My Story Hangs

Copyright Alex Chalkley photography

Copyright Alex Chalkley Photography

My son punched his way into this world with fist extended, was laid upon my chest, caressed my cheek, looked me in the eye and seemed to say everything that mattered. Hello. I love you. In that instant I was in love with his fast breathing, his puffy face, his tenderness and his ferocity.  I will forever see him through the lens of our first introduction.

On the walls of my home, my story hangs. A three-month-old stares at me from a picture over the bar.  I focus on his deep blue eyes and that crooked grin he still sometimes flashes. In the background I see my hug and the soft blue fuzz of a coverall protecting him from the February breeze on the Old Town waterfront.  He was an agreeable model despite the cold. He slept in a stroller and on a blanket; smiled in our arms and even attempted to walk alone.

His eyes changed. They are still magnetic, but I can see that by a year and a half those deep blue eyes are something different. Once dark and solid, there is only a dark blue ring that surrounds what looks like a frozen ocean. I wonder if they’ll last. This picture pierces me. This picture hangs near the center of the living room wall. This link between my baby and my almost boy. I stare at that living room picture every day at least 100 times.  I try to describe the color of that blue, the white of his face, his whitish blond hair. I try to remember that day.

On the trails of the battlefield at Manassas, he ran. He picked up pebbles. He shared with giggles. He pushed his red sports car and watched how it would roll. He snuggled on daddy’s lap for a story to be told. He was full of baby chubs and loving kindness. When he looked at Miss Alex while giving her flowers and seemed to wonder what her reaction would be, it was 100 years of my future heart breaking I was feeling when I at last realized how intertwined we really are.

On the wall of my home, our story hangs. Those battlefield memories mark the time, I realize, is now gone. Those moments seemed so infinite and tangible, but proved illusive, like fingers trying to catch the golden sun. It was a day in mid May, comfortable as the trees swayed to let in then shield us from the morning sun. It marked the beginning of listening to instructions and the end of needing Mommy to yell, “rough terrain” ahead. It was  long after running backwards had been accomplished, just after all words in books were repeated and around the time that a wakeful toddler would tell me with a sob that baby needs his pa.

But between there and here are millions of moments, thousands of pieces of him, hundreds of things I’d do anything not to forget.

He climbs up next to me on the couch. His arms and legs are impossibly long now and missing that baby chub. He asks what I’m doing and if I want to play with him. Of course, I smile. His red race car now rolls through the land of imagination. Lego Mommy and Daddy take turns driving it over the curves of the couch before it becomes a hay baler for farmer Greenie to mow the cushion fields.  Once gifted pebbles have turned into life lessons about what we toss and what we hold. Meanwhile books still edge out television in our household.

When day is done and I sit alone, I know these memories will fade. Others I’ve forgotten will come into focus. As time goes on these images with their stories and their sweet composition will mean 1,000 things I can’t yet predict. Reminders of the beginnings of some things, moments that mark the end of others: a month before the death of a cousin, weeks before a pudgy tummy holds another baby. These images mark time. They document stories unfolding;stories like pebbles that mark a path that’s coming to light.

I will admire these pictures that hang from my wall, bathed in light that shines on meaning of feelings even now I can barely trace. We will live more. We will take more. We will try to remember what they meant and how they felt. We will tell stories. We will pass on pictures and with them a history that roots us in the earth, that sways from the winds, that grows with care and bends toward the light.

* A big thank you to Alex Chalkley for capturing our memories in your pictures.


When my Kitchen is Silent


When my kitchen is silent my heart will be empty

Long before the first light of day my kitchen is bustling. Our pace slower, but our routine as precise as a restaurant kitchen where I rummage for “Os,” and fill sippy cups-one milk, one water. To the living room it’s time for cuddles, then back to the kitchen to fill oats in bowls with two scoops of water. My hands guide this toddler man as he dips and drags his measuring cup through water. When the game is old or we’ve deemed there’s enough water, we move our bowls on over to the microwave. I position toddler fingers over buttons, instruct “push” and we watch as the magic happens. Here we are gleefully proud of all we have accomplished.

Outside it’s cold on this 30th of March. I watch as gusting rain turns to surprise snow quickly covering us with a dusting. My kitchen chugs a slow, steady pace. Daddy rises late; warms his waffle in the toaster oven. I boasted about a surprise pot of coffee ready to warm him, tease he probably wants me to prepare his cup. He’s interested and off to start a bathroom remodel- forgetting his food. I am necessary to remind him as I’m needed in the living room to “help, help, help.” Gather balls, place blocks, cheer accomplishments, reenact our microwave cooking. This time chubby fingers guide mine, instruct “push” at a make shift microwave, caution: “hot,” cheer me on with a clap, clap, clap. Then time for a “cracka” break.


It takes so much longer to start the bread when people are awake. I realize I may never get the rolls on. But I add the yeast, run around the couch, add the flour, turn on the toy, sneak my own cereal with sugar but not baby slurps and fingers. Until, BUSTED! We split the Os in the bowl, share the spoon and dribble the milk.

With daddy’s help an impromptu adult dinner has been planned. We prep. The bread machine is on. The stove and then the oven are set to warm.  I warm up turkey joes, mac and cheese and oldish creamed spinach. It’s my son’s lunch, but I’m so hungry I could eat my own fingers. As a reward for making it through a triathlon of tuck in, I’ll earn myself the right to toddler left overs upon my return.  I will enjoy them out in the open.

Soon the light outside is dimming and naptime is over. The kitchen smells of sweet bread and the rolls have already risen. A chicken has been basted and the mashed potatoes, daddy is preparing. The hand mixer hums into our potatoes; and smells, like always, of memories of birthday cakes and holiday dinners. Tastes of mashed potatoes are doled out by the kitchen gate in exchange for parking cars and putting away toy dishes.  My son has long been sleeping by the time the rolls have browned and the chicken has cooled for carving.

Long after the last light of day my kitchen is bustling, and I wouldn’t have it any other way for when my kitchen is silent my heart will be empty.

My husband, our resident over qualified dishwasher, is so LOUD as he cleans the kitchen. As my heels ache and my temper shortens I long for quiet. But before I can wish for days without two dinners, before I can dream of days without our food filled splat mat, I catch my breath at the thought of women in other transitions. I know one day these loud boys of mine will not ask for my help or tolerate my guidance. One day I realize there will be no cuddle breaks, no more motion translating, no snack getting, no apple cutting, no taste granting. First, I’ll wait and hope that someone will come home to dinner. Then someday there will be no more cooking dinner. One day if I live long enough and I’m really, really lucky, I’ll lose my kitchen. But, I fear the day my kitchen is silent for my heart, it will be empty.

Still Waters

Nathan Harney March 23, 2010 - June 18, 2014 *Photo taken by NTSAD Official Photographer

Nathan Harney
March 23, 2010 – June 18, 2014

It’s funny how empty significance can feel.  The world goes on, while we know our life has changed. On our worst days, it’s easy to believe we’re insignificant. On our most significant, sometimes it feels as if we alone realize how very much we each impact the world.

I have seemed quiet, like still water in a deep river. But still waters are just an illusion.   Life flows through rivers in currents unseen. If I listen to the stillness, I find its current churning and see along its path the lives that have been touched through its passing. It’s in the smallest signs of impact that we see the greatest hope. The holiest of things in life are the ones that repeatedly make us take pause, remind us of the value of significance, and eventually feel hope. A sunny day in a town known for its cloudy ones, an act of kindness in a place known for its hostility, a child surviving an impossible disease after so many have died from it, these things remind us that outcomes aren’t always predetermined. There is hope in the knowledge that the essence of life is an often unprecedented change. In those moments of significance when I seem the most still, I find myself floating on that hope for change, the one I have no reason to believe should come. That hope that pushes out the fears of insignificance and lulls the worries of not impacting another. It is the current unseen.

I find life is deeper than we think, more connected than we realize, and just as we think that that we’re stuck in a place we didn’t imagine, we find an unseen current has been pushing us on to a place we don’t yet understand. Though our experiences are different, the essence of the ones that matter are so very much the same.

Because I promised, I’ll share Nathan’s story. I’ll remind you that in it, I see hope. He is a source of hope and his impact on the river, is yet to be seen. I invite you to  hear Nathan’s story and share it :


*photograph taken by the NTSAD photographer Sarah Mattingly