Archive for February, 2016

Death and Swimming


This week, a high school friend died of cancer. She was a year younger than me. Two weeks ago, a high school friend died of cancer. He was a year older than me. A few months ago, an acquaintance I’d always admired died of a heart attack. She was also roughly my age.

It is too early for my contemporaries to be dying. I’m not ready. And yet, it’s happening.

Meanwhile, the zipper on my kid’s jacket went kaput, necessitating an emergency Old Navy run (it will still be winter for a few more weeks). This being St. Louis, I rounded a corner to see the mother of the friend who just died. She was trailing her newly orphaned 11-year-old granddaughter, shopping for a funeral outfit. We hugged, I wept, then regrouped and headed for the registers — and around the corner came the sister of the woman who just died. We hugged, and talked a bit, and my eyes just would not stop leaking. She made conversation with my four-year-old and I was barely squeaking out words. It was somewhat ridiculous, but this is how I am when faced with an unexpected grief vortex at Old Navy.

Anyway. That’s the death part. On, now, to swimming.

I have not been swimming as much as I’d like to because of various boring reasons like not enough sleep and giant headaches and fighting off a cold every other week Thank You Preschool! But this week, tired and draggy, I made myself go. Twice. Woot!

On Thursday, heavy with thoughts of death and orphans, I arrived a bit early and ended up chatting with an octogenarian who swims every day. He told me old-timey stories about growing up in a now-derelict part of North St. Louis. Other regular swimmers, all men, showed up and we talked about this and that. I laughed inwardly. Me and the retirees, that’s who swims laps at 10 a.m. on a Thursday.

I got in the water and immediately felt soothed. I felt the power of my body, the pleasure of water running over my skin, the humility of my physical limits. I felt the joy of blowing bubbles and pushing off a wall with all my strength. I thought about the qualities of water — carving canyons, always moving downhill, comforting as a warm bath and rock-hard when smacked with an open palm. Water can be hard to control and unpredictable, and without it, there can be no life. Kind of like death, in a way. But a lot prettier.

On Friday, I went to the memorial service for the most recently deceased friend, who had been ill for a long time. The rabbi was reassuring and warm, the readings were moving, the sense of community was palpable. I learned new things about the woman, and sat there wishing I’d known her better. The rabbi said something about tears opening the gates of heaven, which made me feel better about weeping in Old Navy. And then she related a conversation she’d had with the deceased, about death and water.

Everyone is on a journey toward death, she said, and you can think of each journey as a wave heading for the shore. But each wave is different. There are smooth waves and rough waves. But still, each wave is heading for the shore. Each wave will make it to the sand and be absorbed by it.

And then she said the smartest thing about grieving I’ve ever heard: It doesn’t get better. It gets different.

Maybe I’ll think on that the next time I go swimming.


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 You are four years old.

You recently started painting at home on a regular basis after you asked for, and got, a set of tempera paints. The first thing you did was pour them into a plate to see how they mixed. Following a conversation about the definition of “wasting,” you are painting on paper plates, repurposed paper products, and yes, paper. 

You can write your name. You talk yourself through each pencil stroke and start over if you don’t get the result you want. It’s clearly a big effort that you enjoy and are proud of. Two days before your birthday, you wrote your name on your cousin’s birthday card — without talking yourself through it. 

Your favorite toy is Snap Circuits, and has been since Christmas. It is the first thing that has held your interest for longer than a week, and the first thing since take-apart cars that you both seek out and spend significant amount of time playing with. 

You know how to (safely!) plug in and unplug electrical cords. With supervision, to be clear.

You grew an inch, gained a pound and went up a shoe size between September and December. Then you gained half a pound in the first three weeks of 2016. Mama predicts you will need new shoes again well before summer. 

You are increasingly interested in letters, words and reading. You especially like to put magnetic letters into long, silly lines for Mama to pronounce. 

You no longer take a nap, but you do have a daily, diaper-free rest time during which you listen to the Sound of Music soundtrack. Occasionally you fall asleep, and then Mama wakes you up so that you don’t stay awake until 10 p.m.

You began calling Mama “Ma” about a month ago, which cracks her up. You don’t understand why, and sometimes you get upset when she laughs about it.

You gagged after trying a half teaspoon of pasta sauce. As in, Mama thought you were going to hurl. 

You can dress and undress yourself, though you sometimes plea for help, as when a sleeve refuses to cooperate and “hurts” you. You struggle with your jacket and mittens — unless there is fresh snow waiting for you, in which case you have yourself ready in thirty seconds flat. 

You (mostly) clear your place after meals and (mostly) ask to be excused (thank you, preschool!). You are exceedingly fidgety at suppertime, but the adult-size chair is at least partly to blame.

You are fascinated by Grammie’s sewing machine, the dishwasher, the portable heater, and anything else that has buttons, moving parts, switches, and/or allows you a peek inside.

You went through a phase of asking for stories about flex wire at bedtime. As in, a roll of electrical wire that waits in the garage for someone to come get it to fix something (a baby monitor, a ceiling fan, etc.).

You beg to go to the Science Center on a regular basis.

You can easily be motivated by the promise of marshmallows, chocolate biscuits, or chocolate chips.

You love dense, complex books with detailed illustrations, like Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House and Katy and the Big Snow, and How Things Work. 

You remain fascinated by plants and seeds, and have taken on the job of watering a few plants in the house. Mama explained that the “plants” on the deck don’t need watering because they’re dead, and now you’re excited about planting seeds next month.

You said “I want to eat cake” when Mama asked what you wanted to do for your birthday. When pressed, you said you wanted a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and coconut on top.

You helped Mama make your birthday cake and frosting. When it came time to put coconut on top, we had a chat about a party guest who doesn’t like coconut, and decided to offer it on the side instead.

You had a small family party at home. You carefully selected the piece of cake you wanted, and then Mama dropped it on the table right in front of you, prompting you to clap your hands to your face, Home Alone style. Once Mama was able to stop laughing long enough to get the cake on your plate, you dug in face first. 

You received a second set of Snap Circuits for your birthday, and your reaction was to say, “Oh my! oh my!” over and over. 

You are four years old, and you still slide down the stairs on your bottom. 

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Accidental Art

Lately there have been bits of unexpected beauty popping up in the house thanks to the Boo.

First up, the giant paint swirl he made after I gave him a bunch of small pots of paint:

Then, the aesthetically pleasing line of paint pots he made when I asked him to put a few colors back:  

And finally, my personal favorite, the sculpture that appeared after I asked him to put his breakfast plate in the sink:  

Enjoy, friends — and happy February. 

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