Quixote and Me

images-1Image by Elizabeth Kelman, 2012

By the time you read this the caballeros of Altadena will long be done. Done leaning back on their homeward mounts, done clip-clop climbing the too narrow sidewalks north of Lincoln near the stables toward Castillo, done stomping code of crisp days coming.  Clip clop, clip clop, the sound of clocks, clip clop, a knock-knock joke, clip clop, a slow castanets, hoofs on concrete, quarter horses, half-bloods, the chestnut mare with wild eyes, clip clop, dusk dropping into chaparral baskets, under cover of crimson sky.  Mexican wedding cookies, crusted bread, churros, callouses, chores, tradition, pair of tan hands caressing trust, squeak of shifting leather, dungarees, chaps, changing directions.  A “Chk-chk” kiss catching back of cowboy cheek and chops, smooch between amigos, chums, confidantes.  Quixote, time you and me headed home.



The Post-Adopt Crawl


The speaker tells our packed meeting room, “Best use for the baby’s “Exersaucer Sit-n-Spin” is — first — taking the baby out — put saucer on drive, back car up. That, if you know a kid who used one, was in a jumper, has ADD, ADHD, math or reading problems, or, autism-like behaviors, probably he or she didn’t crawl enough.

“A kid cannot crawl enough,” a woman named Bette Lamotte says, “Nothing like a baby squishing his or her hips through the birthcanal, then on the floor.”  Bette says, jumping, rotating, wiggling in front of our group.

“And,” Bette says, “Don’t prop your baby up.”

This, akin to parking your child on the street like a Honda.

“Babies need to crawl, crawl, crawl, creep, creep, creep.  The floor, she says quoting someone quotable, “is the athletic field of your child.”  And, about that, “Wear your baby, up close and personal, so he or she can feel your feel, feel your heartbeats, smell your calm, your passing fears are not worry ones, gazing into your eyes, building left to right brain connections – his or her inner securities.  And, parents, this means, no strollers, no joggers, no walkers, no kidding, or else,” she says, “learning problems.  Nature has prepared us in increments for all.”

Oh, is that all, me thinking about my biological son’s ADD, dyslexia, my second son’s adoption, a built-in formula for loss, how I never considered his apparent ADHD, dyslexia, autism, ongoing tantrums relative to his not crawling much, my using an Exersaucer with our first child, the high chairs, the cribs, the carseat. I thank God at least I “wore” my kids, though I could have done so much more. Anyway, I’m awake now.

“Go back to the beginning,” Bette says, “start over, no matter your child’s age, your age.  Reconnect.”

But, how, I wonder, can I do it like he grew in me?  Like how he went through the birth canal, wasn’t a “C” section baby, wasn’t picked up from his birth mom per hospital protocol, set in an incubator for three days, prodded by doctors, nurses, left with us, baby-hungry strangers, ready to pounce like he was theirs all along, their bio babe, not someone living out of a hotel far from his birthright familiar, not with his birthmom and birthdad who seeded him beyond our reach.

“Turn on the switches,” Bette tells us,  “Do your work.  He will mend,” as she relays the story of a town near her where 17 out of 23 kids were labeled ADHD, how the learning problems went back to the baby jumpers at daycare.

Body, then mind, the day’s speakers say.  Yoga.  Spine, body, brain.  First, crawling.

I spend the next day, the weekend, near fetal, integrating a tsunami.  The learning what I missed and started to appreciate at the Celia Center Adoption/Foster healing conference, from word go about the adoptee “Sarah” and her journey to West Africa to the “Bio-Mom One Show,” what I could not stop reading, writing about in my journal, trying to retool my head — articles, parent, parenting, doctors blogs, Webinarjam, how my journey, my children’s differed.  I felt the riptide.  Today, I promised myself to renew bridges, our commitment to our sons, my son’s birthmom, how open dare I be?  Can we both be?

I can do it.  Yes, we can. We’re all in. We do our Brain Gym calmers, his taekwondo and swimming waiting for our Bette appointment in January, building on our daily special time. Today a train store with dad, tomorrow the beach. I buy The Body Keeps The Score, by Bessel Van Der Kolk.

“And speak to your child’s sleep,” one blogger says, “to his angels, his sorry, scary, sad places, ‘holding’ his experiences about the loss of being adopted, talk to his sleeping self, that something scary happened back there, he was powerless, tiny, that I don’t smell right, heartbeat right, am not her, him. How two of our triad are irreplaceable.  But don’t “talk it to death” — even if he’s sleeping — that that’s “TTD Syndrome.”  Grow bigger shoulders Mom,” a blog doc says.

I flashback, remembering our son’s “Gotcha Day,” the very name, not mine, aggressive, reminding me of my thin veiled greed, at the sight of our infant son and us, the pile up of tough days since with all these labels, his flight fight brain, the doctors, the schooling, the programs, camps, therapists, the questions, work. So far come, so far to go.

Today I promise myself to soften up on myself, on us all, my love language toward our challenges, not to walk away, ever, reconsider even the minor walks across the room, around the corner, the next room, as I’ve been counseled when I am trying to recover my cool, to communicate a line crossed.  Walk toward him, with him, walking away feeds feelings of abandonment, triggering more fears.

Be safe, him, me.

“Build permanence,” a Celia Center Conference doc says, “healing in the family setting.”

Create emergency plans for the big emotional stuff.  Typical kid, or not, they have, they will come.

I promise myself to be compassionate to myself when my kid says, “I hate you Mom,” this, might mean is, “I hate feeling this way.”

There is time, I tell myself.   Take a minute, or five.  Lighten up.

“Parents have 72 hours to revisit issues.”  A friend says her son’s talk doc told her. She suggests over dinner “Maybe get your need for him to show up a certain way out of your dynamic.” Ohm….my, that too? Was I projecting again? I loosen another expectation.

“Twenty minutes wires us for the good,” another speaker doc says.

Good or bad, I promise to get on the floor more, play with my son, play trains, crawling, rewiring our relationship for the long haul.

I laugh when I read this one on a blog, “Lay down.  It changes the body’s dynamic, our mindset, quieting our defenses.”  Maybe buying a mom or dad the time he or she needs lest one say or do something regrettable.

“On the kitchen lineo if you must,” I read.

By Saturday afternoon, I am an open cruciform, where I lay on the edge of my son’s soccer field, promising myself to pull over later in my car on an as-needed basis — on (but, not in) the road. My son a statue in the middle of the soccer field, unenthused, in a med fog, until he sees his dad and big brother step onto the field. “Look my brother, hey Dad look at me!” I sit up.

Webinarjam Kathy Gordon, an adoptive mom parenting counselor working with Bette says, “Make special time.  Set a timer, one on one play time, listening to your child with intent, asking a friend, neighbor, comrade be your “Listening Partner,” calling him or her, once a week, once a day with no idle chit chat, holding your time and theirs, sacred.” Crawling on the lineo if you must.

Every Man An Immigrant

Back home on Long Island my father’s family of origin knew within an Irish radius of 20 miles where his family had come from. A one-room straw and mud house tipping it’s roof hat to passersbys, half in the main road, halfway uphill, halfway to Roscrea, County Tipperary, halfway to the coast. Somehow it didn’t add up.

“See,” Dad would say years later sitting in our suburban living room, he at his old oak roll top desk, the eight of us born already, Dad looking from the curling black and white picture of his mother’s family’s house in his hand back to me, “Roscrea, means ‘earthen wood,’ something that lasts forever, like family, God and St. Cronan’s, the local church back in Roscrea.”

Years later, as an adult, I stood rain soaked on a still frosted July day in Roscrea, my husband, our five-year-old son, and my Mom with us, with me, scratching my head at our finding not one but two St. Cronan’s Churches and two St. Cronan’s cemeteries. One, Catholic, the second, Anglican — not 200 yards from each other. Miles of cemetery markers between them, stone walls all around, a brick castle moat wrapping a medieval town
nearby. Without speaking I knew from which side of the aisle my family harkened from.

“Well, if that’s not Irish irony for you,” I said standing next to the Catholic St. Cronan’s. “With all the saints from eternity forward to choose from they pick the same one for both churches. Like how we supposed to pay our respects? Don’t call me the shadow voice of Celtic doom but looking for one’s ancestors between two wet meadows of death in the frigid waning light — not my idea of a vacation. I’m going to the car. Anyone coming?”

Mom already there, running the car for the heat, my husband hanging back, a black crayon and paper in his hand bending, rubbing a little Irish from a headstone.

Mom had zero interest in the town, her cousin had determined her father’s side of the family tree came from Dublin, her mother’s side, from Cork, occupations? Seafarers, with her, the sea beat all.

Back at our bed and breakfast that night, looking for a clue to our unsubstantiated blue blood, I queried our proprietress about our family names.

“Yes,” Mrs. O’Neill, said drawing close to me, “The Sullivan’s, surly bunch they, the name mean one-eyed-red-haired-cyclops. Mean one, that.”

“Which county do you think they came from?”

Her arms folding across her bosom, she looked at me across the top of her wire rimmed glasses, a round linen cloth covering the table, basket of brown bread between us, she said, “That’d be a wee bit like finding the first Rodriquez in Los Angeles.”

All I needed to know, I put my map away, pulling the bread to me, slathering it with Devonshire and jam I took a bite.


I watch a quartered slice of white bread drop to the aluminum bowl sitting on the white counter tile in my uncle’s Oahu kitchen, the bowl containing two cups of gunpowder, a cup and a half of milk, two eggs lightly forked. The pieces sponging up runny liquid, then sliding to a deep fat fryer, a wok of boiling oil on the brown-black stove top.  Our featured product floating, frothing, fringing, flipping, browning draining on a wad of white paper towels, going to a shaking brown lunch bag, commingling with the enemy of the world – more, same, white, sugar. This, how you make Hawaiian Malasadas. The cost, the net worth of a girl, a lifetime of earnings for two weeks of out loud dreaming, laughing at my fun cousins’ house, penny traded for a fortune of forever. This, a hundred years ago when I was fourteen, when I helped cook what was already cooked, stood watching puffing squares forming a string of puffs, one after another popping into our slick drooling red wide open white ‘O’s.’ Get yer red hots here! This, the morning my cousin invents churros, a Dunkin Donuts shop opening on her father’s open plan options-added bachelor home for wayward teens, my cousins. Their second story main level living area with ‘70s pass-thru window, dark den paneling, low orange crushed velvet sofa sectionals, beige wall-to-wall sculpted carpeting, walls of pictures, mountains and ocean behind glass, a tower lanai lookout with rattan hanging basket chairs, papusan loungers, nesting tables, and, views of a rock. A rock we wait on hand and foot, sending sweet nothings, watching to see if what happened 150,000 years ago will happen again. This, when we are not watching malasadas.

No action until rock says so, no action until beach says so, no action until jungle city says so, sky says, Open sesame, setting daylight, sky’s sarong dropping to the horizon floor, her nails lacquer red, her shawl shrouding the world in black, this, while an ancient unseen native — trying his fireman best — tries throwing scant blue onto an inferno that just won’t quit. Pacific, not enough to douse the plunder of over our heads.  The east, gone, here and now, going, going, all of Asia, pfsst, next up, kindling. Day, in the pocket of Night, a she-wolf thief climbing from her cave, claiming things known — color, light, time — her seep and dredge dear – a yowl within, she sups upon her own. What I have feared my whole life now in her fist. I tell myself things to staunch the bleed, crooning about her perfection, praying light will find a way, make hurried fixes on what’s been tossed, a lace cup, of what cannot be held, try to drink in smaller sips, apologizing as diamonds fall to the head of a rock, tell my girl, all will be okay, light will find a way through holes, light will find a way.

Night scoffs at me, You are nothing girl.  Her coma pours over my nothingness. Her gum wrappers laying over the dark water, as heaven falls upon her sword, fade to black.

My girl tries to stand up to Night, says, This, no way to console a Day robbed of light, this no way to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, no way to hold a baby, sow a field, right a wrong, this, no way to map forever. Not in the dark, anyway, in the dark one needs light to make repairs. Night says, Obey girl, come morning, you too will ask to be robbed again, ask to unlearn the old songs, unlearn names you call things, unlearn your pantomimes so you may begin to live, love as loving breathes it’s own stank, leaving your body juiced, sluiced, loosened, lucid, leaving her mark, through night today will have made sense. Girl says no, stupid things like, I should have known this, I should have known that, this must be why bad things happen. Night pays her no mind, drumming handiwork charming tomorrow’s sleepwalkers, shredding her cuff on the moon and stars, her ripping boomerang tricking us to madness — tuberose, jasmine, frangipani, orchids twixt on twine, a lifetime of nooses around our mortal necks. Give me proof, says girl, poof, and years of Night. Finally girl says, I quit to Night and star lines unreel paths, girl strolling back to her soul.

It all comes down this earthworm girl, says Night, enter the dark or it’s just skipping stones. Girl says, yes this, yes that, yes oh wise Night. All for a heaping teaspoon of light, for the memory of you, agreeing she will befriend the dark.

Say yes, says Night in a test, say yes to emptying your best and only cup, to giving your cup away, then you will see light, then learn how to walk on water, backwards, on your hands, learn how to sing hallelujahs in the dark. Practice, girl, Night says, practice, practice, all is practice. And, because it is Night all the time girl says yes to Night, yessing Night day and night, calling the unschooled, unrelenting, Night a merciless whore, going about her days scraping her silver bowl for alms, licking her fingers for oil and granulated sweetness, bowing day and night. Yes, she says in the end, yes, I will give my best and only cup away, yes, I will learn how to walk on water, backwards, on my hands, in the dark but for one thing, girl says to Night. Anything, girl. Girl says, You first.

So LA, A Season For All Seasons

Right about now I need waders to rake my front yard,
so much exquisite, pure, unabashed, falling down, crunching, spreading out, on top of piles, piles on top of roofs, piles piling up, piling piles piling, up, down, up, autumn, it’s a lot to take in,
autumn, winter, spring, and summer, so much, it makes me think,
like how much fragrance, sight, sound, touch can a body take?
So rare, the dull, stray, grey, rainy, crisp sweater fall day when a season whisperer whispers, “Hark the change it ‘tis upon us,”
Time when I run, happy, stoked out into the here and now, chilled, all-wet to the yard, to my fireplace, to my soup ladle, calling out, “Quick, everyone our new season day is here!”
A look of reason returning to my and my neighbors’ faces with our hiatus from our usual one season of sunny, hot, crisp — maybe two if we count the fog — for the next day or few, fall,
then back to this sunny business, yesterday, today, tomorrow sunny days,
like sunny next Tuesday, like all the next and last boxes of sunny Tuesdays, our future Tuesdays the same,
an endless transcendence of sunny Tuesdays in LA we are almost calendar free,
365 Tuesdays,
Hey, don’t get me wrong — I’m as squirrel-rolling-about-it-in-my-nuts-and-oak-leaves as the next guy-gal on yonder brown hill,
all about our one hit single charm of four in one,
if maybe a little, “Leftovers again?” come fall, come winter, or, “Oh, it’s you,” by spring,
Sprung by summer,
spent, trying to pronounce our one unpronounceable
— springslashsummerslashfallslashwinter season,
with so little rain and chilling,
by autumn and winter,
sidelined saying, “All right already with this heat, send in the rain clowns!”
as I sit debating which flip flops to wear come parade day in our mostly bliss, chance of more, God willing, so relieved at having the time to talk about something other than the shoveling, de-icing, snow chaining than the rest of the snowed-in world,
taking on religion for instance,
taking on politics for instance,
or, maybe, rather, our one season for instance.
Yeah, hands down, I’m down with sunny,
hot or hot, sunny, sunnier, sunniest,
I’m down with LA.


Coyote could eat me in one snap, maybe two,
okay four,
but not more than ten,
Friend crow, calls to me, “Listen up, drifter, see the pale bristle at seven o’clock,”
Twin marbles meeting mine,
I am meat if the cad but dares,
the sycamores will not tell,
the summer children lay sleeping,
until hunger wakes fear,
fear, a wild dog that waits.

Rockabye Baby

maryrose smyth


I let my son, 6, have it, tell him something someone told me once, a lie to stem his fret, not a lie, more an “unsure,” but say it like I believe it.

“All good boys go to heaven,” I tell him.

The sunset taking too long, my son’s room storybook rosy.  The next minute he puts me in my place, hope diamonds flow from pale silk, “Mama,” he wails, standing on his bed, my face between his tiny orchid palms, “I don’t wanna die, don’t wanna get old, don’t wanna be a grandpa.  I wanna play.  I don’t want my toys to miss me, don’t want to give my toys to kids who have none. Are there toys in heaven? Any sand toys up there?”


“God’s got it all worked out,” I tell him, “Got his share of toys and then some. Heaven’s full of toys, sand toys…

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Don’t Text and Hike-u

Like, what was I thinking this morning on my clear out of the blue get with it hike. One cliffhanging thought before the other on the side of a mountain no less. One smartie word wising up the other. A look mom no hands no helmet moment, stepping back so the trail bikes coming downhill don’t hit me. My knees shaking a finger at me at this brand new ‘new start day,’ saying, “let’s start tomorrow, let’s sit and have a listen up to the birds.” So I listen, sitting on a niche carved with the perfect shape of my imperfect, I’m thinking, this is perfect, time to wonder, time to enjoy. All the time in the world wondering, wondering deep and wide, wondering how’s it gonna turn out. Wondering God, are you out there, are we gonna be okay? No one answering me, me talking all the talking just the same, wondering should I maybe take some extra underwear in the great beyond? Will there be somewhere to wash out a few things? Maybe an electric outlet no one’s using, so I can keep up with Mad Men, tabs on my kids, up with my was-tow-head one, Mr. precious all 18 all grown up already, my second chance at pretty good, Mr. I’m not so sure about, he not so sure either, Mr. Between bi-moodals, Mr. So so, so afraid of being six.

Like who’s gonna put up with this set of petunia kids I got going on if and when I check out? This kid racket double sink full life, who gonna teach them to call home, separate the shouldas from the couldas, the whites from darks? From the do it now’s cuz I said so. Like who’s gonna remind them these are the good old days? So welcome home, shut up and eat your organic kale before it gets all commingled, cold, alpha omega 3s don’t grow on trees, and pass me the milk while you’re at it, and, thank God while your at it, thank God us being so lucky, us being us, thank God us being so well shod standing on gods green warming, us standing on someone else’s dime being so alive on the peeling back I’ve wanted to change all my granite years, thank God and bless Him, bless my own mom and dad while He’s at it, me, myself and I while He’s at it, and bless the mister, the mister kids, bless this head, this heart, these hands, until forever, until the 10th of forever, until the 10th of forever wondering.

Are the kids brushing right? Are they flossing and whining between meals?
Today, like all the rest, I quit it. Quit it about being lost in the lost in found, say ‘I love you,’ first and tell my kids there’s no more, no more better than this, no more there there, never was anyway, all smoke mirrors, no thing as lost, no thing as found, unless you decide, (no Oz, no Auntie Em, no clicking heels, TV for you.) I tell my kids, this would be a good time to write something down so I can remember I had half a brain once, somebody got a pen? I’m telling you what I knew too late to save you the google of it later. Mom, Dad, if you can see my face I love you, if you got one, I’m ready for it, I’ll take one, give one, I’ll take a hug for the road. 🙂








A clamshell rises from watery depths,
she’s a beauty, her strawberry blonde adorned
by rosebuds wrapping her waist.
The museum label reads: Botticelli, “Venus,” this what must be meant by peaches and cream. Her face, that
pure. I count three eyes, knowing people will call her special too.

Moon Wolf

The color of the midnight fell into my lap just now,
filling my fear places,
my irises with the color of fire,
a moon wolf racing ahead,
my bloodline remembered in a moment’s flare,
the color of reckoning,
a redux later at the make up counter,
the color on my lips,
a torch secret,
of here and there,
staining your cheek, collar,
a neon wretch letting loose on your flannel cheek,
the color of spent,
the color of cherished,
the color of sup, the color of nocturnal,
eternal enough for me.


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