He brings me fistfuls of broken things:
tiny cars with wheels jammed awkwardly into hubcaps,
pieces of tumbled Duplo towers, books with torn pages. Fix, he begs, sinking all his faith into my fingers.
I unsteeple my hands to busy his with lessons:
Tape fastens orphaned flaps, gentle hands preserve stories.
Needle and thread mend Bunny’s smile.
This is how the pieces fit together, how the cap
closes the bottle, how stubs of crayon melt
into a new whole, how life teaches what is fragile
to be fierce.
But some things stay broken.
I apologize for dropped stitches, shield his fingers
from jagged glass, bury spent balloons in the trash,
pray that he’ll forget. He doesn’t. He is attuned to absence:
the empty chair, the car that never arrives, the moon
that slips behind a cloud. Where go? he begs. My hands
cannot smooth the fret lines knotting his brow, so I fold them
over his and say: Goodnight, moon—then I hold my breath.
He turns the page. And all that my hands cannot mend
is born again as hope, and air—
Tracie Renee Amirante Padal’s words have won awards; appeared in newspapers, magazines, journals, and international anthologies (including Stories of Music, The Official Poets’ Guide to Peace, and Embers & Flames); and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. When not writing or chasing after her preschooler, Tracie fosters a love for literature as a librarian in suburban Chicago.
She waits in the liminal space of curiosity
while I secure the harness of her car seat.
She brings Ella’s croon of nearness to mind
as her eyes drift past me to the pale moon.
In answer, I press my cheek to hers
and whisper, This, this is near—
a quiet thrill, a warm delight of skin on skin
not reserved for lovers, oh no; children
and parents are granted the right of nearness.
A prompt of sweet conversation—the dearest
question—daughter, draws me to you,
oh you, my wildest dream come true.
This poem echoes lyrics from “The Nearness of You” by Ned Washington, American
A previous contributor to MAW, Shanna Powlus Wheeler is a writing center director and college English instructor from central Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband and two children. Her poetry appears in a variety of magazines, as well as in the chapbook Lo & Behold (Finishing Line Press, 2009). She just completed a full-length poetry manuscript, Evensong for Shadows, which pivots on the themes of miscarriage and motherhood.
Twice now, in the span of two years, I have traveled to a strange land unlike any I have known before, the world of newborns. It is a tangled, immeasurable wilderness, a half-remembered dream, a vast night sky, its darkness streaked with random explosions of brilliant, soul-expanding light.
This land requires no passport or entry fee. There is no true preparation, try as parents might to arm ourselves with books, supplies, and wisdom. There is only a clear border between life outside of this world and life within it, a boundary created the moment the weight of a child fills your arms.
With both of my children, I have only been able to see this land clearly after leaving it behind. When I was in it, I could see only the ground beneath me. As parents, we survive this journey by focusing on the details and nuances of the topography, on the next bottle or diaper change, on the well visits on the calendar, the blocks of time that define each day.The world doesn’t so much narrow when you have a newborn as it does fold and invert, a flat piece of paper turned origami shape. The substance of the world is the same. The paper is still paper. But of course, it’s also not really paper, not anymore.
Tidy, defined days spent at work turn into unwieldy blocks of shifting time, a maze of naps and feeds and rocking. Mothers become foreigners in their own homes, with wild and unpredictable companions who speak only an incomprehensible dialect of cries to communicate their ever-changing needs.
We struggle to find our way in this land. We cut through the heavy jungle, dense with a fog of sleep deprivation and physical pain. We wade through deep rivers with violent, swirling currents as hormones rise, fall and shift in our bodies. We scale mountains with rugged peaks, buffeted by winds of doubt that can carry the weight of an avalanche.
We are isolated here, in the deserts and rainforests and plains, in the long, dark nights when every cry feels louder than the one before. We walk for miles, wear treads in the carpet as we rock and shush and sway. Our bodies are tired, and our feet are heavy, but we walk, because of the wild, precious being we carry in our arms.
There is darkness here, in this remote place, in this newborn world of laundry and diapers and the unyielding, sometimes frightening dependency of another human. There is fear, deep in the heart of the jungle, fear of doing it wrong, of not being enough, of not standing up to the strain of such constant need. The terrain can feel impossible. But after making it to the other side twice, I also know now that there is so much beauty here.
My goodness, there is beauty.
There is beauty in the wide, inky black sea of nighttime, when we are alone together in the stillness and quiet, the only two people on the planet, intertwined together under the light of the moon and stars, a warm pool of physical closeness amidst the cold waves of the ocean.
There is beauty in the physical nearness of this little creature, their pink newborn smell, the tiny hands that wind around fingers, the warmth of their skin that radiates in every cell and atom and molecule of our bodies.
There is beauty in the rawness of the terrain, emotions always so close to the surface, the conventions of politeness stripped away to reveal something painful but also exquisitely honest, in a way life rarely is.
There is so much contrast here; craggy, volcanic landscapes studded with the riotous blooms of flowers that thrive amongst the rocks. There will be day after day of fussiness and cries, a monotonous desert landscape, until the first smile, a sunrise after weeks of darkness, an eruption of pink and orange on a desert that before had only known gray.
The path will get easier. We will find true north, a fixed star to guide us through the remainder of the wilderness. And when we reach the border of this land, when our days and nights align once more with the sun and moon, when we develop a schedule and routine, when our wild, fierce newborn changes into a human child, we will look back and realize what we have left behind.
Only then will can we see clearly the beauty of that fleeting, fragile newborn world, the rawness of so much untraveled soil. We will look back at the miles, the storm-soaked grasslands, the pitch-black caves, the tears and frustrations, the moments it felt too much, the hours spent watching them breathe, wondering how a human heart could take so much love and fear. We will look back on this planet and see it the way an astronaut must see Earth from afar, with enough perspective to make it seem small and precious, like a glass marble held in the palm of our hand. We will see it with enough distance to separate the beauty from the pain, the love from the stress. We will look back and remember that it was beautiful because it was hard, because we were together in a way we will never be together again, two humans in the wilderness, finding our way home.
Elizabeth Becker graduated with a BA in Creative Writing from the College of Charleston in 2008. She received a BS in Nursing from the Bon Secours Memorial College of Nursing in 2013. Her essays have been published on Scary Mommy and Pregnant Chicken. She also works as a freelance writer in Richmond, VA, where she lives with her husband and two children.
My older sister gives amazing advice. Without being condescending or bossy, she analyzes situations and offers her reasoned, helpful opinion. As a child, she used to fold and create entire miniature origami families of South American penguins and forest animals. Today, she folds and unfolds proteins in her science laboratory, as she seeks answers to nature’s stubborn secrets.
I often turn to her when seeking counsel about life in general and parenting in particular. I ran into a wall, however, when asking her for advice about navigating the competitive process of college admissions. Alas, she lives in Canada, and my nephew eased gently from his high school into the University of Toronto. I like to imagine that his toughest decision involved figuring out the color (or should I say “colour”) of his notebooks for classes.
In Westchester, New York, where we live, the college process seeps into the everyday lives of high school students and their families. Although students can receive an incredible education with dedicated and gifted professors at thousands of institutions of higher learning, there are certain colleges that capture the imagination and hopes of many young people. The research opportunities, diversity of the student body, school history, and level of school spirit all swirl together to create an unrealistic but persistent fantasy that life-long happiness will result from admission.
What really counts in finding a great school is finding a great match for individual students. Sneakers on the ground of a college can help students figure out how they feel and whether or not they can imagine living there for four years. Today’s guidance counselors encourage students to make a binding commitment to an early decision choice, which raises their chances of admission. Many colleges tell students that showing “demonstrated interest” may their bolster chances of admission, as well. And so the tour becomes another crucial step.
What are we supposed to look for on the tour? Since my older sister has no experience in this field and will tell you that the entire process is insanely out of control, it falls to me to share a little insight with those of you just embarking on this process. In an effort to play big sister, I offer you a few unsolicited tips for making the most of your college visits.
Wear comfortable shoes. You will be walking on cobblestone, flagstones, concrete, and muddy grass, as you are dragged hither and yon through lovely campuses that all start to look the same after the first fifty minutes. Try not to stare at students walking near you like residents of a zoo, as you imagine your child living and going to classes nearby.
Stand as close to the tour guide as possible, as many of them tend to speak in their quiet, indoor voices. They also rarely repeat parents’ or students’ questions to the group before answering them, so you may be lucky enough to hear answers for which you’ll be guessing the questions. It’s like playing a game of Jeopardy in ninety-degree heat. “I’ll take ‘what’s the distribution requirement for graduation for $65,000, Alex.”
Don’t feel pressured to take notes when you see other parents dutifully scribbling away during the information session. Typically, the charming admissions officer is not telling you any secrets that you can’t find on a website, and honestly, what are those people writing down anyway (that the tour will be over by 11:15 am and that there is a coupon for 25% off one item at the school book store tucked into the folder given to you at the start of the day)?
Try not to roll your eyes when a parent starts asking specific questions that only apply to his or her child during the information session. All parents care about health and safety issues and required classes. Just refrain from being that parent who hijacks the general information session. And definitely don’t be the parent who asks what the university likes to do with your child’s bucket of 5’s on Advanced Placement exams. You may be tripped on the above-mentioned cobblestones.
Do not expect to take in too much knowledge about the school’s history and architecture after taking the tour. On one tour, the guide pointed to one of the beautiful libraries on campus and explained, “This is one of our great libraries on campus. It’s really quiet.”I was surprised the note-taking mom didn’t write that earth-shattering piece of information down, too.
Chat with other parents on the tour. Do they seem level headed, courteous, even funny? If you like the parents on the tour, perhaps their children will have similar qualities.
Try not to talk too much to your future undergrad about the tour once it’s over. Anything you say may be wrong, misconstrued, and warped to show that you are overly critical, optimistic, or both. Let your child be the one to offer feedback first. You can focus on mentioning the cleanliness of the restrooms in the student center or the incredible ability of your tour guide to speak and walk backward simultaneously.
Remember that experiencing this process of investigating colleges is a privilege. And while I don’t agree with parents who blithely assert that “everyone lands up at the college perfect for him or her,” I do believe that students who take a positive attitude and a willingness to learn from others will be just fine. And if all else fails, there’s always the opportunity to transfer after freshman year. And of course, you can always consider moving to Canada.
Raised in Norfolk, Virginia, Sharon G. Forman is a reform rabbi and has worked in the field of Jewish education for twenty-four years. She is the author of Honest Answers to Your Child’s Jewish Questions (URJ, 2006), a chapter on the intersection between breastfeeding and Judaism in Lisa Grushcow’s The Sacred Encounter (CCAR Press, 2014), and most recently The Baseball Haggadah: A Festival of Freedom and Springtime in 15 Innings (2015). She has had essays published and posted in Kveller, Literary Mama, Lilith.org, The Times of Israel, Mamalode, ReformJudaism.org, The Bitter Southerner, Parent.co, and Mothers Always Write. An essay she wrote about her own high school school experience was just featured in a literary forum in New Rochelle, New York for read650. For the past thirteen years, she has lived with her husband and three children in Westchester, New York where she teaches Bar and Bat Mitzvah students and chases after a rambunctious dog.