Suspended In A Sunbeam

February has been a strange month of busyness and slowness, sickness and healthy eating, springlike days and frigid nights. Good news, bad news. Every day, it turns. This quote from Carl Sagan never ceases to be strangely comforting to me.

Look again at that dot. That’s here, that’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar”, every “supreme leader”, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there– on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

~Carl Sagan from Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of The Human Future in Space

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Not Yet (JustWrite)

Lately I can feel that change is coming. Change is not unusual; it is inevitable and part of life, part of the seasons, part of everything. What is unusual is that I’m aware of it before it is happening. Usually, especially as it relates to small children, our lives seem to move into a phase and stay there for a good long while, sometimes interminably it seems. I get so used to these phases, and then am surprised one day to realize that something has shifted- the baby stopped waking up at night, the toddler stopped asking for a light on, the bottles of milk tapered off, multiple naps became two, then one, then none. The changes don’t happen overnight of course, and it’s often one step forward, one step back, so it takes awhile to acknowledge and settle into the new normal.

But somehow this time, I feel it coming. My little girl is reluctantly becoming a “big little girl” as she calls it, and my son is actively campaigning to be a big kid. It’s becoming hard to ignore.

One of my favorite moments of the day is waking up my baby girl. She rises early but doesn’t call out, singing and talking to herself and her stuffed animals. She likes her alone time in the crib. Sometimes I go in on my own, sometimes she calls out “Mama, I ready now!”. Either way, I open the door into a haven- her room is still and quiet, the sound of a quiet rain swishing around the room, the sweet smell of a sleeping baby fills my everything. She raises her arms and I pull her to me, where she curves into my body like a comma, like a question mark. She is the best hugger. She nestles her head into my neck, and sighs, holds on tight. She smells so good- an indefinable smell of her babyhood, like puppy breath that will be gone too soon.

Her legs are too long. They dangle, past my hip, almost to my knees. I cannot hold on with one hand anymore. I have to bend deeply before I pick her up. She squeezes her legs around me tighter, so as not to slip and let go. I lay her on the changing table and realize, she is too big to be on a changing table. I realize it’s time, time for potty training, for giving up the pacifier, for a big girl bed to take the place of her crib. I am not ready. I always hold on too long to these transitions. Not because I am afraid of doing them, but because I know these things mark the end of her babyhood. The end of my babyhood, for she is my last.

I say to her, You are such a big girl now. She says, I know, mama. No more paci, and I get to wear underwears! And pull ups! And no crib. I must look sad, becasue she reaches up and touches my cheek with her beloved lovey. But not yet, mama, not yet. I think she says not yet for me. I think she knows I need a few more moments of this.

At least I have a faded map of that transition, from baby to toddler to preschooler. We might take some detours,  but I have been down the road before. With my son, we are navigating blind. He has been mine for so long it seems, in my care and physically and emotionally dependent on me, that it’s unclear where he ends and we begin. He has spent five years being next to me, on me, around me. Obviously we spend time apart, but when he’s not at school or at a friend’s, he is orbiting me. But lately, he is spinning off on his own. At five, he is desperate to be a “big kid”. He has started taking his own baths, getting dressed on his own, making his own breakfasts, taking off way ahead of me on his bike. His face is more angular now, he looks like the boy he will become. He sits with his legs crossed like his dad’s, he tries to roll his eyes, he asks to sit at his own table, he wants to do it all by himself. He is reading, he uses words like “awkward”, we have complicated conversations. He is getting farther away from me. He always comes back, of course, but it’s the first leap in the beginning of a long but certain separation.

The change I sense is a change from being a family of littles to a family of little kids. We have been cocooned at home for so long, it’s hard to remember what we did before kids with all our free time, and even harder to imagine what comes next. O just started TBall. Two practices a week, and a game. Too much, I think, but that is what it is. Now we are splitting up as a family. Now we are having different dinners and bedtimes as evening activities present themselves for the first time. My neighbors mostly have elementary school age kids and there have been many times when I envied their relative freedom compared to mine. I am standing on the porch, tethered to the sleeping baby during naptime, while they are free to move about, to go to movies with their kids, and do bike rides. Unless we have a sitter, we leave the neighborhood get togethers first, as we still have kids that need a bedtime, while they continue the party. They take their kids to plays, on interesting vacations, send them to camp. My response is always, not yet, they are too little. Except now, O is not too little.

Now that this is our next step, I am surprised to find myself resisting. I don’t want things to change. The interminable attachment to and from my kids is suddenly not so interminable. There is an expiration date. I realize, too late of course, how much I treasure and adore this cocoon of family life we have. Dinner and bath and bedtime every night, the same. Being at home all together. Being needed. Being required to give an additional eight hugs, or nine kisses, or another glass of water, or another story every night. What I thought was frustrating and never-ending is, in fact, glorious and fleeting.

For now, I’m holding on to “not yet”.

This post was a part of JustWrite, an exercise in free writing your ordinary and extraordinary moments. Click here to read more, or join in.

7 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Clouds In My Pocket

A few weekends ago, I took the kids up to visit my parents. It was a difficult five-hour drive. My little girl was unusually crabby and cried the whole time. She usually just hangs out and looks at books and sings. She cried because she missed seeing the police. She cried because she couldn’t see cows. I pointed out the window and said, “Look, horses!” She said she didn’t want to. Then she cried for 30 minutes because she missed seeing the horses. In the midst of her crying and O’s normal barrage of questions, my irritation growing, I looked out my window. In an instant, the irritation was gone. The sky was spectacular. It wasn’t quite a sunset, yet. The sun was veiled behind a patchwork of clouds, like little dabs of a paintbrush dotted across the sky. You could see the exact, perfect sphere of the sun burning behind the cloud curtain. The sky in Texas is so big and seems to go on forever and looking into its infinite vastness is somehow comforting and unsettling at the same time. I was thinking about how beautiful it was, and how miserable my kids were and wondering about how two things could exist at the same time. Then baby girl stopped crying and said, “Look mama! Look at the cwouds!” O said, “I need to take a picture!” He got out his camera his Auntie Em got him for Christmas and started snapping and angling his camera this way and that. My little one said, “But it’s not pink, mama, or orange. Just blue!” And O said, “I want to put those clouds in my pocket”.

We spent the next ten minutes trying to speed up or slow down to capture the perfect shot for him. Baby girl continued to giggle gleefully and point at the sky. As we rounded the curve into our home stretch, the clouds took their bow and began to slide away and the sun began its business of setting. And the sky exploded into color- fuchsia and orange and gold mingling into a swirly rose gold fire. I couldn’t stop looking at it, this majestic showing-off.

Looking at my kids’ faces in the rearview mirror, I felt that familiar glow of peace and joy and pain that marks these kind of moments- that it’s-so-beautiful-it-hurts kind of feeling. I was quiet and still, almost holding my breath so as not to disturb these creatures in the wild. One false move and the moment would slip away.

Like all parents, I think often of what I want my kids to know, of how I want to parent them, of what I hope I am teaching them. There are the typical things- to be kind, to be curious, to love deep and well, to find passion, to be bold. To be independent and stand up for themselves. Laugh a lot. Know it’s okay to cry. But there is this other, intangible thing I desperately wish for them to know. And it’s moments like this. I want them to be awed by the world. I want them to walk outside and have to stop and stand still because the sight of the moon in the night sky is just too overwhelming. I want them to really see the world, it’s beauty and it’s pain, the magic and the mess. And I have no idea how to teach that. There are no instruction books on how to fall in love with the wildness of the world.

So when it happens, I simply give a silent prayer of thanks. I don’t know how it happens, I don’t know if it’s something innate in them, I don’t know if all kids have it and lose it. I have no idea if they pick up on it from me. All that matters is that it happens, now and again, this stilling of the world. It lasted until the sunset finally burned itself out. Then we had a dance party, the exhilaration carrying us a bit further. Then baby girl started crying because it was too loud and she didn’t like that song and she wanted Cheetos. And O started his questions: “How many minutes to Gram and Pop’s? How many seconds are in a thousand minutes? Can you count to infinity? How many seconds are in infinity? Are there such thing as army ants?” The moment passed, slipping away into a memory. It was a terrible four and a half hour drive, with thirty minutes of magic. It was so worth it.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Upside Down, You Turn Me

Things have been pretty smooth lately. Which is why I shouldn’t be surprised that Monday things went upside down. I didn’t feel well all day- nothing specific, just a general malaise. I had plans to get a lot done, especially some writing, but all I managed to do was force myself to go to the grocery store. I walked in the door into that special kind of chaos that happens when you mix the witching hour with two overtired kids and a mom that had been out running errands. I don’t know about your kids, but for some reason mine go crazy when I’ve been away from them for a few hours. The babysitter swears they are calm, and then I walk in the door and the crazy gets cranked up.

I push open the door with my hip, balancing my keys and a bag with a carton of milk and a bag with eggs in it. The dog, a 100 lb wiggler, starts pushing his head into me, while jumping side to side with his back legs. My daughter rushes in. “Momma’s here, momma’s here,” she squeals and starts twirling. “Hug and kiss, hug and kiss, hug and kiss”, she chants. My son begins with the questions. “Mom, can you come look at my new office? Mom, can I write a contract on your computer? Mom, can I have a snack? What time is dad getting home? Can I have a play date?” All. At. Once.

I manage not to yell. I remind my son that anything he asks me gets an automatic no until I can come in and get settled. I drop the groceries and the keys, hold the screen door open so the dog can get out from under my feet, and scoop up my daughter for her hug and kiss. This is all it takes to ruin my planned evening of tacos and early bedtime, a fire and watching the Ohio State vs Oregon national championship game with my husband. Because I had not closed the gate.

I chat with the sitter, get all the groceries inside, check out all of my son’s creations, and get the kids settled for a few minutes so I can put away the groceries and start dinner.

The doorbell rings. My neighbor, John, says he just saw my dog run out of our backyard and down the street. Shit, I think. The gate. It’s dark and raining and cold. It’s also rush hour and we live a few houses away from a very busy street. That the dog always tries to cross.

My first thought is annoyance, that I have to go look for the damn dog. I don’t have time for this, frankly. And then I look at my kids. My son has a frown and my daughter’s eyes are big.

“Wider is gone? Doggy gone? Oh no poor Wider! Poor doggie!” says the little one as she twirls.

“Where is he? Will someone kidnap him? What if he’s hit by a car? What do we do? Call the police?” His voice has gotten very high. Then it shifts into the faux deep voice he puts on when he’s trying to act like a grown-up. “Actually, I got this, I’m calling 911”, he says and heads to the phone, his little hands on his hips. Rider has recently begun sleeping in my son’s room, at the foot of his bed. My son does not like to be alone, and the presence of the dog has made our bedtime routine a whole lot easier. My son has started saying Rider is his dog. He feeds him and talks to him, and takes him on patrol.

My heart sinks when I realize not only that this affects me, but this is really going to affect my kids. I stop my son from calling 911. I pick up my daughter and tell my son to follow me. We go out into the dark and cold and scream for him. Often he’s just next door. But after checking all of our neighbor’s houses, I am actually starting to get worried.

My husband texts me. Something blew up at work, he has to work late. Damn it. Just then, my neighbor Sarah comes out. She offers to take my kids to her house while I go look. A small something softens inside me, a tiny relief to not be completely alone in this. My son happily runs inside her house, but my daughter won’t let go of me. So I throw her in the car and we drive the streets, windows down on this cold and rainy night, yelling and hoping.

My daughter is worried but also gleefully repeats whatever I say. “Rider! Rider dog! Where are you?” I say. “Wider! Wider, good wittle doggy. Where are you?”, she shouts. We drive the dark streets and I am really worried now. I stop and ask people if they’ve seen a big black dog. Every time we cross the busy street, I brace myself to see a large lump on the road. I see nothing. He’s disappeared.

We drive home and I go to collect my son. I tell Sarah it’s been one of those days and I still have to unload the groceries. She instantly says, “Let your kids eat with mine.” I start to say the expected “Are you sure?” but instead just say “Thank you”. The thought of dinner almost undoes me. She takes them in and I go home. Put away the sweating ice cream and milk. The taco meat and shells. My house is too quiet, no kids and no dog. This is how things happen. A normal boring evening gets turned upside down by one action.

I go back to Sarah’s. My kids are eating macaroni and cheese and broccoli with hers. We sit and chat. I keep my phone out, hoping and praying someone will call. Bedtime without Rider is something I can’t think about. Sarah and I chat about the nothingness of our days, the sameness and the shared rolling of our eyes a balm to my chapped nerves. This is what great neighbors do, I think.

The phone rings, someone has found our dog. I run out in the rain to grab him. Two women are sitting on a corner, five blocks away, with a wet and stinky Rider. One noticed him on her way out to do an errand. She stopped and got out of her car, grabbed him and called the number on the collar. And then waited in the cold and dark.

I over-thanked them, got the dog in the car, collected my kids and got home. The house was a mess, but the kids were fed and the groceries put away. I corralled them upstairs, baths and bedtime stories, rocked one, laid down with the other and listened to him talk about his day while Willie Nelson crooned underneath it all. Rider thumped his tail, exhausted from his adventure.

I went downstairs and collapsed on the couch. I was too tired to grill the veggies I planned. It was too late for the fire. I made some soup and put on Downton Abbey instead of football. And closed my eyes and gave a small prayer of thanks. For people that care. For John for letting us know that Rider was gone. For Sarah who knew instantly what I needed and offered, who fed my kids and calmed my nerves and never made me feel like a mess of a bad mother. For Rebecca and Renata, who interrupted their own busy lives to return my dog. Each and every one of them didn’t have to do a single thing. John and Sarah could have just stayed in their warm houses. Rebecca certainly could have seen a dog running down the street and assumed it would find its way home. I’m not sure that many people would inconvenience their own lives at 6 pm on a rainy, cold Monday evening in that way.

It reminds me that we need to honor our instincts to help, to get involved. I’m not sure I always do, but after seeing how one small thing made such a big difference in our lives, I’m vowing to do better.

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Weight of the Passing of All Things

“Being alive, it seems, means learning to bear the weight of the passing of all things. It means finding a way to lightly hold all the places we’ve loved and left anyway, all the moments and days and years that have already been lived and lost to memory, even as we live on in the here and now, knowing full well that this moment, too, is already gone. It means, always, allowing for the hard truth of endings. It means, too, keeping faith in beginnings.”

~Katrina Kenison, The Gift of An Ordinary Day

Oh my, oh yes. Reading this heart-filling gem of a book right now (finally). The page preceding the above quote had me in tears in the middle of the cafe where I was having breakfast. It starts: “I wish for everything back that ever was, everything that once seemed like forever and yet has vanished”. Go read this book.

Happy New Year! Here’s to allowing things to end gracefully, and being filled up by beginnings.

7 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Thanksgiving 2014

Another Thanksgiving is done and gone. My Thanksgiving week was uneventful, typical, wonderful. We spent the holiday at my parents’ house and it struck me as I was in my childhood bedroom- I have spent every single one of my Thanksgivings either in this house or at a local family member’s house- except for the one semester I spent in London. That is almost 40 Thanksgivings, just like this one. I know things will change soon, and a new tradition will rise up where this one once was. I am grateful for the lovely ordinariness of this week. A few details, for the memories.

1. The stunning riotous color of the trees on the four hour plus drive. It is a long and boring drive, an hour too long with little kids, but I was startled by the beauty the entire time. I swear I have never seen such color in Texas. I’m not sure if it’s a change in weather patterns- usually it is hot and then it is cold but this year we’ve had more gradual and earlier chills- or if it’s that I’ve never noticed it before. But I cannot remember such showy and glorious fall color. I don’t know how people that live on the East Coast get anything done, being surrounded by something so beautiful. The whole weekend I sounded like a broken record- “LOOK at that tree! It’s so beautiful!” over and over. I have approximately 200 pictures of trees on my phone. The earth is amazing.

2. On the drive we let my son have the Ipad for the entire drive, whereas he usually has limited screen time. I have mixed feelings about this- on the one hand, it gives me peace on the drive. But on the other hand, I have wistful memories of staring out the window on long drives, of composing stories in my head, of daydreaming, of just having time to think. At one point in the drive, I looked back and he was staring out the window, almost listless, which is rare for him. I asked if he was ok, and he said “I’m great Mom, I’m just dreaming.” Beyond grateful for daydreaming, and that my son has found it for himself, and that all this technology hasn’t completely dulled the urge to dream.

3. I pulled something in my upper back on the morning of our drive (I think I actually pulled it trying to put on a damn Lululemon tank in the dark when I wasn’t quite awake- those things are evil). Regardless I could barely move, couldn’t lift my arm, couldn’t turn my neck. I had a gym appointment and went anyways, almost in tears. Luckily they have a PT on staff and he worked on my back to the point where I could manage to make the drive home. So grateful for his expertise, and for his help.

4. My back was in bad shape from Tuesday till Saturday. But the best thing about being home is that my parents are there. And no matter how old I get, they still take care of me. I am ever so grateful for my mom and dad, for letting me sit on the couch with a heating pad while they entertained my overexcited, wild children. My mom made me dinner, my dad handed me a glass of wine, but more importantly, no one made me feel bad or lazy for just sitting there. I am grateful parents never stop being parents, and that mine take such good care of all of us.

5. There is a wooded area behind my parents’ house. My son calls it the “spooky forest” and is relentless in wanting to go down to the spooky forest, everyday, twice a day if we let him. He is very into police and forest police and the army and he likes to go hike the small trails and pretend to be on patrol. It’s adorable- but someone has to go with him and no one wants to. My dad took him, my brother took him, and finally one day it was my turn. It was one of those stunning days- warm, cerulean bright blue sky- and I had no reason to say no. We set off, my husband, me, my two-year old with her three loveys, and my son in his ranger hat and his homemade badges. Luckily we had the good sense to just wander and enjoy it and we went deeper than I ever had. It was so beautiful back there, and I almost missed it. We met many dogs and horses, saw squirrels and birds and animal tracks. We found a tree with a huge hole in the trunk that looked like it was straight out of The Hobbit. We found a park and wide open fields and shaded twists and turns. It was spectacular, and it’s right in my backyard and I never knew. What a miracle that no one has torn it down and built more houses. Grateful my son forced me into the most beautiful walk. Grateful I slowed down enough to notice it.

6. My favorite part of the holiday was putting the kids down, curling up on my parents’ big, cozy couch and watching a movie with a glass of wine. This year I watched Planes, Trains, and Automobiles for the first time. It was as funny as promised, and Steve Martin and John Candy were a magical duo. But what I loved most was that the whole point of the movie was just to get home and be with family. The very last scene is simply Steve Martin’s wife coming down the stairs and seeing her husband with tears in her eyes. They embrace and that’s the end. No need for big action or for a come-uppance or anything monumental. Grateful for movie-makers like John Hughes, and so very sad he is no longer with us- what an amazing talent.

It was an absolutely ordinary Thanksgiving, but one for which I am profoundly grateful. We saw family and a new baby, we laughed and shared stories and drank wine. We watched football and movies. We let my kids stay up too late and have pie before breakfast and let them crawl into bed with us when they woke up far too early. We got my parents’ tree out and began decorating for Christmas. Goodbye Thanksgiving 2014, it was a good one.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

This Writing Life

One of my favorite things is a peek behind the curtain, if you will, at other writers’ writing life and process. Writing is such a solitary practice, and it is fascinating to me how we all approach and try to tame such an unwieldy and unpredictable process. I was tapped by Dina Relles of the blog Commonplace to share mine. I was a bit apprehensive, as I don’t have much of a process these days, but Dina’s wonderful and real answers about her writing life inspired me. Read Dina’s answers here.

WHAT AM I WORKING ON?

I write short stories. I am currently revising a piece that I kind of hate, but am determined to see it through. Some days I am convinced I am not a short story writer at all, but I do believe that all writing is practice and will hopefully lead me to where I need to be. I have never submitted any of my stories- based on both fear of rejection, but also a sense that they are not done yet, or at least not anything I want published. My goal for this year is to get over that. I had this belief that I would “know” when a story was ready. I thought that when I felt joy or happiness or pride upon reading my completed story, that’s when I would “know”. I am starting to think that I will never “love” any of my stories, and it seems other writers feel the same.

I also inconsistently post on this blog. I do not have a certain schedule or process- ideally I will post once a week. I “retired” from my job in April and this summer has been all about transitioning into being the caretaker parent, full-time. It has been a much more all-encompassing experience than I anticipated. I am shocked at the little amount of free time I have, even with school and baby-sitters. But more than that, I tend to shy away from writing here. I am in awe of those blogs that have such style and voice, that are so authentic. I feel like a fraud here. I constantly feel that I should just step away (who would notice?) and concentrate on creative writing. But I find I can’t. There is something so compelling and rewarding about blogging- and even more so, the blogging community. I just can’t quit. 🙂 So I need to step up and commit to writing here more often.

HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS IN ITS GENRE?

I am not even sure what my work is, so that is hard to answer. What I envision for this blog is less parenting tales, less essays on how to do things- I don’t have any certain expertise- and more a place to tell stories. I am not sure I am there yet, but that is what I love. And I’m not sure that this blog is any different from any others in the mama/writer category. I hope to just add to the conversation, to be another voice out there in the wilderness, another person listening and saying “yes, me too”.

As for creative writing- this is where I am stuck in the process. I am slowly but surely finding my “voice”- it  is so difficult to strip away all of the influences and what I feel like I should write, and just let my stories speak. When I get there, then maybe I can answer this question.

WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?

Well. Isn’t that the big question? Why do we do what we do? For me, writing is first and foremost a primeveal urge. On a basic level, I just feel this need to do it. It is almost physical- as if the words and thoughts and questions have weight and they begin to swirl and gather mass if I ignore them. The only way to “release” the weight is to write. As for what I write and think about- for me, it is twofold. First, it is a basic attempt to freeze moments in my life. There are so many moments that slip away, that I forget about if I do not write about them. The other day I found a letter to my daughter when she turned one- I never published it, and even though it was only a year ago, I was startled by the details of her, details I had already forgotten. It was like a fossil- a beautiful snapshot of time. And when I read it, it was like I unlocked time, for just a moment.

Secondly,  I write- like most- to discover, to question, to provoke. To make myself actually slow down and think about the world, my world, my role in it. I love this poem by Billy Collins called Grand Central:

The city orbits around eight million
centers of the universe
and turns around the golden clock
at the still point of this place.
Lift up your eyes from the moving hive
and you will see time circling
under a vault of stars and know
just when and where you are.”

For me, writing is a way to stand still and recognize time, a way to find out just when and where I am.

HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?

Short stories- It works best for me if I finish a complete draft in one sitting. Not a good draft, but just take the idea and let it go. No editing. Letting it veer off into bad and cliched places. I am not a type A person, but I love editing. One of the best things about being a (former) lawyer, I suppose, is that I get a thrill out of taking my red pen and slashing and rewriting. Rewriting is where my good writing happens, but I have to let that initial surge burn itself out. I have a ton of stories I’ve started and didn’t get to finish, and they just linger. I lose that writing rush that I need to get the story to take shape. I edit a lot. I’m still editing every story I’ve ever written.

For the blog- I get an idea, and then I try to find time to write it here. I don’t do a lot of planning and research, and I honestly don’t have much time to edit (which is probably obvious). I try to take the pressure off myself when I write here, and just throw thoughts and ideas and feelings down and hope they resonate in some way.

I don’t have a set time to write, I just try to squeeze it in around the edges of my life.

NEXT UP:

Almost everyone I can think of has already participated, so I’ll throw this open to anyone out there that wants to participate. Leave a comment, and I’ll visit your blog and tag you! Or just participate and let me know so I can read your thoughts.

Keep on keeping on,

xo A.

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized