Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The mother unloading



It's been awhile since I've been pregnant.

I mean, obviously, I've been pregnant for the past eight months, but before that. It had been awhile. Like five years. And with Jovie, it was such a blur because I spent so much time scrambling after Lily who was just a toddler. And before that with Lily I was working full time and was eight years younger and it was ... I don't know ... folding origami. Scrutinizing each step, being so methodical, so precise, obsessing over each crease. It was all such a mystery and then with one last push- a whole baby.


There's a lot about pregnancy I'd forgotten about– all the heartburn and the aches in odd places (I'm talking to you right-side under-boob and lower calves). I'd forgotten just how challenging it was to find a comfortable position to sleep in. I'd forgotten how wonderful and utterly absurd it feels to have an entire person rolling around inside of you. Like, is that a foot rammed into my pelvis? Or a shoulder? What's jabbing my ribs right now? 


I'd forgotten how grounding the whole experience is. Or maybe it's just that I wasn't as grounded the last couple times. Maybe being a few years older with two kids under my belt has allowed me to sink into this one a little more. I don't know. Somehow it's just different this time.


One of the biggest revelations has been being nice to myself. Being forgiving of myself. Being less judgmental of myself. Taking my time getting up the stairs. Telling the lazy eighth graders who ask me to get them a pencil because "they're too tired" to get their own damn pencils (minus the "damn" part, of course. That's more of a mental add-on) because I'm seven months pregnant and don't need to be their pencil wench. Driving to pick up the girls from school when I'm too worn out to walk. Going to bed at 8:30. Taking naps. 


And rather than being stressed about the weight gain and all the rounding out taking place, I'm feeling kind of, I don't know, in awe of my body. Like being a woman that can grow an entire human is pretty damn badass.* 


I had this thought today that I wished I could maintain this general feeling of self acceptance all the time. Like that long after Edna** is out of my body and out of diapers and out in the world, I could still find room for being kind and caring to myself the way I've been the last few months. 

And I also kind of wish all woman would do this. 


Like, we should treat ourselves like we're pregnant all the time. 


Giving ourselves space for physical or mental expansion without judgment. Forgiving our clumsiness or absentmindedness. Not second-guessing or fighting through our fatigue, but instead recognizing our exhaustion as a cry from our bodies and brains to stop. Stop saying "yes." Stop feeling guilty about saying "no." Stop taking on more. Stop believing we are somehow less worthy of a person when we reach maximum capacity. 


Take a breath. Put your feet up. Take a break. Take a nap. Go to bed early. 

It's OK to create a protective bubble around ourselves. Kind of a grownup amniotic sac. 


So it's true, we'll never be in a state of perpetual pregnancy (and you know what, thank God for that), but there is one human we are responsible for the caring of and tending for for the entirety of our existence on this Earth: Ourselves. 


Too often I think moms overlook that. Or diminish that.


I mean, geez, I feel like in the past week or two I've had multiple conversations with women who are fighting exhaustion and defeat with an arsenal of guilt and self-doubt– which is a pretty shitty arsenal if you ask me. 


Let's just start by acknowledging that motherhood alone – keeping another small, helpless person alive – is really hard. Then throw into that keeping multiple small people alive, and not just keeping them alive, but also trying to help them lead enriching, fulfilling lives, while also juggling full-time jobs or volunteering or pursuing a college degree and maintaining a homestead and relationships with family and friends ... and and and. Or or or. I mean, there's all the things. And it's not just really hard. It's every day standing at the bottom of Mount Everest without the help of a knowledgeable sherpa. Half the time we're our own damn sherpas. 

We're not setting ourselves up for success here, I feel. 


And the thing is most women I know despite the massive loads they carry want to be able to do more. By nature we want to be the helpers. The people doing the kind gestures that make the world nicer. And we get kind of sad when we can't be that person, I think. At least I know I do. 

I see so many people doing so much. All the things. Baking for all the bake sales. Volunteering for all the school events. Cooking dinners for the families dealing with illness or injury. Collecting things for the needy. The list of good deeds and do gooders is endless. 

And while I appreciate the kindness of others, I also allow guilt to bounce around inside me like a pinball. Flipping it back up and over. Collecting points for being the bad human who didn't raise my hand for all the requests. 

I hate it. And just as much as I hate feeling like a failure for all that I don't do, I hate how quickly I forget or discount all the things I do, do.

I know so many women who do this as well. On top of feeling mentally and physically and emotionally drained, we feel like we're just not enough. That we're lesser than the others who do all the things (or even some of the things). 

A couple weeks ago this video was making its rounds on Facebook.


This woman had found a wingless bumblebee in her garden and, concerned for its safety, adopted it. After spending time out in her garden observing which flowers the other bees seemed to favor, the woman, Fiona, created a little protected sanctuary for Bee. She offered Bee sugar water when she seemed lethargic and brought her inside on the days the weather was bad. Bee would crawl out of the foliage to greet her and crawl around on her hand each time she'd go to check on her. The woman formed this undeniable bond with Bee. To hear her talk about this tiny creature is among the sweetest things I've heard in a long time. 

I think the story of Fiona and Bee resonates because of its simplicity and smallness. 

Woman rescues bumblebee. 

It wasn't labor intensive, world changing or grand in scope. Fiona didn't set out to do the most good, instead she offered another living creature the chance to live out its short life in safety and comfort. What she did was doable. For any of us. And not only was it doable, it offered dividends. Companionship, levity and good, earthy soulfulness. It was mutually beneficial in the way our most important ventures should be. 

See, because it's OK to make choices about how you spend your time and invest your energy based on what also fills your cup. It's essential even.

The rest of the world cares not when your cup is empty. Like my beloved eighth graders, it's kind of self-centered and will continue making demands of you without regards to your  physical, mental or emotional wellness. 

It does not do us any favors.

You'll have to forgive me for a moment, because I need to go off on a bit of a tangent. I woke up at 4:30 this morning with the sort of self-righteous rage that makes it impossible to go back to sleep.

And here's what spurred it.

I have this friend who's nearing the end of her maternity leave- a much-too-short two or three months of recovery and readjustment from the physical strain of giving birth and trudging through newborndom and the accompanying mental fatigue.


We were talking about schools- specifically my thoughts on our local middle school- and the reasons why our local middle school is the way that it is. I talked about having a high population of low-income families, and the challenges for a child when both parents are working full time at multiple jobs. How the lack of involvement or supervision at home seems to result in more behavioral issues at school. I said all of this not as judgement of these poor parents who I can only assume are doing their best. Or on the kids who are also struggling. Or on any working parents in general- because it's so damn hard. And in this area in particular, with such a high cost of living, it's even harder. 

I was explaining my reasoning for why things are the way they are (and probably not doing a whole lot to reassure anyone about the state of the local middle school their children will one day attend)- and I saw my friend's eyes kind of getting a little red and glassy.

And I realized that this is not the conversation to be having with someone weeks away from returning to work after her maternity leave. Because even though I was talking about a school her kids are years away from attending, she was focused on the present- the impact of her going back to work on her infant and her first grader. She is already feeling the guilt, full force.

And then I had flashbacks to seven-plus years ago. Bringing Lily home from the hospital and every day, every day, weeping about the day I'd have to drop her off at day care and go back to work. I don't feel like I'm being over dramatic when I say for me, the entire experience was traumatic. Like, the panic and ache I felt that first morning at drop off is still palpable. Settling her tiny body into an infant swing. Fumbling with the bottles of breast milk I'd managed to accumulate over session after session of pumping with minimal results. Realizing it had all spilled. Bawling, bawling, bawling.

It was awful.

And I think it's a cruelty we inflict on mothers in our country. 

The bonds a mother forms with a baby are deeply rooted. Cells from all of my children have passed through the placenta and now reside in my body and will for years to come. Studies show that bonding with a mother in infancy is critical to a child's early brain development and their lifelong success and happiness. British studies have shown it can take a woman up to a full year to recover from the rigors of pregnancy, childbirth and baby rearing. Researchers have found that mothers who have shorter maternity leaves risk higher rates of depression- returning to work too soon affects their mental health. On the flip side, those who took more than 12 weeks of leave reported fewer depressive symptoms.

Despite what studies show and what we know, as women, is true- we live in a country where the default expectation that mothers separate from their children at tender ages. That lengthy maternity leaves are a luxury reserved for the wealthy or families willing to take a big financial risk as we eventually decided to do when I left my full-time job. We're expected to just go along with it and get over it. 

I even had the "luxury" of banking extra time off so I could take 11 weeks versus the six weeks offered to many mothers, who can't afford to take additional time off. 

Should we really be all that surprised that politicians are suggesting that a reasonable approach to managing illegal immigrants is separating mothers and children? 


I want to emphasize that I am in full support of working mothers. Working mothers are no less mothers than stay-at-home mothers. A mom's a mom a mom. And I'm not being critical or judgmental of mothers who have their babies and look forward to going back to work. Let's all just agree to be kind and supportive of each other. And not judgy. Nobody likes judgy people. 

Because again, for a mom, it's all hard, even if it's what you want.

Going back to work full time is hard. Making the choice to stay at home is hard, too.

I wouldn't trade the years I've stayed at home with Lily and Jovie. I'd love to stretch out that time for Edna, too, but circumstances (i.e. Northern Virginia real estate) means I'll have to shift to being a working mom sooner than later. Already I'm apprehensive and exhausted. 

I'm also pre-emptively annoyed about the idea of a job hunt in which I'll have to explain a "gap" in my resume where between child-rearing and freelancing I'd worked harder than I ever had in my previous job. And I'm concerned that I'll probably never reach the same "earning potential" I would've had I stayed working full time, despite the myriad skills I've gained since staying home not the least of which are better time management and interpersonal skills.

In the past seven years through motherhood, farming and subbing, I've learned to successfully wrangle toddlers, eighth graders and goats. I've interviewed hundreds of professionals, written hundreds of articles, built a few websites, led a bunch of farm field trips and helped set up and work a bunch of weddings,  that should all count for something, right? 

But somehow I think the lack of a clear career path will cause potential employers to squint and pause and move on. But now I'm off topic, I think. What was the topic, again?

Edna tells me that I don't need to focus on job hunting. That right now, it's time to focus on her. Oh and moving. 

We're doing that soon, too. Just around the block from the house we're currently renting. 

I know, it's a lot. Here's why I'm going to cut myself some slack. Because my whole life situation right now is a bit ridiculous. And there's only so much I can do right now. And that's OK. 

It's just a season, right? We won't be in a perpetual state of packing boxes and transitioning houses. I won't be pregnant forever. Questions about what the next stage of life will look like will be answered just by puttering along and living my life one day to the next.

In the mean time, I'll try desperately to hang on to this weird sort of peace I have with myself as my body balloons and performs all sorts of magic.

It's the same peace I'll wish for all the worn-out moms I know out there. Just treat yourself as if you're pregnant. Lord knows you've already carried enough life to justify it.

* Well. Since we're talking about asses, I'd be remiss to ignore one area of body image struggle this time around. Which is this: Why is it that pregnancy has all the sudden made my bottom melt into my legs like a drippy wax candle? Like all those floppy clocks in that Salvador Dali painting? I feel like it's just giving up on life. Like it's thrown up a white flag and allowed gravity to take over. It's like the saddest butt ever. OK. End rant. Resuming positivity protocol.  



** For those of you calling to question the "Grandma-ish" nature of our baby name, rest assured it's just a placeholder until we pick the actual name. Although, I have to say, the more I refer to her as Edna, the more it's growing on me.



Tuesday, May 15, 2018

When you have one chance

Photo courtesy of Clint Mason/Flickr
Last night I let Jovie play hooky from soccer. It's the week of the spring musical. She and Lily have rehearsal every day until 5 and then the show Thursday and Friday. I see signs they are fraying at the edges- particularly Jovie who all the sudden is worried that she will forget her lines or not know when to go on stage. 

Jovie- the consummate show woman, who can't get through dinner without breaking out into Bette Midler-esque vibrato- worried that she won't do well in her role as a monkey in "Suessical Jr." So many little anguishes in her brain. 

We got home from play practice and after eating a popsicle, she tells me she wants to go outside and blow bubbles. And I think about all the things that should probably get done. I decide I want to go outside and blow bubbles, too. 

So we do. We sit on the deck as the storm clouds gathered, breathing softly through pursed lips near the plastic, soap-covered wands. The air is still and quiet. The catbird that lives in the laurels in our backyard cackles about this and that and smoke wafts off our neighbor's grill. It is so peaceful and I am grateful to Jovie, who has such good instincts about living better. 

"They only have one chance," Jovie tells me as the bubbles we are blowing attempt to meander skyward before popping.

"The bubbles?" I ask.

"Yeah- they only have one chance to go up, up, up and then ... pop!"

We watch as bubble after bubble expands, lifts off and promptly explodes against the wood of the deck or rocks or clover. There isn't much of a breeze to carry them farther than the ground in front of us. 

I consider what Jovie said. My little Confucius, who at 6 already recognizes how fleeting and fragile time can be. Whether bubbles or catbirds or people, we all only get one chance to grow and lift off and exist in space before we're extinguished. That's why she was so reluctant to go from 5 to 6. So sad about going from being the baby to the middle child.

Jovie chases the bubbles through the yard, marveling at the ones that drift higher and higher. I marvel at her. 

My neighbor calls over the fence, "Here! We made a plate for you!" He hands me a paper plate loaded with grilled chicken, flatbread, tomato salad and two cupcakes for the girls. Ramadan starts soon; he and his family were out enjoying one of their last pre-sunset meals together before fasting started. The food smells amazing and I'm so touched by their generosity. We spend a few minutes chatting across our yards before I head inside to prepare the rest of our dinner. 

A tornado warning derails the evening a bit. Brad stands watch by the front door as the sky turns black and the wind shakes the magnolia out front.The two girls, the dog, a cat and I squeeze into the downstairs bathroom watching videos on my phone of animal odd couples (think, a dog whose best friend is a goat) to pass the time and ease their worries. After we tuck the girls in, I go downstairs and glance out the front door. The sky is the glowing in the softest shades of tangerine and amythest. I take a picture of it ... but of course it doesn't quite capture the light, the beauty and the precise feeling of peace it wraps my heart in. 




Thunder and lightening persist through the night. I spend an hour in Jovie's bed, holding her hand because she's scared. Lily wanders in our room and snuggles in next to Brad in the spot I vacated. We all wake up a bit groggy.

But we're all here.

"They only have one chance." I think about Jovie and the bubbles. And my heart cracks a little and I feel tears gathering in my eyes.

Even though my back hurts and I'm tired and the heartburn has returned and I'm worried we'll never find the right house or the right name here I am feeling gratitude. For the chance to expand in this life with the people and critters I live with and the people and critters I cross paths with. Always giving me opportunities to grow. And sometimes to laugh and sometimes to cry and sometimes to shake my head in confusion or frustration. 




On Saturday, we got home from Lily's soccer game and were greeted with a birthday party goody bag massacre. The dog had discovered the bag Jovie had stowed on the stairs, torn it apart and eaten all the lollipops inside. All that was left in various rooms were Dum Dums wrappers and sticks. 

While they were sad about the loss of candy, Jovie and Lily both were adamant that we not yell at Snacks for his marauding (we weren't planning to- not like he'd remember what he had done) and worried that his tummy would be upset. 

How can I get mad at the dog when the victim of his insatiable hunger was pleading for clemency? I can't even with these kids. Or this dog for that matter. 

And while we're offering forgiveness for obnoxious behavior I need to mention the kids at school. I rant about them a lot. And truthfully, they give me a lot to rant about. But they continue to surprise me and make me laugh and also roll my eyes. On any given day I can have a kid asking me if I've ever "smoked the devil's lettuce" and another wanting to touch my pregnant belly and another telling me my hair looks nice. One of my most challenging students inquires regularly about what type of vegetable my baby is this week (we're at butternut squash). A girl yesterday told Mr. Dewett and I that we were "slightly" cooler than her parents, which we decided to go ahead and be flattered about because sometimes that's all you get from an eighth grader.

Last week, one of the boys in seventh period was working on an elaborate sketch of a dragon when he should've been taking a unit test. "Nope," I told him, tapping the desk. "Put your sketchbook away. Focus on your test." 

Rather than being annoyed, he nodded. "You'll make a good mom," he told me.

Today, he handed me a list of suggested baby names. 



In fact, naming the baby has become kind of a sport.They're all very concerned that we're going to call her Edna (mostly, because I keep telling them that's what I'm going to call her). By the end of seventh period today, I was surrounded by five kids, all yelling names at me. It was all very loud and overwhelming, but also kind of sweet. They're very earnest about it. About so much.

And I'm earnest about so much these days. Sometimes I make myself throw up in my mouth a little. But whatever. I guess I'd rather feel all the feels I feel than be blind to them. You can thank Edna for that. Pregnancy grounds me even as my heart floats overhead like a bubble- full and iridescent and embracing my one chance.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

April: Middle school fumbles and poetry

Photo courtesy of Dave Young/Flickr

"You look like you haven't slept in days," a student told me the other day as he walked into science.

Probably, I should've felt deeply unflattered and maybe a little depressed. I should've told the student his comment was kind of rude. But the truth was I hadn't been sleeping well. And I was exhausted. I was actually kind of touched that this particular kid- who pretends he doesn't know my name (he calls me Fake Miss Murphy- the name of the teacher I replaced)- actually saw me and assigned some real human characteristics to me. Like he was acknowledging I was a person, like him, and not some nameless troll who periodically tells him stop talking and put his phone away.


It was a sign he was warming up to me a little even. This was confirmed when he wandered into my room during a planning period and chatted for a couple minutes.Technically, he was supposed to be in Home Ec, which was downstairs on the other side of the school. And technically, I'm sure he hadn't actually taken the long route back from the bathroom to visit me specifically. It was more opportunistic than anything. He couldn't say hi to his favorite teacher two doors down from me because she was in the middle of a lesson, and my door happened to be open. He's one of the many students around here who seem to float around from room to room like free radicals. I was in the middle of suggesting he get back to class when he spotted a friend outside and ran off like a dog chasing a squirrel without a backward glance.


It is ridiculous here. Every day.


Middle school has dramatically lowered my standards for what I would classify as normal person-to-person interaction. While there are plenty of students who will smile and say hi when I see them out and about, mostly, they avoid eye contact and ignore my greetings. 


This isn't personal. I know in the social hierarchy of middle school, a substitute teacher-- even a long-term sub-- is on the lowest of echelons. Luckily, I've already survived one round of being deeply uncool in middle school. 


And middle schoolers just by nature are at peak self-centerdness. Hehe. (I said "terdness." See "centerdness." Clearly, I've been here too long). This isn't judgmental or critical- just the reality of being 13, 14 or 15. I was the same way- completely engrossed in my own drama at the exclusion of all others. Just wallowing in all the emotions. And feeling as if everything that happened in my life was completely unique to me. That nobody else could possibly ever understand what it felt like to be 14 because nobody else had ever been 14. 


The kids here always have ear buds in, listening to music. As if they have a perfectly curated soundtrack to the movie of their lives, happening in real time. It's all so extra. 


Naturally, I meet their ongoing surliness and moroseness with relentless cheerfulness.


"You need to be meaner," I've had students tell me when they see their classmates being disrespectful. The truth is, I've tried to test drive a grumpy face. I've been stern. I've gotten mad and yelled. And mostly, it hasn't worked. Not coming from me. It's like they know I have no teeth. 


Someone once told me my spirit animal(s) was a koala riding a golden retriever. And I feel like that's kind of accurate.


So in order to gain traction with the students, I've had to just continue to be myself. Persistent. Annoying. Kind of goofy. I wear them down with proximity and obnoxiousness. 


While I don't recommend this as a go-to method for making and maintaining relationships in life, it seems effective in managing middle schoolers. 


I love that Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees" (circa 1995) lives on in middle school artwork in 2018. 

In this recent On Being interview, Krista Tippet and Zen priest angel Kyodo williams explore the word "love" and its role in social change- especially in today's climate. Williams talks about how her own understanding of the word love has transformed from something she applied only to her family or people she preferred or those who are "aligned and in agreement and affinity." Who are reflecting back at her what she wanted to be reflected back at her. 

She says as she's come to understand love, this is very limiting. That love needs more room.


"It is developing our own capacity for spaciousness within ourselves to allow others to be as they are- that that is love. And that doesn't mean that we don't have hopes or wishes that things are changed or shifted, but that to come from a place of love is to be in acceptance of what is, even in the face of moving it towards something that is more whole, more just, more spacious for all of us. It's bigness. It's allowance. It's flexibility."


Hearing this was sort of confirmation that I'm not totally off base in my approach at school. It's imperfect, I know. I come home many days frustrated and exhausted. But I think I'd be more frustrated, more exhausted if I viewed going to school as going into battle. Like I was an iron-clad force facing off against an army of belligerent, ignorant lilliputians who needed to be forced into submission. Learn ... or else. 

My students are humans just like me, at a time of their life of tremendous transition. I see the anarchy raging in their bodies and their brains. The people they are now aren't the people they'll be forever. Just like the person I am now isn't the person I'll be forever. I have hope and confidence that they'll sort themselves out and discover the beauty of empathy and patience and lovingkindness. 

Maybe I'm not much of a teacher. In fact, the past four months have been an ongoing lesson in my shortcomings in this arena. I committed to staying through the end of the year– and the students have finally stopped asking me if I'm going to quit. They expected me to quit, I think. If nothing else, I wanted to prove them wrong. To keep showing up for them and for myself I guess. To try to embody the hopes I have for them as people in this world. 

I don't know. I'm rambling again. 

I just ... I like the idea of bigness. Of allowance. Of flexibility. I think we could use more of that in this life.


***
April was National Poetry Month. Like last year, I Poemadayed with a group of women who met in my neighborhood. We were charged to write one poem a day for the whole month. As was with last year, I looked forward to each evening as poetry trickled into my inbox. They not only motivated me to finish my own poems when the day had worn me out, but I found solace and kinship in what they shared, too. We share so many of the same experiences.

Here are some of my favorites written by my fellow poets this month.


A simple procedure.
The nurse’s lavender sweater
made me smile 
as she escorted me back.

The exact shade of lavender my Granny loved.
Her way of reaching out to me today
letting me know she is always with me.

The simple signs
sent from our loved ones
that have passed
bring such peace.

-TS

***

The pads of his ‘toe beans’ form the shape of a heart
tail lights transform into faces
trees form animal shapes
as do the clouds
life all around us
Do you see it? 

-TS

***

To the child eating pudding with a finger: 
Would your mother approve 
Of that slurping sound you’re making
Or of the goop that is dripping down your wrist
As you lick your hand and slurp some more?
Does she wonder why 
The plastic spoon comes back clean 
And the napkin unused?
Will she pack me ear plugs and a blindfold 
The next time she sends pudding in your lunch?

-RB

***

I think I have the man-flu 
Because I’m definitely dying;
My head pounds, I can barely breathe
And I just feel like crying 

I’m lying on the couch 
Wondering if I’ll make it 
Maybe this is all there is
Before lying in a casket 

As I start to pen my final words
To bid my beloved, “Adieu”,
I’m reminded I haven’t the parts
To have the fatal man-flu

So tomorrow I will wake up 
Feeling sick and feeling old
Making breakfast, doing laundry 
Despite my ordinary woman-cold

-RB

***

Go gently, my love 
For I no longer have the strength
To bear the pain
Of life unfiltered
Like an old foundation
I am cracked
Infiltrated by seepage 
Sinking, slowly sinking
Into the morass 
I am flawed, my love
So please go gently 
Else I disintegrate before your eyes

-SK

***

If I had a gift for words, I'd write about my little girl.
I'd paint her picture with lyric and style, 
So you could see her in your head.

The fullness of her body,
Beginning to shed its baby-fat,
But still dimpled and soft.
Oh the weight of her.
When I'm adrift in the ether she tethers me,
Cocooning me in her snuggles.

The splendor of her eyes.  
Not just their cesious color,
But the joy they radiate,
The fierceness they reveal.

The halation that spreads out from her brightness.

If I had a gift for words, I'd help you to understand,
The meaning of her name.
Norah
Awesome
In the divine sense of the word:
A being marked for honor and esteem.

All I have is the gift of her,
The greatest gift of all time.

-SK

***
That little slip of a girl.
Our Tiny Miss, our mouse,
Decided to play hockey
Gonna rock the ice house

She can't take notes in chemistry,
Or study to save her life,
But here she has a list (A LIST....that SHE WROTE...BY HAND!!)
Of sage hockey advice

Never gets up on time
(To move her takes a chisel)
But MUST get to the game
An hour before the whistle

Convinced she has every malady
That ever did exist
But gets hit by a puck in the ribs, 
And doesn't miss a shift

I don't know why it's hockey
That's helped her find her grit
I love it that she loves it
Enough to strive for it.

-JH

***

And here are a few of mine ...

As a substitute teacher
I don’t flatter myself
With the title
Educator
Or
Even teacher.
But rather a facilitator-
A practitioner
Of many other ers
Placeholder
Roll taker
Babysitter
Overseer
Listener
Recommender
Reminder
Reprimander
Repeater
Repeater
Repeater
Sigher
Eye roller
Groaner
Praiser
Encourager
Laugher
Note writer
Door locker
And finally,
(According to certain students)
An imposter.

To er
Is my day job.

***

There’s a howl from the next room.
What’s wrong, what’s wrong?
I don’t want to turn six
My five year old wails on her birthday eve, eve.
I lie down next to her
And rush to console
Listing out all the things that won’t change overnight
When she turns six.
Like her two hands and her two feet,
Her blue eyes and her blonde hair.
Her dog and her cats
Her mom and her dad
Her sister and her best friend, Lucy.
The bed she goes to sleep in
The room she wakes up in
Grandma and Grandpa and Nana and Papa.
Her aunties and uncles and cousins.
How much we all love her. 
But she can’t be consoled.
I don’t want to have just one more day of being five.
She gasps for breath 
As tears roll down her cheeks.
It’s the number of letters in her name
It’s in the middle to 10
It means she’s still gets to be little
I wrap my arm around her shaking shoulders
She wraps her arm around my neck
And I stop talking
And try not to cry, too
Because, of course, she is right
Five becomes six
Six becomes seven
Seven becomes eight
And so on and so on and so on
Until she’s grown up
And I’ve grown old
And this moment-
Holding on to each other
In a bed surrounded by stuffies
In the room filled with glitter and tulle
In the house containing the things we love most-
Is just the story I tell her 
When one day she tells me she can’t wait to leave
And the story she uses to soothe her own children
And then just the pale memory
Of a lifetime ago.
When she was five going on six.

***

The end of the month
Arrives with a gasp.
Thirty days nearly gone
And all I’ve seen is a blur.
Like the view from the backseat
On the road trips I took as a kid
With my head leaned against the window
And the countryside a pastel streak.
I’ve stretched around the surface of each minute 
Like Saran wrap.
The thinnest layer of living.
I guess this is how it goes for now
The sprint and the crash and the sprint again.
Always handing the baton off to myself. 
Maybe after the next lap I’ll limp off the track
And sit in the grass and bathe in the sun,
And allow the birds to remind me to listen to them
Instead of all the rest. 
Maybe, maybe, maybe,
my brain sings. 
But with May pounding at the door
It sounds more like 
later, late, later.


Saturday, March 31, 2018

Spring Break in the Smokies



Brad and I just returned from an early second honeymoon/babymoon/kid-free getaway to the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. 

We stayed in a cabin up a long, narrow, winding dirt road that took us past a picturesque stream, waterfalls, various rusted out pickup trucks, and a family of goats. We were away, away. 

It was cool and overcast for most of our little trip. The grass was just starting to brighten and tiny buds form on the trees. The forest floor was just starting to green up but the rest was still wearing its winter wear.

We didn't do a whole lot. We took some naps. Played Scrabble.  Listened to birds. Watched the clouds roll over the mountains. I re-read Jane Eyre while Brad flipped through local tourism magazines. 

We also went on a couple of hikes. For one, we started along the Nantahala River (Cherokee for "Land of the Noonday Sun"- the river flows through a narrow gorge and there are spots where the sun only reaches the ground when it is directly overhead. I love that there's a word for that.) We also wandered up a steep pitch of the Appalachian Trail for about a mile or so- before my lungs and legs suggested I was being too ambitious. On another day we set out to find a couple waterfalls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The landscape was picturesque. Mountain streams tumbling over smooth rocks between mossy banks. Dioramas of peaks in all shades of slate and steel. Waterfalls tall and short around just about every bend. 

Rather than trying to capture the grandness of the forest at a macro level, I found myself looking for smaller moments of beauty. 




Every time I pull out my phone to capture pictures of a  rushing river or a mountain vista or the way the layers of color in a landscape, I'm often disappointed with the results. I'm never able to represent in pixels what my eyes take in. 

So I  try look down more, seeking out interesting subjects on a slighter scale. The red feather lying on a muddy trail or the variegated fungus growing on a log that looks like a cross between a flower and a piece of agate. The way the tiniest flowers look like gem stones against the verdant green moss. 






All around the trails we hiked, there were delicate, little wildflowers dotting the ground. Reading the park website I learned these early blooms are called ephemerals. 

They've adapted to life in the forest– appearing above ground in late winter, flowering and then dying back in just a couple months. They take advantage of the moist soil, nutrients from the fall leaf decay and all the sunlight reaching the forest floor before the deciduous trees leaf out and they go dormant again. Waiting for the next year to reappear. 

Ephemerals. I love that name. Wise little things that pop up in the weariest months of winter offering the promise of spring and light. Annually ceding their space to bigger blooms and then the shady trees. Teaching us that the Earth provides just the right resources at just the right times. That there's no need to be greedy. No need to despair. That even as the tops of the forest looks drab and stark life is persisting down below. 

And that all of this– the grandest trees and the sharpest rocks and the littlest flowers are fleeting. Always being whittled away and felled and smoothed out. It all goes from being nourished by the landscape to nourishing the landscape. 

I needed that reminder. Not just because I'm ready for spring, but because of this state I'm in right now.

I feel as if my body is in near constant rebellion.

Case in point, yesterday, while driving home from North Carolina, this song by Death Cab for Cutie came on that I hadn't heard in years and it took me back to this long ago place in my heart while simultaneously fast forwarding me to the inevitable losses of the future and before I knew it I was trying to suck back tears (cuz I was the one behind the wheel). And I was successful for a minute and then the lyric "Love is watching someone die" rang out and it was no longer possible to hold back all the feelings. They came rushing out in a geyser of tears and what I thought was snot. Only it wasn't snot. It was blood. 

Because I can't cry right now without getting a bloody nose. Just like I can't cough right now without peeing just the tiniest bit. Which wouldn't be a huge problem, except that I have phlegmy bronchials courtesy of a nagging cold and am coughing with some regularity these days. 

I'm a study in circles. All rounded out and inflating week by week. Gasping for air as I walk up the stairs. Scratching my midsection as my skin gets tighter and tighter across it. Groaning at unexpected cramping and lower back pain. Sighing as I realize I still have 17 more weeks to go.

(Those readers with teenagers are more than welcome to share some of my more recent posts with their children for birth control purposes. Graceful, glowing pregnant lady I am not.)

I know this is all just a season of my life. My body is doing so much work right now molding this person in me that some systems have had to readjust. It's fine really. All temporary. Judging by the high levels of activity in my midsection, Little Lady Jennings- the girls call her Edna- is thriving. She wiggles and punches and kicks and rolls around like a tiny uterine ballerina. 

In a way, she and I are both ephemerals. Occupying this space together for a season (or three) before ceding to the next stage. Though in our case, rather than withering back into the Earth, little Edna will burst forth into it and I'll deflate a little and we'll both take deep breaths and take in our reshaped universes together. 

These new spring flowers and the other lovely little things I walked past got me thinking about our world at large, too. Because I can never have just one train of thought. There are usually two or three or four running at the same time. 

I'll be ruminating on hidden meanings in spring hikes while simultaneously considering heartburn and wondering when the next house will go on the market and also whether I should have a bowl of ice cream or just go to bed. It's all the things.

But back to the flowers and the fungus and the feather. All things I found on a cloudy, cool spring day by looking down rather than ahead or up or over. All things that made me smile. Made me appreciate what an eye for aesthetics the natural world has. Made me remember again (how many times will I need this reminder in this lifetime) that the little things- so often the little things- are the root of our happiness. They're the root of our goodness, too. Small kindnesses beget bigger kindnesses. They're the root of our betterment. Our contentment. Our day-to-day steadiness. 




To be sure, the waterfalls I saw were magical. The park vistas where you could see mountains upon mountains for miles and miles were awe-inspiring. Seeing the might of the Nantahala River through the disarray of its flood planes was humbling. 




These things remind us that we, too, are small things on this planet. We are both tiny and powerful. Capable of making deep impacts through seemingly insignificant gestures. 

I get wrapped up in the idea that the only actions that matter in this life are the ones on the grandest scales. As if my footprint has to be Grand Canyon sized. My influence visible for miles and miles in breathtaking landscapes. My voice roaring like a river.

But then I see the fiddleheads of ferns emerging from their winter's sleep. All curled up and low to the ground– just the start to what they will be all summer long- and I loved them just as they were. Not for what they would be. Not because they preached at great volume and length about the wonders of creation. But because they whispered it at exactly the right time.




And if in this life, that is the person I am, than that is enough, I think. 

I'll leave the rest to nature.