Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Matt's Eulogy

After I wrote Matt's eulogy (that last post), I realized that Matt was my intended audience. That's the eulogy he would have loved to hear-- to be seen and understood in that way.
But then I realized-- he's not here. The eulogy needs to be for us left behind. And I was (still am) too shocked and angry to have it be for me-- a string of furious invective would probably not be appropriate for a memorial-- so I wrote this one instead. It's for the girls.
My dear girls, I want to tell you a little bit about your daddy.

Matt believed in Fun.
From the time he was a little kid, he loved to play and joke. As a kid he had fun playing baseball and football, boogie boarding and playing at the beach. As a grownup he loved to have fun with you guys, splashing like a spinner dolphin out of the water and buildings amazing Lego worlds with you. He would even listen to Katy Perry and dance in the livingroom with you. He liked grownup fun too, like museums and restaurants and travel, but You guys were the funnest, happiest thing in his life. Every time we fly kites, play frisbee, splash like dolphins, play Wolf Chess and run on a path we can remember how much fun we had together.

Did you know when I met him, he said his nickname was Dar, the Animal whisperer? He loved animals! He could turn even the grumpiest kitty into kitty butter, floppy and purring on his lap. He'd say kinda mean things to them in a cute voice, and they followed him around. All the cats on the station would trail along behind him when he walked out to the goats. And the goats! He would patiently observe then, and got to know every goat in his herd. He'd go lie down in the tall grass in the pasture and hang out with the goats. He milked them fastidiously and they were totally tame because he treated them so calmly. He loved every kind of animal, and knew they needed to be treated kindly and fairly, especially when they are under human care. We can remember him by taking good care of the animals around us.

Daddy believed in being brave. I think that's why he liked aikido so much, and why he loved to learn about the Warriors in his family tree. He was not afraid to stand up for what he believed in, especially if he thought he was protecting somebody weaker than him. He was brave because every time he went diving, he swam with sharks. He wasn't worried though-- he had a dream once where a moʻowahine in the form of a shark came and told him he was welcome. He was brave enough to swim in dangerous waves along rocky shores, and dive in the dark for lobsters. He climbed to the top of crumbling castles. He believed in being brave.

But just because you are a strong warrior, just mean you should brag about it. Matt believed in being humble. Too humble! He never told anybody when he won awards or prizes, he never showed off or bragged about the cool stuff he did. He was a really amazing guitar player but wouldn't play unless everyone was ignoring him. He could speak Japanese, he was 2nd Dan aikido black belt, he had traveled all over the world, he wrote poetry, he knew practically everything about history, he could cook gourmet meals, and he could run a marathon, no problem. But he would just say, meh, no big deal. He didn't think it made him better than anyone else. He believed in being humble.

Daddy was smart. And what that really means is that he tried new things. He always tried hard and kept trying. He'd find ways to fix his truck or build his fence, he'd invent ways of feeding the goats, he'd design experiments. He kept practicing his guitar and his small bagpipes. When he ran into problems with his work projects, he'd read books and articles about how to fix them. He tried and tried and tried. We can remember him whenever we learn something new, or try a new good thing.

The most important thing that Matt believed in was how much he loved you, my three perfect girls. He gave you the very best, purest, kindest, strongest, brightest and most beautiful parts of himself. He was the most important guide and helper when you were born. He carried you for thousands of hours and miles on his chest and back where you snuggled and slept. He read you stories from before you could understand words-- Winnie the Pooh and Wind in the Willows, Narnia and the Hobbit. He kept you safe in rough oceans, he built elaborate sandcastles with you, he held your hands on long walks across the station, to pick grapefruit, starfruit, papaya and mountainapples or feed the goats. He took you to Tutu & Me preschool and helped you play pretend food and make puzzles. He carried you when you were tired on hikes, even when you so heavy and long that your feet knocked against the back of his knees. He made you lunch and took you to the school bus. He kept your drawings and pictures in his office so he could see them everyday. He wanted to show you the world-- he took you to pubs in Ireland to hear music and play dominos. He wished he could have taken you everywhere else for the rest of his life. But he was just too sick.

His sickness doesn't make his love any smaller. The love he had for our family was the biggest, brightest thing he had in his life. He wished he could have stayed in that love forever. But he couldn’t stay. These are the things, my girls, we need to remember from our Matt. We need to love and enjoy each other, play together, and keep being smart, brave and humble.

Now, we have to live without him. But we need to love each other and care for each other, and remember his love for us.

My Eulogy for Matt

Matt Eulogy
Draft #1

I was in labor with Rosie and I was beginning to panic. First baby, we had been assured that it would take days and days, and we had been out running errands in our little Honda Accord. But no-- She was coming into the world fast and hard, and I was sitting in the front seat of the car, totally unable to face going inside or going to the hospital. Matt coaxed me inside, helped me sit down at our kitchen table. The curtains had prints of vegetables on them, the light was orange and warm. He put his hands on my head and gave me a blessing. I felt calmed and fortified-- his steadiness and readiness carried me calmly through the rest of that labor-- he walked the labyrinth of birth with me and kept me grounded in the moment. He had a warm soul, and at his best when he was healing and guiding me.

A year or so later Matt and I went to Obon. The priest, in katakana English, gave a sermon. He said, “One day, the buddha was approached and asked, Teacher, is there life after death?  And in answer, the enlightened one said: A warrior is riding through the woods, and is suddenly struck by an arrow. As he falls to the ground, what does he do? Does he ask as he bleeds, who made this arrow? What bird gave the feather? Who fired the bow? What kind of tree was this arrow carved? No. He first tries to remove the arrow. That is the state of this mortal life. We cannot know the answers to these questions in this brief moment in the woods. How can we think about the next world, when our main task must be ending the suffering-- our own and others’-- in this world. This story stayed with both of us like an arrow in the heart. Matt came to focus on alleviating suffering-- rather than on the potentials of an unknown world. That’s not to say that Matt didn’t believe in a spiritual reality.

One day we went to the 88 Shrines in Lawai. We walked the hill past all of the miniature Buddhist shrines-- recreating the shrines of Kyushu. Matt was showing three year old Rosie the tiny stones houses with the worn Buddha figures inside. Some were clear little statues, some were no more that worn nubs. In some the Buddha was reduced to no more than pebbles. Rosie said, “No Buddha!” But Matt answered that no-- The rocks are Buddha too. And the trees, and the flowers, and the air… and everything. He believed that enlightenment, like the potential for nuclear frission, was in every atom of the natural world.

He was a defender of Nature-- animals, plants and birds-- and the human stewards who nurture them. He was the most expansive, the most thrilled walking over granite mountains, hiking to grand vistas. I fell in love with him hiking around the reservoir in the Moraga California hills, finding snakes and wild pears. In Maui we saw paniolo graffiti carved into rocks and heard whalesong high up on a ridge, in Utah we marveled at prehistoric creatures that could sleep for eons and come, delicately, back to life, in unlikely smears of rainwater in the desert. On Chausuyama in Japan we watched the first light of the year, and paid our respects to the kitsune rains and the tanuki tricksters. In nature, he could quiet his inner noise and breathe freely.

Mormon stories of humble rough-handed men endowed with the ability to bless others, Buddhist sensibilities about ending the suffering of the world, Shinto belief in the self-ness of stones, trees, places, and trees…. In Hawaii we saw Ho’ailona. We were invited to the navigational heiau Maka o Hule in Kohala to support the crew of the Hokule’a as they set out to sail by the stars to Japan. We were new, still strangers in a strange land. We stood in an enormous circle with many other guests, and a kahu offered a pule as the navigators made their way up the hill to the heiau. As they walked, an enormous double rainbow appeared over us. Matt and I were gobsmacked, but the Hawaiians around us were sanguine. Of course there was a giant rainbow during the pule they shrugged, there usually is at things like this.

In Hawaii, Matt was shaped by the immediacy of the spiritual world. A shark came to him as a bride in his dream, and after that sharks always accompanied him when he dove. Great winds blew down water towers over and over until a pig was buried under ti leaves on the site. He asked permission before going holoholo. On the big island he went right up to the lava and said the sense of enormity was the face of God. Or Goddess. He lost his breath in the contemplation of the destruction and creation and beauty and terror-- he wished he’d known what to chant or pray or sing.

He respected the Old Gods-- poured out a splash of cider onto the ground on the Welsh mountain top and wine onto Monte Marte. He ventured with caution into the standing stones, and approached the twisted gold neolithic treasures of Sutton Hoo-- that spooky Mabignogian Cauldron--with respect.

He spoke to the dead, like his beloved great-uncle Ken, who lived so vividly in Matt’s mind that the girls would would ask for stories about uncle Ken just to make Daddy cry. He researched Hikohichi Nagasawa’s impossible adventures-- shipwrecks and the San Francisco earthquake. He traced his ancestors across all the oceans-- maritime refugees, plantation workers, and appalachian folk singers like Mrs. Bostic whose voice recordings we found on ancient wax cylinders. He mined their stories relentlessly, even testing his DNA in an effort to understand who he was and where he came from.

I don’t know what there is after this life-- Matt’s reality was flesh and bone. He sweat and fought and learned. He labored mightily in the grasses and pastures, he said yes to the here-and-now experiences of travel and good food. He feasted on art-- the abstract and the home-hewn. He delighted in the grand humanity of history and the modern stupidity of low-comedy. He fought to alleviate the sufferings of others. Nothing could incite his ire like a misuse of public hew and cry. The homeless on our island, the hungry children, the marginalized. He respected the authority of old men on horses-- of artisans with battered hands.

I hope that with shedding his flesh and bone reality, he can find the true heart of the labrynth-- the raw power of the ocean, the lava-- the calm guidance of his blessings, the freedom and power of the open vista. And of course he lives on in us, as we revisit his paths and ways, and remember him.  

My Young Husband's Obituary

Matthew Henry Stevenson, of Wailua, Kauai, died unexpectedly at home on May 22, 2016. He was 37 years old. He was a cherished and admired father, friend, brother and son.

Matt was born in Washington, D.C. to William (Bill) Stevenson of Greenville, South Carolina, and Mildred Teruya of Waikapu, Maui. The family moved to the Bay Area when Matt was five. As a boy he loved the birds, lizards, grasses, oaks and cattle that populated the watersheds and hills around his home. He also loved the time he spent in Maui with his grandparents, Walter and Joyce Teruya, where he loved grandma’s lei garden, grandpa’s plantation days stories, and the family history that connected him to Japan and Okinawa. He spent several summers in England visiting his dad, and loved the castles, the moors and the Neolithic standing stones. These early experiences in nature put him on a path to the career he loved as a range scientist, and a life he loved in Hawaii, but as a citizen of the world.

Matt graduated from Miramonte High school in 1997. He attended BYU in Provo for one year before serving an LDS mission in Tokyo Japan. He loved the Japanese language and culture, and was proud to follow in his grandparents’ footsteps. Although his relationship with the Mormon church changed, he maintained a lifelong love of Japanese history, myth, literature and religion. Most importantly to Matt's life, he came to love Aikido. His practice of this martial art trained his body and guided his mind, and he excelled to the rank of 2nd Dan under sensei Wesley Shimokawa of Lihue Aiki Kai.

Matt graduated from BYU in Wildlife and Range Resources, minoring in Japanese and graduating with honors (2003). His favorite classes were his honors Art History and Shakespeare in Film. He became an insightful critic of media, loving museums and galleries, films and literature. Matt was a scientist with a poet's heart.

In 2003 he married Rebecca Anne Davis in Manti, Utah. They moved to Gunma, Japan, where they broadened their appreciation for travel and adventure, enjoying onsen, shrines, hole in the wall ramenya, quaint ryokan, museums and memorials around the country.

Matt and Becca completed masters degrees at UC Berkeley, Matt’s in Environmental Science, Policy and Management. In Berkeley they discovered gourmet alleyways and made lifelong friends in the dilapidated student housing and Berkeley Ward.

Matt and Becca then made the move to Hawaii in the spring of 2006, where Matt began work for the University of Hawaii agricultural extension service in Waimea (Kamuela), on the Big Island. He had amazing mentors in his career in extension, and was proud to be able to serve the ranchers and farmers of the state of Hawaii for ten years.

In 2007 Matt and Becca welcomed their first child, Roselani. In Waimea they raised chickens, lived entirely off of their garden and delighted in their precocious little blond daughter. They explored the island, impressed with the volcano, quieted by the haunted black lava fields of Kona and dripping Hilo laua’e, and healed by the dryland rainforests on Puʻuwaʻawaʻa. Matt loved and respected the Paniolo culture that shaped the unique Hawaiian cultural and physical environment: the Hawaiian rodeo, the slack key guitar, the windswept plains at the foot of Mauna Kea, the green puʻu of Waimea, the tangled ohia and hala overlooking the black-sand valleys.

In 2009 they moved to Kauai, where Matt became the Kauai county livestock extension agent and served the livestock community of Kauai and Maui, while continuing to collaborate on the Big Island and beyond, into Guam, Saipan and other pacific islands. He worked with the 4-H kids and conducted research at the Kauai Agricultural Research farm, where he lived with his family. He was also working on his PhD in Range Science and Wildland Resources from Utah State University, studying tannins, pasture weeds, animal management and ungulate health, up until the time of his death.

In 2010, Maile was born in Wailua. Matt was a proud and tender daddy, deeply loved by his little girls. He took them to playgroups and cheered at their soccer games and cried proudly at their May Days. In 2015 Likolehua was born at home. He was a steady and supportive birth partner, and this last baby was welcomed in love.

Matt enjoyed the travels that took him around the world, with his work and his family. Everywhere he went he became a student of the history and culture. The Marianas, New Zealand, Canada, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Holland, France, England, Wales, Ireland, as well as across the US. He loved the West-- the desert scrubland and alpine meadows, the Maynard Dixon colorscape and the endless ozone-blue bowl of the Western sky.

Matt was passionate about his family history, and felt a strong connection to his ancestors--the plantation families, the sailor chef, the shipwrecked, the brave veterans, the difficult, the troubled and the astounding history of his family. His great-uncle Ken died in Rome in the Japanese-American 442nd, and his charm and handsome local-boy ukulele and motorcycle innocence reached across the years and particularly touched Matt. He was a student of warriors, fascinated with their humanity and strength. He too was a warrior, battling for his life in spite of terrible pain.

Matt was a perceptive historian, a wry social commentator, a thoughtful and capable music maker and appreciator. He played NIN and Joni Mitchell and Tannahill Weavers on the guitar, and serenaded his goats in the far pastures of the farm with his small bagpipes. He blended and expressed a unique fusion of his Japanese, Scottish, and Hawaiian roots, equally at home in a kilt or an aikido gi, at a Ceilidh or an Obon, in flip-flops or cowboy boots, playing bagpipes or slack-key guitar. He was a gentle, deep-thinking, loving soul, taken from us too soon.

Matt is survived by his wife Becca, daughters Rosie Jo, Maile, and Liko, his mother Mildred, his father and stepmother Bill and Wendy, his brother Andrew, father in law and stepmother in law Mark and Andi, sisters in law Liz, Katie, and Zina, and brothers in law Xan and Duc, and many other devoted in-laws and extended family.  He leaves behind countless friends from his home town, from college days, from his time in Japan, from his professional life, and from his aikido dojo.

Matt had a beautiful life and was profoundly loved. He fought the disease that killed him for many many years, through terrible heartache and pain. He was a fierce defender of the disadvantaged and the underserved.

None of us will forget him-- he seared brightly across our lives. We will tell his children about his wit, his hard work, his respect for history, his music. We will remember the meals shared, the hikes over hills and crags on pacific islands and Western peaks. We will carry him with us when we walk those places again.

A memorial service for Matt will be held on Saturday June 4, 2016 at Kauai Community College in Lihue, Kauai, at 3 pm. In lieu of flowers, donations to support Matt’s family may be made at Or via PayPal to Please send recollections and memories for the family to the same email address.

Saturday, December 12, 2015


I'm on maternity leave but I got to return to my school this week for a couple of days to help out with prepping the kids for a big academic conference. I figured I'd help them put some finishing touches on their social studies projects, just polish up the English side of things. Their assignment was to describe the "push and pull" connecting certain big events in US history, and tie those events to Hawaii.
Here's one: "The Indians got sick of the American's taxes, so they started the constitutional war to get rid of the Americans. Then George Washington freed the slaves."

I COULD NOT HAVE MADE THIS UP. This was not a unique example. The kids-- seventh graders-- had no sense of timeline, no sense of causality. Not even broad general skeletons of cause and effect to hang ideas on. Kamehameha and JFK were all jumbled up-- Native Americans came from Africa and Captain Cook conquered Hawaii for the Americans by bombing Pearl Harbor. It was stunning. I can't blame the kids for what they don't know. But I can observe how their world is all disconnected. Only observable phenomena, no discernible cuss or effect, no precedent, no antecedent. Even their devotion to Hawaiianess  is based on an emotional understanding of what that means, and a commitment to a wholly mythical landscape. Kamehameha was seven feet tall, and he was a shrimp, all Hawaiians lived to 130 eating only fish and poi, dinosaurs and vaccines and voting and GMO and college are all suspect imports, brought here to wreck havoc.

I wondered, what's it like in your funny little brains? How small the world-- since it's only what you see, and how enormous the world-- since your reality fills the universe.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Baby Girl's Birth Story

10-24-2015 Saturday
Baby Name As of Yet Unknown has arrived! She  is dozing on the boppy on my lap, Maile is watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for about the 8th time this week, Rosie and Matt are grocery shopping after Rosie’s double header soccer games-- last of the season. Oh-- I just heard the chain clinking on the gate- they’ve made it home.

I want to write down Baby’s birth story while it’s still fresh and visceral and hasn’t reduced itself to an outline…

So she was due October 12. Liz was here, with kids and husband in tow, staying down at my dad’s timeshare in Kapaa with a beautiful condo, a big TV, and a open-late pool that we swam at every day. Liz, with her experience as a doula and auntie status, was here to help with the birth, and especially to watch out for the girls, make sure they were in the right place, make sure they weren’t freaked out… so we waited and waited, spent nice time at their pool, sent their family off on little touristy adventures while we had spring break (clean all the things!!! Declutter and disinfect and discard!) and then when the girls went back to school, riding the bus back and forth and I stayed home and tried to think birth-giving thoughts. Every evening contractions would pick up a little, especially if I was walking around, and I would think, FINALLY HERE WE GO! And get all settled in, tidy the Birth Stuff Box, and then settle down for a sleep before things got really started. And then wake up the next morning with no labor, no action, nothing. It got discouraging. I wondered if I was mentally blocking myself-- I was REALLY REALLY anxious about giving birth (nobody die, nobody die, OMG what are my girls going to do without me, how would I ever survive if the worst happened...) But on the other hand, you can’t THINK your way out of a pregnancy. It HAS to come to an end. No amount of self-blame can dissolve the situation! So that’s what I was hanging on to….This has GOT to happen.

Around a week late, baby really started dropping, and I really was waddling around as I walked and walked and walked. A stranger at the soccer park said I looked like overripe fruit. Thank you stranger.

Liz and Andrew and cute boyos left on the 19th and-- still nothing. I tried everything: I tried red raspberry leaf tea, I tried evening primrose oil, I tried pineapple and spicy food -- one night it really seemed like something was happening and I turned off the “wake up, take the girls to school” alerts on my phone, but…. nope. Morning came and we stayed home, walked around to the new goats at the far end of the station, and the last remaining contractions dwindled to nothing. I told Keala at school that I was keeping the girls hostage at home until baby showed up.

I met with my midwife Sharon and we talked about my anxieties a bit-- she heard me out, just that don’t enjoy the pushing and I was kind of dreading the intensity and pain of labor. She checked me out-- I was already 4 cm dilated. It was encouraging to know that all of the false starts were doing something-- almost half-way dilated and no actual labor!

Day 10 overdue arrived -- Thursday night-- and I made an appointment with an acupuncturist. I was sufficiently spooked. I was having occasional nice contractions-- I had to actually whistle and blow through them-- so I had Matt drive me down the hill for my evening appointment. To my surprise, the acupuncture was more than I could handle. It was excruciating-- like getting hooked up to electric fencing. She said that was a good sign, it meant I was ready to give birth. While I sat in the recliners with skinny needles in my hands and legs, I had some brutally intense contractions. I was supposed to stay for an hour and a half, but I texted Matt and said, Ack I can’t handle it come and get me!! He did. I made a panicked break for it.

It’s funny-- things that haven’t bothered or scared me in the past-- the gyn exam, the acupuncture needles, my flu and Dtap shots, labor-- have been completely emotionally overwhelming for me. Hormones, man. Hell of a drug.

That night, after we got back, I blew and whistled like a bomb dropping through increasingly serious contractions. I fell asleep on the couch watching Qi and Whose Line is it Anyway clips on Youtube. At some point Matt went to bed and turned out the lights. At about 1:30 I woke up with actual contractions. Matt came out and paced around with me-- I called the midwife Kelly right away-- she’s the young intern who they’re letting be lead on everything-- sit the long hours of early labor, do the after care visits-- and she came up right away.

And by the time she was there, things were already a little weird, and my recollection is already in an altered state, through a weird shattered timeless lens. Later talking it over with Sharon, she pointed out that labor time isn’t linear-- it’s a different dimension like a maze- that’s very true or me. Events seem weirdly stacked in time-- 3-D rather than a timeline-- I was joking and shivering and listening to music all at once.

It was dark-- just the kitchen light on-- the fans going, the girls sleeping in my room. Matt put on Metamora then Sileas then Nightnoise-- each album seemed very short. He read our list of names out loud. I started shivering and shaking right away. I still was dreading actually delivering, so I was battling myself. I knew if I stood up and walked, changed position, relaxed, I could bring on strong contractions and I could get this over with. So I did a bit-- got on my knees on the floor-- Matt put out the waterproof mattress cover and pillows on the livingroom floor so I could kneel comfortably and lean forward onto the couch.

Then I would wimp out, back away from it, lock my knees, and curl up on my left side and on the couch and just wish for the whole thing to be done, and shiver violently under piles of blankets.

Matt was absolutely my anchor-- if he was right there with me he could bring me into calm and focus. If he was out of reach, I got all out of control and screamy. I leaned on him and needed him right there. At some point I looked up and Colleen-- the other midwife-- and Nicollette-- the secretary/birth photographer--were there! I walked around a bit and experienced weirdly lucid moments where I joked and chatted and laughed and thought, weird, I’m fine. Is this done? And then-- wham. Completely out of my brain again.

I was feeling for the first time the slightest little desire to bear down-- I’ve never felt that before. I decided to go and hide on the couch. During some mega contractions I gave experimental little pushes. Kelly got ready to check my progress but I couldn’t face it-- I knew if she did, it would be too intense for me to handle. So they left me alone. Colleen, from somewhere in the dim room, said I could stop blowing and moaning upwards through the contractions and could start bearing down with a grunt and low growls. It was very easy to obey her voice-- It gave me something to do, to focus on.  I gave it a try and -- oh #$%^.

As soon as I started pushing, I knew I was really in it. I was still mostly on my side on the couch, with my knees weirdly locked, hips angled awkwardly to the left. Kelly was at my feet, Matt got the girls up and they came out-- I gave a mighty push and my water broke with a deeply disturbing POP sound and unnerving sensation. I could feel the head! Maile started to cry and left, I gave one more huge push with Kelly saying slowly slowly slowly keep going! and the head was out already! I felt it down there, little bumpy mushed features, and gave another mighty push and out came the shoulders and there she was! I was still lost a bit but I heard Kelly say It’s a girl! She put her on my stomach -- all purple and slimy and bloody and flailing-- in blankets and she snorked and coughed and spluttered-- Matt cut the cord and then Kelly tilted her forward on me and rubbed her back vigorously till her breathing was better-- I babbled and babbled--later I asked what the first thing I said was-- Colleen said it was, “oh you’re so beautiful!” Baby immediately tried to vigorously suck on her arm, and then latched on to me and snuffled and snuggled…and it was 4:58am, Friday 10/23/2015.

The rest of the morning blurred quietly into dawn. Eventually they weighed the baby-- 8 lbs 9 oz and 19” long, they gave baby her vitamin K shot. That fractured time sensation faded a little… Matt made breakfast for everybody-- beans and eggs and toast and coffee, Colleen started a load of laundry, Colleen and Nicollette left, Kelly stayed for a while to make sure everything was normal and talked me through a pile of paperwork with instructions that I retained zero of, and then there we were! Just us. All at home safe and cozy and well! The girls watched shows, Matt went and milked the goats, I carefully stood up in my realigned skeleton and felt hips and coccyx and sternum crack into their unfamiliar original spots and tied a sarong tight around my wonderfully empty but very sore belly to keep from giving in to the weird feeling of my guts actually falling out… Oddly, my ribs hurt worse than everything else-- I could feel them bending back into place. Very unnerving.

It was wonderful to just… be at home. To come slowly back into time and  space. I took naps. I drank cider and martinellis. We went to bed early and baby woke up and nursed every two hours and pooped spectacular meconium poops and was unbelievably small and soft-- impossibly soft skin and hair, wrinkly little hands and feet, tiny red bum…

And today-- Rosie played her double-header soccer game in the wilting heat, Maile and baby and I napped and watched shows and I creaked around and baby’s name continued to elude us...what a glorious blessing to have arrived safely at this day!

October 30, 2015 Friday
Now it’s a week later--I can’t adequately hook my gratitude-- it’s too big. It runneth over the confines of the ceiling, of our bodies. Her perfect little fingers-- my thumb fills her whole palm-- and toes the size of lentils. Her intense focus and sweet snuffling snorting and growling, her enthusiastic nursing and sudden quiet focus, her random panting breaths, the rise and fall of her tiny ribcage-- she hardly cries, she just snuffles and wriggles and yawns and growls and roars and mutters and cooes and drifts suddenly to sleep, blinking unfocused, arching her back... She inches and squirms around, flips herself over to find boob, grins dopily as she drifts off, dribbles milk, poops mightily.

Her piko stump came off already-- her piko is still a bit oozy and crusty-- the other morning when it came off I squawked, “There’s a hole in my baby!!” Maile thought this was hilarious, and cackling showed me her piko-- “Ack there’s a hole in my kid!”

The girls are so soft with the baby-- they coo at her. She’s so soft! she’s so cute!l Look at her fuzz!  They take showers right after school so they can snuggle her without me freaking out about nasty school germs and the cartoonish clouds of dust they seem to bring home from school every day...  

And her name has settled! Amelia Likolehua Louise! I think of her mostly as Baby… and then Baby Liko… ooooh I could eat her up, those little vestigial legs...

A week from birth and we’ve settled into our life so pleasantly. This has been the easiest recovery yet. Goodness, I don’t have words to express my gratitude. I should chant it or sing it or draw it… Praise for the miracle of each simple shimmering new day!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Talking the Baby Out

So my due date has come and gone, my belly is round and starting to drop, strangers on the street feel a kind of tribal ownership of my body-- patting my belly and shouting across the farmer's market at me-- You Look Very Pregnant!!! Why yes. Yes I do.  I love that pregnancy DOES connect me with a universal human experience-- everyone is interested and excited and maybe freaked out or pitying-- but I'm not alone in this. It's special but it's universal, too.

I still haven't spent much time thinking about what's happening next-- I worked like a crazy thing up to fall break and through it-- haranguing students about last-minute assignments, grading, crossing my fingers that things would go smoothly over the next two quarters while I take off from work-- and I tell people that working full-time through this pregnancy saved my life. Yes, I was bone-tired, but I never had the time or energy to feel sorry for myself. Pregnancy is not a malady like a nasty cold-- the more you stop and pamper it, the worse it gets. It's better as an exercise in harnessing your will: mind over matter. All day at school I could run, jump, put out fires, start others, bargain, problem solve, leap around like a mad thing-- the second I was on my way home my brain was replaced with a loud empty hum and I zombies my way through every evening. But when it's show time, IT'S SHOW TIME, BABY!

So having the week off for fall break was weirdly------ a let down. What do I do now? Just relax? Just wait? How about.... organize all the files? Clean out my bedroom? Sort through my old teaching supplies?? Run around and around the yellow wallpaper???

The girls are back in school, I am getting texts from coworkers and friends and family-- No baby YET?? Nope. Nothin'.

This baby is making no signs of being in a hurry... my last kid was like this, too-- came moseying onto the scene an idyllic 6 days late with a gentle slow labor build-up and then a quick emergence into the world... I had to go back and reread what I wrote about her birth. It was a really lovely experience-- and the birth of my first kid was really wonderful, too-- intense, but totally happy.

Last night, though, this thought hooked my brain: I'm getting in my own way. I'm hung up. I'm terrified.

I consulted with my sister-- she's been here for a week already, staying with her husband and kids in a classy little condo on the beach in Kapaa. We've been happily availing ourselves of her pool and making pancakes together. She's been patient, but the reason she's here is really to be a help at the birth-- to make sure my big kids are alright and just keep things going smoothly. She's trained as a doula and knows this stuff. She agreed-- birth is intensely psychological. Birth PTSD is a real thing. And yes, you can absolutely get in your own way. And even though I had really great births-- I feel like going into labor is like jumping off a really high cliff into unknown water. You'll probably be okay, but it's scary as hell. I feel like I'm standing on that edge with terrible vertigo, like the last time I tried to hike in Kokee and had to inch out of there half-sitting on the slick sheer path and wait in the parking lot for everyone else to be done. I can't. I cannot. My fears have gained power. Things that used to be easy-- hiking, climbing tall things, jumping into the deep end, going on the roller coaster-- now they're impossible.

But babies-- they just get born! There's no other way out, it's a one way ticket! I keep trusting that and waiting for labor to just start. But are my fears strong enough to be getting in my way? And if they are, how can I psych myself into letting this baby get born?

I took the girls for a nice long walk around the farm tonight-- we said howdy to the family of cute goats-- Mamas Rosie-goat, Maile-goat, Matt-goat and babies Jo and Bexter-- then veered off the path toward the reservoir, around the coconut grove (we noticed dozens of fallen coconuts across the grass like a giant's easter-egg hunt and avoided going directly under the heavily burdened trees) and then back up the steep hill around the bananas, the cinnamon and toward the grapefruit. The cats followed us all the way-- a little poofy about the tail and overly alert as they always are when they leave their immediate territory. As we walked I thought, "down, down, down!" and "low, low, low!" and tried to relax and sway and envision the baby creeping lower and lower in my pelvis. I had lots of nice little contractions and imagined that strong womb-muscle pulling and pushing everything just right. The big girls put their mouths on my stomach and mumble-shouted, "COME OUT BABY SO WE CAN SNUGGLE YOUUU" and announced their plans to dress the baby as a bat or a Japanese tree spirit (from Mononoke Hime) for halloween, to match their costumes.

Now I'm back home, the big girls are in bed listening to an audiobook, Matt is balancing a glass of wine on his stomach and reading about John Cabot on his phone. The contractions have stilled down to nothing and we are back to a tense waiting...

I wonder if my willful ignoring of this pregnancy and general hand-wavy-ness about upcoming major life changes is getting in my way. We don't have names picked, we don't know the gender, we don't have a crib or a really proper spot to put the baby. I figured that babies start out so tiny and with their needs so specific and all-consuming, there was not much to do to get ready. Sort of like the time when a hurricane was coming to the big island and we bought a case of KitKats. Because the scope of destruction is so unfathomable, there's not much you can do to get ready.

But maybe this "It's-a-comin'" attitude is getting in my way.

So baby, this is me intentionally saying, "come out!" I want you! I want to meet you and name you and figure out who you are! Our family will change forever and in amazing and unguessable ways. Your birth will be intentional, loving, and safe. We will embrace every minute of it, let the process happen, imagine everything working perfectly and together to get us both safely through to the other side, both transformed from one state of existence to another.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sex Ed, Pono Choices, and Me

Warning: Contains NSFW language in the context of describing students' Sex Ed Questions!

For years I've been disturbed, amused and shocked by comments my students make about sexuality. I've occasionally had to bring my English classes to a screeching halt to talk about consent or sexual identity or even basic anatomy.

A couple of years ago, our school was able to participate in a pilot pregnancy and STI prevention program called Pono Choices. This program is funded by the University of Hawaii, and co-created by Planned Parenthood and Alu Like which is a nonprofit for empowering Native Hawaiians. The social studies teacher taught the curriculum, and I saw an immediate improvement with my students. They gained new confidence talking about their bodies, sexuality, and the tools they would use to accomplish their goals.

This is a big deal-- Every year we've had kids get pregnant either senior year or right after graduation. And considering that some years we only have ONE graduate, this is not a great track record. So to have a new generation of students with the knowledge and skills to CHOOSE pregnancy rather than have it just happen to them? That is awesome.

So it's been a couple of years since we've offered health and I could see a big difference in the kids who hadn't been through the Pono Choices program yet-- they couldn't handle even seeing the S-E-X word on job applications and would melt down if I said the word "Period" in the context of "Every Sentence Needs A." The social studies teacher who taught it last time has moved down to Kindergarten (where she is teaching my 5 year old things like "Turning the flag upside down means somebody did something REALLY REALLY BAD!" and "The Americans locked the queen in prison and stole our mountain!!" and "GMO is poison!!!") So I volunteered to get the training and teach the curriculum.

This meant I made the short trek to Oahu for a two day workshop where the program creators started at the beginning and READ THROUGH THE WHOLE DAMN CURRICULUM AT US. Complete with hokey scripted moments of praise: "Thanks for your participation!" and acting out all of the games and activities with a bizarre double brain-- as adult health teachers and with a weird student role-playing mindset. As far as excruciating Professional Developments go, this was medieval torture chamber, please draw and quarter me already level misery. TWO SOLID DAYS.

But it was effective-- I left that workshop with a VERY (holy mary mother of god SO) thorough understanding of the program. If they had just handed me the curriculum materials and said, "have at it!" I never would have bothered.

And the curriculum is very solid-- it touches briefly and clearly on anatomy, puberty, what behaviors can transmit disease, how to prevent pregnancy and disease, what makes for healthy relationships, how to communicate, how to set goals... really all very nice and simple and clear. So nice and simple and clear that I felt totally fine having my 5 and 8 year old IN the classroom on the couple days that they were sick and had no place else to go. Really, there is almost nothing in this curriculum that I haven't already introduced to my little kids via daily life on a farm, answering their questions honestly as they come up, and through leaving books like these around the house:
I say all this because the parents of Hawaii completely lost their marbles about this program. COMPLETELY. I had people block me on Facebook for saying that I'd seen really positive results in my students' attitudes towards their own bodies and sexuality in general, and that if anything, this program doesn't go far enough to explain the things kids need to know BEFORE becoming sexually active!

Parents' tearful pearl-clutching seems insane to me when at the MIDDLE school across the street from us, there are ALWAYS pregnant 6th graders. That's 11 and 12 year olds. Pregnant. Every year, in each new group. That means that there MANY others who are having sex. So as cute as it is for a parent to say, "Oh, MY child is an innocent, this is too much information for MY child," I'm sorry but no. Your child IS complicit. Your child might not tell you, your child probably lacks the vocabulary to tell you what's going on, or if you're so bloody squeamish about the topic, they are going to be UNABLE to tell you what's going on with them and their friends at school. 

The spooky thing with kids and sex in Hawaii is this wall of silence. Kids don't know how to prevent pregnancy, and parents never want to have the awkward conversations, partly because every parent thinks THEIR kid is immune. So Hawaii has one of the highest STI rates in the country. 

I knew, before I even started the curriculum, that I was going to get a lot of questions from parents-- especially of the new 7th graders whose parents are still getting used to the Brave New World of middle school. All parents have an opportunity to opt their kids out of some or all the program, but only once they've come to the parent orientation night. 

The parent night is as carefully scripted as the rest of the curriculum-- a slideshow, a script, and detailed handouts for the parents-- and I take them on a whirl-wind tour of all of the controversial parts of the curriculum. Yes, we define sex as "Vaginal, Oral, or Anal Sex"-- because this is how disease can be transmitted. And more importantly, because there are lots of kids who think that anal sex is SAFER that vaginal sex! Yes, there are scenarios where kids are asked to identify traits of healthy or unhealthy relationships and some of those scenarios have examples with same-sex couples. Because guess what. Same-sex couples exist in middle school and in life. And the attributes of healthy or unhealthy relationships are the same regardless of how you mix and match the genitalia.  And Yes, during the curriculum, we demonstrate how to use a condom, with great solemnity and very little giggling. The program gave me 30 "wooden demonstrators" and the students, and parents at orientation, go step by step through the process of checking condom expiration dates, opening the package, making sure it's right-side-up, pinching the tip, rolling the thing down, removing it and throwing it in the garbage. The whole demonstration is scripted to be deadly dull and factual, rather like John Cleese. And ultimately, really really useful information. A few parents didn't want their kids doing the condom demonstration, but in the end almost all parents felt their concerns were met and they were comfortable with their kids going through the program.

And really, that's as it should be. A carefully scripted curriculum,  with medically accurate information, with a strong grounding in Hawaiian cultural values, that over and over again emphasizes that ALL sexual behavior has an element of risk, and that abstinence is a great option, and that the important thing is making conscious choices in accordance with your values-- this is an awesome message. 

So now the class is done-- and I've had a couple of days to think about it. The kids really did gain maturity and confidence talking about sex and pregnancy and puberty, and they were able to clear up a lot of misunderstandings and weird back-of-the-school-bus beliefs and fears. They made some beautiful products-- amazing hand-carved double-hulled canoes to represent the community effort it takes to grow up and meet your goals, and gorgeous braided leis to represent the values they believe in. I'm proud of them and their work!

I'm still a little shaken by some things, though. I'm shaken by the parent who came to me in tears half-way through the program and said that "This is all too heavy for my daughter, so I told her she doesn't have to do your homework." I was confused-- I found a copy of the homework so she could show me specifically what she was uncomfortable with. It was an assignment to make a model of a double-hulled canoe with your family, and while you're making it, the kid is supposed to ask the parent, "who talked to you about puberty when you were growing up?" This question was so painful for the mom, she couldn't have the conversation. Surprisingly, this parent let her daughter finish the class.

I'm bothered by the weird over-exposure and under-education I saw with the boys. These kids-- yes YOUR PRECIOUS LITTLE ELEVEN YEAR OLD BOYS-- have seen pornography that I didn't know existed until I was an adult. Like, till last year basically. They have seen bestiality and anal sex and all kinds of acts that are definitely NOT part of most peoples' sex lives. Their expectations and desires have already been shaped by this over-exposure. So the round-cheeked sweet kid who asks me in all earnestness if a girl will squirt when you finger her is THE SAME KID who thinks that women have just one hole, that the baby grows in the stomach (that's what my mom says!) and that women are just a mouth to cloacha tube, rather like the republic lawmaker who thought you could swallow a camera for gyno exams.  It was dizzying to have such different questions. Porn is a big issue and a question to ponder for another day, but I have just a general hunch that such early and intense exposure just is not good for growing brains and developing psycho-sexual selves. 

I'm unhappy with what the program didn't include at all-- the elephant in the room that is the WHY of sex. This is the kids' big concern, and their beliefs about why humans have sex were the most disturbing part of the class for me. The boys believed that sex is something they have to TRY and get, that it's owed to them, and they have to trick people into giving it to them. The girls believed the creepy inverse-- sex is something that they have to avoid at all costs, protect themselves from, and only when absolutely necessary use a bargaining chip. No where across either of the classes (because yes I separated the boys and the girls) was there the belief that people have sex because it feels good and it's fun and it makes people happy. Sex, as far as they could tell, is something very grim. A rite of passage or a looming threat. 

I had to go off-script to address, briefly and clearly, some of these gaps. I especially wanted the kids to understand consent-- learning skills to say No is fine-- but I feel like it's more important for everyone to learn to listen for YES.