Sweetbitter

My word of the week is sweetbitter*– not really a word, but it should be (like these non-words and these). More apt than bittersweet, “sweetbitter” places the joyful before the sorrow.

We are in Pennsylvania for a yartzheit, a year since my father-in-law died. How can it be a year already since the world stopped, a harbinger of the whole world stopping as if in sympathy? Come Wednesday, we will go to the cemetery and face head-on the abject missing of someone so loved, so central. Come Wednesday, there will be the output of tears, reckoning with what was lost.

But before that there is snow (a thrilling gift to California boys who have been watching the weather reports and praying for this for weeks). There are borrowed sleds and a hill. There are snowballs and dogs romping. There is the ridiculous cake Aunt Jessica created — sweet with some bitter chocolate — to celebrate two January birthdays weeks gone by, because life is for celebrating even belatedly.

We are here, we are together, and we are missing. An exquisite yearning.

Death always takes us by surprise. We are never ready. We bury our heads in living. But would you want it any other way? To be asking each morning, will this be the day? We live and play and we mourn and grieve.

To be clear, it matters that a year has gone by. We have passed through every season, every birthday, every holiday without him. Each painful. “Just wait,” Jessica warned Christopher on her birthday, the first without their father. In the first days and weeks and months, the bitter won out often.

Now, out in the snow, Christopher wears his dad’s jacket and pelts the boys with fists of powder, and runs away from their response. His sister and mom see the familiar jacket and think his father is here.

In the living, in his grandsons, in the dogs galloping over to join them, he is.

Peter Heisen & Bumper, 2011

P.S. Full disclosure. I threw some snowballs, too.

* I am not the first to crave a word more sweet than bitter. “Sweetbitter” has been used by poets and podcasts and authors before me, to whom I offer thanks and credit.

Dance with me: a love letter

“Oh very young, what will you leave us this time

You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while.”

– Yusuf Islam

Dance with me: a love letter

This petite memoir is a love story — love between parents and children, husband and wife, grandparents and grandchildren. Between dancers and dance. Between humans and being.

Maybe this is a love story about love itself.

Written it in staggered moments over the three years since my grandmother Lilli Diamond died, it is no accident that it came to completion during a time of isolation, a time when pandemic sent everyone home and took our cherished gatherings away — for me, my Sunday dance class, a place where I felt my grandmother’s presence so vividly.

Today, October 16, 2020, would have been her 105th birthday. Let this be my small gift from the heart to her and to you. Dance with me.

Dance with me: a love letter

How My Baby (a Teenager) Taught Me that Puppies Are Like Babies

When I tell someone we have two new puppies, the reaction goes, “Puppies are so cute! Puppies! Puppies! Puppies!” Followed immediately by, “It’s like having babies.”

I grant that there are many similarities. They are crazy cute. I am more housebound than I would like to be. And they pee in inappropriate places. But that’s where the similarities end for me. I feed them from a bag not my body, baby wipes are only for their ears, and I can leave them in a crate in a pinch.

Last week, my 15-year-old echoed the “puppies are like babies” sentiment, saying that raising puppies will help prepare him for being a father. (Awww…!) There’s some truth there: caring for puppies exercises your patience, love, and forgiveness. It requires you to do or say the same thing over and over and over before they “get” it. And at setbacks and joys alike, you must remind yourself “this too shall pass.”

One moment with the puppies recently reminded me of a feeling I had in my early days with an infant. About 15 and a half years ago, in the wee dark hours of the night I sat in a rocker with my baby in my lap for a middle-of-the-night feeding. He was asleep in my arms, finished with his milk, and the crib loomed a mere four feet away from us. I had never yet managed to get this love out of my arms and into his crib without him waking and crying (I would later discover co-sleeping, Praise Be). Hoping this would be the first time, that I would soon return my groggy self to my own bed, I slowly rose, glided soundlessly across the room, leaned my body over the crib with his body against mine until the mattress accepted his weight, I ever sooooooo slooooowly stood up. I waited. YES! I had done it! He was still sleeping! I was ebullient! I felt like I’d scaled a mountain! Cured cancer! Could do anything!

My comparable puppies moment: that same son and I gave them a bath.

The puppies had been playing in the yard after the sprinklers had been on, digging a hole in wet soil. They were filthy. White paws were dark brown. We couldn’t let them in the house. A bath was mandatory.

We had never done this before. There was no special puppy tub, and the kitchen sink seemed too big for these guys. How would we accomplish this? Where to begin? We retrieved a towel, a bucket, and put two inches of warm water and soap in it. Good enough start. My son stood ready with the towel while I put the first dog in. With a little rubbing, the dirt came off. I handed the surprised, wet pup to the waiting, towel-holding arms of my son, and repeated. These two baths lasted less than 30 seconds, and we had two clean, dry puppies!

We were so inordinately proud of ourselves we high ten‘ed.

That was no small thing. My son is a great kid, wonderful to be around. But I’m the mom, the one who asks about homework and reminds about appointments, so sometimes it feels like we are moving in opposite directions, like friction is our default. Joining forces to give the puppies their first bath, exulting together in that new-parent feeling of accomplishment, reminding ourselves of our bond, was a priceless moment that made every other little puppy mess well worth it.

A lot like having a baby.

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Seen through a Snowstorm: Creations Take On Their Own Life

We drove to Mammoth to celebrate my firstborn’s birthday: 15.

FIFTEEN. To you that may sound little, depending on your point of view, but indulge me. It’s as big as he’s ever been.

The weather conspired against us. It will snow all day, both days, with 50 mph winds. Lucky me, I’d decided in advance that I wasn’t skiing this time. It’s not my cup of cocoa, let’s say; I am preoccupied with falling, even before I put my boots on. My job today is ski support from the comfort of the lodge, writing and reading contentedly. Family bonus: I spare my husband having to worry about me while keeping track of the kids, too.

It’s not about the skiing, anyway, our trip. It’s about board games. It’s about meals together, and movies in the room. It’s even about the travel days, together in a car driving through California’s desert-to-mountain landscape. It’s the offhand conversations, singing with the radio, brothers watching TV shows sharing an iPad… and no fighting all day?! This is the good stuff. This is the good stuff. Did I mention 15?

At this moment I am sitting in the lodge looking out at near white-out conditions. My feet are cold despite two pairs of socks and boots. I’m supposed to be working on Novel 2. I’m in the first draft. I feel like I’m still learning how to write — in a good way — and hope to always feel that way. Bits of positive feedback for Shelter Us still trickles in, which feeds my determination to keep on writing. Like yesterday, I received an e-mail from a fellow She Writes Press author, Barbara Stark-Nemon, who had just read it and kindly shared with me the review she’d posted on Amazon and Goodreads. It began with a quote that I thought sounded so beautiful and then I realized, happily and with surprise, Duh, she’s quoting ME. I didn’t recognize my own words. My sentences took on their own life, they were not part of me anymore. They grew from me but became themselves.

I glance up and outside to the mountain. The glare is bright and my eyes take a moment to adjust. There’s the ski lift, there’s a tree, there’s the snow blowing across the sky. A faint body moves against the mountain through that snowy haze. I can’t see my boys, but I know they are out there, separate from me and gloriously growing into themselves, swooshing or falling all on their own.

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