Where we only need sheets Where the morning sun sneaks through curtain crevices Here, where velvet whispers open rested eyes Here, where small bodies join big ones in the big bed But there is no rush Only these sweet, soft fingertips How did they get so soft? I made them and yet I remain Absurdly oblivious of my craft My most beautiful compositions Warm, throaty hums, no words Just simple sighing sounds of content Mmm, hmmm, giggles, and murmurs Fingers tangled together, we study their shapes The way they bend and make room for each other The way they open, close, curl, and Squeeze and squeeze and squeeze I and love and you She whispers fragments But they all start the same How long will she call me mama? The melody of that double ah sound It's a heartsong The rhythm feels perpetual But I know better If I write it down now Will I permeate the music in my mind? We grow so close to this non-native habitat We slip inside it's ecosystem We are so entwined we pay no attention to the howlers Guttural growls like the swirling squelch of an emptying bathtub Rinsing away all of our worries All of our burdens In the jungle
The hard crunch of gravel. The almost electric buzz of heat on the windows. Watching the prairie slip past as if nothing has changed. The wheat grows. The cattle roam. John Prine on the radio singing of Lake Marie. You don’t know the song, but you know it, you’d sing along with the chorus if you heard it. Whoa – oh – oh – oh – oh.
That’s what every day feels like, the peculiar discomfort of knowing and not. Scratching the surface, then marveling at the scab. We watch the world shift but it’s all out of focus, like shadows on an old black and white set. How can we be so fortunate in this small corner of the Earth and yet so brazenly indifferent to the struggles and hardships of others? Maybe if I adjust this hinterland antenna, we’ll get some clarity.
And then Logan says, “Let’s get outside.” Fresh air. Rain boots on pasture. Two small girls running through cornfields. A husband and wife really listening to the words and to each other, wondering if Prine’s troubled marriage was saved in Canada or if they caught fish instead.
In a small town nearly untouched by a devastating pandemic, you’d think we’d all share a little gratitude, a little kindness, some small acknowledgement of our good fortune. I believe I am decades, and maybe a trip to Canada, away from understanding any of this.
Still, I feel my heart overflow with these peaceful waters. The fluidity I created when I stood next to this man and chose him. The calm I experience when he demonstrates to our daughters that no matter how rough the current, life should not be navigated by fear. The knowing I get when we dive too far into the deep end but come up spluttering, laughing, and gasping at the joy of life every time. The waves crash, but this harmony keeps us afloat.
It’s as if I’m buckled into the passenger seat next to him. I can see the rain coming from every direction, crashing into the road and windshield. I gasp with him as the wheels beneath us seem suddenly weightless. I can hear the screeching tires, smell the burning brakes, watch the red lights blur and swirl into white. I feel the panic in my chest as we spin across a four-lane freeway during rush hour in Orange County.
But I wasn’t there. Crouched on the top stair, head leaning on the banister, I listened in as my father told the treacherous tale in our white and blue tiled kitchen. His Ford Ranger finished it’s sporadic spiral across the 5 South and promptly stalled facing four lanes of oncoming traffic. I wasn’t there, but I was there, every single morning when my father left for work.
When I heard the garage door open, I felt the panic, saw the rain, and ran like hell to make sure I got one more glimpse of my dad, because what if it was my last? He never left without saying goodbye. We’d blow each other a kiss and he’d grab mine out of the air, squeeze it tight, and stuff it in his shirt pocket, saving a little piece of love for later.
Today my own kids are a constant mystery. Why are you scared to pick out socks at two in the afternoon by yourself? Why do you need me to watch you go to the bathroom when you’ve been potty trained for two point five years? I know why. Because life doesn’t make sense. It’s messy and it’s scary, even more so when you’re only three feet tall.
I spend a lot of time feeling overwhelmed by the longterm effects of my parenting missteps. I worry about my angry words, my lack of patience, and those days when I just want to be left alone. But when I think back on my own childhood, I don’t remember the angry words so much. I remember being constantly and genuinely cherished by my parents. My dad probably had no idea how much I needed all that saved up love back then but I hope he knows today what a gift it continues to be.
I felt a trickle of salty anxiety slip down my shoulder blades as Logan eased our home into a ten-minute parking space. I’d either get this done or I wouldn’t, no point in drawing it out, so I leaped from the truck repeating the directions in my head the whole way. Alone in an electronics store in Argentina, I managed to explain my urgent need for a new hard drive for a 12-year-old Dell, entirely in Spanish.
My husband raised his eyebrows in question, I nodded casually and held up our technological lifeline as if I did this sort of thing all the time. “That was impressive,” he said. Every day on the PanAm was filled with monumental victories just like this (Exhibit A).
Our victories look a little different today and it’s sometimes hard to recognize them. We almost never need a GPS. Our vehicle no longer doubles as our living room. And our party cups are now filled with imaginary tea which makes our toddlers nearly as giddy as the mezcal we once poured.
Nine loads of heaping laundry and two dozen rounds of nose-to-the-wall do not feel impressive. It’s hard to believe their little minds are absorbing any of the things we want them to in these sometimes torturous daily routines. Along with the circadian trials, there is the constant, mandatory concession that we are imperfect. Every angry moment, every too busy to stop what we’re doing minute, every frustrated flash, these parental blunders will haunt their tender hearts as well.
Typically on RanchNotes, this is where I’d wrap it all up with a tidy little moral or at least an attempt at a humorous bright side. Here’s the truth, this stage of life is hard. We flattered ourselves thinking the PanAm was any kind of battle to be conquered. The challenges ahead of us are incomprehensible and the rewards even further beyond those unknowns. All we can do is grab onto those golden souls who lift us up, who see the laundry, the struggle, and the moments we’re not proud of but make us feel impressive anyway. Hang on tight to these people and learn from them. Do your own lifting at every possible turn, be who you needed when you struggled, and know, to be impressed, is the most impressive of all.
Tonight, and many nights, Pearl wears a purple constellation nightshirt. We’ve finished our stories and turned off the lights so I lay my palm across the heart of the cosmos. Orion’s belt, the little dipper, a shooting star, they all thump soft and steady beneath my fingers. Her eyes are closed but it’s an obvious fake, the kind only a child can pull off; quick breath, tiny smirk, inevitable giggle.
Nearly every night since she was born, Pearl has instinctively grabbed for my hand as she falls asleep. She starts with my thumb and moves across each of my fingers, methodically smoothing the pads of her fingertips over each nailbed. When the sun sets I wonder, will this be the day she decides to fall asleep without holding my hand? She knows I’m clinging to this and she’s so damn clever she’s turned it into an emotional bedtime filibuster. We both know the twisted politics and yet it works, every single time.
In all other capacities, Pearl is fiercely independent. I have to constantly remind myself that she’s three and that while she provides a compelling argument, no, she probably shouldn’t chop the onion with our sharpest knife. No, she probably shouldn’t drive our car to the store. No, she definitely shouldn’t swim in the pond behind our house, by herself, in the dark. She believes herself capable of all these things already.
I would only be slightly surprised if she produced some yet-to-be-seen superpower. I imagine she will take flight at any moment. So as long as she pretends to need my hand at night, I will give in to the pull of her tiny universe.
Everything in my immediate vicinity was perfectly normal: sunshine, dogs barking, children squealing, Pearl digging to China in the sandbox. But my voice felt foreign and clumsy as I spoke because a few hundred miles away, at the other end of the phone line, everything was not normal.
I followed the effortlessly positive lead of my aunt Rhonda, chatting about kale smoothies, the girls, and our upcoming trip to France. She said softly, “I wish we had traveled more.” Over the course of many months and phone calls, this single statement shocked me the most. She moved on quickly, the moment gone before I could catch it. It was a brief glimpse into an otherwise persistent determination to beat liver cancer.
Common Life Regrets:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others had expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I would have had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish I would have let myself be happier.
It’s easy to make mistakes each day and, over time, watch them snowball into immense regret. Cancer took my aunt from this world ahead of schedule, but I can say with confidence that this list held no place in her brilliant life.
She was so positively genuine she damn near sparkled. Although she always worked, her identity was never tied to a job. The 9-5 hustle enriched her life, it never defined it. She had this graceful way of expressing herself so that you knew where she stood without harshness or offense. A purposeful giver of love and kindness, she was always present for the ones she loved, celebrating life’s happy moments at every opportunity. Her beautiful heart was a gift to all who knew her, friends, family, and the random strangers who had the luck to encounter her. If we could all tackle this list the way my aunt did then #5 seems to take care of itself. Happiness comes easily and shines with an undeniable radiance when you prioritize the way she did.
In the end, she had no common regrets, only a desire to live and experience more. I wish I’d had more time to ask more questions of this amazingly uncommon woman.
At 7:45AM on Wednesday, July 5th, the forms had been signed, the IV applied, and in less than one hour our second daughter was scheduled to arrive. While I sat wrapped in warm blankets, Logan read aloud from the journal of Mary Stenger, recounting tales of her own mother, Logan’s great-great-grandmother, Susan McCoy.
Harold was born in December. Had him at home (sod house) with a midwife. Afterbirth didn’t come and Grandpa rode a horse to Elsie (27 miles) to get a doctor…Susan was holding Harold and saw a rattlesnake in the rafters.
128 years later in the comfort of a sterilized delivery room in a newly renovated hospital with the assistance of two doctors, one anesthesiologist, and two nurses, Prairie Susan Pribbeno was born. Despite these conveniences, I was worried. We had learned I was pregnant just six months after radiation treatment for thyroid cancer. I agonized silently for nine months over the medications I was required to take and the effects my damaged body had on her growing one.
At 8:22AM, the only thing I could say was, “Is she ok?” Although we never really talked about it, Logan knew what I meant. We had both held fear close to our hearts so he just said, simply, “Yes, she’s strong.” 7.1 pounds and 20 inches of strength and beauty, to be specific.
She may not have been born in a sod house with rattlesnakes in the rafters but, so far, I believe she has more than lived up to the gritty determination of her namesake.
I grew up with two, slightly rowdy, brothers. As a result of their example and my own predisposition for introversion, I spent a large portion of my youth attempting adolescent invisibility. I was a freckle-faced, red-haired, braces and glasses wearer in southern California, so it hardly ever worked out as I hoped.
1,284 miles away, Logan was crafting a very different teenage existence. They laugh about it now, but I’m certain that at the time, his parents were less than thrilled by his political column (Nouveau View) in the county newspaper and likely even less impressed with his band’s decision to perform sans clothing. When I asked him to clarify the boxers-only performance I’d heard so much about, he asked, “Well, which time?”
I watch Pearl on the playground now with an intense curiosity. Will she amble toward anonymity or sprint for the spotlight? Yesterday she scaled the rope ladder with astounding speed and grace and then raced full toddler force to the big slide. She skidded to a stop, waved to a neighbor kid, then pointed to the slide and said, “Be careful ok?” This combination of daring tenderness is alright with me.
Eventually, we won’t be pinpointing the inherited characteristics of our small daughters. Experience will mold them into women we hope and expect to be strong, intelligent, and kind.
But for now, for my girls’ sake, I hope they channel their father’s natural instinct to be wild. I hope they ask the uncomfortable questions and then really listen to the answers to discover their own conclusions. In what can feel like the endless catastrophe of youth, deciding to be different, especially in a town like ours, will be a monumental challenge but will serve them well in so many ways.
We’re just a week away from becoming a family of four, plus one deranged Chihuahua. And years from now, when our girls decide to read mom’s boring online journal, all I ask is that they please, please, ask their father when their band decides to play homecoming in just their skivvies. That’s all him.
Pearl is almost two, fearless, a little reckless, and has a secret recipe for energy I’m attempting to decipher and trademark. Logan and I recently reached one of those cute parenting milestones where we believe we know exactly what to do, but in a much more real way, have no idea what we’re doing, ever, at all. Last Friday at midnight, this became incredibly apparent because we were sitting in the ER waiting room, trying to pretend it was not our daughter whose faint cries were drifting down the hallway.
Pearl and I had just discovered that we could use Alexa to enhance our kitchen dance parties. She was so excited she ran for the living room, singing all the way before tripping and slamming her face into the couch. Somewhere between the trip and the slam, she bit down on her tongue so hard and deep I couldn’t look at it without erupting in tears. Why didn’t we go to the ER then? I’ll probably ask myself that question until the day I die. I think all parents have their fair share of totally unnecessary ER visits. We are well acquainted with the patient, if slightly annoyed smiles of the nurses who gently tell you, your kid is fine, it’s time to go home now. Plus the internet, the internet is stupid. Never, ever listen to the internet, I beg of you.
After a couple days we decided it might be kind of nice to see the polite smiles of the nurses and doctors, let them evaporate our fears with a hefty bill and send us happily home. But they didn’t send us home, instead, they gave us a tiny hospital gown decorated with puppies and balloons and six dissolvable stitches in Pearl’s tongue. A few hours later, when all six stitches popped out several weeks ahead of schedule, I felt the tiny screws keeping my sanity in place burst forth and ricochet into space.
And that’s how our demented story returns to an emergency room two hours away, waiting for the doctor to complete Pearl’s second round of tongue stitches in less than 12 hours. At this point, we had spent nearly 72 hours riding a carousel of guilt and regret, spinning in slow, exhausting circles of disbelief. We’d visited the ER plenty of times when we shouldn’t have and then didn’t visit the ER when we definitely should have. No big deal though, two months is enough time to get this parenting thing all squared away before the second kid arrives, right?
Over the last year and a half I’ve had a good, long laugh at my pre-kid self and all the things I said I would absolutely, never in a million years, ever, do. As an example, Logan and I have taken a certain amount of pride in being anti-TV for nearly a decade. Yet here we are today, reciting the lines from Masha and The Bear from memory because that’s what happens when you watch all 17 episodes 47 times each with your kid. Thanks, Netflix. No seriously, thank you so much Netflix, I love you. There’s a long list of unplanned for transgressions but there’s a really big one I need to address today.
I call it The Perfect Myth and it lives on Facebook. Have you noticed? My hair looks awesome, I’m wearing actual eyeliner, and my clothes are astonishingly unstained. Pearl is beaming with dimples that will make your heart soar and somehow, my husband looks oddly pleased to be in a field or grassy expanse in the middle of a work day. This is not real life, this is The Perfect Myth.
Before our daughter was born I had grand plans, I was going to be a real mom, honest and genuine about all of it. And that’s the beauty of real life, I get to be that real mom every day. Turns out real life is tough, messy and immune to my controlling tendencies. So Facebook is my perfectly manicured lawn, my award-winning rose garden, the calm, beautiful facade I maintain as a reward for the reality I tend each day. It contains those moments that happen either purely by accident or in that five-second window where preparation, prayer, and bribery pay off with the help of a professional photographer. I feel like I’ve earned this carefully crafted social existence. By now, we’re all in on the social media joke, aren’t we? We know that Facebook is whatever we want it to be and the punchline doesn’t actually matter which is why I’m not sorry about The Perfect Myth, not even a little bit.