Tag Archives: memoir

The Roasting Pan and the Expanded Heart: The LTYM Essay that Started It All

This is the essay I submitted for my Listen to Your Mother audition in February. It changed very little over the course of rehearsals, but there are always little edits–and slips in the live delivery (which incidentally, I am dying to share with you all once the videos are released!).

We didn’t have a kiddie pool, so we used a roasting pan.

Jay was eighteen months old. It was deep, sticky summer in Back Bay. You know, those still, blinding days when the rowhouses draw the heat down to settle into the brick sidewalks, and the exhaust from the cars on Boylston and Comm Ave is so thick you can hold it in your hands. The condo was blissfully air-conditioned, but we were… stir crazy. I grew up with a woodsy backyard, a stream, a hose, a kiddie pool, one of those sprinklers that fans back and forth, the kind that stings the soles of your feet if you hold them still over the spray too long. These were the hot weather tools in my parenting tool box.

There I was, barely out of college, alone with a pudgy-cheeked cherub who was sick to death of being in the same five climate-controlled rooms, alone with a stumblingly mobile little man who had HAD ENOUGH of his wooden Thomas railway, alone and starting to appreciate Steve, Blue, Mailbox, and Mr. Salt and Mrs. Pepper like a prisoner with Stockholm Syndrome.

Walking was right out. We wouldn’t make it around the block. Those awkward little legs were not interested in the stroller, and I was not interested in sweating for an hour, even in the name of sanity. There was a walled-in terrace out back, on the alley side of the building, but the garbage cans were ripe with heat, and I was convinced in those Frankenstein-style-shambling days that the stone floor would leave his head permanently scarred.

Out front, two small green areas enclosed with wrought iron, each perhaps three-by-six feet, “landscaped” with boxwood hedge and grass. Wait! Grass! … No hose, no sprinkler. … If only we had a tiny pool!

No tiny pool, but there, in the far corner cabinet of the small, garden-level urban-dweller kitchen, was a big roasting pan. Perfect for a 25-pound bird, why not a twenty-five pound kid?

(I know you’re all thinking it: why didn’t I consider the infant tub? I think I know now, but bear with me.)

It took some doing, bringing out the pan, bringing out the water, all while a toddler orbited like a curious little moon, but we made it work.

He was a sight: splashing happily in a roasting pan full of cool water, wearing nothing but his diaper and the drawn-bow smile that stole my heart the first time he offered it to me. The shade of the buildings was welcome; the breeze from passing traffic almost refreshing. In… out… in… out… blades of grass on his feet the way I remember blades of grass on my own feet as a child, dirty rivulets running down his legs and pooling in the gorgeous creases of his baby fat.

I think of that afternoon every time my young son plays in his kiddie pool or runs under the sprinkler on our small, suburban lawn. Because I was not Jay’s mother, but Jay, and the two amazing siblings who followed him into my heart, taught me to BE a mother in the small, silly moments like those.

I never thought of the infant tub because bathtime wasn’t usually part of our day. I packed up my book and my sweater and rode the T home at the end of our days together like Mary Poppins with a messenger bag, and Jay had bathtime and bedtime with his parents.

Jay taught me that motherhood is more than biology, more even than the endless, selfless – and often excruciating – work of days, of weeks, of months, of years, of forever. That sweet, bright little boy wove the thread of his life into the fabric of my heart: a warp and weft of connection and love like nothing I’d yet experienced. His little sister Em left rows of baffled adoration, knits and purls of headstrong, brilliant little girl tears and laughter. His baby brother O, ever the independent soul, undid the seams of my already roomy heart and made a pocket all his own.

Motherhood is the expanded heart. Forever-pockets full of love and unsnappable connection.

To mother children in that way before giving birth to my own son changed my life in ways I feel humbled trying to explain. I know it doesn’t always happen that way.  I know being a nanny is not the same as being a mother. I know not every child a nanny cares for takes up residence in the rest of her life.

And yet… I know how precious those children are to me. Being Cam, being me the way I was for them, is never far from my thoughts, never far from my worries and doubts about my own mothering path, never far from the bigger-on-the-inside joy that is being Mama. If that isn’t a true reflection of motherhood, I don’t know what is.

That grinning little boy in the roasting pan who taught me my first lessons in mothering is now a freshman in high school, away at boarding school, and the little boy who made me Mama is in Kindergarten. When I see them together, bookends of my newness to mothering, my chest aches. I can feel the walls of my heart pressing outward, growing and reshaping to accommodate who they are now and who they were in the moments when each of them was the center of my world.

Every cliché about the passage of time passes under my feet like the sting of sprinkler spray, and the children in my heart can only dip their feet in a roasting pan of cool water.

Motherhood is the expanded heart, and mine grows to make room.

The Hollow Place

One word of backtalk too many and the day boiled over into hot tears—the kind that choke, that blind. My son didn’t know what to make of the blotchy-faced monster who hauled the car over the side of the road and sobbed.

Those days were hard. My work environment required me to pretend I was many things I was not, and maintaining the illusion exhausted me. There wasn’t enough money in the bank and the precarious tightrope walk of which bill not to pay left me anxious and headachey. The tears did nothing to alleviate the financial strain, and frankly they made the headache worse.

There was a conspiracy of misery that night. Just before the backtalk that broke the dam, R.E.M.’s Everybody Hurts came on the radio. The DJ didn’t know the song drags a sack of grief up from the dark place in my heart. But there is was, a little bit open at the top, the festering contents of loss breathing out into the atmosphere of the car—a gas leak waiting for a tossed match.

I’d tried to write earlier in the day, but the words wouldn’t come, dammed up behind the pretense and the fear.

I’d fed the stress on a diet of poor choices and excess, soothing the savage voices in my heart with flavor and texture on my tongue, but my body better understood that it had been a mistake. Self-loathing feels like a snug-waistband and bloated ankles. Self-loathing feels like dry mouth and belly ache.

The exhaustion, the grief for the choices I hadn’t made and for a friend lost a half century ahead of schedule, the frustration of writer’s block, poured out like the sticky and viscous fluid from a lanced wound, but what they left behind began to heal.

Pulling the car back onto the road and sniffling my way home, a very silent child in his car seat behind me, I allowed the space where the tears had been to breathe, to be empty and peaceful. When I arrived home I brought my son inside and held tight to to him and to his father. I showered away the tear tracks and slept away the tired eyes.

I shared the tears with all of you, and you filled the hollow place with joy.

Write on Edge: RemembeREDSelect an old blog post you’ve written and rewrite it as a memoir piece. The original can be found here.




A Patch of Sand

There aren’t more than three miles between my parents’ house and Mai’s. I rode my bike up and down that stretch so many times that summer. I rode all over my end of town that year. Wheels and my generally responsible nature meant freedom. 1991 was before helmets were en vogue.

I was on my way home, with the sunset behind me. I swerved out into the road a little to avoid a patch of sand. Those skinny road-bike tires are so fussy about sand. I’m sure I was telling myself a daydream about a boy whose name began with J. There were a million to choose from in my eigthth grade class. Continue reading

Wednesday, Late Afternoon: Re-conjured

The earthy funk of a toddler fresh from sleep. Sweet childhood sweat, waft of wet diaper, stale breath, the last whiff of baby hairline.

Chipotle hot sauce, garlic, onions, chicken, oil, hot cast iron.

Rain and early falling leaves, thrumming on glass. The fading sky: autumnal, drab.

The rhythmic whine of the dishwasher: swom… swom… swom… swom…

Fingers flutter, hovering over the keyboard. My too long hair, falling into my field of vision.

The dog’s too long nails, milling underfoot: clackclackclack

Moist heat from the stove, sheen of sweat above my lip.

Small, grimy, perfect hands around my waist.

Writing short posts is an excellent way to flex your word choice muscles. Which word is the most clear? Poignant? Direct?

This week I want you to conjure something. An object, a person, a feeling, a color, a season- whatever you like.

This is an edit of a post from the end of last summer.