Inspired by this post, I've begun telling them stories.
About when they were babies.
About when Calli was a puppy.
About when Mommy and Daddy met.
About when I was a little girl.
And they soak them in with their twinkling eyes, beg for more as they smile and giggle at exactly the moments I hoped they would.
And after less than a week of tucking in underneath quilts and history, already they've cataloged their favorites in the deep shelves of imagination. And they say, "Tell us the one about the time...." and "Please just one more, the one when..."
And it's harder than ever to say "no" to just one more.
Because I love the telling as much as they love the listening.
Inspired by this post, I've begun telling them stories.
I like to name it as if it's part of my past. But the fear must still be there, though masked and safely contained, because I don't think I ever really dealt with it, that I ever truly faced it.
I say it like I'm some sort of recovering self-inflicting fear-monger, like Oh yes, I was so driven by fear of failure in my old corporate job....It kept me from taking risks I should have taken...It kept me working too hard for fear I might fail, instead of working hard because I was passionate about success.
But if I were to squeeze back into the suit and wrestle my mind up the elevator to the 11th floor, I'd still cower to the same gutless avoidance of risk, wouldn't I? Enlightened or not.
I still fear failure like a serial killer, and one of these days, it's going to chop me into little pieces and hide my life--the one I could have lived--in a freezer.
Unless I stop acting like this fear is only alive in what I used to be. And see the shape it has taken in who I am now.
He saw the book in the front seat of the car, the one I skim while I wait in the carpool line.
"Mom," he called from the booster seat, "I need to read that one after you're done. That Writing Fiction book. 'Cause I'm going to be writing some fiction books soon."
And he will, I bet, sooner than I will.
I've said to anyone who asks that I could never see myself writing fiction. And I don't have a nonfiction book--the one you feel you must write--searing my heart or singeing my fingertips either.
I have a dozen articles in a small regional mag under my belt. So there's that. But they all came on assignment, not pursuit. I've stayed in the easy, do-it-with-my-eyes-closed, head-but-not-heart places. Far away from the pour-yourself-out places, the ones offering no guarantee of getting back what you poured in.
I don't know what I'm waiting for. For the plot outline to show up in the mailbox, double spaced? For an agent to hunt me down, sign me on the spot to write on the topics she's chosen, as spelled out as journal homework in the second grade? For the clouds to open up as a host of angels sing me a writing prompt?
I need to do this now, before I lose the nerve.
I need to admit that I want to do something in which I am very likely to fail. I need to stop being that girl on the sidelines, pretending that I don't really want to play, when in truth I'm yearning to play but am crippled by the fear of losing, of failing for all to see.
I'm tired of being that girl.
I'd rather be the girl in the game who just got whacked in the eye by the softball and allowed an infield home-run.
I'd rather be the girl that writes until her heart is raw, and never sees a single word published.
I'd rather be that girl, than let the Fear hide my life in the freezer.
My children have outgrown their naps.
In an act of denial or defiance or perhaps just delusion, I've battled to keep the afternoon hours sacred by instituting "quiet time."
But alas, I fear I've toiled in vain. Quiet Time Creep has reached new lengths, stealing the parse remains of the peaceful
You think I'm exaggerating, don't you? But have you noticed how very little writing is going on around here? Just another casualty of the Great Quiet Time Offensive of 2011.
Let's consider Monday's events, when Caed had a day off from school. At 1:30, I sent the kids to their rooms for Quiet Time. Caed began the hour by "making art projects". Which was quiet only when he wasn't coming downstairs a dozen times to ask for spelling assistance or to borrow the stapler. Not to mention, it was disastrously messy. After he tired of making projects (and being told to go back upstairs), he donned his old karate uniform and played "ninja spy". Which was cute until he snuck up on me. Fourteen times. The surprise diminished just a bit as the game wore on.
And after every time he "surprised" me he'd want to talk (very un-ninja-like, don't you think?) about how surprised I was or wasn't. Followed by an invitation to watch this! and did you see that! Which again, might be terribly endearing if I didn't have my own agenda for these precious quiet time hours. Like, say, to make soup and fold laundry while I listened to the rest of Kerouac's On the Road on my iPod.
Anyway, during the Quiet Time That Wasn't, Dani actually fell asleep playing in her princess tent. Which meant of course that it would be 9:30 before she would fall asleep in her bed that night.
For the last half hour of quiet time, I fielded questions from Caed about when quiet time would be over, when we could wake up Dani, whether I could start filming his "movie" (the one he's making for Dani to watch while he's playing the much anticipated After-School Sports, so she has something to do and doesn't feel too badly that she's not old enough to play Soccer and Basketball and Capture the Flag.) And so on.
Now I know I could dig in my heels and get terribly strict about staying in rooms and playing without Mommy's participation. But now that their verbal and reasoning skills are stronger, it's getting much harder to give them the "be quiet and go back to your room" line.
"Mom, you're gonna love this project. But it's a surprise until after Quiet Time. But can you tell me how to spell wonderful?"
"W.o.n.d.e.r.f.u.l. Okay, Bud, this is quiet time. You are not to come down from your room until I come get you."
"I know, but I just want my project to be perfect because it's for yoooouuuu, and when I'm working on it, I just miss you. Can I just sit at the table and do my project?"
"No, sitting at the table doesn't count as quiet time. You need to stay in your room."
"Okay. But I'm just so lonely up there, and I want to be with youuuuuuu. I promise I'll do my project reeeeaaly quietly."
See? After all that, what kind of heartless mother tells her kid to get lost and go finish quiet time?
Um, yeah, that would be me.
It may be a losing battle, but I will fight for peace (and quiet) until the last ninja yells.
They say to write what you know. Well, this is what I know.
I know that when you're driving through a squall in the snowbelt and the sun comes out of its cloud cave in a miraculous break from hibernation, when the sky bleeds blue like October, it feels like you're sitting behind the wheel wearing a silk tulle veil, like you're driving down the aisle and not the freeway. You blink to catch your eyes in their tricks, but they are telling the truth about the sunlight and bright blue and the snow disguised as fabric.
I felt light, actually. And I saw it, too, the light, the kind that makes the bare branched trees squint, the kind that makes me believe on a 10-degree day that spring is not a pipe dream, that it is possible to survive a dark and tasteless winter, that the gray and heavy will not be my undoing.
There are ways to survive. There are little-known ways back to the warmth and the light. Through a sunny snow squall or a grocery store nap--these are some of the ways back that I know. And I'm sure there are many more.
But this is what I know.
(So I write about it. Just doing as I'm told.)
What are the ways back that you know? How do you survive dreary and gray and cold? (Besides moving to Florida. Because that's not one I'm in a position to try right now.)
The clip isn't long enough to do the comparison justice. But can you trust me when I say that Caed and Dani spontaneously (and of course, unknowingly) mirror the SNL singing duo Kat and Garth on a regular basis? At least once a day, usually during breakfast or dinner.
Up until now, I found neither this SNL sketch nor my children's obnoxious tandem song composition terribly funny. But when I watch them in the context of the other? It totally cracks me up.
And now, I present to you, Garth and Kat in the early years, before the matching festive vests and perfectly quaffed hair.
Last night I fell asleep reading to the children. Second time in a week. Thankfully the only repercussions were we lost our place in The Boxcar Children and I don't remember what any of us said in our prayers. They jolted me awake so I could pray, and when I said "you go first", they said "we already did!"
They like to read in the "big cozy bed" (mine), and I oblige them. That it makes me fall asleep before 8:00 p.m. on three nights out of seven, well, it's not a habit I'm terribly worried about.
Last night I woke up at 8:30 p.m. to the sounds of children sleeping on either side. I carried them to bed like babies, first Dani, then Caed, cradling the back of their necks and knees in crook of my arms. I tucked them in, positioned their best-loved blankets within gripping distance.
I walked downstairs to do the dinner dishes, a task I often postpone until the dim of night arrives unannounced, carrying the quiet on its back.
I rinsed a dinner plate and a soup bowl, both wedding presents, and it occurred to me that this life I never imagined, not fifteen years ago and not ever, is the messiest sort of perfection. My dishes are plain white pottery, a tiny filigree border the only ornamentation, and they have served me well for fifteen years. My life dresses as plain as those plates on most days, but it's piled so high with good and simple and true, the best kind of full plate.
I was trying to finish that sentence above, make it some sort of beautiful, chill-inducing conclusion about the simple beauty of life and family. But Dani just woke up and came to sit next to me. She laid her head on my lap. Her cheek now rests a few inches from the keys of the laptop. She just looked up and said, "You're da best mommy in da world." (And now she is saying, "Calli is da best doggy in da world!" She is fairly liberal with her superlatives in the morning.)
This life sits plain and white, only a bit of filigree. But piled upon it high, so high are all the things I never dreamed would fill me up.
And here I am, so very full.
I sat wedged between an oval window and a gray-haired, gray-suited man. No use opening our laptops during the hop from Frankfurt to Zurich. There was barely time for the beverage service.
He folded his newspaper twice over and back. I reached for my book.
Even three chapters deep into Gore Vidal's The Golden Age, I struggled to follow the myriad of characters parading across the pages of the 1940s. Jet-lagged and meeting-weary, I read words, sentences, paragraphs, and reaching the end of the page, I knew none of it. I started to drift.
His voice startled me back to the open page. He ordered a drink in German. I don't recall what.
I looked back at my book, pretending I'd been immersed in the story and not in sleep. And there it was. A scene with FDR, an imagined look at the hours before Pearl Harbor.
And here I was. Only 57 years past Normandy. Flying over Strasbourg. Sitting next to a man who might have been a tall ten years old when the war was finally over, whose father might have "heil"ed Hitler, whose mother might have mourned, whose neighbors might have fled.
When our wheels touched down in Zurich, history didn't feel so far away.
"That was 1960?" I asked in disbelief.
"Texas," my husband replied. "The Cotton Bowl. And they've got the actual footage. It's awful. They aren't exaggerating this."
We'd heard the movie The Express (The Ernie Davis Story) was supposed to be good. And it was.
But it was hard to imagine that barely 50 years ago, when my father stood a tall ten years old, the Cotton Bowl's Most Valuable Payer wasn't welcome at his own awards ceremony. Because of his skin color.
When punches were thrown and slurs were shouted and signs were posted to keep people apart.
When equal opportunity was still just a dream.
A desperate, lay-your-life-down-for-it dream. So much more than a poster in the break room.
Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from a jail in Birmingham:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
It doesn't matter which continent or century you pick. Our human history is ugly. It started with the garden, and we haven't let up since. But it has taken me a while (too long, in fact) to realize that our history--no matter how ancient--is connected, decade to decade, century to century, generation to generation.
It isn't just words in a book and multiple choices in a high school history quiz.
It's real. It happened. Some of it not very long ago.
I confess I have cared very little about history. I have paid only scant attention to the true stories that don't directly contribute to the plot of my own. In my apathy, I've stayed the "so-what?" student who studies to pass and not to learn.
And in doing so, I have been utterly foolish.
Because in this ancient and ongoing battle against self-destruction, indeed "we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny".
Just because my daughter hasn't been sold into slavery,
Just because my husband hasn't been tortured for his political views,Just because my son hasn't been forced to fight a grown man's war before he turns eight,
Just because my faith is not currently cause for persecution,
I still don't get to be immune.
I still don't have an excuse for crouching apathetically in a caved existence.
So let's say I stand up and take note. Let's say I study and say out loud that this is injustice. What difference would it make in the world at large?
I mean, really, what can one mother do to rid the world of injustice?
I'd like to know how Alberta Williams King would answer, if she were still alive.
Perhaps her reply, shaped by the brokenness of outliving her own son, would inspire us.
Perhaps she'd shut her eyes to lock in tears, shake her head and repeat the question, "What can one mother do to rid the world of injustice?"
Perhaps she'd open her eyes, tears slipping toward her smile and say,
"More than you might think, my dear. More than you might think."
Hat tip to Robin of Pensieve for posting the full text of Martin Luther King Jr.'s letter. It's worth a full read and reread.
Originally published in January 2010. A repost from archives, remembering the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr.
We were driving to Caed's friend's house when he confessed. "Can I tell you and Dani a secret, Mom?"
"What is it, Bud?"
"Well, I just can't stop making presents for Daddy. I just love him so much, and I just want to keep making presents for him all the time."
Well, that would explain the three "stuffed animals" he fashioned out of construction paper, the air force mystery book he "wrote", the Ohio State fun facts notebook he composed, and the "I love Daddy" diploma that he made. All in the last 24 hours. All for his Dad.
I hate to break it to him, but the relentless present-making born out of love for his Daddy is hardly a secret.
This morning, after Larry prayed what Caed deemed to be a fairly long prayer, Caed remarked, "You know, Daddy, if you want to make the prayer quicker you can just say 'thank you God for everything', and then you don't have to say all the other things and take a long time."
This prompted a response from Larry about how prayer is about relationship, not something to check off the list as quickly as we can, but to talk to God about what is in our heart the same way we talk to Daddy about our day. He asked Caed whether, when we pray, we ever hear God talking back to us, expecting his six year old to respond with the literal and obvious answer of "no".
But Caed surprised us both. "Well, God doesn't talk in a regular voice," he replied, "But sometimes He can tell us things, ya know, like talking straight into our hearts."
Yeah, and sometimes He can tell us things through the words of a six-year old.
Dani asked me today whether God made Santa. Is that a trick question? I think it is.
I had to break up an argument on a similar topic between Caed and Dani last week. Dani insisted Santa knew what all the kids in the whole world were up to--be it sleeping or awake, bad or good. Hmm, wonder where she picked that idea up?
Caed took the stance that whatever Santa knew was due to the help from the Elf on the Shelf. (He's nothing if not theologically sound, yes?)
He rolled his eyes at Dani's foolishiness, "He only knows if you're sleeping or awake because the Elfs on the Shelfs tell him. It's not like he's God."
I miss the sea gulls and crows squawking territorially over the trash.
I miss the mudroom tile, the pilot's stutter on the gas stove, the instant fireplace where wet gloves and hats used to hang.
I miss the park down the street, the one with the "adventure trail" that looped a special way home.
I miss the halfway point in my old running route, the shore, the way the snow melted before it reached the tide.
I miss the faces, the hearts. I didn't think I knew them long enough to miss them this much.
I miss the back bay, the home team, the big boot, the blueberries, the beach.
I miss the marsh, the snowy egret, the way the reeds and sun would dance every day on my way to school.
I miss the teachers, the sigh of relief I felt when I walked past the walls plastered in preschool art, like somehow this parenting, this teaching, this loving them to pieces wasn't all on me. I miss that village.
I even miss the town hall, how tiny it was, how easy to get a license plate or buy a beach pass.
I didn't think it was mine long enough to miss it this much.
I was wrong.
I miss it.
Written in response to The Gypsy Mama's five-minute writing prompt.
Photo credit: My friend Alexis, during her last visit with me in Maine.
In ten minutes, I need to stop writing and pack his lunch. Make that nine minutes.
The dryer bangs a zipper against its belly, a sound even towels can't silence. The computer hums. I can tell it's trying too hard.
I'm glad for the noiselessness of dust and dirt and paperwork. It's a mess, but at least it's a quiet mess.
Snow doesn't speak, either. That's probably why it has a reputation for being so sneaky. The people in charge of the cold front maps say another foot might come between two afternoons. I predict it will start after it is too late for early dismissal, but just in time to make the drive home from gymnastics interesting.
I found an old notebook yesterday, and in it, a list. The kind of list I used to keep, the kind that kept me rolling my shoulders and head around so my neck would stop whining. My neck never stopped whining, not until the day after I didn't need the list anymore.
*Korea stock letters
*CFO equity study
*Summary of Swiss pension take-aways
*Send filing reqs summary to (M&A lawyer)
*Follow up on French sub-plan
*Memo to Comp Committee
*COS chart for HK/ China
And it went on like that for pages, days and weeks, until eventually I crossed off that entire part of my life.
Now, when people ask me what I do, I tell them, "Laundry." I'm sure they wonder why I'm smiling about it like I just found a winning lottery ticket, but haven't told anyone yet. I can't blame them for wondering whether I was crazy to give up partnership for motherhood. They haven't seen the old lists.
And they haven't seen the new ones either.
If they saw them, they'd know why I'm smiling.
for how many years have you gone through the house
shutting the windows,
while the rain was still five miles away
and veering, o plum-colored clouds, to the north
away from you
and you did not even know enough
to be sorry,
you were glad
those silver sheets, with the occasional golden staple,
were sweeping on, elsewhere,
violent and electric and uncontrollable--
and will you find yourself finally wanting to forget
all enclosures, including
the enclosure of yourself, o lonely leaf, and will you
dash finally, frantically,
to the windows and haul them open and lean out
to the dark, silvered sky, to everything
that is beyond capture, shouting
i'm here, i'm here! now, now, now, now, now."
I opened the door to let the dog out this morning. We both did a double take. (She looked up to say, I love snow as much as the next dog, but 5:30 is too early to traipse out in flakes up to my hind quarters.)
When did these six inches of snow creep in and press a thousand noses against my doorstep?
Ah, but they are here, and so is January. And so we will take it all in stride, in skis, on sleds. We will stand beneath the trees in their vertical game of pick-up sticks. We will open the figurative windows, lean out, shout to everything that is beyond capture that we are here, now, now, now.
I'm wondering, what would you shout today, if you were to haul open the windows and lean out to the world?
I remember the grassy slope, an air conditioning unit that doubled as home plate in whiffle ball, a clothesline to empty before we could ride bikes, the backyard where I grew from five to twelve.
I sat, a twiggy legged ten year old in tuck position, toes pointing down slope toward the garden. I stared straight past the swaying asparagus plants and sobbed.
The fact I had no reason to cry--no reason at all--it only made the crying worse.
Two days earlier, the heart under my leotard pounded a mixture of nerves and adrenalin at the final gymnastics meet of the season. I placed in the all-around for the first time, with a personal best on vault and beam. Two days earlier, I was elated.
But two days later, it was over.
And my 10 year old heart felt emptier than a pool in a lightning storm, and about as gloomy.
The thing no one seems to mention--not when you're ten, not when you're forty--is that when you finally arrive at the place you've been striving for, dreaming of, pining for, working toward--it can be a colossal let down.
I could show you a list of the places I arrived, the resolutions made and kept, the chapters completed. And by every checked item on that list, I could show you the corresponding cloaked disappointment, the quiet empty ache that sneaks in when you stop waving and step off the podium.
It's been a long time (over 20 years, I think) since I read The Pilgrim's Regress. Most of it was over my head then. Most of it probably still is. But I latched on to one string of thought from which the entire allegory seemed to hang.
Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.-C.S. Lewis
So, let's assume that the three feet of December's snow melted within a two-day 50-degree thaw, and you can see the lawn for the first time in four weeks. Let's also assume the cold snapped back, this time with a stronger bite, and it's a whopping 18 degrees and windy. What's your first impulse?
Yeah, that was mine too. Brew coffee. Start a fire. Sit. Drink. Stoke the fire. Repeat.
But when you're a kid in Ohio, and just a teensy bit obsessed with football, and more specifically, Ohio State football, a clear lawn means a football field.
So you beg your mom to go outside without wearing a coat, because it would ruin everything if you had cover up your "uniform". Because it's imperative you can look like a "real Ohio State player."
And you rope your little sister into cheerleading.
And then you rope your mom into coming outside to pose as Wisconsin. And of course Ohio State tromps Wisconsin. (What? A kid can dream, right? And a mother has every right to throw the game when her only goal is to get back inside before her fingers fall off at the knuckles.)
Three hours until kick-off, folks.
Letting go has never been my specialty. Unless it involves a broom handle on which a spider is climbing toward me. That I can let go of.
But in nearly everything else, I'm a clinger. There's the holding on to old friends (which can be loyalty if I'm being kind to myself). There's the holding on to memories (which can be nostalgia if I'm making allowances). And there's the holding on to ideals (which is guaranteed to be heartbreaking no matter what I call it).
Sometimes I'm just holding on, in general, the way you clutch a subway pole in rush hour, staring straight ahead to avoid the ill-advised eye contact with another zoned-out commuter. Sometimes I just hold on because I don't know what else to do with my hands.
But sometimes I hold on because letting go is tantamount to lungs failing to fill up. Because I would code right here on the old berber carpet.
That's how I feel about my kids. As much as they annoy me to shreds when they whine and drag bedtime four time zones out, I think my heart might stop beating if I lost one of them.
I've read the grief choked words of other moms who lived (or are living) a forced letting go, a nightmare. And all I can do in response is gasp and shudder. I cry on the suspicion that my dog has arthritis. So it's only natural to assume I would be an eternal wreck if ever I lost my grip on the surprisingly strong little hands of my girl and my boy.
I'm supposed to let go.
He asks me to love Him more. (It's not too much to ask, considering the way He loves me, His child. And yes, I get that now--this mother love cements it in clearest analogy).
He asks me to trust Him with their hands, their souls, their futures, their inevitable suffering.
And I just have to confess.
I'm not there yet.
I want to be (and still, I don't want to be).
I don't want to let go.
I am finally getting to the point where His grace is sufficient for me, where faith is enough for me, where He is enough for me, but I'm not to the point--not even close--where I believe it to be enough for them.
(I can't believe I'm saying any of this out loud, let alone on the internet.) I trust Him to take care of me, but I don't trust Him--not beyond the cliche and to the core--to take care of my children.
To those of you who believe this crazy Jesus stuff that I believe, I just have to ask, how do you get there, to the point where you trust Him wholeheartedly with the people you love? Is there a secret door? Does anybody else wish it was as simple as entering a PIN, handing over a key card, stepping through security? (Sheesh. I should have just written one of those New Year's-ey Recaps. I can't believe I'm hitting publish....)