Forgotten Anniversaries

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These last two weeks I’ve had the nagging feeling that I’ve forgotten someone’s birthday, someone close to me. In other words, a date that should be committed to memory forever and always.

But when I go through the list: husband, children, parents, in-laws, nieces, nephews, siblings, and good friends, I come up with nothing. Nothing but the tug that I have missed celebrating a milestone.

Yesterday it dawned on me. Seven years ago, on March 30, 2010, after three months in the NICU, Wagner came home. Two days later, on April 1st, Michael followed.

Chiara was only three years old at the time, and we made a banner to hang in the dining room: “WELCOME HOME MICHAEL AND WAGNER!” We made thank-you cards for the doctors and nurses and everyone else who’d stood by our side during those three long months.

We took pictures to commemorate the day. Pictures of Michael’s nurse with her finger on the “off” button of Michael’s monitor. Pictures of Chiara’s artwork that we’d hung over the boys’ isolettes. Pictures of our locker in the family room. We brought home souvenirs: bottles, preemie diapers, thermometers, and even oxygen-saturation cuffs.

With each photo I knew I was committing our NICU stay to memory, finally allowing myself to exhale. We’d made it this far. Taking our three-month old babies (who were really newborns for all practical purposes) home.

It was a day I vowed I would never forget.

But then I did. This year March 30th and April 1st came and went without acknowledgement. When I did remember, the boys were swimming in Grandma’s Florida pool, splashing and shrieking, playing some kind of intricate game of tag with the pool noodles. You can still see the scar from their PDA surgery that traces the edge of their shoulder blade, but if you know what to look for. Other than that, you’d never guess.

You’d never guess that they were born three and a half months early. Or that they weighed about a pound and a half apiece. You’d never guess we had to do special exercises for their joints or that Michael didn’t breathe on his own until the week before he was discharged.

If you looked at them now, you’d see very little evidence that they had any challenges at all. No traces of what impacted their first two years of life. None of it has any bearing on their lives today.

But I don’t think that’s why I forgot our homecoming anniversary. I think I forgot because I’m not the same person I was seven years ago. I’m not the person who was so terrified to be vulnerable.

The irony is when I vowed forever and always to remember our NICU stay, I began writing about it. And writing. And writing. I was writing to remember but I was also writing to convince myself that I wasn’t affected by our experience, not negatively anyway.

The more I wrote, the deeper I had to dig. (I should point out that this was not by choice—the deep diggers were my writing partners, critique groups at writing conferences, and later, my developmental editors.) As I revised and dug and polished and repeated the cycle, truths emerged. Such as, yeah, that NICU stay was pretty awful. And, yeah, I’m not cut out to be a family advocate for parents of preemies.

As a ballet dancer, I spent a lifetime evading truth. You have to. If you acknowledged what you look like in a white leotard and tights, you might never have the nerve to get on stage. Embracing the truth as a writer meant that I had to get on stage anyway. Little by little, I changed. Until the one thing I vowed to remember became an event that I didn’t need to commemorate.

Gratitude in a Brave New World

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This weekend, inspired by those who have been relentlessly calling their representatives on every issue from the ACA to the EPA, I sent 56 Valentines to government officials on behalf of my friends.

Each thank you Valentine is unique with cutout hearts on the envelope and card and a personal message on the inside. THANK YOU each one reads on the back of the envelope as well as on the front of the card.

I’ll admit I made the project more elaborate than it needed to be. Either because I harbor a nostalgia for handmade Valentines or because I really really like glue sticks.

“John McCain is never going to see this Valentine,” I thought, as I picked the perfect shade of metallic blue to address his fourth envelope, a different gel pen than the one used to address the next card I wrote to him.

Likewise, Congressman Jason Chaffetz will probably never see his purple-and-green hearts and with gold lettering thanking him for suggesting that a commander-in-chief who is mentally sound is a really good thing. If the DOJ doesn’t forward Sally Yates’ mail, those pink-and-silver hearts will probably just end up in the trash.

But with each card I wrote, I thought of all the people who would see them—from the mail carrier in Oakland, to the mailroom in Washington. Whether the envelope has been discarded or not, THANK YOU and a heart from handmade paper is sure to be visible.

So if you’re assigned to open mail for Rep. Beth Fukumoto or Rep. Barbara Lee you might feel a twinge of pride that you work for someone who stood up for what’s right and was acknowledged for it. Or perhaps you’re an aide for Senator Graham and you walk into the office of an aide of Senator McCain to work out the agenda for that investigation on Russian interference. The paper heart catches your eye and reminds you of the one you saw on your boss’s desk. You are making a difference. People are noticing.

Maybe you’re part of the custodial team and you see glittered envelopes in the recycling. THANK YOU. And it reminds you that you are a part of something bigger. Something that is changing. Whether that change is positive or not, that’s up to the people taking action.

Moreover, the ripple effect of thank-you card goes beyond expressing gratitude. These cards were a group effort. Chiara wrote “THANK YOU” on all the envelopes. My friend Fionnuala looked up addresses and wrote them on the all the envelopes (with the appropriately colored metallic gel pen, of course.) On top of all that, she donated all the stamps, too.

It was an opportunity to talk about the marches we’d both participated in and how empowering it was to take action. It was a chance to explain to Chiara why Senator Collins’ speech on Wednesday, coupled with Senator Murkowski, was so important.

This is how you become the change you seek. This is how a drop in the bucket becomes a splash.

Thank you to Leslie Ayers, who gave me the idea in the first place and thank you to all the Facebook friends who sent me suggestions.