Friday, December 5, 2008


Zoey kneads the skin on the back of my hand when she is sleepy, scared, clingy. Grabs a pinch of me and rolls it between her fingers slowly as if thinking something over. Sometimes it is my neck, the gobble, the wobble, and I worry that in loving me she will pull my body into the loose coat of a Shar-Pei.

She has done this since she was a tiny baby. Before she could even articulate her fingers, curled in my arms one baby fist would spastically reach up and grab hold of me, paper-thin moons of baby nail folding from the weight of my skin. Mama? I want your hand she now says to me each morning as we cuddle in my bed. Her nails are strong and sharp. I rearrange myself to drape one hand over her chest where she plucks at it in a fugue state of awakening. My shoulder begins to ache, falls asleep, my neck cricked and stiff. Pluck, pull, pinch. My hands, my neck, my skin, my heart is hers.
Six years ago my mother had a heart attack. In the hospital my brother and I stood over her bed like actors, neither of us having memorized our lines. My mother had always been the strong one, pulling the splinters from our fingers like a magician, a nurse who did not believe in doctors. In the hospital bed she looked so small, just a shallow lump of thin cotton. Dust. A magician robbed of her magic. The nurses hurried in to dose her up with something and left us to wait for it to take effect. My mother looked up at me. If I die, she said, I want you to play Major Tom by David Bowie at my funeral. God mom, stop, I said. You're not going to die. Don't say that. But she grabbed my hand and started singing. This is Major Tom to ground control, I'm stepping through the door... and I'm floating in a most peculiar waaaaay... She held my hand as she sang. I felt the thin bones of her fingers, rolled them between my own methodically until the nurses came to wheel her away, still singing. She had angioplasty; the doctors inserted her coronary arteries with stents to keep her blood flowing, to keep her heart beating. To keep us all going.
Sometimes I close my eyes when Zoey is pinching my hand and try to imagine her as an adult. Will she still pull at my skin? Will we hold hands? Will I sing to her, or she to me?
Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear....


dee said...

Great. I'm crying. It's 2:53 in the afternoon and I'm crying. You always get me, Susannah! Beautiful.

Miss to Mrs said...

I LOVE to hold my mom's hands and do the same thing to them that Zoey does to yours. After all these years I still do that. Your post makes me miss my mom.

Jen said...

i got the chills...

Baking With Plath said...

This post was beautiful.

Erin W said...

What a beautiful post. Also, pretty hilarious, as your Mom sings Bowie in the hospital, I think we would get along.

MrsEm said...

Now I had to go and buy that song on itunes. Oh Bowie...

{ps: on an only slightly related topic, have you seen this}

Regardez Moi said...

Great. Now I'm crying. AT work. Oh. I just read Bee's comment. Essentially the same as mine. So now I'm a crying copy cat. Perfect.

This was so moving.

Patois42 said...

Beautiful. Pure beauty.

Anonymous said...

My daughter is 15. She is smart. And funny. And talented. And beautiful. And happy.

And she's moving away from me. Not in a jarring, all-at-once or animosity-laden kind of way, but it's palpable. Like when you are in the kitchen and the refrigerator motor kicks on.

I suppose this is good. I mean, that's what's supposed to happen right? I wouldn't want her to be flailing around on the ground clinging to my ankles when she should be zooming off to college all fresh faced and idealistic and full of promise. Her confidence and good cheer and independence means I've done my job right? This is good right?

But still.

Reading these posts brings back so many wonderful memories. I used to make up stories for her at night. She was a reluctant sleeper. We lived in an old ramshackle apartment that was fabulous in retrospect (high ceilings, wood floors, double-hung creaky windows, opulence gone south, etc.). Only old ladies lived there. Old ladies and me and my baby.

After I'd read to her and tucked her in, she would pad into my room and crawl into bed and announce she couldn't sleep, which loosely translated meant "tell me the owl story".

I would make up a story about a giant owl that would come to the window. In the story, she would open the double-hung window and climb onto the back of the giant owl (but first she had to write me a note to let me know where she was going so I wouldn't get worried - me with my buzz-killing pragmatism even in storyland) and he would fly her off into the universe. She was free! She was exploring! :) She would go to magical places (exactly three, but they had to be different each time), then the owl would bring her home, she would hug the owl, open the window, dispose of the note (no longer necessary), and fall into a contented sleep.

She may still be doing this in her head. Or for real. But it isn't with me now. Soon I think she might not come back. The places she visits will be too magical. Too compelling. My story will be too small.

She had this place on the back of her neck - indented, where a little curl of hair would be - know where I mean? She still has this place. It looks exactly the same. I can see it when she flips her head over to blow dry her hair.

Don't get me wrong. We are still really really close (as parents and teenagers go), and I know we always will be. We talk. We laugh. And I love discovering her all over again as an almost grown up. Everything is really good.

Just saying it is so wonderful that you are cherishing every little thing with Z as-you-go. Sometimes with a little one you feel like it will Always Be So.

But then it isn't. :)

Pink Wallpaper said...

ummm that brought tears to my eyes...

Petunia Face said...

Anon @ 5:53pm--what a beautiful comment. And sad. Happy. Is poignant the right word? Not melancholy. Just a perfect human mix of emotion.

I am already nostalgic for a Zoey that is right in front of me. I have to try, really try, not to go there. To live in the moment. Now. This. In her bedroom sleeping in footed pajamas.

Thanks everyone.

Megan said...

lovely story, wonderful comments

Maggie May said...

a good read.

Jessie said...

I am 24 years old, and hold my mama's hand every single day we are together. Instead of pinching the skin, I curl and uncurl her fingers/press her fingernails... have since I was a tiny.

I would bet that Zoey will always pinch, and even if you are ever very far apart - she will pinch her own hands and think of you.

Judy said...

Yes it was my man, Bowie's "Major Tom"-there's something about that song that never fails to get to me in so many ways...but it was also Tom Waits and "Who Will Put Flowers On a Rose's Grave"...It's just harder to sing and I didn't get to it until I was in the Angioplasty Room freezing my ass off. But...and this is important...I asked that SOMEONE finally tell me were the sixth chocolate Pots du Creme went because it still haunts me and ONE of you knows!

I want you and Andy to know that, hard as it is for me to be the one needing taking care of, I have never felt so cared for and loved-and safe. I know how terribly frightening that episode had to have been for you both. It certainly shook me to the core to feel that my body had betrayed me and that I was suddenly so vulnerable. You guys HAD me and that felt so reassuring even though role reversal is the Shits! Thank you both for making me feel like I was the most important and loved person in the world and that, until I could take care of myself, you were both there as sweet and as fierce in protecting me as I ever was for you! I don't plan on a repeat but since we all have an expiration date, the two songs and one question is still in effect!

And you and Zoey....I know what you and Andy are to me. We still share the same breath. You are both the bedrock of my life and always, the best of my life. I can't imagine a me without you both. There might be some rough patches (especially between a teen girl and her Mom---remember?)but I can promise you that Zoey will still be reaching for your hands and soft skin to comfort herself (and you) as long as you both exist. I know that because of you and are both so much a part of me that without you, I wouldn't be me...and for sure I would be far less. As I have said before, I thought I was a great Mom but watching you with Zoey, well you leave my Mothering in your dust. You are beyond superb. You'll never lose Zoey, you'll just grow with her as she does with you and you will wonder, as I did and still do about Andy and you, at the miracle of her.

This was indeed a beautiful post.

I love you!

PalagiGirl said...

My little IZ used to put her chubby fingers just inside the neck of my shirt and pat pat pat. It comforted me just as much as it did her. She's 15 now and I can barely get a hug from her these days but she still gets all mushy when I bring up this memory. That post was wonderful. Thank you!

Suzanne : : S.HOPtalk said...

So beautiful Susannah! I remember when my little one would stroke my hand whenever she had a bottle before bedtime...I just loved that. It was like she was totally and completely at peace {and so was I}. Your Zoey is just precious. I know it's cliche but it's goes by so, so fast...enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Please make another baby.