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,'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..."


"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."



"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 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?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Blue Blesses

It's an apple-shaped pillow, faux-velvet red.  Lauren pulls it from a box of still-packed linens, toppling a pile of blankets.  The garage is half filled with these packed boxes, and almost one year after moving in, I'm still looking at them skeptically; if I haven't needed them yet, I don't plan on needing them at all.

"Mama, what is this?"  She turns it over and hugs it close.  A dusty smell poofs from its center. 

"That's GG's graduation pillow," I say.  "Do you remember GG?"

"Mmmhmm."  She nods and walks into the house, swinging the apple pillow by its loop of yarn. 

Incongruously, it most resembles a Christmas ornament, but enormous.  It used to hang from a nail in my Grandma's study/library/sitting room, proudly displayed for all to see.  Not that we needed the reminder.  We cheered when she walked across the stage in a blue cap and gown, smiling for all the world to admire.  A great-grandmother accomplishing a forgotten goal sixty-five years later: a G.E.D.

"Why did she have a grad-a-dation pillow?  Why did she give it to you?  Because she was about to be dead?"

It always stings to hear death spoken of so matter-of-factly by little ones.  I cringe, but admit the truth: kids see it straight-forward.  Without understanding all the strings of emotion braided around the edges of the words.

"I think she just wanted me to remember.  And do you know -- she probably wanted you to remember too.  She loved you so much!"

"You should have given her a picture of me when I was all grown up.  Before she died, I mean, you should have given her a picture of me."

I smile.  "But you were just a baby!  Even I didn't know what you would look like when you got older.  You know what, though--" I'm treading softly now.  This is a conversation I'm always awkward with.  It's not heavy, exactly, just too broad to fit comfortably in my grasp. 

"I believe that GG is watching us from heaven.  Paying attention to us and loving us even when we can't see her."  There, I breathe.  No pressure, just thinking out loud.

Lauren squeezes the pillow in her lap.  She's sat down on the floor in my bathroom, where I'm laying towels in the cupboard.  She thinks for a minute, and clears her throat. 

"And whenever we get hurt or scared or something bad is happening to us, GG is in heaven -- she's kind of like...blessing us?"

My baby girl's eyes are huge and blue, young reproductions of the bright eyes my grandma, herself, had.  They stare at me with questions, but when I try to answer, I find myself looking deeper into her, looking for answers there.  Swimming in impossibilities and dreams and things I won't know until I'm old and soft.  Until I'm in the arms of my Lord.  There's a bit of an angel there, in those indigo eyes. 

"Yes, that's it exactly," I whisper.  "She's still blessing us, even now."

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Snapshot: Complimentary

Mia is an invalid, sinking into the sofa with the weight of a smoldering log.  Her neck is mottled red, hot and dry.  She clutches a bottle of cold water in one hand, blankie in another.  With glassy eyes, half-shuttered, she watches across the room at her sister, dancing. 

The wall of western windows is a bridge, spilling sunlight as it gallops into the room.  Lauren's toes grace the puddles of light for quick-step seconds before she's twirled into another quadrant -- a shadow.  Her arms make perfect arcs and swoops.  A rainbow in motion, a fluid parabola.  Now that her hair falls to the middle of her shoulder blades, it makes curtains that open and close as she swings, allowing glimpses of the backstage action.  A forgotten smile.  A raised brow.  A deep breath.

Into the light and out again, Lauren dances. 

Mia clears her throat.  "Lauren," she says.  Her voice is thin and transparent, with no fullness behind it.  It sounds like it could be heard even in a vacuum, it is so without shape or force.  It falls from her lips rather than flies, slow and melting.

We all stop -- Lauren pauses, hands akimbo; I turn, ears cocked; Justin sits very still.

"Lauren," she says, "you're a beautiful dancer."

The dancer looks at her toes, hiding a radiant smile behind her curtains.  Then she throws her head back, beaming, and takes flight once more. 

The sun has fallen just low enough to fill the entire floor with light.  There is not a spot of darkness for miles.