Holocaust Day, my children, & my mind’s eye.

Auschwitz_TrainOccasionally, on Holocaust Day or some other, random day, I will look at my children, and see them on a train.

See them starved. See their clothes in shreds. See them with blank eyes and sores on their faces, their hair matted, all joy, all light, gone.

My mind doesn’t allow me to go far down these paths (a fact for which I am eternally grateful), but it peeks down the path, toward the incomprehensible at the other end, and then I recoil in pain and tears.

If for no other reason that I know that I am not, really, seeing anything.

My mind providing me, unbidden, with an image it imagines to be something like Jewish children at the time of the Holocaust is simply me overlaying a hundred thousand photographs on top of my beautiful children’s faces. It’s nothing like actually seeing it. It’s not being a mother, probably even hungrier than the child, for having eschewed as much food as she could for as long as she could, in favor of her babies, her clothes also rags, an understanding (that the child can’t match) of the enormity of the darkness that surrounds them, has invaded their homes and their families and their very skin, looking at her 11 year old boy and seven year old daughter and knowing — knowing — that they will die.

Knowing that they will die horrific, meaningless deaths, deaths that she cannot in any way stop. The moment of wondering: Would it be better to find some way to kill them myself, to save them what awaits?

But who knew what awaited? And yet surely, many mothers and fathers found themselves hoping to find the inner strength to kill their own children, before the evil could overcome them.

I chose this faith, I chose this people. If I had been in Europe during those nightmare years, I may have been given a choice to walk away.

But my husband — whose four grandparents saw the writing on the wall in 1933 and left Germany to its devils, thus allowing the best man I’ve ever known to come into my life one night in December 1991, as we danced to loud music and laughed with friends, a week after I’d become a Jew — my husband would not have been given that choice.

My children would not have been given that choice.

I want to believe that I would not have left them, for any reason, but I know that the particular barbarism of the Nazis created circumstances in which people did things that were unimaginable, unspeakable, things for which they could never forgive themselves. I cling to the idea that I would have managed, at least, to stand with my chosen people, with my babies, and die with them.

Last night, we lit a yahrzeit candle together and made kaddish.

Today it burns on my stove, surrounded by pots and pans, in a kitchen with a freezer too full with shopping, at one end of a house that has never been cold. I scrub at the little bit of dried egg stuck on my burner, wash the dishes as a surprise for my husband, and when my son calls to say that he’s forgotten his folder, I get in the car and bring it to school, a note tucked inside to tell him I love him.

Because I can do these things, I do them, with gratitude and with a sort of stunned awe that I get to do them at all.

If my babies had been there, they would have died.

Yes, honey. I’ll bring you your folder.

*

Reupped from Holocaust Day 2011.

Time moves inexorably forward…

…and demands that we march with it.

This person

is graduating from 8th grade tomorrow.

Which is equal parts ridiculous and bananas. Also, it’s requiring a smidge bit more of my time than I apparently thought it would (this morning’s omg-thank-God-I-thought-of-this-now-and-not-tomorrow moment was “His suit! Must be dry-cleaned!”).

Plus I have pretty hard deadlines on a couple of projects this week, not to mention that if I manage to write for Open Zion, that, too would be a good thing – I think what I’m saying here is that In My Head may be less content-ful than I might like over the next few days. (My actual head is probably too content-ful, but that’s another issue).

I’ll just say this – I once wrote this about the boy (who learned to walk in his second year when I was away for 36 hours, and grew taller than me earlier this month when I was away for 10 days) and his sister, and it’s all still true:

But if I could go back in time for anything, it would be to fall asleep with them on my chest, or make them laugh that crazy way, or run my hand over their smooth, wispy hair. I would put my nose against their necks and breathe and breathe and breathe, and check every toe and every finger and every fold in their august thighs, and will my body to remember every single thing. Before I would meet my own father, I would hold my babies, one more time.

Wouldn’t you?

The report.

The invitation.

So I don’t know if you heard, but we had a bar mitzvah around these parts.

AND IT WAS AWESOME.

From beginning to end, including even the bits that went slightly awry and/or agley, because of course, as we all know, the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley, and the question is only how it’ll be handled, AND IT WAS ALL AWESOME.

And, yes, Timmy the ThinkGeek monkey actually attended.

Timmy wearing the kipa I fashioned out of the toe end of a sock, and finished with clear nail polish. I crafted! (PS – I turned his tshirt around, for a more formal look).

He was going to go in (and stay in!) my purse, but as I am a person with an uncontrollable anthropomorphization impulse, I worried about him. So I took him out and placed him on the girl’s seat — and as she is a nine year old person and an anthropomorphizer, she included him in everything! He sang, he bowed at all the right times, and at the very end, he was perched on the back of a pew — and the rabbi asked, with a smile in her voice, just before her final blessing: “Who’s guest is Jewish Curious George?”

The timeline (typed out mainly so that I can revisit the glow for a minute or two):

  1. Thursday morning, 8/16/12 – Attend morning prayers, boy reads from Torah and thus officially (and kind of nicely sneakily) becomes bar mitzvah while almost no one is watching. Official photographs taken.
  2. Thursday evening – Eleven Israeli relatives (the boy’s grandmother, uncles, aunts, and cousins) arrive, hang out, eat the first meal I’ve been able to prepare for all of them in my own home in 14 years, hang out some more.
  3. Friday during the day – The Israelis + the kids and the husband go downtown; I do final errands (one of which was to fix a thing gone agley – and it worked out!) and wind up writing (unplanned) for Open Zion (a post you should totally read, if only to marvel at the fact that on the literal eve of my son’s bar mitzvah, I managed to write).
  4. Friday evening – Friday night services at shul, during which the boy did us all proud, and after which: Big fancy family dinner out.
  5. Saturday morning and afternoon – THE MAIN EVENT. Services (two and a half hours long!) at shul, at which the boy absolutely wowed the crowd, both with his skills at prayer-leading-Torah-reading-Haftarah-chanting and his speech, and everything was warm and wonderful and I felt just bathed in love and joy. The very best moment (other than all the ones in which the boy was being The Best Thing Ever) was when a friend whispered “You all look so happy!” Then luncheon in the shul’s stained-glass-window-lined social hall (a luncheon I hear was good! I didn’t really taste any of it. Like you do), and I gave a speech which, though I cried through the whole thing, I kept breathing (no mean feat for me) and thus was able to say every single word (and apparently I made a bunch of other moms cry, too, so: Score!).
  6. Saturday evening: WhirlyBall! (And laser tag! And video games! And pizza! And cake!) ‘TWAS TEH AWESOME!!1!  Oh my goodness, those kids had so much fun, as did the handful of adults who tagged along and whooooooooo!!!
  7. Sunday: Brunch at Chicago’s premier spot for Swedish pancakes, Ann Sathers, followed by a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry, and then a dinner of luncheon-left-overs at our house.
  8. MondayNothing (well, the four of us talked and giggled and took a walk and made S’mores in the backyard. But other than that).
  9. Tuesday: The Israelis + my three went museum-ing as I made faux-Thanksgiving, complete with roast turkey, stuffing, cranberry relish and cornbread (and pumpkin pie!), because I’ll never get to invite the Israelis to Thanksgiving! My family joined us, and everyone sat around and talked late into the evening and it was exactly as big family events should always be.
  10. Wednesday: First day of school. The Israelis came by in the afternoon for coffee and cake and goodbyes, and then went to the airport.
  11. Thursday: I made my usual bi-weekly Open Zion deadline. And collapsed on the couch.

Yes, really.

I would be remiss if I did not make a big point of pointing out that while I may have been In Charge of all of the above? The husband was an absolutely stellar First Officer, and aside from anything else, had he not kept washing all those dishes (and bear in mind that we keep kosher, so he was also switching from milk to meat and back again all the time) the entire jig would have been up.

After the jump, [UPDATE: figuring that most people who wanted to read this and see the pictures have done so, I’ve now removed the pictures after the jump, because kids’ faces can be seen in them (not all of them my own kids, even), and it honestly just makes me a little nervous to slap my kids’ faces up on the ‘net, given my day job] you’ll find the text of the boy’s speech (d’var Torah) – because he’s a mensch, and I’m just so proud – but first!

Pictures of the single best present the boy got (and which, btw, he presented to me as “the best gift I got”): A fully functional, The Fault in Our Stars-inspired wallet made out of duct-tape by one of his school friends (oops! Chosen by one of his school friends. Note correction, and how you can buy one for yourself [’cause you totes should] here).

*

*

TFIOS was written by John Green, author, Vlogbrother, host of Crash Course, and Nerdfighter extraordinaire, and the last line in the boy’s d’var Torah was a shout-out to Nerdfighters everywhere (and yes, in case you know what the hell I’m talking about and are wondering, he had his DFTBA bracelet on the whole time).

(more…)

Yes, Ann Romney – parenting is hard. For everyone.

Being a mom is hard.

Being any kind of parent is hard — or, at least, it’s hard if you’re engaged with the process. No matter your status in the child’s life (biological parent, adoptive, mom, dad, something-else-that-doesn’t-have-a-name-but-still-counts) or your socio-economic position (rich, poor, somewhere in between), if you’re parenting a child: It’s hard.

It’s hard because it matters — it really, really matters — and it’s just so complicated. Children get sick, they get frightened, they fight you on the craziest things, they have needs that you cannot begin to understand — indeed, they are nothing but Need. It starts the instant they wake up and it only abates when their eyes close, and I say “abates” rather than “stops” because you can never, ever know that the Need won’t rear its head in the middle of the night. In all the bedrooms. At once. You just cannot know.

The toll it takes on your heart is hard, too. You ache for your kids in ways you never knew existed before they were in your life. You want to hold them in your arms and engulf them in bubble wrap, and you can do neither. They will piss you off; they will push you away; they will get hurt. If you’re lucky, they will also give you joy, and pull you back, and heal. But your heart is there for every bump and bounce.

It’s even hard on your body, even if you’re not the one who produced the children. Years of sleep-deprivation, years of carrying small people and large belongings, years of not having enough time to care for yourself in the way you might need to, and — for far too many — years of not having the money to do so, either.

It’s just: Hard.

The grand lie is that if you have help, it’s easy. It’s certainly easier — but easy? Nope. Not unless you’re genuinely checked out. Years ago, I was a nanny for twins, a round-faced boy and round-faced girl, the healthy children of wealthy parents in a spacious and well-tended home. I’m sure other nannies saw other kinds of parents, but I’ll tell you what: I was an assistant. I did not take the body-blows. That mom and dad did the hard work, and I went home at night.

As a society — across the board, in all corners and on all levels — we need to develop a greater respect for the work that is parenting. We need to value children more, we need to carve out time and opportunity for parents to be available to their children, and we need to understand, in our bones, that raising children is a job for all of society, not just those with kids in the house, and certainly not just for women.

So when Ann Romney says that staying at home with her boys was hard work (that she was glad to do), and that she understand’s women’s struggles, I’m inclined to believe her. Parents who choose to be stay-at-home are making a choice to do what they believe is best for their families, and as a feminist, how can I not support that?

Moreover, I’m no more inclined to bash women simply for being rich than I am to bash them simply for being poor. I believe you, Ann Romney: It was hard work, you were glad to do it, and you understand women’s struggles — or, at the very least, the struggles inherent to being a mother.

But here’s the thing.

Just as I am not inclined to bash you for staying home with your kids, neither am I inclined to bash poor moms (or dads) who choose to do the same.

Either we value motherhood (parenting), or we don’t. Either we support parents who choose to be at home with their kids, or we don’t. Either we value families, or we don’t.

You can’t ask me to respect your right to be home with your kids, but expect me to not notice that your candidate husband doesn’t respect the same right for poor women. Your kids had no more right to an at-home parent simply because you’re wealthy; kids on welfare have no less right to an at-home parent simply because they’re poor.

I won’t bash Ann Romney. She made a choice that was right for her and her family, and as a parent, I guarantee you: Her choice involved hard work.

But I will bash policies and positions, and the party that pushes them, that afford Ann Romney more respect and greater human dignity for her choices, simply because she’s a millionaire.

And I will do everything I can to keep those people — most especially Ann Romney’s husband — out of office.

Holocaust Day, my children, & my mind’s eye.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Auschwitz_Train.jpgOccasionally, on Holocaust Day or some other, random day, I will look at my children, and see them on a train.

See them starved. See their clothes in shreds. See them with blank eyes and sores on their faces, their hair matted, all joy, all light, gone.

My mind doesn’t allow me to go far down these paths (a fact for which I am eternally grateful), but it peeks down the path, toward the incomprehensible at the other end, and then I recoil in pain and tears.

If for no other reason that I know that I am not, really, seeing anything.

My mind providing me, unbidden, with an image it imagines to be something like Jewish children at the time of the Holocaust is simply me overlaying a hundred thousand photographs on top of my beautiful children’s faces. It’s nothing like actually seeing it. It’s not being a mother, probably even hungrier than the child, for having eschewed as much food as she could for as long as she could, in favor of her babies, her clothes also rags, an understanding (that the child can’t match) of the enormity of the darkness that surrounds them, has invaded their homes and their families and their very skin, looking at her 11 year old boy and seven year old daughter and knowing — knowing — that they will die.

Knowing that they will die horrific, meaningless deaths, deaths that she cannot in any way stop. The moment of wondering: Would it be better to find some way to kill them myself, to save them what awaits?

But who knew what awaited? And yet surely, many mothers and fathers found themselves hoping to find the inner strength to kill their own children, before the evil could overcome them.

I chose this faith, I chose this people. If I had been in Europe during those nightmare years, I may have been given a choice to walk away.

But my husband — whose four grandparents saw the writing on the wall in 1933 and left Germany to its devils, thus allowing the best man I’ve ever known to come into my life one night in December 1991, as we danced to loud music and laughed with friends, a week after I’d become a Jew — my husband would not have been given that choice.

My children would not have been given that choice.

I want to believe that I would not have left them, for any reason, but I know that the particular barbarism of the Nazis created circumstances in which people did things that were unimaginable, unspeakable, things for which they could never forgive themselves. I cling to the idea that I would have managed, at least, to stand with my chosen people, with my babies, and die with them.

Last night, we lit a yahrzeit candle together and made kaddish.

Today it burns on my stove, surrounded by drying pots and pans, in a kitchen with a freezer too full with shopping, at one end of a house that has never been cold. I scrub at the little bit of dried egg stuck on my burner, wash the dishes as a surprise for my husband, and when my son calls to say that he’s forgotten his folder, I get in the car and bring it to school, a note tucked inside to tell him I love him.

Because I can do these things, I do them, with gratitude and with a sort of stunned awe that I get to do them at all.

If my babies had been there, they would have died.

Yes, honey. I’ll bring you your folder.

**************************************

I first ran this piece last year, but I have a hard time revisiting these ideas, though they are often in my heart, so I decided to re-up the post. Last night, just after we lit our candle, my now-8 year old daughter proceeded to stomp around the house, being a dragon. It’s a good thing to be a little Jewish girl being a dragon on Holocaust Day.

Hug those you love.

I promised last night that I would be writing about Israel’s social protests, but that will have to wait, because in the meantime I’ve learned of a death in the family and find I need to write about other things. (It’s the beauty of having a teeny-tiny, personal blog: The blogger doesn’t have to put on her game face if she doesn’t want to).

Peggy was my mother’s cousin, and thus a somewhat distant cousin to me, someone with whom I have had very little contact in my adult life, almost all of that via email.

But she was a regular figure in my tumultuous childhood, a person we saw at family events or from whom we got the occasional letter, someone who was unfailingly warm, and welcoming, and as my mother said this morning, encompassing. She was one of those adults who was able to get down to eye-level with a kid, and make that kid feel like she had no place she’d rather be.

Her husband, Gene, is cut of the same cloth, and as a child, without any way of knowing the least thing about their relationship, I saw them as a unit — a warm, welcoming, encompassing unit. And they were fun and funny, too, and for a kid in any adult-heavy situation, “fun and funny” is something very valuable indeed.

I remember vaguely liking Peggy and Gene’s kids, Jeff and Megan, but never got to know them well enough to really form a relationship. They’re older than me, or younger than me, and up until adulthood, that can serve as a real barrier. I do know that I felt a certain small jealousy of their family and their parents. I do know it seemed that they had something beautiful that was worth having.

So I can’t say that I’ll miss Peggy in any real sense. I haven’t seen her in time out of mind, and for reasons that made all the sense in the world, we were genuinely out of touch.

But I will sorely miss knowing that she is out there, being her kind and funny self. I will miss imagining her smile, and the way were beautiful eyes crinkled up as the smile spread. I am sorry that it made all the sense in the world for us not to be in touch. I would have liked to keep up with her, and I know she would have liked to keep up with me. After all, she was always the one who made the effort.

I’ve been lucky so far. Other than my father — dead when I was ten months old and too young to do a thing about it — I’ve lost no one to whom I didn’t get a chance to say good-bye, no one about whom I feel any measure of extra sorrow or regret because I didn’t get a chance to say or do what I needed to say or do.

But there are people in my life who, if they were to die tomorrow, I would know I hadn’t done my best. We don’t always get a chance to say goodbye (the fact that I always have is nothing short of miraculous, probably), and we don’t always get advance warning. Especially not when many of the people you love have passed their 70th birthday.

Upon hearing of a death, the people in my circle (both close and writ large) tend to say: Hug those close to you.

And I have been hugging people, and speaking of my love, since learning of Peggy’s passing, but I want to do more. When I reach my own grave I want to know that I have tried my best to genuinely be in the lives of the people I love. I regret not having made more of an effort with Peggy. She was a lovely woman, and I lost a real opportunity to have a lovely relationship. I want not to feel, at my own life’s end, that I have failed the people who matter to me.

Of course, no matter what we do, there will always be something — some conversation never finished, some compliment never given. Life is never neat. But we can at least know that we’ve made our best effort. And starting today, I’m going to try harder to make sure my best effort really is my best.

Rest in peace, Peggy. You were loved, even by those you hadn’t seen in years.

What I did this weekend.

Starting on Thursday afternoon (though please bear in mind that Thursday morning was no walk in the park, either)

Thursday afternoon:

  1. Took the boy to a drum lesson.
  2. Took both boy and girl to get their hair cut.
  3. Got the girl supper and handed her off to the husband, who took her to my sister’s for a sleepover.
  4. Ate… something. Probably fed the boy, too.
  5. Finished a blog post.
  6. 9:00 pm: attended (with husband and boy) the Harry Potter Deadly Hallows double feature (hence the girl’s visit to her aunt). Arrived home 2:45 am; asleep by just past 3:00 am.

Friday:

  1. Awoke a smidge less than five hours after laying down.
  2. After distributing children and whatnot, attempted to work for what amounted to two hours. Made promises that I was unable to keep.
  3. Made a list of all the things that had to be done in time for the girl’s birthday party sleepover, scheduled for that night.
  4. May have fainted at the sight of the list. Unclear on this.
  5. Ran a birthday party errand.
  6. Managed to miss half of the girl’s play at summer camp, even though I arrived only (and literally) two minutes late (I still haven’t figured this one out).
  7. Ran a birthday party errand.
  8. Picked the boy up from his Junior Counseling gig at the preschool summer camp he once attended (but, really: aww!).
  9. Told the boy he’d get lunch “at some point,” and then took him on the rest of the errands, literally imposing upon him to “make sure you stick with me, but don’t talk to me” (a task he undertook with great grace, I hasten to add).
  10. Brought the boy home, put him to work as I tossed food together in the semblance of “lunch.”
  11. Readied the party. This includes, but is not limited to: Straightened up the first floor and basement + certain spot-cleaning; made a cake; readied supplies for making pizza; decorated; readied supplies for fondue and ice-cream sundaes (yes, she had three desserts at her birthday party, don’t you judge me); ironed the red bedsheet that was serving as a red carpet (!); made “tickets” for the guests to receive upon arrival; continuously thanked and praised the boy for being such an intensely good egg because he just did everything I told him to do and did not complain once (particularly impressive when one recalls that the boy is not-quite-12 and he, too, went to bed at 3:00 am…!)
  12. Sent emails saying “Oh my god I’m so sorry but I’ll never manage to get that thing to you today.”
  13. Picked up the girl from camp; pressed her into service, too.
  14. Gave up all hope off posting on the blog.
  15. Spruced myself up a tiny-bitty smidge because, honestly – I was a mess.
  16. 5:15 – 11:15 pm: Hosted the (incredibly successful) party, ending on a note of “no, really, it’s time to quiet down now.”
  17. 11:35 pm: Told the guest who realized that she missed her mom that it was absolutely no problem, we would call her mom.
  18. 11:45 pm: Sent said guest home.

Saturday:

  1. 7:45: Woke up and start making breakfast.
  2. All guests on their way home by 10:00.
  3. Doctor’s appointment.
  4. Ran errands for the boy, who was scheduled to, on the morrow, go to two weeks of geek camp.
  5. Sent the husband to do an errand for me (something for me!) that involved an hour and a half of round-trip driving and I.just.could.not.
  6. Collapsed in a heap on my bed for an hour and 15 minutes.
  7. Got up. Stumbled around. Attempted to make sense.
  8. The husband came home; he and I and the boy began the planning-and-doing-laundry-and-packing process for geek camp.
  9. Made dinner, attempting to use as many of the damn fruits and vegetables as I could (what are they doing in the refrigerator? Spawning?)
  10. Shoe-horned in our weekly Family Fun Night, playing a quick board game and treating ourselves with left-over birthday goodies, because we just had to, because the boy was about to go away for two weeks.
  11. 9:00 pm: Sent the husband off on a camp errand.
  12. Played Bananagrams because the boy wanted to and he was about to go away for two weeks.
  13. Continued packing.
  14. Some time or other: Fell into bed.

Sunday:

  1. 8:00 am: Woke up.
  2. Breakfast, etc, etc, and so on.
  3. Finished the packing. (Which, by the way, the boy participated in completely. Why do these things always take so damn long?)
  4. Drove the boy an hour northeast to geek camp, spent a couple of hours getting him situated and wandering about the campus of the university at which this particular geek camp is located. Took a moment to reallyreallyreally wish I could stay and go to his OMGtheysoundsocool! classes with him.
  5. Drove home.
  6. Um. Not sure exactly. Oh wait! Watched the end of the USA-Japan game, and ohmygod what a heartbreaker, but who am I to deny the Japanese a little joy?
  7. Not sure again. I think there was some watching of terrible Disney television with the girl. Phone calls involving interpersonal drama among people I care for very deeply but about which I could do nothing, really.
  8. Dinner.
  9. Not sure.
  10. Read out loud to the girl for, like, an hour? (We’re trying to power through the last Betsy Tacy book so we can finally start Harry Potter). Turned off her light.
  11. Tried rather valiantly to work. Sent more apologetic emails.
  12. Collapsed into bed.

My point: I will post something today, I swear! (Something other than this). But by the time I got to my desk this morning, I honestly and quite genuinely felt as if I’d been out of the country again and was having to catch up on the most basic stuff.

Like what the hell I still owed people from Friday. Which was all of three days ago. Sigh.

Oldie-but-goodie: Ow! My heart!

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing next in the blogosphere, so in the meantime I’m running some old posts that I particularly enjoyed writing.

I was just snuggling with my daughter in her wee bed, and she had been quiet for a minute or two when she says to me: “How many people draw perfect circles?” (Only she still says “puh-fect suh-cles”).

I say “Oh, not many.”

“Yeah, that’s probably done by machines.”

“You know what honey, you really have to settle down now….”

“Can I just -?”

“One thing,” I say, my cheek against her forehead, my arms around her.

“You know those things that you trace where you make everything just puh-fect?”

“Yeah….”

“Does a machine make those things?”

“Yeah, a machine makes them.”

“I thought so. I knew a puh-son couldn’t make it like that.”

I grin and grin and pull her even closer, kiss her forehead, and say: “You are, just, figuring out the world…!”

And without missing a beat she says: “But I’m only just at the start of it. Because I’m six years old.”

Oldie-but-goodie: Fragile

Okee dokee then! Today, both kids were home sick. So, no serious blogging, and indeed, no time even to mine the depths of YouTube or Boing Boing…!

The good news, though: It’s not (in the words of my buddy dissolver) the Hamthrax. They have colds and ear infections and all will soon be well (in an aside: You know that you’re surrounded by flu panic when a cold/ear infection diagnosis makes you happy).

In the course of worrying about them last night, though, when they we were both pretty darn miserable and asking (asking!) to go to bed, I was reminded of the following piece that I wrote back in 2007. It ran in the Dallas Morning News, and I remember crying as I wrote it. Today it’s a cold, but someday, it’ll be something much bigger — and I won’t be able to do a damn thing.

***********************

Our children, so fragile

EMILY L. HAUSER

02:49 PM CDT on Sunday, May 13, 2007

When pregnant with my first child, I had the opportunity to ask my graduate school adviser if we might discuss “my future.” With a glance at my belly, he looked me in the eye and said: “Thirty years of heartache.”

To which story my aunt later responded: “Only 30 years?”

If I’ve learned nothing else since the birth of that baby nearly eight years ago, it’s that your heart always aches. Happy or sad, there are many days when the heart feels it must surely implode from the weight of emotion, not least of course, the intense and impossible need to Keep the Babies Safe.

Right now my husband and I find our little family to be bathed in the glow of blessed days. The children – a beautiful boy and girl – are healthy, smart and funny, and in addition to delighting their parents daily, actually love and enjoy each other, too. We are the family Norman Rockwell was thinking of all those years.

It is impossible, though, not to think that this golden time will inevitably end. Human experience indicates that a day will dawn on which our idyll is at the very least tarnished. The fear, of course, is that it will be shattered.

Like everyone, I know my fair share of parents whose children have been visited by tragedy. I think of my friend whose baby died at birth and the one whose 10-year-old was shot in the head. I know a kind and patient man who lost his teenager down the hole to over-the-counter drug abuse and a warm and giving woman whose previously sunny son is now, at 22, in the grip of paralyzing depression. My grandmother buried my father when he was all of 35.

They are so fragile, these babies. So many things can go wrong, and at any moment.

Paradoxically, it is my rational self that blazes a trail for me down the road to fear. The cycle of life, human nature, acts of God – all act as constant reminders that nothing is forever, that everything, eventually, breaks, rots, dies. My children’s bones will one day lie in the earth, and there is no way for me to know that their end will not come far earlier than it should or that their days will not be filled with sorrow.

My absolute inability to keep them from harm takes my breath away. Limbs will break, hearts will break. Please God, not spirits. The maxim that joy is not complete without grief to shape it interests me not in the least – let their joy be shapeless, I think, but let it be joy.

And so it is tempting to see this time of blessing as a trick of the light, an ill-defined prelude to disaster. My siblings and I were struck by catastrophe before we could read or write, when cancer snatched our father from us as surely as it did from his mother; as I grew up, all happiness was, in fact, shaped by that grief. It is hard for me to stop.

But something about this boy and this girl who I hold so lightly, with so few tools or guards, has opened a place I couldn’t dream existed. Just as I have learned that the bittersweet ache never ends, so too have my children taught me that the heart can be quiet, and that the joy in a 3-year-old’s song and a 7-year-old’s hand is unending. That these things can never be lost, even if they are taken.

I curl around my daughter in her tiny bed and hold her warmth to my belly. I cover my son with the blanket he’s tossed aside, and watch his limbs stretch endlessly beneath it, an impossible length of boy. I pray that this time will never end. I pray for the strength to hold them when it does.

*****

(I’m doing some serious thinking about my place in the blogosphere, but in the meantime am running oldies-but-goodies, because some posts deserve another moment in the sun!)

Good stuff: Parental heartbreak, of a sort.

Last night, very late last night, I heard the husband chuckling at his computer. “This is so cute!” he said, and drew my attention to a video.

Within a split second, I was laughing with him. Within two split-seconds, I was weeping. Weeping and laughing, laughing and weeping, through all 55 seconds of it. Four times in a row.

It’s a little boy, a very little boy, being very proud, and very declarative. And hand to God — it could be my little boy, seven or so odd years ago.

This boy looks something like my boy, but mostly: this boy has a voice like mine did, has a similar grasp of standard English, and shares my little boy’s absolute confidence and surety that he can rally the world itself to greatness. It was as if my former little boy’s spirit had invaded another little boy and begun to talk.

I wept and wept and wept. Oh how I wept! I’m tearing up just thinking about it!

Now, in my defense, it was very late last night, and today, having had three terrible nights’ sleep in a row, I am exhausted. Furthermore, I’m due to get my period, like, any second now (explaining the bad sleep, BTW). When tired, and sometimes on the day or two before my period, I am even more prone to weepiness that usual.

And yet, that weepy tends to be of the welling-up variety. The lump-in-the-throat sort. The I-kind-of-struggle-to-get-words-out-as-a-couple-of-tears-roll-down-my-cheeks kind of thing. This, on the other hand, was full-on, can’t-be-stopped, damp-Kleenex-piling-up-at-my-side WEEPING. With the attendant sorrow.

Which, oh my God, so weird! And unexpected! And what the hell?!

I have long said that if I reallyreally wish I could travel back in time and visit my children’s younger selves. That I love them madly, desperately, without limit just as they are — but that I miss the old them just the same. That I would give my eye-teeth just to hold my babies in my arms, one more time.

And this? I think this was like getting ambushed by a glimpse into the possibility of making that dream real. Out of nowhere: BAM — here’s the little boy! For 55 seconds of viewing! And not one second more! And you can’t touch or smell or kiss him or feel his hair or ask him anything or get a hug!

Wow.

Every once and awhile, life hands you an emotion that you didn’t even know was within the realm of human experience — I certainly had no idea that this was out there for me. But man!

Now, if you will excuse me, I think I’ll watch it another time or twelve. Hand me the Kleenex, ok?