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soul febreeze

She linked to me in her BlogHer roundup, mentioning kindly that she’d enjoyed the 'Transformational Power of Blogging' panel I’d spoken on. In the comments, a reader of both mine and hers responded.

Can you write a little more about the transformational power of the internet, especially in the context of Sweet/Salty's blog? I've been following her for several years now and I'm curious to hear what you have to say about the question and/or rationale of sharing personal tragedy on blogs. What does the blogger gain? What does the reader gain? Are there hazards in the practice?

I grimaced. Rationale? Gain? Word-cooties.

I don't mean to highlight a reader's question as being any different from what's already been posed to me by people in my life. During the panel someone had said That must have taken courage to keep writing. I had replied It took courage to be in there every day, but not to write about it. Writing about it was a given. I needed to force some company in the suffering, to compel people to look where they would otherwise not be inclined to look, or else we would have been alone in there.

Life includes tragedy…those that keep writing do it because they are storytellers, Alana responded on her blog. Storytelling is not just therapeutic for the teller, it's therapeutic for the listeners. That's the heart of the transformation. The story heals.

I’d like to think so, but still. This earnestly-posed question has wiggled its head under my skin, this potential assessment of just how calculated I might have been to write of pumping for two-pound babies. The answer must touch on a discussion of the trotting-out of trauma for gain, or for blog fodder, and I bristle. The mere possibility of it is set loose in the air, a faint stink, and I am overly sensitive to it.

But as we drove home yesterday from a trip, camera filled with idyllic visions, I think I figured out my rationale.


Just put your headphones in. I can tune it out. You can’t.

Inwardly I contemplated life with a martyr. All the unsolicited blueberry pancakes in the world fail to counter the Non-Coper’s slackerdom.


I stared out the window and turned this on as loud as I could stand it, and remembered. From a whirring, ancient cassette I’d listen to the album like an opera, as instructed, the whole thing from start to finish as I drove Justin’s Nissan truck to and from photography classes through the latenight gauntlet of East Vancouver. Six, maybe seven years ago. I hid Fit Pregnancy magazines in my underwear drawer. I stared with horrified fascination at the new babies paraded through the office. I held one of them at arms’ length once, like they do in recycled sitcoms, and the kid’s recently-suckled breastmilk went SPLAT on the carpet at my feet, its blast radius leaving droplets on my pretty shoes.

Revulsion fades under ovarian seduction. With children I’d still be me, except busier. And I’d have bigger boobs, and there would always be warm cookies. And besides—for the nine months previous? OMG the maternity clothes. How cute would I be? OMG totally cute.

I stared out the window remembering the girl of 2003, who set the volume of her life to her liking.


We like to think that life is joy punctuated with pain but it’s not. Life is pain punctuated with moments of joy.

Life is not fairly represented in a Flickr photostream. It is not false, but it is not the whole truth. Memories are kneaded into something different from what we actually experience. In the gulf between the two there is necessary sorcery.

Did Liam really need a teddy? No. You could call that image a coaxing of truth. He got no comfort from it. He simply needed a prop, something soft to keep his body in the correct position when lying on his side under the bili lights, and the nurses thought I might feel useful to go and get him something other than a rolled-up cloth. And so I did, and then I took shelter behind my lens and hoped to god I might someday be able to look straight at him without the buffer of glass.

What is gained? A prop, a story.

What is lost? The assertion that he needed nothing.


I sit hesitating on this batch of photos because they feel like a front.

You’ll look at these photos and think the past few days of sail-cruising in the Bras D’Or Lakes were idyllic, that our lives are so. But what you don't see is me drowning out my children with the ipod all the way home, begging them to zip it, rolling down the window to ask passerby for duct tape.

We abandoned our goal to make the crossing because even the unshakeable boat of Justin’s father pitched and bucked in high wind, me holding Ben in the cockpit and Evan below deck, the swell sending everything below careening onto his head as he huddled on a berth. We turned around and made the trip back to the cove in about a quarter of the time we’d spent hammering against the tide, literally surfing back to refuge. By then we were all claustrophobic, cooped up by whitecaps and grey sky and howling, whistling wind.

On the way home I sat in the car with all the maternal warmth of a doberman pinscher, fed up with children who had every right to be jacked-up and restless. Meanwhile, my martyr of a husband not only drove the four hours, but did it amid undampened melee. And he did it without staring mournfully into the side mirror muttering to himself what the fuck’s become of you?

(He is, after all, a highly trained professional who always keeps his eye on the road, and is not the sort to interrupt meditation with pointless drivel, and is also wise, having opted for a birthright that does not come burdened with an aircraft carrier of drivel-generating hormones.)

I wanted to hang my motherhood up on the hook that has MOTHERHOOD pasted above it in Office Depot ticky-tack, and wipe my hands on my pants, and walk away for a while. I wanted to hang my lostbaby motherhood up on its hook, too. Wearing that mantle makes me feel ashamed of the truth.


I want to drive over the Second Narrows Bridge at midnight with the wind whipping my hair, answerable only to myself, topped-up with expansiveness. I want an interlude.

It’s not that I wish my children away. The death of one of them robs me of that occasional right. I just miss the quiet. I’m tired of barking. I’m fearful of tempting the fates as I did when I wished my second pregnancy might result in one baby instead of two. I disgust myself with how ungrateful I can be. I mourn the ability to be as blindly ungrateful as I please. I love my kids but I miss myself. I’m tired of wrangling and refereeing and spotting. A spell on a 36-foot boat is a burning beam through a magnifying glass on this particular ant.

People might look at this space and finger long-distance goatees and murmur either What’s she gaining? or Look at her and her family vacation, well well well, how perfectly perfect. Instead, I offer caveats so that instead you might mutter something else. Like Call the press, motherhood is hard or She clearly falls in the Not-A-Good-Sport category or She would be insufferable if not for her profound suffering.


Yeah. Cute. Awww! Look at the former preemie daredevil. Endearing the first time. Exhausting the hundredth time. The depth sounder says 108 feet in this particular channel, kiddo. That’s 105.5 feet taller than you of stuff that can’t be breathed. Let’s save the motorcycle-through-the-flaming-hoop trick until Tuesday. I need to recoup.

YOU SUNK MY !&#^@$%&!! BATTLESHIP. Approximately five hundred pieces of pea-sized plastic shrapnel that feels totally invigorating underneath your bare heel against a wood floor when the kids wake again at 2 AM. Already the source of thirty-two screaming meltdowns when his careening puppydog of a brother comes within panting sight of it. Twenty seconds after this was taken I split the thing in two with my bare hands over two concrete blocks. I highly recommend it.

Seeing him happy makes us happy. It does. It really really does. Crack cocaine makes people happy, too, and probably for longer spells when you factor in all the angst of ownership and piece-loss.

This hunk of Chinese plastic and I have a date with destiny. It shudders whenever I enter the room. It knows.

I am my mother, my grandmother. I am a short-order cook with a wide stance against the pitching and rolling. I light propane and pump water and wash dishes and that is the extent of my usefulness on a boat. I've had sea legs for as long as I can remember but I am merely an accessory to sailing, a takealong, pork on the rails.



We pull into the driveway. Under his breath Justin says I’m not doing that again until they’re fifteen and I exhale for the first time in four days.

My rationale? The practice of kneading.


Can I say the swell was twenty feet? That had to be twenty feet.

You can say it was sixty.

I can?


I’ve never been so scared on a boat. That was scary.

I’ve steered a coast guard ship through 80-foot swell. You know it’s 80 feet high because the wheelhouse is 80 feet up, and the waves hit the window.

(Kate makes smartypants face at Justin)

That was a lake, Kate. A big saltwater one, yeah, and those gusts had to be over thirty knots. But that can’t have been more than 10-foot swell.

No way. You have to let me say twenty at least.

(Justin sighs) Oh alright. Go ahead.


Reader Comments (64)

I don't think you know how much I love you and your blog, because I rarely comment here. And that's only because when I start to write something, it sounds in my head like nails on a chalkboard. After all your honesty and eloquence, there's my comment blurting, "Oh my god, like I totally love your post, like totally." But I had to say something today in spite of my "like totallys". Because this is so moving. And you're so inspiring. I'm continually in awe by your ability to say the things that mothers/women are dying to hear. I just adore you.
Like totally. :) xo
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermaile
I completely understand missing yourself. I have felt the same way. Right now I'm going through a pretty good phase of feeling useful and happy, but I know the pendulum will swing again. There is a lot I miss about my pre-motherhood days, but I'm not even completely sure what those things are. So I try to create shiny new things to define who I am--other than a mother--and some endeavors are more successful than others.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmy
Dear Kate,
My twins were born at 30 weeks, small and preemie sick but otherwise ok. Since finding your blog (and I've been reading for well over a year now) I've often wondered what I would have done, how would I have coped if I had lost either of my sons. I don't know, can't begin to imagine. I was so sure during my pregnancy that my twin pregnancy was going to be different. That I would go full term and they'd finally tell me that I'd gone too long and they'd have to induce me or schedule the c. Even after the failed FFN test, I was so sure if I meditated, visualized, stayed in bed, followed doctor's orders that my twins would be born at full term, healthy and strong with loud, hearty cries. But they weren't. And still, I'm lucky - so lucky that we made it. They are now 6 years old and they are loud and boisterous and have hearty cries. They ignore me and defy me and try to push their boundaries and there are days, oh my god are there days, when I wish they would just shut up. And then I remember. And then I feel guilty, so guily. And I strive to do better, to remember my patience, to remember to breathe and start all over again. And like you, there are days when I feel as if all I am is a laundress, a cook, a bathroom attendant, a chauffeur and I think if I have to do one more fucking thing for someone other than myself, I'm going to scream!
And then I find a way to be alone, a walk with the dog or a run in the park will do wonders for my sanity.
We need it. We need to have moments to reconnect with our former selves, to remember that we are not solely defined by our children.
Thank you for sharing the other side of yourself. There are always two sides to every story.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKelsi
I wish I had something intelligent to say in response, more than simply 'I understand completely.' But I do.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterm
Beautiful. And true. I think we all lose ourselves as moms. It's almost required. Believe me, I covet the days when grandma takes my daughter for a sleepover and my husband and I get to be just us. I'd like it even better if grandma would do it when he was out of town, so I could be totally alone.

As for those who believe you shouldn't share your life. F** them. It's your blog. Your space. Your life. And I can tell you that your stories have affected me, personally. If "they" don't like it, let them read something else. Please keep doing what you are doing. For you and for us.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCheryl S.
I am very grateful that you have shared your stories, whatever your reason for doing it.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersteph
Did I kinda inwardly cringe at the word rationale? Yep.
Because I read your blog for years and cried at my desk for Liam while co-workers stared at me. And then it happened to people I knew and I never got to meet a boy I would have loved to watch grow up. I watched you and many others hold out a hand and I was so grateful.

The grad student in me wants to know how this all started, how it keeps going, how it continues to be a safe place for such a supportive community. The urge to hold it in my hand, poke at it, and say to others "Look! Look at what the internet can do for people besides all that other crap!" is sometimes intense.

The other part of me, the part that aches for Silas, says "Shut up, smartie-pants. It just is what it is. It's not yours to figure out."

Either way, I keep reading. So keep writing, ok? Whatever the reason.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkeira
There is a difference between writing yourself down as real, as some semblance of truth, to aspire to the written word as art, then there is to writing yourself as a train wreck looking for attention. Do I think some people try to capitilze on tragedy, yes? You are not one of them. When you spoke on that panel, there was a chemical reaction, your story created energy, synergy. It mattered. You matter. This matters. Look at every great work of literature, there is pathos and pain but it is mixed with extraordinary beauty, all toppled with ordinary things like doornobs, and loose buttons, restless children, and boats that pitch. I don't know Kate. I don't know what the answer is, or who the fuck I am either, but I see you here. I know you. And, I think this, you, so necessary.
All Love.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkelly
There were about three (possibly 4) expressions in this post...that made me stop...exhale...and start again...how do you do that woman?

I often wonder, when looking through flickr streams, beautiful blogs, features on apartment therapy....if these people have real lives...days where they watch the clock, wishing endlessly for bedtime...nights where you feel like you would do JUST about anything to be single again, not have kids for a few hours....or even have the damn house to yourself...sometimes I fear that my words might be too dark to write...too shallow to say out loud....I will be judged on something I ought to have kept to myself.

What I see when I read your blog (and a few select others) is a place that is rich in texture, rich in feeling (some good, some bad, alot complicated) and always real....I think this has alot to do with your magnetism...you never (and I mean NEVER) sacrifice honesty for perfection. That makes this place...whatever it is...somewhere I want to return.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterwn
Wow. I've reread that comment a few times now, and though I'm still (still!) trying to see what commenter was saying *in a good light* (could s/he have reworded things?), I'm having a tough time too. Not just with rationale, but with "question" (is there really a choice here?) and "hazard." (I mean, people like you-commenter are the fucking hazard, don't you get it?)

I'm tired of the notion that we use grief as a plot device because it is the plot. I wish I had another device to employ.

I read this and think how hard it is to wonder what it's like to feel "normal" motherhood -- is it ok to feel exasperated to the point of breaking because I haven't had a quiet five minutes in the bathroom for five years? -- because we don't know normal. There is always this shadow that makes it difficult to know whether this is just what happens, this sometimes lost feeling, or if we're reading the narrative through a different filter altogether. It's damn tough. I say: let yourself feel it. Don't judge it. It's just what is. And sail on through.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commentertash
The pictures are gorgeous, of course, but the context is always humbling.

Thanks again, Kate.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermissy leone
Hugs my friend. TO feed you apricot beer and lay my new kitten in your lap I would give my milk duds.

We never go on vacations. EVER. This is why. I cannot handle it, ever. I'm in awe that the too of you tried.

Motherhood blows somedays.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterthordora
"I sit hesitating on this batch of photos because they feel like a lie."

I totally relate to this. And then I think "Well, I took this photo for a reason, for the momentary slice of beauty and peace that became me, and so it's true". After the shutter clicks, my girls bring each other to the ground in screams by pulling hair.

Correct, though, that I rarely take photos of my anger and rage spewing, slumping onto a rice-krispie covered sofa with tears and zits and ratty hair, and letting my kids fry their brains watching Little Einstein's. Yah, those prize winning photos are kept to myself.

Still, I believe that your life - all of our lives - does include this layer of magic that exudes in your photos. Maybe it's this moment to moment magic that keeps you going or rationalizing, but either way, you are still GOING. Being. Finding love. Even if that means allowing the iPod to rescue you (as the internet does for me).

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMereMortal

Thank you for your words in this post and in so many others. You routinely make me both cry and smile in a single post, so beautifully and accurately do you capture and describe things I've felt and thought. Today, the sunlight trough a magnifying glass on an ant image made me laugh out loud, since I have often refused to sail with my family for this very reason. As a teenager I spent a week with my parents and sister on a 30 foot boot and while I love them all passionate, I will NEVER DO THAT AGAIN. Talk about frying in the sun. Great image. Great post.
Your unflinching honesty combined with your simply gorgeous writing makes this one of my very favorite blogs. I hope it's OK that I quoted you today on my blog. Thank you for being out there.

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey
The guilt is hard. But the truth is, it's OK to mourn what was, without regreting what is.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea's Sweet Life
Rational and gain... While getting my degree in librarianship, I took a class on storytelling, and we talked and talked about the importance of the connections between teller and audience, between story and audience, how these three all need each other, and how the connections can shape the telling. And now I'm thinking about all of that again, in the context of blogging.

But one gain, from one reader, is this - when I was floundering and desperate and searching for something to hold onto, you and others like you had floated your stories out into the internet, like life preservers, things to hang onto until I could swim. And I know I'm not the only one. I'm so glad you're telling stories here.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErica
the discrepancy between my Flickr world and my real world is a vast one. i carefully cut the mess and find the smiles.

i have felt some disenchantment with the blog world lately, not the fault of any, just an accumulation of unrest and unease with reading. i just have not been feeling it. but i feel this. this is your form of honesty...and i always feel it here as a undertone that rings true .i think you stay very true to your voice, your self in this space.

i am pretty sure you real Neil because i found him due to you (thank you thank you for that refreshment). i loved his post about integrity. i always come back here because i find it consistently in your writing.

and i wonder if that feeling of need for freedom ever eases...talking from my mama insides, not sure that it does. i mean, i am already dreaming of a week away in nyc and it is but a hazy plan that might not make it....but it is a nice dream.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermamie
You somehow manage to explain the inexplicable, and so beautifully. I'm in awe.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commentershriek house
I lost myself to my kids for a good three years and I've been slowly finding my way back to Me. I'm older, yes, and softer, yes, but I'm also a better Me than I was before. At least, it feels that way.

Loved this, Kate.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAngella
I love what Erica said.

The words "rationale" and "gain" have very little to offer true storytellers. My guess is that if you had chosen to be silent you would have added a layer of damage to your loss.

You have something to say to people who are broken, Kate.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRene
Why did you write about it? For me journals are the opposite of photos, the way I cope with the tough times in life when a picture wouldn't comfort me. Why on the blog? Because you were already there, we were already reading, we cared already. The photos and the words match in a way...

And yes, yes to the moments when quiet is drowned out by screeching and all I want is ten minutes (except it's never just ten minutes) with my journal and a pen... This is the life I want, but part of me still aches for the luxury of time to be myself.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commentertrish
"Writing about it was a given. I needed to force some company in the suffering, to compel people to look where they would otherwise not be inclined to look, or else we would have been alone in there." YES. Exactly. I can't imagine not writing about it, all of it. Even the mundane.

Once again, Kate, you took the words out of my mouth. All of them. I feel this daily as a mother. Even as I want another, and another... Is that the definition of insanity, or humanness?

I think we need to ALL get comfortable with tragedy, with suffering - each other's and our own. So that reading about it on someone's blog isn't weird or uncomfortable, but part of how we engage, how we are human. It's part of us, not this separate thing... right?
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGal
I lack the eloquence to say anything but this: that was a beautiful, sad, hopeful, relatable post. I'm so glad you wrote it.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSusie
To me, boating is like camping. For moms, anyway. It's just the same goddamn drudgery and cooking and cleaning and boo-boo kissing as at home, except without reasonable bathroom facilities or a comfortable bed at night.

I get what you're saying, that you worry about the face you present to the world. Remember, that this blog is YOUR space - not mine, not Liam's, not that commenter - and you can do whatever you want here.

As for your Flickr stream - for heaven's sake, woman! Who takes pictures of the shitty moments, the bits where things get thrown, where feelings are trampled, where control snaps? No one, that's who. We take pictures of daredevils and battleship to get us through the times when we could cheerfully walk out the front door alone and never look back.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHannah
What does that make somebody who only discovers blogs and blogging in the wake of personal tragedy?

I don't know if the words rationale or gain are applicable. They seem too dry, too theoretical.

Erica, who comments above, isn't the only one. I know that I was floundering. When I found your blog and read the story of Liam and Ben, I felt as if the weight on my shoulders was halved and doubled simultaneously. But I knew I wasn't alone in my lack of peace and for that, in my own clumsy way, I am eternally grateful.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine W
Kate I don't think I will ever forget reading your blog for the first time.
My daughter was in the NICU and you so beautifully captured the hell brushing up against the mundane. It made me feel less alone.
Recently I saw an oral storyteller perform a piece about his son's time in our NICU.
Sharing stories is absolutely transformative, Alana nailed it.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLisa b
This is exactly the sort of post that keeps me coming back (or keeps the blog in the Bloglines feed...) Truth. No fakery. None of the bullshit we read on other blogs. Which, OK, I guess people are entitled to share only the good and keep the yucky private... I guess. LOL I prefer "real", "raw", "truth".... The other is too shiny and nicey, nice.

Please tell me you really did smash the Battleship "board"?
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterfesti
Your honesty speaks volumes. Who the fuck cares what others think? I really admire the raw honesty of this post and your perceived shortcomings as a mother. I feel them too. If you don't, then you certainly are not of this world. Or you are a motherfucking liar.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermnkathy
Anyone who has any sort of profile on the internet knows how easy it is to construe all sorts of things about oneself. I think it's interesting, blogging and myspace and facebook - all of it. So much of it is about how cool your music is, or how catchy your status, or edgy your profile pic. I have a friend in real life that I later discovered online and I couldn't believe how cool he seemed, when, in reality he's...just not.

I say all of that to say - I think it's tough, navigating this issue of storytelling online, because I don't think you'd get the same question if you kept these thoughts in a journal and then published it. Anything presented online is out there for the masses, and takes a bit of looking before you know you can't dismiss it as "Here's more blog fodder from my J.Crew world - don't you all wish you were me?" I know you pick and choose what you blog about, like everyone does (well, some don't, and their blogs are just boring), and inevitably some of those things will impress us and wow us and challenge us and make us wish we lived with a sailor and a wood-burning stove. But I never get the feeling that you're holding broken pieces behind your back. I think the comments you garner testify to the fact that people are grateful and empathetic and, in so many stories of loss, saved by your writing. And as far as sharing tragedy on the internet, that's tough too. We all need privacy and we all need to be known, so it will forever be a fine line - even in the "real" world of relationships.

P.s. I want to hold Thodora's baby kitten.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBetsy
So raw...so real...thank you for the glimpses into your life. I so enjoy your writing.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLisa
Personally, I think there are far more "hazards" associated with not writing about loss.

I love the way you write, Kate.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdebbie
I am just finishing a year long maternity leave and I have been feeling so guilty for counting down the days. I am looking forward to going back to work to find myself again. I have spent too much time with my four year old and feel guilty for not loving my maternity leave with my second son as much as I enjoyed it the first time around.

I am just not cut out to be home with my boys and that is heart breaking to me. I have no patience for 4 year old behaviour and yell horrible things when I am sleep deprived and I hate myself for it. I am not the fun mom I thought I would be when I dreamed as a teenager of what my kids would be like. I needed to read your words today just to catch a glimpse of a life a little like mine that isn't perfect. I feel a little less guilty tonight. Thanks.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErin
Hi Kate,

I absolutely love this entry! I think every mother feels this way at least once and if they say they haven't they are damn liars! I think I feel this way at least once a day and fear I'm screwing up my kids forever. I admire and am in complete awe of your raw honesty and courage for giving complete strangers, like myself, a window into your world.

Bravo Kate
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSelah
I'm so grateful that you continue to share your thoughts- your creativity and openness sinks my %$#!&*@ battleship every time.
People could interpret any conversation as a plea for attention/pity/whatever- let them judge. Your blog is a gift.

warm hugs from Calgary
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEve
As a browser of your photostream, I'm often envious of your east coast homestead and outdoor adventures... nice to be reminded that you (and Justin, love the driveway mutterings!) are not immune to the headaches of parenting. :)
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNancy
It means so much to me to find a place where I can see I am not carrying this burden of secret frustration and guilt alone. It's funny, I've never felt disappointed with my kids, or even with my husband really (though mine is a very generous, considerate, and martyr-ish too). I only feel so, so disappointed in myself, almost daily. I thought motherhood would transform me more than it has - that I would be less just plain old me, desperately trying to cope, and somehow just... more.

In my worst moments I wonder, if I can't be the mother they deserve, and I can't have the freedom to do what I want to make myself happy, why am I here at all? It's a dark thought from a dark place, and it really helps to know others feel it too, even just sometimes. It makes me try harder to gut it out, so thank you.
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJen
THANK YOU for your writing. It's very necessary, for all of us.

Don't give up on the vacations. It's possible to have a really good time, even if they're not 15. Actually, even next month they will be different. We just got back from a 2 week road trip out east; although there were rotten moments, terrible hours and one hellish stretch of about half a day, overall, everyone agrees that we had a great time, especially when we woke the kids up at 1 am to get out and look at Niagara Falls in the dark and feel its mist and listen to its holler. So you see, we're rewriting the trip in our family's collective memory to emphasize the great, and deemphasize the squabbling, and it's a good, creative thing. Thank you for thinking about it and writing about it, though - it makes all of us reflect too.

Oh, and that guy you hang out with, Justin? He's the best. And he's funny too. But I'm not sure he's a martyr - perhaps just relentlessly cheerful, like my husband!
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAina
You're all so lovely and thoughtful. I'm falling asleep at the wheel here and about to head to bed, finally, and can't string together enough to respond properly to so many of you that shared such good and meaty perspective.

I'll try this weekend, but just... thank you.

(thunk) (eyelids)
August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersweetsalty kate
just adding my voice to the chorus. thank you for this.
August 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBoy Crazy
Ahhhhhhhh--thank God for the honesty of the blog. And it is enough. I am the mother of three children as well, one of whom is severely disabled. I am a writer first, though, and so appreciated your thoughts on what story and writing really is. There's a strange disconnect, isn't there, between the ability to write, to articulate one's deepest thoughts, to channel the suffering in such a way -- a disconnect between that and the thing, the suffering itself. I'm not sure if I made that clear. In a nutshell, keep writing your stuff. It sustains.
August 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterelizabeth
It's only human, to want to find yourself again, no matter the circumstances of having children. And the guilt - oh god, the guilt, could eat us alive if we let it, for wanting, after so much loss, to still be ourselves, to have a few moments, days, even, without the ones we love so much.
August 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterVirginia
Something was niggling at me and I've come back a few times to reread and stare at the beautiful photos to figure what it was and I think I've got it.

What bugs me the most about the comment that started this post was that it implies that somehow there was foresight, or at least some ulterior motive behind you blogging about Liam, the NICU, and the whole mess that surrounded it. Obviously you blogged about it because it was right for you, what you needed to do to help you though it.

But, what also has been bothering me is the response that somehow only true 'storytellers' (a term which I must admit makes me want to gag, so maybe that's why my hackles are up) are up to writing about tragedy. I also call bullshit on that. We all deal with grief differently. Some of us are more public than others, some of us create through it, some of us don't. But those who follow a certain avenue (being stoic; breaking down in public; making sculptures; being unable to create) are no better in anyway than anyone else.

OK, I'm going to step down now. I hope I haven't crossed a line here. xom
August 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterm
Parenthood hits us like a tidal wave, sometimes overwhelming, sometimes giving us space to breath. But always an unpredictable force.

They will grow up and you will get your life back. Perhaps only to find that you have been transformed and no longer need/fit in/want a life of your own.
August 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterej
M, I think it may have been my comment that you are referring to.

I'm sorry if I seemed to imply that there was a hierarchy in grief (where Real True Storytellers bring their A game, and the rest of us schmucks whimper quietly to ourselves). That wasn't my intention. What I was trying to say is that it seemed to me that Kate would have made things much worse for herself by being silent. It's pretty clear to see in retrospect that she did the right thing, the thing she had to do, by telling her stories. It wasn't meant as a general edict. Also, I'm not a writer and I didn't realize the word "storyteller" is so charged but I suppose I should have guessed. I am a painter and the phrase "true artist" makes me gag. So, sorry for that. :-)

I guess the other issue is that I am looking at this through my own experience; we have a severely autistic son and the early years of his life were very, very hard for him and for us. I couldn't even return emails, let alone write about it or hole up in the studio making work. I was pretty sure that I was dead to art. Now I'm coming up for air, sort of, and trying to assess the damage. Would I have been in a better place if I had tried to continue my art practice in some way? What have I lost? At the time, silence was the only option that seemed possible. Now I'm trying to find a way back to the studio, but it feels like I'm improvising my own speech therapy after a massive stroke.

I hope that give a little context to my first comment, M. (Sorry for the length of this one, everyone.)
August 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRene
Elizabeth, I love how you put this: "There's a strange disconnect, isn't there, between the ability to write, to articulate one's deepest thoughts, to channel the suffering in such a way -- a disconnect between that and the thing, the suffering itself.."

M, I'd been returning to the comment too, but you articulated so perfectly why it bothered me. I don't think the commenter necessarily intended all that those words came loaded with, but they lingered with me, too. As to the second part of your comment it's absolutely true, yes - I hadn't thought of it that way but it's true, that the distinction of 'storyteller' isn't anything more elevated in terms of processing grief.

Rene, lovely and absolutely sensible response. I didn't pick up from your comment what M was referring to, but I love that her perspective made you clarify how you felt. Thanks so much for that. It makes me smile, seeing conversation like that. It makes this place feel like a room filled with warmth.
August 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersweetsalty kate
i just miss the quiet, too.

not that i want it too quiet. only that i wish the time between bedtime and morning had an extra three hours slipped in, and regular-like.

writing is making order out of the chaos of breathing, sez me. xo
August 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBon
Oh Kate, that was just perfect.
Perfectly honest and perfectly understandable.

I just returned home from a week in Maine which towards the end felt more like a sardine can by the sea. So thank you for making me feel less alone in my quest for solitude.

Flickr and Blogging make it ever so easy to weed out the negative, to just put the positive out there for others to covet. But you have hooked us all with your honesty. We all know that motherhood is not all sweetness and light. Commiserating is therapeutic only to an extent though.

The best bloggers give a mixing bowl full of inspiration, humor, love, and honesty with a touch of sarcasm to taste .

That is what you give me at least. And that is why I return to read.
August 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJulia
Thanks for sharing this. There are parts I can relate to, and parts I can't relate to. But I appreciate the honesty in your posts.
August 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey
I'm just another reader who followed you here from glow in the woods. You dangled the story of your boys out there like a beacon of hope, at a time when I was alone, lost, confused and in the dark. Even though you're half a world away and our stories and experiences of motherhood/grief are vastly different, you made me feel ok in my grief, anger, confusion and immense sadness. That it was ok to feel the way I was feeling and express it the way I was and the way I continue to do so to this day.

As someone who also gets paid to write (but honestly I could only ever dream of writing as beautifully as you) I know writing has been my lifeline. I don't like to think where I'd be now, a year on, without any words on a page or screen to make sense of this mess.
Like others have said, we all deal differently so whether we write or not, craft or not, make music or not - none of it matters, as long as we somehow find our way.
I'm glad you're finding yours and thanks for helping me find mine.
August 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSally
As someone who started blogging from a double tragedy, not baby lost but severe traumas, I know that there is emotional reality and everyday life. Emotional reality can be that burden that begs to be set down on some bench or blog or paper. Putting it down can enhance day to day living which can become completely soaked and overwhelmed with the emotions otherwise. Blogging is so much more connected than just crawling into bed for example. Sometimes you actually get feedback that validates your feelings. You find you are not alone. So not only are you relieving your burden, you are getting a massage, support, vicarious breath = transformational capacity. Hands joined.
No matter how much I love my child I have moments when I crave alone time, pre motherhood ownership of me time. If only I could be alone while holding her tight :)- then my world would be complete!
August 31, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterstarrlife

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