I couldn’t write. My desk was a mess. Books and papers and really all kinds of crap were smeared across, under, and around it. It’s taking a month of weekends to pull everything from the shelves, off and underneath the desk, and out of sloppily stacked boxes to sort and file, recycle and toss. And preserve.

Amid the forgotten photos, baggies of baby teeth, and political pins (U.S. Out of El Salvador, I Am Salman Rushdie, Mondale/Ferrarro) I came across, there were also these bits of writing—little charms infused with pangs of love and guilt and loss. And life.

My younger daughter Ana was forming letters at three and writing notes to me at four. Sometimes they were informative:

Dear Mom

Im running away undr the tabl

Sometimes they were chastising:

To Mom From Ana
Im sore that you got mad but you ned to kin trol your tempur
Love Ana

Out of the mouths, or rather, crayons of babes.


My mother who isn’t much for letter-writing sent me a note dated April 16, 1993, a week after my father’s funeral.

I am sending the certificate of Death to you. Hope everything is well with you. Rose and I have been eating out because John has been working on the kitchen.

Death amid the mundane.


When my older daughter Natalie was in college, she would sometimes send me her drafts of papers for feedback. Here’s the last line of a book review she wrote for her history class on a book titled Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy by Judith C. Brown.

In Brown’s recreation of the life of Benedetta Carlini, she reminds readers that despite the passing of several centuries, issues such as overcoming constraints set by society, filling voids of love, and dealing with identity still face people today.

Life lessons.