06 July 2011


Abrielle Barko Jennifer Barko

The day passed as quickly as the six years we celebrated. I'm left here tonight; wondering where the time went--yes, still I wonder--even after all of this time that has passed within just a moment.

Six was hard, knowing that it was the end of Five. It hit me like the moment that I gave back the bassinet that I had slept in as a child; knowing that there would be no more of my children sleeping in it. I always said the years between three and five were my favorite; those years are gone now.

Already just in this year between birthday cakes she has lost nearly all of her words that were said incorrectly; the "w's" are rarely placed where the "l's" belong anymore. I remember the look on a friends face when I corrected her as she corrected Little A for saying "wike" instead of "like".

"No; it's OK--I hardly have any of that left," I'd said. In my mind there was a memory of that old wooden
bassinet; my sobs as I hauled it down the stairs; there was a memory of how tiny she once was; how truly small her hands were when I held them in mine. Her sweet mispronounced words were the parts of that woven wooden baby bed that had remained.

She awoke today with a sense of age, "It is very different than five," she explained.


"Mom, it's seriously so much older than five. How can you be an adult an' not know that?"

Mumma knows that, silly." And her braid became tighter in my hands as all of her blond hair fell together into just a motion, a memory, a prayer. "Turn your head this way, baby." We turned away from the mirror before us, time and tears woven into a plait of hope and sunshine.

If I were to tell the absolute truth of Six, the first word would be this image:

It's one thing to write of her story here; it is another to open my hands and show you what I hold within them. For her end of the year project in kindergarten, they had to create a timeline and she needed a photo of when she was born.

"Is that me?" She had asked, her eyes focused upon the picture, confusion clouding the blue of her stare. "It is, buddy." "What was wrong with me?" "Nothing," I'd said. "You were just very, very tiny and had a lot of things that doctors had to work on for a long time." I explained that her body needed time to catch up to her soul. She smiled when I said that. "Well, I'm super fast so can you even believe how much I caught up to it? Isn't that funny, Ma? Isn't that crazy? How did I even do that so fast?"

The truth of Six is that I once thought Six would never come, just as I thought One would never come; just as I worried that one week, then two weeks, then a month would never come. The truth of Six is that despite the force that she is, she is also still that tiny prayer inside of a NICU to me. I held her in one hand and now I'm releasing her to the world with both. It's hard for me and I wish it weren't, but damn if Six doesn't make it so much harder than Five.

We were talking about her birthday a few days ago, when I joked with her (as I always do) that if she would just quit growing I'd feel so much better. "Ma, I'm gonna grow, OK. I have to. I need to drive a car and get groceries. But I'm gonna stick around, OK? You're gonna see me, OK? But I'm gonna grow, OK? Seriously, I have to."

Of course she has to grow. Of course I am blessed each day that she does. Of course I should have let go of Five with more dignity than I did and I should have greeted Six with a smile and an open door rather than sobbing on the phone with my sister hiding behind the door of my bathroom.

Six was the best birthday ever, according to her. It arrived as friends were pulling out of our driveway at midnight after a night of catching fireflies and making s'mores. We spent most of Six in the sun at the beach. I've been awake for most of Six, but I feel like only a minute has passed.

I asked her what her favorite part of the day was as I was hugging her goodnight. "Remember today when I was really afraid ta go in the lake and ya kept sayin' 'it's OK, Momma is here' and then you kept letting me ride on your back and taking little steps with me and then finally I was like, 'OK, people, I'm swimmin' and I started swimming? Do you remember that?"

"Of course I do, silly, it just happened today."

"Well that was my favorite part, when I was huggin' ya like really tight and ya kept sayin' 'you can do it' and then I did. When I did it, that was my favorite part. And now I'm a lake swimmer, of course."

"What was your favorite part?" she whispered. "When I watched you swimming away like such a big girl," I whispered back.

"Did I look like a really big girl when I did that?" "Like the biggest six year old ever," I said. "I'm really tired, Momma. I have ta go to bed now so I can swim tomorrow."

I hugged her as tight as I could and tucked her in between her two best friends. I smiled sincerely, with all of my soul, at them as I pulled the door shut. I rested my head up against it for a minute and stood there, softly closing a different door in my mind where a tiny baby that fit within the palm of my hand laid within a different bed, machines whirring and humming around her. It probably won't be the last time that I close that door, but I'm determined to try to open it less.

I can't keep worrying about what was and I don't have time to worry about what will be; I have a six year old to take care of now, ya' know?


The End

When I was one I had just begun
When I was two I was nearly new

When I was three I was hardly me
When I was four I was not much more

When I was five I was just alive
But now I am six, I'm as clever as clever;

So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.
A.A. Milne

24 May 2011

Waiting On Hope

"Poverty doesn't give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor."
Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian


In my mind, I've written at least ten posts about L. I am surprised to come back here and find that I haven't transposed any of those words to this place, when I can read them so clearly in my mind.

The first post dedicated to him was when I first met him and he had no identification at all. "Your mom doesn't have a copy of your birth certificate? Your social security card?" He shook his head. "I got nothing."

He couldn't get his school records without identification. He couldn't get identification without two forms of photo identification. He couldn't get photo identification without some verification of his identity.

I carefully watched the employees behind the counter at the Secretary of State the day that I went there with him, a copy of a birth certificate in hand when we technically needed an original. "Please," I said and then later made jokes about what a good pair of hooker boots will do for you when really I knew to the core of my being that it was what someone with a good heart would do for you.

I have to make jokes, you know, because if I don't I feel overwhelmed sometimes with the emotion of it all.

"All of this," L said that day as I drove him home, "All of this just to prove that I exist?" I made some remark that made him laugh as my hands gripped the wheel as tight as they could and I choked on the sob rising in my throat.

About a month later, L. had an interview scheduled. The employer called me to tell me that they had filled the position the day before he was to go in; the day that I had left a message for her explaining that I was working with him. When L. called to check in about the interview, I had to tell him that the position was no longer open.

He didn't respond. "L?" I asked. And at the other end, I heard him weeping. There are not words to explain what that did to me, and still I urged him to hold on; that hope was right around the corner. And it was. That day.

L. has been working for nearly six weeks now. It took him all this time to save up $510 to pay off two tickets that he'd gotten in 2008. Before you make a judgment, let me tell you about the tickets. He was pulled over for a muffler that was too loud. A muffler that he knew was too loud, but that he couldn't afford to fix. He was ticketed for that muffler and for not having his proof of insurance on him. He couldn't afford to pay for them; if he could have afforded that, he would have fixed his muffler.

Again, with they cycles, the circles.

In Michigan, if your license is suspended, you have to pay your fines, a reinstatement fee ($150) and a "driver responsibility fee" ($600-minimum) to get your license back.

The bus doesn't go near where L. works, so he has to get off the bus a mile and a half from there and walk the rest of the way. He still goes. He believes that this is the way out from where he is from. I am not sure anymore if there is a way out, but I'm going to keep acting like I do. I don't know anything else.

When I found out about the additional fees today, I was struggling to compose myself when my phone rang. It was him. I delivered the news in fragments, in a way that wouldn't allow him to fully process it, and I knew it, but I don't feel like he can process it right now.

His counselor and I sat later today as she wracked her brain with ways to help and I mostly sat there watching her, nodding my head, running circles in my brain. There are a couple of possible leads, but they are small and unlikely. Probably as small and unlikely as the possibility of a kid who was raised in "the system", who knows nothing but poverty, who bears the demons of his father in the long and jagged scar that rises angrily across cheek getting up every day, hours before he has to be to work, to get to work.

He doesn't have someone in his life that has given him the example of holding a steady job. He doesn't have someone in his life that taught him to keep his social security card or who kept his birth certificate or who made sure he went to school. He doesn't have someone in his life who can even be relied upon to pick him up on time on Sunday morning when the bus doesn't run to help him get to work.

"Do you have a hero, L.?" The manager asked during his interview. "I'd have to say God," he answered. "Do you have anyone, like a person in your life that you look up to or that has helped you?" He looked at his hands and then said, "Just Jenn. She's about the only person that's ever helped me in my life, ma'am." And I made a joke about that not being a good thing, and we all laughed and the manager readjusted papers that didn't need readjusting and I shifted in my chair and I smiled at L. and we walked out and I told him that it would all be O.K., that this was the beginning of things changing.

I believed that when I said it.

I hope, with all that I have left in me, that I will believe that again tomorrow morning.

I hope that somehow his counselor (one of those vastly overpaid civil servants that went into public service to become rich and live the high life off of our tax dollars) finds an answer that has been overlooked; placed in a corner somewhere and forgotten; a ten dollar bill in the pocket of a coat that hasn't been worn in a couple of years.

I hope that tomorrow when I talk to L. that I will be able to tell him that things have been figured out and that all of his efforts haven't been for nothing; that he can finally quit waiting on hope and instead bask in the light of its' arrival.


"Hope is necessary in every condition. The miseries of poverty, sickness, of captivity, would, without this comfort, be insupportable." Samuel Johnson

05 March 2011


Adriana Burkhart Jennifer Barko
Big A,


You are thirteen; more improbable than this is the fact that I have a child that is thirteen; these are not the same thing although it may seem as though they are.

I say it so often, but I have to say it again: I have no idea where the time has gone. I now know firsthand the secret told in the glances of my grandparents and parents, my aunts and uncles: that there is no answer, that they stood there, too, in wonder of where time went, trying to sort out how the people before them looked so different than the people within them.

It's hard, I know, Big A. I must tell you I thought it would be so much easier. I thought that when Thirteen arrived that we would be the best of friends and would meld into one another, simple, curved shapes that were difficult to tell from the other. It isn't that, and that truth is hard. It's all sharp edges and muscles tightened from walking on tiptoes throughout our lives right now.

It's hard to be your mom when I want to be your friend...I am told that the friendship will come in later years, when the innocence and bravado of youth wears a little and shadows begin to fall on the knowledge of all that you thought that you knew. I cannot wait for that time, and yet, if I could shield you from that time, I would as well.

When I tell you that your entire life is before you and that each moment matters, it is because I ignored those exact words of those before me and I look back on that oldest truth with a mix of curiosity and regret--the truth that youth is wasted on the young.

If I were gone tomorrow, I would want you to know how very much I love you. How despite the tension now, that the moment each morning when I see your sleepy face, that each time I am overcome with how much I love you.

I would want to tell you to dive for every ball. To go for it, whatever it is, with all that there is within you. To not wait until you think it will be safe--safety is overrated and not as secure as you would believe. I would want you to know that I never regretted trying and not succeeding, but that I always regretted not trying.

I would want you to know that we really are all just hanging by a thread and that that thread is interwoven among mankind; all of us. That a second, even a part of a second, can make all the difference in the world. That the smallest act can have the most significant impact. That life as you know it could be life as you knew it within the blink of an eye. I would tell you to be the one to let go last when hugging someone.

Punctuation does matter and no matter what, there are two spaces after a period. Floss then brush. Think then speak. Guard the plate with two strikes and if it's close, you better be swinging. Make your free-throws.

Duke and The Yankees are of the same evil empire. Cloud-watching is an art. Be kind. Be true.

You are a love letter written across my soul, sweet girl, with words that I cannot express or understand, but know just the same.

Happy Thirteen, Big A.

Your adoring mother

14 January 2011

On The Eve of 38

The eve of 38.

Preposterous, no?

It is to me, when I try to imagine it; when I'm lying in bed, thinking of all that I want to do with my life and the goals that I have, drawn fresh on the chalkboard of my mind. And then I go to rise and my knees ache and the mirror reminds me that no, this is not an innocent fresh-faced woman standing, looking out on the world.

And I smile softly and say a silent prayer of thanks that I have this day, this life.

I recall being a child, looking at the adults around me and thinking how easy it must be, how there must be a day that it all falls together and your life hums softly along and you are happy with you and your insecurities vanish and you become a grown person, that it all must somehow work out.

Now, of course, on the eve of 38, I see things differently. I can see the strains that didn't make a blip on my radar; I can hear whispers outside, a hot summer night, cousins sprawled across one another indoors as a marriage was breaking right outside the rainbows on the ceiling of our youth; we were all oblivious. It's hard, I know now, to compose yourself enough to walk into a house and put on a smile and carry on. But you do.

I remember longing for things that I didn't understand.

I remember thinking that if I were a better person, if I were smarter, if I were faster, if I were something more, then I would matter and there would be a magical moment when suddenly all of the bottled up ache and frustration and sorrow disappeared and was replaced with love.

It's hard for me that I still think these things; it would enrage me, I believe, if rage were still buried within me. Time does that, I suppose; takes the rough edges and sands them down, little by little, until you become very careful, very suddenly aware, that with all the whittling away, there are very few breaks that you can withstand much more. And you begin to let go of the things that break you.

I think of those that I love and I wonder if our children look at us and believe this myth; this lie of perfection and I would express wholeheartedly with all that is left in me, "I hope not."

It's not what Big A wants to hear, I know; that I am not perfect, that I am flawed and that I do not know the answers and that I'm just trying the best that I can. Who wants their parents to be riddled with confusion when you are so riddled with it yourself? I remember the brink of 13, where she stands now, and that makes me feel older than my knees and my wrinkles and the realization that all of the songs that I sincerely love are two decades old.

Here, on the eve of 38, I can tell you that what I've learned is probably so much of a lesser thing than all that I don't know. I can tell you that I've lived through days and nights that I could not have ever imagined living through, that there are wounds that are still as fresh as the day they were born, that there are miracles and sunrises and that there is so much beauty around me that it makes me weep, nearly on a daily basis.

I can tell you that there are people that I've met in an instant that I've known for a lifetime and people that I've known for a lifetime that I've never even known.

I can tell you that in my carefully crafted plans, 38 looked like a white picket fence and an accomplished legal and writing career and an SUV with smiling children. It didn't look like this; what 38 really is.

And for that, I am so, so grateful.

It is the eve of 38, and for the first time in my life, I can sincerely tell you that I'm good with me. I wouldn't want to be younger; I wouldn't want to go back.

And that makes me happy and makes me sad and makes me wish that I could take what I finally know and bottle it up and give it away to all of the people, children and adults, that right now are waiting for that moment when it all makes sense. I would tell them, "The time is now" and hug them and send them out into a brighter day.

But it is the eve of 38, and I know where those silly little hopes and dreams belong. And I am smiling as I tell you that knowing that they reside within me still is by far one of the greatest gifts I've ever received.

Oh, 38. You've got nothing on me.