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.


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