The Things We Keep

One of my big goals this year is to clean out my house.  I mean really clean it out.  This undertaking is about more than sorting through toys, shredding old paper files, and purging unworn clothes from closets.  It’s about wanting – and believing it’s possible – to live a lighter, happier, and more fulfilling life with less stuff.  It’s about keeping the things I truly need and having the courage to get rid of the things I don’t.

As I walk from room to room surveying the endless objects that fill my home and life, I’ve discovered that the reasons we keep things – guilt (the kids’ stuffed animals), hope (my size four jeans), nostalgia (the shoes I wore to my wedding), and despair (my recently deceased dog’s bumblebee Halloween costume) – are often the very same reasons we eventually (and bravely) throw them away.

Nine years ago, I made a bowl in a pottery class on a summer vacation in Colorado.  I took the class because there really wasn’t anything else I could do. I was five months pregnant, so activities like horseback riding, biking, rock wall climbing, and wine tasting were off the table.  Just walking up the hill to the hotel spa for a prenatal massage left me winded from the altitude.

It was an ugly and beautiful bowl that I made.  Ugly because it was so flawed.  Beautiful because even though it looked like a lopsided, vomiting tulip, I made it with my own hands.  The resort generously shipped it to me when we left, and to my great surprise, it arrived home intact.  It survived a few additional moves before it reached its final destination on the small, white shelf above the toilet in my bathroom…because where else would I put it?

I should’ve thrown it out – it really was hideous – but I kept it because it reminded me of the precious summer I spent floating in the bliss of the second trimester of pregnancy with my first child.  The nausea and exhaustion of the first several weeks had receded, my belly was round but not uncomfortable, my body was ripe but not swollen, and I had nothing but time on my hands to daydream about strollers, diaper bags, and baby names.  It. was. magical.

But that’s not the only reason I kept it.

First pregnancies are magical, but it wasn’t technically my first.  That one happened a year and a half earlier around the time I embarked on a different family vacation, a holiday cruise to the Caribbean.  After taking a home pregnancy test, I raced to my doctor who smiled and said, “Have fun, don’t drink the water in Mexico, and we’ll do an ultrasound when you get back.”

What I remember most about that trip, besides the night I miscarried, was that there were Christmas cookies everywhere.  I couldn’t walk into a room on that ship without bumping into a tower of perfectly decorated cookies.

Within days of disembarking, I was admitted to the hospital.  Despite the crippling pain and discharge I experienced on the cruise, my urine and blood told the story of a woman who was about eight weeks pregnant.  The ultrasound, however, did not.

Heartbroken and scared, I counted backwards from 100 in the operating room uncertain if I would emerge from surgery with one less fallopian tube (if it was ectopic) or worse.  I woke up intact, but the relief was short-lived because the fetal tissue they found drifting around my uterus was indicative of a molar pregnancy. In other words, the “pregnancy” was nothing but a mess of abnormal cells that never would’ve formed a baby.

As if all of that weren’t cruel enough, four weeks later I found myself in the office of a gynecological oncologist because the sneaky thing about a molar pregnancy is that all of those messy cells can grow back and transform into something called choriocarcinoma, which is fancy talk for cancer in the uterus.

I spent the next two months undergoing weekly chemotherapy injections and the year after that doing  blood work to monitor my hormone levels because even though the cancer was curable, it wouldn’t have been if it came back unknowingly and spread to my liver, abdomen, lungs, or brain.

In a way, my first pregnancy was magical.  It was an illusion of epic proportions.  A disappearing act unlike anything I’d ever seen.   I wanted a baby, but I got cancer instead, and everything I believed to be real and true and good and safe and normal vanished before my eyes.

I never liked the lopsided, vomiting tulip bowl I made on that trip to Colorado, but I kept it because I believed it possessed the collective memory of the hard-fought journey I endured to reappear, to fall and get back up, to heal and trust and forgive, to eventually experience the precious second trimester of a real pregnancy, and to finally have a baby.

But, it didn’t hold any of that.  It was just a bowl and an unsightly one at that, so I threw it out because, with or without it, the memory of that magical time would always be mine.

This essay originally appeared on Scary Mommy.



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18 Reasons the Tooth Fairy Was a No-Show

The Tooth Fairy was recently a no-show in my house. Sheesh! Is there anyone we can depend on these days? What a lazy, unreliable, no good, piece of… oh wait, I’m the Tooth Fairy.

My son was devastated. I told him the Tooth Fairy was busy and that sometimes it takes her a few days to show up. I also told him she would add an extra dollar for every day she was late and suggested he request her presence the following Wednesday. That was the guilt talking.

I took to Facebook to admit my crime and discovered I wasn’t alone in the “oops, I did it again” department. It turns out many parents forget about the Tooth Fairy and they come up with all kinds of excuses for her absence:

  • She got stuck in traffic.
  • She got lost.
  • There’s been an abnormally large surge in lost teeth.
  • She broke a wing.
  • She’s on vacation.
  • She was scared off by the dog.
  • She’s at a Tooth Fairy Convention.
  • The good Tooth Fairy had the night off.

I could go on and on.

The thing I love about the Tooth Fairy is that anything is possible. She doesn’t have strict protocols like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, which leaves plenty of room for nuance and imagination. There are infinite ways to explain her actions—the good, the bad, and the scandalous. She’s an independent woman tiny, imaginary being of human form with magical powers who can make and break the rules whenever, wherever, and however she wants. She’s pretty much my hero, which got me thinking about some more appealing explanations for her occasional frequent absences.

  1. She got her period and felt like crap.
  2. It was raining, and she just had a keratin treatment.
  3. She decided to sell all of her belongs, move into a tiny house, and spend her days making jewelry out of teeth.
  4. Digital wallet apps have made her job obsolete.
  5. She’s only doing cruise ships these days.
  6. She’s on sabbatical studying the history of origami.
  7. She’s protesting systematic racism and police brutality against people of color.
  8. Her side hustle—selling handmade gender reveal piñatas on Etsy—is proving to be very lucrative.
  9. She’s having bunion surgery.
  10. Someone gave her Hamilton tickets.
  11. Food poisoning. She’ll never eat tuna salad again.
  12. She’s in Puerto Rico helping with relief efforts.
  13. She’s the new host of the fifth hour of the “Today” show.
  14. She was on her way, but when she walked out her front door, she forgot why, so she went back inside.
  15. She was binge watching “Stranger Things” ahead of season two and lost track of time.
  16. Her phone—and Google Maps—fell in the toilet.
  17. She won the lottery.
  18. She auditioned for “The Voice” and got three chairs to turn around. (She chose Miley.)

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A Hula Hoop of One’s Own

“Mommy, today’s lesson was hard.”

“Is it because you didn’t practice enough?” In these final days of summer, structure—and instrument practice and pants wearing and tooth brushing—has been of little concern. Case in point, my son changed from his pajamas into clothes just before and only because of his 5:30 p.m. drum lesson.

“No, it’s because it was complicated. I learned the flam.”

“What the heck is a flam? I’ve never heard that word before.”

By the time we reached the car, he explained that it’s when you hit two drums at two different heights at almost the same time. Or something like that. On the drive home, he showed me the flam using the passenger side dashboard as a drum.

“The car is not a drum!” I scolded him, only half-believing the words as they came out of my mouth.

Not to be outdone by his older brother, my little guy who began taking guitar lessons earlier this summer piped in from the backseat with, “Oh yeah, ‘Eddy ate dynamite good bye Eddy!’”

“What the heck is that and who the heck is Eddy?”

“Low E. A. D. G. B. High E,” he said proudly. “It’s music notes,” as if it were obvious to everyone in the world but me.

“Woah, kid. That’s a lot of awesome information.”

And because sibling rivalry is absolutely a thing, my front seat drummer boy upped the ante with the presentation of a seventeen stroke roll. On the dashboard. Again.

My kids were schooling me. “What in the world is a seventeen stroke roll?”

I didn’t discipline him for using the car as a drum again because his explanation and demonstration of a seventeen stroke roll was explosive. Also, I was too busy being in awe of (1) how much stuff my kids know and (2) how much stuff my kids know that I don’t.

I’ve been stumped many times by my boys. Minecraft realms, YouTube “vids,” and ridiculous text talk come to mind, but that knowledge gap feels generational. You know, In my day, we walked uphill…in the snow…both ways!

At school, common core math has been a major stumbling block. Don’t even get me started on multiplying mixed fractions, but there was once a time when I knew how to do it (I think).

Flams, stroke rolls, and Eddy’s dynamite, though, were way outside my hula hoop.

I’m not my kids’ only teacher (nor should I be!) but it’s startling when knowledge and skills from other sources surpass my “mom” curriculum. Even more, it’s humbling to witness them learning things I never dreamed of learning myself.

When we got home, I asked my son to teach me how to do a seventeen stroke roll. On the stairs to the basement where the drum set lives, he explained that there were five, seven, and nine stroke rolls, too.

“Okay. I’ll try a five.”

I did it, but it was awkward and my hands moved in slow motion compared to my son’s machine-like rhythm after more than a year of lessons. His drum skills were impressive, and it was an utter joy to find myself in his hula hoop. I think he quite enjoyed it, too.

I fumbled through a seven and a nine stroke roll just for the fun of it before handing the sticks back to the professional. Upstairs in the kitchen, I asked my younger son to tell me more about Eddy and his dynamite while I marinated chicken. He happily obliged.

These little human beings belong to me, but they are not mine. Their hearts and minds and curiosity and drive will take them to hula hoops far away from mine, and I can’t wait to see what they teach me next.


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