Quinn’s Song

Lately, when I tuck Quinn in bed, I sing to him. Sean’s been working all night and the older kids tend to be plugged in or never around (or, sigh, living in Seattle), so there are no critics to be found. Five year olds don’t care if my voice can’t quite reach the high notes.

We have had a lot of money worries since Sean’s accident last year and though we are slowly rebounding, we are also spinning in backwards circles. Sometimes I know the energy of that worry transfers to this wee little boy and so tonight I sang Danny’s Song. It’s always been a favorite of mine. It’s the song I sing to myself on long car rides. Barefoot. (Oh summer, how I miss you).

I sang “And even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with ya honey,” and just as I was about to bust out with hand gestures, Quinn tapped my arm and said, “Um, excuse me. I am so sorry to interrupt, but I have a question,” (really, Montessori? Who taught him the phrase ‘sorry to interrupt’?). He asked me if Luke used to be my son. I explained that Luke still is my son (people smile and tell me I’m the lucky one, and we’ve just begun, I think I’m gonna have a son). Quinn shook his head in disagreement, arguing that he alone is my son. We finally agreed that he was my littlest son. A son I can still sing to. Next he asked me if fish poop and then he said, “Okay, go ahead. Start from the beginning of your song.” I stared at his freshly shampooed head and his soft teddy bear pajamas. He laid his head against a textile of puppies.

“And even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with ya honey, and everything will bring a chain of love, and in the morning when I rise, you bring a tear of joy to my eyes, and tell me everything is gonna be alright.” I sang it all the way through, about the girl and the paper cup and the family where there once was none. I sang sans jazz hands and Quinn and I made eye contact throughout the entire song. As he patiently held my gaze, I felt incredibly connected to him. I felt raw, spent, and so deeply in love, until I finished, because then he said, “You are sitting on my leg.” Now every time he hears that song, he will probably just remember his mother crushing him. No worries, I guess. True chains of love seem to circle in forgiveness.

There are so many things to pay attention to in this world and I wonder if the things that hold my stare are worth it. If something that my five year old said is worth talking about, just because it made me laugh. Sometimes I do worry that sharing the smallest moments of motherhood is moot. Who cares, really? That is what I was thinking about after the leg comment. I thought about writing it down and then I thought who cares? Then I remembered what a student wrote on the white board in my classroom today. I took a picture of it because it, too, made me smile. I guess I wasn’t supposed to read it until later.

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For their final project today, my students had to make short videos about their work. One student defined art as “the fibers and minerals of those that create it and the purest form of them that there is.”

Kenny Loggins and white board graffiti. I might not be saving the world, but I can feel a bigger one waiting for me. Love is what I’ve got. The purest form of me there is.

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Blink While You Breathe

COLOR - Version 2

I have just settled into my seat at Starbucks with the plan of a 2.5 hour grading session while Lizzie is at practice. This image of the kids popped up on my screen. I scrolled to a similar one of them from years ago:


Not that I needed a reason to procrastinate grading on a Friday night, but I found myself scrolling through two decades of photos of my life, and then back even further, to when I was Quinn’s age:

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And then, for about the ninth time today, I cried. Cried right here in the corner of Starbucks, right in front of the teenager mopping bleach around my feet.

It’s been a really bad start to 2016. Stress and worry and a bout of pneumonia, followed by the guilt that Luke moves back to Seattle in 2 days and I haven’t even had the chance to hold his face and dig into what his first semester really was like, followed by Wednesday when Quinn got food poisoning from a hotdog that Luke treated him to after school. Quinn was violently ill, vomiting at least once, sometimes twice an hour all through the night. Early on in the process, but far enough along for Quinn’s color to disappear, he sat on his bedroom floor, shivering, with Sean rubbing his back. Q eyed his bucket. He frowned, teary, and said, “I am sorry, guys,” which melted our hearts. Sean replied, “You don’t need to say sorry to us. It’s okay.” Quinn shook his head and said, “Not you. Them.” He tilted his chin in the direction of his stuffed animals that were waiting for him on his bed.

How long has it been since I had imaginary friends? How long has it been since I have been lost inside a world of possibility and play?  Luke picked me up at school today and texted me ahead of time to let him in through the art door. When I pushed it open, I noticed that a student had added to my sign on the door:

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I smiled, but sadly, because up until I noticed it I had already had two stress meltdowns. By 8:15AM, I texted my husband, “I am having a panic attack. Can’t breathe,” all because I could not find the spray-mount I ordered, and all the artwork was due matted to the art museum, and I had already missed days due to the plague, and grades are due, and my students are slacking, and holy shit today is the fifteenth and the damn mortgage is due and I don’t have the money, and the bathroom sink is clogged, and I need brake fluid and new wipers and a headlight and Jesus volleyball season hasn’t even really started yet and HOW AM I GOING TO AFFORD THAT?!”

Yet someone in my class was bored enough and creative enough and light hearted enough to remind me that Narnia is just outside. I just am noticing the wrong things.

I spent my only prep hour today calling parents who were all super nice, but also clearly don’t understand how many minutes are in my one and only prep hour. I spent my lunch hiding from the world next to a soda machine and I tried to just breathe. I felt better when I saw another teacher crying too. Apparently, we both forgot about Narnia.

I spent my only hour at home eating a cold flauta and opening my Birchbox. I spent another hour in traffic. If John Lennon was right, that life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans, then I need to make better plans. I need to remember that each deep breath comes with a blink of the eye and in that lapse, there is poetry.

In that blink, kids grow up, a given, but I grew up and I missed it. My parents looked like this just two days ago, I swear:

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Where did that blanket go? I want that blanket, dammit. In my Narnia, there is a blanket like that. It’s waiting for me. I just need to believe it will catch me and lead me to a place where I recognize my spirit, where I see myself before I see my role as mom, where my imaginary friends are so real that I am compelled to apologize to them,


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It’s Happening 


Just a quick hello and Happy New Year to my kellyinrepeat friends! Greta and the Angels is halfway there and I am looking forward to launching a big book release party in 2016. Hurrah! 

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In Protest of the Pizza Fundraiser

The school volleyball season is over. The fee that was due in September was paid on the final day, as I scrambled to sell all of the pizza coupons that were buried in my daughter’s backpack (along with the letter explaining the $100 activity fee, an open container of old chocolate pudding, and three socks).

Quinn has been sitting next to me all afternoon, wearing a shark costume that is three sizes too small, making paintings of the beach:

q beach

I have, apparently, given birth to the reincarnation of Rothko, which is especially cool because I am pretty certain Mark Rothko did not play volleyball and never needed to sell things like cheesecakes and popcorn for profit (unless, maybe, Quinn is dreaming of beach volleyball, in which case, damn).

Club season is around the corner and gosh darn it all, I do not want to sell more pizzas. Should, ideally, my daughter be doing the selling? Yes. Is that how it works? If you answered yes, you have less than two children or no children at all.

I have spent my day making the annual collection of greeting cards that I like to pretend replace the need for me to stuff my minivan with frozen cheesecakes and cardboard pizzas and drive them to your homes in the middle of winter, exhausted, with a plastic smile on my face that really does mean “gratitude,” but screams, “fuck my life.”

On that lovely note of holiday cheer, I introduce to you the 2015 Winter Collection. If you are interested in purchasing a card or set of cards, please shoot me an email with your details or questions. I will be assembling cards for a few weeks, but promise to deliver them to you by turkey day. To be honest, making these got me out of worrying that my PPG (a teaching practice that encourages goals to have limits and measurements) was rejected, and helped me procrastinate opening that stupid form to redo it all.

Instead, I got to experience Sunday twirling watercolors on the tip of a brush, sipping tea,  and filling my mind with images of you all, opening really fun mail on a day that was otherwise heavy. I imagined joy.

All cards are 4.5″x6.25″ and are mailed with a white envelope. Cards are $5.00 each or $40 for a set of ten (you can mix and match).

Orders can be placed by emailing me at kellymizer@gmail.com. 

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The Neglected Slice

“I love you.
You’re my breathing castle.
Gentle, so gentle,
We’ll live forever.” -Richard Brautigan

I teach students how to write artist statements. I teach (TRY to teach) them how important voice is in writing, especially when writing to colleges who receive bazillions of application essays. Before any teaching takes place, I just have students write a statement, without any direction from me. 600 words, more or less, with the goal of communicating what their art is about and why they made it. By and large, the essays are terrible. Some are very academic. Some are technically sound. Nowhere is there voice. A literate gerbil could write those essays.

So today was for teaching. I always run this workshop (you say lecture, I say workshop) differently, and oftentimes I use a lot of good Anne Lamott quotes because if you are teaching art and you have not yet used her words, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor,” then you are not teaching art. Today, however, I ditched Lamott because I was inspired by an NPR interview I heard this summer about a woman working with recovering/surviving women, and, if I recall correctly, it was about a poetry class she was teaching. In the class, she asked each woman to write a poem about themselves as if they were pie (if you know me at all, then you know that I sat in my parked car in my driveway until this radio interview was complete because it was about PIE).

First I asked my students to write two sentences about why they make art. They wrote generic, cliche awful things about how pictures say things words cannot and how they have always loved crayons and expressing themselves. I then basically vomited on that and prompted them to to write about broccoli or their pet. Then they read their “broccoli’s” and they were hysterical to hear aloud and we all giggled and the ice was broken.

Following the NPR guru’s lead, I next asked them to write about themselves as if they were a slice of pie. One kid was an award winning, state fair pie, a pie that everyone envied. One kid said he sure wasn’t a cheap-ass-store-bought-pie; he was rich and homemade. Today I heard 50 students describe themselves to me as pie, the most memorable of which was a very quiet girl, who bravely read, “I am the slice that nobody wants.”

And suddenly we have voice.

I will never in my life forget her saying that. I will NEVER IN MY LIFE forget to remember that when I am standing in front of a group of children, there is bound to be someone in that group who feels unwanted, unloved, frumpy, and crumpled, and expired.

Her saying that made me instantly think about the Richard Brautigan poem in which he describes his love as his breathing castle. It’s my favorite poem. I haven’t a clue why the poem popped up. The weight of her words? My heart sinking? I kind of think it was prayer in the form of poetry…please, oh please, make everyone know how much they are loved. 

I married my breathing castle.

I am cherry pie, homemade or store-bought, or even sitting alone in a hospital cafeteria. No matter. To me, cherry pie means home. It means that once a year, growing up, on “field trip day,” my mom and dad let me have a sugary Hostess cherry pie in my school lunch. Cherry pie. Full of anticipation and comfort and sometimes just a little bit sour.

My deepest wish for my own children is that they grow up knowing what it means to find their own breathing castles, and that in the meantime, they feel like a valuable contribution to the whole.

drawing by Luke Mizer

drawing by Luke Mizer

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Crying at Walgreens

“Woah, money won’t do the trick, but it will help. Still, we won’t need it to turn things around.” -The Avett Brothers

When I was twenty-four and pregnant with Luke, I supplemented my crap teaching salary by working after school in a law office for three hours a day. Mostly I greeted anxious clients, made coffee, and filled out applications to boarding schools for my boss’s young daughter. When no one was looking, I would type up assignments for my students or draw in a tiny sketchbook. I was only there for about three weeks when the head secretary (think Joan on Madmen, but with the looks of Alice from the Brady Bunch) told me that I was expected to attend the office Christmas party. Prior to the party, the top lawyer threw a long, white envelope on my desk. My name was scrawled on it in cheap blue pen, an afterthought. Inside, was a Christmas bonus check for a thousand dollars. A THOUSAND. It was not because I was a good receptionist. I actually sucked at it. The good receptionist got five thousand.

I was reminded of this story, I suppose, because money has been so tight for us lately. I was reminded of it when today, my new colleague broke down in tears because she could not afford her necessary prescription, something her former employer covered, and so my dear friend now has to teach while experiencing heavy-duty withdrawal symptoms. I was reminded of it again tonight when my card was declined at the grocery store.

Teaching does not pay well. I knew that going in (trust me, I really knew. Both my parents taught and we were broke enough that on Wednesday nights we would walk to St. Joe’s Hospital because it was $2 dinner night and kids ate free). Teaching, I never look at the clock. That is worth quite a bit, because trust me, I have had those jobs in which every minute feels like a year (the worst of which was at a plastics factory at which for eight hours a day, I trimmed the corners off of laminated menus).

I am grateful for an entire gamut of things, from green olives to a healthy, safe family. I am FULL of thanks. I am grateful that I made kick-ass shakshuka for dinner.  Grateful for Fall and that Sean does all the house jobs that I don’t know how to do, like unclog the sink, and stucco the patches in the house. I am grateful to be married to someone who doesn’t have to wear a tie. I could write you a gratitude list that stretches from my bed to a Alaska, but…

But there is something fundamentally wrong when a teacher with her masters degree, who doesn’t have children to support, who works over fifty hours a week, cannot afford her prescription. There is something fundamentally wrong when my dad has to pay my phone bill or buy my groceries or pay for a field trip to a pumpkin farm.

This is what it means to have lost a middle class. It means crying at Walgreens.

We live in a world where a twenty-four year old kid working a temp receptionist job receives a bonus check and teachers get a candle.

In 1991 I worked one college summer as a receptionist for a New York editor. I was scolded for editing what I was transcribing. Apparently, I was just supposed to type it. Editing was the editors job. Who knew? I was later complimented on how keen my editing was and told that I looked like a young Kathleen Turner. I sat at a desk, listened to stories, and typed them. At the end of the week, an accountant would come in and hand me a check for $700. I kid you not, that is pretty much what I make now.

So what to do? I LOVE the teaching part. I LOVE working with kids. I LOVE that my own kids are at my school (minus the part where they make me late for school). I am exhausted and even that is okay because it’s a good exhausted. Does it get to the point where I choose money over passion? My friend did that. Stayed home with her babies and quit teaching because it was more expensive to pay someone to watch her babies than it paid to work. I see Kohl’s is hiring an art manager. I don’t want to be an art manager. Art Manager …. sounds like an oxymoron. Do I keep writing and drawing and creating and then hope that one day it all comes together in one giant explosion of cash?

I once listened to a Deepak Chopra meditation in which he discussed the nature of money. The energy of money is that it likes to be spent. Money, he said, will come from wherever it is right now. That mantra right there has saved me on numerous occasions. I get the law of attraction. I get that if I focus on NOT having money, that what I will get it NO money. How does that switch flip? The flip that I just bask in the joy of creating and teaching and trust that the universe will provide?

I have manifested many miracles. Have you met Quinn? I am now going to manifest bonus checks and $5 prescriptions. In the meantime, I will continue to weave the long list of thank you notes to the universe and continue to imagine the rainbow over Luke’s dorm, a testament to the belief that all things happen at their destined time. A testament to the belief that it’s okay to let someone else drive the bus.

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Dream a Little Dream of Me

Luke left home and I didn’t tell you. I left you hanging. I forgot, somehow, to mention that I cried all the way to the airport (tears triggered by this hug goodbye to Quinn):

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I cried so much when we were checking our bags in that the man behind the counter said, “Momma, you ain’t even on the plane yet. Stop those tears because y’all be goin’ to a legalized state. You get yourself a cookie at one of those corner shops and you will be just fine.”

I cried so much that as we were taking off even Luke said, “Mom, stop.” Four hour flight. Four hours that “the hug” played in my forehead like a drive-in movie, reminding me that their sibling relationship would never again be the same. Then, as we were landing (flew right into a wind storm, making me regret not taking the Xanax hidden in my purse by a friend) we could see the space needle and the landscape that is Luke’s new home, and right above that, but below us, so close that if airplane windows could open, we could have touched it, was the most brilliant double rainbow. I have not cried since. I did hum the lyrics to Somewhere Over the Rainbow for most of the trip, however. Late apologies to my companions:

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Luke is loving Seattle, loving school. The rest of our family has been having a rough Fall, overshadowed by my continuing health baloney and also a lack of funds. Grateful to have teacher friends who also have a lack of funds, but do have fully stocked bars. None of us may be able to afford to turn the heat on yet, but we know how to keep warm through laughter and booze and heavy fleece blankets.

I am grappling with empathy … feeling the pain and disappointment of other people so deeply that I am sometimes so stuck. If you have not yet had a 14 and 15 year old child, trust me when I say that those are the years your empathy meter will go into overdrive. You will feel every betrayal and loss of theirs as if they were your very own and you will feel them ON TOP OF YOUR OWN and then you will be a pile of tired and dirty, mismatched socks. That is exactly how I feel. I am a stray and forgotten sock.

I am grappling with envy, looking at a life that I cannot seem to afford. In that space, the space that is filled with panic, there is no room for me. I am starting to unwind it all, starting to draw a bit here and there (obsessed with textiles lately):

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When drawing, I forget to panic. What is it about drawing that makes it seem like all things are possible? Makes it seem that a bigger life is coming? I cannot quite pinpoint it, but drawing is like having a conversation with myself in which I am reassured that I am still here and that laundry and bills and a finger smudged refrigerator, or a bank account that has been reading negative for months now, are not the things that define my spirit. What do people do who don’t have that reminder?

I am grateful to the flowers and guns and cats and clouds and dogs that show up out of seemingly nowhere that trigger the start of my next chapter. They trigger dreams and ideas and next steps and they make all of the things that I have been worried about seem so small … still there, but just annoying dust bunnies in the corner now, easily swept away if I can find the energy to locate the broom…”where trouble melts like lemon drops.” It is truly where you’ll find me. It is where I have found me.

Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you
Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you
But in your dreams, whatever they be
Dream a little dream of me.

Happy to be back. I will dream of you too.

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Greta and the Angels

This has been the summer of many small deaths for me, some literal, some not. It has been one of many tears, of worry, of several hours of bad television. I have found a bit of comfort in feeling like my children will grow to be deeper, more sensitive souls than pretty much the entire cast of Bachelor in Paradise (with the exception, perhaps, of Jared).

This morning, on our drive to school, the conversation Quinn and I had turned into a children’s book before I made it home. I imagined coming home, spreading out papers and watercolors on the dining room table and completing it by the end of summer, but then felt immediately sad. I have written and illustrated like that before. I have written really, really good stories for kids (though the illustrations now make me cringe and I want a do-over), so I thought that instead of the long process of creating and rejection, I would just share our story here and hope to illustrate it over time, on rainy days and late nights. Happy, sweet reading. 

gretaangelsMy dog died. I told my teacher that Greta got old, got a lump, and then she died. After she died, my mom and I told a lot of stories about Greta, like the time she caught the baby bunnies and we had to take the whole nest of them to the animal hospital. I heard my Mom say that she hoped heaven was full of slow rabbits.

I asked her what dogs look like when they became angels. My mom said that death is a little bit of a mystery and that when it comes to angels there is not one right answer. “Could we use a telescope to look in my heart to see her?” I asked. My mom said that was a good idea, but that we could not do that. “Could we get an X-ray?” Surely that would work.

“No,” said my mom. “The thing about angels is that feeling them is more important than seeing them. The best part about Greta dying is that now she can be with you all the time.” She asked me if I could feel Greta in my heart.

I stayed still for a minute and tried to feel her. “I can feel her angel wings flapping in my heart and it makes me feel like there is a little wrinkle in my heart,” I said.

My mom said that her heart has been wrinkled lots of time and that the nice thing about wrinkles is that they remind you of how strong your heart is and of how much you have loved. I told my mom that the wrinkles must look like dust.

“We won’t ever know,” she said, “but it’s a lovely idea.”

I told my mom that I didn’t want Greta to be the only dog angel in my heart, so I imagined another angel dog and I imagined sharing that angel with Greta. Now there are two dogs in my heart, but only one wrinkle.

Somedays I miss petting Greta’s soft ears or curling up next to her under my favorite blue blanket. You cannot cuddle dust. You cannot play fetch with angels.

Still, sometimes when I am falling asleep at night, I can feel her with me, almost like she is watching over me and wagging her tail. When I close my eyes I imagine that my heart looks like a million bright white shiny stars on a dark night and that Greta is the moon.

If you see me glowing, you will know why. Love made me that way.


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Nuns, Breast Cancer, and Advice at Nineteen; Surviving the In Between

Lolo had breast cancer. Twice.

I was little the first time and it is the only time I remember my mother crying behind a locked bathroom door. My grandmother had a mastectomy and then spent the next two decades wearing a stuffed, lopsided bra. Her neighbor, a few houses down, a pistol of an Italian woman who chain smoked, had birds, high heels, and Prego tomato sauce and Twinkies lining her pantry, also had breast cancer. I remember taking car rides to the grocery store, sitting in the middle spot of my grandmother’s front seat (no seatbelt, of course) listening to Jo give Lolo a hard time about not having reconstructive surgery. My grandma, quiet, would shrug and say, “What for?”

I slept at Grandma Lois’s frequently. I would sleep in her bed, under sheets that smelled like Tide and bleach, under an oil painting of Jesus on the crucifix, while my grandma changed into her faded and sleeveless, knee length, nylon, nightgown. She would keep her back to me, but I could see the scar that wove itself to her mid-back, and when she crawled in next to me, she only had one breast and the top of her scar peeped out like misplaced cleavage.

She was much older for the second mastectomy. I was in high school, sixteen, working as a receptionist at a hair salon on North Avenue next to George Webb’s, a place where no one ever came in, except for one time, when the owner accidentally waxed off her client’s entire eyebrow and then offered her a free brow pencil as consolation. I sat at Lolo’s knee watching the ten o’clock news the night before her surgery and her hand rested on my head. It was heavy and felt like bundled up tears in a chest, except maybe those were mine. It’s hard to recall. She survived that surgery and my mom joked with her that now she could finally be the enviable size B cup we all dreamed of (on both sides now).

Last year, I skipped my mammogram. This week I went to the dentist and the receptionist was crying because her best friend had just died from breast cancer. I went home and made my appointment. As usual, I was called back to repeat the test because there was a suspicious shadow (there always is). I wasn’t too worried about it because my astrologer told me that my health looked good this year and seeing that she predicted Greta’s passing, I just trusted that. So I repeated the test today, still not really worried … worried a little bit I guess, when two technicians showed up instead of one, and kept trying to hide their knit brows behind their machine while I waited, holding my breath, and trying not to stare at my white breast, squished between two glass plates like rolled out pizza dough waiting to rise.

I kept getting sent back into the waiting room in between consultations with the radiologist. It was starting to get long and so then I started to worry for real. A tiny T.V. was blasting Wendy Williams. I reached for the remote to silence her. I looked up and a nun, in a full floor length habit walked toward me.

My heart stopped completely and all I could think of was that Jesus painting and that the hospital had quickly summoned up a nun to break the news to me, the mother of a four year old boy who WILL NOT REMEMBER ME IF I DIED TODAY, that I was surely dying. Just then, another nurse popped from behind the old nun and said, “This way, Sister,” and instructed her to take everything off from the waist up. A nun getting a mammogram will certainly weave its way into a future painting. I just never thought…

I continued to wait, now next to the nun, who, in the absence of her veil, looked just like every other nun I have ever seen in my life. Together we watched a commercial about a woman who was exercising and fell of her Bosu ball unexpectedly. The nun giggled. I giggled. We exchanged worried, “maybe this is it for me,” glances, and then it was silent.

My nurses came back and kicked the little old nun out of the room they needed for me. They explained that they were going to need to roll my breast and take pictures all at once, the Olympic sport of mammography. The one nurse lifted by breast as if it was a twenty-pound turkey and then started pulling it like pasta, while the other one smashed it between plates, like a game of whack-a-mole. I was instructed to hold my breath until they both technicians lit up like little Emoji’s, simultaneously saying, “Ah, that’s better. You are fine.”

Minutes later I was told the Wizard of Oz radiologist (heard from, but never seen) cleared me and I could go. I was still a little bit dizzy from being Silly Putty, reeling from flashing thoughts of how my whole life was going to change on this sunny, too hot day in July, a Tuesday unlike any other Tuesday, and they just shrugged and said, “See you in a year.”

It made me think about my Grandmother and about whether or not she had anyone to really talk to about how scared she was. She didn’t have a husband, a confidant … anybody, really, to crash into. She certainly didn’t blog or keep a diary of any kind. She didn’t start suddenly painting peaches or taking up meditation classes. She was just still about it.

I am not very good at sitting still for much of anything. I always was in awe of those women who could wait until the second trimester to tell people they were pregnant. I practically blurted the news out to the whole world before the pregnancy pee stick had time to dry up.

Yet, in the wake of this summer, one mixed with so much emotional weight and change, I have found myself unable to write or talk, and the idea of drawing or painting is actually a turn off all together. I don’t want to go to the beach or sit by a pool. I just want to sit, to be still. I want to slow time in order to digest all of the very real changes. I want to be left alone because I am really quite sure that no one in the entire world can understand what it’s like to lose a dog, send a kid 2500 miles away from home, send another kid to 4K, another kid off to high school, and to not feel guilt about whichever kid I am forgetting, and in the back of my mind feeling broke and panicking about the weeds out front. It’s a shit storm here. It’s like one long, bad teenage angsty poem entitled, It’s a Shit Storm in my Heart, and here I am, spending my summer replacing all of the dotted letter “i’s” with hearts.
But I am not dying. Not today anyway. Not that I know of anyway. Not a death that I can hear with the ticking of a hospital clock. Tonight, Luke, who is away with Haley, texted me the lyrics to the song In Between, by Bear Tooth. He texted, “In the in between, I won’t let pain get in my way/I can’t have silence claiming me/We have strength in numbers.”

Maybe God sent the nun as a messenger and I just missed it, so this time He sent Luke. Luke, who shares my worry in the form of a knotted up stomach, but who is brave enough to leap and intuitive enough to let his mother know that now is not the time for silence (well, maybe a little silence … like I should stop emailing the 4K teachers that I am freaking out about the idea of a nap for my kid … in that case, a muzzle might be helpful). Now is not the time for the kind of silence that creates distance. Now is the time to love loudly, to read Quinn books about dying and heaven, to plop into bed next to Lizzie and beg her to be my Snapchat friend, to remind William that Axe is not a good smell …

A few days ago I drove Lizzie and four of her friends to the beach. They were wearing bikinis and sunglasses and we played bad music at full volume and rolled all the windows down. I was excited for her youth and envious of it and also inspired to find that part of myself (I never wore a bikini at fifteen). It’s time to roll my own windows down because in my own in-between, I can’t have silence claiming me either.

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Bye, Greta. Back to the Barn.

I always remember my principal’s birthday because it falls on the day that Lolo died and I remember scrolling through Facebook on that day and seeing well wishes mixed with grief. My childhood dog, Casey, also died in July, a few days earlier on the 23rd, and now we add one more. Remind me to never book travel during this week in July.

Maybe it was fate that I showed Quinn both Bambi and The Fox and the Hound this week, or maybe there was just a part of me that knew Greta didn’t have much time left. Maybe it was fate that Jenny and Noel took Quinn away to the beach today so that he didn’t have to bare witness to the worst of it, or maybe there was some higher power moving us with Its suggestion.

Regardless, the dog that I told Sean we needed to buy because Lolo always insisted that “every boy needs a dog” to grow up with, died this afternoon. Our kids were 2, 3, and 7 then, and I wanted to add a dog to the mix (I still blame postpartum hormones). There were nine puppies and the breeder scooped up all the females and let them run around a beautiful field with us. I wanted the all-brown one, but Greta sat right in front of Sean and that was it. She chose us.

Shortly after we got her, she ran between my feet as I was hoisting William down the steps on my hip. I tripped over her, shattered the top of my foot (an injury that still causes my foot to swell like a pregnant belly in the dead heat of August), and so I re-named Greta to Re-Greta.

In her later years, Sean called her Tip Tap because her long nails dotted our wooden floors with a ballerina staccato. Combined with the jangling of her dog tags, her sound became the backdrop of our lives. Today, after a few days of not eating too much, she came in the house, stumbled, and collapsed. Later, the vet told us that she likely had a heart attack. Re-Greta was generous enough to live long enough, breathing deeply and steadily, the way all of us do when dying, to allow each of us to give her final hugs and goodbyes. Quinn made her a fort and spread his blanket next to hers and they had one last long nap together. Quinn raised his head, looked at her and said, “Greta. I think it’s time you go back to the barn.”

We sat with our fading dog until I caught her gaze. It’s a gaze I have seen both of my dying grandmothers hold. It reads, “I am dying and it’s okay, ” but it is also full of longing and love and bravery. It was then that I called the vet.

We pulled the seats out of the van and Sean carried her to sleep on its floor. She slid all the way beneath his seat when he drove and so I pulled her back and wrapped my feet around her to hold her still and to whisper words that were well wishes mixed with grief. I let her floppy ears slip between my fingers and I pressed on each paw. Sean and I, just the two of us, sat in the parking lot of the vet and cried. He carried her in.

As soon as we walked through the door, there was a young man standing there with another German Shorthaired pointer. We could tell he was uncomfortable, standing there awkwardly with his healthy, young, waggling dog, while we held our geriatric dog of the same breed in a blanket. He had to wait for his paperwork while we explained we couldn’t get Greta on the scale because she could no longer stand. He looked down when they asked us which type of wooden box we wanted her ashes in. We sat. He was about to leave, his bouncy, beautiful dog in tow, when he hesitated, looked at me, and walked his dog over to Greta. This stranger started to cry. He gave Greta a pat and he hugged me, hugged Sean. It was such a cool, silent transaction and all of us could feel the human connection. Heart threads.

They let us hold her as they killed her. They held her with us. We told stories about her. The vet told us that her heart had stopped and we left her there, in the shape of a long staple. Leaving was the hard part.

Mostly, Greta, I just wanted you to know that I don’t regret you. I couldn’t go to sleep until I told you that. You were the dog the kids grew up with. You leaving us now, weeks before Luke heads to college, is a beautiful reminder that life is short and important and fleeting, and that the most important risk worth taking is love. Say hi to Lolo for me. I hope heaven is filled with slow rabbits.

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