The Old Places

I can't stop thinking about the old places.

No offense to the new ones. I mean no harm to the soil that hosts home for me now. I sink my fingers into this dirt. I see the side effects under my fingernails from all the planting, the furious fall planting where you reseed grass and bury bulbs and pray like mad that something takes. I see it under my fingernails and know that the new soil sticks, enough that I'll have to scrub hard to undo the evidence of a season in dirt. I'm certain that something took, that I'll see it bloom in the spring. Maybe sooner.

But I still can't stop thinking about the old places.

Larry and I drove to one of the old places this weekend. My parents took the children (yes, I'm rising up yet again to call them blessed), and we headed to DC where memories of a decade cover every square inch from King Street to M Street like plastic wrap. I saw it first in a flower pot by the fountain in the atrium of National Gallery of Art. And I lifted up one corner, and the air crept in, and next thing I know, I'd lifted more and more, and everywhere I turned--memories and cellophane.

By the end of the weekend, I had uncovered so many moments, the metaphoric wad of plastic wrap was taller than me and twice as wide. There was the time I dropped off a 2 year old Caed and his Daddy at the Botanical Gardens to see the holiday train display while I drove up and down Constitution, praying 4-day-old Dani would stay asleep. I remember how then I still thought of her only as Sheridan, how then I had to concentrate to know her name and to feel like she was really mine.

There were the countless hours on the metro, and the time Eve and I went in search of a mid afternoon yogurt and found the press camped outside Monica Lewinsky's lawyer's building. (We had apparently just missed her. Oh darn. Now about that yogurt?)

There was the time I went out to celebrate Becky's 40th, nine months pregnant, back when Rosa Mexicano was a hot new restaurant. Our group waited for a table for over an hour. Nine months pregnant, and in heels. I wished for the baby to come and for a margarita. It took 6 days for the baby, 6 weeks for the margarita. See, wishes do come true, just not always on your birthday, or on your friend's birthday.

Then there was the leadership meeting at the Willard, the one where I was supposed to be making my co-in-charge debut. And I wondered whether anyone else thought we'd wasted a solid two days and four easels worth of paper, whether anyone else noticed the emperor was still naked. When I walked by the Willard last night, I smiled at the fortune of finding so many dear friends among those colleagues. And then I thanked my lucky stars that my co-in-charge, death by easel facilitating days were over.

How much of these old places I carry with me, even now. It ought to feel like a heavy load for the volume alone, but it's so light and compact I scarcely know it's there. Until I pull it out, like a tourist with a map (before there was an app for that), unfolding and unfolding, and wow, would you look at all these streets and roads and landmarks and all the old places? There's so much here, so much.

And how much of me I've left behind in the old places. I didn't realize that either. The pieces aren't that noticeable. You don't realize they're gone until it's too late to turn around the car and go back. And by then, the wind has probably scattered them anyway. By then, you might as well let go of those pieces, let them stay lost in the old places.

I am ready as ever to sink my hands into the soil, into the new places. But only because the old places promise me, prove to me it's worth it. We drove back into our sleepy Ohio suburb tonight, the cheesy Christmas tree lighting ceremony in progress as we passed the town square. And I thought, I'm going to visit here one day and be amazed at how much of me is scattered here, and at how much of here is folded up and tucked inside. I'm not going to be sorry about anything planted. I'm not going to regret scooping deep into the soil.


Scrapping the Traditional Weave

I hang on to this belief, knowing full well it is foolish and false. I catch myself believing it at gut level, buried far beneath my guise of wisdom and common sense. And it is this:

Other people are living "normal" lives--the kind of life I seem ever on the precipice of having. Other people have arrived and settled in to one spot for the rest of their happy lives. Other people stay securely footed in "normal" careers that yield enough to live and then some. Other people stay securely united in marriages, riding the jarring seasons like trained horsemen, elegantly, effortlessly. Other people don't live in constant limbo, don't measure the years according to what it was they were waiting for that year, what it was they were hoping to hear and didn't.

I told you it was foolish and false. Bring me one person--anyone--and we will discover the striving, the interruptions, the limbo, the churning, the struggle--they are present within each one of us. Rich or poor. Illiterate or educated. Pessimistic or optimistic. Visionary or pragmatic. We are likely not alone in thinking life is what happens next, if we could just get past the hurdle right in front.

C. S. Lewis wrote,

The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one's 'own,' or 'real' life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life--the life God is sending one day by day.
I wrote a while back about real life, about owning the days I'm given, not waiting for the next stage, the one that looked perfect on paper. I've lived just long enough, I think, to have discovered the surprising pattern about the next stage. It looks far better on paper than it feels going in and out of the lungs. Life is years of labored breathing with occasional seconds of breathless euphoria. Why do I persist in imagining it to be the reverse?

And so I agree, it would be a great thing, if one could, to embrace the unpleasant things, these less than optimal stages, these insurmountable hurdles, these disappointments and delays, as part of real life.
To find even in the labored breathing, a joy to be alive at all.
To find even in the limping forward (or possibly back), a curiosity at how the scenery might change, a gratitude for mobility alone.
To conclude that "normal" is at most a setting on the dryer.
To gather the necessary courage to live an unscripted life.

Is it mediation, discipline of the mind, praying without ceasing? Is this the way to welcome even the unpleasant things, the hurdles and setbacks, as part of a beautiful story we might live? My best guess is it might be all of the above.

Let's think of tapestry weaving, the complex and beautiful images accomplished by ignoring the rules of traditional weaving, by rejecting the back and forth, from end to end, continuous until complete. Instead, when you weave a tapestry, you block colors, starting sometimes in the middle, sometimes on the outskirts. You add color upon color upon color until the image appears.
It is not linear.
It is starting and stopping, back to the beginning, hovering wherever the colors stack the highest.

For many years, I have believed life to be a traditional weave. Back and forth, end to end, continuous until complete.

Now, I am growing to believe it is layered, color upon color, back to the beginning, out to the edges, feeling like we're getting nowhere, when indeed, getting somewhere has never been the point. It is about the picture woven out of all these shades, hues both pleasant and difficult, setbacks and propellants alike, the news good or bad, the progress steady or stalled. This color upon color, this day upon day, this is real life.

And it is, indeed, a great thing if one can see it as such, as the day upon day He sends.


I Will Never Be Cured

The school nurse calls, and I come.

I pick my baby up from school, administer tylenol, tuck him in for a nap. He doesn't have a fever, but complains that his "brain hurts" and that his shoulders and legs "feel too tired to do anything." Normally, I'd be reticent to take him home from school in the absence of visible, credible symptoms.

But as it turns out, I feel the same way. My brain hurts. My arms and legs are too tired to do anything. Achy. Sleepy. In need of a quiet and still afternoon.

I tease Caed that he must have given his germs to Mommy, and I pretend to give them back. I say "Here! Here! Get these germs off of me!" He doesn't even crack a smile, just lays his head down on his pillow, motions for a hug.

"My poor baby," I say, squeezing his neck. I remember my Mom saying this to me, all those times I was sick enough to stay home from school, those mornings I'd spend watching game shows and looking forward to the sweet-tart flavored meds.

"Tonight we'll have breakfast dinner, and we can cuddle and watch a movie. How's that sound?" I ask.

He lets go of me and nods his head. "Good," he whispers.

"Good." I echo.

I kiss his warm forehead. He smiles and scrunches further into the sheets. "Good," I say again. "Good."

In these moments, at least one diagnosis is clear. Of this condition called Motherhood, of this symptom--heart walking forever outside my body--of all of this, I will never be cured.


The Stars of the Show

"It's called 'The Mystery of the Cowboy Clone Trooper's Secret Notebook'," he announces. "And also, there's a football witch in it."

"Dani!" he shouts. "Hurry! We're starting the show!"

I sit atop the bed, criss-cross-applesauce, my heels digging into the airplane quilt I brought home from the outlet more than six years ago, back when my claim to motherhood rested shakily on possessing a packed hospital bag and two drawers of pre-washed onsies and sleepers.

What happened to his sweet baby head, the one I kissed and smelled every thirty seconds (surely this is the twitch of the new mother)? It hides under the clone trooper mask, smelling not of babies but of sweat and leaves and yesterday's shampoo.
The play is what you might call character-driven. The pacing is a bit off, what with the lead character writing in his secret notebook for a solid five minutes. The football witch jumps in to make a scene, but is promptly shushed and demoted to stage duty. "Turn the lights off!" the cowboy instructs.

But the witch is unfazed, enthralled now with her own hat, turning it this way and that, on and off her head, circling her hands over the rim as if she expects a rabbit might hop out. She's always had powers, this girl, to do magical things. Like, for instance, the time she melted her cranky mother into a pile of mush, erasing the sleepless crying night of hours just past with the curl of her first smile.

After another five minutes of notebook scribbling, the cowboy clone trooper declares it time to fight in the dark with his light saber. The football witch picks up her football, squeals, "I am the PRINCESS OF THE FOOTBALL!"

I can see the cowboy would kick her entirely out of the theater if he thought he could get away with it. Instead he looks at me, the lights still bright enough that I can see his eyes roll in the direction of his co-star.

I clap furiously. "That was wonderful!" I say.

"But Mom!" he interjects. "There are like 39 more minutes left of the show!"

I cringe and declare it intermission. "Until tomorrow," I promise.

If ever I let myself get lost, it is in this magic show where babies grow into boy and girl, telling the stories of which I'll never tire. The one where a first spoken word morphs seemingly overnight into a first full-blown theatrical production. Or the one where the baby girl exchanges booties for light up boots 10 times as big, the shoes she insists on wearing while she helps me fold the laundry. (She loves to fold laundry? Yes, she does!)

I wish often for intermission, a chance to digest the wonder of what I've just watched. But the show goes on and on, stopping for no one. Not even their mother...

What do you call this growing, if not magical? How do you describe it apart from miraculous?
I sit spell-bound, watching, wondering how on earth my babies disappeared, how on earth they grew like magic into the stars of this show.


Sharing this wonder, these gifts, with Chatting at the Sky for Tuesdays Unwrapped.


Like No One is Reading

Blogging is a bit like jumping rope. Once you hop in, it's fairly easy to stay in a rhythm, to churn out post after post with relative ease. My feet barely had to leave the pavement. Just a few minutes here and there, a picture or two, a little each day. But when you duck out to get a drink of water (or in my case, escape for a girls' weekend, followed by a week of taking care of my sweet elementary-aged nieces), it's harder to get started again. I feel like for the past few days I've been watching the rope whoosh past my face, hesitating, looking for the perfect place to jump back in and not finding it.

There are two things I rely on to stay clear headed and marginally sane. I run and I write. I have done very little of either this week, rendering me muddy brained, arguably crazy and (unarguably) five pounds heavier. The leftover Halloween candy has clearly played into the equation as well.

I did manage to read a bit--mostly in two minute snippets while waiting in the car pool line. I have a pile of library books I want to plow through, the weight of which led my car to conclude the stack of books in my front seat constituted a passenger in need of seat belt.

One of the books I'm reading is Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones. No, I'm not one of those cool writer types reading this for the tenth time. Only round one for me. And do you know what I have learned so far? I have an obnoxiously loud and ridiculously overbearing internal censor. Which is probably why I have published only as a journalist. My first front page article in the daily news--published so long ago you can't even find it on microfiche-"Black Bear Spotted on Interstate-90"--is likely to be my crowning accomplishment. Unless I can figure out how to lop off the head of my internal censor. (See, I wanted to write make peace with my internal censor, but making peace would mean the censor won out over the raw and powerful writing. Lopping off a head is far more evocative, right?)

So to continue the metaphor, it seems I just tried to jump back in and got smacked in the face with the rope. Tripped up, so to speak. My internal censor feels as though I should apologize for the lameness of this post, and I'm inclined to agree.

Forgive me?

Caed came home from the book fair at school this week and said, "There's this famous book at my school that everyone is talking about, and it's called the Diarrhea of a Wimpy Kid. Can you believe that, Mom? And I think it has some mean words in it, too. Like...wimpy."

It was a lovely opportunity to teach him a new vocabulary word. "Diary," I said, "is like a journal. You write down your thoughts and feelings about your life."

What is that oft quoted Irish proverb?

Work like you don't need the money
dance like no one is watching
sing like no one is listening
love like you've never been hurt
and live life every day as if it were your last.
Can I take the liberty--for the tortured writerly types out there--of adding one more?

Write like no one is reading.

Or maybe, just write. Who cares if the rope smacks you in the forehead. Just write. Just jump. Just try.


Halloween was SO Four Days Ago

I interrupt this blog to post a few Halloween pictures so the grandparents can all rest assured that their grandchildren are as darling as ever, even though the aforementioned children refuse to listen to their doting mother and continue to grow like weeds after I've repeatedly told them to stop.

The way Larry ages (way too gracefully) and Caed grows (way too quickly), my guess is they'll be mistaken for twins in a few more years.
And seriously, can you believe how big Dani has grown?
Oh, okay, you got me. That's not Dani. The sweet smile above belongs instead to my favorite eight year old niece. I still have plenty of time before my darling preschooler turns eight--by my calculations, roughly three or four days.

So here's the one of Dani-girl, dressed up as Ladybug Girl. You can see that Halloween totally bums her out.
And here's a shot of several of the cousins before we headed out. (Not pictured: a team of FBI agents and Superman. They must have been off saving the world at the time. Or plotting a massive candy extraction mission.)
Happy four days after Halloween, everyone!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I promised the FBI/Superman team I would help them rid the world of all unclaimed reeses cups before sundown, and I don't want to let them down. And by unclaimed, I mean the ones that might have been in bags labeled "Dani" and "Caed" just minutes ago, but by some inexplicable mystery have fallen out onto my kitchen counter....thus rendering them unclaimed.


The Rebranding of the Lunch Lady

Me: Caed, do you need me to peel the orange in your lunch or can you get it started by yourself?

C: No, I can do it. And don't worry, if I need help, I can raise my hand and one of the guards can help me with it.

Me: Guards? Do you mean the cafeteria helpers?

C: Well, I've never heard them called THAT before. I call them guards.

Me: Why do you call them guards?

C: I don't know. I guess because they guard the pizza and the desserts and stuff. It's just what they're called, Mom. Trust me.

Lunch ladies, prison guards, same diff, right?

Now hurry, kiddo, or you'll be late for prison school!

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