Chopping Ice

A few weeks ago the kids came alive chopping ice along the edges of a nearby pond.  The intensity of their effort astounded me, and as is the case with effort, joy quickly followed.  Papa Gary took them to the newly frozen water armed with shovels, hammers, and rakes.  We covered their little fingers and toes in gloves and snow boots.  Jacob and I followed to observe– first as supervisors, but quickly becoming students ourselves, unintentional witnesses to a lesson in wonder.  The kids would smash the ice along the edges of the pond with their rakes and hammers, grunting with effort to haul in oddly shaped shards of frozen water.  They would cry out what “state” the latest piece would resemble.  “I’ve got Minnesota!” Sophie would shout, “I’ve got Michigan!” Ellie would respond.   Again and again and again- they’d cry “Look it! Look at how much I got that time!”  They breathed heavily, cheeks pink from movement and cold and delight, never once noticing how frigid and wet they surely were. Jacob and I just shook our heads, initially confused by their joy, but eventually giving into it, taking our own pictures of the ice shards as if they were newly discovered diamonds.

For isn’t that the truth of things- that it is not in efficiency, production or even purpose that we find meaning, but in the experience of life itself.    “It is not meaning that we are seeking,” Joseph Campbell said, “But rather the experience of being alive.”  And aliveness- strangely enough- has nothing to do with what you can accomplish (futility actually might be its friend)– or what reason lies beyond the experience, or what will come of that moment in the future.  Aliveness abides in Being itself.  The ice would obviously melt, many of the states were split before we were even able to give them proper witness, and there was no way to transport or store the mini-glaciers (though Papa Gary surely tried.)

Later on, we ate dinner around a crowded table. Darkness closes in around us early now, making our home its own light in the vastness beyond, like the small, soft glow of a planet surrounded by a much larger darkness.  Cohen and Jacob hash out fantasy football, Sophie recounts how kids chased each other at recess, and Ellie tells us how she read the part of the “raccoon” in her class play. Everett recalls how somebody  “pulled Mae’s shawt at pee-school.” I asked him what he did when he saw it, and he said “I cried.” (Be still, heart, be still.) Most of us all speak at once- starting sentences and usually not finishing them. The kids leave the table too early.  They shove stools over to the refrigerator to dig through the drawers for shredded cheese and ketchup. 

One day it will be quiet. Trips to the pond will surely be different then, and it’s true there will be fewer interruptions at dinner.  In a new Avett Brothers song that made me cry, Scott sings “I’m bracing for loneliness, I know it’s coming”.  And I feel that.  Because I can see my future self sitting at an empty table; the scrape of chairs against the floor and the clatter of dishes and the cacophony of voices will all be echoes then– and now vivid faces will eventually turn into mirages or ghosts.  It’s like I’m seeing my own eventual nostalgia- and those ghosts and those echoes make tonight’s voices and fingerprints and tears heavy with aliveness.

But don’t you see? (My soul asks me)  In The Now there are no ghosts- that me in the future will still be me- those moments just as real.  Surely– the moment will be different, but not lacking.  The moment has meaning not because it will end (as it surely will), but because it is here now.  And I think I am wrong about the ghosts and echoes, for that future empty table will have its own Being, just like piling up the ice had meaning, even though we knew (did we? did they even consider for a moment?) it would melt.

Now- even now!– table quiet or loud, chairs full or empty– this moment is calling you to wonder.  And though I cannot escape bracing myself for loneliness, I’m reminded that I cannot escape from a universe that is filled with the wonder of being, as long as I am.

 

 

 

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Snapshots

A snapshot:

We drove to Royal Oaks yesterday- windows down, listening to The Shins and The National, breathing in air so sweet it demanded I close my eyes to savor it.  We played on the giant (but somehow smaller now, since the kids are bigger)- tractor and firetrucks.  In the bottom of a large toy boat I peered through a porthole to ask Mae where the ship was sailing, and she said “Mackinac Island.”  The ship’s imaginary concession sold M&Ms and Skittles.

A tractor pulled a large wagon and its riders toward the back of the orchard, and we tasted our first bites of the late August crop: Zestar apples, which I kept miscalling “crispers”.  Cohen- always wary to step out of his daily regiment of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, bread, and noodles, described his reaction to the taste: “I love these,” he said, “It’s like I’m eating an apple for the first time.”  He would come home and help his dad and siblings make an apple pie, and later when he had friends over, he’d declare he “made the apple pie for them.”  (A few weeks ago, as he insisted on making cornbread muffins for dinner, he called from the kitchen “Did Bing Crosby sing in White Christmas too?”  He’s a 10 year old boy going on 60 year old gentleman and I love him for it.)

And another…

This afternoon I watched Mae attempt to “jump” on her scooter.  Upon the quick discovery that it’s difficult to get a scooter bigger than you are completely airborne, she completed a two-footed jump on the ground and then lifted the scooter up with her arms.  She’d repeat the routine: jump off the ground, lift scooter, jump off  the ground, lift scooter.  In her mind– she was jumping just like her big brother.  And the work it took to complete this task over and over again!  That’s what we’re all doing, it seems, piecing together each task as best we can, and ultimately determining for ourselves when to say “That’s it. That’s what I intended, I’ve accomplished what I set out to do.”  When you look from above and see the whole story, we’re jumping on the sides of our scooters and then lifting them and then taking pride that we jumped.  And I actually think the Storyteller finds this delightful.

And another…

At school, I have a young man who struggles with a slight stutter in class.  The first week of school, I received the most polite e-mail, with a short formal request in which he shared how he stutters and to “please be patient with him.”  My heart burst in my chest.  Of course.  Later that week, as the class circled up for discussion, he was one of the brave few to respond.  In front of everyone, patiently sorting his thoughts– patient with us, trusting we’d listen, and so patient with himself, waiting for the words to come.   He’s teaching everyone right now, I knew without quite thinking it, “He’s teaching us what it means to be human.”  Later on, as kids sat in small groups, he asked a simple question requesting clarity on some instructions I had given.  I listened, watching him work through the words, and all I could think was “there’s Jesus.” I struggle to recapture the experience with words– as the word Jesus comes with so much Evangelical and religious baggage (I find it difficult to speak about him– Jesus– with the same brazenness I’ve had in the past.)  But it’s the word I have and the story I’ve been given- and it was the only word I could muster. The boy was so perfectly teaching me what is means to be human– which of course, is all we need to be to see the Divine.

And finally…

Friday night we had friends over- and as I sat telling Sophie “just one more story” I reflected on how our first “First Friday” gathering was likely about six years ago this month.  “You were three,” I sad, not quite believing it.  Something that seems so brief to me has now been shaped into something that is her life.  That’s what is happening now- her childhood.  Her struggles, her joys– Eggo waffles in the morning and hastily completed homework sheets, good-bye kisses and midnight tugs on my shoulder in bed–  all the scenes coming together, becoming the reel that upon reflection, will simply be one Life.  There is something being shaped, something larger than myself, calling the script forward, spinning us ever-increasingly outward, like the tail of galaxy that can never quite catch itself in orbit.

“Mommy!” Cohen just called.  He runs upstairs.  “What?” I ask.  “Just touching base?”  He sighs and says “Yeah.  I just didn’t know where you were.”  I’m here, buddy, I think as I type.  Let me always be where I am.  I get to be here.  So does that boy in my classroom, the trees reaching heavenward in an orchard, even the apples that have fallen and lie decomposing on the ground– even in entropy, simply being themselves. I get to be here. So does my oldest son, and the growing  hearts and limbs and spirits that are my kids downstairs.  Like Mae, we pretend to jump and discover we’re not really pretending, and we’re patient with ourselves and others along the way.  We stare at the sky etched by the branches of  trees yearning skyward and see Life for what it is: Blessing.

 

 

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snapshots of July 2019- mostly for family

Cohen’s latest loves include hashing and rehashing the most over and  underrated players in the MLB.  He talks with Jacob in a language I understand only slightly more than Star Wars.  He loves to imitate the champs in Ninja Warrior- and I spied him doing their signature moves as he made his way off the high dive the other afternoon at the pool. (He wasn’t with anyone else he knew at the moment- so the moves were just for him.)  He can’t go to bed without reading his Snoopy or Big Nate comics, and if his friends are over, he’s making them play wiffle ball.  Jacob introduced him to Weird Al Yankovich and we lost him to the computer for over two hours.

Sophie is able to capture all the cute things the babies do and tell me the stories of everything I miss or don’t hear because sometimes it feels like there is everything going on all of the time (and other times like nothing– which is strange.)  “Mama, mama,” she says as I unload the dishwasher and wipe down the table, “Guess what Everett just said.  Guess what Mae just did.” (Well- usually flip those two subjects)  She’s constantly drawing and starting stories.  She recently just started one entitled “Teddy: My Life with the World’s Greatest Pup” and left a blank square where she wrote “Place picture here.”  She’s taking a creative writing class where she doesn’t know anyone else– and she said she loves it but she “can’t wait to write long stories.”  Her two favorite questions are: Who is your favorite Disney princess? and Who is you favorite character on the Who Was Show?    It think I have answered these questions approximately 42 times but that doesn’t stop her from asking them. She also made a map of Cary (after coloring several collages about different cities in a coloring book she and Cohen constantly fight over)– and she made sure to include the Drive Thru Burger King after Cohen suggested it.  She still hates tying her shoes and still love reading books.

Ellie shifts between playing with the big kids and the little kids.  Her latest summer loves are playing Uno (sometimes regular, sometimes Uno Attack), and War— usually with Everett.  Everett’s common lines during this experience are “I gonna win!” or “Ooooooo-no”   She loves to swim (favorites in the pool are jumping competitions and hand stand competitions).  She is also obsessed with doing head stands that always make me worried.  She dances some weird tribal dance called “Umba-lay-ahh” and we’re not quite sure why- but it’s funny.  The other night at dinner I caught the utter captivation in her eyes as Cohen and Sophie argued over something.  She hangs on their every word.  She looks more grown up than she ever has before.  She wants to explain and say so much more than she can- which often makes her sound crazy or like a sage.  This morning it was “Mama- I know how to see everything.”  Sage would have stopped there- but then she started describing pulling her shirt over her face and then taking her picture in front of a mirror and I lost the storyline.

One of Everett’s most common lines is “I getting bigger now.”  Right now he and Cohen are running from the black book shelf in my room to the bed. (Well- Cohen was- and then Everett said: “I do it toooo”  He loves to play Uno and War as much or even more than Ellie- and he was the only one along with Cohen who didn’t wind up crying after a nerf war that the big kids prepped for for over 45 minutes. (All three girls were crying within one minute of starting.)  He wrestles with Cohen and serves himself ice cream and speaks in this slow falsetto voice that makes my heart melt.

Mae loves being “beautiful” (donning necklaces and eye shadow all across her forehead) and wearing ANYthing and pretending it’s a cape while singing to Frozen.  Capes have included actual costumes, towels, and long blankets.  When she talks she TALKS and makes my heart smile because every word she says defines HISTRIONIC.  She and Everett play “chase” and “baby” and they both love following the big kids around whenever they have friends over. (And strangely enough, the big kids like it too.)  She unwraps at least four bandaids a day to cover her invisible “squito bite” she got two weeks ago.

A few days ago at story time at the library I took a seat in the back because nobody needs to sit in my lap any more.  I watched a mom with her 6 month old- I caught her holding him close for a long time- her eyes closed, her breath slow, her nose just touching the back of his head.  She knew where she was and wasn’t anywhere else. She didn’t know I was watching, and I could still cry at the beauty of it.

 

 

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Slow, children at play

 

The practical tasks of our morning routine could probably be accomplished in eight minutes.  But it’s never eight minutes– as life (thank goodness) is never just practical.

After coming in from a run, hair frizzed to the max, dripping sweat, adorned with a glob of toothpaste I had apparently not wiped from my chin- the morning kicked into gear.  Cohen had the milk and Cinnamon Toast Crunch out and Everett requested the same.  Cohen and I argued over whether or not he should donate all of his old school supplies– I won out on a few items, and he won out on others.  Seriously- the kid needs to go into conservation. 376th pencil bin for his room, here we come. (+2 minutes)  Ellie came down in a giant purple walk-a-thon T-shirt and just needed to be held for a bit, so we rocked in the gray rocking chair for approximately 30 seconds before more frozen waffles were requested for the toaster oven.  (+.5)

Cohen told me about how his favorite spot to play is catcher,  and I ignored Mae  dumping out half the syrup bottle out of the corner of my eye.  (+3/ +2) We looked for misplaced toothpaste and hair ties and socks and delayed putting on shoes until after a few rounds of “Disney Queen” dancing were completed. (They all jump out from behind “backstage” — a blanket that’s draped over an overturned coffee table). (+5)

Everett chased Cohen and Soph down the driveway before they wrestled their way into Mrs. Poe’s van, and I dropped off Ellie, hearing her say “Hi Mr. Tony,” to her gym teacher as she exited the car. (Even though “We’re supposed to call him Mr. Bruno now”) (+10 seconds).

I drove the babies/twins to Home Depot for sand for their sandbox I will likely regret buying. Out of car, into cart, out of cart, into car.  Then we made our way to Target.  Both kids had to work together to haul the giant supply of toilet paper in the cart. (+1).   They bunny-hopped down the aisles and informed me about the correct bread “papa likes to buy.”  (+2) We found a toothbrush and headbands and they said “Let’s bunny-hop some more!”  (+2). We checked out our items, accidentally double-scanning the toothbrush, and Everett got to grab the card out of the card reader.  (+2). We returned to the car. Every time we get in the vehicle they demand to get in their seats on their own. “I do it!”   Everett scales the carseat like a rock climber and must reach for the coat clip in the ceiling. If any step is skipped in the process, he must begin all over again.  This works until it…. doesn’t. (+10).

That afternoon they emptied a toy bin and piled each toy one by one on the coffee table.  Mae proceeded to create “stations”. “This is a ‘pooter station (computer), this is the baby station, this is the doggie station, this is the pencil station…and I’m the mama!” Everything was said with such gusto and confidence.  So much attention and care– such purpose. All of the stuff would get put back later, and they knew it– but it didn’t matter.

They teach me that: that it will all be put back eventually, everything will be returned. But that doesn’t matter.  We will organize and play with purpose anyway.

Recently, I saw a sign I had seen hundreds of times before: slow, children at play.  “It’s not just an instruction,” I thought.  “It’s also an observation.  Because we’re not just the people racing– we are the children too.”

Even on my very first day of summer vacation last week- filled with anticipation and peace for the rest to come– it only took about five underdogs (or “funder dogs” as Everett likes to call them) for me to be done and ready to move onto something different.  There must be something hidden there- some trick of the neurons that only the mystics must have- the ability to repeat, find joy, and repeat again.

Because there really is no where you have to be. (Well there is, but not really.) There is no race.  There is no rush- except in the races that are just for the fun of it– which is to say– all the races.

The trick of adulthood is to find enchantment in repetition- or perhaps- to cling to the truth that there is no repetition as there is only the ever-enchanted now.  After all- at tonight’s bedtime the earth will have progressed in its orbit, (you are 1.6 million miles away from where you were last night), thousands of people who were here yesterday will be here no more, and thousands more will have breathed for the first time.  Your hair grows, bones stretch, cells multiply:  and just outside your window, the same thing is happening to a nearly infinite amount of beings large and small.  Cosmic and microcosmic– all changing, all becoming, all new. Perhaps part of finding contentment in repetition is knowing that nothing is ever truly repeated.

Maybe this is part of being able to do the 17th “funderdog” and still enjoy it.

Everett hums and pushes his car up and down the side of the ouch.  Mae flips through the pages of the book she does not yet know how to read. They race to the foot of the bed and back in the rectangles of late afternoon sunshine- over and over and over again.

 

 

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Frog, Toad & Snow

Two days ago the “babies” turned three.  It snowed.  Buckets.   This is disconcerting, I told my husband as I envisioned trash islands and swiss-cheese ozone layers.  In the morning we had marveled at the big, wet flakes.  In the afternoon we watched the nearly green grass steadily disappear, and by the time I was set to make a last minute run to the grocery store before their birthday party, we stared open-mouthed at the road which was predicted to simply be  “wet”  become completely covered with snow.

I made my way to into the grocery store determined to pick up the twins’ birthday cakes and balloons, sloshing through the giant, wet puddles of slush and snow in the parking lot. It was April 14th.  Snow in March you can complain about; snow in April you just kind of stare in wonder. As I struggled to evade the deep wells of slush and water, I realized people weren’t complaining, per se, instead they appeared to be too befuddled for negativity.  What?  Really?  Three inches of snow in April?  As she handed me the two birthday cakes (one Elsa, one velociraptor), the woman at the bakery noted how there was an inch of snow outside for every year of the twins’ lives.  The clerk who filled up the balloons said her friend had triplets, and now they’re in their 40s.  “She would try to feed them with separate spoons, but eventually she gave up and just went down the line,” she smiled to herself.  “I’ve always wanted twins,” she said.  Later on, as the cashier scanned the balloons and cakes, she advised that we “should take pictures of them having a snowball fight.”

The snow still hadn’t let up when I returned home.  “Ba-oons!” they squealed with delight.  I wanted to take their pictures, so Jacob brought in the small bench from the porch outside.  “We take your picture on this bench every year,” I told them, pointing to the one from their first birthday that hangs on our family room wall.  “Except this year we have to take it inside!”  “Yeah,” they said matter-of-factly, convincing me they understood. As I took their pictures, Mae volleyed between kissing Everett on command and eying the camera with her no-nonsense, diva scowl.

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I realized Everett and Mae are like snow in April too– maybe that’s how they get away with anything– with their shenanigans of snacking on whole loaves of bread and distributing orange peels over the carpet like bits of confetti and dumping small bins of matchbox cars for the fun of it.  Their antics are like snow in April– challenging and frustrating, yes– but mostly just a source of bewilderment to the point of wonder. Really?  You just worked on opening that bag of shredded mozzarella cheese with baby scissors for the past ten minutes to eat it by the fistfuls?  Really?  It reminds me of over three years ago.    The ultrasound tech’s nails tapping on the screen: It’s twins, she informed.   You’re sure, really?  Confusion, to shock, to wonder.

After the party we read Frog and Toad.  We read about how Toad cannot come up with a story to tell Frog when Frog lies sick in bed.  Frustrated that he cannot think of a tale for his friend who is feeling “green”, Toad chooses to walk back and forth on the porch in an attempt to find inspiration. He even bangs his head (literally) on a wall to come up with a story– only to exhaust himself with trying, winding up in the bed himself. So Frog, now upright and feeling better, tells Toad a story instead, and it is simply the story of Toad’s trying.  He tells the story that was there all along, because it was the story he had been given.  There is always a story- even if it’s just the story of what is.  How often do we discover that in our attempts to find a story, we have already been living one.

The night of their birthday, Mae fell asleep clutching her tube of M&M’s from her great-aunt.  Everett had to be replaced in bed several times.  I kissed them long and hard- my babies who aren’t really babies.  Clutching the moment so I could feel it, weirdly smelling their hair and smoothing their temples. They are the story I have been given.

Now, two days later, Sunday’s snow has melted.  Now, three years later, they walk and talk.  Yesterday- the middle day– between the beginning and the end– I noticed how the large clumps of wet snow on the newly budding branches might also be flowers in the right light.

 

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Holding the sand

Like sand through a sieve, time slips through my hands, and as I read to Everett and Mae, I realize I can no longer see over the heart-shaped space that is their heads meeting.   They’re too tall. Time sketches angles in Sophie’s cheekbones and broadness in Cohen’s shoulders and fullness into Ellie’s curls.  I pull into work and out of work and into work again, keys in, keys out.  I teach one year, five years, ten years.  I see the dashboard of my car;  I’m in the parking lot, reaching for the car handle, pushing the door into summer heat, closing it to the sting of winter, and opening it tomorrow for spring.  It’s moving that quickly:  in, out, open, shut, sleep, arise.

Everything is moving so quickly now; it always is.  We brush off skin and chop hair and clip toe nails. Growing and moving toward an end that we know is coming as surely as we know the eyes of our spouse.  That is to say- we know them, but we will never quite know them completely, as we also know within them is their own abyss, their own universe which is large and vastly unexplored.

I needed to write today.  I write to stretch  the seconds, stretch them out like a rubber bands, to create a space in the stillness between them. I see time slipping and I write to remind myself I’m here, to mark an unmoving space in this earth that never stops; I want to put a flag in that space and on the flag it will say: I am!

If I’m honest, I write to not be lost.

But perhaps nothing that lives is lost.

Since I have been, I’ve been breathing, and I write to hold the breaths, to feel them in my palms and observe them like small worlds, each one holding infinite detail.  I write to hold the seconds; perhaps I write to become part of the ever-slipping sand, since I know it is fruitless to hold it.

Words cannot capture the sway of Mae’s hair, how the light blonde strands swing horizontally like a pendulum.  Words cannot capture the gentle heat of another human hand or the vastness of a star or cell.  And try as they might, words will never be able to capture Truth.

And yet- the space between the words might.  There in that space we feel the hum of connection that sounds something like “I know” and “me too”.  The space in between the words will stretch out the seconds just long enough for us to be fully alive.  That space holds the moments, just like time holds reality, even though we know full well reality is too big to be held.

Right now, Cohen is laughing at something he read in Big Nate, a car’s wheels screech outside, and Ellie’s breath ebbs and flows like waves.

I write.

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Enchantment

Prepping a lesson on Norse Mythology—(do I google Thor?  I briefly panicked.)   I stumbled across this:  The Norse believed in an enchanted world.  That is, they didn’t “feel the need to seek salvation from the world, but instead delighted in, and marveled at, the way things are.”

******

“How do you make a good pork chop?” I texted my mom.  I should really know these things by now- mid thirties, five kids, I’m a lady who should know how to cook a decent pork chop.  But I didn’t, and so I asked my mom.  I’m thankful I could ask my mom.  My co-workers who have lost their mothers have told me they wish they could text their moms all the time, with silly questions like how to make pork chops, and serious questions like what should they tell their daughters about dating and beauty and friendship.  But mine was here, and she answered within minutes, and I was grateful.  Coat it with an egg, breadcrumbs, and fry it up in olive oil, she texted back.

I made the porkchops while Everett and Mae scooped out ranch dressing with their bare hands from the center of a veggie tray.  They sat on the island in their diapers, and Ellie shaded in her “sets of ten” on her homework.  She asked me: “Do you think we’ll do boxes of twenty next?”  And I said, “Maybe you will even do addition.”  And she said “oooooooo” like she had just seen a cool magic trick (but only after asking what addition was first.)

Cohen and Jacob missed dinner because the poor kid was getting poked and prodded and made all kinds of itchy by his yearly allergy test.  “He was so mature,” Jacob couldn’t stop gushing when they arrived home.  “So tough.  I— I just couldn’t believe it.”  And his eyes got all watery at the thought of Cohen’s “grown-ness”. In fairness, Jacob’s eyes can get watery at almost anything. Just yesterday he recounted a commercial in which packages were delivered “from the viewpoint of the package.” He tried to explain more, except he couldn’t, because there was “just something about those people opening their doors for those packages.” (When we were first dating in college, we watched the Rock Island Labor Day parade, and an old man with kind eyes placed candy in each of our palms.  No one else could see it, but we did.  We cried then too.  Enchantment.)

After dinner– 15 minutes late– we finally arrived at Ellie’s “investiture” ceremony for her Daisy troop.  The five-year-old girls stood in a line, uncharacteristically quiet  because they noticed the four short rows of plastic folding chairs for the “audience” turned toward them.  The small church multi-purpose room had become a stage of sorts,  and their blue vests stood out against the flourescent-lit white walls; a space that had nothing personal about it became special, important.  The girls stared at the onlooking smiling parents and committed to uphold the girl scout law, and they got pumpkin and ghost sugar cookies to commemorate the occasion.  Do you know that kids still believe that it is special to pledge to be their best selves?  (Special enough for cookies!)

When we returned home, I showed Jacob our new “Daisy” and the babies quickly followed him downstairs, still naked from their baths.  I made up a weird song “We got a Daisy, [pause] We got a Brownie [pause] , We got two-ooo naaaaa-ked Babies.”  There was a rhythm, and the kids found it and danced.  After football, Cohen got dropped off by a coach who had bought the kid a quesadilla for dinner because there are good people who lead Daisy troops and coach football teams and even knit together in church basements on rainy September nights like this one.  (The wizened knitters were in the room next to the hopeful girl scouts, old and young, separated by an ordinary beige partition.)

Last weekend Jacob and I watched “Won’t you Be My Neighbor?”, a documentary about Fred Rogers. (Good Lord, if we cry at old men in parades and commercials about packages you might correctly predict we created a brief monsoon watching this one.) In a commencement speech, Mr. Rogers told the recent graduates that there was no need for them to do anything sensational, that they were loved as they are.  After a hell of an afternoon- in which I showed up late, added too much season- salt to the porkchops (Damn!)  and probably barked commands more than I listened– grace let me see there was something more to the story, something real.  Enchantment in it all, not beyond it.

 

 

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Lose the legacy.

Tonight Jacob stayed late for parents’ night at his school.  Would I survive? I prepped myself with a very-berry hibiscus on my way to pick up the kids.  (I never feel more suburban than when I am jamming Everett and Mae in their carseats with the bribery of scones from Starbucks.)  Before making it through the drive-thru, they were cashed out in their carseats.  Both of their necks tilted to the right, both their chins touched their chests like, well– like twins.  (Except Everett was sweatier.)

I waved enthusiastically to Soph as she made her way to the car in her mint green, horse-patterned dress.  She lost her glasses this morning, and her hair was down.  She skipped a bit when she saw me.  As we drove up West Main, we saw Cohen and waved.  He waved back, but with the cooler reserve of his new 4th-grade-walk-to-school-self.  We pulled into the driveway where my mom, Cam, and Ellie were sipping freeze pops.  After saying bye to Gaga, (and waking Everett and Mae up with a freeze pop of their own), I asked them the daily litany of questions about school.  Ellie sang two songs in music and “ran” in gym.  “Did you do anything else in gym?” “No,” she said.  Sophie was allowed to pick out free- reading books today, and she informed me incredulously that someone was allergic to raspberries, plums, and milk in her class.  Ellie said the spelling of “all of her colors right” but just because Gaga told her the “secret” of looking at the word on the crayon.  Cohen is going on a trip to the library– he played gaga ball at recess and had strawberries with his hotdog at lunch.  I listened and got distracted and tried to listen some more.

I made spaghetti for dinner and made myself feel better about my motherhood by adding cucumbers and green beans that no one would eat for sides.  The kids chased each other with blankets over their heads back and forth across the family room a bit.

Soph and Ellie eventually came up for baths and determined that they would play “Kiara and Kovu.” After prying them out of the tub 15 minutes later, Sophie admitted she had forgotten to play because she was “daydreaming about Christmas.”  After baths, they became “tiny eggs” under their towels and Mae demanded that I “boe-dyer” her hair.  We tried to all read in bed.  We tried.  Everett got kicked and Ellie got shoved and Sophie quickly left after her Samantha Saves the Day chapter was over.  But there was a moment (approximately 30 seconds) when they all were lying quietly as I read Don’t Forget the Oatmeal for the hundredth time and there was a bit of peace.

I rocked Everett and Mae.  Everett climbed out of bed, then Mae climbed out of bed, and finally Everett started snoring.  Mae sobbed by her door when I went to tuck in the other kids.  I “blanket-tucked” Cohen in his “cave” (the small column of space between his bed and his wall).  I tucked in the girls and Ellie started to scream.  Sophie demanded headphones which made Ellie scream louder and I said “Mama’s gonna blow a gasket!”  Soph said, “What’s a gasket?” and I said “It means I won’t be able to control my temper.” And Ellie said: “What’s a temper?”  I told her I’d come back in 5 minutes for more kisses.

Today we heard a speaker at school (the annual “kick-off-the-year” assembly) who cheerleaded the crowd of high school students into “leaving a legacy” by “helping others when no one is looking.”  Here’s the thing though–  I’m sort of done with the leaving a legacy advice. It’s not that any of that is bad, and we should help others when no on is looking.  But maybe the really heroic thing is to find the joy and sacredness with or without the legacy.  The joy and the very real ache of being human, co-mingling side by side.  Nothing– no action or vocation or travel or service– will completely fulfill you; there will always be moments you feel empty.  But being okay with this might be the closest you’ll actually get to feeling full.

Ellie told me to come back 10 times, so I’m off.  Jacob- are you home yet?

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Wonder as peace.

Last week I memorized the 23rd psalm. I haven’t memorized any prayers since grade school, but Texas and Indiana and North Korea just got to be a little too much. I realized I was afraid as I would carefully braid Ellie’s hair or gently hold Mae’s hand or kiss Everett’s cheeks, because when I did these things, I would ask: What does this all matter? What does it matter when I have to let them go out into a world that I can’t control? I’ll kiss their scrapes and clean their fingernails and make sure their blankets are tucked up under their chins– but what is it all for when the world doesn’t care?

And here’s the thing: there are only moments to think “what is it all for?” when there are moments to think at all. In short- letting yourself think can be scary. So before I memorized the 23rd psalm, I did a far safer thing to avoid thinking: I cleaned. (You’d never be able to tell, because as I picked up the pieces to Connect Four Mae was literally dumping out hundreds of dominoes– a veritable GIF for futility.) As far as avoidance and escapism goes, I suppose chronic power washing and decluttering is about as innocuous as you can get– but I’m still aware enough to know they are my escapes nonetheless. And what the heck? My house is still a mess. (There was a fork in the closet today. A fork in the closet.)

But when I eventually had to stop cleaning to rock Mae in the darkness- I brought my fear forth. I laid it at the alter and said I was so scared because the world doesn’t understand. I guess I chose to leave the fork on the closet floor and sit in the darkness instead. I whispered the 23rd psalm, and I felt something a little like peace. Which is also something like: you are loved, you are blessed, you are chosen. And so are they.

A few days later,the seven of us drove north amidst the seemingly endless plains of corn and soybeans along Rt 39, with only the occasional barn and silo to interrupt the horizon line. As I drove, the sun began to set to my left. I watched as what was once a full circle morphed to a half circle to a mere glow within minutes. A bona fide time lapse video. Mae was the only one awake and was demanding that we play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on repeat. “Tar! Tar!” she would cry. So we played it, and the music swelled– and I saw the fading orb to the west, vast and diminishing, dying as it gave life. Anything but little, anything but merely twinkling. And in my mind’s eye I saw the billions of other stars operating as the axis points of galaxies far vaster than our own. For a few seconds, I returned to wonder. I broke out of the mechanization and monotony by a means far better than fear– I broke free through wonder.

I get how all of this might not be everyone’s jam. Like- Liz- stop all the sentimentality and just go enjoy some sushi and wine and West World podcast. But I can’t, (at least, not yet) because I have learned that wonder is how I return to peace.

Even now as I type, I picture Mae as an old woman, driving north along Rt 39 in her self-driving car. There will be no need to stare out the window at the setting sun. She could just as easily be on her phone.  She will have to choose to look at the sunset herself.  And she will.  “Star,” she will say with astonishment. “Star!”

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Forget the point

I’ve been bored lately.  “I feel like a machine,” I told someone at work recently.  “I’m too efficient for my own good,”  I’m either in task mode, checking off the boxes, or I’m sedentary.  Those are my two speeds.  It’s all or nothing with me, baby.  I’m either walking away from you as you’re talking to me because I’ve got more productive things to do, or I’m falling asleep.  Maybe this isn’t true, but it feels true.

Today Sophie learned how to ride a bike.  I backed the Expedition into the driveway and kids tumbled out the doors, stripping off coats even though it wasn’t quite 40 degrees.  Sophie asked me to get her bike, a hand-me-down from our neighbor whose daughter is now in junior high; the bike’s frame pale blue and slightly scratched, the pedals a bit wobbly on their pegs.  I heaved the bike out from under the mounting pile of Stuff in the garage, pulling it from scooters and baseball bats and empty girl scout cookie boxes.

She said “don’t let go” and I clasped my right hand under her left armpit as she mounted the bike.  She leaned dangerously close to me and I held her hard, she steered in circles so tight I was pivoting on my left foot.  “Make the circle bigger,” I instructed.  “I can’t!” she cried.  Eventually the circles got bigger, she leaned less and less.  Soon I wasn’t pivoting, but instead running beside her.  “Don’t let go!” she cried.  “I won’t,” I said firmly, my hand now gently cupping her elbow. The length of my stride increased; I was no longer pivoting anymore, but loping along next to her like a focused, crazed cat.  Jacob found his phone and began to film.  We were getting close.  She would only turn in the direction that leaned her body toward me.  “Try to turn right,” I told her. “I can’t turn right!” she giggled, pedaling faster, her speed increasing.

And then there was a moment when I knew.  I knew I could let go.  Her hair fell out in wisps from underneath her pink and yellow helmet, her eyes squinting in the cold March breeze, her gaze set and determined.  I jogged next to her, my hand no longer holding her elbow.  “You’re doing it,” I said excitedly.  “Do you feel it, Soph?   You’re riding your bike!”  And I got this view, this glance from just a few feet away, of a smile that couldn’t be contained by her mouth.

—-

When I thought I was bored, I wrote a note to snap me out of efficiency-mode and hung it on the fridge.   It said “Do something pointless.”  I took it down within the hour because I didn’t want people to see it and not understand, but I try to remember it anyway.  “Sit on the floor,” my co-worker told me.  And she’s right.  The kids will find  me within minutes. They’ll stop climbing on the counters and coloring on the floor and maybe even fiddling around with my phone. They’ll pile on top of me and I won’t be asleep, and I also won’t be productive, but I might be a little more me.

And I’ll start to notice.  I’ll see how Cohen spent a half an hour constructing a cardboard, golden “T” trophy in order to present his friends with “award” certificates he created online.  Levi: Big Catches, he wrote, AJ: best football player.  “Why is the trophy shaped like a T?” Jacob asked.  “Because it’s the T awards,” he said matter-of-factly.  Sophie wrote a story about a new girl in class who was supposed to be a witch, but as it turns out, was only just a wearing her costume for the school play.  Ellie cut out shape after shape in a coloring book only to re-paste them on other sheets of construction paper to illustrate her own story.  Mae lined up crayons, Everett lined up cars, both in neat little rows, carefully moving one object, then the next, then the next.  Over and over again, they put their toes behind imaginary lines; I count One, Two, Three and they run to me and laugh as I swing them up into my lap. They run back to the same starting line and run again toward the finish-  starting line, finish, starting line, finish, again and again and again.

When I’m bored I stop noticing.  I stop paying attention.   And I think it’s a sin to not notice- or for me it feels that way.  We watched Lady Bird last weekend and a very practical nun asked “Don’t you think they’re the same thing?  Love and paying attention?”  And I remembered that the truest things are the things we have known all along, but have maybe just forgotten.

The weirdly beautiful thing is that in the letting go of the “point” we notice something a little like meaning and aliveness, or something as close to those things as we are going to get.  Grace creeps in unexpectedly.  In the fierce pedaling of a seven year old, in the choice to sit on the floor, in the running from start to finish just for the joy of running.   We notice and we remember the thing we have known all along: this is what love is.

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