Full stop.

Luddyduddy, Robin says. Luddyduddy luddyduddy. In his car seat, under the hood of the stroller, Luddyduddy, his head nodding with meaning.

Lately, he’s refused to nap in the afternoons. Little shrieks and yelps pierce his room, his door, and collect in shards around the legs of my chair. Then, far away, Luddyduddy luddyduddy, until he rests again.

For my birthday, Stewart bought me a pitcher from a fancy glass factory in Vermont. Stewart bought me three pitchers, in fact, from the fancy glass factory in Vermont. Wrapped inside the box, there was another box, and another. Goldilocks, I studied each, differently shaped, but the same. Lined up, they were lit, thick, and redundant, like three frosted birthday cakes. Three? I thought, delighted by the deluxe absurdity.

Earlier this week, my dad called. I was parked in the grocery lot with Robin watching the cars pull in and out. We talked March Madness—the upsets, the losses, all the games played. We talked about winter, how it’s still here, every ten-day forecast mocking us.

I told him Stewart’s dad is sick, sick like my mother, really sick. I told him we were moving, that we were spent, that I quit my job. I told him as one car pulled away, and another pulled in; as someone returned a cart to the cart line, and then someone took one away.

Yesterday, Stewart found the top of my head surrounded by box towers. We’d been collecting moving boxes—free ones from the side of the road—for the past few weeks. I wrapped every cheap fork in every faded towel and tucked them inside a lidless baking dish. I sat in the middle of our stolen fort, glad I knew, for once, where everything we owned lived.

It’s worse than we thought, his dad. Since my mother was diagnosed with the same illness a year-and-a-half-ago my question has been, What does that mean? Tumor markers come back, What does that mean? CAT scan results, What does that mean? Dim prognoses, What does that mean? The answer, from every parent, a tired, I don’t know. Or, You’re looking for answers that don’t exist. Don’t exist? I think. At all? And inside the question, another question, and another. Inside the months, more months, more winter.

So, we’re moving, to Birmingham, to San Francisco, to Philly. Box on box. Plate on glass. We’re moving.

We sat surrounded by used boxes, marked with the shorthand of some other family, already gone, and we wondered. Where’s the place they know how much time is in a month? Where’s the place where the markers mean something? Where is winter not?

That night Stewart gave Robin a bath. Upstairs, I heard them both, Luddyduddy luddyduddy. Impressed, Stewart called me to the sound, miming the syllables with an exaggerated mouth.

“It’s something you can do with your tongue, but you never have to,” he said. You never have to, I thought.

But here we are, everyday, Luddyduddy luddyduddy. The absurd repetition, the question towers and the nonsense inside, our life just Luddyduddy luddyduddy. What does that mean?

At moving’s end, I sat admiring my tallest birthday pitcher. Its wall broke the window, which broke the trees outside. And I thought, Luddyduddy luddyduddy. I counted the boxes, considering the forks inside. Luddyduddy luddyduddy. In my mind, we moved to Birmingham, to San Francisco, to Philly. Luddyduddy luddyduddy.

Meanwhile, Robin crawled to the only free wall in the apartment. Huge rectangles of light swallowed him as he opened his right hand and slapped the sun, over and over again. I watched him; relieved he had found something that arrested motion, something that responded to a fist. And for the last time, we sat, Luddyduddy luddyduddy, facing this wall.


I used to read a lot. This was so long ago I can’t honestly say now I’m a “reader.” But back when I did, back when I read, I used any scrap of paper as a bookmark. Magazine corners, post-its, some businessperson’s business card. I flagged the place I stopped reading, but I also flagged what stopped me—words, lines, whole pages I wanted to bring along. I thought I was being dogged, crafting an encyclopedia of lifelines for later. Later, when I was writing my vows, when I was writing someone’s eulogy. Later, when I had kids.

At one time, I had a lot of time. I moved to Vermont nine years ago, after graduate school, to set up a nun’s life. No roommates, no television, no internet, spotty cell service; I figured most Vermonters lived like this. (They don’t.) I worked. I read. Little slips of paper made shadows on the floor. They got lost in the folds of a fleece blanket my grandmother sent me, worried. My cat gagged on them.

The books and the slips came with me when I bought my house two years later, when I moved to St. Louis to write, when I finally tired of asceticism (read: singlehood) and moved to Brooklyn a few years after that. I don’t remember using the bookmarks then. I don’t remember using the bookmarks ever. But they were there, little flags on the ships that chased me.

When you’re a mother, you learn what too quiet means. It’s too quiet, what’s he doing? It’s too quiet, something bad. And without fail, there he is, eating the plug, eating the rug, investigating the bike gears. Yesterday, quiet got interrupted by dull thuds, and I found Robin methodically pulling each book off our white bookshelf. Yesterday, quiet got interrupted by too quiet, I found Robin methodically pulling each piece of paper out of each book on our white bookshelf and studying it, like a miniature scientist.

He fingered each wrinkled edge with a furrowed brow. I imagined he wondered what a wrinkle was as he made one, unwittingly, with his own face. Next, he used his thumb and forefinger to pinch the part that peaked just over the edge—the part that was meant to wave, like a friend, to mom-Kerin, wife-Kerin, signaling some past life full of intention and a different kind of silence. After a while, he’d work the slip from its nest, all two inches of it suddenly exposed to daylight. And he’d hold it, stunned almost, like a bird with a worm he won from the dirt.

I watched from my place on the carpet ten feet away. I like watching him from here. Early on, I asked my mother-in-law about my interactions with him, if I engaged him enough, played with him enough, interfered enough. She said, “He’s discovering his world.” And I thought, Right. His world. Full of unexpected movements, sudden light, and books bigger than his head. Robin’s world.

In reality, there was no No! that rose up in my chest while I watched his experiment. There was no instinctual lurch forward. I leaned against our brick wall, hollowing my breath. It was too right, what was happening over by the bookshelf, I couldn’t interrupt it. In the growing heat of another March afternoon, another spring-winter, Robin played. With the least fanfare, with a few shallow sighs, all the markers lost their place. All the words, slowly erased. I sat, tickled. How right that all my white flags would be surrendered in the late afternoon game of my only son, oblivious, and so infinitely better for it.


I belong to the May 2014 BabyCenter Birth Club. Every morning, I receive a daily digest of questions and laments from mothers who gave birth almost a year ago, when I did. My baby isn’t talking yet… at all. My son almost choked on a pear skin. Should I call the doctor now, or now? Consumed by details and premonitions, we repeat ourselves, asking about the same illnesses, the same car seats, the same milestones, over and over again. We’re tired, eager, enthralled, sick and connected. Mostly, we’re busy and awake.

Every few days someone titles her post “Dh,” the acronym by which “dear husbands” go in this mommy club, and the responses multiply. He’s a great dad don’t get me wrong… But he doesn’t listen. He works a lot. But he never does a thing at home. He criticizes everything. But offers nothing. Does this make any sense to anyone? Yes. And always, What do I do?

When I was in college, I resolved to be a feminist. Forever. I spent most days irate, enlivened to the injustice I studied and scrutinized. My friend Chrissy started an empowerment club. I joined. We filled the filthy sinks of our Catholic university’s single-sex bathrooms with condoms. We Took Back the Night. We wrote op-eds for the college paper about reproductive rights and equal pay. We rallied. My family waited out the storm, comforting each other that this, too, shall pass. And it did, over time, when I put it down to pick up something else.

I forgot a lot. So much so, I was blind to the ways sexism visited me in all its oblivious violence. The most egregious example of which being a two-year relationship punctuated by verbal abuse of a kind I find it hard to repeat even now, years later. A relationship I not only stayed in but tried to transform into, of all things, a marriage. Suffice to say, I forgot. A lot. And feminism became an instrument I abandoned way back, as a kid. All skilled memory absent from mind and practice.

When I became a mother, forgetting, like most things, became luxurious. I had an “incompetent” cervix for one. I was repeatedly stunned, still am, by the fact I was expected to recount intimate details of my past—pregnancies, abortions, miscarriages—to every nurse, intern, or doctor who cared to ask, for apparent or no apparent reason. I read and re-read Emily Oster’s book Expecting Better, troubled by the fear instilled in pregnant women, myself included, based on half-baked, pre-packaged “data,” issued to us as health facts.

More than this, the world reminded me. When Robin was four months old, I walked from our apartment to a coffee shop a few blocks away. It was warm, I was alone, I wasn’t paying any attention. Others were. Outside the shop, a few folks watched a woman pushing a toddler in an umbrella stroller. A man followed her, inches from her face, shouting so loud we could hear the spit leave his teeth. Her neck stayed straight. We waited until the stroller disappeared and he had quit, at least for now, to catch his bus.

I watched her face, the woman’s, but I remember the kid’s. He craned his neck to behold the scene, and inimitably, looked confused, fearful, shocked. He had a hat on. Finally, he turned around and nestled his nylon jacket into the recline of the seat. I wondered whether he kept picturing the two heads as he was pushed, fast, into another sunny morning.

Some of us tell the May mom, the one with the “dh,” we’re sorry. Maybe he’s just tired from work? Maybe it’s just a phase? Some of us tell her to leave. What makes you think it’s ever gonna change? But most of us, me included, say nothing at all. We read the post and the replies and we picture her kid’s face, craned neck, nonplussed expression. We remove the pear skin before we hand over the fruit to our own. We listen harder, convincing ourselves the sounds are really words. And what we say to ourselves is that, My kid talks. My Dh listens. I know what to do. And on the next sunny morning, another daily digest arrives, full of the same questions as yesterday.


Robin has a fever. On our way back from the sitter’s, he sits in a red-cheeked funk, plump and agog. Bands of March sun blind him, then leave, then blind him again. He’s annoyed, but too distant to say so. I watch him through the bizarre network of mirrors we’ve built to indulge my paranoia: Is he choking? Is he breathing? Can he see me?

I wonder, if fevers consume, what’s his eating? What infant head tricks does 102 inspire? He never sits like this: hot, reflective. In hindsight, he never did. While I was pregnant, family kept asking: Does he move a lot? Is he active? I shrugged, having nothing to compare him to. Turns out, he did. He was. After dinner, Stewart and I watched the Olympics, and I’d sit fat, grinning, on the couch while Robin raced the athletes in Russia.

We almost bought a fetal Doppler to monitor his heartbeat. I’m shocked we never did. Like the car’s mirrored constellation, the Doppler could equip our worry: What’s he doing now? What’s he doing now? The answer, of course, was always: growing, sleeping, being. But given our year, we wondered.

In January, when I was about twenty weeks pregnant, my doctor called. I was back in New York for work, and I ducked into a side street to avoid the subway clamor. I remember the way my fingertips found the coarse groove in the bricks. I didn’t quite understand. Pelvic rest? No sex? No exercise? She had been watching my placenta for weeks, waiting for it to buoy, like a balloon, to its happy position. But it refused. Stubborn anchor, this one sat red and rooted over my cervix, blocking the exit, creating quite the fire hazard. I cut her short: What are the risks?

The risk is blood; well, hemorrhage. Many cases of placenta previa, my diagnosis, result in episodes of bleeding. One if you’re lucky, more if you’re not. As the cervix begins to thin in late pregnancy, bleeding becomes a greater hazard. Later, I’d learn the other risks were pre-term birth, blood transfusions, the NICU. Later, I’d learn the other risks were constant vigilance, unrest, perma-anxiety. And so began our pregnancy—the fraught one, the high-risk one. The one we say we survived.

We listened to Robin’s heartbeat once, for three hours, after a minor bleed saw us driving, numb and dumb, through each of Bennington’s early-morning yellow lights. We sat stiff in a hospital room while the nurses collected reams of Robin’s written heart. March sun exposed our pallor, then March sun went away. We sat, blanketed, blinded, in a room like an ocean, full of the dull, far-away sound of an unnamed heartbeat.

But Robin has a fever. I hum, feeling the sound reach my hands on the wheel, waiting for the sun to warm each bald, white knuckle. We sit, my son and I, in a moving greenhouse and wait for the fever to pass. One fallow field, another, then another. His eyes close. We move on.

In the water.

Last night, while I gave Robin a bath, I poured water from a cup into the shallow tub. For a while, he watched the thin braid fall from the lip and disappear into his lap. He’d follow the cup to its height and then wait, quiet, until the water returned to him. After a time, he wanted more. Now, as I tipped the rim toward him, he tried to catch what was surrendered. More than that, he tried to hold it, the turning rope of water, until the rope ran out and the bath turned colder.

I often think about insanity. Or I should say, I often think about the anecdotal definition of insanity: repeating the same action over and over again but expecting a different result. Robin does this. He once tried to lift a string from a fraying pant twenty times just to have it float gently back to his pink knee. He’s thrown a wooden ball into a wall until I had to decide the sound was a metronome to stop my mind from revolting. Last night, as I poured the water, I expected he’d dissolve in failure, undone by the confusion of an unusable rope. But he didn’t. He lifted his wrinkling torso into an athlete’s position, and with two hands, not one, challenged water to run.

Stewart and I discovered we were pregnant in Nantucket. Or rather, I discovered first. I walked into an island drugstore early one Thursday morning and grabbed a bright test—the one with the lines, not the one with the words. I used their bathroom without asking. This wasn’t a bathroom, really, more like a broom closet with a toilet and shower. And one bright window that backlit my face in the mirror. That was a year and a half ago, but I still remember how young my face looked then. I mumbled some words to my shadowed head while I watched two pink lines branch among me, the mops and bleach.

Later that day, my mother threw up. It had been at least a year since I watched her eat an untroubled dinner. Housebound, she waited while Stewart and I went biking again. Past abandoned off-peak rentals, sandy evergreens and pubs, we settled into a silent, movable hope only early love allows.

The week before we left for Nantucket, Stewart lost his job. We were living in New York and close to broke. One week later, my mother was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer, just a few days after a nurse offered Stewart and I chipper congratulations.

How many times over the last year have I tried to grab a rope of water? How many times, failing, have I cracked up expecting something different? And yet, today, it’s already spring in Vermont.

Night Diary 1.

7:03pm: We’re “home.” I forgot to leave the porch light on. I show Stewart how to open the front door with his key. One turn, then two. Etched in the knocker is the name of our landlord’s father, long dead. The garage door is open from the movers.

7:23pm: I undress Robin in his new room. No lamps lit, we move under the harsh light of the overhead fixture—circa 1960—limbs throwing clean shadows on the dun-colored walls. Robin looks. Robin looks at me.

7:40pm: Bath water runs. I hold Robin on my hip next to the porcelain sink, and we stare, far away, as the tub fills with soapy water. One foot, then two. He finds the boundaries of his new boat, slick and unfamiliar, and at one far corner turns, eyelash dripping, and looks. He looks at me. On the wall behind us, a medicine cabinet rusts under the mirror.

9:41pm: Stewart and I lie on the mattress while Robin stirs next door. There are no curtains. One empty branch moves outside. Two. I think about the Arundel Tomb, the poem and the piece. Lucky and animated, Stewart and I turn our heads to face each other.

“What do you think?”

“I don’t know.”

2:13am: Robin cries. One diagonal blade of light bisects the bed where we are not sleeping. From the bathroom, a vent hums.

I turn an ancient gold knob, then another. Robin stands in his crib, announcing himself to the length of the room. All cavern and wood, his Grand Canyon responds. And I interrupt the introductions with a hooded hug, muffled and blunted. I hum a song we learned together. I think the words but don’t say them.

4:36am: Branches. Vent. Blade. I blink. We’re outside, having a birthday party. One red picnic table sits in the yard. White frosted cupcakes dot white ceramic servers, and there are lemons in pitchers. I shift. We’re outside again, another birthday party, only it’s later and we’re older. All the kids are taller and running.

I remember the graffiti in Robin’s room. I saw it when I first visited this house, someone else’s home. I lingered in the bedroom while the landlord, still talking, left the hall. I opened the closet and saw, at kid’s height, the word “boys” scrawled on the wall.

Boys. We’re having two, I think. One, then two. Boys.

5:12am: Robin is awake. Husband and wife slap feet on a dirty floor. Adult weight echoes down the hall as we stumble to sterilize a bottle, to remember the steps.

I remember the picture of bringing Robin home. I stand, pale, under a hanging plant. There’s a mailbox with no name. In the next photo, Stewart does the same, but looks out. We’re both one stoop step off the spring dirt.

5:17am: Robin drinks while he slow blinks in our chair, in our new corner. “Boys” sits etched in the dark. I watch the neighbors silent speak across the yard.

5:36am: We’re in bed. Robin sits and slaps daddy’s head. Slaps daddy’s head again. Robin giggles and falls over. Sits up. Falls over.

Robin tries the mama. Pulls the mama’s hair, eats the hair, pulls the hair again. Slaps mama. Bites mama’s cheek. Bites. Bites harder. I shriek. Robin giggles and falls over. Sits up. Falls over.

5:52am: He blinks. Turns his head on the pillow. Blinks. Blinks and looks. Looks at me. Looks at me. Sleeps. Sleeps harder.