May this be a samskara etched beneath your surface

*This occurred last year, and I knew it was something I wanted to put into words but I could never quite find the right ones. I began reading Dani Shapiro’s moving Devotion last week, which inspired me to finally sit down and find the words.

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The dishes are done, the lights are low, my husband is giving our twin boys a bath, and I’m sitting at the kitchen table with my daughter as she taps the tip of a pencil on a subtraction worksheet so that scratches of graphite splash across the page. It’s been a long day and I’m thankful to have a little time with her as it winds down, but math is not her strong suit, nor is it mine, and frustration is quick to surface in us both.

“This is the worstest day ever. And math is the worstest thing ever. And YOU are the worstest mom ever!”

I send her to her room to cool down, and she stomps up the stairs defiantly. I take a deep breath. I have yet to figure out if this six-year-old of mine is a bona-fide perfectionist or just incredibly hard on herself. When I finally walk upstairs I find her buried under the covers with a book. I sit down but she says, “I just want to read”, so I let her.

The next morning, I sit outside of a yoga studio as the sun rises on a crisp fall day, towel and water bottle in hand as I wait for my friend as planned. This friend isn’t naturally a morning person so her arrival is questionable, and I already know that if she doesn’t show I’ll bolt.

The only class I ever dropped in college was a yoga class during my freshman year. You see, I pictured the class more happy baby pose than peacock pose; more om and namaste, less backbends and headstands. The problem was not that I was lazy. The problem is three fused vertebrae at the back of my neck and a displaced shoulder blade that limits movement in my left arm. The physical impossibility of contorting my body to somewhat resemble the fluid, polished movements of a yogi left me feeling exposed and disgraced, so I stopped going to class. I quit.

For the next 14 years, I was more conscious of what my body couldn’t do than what it could, even after it carried my daughter through pregnancy and cooperated through labor and delivery. I had become convinced that my physical abilities were limited until limiting myself became my habit, my pattern, my story. It wasn’t until I carried my twin sons to full term, albeit with quite a bit more effort than the first go-round, that I realized I could probably push this body of mine more than I ever thought. I decided to confront that ghost from a lifetime ago. It would be difficult, maybe even uncomfortable, but that was exactly the point.

My friend’s car pulls into the parking lot of the yoga studio, and I’m both relieved and disappointed. Leaving would have been so easy.

The room is packed when we walk in, and I squeeze my mat between the wall and a woman in head-to-toe white doing a headstand. I map my escape route. Leaving is still possible.

But something happens in that 85-degree room engulfed in sweat and sinew and surrounded by yogis of every level. My muscles and joints loosen and relax and something within me becomes unbound. I won’t learn until sometime later that I’ve unlocked what yogis call a samskara, a pattern or story that becomes imprinted upon your subconscious. When you release a samskara, you make room for new patterns, new stories. For now, I simply begin to challenge myself. I’m sure it isn’t pretty or even technically correct, but I feel capable in a way I wasn’t expecting. It’s a 75-minute class, but leaving doesn’t even cross my mind until we pledge “Namaste” and begin to roll up our mats.

samskara

image via

Back at home my daughter is getting ready for school and dancing with her brothers. If one were searching for clues to the previous night’s calamity, her disposition certainly wouldn’t give her away. I take the worksheet that now bears the thrashings of an impatient pencil and motion for her to come to me.

“You are so smart,” I tell her. “You can do this.”

She crumples into me and nuzzles her face into the crook of my neck so that I can barely hear when she says, “It’s just that everyone in my class is good at math, and I’m afraid I’m never going to be good, and…” She takes a deep breath as though preparing to relinquish a secret. “I just like books better.”

“I know you do,” I say. “I do too.”

Maybe I shouldn’t admit this to her. Part of me feels like I’m folding into the cultural, if misleading, norm that girls aren’t especially mathematically inclined. It’s even possible that maybe I’ve been pushing her in order to dispel this notion, a big fat Take that! for gender equality. But the truth for me is that I just get words in a way I never will mathematics, and if I know my daughter at all, it is her truth as well.

“Just try your best,” I tell her. “But your best won’t always look like someone else’s best.”

Her curls brush my cheek as she nods her head. I can’t be sure, but what I hope she’s heard is this: You are capable, you are brilliant, and you are you.

samskara

image via

The swim needs to be hers

I was going to finish my post today for the Writer’s Process Blog Tour Project (I was tagged by Tiffany Clarke Harrison and Sylvie Morgan Brown months ago, but summer intervened and I went skipping out the door for a spin around the season). So that post will be coming later this week.

I found myself over at Hands Free Mama this morning, and as I read Rachel’s post on Knowing Where Your People Are my eyes started to fill. (I’m having one of those days where I feel less than. Less than the mother I should be…less than the wife I should be…less than the daughter/friend/sister/writer I should be, so my emotional wiring might be easily affected today.) The part in Rachel’s post that really got to me was the description of her daughter’s fear at swim practice. I know that fear. Mia still has that fear. After countless lessons and undeniable proof that she can swim, she still lacks confidence in her abilities. She’s still afraid of going under.

As I read Rachel’s words my own brand of fear began to nudge itself into my thoughts and wrap its spindly fingers around memories of past swim lessons until a teeming list of questions invoked defense, and I began to check them off.

Had I assured her that I would be there, right there, watching her, waiting for her? Had I pointed out the life guard and coaches who would be watching her too? Had I told her that she was brave and capable? Had I made eye contact with her when her eyes appeared above the surface of the water and searched for mine? Had I wrapped her in a towel and kissed her cheek and told her how very proud I was of her and how much I love to watch her?

Yes. Yes, I had done all of this at every swim lesson because I knew she needed to hear it. And she got the basics down if somewhat slowly and reluctantly. She can do it. So why am I so overcome with guilt that I’m not able to appease her fear, to raise her confidence?

Because I am not her. It’s an obvious answer but one that I still need to be reminded of occasionally. I can ask questions and tell stories and lift her up and soothe her with kisses and open my arms when she needs shelter, but there will always be parts of her that I can’t reach. She won’t always know how to tether and name the whir of joy-sorrow-passion-fear-ardor-grief-concern that shifts and turns within her. I can hold her hand, but I can’t quiet her mind. I can stand at the edge of the pool and cheer her on, but I can’t take that breath and submerge below the water. I can tell her “I’m here” — your people are right here — but the swim needs to be hers.

The Epistolary Tooth Fairy

Matter of order: Upper Central Incisor and Lower Lateral Incisor

Dear Mia,

I don’t usually write to kids because it’s strictly forbidden by the Fairy, Fay & Pixie Code.

According to oath #3 in the Book of Enchanted Winglings, fairies and children are strictly forbidden to interact. (Please don’t be upset. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with protecting our magic.) I could get in trouble with the FF&P Board of Authority, but I’m going to take that risk because I believe that sometimes (JUST sometimes) rules can be bent if the person for whom you’re bending the rules really needs your help. And I think you need my help right now.

I know you’re scared. I know you think pulling out your teeth will hurt, and it might. But only for a split second, pinky promise. And I admire the fact that not even your mommy and daddy’s promise of gold coins and foil wrapped chocolate could tempt you into doing something you felt uncomfortable doing. (By the way, the gold coins and chocolate or WHATEVER appears under your pillow is up to ME and me only. There is strict protocol for these things and all trades must be approved by the FF&P Board of Tooth Trade. Your mom and dad have nothing to do with it, though I’m thankful for their belief and support.)

Here’s the thing: those teeth need to come out. They need to come out because the big teeth are ready to push through, and those are lifetime teeth. They’re the important ones. Okay, the baby teeth are important too. Without them how would you have eaten pizza all these years? And apples…and strawberries…and croissants! Imagine the last seven years without croissants. So, yes, baby teeth are important. Speaking from a professional point of view, however, baby teeth are really just holding places for the big teeth. They’re kind of like maps in that they show the big teeth where to go. Once your jaw muscles are big enough and strong enough (and yours are), it’s time for the big teeth to make their grand entrance. You don’t want to deny your lifetime teeth a grand entrance, do you?

Listen, for the past eight nights I have hovered at your window, waiting for you to fall asleep because I was so sure that TODAY WAS THE DAY. I even fell asleep at your windowsill one night, and that windowsill is not soft. My bed at home is made of tulip petals and golden feathers, a blanket of downy moss to keep me warm. I woke up on your windowsill shivering with stiff wings and an ache in my bum. So please, in the name of all that is soft and feathery and warm, do not make me wait any longer. (I should probably tell you that I’m invisible to you, just in case you decide to hold on to those teeth a little longer in the hopes of spying me at your window.)

So here’s my promise to you: Pull those teeth today, and not only will I leave something under your pillow, but I will also leave a little something extra in the fairy tree for you. You know the one.

You can do this because you are brave.

Love,

Your Tooth Fairy

fairy tree, tooth fairy

The fairy tree, courtesy of my father-in-law

Hello, 7

Dear Mia,

Once upon a time, I read Three Little Kittens as you climbed onto my lap and gingerly plucked from a bowl strawberries that I had painstakingly chopped into thin slivers for fear of clogging a tiny, miraculous airway.

You came across Three Little Kittens in an anthology the other night and I had to remind you that it used to be your favorite. We read it when you woke up in the morning and before you went to bed at night and a dozen times in between. You carried it with you everywhere, cradling it under your arm or resting it on your lap, a constant companion through your toddling hours. One day, just as you cracked the book wide, a stomach bug presented itself. Our old, frail Golden Book copy was done. That night, after I put you to bed whimpering for your beloved book, I scoured the internet for a comparable copy less than $50.00. I finally found one. It still sits on your bookshelf, lost between thicker spines.

Now, you read about mummies and polar bears or the latest escapades of Ivy & Bean. You tell me about King Tut’s tomb as I paint your toenails. You proffer a guess at the culprit’s identity in the new Nancy Clancy book while you dip whole strawberries in Nutella because the time when I needed to slice them tissue thin is long gone.

Hello, 7

Hello, 7.

Hello, teeth that wiggle, rainbow loom bracelets that fall to the bottom of your backpack, cowgirl boots that lead you into a day separate from mine. The other day when we were out, I noticed your lips were chapped so I dug around the bottom of my purse to find chapstick but all I came up with was a tube of dark cherry lip gloss. I dabbed my finger with the sticky stuff then smeared some on your lips, much to your delight. Instantly, I saw you ten years into the future, plump lips coated candy red, cornflower curls shading stormy eyes, your own purse with your own chapstick, a swift smear of lip gloss no longer a thrill.

Sometimes you catch me staring at you. “What?”

“Nothing,” I say, though I want to ask, “Who are you?”

I’ve memorized all of you — the coffee stain birthmark on your ankle, the lashes that fall over sleeping starfish eyes, the tickle of curls that slip through my fingers, the butter skin of your arms as they drape around my neck — but you surprise me every day. Thoughts and ideas and questions tumble from your lips in forms I didn’t realize you were capable of articulating, illustrating more clearly than ever the slope of time and a point along its continuum when you will ask this question yourself: Who am I?

This answer will change and take many forms. You will explore options and challenge beliefs and seek understanding and test boundaries and make mistakes and question your capabilities all in the quest to find yourself, and all of this is okay as long as you don’t lose sight of this one constant: you are loved.

You are loved.

xoxo,

Mommy

P.S. Hello, 6

The Sweet Spot

“It seems to me that since I’ve had children,

I’ve grown richer and deeper.

They may have slowed down my writing for a while, but when I did write,

I had more of a self to speak from.”

– Anne Tyler

I don’t know why I’m following that quote with this post, other than those words speak to me at this moment. Those words are me at this moment, a suspended moment stretched over nearly seven years now.

I went on a field trip to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis with Mia’s class last Friday. She sat with me on the bus and rested her head on my shoulder. We giggled and took selfies and sat in that intimate space of propinquity where neither of us thought twice about tracing fingers along open palms (“Guess what I’m drawing, Mommy”) or erasing smudged cream cheese with a licked thumb. She wanted me there with her and I wanted to be there for her, but I would be lying if I didn’t look at the day’s map before me and not feel a slight twinge that the next time I sat down to write would probably be the following day.

I was right. But also, it didn’t matter in the end.

At one point close to the end of the day, my little group was in the construction zone. They had climbed to the top of a crane installation and from there Mia yelled down to me, “Hi, Mama!” She shouted it in front of her classmates and strangers. She didn’t care who heard as long as her voice reached me, and a thought struck me: We’re in the sweet spot.

Gone are the days when she needs me with her to make every move. I don’t need to watch everything that she does for fear of putting foreign objects in her mouth or climbing on something or falling down the stairs. She can disappear into her bedroom or playroom and I don’t need to check on her every five minutes. She has playdates and I don’t need to worry about orchestrating crafts and games to fill the time and keep little minds and hands entertained and occupied.

And yet we haven’t reached the age where I become an embarrassment. Where my presence is more burdensome than welcome, more shadow than light. I know my days are numbered in this place where I’m her first choice for companion. All too soon I won’t be a companion at all. I know that. I don’t know how I will deal with that once it comes, but I know it will it arrive one day. And one day I will have whole stretches of hours to devote to writing. For now, I’m reveling in the sweet spot, and I’ll remember her call from the top of that crane whenever I lose sight of it.

Children's Museum of Indianapolis

Mia is fascinated by mummies, something I find totally endearing about this otherwise girly-girl.

Children's Museum of IndianapolisChildren's Museum of IndianapolisFireworks of glass is the largest permanent glass sculpture by artist Dale Chihuly:

Chihuly at Children's Museum of IndianapolisHere’s a better picture (taken from the museum’s website):

a1_20110202_123618Looking up from underneath:

Chihuly at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis