Thursday, December 18, 2014

One Day in December

I dressed in darkness yesterday morning, with the bedroom door closed against the chill of an ill-insulated front-of-house. Our broad, Northern wall collects the Arctic wind and welcomes it with love, funneling it into our living area like a Personal Pan Polar Vortex.

This year's hips were forced into last year's skinny jeans. (And they were not welcomed with love.) I pinched my belly in the process and cursed respectfully; no husband was waked in the forming of the words. And all of my longish shirts were dirty, so a too-short thermal under an even shorter woolen sweater topped me off with disappointment.

I huddled into a scarf and cardigan, just to ensure I would survive my first expedition to the frigid, tiled kitchen.

(As it turns out, I did.)

But the day got sketchier from there. 

Just enough chocolate milk was spilled to seep, irretrievably, into the seams of the coffee table.  Blocks were thrown into buckets and dumped out again x 12. A load of freshly washed towels was freshly re-washed because they sat for too long in their own mildewy stench. Dinnertime came and went without Daddy's arrival, and baths were skipped in order to better facilitate a rousing round of The Children's Witching Hour. And under and around and in-between all of that, there was the simple fact of a three-year-old. Three-year-olds trump all.

Oh, but the poop...I almost forgot about the poop.

Landon took himself unassisted to the WC and did a stinker at naptime while he was supposed to be sleeping. Then he went to play in his big sister's bedroom, pants-free. He dragged his backside all over her carpet like a paralytic horse with an itchy bum. (I know that's a horrible analogy, but...see above causes of brain-melt as poor excuse.)

So when the clock struck nine and I stumbled into my own bedroom to undo the effects of the day with a delicious novel, I first had to peel my skinny jeans away from my angry, squashed hips. The ankles caused a series of momentarily graceless disasters, but eventually I was liberated.

I slipped into some stretchy black pants of unknown size, and fell in love with life. I breathed and expanded and settled in the lightness of uninhibited softness. Nothing pinched. Nothing wedged. You know the feeling, right?  Pure bliss. Include the unhooking of one bra and the addition of one sweatshirt, and you've found nirvana.

And as I sang with the angels, it struck me that I hadn't left the house once that day, except to retrieve some delivered packages from the front porch. I had even worn mascara. I couldn't bend at the knees, and I was ready to kill the person who failed to add an extra three inches to each sweater in America, and my ankles were mildly abused, for nothing. Nobody saw me but my singing, snuggling, poop-smearing kids.

And my stretchy pants, they smirked up at me with reinforced seams and shook their spandex hips in  rebuke of my madness. I got the distinct impression that if only I'd worn them instead of the hateful jeans, that my day would have been filled with singing birds and obedient children and at least one less incident of carpet-as-butt-wipe.

It's an experiment I mean to follow up with during the entirety of Christmas break.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Family

These jellyfish float around on their white, twinkling caps, all directions at once, like snowflakes who don't pay any attention to gravity or wind. They open their hearts to the water, wrap themselves around it, and move. The smallest one, there in the back, has an underbelly of light and lacy tentacles tangling and straightening, pulsing with its own rhythm. It has no notion of that one's rhythm. It doesn't need to know.

And from the outside, with paying customers milling about, staring at the animals in their tanks, all seems silent. The jellies back up, back up, back up for hours, and never say a thing. Not when they collide. Not when one pushes another into the glass. Not when one starts to sing over another one's song and not when one corrects another's addition and not when one takes the last muffin from the kitchen.

If they react at all, it's only to gently give way. They lean and dance to one side, finding a new current that's exactly as satisfying as the last.

I back away from the thick, bluish glass: I've been extracted from an alien planet where touch is the only communicator and sound is nothing. The jellies billow and swoon, billow and swoon, eternally, no offense taken.

If they're a family, they know nothing of scowls or stomps. They are pillows. They are caresses. They are so quiet above all else.

But maybe not all is to be envied. Maybe not all is to be loved. Don't they trail venomous cells and stinging arms?

We all make ourselves heard, eventually.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Apropos of Nothing

In 40 years, Justin and I will sit in matching chairs, reading silently in our own quiet brains. We'll turn pages -- or probably swipe at screens -- and repeat gentle quotes to one another. "Listen to this," I'll say. "'Lately she almost hated Ted for absorbing his grief better than she could absorb hers. What Marion could only guess was that Ted might have hated her for the superiority of her sadness.' Isn't that intricately said?" Because by then, in our mid-seventies, we'll be appreciative of things like intricacy. We'll have plenty of time to do so.

Our floors will shine and our walls will glow. There'll be an aura of warmth about my kitchen -- Grandma's kitchen, they'll call it -- that welcomes one and all with patience and grace. Like it's been dipped in sunshine, and hung out to dry on a cottony summer day. And the laundry, well....it'll be done once a week, and take a morning only. His white t-shirts mixed with my knit cardigans. Kitchen towels washed separately, of course. I'll stream some oldies over the house speakers, something grand and epic from the good old days: Muse, maybe. Justin will putter in our library, reorganizing his History of Religion section and trying to pick a debate with an online buddy he only knows via FaceTime.

Our children, they'll be busy with families and jobs and all the rest, and we'll see them as much as travel and schedules permit, but it won't be perfect. We'll miss them. Skyping with grandkids doesn't permit the fragrance of a scalp or the weight of a little body. Texting with kids doesn't transmit the strength of a hug.

I'll cross my knobby legs at the ankles, fiddle with my cup of hot tea, and gaze out the window at the leaves piling up in our gutters. I'll examine my hands, the way the tendons pull tight under thin skin. I'll look at Justin, his crinkly eyes and dense, peppered hair, his broad shoulders and thickened wrists. I'll say, "Do you remember?"

We'll stare into our history and it will unfold for a minute like a map that can never be followed.

It was a Friday night, and the afternoon had been a bust. There were green crayon tracks on the living room hardwoods, and the stench of remembered cat puke in the hallway. Toddler Landon stood by with his hands behind his back, saying, "But I'm sorry. I'm just sorry..." Dinner was hated by all, and who could blame them? Things burn while three-year-olds cause mischief. Mia, on the cusp of being nine years old, picked superiority fights with six-year-old Lauren. And after they were separated, they suddenly wanted to play. Wild games. Loud games.

Sarah (still softly full from young motherhood -- she was so vibrant, then) scooted the little ones upstairs for pajamas and toothpaste. They were too boisterous for the hour, and Sarah lost it. She threw her hands in the air and yelled to Justin: "You're up! I'm done!" He climbed the stairs and injected some levity into the directives: "Get your PJs on, or I'll make you run around the yard in your underwear for ten minutes. And it's COLD out there." Fits of laughter tumbled down the staircase, but it got the job done.

Sarah sat down and pulled her stocking feet under herself (the flexibility!) to breathe unbothered. After several minutes, Justin fell into the couch beside her. Great sighs. Closed eyes. A few minutes.

"Do you want to put on a movie or something?"

"I was really just thinking about heading to bed. Do you mind?"

"God, no. I was hoping you'd say so."

"Look at us. Friday night. Too tired to move. Will it ever slow down?"

"I know. There's no end in sight, though."

"You're the one who wanted all of these kids..."

Giggles.

"I'll get the doors and lights."

"Okay. I need to go up and say goodnight to Mia and Landon. Sing a song to Lauren."

"Hey."

"Yeah?"

"I love you."

"Stop it. I love you more."


We'll half-smile and blink away at rogue tears. Oh, yes, we'll think. It'll definitely slow down. I'll look at the calendar on the wall. Friday night, two weeks until Thanksgiving. The house will be loud and full, then, like a landing zone. A dammed river, caught and held momentarily. An offering plate, refilled with the best of our years.

Friday, September 6, 2013

One Grain of Sand

With Mia and Lauren at school all day, Landon is soaking up some extra-special one-on-one with moi. This basically means that he's crawling up my legs while I pretend to be a good housekeeper.
 
It also means that I leave the laundry to multiply more often than not. Because I don't know how I'm supposed to see this:
 

...and not feel an urgent, pressing need to be a part of that moment. And invite my camera along as a distinguished guest.

 
My baby, slathering kisses on his baby, and rolling around like a puppy in a field of clover, tongue lolling, feet kicking...
 
 
is far too precious to ignore. And if we have to be without our big girls for 7 long hours each day...

 
it only makes sense that we should console each other with roughly 5 hours of some serious, heart melting, belly rumbling, hug sneaking (nap inducing) playfulness.
 
 
In the meantime, if he continues to question the absence of those sweet and sassy sisters a dozen times per day, I think you'll understand why it's become so necessary that I shower him with adoration.

Because it will only be one grain of sand falling down the hourglass before he's off to school himself. I don't dare blink.

There's far too much to see.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

And Then I Cried

Lauren was the baby who held on tight.


Mia, she was different. She balked against the wrap of my fingers, trying to break free until I finally had to spell it out for her: you will hold my hand, at least while we cross the street. There was probably a scowl involved when she gave in. Or halfway gave in. She merely held out one finger and allowed me to use it like a leash. That's Mia, though: she deigns to allow my hugs and my hand-holding and my sap. She loves in a hundred different, beautiful ways, and holding tight to mama is not one of them.


But my Lauren holds on. When I tried to grab a finger or two while she cruised across the floor on chubby bare feet, she opened my hand and buried her palm in mine. When she walked into preschool, her fingers were as starfish, suctioned to the stable floor of my hand. When we cross the street, there is one place she wants to be: wrapped up in mama's hand.


I don't think it's always about security. I think it's also about belonging and comfort. It's where she lands when she reaches out for balance. It's where she summons the bravery to move ahead. It's home, I guess.


So now she's summoned all the bravery five-and-a-half years can offer, and the dimpled fists are hiding behind graceful fingers.


But on the way into Kindergarten, she held on extra tight. She squeezed out a secret-coded I love you! and tried to smile. She sat down at her table and looked at the world.

And then....


She simply let go.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

This is Your Brain on Kindergarten

I don't exactly have the correct metaphor for right now. Something about having been taxiing down a runway for all these years, and suddenly feeling my heart in my throat with that first lurch against gravity as we go wheels-up. But that implies a speeding rush. Landscape blurring past. A little bit of nausea. All true, and yet...not a perfect summation.

Something involving painting myself into a corner, living in single moments without realizing that the wall behind me is about stop my wandering gait. But that feels like the wall is wholly undesirable; on the other side lies a dungeon. A pit. A Trunchbull. I know for certain that this is not the case.

Closer still: something about picking berries off a bush, plunking each bit of sweetness down on top of the pile, never realizing the bush was growing bare. I've picked all the best berries already, haven't I? The slow days and long nights and halting innocence all thins out towards the top, leaving, what? Bare branches? Thorny vines? Sunburnt leaves?

But that's not right, either. It can't be.

Surely we're just moving further into the field, finding a new sort of fruit. A low-lying shrub, maybe. Or a heavy-laden tree. A stubborn patch of brambles around a bend (occasionally). A fragrant glade on the other side (hopefully).

Because tomorrow isn't the ending of something, I tell myself with a giant helping of cliché, so much as it is another beginning.

This is what Lauren + Kindergarten does to my psyche.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Five Things + Six Photos

I've been tagged by the dear-hearted Alita Jewel.  So.  Let's do this!



5 Things I have a passion for...

1. Reading.  Although I'm not sure it's a passion so much as it is an addiction.  You know all those pithy comments about folks being unable to cope without coffee?  That's me, but I mainline stories instead of caffeine.  I neeeeed to read.  I neeeeed it.  Reading is good for your soul. 

2. Natural Childbirth.  I think if I had more time, I'd study to become a doula, because I'm so in awe of women's bodies and all that they can accomplish with a bit of encouragement and education. We think we aren't strong enough to bear children without chemicals and micro-management and disastrous imaginations. But we are! You are! We've lost the community of women who used to surround us during childbirth when we gave control to the doctors and hospitals, thinking it was better this way. Sometimes, it is. But MOST of the time, we're better off not being fiddled with. Believe it.

3. Breastfeeding. If you know me at all, you know this. I will talk your ear off about the perfection of breasts and all they can do. I will accidentally invade your personal space if you come to me with questions or needing help. I will try really hard not to judge your decision not to breastfeed, but I might cry about it later. I will cheer you on. I will physically adjust your latch. Maybe I will be a lactation consultant when I grow up...

4. Peace. It's a hard-line of idealism running through me. It's a current under my skin when I'm about to lose my stuff with my kids. It's a hope. It's kind of a desperation within me. I crave peace.

5. Rose-colored glasses. I am one-hundred percent committed to the idea that if I try very hard to see the best at all times, the best will come through. Life is kind of ugly sometimes, you know? But with these handy, rosy tints clouding my judgment, I can pick out the beauty and focus on it until the rest fades into obscurity. 





5 Things I would like to do before I die...

1. Travel to every country in Europe. Really, most of this list could be filled with travel dreams, but Europe especially holds my fancy. And Asia. Oh, and South America. 

2. And I would like to do all of that while flying first class. Please. Even just once would be nice. 

3. Write a novel, and have it published. 

4. I would like to find a way to kick my self-centeredness to the curb.  I want to give of myself and my time and my money, without worry about my own comfort.

5.  This particular list is really hard for me to nail down.  I don't have exciting, adventurous aspirations.  I don't want to skydive or climb a gnarly mountain or go white water rafting.  I don't want to accomplish big, noteworthy things or become an expert or a success.  I mostly just want to be content where I am.  (Except for in business class.  You CAN'T be content there.  You just can't.)





5 Things I say a lot...

1. "This is not a disaster."  I say it to myself, and I say it to my girls.  This is not a disaster.

2. "Shhh...I'm crushing candy..."  I say it to my husband when he wants my attention after the kids are finally down for the night.  I'm ashamed that I enjoy this game so much. 

3. "Is that how YOU would want to be treated?"

4. "You are in control of your own actions."

5. "I love you."  This spills out at the oddest times.  Like when Justin sneaks a pouch of applesauce from the kids' snack stash.  Or when Lauren burps on me.  Or when Mia is scowling over an unsatisfactory meal.  Or when Landon pees on me.  I do love it.  All of it.  (And when I need a minute away from all of it, I go crush some candy.)





5 (good) Books I have read lately...

1. In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner. Whew -- my rose-colored glasses could not stand up to the conditions in this world. What a terrifying place Cambodia was during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Frightening. Such a captivating, gorgeous novel, though. 

2. Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. This was one of my impulse Kindle purchases because it cost only two dollars or something. I buy cheap. And this book was worth ten times it's price. It absolutely gave me chills and I wept and fell in love and was inflamed with the passion of regret and fear and hope and love. I have a soft spot for Greek and Roman mythology, and this book is packed with some really amazing characters from those myths. If you don't care to read about a loving relationship between two men, you might steer clear, but if it makes you feel better their relationship is not graphic. This is a beautiful story. 

3. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. I've been recommended this old 'classic' several times, and I wasn't disappointed. Maybe a little depressed by some (okay, a TON of) sadness in the story, but the writing was so compelling and lovely that I couldn't put it down. 

4. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Wow. This book is...wow. In my old age, I'm starting to realize how much I actually enjoy fantasy and even a little bit of science fiction. I read this one several weeks ago and I still think about it often. 

5. Strange Fits of Passion by Anita Shreve. I've adored Shreve's writing for over a decade now, but I have to take her books slowly and with large breaks in between novels. Her words and characters burrow so deeply that I become overwhelmed with emotion. So I go read some nonsense for a month or a season or three years. And then I can come back to her fresh and ready to be flayed open again. 





5 Favorite Movies...

1. Persuasion. It is the BBC version, with Rupert Penry-Jones, and it is exquisite.

2. Dirty Dancing. For-evah.

3. Clueless. It makes me feel nostalgic and content.

4. Shawshank Redemption. Because I feel a little bit idiotic with so few really good movies on this list, and I love Morgan Freeman even if it's a cliché to say so.

5. Gone With the Wind. Although the book is much better. 




5 Places I would like to travel to...
Whoops.  I already talked about this.  Whatever :)

1. Ireland. Because I feel drawn there.  Pulled by the weight of my freckles, perhaps.

2. Brazil

3. China.  Chinese culture feels so ancient and mysterious to me.  Shrouded in mist and nestled in mountains.  Spread across deserts and plains and swamps.  There's just so much and I want to see some of it.

4. Northwestern and Northeastern North America.  I've never seen northern beaches, and I'm drawn to the idea of Maine, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia.

5. The great cities of Europe: Rome, Paris, London, Prague, Munich...where else?  Where have you been that you would recommend to a would-be traveler?