On Christmas Eve

My girls woke me this morning, both of them clamoring at the side of my bed, touching my hands, my face, tugging at what scraps of blanket my husband didn't steal. Little Sister had spent her second night in her big girl bed, and she didn't get out of bed "even one time," according to Miss E. But now they are up. They are ready. They are hungry. It's Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve

We made pancakes together while listening to holiday music. After a little while, their daddy roused, entering the kitchen holding two dolls that had been deposited in bed to keep him company.

"I woke up with these two, but I swear, it didn't mean anything," he insisted.

I snorted. My girls were oblivious.

While we made banana faces on each pancake and sprinkled them with powdered sugar snow, two delivery men arrived with a new mattress and box spring to replace the broken one we have been sleeping on for more than a year, the mattress that dips in all of the places my body did when carrying first one baby, and then another. I am not sorry to see it go. My legs and belly and hips are changed enough that even my sentimentality will not miss a ruined mattress.

The delivery men commented on how good breakfast smelled, but because my husband thinks giving them pancakes might be weird, I boxed up some cookies instead. Miss E waited patiently to hand them over, returned to her plate once she had done.

"I gave him the cookies and said 'Merry Christmas' and he smiled," she said, mirroring the expression. "I'm a nice girl."

I want to say, "Sometimes."

But I don't.

The day passed quickly after that, with errands and tidying up and naps and meals. I made sure to write what mattered to me in my journal, to remember to be grateful for what I have, to remember that there are good things, sweet, sincere, worthy little things. But even so when we each opened a present before bundling into the car to look at Christmas lights, when we clutched travel cups of homemade hot cocoa, when Little Sister was as agreeable as ever and Miss E dawdled and complained and finally relented, I felt the nag of anxiety.

"I wish my heart didn't feel so heavy," I told my husband. I have told him this before, with different words. I have been telling him this a lot lately.

There have been hard days in the past. Months. Sometimes more. Knowing it's temporary doesn't make it any easier in the moment, and neither does the guilt I feel in not being completely present, in feeling like I am wasting beautiful moments by not being able to truly give in to them. Still, I read this tonight and I am heartened. Because it is in my nature to feel first and write soon after I am here now, sitting beside my Christmas tree. There are too many presents underneath but because I am not supposed to feel sorry about yet more things I am trying not to.

The light is steady.

The light is warm.

The light is mine, and it is my children and in my children, in the love I feel for my husband. It shows us who and how we are, roots us in what we can do together, for each other, for others. I am frightened and I am sad but I am not undone.

I am daily remaking.

It is Christmas Eve and what I have and hope for myself I hope for you, too.

Play Like a Girl

I've played the Exile in KOTOR II over and over again. Love this fanart from Rose Loughran of Red Moon Rising. My husband recently acquired The Witcher 3, and has been on me to make time to play. He insists it's just the sort of game that I like: immersive, open world, story-rich. Despite being pretty deep in the game himself, he's even gone so far as to entice me to the couch, start up a new game, and pass me the controller. But while I'm content to watch him play for a bit, or hear his stories about particularly well-executed plot lines, I just haven't felt the itch. Is it lack of time? Lack of interest? Lack of desire to really lose myself in a proven stellar game? Nope.

It's because I can't play a girl.

Despite growing up with Link and Mario, I didn't really get into gaming until college, when Morrowind blew. My. Mind. And guaranteed I'd spend the entire day in my pajamas monopolizing my then-boyfriend's Xbox, stopping only to take the stereotypical pee and Ramen breaks. The customization was laughable by today's standards, but carefully crafting an avatar, another self, and pursuing my wildest questing dreams in an open world was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

And that's just my marriage.

But truly, I was hooked. Over the years my favorites have always been those games that allowed for me to really immerse myself not only in a killer story, but also do so in a very personalized capacity. If there's a game with an algorithm that allows for it to accommodate <Insert Name Here>, chances are I've played the hell out of it. Knights of the Old Republic I and II, Dragon Age: Origins, Mass Effect, Fallout 3. I probably spent as much time in graduate school playing World of Warcraft as I did writing papers.

My desire to play a female avatar, to play through a story that doesn't assume I'm a dude, doesn't come from a place of just wanting to snog Alistair's face off - though I totally do. It has a whole lot more with feeling culturally like I'm always coming up against a male narrative as a universal narrative, which I feel like I shouldn't have to say isn't true, and because the very best games give the player the opportunity to forget they're playing, just like reading a good book. These are RPGs. Giving me the space and imagination to assume a role is what they're supposed to be doing. And if I'm constantly being reminded of my non-maleness by rescuing a princess, or visuals that are clearly designed to arouse your typical heterosexual dude, I'm pulled out of the story and reminded that this wasn't made or meant for me, at least not wholly.

I'm sure The Witcher 3 is stellar; I've heard and seen enough about the story to feel pretty confident in recommending it. But I've also heard just about every female character the protagonist encounters proposition him, so I feel pretty confident, too, about my decision to invest my time elsewhere.

First Comes Love

The buzz of your beard trimmer before we go to bed isthe closest I come to cricket song. The kind that kept me up at night when at eleven and twelve and thirteen years old I didn't dream of someday sharing my bed with an (extra)ordinary man, but an elf.

We read together, stealing half hours from sleep as I once bribed my mother, promising just one more chapter before lights out. This is a chapter in our own lives coming to a close: your breath white noise I follow soundlessly to sleep; our baby squirming in my belly between us when we try to make love, before us in every future we might occupy. Until your whiskers shake out sparse and gray, and I haven't the bone strength to make babies anymore.

A Little Less Conversation

My husband talks through my belly button, flared like the wide, wrong end of a megaphone. "Kick twice if you can hear me," he says. The baby does not oblige.

For weeks we've known our little one can hear us, can respond to music or sudden noises or the murmurings of conversation. I've tried playing clumsy Jenny Lewis and Bob Dylan, guitar hum-strumming against my belly, singing Johnny Cash or saccharine sweet classics when I'm lying in bed. Nothing. I apologize when I shout at reckless (or not reckless enough) drivers on the expressway, knowing I'm flooding my baby's ears as well as his or her little body with manic mama hormones.

M doesn't ease into it, though he's had the only response resembling success. With one hand he props his cell phone against my stomach, the other pressed to catch a kick as Cake crackles forth. They're followed quickly by Weezer, Beck, The Beatles and The Beastie Boys, shuffled through in a desperate attempt to wake or rock or roll the baby. The first notes seemed to be something of a surprise if the swift pressure I felt was any indication, but there was nothing like a rousing flip of approval and baby hasn't budged for repeat performances.

I'm not surprised that I want to communicate, want to work out some sort of elaborate hand signal or secret song we can share before we've met, properly. Baby is dreaming or doing already and I want in. And my husband, who has only the still (growing) expanse of his wife to contemplate, always hurried in too late for the infrequent and unprompted dance party, has just as much reason to want for a little conversation.

Maybe the baby is just a better listener. Or maybe we aren't speaking the same language yet.

How High's the Water, Mama?

We slopped into the flotsam and jetsam of discarded things, dead leaves and sewer silt and network cables looped as nooses. Water gurgled from the storm drain like bubbles from a half-open mouth, and it didn't matter how many curse words we filled ours with. It just kept coming. Only a few moments before we'd been filming the hail outside, crouching in the open doorway and scooping the chips of strange ice off of the porch. It was colder than I expected, even for ice. The water in the basement was cold, too, squelching through two pairs of shoes as we swept frantically, first, the books and computer equipment from the drowning carpet. Minutes dragged like trails of sand-thin mud down the drain, strange patterns that tried our patience as we waited for the water to recede, inch by inch.

You emptied drawers of fabric from a rotting-bottomed bureau and I boxed yarn, buttons, stamp ink pads. I carried spiral bound college textbooks, photo albums, paperback novels you'll never read again, and computer manuals up the stairs, emptying them from a water-logged bookcase into stacks I could manage. Twenty times too many I  hobbled up and down. I held my belly when my arms were empty, thinking, I'm not so out of shape for six months pregnant. Thinking, where does all of this crap come from? And can't we just get rid of it?

"This is why I don't like the sound of rain anymore," you say. We used to like storms.

I still try.

A Person's a Person, No Matter How Small

Here are a few things I've cried about lately. A man and a woman laughed at me in the parking lot after work when I politely asked them not to block the driveway. I sobbed like my eyes and nose might run right off my face.

I was short with a bank teller. After apologizing twice, I still felt beyond redemption.

M and I enjoyed a night out and I cried into a paper napkin thinking of how it won't be just the two of us for very much longer. Again, later, when he held my hand and told me about the dream he'd had shortly after we'd found out I was pregnant, how some bodiless voice had warned him I would never be his wife again, only the mother to his child. We're afraid of the same things even as our eyes brighten in anticipation.

To say I'm not excited about this baby, about being a parent, would be too gross an understatement. But for all my thrills over pocket cloth diapers emblazoned with cheerful monsters and a shelf overflowing with library loaned books on pregnancy and parenting, I have no delusions about what starting a family really means, at least for me, for us. I might never have been anyone's mother, but I've been a friend, an enemy, a conspirator. Sure, we're having a baby. But we're also inviting another person to share what we share. We're introducing their likes and dislikes, their intellect, their sense of humor, their wants and needs (beyond feeding, changing, and sleeping) into the cozy routines, the dynamic, we two have tempered for nearly ten years. M and I are happy.

Maybe we won't be recommending books to each other for a few years, but babies are people, too. We'll be meeting someone new. We'll be a family.

I told M that I can't imagine loving anyone as much as I love him. We're sitting outside of a coffee house where I've already imagined myself wearing my baby in a cozy wrap across my chest, the light music of laptop keys a familiar lull for us both. I finished my first novel here. It's a special place.

"It's not like that," he says, and he doesn't have to elaborate. I squeeze his fingers. Love is love. It grows. And the best kind is never in competition.

Secrets are for Suckers

I'm a writer. I don't believe in privacy. This is mostly true. I'll share just about anything if I think it will make a good story, and as some of my favorite stories are of the dangerous and dirty and little human kind, and my life is so very, very mundane, I'll end up confessing everything eventually. A fictional mouth isn't even always necessary, though sometimes, I need two. But, I am at heart a consummate sharer. I can't not. I remember reading as a girl that Libras are particularly good at keeping secrets, and while that may be true for yours, it's never, ever true for mine.

I am a woman of my time, though, and relish, too, controlling the flow of information from me to you. I want to tell when I'm ready to tell. I want time enough to find the best way to say it. So it's entirely possible I have things from my eighth year I might be crafting still for a reveal in my eightieth. Online and on the page I can spill the beans in as careful a pattern as a like, a mess that arranges itself into a silhouette of shame or regret or artless lust, so much prettier than the snotty, pajama-clad mess that holds the pen or punches ragged-nailed fingers against sticky keys. I think you'll like her better. I know I do.

You know what else I like? Little intimacies. Like my husband's hand on my belly when he imagines I am sleeping, when my arrested breath alerts him to the fact that I am not and it's all the change that either of us can feel in my slowly-growing-strange body. I like writing it. It's like we're all closer together. You and me and baby makes three, thirty, a thousand dreams.

Super Sad True Love Story

Let me tell you about the look on his face. Seated at his computer desk with his back to me, I contemplated the slope of his shoulders and the weight of the news I carried, literally. More than wand-thin plastic and the slimmest of fruit seeds, this was big news, belly-big, big as our little life increased by some mathematical factor he wouldn't have time to explain anymore to me.

So I said what I didn't think I'd be saying so soon after I kicked the habit, and let me tell you, the look on his face. Let me tell you about it.


My husband is a man of secret giddiness, but this expression had no secrets. Full and open as a book, no, a drawing of a book so fat-full of pages you could never close it again. He took me on his lap, he repeated himself. I repeated myself. Our grins fell together like lovers in bed when we kissed.

For less than a week we were having a baby. And then, all of a sudden, we weren't.

There wasn't any pain, only the heart-choking sobs that hiccuped out of me when I thought too hard about it, which I tried not to do. I reasoned crying and writing about it in private, and have resisted for months even talking about it with the few who knew by necessity of when I got the news, and how. All of my adult life I haven't wanted to talk about being a girl. The paranoia that accompanied any mention of my wedding when we were getting married carried over quite naturally into any mention of wanting to start a family, for fear of seeming like someone I wasn't, or worse, wanting to be someone who mightn't be respected. It doesn't make sense. Most things I think don't.

But this happened, and my heart is a telling heart, a showing heart, a sharing one. I wanted you to know.

The Good That Men Do

There are two men in my life who love me. The first today hugged me hard enough to break my back. It has been a few months since we have seen each other and saw each other today only because we were together for a wake for my uncle, for him the man who had been like a second father to him, his sister's husband, his friend. My father had a beer in one hand, eyes yellowed with unshed tears and though he talked and talked there were many things he didn't say. His pride in me is like a brand, or maybe it is more like the tattoo he gave himself as a too-young man, the hot needle prick of ink persisting forever. For me it says remember, remember, remember where you came from.

And I always will remember, because despite the fact that I've taken the name of the second man for my own, I've chosen to publish with both, when I do.

Tonight I dropped a tea tray on my foot. The clatter and cursing were more serious than the wound warranted, but my husband was up and out of his office chair in an instant, teasing with me only when he'd established that the hurt was not severe. Still I strip my tights and he cleans my busted big toe over the sink, bandages with the light pressure of his thumbs and forefingers. Before I met him I would've let fingers and toes rot off before I'd waste a bandage, but I've grown more fond of his careful attention in moments like these than I have my own limbs.

"You might lose the nail," he warns, brows arched in all seriousness. "It'll take years to grow back."

At least I'll have good company.

U.S.S. Enterprising

Years ago when M and I painted the living room of the house that wasn't yet half mine, we pushed all of the furniture into the middle of the room and crab-walked the perimeter, brushes and rollers stiff as sore limbs and caked with pumpkin-colored paint. We queued episode after episode of Star Trek: Voyager and Tuvok's stoic acceptance of the vagaries of children's tempers helped me to control mine. House projects are something I have accepted with reluctance, and perhaps only because of my love for a man who is convinced that if he doesn't know how to do something, he'd rather learn than pay someone else. So it was that when we agreed to begin tearing up the kitchen floor, I indulged in a little TNG and sliced up some watermelon. Stealing bites between peeling tiles, unable to hear over the roar of the heat gun but having seen enough to know just what Wesley Crusher was prattling on about, I found comfort in being part of a crew of two. We're always doing or dreaming big, and for all it might seem that our projects are for the someday that hasn't happened yet, I know these are the memories the rest of our lives are going to be built on. I think our kids might be as inclined to groan as I have been, but I'll share with them my secrets: suck on cold fruit, escape into utopian fiction, trace the patterns of paint and stain and grit on the same pair of old work pants, remembering where you've been and what you've done. Work together. Be a family.

Or maybe because he's their Daddy they won't be so buggered.