Softer than my deserving

Sometimes a poem or a sentence line up so directly with my experience I must tell it.

Granted, I spent most of yesterday coming out of the blue fog of anesthesia (I guess I have a slippery colon because both the doctor and nurse commented several times that it was a very tricky one to maneuver. “Never seen anything like it,” commented the very punctual and schedule-oriented anesthesiologist when I waved to her in my groggy funk.) So yes, it was a particular challenge to keep track of the boys and their needs while trying to get something on the table for dinner because part of my problem was sheer lack of nutrients.

I discovered G had colored all over his play kitchen in blue crayon. I mean, All Over. And here I thought he was just being super cute, wanting to be like Handy Manny with a pencil behind his ear. It should have tipped me off when he kept breaking the crayons and having me replace them. But like I said, blue fog of anesthesia.

Jonah was dead set on doing an experiment involving vinegar, baking soda, water and a balloon. I tried, I really did, to make that happen; but when I finally got out of my chair and to the kitchen, the black hole of my pots-and-pans cabinet overwhelmed me as I tried to locate the funnel. Enter poem.

Nursery, 11:00 p.m.

Asleep, the two of you,
daughter and son, in separate cribs,
what does it matter to you
that I stand watching you now,
I, the mother who did not smile all day,
who yelled, Go away, get out, leave me alone
when the soup-pot tipped over on the stove,
the mother who burned the muffins
and hustled bedtime, tight-lipped.
You are far away,
beyond reach of whispered
amends. Yet your calm
breathing seems to forgive,
into the air to mesh
like lace, knitting together
the holes in the dark.
It makes of this dark
one whole covering
to shawl around me.
How warm it is, I think,
how much softer
than my deserving.

Robyn Sarah

I was the mother half yelling “Can you just do your own thing so I can make dinner?!” while thinking I just need you to take care of yourselves right now. Please. Nevermind all my good reasons/excuses for doing so. None were good enough. But my boys are still like the dogs. They forgive me in a moment. They just want a hug and to know everything is okay with me, that everything is okay with them. I know this will not always be so. They will grow up and it will be harder to forgive, in part because they won’t need me so much. That whole balance of power thing.

But now their forgiveness still “makes of this dark / one whole covering / to shawl around me. / How warm it is… / how much softer / than my deserving.”

rotten tree hug


Graveyard construction and black stabbing work

Looking for something to do with your kids on a brilliant autumn afternoon? Build a graveyard!

headstone j    headstone g
In the midst of church, Jonah whispered to me his afternoon plans:

“When we get home, I am going to build my grave!” Sure enough, as soon as he wolfed down his waffle, he was at work. Had a little trouble getting the right sized hole to make his headstone stand, but with a little help from John, all was well. A haunting ghost was assembled, blue and spooky. Gabriel predictably began chanting, “I want a grave too! I want a ghost!” With a little cajoling, Jonah produced a suitable representation, and a graveyard was born.

Personally, the whole set up looks a little too much like the gallows for my taste, but heck it’s Halloween, and I admire what some might call the macabre bent Jonah’s creating sometimes takes.

Speaking of bents, let’s move on to Gabriel. I’ve written before about his penchant for escaping. Thank God he’s pretty much grown out of that, though he does continue to be terribly sneaky-quiet when he’s up to something like, shall we say, finding a way to get the superglued-on lid off of the air freshener “smelling work” at school and then, of course, digging his fingers in, followed by a good eye rub.

Screaming ensued. His horrified teacher (I mean, she did  go to the effort to superglue the lid on), called me as I was on my way to the grocery store to ask if I would fetch G early. In the meantime she flushed his eyes and wrapped him in a tight bear hug, which calmed him considerably. I arrived to find him still in her arms, still rubbing his eyes. I assured his teacher that he would be just fine, that he gets into scrapes like this often, that I wasn’t too concerned  (or planning to sue her for negligence). Crisis withstood.

Next day…

I pick up G in carline to find his left index finger wrapped in a large stretchy bandage.  I hardly needed to ask “What happened to your finger?” before he returned, “I hurt myself with the black stabbing work!” (This might be a good time to mention that all of the activities in a Montessori classroom are referred to as “work.” As Maria Montessori puts it: “The child can develop fully by means of experience in his environment. We call such experiences ‘work’.”)

Hmmm. Black stabbing work. While I was unable to home in on exactly what the activity was, G says “You do stabbing and gluing.” Further inquiry reveals that paper is involved.

Not much more to tell, but of course I have a dozen more things to say. The gist being, I’ll take my macabre-leaning rowdies any day, even if they do freak out their school friends talking about death and graves and their eventual return to bone.*

*[Happened. A parent at J’s first Montessori school asked me to ask Jonah to stop talking about death with her son because it was freaking him out.]

“I’m just waiting. Every minute I’m getting stronger.”  Jonah Caedmon Estesjonah on beam
The things that come offhandedly down the chute from Jonah’s brain and out his mouth can be words to live by. The phrase above was uttered after he had shimmied up the side of the swing set in the hope of getting “up high” so that he could scoot over to the deck that houses the slide. It turned out to be a little higher than he thought and a little farther to go with no branches to catch-stop a fall.

I’ve had a similar (enforced) experience this past weekend. After a draining work week (yard work, book work, cook work, boy work), my body said no more and laid me nearly flat for two days. I have the capacity to physically push myself with a singleminded determination when a task before me need be done. Make that tasks. A simple stop—a series of simple stops—along the way may have prevented my physical demise, but I’m grateful for it all the same. I seem to work in a cycle of resets, and I don’t mind so much. Doesn’t mean I don’t need to break more often for a certain enforced leisure (which quickly shifts to real leisure), but accepting the way I move through the world seems the best first step to take.
pod racer cool down
(Pod racer after his bath time cool down.)

The tomorrow that came before

“The tomorrow that came before.”

That’s how G gets across his idea of “yesterday.” His language is like a ring on my finger. A loop of time that encircles the days instead of constricting them to a timeline—befores and afters plotted endlessly on a graph that depicts nothing but what has or hasn’t gotten done. Ah, the preschooled sage:

dirty trooper
That’s what he likes to call his “dirty trooper” suit (the name he’s given to his Imperial Sandtroopers, though they’re not half as muddy as this little stinker).

Are everyone’s children as obsessive as mine? Or is this just one of those nerdy Star Wars boy things? He pours over his borrowed copy of the Lego Star Wars Character Encyclopedia, coveting the hundreds of figures he’s yet to obtain or doing his best to configure them with the pieces he’s got. Better yet, he makes up his own figures, like Luke Skywalker-Palpatine-Vader-Trooper or Han Solo-Darth Maul-Imperial Guard-Palpatine-Trooper (as you can see, every figure must have a little trooper and a little Palpatine for good measure). And these aren’t just imaginative names, they’re detailed descriptions representing the checklist of body parts he’s keeping track of in that three-year-old noggin of his. God forbid you put the wrong face on the Snowtrooper (which actually doesn’t have a face at all) or inadvertently use a white hand when it’s supposed to be black. He’ll call you on it. Every time.

Jonah’s currently into homemade dynamite. His most recent rendition:

homemade dynamite
In J’s mind, if you give it a fuse, it will blow. I admire his thinking and his initiative. He’s turned a couple of discarded plastic nobs (the “batteries”), a glowed-out glow stick (the “blow-up part”), an abandoned plastic tube from what was formerly his air pump rocket (the “shield that protects me from getting hurt”), a juice bottle (the casing of course) and a found piece of weed whacker string (the “fuse”) into an imaginative model, if not a thing of beauty. The part you can’t see in the photo is a wad of masking tape at the end of the fuse inside the bottle casing, which of course is the plastic explosives component.

I am still adjusting to a decaffeinated lifestyle, by which I mean, no caffeine in any shape or form. Wow. Who knew I was so slow? (Don’t answer that Mom or Dad or Cammy.) Who knew I needed a daily fifteen minute nap come two o’clock? Who knew how internally ever-so-slightly-continually agitated I was? I’m feeling the effect of my SSRI in a whole new way, which is to say, I was medicating myself with coffee to the extent that I didn’t really understand the side effects. I’m considering what to do about that, but in the meanwhile will leave things as they are, it being catalog deadline season. I should be much more agitated than I am about getting this thing finished, though I’m also glad not to be. That said, I think I’ll go lay out a few pages before dinner…

Showing up

So much in writing depends on the superficiality of one’s days. One may be preoccupied with shopping and income tax returns and chance conversations, but the stream of the unconscious continues to flow undisturbed, solving problems, planning ahead: one sits down sterile and dispirited at the desk, and suddenly the words come as though from the air: the situations that seemed blocked in a hopeless impasse move forward: the work has been done while one slept or shopped or talked with friends.

Graham Greene, The End of the Affair

I’m still here, plugging away. Thanking Graham Greene for the superficiality of my days. Though I don’t agree completely. Yes, the unconscious subconscious continues to flow, solving it’s problems in surprising ways, but I don’t go for the superficiality terminology. My deep hunch is the opposite: pretty much everything is, or can be, infused with meaning. It’s not only about paying attention; it’s about showing up—at the desk, in carline for the third time in a day, in the take out lane at the Russian festival—separating sticky, slippery pierogis with a spoon to dish out by the dozens. Heck, I even had to show up at the dictionary because I couldn’t for the life of me spell pierogi correctly.

Jonah shows up, if begrudgingly, to do his spelling homework. By the end, he can’t stop repeating “I’m sorry” because he thinks I’m mad but I’m only trying to keep him on track and he’s interpreted my actions as irritation and then I’m giving him a chocolate chip for every word he gets down on the page because who wants to have homework as a seven-year-old anyway?

Gabriel shows up for the bizillionth time, asking help finding his Lego Darth Maul head or the silver light saber handle, or his Yodie (pet name for Yoda who has been missing for weeks, though G hasn’t given up — He’ll turn up someday, G intones, ever the optimist).

J pointed out, as we trekked from the garage to the house, weighed down with school bags and groceries, trying to balance on the larger stones John lined the river rock path with (because, let’s face it, those little rocks are kind of hard to walk on with a load—it’s like wading through wet sand—but it sure looks pretty), that when we looked back we could see where the time went. What he meant was we could count the rocks we’d already walked on and we could clearly see how far we had to go. Gee, wouldn’t that be nice sometimes? Knowing how far we had to go, being able to look back and clearly see what we’d already done. Heck, being able to see where we are going! But being the messy humans we are, it all gets too complicated too much of the time.

My favorite line from End of the Affair is written by the woman, in her diary. She is the woman pouring myrrh on Jesus’ feet, drying them with her hair. She is the squanderer, giving every earthly, human thing she has to the one she loves. Many would call her immoral—her character the very definition of immorality, if not also adultery and lust. She falls into belief like she falls into love: unreservedly, to the hilt. It comes down to a certain purity of heart I think.

You were there teaching me to squander, so that one day we might have nothing left except this love of You. But You are too good to me. When I ask You for Pain, You give me peace. Give it him too. Give him my peace—he needs it more.

She can no longer give everything to both her lover and her God, and she knows it’s killing him (her lover). But she’s already spent it all, everything she has. Maybe showing up every day can do that.

up is down