A View From The Top

My 40th birthday is this year. All of the 1981 babies will stop climbing up the hill and actually be over it. Why are there no cocktail napkins or evites proclaiming someone has reached the pinnacle of the hill? Where is the “Lordy Lordy, Look Who Is Going To Take Some Time And Appreciate The View From The Top!” yard sign?

Why don’t we take some time to look at how far we’ve come before we cross that magic finish line and start to decline?

I was thinking today, January 1st, that it would be a good time to prep for this 40th trip around the sun. What are my goals? What do I want to do on that ski lift up the mountain?

Overall, I’ve loved the upward journey. Some days I need a dozen sherpas, some days it’s a sprint with a smile. There are plenty of things I can do this year, but instead of focusing on the way up, I’m going to plan my moments at the top.

So, on my 40th, instead of being over the hill, I want to be at the top. Look for me in the queen’s crown, surveying my territory below (maybe with a blowout, toned arms, some fresh Botox, and a gorgeous gown). To the left is the summit I’ve conquered. To my right is the downward journey.

But, maybe I will hang out at the top for a bit. A week? A year? A decade? However long it takes me to revel in the achievement of living, loving, doing, being.

I’ll let you know when you can call me over the hill, but my descent on down to the next chapter in life will not automatically start on September 8th. I’m going to enjoy my view from the top.

For The Love of Numerals

It’s no secret that I’m bad at math. Ask my family, who for years would stop in the middle of something and say, “Anne! Quick! Eight times six!” I’d pick a number in the fifties and hope for the best. I only got A’s and B’s in high school – except for one D (a D!) in Algebra II. My freshman year college transcript is crammed with all of my math requirements, I’m a bite the bullet and get it all over with kind of gal. Most of them end with “for the non-math major.”

I love numerals. My favorite Reddit thread is DataIsBeautiful. I count while exercising (cinderblocks in the wall, color blocks in pool lane lines, houses passed), and I’m a sucker for a good graph (lots of colors, horizontal font please). My late night Google searches include skimming articles written about numerology in religious texts and culture (does this count as a real life application of my Cultural Studies minor?).

Numbers are comforting through consistency, which is something I crave more and more as I age. I get a sense of calm knowing that seven squared will be 49, every time. No one likes change because it’s new and uncharted territory. Numbers never have that problem (see what I did there?).

Life is an accumulation of experiences, thoughts, and interactions. If we see these as distinct, individually defined events, we are lucky to have an infinite number. The idea of a never ending count of accumulations doesn’t weigh heavy but provides lightness through opportunity and anticipation. A collection of consistency is how I’m moving through life these days, and that’s a data point I’m happy with.

Happy Spring, Y’all!

My friend A and I aren’t fans of the fall.

People are all pumpkin spice this and pumpkin pie that! Flannels and tall boots! Pumpkin picking and apple picking and scented candles and the crisp air. Isn’t this where the basic bitch came from? She reigns queen in autumn. The fall has become a state of mind, which means it’s on kitschy signs and kitchen towels.

A and I joke about this season. We can’t wait until we can say “Happy Winter, Y’all!” No one says this but me and A, probably. No one really likes winter. The two of us, we sort of do. Winter closes the chapter on all things hayride and PSLs. You can’t go to the Hallmark Store and buy a Happy Winter, Y’all! wooden sign for your mantel.

Why don’t we like fall? We both lost our sons in October. It gets darker earlier. It’s Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. I happened to lose both of my grandparents in October. We both agree that fall can take it and shove it.

The arrival of the winter solstice isn’t always wonderful, let’s be clear. It gets darker even earlier. The holidays are near. Everyone is celebrating, and I sometimes find myself wondering what for.

My return date to work after my maternity leave with Hank was early December. I’d drive home from work in the dark, the wreaths on the lampposts with jaunty bows shining in the light. This time every year, the wreaths in West Chester cross my mind. I’m reminded how I felt that December of 2012.

Longwood Gardens is thirty minutes from my house. My family has a membership and we use it a lot. Around the holidays, it’s especially crowded. Lights and music, spiked drinks, and large displays of the finest in holiday horticulture. I’ve been once.

As much as I want to be immersed in a magical, twinkling light of a night, I’m afraid that I’ll just be sad. I’d need to go into the evening with someone who gets all of this. Someone who knows that it’s both beautiful and bitter at the same, and someone who can hand me another cup of rum and hot cider and make me feel like Anne, a mom who hasn’t lost her baby.

I’m going to message A now and tell her that we have to hang in there until spring. The season of newness, rebirth, and fittingly the time of year our rainbow baby girls were born. Life comes back, we get a second chance at whatever we need.

Maybe spring is when we will both be happy with the season. And maybe next year, she and I will go to Longwood in the winter, mixing mulled wine and memories as we count down to March 20.

An Honest Plate

Hank’s Hope had its monthly peer to peer meeting last night. We talked about how it feels when you get honest with what you want. We immediately feel ungrateful for not appreciating what we have. It’s a shitty feeling.

A theme of life, especially this year. We’re hurting, we’re missing people, we’re wanting more. Then, the guilt barges into the home of the mind, tells us to shut the hell up and count our blessings, then slams the door in our face, leaving us more empty than ever before.

I’ve done plenty of this thinking, especially in 2020. Covid hit our home. I’ve been crushed at work, especially this fall. We’ve had house repairs and insurance claims, injuries and surgeries. We’ve had a job loss, and unemployment checks are the unicorns that I’ve long stopped chasing. My kids have been yanked around with school and seeing friends. I hate myself some days. I’m tired. I’m so, so tired.

I feel guilty (see a theme?) for writing this. My family had the space to isolate someone so covid didn’t rip through the whole family. I work for a company that has been extremely flexible and supportive. I have a credit card for tight financial times. My family is fed and warm (well, except for that fun time when we had a gas leak and the HVAC was out of commission). I’ve not been a victim of a hate crime, or discriminated against because of my race or sexual orientation, and I’ve not worried about whether or not I can afford medication.

This year, I’ve had friends and family members lose parents, fight cancer, divorce, miscarry, bury pets, and helplessly watch their businesses go under.

Compared to others, 2020 was a very good year.

2020 has helped me to know it’s normal to feel negative emotions when I think about what I don’t have. Of course, it’s positive thinking to count your blessings. But one does not negate the other. You are allowed to do both, equally.

It’s a balance, and it’s fair to say that 2020 wasn’t exactly a calibrated scale.

I made it through (well, almost, we have two weeks to go and I don’t want to jinx myself). If you’re reading this, you made it, too. I remember at one point I laughed until I couldn’t catch my breath, and had one (or four) too many glasses of wine. I celebrated with people I love, provided words of comfort to those in need, and rubbed my eyes in public with reckless abandon. I sneezed and coughed back when all I had to do was say “allergies!” and no one batted an eye.

I am choking down the boiled, unsalted, overcooked vegetable that was this year, cursing the whole time. I am also aware that I’m fortunate enough to have dessert. 2020 is a meal of my own palate of rancid and delicious, guilt and gratefulness, and the entire thing is my honest meal.

Don’t Save The Good

The “nice” napkins.

Mrs. W came over to meet Elise shortly after her birth. She brought the most beautiful outfits- soft white organic cotton sleepers, a delicately embroidered ivory dress, and some other things that should be ten feet away from a baby.

These elegant pieces looked perfect, expertly wrapped and nestled in a box. Mrs. W must have known what I was thinking (that I would never put a newborn in white, there would be poop and barf all over them in minutes, who is going to see these beautiful clothes since we aren’t going anywhere because this baby needs to eat every two hours and I feel like my shirt is always off so we just sit on the couch topless and watch reruns).

She looked me in the eye and spoke with a firm voice. “Don’t save the good.”

She’s right.

The wedding china isn’t used for leftovers or pizza. There is a piece of jewelry, forever sitting in a box (because it’s only appropriate for a black tie event that you’ll go to on Saturday, the 5th of never). Our wedding memories are allowed out on the anniversary. The special handwritten note is tucked away. And that air hockey puck we may or may not have taken from the boardwalk arcade to remind us of someone? It’s in a drawer. Some drawer, maybe. Maybe?

My grandmother also subscribed to the same theory. Why wait? And, for what? For who?

We are worthy of the nice, even if it’s just us. Every day. And the people we surround ourselves with are most deserving of the good. It’s counterintuitive to let your children know what it feels like snuggle in the delicate quilt that has been passed down from generation to generation. But who better than them?

The extraordinary moments in life come without the foresight of knowing when they will happen. Don’t wait for the right moment, only to open the drawer of life and find that baby romper, two sizes too small, with the tags still on.

Shrooms For Days: Food for 2020

I’m a victim of the quarantine 19, and I’m blaming my husband.

He’s a chef. When someone makes food for a living, really really good food, and they live in your house, you don’t stand a chance. When you have no place to go, you give in to the kitchen.

When we first were home, in mid-March, my husband started a spiral notebook. The left page was a menu for the week, with recipes at the bottom. The right page was the grocery list.

We always meal planned (if you don’t, you really should). But, Noah took it to a whole new level this time. What else was there to do? It also gave the kids more foods to add to their gross list.

We’ve reached the end of the notebook. We jokingly asked if that meant covid is eliminated (we can only hope).

Maybe one day, Noah will publish his spring/summer 2020 volume. In the meantime, we’ll get a new notebook, start into a fall/winter edition, and keep looking ahead.

Below is one of the surprisingly best things that he’s made. Enjoy!

Mushroom Burgers

  • 1 lb mushrooms (we did a mix of white and brown)
  • 1 cup panko crymbs
  • Two shallots
  • 2T. Tamari
  • 1/4 c. Balsamic vinegar
  • 1T. Maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup flax seeds
  • 1/2 t. Smoked paprika
  • 1 cup cooked rice (sushi or risotto)

Slice and cook the mushrooms and shallots over medium heat. Add the tamari, vinegar, and maple syrup. Add the paprika. Cook until shallots are translucent and soft, and the mushrooms are soft. In a food processor, lightly pulse the shroom mix, flax, rice, and 1/2 of the panko. Transfer to a bowl and fold in the rest of the panko. Shape into burgers, and brown in a little olive oil in a pan.


I tried yesterday to figure out why I was so anxious. It really helps that my friends are therapists. They ask the right questions and allow my answers to tumble out. Only then do I stop and realize what I couldn’t articulate has become a defined, organized thought.

I didn’t realize what my normal really was until it was gone.

My social media feeds are full of mommy-loves-wine jokes, how to keep your kid busy suggestions, and streaming yoga at 2pm (Can’t! Representing the new work at home mom!). One thing I haven’t seen on Facebook is how to explain all of THIS THAT IS HAPPENING to yourself.

Who would have known that my new normal would involve coaxing my kid into watching Mo Willems draw an elephant at lunchtime while I make a PB&J with one hand and type emails with the other? I do love Mo, though.

It is not possible to return to a pre COVID-19 world. That makes me scared. I’m afraid that I will lose people I love and the life I have with them. We take our current normal for granted.

My hope is that relationships will go on, kids go back to school, and I will go to my office to work. We will pay bills, pick up dry cleaning, cut each other off on the highway, and hold doors. We will high five and hug.

I’m also going to hope that all of my people and relationships stay put. These are the important things and if you’re lucky, you take them with you as you move through phases of life, no matter how normal or abnormal those phases are.

“The Body Keeps The Score”

This is an open letter from me to you, and I hope you read every word. What I have to say is important.

We have a marriage like Alec and Kim, or Sean and Madonna- we love each other but we also love to hate each other. We carry on with our tempestuous relationship because we have no other choice. We’re stuck together.

Yes, body, I’m talking to you. Sometimes your heaviness leaves quietly, without me having put forth a declaration that things will be different this time. Other times, the weight of you is a mental and physical sandbag on my waist, pushing me down. You bring tears of anger and frustration to my eyes when you do this. I question why you don’t do this to seemingly everyone else.

I try to tell myself that you don’t define me, that you don’t make me who I am, and that you’re simply a vessel to my mind and heart and my essence, which is what REALLY makes me who I am. When I do this, you are in the back of my head, telling me negative things. I hear the faintest whisper from you, and it pulls me into a place where I detest you. I sometimes find pleasure in punishing you.

Other times you’re loud, and obviously there, all of you, taking up much more room than I want you to. You make me defenseless, and I have abused you. Sometimes I think you deserve it.

Maybe I will get to a place one day where I unconditionally give you the agape love that you deserve. You’ve done many wonderful things for me, but you’ve also disappointed me. This is life- yin and yang.

Since we are together for life, I’m now trying to take care of you. I’m mindful of the anxieties around what size you make me. I’m trying to include you in pictures. I’m trying to show my daughter that I am comfortable with you.

Until we get there, body, know I’m trying. Know some days will be easier than others. Please realize that cycles and habits are hard to break. I will try not to judge you as much as I do now. I will not to starve you one week and then push you physically the following week.

Deep down I do love you, even though most days I don’t like you. But we will never be unraveled, and I promise that for the duration we are intertwined, I’ll appreciate the roots you’ve given me to someday grow into my own graceful tree of acceptance.

The title of my essay is from the title of this book, by Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD

Paying It Backward

Tried to pay it forward today. It didn’t work at first. I was stunned. Through tears, I tried again with someone else. It worked.

Maybe sometimes you need to be persistent with kindness before it’s received. Maybe it’s never received. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying.

At lunch, I saw this sign. A literal sign. Maybe the two men this morning- the one who rejected goodwill in Hank’s name, and the one who heard my ten second story of why I was giving him a gift card- both ended up paying it forward and this means it’s come back to me?

The Blade

I have this occasional but reoccurring thought that my house is on fire. I have two items I need to get to- Hank’s ashes, and his memory box. I try to go back in but either someone won’t let me, or I can’t due to the size of the flames and thickness of the smoke. I lose both.

A few weeks ago I panicked. I needed to see his pictures. I get this urge maybe once a year. The urge is so strong that I will race home from work, tear through the closet, rip the lid off, and just stare. I cry and apologize to him for failing him. I put the pictures back, get myself together, and go back to work.

No one is my office is none the wiser as to my actions over the last hour. I pretend to have that post- productive-lunchtime-errand-running-glow when I walk back in to my office. “Dry cleaners AND Home Goods!” I will sometimes announce this triumphantly.

The last time I tried to see the pictures, I couldn’t find them for about sixty seconds. I couldn’t find them because they were face down, in a sealed sandwich bag. I panicked again. What if they got stuck together and I couldn’t get them apart unless I ripped them? What if they got wet? What if the fire scenario came to fruition?

Most everything that is material in life can be replaced, except your deceased child’s stuff. I have so little of it that it can fit in a shoebox. I have no opportunities to grow this pile of his things. They’re not tangible or material things. They’re as important as a living person.

After I put Alex to bed last night, I had to get to Fedex. I couldn’t sleep until I made copies. Two copies, and one more copy on waterproof paper. I handed the pictures facedown to the woman across the counter and told her what I wanted. She nodded and flipped the pictures over.

Only one person outside of my husband and parents have seen his pictures. Now make that two. By the grace of God, the Fedex woman didn’t miss a beat. I was bracing myself for every question. None came. For this I breathed a sigh of relief that everyone in that store probably heard.

I asked her to trim them up, since she put two pictures on each page. She said I can do it myself, and walked me over to this paper cutter that cleanly slices through probably everything. She helped me get started. I thanked her.

“These pictures are really important to me,” I whispered.

“My pleasure. Glad I found that waterproof paper for you. Let me know if I can help.”

I’m doing great, on this satisfying paper cutter, it’s smooth blade effortlessly moving back and forth. Its like a safe mandolin, or deli meat slicer. I line up the edges and move the blade. It’s calming and satisfying, until I remember the autopsy.

Without going into too much detail, after almost seven years after Hank’s death, I got up the courage to ask for a copy of his autopsy from my doctor’s office a few weeks ago. When I left, I took it out to my car and read it. I got about halfway through.

My heart jumped when I saw the words FINAL AUTOPSY REPORT written across the top, on hospital letterhead.

Hank was not Hank, or Henry. He was “BB Mathay, Anne”. My baby boy. No identity, just a body.

The autopsy was not great. It has some things I never knew (blonde hair! 2.88lbs!). It also had some things I thought I knew and a whole lot I didn’t. It was hard to read how my body had failed him. It was hard to read that summary at the bottom where the medical examiner ruled his cause of death.

I sliced away on the fancy paper cutter as I thought about how the medical examiner looked at him. He looked at him scientifically and objectively, and without emotion. That’s his job, and he’s excellent at what he does. It’s not his fault that he’s labeled my son BB Mathay, Anne. Did he slice a blade cleanly, with precision, like me? Was he methodical and efficient? Did he think that there would be a mother out there, almost seven years later, slicing away at the pictures of this BB Mathay, Anne?

I left and came home. I held it together until I couldn’t. I heaved big sobs on the bedroom floor for a few minutes. I channeled my inner Annette Bening from American Beauty (remember her breakdown that ended almost as quickly as it started?) and moved about my evening. It didn’t stop the tears from my eyes.

We all find out things that we don’t want to know, but we are glad we have the answers to what happened. It doesn’t make those answers easier to swallow- it can make them sit in your throat, rising up and down for a few hours, snarled with sorrow and bile and anger. We are able to eventually push them down and get on with life, but it never goes away. Every time you swallow you feel it.