will always be raw. I will always remember the last time we spoke on the phone, and the stupid cheery orange pashmina I bought her for her birthday on May 24th that I took back several weeks later. The anxious plane ride from NYC to Pittsburgh I took with my younger sister when we knew it was the very end. Celebrating my son’s birthday while sitting shiva.

Though I’m doing fine — trying to be present and feel grateful for my husband and children and other blessings, there is still a major Judi shaped hole in my life. Her loss forced an adjustment and a rebuilding that is ongoing. As Oprah-ish as it sounds, I’ve drawn strength from myself since she died. But erasing her from the picture has had a major impact on how things look and feel in our family.

That context set the stage for my recent epic partaking of “Parenthood.” While recovering from a surgery last month, I surrendered to my bed for a week or so of pure Netflixism. I was secretly thrilled to have the excuse to watch TV all day without feeling guilty – even if I had to sacrifice a body part in order to enjoy that freedom.

I really had no idea of the emotional assault that was “Parenthood,” a familiar seeming primetime NBC drama that looked and smelled like the “Thirty-something” of my youth smushed together with “Friday Night Lights.” Lots of familiar, good-looking television actors and a Bob Dylan theme song to boot. How had I missed this?

Jesus “Parenthood,” you had me at the opening shot of Adam Braverman (NATE FISHER!) taking a jog, and subsequent scenes in the pilot of Max, his son, struggling to be like the other kids while not fitting in at Little League and at school. Duh. I pretty much started crying right there and never once looked back as I went deep into Braverman country.

The show is basically Family Porn. Watching is a form of fantasy, because as difficult the issues they present are (autism, cheating, stay at home dad/mom boredom, black mold, infertility, adoption, PTSD, addiction, cancer, aging parents), everyone faces their problems with so much grace, self-knowledge and skill at solving things in 44 minutes that you can relax and enjoy the emotional ride.

Sure, Sarah is flaky and charming and talks over Adam until Adam reassuringly tells her how it’s going to go down. Crosby is hilarious but screws up again! OMG Julia is so controlling in her pencil skirts. But they talk things out in person and don’t get resentful. They bring each other lattes like that’s a normal thing to do and the lattes don’t get cold in traffic from Berkeley to San Francisco. They get together ALL THE TIME and Camille never seems bitter about all the dishes. The couples have amazing marriages mostly. The siblings don’t seem to judge each other. The children all brush their teeth when asked. Most of the men can fix things (despite the last name they are obviously not Jewish). The women have great hair and nice selections of layered necklaces.

As I obsessively watched the show, condensing 6 seasons into six weeks, it felt like my job. I literally could not stop pressing “Next Episode” and felt like a sneaky junkie at times watching during the day when I should have been doing important things. I cried, on average like 4 times an episode. I laughed when Adam got “The Fever” and felt so frustrated for Kristina because of Max and his Aspberger’s, but was also annoyed that she never seemed to get a babysitter that wasn’t family. I wondered if Kristina was a robot. I wished Mr. Cyr, the high school English teacher had been my boyfriend. I loved the Max/Hank storyline even though it was hard to watch.

Of course I knew it was manipulative to play sad music while someone was going through chemo and I knew it was manipulative to play sad music when someone was being mean to a kid with Asbergers but I cried my heart out anyway. I cried for all of the baseball games my mom wouldn’t attend (not that either of my kids play baseball) and I cried that my relationship with my dad wasn’t as easy as Sarah and Julia’s with Zeek, and that my marriage didn’t feature the same obvious gloss and excellent communication that these couples had.

But I got over it. Because it’s TV and is supposed to elicit these feelings – that’s kind of the whole point. As a viewer you’re supposed to project your deficits onto a fictional family that seriously has it together. It can be cathartic to go on that kind of journey and to binge on something this obvious, but at the end of the day The Bravermans aren’t real and I can’t really hug or squeeze any of them or have them bring me a latte. Whether or not I have similar issues in my own life, they will never be written as concisely or acted as well as these professionals can convey them. The characters can feel real and I can feel connected to their joys and struggles, but at the end of the binge, they are still crafted by a pen and shaped by a director.

I thought I would be devastated when I finished watching last week, but I was satisfied with their treatment of the aging parents storyline and how the finale tied things up with a lovely flash forward montage to a sad song.

No spoilers, but The Bravermans are going to be ok, and so am I. It makes sense why watching this particular show during this period of time felt so compulsively important. I was clearly getting something under my belt before this two-year anniversary tomorrow, trying to make sense of things that don’t make sense once more, processing.

I loved my time with the Bravermans but I’m feeling free now to read books again, do some writing, or hang out with my own perfect/imperfect family.

lasts and likes

Yesterday was the last day of second grade. Z’s class watched the Smurfs and Jessie apparently. I know this because after pickup Z and her friend both tried to recount the plot of the Jessie episode and I had to tune them out. Hearing Jessie plots breathlessly rehashed by two seven year olds is actually worse then watching the show itself. But that’s fine. They learned things this year. Just not, you know, in the past two weeks.

So, it’s summer again and the seasons they go round and round, painted ponies and all that. It is pretty easy to get sucked into weeping and feeling panicked that this life is speeding by like one of those TV renovation shows where there’s a dump of a house and then suddenly everyone’s fixing it up in a 2 minute montage and then a backsplash and an accent wall and built ins and books arranged by color all emerge. We don’t see the bathroom breaks and the walks around the block and the lunches and the gossiping about the contractor. We only see the doing, edited down to barely anything.

But life isn’t really that. These milestones, these beginnings and ends, they have this heightened emotional quality, because we try and get a handle on things and highlight them because otherwise, what ARE we doing? Of course, we record them — the end of year performances, the moving up thingies, the last hugs with their teachers with our ubiquitous phones held up in front of us while we half watch the performances, distracted by the idea that we might not get the shot. Because if we don’t record, will we forget? Will we not feel the preciousness of the moment unless other people give us a thumbs up on Facebook? It almost like we think we CAN hold onto any of these fleeting moments if we only record and catalogue and share. Then at least there’s documentation. It’s something.

With all of this mad documenting though, the result can be a racing feeling, an anxious feeling, and sometimes an out of control feeling. It’s almost too much at times. Scary world + innocent kids doing adorable things = please god let this all go well for them. Or something like that – math isn’t really my thing.

What I’ve been doing to counteract my larger existential anxiety when things are moving too fast in this way is to try to stand there in it, in those lumpy throated moments when the kids perform a World Cup dance on a stage and I feel like I simply can’t bear the sweetness and the wonder of this fleeting innocence. Or when they lope around the park after school, I see them from behind scootering away from me and watch their once tiny bodies stretch into tall big kid bodies. I try to just be in it, to just go: wow, they are changing every second and I am changing too. I’m not 22, even though I feel that way sometimes.

Because of course I am older, not because people call me ma’am in American Apparel, but because we are just aging and that’s what we fucking have to do. No one can make it stop, and no one can really take care of us except ourselves. And this past year in particular has held a shift for me, as I truly let go of the need for someone to turn to in that role.

This is sad, but ultimately good. I think maybe I’m a better parent to my kids now that I’ve internalized that control really is an illusion, that I can only do so much, and that luck will play a huge role in all of it. We can only try as hard as we can and love as much as we can and the rest is sort of not even up to us. Being as present as possible seems the only salve for feeling out of control.

Last year at this time, things really were spinning off of their axis. I really did feel like parts of my body were in danger of falling off. I was so tormented about every bit of life moving forward without my mom. Everything felt painful and impossible.

And now I cry a little less easily, and there is an acceptance now that I am the parent – to myself and to these other two people — one of two adults in this house taking care of business. They need me and I need them and this is what this is — all this is. Of course it’s still sad that I don’t have my mom to witness Z’s punk song she performed onstage, or M shuffling down the hall every time he has to pee with his pants around his ankles because he just can’t figure out the order, but it will be ok. And not just because I take the videos and pictures and share them with my friends, but also because these things really happen every minute and I notice them and I feel them and then we move on.

Every day I write the book

I’ve been working on a children’s book about loss and grief. It features beloved objects that become separated from their owners and won’t be coming back.

The book will explain to a young person, in metaphor, where someone goes when they die. How those left behind can cope with the journey of grief and come out ok. It will do this without talking down to these young readers or confusing them.

I’m hoping my book will have the proper combination of sweetness and whimsy to keep it appealing and hopeful, and still be clear enough to guide a small person who has been devastated by loss.

Problem is, this is REALLY hard. I’m terribly murky about how to shape a story that’s going to make a child feel like everything is going to be ok after a loved one is gone.

Because are they going to be ok?

Am I?

At the moment it’s dicey. And like I’m trying to write my way out of something hairy that I want to be better, but cannot make so.

I returned yesterday from the first of the one-year later memorials. My nails and cuticles are not in excellent shape. Mom used to smack my hands when I’d bite my nails in nervousness and out of habit and say, “MALLORY!” Now Zoe smacks my hands and shouts my name, with that Judi flavored bossiness that’s in her DNA.

Hugging mom’s friends at the memorial – friends from the swim club and the book club and the women’s organization that was honoring her – those hugs were plush with history and love. Watching a slide show of her accomplishments set to a Desiree song was moving and smile through your tears sad, and enriched this other perspective on my mom, one that didn’t involve me and my sisters or my dad, but was connected to her need to help others and pursue social justice.

Remembering her passion, her persuasiveness, her laugh, her opinions and her “close talking,” I felt and feel deeply connected to those aspects of her every time I force myself to stop looping about how hard this is and focus on what a unique woman she was. Not just to our family, but to every person she touched with her get it done style and her self assuredness that she was doing the right thing. And honoring that her death is also loss for every person that she could have helped.

Going to see her gravestone was grounding and peaceful. Walking in the woods afterwards gulping in air was cleansing and healing. Chasms between me and family members continue to be distressing.

It is just crazy trying to parse out where she has gone, trying to figure out who is going to plug up the holes and smooth in the cracks. We are all still unprepared for a future without her. It feels terrifying. But we must move through so we do.

So the story goes forward. The memorials will continue and in a sense I must mother myself now, and find support in those able to give it — friends and cousins and my own community. Smack my own hand or wait for Zoe to do it.

And hopefully with this forward movement, clarity will come, and my story about being ok will write itself.

continuum

Terrible stories are everywhere it seems. Stage 4 cancer at age 40, hit by a car while buying cookies at the local bakery, aneurysm on the golf course. Sick kids, sick spouses, sick parents. Mental and physical illness. Accidents.

Last week I received shocking and sad news about a former boss. She died at 45 after being diagnosed with cancer only 3 months prior. I had no idea she was sick. I hadn’t seen her in a very long time, but she had just said something funny on a Facebook post I wrote in February, and I had been thinking about giving her a call. She was a PR maven and since I’m considering strategies to promote my upcoming book, it seemed like a nice symmetry to reconnect with her.

Of course, I now regret terribly waiting on this.

As I’ve grieved for my mom this past year, I’ve noticed a heightened state of nostalgia and an almost maniacal desire to record certain moments in time, to stamp them with recognition so that they never fade. Since Jen’s death last week, I’ve been perseverating over those early years in New York just after graduation, when I worked for her in the publicity department at Hyperion.

Details of the office on Lower 5th Avenue are front of mind. I can see the quality of the fluorescent light in the hallway where the assistants lined up like an entry-level army, fortifying their bosses’ windowed offices. Flicking through the cards on my Rolodex and calling the deli every morning with our breakfast orders. Jen liked a large iced coffee and a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel with butter. (This was back when people ate bagels). There was Neil, the super-friendly head of the mailroom pushing the overloaded mail cart, and the giant diamond engagement ring one of the book designers wore. The heft of the To Be Filed File that I hid in my drawer, hoping Jen wouldn’t ask me how the filing was going. The tiny yellow X-acto knife she gave me to open the millions of boxes of books that arrived daily for us to unpack and mail out to the media.

Jen taught me to take a thorough phone message. To create a travel itinerary that wasn’t nonsensical for our touring authors. To grill the “book reviewers” trying to get free review copies. To massage the egos of the needier authors and only get her out of “a meeting” if it was someone specific. She taught me to pitch reporters, the most awkward and agonizing part of publicity work.

Jen gave me amazing opportunities and cocktail party stories for years. We took authors to bookings at the network morning shows, to “Politically Incorrect” when it was on Comedy Central, and to Letterman. She let me take RuPaul on a four-city book tour at age 23, and to a Today Show taping at the MAC store, where I got a makeover and a ton of free makeup. And my favorite, taking authors to the old WNYC, which stoked my longtime love of radio and had the best author and musician sightings in their ratty greenroom.

After work I’d go home. I remember looking around at my neighbors, many older than me, most on a professional track, everyone heading to Central Park to exercise with the fervor they probably put into their jobs – running, biking, rollerblading, unicycling (ok, just this one guy). I was obsessed with people watching and wondering about their back-stories, their paths. If they were coupled, how did they meet their mates? And if they had children, um, how do you even do that in New York? I was fascinated with how one arrives at an adult place and the decisions and luck a person needed to get where they wanted to go. How did they know what they wanted to do and be? How were they brave and strong enough to make it in this crazy ass city?

And now, almost 20 years later, I’m there, firmly ensconced in my adult life. How I arrived here — my own back-story– is nothing special. I’m not always even sure what led to what. I feel super lucky most days, skating by, dealt a few blows here and there, but mostly incredibly grateful. But damn aware of the fragility of it all.

I wish we didn’t need these painful reminders that life is so fleeting and that we need to be good to each other. I guess all we can do to honor those who have passed through our lives is to live with compassion and humor and an incredible amount of humility.

walk it off

Mom was no good at self-pity. From the time she was diagnosed until the time she died, she faced some overwhelming and deeply frustrating circumstances that most people would not tolerate well, few with the grace she managed. There was the physical discomfort of her illness through all of its soul sucking phases: the itching of her skin, the crappy side effects of each drug and therapy that never seemed to work as the cancer continued to spread. The depression she wouldn’t admit to, and the underlying stress of having a rare chronic disease with no known cure that worsened as it morphed. But though she may have lost a touch of the sunnyness and became perhaps more sarcastic and less patient towards the end, never once did she feel sorry for herself.

When I was growing up, Mom’s and my styles would often clash. I’m a crier, a prober, sometimes a cynic and always an over thinker, and it was challenging to have a mother who didn’t get a lot of that. Things just didn’t affect her emotionally. I’m not saying being who I am always works for me. I have trouble making decisions. I’m sensitive and can take things personally. Mom was the opposite. She would act, feel confident in those actions, and never look back. She had strong convictions, and didn’t second-guess. So she wasted a lot less time dithering and worrying, being anxious. When I reflect on her style of living, doing, and parenting, we are mostly opposites, and it’s even a bit comedic that I would come from her.

But fuck, I’d give anything to be annoyed with her positivity right this minute. To have her tell me to stop complaining about how much I miss her and how hard it is to not her around.

Almost 10 months after her death, there’s this low-grade constant awareness of her lack, and many reminders of how discombobulated things are as my family resets. I get the deep sads more randomly now, but when it comes on, it is still the rawest, achiest, saddest sadness I have ever known. It’s a longing for something I know I won’t get. Out of reach. Off limits. And ugh, I just miss her messages and her texts and her replies and opinions on things so damn much.

I wanted so badly yesterday to send her a picture of Zoe posing in front of the diorama she made as a part of her city planning unit. I want her so much to ichat with Miles while he lounges around our place like a pre-schoolin’ Hugh Heffner in his socks and nothing else. I want to show her the cover of my book or my author photo proofs, just to hear her take on it. I’m dying to talk to her about movies and books. It’s such an uncharted emptiness that I just cannot fill.

I heard this 20ish/30ish girl the other day at the coffee place on the phone. She was talking to her mom in a really sour and insouciant way – she sounded like a teenager with a bad attitude. Who knows what her mom was saying to her on the other line. Who knows their history or their dynamic or what’s come up between them, what their conflicts have been. I’ll never know. But I wanted to shake her. And tell her to buck up. Whatever was going on, she needed to be nice to her mom. It couldn’t be that bad. As Judi would say, walk it off sister.

matryoshka

The grief is morphing. Spreading out. Not lessening exactly, but some of these calcified parts of my heart are opening to something. Softening. I still miss her every hour, every time I strike up a conversation with a stranger or call someone sweetie. Every yoga practice I feel like I’m breathing her in and out. I want to Sykpe with her every time the kids do something Zoe or Mileslike and every time I finish a book or watch a movie or some asshole Republican Senator does something appalling.

But there is a change in the quality of my loss that feels measurable, like the temperature or humidity in a room. Life without her at seven months is still my same life. I think about the same concepts. I loop and worry roughly the same amount that I always have. I find things funny, moving, annoying, fascinating, beautiful, depressing, maybe in that order. Falling asleep and waking up in the morning is easier now. Food is good. And the chaos of the racing mind and impossibly heavy heart I had when she died in June and for that six month period following is dissipating.

Milestones have inevitably come and gone. I went back to my parents’ house for the first time since she died there and began trying to conceive of it as my dad’s place. I sat and drank coffee at the kitchen table and noticed that all of her calendars and date books, reading glasses and theater tickets were no longer a part of the kitchen desk drawer. I tried to get used to not seeing her at her desk in her office or watching Downton Abbey and Scandal on the couch or napping in her room. I had to deal, in such an initial and basic kind of way, with the physical and spiritual changes in my childhood home. I tried out the words: dad’s house.

I went to see her at the cemetery. Weirdly, it was not altogether impactful. Though her final home conceptually, it felt generic being there. Lovely and peaceful, close by where she lived her whole life, but not sad exactly. More vague than anything else. Which has more to do with the I work I need to do in terms of understanding where she is now. Where we all go.

I’ve had to accept how each member of my family is folding her death into their own lives. I’ve come to terms with a change in the narrative: a sad ending to a golden tale of a happy and healthy family doing it right and getting by with luck for so long. What is the next chapter? Knowing is a process, but I’m feeling hopeful.

For my own family of four, they have absorbed much of my pain and allowed me a focus. Lately I’ve been feeling that my mother-ness supercedes my other-ness. It’s the identity that makes me feel most alive and competent right now. Which doesn’t mean that I’m doing it well necessarily. But the way that my kids need me is so primal, so deeply dependent that I feel confusedly comforted by some of the very same tasks that otherwise make me feel like a literal valet/chauffuer/butler.

It must be because I feel so connected to my mom when I’m driving them somewhere, or watching a performance, or researching a camp, or navigating some emotional drama between Zoe and myself or shouting for the eightieth time that Miles must get in the tub. I’m reminded of the beautiful hectic heydey of the Kasdan family and all that we did, and all that mom did for us. It’s a way to bring her in, and to thank her I guess.

My days are getting easier to move through and enjoy even, especially when I’m busy and productive and my household is happy, but its the forever-ness part of this whole business that stings. And answering the questions about the why. That is hard. A spike of pain breaking through the subtle, dull throbbing. When Zoe asks, or I allow myself to ask or just feel sorry for myself because I miss her — when that comes over me, I just let them watch the iPad for hours and just cuddle them and squeeze them and nuzzle their arms and legs and cheeks. It helps.

Lately, Zoe has been sleeping with the Matryoshka doll my mom bought her on a trip to Russia. She holds it tenderly with her orange security blanket, which is funny because the doll is made of wood and is totally not cuddly in any way. This feels symbolic of Judi somehow, she wasn’t cuddly, and she was enigmatic and intricately designed. A multi-layered person within a person within a person within a person, who held my sisters and I inside of her all of her life.

My job now is to embody her, and to never forget the moments and objects and stories and values that made up that life, and to share it.

an audible sigh

You leave your toddler for one minute to answer an email in the bedroom, and the next thing you know you’re sitting in the pediatric emergency room discussing the length and width of a AAA battery and if said toddler could get it down his tiny little esophagus without choking.

Dude. That is so not relaxing and not at all how I wanted to spend my Saturday.

And that’s the crux of it. That from one minute to the next, with these little buzz kills running rampant through your lives, things have the potential to get majorly hectic up in here. You can’t just give the kid an old remote control to distract him so he stops eating the remote control you need to actually control the television remotely and is a lifeline to your relaxing 22 minutes at 9 PM where you laugh or cry or feel sexed up (HBO and Showtime). No! You must remain vigilant at all times, assuming that he will take the top off the remote and that there will be one battery in there when you get back to him. SO WHERE THE FUCK IS THE OTHER BATTERY? (Not metaphorically, but really. Where is it? Because they did an X-ray and it wasn’t in his body).

Are you loudly exhaling or oy veying right now? Because you can bet your ass I am sighing and oy veying almost all of the time. There’s this sonic icloud in my ipod of a brain, a chorus of bellowing, worrying, ululating mothers and fathers everywhere, who audibly sigh and oy vey their stress about random accidents or the very possibilities of random accidents. Just turn up the volume, its definitely playing.

Parents of small children are broken people and bloody exhausted, yes yes, yes. We know this. But for me, its not the physical lack of sleep and the energy burned to run after them and schedule their lives and meals and the cleaning oh Jesus the cleaning that is the real problem, though sure, those parts can suck. I’m referring to something more psychic here. At the heart of my anxiety in general is how quickly something could shift from moment to moment and change your life forever. This is why I’m terrified of car accidents, and planes crashing. My terror lies in thinking about the seconds just before the crashes when everything is normal, regular, routine. Kids watching a DVD. This American Life on the radio. Carguments between you can the GPS lady.

Thinking about the dangers and trying to brace for them fully is debilitating and probably why I never properly baby proofed my home. Because you drop one dime out of your pocket and then what was the point of all that stupid, ugly plastic shit and double stick tape you bought at Buy Buy Baby? You can’t just sit back and relax when you have kids, seemingly ever. You’re up out of that chair sister, because if its not one danger stage, its another. They stop putting things in their mouths? They can still choke! They don’t run into traffic? An out of control cab can still hit them. You keep them on a leash? Cancer.

And that is why, when you look at pictures of yourself 10 years ago, everything looks so much better. The lines are smoother. Your smile is easier. You are physically younger, and maybe you had more time to get your hair colored and put on some concealer, and more money to groom your brows. But really, it’s about the look in your eyes now when you’re photographed. You’re smiling with pride, or with joy, but there’s an inability in those eyes to think only of your own needs and desires. And there’s that flicker of fear, always present, that changes you beyond description. Most days I am so happy I have this family in my life to love. But the worry about something happening to them is what ages my face and my eyes, and my heart.

And so, we left the ER on Saturday relieved that there was no news, feeling likely there had only been one battery in that old remote control. Yes, we had probably taken the other out to put in one of our daughter’s 8 princess flashlights that also take AAA batteries. Right. We shook our heads at the wasted day, swore to be more careful, more vigilant, and wondered about the little boy in front of us at the X-ray line who we overheard had eaten staples. Oy vey, we said, and we sighed. Audibly.