The Saturday Evening Post’s Great American Fiction contest

Just submitted “Love in the Time of Corona” to The Saturday Evening Post’s Great American Fiction Contest. I originally wrote this as a memoir for my independent study at university and decided to convert it into a short story (not that my life isn’t awesome, but I wanted to use a little creative license). Each section is separated with a little poem; here is the first:

A wife, a widow, & a divorcee walk into a bar,
or, more likely, a restaurant,
because the wife isn’t looking,
the widow isn’t interested,
& the divorcee isn’t impressed.

The Year of the Tigress

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions; I prefer to look back at last year’s accomplishments. Maybe that’s because doing something motivates me more than planning to do something. One of the hardest things I did was kick the soda habit (this Coca-Colaholic hasn’t had a drink for months). I checked my blood sugar this morning for the first time in almost a year, and it was where it should be. My dad has diabetes, his mom had it, and her mom had it. My mom kicked cancer’s ass twice, so I can do the same with diabetes (or rather, preventing it). Fighting genetics isn’t fun, but I am doing it with the same determination I put into math classes, homeschooling, and my current gigs (I freelance for a living). Since giving up soda, I have found that I crave sweets less. Just a few bites of something sweet after dinner (I even gave up the sweet thing I used to have with my morning coffee), and that’s all I really want. So, how did this Coca-Colaholic give up soda? When I was carrying my second child, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Suddenly, because my habit no longer affected just me but someone else, I found the motivation to give up my Mexican Coca-Cola. Even after having my daughter, I had become accustomed to drinking sparkling water. When I tried drinking soda again, it still tasted great, but the cravings were gone. My next goal: getting used to unsweetened coffee (but Milo’s iced tea with Stevia stays).

Dear Amelia

“Dear Amelia” was published in the summer 2021 issue of Bella Grace magazine.

Dear Amelia,
You have made me appreciate red wine,
pink champagne,
and the true spirits of tomato and orange juice
more than ever.

Dear Amelia,
Thank you for giving me an excuse
to take naps in the middle of the day
and for making me take the spring semester off;
I didn’t want to take those lit classes anyway.

Dear Amelia,
You have given me an outie
where there used to be an innie,
and it’s weird.

Dear Amelia,
Thank you for giving me a reason to replace
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
and the excuse to reread it;
to play peek-a-boo,
to teach you baby sign language,
to cut up the moon for you,
to show you that you don’t have to do it all
to have it all,
to show you that you can do anything a boy can do
(but that you don’t have to),
and to tell you about the people I wish you could know
and who I wish could know you.

Dear Amelia,
You have kicked me when I am down
(for the night),
but I don’t mind,
for it lets me know you are still there.

Dear Amelia,
Thank you for showing me how much
I can love someone I’ve never met
but know is there—
who I love even more than I love myself
(and that’s a lot!).

Dear Amelia,
You took your sweet time getting here,
yet you came at seemingly the perfect time,
for who I am now
is better than who I’ve ever been.

Dear Amelia,
Thank you for giving me another chance to do this . . . all over again.

Dear Amelia,
It took a while to get your name just right,
but know that what we chose to call you
was not to honor anyone but you.

Dear Amelia,
Thank you for coming to be a sister to my other little girl,
who will need you and share your toys for you from time to time.

Dear Amelia,
Enjoy the abundance of the girl who beat you to it
and who will be more than happy to share hers—
especially the Calico Critter house with the dog-eared bunnies.
Don’t mind their shabby appearance,
for they have endured the play of Hurricane Hannah.
Let her show you how milk makes the best bubbles,
how you can sound like an elephant if you blow your nose hard enough,
and how to play pretend with anything.

Dear Amelia,
Let this other little girl tell you what you have missed,
even as you will experience things she will miss.
Share your stories.
When your dad and I have gone,
stay close to her,
for no one else will have the same memories of us
that you two will.

Dear Amelia,
You are ready to meet the world,
but is the world ready to meet you?

Dear Amelia,
Thank you for showing the world
that even in times
of pandemics and all manner of upheaval,
life goes on,
for babies are still being born.
Children are precious,
for they are the future.

That said,
Dear Amelia,
I am so glad your lease is up on January 15, 2021—
with the prerequisite grace period, of course.

And always remember,
Dear Amelia,
that just as you will leave my body,
I will someday leave your life.
And I pray that I will have given you everything you need
to take care of yourself
(and hopefully others),
so take care,
and we will see you soon.

But most of all,
Dear Amelia,
remember that whatever you choose to do
may not be essential to the world,
but it will be essential to you,
for it will give you purpose and provide for you
and any who may come after you.
Know that you do not have to know
what it is you want to do
at the same time as everyone else,
for lifelong learning
includes learning about yourself.
Find your quiet place,
where you can take the time to reflect,
for when you know yourself,
you can be yourself,
Miss Amelia Skye.

Micropoetry Monday: Hymns of Motherhood

Hymns of Motherhood

The Shutterfly Edition

For her,
motherhood was spent
smacking tags on clothes in the store
& plush animals at home,
on spinning pennies
& Minnie Mouse by the tail,
on “crashing the checkers”
of Connect Four,
only for the tray to be filled up again
with what she called gold coins & pepperonis.
Though such activities became
repetitious,
the payoff was in her smile
that lit up her face like a gloriole
& with the laughter that filled a room
with mirth.

She taught her daughter about Dreamland,
Tomorrowland,
& Never-Never Land that was always, always there.
She taught her about the Land of Shuteye Town,
of Oz, Narnia, & Wonderland,
& the Queendom of 40 Winks.
She taught her practical magic
& made realism magical,
which came from the imaginations
of those under the Heaven that was
beyond imagination
& surpassed all understanding.

There were oohs & aahs
over the goos & gahs
as the parents & grandparents
gathered round
in fascination with this new life,
bearing pink, plushy presents,
while the little child who had preceded this life
stood back & watched in the cool shallows,
thinking her star had dimmed
when it had only matured,
not understanding
that her co-existing co-creators
had wanted this life,
in part,
because her ever-so-wonderful life
had come first.

When Age Was No Longer Numbered

When the world no longer aged,
learning did not cease
but development did.
Husbands loved their expectant wives
with their rounded bellies & tiger mom stripes,
& the mothers loved their little one(s) within,
who floated as if in a state of suspended animation,
the mothers,
in suspended celebration.
The babies born were loved for who they were
& who they would never become.
Developmental milestones became a thing of the past;
educational milestones became the next big thing.
There were no more birthdays—
just calendars marking each day
since the last birthday had been celebrated;
there were anniversaries, however,
for Time continued marching on,
leaving a lighter bootprint
with every passing year.

It was an era of endless childhood:
of childhood sweethearts who would never marry,
of teenagers who would never know wisdom,
of young parents who would never become grandparents,
& of grandparents who would never pass away.
Those who loved their age loved their lives;
those who wished to be young again would be old forever;
& those who wished to grow up would never know independence,
for no matter how much they learned,
they would never mature.
There were no more conceptions or births,
no more deaths from old age but unnatural causes.
Those who loved what they did would do it seemingly forever,
& those who did not
could not bear an eternity of hating their livelihood,
so they went back to school
in acknowledgment & the reclaiming of their perpetual personhood,
for they had all the time in the world.

In this reverse Groundhog Day,
where the days changed, but the routine did not—
the world began to live in an almost hypnagogic state,
for the only promise of tomorrow was that it would come.
For some,
this cessation was the spring of eternal life,
for others,
a never-ending winter.
And for those who were too young to know any better,
it was all they knew.

Micropoetry Monday: The Lighter Side

In the valley of the dollhouses
there lay the site of the Calico Critters’ Lumberjack Festival.
When the Hopscotch Bunnies decided to participate
alongside the Eager Beavers
rather than fell trees,
they were needed on the roofs
to get better reception.

When 10:10 met 8:20,
10:10,
an annoying, perky sort,
told 8:20 to turn his clock face frown
upside down
& 8:20,
taking his advice,
cleaned 10:10’s clock
with his longer hand,
so that it took a minute
rather than an hour,
making 8:20 feel like an a.m.
rather than a p.m.

Mr. Gherkin always found himself in a pickle,
Miss Cherry, a jam,
but these 2 accident-prone soul-mates—
1 sweet, 1 sour—
had never met until they were joined
in sandwich-style matrimony
by the pregnant bridezilla.

The Comely Bones

She didn’t yet have a name,
but she had a job—
to someday watch over the sister,
whom she would never outpace in age,
after their parents had returned to Heaven;
to watch over the sister
who some saw as a cute little dot
on a wide spectrum—
this blitheful child who wrote in smileys
& spoke in echoes
& laughed at movement,
not jokes,
& whose dreamlike gaze
noticed the page numbers
but not the words.
But as the mother looked at her rapidly expanding belly
that contained an entire universe of being,
she wondered if this unknown quantity
would outpace the one outside her body;
for every parent’s worry about their child
whose needs were different than most was
Who will love them when I am gone?

Every Little Thing: A Mother’s Valentine

Hannah's rattle and brush

I was about five months along when I slipped an ultrasound picture into a Mary Higgins Clark book, and handed it to my mom. When she opened it, she looked at the picture for a second, sort of turning it around, and I said, “So, what do you think?”

“I think it’s a baby,” she said, wonderstruck. When she found out I was having a girl and naming her Hannah, she was thrilled. Hannah was unplanned, but like many unplanned things, they turn out to be good things that lead to more good things. Hannah got Brian and me speed up the marriage date (we’d put it off for months for financial reasons) and move into our own home (we had thus far been living with my parents).

It was after we knew she was going to be a girl (we were hoping for fraternal twins—I, contemplating Lucy and Ricky for the names) when my OB/GYN told us something about our baby’s nuchal fold measurements, and how they were an indicator of Down’s syndrome. We were devastated. It took me an entire day to realize that it had nothing to do with my not taking prenatal vitamins the first three months of gestation (I was three months along before I knew I was expecting).

Although I knew if my lovely baby was already affected, there was nothing more that could be done. I had never heard of anyone being cured of Down’s syndrome, but I could pray for a way to handle the challenges that would come from raising a special needs child. “Somehow, it makes me love her even more,” Brian said, and I knew he said it because he felt she would need it more.

I was working overnights at Walgreens at the time, and all night, I agonized over how I was going to be good enough; I didn’t even feel ready for mothering a normal baby. Even as my husband said he felt he loved her even more, I felt I wanted to protect her even more, for the world isn’t always kind to those who are different.

However, once I prayed that I would be able to deal with whatever came, and knew I would love my baby the same, peace replaced fear. By the time we got the more advanced ultrasound done (during which the doctor told us our child was perfectly fine), I wept with relief and joy, knowing this scare had taught me that we are never prepared for what may happen till it happens.

Had Brian and I already had other children, Hannah’s prediagnosis might not have affected me as much, because I knew our children would look after their new sibling, but what if this was the only one we had? Who would love our daughter after we were gone?

When I gave birth, worrying about her welfare didn’t end there. When Hannah was born till she was about three months, I rode in the backseat with her; her crib was also in our room. I didn’t like to take her anywhere (at least alone), but preferred to keep her at home. However, as time went on, I began to relax, but her safety and health was always a part of my consciousness. It was the new me that was born when she was, and it would never die as long as she lived. I had to learn how to co-exist with this heightened awareness that was, at times, exhausting.

Hannah would fail the hearing test twice before passing the third, and always, until she passed, I wondered if perhaps those nuchal fold measurements had been indicators of something else.

When she didn’t walk at a year old, I didn’t think much about it. However, as time went on, especially after a visit to her pediatrician, who said she was developmentally delayed (a term which always made my husband bristle and me want to cry), I began to wonder. When she started walking at twenty months, I was relieved, but I wondered, would it always be this way—her playing catch-up? Would I always be jogging backwards in front of her, trying to make her run faster than she was ready?

When it came time to put her in preschool, I was as excited for her as my husband was nervous. When the administrator of the school told me she was in the one to one-and-a-half-year-old range, I cried. (She had just turned two, two months ago.) When I told my dad about some of her quirks, like staring off into space, doing repetitive things, and her lack of interest in other children, he mentioned autism, but I told him autistic people usually didn’t have a personality.

I know I don’t see Hannah as being anything but perfect because I am her mother, and so I have to see her sometimes as others see her—with a critical, but still caring eye. It is only when I have done all I can do that I can let it go, because I know, as my husband does, that she will get there (as much as is possible) with our help and the others we allow to help. I know and accept there will never be a moment in my life when I will never have to worry about her again—that I will still worry in my own way, about every little thing.

However, I regret I allowed the deep disappointment of not being able to breastfeed to be the thief of joy during the moments when I should have been luxuriating in first-time motherhood. I blamed myself for her delay for a long time, because of all I’d heard about the I.Q. points of breastfed children being higher. I’d tried every kind of pump and every kind of way to get her to take to it. Then one of my best friends told me she hadn’t been able to breastfeed at all; that child is now a gifted student. Hannah is almost three now, and I’ve stopped comparing her to other children her age, and delight in who she is. She isn’t perfect, but is perfect to me and to those who love her. She doesn’t know everything, but she knows we love her. She is healthy and happy, filled with curiosity and wonder, laughter and joy. I teach with love and the rest will come. We are blessed to have a multitude of resources where we can get help for her; we are not alone.

All of us are at different stages in our lives—we all progress in different ways, at different times. I look in the mirror and see what I should have been ten years ago, but am just now getting around to—becoming a college graduate.

The moment I found out I might have a baby with special needs revealed myself to me, and I liked what I saw. When I look at Hannah now, and think back to where she was even a year ago, I see her blossoming into the rose she will someday become.

Published as “Every Little Thing” in The Kilgore Review (2016), having placed second in the nonfiction category of Pensacola State College’s annual Walter F. Spara Writing Contest.

Micropoetry Monday: Hymns of Motherhood

Hymns of Motherhood

The Shutterfly Edition

Like the shadow of the blind,
she was with me 90 days
without my knowing—
the closest thing to God
some would ever know.
I was her second set of footprints,
for it was I
who carried her.

She didn’t know if her daughter understood all the words,
but she read them anyway.
She didn’t know if her daughter would remember
all those trips to the pool & the beach
& every other space that screamed barefoot fun,
but she took her anyway.
She didn’t know if her daughter always heard her say,
“I love you,” after she’d fallen asleep to a lullaby,
but she said it anyway,
for it was a mom’s instinct
to do good by & for their children,
not always knowing
the good it did.

“Breast is best,” they said,
but the best could not express itself.
She pumped herself sore,
for she feared for her child’s I.Q.,
her health,
& everything they said her magic milk
was supposed to do.