on endings.

it was in the dark room of a comedy club, near the bottom of my second drink of the two-drink minimum, that i heard one of the most poignant and true takes on endings i've ever heard. the comedian was talking about how many children she had, concluding:

children are like shots. you don't know how many is enough until you've had one too many.

you know that feeling.  that last martini did it, i've said too many times. that extra indulgence that left you feeling like you should have just stopped while you were still feeling good.

i've thought about that sentiment a lot since that evening. the idea that you don't know when something is over until it's so far done, so beyond over that you realize it should have ended long before. sure, it's true with drinks. and though i haven't hit this point [perhaps a sign i should stop], maybe it's true with children. but it's also true with arguments, when you don't stop until you've said that one, awful, hurtful thing you can never take back. with vacations, when you realize it's time to go home after that one rough day. with relationships. 

it was a year ago today that i realized the same thing was true with writing. i'd been struggling to finish my book for a few days, putting the ending off. i didn't know how to wrap it up. i knew the end to the book, but wasn't sure of the specifics. i put so much weight on that final sentence, on how i wanted to leave my readers feeling, the imagery i wanted to create, that final emotion evoked before the back flap was closed. and then, on an afternoon exactly a year ago today, i figured it out. i was beating the proverbial dead horse. the book had already ended, and i was drawing it out. so i went back and deleted the last two chapters, and left it at that. with that swift tap of my delete key, the book was finished. i didn't worry about the final sentence, the final word. the end result, in my opinion, is the feeling of wanting to turn the page. of wanting more. but also one of finality, of just the right amount of a good thing, of knowing when to stop. 

 one year ago today, upon finishing my book. i stood in the backyard of the rental house and cried, and then ran down to the ocean and jumped in.

 one year ago today, upon finishing my book. i stood in the backyard of the rental house and cried, and then ran down to the ocean and jumped in.

i could have written that book forever. i had a first draft, a second draft, a third draft, and then a fourth that was [hopefully] typo-free. i could have written another. and i could have asked for input from editors and mentors, beta-readers and friends. i could have kept revising and revising and trying to write the perfect book. i could have kept, essentially, asking for permission to end the book. to get that validation that it was complete, that it was flawless, that it was pure. it would have taken years. and it most likely never would have actually made it to the stage of a physical book that i could hold in my hand, slide on my shelf and say, 'i did that.' but somewhere along the way, i gave myself permission to finish the book. to not tell the perfect story, but the story i was capable of telling. my story.

this is not always the case in life. there have been many instances of going too far, of overindulging, of not knowing when to stop. i'm hoping it's one of those lessons i learn with age. that what i have to say is enough, that i have the right to say it, and that the most important thing in my writing is that it satisfies something inside me, and not necessarily every other person who may touch it. 

but i do hope it touches you. i hope you find it helps you with an ending you might be pondering, or in the middle of. because in so many ways, the book is about endings, and the beginnings that often come from them.

broken.

we are so, so, broken.

it feels, to me, like we've reached this certain breaking point.  a place that i'm not sure we can move back from.  people killing each other in the streets out of anger.  everyone is at each other's throats, and it's all become terribly un-civil.  black and white. men and women. muslims and christians. gun rights and gun control. there is no intelligent, respectful debate.

it all became too much for me yesterday. as a news alert popped up on my phone and i read about the horrors of the shooting in dallas, the tears started flowing.  i rolled over and clutched onto my husband, sobbing into his shirt, until all my tears were gone.  i cried for them all.  for the babies sitting in the backs of cars, watching their fathers get shot.  for the boys crying for their daddies on national TV.  for the families of police officers who now have to be more terrified than they normally are as they send their loved ones off into the line of duty.  for all of us, who are heartbroken and disgusted by what is happening here.

and as a mother, as my instinct is to do in times like this, i went in to see my babies, sleeping soundly in their rooms.  i tucked my big boy under the covers and started at him.  smoothed his hair.  kissed his cheeks.  watched his breathing slow and steady, watched him roll over and look for his blankie.  as i closed his door, i felt thankful that he's two and i don't have to explain all this to him right now.  in my baby's room, he's still easy to lift out of his crib and rock.  as i held him close and rocked him, i thought of how much lighter his skin is than his brother's.  he's a pale, white, baby.  he's inherited his father's skin color, german and dutch.

my boys are white. i have given the world two more white boys of privilege. it is one of my greatest fears as a mother that they will use that privilege against others -- people of color, women.  they will never know life without their whiteness.  and there is a certain level of guilt i feel because of that.  it i sounds silly, but it's true.  i want to make sure they know that their whiteness isn't a privilege, it's a burden. it comes with responsibility.  as white men, it will be their responsibility to help lift others up, help their voices be heard.  to value each life equally.  they're so little right now and i haven't figured out how to start teaching them this, but i feel that talking about it is a good place to begin.

you can cry against police brutality without hating all police.  you can be wary of criminals of any color without criminalizing all people of color.  you can be fearful of extremists without hating all muslims.  evil does not know one profession, one color, one religion.

i'll end this with the words that always come to me at times like these:


one love
one blood
one life
you got to do what you should
one life
with each other
sisters, brothers
one life
but we're not the same
we get to carry each other
carry each other
one

the train ride.

we used to travel spontaneously.  a cheap fare alert would pop up on my phone, like an invitation from the universe to come and play.  i’d pack my well-traveled carry-on roller, a gift from my parents for my high school graduation, and stash some books in my purse.  grab my passport.  make a playlist for the plane.  we’d take red eyes to maximize the amount of time we’d have in our city of choice.  new york.  paris.  santa monica.  boston.  crash with family and eat out for every meal.  stroll the beach.  drink the evenings away.  talk late into the night with friends and family.  take our time.

but this trip is different.  now, it takes days to pack and plan.  nothing is spontaneous with two kids.  there is adventure of a much, much different sort.  days of laundry.  packing for every eventuality. 

there could be a fever.  a stomach bug.  constipation.  a fire. 

no eventuality is not accounted for, no horrifying possibility left unimagined.  not traveling is not an option for us.  to sit in our house, wait to be visited, every day and weekend the same would be a death, of sorts.  we pack up the kids and go.  take advantage of the rule of lap infants and sign the older one up for frequent flyer miles the day after his second birthday.  he already has his own backpack and pulls his roller through the airport.  he insists on doing itself.  fellow travelers think it’s all very adorable.  until we sit next to them.

today we are taking a train ride.  along the eastern coast, we will be heading south by the shore.  it’s not more than five hours, but it’s over nap time.  i’m armed with a fully charged ipad and every single sort of snack my toddler will eat.  

it feels like my journey through parenthood, this train ride.  it starts out easy enough.  one baby is sleeping so i only have to worry about the other.  there is some frustration early on, but we get past it.  it almost feels like it’s going to be easy, this four-hour train ride with two littles.  and then the other wakes up.  they’re hungry at the same time.  i throw cheddar bunnies and an apple juice box at one and my boob at the other.  but despite our best efforts, before long we’ve descended into utter chaos.  the baby is screaming out of tired frustration, and the toddler is eerily quiet.  moments later, we learn he apparently gets motion sickness.  this fact is now all over him, me, my phone, and the train seats around us.

life has not always been like this.  there was once more romantic train rides.  through the hills of tuscany and along the bosphorus.  playing cards and reading books.  sneaking wine on board.  long and late nights in exotic sleeper cars. laughing and flirting and flipping my hair.  backpacking and drinking and ordering one of each of the tapas. today is not like the train rides of my past life. today looks different.  today i am covered in throw up, spit up, poop from a diaper blow out.  from time to time, i notice looks of pity thrown my way.  looks of frustration.  looks of annoyance.  

please don’t let her sit next to me,

they seem to say with their eyes as i carry my sick toddler to the bathroom.  

i remind myself it will all be ok.  like everything in life, this train ride will not last forever.  we have a destination.  as the train rocks back and forth, our circumstances change.  

when we finally reach penn station, the struggle is almost over.  i stand with the kids as my husband pulls every piece of luggage off the train.  and unbelievably, i feel grateful.  every simple thing felt like a small miracle, a sign that things could always be more difficult.  

i’m thankful for amtrak workers who assure me they clean up toddler vomit all the time, and train cars with bathrooms that are semi-clean.  for taxi cab vans that fit the stroller, traffic jams long enough to nurse a baby in and hotel bellmen to carry our bags.  for toddlers fresh out of the shower and laundry bags that tie up tight, keep the smell of sick inside. and especially for the kindness of strangers on the street who grab your arm and whisper, “you’re doing a good job, mama.” 

when we finally arrive, we discover a small sliver of our previous lives before all these things, travel cribs and diaper bags.  we’ll drink wine out of juice glasses and put on the fluffy robes.  order room service.  the babies will sleep when they’re tired enough.  we’ll binge watch our favorite show, sharing one set of earbuds between us, and sneak glances across the bed in the flickering light of the laptop.  it will all be ok.  

i’ll go to sleep and dream of a surprise train ticket, where i pack my suitcase and board the train and don’t find out where we are going until the train leaves the station.  life will once again be lived spontaneously and filled with the unknown.

until i wake up.