Breakable

I’ve been getting life wrong lately. I’ve been focusing my attention in the wrong areas, wasting time on the wrong things, the wrong people. I let my temper flare around my children but cower in a corner when I should be speaking up elsewhere. I’m just not jiving with life lately. There’s friction between us, life and me.

Wyatt broke a vase of flowers yesterday after I repeatedly told him not to play with the flowers. Since the boys have been mobile, our home has been minimalistic out of necessity. Bare tables, low shelves empty, anything breakable out of reach. They will be four in June. I mean, it’s time, right? They might still be tiny tornadoes but surely with more self control than a year ago? Two years ago? So, flowers in a glass vase on the kitchen table. It was time. Only Luke snapped off the head of a flower and Wyatt “On guard!”-ed the vase with a pirate sword and that was the end of that. I wanted to scream, truthfully. Not for the broken vase or homeless flowers, but because IT IS TIME.

I snapped, I snarled, I hissed. “I’m sorry, mama,” he said, all saucer eyes and tilt of the head, and I stood there and took a breath. I put the towel down and let the water seep to the edge of the table.

I was getting it all wrong. Life, pay me no mind. It isn’t broken vases I treasure.

Life, please do not break my children.

28 Days of Play

Play and the Generation Gap

What I remember about my mother is this: she was there. She was there for band-aids and kisses and snacks. She would help us build tents in the backyard where we would hoard stacks of books, and she would pull down the trunk of old baby clothes from a high shelf so I could dress my dolls. She would unstick zippers and tie scarves in my hair and search for a beaded necklace to add to my dress-up ensemble. She made sure to foster an environment where play was encouraged, and when I needed her, she was there, but I don’t remember ever playing Barbie or baby doll with her.

I’m honored to be featured at You Plus 2 Parenting as part of Rachel Cedar’s 28 Days of Play series, and you can read the rest of this essay here. I’d love to hear your thoughts over there and keep the dialogue going on why it is we sometimes struggle with engaging in play with our children.

28 Days of Play

Slice of Life

I brought her animal crackers wrapped in a paper napkin. She wanted the lights off, the door open. Mary Poppins was on the Kindle, Zach’s headphones on her ears, a cup of water on the bedside table next to her. She was propped in bed with multiple pillows, snuggled under blankets as the first snow of the season fell outside her window. As I walked out of the room, words that had resonated with me earlier came back into focus: “I can’t protect you from the world, but I can make sure that home is your safe place.”

Late Friday night I returned home from dinner with girlfriends to find Wyatt still awake. I scooped him up and he flung his arms around my neck. “I was sad,” he said. As I carried him up the stairs and back to bed, this quote rattled around in my tired brain: “Millions and millions of years would still not give me half enough time to describe that tiny instant of all eternity when you put your arms around me and I put my arms around you.” –Jacques Prevert

Mia was upset when I wasn’t chosen to chaperone her class on a field trip earlier in the fall. As I was tucking her in to bed, her voice caught in her throat when she said, “I’m going to miss you tomorrow.” When I pointed out that her best friend’s mother was going to be on the field trip, I said, “That’s like the next best thing.” She said, “But you’re my first best thing.” And I was once again reminded of the sweet spot we’re currently inhabiting.

During Luke’s preschool parent-teacher conference, I glanced down at the notes his teacher had written as we were talking and saw this: “Wonderfully sweet disposition. Loving and kind.” I knew this, of course, but sometimes when you’re steeped in the everyday routine with twins — maybe especially same-sex twins — their individual lines blur. But this boy. He is sunshine and shadow; a buoyant bubble that trails my most mundane days. I’ve always thought of him as our bonus baby, the one who came along for the ride, and I often think of the line from Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible: “But the last one: the baby who trails her scent like a flag of surrender through your life when there will be no more coming after – oh, that’s love by a different name.”

There is no structured essay here, no profound lesson, no parallels to be drawn, no moral to the story–only these slices of life that I want to hold onto. And maybe, just maybe, this will be enough to get me writing here again.

Wistfulness Becomes Me

“Pity me that the heart is slow to learn what the swift mind beholds at every turn.”      

Edna St. Vincent Millay certainly wasn’t considering the seasons of motherhood when she penned those words, but this line has been going through my head lately as summer wanes into the first days and weeks of school, the first blush of fall, the first nights of settling into a routine that feels both familiar and new. I say it to myself as a “Get a hold of yourself” mantra when this growing up* business gets to feeling a little too heavy, when the cyclical milestones leave me a little breathless even though I know they are coming, even as I steel myself against them.

*By “growing up” I mean, of course, the kids.**

**Or maybe I mean all of us.

September brings with it a knowing sense that the new will soon become as intimate as the familiar once was novel, and this makes the passage of time all the more evident. And with this evidence an undeniable ache in the heart that is slow to learn.

Pity me not because the light of day

At close of day no longer walks the sky;

Logically, we know that there will be a last day of summer and a first day of school. We know the surface sting of the constant march of time, we know that we can’t slow it down, that the best we can do is to keep up with it, to stand in the red hot center of it as best we can. Give gratitude for the moment, for all of these moments that have added up to one full, blessed journey, and for the moments that will continue to fill us up, moments of blinding joy that we can’t yet fathom. That’s the best we can do. Our minds know this.

But our hearts. Oh, our hearts.

We watch our daughter weave into the crowd and mayhem of students, leaving us with a confident wave and an air kiss goodbye, and our hearts remember the first time. That first kiss. The first time she grabbed our face with both hands and planted a full, slobbery smack on our lips.

We watch our son from the fringe of the playground as another sandbox dweller takes his shovel, and our hearts remember his cries from the moment we first held him in our arms, the way his pinched face looked bewildered and shocked as we lay chest to chest, much the way it does now at the injustice perpetrated against him.

We listen to our daughter read fluidly, effortlessly, and our hearts remember when she climbed onto our laps with her favorite book and pointed to pictures with her chubby fingers until the featherweight ghost of yesteryear settles upon our thighs and words we memorized once upon a time come bubbling from our lips like a forgotten nursery rhyme.

We watch our son take a baseball to the cheek, and our hearts cry out to run to him. Our hearts remember scooping him up and sitting him on the kitchen counter with an ice pack and band-aids as he cradled his blanket and rested his head on the tear-stained shoulder of our shirt.

Our minds remember that we once lived whole, full, happy lives without and unaware of the company of those who’ve become our tribe, but our hearts remember the midnight skin-to-skin, the silky tufts of hair below our noses, the feather-down weight of a newborn and the off-balance shifting weight of a toddler, and the soft skin that stretches across the map of their bones, the topography of which we’ve all but memorized.

Pity me not the waning of the moon,

Nor that the ebbing tide goes out to sea…

Our minds watch their legs — long and lean and leaving us slowly — and our hearts remember baby thighs doughy as loaves of bread.

Our minds watch them score a soccer goal and our hearts remember the step-fall-step-fall rhythm of those miraculous first steps.

Our minds watch them make new friends and new friends turn into best friends and Saturday nights are suddenly for sleepovers, and our hearts remember bedtime stories and nightlights and kisses goodnight and the please-stay-and-lay-with-me-because-I’m-afraid-of-the-dark nights.

Pity me not the ticking of the minute hand as the years go by; I know I can’t stop it. Even if I could, would I choose to?

And miss all that is to come of our one wild and precious life?

Still. Get a hold of yourself.

Wistfulness Becomes Me

To feel the dash and dance of the thing

Surely I’m not the only one. Surely you’ve felt it too? The weight of another life? A path not chosen?

When I was in 7th or 8th grade I read a memoir of a girl who grew up outside of New York City, always looking in on the bustling streets and bright lights. This girl grew up to be an editor at a publishing house, and the book followed her years in the city, commuting home, life as she made her way up the corporate publishing ladder.

This book wasn’t particularly glamorous in its portrayal of either the city or the publishing industry. Still, from the time I closed the paperback cover, my eyes lingering over The End for a breathless moment, I knew. I had never been to New York before, and I didn’t really have a clue as to the job specifications of an editor or agent or any other position in publishing for that matter, but I wanted that city, that job. This desire, this image, never left me. It shaped the path on which I tried to steer my life.

One year after Zach and I were married (four years after a summer internship in New York), I surprised him.

Guess what? I asked.

He was probably marinating chicken breasts or plucking parsley from our balcony garden, or sharpening his paring knife, or doing whatever it is cooks do.

I got a job. In New York. We have to be there in two weeks.

That last part of my sentence trailed off as I probably ducked behind the counter to avoid a slip of the paring knife. This wasn’t exactly a thoughtful surprise to spring on him, being that he already had a job. In Indiana. Where we lived.

He said Okay. He went on basting the chicken, stirring the spaghetti sauce. He never questioned it, not once.

And he never questioned me when I was pregnant with Mia and confessed that I wanted to move back to Indiana to be near our families as we started our own family.

When I told my boss at the time, a fellow Midwesterner, she said, “I feel like if I moved back I would know exactly what my life would be like, and I think I’d rather not know, you know?”

I did, and I didn’t. To me, embarking on this new journey of motherhood was an adventure. I had no idea what I was getting into and yet I already viscerally felt the tug-and-pull of this new role in both its urgency and tediousness. The task of securing a new apartment (our 450 square-foot one bedroom wouldn’t cut it) and navigating the childcare system in the city, I had decided, was just too much to conquer.

I remember the exact moment I made this decision. I was at my doctor’s office in a building off Central Park West, standing at the front desk to schedule my next appointment, when a cockroach ran across the receptionist’s calendar. I must have squealed because she looked up from her phone call and when I gestured to the cockroach that scurried into a dark corner of the desk, she just rolled her eyes and went back to her conversation. That, combined with the numerous mothers I saw laboriously struggling to schlep a stroller, diaper bag, and baby up the subway steps while grasping fiercely to the hand of a toddler, was enough to scare me away from raising a family in the city. I had been removed from the suburbs long enough to covet backyards, room to breathe, and wide open spaces to roam.

The thing is, my boss’s words haunt me sometimes as I drive familiar streets, pointing out my high school to Mia, the house where we lived until I was in fifth grade, and I swallow the acid taste of a memory that’s always, always just under the surface. If one thought shaped my middle school and high school years it was this: I’m going to get out of this landlocked, cornfield hell someday. (So very teen angst of me, yes?) I can still access that teenager who so badly wanted another world to call her own. I still feel her below my skin. Some days she floats so close to the surface that our fibers and marrows fuse, and I can no longer tell the difference.

I should tell you that this isn’t just about place. It isn’t just that I chose to leave a city I love to make my home in a city I spent a good part of my life wanting to leave. That job that I accepted when we moved to New York? I loved that job. I have a passion for the industry and I had the privilege of calling one of the best in the business my mentor. I would have been a damn good literary agent.

Shortly after Mia was born, I swaddled her in blankets and we set off for a walk around our new neighborhood, the slight chill of early spring at my back. The neighborhood we now lived in was built for families with a pool, tennis courts, a day care, a running path, and soccer fields, yet we were alone on our walk. Not one person crossed our path. Maybe it was postpartum hormones but it all seemed so desolate and sad, and my body, my everything, ached for the dash and dance of the city I abandoned, for the work I loved, for the person I was only a short time ago.

Mia was fast asleep when we returned home. I sat on our big front porch in the silence of midmorning suburbia and wondered, What had I done? Why did I think that to mother my child I had to surrender all the other parts of me? Mia awoke with the bleating, angry cry of a newborn just as tears slipped down my cheeks. Suddenly, I wasn’t at all sure that could do this, and there we sat, both of us new and nothing right.

When I think back to my first few months as a new mother, aside from the moment my daughter was born, this is the memory that takes center stage. It is still so palpable that I can go back to that place without effort. In a wink, I am on that porch again, questioning everything.

“I would know exactly what my life would be like, and I think I’d rather not know…”

A couple of weeks ago, I told Zach that I felt the pressing of this path not chosen. I felt stifled by it. Do you think we could do it again? Move back to New York? He entertained my idea, as he always does, and his willingness to play along set my mind in overdrive and suddenly I was planning out the logistics of such a move.

Zach has a saying about our relationship: I keep his head in the clouds and he keeps my feet on the ground.

chiidhood

So here I am, feet planted in the place I call home now. I know deep down that uprooting our family isn’t in everyone’s best interest, that it would be a purely selfish move, but I also know that something’s shifting. The teenage version of myself who set a plan in motion and the new wife who didn’t hesitate when that plan materialized are still part of me. I still believe in growth and movement, in stretching and exploring, in stepping out of the comfort zone every now and then to feel the dash and dance of the thing that quickens your pulse.