Ode to a Chosen Father

Father extraordinaire

Having suffered the absence of paternal connection due to profession and priorities, I chose wisely & directed distinctly so that my children might know what I recognize here about their father (with the help of the alphabet. X?)

A-accepting, allowing
C-caring, compassionate, considerate, champion, capable
D-deeply devoted
E-embracing, expressive, encourager, EATER
F-feeling, dream fulfiller, fortune hunter
I-inquisitive, insightful
J-Jack of All Trades
M-music lover
N-niece & nephew doter
P-proud, protective, patient, playful
S-sensitive, soulful, strong, skilled
T-tree lover
U-UNCLE, understanding
V-vehicle lover (this one not so important to me)
W-washer player (see above), willing
Y-yearning, yielding

With gratitude for the qualities he shares.
For you Casey, additional alphabets are needed.

(Fathers Day 2018, just ahead of our first empty nest year)

Marriage in the Month of March

Even though we are adrift with growing pains, empty-nesting shifts & all, if he died while taking down those trees, I would really miss him.

He listens to what I write with an interest that belies 33 years of the same. He is an excellent hugger, lover, cuddler, though neglected in these regards of late. He is kind-hearted and reflective, a quality which has been exceedingly necessary these days.

Despite all this, I could Razor’s Edge him; something we once watched in a movie and liked so much that we practiced it each time we were faced with a goodbye that we weren’t ready to make.

His short-term recollection is patchy at best. His consistency with the day to day the same, while his need for mechanized routine and mindless habit maddening.

He is not particularly good with finances, never has been, even though he is increasingly good at earning, while I have plummeted in this regard. And for that, I can Razor’s Edge him even more, for the simple fact that he was born male and as such has enjoyed a whole host of cumulative benefits of which he, like most men, are exceedingly unaware, while I have inherited a centuries-old cumulative deficit which this morning my companion Virginia Woolf elucidated in an audio recording of A Room of Her Own played on my iPhone which I tucked into one pocket, while in the other, I stowed warmed stones from the wood stove while avoiding the river, and wouldn’t I, if he died, have so much more room.

And still, this evening, I listen for the sound of the ax and the winding of the chain saw and the absence of a holler.

When we knew love…

Another last day of February, and with March comes thoughts of my mother, because shamrocks; but of course, then Valentines Day brings her too. (Aren’t shamrocks made of hearts!)

When Casey fell in love with me, I was as I am now. This is who I am, I said. My heart has been broken. I have already loved deeply and lost tragically. I don’t want marriage. I am afraid of surrender. I am on guard. Always.

That seemed okay for him.

“I’m lucky,” I wrote at the end of our first month together, the very first words I wrote to him in a card.

And then I added: “You’re lucky too.”

Maybe he lacked higher expectations. Maybe I did.

Or maybe what we had in common was our sense of Love as something higher.

We had two boys by the time we came upon this tune. It was winter. It was dark. There was darkness inside and between us.

Her. Voice.

The way she says: Pain. Tears. Heart. Met ours. Even our boys wanted to listen again and again.

The forgetting is the hardest part except that in the forgetting we don’t know what we forgot.

The forgetting makes it hurt less. Helps us surrender into day to day life without the extremes of love, promise, passion, wildness, hurt.

But what about these tears? A piece of good music. A painting. A play. A film. A passage. The light. The silence. A certain smile. Even the air.

There must be, beneath memory, beneath thought, beneath recognition even, a deeper current of being, reminding us of what we once knew.

The moment beckons, but we turn away, anesthetized from what it is to be whole.


Or maybe that’s too high an expectation.

Maybe showing for these moments is what is most true.


I remember that September dawn in the year 2000 when my mother lay breathing in a hospital bed in her livingroom beside the bay window; her heart had already completed its mission, but her body kept on.

“Marriage is kind of like that,” I say to my husband as we pull up to one of our favorite cafe’s. “Even if the bottom falls out, couples keep on going… cleaning the house, taking care of the kids, going to their favorite cafe. You have to eat.”

But I don’t want to be the breath that continues after the heart of our relationship has stopped beating. My wedding vows were intended as a commitment to keep on pumping and to let go when the pumping ceased.

And so far, 33 years into this relationship, the heart is strong.

“I really like Dad,” I say to my youngest as we drive home from town. “I’m just tired of our relationship.”

This is also winter talking and 55 talking and working on the same book for 7 years talking and the empty nest talking; and what I mean by “relationship” is the patterned behaviors that get in the way of real relation.

It turns out that not only does the breath continue for a bit after the heart stops, but the brain goes on even longer. Awareness continues.

I like awareness. Awareness is what gives voice to the experience of dying for those who are resuscitated. I suppose relationships are resuscitated too.

Those lattes were strong.

Love Warriors

This is not the first darkness into which we have descended as a couple, and like our previous  encounters (albeit much briefer ones), there is nothing visible on the surface. No convicting offense. Nor the absence of love.

What is different this time is time. We have it. To spend. To see. To feel. To open into something we’d never quite allowed ourselves to open into before.

The Provocateur: The Empty Nest.

The Invitation: The Heroine’s Journey.

The challenge is to allow the descent into darkness without turning back or trying to change it so that out of the liminal space something new might emerge.

But what if this emergence does not include us as a couple?

Our willingness to sense into this possibility is, in my mind, a promising sign even as it terrifies us. And it does.

My practice in this darkness has been to remain open-hearted. This sounds like a noble endeavor, but what it really means is that I’m feeling pain instead of numbing or distracting.

I never realized how often I armored against feeling. How my attempts to make things better, to coach or cajole, to remain ever-vigilant, to overdo disappointment, overwork anger, and overextend resolution were mechanisms of defense, as were the tiny release valves of criticism, mockery and superiority.

WIthout such protection, I am open to my heart’s conveyances.

But what if my heart conveys a new beginning?
And what if that beginning is far, far away?
And what if it is alone?

It’s not lost on me that our boys are the age I was when my parents’ marriage fell apart, and it’s not lost on me that my boys are the age I was when I left the heartache of my broken family for a semester abroad, for a season backpacking through Europe, for a year in Colorado,  and finally for a life in the mountains 300 miles away from the sea.

Stay, feel, notice, I tell myself, and in my stilling, I notice that there is as much to feel from the past as there is in the now, probably more.

While I feel into the heaviness of my heart, my husband is engaged in his own practice. Feeling into himself. Finding himself. Knowing himself. Recovering himself. Which is as much a journey of the past as the present, just as mine is with pain.

We spent last weekend together at Kripalu Yoga and Health Center, sleeping in different dorm rooms by night while assisting a writing and meditation program by day.

There were a hundred participants between us as we each wrote into our past.

I wrote into all the red flags that could have redirecting my course.

He wrote into how his life might have unfolded without me.

In the evening, we came together on a couch outside the performance hall, my feet in his lap, and we took turns sharing what we had written, surprised to discover similar veins of exploration.

In times like these, the darkness is parted, but then it returns like the sea, and we drift away again into self-revelation, further and further from the shore of the familiar and easy companionship of thirty-three years. (The lifetime of Jesus. Just saying.)

It’s not lost on me that we are opening into new aspects of ourselves, dusting off old identities, trying out something new. More individuation for him. Less filling in the gaps for me. It’s not lost on me that this is disorienting.

It’s not lost on me that we had a particularly steep and jagged holiday season which had nothing to do with us as a couple and everything to do with our role, our heart, our ties, as parents.

The summer before last, when we still had a child at home, we encountered a familiarly patterned relationship crapstorm that left the household raw and ragged. Afterward, I checked in with our youngest and asked how we might better consider his feelings in the future. His request was tender, and directed toward me: “Check in with me sooner.”

But what of your father, I asked, don’t you have a request for him?

He shrugged, and offered in consolation, “Dad just needs to stay connected to himself.”

Was our offspring, practically grown at the time, parroting, or clearly reflecting the discrepancy in our relationship, the gendered discrepancy of all relationships?

I am so tired.
Women everywhere are so tired.
So much of women’s work–relationships, families, communities–takes place unseen, underappreciated, unpaid, and often in the shadows, frequently secretive and shamed.

It’s not lost on me that after each of my children left for college, I came down with acute infections.

It’s not lost on me that since meeting me my husband’s professional life has increasingly thrived while mine began to contract, and especially since motherhood, is forever gasping for air.

It’s not lost on me that with this particularly toxic President, it  is a difficult time to be a woman (and a difficult time to be in relationship with a woman) as this rotting, stench-filled Patriarchy uproots everything.

My husband is afraid of this darkness, of what lies ahead.

I am afraid too, but for me it is necessary. Life or death. Now.

It’s not lost on me that I am writing from the depth of winter, but I’m not ready for spring.

Even if we should end, as we heartbreakingly will some day no matter our trajectory, our love has been a fertile place for growth and for that I am forever gratified and humbled.

It’s not lost on me that this is what scares me most, the inevitable parting.

What buoys me is the fact that our names, both Casey and Kelly, are Celtic for Warrior, and that we are a Marian family–born as I was on the Immaculate Conception of Mary to a mother born on the Birth of Christ, and a husband born on Her Feast Day, and our firstborn on Her Assumption.

Darkness is holy. Presence to the darkness is feminine work. And like everything, it too shall pass. But first I want to claim it.

With thirty-three years between us, it would be easy to abandon the heroine’s journey out of fear or habit or lack of fortitude.

I am writing into the gift of this darkness tonight. To honor it. To allow it to be rich and fertile, not just for us, but for all those who courageously dwell in the unknown becoming.

New Year in the Nest

With the holidays behind us, Casey & I finally caught up with each other to share the New Year intentions we recorded, side by side, in our Bullet Journals on the Epiphany.

The most profound of the prompts for 2019 was to make a wish for the larger community/planet.

His: A new administration.

Mine: The honoring of the life bearer. Women & the earth.

May these two visions, like our romance of 30+ years, intertwine.


Just this.

The sound of Casey chopping mushrooms in the kitchen. Both of us sipping rosé. Moon River streaming through the stereo.

This is where we started.
This is where we left off.
And this is where we find ourselves again…

the turning

When your life is suddenly emptied of children, you discover things you once knew, like quiet and simplicity and space, or that you never knew, like the way you and your husband, brought to tears in the kitchen while listening to a story, turn away instead of toward the arms of the person with whom you chose to share a life.

How had we never come upon this before, this mutual turning away? Shouldn’t it have been revealed over the course of thirty-something years, or at least in the decade before children?

I certainly knew that he turned away from me–think of the year my mother died during which I wrote the poem about the wallpaper and my wrist and the color red while the new baby nursed in the crook of my arm, and he went ahead and enrolled in that Masters Program after I’d asked him to wait. `

We have slept apart since the late August afternoon when we took that same baby to college. Most every night for more than a month now (after never before). Mainly because I’ve been sick. And Menopause. And the string of unusually sticky September nights. And the way he sometimes wakes to pee, not once, but twice, the floors creaking, me waking, at 4 or 3 or 2, up for the day no matter how much night remained.

Today was a bad day, a new regimen of treatment making me feel worse to feel better, and the heavy cloud cover with no promise of redemption of sun in the forecast; and when he arrived home late from work, he fixed himself some dinner and brought it to the couch where I had given up trying to write into that year with the wallpaper and was instead watching a documentary about Joan Didion who wrote into just about everything.

Her words brought us to tears from time to time and there it was again!—this turning away—this hiding our grief?—and yet didn’t we cry at the same places, and weren’t our hearts moved in the same way, and isn’t it unbearable to think that one day, he may be slumped in my arms, or I, in his, like her husband (and then daughter), forever. gone.

Little by little, in the empty spaces, we are finding what we once knew. Our two-ness.

It’s sprouting up like spring seedlings, promising something that is almost too painful to receive. This turning toward one another again, like this turning toward self again. In love.

33 birthdays


This whole marriage & a house was your thing, and now with the kids both gone, I resent you like I resented falling in love so many summers ago.

But just like your first birthday as a father, I feel a tenderness well up in me on this first birthday from the other side.

It’s taken me by surprise, like the way I look at this photo that I zoomed in to take last weekend at the pond while you were deep in conversation with another guy.

Living with 3 guys is a lot of work. I mean it provides huge swaths of independence, and I’ve relied upon that, but it’s also lonely in the realms that women invisibly tend and upon which society depends even while it infinitely dismisses our humanity.

Which is to say, I’m tired. It could be the president. His party. It could be menopause. It could be the caretaking that began when I was a girl like it does for so many born female, especially older sisters. It could be the weight of my mother’s and grandmothers despair, dismissed as an inferiority of gender instead of the societal tragedy it was. it  is.

This untethering from our boys leaves me wanting to lighten more, like a hot air balloon lifting into the sky, while you seem to have the opposite inclination–to dig deeper, to enlarge, to ground.

What will come of us in this next chapter? This new book?

I fell in love with a 20-year-old guy who had an easiness about him; who was kind; who always pitched in; who was comfortable around women; who was capable of celebrating them and sharing the lead; who was gutsy enough to persist in asking his boss out on a date.

What is it that I love about you at 53?

…the way your chest still beckons to my head I suppose. The solace of your arms around me…
I delight in the ways you rediscover yourself… Your sudden capacity for self-care and deepening interest in self-knowing… Your courage to be vulnerable in this regard. Your decision to chaperone a trip to Italy. (Italy!) Your growing certainty of all that you have to offer, just as you are.

For now, I can barely love you because so much bandwidth is taken up by loving and letting go of our boys; but I can sense a seed of return on the horizon, and your steady presence is promising, as is the mutual deepening of our personal paths.

To another shared circle around the sun!

What I wrote to you on your 21st birthday still rings true:

I. am. so. lucky.

From Mint to Tulsi Rose

My mothers cup.

Just after my mother died (about the age I am now), my husband began placing a mug of tea beside the bed while I nursed our second son. Mint. A herb that’s been with me since before my First Bleed.

This waking ritual went on for some time. From the single bedroom we all crowded into on Ames Hill to the sprawling house atop Cow Path to the cozy post & beam raised by friends on MacArthur road where we’ve lived ever since, and where Motherhood gave way to Menopause and Mint to Tulsi Rose.

Every morning for an unfathomable… 18 years.

Until yesterday.

With Aidan off to college by week’s end, I’m ready to find what comes from fixing my own morning tea and curious to see what arises in the space for Casey; though I did have to remind him this morning, so comforted is he by the well-worn routine of tending others.

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