Saturday, January 30, 2010

Filling the well

The clock's rhythm blends into the background of the day, ticking me through the day, tocking us through ages and phases. The days slide off the calendar, now lying in a pile on the floor, now the rubble of time's swift avalanche.

And another year arrives.

I'll move through it along paths of household patterns, ruts of daily rhythms.

I'll wash dishes in a never-ending cycle, fold enough laundry to fill an entire department store, and scrub battalions of dirt and germs from every household surface. I'll dust off dirty faces and temper torrential tantrums. I'll make hundreds of meals that are eaten –or rejected – in one eighth of the prep time. I'll read small libraries of picture books and play supporting roles in countless pretend productions. I'll drive hundreds of miles to preschool, parks, playdates. I'll hug, wonder, laugh, skip, dance, explain, cry, roll my eyes, and tear my hair out. I'll love.

I'll kindle passion for this life on some days.

But on other days, I'll dip my bucket deep and draw it up dry.

I'll look into that water far, far below and shout: What's the point?

I'll hear my voice echo back – a lonely sound.

And then I'll fill that well.

I'll set aside this chore to play a game with the kids – I'll pour in laughter and silliness. I'll watch the sun rise and I'll save that sense of possibility in the stillness. I'll call a sister, mother, friend and hang onto that connection even after we hang up. I'll embrace my husband and remember exactly why we started this family. I'll close my eyes, breathe deeply, and know I'm a small part of Something much, much greater.

I'll understand that even seemingly insignificant movements send ripples into this oceanic reality.

And I'll wonder what tidal waves might rise up, leagues from here.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

In the making of the bread

Winning bread? Not really my thing right now.

But making it? Yes, I can do that.

I am drawn to the authenticity of the process, especially to the physical work of kneading. In this world of power buttons and touch screens, I find something soul centering about digging into the dough—folding it, pressing it, over and over until it changes in my hands. I am here, now: there are no shortcuts. I can't multitask. The dough roots me in the present moment and yokes my attention to the work of my hands. And I love it when the girls help – we gather around the table, me kneading the main lump, each child working with her own miniature ball. My mind's eye sees this ritual with grown girls – I imagine a gathering space in the making of the bread.

And then there's the transformation – the rising. Left alone, hidden, the dough expands. What a pleasing surprise to peek under the towel to find it doubled in size! Perhaps this is akin to child rearing – we teach daily lessons, which work in the hidden space of a child's heart. One day, I think, we get to glimpse into that warm rising space and discover how kindness and compassion have expanded within them, sole to crown.

Finally, the bread bakes – oh, the aroma! Such a comforting smell – a scent I can pull over my head and snuggle into – the smell of home. It's a smell that signals the end of a deliberate process, one that puts a staple food on our plates. But I don't bake bread often enough: kitchen projects usually fall in the chore category for me (oh, the extra dishes!). Instead, we opt for the convenience and regularity of the store bought loaf, though there's nothing special about it – it's a mere vehicle for peanut butter. But this week, I plan to bake a loaf or two. Perhaps I'll turn out inedible bricks, but I will enjoy the process.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Its 3a.m. Claire awakens again, complaining of ear pain.

Rather, I should say she protests vehemently against her ear pain. She rallies against it with all the spite she can muster. It hurts.

Bleary eyed, foggy brained, and raw nerved, I try various approaches to assuage her.

Compassion – I know it hurts, sweetie, but the best thing we can do is try to settle down and fall asleep.

Scare tactic – If it's this bad, maybe I should take you to the hospital.

Pleading – Can you please just try to relax? You'll wake your sister…

Reasoning – You know what? There is a small country called Haiti where a big earthquake knocked down a lot of buildings. Many people are badly hurt and have no homes or food. I know you are in pain, but there are a lot of people suffering even more right now.


I know.


Who says something like this to a 5-year-old at 3 a.m.? Late night lessons in the human condition?

Like I said, my nerves were raw. I was doing my best.

But I can't get Haiti out of my head. It seems like something out of one of those Armageddon movies – a massive scale natural disaster, hitting the center of a populous city where the poorest of people's lives are made many magnitudes more difficult.

But it's real.

And it's so far from me.

My roof stands solidly above my head. My loved ones lay tucked safely in their beds. I feel fairly certain that tomorrow will bring no horror worse than isolated tantrums and scattered sibling spats.

But still, daily I inflate my petty problems into gigantic bubble gum balloons, which occasionally pop and cover me in a thin, sticky film.

I didn't get one SINGLE second to myself today. This house is so MESSY! Why won't this baby nap? These kids eat nothing but junk. I'm SICK of picking up toys. What are we going to have for dinner? Please, please, for five minutes, just be QUIET!

Gummed up and weighted down, I trap myself in my microcosm.

Haiti reminds me that I have no right to live like this.

My blessings are abundant and apparent. I should spend my days counting them – wrapping myself up in them – not allowing every irritation to march right under my skin.

Because I can think of no better way to thank my God for this beautiful, crazy life than to be happy.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

piecemeal spirituality

I used to live within the box of religion, but it leaked. My questions and doubts burned holes in those walls, and I spilled forth. My spirituality pooled in an ocean, a deep frontier alive with currents and tides, and I fished some tools from these waters that help me seek the divine.


The dog is my meditation cushion
Happy noise and busy chaos chase quiet moments from my house – even the bathroom is no “restroom” with three children in my care. Walking the dog is my get out of the house guilt free card. Leash in hand, I don my coat and shrug the day from my shoulders. Bounding ahead, the dog sniffs the ground hound-style with all her energy. I walk briskly behind, my mind churning through all the mental debris caught in the creases of the day. After some time, the dusty, swirling cloud rises above me. I tune into the crunch-crunch of my footfalls and the circular motion of my breath. I meet my inner hush. I am.

Yoga is my prayer shawl.
In the daily grind, tasks and plans yoke my mind to a spinning wheel. I see the ground in front of me and nothing more. I forget to lift my eyes heavenward; I forget to see the divine within everything. When I have time to practice yoga, the movements usher my mind into a sacred space of stillness. I find this breath, releasing thoughts of the past and future. Lightened, I can lift my heart, my soul, my entire Self towards God. I give thanks.

My children are my holy book.
Each day is a page upon which interactions with my children write their lessons. Tantrums train patience and compassion. Watchful eyes and ears instruct my own self respect. Night wakings reinforce selflessness. Easy smiles find happiness in simple things. Exuberant energy and uncapped silliness advise me in the art of lightening up. Bottomless needs, often met so simply, elucidate a love unbounded by conditions. My children are my daily devotions.

My husband is my faith community.
Loneliness darkens the world; solidarity kindles light. On any truth-seeking journey, we step more steadily on a path illuminated by love. My husband is my community of hope, my candle of reason. He advises without judgment, helps without preconditions, forgives without hesitation, loves without boundaries. And although he probably wouldn’t give it any kind of name, the divine lights him from within. His light strengthens mine.


So while my spirituality can’t be held by any shape right now, it grows. And I believe God loves a messy, leaky faith, too. So long as it’s not watered down.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


White kitchen walls glared at us when we first moved in our house. Because we didn't have time to remove the carpet in the kitchen (!) right away, we thought perhaps a coat of paint could offer at least something pleasing to the eye.

But the yellow was a mistake.

I always wanted a yellow kitchen -- I could bake sunny foods and laugh in a yellow kitchen -- and  luck sided with me when I found an "oops" paint in yellow at nine dollars for the gallon. Never mind that the actual color shouted many decibels louder than the soft hum I envisioned.
We lived with a yellow jersey kitchen for nearly a year.

Which clashed loudly with the dirty brown carpet.

At first, I tried to force myself to like it. I did some meaningful baking, and we laughed quite a bit. But the color wouldn't be quiet.

Now, it's muffled by two thick layers of cream colored paint. The room seems satisfied.

If only moving forward could be as easy as a paint application. If only we could use a roller and a brush to muffle the noise of self destructive thought.

I would paint confidence over doubt.

I would paint ambition over the ruts.

I would paint patience over frustration.

And my walls would house the center of peace.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


I just have to stop and walk for a second.


The pain -- which was supposed to strengthen -- felt like strangulation. I would run farther, in a moment. But, oh, the bliss of slower steps and even breathing!


I'll get off here and walk the rest.


The bus could deliver me to the door, but I would walk the last couple miles. I was on my own in the world, finally, putting one foot in front of the other. Even when the snot froze inside my nose.


I'm going to take the dog for a walk.


I left behind a pile of dishes, a crying baby, two children bouncing off the walls, and the most supportive husband who ever kicked his wife out the door for some much needed breathing space. I would go back inside after I walked off the day's chaos and regained my sense of self.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

maternal guilt

My womb swells.

Not with new life -- no, my cells wrung out the last of that birth blood (for the third time) months ago now.

I am heavy not with child, but with a special brand of guilt nursed by mothers everywhere.

Or maybe it's just me.

It's the guilt whispers, you should be doing more, then  nags, you're doing it wrong. It's the guilt that yokes me to the dishes then pushes me to spend more time playing with the kids. It's the guilt that tags along whenever I leave the house alone and berates me for feeling anything less than joy in my children's presence.

It's a guilt self-imposed, but I don't remember swallowing that particular watermelon seed.

If this guilt weighs on me now, when my children are very young, how much heavier will I feel as their lives unfold? Will my mind always trace their missteps back to my mothering?

I crave the lightness of a newly emptied womb.

I long to leave a legacy of confidence.

I want my daughters to learn to live in the present, explore the edges of their limits, and step with grace across those borders.

When the Voice of Guilt whispers in their ears, I want to teach them to bellow their replies. To use choice words if they have to.

Because -- fuck it-- life is too short to walk weighted down. We were born to soar.