Not about Aristotle

I am trying really hard to still have complex thoughts. One idea I had for today’s 365 effort was to write about Aristotle’s definition of friendship (HAHAHAHAHA) and how I misunderstood it as an undergrad but get it now (HAHAHAHAHA).

Another idea I had was to write about how I can’t remember how to spell “everything” or what 5×7 is, but I can remember every way in which I perceive myself to have fallen short as a mother, a friend, a wife, a daughter. The number of times I say “just a minute” to Thea, or take longer than I wish to get to Simon when he cries, forget to respond to a text, an email, write an illegible and hasty thank you note just so I don’t have to think about it anymore. All these shortcomings lined up and marching past at the end of the day. There are so many ways to perceive oneself as failing, but I’m not sure there is even one way I’d allow myself to feel successful.

As soon as I realized that (and it did come as a realization, full-sentence and everything) that tendency itself felt like a failure. It is truly something I’d like to change, if only so that my children don’t internalize this kind of self-criticism. Is there a better way to affect change than adding it to the long list of daily requirements (eat vegetables, administer vegetables to others, exercise, write, execute tummy time, brush toddler teeth [and own, of course], be patient, be present, don’t leave dishes in the sink, oh, and don’t be so self-critical). Working on it, I guess.

I have an idea for an essay brewing. It’s based on a comment an editor wrote on another essay. There was a section about breastfeeding and she commented on how the section made clear the ways in which breastfeeding can be read as a metaphor for motherhood. Intimate, but public, personal, nourishing. As I was tucking Thea in tonight, worrying if I’d gotten enough sleep, eaten enough calories or had enough water to keep my supply up, I realized something else–you have to take care of yourself at least a little bit. I hate the phrase “self-care,” but that’s the idea.

Everything

Yesterday, I struggled for a long time trying to figure out how to spell “everything”. Was there an “e” after the “v”? Later, I realized this might be an indication that my coffee-fueled paragraphs are not quite as polished as they feel at 5am.

In Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream, he advocates for writing in a half-asleep early morning haze. Before you’ve checked the news (this morning I woke up wondering if Trump was still President. Turns out, unfortunately, he is) or your email or even had coffee (can’t take it that far), just write. That writing is more intuitive, natural, playful, and authentic.

So, I’ll think about that when I wonder, as I’m nursing Simon, if I shouldn’t wait to write anything until I remember how to spell “everything.”

Joy-giving clutter

I was just sitting on the couch, looking around at the scattering of Calico Critters and breast pump accessories and the dirty swaddling blanket hanging out of the Pack and Play. I thought about lighting a fire in the fireplace, but it kind of seems too hideously cluttered to add even a fireplace to the visual. I was missing a free-of-clutter house when I remembered that last night, in response to our daily “What was the best part of your day?” Thea said “um, play with hops!”

Joy-giving clutter.

We Walk the Same Line

On the recommendation of a high school friend, I’ve been reading Love is a Mixtape while I’m nursing/running/in the three seconds before I fall asleep at night. It’s a good book for me right now. In these exhausted days of newborn-parenthood as a reminder of how short life might be. In 2017 as a portal to the early 90s, from the Trump era to one in which the coolest girl I knew had a “Subvert the Dominant Paradigm” bumper sticker on her Honda Civic. In the square middle of adulthood to early-twenties nights in college towns to the soundtrack of Pavement.

One of the (many) songs the book has brought back into my life is Everything But the Girl’s “We Walk the Same Line.”

In high school, my best friend and I loved this song. I felt like we’d discovered Everything But the Girl, even though everyone knew “Missing,” because it was a B-Side. We drove around Connecticut’s poorly lit state highways, buying 89-cent gas to “We Walk the Same Line,” with near-obsession confessional talks of fears and hopes and secrets.

At the time, whether I thought this consciously or not, the song might have been about our friendship. Now, seventeen years later, on Valentine’s morning, I sent it to my old friend. I also sent it to my husband. And sang it to my son. Certainly nostalgia is playing a (heavy?) hand in my feeling of connection to this song, but right now I think this is the ultimate, versatile love song.

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Working Something Out

From Marilynne Robinson’s Paris Review interview:

In this culture, essays are often written for the sake of writing the essay. Someone finds a quibble of potential interest and quibbles about it. This doesn’t mean the writer isn’t capable of doing something of greater interest, but we generate a lot of prose that’s not vital. The best essays come from the moment in which people really need to work something out.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the way friendship, not specific friendships, but friendship in general, changes as we age. For me at least, after early childhood friendships forged on the convenience of neighborhoods or parents’ relationships, the friends I made in the years between middle school and early adulthood had a kind of intensity that it’s hard to imagine in a new friendship as an adult.

In thinking about friendship I read an entire anthology (The One That Got Away) about the dissolution of friendships, but I think what I’m really interested isn’t so much the ways in which specific friendships end (though that’s part of the story) but the ways in which friendship itself becomes something else in adulthood.

 

365 Project

I know a few people who’ve done 365-day creative projects and have been thinking about doing one for awhile. Before Simon was born, I gave myself a little pep talk–life with 2 kids under 3 would be hectic and if I wrote something and ran a little each day, that would be a successful year. Revising, publishing, training, racing…that could wait.

Simon turned six weeks on Friday and it felt a little like a milestone, which, I figured made it a good time to try to hold myself accountable (in this moderately public way) to the writing side of that goal.

Browned Hogs

When Simon was born, I couldn’t believe how soft his skin was. Compared with mine, of course, but even compared with Thea’s. I started putting baby oil on him and on Thea.

Simon usually wakes up to eat around four, and I like to get up with him. It’s a quiet time of day when I know I can watch him watch things, even if it often means I’ve had three cups of coffee before six.

This morning, I noticed him looking at the pattern the white window panes make against the dark night outside. Thea used to love this pattern, too, I remembered. Then I started thinking about how even though Simon’s eyes are wise and I hope he knows all about the deepest kind of love, he’s hardly left our house.

Since she’s started going to school, Thea has learned about things I’d deliberately kept from her: the existence of princesses, for example. She’s learned adorable and wonderful things I’d never have thought to teach her about: ground hogs, for example (which she calls “browned hogs”), the song “Rain Rain, Go Away,” and how to put on her coat by placing it upside down at her feet. She’s also learned about queen bees (whose status is signaled to Thea by a cupcake-patterned rain coat), the impropriety of nose picking, that some children use toilets and others use diapers, and the phrase “first __, then Thea.”

Life with Two

There are so many moments (hours, days) when I wonder if I’ll ever run fast, write clearly, sleep adequately again. But then there is a snowy February Saturday when the six-week old is purring in his sleep and the two-year old is inventing a world of dancing bunnies when everything feels full and happy and almost easy.

A Going and a Return

I’m so relieved, proud, and just plain happy to have an essay up at The Millions. I worked on this piece for a long time–and ultimately cut out about 2000 words before it was publication-ready.

I drafted it long before I was even pregnant with Simon, and I’m struck by the way in which life feels like it’s provided another paragraph (or section?) to the essay. In the weeks after we brought Simon home, women (except for my dad, they were all women) brought dinners, offers of help with either or both children, and the kind of conversation caring enough to allow honest discussion.

For me, friendship as a mom really is different. The intensity of love I have for my children makes it harder (both practically and emotionally) to attach to friends in the way I once thought of as the definition of friendship. But, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how there’s an intensity in asking to hear a birth story or dropping off a casserole or reassuring an exhausted mother that I might not have recognized before. (That’s a thought for another essay.)

Hearts for Love

On election night, I put Thea to bed before going to meet one of my best friends for dinner. All day, I’d been reading Pantsuit Nation posts on facebook and running into neighbors on their way to and from the polls. In the wide net of people in real life and social media who cross my path, I knew two who I thought would vote for Trump. We ran into my neighbor and her two daughters on their way home from voting. Her five year old asked me if I voted for the lady.  

When I let Thea pick out her pajamas last night, she picked “hahts [hearts] for love”.

By the time I came home from dinner, I felt sick. The results were starting to come in and not looking good. I curled up in bed with my phone (we don’t have cable), obsessively refreshing newsfeeds and hoping for good news from Michigan, Pennsylvania, and even Florida at first. (New Hampshire never even crossed my mind.)

Around midnight, just before the big chunk of usually-but-not-guaranteed blue states were called, Thea cried out in her sleep. We just switched her from a crib to a twin bed, so I went in to make sure she was safe. I fell asleep curled up on the end of her bed and slept fitfully all night. Each time I woke up, I though “Michigan and Wisconsin must have gone for Clinton.”

This morning, stunned, sick, sad, and feeling truly scared, we came downstairs. I had a chocolate sandwich for breakfast. Since I can’t drink or consume excessive coffee at 8 months pregnant, this seemed a reasonable indulgence.

I thought about what it means that a man who’s spoken about and openly treated women the way Trump has could be elected. I wondered if even Thea’s generation will ever really believe a woman can be President. I thought, as so many others have, that surely Trump will get himself impeached and we won’t even have him for four years. But then I thought about Mike Pence and conversion therapy and denial of evolution thought about the Supreme Court.

My first job out of college was for the Kerry Campaign in 2004. I worked in Ohio on election night and that was, obviously, a sad day. I fell asleep crying and fully dressed and woke up to relentless rain that only let up after I’d packed up my office and begun the drive from the Ohio River Valley back to my apartment in Chicago.

But, even then… I hesitate to admit this, but even then there was part of politics that felt a little like the World Series. A passion of allegiances and alliances as much as something that really, potently, mattered in the day-to-day sense. I didn’t like Bush, and I felt sad that the work I’d done to help elect Kerry was unsuccessful, but I didn’t fear for our country and I didn’t feel betrayed at the thought of Bush supporters in my midst.

This morning feels different. I can’t stop thinking: there are people celebrating this? Not just a few. A lot.

I know the thing to do is stay and fight. I’m not moving, or even joking about moving, to Canada. My family is here. This is my country. But where to start. Trump and the support he garnered feel so far away from my blue state and yet the threat that this administration poses feels so real. A real threat to the American Experiment, to women, to Muslims, to immigrants, to the freedom of the press, to our international position. To love.

As I’ve been trying to snatch a few minutes to write down these thoughts, Thea is playing with her bunnies, running up to me every few minutes with a request that I “kiss hop.” I see her holding her lamb and saying softly to herself “love Baaa so much.”

So what do we do? What do suburban blue state white women do? What does anyone do?