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 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

5

Dear Mia,
Here we are, six months into 5 and part of me is still clinging to 4. While you jumped happily to 5 I quietly stole glances at a baby you in my rear view mirror.

I know why you left 4 behind without so much as a glance over your shoulder. I get it. 4 brought not one but two baby brothers. Two baby brothers who cried at all hours of the night, waking you up at midnight, 3 a.m., 6 a.m. Two baby brothers whose round eyes and tiny fingers tempted visitors away from you. Two baby brothers who needed me to hold them, feed them, change them, walk with them. And there were never enough arms. There was never enough sleep. There was never enough me. 4 was a blur. 4 is the year I wish I could do over. Somehow I would make more time. But I didn’t, and I can’t, and now I’m left with vague memories and few pictures.
The one defining memory of your year of 4 was when we took you to New York for the first time last fall, leaving your grandmothers to split duty between the boys. The joy in your smile, your step, the way you nuzzled the back of my hand with your nose, filled me to overflowing but also made it painfully clear how much we had not been with you, not devoted ourselves to you. That trip was a blessing, the way we were able to pause life as it had become, and just be. This is the reason I started this blog, really. To capture you and your brothers in the moment, to be present, to remember.
5 has brought attitude, independence, a certain lilt to your voice slanting surely to 16. You check the tags of your clothing now to be sure they say 5, though XS is acceptable. 6 is better, 4 suddenly too small. You choose your own outfits and won’t be edited so I don’t try (mostly). You talk about boyfriends and love. You tell me a boy in your class is your boyfriend and I ask what that means. “It means we play together and have fun.” And this is true so we don’t say anymore about it as you toss the stone and skip to 5 on our hopscotch.
When you were 3 you asked when you could ride a school bus. “When you’re five,” I said. And then I blinked and you were climbing the steps of the bus, waving at me from your seat. The one without a seat belt. The one whose driver I did not know. This was the first of letting go. The first of trusting the world and fate to hold you and carry you home to me.
Every day you take one more step away from 4, one more closer to 6, and I continue to play catch-up. But tonight you will still ask for an “appletizer” before dinner. Spanish-speaking people will still be from Spanishland. And you will still ask if five minutes is a short time or a long time (and won’t accept my answer of “It depends”). Tonight I will lay in bed with you and sing Winter Wonderland as I have every night for the past five and a half years, embracing our version that has morphed through the years into a Katy Perry Christmas mix.
xo,
Mommy