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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To see a boy

Last Friday night, a brood of nine-year-old boys skidded around the corners of my living room in their socks, jumping to greet each new friend as he appeared at our doorway.  They wore hoodies and sweatpants and addressed each other by “dude”. There were four altogether, but it felt like forty.

They immediately picked up hockey sticks and without clearing away any of the scattered blocks, dolls, and toy vehicles from the basement floor, proceeded to have a game (that would last ten minutes before devolving into a version of girls against boys warfare because Sophie and Ellie had made their way to the basement. Oh sisters.)

They’d stampede upstairs upon arrival of pizza and their feet would curl around the bottom of their kitchen chairs, their legs just now long enough to touch the ground. They would talk about nothing and everything in frenetic bursts, and in another ten minutes they were up in Cohen’s room (“wow! That’s messy!”) eating chocolate chip cookies under a desk covered by a blanket that had become a “cookie fort.”

Nine trips around the sun make for this odd amalgam of big and little, of quirkiness and curiosity, of innocence and experience.   The boys volleyed back and forth between these  worlds, and the evening became this ebb and flow, this rhythm of little to big and back again.  At one point in the night, an argument sat at the tip of their tongues- who would have to be the “seeker” in a game of hide and seek? (whole house version, of course. Basement included!)   “Dude- no, I’m not it!”-playful shoves in the chest, “Dude- no, not me!”  And then– innocence again- gangly legs and bony elbows shoved in a tight circle to perform a round of “Bubblegum, bubblegum” in order to “fairly” nominate the victim.

Later, I would hear enthusiastic commands toward Alexa to play the latest Imagine Dragons song only to be followed by a round of “Pink fluffy unicorns”.  They wanted nothing to do with the girls. At one point in the night Ellie repeated at least seven times “guys, I’m in karate!” with virtually no response from the boys whatsoever, but later in the evening, during a raucous nerf gun battle, they commended her for suggesting that the troops “head into mama’s room!”– (Good god- don’t look at the laundry!)  “Nice job Sergeant….” the young lieutenant reached into the recesses of his mind for the name of the girl who had been trying to get some verbal reaction from him the entire night…. “Ellie!” she reminded him proudly, “Sergeant Ellie!”

This ebb and flow continued until the end of the evening when dads trudged through the snow-covered walks for pick up.  Cohen lay on the couch, exhausted and sugar-stuffed, this fusion of big and little now tired and quiet. (Youth in his drooping, smooth cheeks and age in the increasing definition of his eyes.)

Yesterday he was different, and tomorrow he will be, too.  But for a little bit that night, it was the now I noticed.

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Broken Drummer Boy

Christmas has recently erupted in all of its glittery, commercial glory  in our home, and each new piece of decor is met with Everett and Mae’s inquisitive stares.  For the past few days, they have awakened to some new red and green monstrosity in our family room: a tall, sparkly snowman with its cracked carrot nose, blinking colored lights around the kitchen window that is already adorned with garland, and eventually the the nine-foot Christmas tree residing in the corner which used to house their playpen.  What must they be thinking?    Have all of our fridge-scouring and pantry-foraying antics finally pushed mom and dad off the deep-end?  Now we’ve done it.  That last onslaught into the pancake mix must have been the final straw- the ‘rents are actually cutting down giant trees and heaving them inside.  Totally nutso.

The lengths we went to decorate!  It’s so weird.  We made holes in the wall to hang a “drummer boy” wreath.  We’ve lost both of the drummer boy’s sticks so he just looks like he is giving REVOLUTION! fists with both of his upturned hands.  We’ve got a snowflake banner hung across our basement which I precisely and painstakingly thumbtacked to the wall, all the while ignoring the legos that crunched under my feet.  I made Jacob buy white quilt stuffing so I could arrange it in a purposely haphazard way around two holiday candle holders, only noting after the fact the weirdness of candle holders in snow.  I bought Ellie a ridiculous fancy “holiday” top to wear, and only after she tried it on did I realize she looked less like the chic fashionista I had envisioned and more like an ungroomed sheepdog.  We chopped down a tree in the pouring rain because the tree farm is out of town and it was the only day we could.  The place wasn’t even open.  We caught the unsuspecting owner pulling out of his driveway and he looked at his visitors– cold and wet and expectant, and said “sure, just leave the check in the mail box.  Here’s a saw.”

We do crazy things in the name of tradition at Christmas time, and I don’t think we’re the only ones.

Both sets of neighbors were outside this weekend, wrestling with piles of cords, balancing giant candy canes precariously from garage frames and carefully arranging fake reindeer amidst foliage. Have we all gone crazy?  Or is there a point to all of this tradition?  I’m willing to bet there’s a point, as long as we acknowledge it’s not THE point.  Because, of course, what we’re trying to create is not sugar cookies or gingerbread houses or intricately architected Christmas villages. Whether we have kids or not, what we’re creating with all of these things that we can taste and touch and smell is a feeling.  A feeling of HOME, a feeling of peace we can harken back to in the midst of a chaotic world.

And I think maybe when we acknowledge that it’s CRAZY it becomes a little less crazy.  I’m aware enough to know the season is not about the hustle or the lists.  Or tasty cheese balls.  The tradition is not the point, but it can help lead us to the point, which is (as usual): love & each other.

Thanks for wrestling with your Christmas lights this year.   Also it’s okay if you don’t. But if you do your crazy, do it guilt-free and with joy, because anything that leads us back to the point, however empty the drummer boy’s hands, is worth doing.

 

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Working hard at work worth doing

Today is another day.

We pulled in after school and Cohen raced to his scooter, handle bars dare-devishly adjusted to their lowest level, his helmet dangling unbuckled from his head.  I unloaded Everett and took off his sweaty shoes and kissed his smelly feet and returned to the garage to unload Mae.   The girls found brownies and their way inside, and we sat around the paper-laden kitchen table feeding Everett little crumbs of chocolate which quickly spread like muddy goo across his cheeks.

Minutes passed, Cohen returned, and Sophie said “what can we do?”  Cohen chucked a new “Capital Mystery” book in my lap,  and the big kids scattered around my shoulders and squished couch cushions in the way we nag them not to squish.  I opened to chapter one and said “Where’s Mae?” and found her on top of the kitchen table chewing a marker and fanning napkins out over the floor like large wads of confetti.  I made my way back to the book and the couch and the misshapen cushions and made it to page two before Mae was back on the kitchen table again– tongue blue from her teal marker– smile wide and mischievous– palms sticky and clutching now unusable napkins that we will probably use anyway.

We managed to finish a chapter and Cohen laid out several pieces of cut-out notebook paper across the floor, explaining the different rooms of an army base he had created.  He had a pool on the roof.  “I just– ” he laughed to himself, “I just don’t know why I put that pool on the roof!” he kept on giggling.  The babies climbed atop the book trunk to tumble over the arm of the couch and continued to bounce precariously on the ill-shapen lumps of the remaining cushions.  Ellie sat behind me twisting my hair into a pony tail and Sophie lay sprawled in the big chair trying to sound out every other word in another mystery book.  I listened and watched and was happy.

Jacob walked in from his dentist appointment and a now somehow shirtless Mae buried her head in his knees; he kissed the other kids’ heads and Mae still clutched him, and he hugged her long and hard because she was in need of an extra long hug.  Cohen made his way downstairs and we felt the tiredness of Thursday– Ellie screamed for me to hold her while Cohen moaned that he didn’t understand his math homework, and I had to lock the former out of the latter’s room in order to help brush up on my 3rd grade addition skills.  Ellie found a cracked cue tip to pop the lock and bust into the room, and Cohen managed to drag out the entire process by writing with his left hand, but eventually the homework was done and we were around the table.  Bumping into one another we carried water filled glasses and crumbly garlic bread; we slid forks across the table into hands, and Jacob prayed “God help us not go crazy.”

There was talking all at once and then there was sometimes quiet– quiet even I was too tired to disturb with my “how was recess, how was lunch,” litany of questions. Cohen hustled (slowly) into his cleats and futilely searched for his flags for football practice and eventually left without them.  The big girls played “Marissa and Mario”, crawling under tables and roaring like lions and chasing the babies around. “They are the monkeys,” I was informed.  I jammed markers and seemingly endless bits of paper into the art cabinet, and swore to myself about the way the previous cleaner uppers had decided to store the crayons, which fell like a colorful torrent off the shelves.

After several pleas and threats, the girls eventually found the shower, and I wrangled the babies into giant white t-shirts before putting them to bed.  I sniffed the towels on the floor, decided they were clean, and calmed Ellie as she screamed that soap was in her eyes.  We were lying in bed reading Junie B Jones and The Million Dollar Mystery when we heard Jacob and Cohen walk in from practice.  Jacob told me he was impressed with the clean kitchen.  “It was a shit show,” I tell him.

Tomorrow we will get up and do it again- we will choose to work hard at work worth doing.  Whatever is in front of us– whether it be tending to the young, tending to the old, or just treating yourself with tenderness– this is the work worth doing.  At making a life for the people we love, as annoying and belligerent and smelly as they can be.  We will do the honorable thing of choosing the next right thing, and it will be sacred and monotonous, and probably semi-boogery.  But there will be beauty in the mire, for there is most assuredly beauty to be found in the hard work of being our best selves.  This good work is enough, just like you are enough. Cheers to not going crazy!

 

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Love

Three days ago, thanks to my amazing sister and brother-in-law, I became an aunt for the first time.

I was reminded of the newness of it all– the careful cradling of the neck, the tiny arms through tinier sleeves and seemingly endless snaps and swaddles.  The newborn latch, (is he getting enough milk?  do I have enough milk? should it hurt like this?)  The minuscule nose– is it being squished by my swaddle, by my elbow, by my boob?  When did he poop last?  Which side did I nurse last?  Yikes- his nails are small and those clippers are sharp.  Should he have a pacifier this early?  Is nipple confusion a thing?  He only wants to sleep in my arms….

There will be countless more questions– some of the questions will have clear answers, most won’t, and some will even have different clear answers depending on the time and place.

When we visited today, there was a moment when the gaggle of cousins was corralled downstairs bouncing on couches and chucking remotes when I found a time to join my sister as she fed her new baby boy in the nursery.  She sat in the rocker and sunlight seeped gently into the room behind her through closed blinds.  I watched her nurse her baby and noticed how she was enamored, absolutely captivated; I sat in the nursery at her feet watching and there was no one in the room but them.  I saw how the previous questions hung lightly in the air, almost like floating words– until they evaporated gently into a mist and finally were gone.  And all that was left was my beautiful sister staring at her baby with a love so strong you could scoop it up in your hands.   And the questions didn’t matter anymore.

I still remember what someone wrote in a card after Cohen was born: “remember,” the mother of four grown boys wrote to me, “just when it becomes overwhelming, it will become fleeting.”  My sister has been ushered into an existence in which she will be utterly and irrevocably needed.  Just as we all are needed– to hold one another up and bear witness to the beauty that surrounds us.

And in this vocation, in this call to fulfill Need, you will likely find yourself empty, completely exhaled; you will have spent everything in this great exhaling, to find that the only next possible step is to breathe in again, to be filled, by the air that will be so thick with love you will taste it.

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The most important thing

Dear Cohen, Sophia, & Ellie- (and eventually Everett & Mae– when you can understand words and become more than just your “spark”)

I want you to know something– know something about yourselves, that is more important than being smart, being creative, being joyful.

I want you to know that there is an outside you and an inside You.  The outside you (here I imagine drawing a crudely shaped stick figure) is important because it is how we understand who we are and how to be part of the world. The outside you is most often created by what people say about you, and even what we say about ourselves.   Sometimes these things are good, happy things! “Cohen- great job on your spelling test!” “Sophie, what a beautiful picture!” “Ellie- you always bring the joy!”  But sometimes things people say can make us feel sad, too. “We are the mean girls- and you’re not allowed to play!” “Dude- you’re so slow you can’t play with us at recess.”  Maybe one day a sad thing might be “You did not make this team” or “You cannot go to college here” or “We just can’t be friends.”

But even though the outside you is REAL and important, there is something INSIDE you that is more important, something even MORE Real (how cool is that?)

Don’t forget the inside You. (Now, I imagine drawing a spark on the inside of crudely drawn stick figure.)  This You cannot change– for better or worse.  No matter how many times Mommy says “Great reading!” or a bully says “You can’t be my friend.”  No matter how many pimples are on your face or math facts are in your brain.  This spark won’t change.  And listen to this (this is really incredible!)– the inside You can watch the outside you when you are sad– and it will tell you, “It is okay to be sad, but don’t forget Me.  I’m in here, and I’m not going anywhere, and I don’t change. You can lean on me when you are sad and angry and happy.  I can help you feel those things because I am bigger than those things.”

The next time you are sad or happy- watch your tears and your laughter with your Spark.  Your spark is the lovely thing that makes you Cohen- makes you Sophie- makes you Ellie.  It is the Really Real- the YOU in you– that knows without words that it is Loved no matter what.

In many important stories, the spark is called Soul, or Spirit, and is as close as the air we breathe.

Thank you for being you,

Love,

Mom

The Koine Greek word ψυχή psychē, “life, spirit, consciousness”, is derived from a verb meaning “to cool, to blow”, and hence refers to the breath.
 

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Thoughts on lightness & joy

In the heaviness of life, there exists a lightness– and this lightness might be the secret to joy.

Snapshots of Lightness 

We have make-shift weather experiments all over our house because Cohen read a children’s almanac that said George Washington was interested in meteorology when he was a kid.  A cup is collecting rain in the driveway, a straw with a hunk of play-doh at the end has become a make-shift barometer, and notecards with ten-day forecasts are scattered across our kitchen countertops.****Tonight at dinner Jacob and I were talking about the 1960s and hippie protests and Vietnam; ten minutes into our conversation Ellie waves one hand wildly in the air (the other hand clamped on her mouth– a strategy learned in pre-school) and asks “What are dippies?” ****Cohen organized a mock-election for president of the “house” and we all had to write our “platforms” down on notecards and Sophie’s said “I promise to get Ellie’s shirt down for her on Mondays.” ***Mae and Everett knocked multiple decks of cards off a bookshelf, and they held the cards up to me like they were precious gems, like they were sparkling jewels spilling through their chubby miner’s hands.  They said”ahh” with their mouths and “look here!” with their eyes and I left the piled treasure on the floor in fear I would forget the cards’ secret value.

Do you ever feel happy, but feel like you’re not allowed to tell anyone? That by seeing the “lightness” of life you are somehow denying its inherent pain?   I feel that if I were to speak in the way I write, at best, I’m ignorant, at worst, a liar. I somehow feel as if acknowledging my happiness would make me naive, false, incomplete.

But ignoring the joy that comes from seeing the lightness is like a starving person watching another person who has access to food choose to be starving.  My not eating isn’t saving them, it is starving all of us.  I’m sitting there, staring at a feast, and choosing not to eat because someone else can’t eat.  Which means we are all STARVING, sitting there staring at the thing that can save us.

Never apologize for proclaiming to see what is right before your eyes.  If I cannot own the joy that is before me, how can I ever expect to bring joy to others? We don’t share happiness to prove that we’re superior, we share our own joy to affirm that joy can be found for all.

So this is what I see: If you are ALIVE you are now HOLDING what will one day be no more.  Even with your own kids grown, or no kids at all, you look up and you see the light of a star which at that very same moment– that light-hits-retinas-moment– might also be dust.


After school– papers scattered, babies unhooked from carseats, vanilla ice cream scooped into bowls for hungry kids.  I’m seven different places, deciding whether we should thaw the shrimp or call for a pizza, staring at the lawn that has turned into a jungle, taking Sophie’s temperature and making sure Mae doesn’t plummet out of a rocking chair.  Cohen asks us to read Scholastic News with him, and I almost want to laugh at the impracticality of it (it’s not even homework!) but I don’t, because he’s sitting there at the kitchen table, marveling at the length of whale sharks, and Everett has stopped crying because he’s found a basket of napkins to dump out, and Jacob has volunteered to read the final paragraph from an article entitled “The Tooth Mystery.”

“This story shows that you can find treasures anywhere” he reads, “even hidden in a pile of rocks. So explore and keep your eyes open. Who knows what you’ll find!”

 

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Hands in the dark.

I rock Mae in the dark, and I hear Everett roll over on his side to discover that I’m still in the room.  The mattress creaks as he pulls himself up, standing quietly to watch us, his chin just over the rail of his crib.  From her seat in my lap, Mae reaches up her hand toward Everett, and he extends his chubby, open palm toward her’s.  They mostly are trying to stay awake– I know– and I am mostly trying to get them to sleep– but I find myself guiding Mae’s hand toward her brother so their fingers can link. One’s fingers in another’s palm a few seconds before parting.  As long as the rocker is facing the crib, they do this again and again- stretch their arms out in the dark to find one another.  Sometimes their tiny arms flail and they fail, and I grab their hands with my own instead.  But usually, I guide their hands to find one another, because there is something that feels more right about that.

———

Ellie drew a sailboat for Jacob and a rainbow for Gaga and she wrote the word “hear” for me.  No joke– no pictures either.  Just four large, crudely shaped letters.  “Why did you write this?” I asked.  “I asked Gaga how to spell it,” was her answer.  “Hear.”  Simple enough.

——–

It was quiet in the nail salon; I was the only customer, Lynn the only worker, and I put down my phone to talk to her. I asked about her son, remembering a time he had been working with his mom, a quirky kid of about 11 who read me an entire puppet show he had written that afternoon while he helped scrub water basins and adjust settings on massage chairs.  I brought up the memory I had of him (the kid was truly endearing), and Lynn asked about my job teaching English and her concern for how her son (now an eighth grader) might not get into honors classes in high school.  “Did he take a test?” I asked. “Yes,” she said.  Then a pause. “But that was just after my mom died.”   She spoke quickly, her English broken.  “And he, he was very close with her.”  She tried to find the words to describe what we all know– the feeling of how difficult it is to return to an unchanged world when you have been completely changed by grief.  “You know, I cancel everything that week, and I not remember anything,” she says quickly, describing her own reaction to her mom’s death.  She goes on to tell me about how she knows he didn’t do as well on the test as he could have because it was so soon after the death of his grandma.

“Li–”  she says, (She never says the Z in my name.)  “Li, you know who I call about the classes?  Who I talk to?”  She hands me a pad of paper, “Li– you write down what I say.  Because, you know– I don’t want to sound crazy.”

Hear.  Write.

Maybe that’s what I’m supposed to do right now.  Remind you you aren’t crazy.  You aren’t crazy.  You have everything you need to know within you.

I’ll listen to my life and I’ll write some stuff down.

I’ll write about my life, which is in some ways your life, and it will be like two small hands  meeting in the dark- led by a larger Hand who could very well hold us fiercely in its grip, but instead releases us so we can hold the hands of one another.

 

 

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BSC!

It rained all weekend.  We didn’t do anything we should have done.

Instead, in an utterly irrational move, I spent a half an hour cleaning out the basement storage closet in order to get to my giant bin of old Baby-Sitters Club books.  Cohen read one a while back and was interested in finding more.  So I vacuumed up old easter egg candy wrappers and little styrofoam berries that had fallen off the Christmas wreaths and burrowed my way like some crazed mole back into the boxes of junk.  Behind the old wedding centerpieces and high school memorabilia box, I found the two treasures I was aiming for: a collection of the shiny, pastel-covered paper-backs by Ann M. Martin, and a couple of my own baby-sitters club stories (fan-fiction, baby!): first, Aloha Baby-Sitters.  I ran my hand over the plain aqua cardstock and I imagined my dad binding the pages together with his “binding machine.”   I still had the rejection letter I received from Scholastic Books after pitching the idea to them (though Ann would write her own Aloha Baby-Sitters a year later.)    The second: A Baby-Sitters Club Reunion, True Friends Are Forever.  This one was co-authored with my best friend, Marie (the ‘copyright’ notes a “Schmutteneimers” publication).  We had imagined what the BSC members would be doing ten years after high school graduation.  The plot included a major hurricane, a birth of a baby, and the return of drunken step-father.  We had predicted Internet chats in 1996.  Also holophones.

As I tenderly unpacked each of the books from the bin, stacking more junk (heirlooms!) upon the piles of junk in our family room, I recalled some of my favorite titles.  “Snowbound!” I squealed.  “I re-wrote this entire thing into a screenplay!”  The kids were all ears.  “We wrote the credits on a giant whiteboard,” I gushed.  “And there was this scene, where someone gets stranded in a car, and Kristy goes on a date with Bart and…”

“You’re like a trauma victim who’s suddenly remembering every detail from the scene of a crime,” Jacob said.

Cohen requested my story when he went to bed.  I read the entire thing.

IMG_0457

The 33 year old me didn’t organize her closet, mow the lawn, buy her sister’s shower invites, or check off anything else on her growing to-do list.  But the 12 year old me found a rapt audience 20 years after her first “publication.”  I’d count that as win.

 

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Poetry and baseball

dugout

 A small, six year old boy begins to don his catcher’s equipment for the first time; the gear hangs clunkily from from his tiny frame, the shinguards a bit too long, the helmet swallowing his small head like the unwieldy face mask of a medieval knight.  Jacob velcros the final shin guard onto the tiny catcher as the other boys run out to their positions.  “What if I get hit with the ball?” I hear him question timidly.  He stares at home plate, not following the other players out onto the field.

———

Yesterday afternoon was Cohen’s baseball game.  Jacob is the head coach and my dad is the assistant coach.  I get stressed out at these things.  Really- there I am, sitting on the sidelines buried in babies where no one even notices me– and this beautiful, annoying Mind of mine starts to notice all those EYES!   I’m nervous the parents will be judgmental.  I’m nervous for Jacob and if he’ll be able to pitch over-the-plate to the kids.  I’m  nervous that he will say the right thing, that parents will wonder if he’s coaching “right”, if he’s playing their kids  in the right positions, if he’s coaching too much or too little.  This stress is uniquely irrational: One- because it’s not me, it’s Jacob.  Two, because it’s first and second graders.  Three, because time and time again Life shows me that most people are good and decent when you get to know them.  But I worry anyway.  Those EYES!

Jump ahead 12 hours: Today we had Writers Day at Cary Grove.  Different authors and poets came to speak to our creative writing classes, and at the end of the day, nine student performers shared original poetry.  I was nervous for them– all of them– the students and the professionals– because didn’t they notice them??– didn’t they notice all those EYES??  I think they did notice them (hands shook/ voices stuttered), but they got up anyway; they stood on stage and they shared something they made.

Some of their poetry resonated with me, and some of it didn’t.  But you want to know what always resonated– what truth hummed– holy and sweet and invisible in the air?  It was this willingness to say: Look, here I am. I made something.  And I want you to hear it.

 “Have you ever heard of Captain America?” Jacob asks.  He’s kneeling so he is eye-level with the boy, and the small catcher nods.  “What’s his most important weapon?”  The boy stares at him.  “His shield, right?” Jacob says.   “This–” he holds up the boy’s glove, “Is like your shield.  And the rest of this is your armor.”  The boy’s glove is so big it’s an effort for him to hold it up, but he traces Jacob’s movements with his tiny arm, back and forth, back and forth, imagining shielding himself from any oncoming enemy pitches.

I’m still a little nervous, but I realize I don’t have to be.

Several batters into the game, there is a loud “thunk”.  A pitch has hit the tiny catcher right in the chest.  “You okay buddy?” Jacob asks.  There is only a moment’s hesitation, perhaps only a moment a mother would notice; then–a tiny “thumbs-up” pointed to the sky, and the game continues. 

So speak!  Our fear just might make another person brave enough to enter the game.

 

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