Last Day of School

This morning I was driving to Trader Joe’s answering questions about No Parking signs, wondering if I’d been giving Simon too many orange vegetables, worrying that he’d fall asleep in the car and think that was his morning nap and then not one minute of a double nap would happen.

We were behind a school bus and Thea told me “can’t see those childrens on that bus,” and I said maybe we’d see some kids waiting at the ends of their driveways for the bus to come.

It’s the last day of school here in town, and I thought about what it felt to wait for the bus on the last day of school. In elementary school, middle school, and in high school when kids are giddy on the manufactured adulthood of taking exams and actually no one is waiting for the bus.

We drove past mailboxes with graduation balloons. And time lurched forward and backwards at once. I was eight headed to field day, thirteen wondering who’d write a full page in my yearbook, seventeen showing up at graduation with wet hair and Birkenstocks. I was twenty-four, an exhausted first year teacher, giddy for summer. I was the mom of a toddler and an infant. And then quite clearly I was five, ten, fifteen years in the future. In the amount of time since I graduated from college, I’ll have a high school senior.

There are a few moments when I remember becoming abruptly aware of time. When I was four, a sixth grade neighbor taught me the word “Bravo.” She was so grown up and poised. In fifth grade, the eighth graders were banned from hugging at school because it was happening too much, too suggestively. When I was a junior in high school, swinging my car keys with forced casualness, I was as old as the captains of my cross country team had been when I was a freshman.

I’ll be thirty five at the end of the summer, but can still feel the dappled shade of the oak trees on my childhood street as the sixth grader clapped and said “Bravo!” Can still feel the uncomfortable but exiting confusion over hugging eighth graders, the novel thrill of being a person who carried a set of car keys. Now I’m a person with two babies in the back seat.

Sarah Menkedick on Louise Erdrich

In The Paris Review’s Revisited column, Sarah Menkedick writes about reading Louise Erdrich’s “The Blue Jay’s Dance” while pregnant.

This paragraph put into words something I’ve been trying to articulate for two years:

I had understood motherhood up until then as either the stultifying oppression of conventionality or an exercise of triumphing-in-spite-of, staying cutting edge and ambitious and successful by proudly suppressing or minimizing the maternal. Erdrich offered me another model: motherhood as profound creative subject, as way of seeing, even as empowerment. She gave me permission to be a woman

Meaningful work

Last night I had dinner with a good friend I’ve known for more than ten years. We’ve run twenty miles at at time together, cried over breakups, met each other’s families, explored the waterfront of Barcelona, worked together…but we’ve never talked about feminism together.

Since November, it is has been hard for me not to see the world–not just the political world, but my own days, life, work–as a feminist. We talked about the ACA repeal and about jobs we’ve left, and I was surprised to realize until last night, we’d never talked about any of this in all those years and miles. How could we not have?

I’m taking a writing class with Michele Filgate through Catapult (my first experience with an online class and I am really enjoying it, particularly for the accountability that classmates and deadlines provide). This week, we read Elisa Albert’s “The Snarling Girl,” an essay I’d seen referenced quite a bit but never read.

I read After Birth about a year ago, and although Albert’s essay-writing style is nothing at all like my own, I think she’s interested in a lot of the same questions about being a writer, a woman and a mother that I am.

Taking care of myself and my loved ones feels like meaningful work to me, see? I care about care. And I don’t care if I’m socialized to feel this way, because in point of fact I do feel this way….
 
Yes, oppression is systemic, I get it, I feel it, I live it, I struggle, I do. Women are not equal, we’re not fairly represented, the pie charts are clear as day: nothing’s fair, nothing at all, it’s maddening, it’s saddening, it’s not at all gladdening. We all suffer private and public indignities (micro-aggressions, if you prefer) big and small. It’s one thing to pause and grapple with unfairness, but if we set up camp there, we can’t get anything done, can’t get to the root of the problem….
 
“Real” work is often invisible, and maybe sort of sacred as such. The hollering and clamoring and status anxiety and PR two inches from our collective eyeballs all day? Not so much. So tell the gatekeepers to shove it, don’t play by their rules, and get back to work on whatever it is you hold dear. Nothing’s ever been fair. Nothing will ever be fair. But there is ever so much work to be done. Pretty please can I go back to my silly sweet secret sacred novel now?

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.

 

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.