Moving On

Come wintertime where we live, once the temperature drops and stays firmly in the minuses dads from the neighbourhood come together to build a skating rink in the park behind our house. Last winter, when Elyse was nine, we were skating as a family on that rink, and Elyse was ready to go home.

            “Okay,” I said casually. She wasn’t wearing skates. Elyse could leave any time she wanted, walk home, punch in the code, and voila, find her iPad or something else to do until the rest of us joined her. One of us wouldn’t be too far behind.

            One neighbour, a dad, skated up to me as Elyse walked off on her own.

            “Wow! That’s incredible,” he said. “I didn’t know she could do that.” I realized he meant walk home on her own. My daughter’s independence was a revelatory moment, and he was looking at me in awe. He didn’t know it was possible for a kid with a disability to be left out of sight, even for a short period of time and with parents in proximity. I let my position on the matter be clear, that you must know your kid.

            “We’ve been working up to this point for years,” I explained. All those trips to the bus stop and walking to school, guided, but occasionally kid-lead. Leaving them to their own devices while we sequester ourselves in our offices to catch up on work. Allowing Elyse’s older sister to be in charge while my husband and I left for short periods of time to walk the dog. Giving the girls incremental pieces of responsibility, commiserate with their maturity and responsiveness. That time to manage oneself adds up.

            Could Elyse navigate herself back to her own home safely across the park on a good day? Heck, yah!

            Families have different goals and realities. I have met many families, moms and dads, with or without kids with Down syndrome who have never (ever) left their kids with someone else, let alone solo. That is not me as a mother; that is not our family. My goal for my kids is independence. Though occasionally, I forget to let go.

On World Down Syndrome Day (March 21), of all days, Elyse and I take a meandering walk together. And when I say meandering, I mean, let’s stop at every snowbank (the snowbanks are unabating) and kick the melting snow for five minutes. Me, the dog, Elyse: our trio crawls forward. The dog pulling me ahead, while Elyse kicks the snowbanks behind. The dog sits. We wait for Elyse to catch up. I try to appreciate the gurgling sound of the sewer water coming through the grate, the way stream rivulets cascade down the concrete sidewalks, the robins doing their dance of hopping from branch to branch above me. I try to appreciate the melodies of spring. But slow is rarely my speed in the middle of the workday. Though today isn’t about me, I remind myself. Elyse is taking herself on her own walk, and I’ve simply been invited to tag along. The bright sun, welcome, makes both of us squint.

            We cross through the park behind our house, and as we near home I suggest she might like to stay out longer. I’m going inside to eat lunch.

            “Open the garage door,” Elyse commands. And so I do.

            I sneak glances through our front door window and watch my girl work on clearing a patch of icy snow away from the neighbour’s driveway. And while I feel the need to check on her incessantly, I know that in this separation we are both growing. My daughter needs her own space; to feel she is capable of holding her own.

            Calmly, I wait for the kettle to boil and make my green tea. I pick up my salad bowl, fork, and drink, and head out the front door. I find a nice warm patch on our concrete walkway and settle myself where I can see Elyse.

            She’s unimpressed with my appearance.

            “I’m done,” she says, giving me a look. She puts away the shovel and heads past me back inside.

            “Okay!” I say brightly, in the overture of the overeager, calling after her over my shoulder, as I scramble to stand back up, “Thanks for the walk!”

Snapshot of Grief

When your child is sick, nothing else matters. Literally, it’s as though the world stops.
I don’t mean sick with a cold, though that presents its own challenges. I mean sick and you don’t know what’s wrong. Sick and you think you’ve cured the problem, but then you haven’t. Sick and they drop further and further away from school and family life. Sick and you don’t know how to help them. Sick without a way to comfort or make them feel better. Sick and the appointments keep piling up. Sick and the medical procedures mount in severity and invasiveness. Sick and you’re not sure when they’ll get better—IF they’ll get better. Even for sick children, there are no promises.
Dealing with a sick child feels akin to dealing with grief.

THE FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF:
(from psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s book On Death and Dying)

DENIAL:
October: Blood in her stool. Oh my god, it’s cancer. No, no, the walk-in doctor calms and soothes. Anal bleeds are common enough in children and can be caused by anal fissures, small tears in the rectum. Put some Anusol on it. Nothing more than a little dry skin.
December: The sharp acrid smell of urine on the carpet, mixed with the unmistakeable stench of shit. The sewer aroma hits my nose as I rise up the staircase before I see the pile on the floor. She ran to the toilet but didn’t make it—couldn’t make it—in time.

BARGAINING:
January: We will change her diet. A “special” diet is more work for our busy family, puts a strain on the enjoyment and spontaneity of life—no more going out on a whim until we have lived this diet change and know where and what is safe. Family dinners to grandparents are altered, one more load we exert on our support network. But the changes will be worth it, because then she will feel better. And, there, everything will be fixed. We will give up gluten, but in exchange, she will feel better. That was the deal. That was the fucking deal.

ANGER:
Why this kid? Why the kid with Down syndrome? I don’t want it to be someone else’s kid, or one of my other children, but why THIS kid? Hasn’t she been through enough?
Why our family?
Why me?

DEPRESSION:
February: I feel less anger and more sadness, a tingling in my chest, pinpricks behind my eyes. We’ve been here before, ten years ago. This procedure and that surgery and once she recovers, you can take her home. With the help of our village, we took her home. I don’t want to have to send her back. Watching your child be put under involves an alchemy of insanity and sightless hope. Time exists outside of ticking clocks on the wall. Nothing else matters but that they should wake back up.

A line from a prayer my grandma used to help me recite at bedtime when I was a little girl: And if I die, before I wake…

ACCEPTANCE: I’m not there yet.

What Did She Say?

two kids wrapped in blue towels wearing sunglasses sitting in lounger chairs

WHAT did she say?
I will preface these stories only by saying that Penelope is a six-year-old with doe eyes and a mop of curls.

The other day, I notice Penelope’s on her way to the basement.
“What are you doing?” I ask her, friendly-like.
“You don’t need to know that.” She answers in a way that stuns me into silence—then laughter.

Atlas is our male dog. Out of the blue, Penelope asks me, “When is Atlas going to have babies?”

We’re in a period of deep learning.

While I was attending Kelly Thompson’s book launch in Toronto for her newest memoir, STILL I CANNOT SAVE YOU, Dan was home with our three girls, running the show, as one does. I want to take a second to acknowledge the dads who do the work of childrearing in the same way mothers are expected to do the work, which is to say, without expecting any praise or accolades. Of course, gratitude is always welcome and appreciated by either sex. All to say, Dan does the work because the work needs doing. And, as a mother manager, I’m learning (unlearning) that whatever that work looks like, however the job gets done, when I’m away, that’s not my concern. I do not need to micromanage my children’s father’s parenting, and I certainly would not appreciate him micromanaging mine. Who has time for that? We consult with one another, but whoever is in charge ultimately takes responsibility.
After Kelly’s event, I got in my car feeling satisfied from a fun, busy evening with friends and writers. I checked my phone.
This is the text Dan sent me. A candid exchange between him and Penelope:
Penelope: can I go for a walk by myself?
Dan: Sure. Have fun.
Penelope: I’ll walk to bus stop and back.
Dan: Sounds good. Don’t cross any streets.
She leaves and returns shortly.
Dan: That was quick!
Penelope: I turned the corner from our street and it was creepy. It scared the fuck out of me, so I came home.

Now, there’s a lot to unpack here, but I think the first most important piece of information to point out is that Penelope knows that the “F-word” is a “bad” word. But she does not know that the F-word is “Fuck”. Now she does.
Dan had a nice, civil, follow-up conversation with her about language and what’s appropriate for a grade one to say.
Penelope suggested she heard the word from kids at school—perhaps.
We’ll never know.

On Carrying Grief

Let me tell you a story. Once, there was a writer who gave birth to a daughter with Down syndrome. Wait. That’s not how the story goes. Let’s begin again.
Once, there was a woman who wanted to write a book. She gave birth to a daughter with Down syndrome and that experience was the catalyst that led her to write with a purpose. Furthermore, the writer now understood the book she wanted to write. For the writer, there is no point in writing without passion at the centre. Her love for her daughter filled that hole.
One day, the writer was journaling on her bed when an eerie blue light filtered through the blinds. The writer transformed into a mother cast in a shadow of sadness and she cried for seven days and seven nights. Her tears flowed and formed a river, which we will call “de-nile.” The mother wrote about the curse of the blue light, but she couldn’t free herself from the sadness. Not completely. The story and grief stayed inside her. For years, she carried the curse of the blue light, unable to free herself of its burden. The writer in her wrote, but the mother in her kept her from telling the full truth.
Nine years passed. The writer produced a book and was in the thick mire of writing another. And it was during the writing of that second book that the story of the blue light came back to her. She’d been carrying it deep inside of her all these years. She had no idea the story would save her.
The writer’s second book was a collection of essays. One of the essays she was editing was lengthy, unruly and in need of…something. She took the essay with her to a retreat in France searching for answers. There, she met and received guidance from a scribing sage: “I don’t usually do this,” the scribing sage cautioned about being prescriptive “but what you have here is two essays.” Now the writer could see what was obvious to an outsider. And so, the words were cleaved and a new essay in its infancy was born.
Later, at home, pondering the new essay and what it could become, the writer recalled the story of the blue light. With time and experience, she understood more fully where the sadness had come from and why. She had carried the weight of the blue light on her back and she was ready to fling it aside, like a pack that had once served her, but was now empty of reserves. But it’s true that the grief may never subside in its entirety, and the writer and the mother are okay with that. They will greet grief, upon its return, as though welcoming a long lost friend.
To research the ancient story, the writer dug through old journals, fished open old documents to accurately recreate the tale. Ultimately, she searched her own heart. And the pieces fit. The essay was complete. The writer smiled at the mother she once was, the person who needed to guard her truth. In the end, the blue light served her well. And only by releasing the truth of that experience could the blue light also serve others.
The process only took nine years.

On Being A Happy Person

I think of myself as being a happy person. I hope people who know me would describe me that way. What does it mean to be a happy person? Can someone become a happy person? Nature or nurture or both? For me, being a happy person comes from a happy childhood, I was well held, and from fostering a positive outlook on life. I think, to be a happy person, one needs to be content in one’s own skin. To be able to look at yourself in the mirror and at the very least say, “This is it. Here I am, world. Take me or leave me.” To know that whatever or whoever you are in this space, that it is enough. You are enough. More than enough. You are a dazzling star.

That’s happy person talk, forgive me. Happy people speak kindly to themselves and others.

            The more I reflect on being a happy person, the more I think being a happy person has to do with being able to accept and delight in other people’s happiness. Happiness as a contagious, infectious, condition. Happiness that is meant to be shared and reciprocated. Happiness that bubbles forth and rejoices in everyone it meets and touches.

            To be a happy person does not mean that you are forever happy. Like everyone at some point, I have experienced deep soul-crushing grief and sadness. Huge losses. Major setbacks and failures. But the happy person finds their way back to the light. In their own time, to be sure, but the light is a beacon that calls and the happy person must eventually answer. The happy person is the light. You may argue with me here or disagree, but part of being a happy person is about making the choice to be one. “Is this yogurt cup half full or half empty?” Penelope asks me this morning. I’m always leaning toward half full.

            But the flip side is not true. Unhappy people have not necessarily chosen to be so. I am not being so flippant as to suggest one can simply will their way into happiness. Many folks need medication to get there. If I needed medication to feel happy and content, I would take it, if I could.

True feelings of happiness at its height are fleeting even for the happy person. But the happy person walks around content. With a smile on their face. The smile makes the happy person feel good (and sometimes it’s the other way around). I don’t buy ‘fake it until you make it’; the happy person is genuinely happy, and I think they are so because they have allowed themselves to feel their true feelings as they arise, and they have dealt or are dealing with those feelings— even the uncomfortable ones. Especially the uncomfortable ones. I feel happiest when I’ve dealt with my feelings, and to do so, I often use the page.

I think the simplest things in life make me happiest and bring me the greatest joy. And by simplest, I mean the things that come naturally. My love for my children. Getting up early and catching the winter sunrise dance in the sky. Taking the dog for a walk on a frosty morning and seeing my cold breath suspended. The first steaming sip of my earl grey tea to begin the day that jolts me awake. Tucking myself into bed early, pulling the cozy flannel sheets right up over my chest and cracking open a new book to read. My husband’s warm hand tucked gently around my waist. Finishing writing a sentence on a page.

I have faced ridicule and spite for being a happy person. And found myself in awkward situations. Wives whose husbands have asked, “Why can’t you be happier, like Adelle?” Comparison is the surest way to feeling unhappy, and I’m guilty of it myself.

As a kid, I was a competitive gymnast. Participating in sports throughout my life has brought me great happiness, and exercise remains an instant mood booster for me. At fourteen, I was at the height of my gymnastics career and dating a high school boy. I used to think, at that time, that being happy meant denying sadness, but I now know that’s not true. I was introduced to a girl who had a crush on my boyfriend. I didn’t know she was interested in him. “Hi! I’m Adelle!” I said in my singsong teenage gymnast voice, extending my hand. I was happy to meet her, a new face. She ignored my hand and sneered at me, then turned to the person behind her and said, in a mock tone, “Hi! I’m Adelle” And I remember the shock of that blow, of being mocked for who I was and how I spoke and the realization that not everyone accepted me for who I was, even when I’d conceivably done nothing wrong. And perhaps it’s my life’s work to realize that being a happy person does not mean that I need to please others. Being a happy person does not mean that it is my job to make other people happy.

            Being a happy person is about finding that happiness, creating and fostering it first for myself. That happiness is then shared with the people I love and those in my sphere. Those who truly love me never begrudge my happiness.

End Note:

Over the course of writing this blog, I experienced some deeply unhappy feelings. I usually write blog posts on a different day than I end up posting them. This post was written during a pleasant morning when I was feeling quite happy and content. The next day, the wind shifted. My aunt died. My daughter was diagnosed with a life-altering disease. Innumerable other small unhappinesses seeped into my life unbidden and unannounced, just like that, at the passing of a day. I thought, oh great, how am I going to post that happy person blog now when I’m feeling decidedly unhappy? I wanted to scream I feel like crap at the version of myself that declared herself fulfilled. Time passed. I worked on other pieces of writing and let the blog sit. I waited some more. Friends texted. I visited with family. I talked my feelings through with my husband and gave myself a bit of space to process. A few days later, something had shifted. I could see the things waiting for me that brought me joy and that lifted my spirits. I accomplished a few difficult tasks. I tried my best to stay true to myself and my own needs and desires, in addition to giving to my family and the community around me. I did yoga first thing. Went for runs. I found rhythm in my work. And the happiness hung around like a glow, almost perceptible in my chest, its embers flashed and danced inside me again.

On Finishing

No story is ever truly finished. We live out our lives in waves, and sometimes we stop telling our tale, suspended, at the height of crests, and other times, we find ourselves holding our breath underwater somewhere near the bottom, left in the trough until the next rising wave comes along. Life has these peaks and valleys. Books, on the other hand, are different. Books do have an ending. Books must come to an end due to the limits of physical space, attention spans, and because for readers, endings are incredibly satisfying.

            Seven years ago, I wrote a memoir about my journey as a mother receiving a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome when my second child was born. Over years, I wrote a complete draft, followed by two subsequent drafts. I sought feedback from experts and comments from beta readers and wrote the fourth and final draft incorporating those responses. With the help of a trusted professional editor, I had a final copy edit done. By 2019, I had a completed manuscript. Or so I thought.

For writers, endings can be incredibly hard to write. Not so for every writer, but what is true for every writer is that the ending needs to land and deliver—this is your final impression!—in a similar way that the beginning must draw readers in.

            One of the most difficult endings that a writer must contend with is completing the first draft, which is, of course, not an ending at all, but a place for the next stage of beginnings. Following a draft, revision and editing happen, and this is the bulk of the work. In his craft book On Writing, Stephen King wrote that writing is rewriting.

            Before rewriting, a first draft must exist. Next, comes multiple rounds of finessing. And this is where I find myself in the writing process of my second book, head ducked beneath the waves.

            I am writing a collection of essays. Essay writing is unique in that huge swaths of text (complete essays) may be finished before another section of the book has even begun. I find myself with essays in varying stages of completion. I have essays from my book that are published and a few more I want to write from the ground up.

            As we come to the end of 2022, I’m reflecting on what it means to “finish” the current book I’m writing. I have an admission: finishing a book or project is the absolute hardest bit for me. I am spectacular at beginnings. I have new ideas a plenty. Several other books exist partially on the page and in my head that I want to write. A chapbook, two books of poetry, a collection of short stories and in the past few weeks, I’ve been developing an idea for a novel—a novel! Meanwhile, my collection of essays sits patiently to the side, at risk of becoming an abandoned child. I, the mother, guilty of neglect. The truth of the matter is that my essays are close, but the ending, wrapping up what I have, is a challenge. Finishing a project requires discipline and putting in the time. Finishing becomes more methodical, and while creative thinking is paramount infinitum, to finish requires curtailing any wild flares or fancies. I must work within the confines of what I have begun, of what has already been laid down and round out what is lacking. Finishing, tying up loose ends and editing and rewriting essays, is work. Arguably the most important work to be done. My mind loves to jump to the glittery rock at the bottom of the pond of my thoughts. That new shiny thing, yes, my brain says. Pick it up! Pick it up! Let’s write about that! I have to swat away those impulses, or better yet, write them down in my daily process journal for another day when the essays are done. Nothing is ever wasted. I resist the stone’s temptation and strengthen my resolve. I finished writing a book once, and I will do it again, I remind myself.

            This finishing business is no easy task. The Down syndrome memoir I began writing seven years ago I no longer consider a completed work. I no longer think of that book as “done”, but as something that I’ll come back to. And in many ways, I already have. In many ways, I have never not been working on that book. Stories from my memoir have found their way into my essays. While I once found an end to that book, the stories continue. Sometimes, you must write the first book in order to get to the second, truer story.

2023 is the year I finish writing my collection of essays. If I had a vision board, it would also say, “2023 is the year I find a publisher.” I have been working on the pursuit of my publication dream for ten years. These stories I’ve been keeping, they were never really mine to hold onto. They are for you. Capturing the stories, writing them down, sustains me, but putting those stories out into the world and having others receive them is, for me, one of the most satisfying endings.

The Deliciousness of Bodies

Dan, my husband, is away. Forget about what this sometimes does to me: mentally, physically, emotionally. What I’d rather discuss is the impact on my daughter Elyse who has Down syndrome. I should preface this by saying Dan has no choice as to whether he travels for work or not. It comes with the territory.

In Dan’s absence, Elyse’s behaviour changes. The change is remarkable to the extent that her school has requested I notify them of any dad departures in advance, so that they may adjust her day accordingly. They incorporate more rest, smoother transitions. In short, they demand less of her. She is a creature of habit, and her daddy is an integral part of her day. She relies of him for obvious help, but also subtle cues, subtle cues I’m not necessarily even aware of, which Elyse makes clear to me in our interactions.

Elyse sees us as a family of balloons, a colourful bunch, and with her dad away, it’s as though she is cut adrift, left wandering up into the sky of beyond. I reach for her string, try to grasp it, bring her back down, but she’s too high, too far gone.

But I have my tricks, by necessity. What mother doesn’t?

She is floating high high up in the sky, away from me, and I remember how to get her back down. I lay flat on the ground in the living room, cheek planted on the plush carpet looking right in the direction of our new windows, clear and shiny. In my field of vision, I see the bright glare of sunshine through the glass, clouds passing by, the bare winter branches reaching high, and our tropical plant, Urma, with her lush leaves in the foreground.

I lay there, ribs compressed, prone, and attract the living creatures.

Elyse is the first to take the bait. When words fail with her, I’ve learned to communicate with my body. This laying flat is an offering, you see.

I hear the pounding of her footfall approaching. Elyse straddles my torso and peeks her little face down into my field of vision. Her hands work across my back like a kneading cat.

The dog arrives next. His big wet tongue trails across my face, and Elyse defends me, bats him away. My youngest lounges across the backs of my calves. The laundry will have to wait. I am the one being draped with bodies.

I stay there, motionless, pressed into the earth, without talking, and Elyse claims me. I surrender myself to her completely. She lowers her little body completely on top of mine, squeezes me tight, and flashes her shark teeth close to my face with another big cheeky grin. She lets out a laugh. She is delighted to have me in her grasp.

Got you.

The Writer’s Wheel of Fortune

I’m on a date with another more experienced writer. This is what writers sometimes do. We connect and compare notes, we tell stories and celebrate the triumphs while acknowledging the defeats. The many many defeats. And the wins! My new friend tells me the story of her winning poem, the one that took top prize in a prestigious poetry contest.

“That poem was rejected 138 times before it won.” I look at her, gobsmacked. How is that even possible? I ask. She shrugs. Okay, it might have been sent out 136 times.

I have read and heard many times that all it takes is one reader, the right reader. The topic of my friend’s poem was somewhat obscure and required the right set of eyes with the mind to match to capture the poem’s essence and appreciate its beauty. Talent, timing, luck and…perseverance. That’s what it takes to get published or win that award or grant or application. And something else that I will call—cue booming God-like voice—engaging in THE WRITER’S WHEEL OF FORTUNE.

Let me explain how the wheel works.

Simply put: what comes back to you, you must send back out into the universe.

How about a fine example from my own writing life. Recently, I received an email rejection for a well-regarded residency I was hoping to get into.

A writing residency is a set amount of time away to work, say two to four weeks, that sometimes involves a stipend, often room and board is covered and, occasionally, you get to work with a mentor or two. The main attraction for me is time and space to write, everything else is bonus. These residencies are hard to earn, competition is fierce.

 “We reject to inform you…” the five words writers never want to hear. I immediately did what I encourage every writer to do. I was already in the process of finishing another writing residency application. I swallowed my disappointment in one blink, and then was able to add the finishing touching to said new application and WHOOSH, off it went into the wild wide world. And I could breathe a huge sigh of relief. The trick is to take the energy that comes attached to a rejection and put it to positive use, i.e. my next submission. This sounds suspiciously like reframing the rejection as a new opportunity. Another writer, Barbara Harris Leonhard, reframes the rejection by saying the piece was “returned.” In this way, through the writer’s wheel of fortune, like the ups and downs of life, I end up on the crest of the hill, instead of deep in the valley of depression.

And why am I sharing this with you? Because hard work comes with its rewards. Two days before that residency rejection I had a lengthy essay accepted into a literary journal I highly respect. And that essay had already been “returned” more than once. The right eyes, the right mind will connect with your pages, your application, your submission. You and your work will find a home.

 Admittedly, I’m still relatively new to all of this, but I’m learning that once you’ve accrued a body of work and received feedback and made substantial edits to that work, that THEN the key is to submit and keep the wheel of fortune moving. Take your masterpieces and push them out and through the world. The publishing world moves at a snail’s pace, so I try to make my turn arounds sharp by already knowing the next place or contest I might send a piece of work, or be writing several grants or residency applications at once.

My sharpest turn? Once I received a rejection for a literary anthology for an essay that I knew wasn’t quite the right fit, but I didn’t want to miss the deadline or opportunity. In the meantime, I was working on the just-right essay somewhat by chance. When the rejection letter came in, I thanked the editor profusely and said, “… but actually, this new essay I’ve been working on will fit perfectly with your collection.” Now, this is not always going to end happily, but for me it did. The essay was accepted, and the book received high praise.

The thing about the writer’s wheel of fortune is that you can’t win if you don’t play the game.

The Beast of Longing

I wake early, six a.m., squinting against the bathroom light. Outside is a dark bruise. I rally the troupes—Dan, the dog—come on, I say, let’s go for a run. The trail near our home where the dog runs off-leash is closed, but perhaps, in the early hours and cloaked by darkness we can jog along the path unencumbered and free. I want to run that way, released, feel the burn in my lungs, the lash to my legs, the pumping of my heart, you are you are you are here. But also, to unleash the feeling that’s grown deep and restless inside me, the beast of longing. Ah, yes. The beast of longing. Her. We are well acquainted. I hold myself fixed to a certain goal and the beast of longing grows and grows, alongside my ambition. She can be monstrous, dangerous. Do not poke her or provoke, she will devour you whole.

Only our front porch light torches the way, the sidewalk ahead is encased in a shrouded mist of black. We move, the three of us, into the morning night. I lead the way, loosening, my muscles adjusting, arms tucked close weighted by fists, one foot falling in front of the other, a light determined step. We find our way down paved roads lamp-lit to arrive at the opening of the forest. The opening is a tunnel of darkness, black turned in on itself. I flick on my phone flashlight. Stay close. Cedar roots jut out from forest floor, mud patches, stumps, loose stones and boulders litter the way as we make our way down the steep incline to the cinder path, my companions trailing behind disappear outside my light. We arrive, and the cinder path lights up reflected in the mist and I switch my phone flashlight off. Total black save for the star stream of bright at our feet.

We make our way easily down the now flat trail, hop hop hop hop; our feet little rabbits. The forest on either side of us holds unknowns, threatening mystery. I recall the man encamped within, illegally, who wouldn’t—couldn’t?—stop screaming one morning. A jogger passing by called 9-1-1, but the camper refused help, howled and howled, and sent the ambulance away when it arrived. I don’t know the camper’s wider story, but I do know what it is to howl. And how it is when the howling inside will not abate.

Footsteps, ours, stones scraping, heavy breathing, the distant whoosh of passing cars, the only sounds. The morning night is spooky, but our trio is at ease in each other’s company. I unwittingly call to mind the coyotes who leave the entrails of their meals littered across the trail. Safety in numbers. We hit the halfway mark and turn around.

As our eyes adjust to the night, our footfall to each other’s cadence, so too does the dawn break and the light creeps back in. Barely perceptible, then all at once, undeniable. Where once my foot fell into an abyss of black, now roughly defined features of craggy earth reveal themselves below. A large pile of dirt from the trail workers, we were lucky not to have tripped over on the way out, rises before us. Piles of excrement, as well, we are quite pleased to have dodged. And perhaps the most surprising, the metallic jaws of a dinosaur, an entire excavator, sitting alongside the trail, bucket raised with sharp teeth.

My mind churns, and I dig into my own short-comings, feelings of perceived failures arrive at this early hour unbidden. The beast of longing. She has found me, even here. I can’t stop my thoughts from rising up, howling, but I don’t stop running, never stop running. One foot in front of the other, we press on. I don’t say a word.

We reach the base of the hill leading back to home. Up we climb, up and up and out of the forest. And it’s brighter still. A matte sky. The street lamps look silly casting their glow in the brightening day as the mist fades away.

And I know, running back down the road towards home, that I will write about this moment. I can already grasp the metaphor of moving through darkness, tucking into the forest, and re-emerging into the light, but I don’t yet know what it means.

Sick with the monster of my own longing, that weighty beast, I can do nothing but finish the run. See it through. Feel a measure of comfort from the company of my companions. I don’t understand what it means to wander in the dark and keep moving until the light. Keep moving until the light. Keep moving toward the light. Toward the light. Persevere. I write my way there.

Back to School Cool

What it’s like to be a parent to a child with Down syndrome on the first day of school after most of summer camp didn’t go particularly well and you were regularly summoned from your work—pulled, wrenched from your work— when the phone rings because there is some problem with your child, “problem child”, that needs dealing with.

Most commonly: “Can you come and pick her up?”:

It’s the first day of school, and I’m sitting at my eldest daughter’s desk, out of my element, because I’m keeping our new kitten Marvel company. She’s a marvel. The phone rings unexpectedly and I jump from my chair—I leap from my chair. Where is it? Where is it? Where’s my phone! How dare my phone escape my peripheral vision, my direct vision. My hand. The watch on my wrist is the thing vibrating telling me I have a call. I have a call! Where is the physical device, the talking piece. I need it. Now. NO CALLER ID is flashing at me. I know what that means! That means it’s got to be the school, it’s got to be the school. Elyse. She needs me. They need me. The school. Where’s the phone? Where is it? I need to answer this call. I have to. I need it now.

I run, go barreling, stompy-footed down the stairs, hand bracing against banister railing and then pause. Hold breath. Listen. Hear the vibration of phone shimming on wood table. Eyes dart across the room. The kitchen table. There it is! Must reach phone. Arms outstretched legs moving too slowly too slow this cumbersome body. GOT IT! Hold breath. Answer the damn phone.

            “Hello?” Calm, courteous, polite. Calm. CALM.

            “Hi Adelle, it’s the dentist’s office calling, are you able to switch your dentist appointment to this week instead of next week, we have an opening.” Breath slides out like a deflating balloon, but my heart swells.

            Yes, if that’s all that this is, then no problem. No problem at all. I’ll take any appointment you’ve got. Just, keep my kid, and make sure she’s happy and learning, will you?