the date on which an event took place in a previous year.
"the 50th anniversary of the start of World War II"
the date on which a country or other institution was founded in a previous year.
"Canada's 125th anniversary"
the date on which a couple was married in a previous year.
"he even forgot our tenth anniversary!"
For better or worse — just as in the wedding vows so notably associated with the idea of anniversaries — certain dates, moments, events mark us forever.
Some are relatively easy. The day we were born or met our true love or became a parent or got proposed to on the beach. Those are fine anniversaries. Dates to remember, revisit and celebrate. Pop the champagne, crank the tunes and cue the laughs. These are moments to mark. They remind us of who we are, where we came from and where we hope to go.
Others are more challenging but just as persistent. Sometimes even more so. None more difficult than the dates, moments, events where we had to say goodbye.
For as surely as the moon follows the sun, anniversaries of sorrow and pain dog our days.
These occasions of remembrance are not less important than those occasions of celebration. In fact, they are so bittersweet because they co-mingle the joy of a person with the pain of their absence.
Today marks one year since Tyler's dear, sweet girl Julianne took her leave. Twelve months, 365 days, 52 weeks that I can scarcely believe have passed. A year in which I have cried so many tears. For so many reasons. And so many for Tyler, for Julianne, for my friend who unexpectedly lost her husband, for old friends who tragically lost a son, for a baby boy lost so many years ago, for my beloved grandfather and wonderful aunt, for a desperate uncle, for my little brother's childhood best friend, for too many lost to the despair of suicide over the years and their loved ones left to carry on...for everyone faced with the stark and irrevocable absence of someone they loved.
Most of these sorrows I have carried with me for years if not decades, but the beautiful Julianne opened my floodgates. I don't know why and I still haven't been able to really stem the tide. And part of me is okay with that. I believe the memory of a person, the celebration of a person, the absence of a person deserves attention, notice, acknowledgement and even tears. Especially tears as it seems that is the best I have to give in their honor.
Standing in Today and looking backward I am grateful for many things. I am supremely glad and eternally grateful that I answered the phone on the second ring when Tyler called in the wee hours of the morning. I am so grateful that I kissed Julianne on the cheek and said "I love you" the last time I saw her. I'm grateful I did the same to my grandfather the last time I was able to share a day with him.
I'm thankful that it's a year later and Tyler is strong, happy, healthy and more hopeful than I can remember.
I'm grateful that I've seen enough loss to know that we can survive. That we do survive. And that our survival honors and celebrates those we so desperately miss. But that doesn't diminish the loss or make the anniversary easier.
What I do know is that over time — and it may be a very long time — the anniversaries come with less weight. Less dark weather and haunted dreams. The first time you realize the anniversary is upon you without weeks of gloom and despair heralding its arrival you will feel guilty. For some reason we are prone to wear grief as the testament of our love, devotion and remembrance. But, when we think about it objectively, we would never want anyone paralyzed in mourning on our behalf.
The undeniable truth is that anniversaries are unavoidable. Some we look forward to and some we wish had no reason to exist. But their acknowledgement — and their passing — is imperative.
In the words of King Solomon,
"There is a time for everything,
and a season for activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time heal,
a time to tear down and time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace."
Anniversaries are a time for us to remember, to mourn, to celebrate, to share and to heal. For Tyler this is the first of many tough anniversaries to come, and that breaks my heart. But he is up to the task and I am so proud of him. Along with the pain anniversaries also bring resilience. I am indescribably devastated to have this anniversary to mark but am so grateful for the love, light, joy and healing that it brings along with the sadness. Because to remember that bright girl is to remember sweetness, authenticity and a true, genuine spirit that was rare for a girl of just 17. She was delightful. I am so glad to have known her and cooked meals for her and watched the way she looked at Tyler and never once hesitated in calling Tyler "him." We love you Julianne. You are in our hearts now and forever.
I have intentionally carved out time in my life to write my book. And to write the types of articles I want to try to get published beyond my SLC safety zone. This is my third week of carved-out time and I have filled it completely and utterly with Christmas.
I will really get down to business after the holidays, of course. I just didn't factor in this festive time of year when I made my decision to go balls-out on the book front.
To no one's surprise, I haven't written one word for the book. Well, that's not entirely true...I've jotted several notes and sent myself a glut of emails with a word or phrase or picture of what I intend to write later.
I've been leaving a trail of snapshots my entire life.
Terri, much to her dismay, has witnessed them as scribbles on the back of a receipt or torn envelope that I will not allow her to throw away. Today the snapshots are usually electronic and the pile has grown in proportion to the ease and accessibility of being able to capture every random thought the instant it strikes.
It's not that I'm not working. The words are always there — balm or poison depending on the moment. That's why there are so many snapshots. I've always felt that meditation on and the recording of the snapshots counted as work — as writing. And thanks to a wonderful writer who shared themselves and their process at the Jackson Hole Writer's Conference last June, my method — and my stance that it is work — has been validated.
She was like a force of nature, and there was no way to get out of her path. I'd enjoyed and appreciated every speaker and workshop facilitator I'd seen so far, but when Jewel Parker Rhodes took the stage and opened her mouth I fell in love.
Photo from Facebook
Jewel lived up to her moniker. She shined and glittered and seemed like something very precious. She read from one of her books — an excerpt about the horrific miracle of childbirth as cobbled together by the unlucky product of one such struggle that left the newborn narrator without a mother to see them through their transition to this strange, new world. The language was lyrical, but her telling of it — in a booming voice when required, and as a whisper softer than the wind when needed — was transcendent.
Right away I knew Jewel was different — and I recognized the kind of storyteller I could only hope to become. Every speaker and mentor at the conference was there to encourage the struggling sapling of a writer that was striving toward the sunlight of their wisdom, experience and success. Advice was the order of the day. And it was good advice. There were enough similarities from one author to the next that it was easy to discern the habits of highly successful writers. The number one commandment seemed to be "Thou shalt write every day." That wasn't a new one for me. My high school newspaper adviser (and beloved mentor and cheerleader) had taught us the same thing in our Intensive Journalistic Writing course. It was a pilot AP course and because we had one of the top high school newspapers in the country (yeah, that's right — in little, old Idaho Falls!) we got to take it for a test run.
Part of the course was keeping a journal. We had to write in it every day. And by every day, I mean Every. Fucking. Day.
"A concert pianist doesn't become a concert pianist without practicing every single day," Mr. Bennet would say. "To become a great writer you have to put in the same practice."
That meant even weekends and school holidays had to be recorded in the journal, which you would turn in to him twice per term for critique and a grade. Skipped days counted against you and there was no acceptable excuse other than loss of limb (legs didn't count) that would excuse a missing entry.
It seemed tedious, even for me, and I am known to state that I sprang forth from the womb with a pen in hand and a story to tell.
To help us out Mr. Bennett came up with a variety of writing exercises and prompts. The most memorable involved a piece of fruit. He bestowed upon each of us a fresh piece of fruity goodness. I got a peach. We had to write about our little piece of paradise for one full week — seven days. We were to watch it and describe it as time, oxygen and the odd bite took their toll. It's not quite the same as taking care of an egg for a week to teach you about the consequences of surrendering to your teenage hormones, but it comes pretty close.
Being present with that peach as it started to wrinkle, sag and attract fruit flies became something I looked forward to. It was amazing to witness the tiny alterations that occurred every 24 hours. It's startling what you can discover when you're forced to pay attention.
That exercise, more than anything else, made me a true believer in the benefits of writing every day. Over the years there have been times when I'm better at maintaining that discipline than others. These days I write pretty much every day for my work. In fact, I bring home enough bacon from writing that I was able to leave my corporate career woman persona behind and do nothing else.
When I first started to realize that writing could actually be my full-time gig I was giddy. Writing every day and getting paid to do it was a dream come true. My stress level is sort of non-existent. My commute is from wherever my body is currently planted to the nearest cup of coffee or glass of wine.
But, greedy creature that I am, I want more.
My true calling is to actually write a book. A whole book — with an author's forward and an epilogue and everything in between. I've started many. I've finished none.
This is where the carving out of the time comes in. I had been writing and teaching online. Between the two I just couldn't bring myself to consistently set aside any additional time to work on "The Book." Hence the carving out of the time. I figured I could just swap out the teaching time for book time and then I would have no excuse.
Enter Christmas. The Holidays. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.
Everyone knows that The Holidays are no time to take on additional or new work. There's enough to worry about when it comes to conjuring Christmas magic and decking the halls without trying to write a frickin' book — Am I right?
Of course I'm right.
Which brings me back to the exquisite Madam Jewel.
"I know I'm supposed to tell you that I write every day," she said with a sneaky smile teasing the corners of her lips. "But I don't."
Wait — stop the presses, hold the phone, hit the rewind button; whatever it takes to ensure me that I heard what I just heard. It wouldn't have made any difference to me if she stopped right there. This was a revelation. This was mutiny. This was NOT the way to be a writer. And this confession gave me hope.
"I spend a lot of time thinking," Jewel continued. "I think a lot about what I'm writing. I ponder. I take a walk or cook dinner or share a laugh and the whole time I'm plotting and pondering about how to capture this in words or how it helps me frame a narrative, breathe life into a character, or capture authenticity.
"I count thinking time as work. I may not be physically writing, but I'm writing."
Hallelujah! I'm pretty sure I heard choirs of angels breaking into song and heralding these good tidings.
I may not be typing or scratching out actual pages every day that make my manuscript grow, but — Christmas or no Christmas — thanks to the incessant voices in my head I am sure as hell writing.
I'm not trying to beat a dead horse here, or reinvent the "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" schtick, but sometimes I feel like D.J. Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, except with male counterparts instead of parents. Here's my brief rundown of things that dudes just don't get.
When I tell you I like to get flowers and that I want some, I really mean it. Really. (Like, when should I expect the delivery man?)
My ass DOES look awesome in these jeans - and I want to hear it from your lips.
I do not want you to placate me right this minute. I want you to "get" that this argument requires follow-up.
All girls like to be told they're pretty, or hot, or beautiful - even if we say we want you to love us for our brains or our "sweet spirit."
When it's obvious that I've put some extra time into my appearance, you'd damn well better acknowledge it.
I do not like - in any way - being put in the position where I have to act like your mom.
I want to feel appreciated - even if it's simply for taking the garbage out after I just had a manicure.
I hear you when you tell me what you like/dislike/love/hate/hope for/feel anxious about/makes you laugh/makes you sad/want in bed...
After hearing what you've told me, I actually choreograph life events to cater to those very specific tastes/wants/needs that you have.
I want you to do the same thing for me.
I want you to love my friends and my kids and my family. I already love yours (and your animals).
Sometimes I need you to do something that you don't like just because it will make me happy. And I need you to fake it so hard that I don't feel one ounce of resentment or martyrdom from you before, during or after the event.
I like to be surprised (by things like candlelight and wine, flowers, a weekend getaway - use your imagination for fuck's sake!).
I care about how you're feeling all the time. I want to feel like you care about how I'm feeling too.
If I'm going to be late, I always let you know. I expect you to do the same - and when you don't, you'll probably need some protective gear before entering the house on your return.
I want to go out on real, bona fide, cheesy, getting-to-know-you, trying-to-impress-you dates. Still. Forever. I don't care if we've been together for 50 years - I still want to go on a date.
If I plan a date I want you to be overcome with my creativity/thoughtfulness/romantic spirit/efforts/how hot I look...(no matter what the date entails - I planned this FOR YOU!)
I want to feel like you respect me, my opinion, my smarts & my hutzpah!
If I'm not around when our favorite show airs, I want you to wait until I get back to watch it - even if I'm doing 25 to life.
Never fuck with my DVR shows - NEVER.
I believe there are certain boundaries that should never be crossed in a relationship that entails physical intimacy (let's keep the bathroom door closed, snookums!).
I do not want to hear about any gross thing that your body is currently doing. Believe me, my body could kick your body's ass in a gross-out contest and I would NEVER subject you to its innermost workings.
Laughing at my jokes matters. Word!
I try to do little things every day that show you how much you matter to me.
I'm not keeping track, per se, but, yeah...I probably am. (So don't be a repeat offender.)
I don't want to break up with you. I don't want to start over. I don't want to miss you. I just want you to hear what I say, care about how I'm feeling, and do something about it.
And, finally, I want you to pour me another glass of wine. STAT!
As many of you know, my daughter Gabi is now my son Tyler...and I am working on a collection based on my experience with this transition...here is a piece I'm working on...
I don’t recognize her
voice on the other end of the phone anymore. And I can’t even talk about it
without dissolving into a blubbering mess. I know it’s because it isn’t her
voice anymore. My little Gabi-roo isn’t on the other side of the conversation.
It’s Tyler’s voice. I have a voicemail from the day she got her T prescription
and I swear I’m never getting rid of it. It is a last token of the daughter who
is no more.
I was sharing this at a
recent girls’ night out and before I could really drive home my pain and
disillusionment at this new development, I was interrupted.
“If it makes you feel any
better, my son’s voice is completely different too,” my friend Jana shared.
“And,” she added with a little laugh, “I won’t let him change the message on
his voicemail because it’s still his little-boy voice.”
It had never before occurred
to me that moms of sons always go through this. This shedding of the childhood
skin as they grow into the armor of adulthood. There is something comforting in
that, and something that makes me irritated that I have no exclusive or even
unique claim on this little bit of transition trauma.
For all intents and
purposes this phenomenon is absolutely, 100% normal. All little boys’ voices
give way to manly baritones and you don’t see mothers donning black veils and
wailing at the cruel injustice that has erased the last vestiges of the child
they’ve known for so many years.
Somehow, I thought my
sorrow was something new. I claimed it as evidence – tangible proof – of how
hard this whole thing really is. But Jana’s innocent comment, sharing the same
experience with her own child, completely deflated my case.
I felt a little bit
better when I discovered I wasn’t alone in my difficult adjustment to Gabi’s (I
mean Tyler’s) new voice. Apparently when my grandma saw Tyler for the first
time after starting T, both she and my mom started crying and just couldn’t
stop. Which isn’t really front-page news for those two but, nonetheless, when
Tyler told me about it I was completely dumbfounded – and he was annoyed.
And then I started
thinking about my grandmother. She has probably seen more drastic changes in
the world around her than I could ever imagine seeing. In her lifetime men have
walked on the moon, television went from black-and-white to color to 3-fricking-D,
and everyone started carrying around tiny computers in their pockets. And, for
an 80-something lady (even though she insists she’s only 25), she rolls with
the punches like a pro. I had to explain to Gabi that Grandma’s crying wasn’t a
judgment, a dismissal or a sign of non-acceptance. In fact, it was probably the
Not only is this a lady
who was born before the Great Depression, but the obvious changes from nearly six
months on T were a visual – and auditory – shock. I’m not even sure the whole
thing really made any sense to her until she saw and heard Gabi looking and
sounding like Tyler. Thank God I’ve been able to watch it happen. I’ve had the advantage
of being shocked in regular doses as my daughter becomes my son. But I still
get choked up every time that unfamiliar voice greets me on the other end of
How in the hell have
mothers dealt with this dramatic change for, basically, ever? How come no one
has started a support group? Where are the guides for how to deal with your
child’s changing voice? There should be some kind of 30-day chip, or (even
better!) a nice bottle of wine for those of us who’ve faced this trial and come
out the other side, if not unscathed, then a little bit wiser and whole lot
less blubbery. Obviously, according to my friend, the process is jarring
whether you were expecting it or not – so how come no one else is boo-hooing
about the loss of their baby’s pure, innocent, original voice?
Then it dawned on me. Compared
to every other mother out there I’m a giant pussy.
Last nite I was at an outdoor concert and the early summer night was perfect. The crowd was cool and totally manageable (I'm SO old!). There were beer and wine for sale. Granted, the wine came from a (Franzia) box, but $4 is the best deal you're going to get in Utah for a pour of vino, so I politely looked the other way.
Yet in the midst of all the awesome people-watching, cheap wine sipping, and amazing music, I found myself greedily staring at all the people with young children in tow. I couldn't take my eyes off them.
Savannah pictures a utopian city where there are no children. A city where, like a bar anywhere in America, you must be 21 to enter.
This is her version of paradise.
"But you'd miss out on so much joy," I said.
Her solution was some kind of day-pass to a city that allows children where you could go to a park or other public venue to get your kid fix (if you're into that sort of thing).
There are things kids bring to the party that even the world's most amazing party planner could never replicate.
They bring fresh eyes.
They take everything literally. (Literally.)
They bring silly mistakes, goofy faces, unbridled laughter, heartbreaking tears.
Children bring joy.
As I watched hippie parents with tattooed calves and flowing dresses dance with their exuberant offspring I thought, "That is something I'll never have again."
Realizing that something so beautiful, so full of hope and potential - and so grounded in the present moment - was no longer in my purview, hit me like a punch straight to the gut.
It's no secret that I've fallen hopelessly in love with my newest niece. To an extent that my kids joke about her being my first grandchild. But I just realized I'm also in love with the newness of my brother's family.
And by perfect, I mean complete.
The pastor at my former church once preached a sermon about the word "perfect." One of the things I loved about him was his geeky, scholarly nature. Along with a sermon you often got the bonus of an intricate history or language lesson.
"Perfect doesn't mean without flaw," he said. "It means the thing is complete."
For some reason that's always stuck with me. I love the idea of perfection as completion. As something becoming the most it can be. Its best self.
That's how I feel about these young, beautiful families. From my perspective they are complete.
And I miss that feeling you only have when your children are young. It's amazing how relaxing it can be to have no idea what's coming next - but that anything is possible. And even though you may have a faint inkling that this moment is somehow exceptional, you'll never know its perfection until you view it from a distance.
Some may say I'm in the throes of empty nest syndrome, and maybe they're right. But I feel like it's more a case of my eyes, heart, soul, and mind being truly open.
My new neighbors recently had a baby. A baby they were not, in fact, expecting. And the news filled me with joy. A situation that - if it happened to me - would be entirely devastating, seemed like the most awesome thing ever.
Of course I always wonder how you can be growing that new life - that veritable parasite - within your body and not realize it's there. My kids both kicked my ass pretty much from the moment they were conceived, so I can't imagine what it's like to have no idea they've taken up residence in your womb.
As soon as I heard the news all I wanted to do was meet the little bugger. I went out and bought a baby gift - for people I don't even know. But I couldn't help myself. I was excited. When I delivered the gift (which was actually my first meeting with the baby momma) I profusely offered myself as a source of help and comfort. I probably freaked her out. If she's ever watched a Lifetime movie, she's most likely already called the cops to lay the foundation for her accusation against me when her bonus bundle of joy goes missing.
My overwhelming reaction seemed a bit much - even to me.
Then I found myself playing the part of creepy park stalker last night at the concert. As I gazed enviously at the families around me, I so easily slipped back in time to when I brought my own children to community events like this.
And I realized that even though my present experience was fantastic, there was something about sharing live music in an open-air venue with your bright-eyed bambinos that made it magical.
Children are like magic.
Because everything is new to them, everything is born anew for us - through their wide eyes and utterly amazed expressions. They are the world's most amazing illusionists.
I remember when Savannah was three years old. It was the fucking dead of winter, but the sun was shining and the sky had never been more blue. My enthusiastic toddler - who is a sun-worshiper to this day - was so excited to see the sun that she bolted full-throttle out the front door in nothing but her bare feet and an old t-shirt of mine she was wearing as a nightgown.
Before I even had time to react, she stopped dead on the sidewalk with the biggest look of disbelief and betrayal on her face.
"Has this ever happened before?"
She had never known that the sun could be shining as brightly as 10 shiny things and it could still be as cold as hell outside.
That's what I love about siphoning off a little bit of the world view from a first-timer.
And I guess that's what I must need right now. When I was pregnant with Savannah I craved red meat for the first time in my life. It turned out I was anemic. I needed what that iron-rich slab of flesh could deliver.
Now I need whatever nutrient it is that my niece, my neighbors' surprise baby, and the random, dancing families in the park produce.
If I were a vampire, I think I'd subsist off the innocence of youth - with all of its clean slates and first chances.