I’ve been walking like a shadow these last three days:
like me, but
with parts just misshapen enough
to not really be parts of me at all.
Legs stretched out
like cables between telephone poles–
fingers scraping the floor,
as if trying to seep straight through
warped wood and concrete
and wormy, black earth.
As if they could snatch you up and bring you back.
But my stomach is not round enough,
my head too small and pointed at the top,
ankles melted together like a fish tail
stinking in the garbage.
If I could bring you back
You probably wouldn’t recognize me at all.
I’m different now,
At least for now.
I am the shadow,
And grief is the shape.
I’ve been walking like a shadow these last three days:
You have hands that never formed–
fingers that didn’t get the chance
to curl into hungry fists
or wrap into the ribbons of your sister’s hair.
How then, did you
grab ahold of me so tightly?
I loved you
When you were nothing more
than a shade of pink
and I loved you still
When you turned red.
There is a future–
I think there is–
when others will come.
Pink, then flesh, and nude, and brown.
And I will love them just as well.
But there will always be
A space in me
That was meant for you to fill.
Little did I know that I would indeed be decreasing that day—by about 20 pounds. My oldest daughter, now affectionately called Biggle in public internet posts, was born that afternoon, filling my life and shrinking my belly.
I'm not going to lie; as wonderful as she is, I wasn't quite sure what to make of her for a while. The two of us got off to a rough start. I loved her, but I found that the happy warnings everyone had given me fell flat on their faces, and that had me confuddled, to say the least. Veteran mothers had assured me:
"As soon as you see her, you'll realize you never really knew what love was before."
"You'll fall in love with her instantly,"
"You think you love your husband until you have kids. Then you find out what love really is."
All of these things I had heard countless times during my pregnancy, and yet in the twilight hours, after visitors had gone and we were left alone with our brand new person, I looked over my daughter's tiny head and swirls of black hair at the man who helped make her. Still, I loved him more than anything on the planet—more even than the baby in my arms. When I looked down at those steely, new-to-the-world eyes, I didn't find love at first sight. I found a tiny, squalling creature with rolled up fists and a purple Angel's Kiss splashed across her forehead, but that love? The love that was so great and terrible I never could have understood it before I had kids? It wasn't there—or if it was, it wasn't what I'd been led to believe. She left me in awe. I would have given my life for her in a heartbeat, but at that time, that instinct was biological. It wasn't emotional. I didn't even know her. After an early arrival and a surprise C-section that I didn't want, I barely even felt like she was mine. It was like someone handed me a baby and said, "Here, this is yours." She didn't look like me. I'd never met her. I did nothing to physically push her into the world. I didn't even see her for 15 minutes after she was born. Then almost as soon as I got her, she was taken and passed around to visitors. When they gave her back, they said, "Here, this is yours."
But I was exhausted. She was so unfamiliar. So even though I smiled and nursed her and did everything I knew I should, and even though I loved her in that strange, biological-imperative kind of way, my heart said back, "Is it? Well, someone prove it."
On top of that, I wasn't ready for her yet—we had been working on getting our home livable, but it still wasn't prepared to move into. We wrapped her up in blankets and took her "home" to someone else's home. I'm so grateful we had somewhere to go after leaving the hospital, but it wasn't the way it was supposed to be. I felt out of place, uncertain, and shaky. Nothing seemed solid to me. It was as if I was floating, suspended in midair, with no control over anything. How was I supposed to be the solid, unshakeable being I thought a mother should have been? I couldn't. Beneath the heartbreaking happiness that came with my little girl, there was an undeniable sadness to it all. And I worried that I was an awful person because I loved my husband more than ever and only loved her because I should have.
Just like with any other person I've ever known and loved, I grew to love my daughter. Our love wasn't instant or all-consuming, but steady and real. I had to learn how to love like a mother loves, and what that meant. When my second child was born, I already knew. I knew how to be a mother and I knew what that love felt like. When they put him in my arms, I loved him. Instantly. But Biggle and I, we were in the trenches together, so to speak. We figured out this whole parent-child thing, side by side, together. And because of that I love her in a greater, entirely different way than I possibly could have three years ago when they laid her against my breast.
Today she is three years old, with beautiful brown hair that falls like silk ribbon in curls around her face. She wrinkles her nose when she smiles, can't stand to wear clothes, and has enough sass to rival even my own, which I've dutifully cultivated since birth. Although there's still a healthy distinction between the love I have for my husband and the love I have for my kids (my relationship with him comes first, always. That's the best we could do for out children and they thrive because of it), I couldn't love her more if I tried. I love her more than myself. I love her more than my own life. That love just took a while to grow.
My prayer is the same today. Let there be more of you and less of me, Father. You are the love that I give my children and the rest of the world. Let that love increase.
Happy Birthday Biggle, and cheers to all the mothers out there.
I write this blog post as I sit on the couch, a baby in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. I'm still in my pajamas. My day will consist of laundry, cooking, and keeping little fingers out of electrical sockets. The life I'm living is by definition simple, regular, and happy. And for me, just like for Lauren Groff, that makes for better writing. When exciting, irregular things are happening, I tend to lose focus. If there's too much going on in my life, I can go days—weeks—months without writing a single word. And even if I do write, it's often disjointed or plain awful. What can I say? I'm just too distractible. So I need a slow pace in order to be successful at what I really love: writing. I know others, however, who flourish when their lives are busy. They find inspiration in the exciting, irregular things happening, whereas I would only find interruption.
We all have different lives that hopefully enable us to create, rather than stunt our progress. If you're not living a life like that, something needs to change. My advice? Make your life what you need it to be in order to write something beautiful. If you need to speed up, go on an adventure; if you need to take it slow, drop something from your calendar. Changing your life is only as complicated as you make it. So make the change and create a life that motivates you.
Today's Prompt: Write a short story about a perpetual nomad who finally decides to settle down.
As a full-time mom who doubles as a graphic artist, I constantly feel like I should be doing something else. When I'm sitting on the porch enjoying my morning coffee, I feel like I should be cleaning before my kids wake up. When I'm cleaning, I feel like I should be working on a project. When I'm working on a project—a business card or some bridal stationary for my portfolio, perhaps—I feel like I should be playing with my children. And when I'm playing with my children, I feel like I should be drinking coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.
And I always feel like I should be writing. Then when I actually do write, it's like there's nothing else in the world. That's why I wait until midnight to work on my novels: because I know if I didn't, my children would be running around naked, covered in Dorito dust and climbing on the furniture. My clients would fire me. The house would eventually just rot and melt into the earth, and I'd still be sitting in my computer chair, occasionally wondering what that smell was.
Writing has a way of doing that: sucking you into a created world and making you forget about the one you live in. That's what I love about it. I never feel like I should be doing anything else when I write because there is nothing else. There's only me and the story in my head. Personally, I'm okay with that.
Today's prompt: What mundane task should you be doing instead of this prompt? Write a story about it, but include elements of fantasy.
Post your story below, if you'd like. Happy writing!
**disclaimer: because the Internet doesn't come with a "tone of voice" button... This is hyperbolic. I swear I would notice if my kids needed attention. I'm not quite in the running for worst mother of the year yet.