There is something I can’t say.

My brother’s name is John.

Really, I call him Johnny. His wife said he doesn’t like it, but I don’t know. I still call him Johnny. I can’t stop.

I haven’t seen him in nine years. He was thirty; I was twenty-one. The last time I saw him, we didn’t talk much. It was at Jeanne’s apartment in Irving. I felt like Johnny was depressed when I saw him.

There is something I can’t say.

That was a lie. I always misremember the last time I saw him. I did see him at Jeanne’s house that night. But my oldest sister got married later that year, in August. We spent days together. We must have hugged and talked and laughed, and laughed more. There are pictures to prove it. But I don’t remember it.

There is something I can’t say.

Johnny. You were thirty, I was twenty-one. Tomorrow, I am turning thirty. How do I live in a world where you are not my older brother? How do I let you go your way?

There is something I can’t stop saying.

My brother is dead. My brother is dead. My brother is dead.

The last time I saw him, we didn’t talk. I held his hand. His hand was white. There was a hole in it. They had tried to cover up the hole, or the wound. I don’t know if it was a hole, or a broken bone, or…I don’t know.

Tomorrow I am turning thirty.

June 16, 2010

Dear N.,

Sometimes I’m embarrassed by how messy my handwriting is, and this is one of those times. I started to handwrite my letter three times, and messed up three times. So I’m typing! I’m sure it will be much easier for you to read.

A lot has happened in the past year, and your baby boy is almost one. We’re gearing up to celebrate his first birthday with a bbq and lots of friends and family. Many people are flying in from out of town—they love Ian Christopher so much that they can’t miss his big day!

Since we last wrote, Ian has learned how to do so many things—crawl, clap, wave, climb up and down couches and beds. Once in a while, he stands up on his own, but I think it will be a few more months before he walks because he goes SO FAST when he crawls. He says just a few words: bird, light, ball, Jesus, tree. I think he’s working on “car,” but can’t get the “c” sound so he calls them all birds. He also thinks fish are birds. He has a little mobile above his changing table that he’s loved since he was a tiny guy. I think I told you about it. When he looks at it, I tell him that fish are the birds of the sea, and birds are the fish of the sky.

He loves watching the cars and trees pass by while we’re driving, and whenever he hears a bird he starts bobbing up and down and saying “Bid! Bid!” He claps a lot–every time he accomplishes something (like crawling off the bed) or at the end of songs in the car or in church. We got him a pretend cell phone that makes him really happy. And he recently started liking books. Before, he would crawl off before we got through the first page. But now, we read Ten Tiny Tadpoles and The Very Hungry Caterpillar and God Found Us You every day. He grins from ear to ear when we start reading. I think he likes the routine.

Mostly, I want you to know he is very healthy and happy. He’s growing well and has started to love table food-especially steak, chicken, bacon, blueberries, and applesauce. He is a carnivore! You might see in some of the pictures he has a little rash around his mouth. He has excema, and we’re trying to figure out if its because he’s allergic to something.

Every night, we talk about you & we call you “Mama N.” and Ian Christopher smiles big because he knows your name and face. We only have one picture of you—taken the day after he was born, I think. You must have been exhausted and sad, but you’re beautiful. I look at that picture all the time. When my sisters first saw it, they all talked about how beautiful you are and how they wish I could meet you. I do hope we get to meet one day. We can fly down just about any time you’d like. Whenever you’re ready—but don’t feel any pressure. The decision is totally yours. I don’t know how hard things are for you, and I’ll never pretend I do. But please know we think about you all the time.

With love,


First Year

July 30th, 2010

the shelves in Ian's playroom I made for him from scrap wood & a paper collection

*written on June 18th, 2010*

Ian’s first birthday. Impossible. Time always feels contracted or expanded to me. Everyone experiences this. So where do we get the idea of what to measure the feeling of time against? If a year flies by, or creeps by–how do we know what a measured, year-like year would feel like?

The first week of his life, we didn’t even know about Ian. He was in a NICU–tiny, sweet, bewildered by loss. The following two weeks were like a time warp, while Nick worked and I spent as much time as possible in the hospital. Eighteen hours in a room with no natural light, listening to the alarms and crying of hungry babies. Trying to balance my visceral desire to tuck my baby under my shirt and leave with the professional desires of the NICU nurses to medicate and monitor him.

Up to his fourth month felt like one long, sleepless night underpinned by sweet joy. During the day, we carried him in our arms or in a stretchy red wrap. At night, he slept cradled in our arms or laying on his daddy’s chest.

Months four to six were filled with the mundane wonders of the infant learning about what is outside-self: mama, daddy, doggy, light. He curled up under our arms at night, like a little bird under its mama’s wings.

Month’s six through ten: moving out from us. Crawling backward, then forward. Crawling into other rooms, across the yard, across the park. He laughs a lot. Points at whatever he wishes to touch. Waves and claps. Looks over his shoulder once in a while to make sure we’re still there.

Months eleven through twelve. Everyone says his hair is too long but I know I’ll cry if we get it cut short and he starts to look more like a boy than a baby. His desires far outstrip his capacity to fulfill them. His first temper tantrum as a child of the 21st century: beating a little Fischer Price computer and screaming unintelligibly when the screen breaks.

He loves birds and I wonder how babies learn that so many different looking creatures and representations of birds come under the category of “bird.” The cardinal in a snow globe in the livingroom. A tiny glass bird-shaped vase in the kitchen window. An abstract dove on a cross we gave to him. Birdsong outside.

He raises his arm to the alter at church and says “Jesus.” He shades his face and points upward to the birch in our yard. “Tree.” Points to cars passing in the street: “Bird.”

In the morning, he smacks our shoulders to wake us up, and bends his face down to be kissed, alternating five times between mama and daddy.

At night, he pushes his forehead against his daddy’s forehead until it hurts. Rocks back and forth in a crawling position and cries if he’s too tired. Crawls frantically in circles around the bed. Then wedges himself under my right arm, and curls up like a kitten to sleep.

Happy Birthday, Little Bird.

Birthday Buddies

June 22nd, 2010

We are celebrating the fifth day of Ian’s journey to us, and our journey to him. He was born on June 18th, we learned about him on June 24th, and met him in the middle of the night on June 27th. 10 days, if you count the three hours of the tenth day.

This feels sacred to me, a liturgical season. If it were nine days, we would call it his novena. Maybe I’ll call it his decum? Any Latin scholars out there to help with coining this word?

To celebrate today, I’m going to introduce Ian’s birthday buddies. On June 18th of last year, our goddaughter, Vivian, was born. So when Ian was born, he already had a godsister, though we didn’t know yet that our son was in the world.

Soon after we announced Ian’s arrival, two friends emailed us to let us know he was born on their birthday.

Then, two other very special little babies who were born on the same day entered our lives.

This post honors all of these people, who are dear to us in many different ways.


Vivian Grace

June 18, 2009

Vivian is our third godchild. Honoring her in a birthday buddies post necessarily includes her mom and dad, who she can barely distinguish herself from anyhow.

Her dad is an dear friend of mine–the kind you call an “old friend” in reference to the fact that they know your history in a way “newer” friends don’t. We met in college, and debated the primacy of the intellect over emotion and the place of intuition in decision making for several years. I appreciate Sean for so many things. Principal among them is his belief in old-fashioned communication, like phone calls and emails with proper salutations and closings.

Nick and I met Becca when she and Sean had been dating for a while. Her laugh is one of the most delightful things I’ve ever heard. She makes and presents beautiful dinners and wines with verve and grace.  She is the perfect complement to Sean. Kind and gentle, quietly witty and practical, elegant in four inch heels, steely and strong when such things are needed.

Vivian is Sean and Becca’s second child. We were so happy the day she was born. And when we found out about Ian several days later, we emailed them about the possibility of an arranged marriage. When Sean read Becca the email about Ian being born on Vivian’s birthday, she said “How the hell did they do that?”

Little Viv. When I think of you or pray for you, I call you “Vi-vi” in my heart. I don’t get to see you very often, but I love you lots!



June 18, 1984

For three months after I met Kristal, I thought she hated me. We worked together at a publishing company. As a newbie, at my first real job, I remember looking at her and thinking she had it all together. Efficient. Professional. Beautiful. Personable on the phone to people she’d never met. She even knew the location of the only stapler in the whole building.

It was just that I didn’t understand her sense of humor at first. I was a wimpy, sensitive crybaby. When she quipped her famously sarcastic or silly remarks, I would say “Oh my gosh, is she serious?”

But after time I adjusted myself to her humor and saw everything else, too: sweetness, compassion, knowledge about the human condition. She made me happy, even in an unhappy job.

In Vivian’s section, I wrote about her parents. And it strikes me that I can’t talk about any of these people without reference to those who love them. Let me introduce Adam, Kristal’s husband. He’s a photographer. I remember one of his photos. The trainyards in Charleston. Golden rails extending into the distance. The sun at a perfect angle to catch the light of the steel. That picture transformed the way I look at industrial sites, from skyscrapers to construction zones. I saw a beauty I had never seen before. Once picture, Adam, changed my perspective on the WORLD we live in.

Adam is lucky to have Kristal to photograph. She’s tall, beautiful, AND stylish.

Kristal, I have a glass bottle of some European soda sitting in my yellow cabinet at home that is called “Kristal.” And it’s not that champagne! I’ve been meaning to send it to you for two years. Will you accept it now, as an apology for my neglect?


Milk Sisters


June 18, 2009

Like Vivian, Claire was born on the same day as Ian. And while Ian is petite (“not the biggest guy in town,” the doctor says), Claire is TINY! She is the sweetest little tiny girl in town.

We met Claire and her mommies through MilkShare, a Yahoo Group that connects women who want to donate excess breastmilk to babies who need it the most. Ten women have donated over 10,000 ounces of milk to Ian, who didn’t have any formula from the day we brought him home. Giving Ian the best nutrition is high on our priority list, and it makes us so happy that he gets mommy’s milk, even though I wasn’t able to give it to him.

Cass has donated SO MUCH milk to Ian. She’s one of his “milk mommies,” and Claire is his “milk sister.” What an unselfish baby, sharing so much!

We love you, little Claire, you sweet, linguistic, meditative girl!


June 18, 2009

While we’re introducing milk sisters, here’s Tatiana, our friend Sasha’s second child. We also met Sasha through MilkShare. She’s given Ian over 6,000 ounces of milk. Try to picture that in our deep freeze. It’s a LOT of milk.

I love this picture of Tatiana and Ian. When Ian was younger, Sasha was always saying he was HUGE. And he sure looks huge in this picture, next to the dainty Tatiana. But like Claire, she’s exceptionally petite. So our little guy looks like a hulk next to her.

Think of this. The beauty of human embodiment, connection and love: both these babies were nourished by the same woman.


Father Joseph

June 18, 1981

Fr. Joseph is a friend from college. My memories of him are more episodic than anything else, because we didn’t spend a lot of time together. I remember these things: talking at the cappuccino bar, reciting Gerard Manley Hopkins, sharing books, waving goodbye the day we left Rome, and standing together before graduation on a terribly hot day in Texas. I had forgotten my earrings and decided to be upset about it. He kindly pointed out that perhaps it didn’t matter.

Underpinning these episodes is a consistent sense of him as a meditative person who encounters the world with an expansive intellect that never reduces mysteries to explanations. Who writes and speaks beautifully but probably expresses only half the beauty and knowledge he has, because some things can’t be written or said.

Before Ian was born, Nick and I bought plane tickets to attend Fr. Joseph’s ordination to the priesthood. But once we were home with the baby, it was obvious we couldn’t make a trip to Texas. That was about ten months ago. Since then, I’ve been jealously perusing friends’ Facebook photos of the ordination weekend. The captions give me the picture of  giant multi-day celebration. They are filled with words like “blessed” “first mass”  and “reunion.” I am jealous.

We’ll catch your 25th anniversary, Fr. Joseph. Or your 10th. You should celebrate your 10th anniversary in style.