I have a new exhibit of paintings going up at Images Cinema next week. If you are local, stop by and see them during the month of August, anytime the cinema is open. There will be an opening reception on Friday August 4, 5:00-6:30pm.
This is a sketchy diary comic of my experience getting my first breast MRI.
There was a small rectangular window where my face was pressed against the head rest; I could see my hair cascading down over the underside of the cot-thing I was laying on. That’s what is depicted in the first and last panels of this comic. Mostly I kept my eyes closed, listening to the loud clanking, and in between when there was silence Greg or the MRI tech talked to me. There were plugs in my ears, so their voices sounded muffled and far away.
The whole thing lasted about 45 minutes. It was fine. I will get one of these once a year for the rest of my life unless I am pregnant.
Sometimes all these medical appointments feel stressful and I wonder why I am doing them. But really, mostly, I feel good to be doing them. It’s the only thing I CAN do in the face of my odds of getting cancer (85% chance over my lifetime). Early screenings are REALLY important because if I do get cancer, it will be diagnosed as early as possible, while it is small and treatable.
“Treatable” is the operative word here, because there is no “cure.”
Even though there is no cure, catching cancer early means it hasn’t spread yet and they can take it out surgically, possibly not needing chemotherapy at all. It means living longer and better. It means being around for my kids as they grow up. A better chance of growing old with my husband. It means maybe not dying the way my mom did.
It is REALLY important that I have health insurance coverage for these early screenings. They are impossibly expensive without that coverage. What I have is technically a “pre-existing condition,” a genetic disorder that I was born with that has been in my family probably forever. It isn’t my fault, or anyone’s fault, that we have this.
I am very nervous about the new “healthcare” bill. I am scared of losing my coverage for these screenings. I’m scared of losing coverage for pregnancy and birth and women’s bodies in general.
I am scared of having to choose not to get medical care because it costs too much money.
I am scared for anyone having to make that choice.
photo by Leah Barad
I have a really great dad. He’s always been there for me and my sister, has always been loving and fun and patient and kind. I always loved when he’d pick me up from the train station and we’d have that long car ride together, talking about everything that was going on in our lives. I have never had to doubt for one moment that my dad is proud of me and loves me. That is a truly wonderful (and too rare) thing. And now he is a grandfather, “Poppy,” to my son, and they are best buds. Giles smiles so big when Poppy walks into the room. They have this sweet connection, something really special, that I know they will always share.
When Greg and I first started dating I said to him, “I want to have kids. Soon.” He responded with something like, “Okay, cool.” Once we were engaged I said I wanted to start trying for a baby as soon as we got married. Again, Greg agreed, probably thinking it would take awhile to actually make one of those tiny human things. But, low and behold, we got pregnant on the first try. And from the first moment Greg has stepped into his role as Dad so beautifully and completely. Watching him and Giles together makes me fall in love with him more every day.
Thank you Pops, for always loving me and supporting me and taking care of me, and for being my friend. Thank you Greg, for being our kid’s dad, you’re so damn good at it. I love you both so much.
So, here’s to the dads. And the moms who have to be both mom and dad to their kids. And to the people who’ve lost their dads. And the dads who’ve lost their kids. And to the surrogate father figures, and those who struggle with dad relationships. Love to all of you.
Weaning was hard. We started when Giles was nine months old. It was slow, and difficult, and most of all, emotionally exhausting. The guilt, the ups and downs of my moods, the crying and feeling all the things. It took us so long just to choose which formula to get. I held Giles in my arms, giving him a bottle of formula for the first time, tears pouring out of my eyes and a beer in my hand.
The hardest part was one week after I nursed for the last time. Suddenly my emotions hit me. Hard. Every half hour or so I sobbed uncontrollably. Nothing specific would set off the crying jags, and I couldn’t stop them. It was almost like I was immediately postpartum again, with roller coaster emotions and hormones.
Apparently there is a thing called “Post Weaning Depression.” Once I figured this out (through a mixture of online research, texts with Berkshire Nursing Families, and a friend), I felt a lot better, just knowing it was normal. After a couple weeks my hormones leveled out.
But there was a period of time when I felt so awful and didn’t understand it.
It takes our bodies and minds a very long time to balance out after giving birth. I don’t know how long because after a year things are still changing. Maybe I will be living in a transitional state for the rest of my life. Maybe we are always in a transitional state.
And we never get out bodies “back.” That is not a thing. We only move forward.
I’ve recently started painting with acrylics, and I love it! My mother-in-law gave me her late father’s art supplies, which included a set of acrylic paints, an easel, and a pad of paper pallets (kind of like wax paper that you can use as a paint pallet). I got some canvas boards and started playing around, and fell in love very quickly.
There’s something about painting: using brushes, the squishy paint, playing with color and light, the amount of time it takes…it’s meditative and fun and physical. It connects me with my mom. I’ve always preferred pens and markers, but now I really understand the pull of paint.
I’ve been doing a lot of still lifes, and some portraits and self-portraits. Inspired by my sister I am making comic paintings– this is what I am most excited about. My new thing. I remember so clearly as a kid seeing this print hanging in the condo of a family friend:
Drowning Girl, by Roy Lichtenstein
Something really attracted me about this. And even though it’s been many years since I’ve seen it, it stuck with me. That’s how it is with the best art– those special pieces that stay with you, stitched into your mind.
I’m really excited to make more comic paintings. There’ll be an exhibit at Images Cinema in August.
May 6 to May 14, it’s been a full week.
First, Giles turned one whole year old. I cannot really believe that it’s been a year since that long 30 hour experience of giving birth. It felt so endless that it seems impossible that I am not still in the hospital room, pushing and pushing and pushing. I can no longer remember the exact feeling of the pain, but I remember my reactions to it. My body has changed many times. Presently: my breasts are empty which is a strange feeling, my tummy is soft with less wrinkles and a bit of strength underneath, my arms are strong from lifting a growing baby, my linea negra is still faintly there and stretch marks too. I am smaller, stronger, more able and better feeling. I do not “have my body back” because that is not a real thing. I have my new mom body, which still changes every couple weeks, but has finally become something I understand (I think).
Giles has changed too. He is standing, crawling, walking while holding onto something. He laughs, chatters in baby talk, says “mama” and “dada” and something that almost sounds like “ball.” He has personality, likes and dislikes, a sense of humor. He loves to dance. He eats almost everything we give him, though he has preferences depending on the day. He has friends. He is more than three times the size he was at birth.
And now, at one week past his birthday, it is Mother’s Day. Last year we spent the holiday in the hospital with 2 day old Giles, still so new, learning how to breastfeed. Now I am done breastfeeding. Now I am a mother on my second Mother’s Day and the fifth Mother’s Day without my own mom.
It’s a complicated day. “Complicated AF” as my friend Ashley says. So true. I am so happy, so full of joy to celebrate being Giles’ mom. And then there is this hole, this cold feeling, tears behind my eyes and knots in my stomach. I miss my mom. I want to make her a card, talk to her, dance with her, help her in the garden or do whatever other chores she wants me to do. I want to have brunch with her and Giles, make waffles in her kitchen, watch her hold him and play with him and talk to him in Spanish.
There’s a lot of things I want but can’t even say.
There’s an envelope in my jewelry box (my mom’s jewelry box which is now mine). It’s a letter from Mama, for me to read when I had a child (or didn’t). I read that letter as soon as I found out I was pregnant, and a few more times since then. I haven’t read it today yet.
Greg and Giles brought me breakfast in bed and the sweetest card. They gave me a truly great Mother’s Day. I also have to make room for the sadness. Joy and grief live together now and always will.
Images Cinema hosted a screening of “Not in Our Town” presented by Greylock Together (a local activism group). I took notes during the post-film discussion, and here’s what I came away with:
~ In order to prevent and address hate crimes in our community, everyone needs to take responsibility for what happens and be present for one another. This makes everyone safer.
~ We need total commitment from police and political leaders to respond to hate crimes when they happen.
~ We need more Black Lives Matter signs. These small symbols of acceptance and unity work best when EVERYONE has them. If there are only a few, and one gets stolen or vandalized, people might be nervous to put them out. If every house has one, it shows that we all support the movement and believe that Black Lives Matter and the vandals would see that they are outnumbered.
This feels like a really important note. Having a sign in our yards, or a decal in our windows, is such a small and simple (and inexpensive) act. But a large number of people displaying these signs makes such a big statement. We can say, “Of course most of Williamstown supports the Black Lives Matter movement,” but if there are only a few signs scattered around town, it doesn’t really look like it. This is a very important time. We are a mostly white town. We need to show our support, to ally ourselves, to use our privilege for good. It’s really easy to get a sign. There’s no good reason not to. Imagine if every lawn had a Black Lives Matter sign. And a rainbow flag. And Welcome signs written in Arabic and Hebrew and Spanish. What a big statement that would make to the rest of the country.
~ When someone has been targeted or made a victim of hate crimes, we need to ask, “How can I support you?” And then show up for them.
~ We all have to work on the subtle, underlying feelings of hate/racism/sexism/bigotry in order to prevent bigger incidents.
~ To be supportive means to take deliberate and concrete action.
~ We need public displays of holidays from different religions/cultures, not just Christmas.
~ We need a blanket visual symbol to use throughout the county, unifying us with the other nearby towns instead of keeping ourselves so separate.
This photo of Mama was taken in April 2012, at my cousin’s Bar Mitzvah, a year before she died.
It cuts me how impossible it is that she is dead now, that she died a year after this photo was taken. Despite the bald head, or even because of it (she looks so strikingly beautiful with her bald head), she is so alive here. She was a bit weak, yes, couldn’t stay up too late at the party. But we danced. We swam in the hotel pool. We put on red lipstick.
But it also cuts me how we knew, a little bit, and maybe unconsciously, that our time was limited. I had this constant pain just above my stomach from her fist cancer diagnosis in 2007 until she died in 2013. A tiny pain, subtle and not always noticeable, a tight knot. For three months in 2010 everything I ate made me sick. I went to a doctor about it and she told me nothing was physically wrong.
It’s still a shock most mornings, that she is not here. Sometimes she is alive in my dreams and everything is normal. In these dreams she has been sick but recovered and I feel such great relief that she is okay. Then I wake up.
Giles doesn’t get to know her except in stories. This is a huge gap, a thing he is missing and will be missing his whole life. She would have been a wonderful grandmother (Meme, as she wanted to be called), a great friend, a huge presence for him.
I’ve always said I have no regrets. Mostly this is true. But there are some living in my shadow, in the back corners of my brain.
I’m angry. I’m also sad, scared, some other feelings I don’t know how to name.
It doesn’t get better. It will never be better. It will just be life. Good and bad at the same time. Heartbreak and joy.
I don’t know what else to say. I have a lot of things to say.