the last tiny letter

Dear Ethan, 

It’s February 28, 2022.

I decided this morning on my way to work that this would be the last tiny letter. The first was 485 days ago. I’ve been dragging my feet on writing this one, but I’m dedicated at finishing what I start these days. I only ended up writing 79 letters, which is a sloppy number. The prose isn’t polished nor is it perfect. It feels like the right time. After a long period of hibernation and reflection, I’d like to continue living my life rather than remembering it. 

Today was your first day of school EVER without wearing a mask. I took you to get a haircut yesterday to celebrate—and the hairdresser said, “You ready to be handsome?” 

“I already AM handsome,” you replied calmly. ***
 I’m not sure why, exactly (maybe coincides with insomnia/guilt/ late nights watching the news), but I recently had this distinct memory of cornering my mom in my childhood kitchen, and asking, “but WHY did you have so many of us?” 

My dad would never reply to this question, which was wise. But my mom would stumble her way through.

“Because we are MARRIED.”

“Because WE WANTED TO.” 

I guess I was pro-life to the point that I absolutely believed my life was my own even before I was conceived. I had some serious resentment and control issues about leaving the trajectory of my entire existence up to chance. I had many mid-life crises along the way—8, 11, 15, 22. At this point, my mindset has settled comfortably into octogenarian territory.

Sometimes when I asked, I was angry, specifically at my mother, by all that we were lacking. I was constantly worried about how we would put food on the table and when that would happen. Beneath the obnoxious persistence of my question, what I didn’t have the vocabulary or philosophy to articulate, was—“why am I here? Why did you bring me into this shithole world to suffer?” 

I have a lot of hate-rage about this world we’ve inherited—by hamster-level attention spans, long hours spent massaging images found within little black boxes. I get frustrated by capitalism. And poverty and war and how EASY it is to disregard human suffering that isn’t yours. I used to wish I was an orphan. I used to pray I had a future. 

Waking up on Friday, I was 34 years old. And for once, I didn’t blame my mother. For a while now, I have been complicit in this world you will inherit. Your generation will be fucked up by your parents being obsessed with their phones/the world of online dating/constantly curated photo opportunities taken at specific angles/things I can’t even imagine. I listened to Tom Hanks on Desert Island Discs this morning, and he said (in my own words), “Every play that is successful traverses the terrain of terrible loneliness.”  

Then he got all choked up—and so did I. I had the vocabulary, finally, to write this letter. 

If you were to repeat history and karmatically ask me why I chose to have a child, I would have to tell you because for an illuminating time in my life, I felt infallible hope, the type you experience in moments of insanity or intense clarity. My greatest asset as a person, I think, is contemplativeness. Borderline obsessive, perhaps. Yours is joy. You don’t think before you leap, but you’ll do it with a broad smile on your handsome face. 

This weekend, our incredible sitter Hannah came to watch you, and she took you to a big hill. I was reminded of doing the same early pandemic—my friend Maddie wanted to take both of us sledding for the first time. I settled you in my lap, we held on tight, and off we went, into pandemic world and beyond. 

On Saturday, Hannah strapped you on the back of an eleven year old boy whom you had met five minutes prior, who hunkered down as you wrapped your arms against his neck. And together, you flew. He walked you up the big hill again and again with your little hand in his larger one. That’s when I knew that you would be okay, because despite my pessimistic tendencies, I believe that all people have good in them, and the capacity for tenderness and love.

I love you so much. I hope you’ve enjoyed timetraveling with me. My mom used to say—ni todo el dinero ni todo el amor. That roughly translates to—neither all the money nor all love [is appropriate when raising a child]. 

In a wildly inappropriate, yet characteristic move, I failed. I parent filled to the brim with unshakable love, and it’s my gift, my honor, and the bravest journey of my life to be your mother.  

love,
mama 

beautiful world

January 17, 2021  


Dear Ethan,

I just finished reading Sally Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where Are You. Because Conversations with Friends & Normal People read so similarly, I’m considering this her sophomore novel. I’m reading this as Jake concludes the last pages of The Bell Jar & The Awakening for the first time. I can hear our little blue-gray house soaking up all this literature late at night—not in a creepy way, like how our last apartment was haunted, but in the way that you can feel the walls listening to someone thinking really hard about something. 

The first Rooney book I read was Normal People in Dublin three summers ago. I was hanging out a lot by myself (big surprise), and missing you so much—I bring myself to tears just thinking about it—that I finally pulled myself together and half-heartedly Google mapped a route to Muji which was a 10-minute train ride or a one hour walk, so I put on my sneakers. 

On my walk, I thought about how the first time I saw New York, I saw it from a hotel window as I chainwatched Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. I was pretending I wanted to be a lawyer that belonged at NYU, and the fire alarm went off in the middle of the night. I was in a room on a college visit with three other people, and they were hung-over out of their minds, and I flew down the stairs as I saw the fire trucks wailing through the curtains. I suppose I should feel awful, but those girls didn’t speak to me the rest of the trip because it hadn’t occurred to me to wake them up. I think this is a great example of my own self-preservation, and I shouldn’t laugh at the memory, but I still do. This is why walks are wonderful.  

Anyway, once I crossed the river to the busier parts of Dublin, the streets turned to cobblestone and started winding and playing a number on me. I had just about given up on Muji when I saw a Hodges Figgis bookstore and I found Normal People, not even knowing that the author was Irish, hence the shrine of books drawing my attention at the entrance, so I bought it. It was raining outside, and the second I exited the store I realized I had only mapped one way and didn’t have an international phone plan. Considering the possibilities, I resigned myself and found a coffee shop and started reading. 

What I like best about Rooney is that you feel you’re in an intimate space with these people you’ve known your whole life, and they’re just chatting, and sometimes you reach these deep interior spaces, almost a little glimpse or a chance to learn something big about yourself. This is why I think fiction is more honest. For instance, there’s a character in Beautiful World who has yellow curtains with green squares and I could see them exactly, blowing in the wind against a sunset, yellowed in the way Europe glows with an unearthly light. Or you’re in that character’s mother’s head, and she’s reminiscing about a pony she had as a child. It’s a revolutionary away to write dialogue—maybe a little Joycean—and well, I fall into the dream quite quickly. 

I paused on certain pages and thought of my friend Andrea, who was my soulmate in my early twenties. We lived with five roommates in an apartment in Crystal City, Virginia. It was bizarre how much we knew each other, after only a few short weeks. Do you want a quesadilla, she’d say telepathically from her room, which was really just a closet with French doors. Yes, and Madmen, I’d reply from my room, where I was sprawled out on the bed reading Franzen’s How to be Alone while my roommate Sarah was snoring. Twenty minutes later we’d emerge from our caves, quesadillas on a plate and a bag of Rips candy between us. She’d even rip them for me, which goes to show you how you should value your friends while they’re with you. You never know the last time you’re going to do something. The last Rip, the last time you hold your child like a baby. Time is fleeting. Andrea told me once she was embarrassed by her handwriting, that lettering used to be a point of pride, and I’ll smile in the present day and straighten up my r’s. I miss her. 

There’s a passage in the Rooney book on friendship that hit me right in the heart. It’s rare these days. Contemporary fiction is so clever and sterile and modern. Dare I say unsentimental. There’s a character talking to her not-boyfriend, and they’re very solemnly discussing their destiny, together or apart. I will never renounce our friendship, she says, perhaps out loud (they Joycean dialogue, you see). He responds, perhaps telepathically. Yet you know one day they will. You know Rooney has suffered, and perhaps she had the courage to write on the page what she could never utter aloud. Yet, it still mattered how the character, Eileen, chose to be bold in that moment, so charged with meaning. 

I was reminded of several deep friendships I’ve lost or dwindled into nothingness, either aggressively or fated, and this passage shocked my brain into mourning what I’ve avoided. I’m a big fan of grand gestures, and it occurs to me that perhaps I’ve never performed one. 

I did emerge from that café in Dublin eventually, in case you’re worried. It was about three hours later and the sun was setting and I thought, well, now I’ve done it. But I found myself a donut and some McDonald’s wifi, and made my way back to my little hotel room, praying I wasn’t needed elsewhere when I made myself disappear. 

I love this concept of elsewhere that comes from reading. I actively seek these elsewheres. But is my favorite, most consistent thing about myself (love of reading) indicative of my inability to live in the present moment? Rooney reminds us that reading is an active art form. We renounce or are renounced. We are the characters in our own lives. 

Right now, I’ve got scraps of paper taped to my wall that make my heart thud. They are haphazardly written notes about the book I wrote and will rewrite. The paper is from A4 scraps taken from inside the drawers of a dresser Jake rescued from a rodeo clown who wrote his skit work in blue ballpoint pen. There’s always a story in a story. It is daunting to put pen to paper and say to the world, “I care.” A teacher once told me that you write the same damn story over and over again.  I know what mine is. Perhaps I’ve always known it. What I am doing now is desperately seeking an ending that gives poetic justice to the future I think you deserve. 

Love, 
Mama 

thanksgiving

November 27, 2021

Dear Ethan,

We’re back in Cape May. Growing up as a kid in Texas, I’d often wonder (and worry) where my future would take me. Rarely did these dreams take me to New Jersey. 

Cape May is starting to feel familiar to me–the soft blue gray walls of Grammy’s little brown house, boating out to hear the dolphins sing, the sleepy breakfast diners, Uncle Harry’s toy box, the familiar, calculated steps of Sarah’s sneakers and the long thumps of Giacomino’s as they enter and exit an unlocked door. 

This Thanksgiving day, you decided that your third cousin Jack was a 15-year-old demigod. He was sweet enough to play with you for hours, and when he needed a break I saw the waves of devastation crash over your face. You are starting to interpret the world. You like to be left completely alone when you are sad, just like me. I finally get why people find it hard to give those who are suffering their solitude. I hate to see you alone in your grief. 

Later that trip, you told me that you needed your privacy when changing into your clothes and that you wouldn’t come into the girl’s restroom anymore. All of these leaps of awareness took place over one weekend. I worry that I don’t have the skills to talk to you about your body, or being a boy and then a man in this world. 

Last night, you fell asleep by yourself in a small twin bed. It’s been at least a year since you did that. I hadn’t realized how much I depended on your familiar patterns to fall asleep myself. You often hold my hands and turn to face me, smiling so big that your eyes close, and then we drift off to sleep one after the other. 

I slept lightly, with dreams of burning houses. Around one in the morning, you walked over to me and said “mind if I join you?” while wrapped in your favorite blanket. 

I woke up the other morning, absentmindedly stroking your soft baby hair, and it dawned on me that you wouldn’t always be there. I was already mourning you as a future adult, not at an arms reach. 

Parenthood is full of twists and turns, but it’s in your vulnerability that I see you more fully, as well as myself. I have so much more grace towards my child self than I ever did, one of the beautiful gifts of parenthood. I love you, I love you, I love you.

mama

heavyweights

 January 3, 2021 


Dear Ethan, 

The other day, your dad was telling me about a podcast called Heavyweights, where the host helps guests resolve drama from their past through intense confrontations of these people/incidents. Think middle school bullies, high school exes, that sort of thing. 

December brought along a burst of creative energy. I have a vision for revising my manuscript. I’ve been art journaling, and have discovered YouTube at the ripe age of 33, with a penchant for kawaii stationery pen pal exchange videos.



I’ve read a few more books, and am slowly making my way through Infinite Country and Hao. I bought a gigantic t-shirt to drown in since I’ve just about given up on looking human again. I rearranged the furniture. I let the you and your dad bring a bean bag into the house. This past weekend, we snuck away to Salem and visited not one, but two monster museums. 
 
In all of these journeys—mostly manic, if I’m being honest—I’ve been thinking of those heavyweights. I have them. We all do. 
 
In thinking about these, I realized I’m actually pretty good at resolution. Most people enter and exit my life through their own volition. I’ve never had a mean streak, for the most part. I’m a pretty good apologizer. 
 
I guess if I had to choose, my heavyweight would be that I’ve lived out a version of reality in which I haven’t pushed myself to be open. I can physically feel the walls going up, in the intonations in my voice, in a slight shift in my movements. I spin a good yarn, but rarely do I live a life of radical honesty. I think most of us live like this—our interior voices are different than the selves we show the world.
 
Sometimes I’m not my best. But for now, there’s my drawings and my aerogarden and the pandemic that never ends. We eat sunny eggs for breakfast and bacon almost every day. It’s not what I wished for us, but in this little bubble of experience I relish the time that I’ve gotten to spend with you unexpectedly.

Some things you’ve said lately: 
 “Mama. How was…work?”
“Um. Okay. I talked on the phone and I read some papers.” 
“How was…school?”
“Well. School is my work.” 
“What did you do at work?” 
“Mama, they’ve got me cutting paper again.” 
 
“Ethan, come take your bath.” 
“Sorry mom. I’m not abay-label.”  
all the love in the world,
mama 

the awakening

Dear Ethan,

Every so often I re-read The Awakening by Kate Chopin. This novel, alongside the short stories “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson and “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, were about as feminist an education my conservative Texas middle school was going to give. 

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the loss of the creature

Dear Ethan, 

Today, we are making chocolate chip cookies for your bake sale on Tuesday. I am beyond excited to make something, package it lovingly, and eat the extras with you. I’ve been stressed out of my mind since August–the academic calendar has no mercy–and it feels less forgiving because this year I more or less decided to become a better teacher. 

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my favorite sound

Dear Ethan, 

Today is one day closer to October. I can feel the chill in the air, and am soaking up any rays of sunshine that I can. They are turning more amber by the day, and then before you know it, we’ll have the clean, white, radiant light of winter. I heard that the extraordinarily rainy summer is beckoning a long, hard winter.

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value systems

Friday, September 24, 2021

Dear Ethan,
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the power of small actions, and how to turn words into action. I repeat this in my head through the course of my day, and still, I have no answers.

A friend mentioned something that really stuck: how do I know what is true? Where does that feeling come from? She really ignited the core of my universal problem. The enormous indecision I face at almost every corner. What do I eat today? What do I say? What do I do? 

Most of my life, I’ve been content to let others make those decisions for me. Moving from institution to institution has let me realize that this is not a way to live a life. Often, I wonder why I rarely feel content with what I have. Wonder at the tenacity with which I move from one thing to the next, almost as though it were my form of truth. I start to wonder if this shiftiness, this inability to sit still, is a byproduct of capitalism. 

I had a talk with my friend Stephen once. We were supposed to talk about work, but what I was really asking him was for him to organize my life He spoke to buying a 3000 square foot house and then buying another one that was bigger, then a car and then trading it in for one that was more expensive. His life seemed charmed from the outside—beautiful wife and children included—but he was constantly in envy of his friend’s vacation house. Their boat. Their custom-fit bikes. 

As I was listening to him speak with so much authority about the things I should want, I realized how important it was for me to escape his value system and make my own. 

I vowed to work less and have the work be for myself. To keep my scrappy old car until it bit the dust. To buy a house that I could afford and consider it a beloved refuge, and challenge myself to not dream of what was just beyond. To let go of technology and what strangers told me were true about myself on the internet. 

The value that I find and create in my life is vast beyond the world of things. I find it in my stories, in the small victories of my baby tomato plants who never grew up, of the dark chocolate-colored squirrel who eats all the bird food. 
**           
When you wake up in the morning, you wrap yourself up in your special blanket and are a mouse, a cat, a fish. I feed you delicacies spun out of air—sugar, dandelions, a three-course feast. At night, I tell you stories of dark woods and disappearing houses. You fall asleep with the word more fading into the distance, illuminated by the sound of crickets in the night. Your little foot beats like a rabbit against my knee, and I realize mine is doing the same. We both sleep with our heads stuffed under the pillow and our bodies flat as pancakes.

 In the morning, as we were watching Beetlejuice cartoons, you said, “Daddy! Come here. All my family.” 

You are my family, my joy, my whole heart. You are always enough.
 
Love, mom