Anyone who knows me, knows I’m not a typical grown-up. I’m lucky enough to be married to an awesome audio engineer and he recorded me reading, Art Class, the poem I wrote to my son explaining this.
Art Class is about the time I took Kai to a toddler art class and quickly realized that I wasn’t anything like the other moms there. The thing is, I tend to feel like a little girl wearing a grown-up suit most of the time. Somehow, without being fully aware of it, I just slipped into adulthood. I never felt a defining moment — there was never a point at which I could say, “Ah ha! Now, I am a grown-up.”
I have often considered the idea that my maturation has been the result of simple time and inevitability with little conscious effort on my part. For the most part, I’m okay with this. However, there are times — mostly now as a parent — when I am forced to interact with groups of people who probably don’t want to talk about Doctor Who or my robot collection… the ones who are really, really okay with being very grown-up and I realize how differently we see the world.
For me, parenthood has been the ultimate proving ground. It’s forced me to interact outside of my comfort zone and made me choose whether to change or to ultimately accept myself for who I am.
Last weekend I was sitting in the drive thru of a fast food restaurant (attempting to salvage our weekend after our son hated the South American food we had for lunch) when across the parking lot I noticed a hurt pigeon. One of its wings was stretched out at a weird angle like it was broken and it seemed to be in distress. Before I knew what was happening, I had my hand on my seat belt and was screaming to my husband, “Do I need to go help that bird?!”
I should probably go ahead and mention at this point that I have zero experience with birds – wounded or otherwise. I have never owned a bird, I have never known a friend with a bird, I have rarely even noticed birds on an individual basis, my brain usually just sees “birds” as a collective. I could be in a room full of birds and probably not really notice any of them individually unless they were specifically pointed out to me. Also, contrary to my brain’s promptings at that moment, I do not have a degree in veterinary medicine. I am an English and Communications major. If something needs to be talked at or written about, I’m your girl, but damaged birds are out of my depth.
Fortunately, the bird got up and flew away before I was able to jump out the car and run across the parking lot to… what? What exactly was my plan? Was I going to run over there and just pick up that parking lot bird? Was I going to bring it back to my car? Where was I going to take it? How *exactly* was I going to help it?
I can’t answer any of those questions. I don’t know what was going on, but I do know that if I attempted to pick up a wild pigeon I ran a pretty good chance of getting my face pecked off and/or catching some weird bird disease.
So, while I’m glad that the bird was okay and my face is intact, I almost *almost* wish that the bird hadn’t gotten up and that I had run over there so that I could know what my plan was. Clearly, some part of my brain had a plan, right? I love animals and if I were to encounter an injured one, I would definitely make sure it received help, but what on earth did I think I was personally going to do for that pigeon?
All I do know is that when the bird flew away seemingly unharmed, I felt a tremendous sense of relief. I turned to my husband to tell him the good news about the pigeon and he was staring at me like I was insane.
“What did you think you were going to go do?” he asked me.
“I… I honestly don’t know.”
Please don’t let this be my future.
AND I STILL DON’T.
I’ve been thinking about the whole incident for days and I’m no closer to understanding what happened or why I felt so connected to that one random parking lot bird. I’m proud of the fact that I was concerned about the well-being of a living creature and that I modeled that concern in front of my son… but I’m a bit concerned about what’s going on upstairs. If I turn into a crazy bird lady, send help.
It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, the skies were clear, there was a slight breeze, but the peacocks… the peacocks were angry that day, my friends…
A few weeks ago, my son and I picked up lunch at the grocery store and went to Mayfield Park for a picnic. It’s a popular Austin park known for its historic cottage and brilliant peacocks that wander the grounds. I’d never been, but this seemed like the perfect way to spend an afternoon with my son. Peacocks are awesome, right?
Wrong. I would soon learn that peacocks are scary and Mayfield Park is full of them.
Shortly after Kai and I sat down at a picnic table just outside the main grounds, two peacocks came walking across a low stone wall next to another family. I was mesmerized by how large and beautiful the birds were and ran over to take pictures, but the other family seemed unnerved, looking down and sitting in perfect silence. Apparently, this wasn’t their first peacock rodeo – they knew something I didn’t know yet — peacocks are super jerks.
Pretty on the outside, evil on the inside.
Now, if you’ve never seen a peacock up close, let me tell you about them. They’re beautiful birds. Their feathers are colored in iridescent jewel tones that sparkle in the shadows and glimmer in the sunlight. They sport a crown of feathers on their heads, and the males have a brilliant train that trails behind them. They have a confident, regal walk… and a big case of bad attitude.
The larger of the two birds jumped up onto the rooftop of a small building and the other perched in the tree above the picnic tables, his magnificent tail hanging below him – as soon as this happened the other family grabbed their belongings and ran away. Okay, that’s weird, I thought, but whatever, I was happy enough to claim their table in the shade and spread out our lunch.
Another interesting fact about peacocks – they’re loud. Their call is not nearly as pretty as their feathers and can be unnerving. For example, as they call back and forth to each other you may suddenly realize that there are not just two peacocks, but that you are actually surrounded by peacocks. They’re quiet, and sneaky like really pretty velociraptors…You’ll look at your salad, get ready to take a bite, hear 5+ peacocks calling to each other all around you and realize that you are about to enact a much prettier version of a scene from Jurassic World. It doesn’t matter if your phone says it’s 2 pm, it’s about to be Peacock O’Clock.
It’s about to be Peacock O’Clock. Good thing I brought my crazy hands.
We started to eat our lunches, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. I’ll admit that I was feeling pretty good about having picked the perfect park for our lunch and thinking about what an awesome mom I was, but I’ll warn you now — peacocks can sense pride. Less than 30 seconds later a large peacock jumped up behind me on the wall and another walked towards Kai on his side of the table.
Hey Kai, look that peacock is walking towards you, let me take a picture, this is so cool… wait he’s coming fast, nope, move. Move now, Kai! Seriously, don’t just sit there, get up, now!
Hey look, he’s coming towards us, how cool! I’m sure he won’t attack us in a few minutes.
At this point I drop my phone and jump across the picnic table to grab my 8 year old who was inches from having a peacock beak in his leg and wondering what the hell had caused that to happen. I scooped our lunch into a bag as we backed into the wall… where the other large peacock was eyeballing us menacingly. We were effectively trapped between a rock wall full of peacocks and a hard place (also full of peacocks). We moved further down the wall and waited hoping that they would forget about us and just relax. There was a low bench here so we slowly pulled out our food and started eating again. The peacock which had us cornered turned and started walking towards us again.
“I don’t get it. I’m eating salad. Are they attracted to my salad?”
Kai seemed to think this was my fault and screamed “Of course! They’re mad at you for eating nature! They think you hate nature!”
I don’t hate nature. And I tried to tell the advancing peacock that, but he wasn’t listening. Then, I thought, well maybe he likes salad… maybe he’s just trying to get a bite of my salad, and (I’m not proud of this, but I was panicking) I threw a baby spinach leaf at his head. I don’t know what I expected to happen, but I think he was supposed to grab it out of the air with his beak and eat it like a Scooby snack… instead he dodged the spinach leaf and ran at us even faster.
Now, this may come as a surprise, but I don’t have a ton of experience with animals. The only thing I could think to do was to make myself look big. So I puffed myself up, balled up my fists, swung my arms out in front of me like a crazy person, looked that peacock right in its beady jerk eyes and said get back or I will punch you! And then Kai and I ran like crazy while it chased us towards the parking lot.
We were sweating and shaking, but relieved that the peacock stopped abruptly at the paved sidewalk. We made it. I was panting and trying to warn other people walking into the park to be careful which I’m sure they appreciated and didn’t think I was insane at all.
I was still confused by what had happened, so naturally, I went to Facebook for help. While a majority of the comments suggested that the peacocks were in love with me (my friends are jerks), several comments were about how my friends and family had also been attacked by peacocks at that very park. Why wasn’t anyone talking about this??
I have read tons of reviews for that park. I work for one of the biggest family websites in Austin, we have several reviews of Mayfield Park and not once have I ever heard of anyone being attacked by peacocks. Yet, right here on my own Facebook page were comments by people I know and love all facing the same familiar shame – being chased out of a public park by really pretty birds. I can only assume that Mayfield Park is home to some sort of Peacock Fight Club, and we all know the first rule of Peacock Fight Club, right? (You DO NOT talk about Peacock Fight Club)
I learned some really important things during that lunch. For example, Peacocks are jerks and will attack you for no reason or if you are eating a salad. Throwing baby spinach is not an acceptable defense. And, most importantly, I am willing to punch a peacock if it hurts my child.
This is why being a parent is so amazing. Before I became a mother, I never had to think about what animals I would be willing to punch in self-defense. I love animals, and I would never condone hurting one, but I can tell you in all honesty, that as that peacock menacingly approached my child and refused to back away, I was willing to use Strunk and White to defend us. (Yes, I named my fists Strunk and White — I’m an English major.)
So, on the days when I feel like I’m overwhelmed, when I’m not doing enough or being enough as a parent, when I feel weak or tired, I can look back on the Great Peacock Attack of 2016 and know that I am enough. I can know that I am strong enough and smart enough to take care of my child in tense situations, and that I would do anything for my son — even if that thing is throwing my body in front of a group of charging peacocks.
My play, Gender Tsunami, is playing at FronteraFest this Wednesday, January 20th at 8pm! If you’ve ever wanted to see me swap clothes with my husband and talk about gender fluidity, now’s your chance. The script was commissioned by the awesome folks at ScriptWorks.
UPDATE: We were selected as a Best of Week performance! Thanks to everyone who came to see us!
A couple tackles complex gender identity issues first thing in the morning. Secrets are revealed, a tsunami may or may not be coming . . . and no one has had coffee yet. A new comedy featuring Paul Hanna and Ava Love Hanna.
When I was a kid, my favorite ride at Disney World was always 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I loved it. There was something wonderful about voyaging under the sea. Maybe it was the water, the colors, the fantastical ruins of Atlantis, or how my heart would race as the giant squid wrapped its tentacles around the Nautilus and all seemed lost before we wrestled free and triumphantly made our way back to the serene beauty of the tropical lagoon.
The roomier and more stylish Nautilus of my youth
As a parent, I wanted to share this adventure with my young son. As we prepared for our trip to Disneyland for his 5th birthday I was thrilled to discover that while 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride was gone, they had kept the subs for the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. Awesome. We watched videos of the ride on youtube and I waxed poetic about my childhood memories of a similar ride and told my son just how much fun it would be.
Once we were in the park, I couldn’t wait to get to that submarine ride. I skipped through the line and gleefully climbed aboard what seemed to be a much smaller version of the submarine of my youth. Hmm. It was then, about 5 seconds later, that my excitement quickly faded. As I climbed into the now tiny submarine and sat on the little stool by the minuscule window and the employee on the outside shut the door and locked us in the miniature submarine… that I suddenly realized that I no longer wanted to ride inside this teeny tiny little metal box that had no discernible opening from the inside.
I have always believed that life is all about learning and growing, seizing opportunities to learn more about ourselves, our likes and dislikes, who we really are. Well, this was one of those times. This was the moment that I realized quite clearly, that I am fucking claustrophobic.
Not wanting to immediately ruin this experience for my son, I took a deep breath and tried to relax. I did all the normal stuff to calm myself: I told myself that Disney employees do this all day long, I reminded myself that there were no skeletons on the sub, so obviously people got off eventually, I noted that we weren’t actually 20,000 leagues under a sea, I listened to the happy voices of the children, I looked at the smile on my son’s face… Yeah, none of that crap worked.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had a panic attack, much less one that you are trying really really hard not to have, but for me, I had a feeling of creeping coldness that started at my feet and was spreading upward. I was certain that if that cold feeling made it all the way up to my head, I was going to do or say something super embarrassing. I tried to take my mind off of it and I started thinking about all the jobs and adventures that I was no longer interested in attempting: Deep sea diving? Right out. Exploring the Mariana Trench? Hell no. Marine biologist? Nope.
I tried looking up where the “captain” was standing thinking that the employee surely had an escape hatch. That made it worse. He was in a sealed dome. I swallowed a scream.
I attempted to be poetic and thought how I was the personification of the nautilus and the actual nautilus that I was riding in was now my giant squid. I was gasping for breath trying to stay calm.
I started to wonder what would happen if just freaked the hell out. What If I started screaming and demanding to be let off? Did they have sub marshalls to tackle me? Surely, I could not be the only person to get claustrophobic in that itty bitty sub. Did they have some sort of crazy person freaking out back up plan? I was dangerously close to finding out.
I then started to wonder what would happen if I tried to pry open the lid and jumped out to swim to shore. I only stopped myself because I knew that the temporary thrill of being free would surely be replaced by the shame of being banned from Disneyland for life. I wasn’t sure I could afford the inevitable therapy bills for my son after that. Also, I really didn’t want my claim to fame to be “that crazy lady that scarred all those children” at Disneyland.
Leaving the cave and I was really ready to get out.
Soon we entered into the cave and things got more awesome. Because what could be better than being trapped in a tiny submarine and pretending to not have a panic attack so that you aren’t freaking out all the small children crammed next to you? Doing that in 30 seconds of absolute darkness. I was so stressed out that I wasn’t following the story. At one point, I heard my sweet little 4 year old son’s voice drift through the pitch black to ask me, “Mommy, are we in a shark?” To which I’m almost certain I said, “Yes,” which was an awful thing to say. Yes, my dear little child, we’ve been eaten by a shark, but isn’t this just sooooo fun?
Eventually we got out of the shark’s stomach or whatever was actually happening in the story and made our way back out to the sunny lagoon. I was done, really done, ready to get back to my life on land and leave my underwater adventures behind. And we were there, the home stretch, I was a few glorious minutes from getting out. I had made it. And then…
OF COURSE our submarine comes to a stop in a spot that I can tell is near, but not near enough to the spot we will exit. I am trembling from anxiety, but I know that if I can just hold on for one more minute, I’ll be okay… and that’s when Captain Nemo up in his little bubble dome announced that due to a boarding issue with the boat ahead of us, our ship which I have now dubbed the USS GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE, would be delayed from deboarding… but hey, we should just sit back and relax. Well, of course, I was on the inner row of the submarine staring right into a cement wall.
There I was, the most claustrophobic person in the sub, stuck staring into a wall. I was tempted to laugh at the situation, but my anxiety level was so high at that point, that I was certain it would come out as some sort of crazy hysterical cackle. For the next 15 agonizing minutes, I took deep breaths and continued to remind myself that I probably wouldn’t die there. Probably.
And while this ride was not the magical experience I hoped it would be, it was a valuable learning experience. I learned 3 important things:
I am seriously claustrophobic and I should probably see about getting that shit fixed.
You can never go home again: experiences from our childhood do not always translate well to our adult lives.
(The one I am actually proud of) I will do anything for my son. Even if that thing is swallowing a massive panic attack and not shoving small children out of my way in order to forcefully bust out of a submarine ride and swim to shore.
So, while I still have fond memories of my youthful voyages aboard the Nautilus, I have decided that, for now, my undersea adventure days are over and it’s probably best if leave the wonders of the Disney lagoon to braver souls than I.
Sitting in a nook where a quiet residential street turns to meet the lively chaos of South Congress Ave in Austin, Texas, is one of Candy Chang’s Before I Die walls. Unless you happen to drive through the neighborhood, or walk back that way to avoid the crowds, it would be easy to overlook. It sits in a spot where domestic life, business, and recreation all intersect. The location is a perfect symbol for the wall’s message.
If you’ve never seen a Before I Die wall, go find one ASAP. It’s a fun and truly profound piece of interactive art — just a large black and white chalkboard that asks you to consider a seemingly simple question: What do I want to do before I die? The playfulness of the presentation drew me to the wall, but the question brings me back time and again.
In the interest of full disclosure, while I visit the wall regularly, I have yet to write on it. I read it – laugh at the funny or deviant entries (there are plenty of those), smile at the profound or thoughtful ones – and then quietly walk away. I bring others to the wall and encourage them to write, but I just watch. The simple straightforwardness of the question causes me to freeze. It’s the worst kind of writer’s block… it’s not just about words; it’s about articulating desire and action.
I don’t know what to write. I want to do a million things. I want to do everything. I want to never die; I want to never grieve another loss. But, Candy Chang’s project, born from her own grief, makes me stop and face the fact that my time is limited and I have living to do. These walls are amazing because they look so innocent, so simple, but they hide in them a complex understanding of the human condition: our lives will end. Are we living them? The wall asks us to look inward.
I love reading the wall. Of course, I’m drawn to the humorous entries. My husband’s checked off desire to write on a giant chalkboard, the person who randomly wanted to slap Taylor Swift, the one who wanted to kiss a dragon. My son drew picture of Maleficent because he had just seen the movie. He is seven. He doesn’t need to worry about what he wants to do before he dies; he lives fully in the present all the time.
There are entries that are moving displays of community, of strangers trying to heal each other’s hurt. One entry read: Before I die I want to be skinny. Skinny was crossed out by another visitor who wrote happy next to it, and under it yet another wrote, You’re beautiful. The wall helps us see inside each other.
Maybe I can’t think of what to write because I’m already living the life I want. Or, maybe I’ve reached an age where I know people, have known people, who were given the deadline. I held my breath and watched them scramble to fill in all the blanks at the last minute. Or, the most likely answer is that I’m just a big pain in the butt who overthinks everything. Whatever the reason, Chang’s wall does what art is supposed to do – it disrupts. It forces me to stop, to look, to think, to act. It forces me out of the comfortable monotony of my daily rhythm. Its complexity is hidden in its simplicity, and that is what makes it so great.
If you flip the question, if you ask me what I want to do while I’m alive, then I can write a hundred things, a million things. I want to write a book, an episode of Doctor Who, be on the Muppet Show, attempt stand up, travel the world, wake up in every time zone, and on and on. But when you ask the question the way Chang has, when you ask me what I want to do before I die… well, suddenly a whole lot of things seem less important. Everything is valued differently. Playing with my son, holding my husband’s hand, feeling loved, all suddenly top the list. This board is brutal; I walk up wanting to play with chalk and walk away contemplating the human condition.
There it is, right? The point. In black and white. You step up to the chalkboard, and it doesn’t matter what your skin color is or the chalk color you use, when you fill in that blank you are the same as everyone else. You can write a joke, a fear, a wish, but whatever you write, you do it with fragile human hands. Like everyone else who comes to the wall: you are alive, you will die. Candy Chang’s Before I Die wall is a gentle nudge then, a playful reminder whispering in my ear – you are here now, pay attention, and go fill in the blank.
The Before I Die wall I visit is located at 206 E. Elizabeth St. in Austin, Texas. Find a wall near you or view pictures of walls around the world here.
Clickbait is everywhere. It’s annoying as hell. So, logically, I felt that the best thing to do was to add some myself. I’ve taken the liberty of converting nine favorite nursery rhyme titles into click tempting teasers. Oh, and I added a bonus limerick just because.
(in true clickbait fashion, each title is clickable and will take you to a page to read the nursery rhyme)
My name is pretty neat: Ava Love Hanna. Hanna is my married name. I only recently added that part after my son was born. For most of my life I was Ava Love. It’s a cool name. It stood out. It was unique.
If you were born in the last few years, this will probably say Ava on it…
Ava is a family name. My grandmother and my great-great-aunt were both named Ava. But, when I was a child, I must have been the only Ava around. I know this because no one ever got my name right. I learned to just answer to anything: Anna, Ana, Eva, Eve. Sure, why not. It was easier to just say mmhmm when someone butchered my name, than to spend five minutes going back and forth and trying to get them to understand that it was just three letters and that two of them were A’s. On the rare occasion that people did get it right, they would ask, “Oh, like Ava Gardner?” and I would shrug my six year old shoulders and say, “I guess so.” I had no idea who this Ava Gardner was and I started to develop an irrational dislike for her because every time someone actually got my name right they asked about her.
I also knew that I was the only Ava because any time I came across racks of customized items, they never had my name. Oh how I longed to be a Laura, Stephanie, or Amy, and have a thermos or a tiny bike-sized license plate with my name on it. The Amys got everything. I was once in a class that had seven Amys in it. SEVEN. Talk about feeling left out…
My once unique name has now surged in popularity. Because of course it did. Because now that I love having a distinctive name, my name is not only popular, but one of the most popular baby names of all time. Ha!Take that Amys 1 – 7!
It’s weird. I grew to love being the only Ava. Now, everyone is named Ava and it’s freaking me out… Also, I don’t quite know what the deal is, but it seems like only really grumpy parents are naming their kids Ava, or this new crop of Avas are acting like real jerks. I spent a week at Disneyland recently, and I almost developed a permanent tic from jumping every time someone screamed my name.
“AVA STOP IT!” “Ava get over HERE!” “Damn it, Ava!” “AVA!!!!”
It was so bad, that at one point my husband wondered why a random suburban mom was screaming at me. When you’ve always been the only Ava, you’re used to responding when you hear your name. I nearly choked on my mickey-shaped pretzel when the lady came up next to me shouting at her errant Ava who happened to be one seat over.
So listen Parents of New Avas: you seriously need to chill out. I can’t keep getting freaked out because I’m thinking that you’re yelling at me. Also, stop screaming at your kids. Take a parenting class, count to five, I don’t know, but just stop. And to all you new Avas out there wreaking havoc: come on man, act right. I’ve been holding down the Ava-fort mostly by myself for 40 years. Don’t screw this up for us.
Honestly, the fact that my name is so popular now feels weird. I feel a little violated, or something less dramatic, but still like that. I can’t quite describe it, but it feels like something that was really dear to me has been taken away, or at least fundamentally changed. My unique name became an integral part of my identity. At some point in my life, I accepted that it was okay to be different and I owned and embraced that difference. Now, I have to accept that my name – something that feels like a part of me, when it actually isn’t – is not really mine. It’s just a combination of letters and anyone can use them.
I’m sure everyone has had to deal with coming across someone with the same name. “Oh you’re named Susan? So am I!” And you both laugh and move on, but I had to get used to being the only Ava in a sea of Amys and now the game has changed and I’m struggling to feel okay with it.
I’ll get over it, I have no choice. There is an army of Avas now who are apparently scream-at-your-kids-in-public-worthy and I’d prefer to stay on their good side. So, I guess I’ll just sit here sipping coffee out of my new “Ava” personalized mug, or go put this tiny “Ava” license plate on my bike, and console myself by trying to predict what the next hip baby name will be.
I grew up in Houston, Texas. If you’ve never been to Houston, I can describe it for you like this: just imagine any dystopian movie and then replace all the crazed brain-eating zombies with crazed brain-eating conservatives and there you go.
To be fair, Houston’s come a long way lately, but when I was growing up there, it was the late 80’s/early 90’s. And Houston in the 90’s certainly wasn’t known for its picturesque parks, art scene, or lesbian mayor. Houston in the 90’s was largely known for its suburbs and its malls, neither of which I felt particularly drawn to. I knew there had to be more to life than to grow up, live by a big mall, and then die.
Eventually, I started college, which helped my mood. Despite my loathing of the suburbs, I was terrified to leave home and to brave the mega highways into downtown, so I went to a small school in the suburbs. I was a theatre major and in the first week of a technical workshop class, I met a handsome punk boy. He was so different from everyone I had ever known. He was hot and aloof and so very… not into malls. For some reason, he liked me too, so we started hanging out… this cool punk boy with his oxblood Doc Martins and me in my white Keds.
Since we were in the suburbs and we both lived at home there wasn’t much to do other than drive around. One day out of boredom we stopped by a big graveyard near campus. It was quiet and pretty. I was barely 18 years old, all of my grandparents were alive, and I had never been to a funeral, so for me, a graveyard was just a quiet place to hang out with my hot boyfriend. We had this genius idea to buy individual bottles of orange juice, empty them halfway and then pour in vodka… because then no one would ever suspect we were drinking! And that’s how we spent our days, wandering around a graveyard drinking super cheap vodka.
May 1993 all dressed up for a drama banquet. We moved in together a few months later. (I no longer shopped at the Gap.)
Over time, the punk boy’s coolness started to rub off on me. Black skirts and tights replaced my Gap jeans and Keds, and I was now into poetry and Bauhaus and so naturally, we kept hanging out in the graveyard. We took pictures of cool tombstones, hung out, got drunk. I found a photo in an old album the other day that had me leaning near a super ornate Vietnamese tombstone (orange juice bottle in hand) and the caption read “Dead Vietnamese Lady with her sidekick drunk living girl, Ava.” I was so very young and dumb. I had no concept of death then. I had never lost anyone. I’d never had to grieve.
That hot punk boy and I moved in together a year later. We moved to Austin and had lots of fun things to do and didn’t need to hang out in a graveyard for fun. Years later those days are all but a distant vodka soaked memory.
Recently my husband, (the same hot punk boyfriend from college) told me he had found a small graveyard hidden off the main road near our house. It was an old Masonic cemetery. I wanted to go see it, so we drove the street over and marveled at what seemed to be a very old gate. We walked in, my 6 year old son’s hand in mine. I was excited to share this moment of discovery with him. I wanted to look for really old tombstones, feel the quiet, sit on a bench with …. Hmm. Something didn’t feel right.
I looked down at my son, so full of life – his blonde hair, the light in his blue eyes. Holding his tiny hand, I felt a wave of sadness nearly overwhelm me. My legs felt weak. I looked around at the names nearest me Brodie, Cannon – Austin names – names that are part of a legacy. And, out of nowhere I thought, this is it. This is coming. For everyone I love. For me. Whether I like or not, this will happen. It won’t be optional this time. I will now be forced to spend time in graveyards in one way or another.
As an adult, I am now uncomfortable with the idea of death, it seems. It is an unwelcome specter hovering around the edges of my days. Unlike that naive 18 year old girl, I have now been to funerals. I’ve hugged sobbing mothers burying their sons. I’ve been assigned to interview cancer survivors for articles, and then been asked to craft memorial articles when they unexpectedly lost their battles. The grown up me has seen the reason for graveyards and they no longer hold any appeal.
Now, when I see tombstones I can’t help but think of the people resting beneath them – people who had feelings and opinions and families – people who told funny stories to their friends – people who drank orange juice.
So, I’m not as cool as I used to be. I dress a bit better, but I’m not as aloof about death. As I’m reaching middle age, I can’t afford to be. I have less time to be aloof and I have people who need me and people for whom I want to stick around. Now as a adult, when I should be accepting death as an eventuality, I am shaken and uneasy. It’s too close and I’ve seen too many people fall away too soon.
Dylan Thomas begged his father: “Do not go gentle into that good night.” That is NOT a problem. I have no intention of going quietly. Live fast and die young? Yeah, not so much anymore.
How about: Live fast, have a nice life, and die at a really old age with no complications or weird diseases that make you lose your mind or hunch over or anything and you’ve found peace and are totally okay with it because you’re like 100 and you just go in your sleep.
Or live fast and science cures aging and death, so let’s all hug.
These are my new mottos. Because, I no longer have the luxury of time and youthful ignorance – I’m less oblivious… I’m also less prone to drink cheap vodka, so in some ways I guess you take the good with the bad. Emily Dickinson wrote, “Because I could not stop for death he kindly stopped for me.” Screw that. If death comes near me, he better be wearing a cup, because I’m going out kicking.
Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what’s on the other side?
The notes drift into the kitchen and I feel them in my chest, know them by heart. There’s a special joy in unexpectedly hearing a song you love right when you need to hear it; a little gift from the universe. Serendipity. He heard it too and runs to me; his 6 year old hands outstretched, inviting me to dance. I move the half cooked eggs off the burner. Breakfast can wait, my dance partner can’t.
This is our song. The one I have sung to him nearly every night of his life.
The first night.
I looked at the tiny person I had made and felt such overwhelming love, deep incomprehensible love… and fear. I had absolutely no idea what to do next, no clue how to actually be a parent. I looked him over, saw his soft vulnerability, his total dependence and realized that I’d never really thought past being pregnant… Oh crap.
Who said that every wish would be heard and answered when wished on the morning star?
I took a breath, kissed him softly on the head and then suddenly I felt it rise up from somewhere deep inside my chest and head – an instinctual urge passed on in the genes of motherhood, a connection passed throughout the human race. I didn’t know how to be a parent, but I knew what to do right then: I sang to him.
I was surprised to hear the confidence in my voice, but it was there and I knew that meant I would be okay. His head on my heart, we melted into the rhythm of the song, connected as mother and child in those first new moments.
What’s so amazing, that keeps us stargazing, and what’do we think we might see?
I danced with my father to this song on the day I got married. It’s our song too, but I don’t know if he knows that. Growing up my father and I were far too much alike to really get along, and our relationship always felt stifled, uncomfortable. Neither of us was good at showing affection, it meant being too vulnerable or feeling dumb. Hugs were rare and often done quickly with one arm… But, we both loved the Muppets, so we had that. I remember hearing him singing this song while walking through the house. It was my favorite memory of him and I knew it was the only song we could dance to.
At my reception, as the first few notes made their way to the dance floor, my father, a shy man who hates to be the center of attention, who always shirks the public eye, grabbed me and spun me around the dance floor. We danced while he sang so loudly and enthusiastically that I couldn’t stop laughing and crying. It’s one of my favorite moments, seeing him so happy, and briefly feeling a comfortable connection between us.
All of us under its spell, we know that it’s probably magic…
Now, I am dancing with my little boy. His small hand in mine, I spin him around the room, sing loudly while he laughs and holds me tight. I feel our connection… parent to child to parent to child. I never really understood the lyrics before I had him, but here it was, the rainbow connection. It is this song, this love, these moments that connect our generations, our hearts.
Have you been half asleep and have you heard voices? I’ve heard them calling my name…
I’m still trying to feel like a parent so I listen for promptings from ancestral connections that taught the parents before me how to connect to their children, the ones that lie sleeping in my dna. I let those whispers guide me and I sing to him every night. Sometimes, he sings with me, other times he curls into my arm and falls asleep by the third stanza. I finish the song anyway and then lie next to him and listen to him breathing. I still don’t know exactly how to be a parent, I still don’t know if I’m doing it right, but I feel the strength of the bond growing between us, feel the connection that binds us to each other forever and fall asleep to the rhythm of his breath.
Ava Love Hanna is a writer, storyteller, and performer living in Austin, Texas. She vividly remembers the night her husband asked her if she wanted to go to Istanbul, but she thought they should have a baby instead. She stands by her choice, but is now very tired and still hasn't had a decent cup of Turkish coffee. Read more about Ava >>