Dear Dakota/Dakofo/Baby Bear/Baby Boy/Monkey Toe/Peach Butt/Magic Bean/Tyke,

I had to include all your nicknames in there, right?

As I start this letter it is 4:53 pm on August 31, 2018. Fourteen years ago at this moment, I was sitting silently in our dark bedroom when we lived on Holly Ridge in Fort Wayne, Indiana. My eyes were closed and I was half meditating, half-praying. I was terrified. I was scared of the pain of labor, scared of the needles, scared of you getting harmed or being sick, scared of everything, and yet, I KNEW it was going to be okay. I just KNEW. Nana had been gone five months and I felt her presence so strongly and I knew she would watch over us.

I was also scared to be a mama, in general. So worried that I would hold you the wrong way, or feed you wrong, or not be able to breastfeed, or calm you, etc. I was (and still am) worried that I would fuck up everything and you’d be in therapy by age four, or that someone would hurt you or kidnap you or you’d smother in a blanket; the worries are totally irrational and endless! There is a quote: “Having a child is like having your own heart walking around outside of your body.” Nothing has ever been more true.

When I first held you and looked down at you, it was like looking into my own face and I felt a wave of sheer terror: your safety, development, and happiness depended on me now. You come first, then and now, and always. 

You were my shadow the first five years of your life. We were very blessed that I was able to stay home with you full time. Our early days were full of communing in the wee hours of morning, you latched on to eat, me rocking back and forth, rocking, rocking, endlessly rocking. For a long time I would just instinctually rock while standing even if I wasn’t holding you. We would look into each other’s eyes for hours. Those moments will never go away for either of us.

When you were a toddler, our days were filled with learning how to count, the ABCs, puzzles, books, reading, flashcards of words. I wanted to give you the best possible start, so we began “school” before you could even sit up by yourself. We would go outside and talk about plants and bugs and clouds and rain and everything was why, why, why? And in those days, those were the questions that were easy to answer. Now, it’s a bit more difficult.

You were born into a very broken world. And it’s going to take a lot of glue, baby. A whole lot of glue. The good news is all the pieces are still there. The pieces are composed of the good things this world has to offer us: our family and friendships, the generosity of the planet despite our abusing it, the humor, and the love. Most importantly, the love. Love is everything. Love is God. You need look no further. You can be the glue by spreading your kindness, understanding, patience, wicked sense of humor, and heart everywhere you go. Never let this world make you bitter or unkind. You are better than that.

I could never begin to tell you how proud I am of you. You have exceeded my hopes and dreams in every possible way. You light up a room with your gentleness and humor. You work so hard to be successful in school. Your artistic talent is staggering. You are responsible, disciplined, committed, and always so respectful. You have been a dream to raise. As always, thank you for choosing me to be your mama.

I can’t promise you that I will always be here for you, and that’s not because of my health, but because no one can make that promise to anyone. We have control over what we do and the choices we make, but we are also often victims of circumstance. Does everything happen for a reason? I don’t know. I think some things do, but I also think some things just…happen. It’s frustrating, I know. But I CAN promise you this: you will never be without me. No matter where I am, no matter where you are, we are joined in love. Flesh of my flesh, are you. I will always do everything in my power, in whatever time or space of universe, to protect you and show you how much you are cherished. I know you know this, but I am always on your side, no matter what. If you’re wrong, we’ll fix it, and you will learn from it. Either way, I will defend you to the death. You can share or tell me anything and I will always love you and support you.

Here are some handy life tips just because:

  • Always hold open doors for people, regardless of their gender; same goes for opening car doors.

  • Always be nice to your restaurant server or cashier or anyone in retail. These jobs are hard and people are dicks to them all day long. Don’t be one of the dicks. Ask them how their day is going.

  • Never be silent if you hear or see someone being bullied.

  • Respect everyone until they give you a real, solid reason not to. Then you may tell them to fuck off.

  • Speaking of that, watch your fucking language, for fuck’s sake. Know your audience.

  • Never go to bed angry.

  • If you love someone, tell them EVERY SINGLE DAY.

lastly;

  • Please un-bunch your socks before you put them in the laundry basket because it makes them really hard to get clean in the wash.

;-)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!

I love you eternally,
Mama

 

 © jennifer summer | 2018

© jennifer summer | 2018

This past weekend, I took some portraits of my mom’s dog, Bobby. He is a certified therapy dog and she often uses him in her work as a therapist, which means he was able to go out with us everywhere we went. He is perfectly behaved and so sweet. 

 

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Honor the sacred.
Honor the Earth, our Mother.
Honor the Elders.
Honor all with whom we 
share the Earth:-
Four-leggeds, two-leggeds, 
winged ones,
Swimmers, crawlers, 
plant and rock people.
Walk in balance and beauty.

- Native American Elder

I just made a shirt that is very meaningful for me. The ideas/concepts for these shirts are flowing and I'm merely riding the wave. 

Growing up, like a lot of nineties kids, Amanda and I were obsessed with the movie Heathers (turns out, I DID end up "having a brain tumor for breakfast"). The amount of times we watched it was easily in the hundreds. We would quote it in almost every conversation. 

Our favorite quote was "Our love is God. Let's go get a Slushie." We just loved the marrying of the profound and the mundane. Of course, love is God. Why not celebrate with a Slushie?

As it turned out, ironically enough, the very last gift I ever gave Amanda was...you guessed it...a Slushie. She was in the hospital, and I was sitting next to her holding her hand and she said that the commercials on television for local restaurants were making her crave a sweet drink. I told her no way was I smuggling in a daiquiri. She laughed a little and asked, "How about a Slushie?" Neither of us gave it a second thought, and I went directly across the street to the local convenience store and bought her a large cherry Slushie.

I sat by her side, holding hands once again, while she sipped her drink. "Ahhhh," she said, voice barely audible. A hand squeeze. Hard. A quiet "thank you."

Deb washed her face with a warm cloth. I brushed out her matted hair and put it in a fishtail braid. We freshened up her bed and I got as close to her as I could, with my head in her lap. She silently and instinctually stroked my hair as she had done for over 30 years. 

Our love. Our love WAS God. Our love IS God. Not just hers and mine. But you and yours. Everyone's. 

So, I made this shirt. It's our quote, in her favorite color. The background image is a scan of a flowery twig I found in my yard. I made one for me, but I feel like I want to put it out there to the universe in her honor. If you were ever a fan of the shenanigans we would get ourselves into, you totally understand why I had to make this.

As we always said: Planet Amandifer, bitches. 

If you would like one of these shirts, please visit my shop, The Luscious Moth.

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I was so delighted to be Maid of Honor in my best friend's wedding this past Sunday. It was such a beautifully perfect day and I could not love her husband and his family and her family more. Everyone is so unique, kind, and lovable. 

When I arrived at the venue, I had an odd feeling and I couldn't figure out why. I stepped outside and walked around and when I saw the gazebo, my heart stopped. We were at the same exact location where my best friend Amanda had gotten married, nineteen years ago. I was her Maid of Honor, as well, and nothing about the landscape had changed. I was instantly thrust back into my twenty-one year-old self, walking slowly down the same stone path to join her and thinking to myself how we were both way too young to be doing any of this. Her toddler son, my first nephew, Pierce, squirmed and squealed and grinned during the ceremony. 

The realization that I was Maid of Honor twice, to two best friends, nineteen years apart, in the exact same spot, hit me like a punch in the face. As most of you know I lost my Amanda in 2016 and not a day goes by that I don't talk to her, think about her, ache with missing her.

I managed to keep myself together and focus on my Kristie and the joy of the day. Since my diagnosis, I strive and work as hard as possible to live in the moment. It's as easy as it sounds, ha. 

I have a small altar in my sitting room, aka my zen room. On it is a tiny photo of my nana hugging Amanda at her wedding. I got Kristie and Deb into the exact same spot and made a close replica of that image.

 

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I didn't get it exactly, but it's close enough, and the spot where they are both standing is exactly the same. And now as I edit this I am just now noticing that Amanda wore a flower crown, and I too wore a flower crown for Kristie's wedding. I literally did not even put that together until typing this just now.

Believe in what you will. I believe my Amanda is with me always. I believe she was there with me giving me the strength to stand up in front of a large group and declare my love for my Kristie pie. 

Some friends and family members have asked me to give them a copy of the speech I wrote for the wedding (which is so humbling and amazing and I am glad they were touched), so I am including that here:

I met Kristie ten years ago when both of our sons, Dakota and Liam, went to Wise Owl Preschool. I would watch her walking every day with little Quinn in a stroller when she would drop off Liam. Our boys became friends over a fight for a toy truck. Kristie and I would make small talk at the school and I instantly liked her, but it wasn’t until our boys were in first grade that we really became friends.

Coincidentally enough, we both signed up for a program called Picture Person which involved us coming to our boys’ class (they were in the same first grade class) and talking to them about a specific artist and then doing a project with them in the style of that artist. When we both showed up at the same time, we joked about how we had chosen the same volunteer role and we were excited to work together with the kids. 

The first time I went to Kristie’s house, I couldn’t believe how alike we truly were.  Looking around, I saw my own style staring back at me.  We even had several of the exact same pillows, lamps, frames, and blankets, and this is something that would only grow stronger over the next ten years; we often find that we have purchased the same dress, or pottery, or even panties! We joked that we were almost like a singular unit, and that became our name for each other: Singular Unit, only we abbreviate to just SU or “Sue.” 

As our boys became best friends, so did we. Kristie and I are both empaths and we intuitively know when one of us needs the other. She is notorious for leaving love tokens on my porch; some freshly baked cookies, a candle, her famous homemade soup, sometimes even lip gloss and panties from Target. We give each other handmade cards, finish each other’s sentences, and raise our boys to know that we are family because the foundation of love that we share is the essence of all families. 

We have been a flicker of light for each other in our darkest moments. There are no secrets and no veils, only a sense of relief and joy that we have found one another to share our lives and our loves. We laugh until our abs ache, we can cry and wipe away each other’s snot and sadness, we can cuddle and giggle, jump up and down like happy children, make spontaneous trips to IKEA or flea markets, or just sit together in silence. 

Kristie is one of the most intelligent, capable, and driven women I’ve ever known. When life hands her something hard, she uses it to build something stronger. She parents her children with grace and ease, and I love that we are second mamas to our own flock. She never ceases to amaze me with how much she gives to her family and friends, her career, her dogs, and to the world as a whole.

Kristie is also the most supportive friend a woman could ever hope to have. I’m a photographer and one day years ago she took me to see a Herb Ritts (very prominent black and white film portrait artist) photo exhibit at the Cincy Art Museum. I was staring in awe at one of the black and white portraits when she came up next to me, laid her head on my shoulder and after several minutes, whispered, “You can do that.” I’ll never forget that moment. Her belief in me and her steadfast love keep my heart beating.

Hers was the last face I saw before I went into life-saving brain surgery. Her hand only left mine because they pulled my stretcher away and into the operating room.  She would spend days in my hospital bed with me, and we would color, and we would talk, and in those moments I felt a peace and a strong belief that I have way more to do in this life before I go.

One of my favorite movies reminds me so much of our friendship.  It’s called Frances Ha and I want to share a quote from it here that I have always associated with my girl, my Kristie pie, my SU.

“It’s that thing when you’re with someone, and you love them and they know it, and they love you and you know it, but it’s a party and you’re both talking to other people, and you’re laughing and shining and you look across the room and catch each other’s eyes…but not because you’re possessive, but because that is your person in this life. And it’s funny and sad, but only because this life will end, and it’s this secret world that exists right there in public, unnoticed, that no one else knows about. It’s sort of like how they say that other dimensions exist all around us, but we don’t have the ability to perceive them. That’s what I want out of a relationship. Or just life, I guess.”

That is what we have, and I am so, SO happy that Chris and his family are here and part of our family. I knew immediately when I met him that he would hold my girl’s heart with only the gentlest of hands. He has shown me and my family so much love and support in such a short time. I couldn’t imagine having anyone else as an SU-in-law. I know that their love will endure all struggles and challenges that life throws at them.

In closing, to my Kristie, a poem by e.e. cummings:

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in

my heart) i am never without it (anywhere

i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done

by only me is your doing, my darling)

                                  i fear

no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want

no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)

and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows

higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

 

 Singular Unit | July 15, 2018

Singular Unit | July 15, 2018

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Over the last week, I have embarked on a project that I did not plan to do. I was playing around with scanography and the concept began to unfold before me with very little cognizant control on my part. This is the first time I have really dug down to artistically express what it's been like to be in a battle with my own body. It's going to take some time but the drive and motivation are strong and almost intoxicating, but can be overwhelming and require me to step back for periods of time. The basic concept is prose and imagery, all images being the result of scanography as a companion to all the scans required when one has cancer and the intense anxiety that surrounds both the scans themselves and the anticipation of the results.

I've included here an image concept that will be in this collection with a written piece about losing my hair (yes, I keep my lost hair in a jar in my office). I hope you'll follow along on this journey with me and, as always, so much thanks to my family and friends for all the support and love you show me every day.

 

 © jennifer summer | 2018

© jennifer summer | 2018

One of the things that brings me great joy is stumbling across nature's gifts; those things that have broken or decayed, or thrive in spite of their environments. I will always be the girl who is chasing after the skulls, the bones, the discarded shards of life's circle.

 

 found turtle shell | © jennifer summer | 2018 | do not save or use without permission

found turtle shell | © jennifer summer | 2018 | do not save or use without permission

Anyone who knows me knows of my deep and abiding love for elephants. They were my Nana's favorite animal, so as I was growing up I came to also revere their gentle, majestic beauty. I was able to take a short ride on one at a wildlife park near Lake Erie when I was about eleven, and I ended up writing about that experience years later, as it didn't fully register with me emotionally as I was so young. I never thought I would get the chance to be near one of them again.

Fast forward to my 40th birthday a few weeks ago and Deb tells me she has a surprise planned for me on the 23rd. She had managed to keep it quiet since February, and I had no idea what was to happen.

Yesterday, we had a behind the scenes elephant encounter at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden! It was like being in a dream. When Mai Thai entered the room, all the wind had been knocked out of me. I got to give her a shower, scrub her with soap, rinse her off, throw some treats to her, pet her ears, and scratch and pet her sides. I took photos but not as many as you would think, as I really just wanted to be in the moment.

She also made a painting for me. Now, I know there is a lot of controversy surrounding this as this is a practice in other countries where they beat and abuse the elephants in order to force them to make detailed, specific paintings for tourists. That is horrific, and I in no way support that, of course. But Mai Thai has been taught, along with basic commands like raising her feet so they can groom her, to take a paint brush from them, wrap her trunk around it, and "paint" onto a canvas. She is not harmed or forced in any way, and she just rubs the brush all over the canvas. They had me choose two colors for this, and I picked blue and yellow. I felt at peace with this as being behind the scenes it is obvious how much these animals are loved, well cared for, and respected. Mai Thai's humans are very humbled to be her caregivers.

I got to spend nearly two hours with her, but it felt like two minutes. At one point, she "kissed" my shoe twice with her trunk. It was all I could do not to throw my arms around her and hug her, but I wasn't allowed to, unfortunately. Just being by her side was enough, though.

Like the elephants and their razor sharp memories, I too will never forget.

 

Mai Thai © jennifer summer 2018

Mai Thai creating my painting | © jennifer summer 2018

 © jennifer summer 2018

© jennifer summer 2018

 © jennifer summer 2018

© jennifer summer 2018

I had a wonderful 40th birthday. That number used to terrify me, but when you're thrust into facing your own mortality, it becomes a goal and a thing of beauty. I spent quality time with those I love the most, and it was a perfect transition from my thirties. I've loved every age so far, and I still feel twenty (who is actually in charge here?). 

One of my birthday gifts was a reading with a medium at the Psychic Festival the first weekend in April. This was a gift from my very kind stepfather and he also included a reiki session which I've never had, and was wonderful. I'm so grateful.

I am usually hesitant to share publicly about my experiences with those on the other side, because I have many people in my life who firmly deny an afterlife, which I respect. But my experiences have proven otherwise for me, personally.

The person I have always wanted to reach out to in the past for readings was Nana. She was the closest person to me that I had lost during those visits. Now my Amanda is gone, and I wanted to "speak" to her more than anything.

I had my reading done by Rev. Marjorie Rivera, a fellow cancer survivor. I always come to these tables with high amounts of skepticism and a bit of an attitude, even though every reading I've had has been astonishingly accurate. I also give them no information to go on; if they're connected to the other side, they should know why I'm there.

The session began with Rev. Marjorie telling me that an older woman - classy, elegant, a grandmother figure - was immediately trying to come through but a younger person was gently taking her aside and telling her that she needed to talk to me more. Rev. Marjorie told me this person had passed young, and I slightly nodded, still not wanting to give up any information. She said it was sudden. She said, "Tell me about all these tattoos," and, "She's been answering you when you ask, and she knows what's going on with you." And then I couldn't hold back the tears any longer.

She told me she was standing beside me, a pink aura, and that she rarely leaves me unless she is spending time with her children. I told her that the "answering when I ask" was in reference to a few weeks ago when I cried and begged her to give me signs and a photo frame fell over in the middle of the night, a book literally "jumped" off my bookshelf, and a drawer was open when I came home that was definitely not when I left. All these things happened in the same room of my house, the place where I cried and yelled for her to come back, just come back. Rev. Marjorie said, "She's laughing and said she's sorry if that scared you, but she wanted you to know she heard you."

I wear her ring almost every day. Now, the Psychic Festival has many vendors and there are literally thousands upon thousands of pieces of turquoise jewelry. At one point while Rev. Marjorie was talking, I started fiddling with Amanda's ring and she said, "Amanda says stop messing with my ring and pay attention." If Rev. Marjorie was not entirely sure that was Amanda's ring I doubt she would have taken the chance of saying that since I literally could have just purchased it, even if it just reminded me of Amanda. But Amanda told her point blank that it was her ring. Everything she told me was spot on and brought me more comfort than I've felt since I lost my precious girl.

For my birthday, Deb gave me Nana's favorite ring. She was never not wearing it, even if we were just going to a drive-thru. I've always adored its retro clunkiness and it is monetarily valuable, but I don't care about that. She used to let my co-workers try it on when I was a server, and once she was trying to impress someone and didn't realize she had a giant glob of mashed potatoes on the ring. Deb had the stone cleaned and the band dipped in sterling. I adore it so much and I feel empowered and peaceful when I'm wearing them both. I feel their strength from beyond, and that belief is enough to sustain my heart.

 

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AuthorJennifer Summer
CategoriesFamily
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