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I planned to go to Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour in Philadelphia when I first found out about it. It would’ve been my first concert post-marriage, post-kids, and post-settling down. It didn’t happen (thank you, Ticket Master), but it’s okay. Instead of going to the Eras tour, for that Mother’s Day weekend, I went to my first Writer’s Conference to take my first steps in pursuing a different dream (the details are shared in the blog post “Writing is an Art but Publishing is a Business”).

I was like Rosita in Sing 2 stopping the bus. “Listen, you guys. I have dreamt of performing in Redshore City since I was a little kid. And besides, I just convinced my husband to babysit for the next twenty-four hours, and I AM NOT GOING TO WASTE AN OPPORTUNITY LIKE THAT! So come on. We’ve got nothing to lose!”

Andy agreed to the concert and when that didn’t happen, he agreed to the writer’s conference. I am over-the-moon grateful. I love him.

We had an especially stressful month last month with our daughter Maggie’s 21-day hospitalization (for details, please read the last few weeks’ blog posts). In times of stress, we push each other’s buttons. We’re coming up on seven years of marriage, and both of now settling into our forties, we are both settled into the people that we are. I wouldn’t change anything about him, even if I bark at him about trivialities just as I don’t believe he’d change anything about me, even when he barks back at me about whatever. But just because we’ve gotten comfortable with cycles of conflict and resolution doesn’t mean that others are and with both of our moms visiting and helping with our daughters, they both got to see us firsthand barking at each other. Both expressed discomfort and concern. To them both, I deeply apologize. I certainly don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable, especially when they’ve generously taken time out of their lives to help care for our children during a medical crisis.

After Andy and I had an argument which my mom witnessed while Maggie was still in the hospital, I was angry. With my mom and a team of nurses taking care of Maggie, I power-walked from Johns Hopkins toward Upper Fells Point, the neighborhood where the haunted hotel was from in Chapter 9 of Magnolia in November (which is also loaded with Edgar Allan Poe nods simply because I can and I’m an unapologetic nerd). The intellectual let’s-have-some-productive-reason-for-this side of me wanted to check on my details since my memory can be hazy and I hadn’t seen it in person since our family trip in 2020. The emotional side just wanted a destination while I power-walked, cried, and sang under my breath.

So I walked and walked some more. I walked until I reached the water, the Baltimore Harbor. I sat on the bench and stared at the water, which feels like the most comforting place to sit and stare. I love the water. I love watching the ebbs and flows, the current, and the stillness. The water reminds me of God and the Holy Spirit, constantly flowing through our world and our lives, ever-present yet ever-moving. I prayed. I cried. I prayed some more. I cried some more. And after the tears, after the cathartic release, I felt better. I felt like I could handle whatever was happening in the hospital. At the time, Maggie was still in the Pediatric ICU and she was touch-and-go.

On headphones, I listened to Taylor Swift’s shuffled complete collection. Sitting on the bench, without giving a damn about who could hear me, who could see me, or anything else, I sang my heart out to track after track of favorites. In my mind, I visualized Vanellope surrounded by Disney Princesses talking about singing in front of their chosen water, that in their song and their wish, they could realize whatever they were trying to reach. It’s all just another form of prayer, so I sang and prayed. At that moment, there was the only thing I wanted and that was for my daughter to be okay. When your kid is in the Pediatric ICU, all you really want, all you care about, is your kid being okay. Everything else, everyone else, is simply noise.

[As an aside, I realize that so many of my writing allusions are intertwined with works geared toward children, and for a time, I thought that would evolve after my kids outgrew them, but the more I think about it, the more I think no. Kid stories that appeal to adults are great. I LOVE Rosita. I LOVE Vanellope. I hadn’t watched or read anything for kids since I was a kid before I had kids, but now that it’s grown on me, I see no reason to stop. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, watch Sing 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet. They’re both awesome. Both of those movies also made me reconsider the value and power of sequels since I think they’re both superior to their originals.]

I don’t go out and I certainly don’t go into bars (although I did plenty when I was in my twenties and even when casually dating Andy), but I did that evening. I went to a bar in Upper Fells Point and had the most incredible conversation with this young man that reminded me so much of a student I had when I taught high school back in Miami (sometime between 2006-2009, I don’t remember which year, just that I thought he was a great kid). I was the only one there and we talked. We talked about his partner. We talked about my argument with my husband. When he told me “He’s scared and he be tripping. Y’all will be fine,” I laughed and realized he was right. He be tripping. We’ll be fine. I also realized he was right about me, too. I’m scared. I be tripping and we’ll be fine.

I continued my power walk, this time to pick up dinner for myself and Mom from this restaurant in Little Italy with gluten-free pasta while continuing my Eras concert tour for one. I have been listening to Taylor Swift since she was singing about Tim McGraw and what I love about her music is her ability to reach into my heart and help me tap into the parts of myself that make me feel human. Art, whatever the medium (writing, music, dance, anything) should be able to reach deep inside a person’s heart and make them feel something, whatever it is. It could be joy, heartbreak, love, regret, and the nuances of human emotion, and her music does that for me. My hope is that my writing will do that for others as well.

Carrying our dinners of gluten-free pasta back to the hospital, I sang my heart out and when I was across the street from the hospital, I stopped. I remember hesitating, staring at the Bloomberg Children’s Hospital at Johns Hopkins Hospital then ugly crying outside the building. I cried out of helplessness and frustration. I cried in want for a simpler time, when the biggest catastrophes in my life were mostly of my own doing, that even if I was playing the “Anti-Hero” in a situation, I could unravel myself from it. I didn’t know how to fix this, heal her. I was overwhelmed and more than anything, the fear felt blinding and paralyzing. I sang for “Tim McGraw,” thinking of my own era of listening to that song. Instead, I sobbed and ugly cried while singing, “You’ll Get Better Soon ('Cause You Have To).”

For my 41st birthday, I got my wish. Maggie is home. She has recovered. She is back to the same running, climbing, exhausting child that she was before all of this. The gratitude I feel for her recovery is indescribable. But there’s awkwardness and tension. I’m struggling to find my words, to maintain the momentum I found making lemonade while in the hospital for my writing ambitions while readjusting to life at home with my three little ones. When my daughters were asleep, I wanted air, some time to myself to simply breathe. I power walked to the water in our neighborhood of Beard’s Creek near the South River.

For my 41st birthday, I resumed my Eras Tour while drawing on the sand. I sang to the migrating geese and occasional family out for an evening stroll. I sang for the fish and crabs that seemed absolutely unfazed about my presence. I even sang for the predatory birds that perched above the neighborhood gazebo chowing down on freshly caught fish.

What I really wanted for my birthday was for Maggie to be okay, and she is. Thank you, God. What I also wanted for my birthday was self-acceptance, not just acceptance for the person I was during those lost years, but also an embrace that I needed to experience those Eras to find myself. Would I have felt this burning compulsion to write and create if I hadn’t? I don’t know. I wanted to give myself permission to be the person that I am today, at 41, while accepting the person I was when I would sing along to “Tim McGraw” ages ago, and also accepting everyone I was in the years in between.


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