30 December 2010

The Year The Queens Saved Christmas

It was a very cold Christmas Eve, and Santa and his elves were about halfway around the world when Santa gasped, "Oh no! Oh no!" Tears sprung to Santa's eyes.

"What is it Santa?" his worried elves questioned. The reindeer had stopped mid-flight and suspended themselves in the air to await Santa's reply.

"I...I forgot to pack enough toys for all of the girls and boys. I meant to grab one last stack of things on my workbench but I forgot them. We don't have enough time to go back to the North Pole because if we did, Christmas would be ruined for all of the rest of the kids in the world."

They were quiet for a moment, when the reindeer looked down at the earth below them. They were above a home with many deer eating outside. The reindeer used their magic to talk to them and explained what was happening in the stars above them.

"Well," the deer responded, "There are some lovely Queens that live in this house. Why, they leave us food out all the time. They might be happy to help out Santa, but you'd better ask the cats outside."

Santa quietly landed his sleigh in the backyard of the Queens and walked up to the stray cats eating outside. "Well, Santa," they said, "The Queens that live here are very special people. They make sure we have food and milk at night. They probably wouldn't mind helping you out."

Santa, his elves and the reindeer whispered among themselves. Their whispers sounded like the softest of breezes drifting through the trees.

Santa used his magic to open the door to the Queens home, for he was very sad to have to do what he had to do and his magic only worked on chimneys when he was jolly. He and his elves quietly began to collect the Queens things that would make other children very happy.

Hank and Erin looked up at Santa and asked him what he was doing. Santa explained his mistake to them and the dogs looked at one another with sorrow in their eyes. They knew that the Queens would be sad to see their things go, but agreed that they would want to save Christmas.

"Better explain that to Babe and Ruth," they said, "Because those cats are mean and they might attack you." Santa found the cats perched on a shelf, waiting to pounce. He explained why he and his elves were in the house taking things instead of leaving presents for the Queens. Babe and Ruth climbed down from the shelf and curled up on the couch, hugging each other as they thought of their Queens.

Santa and his elves gathered up enough things to save Christmas for all of the other boys and girls in the world and walked back out to Santa's sleigh. They were racing across the sky when an elf cried out, "Santa stop!"

Santa stopped his sleigh and looked at the elf. "I made a mistake, Santa. I was just playing with it and meant to put it back, but I was so busy that I forgot." In his little elf hand, he held a baseball.

When Santa reached out and took the ball, a great silence and sadness overcame Santa and his elves, for when Santa held the ball in his magic hands, it allowed those on the sleigh to see what was inside.

They saw ballpark lights, a field with a "D" on it, children on their stomachs in front of TV's, families cheering in stands, sisters jumping up and down with joy, orange pennants and posters on walls and wonderful memories. They saw a childhood inside of that baseball and they knew that the Queen's mom would be very sad that the baseball was gone.

Santa held it for a moment and said, "There is only one thing that I can do, for we cannot stop or else we won't be able to save Christmas."

With that, Santa held the baseball out in front of him in both of his hands and it slowly rose above him, twirling magically. As it began to spin faster and faster, the elves and reindeer watched in wonder as the blue ink spun off of the ball and turned into the blue of the skies and the waters of the earth. 

The white on the baseball wove itself into the clouds in the skies and the snow as it fell like a blanket on the earth. The red thread of the baseball intertwined with the most beautiful sunsets and amazing sunrises and the skies when they turn a pinkish red that the Queens love so much.

"Now we've given it to the universe, and the universe will decide if the baseball will make it back there or not. If it doesn't make it back, I'm sure the Queens mom will look out around her and remember all of the good things that were inside of the baseball and smile."

The elves and reindeer felt better and were very happy when they finished delivering the last present to the last family on Santa's route. They all made it back to the North Pole, and although they were tired and cold and couldn't wait to lay down in their beds and stables to sleep for a few days, they were very glad that all of the girls and boys had gotten presents that year. Then they thought of the Queens and made a special place for them in their hearts where they would stay forever.

And that is the story of The Year The Queens Saved Christmas.
When I finished reading this to Little A and she realized what it meant, with tears streaming down her sweet cheeks, she put her hands on my face and said, for '"Well, if Santa needed 'demda other kids, 'dat's OK with me." She gives me more faith in humankind than I can express.

29 December 2010


"Looking for something?" The white blazer pulled up alongside me, two elderly men sitting next to each other, awaiting my answer.

"A baseball," I replied with a smile.

One of the men punched the arm of his friend next to him with a warm familiarity, "I told you. I told you that's what she was going to say."

They both looked back at me. "Going to be tough to find a baseball out here." He paused as I nodded, "Snow and all."

"Right," I said. "Did someone tell you they threw it out here? That it's out here in the ditch?" I shook my head no and looked down at my foot as I made a circle in the snow.

I picked my head back up and told them that my plan was just to look for imprints in the snow that resembled a baseball. They looked at one another for a moment; I could sense that within their glance, they were silently deciding which one would talk next and that neither of them wanted to be the one to speak.

"It's going to be really tough, not even knowing if the ball is out here, you know? It's cold, maybe you should head inside."

I was hoping that my smile might belie my tears when I told them that I'd seen a lot of things that I wouldn't have believed possible.

"You're awful young to have seen something that big," the man closest to me responded softly. I could see the genuine concern in his eyes and I thought, for a moment, of my grandfather, of how he would tell the story of the crazy lady he talked to on the side of the road, looking for a baseball in the snow.

I laughed and said one of those things happened in 1984, in the bottom of the eighth inning and was cut off mid-sentence as the driver said, "I still can't believe they threw to him." "I know," I said, "I was doubled over with hope and fingers over my eyes when everyone in the house was yelling, 'They're not going to walk him! They're not going to walk him!' " Our laughter danced in the freezing air for a few moments.

Then he nodded slowly toward the land in front of me, "Better let you get back to looking, then. Never know what you're gonna find."

27 December 2010

Holding Hope

"I don't want to give you any hope," he said as he looked down at his report. He glanced up at me and then away again. I would have wanted to avoid my eyes as well, I know.

I smiled and nodded my head, unable to speak any further. "I wish I could think of something to tell you, something to say, I have kids too, you know, I wouldn't know how to explain this."

"I'll figure it out." I opened the door for him and wished him happy holidays and watched as he got into his police car and drove away, shut the door, locked it and sat down and wept.

For the first Christmas in five years, I was planning to go see my family and stay there for the entire holiday season. My sister and I were nearly giddy with the thought of time, real time for our kids to play and to sit and just be together.

I had grasped my grandmothers hand on Christmas Eve and told her that I'd be out to see her soon, because the girls and I were staying for a while.

While the girls and I were away, others were in our home. Uninvited, unwanted and most seemingly, utterly uncaring.

I wonder still, sitting here, what they were thinking as they unhooked the Wii, how they felt taking all of their games, their toys, their electronics. What was going through their minds as they took Little A's piggy bank and emptied the contents.

This year for Christmas, the Queens and I talked; we had a small season for each other and instead purchased gifts for those less fortunate than us; there are many--there still are, I know this.

I had asked my family to send money to those that I knew were in need rather than purchasing me gifts this year. On Christmas Eve, I was upset to see a gift with my name on it and looked at my sister accusingly. "It was too late," she said, "I couldn't take it back. I still mailed the money; I wanted to mail the money." When I opened her gift, I nodded and wept. A DVD collection of the Detroit Tigers history and crucial games, including their series win in 1984. I whispered thank you and tried to reign myself back in. I think I've told you before that if childhood could take shape, mine would be in the form of a baseball?

It is here, probably selfishly, that I am sobbing still. Sitting on the top of the bookshelf made from wood from my grandparents barn, in front of a photo of my grandparents, sat a worn baseball on which was scribbled, "To Jennifer, Go Tigers, Kirk Gibson". Not much from my childhood made it through the water damage and then the fire this year. Like most everything else from my youth, now that baseball is gone, too.

Because of the two insurance claims this year, I cannot make a claim for this. Rather, I can, but then I won't have homeowners insurance. I left my daughters with family to come home and try to sort out what to do, but there really is no sorting to be done. I look over at one of their three presents, a wii game and look to the empty spot and try to figure out how to tell Little A that we don't have her things anymore.

Big A, of course, compiled a list of everything we had from 200 miles away. Strong, steady, enraged and only a little broken, with her touch of sarcasm, "I bet you feel really bad about not getting us anything now, don't you?" I love her. She and I will make this OK, somehow.

But the thought of telling Little A what happened; I cannot do that. Her heart is too good; her belief is too sincere. She waited and waited and waited all year for Christmas. She swears Santa is her best friend. She, who halts and averts her eyes from strangers, ran onto Santa's lap and hugged him. I will not tell her that on Christmas, someone came into our home and took her belongings, so I'm planning to lie. Or rather tell her a story. She loves stories; always each night, "Momma, will you tells me a story from when you was a little girl?"

I looked up the prices for a Wii and controllers and laughed. I looked up the prices to the games that we'd had and cried. I walked by the bookcase and outright sobbed.

"When they realize that the baseball is worthless to them because it has your name on it, they are probably going to....get rid of it," the policeman said. I remember a noise actually leaving my throat when he said that, but I quickly put my hand on my chest and smiled. I didn't know what else to do.

When he told me that he didn't want to give me hope, I didn't respond because I didn't think I could get the words out or get the quote right. I wanted to tell him that he didn't need to give me hope, because, for whatever reason, inside, I've always had it. After he left, I went to look up the exact words:
Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark. ~George Iles.

I don't have to look back too far to be grateful for what we do have, this year alone we've seen a lot of our possessions ruined by either water or fire. We still have a home, still have each other, still have our pets. And, I suppose, in some way, I still have that baseball, wrapped up tightly with the memories of my youth, barring a few scratches and a worn, red thread.

20 December 2010

How To Change The World

For any of you that wonder if anything that you do makes a difference at all....it does.

Living proof, right here, right now, of the possibility within all of us, and you still have time to help.

A fellow blogger decided to offer gift cards to twenty people in need this holiday season. When her personal limit was rapidly met, someone else jumped in, saying they would help the next person in need, and then someone else offered to help the next person in need. As of this morning, in less than a week, $22,000 in gift cards have been sent to total strangers around the world who didn't know how they were going to make it through the holidays.

As of this morning, there are still people in need and you still have time to help. It doesn't just make any difference, it makes all the difference.

Please, go here and do what you can.

Thank you.

19 December 2010

A Letter to My Grandfather


I know that once I showed you this place, I'd often check my sitemeter for the clicks that were yours. Did you know it was possible to miss an I.P. address? I'm sure you didn't and if I'd told you that, you would have shook your head and said something like, "I don't get kids anymore", even though I'm not a kid and haven't been for some time now.

It's this time of year when I think a lot about being a kid, which of course makes me think about you and Gram. About magic. About mystery. About faith and belief and about what now remains.

The Tigers continue to walk to the edge and collapse, so there is that constant. I couldn't watch them, you know, after you were gone. I want to instill the passion for baseball and sports into my kids, but that year was too much. 

Like when you've left the water on a brisk day, and when you were in it, you were fine, but once out--the challenge of going back in seems crazy, dangerous even. You could get hypothermia in there. You could get a cramp and be unable to make it to shore. You could begin to weep and be unable to stop. So you don't go back in.

That's probably why, I think, I haven't been to your grave. It's hard to write that here, for I'm sure the first reaction of those that read it is my reaction within myself: selfish. No time to even go there and visit your grandfather's grave? I think you wouldn't think that, because of the things that I hope but do not know for sure, is that you hear each time I think of you and understand that I am visiting you in those moments.

A baseball game, blue skies, an orange push-up, a dirt road, a work truck, a piece of wood, a bad play during a game where someone wasn't "using their head", Silent Night, Amazing Grace, blue eyes, laughter.

I wish I'd recorded the sound of your laughter. I wish I'd recorded your singing. Big A asked me not to laugh before we went into a basketball game where she wanted to make a good impression. I'm not sure if the tears that stung my eyes were because it hurt me, or because I thought of you.

My dogs left, not long after you. You were right; they were like kids; they had souls; I won't be able to think of them and not feel like there is a rock in my heart. I remember our trips in the work trucks, the animals we picked up and saved, the cats you fed and sheltered. I've begun leaving cat food out at night for the strays out here. There are three that come now. They look in at me and I look back at them and I hope they trust me. (I really hope they trust me because my vet has agreed to spay them once I lure them into a cage.) I like being the place where the most innocent of souls know they can find a bit of food and some shelter. I know you know what I mean.

Big A is the athlete that we'd suspected she'd be. More so, than I'd thought. She doesn't have the patience to listen when I try to explain the logic, the thinking behind the plays; she doesn't want to hear it from me. I wish you were here to tell her. I know she wishes that, too. She's grown, nearly as tall as me. She's bright, brighter than me. She's harder around the edges and she doesn't like to show emotions and that's difficult for me and more so for her, I suspect.

Little A is growing and has a soul that is thousands of years old. She knows things she shouldn't possibly know, says things beyond her years; beyond the years of many. She crosses her fingers one over the other, picks at parts of herself until she bleeds, smiles fake smiles to cover fear, has to stand to do her work and doesn't like bright lights, loud noises, new people or new things, but she fiercely loves what she loves and when she feels safe she is the most alive and funny person I've ever met. I'm terrified of people crushing her. Terrified. She remembers you, which most would think odd, but not me. She recalls the last time you two shared a meal before Christmas. She remembers the bench you sat on. She remembers your plate and your discussion of what good food is. She says, "I remembers his voice, ma." And her blue eyes cloud over when we talk of you in Heaven now, but then she will say that she knows that Smoosh and Jessie are with you and I believe her.

Gram is a lifetime older. It breaks me each time I see her, which isn't enough. Her voice is distant and her letters are sad and it makes me remember the day as a child that Dzia-Dzia and I were swinging on that green swing in the gardens and he said that if he could have anything, he would leave the world with Busi at the same time. I didn't understand it then. I do now. Gram swears that she hears you and feels you; I believe that she does. I believe that we all do.

This month is hard for most anyone, I think. It was hard on Thursday when I finally sat down that night and looked at what the date on the calendar actually was. Your birthday. I choked back a sob. I keep waiting for the grief to not be so sudden and violent, but it still is most times when it sneaks up on me.

I'm blessed, I know. My life is good; I am doing a job that I love, my children are well, I have many wonderful friends. I feel like I should be happier, but I don't know how; I don't think that the idea of happiness that I have will come back again. Pure happiness, in my heart, is a girl with her head stuck out the window of a truck, grinning from ear to ear, remnants of an orange push-up getting glued to her face, the Tigers on the radio. I'm trying to create that girl for my girls; I think that is the only way and I wish that you were here to tell me I were right or that I think too much.

I love you still and miss you madly.

10 October 2010

Dear Chrysler

Dear Chrysler,

Creator of the Pa-Crapica, we need to chat.

Surely you cannot be serious when you have various technicians tell me that it is perfectly normal for my car to need two to three quarts of oil added to it between oil changes.

Surely, you cannot.

You should note that they can barely keep a straight face and may want to invest some cash into acting lessons for them.

It's fabulous that in order to speak to someone, you must sit on hold and be transferred eight times. Luckily for me, I have unlimited minutes and a three hour commute a few days a week, and am always looking for new ways to kill time.

I want to meet you so that I can personally remove your toenails with a dull knife after being forced to listen to the likes of Celine Dion, Michael Bolton and Gloria Estfan while holding. Die in a fire, please.

Anyhoo, just wanted you to know that after being told by two people that, yes, that was an acceptable rate of oil burn according to you and additionally I was calling the wrong "800" number, and that I had to call another and speak to someone else, because what did I expect the customer service number to do? Provide customer service? Was I high? Anyway, lost my train of thought after you then refused to give me the 800 number to the Chrysler Service Contract Division.

Oh yes.

In anticipation of your continued suck-tastic service, I've reserved a new blog name.

It's titled "Chrysler Sucks". You can find it at http://chryslerpacificasucks.blogspot.com/.

I'm curious as to how much traffic I'll be able to drive to my new page with the magnets that I'm going to have made up to put on my car with the blog address on it. It will be a neat little marketing experiment for me.

I'll keep you posted as to the progress.

Unless, of course, you'd like to honor that 100,000 mile extended warranty that I purchased from you and admit that something is wrong with my car and repair it for me.

Keep me posted as to your decision, OK?


One Pissed-Off Woman

21 September 2010

Without Flight

It was hot that day. 

The kind of oppressive heat that wraps around you and makes it hard to breathe, even if you're simply standing. 

There was oil everywhere, oil in the water, oil on the fish, oil on the birds, oil on the news, oil on my mind. "Jesus Christ," I'd whispered to my sister earlier that week, "Have you seen those animals? I can barely stand to look."

14 September 2010

Lunch Box

I'm going to start writing more again, I decided. Because I feel better when I write than when I don't, walking around, writing in my head. Plus my brain is getting totally full and there are hardly any spots left to scribble upon. I have about ten posts that I need to get out. But first, this one. Because it's the most recent.

Little A and I were waiting for her bus this morning. It's still hard for me, you know? Because I want to pick her up and take her back to the house and lay on the couch and read books to her all day. Because I want to make up for all the exasperated sighs that I wasted on her when she'd interrupt me for the 1,000th time while I was working.

We were standing there and I smiled down at her and asked her if she was going to sit with her new friend, B. She's been all excited about B, telling even the cashier at the store, "Yep, and I wide the bus and I sits wif my friend. Her name is B and she's my new friend."

A cloud washed across the skies of her eyes and she looked down.

"What's up, baby?" I asked as I knelt down by her.

"B don't wike me no more and she sayed 'dat I can't sit wif her no more."

"Why is that?"

'"Cause she wanted my lunch box and I sayed she couldn't have it and 'den she sayeddat I's not her friend and now she sits wif someone else and I sits by myself."

I put on my brightest smile, "Come on, I'll drive you to school! It'll be fun!"

"No, Ma. I wikes widing 'da bus. I's just sad when I see B 'cause she was my friend and now she ain't anymore. But I still wikes 'da bus."

We then turned our topic to the dogs and singing and then the bus came and I watched her little head walk down the aisle, get into a seat by herself, slide to the window and wave to me.

I waved back my most enthusiastic wave and watched the bus roll away, turned and let out a sob that surprised even me.

The mother in me wanted to chase down the bus, tell B that no, she couldn't have Little A's lunch box and how dare she! How dare she be so cruel at such a young age! I wanted to call her mom and tell her what B had said to Little A--tell her, it's too soon, they are too young--please, teach her love.

But I didn't. This is the part that I have dreaded. The part where I cannot control her environment, her surroundings, who she encounters. But I can hopefully impact how she treats those around her.

I hope, that if a day were to come that she should pass a "B" on the street and know just by looking into B's eyes that she needed Little A's lunchbox, that Little A would hand it over and never think twice. I will continue to try to raise her that way, despite my raging heart and despite all of my protective instincts.

So that means putting her on that bus, and a lot of other buses, over and over again and trusting that she'll do the right thing, no matter what the world throws at her, no matter if she'll have to sit alone.

And this is hard, people. So painfully hard.

07 September 2010

Looking Back...We'll Have None of That

They are both gone, today.

Big A, off to the seventh grade; still a breath shorter than I, but I'm checking, each night, for the dawn that I know will soon arrive. I've not decided yet if it is the knowing or not knowing that is the worst for me. I probably never will; neither of them are pleasant.

Big A was up at 6:00; I'd been up, of course; I don't recall sleeping. Her lunch was packed and I sat quietly at my desk, reviewing again her paperwork, waiting for her to call for me for something, anything, some sort of advice or help. She didn't. That means I'm doing it right, you know?

We chatted for a moment and planned our schedules--you have practice at this time, I'll get you from that, then a team meeting...finally she smiled at me, "Mom, you have to wake her up, you know."

I smiled my brightest fake smile as I slapped my hands on my legs and said, "I know! Let's go get her."

I felt as though I was dragging the weight of the world with each step. I thought to myself as each movement came upon me, "left, right, left, right." All these years, this moment coming and still, as I paused before I turned on the light, I was not prepared.

When the light hit Little A's face, she rubbed her sweet eyes and then smiled, a smile that could have lit the room had it been dark. "Today is the day!" I sang to her. "I knows, Ma! I'm goin' ta school." (I swallowed all that was rising within me, including the worry that she might step off the bus and not say, "knows" or "ta" anymore.)

We got dressed and took pictures and saw Big A off on her bus, complete with the humiliation of photographing her steps up the yellow wagon. I told her she'd appreciate it someday and thought of how very old I felt when I said that.

Little A and I made our way back in, ate breakfast, braided hair, snapped some photos and it was Time. I watched her blue eyes widen as we pulled into the school. All of her fingers were crossed as I unbuckled her to get out. "I's so excited Ma! I can't wait!" She squeezed me tight as I begged, again, for the world to stop, for just a moment.

On Big A's first day of kindergarten, I recall walking into the walls to try to get out. She had hugged me and kissed me and then turned and ran into her class--she never looked back. I remember thinking that no matter how my heart broke, that was the way I wanted it to be.

I didn't think Little A's transition would go so well. Big A never cuddled, Little A and I cuddle all the time; our hands are always entwined. She will say, "Ma, Ma, Ma, Ma" and when I finally stop what I'm doing, she'll spell out "L-O-V-E." Big A will grab her stomach and feign nausea each time.

I was worried about her worries; worried about her quirks; dreading this moment with all that I had in me. Little A met her teacher, we hung up her backpack, and then she hugged my legs, looked up at me and said, "I love ya ma, but I gots ta go ta school now." And she turned and ran to her chair.

She never looked back.

And now I'm home; where I can finally actually work from home without constant interruptions, without Dora on the TV, without hundreds of requests to go outside, without her here to "help" me and run my shredder.

And the silence is the loudest sound I've ever heard.

Long live the Queens.

05 July 2010


Abrielle Barko Image: Jennifer Barko

I am writing this on the eve of Five; assuming that like all of the dawns previous, tomorrow will come. I will greet it with a smile and with a sense of heaviness that I assume one day, should you have children, you will understand.

"I's not your baby, Ma." I can't tell you what those words mean to me, what they do to me. You've heard thousands of times already that you will always be my baby. You'll hear it thousands times more, for it is the truest of the few truths that I know.

Hope, Little A; you're also my hope.
Love, Little A; you're also my love.
Laughter and joy and all that is light; you are also those things to me.

I watch you carefully and quietly, trying to drink in all that is you, believing that since it was I that carried you; I that held you, that surely somehow I must be able to capture all of you and hold it tight to me. I know of course, that there is no holding light, no holding time. I know this, yet, each day, I have to learn it again.

I want you to fly. I want you to grow and run and be the force that I know you will be upon the world. I want these things for you.

I also want to hold you close; to stop time; to turn the clocks and stay here, now, when I am your hero, your "bestest mom in 'da world", still able to scoop you up and snuggle with you at night and make up stories and talk about dreams and dance with wild abandon without fear of who might see.

I see the look in your eyes, when you're staring out at something that doesn't quite exist, murmuring words that have been put into your heart, without you knowing how they got there. I know those words, love. I see what others do not, for I saw those things too. I recited those verses as well. And that scares me, Little A. There are easier paths than those of a dreamer. It's not that I want the easy path for you; it's that I want to shield you from certainly what is to come.

I look at you and see me so clearly that it sometimes startles me to my core. When you whisper your dreams to me in the dark of the night with stunning detail, I understand, and I remember what it is to dream. I used to love dreaming so much that I looked forward to bed; to sleep; to slumber--and I recall how hard it was for me to adapt when those nights of solitude slowly ebbed out of my life. I don't want that for you, Little A. I want you to always dream.

I don't want Five. I don't want you to know about the things that you'll learn. I don't want your sweet little heart to break over and over and over again while you will the world to change and greet each unchanged sunrise with a sense of surprise and sorrow and unhampered belief that today is the day; you will change the world today. And yet, I believe it is possible, Little A, if anyone will change this world, I believe it could be you, so I know that I need to set you forth and cheer you on and offer you what little I know. I promise I will do this with each breath that I take.

I don't want Five. I don't want The Magic to end. I want you to believe that you are magic always; that you have the power to do things that others cannot. I want you to know that this is true. I believe that you can make this true.

"Ma, my magic only works when I's with you," you said to me. Someday, you'll understand why my eyes filled with tears when I responded, "I know what you mean, Buddy."

For all the not wanting, Five, I know, is nearly here. I can feel Time making its' way into our home right now, silently slipping in with the dark as the light draws from this day. I will stay awake tonight and watch you sleep. I will count your breaths as I've done in the past; I'll rest my hand upon your chest and kiss your unwitting cheeks and will greet your awakening eyes with the brightest smile that I can muster.

Each day that I've had you in my life has been the greatest day I've known. I love you beyond love.

Five, Little A.


20 April 2010

Flutter, The RePost

I rarely re-direct you elsewhere, but these words....these words deserve to be read over and over again; they are that beautiful and haunting and heartbreaking.


14 April 2010

No Answer

I'm not sure that anyone comes here to read anymore since I rarely come here to write.

It's a time thing.

But that is not what this post is about. I need to write this post so that I can get up in the morning and go do what I need to do. I need to write this post so I can quit crying and pull it together and remind myself why every little action matters.

If you're reading here, you know my clients; you know my work.

This is the story of S. She's 21. She grew up in your classic abusive home. She got pregnant young; she has a four year old boy that she loves more than life. They live together in their temporary housing at a local shelter.

Absorb that, as you settle into your bed, or your chair, or read this from your laptop or computer; if you can do that, then perhaps you can begin to feel what I'm feeling.

With virtually no supports, she attained her C.N.A. Within a week of working with me, she got a job offer from one of the top hospitals in our state. Today was her first day. She had to be to work at 7:00 this morning.

At 6:30 tonight, while I was with a different client helping her select clothes for her first day of work this weekend, S called twice and then left a voice message. Do you understand when I say that I was afraid to listen to it?

"Hi, Jenn, it's S. Today didn't go good. It didn't go good at all....it was awful. Can you call me?"

My heart sank and I anxiously waited for her to pick up the phone.

She explained that she'd left her house at 5:45 with her son, driven him to a friend's home who said she would put him on his bus at 8:00 so he could get to his pre-school. Her friend didn't answer the door or her phone. Her friend also didn't respond when S. began knocking on her windows.

So she began calling the few people she could call:

The father of the child. No answer.

A different friend. No answer.

A cousin. No answer.

Her child, tugging on her coat, "Momma, what's going on? Why you crying? Momma?"

No answer.

This woman, this girl, her child--all of her hopes, sitting in a driveway at 6:00 in the morning, just waiting for one person in her life to come through for her. Just one.

They didn't.

She called her supervisor, told him what was happening, and got her son on the bus, then reported to work, very late.

They let her stay.

Tonight, she was panicking, crying, rambling, "This is my dream job. This is my whole life. And I feel like I don't deserve it, you know? I feel like when any little thing starts to go good, I have this awful luck and it just falls apart. I don't think I can do this anymore."

I wanted to tell her so many things, but I couldn't. I told her this was temporary; that we'd coordinate help and if she could just get through this week, by next week, she'd be all set. She began to calm down. Then, a whisper, "But tomorrow? How do I get through tomorrow?"

I told her if she couldn't find anyone, I would be at the shelter at 6:30 and I would put her child on his bus and then we'd figure out a plan from there.

About one minute later, the client I was with came out of the dressing rooms, beaming, talking excitedly about work. Her mother met her there to take her to a celebratory dinner at the mall.

I hugged her hard and wished her the best and didn't make it to the car before the tears began to fall.

I had 17 voice mails today. S was just one of them. She was also the only one that I had time to return before 8:00 tonight.

And I'm laying here, exhausted in so many ways, thinking of S.; about her day, about her life, about those hours of panic this morning, about the challenges that she's faced already and how she's overcome so much and about how hope looks so different and sounds so different to all of us.

I made a choice today between the responses churning in my head; between the thought that ultimately, it's not my problem; that I've done my job and helped her out and then the thought of a young mother, her head on a steering wheel, sobbing in the dark, wondering where she would find help and how she'd get through this.

And when that young mother picked up her chin, wiped away her tears and checked her make-up in the mirror, her eyes were mine.

And that is why I do what I do.

And that is why I am going to change the world.

And that is why I am still lying here, weeping, waiting for an answer.

What I Cannot Give Her

Each day I feed her and bathe her and laugh with her.

I take her for walks, read to her, hug her and sing to her.

I'm not sure how many times I tell her that I love her, but it's numerous. Some might think that saying "I love you" over and over makes the words lose meaning, but each time I say them to her, part of my heart aches from what I feel when I'm speaking.

On a daily basis, I give her vitamins and her medications, and a roof over her head, a warm room with "i carry your heart with me" painted on the wall and homemade afghans on the bed to sleep in.

Lately, though, I've found myself trying to give her things that I think she's going to need for the long haul, because with the visions of fairy tales stripped from my head, I'm starting to realize what a long haul it is going to be.

I'm slower to kiss her "owwies". "There's no crying in baseball", I say to her, then kiss her after she insists on it repeatedly. She still thinks I'm magic that way. I feel a liar to let her believe these things.

I feel like somehow I need to instill other things in her; not "girlie" things, not comforting things, not hugs and coddling, but tools that are going to make her capable and strong and un-needy.

I want to make her a fighter. I want to make her the type of person that gets knocked on their ass and instead of crying, gets back up and goes at it again, over and over.

I want to make her realize the value of herself, of what she has within her, of what she can have within her.

I want to make her a girl that is secure enough within her being to not look for a missing man in all of the men that she meets.

I want to make her a girl that loves me enough not to hate me for what I cannot give her.

I want to give her so many things, so many things, and I'm afraid that no matter how much I do give her, it will not ever be enough to fill the void that I'm worried is already growing within her, the ache that she can't quite place her finger on.

I want to take that heart of hers and keep it wild and free and open, and at the same time, I want to cage it to keep it from the wounds that are undoubtedly going to leave it scarred and tattered.

And I have absolutely no idea how to do this, how to be this person, and it's scaring me in ways that I don't know how to put into words. It has me staring at the ceiling in the dead of the night and wondering if I did right by her when I thought that I could be enough of a person to take care of her and provide her with what she needs.

"I have no idea what I'm doing", I find myself saying this over and over lately and it's only a matter of time before she recognizes that, before the person that she sees when she looks at me and the person that I see in the mirror before me are the same.

And there are so many things that I want to give her before that day.

10 March 2010

The Last of the Firsts

Jennifer Barko Serving The Queens"...and they lived happily ever after."

Tonight Little A and I are going to kindergarten round-up. I have no idea why it needs to be so soon; so early; why it's arrived so fast.

While filling out all of the required forms, I couldn't help but keep thinking of the day that she and I left the hospital together. The nurse rolled us out to the door and I stood up, her in my arms, terrified to leave the hospital, and yet, off we went, she and I, to the car together and out into the world.

She was so little for so long; always the tiniest one, the frailest one, the one that everyone coddled and hovered over; her little frame belied her strong spirit.

And now, oh now. She is the Queen of Everything and Everyone. She has a sense of humor that has people laughing constantly. She has a mind that forgets nothing. She has the ability to make sunshine out of rain.

I don't want this to end. I don't want her to go to school. I don't want to have her grow, and yet, of course, I do. I'm not ungrateful for this magic life, but if I had an opportunity to stop time, it would be now.

I don't want her to know of insecurity or think twice before she bursts out into song. I don't want her to feel like she has to dress a certain way or talk a certain way or stop the way that she uses "w" instead of "l" and "r".

I want her to always believe that she is magic, that she can turn the song on the radio by willing it so, that she can open doors by pointing her finger, for in many ways, I think when she realizes that isn't so, it will be the last of my magic as well.

Knowing my body will never bear another child, knowing that this is the last of the firsts, knowing that she is on the cusp of so many things, all of them pulling her further out into the world and from me; I can't describe this ache.

I believe that ee cummings said it best:
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart)

05 March 2010


Jennifer Barko Adriana Burkhart Serving The Queens
Dear Big A, 

I wish I had words to tell you what this day does to me, but I do not.

I wish I had something to give you, something beyond my love, that was certain, but I don't. I know all too well that even my love doesn't feel like love most days, Big A. Angst is not lost on this adoring mother, though I know you believe otherwise.

I struggle now, more than ever. I want to give you the world, but I want you to know what it means to seek out your own place.

I want to teach you the importance of loving yourself while making sure you learn how to put others before you and the value of that; of recognizing more than yourself.

I want to be your compass, and yet, more than ever, it is you and Little A that are mine. "What would I want them to do?" "What would I want them to know?" "What if that were my child; how would I want someone to fight for them?"

So how does this work, you ask?

And all I can tell you after these twelve years of being a mother is that possibly, today more than ever, I don't know. I say possibly because I'm not sure. It doesn't go away, but I wish it did.

I see your insecurities, and they gnaw at me.

I see your strengths and they inspire me.

I see your frustration and your anger and your desire for this part of you to end, already, eyes to the finish line when you've just yet started the race. You are my child, after all.

I know you cringe when I speak of the moment ago that I was cradling you to my chest, so I try not to speak of it. I don't tell you to embarrass you, I tell you so that you know; to try to teach you that it does pass, love, so fast, so quick, so certainly.

The etches in the doorway; the three inches that you've grown, the three shoe sizes that you've gained--in just a year? I cannot keep up with you and for that I am ever so grateful and eternally sad. And that makes not one bit of sense to me, either.

It is not just you, though I tell you it is; I do hold you a bit longer when I hug you at night now. "Will it be tonight?", I wonder, "Will it be tonight that she goes to bed a tad shorter and awakens taller than I? Will this be the last time I know of my child being just so below my eye level?" I'm the tallest in my family, you know, so I have no idea how to look up at you, and yet, it seems I've been doing so forever.

I know that you believe if you hear once more of the day I discovered the last of your baby fat was gone that you will die of boredom. I do know this. I do hear you. I do listen.

It's just the shock of that; the pain of that; the keen awareness and foreshadowing of what was yet to come--it hasn't left me yet, Big A. I don't believe it ever shall. And I believe that is how it should be.

There is no stopping this thing called time; perhaps these are the longest years. I cannot be your friend. I cannot grasp you to my chest. I cannot shelter you from this world. I cannot follow you to be certain that you've donned your hat and zipped your coat and protected your lips with the chapstick that I seem to buy you daily.

I will never rock you again in the old creaky chair; never fall asleep again with you on my chest; never make you believe that I am magic anymore.

Santa is gone, the Tooth Fairy is gone, the Easter Bunny is gone; on some days, I know, even God is gone. I can't make you believe. I can't explain well enough. And I must be alright with that. And I will tell you that even now, that is hard, despite knowing it is how it must be.

There is no love beyond this love.

There is no breath that I take without you on my mind.

There is no thought not marked by your presence.

There is no beauty that does not remind me of you.

Twelve years. It might have been twelve hours and I still would not know where the time has gone.

Happy Birthday, Big A.

01 March 2010

Milo Plots My Death

Clark and Lynn Most If you look closely you'll be able to see Milo the wonder-cat hidden within the confines behind my washer and dryer. Trust me, he's there, backed up against the wall as far as possible, plotting his escape. Seriously, he told me so:

ME: Milo, come out, Mr. Man. Kitty, kitty, kitty.

MILO: I am ignoring you. I've just survived a fire and the trauma of hiding in a small confined space there, and now, I'm here?

ME: Milo, it's me, Jenn, you remember me? All those nights you'd tap on my door with your come hither ways....all those nights we sat on the couch cuddling and typing resumes?

MILO: I remember you, Jenn. It's just that I'm a tad worried that you've gotten the wrong impressions from our time together.

ME: What?!

MILO: Look, I'm a free bird, I got lots-a girls. I thought we were cool until somehow I woke up here in your house. I don't know what you told my parents to convince them that I should stay with you, but just wait until I talk to them. And don't be goin' all Kathy Bates on me and trying to tie me to a bed and break my ankles with an axe.

ME: Milo, honey, it worked before, we can make this work again. Look, I made you your favorite dinner....albacore tuna fiesta. I even put it in this little dish for you.

MILO: Day-um, I am hungry. Saunters out, eats meal.

ME: Feel better now buddy?

MILO: Purring, well, I guess I could get in bed with you-but I gotta be clear--I'm a playa, this don't mean nothing to me besides having someone to get through the night with. You cool with that?

ME: Um, Milo, you're not allowed to leave the house, ever, so I'd think that would really impede upon your playa status.

MILO: That's only cause you don't know the skilz I have. Stray Cat Strut? They wrote it for me.

ME: I get it, Milo, I get it. You're the coolest cat ever.

MILO: Yeah, baby, you do got it. Now if you play your cards right, I'll let ya rub my back.

Serving The Queens Jennifer BarkoMILO: Don't be alarmed by the sinister swishing of my tail or the look in my eyes. Really. You're the favorite of my kitty calls honey. Just come over, pick me up and take me to the bedroom where we can snuggle like the old times. And when I'm gone in the morning baby, don't cry. Just smile when you think of me.

ME: Oh, Milo, anything for you.

(We've got tonight, who needs tomorrow, let's make it last, let's find a way.....)

26 February 2010

Move Along

Jennifer Barko Serving The Queens

About 99.9 percent of the time, I'm ready to give up and cash it in. I look at all of our things, take cold showers and dig through possessions and I feel mostly like it's impossible, what has to happen next.

Like it cannot be done. Like I just don't have it in me to do this.

But that's just how I feel, not the truth.

Because the truth is, we do it all over again every day, right? In one way or another, we do. It's all small steps.

I sat down yesterday and pulled up a news page; I had no idea there were more earthquakes. Looking at those photos of devastation, I felt ridiculously petty and small. What if everyone just sat down and cried and kicked doors and didn't do jack about what was around them?

I'm looking at this like I look at a run. The first minute thinking there's no way I'll make it today, I hate running, why do I run? Then by the second time I hear, "When all ya gotta keep is strong, move along, move along," I remember why I run. And by the "face down in the dirt, she said 'this doesn't hurt,' " I have it in me to laugh and remember that I'm glad to be alive.

A few posts back, I wrote that I believed this year would be better than the last one. I wrote something along the lines of, "I'm a runner, it's my turn to run."

I still believe that.

And I've resorted to child labor, because I think, hey, if Apple and Nike make it work, I can too:

Abrielle Barko Jennifer BarkoYeah, that's Little A, running a shredder. Thank Bank of America for that one since they feel at liberty to keep making withdrawals from my checking account and giving it to random strangers, thereby forcing me to close my damn account and do all the shit that you have to do when closing an account. I know it looks bad, but she has a high tolerance for pain and I think fingers are mostly over-rated anyway.

We've taken to walking on floors that are littered with nails no matter how many times I sweep, or state: "Wear shoes at all times." No one listens to me and now I have the awesome comeback line of, "If only you'd listened to me, you wouldn't have lost your foot to tetanus." Which is pretty much the ultimate "I told you so," of parenting.

So there's that. And I'll take it.

Now move along.

The Things We Keep

I quit writing.

I quit writing on paper; I know; this isn't paper, but I quit putting it here. I was writing, always in my head, but time--time to write--if I'd have started writing, I may not have stopped.

So instead of not stopping, I never began.

What I was telling you in my head was that last year had been the worst of my life; that I'd lived through it.

I wanted to tell you that I awoke and found myself and then found my voice.

And that life can come and get me, and that I will be running right into it, as fast as I can.

There will be no more weeping in showers. I shall weep, make no mistake, but to hide and cower; no.

I don't remember the order, but I recall the crumbling.

I have to tell you, I might not remember much from what I write here tonight. I think the Ambien is kicking in; who knows; the post so long in the writing may never make it to post.

My house fell apart? Did I tell you that?

A sewer cap broke under the home and drained, for months, under the crawl space. The crawl space above my office. 

The whole house had to be emptied out and many possessions parted with, replaced, of course, those that could be. Mourned, always, those that couldn't. The bacteria wasn't something you could just wipe away. The house had to be gutted.

While going through all of my belongings, I decided to make "The Box". The box you would grab after your children, the box with pictures of childhood you'd stolen from your mothers albums and lied about, the pictures of your children, worn and torn and faded yellow.

The letters from those that you loved, the letters from your grandparents and the amazingly life-reinforcing cards created by your soul sister Beth. The box of things that you would keep, if you could only keep one. I kept thinking, if I had to grab one thing....

But I didn't.

It happened so fast.

I'd just gotten home from work; I'd worked late that night and I didn't have the girls; I was still in my boots and coat. I was reading a planner page and donning an eye patch and laughing, looking forward to Friday, the day I was going to see some of my dearest friends from childhood and help with their move; we'd made a joke about pirates and Orlando Bloom. I was laughing out loud.

The dog whined. I ignored her. She always whines. I began to cough. Not too odd; I cough a lot lately.

I began to smell smoke. I began to ignore the smoke that I smelled. "Could. Not. Be."

Within one minute, I heard the owners above me scrambling, yelling, calling for their pets. I ran to my door and as I opened it, C was standing there, yelling, "The house is on fire."

He was looking for their cat, their beautiful cat. I started to help him look, but after a minute it became impossible with the smoke. He ran back upstairs and I walked, calmly, through my apartment, grabbed my purse and walked outside.

I stood for five minutes when I began shaking, thinking about the box. Thinking what I'd been thinking as I packed it: "If I had to put my life in one box...."

I began to shake and weep as I thought of what I'd wanted to keep, on the floor in a closet; a cardboard box. I became sick. I tried to comfort the owners, but they too were in shock, murmuring about the wood fire and the fan and how quickly it started.

At some point, I called my sister. That is almost the last thing I remember. I remember the fireman that had seen me weeping under a tree carrying out a box, cardboard, wet and walk to me. "I can carry this to your car."

The driveway is long; there were ten, fifteen fire trucks? I assume that I walked it. I remember laughing about something and then crying and laughing and crying.

"I don't have underwear," I laughed and cried. I left that on my insurance agents voice mail.

I tried calling the owners to find out about Milo, to find out where they are, to find out about the next step. I laid here and cried; thankful for the lives spared, terrified of what remains and what doesn't, a box, in my car, of what I would take with me if I had to put my life into a box and run.

And I'm running. Running right into it. Not crying in the shower; I'll just stand and weep openly. Life, you'll have to take this one kicking and screaming. Come hell or high water; so far, I survived them both.