Friday, May 28, 2010

rising again

By 9 a.m., the house looked clean – bathroom, kitchen floor, general clutter. By 9:30, a fine layer of dog hair had resettled on every surface. Leaves and wet grass tracked through the entryway. Crumbs littered the floor. And the toys were seeping out from every hidden place.

After lunch, all the dishes dripped dry next to the sink. By evening, a new pile awaited sudsy water.

I just folded laundry, but already the hamper overflowed. I concocted an elaborate dinner last night but have no idea what to cook today. I swear I just paid the bills but new due dates stare me down.

The night undoes every day's work.

Yet all of us wake up and face the day again. And again. No matter what our respective jobs throw at us.

Why do we bother? Why don't we give in to the despair induced by the inevitable repetition and monotony of daily living?

Because we believe.

We believe that between the cracks of duty and responsibility, there's something sparkly and valuable and worth trying to find.
We believe that just around that corner exists something beautiful. And we believe that we will find it.

I think we call this thing hope. Hope in possibility. Hope in dreams. Hope in the fresh, crisp air that rode in on last night's thunderstorms. Hope in the knowledge that though every night brings the death of this day, the sun will rise on tomorrow and gift us another chance.

Sure, for me, it's another chance to wade through dishes and discipline and dinner [and more dishes]. But it's also another chance to dance with the kids. To laugh at my mistakes and their hilarious antics. To discover new ways to buoy my soul against whatever winds threaten to carry me away.

And it's another chance to love and get better at the art of loving. Because at the end of this life, on that day that doesn't dawn here for me but in whatever place awaits me on the other side, I want to know that I took care of what was mine to care for, loved what was mine to love, and found beauty wherever it hid. That even though every night undid my daily work, I rose again each day and lived.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

our daily bread

Idea to reality, the whole thing took 15 minutes. I paid a negligible $2.99.

And dinner was served.

But something was missing. Or maybe, I was missing something – wishing for it.

Usually, I bake bread on Mondays – a favorite recipe called Featherpuff Bread that includes whole wheat flour, milk, eggs, and cottage cheese. It's an exceptionally light and high loaf that contains a lot of protein for my carb-loving kids.

But this week, heat and humidity pressed upon us, making us feel like we had been transported from late May to mid-August. We don't have an outdoor brick oven [but I'm dreaming…], so I cancelled Baking Day and tried to think of something other than our usual Monday Sandwich Day for dinner. Nothing inspired me. So I reluctantly headed to the grocery store to buy a loaf of bread.

It was the fresh baked, pre-sliced variety from the store's bakery. The slices were crusty and studded with nuts. The packaged bragged: No Preservatives! All natural! Still, I was skeptical.

But it tasted pretty good. And the kids actually ate it.

So why bake bread? It's unarguably easier to buy and probably cheaper, too.

A lot goes into our homemade bread. There are the fresh ingredients, of course, which I'm constantly restocking. And then there's the time – baking bread is a commitment. I like to mix and knead the bread before the kids get up because those are the most demanding steps [20 minutes of vigorous kneading works up quite a sweat]. But kneading in meditative silence is the rare ideal – more often, Ruthie watches from her high chair and the girls twirl around me. They understand [on some days better than others] that when my hands are wrist deep in dough, I'm not able to zip dress-up clothes. [Usually] they're fine with that. And sometimes they like to stand and watch or even help.

The rising and shaping and baking organize the rest of the day, too. We can't hop in the car for any unpremeditated park outings or errand trips – I've got to take care of the dough at very specific time intervals. But the kids are happy to just play in the yard and rarely protest when I leave their games or pause my swing-pushing duties to deflate the dough.

And when the bread is finally in the oven, they always ask for me to turn on the inner light so they can watch the loaves spring. They like to point out which loaf rose higher and they breathe deeply to take in the thick scent of baking bread. As soon as the loaves are on the cooling rack, both kids request samples, though they know they have to wait until it cools or the loaves will squish.

At dinner, they both eat multiple slices [crusts off, please] and the rest goes in the freezer to feed us lunch all the days of the week.

So it's a whole day. And a lot goes into those loaves. But we get a lot out of them, too. More than just caloric sustenance.

It's a process that requires us all to participate. Sure, I'm the one mixing and kneading and tending to the dough, but I need the kids as witnesses. Their interest and observations validate the process. Yes, I love it for my own sake, but I think that when getting our food involves their respect and consideration, they gain more than just full bellies.

Their minds are filled, too: with the understanding that our most basic staple comes from here – not from an anonymous crinkly bag we grabbed last minute from the bakery shelf. Our bread comes from raw ingredients, yes, and it's a product of our time. But I think they see that it's puffed high with more than just air – there's love in there, too.

Yesterday, storms moved through our area, breaking through the humidity and tempering the heat. Today, we're opening up the house. And we're baking bread.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fighting Mrs. Bennet

I thought centuries and realities firmly divided us. But lately, I've been meeting her more often. It's usually in the morning. In my kitchen. And it goes something like this:

One kid mixes her Ovaltine, metal spoon striking glass cup, clinking against my very soul. The other kid chews her bagel, lips open, with a smack smack smacking that punctures my threadbare skin. The baby shouts her highchair cacophony and my brain slides in splatters down the walls between my assaulted ears.

Inwardly I moan. You have no compassion of my poor nerves!

And with these words, I've conjured her. Mrs. Bennet stands in my slippers, threatening hysterics and a week in bed on account of being so cruelly used.

I quickly gulp my coffee, hoping to scald her into silence before she start prattling about husbands and situations. [Though, a daughter at Netherfield might not be so bad…]

She shuts up and I can successfully speak in my normal voice through the breakfast banter. But if the girls start fighting or the baby howls when I detach her from my hip for a second – just ONE second – to pee, the back of my hand involuntarily flutters to my forehead and dramatic sighs puff my cheeks.

If I can make it to the shower before any tantrums are thrown or dishes dropped, the steam and sort-of-solitude soothe my nerves and finally send her home. [Thank goodness, because you know you just can't BREATHE in a corset].

But why must she show up in the first place? Why are my nerves so raw? I've always felt that I'm a fairly even-keeled person, not quite as prone to the wild swings in mood that can sometimes possess persons of my sex. [John, are you shaking your head right now? I SEE YOU.] But Ruthie has been cutting teeth these past few weeks [or for her whole life?] and her deteriorating sleep habits have been sloughing off my protective layers, night by night, exposing my nerves so that normal sounds and situations sent me to some perceived edge. It's a mirage, I know that, but still I stand there shouting.

But I wrap myself in yoga and fiction and John and the bits of spider silk I see glinting in the sunshine from across the yard. Buffered so, I can still function. But I long to nestle into thick blankets of deep, uninterrupted sleep.

It will come. I know that. Some day [soon? Please?] I'll wake only to shuffle myself barefoot to the bathroom, take care of business, and be back to blissful slumber in moments.

But for now, I'm up all night. And I'm fighting Mrs. Bennet.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

just what i wanted to do

Click. Click. Click.

The computer's backlight is starting to feel oppressive, tunnel visioning all my attention into this brightest thing in the darkening room. But I click on.

I've looked forward to evening [and its promise of silence and stillness] all through the animated hours of this living day. But now here I sit, wasting dusk and done with knit brows and a wrinkled nose, surfing through blogs and comments that leave me shaking my head.

I drag my eyes across the room, focusing finally on the tall, wide living room windows. Through that glass, blue clings to its space between the tree branches, cooling into a more subtle hue as the sun bows out of this day.

But in here, the refrigerator hums. The dog snores. The computer fan goes on.

I drain the last of my lukewarm tea and open the front door.

I bring my notebook.

A spider keeps silent watch over the front porch, still and alert in the center of a web strung between wrought-iron curlicues. The cardinal nesting near the house corner scolds her goodnights. A bat darts overhead. I pull my hood over my chilly ears and sit, breathing in lilac scents and traffic sounds.

I write until I can't quite make out the words dripping from my pen.

This is just what I wanted to do.

But then my butt starts getting cold and I remember that I didn't bring the baby monitor outside. I'm kind of hungry anyway. I open the door, go inside, turn on the lamp. And I see the words marching across my page – neat and regular at first, then progressively larger and spaced further apart as the light ran out. The last sentence is merely a series of indentations pressed into the paper – my pen had run out, too.

I trace my fingers over the page. There's no ink. But I can still feel the words.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

the bad mother

Not every day – but often – making breakfast for the kids feels like the biggest chore.

I think it's because the coffee hasn't made it from bloodstream to brain yet. That, and I usually feel interrupted when the kids wake up – yanked out of my personal quiet space and bombarded by the demands of the day.

I want oats! I want cereal! You didn't get my milk! Can I mix the Ovaltine! Can I type the microwave numbers!

Like many children, these kids have one volume: ON. And they're ON from the moment their eyes snap open. [I love them dearly, you know, but oh the noise, noise, NOISE, NOISE!]

So Mother's Day started out just right with me still in bed and John graciously tending to the early-morning circus.

It was the beginning of a lovely day, one that I had been looking forward to for quite awhile – a "day off" with few expectations and the promise of a couple hours out of the house indulging in pedicures and chocolate with my sister.

John washed the dishes and cleaned up the dog poop in the yard and took the kids to Home Depot with him. I attended yoga class and enjoyed a quiet shower – no crying baby in the exersaucer just outside the shower door, no tattling children barging in, expressions muted by the beveled glass between us, protests amplified in the echo-prone space.


Later, with my sister and her family on the way, I changed from knee-holed jeans into a skirt. I walked from the bedroom to the bathroom to put on a little makeup [a rare event, indeed]. Ruthie watched me from the middle of my bed, playing with some non-toy that seemed to occupy her moving parts.

[You must see where this is going.]

Then – a THUMP and a cry.

Ruthie had rolled off the bed.

In the instant I ran to scoop her up and check her for blood or brokenness, my mind raced.

Oh, bad mother bad mother look what you did! Please be okay little one.

But at the same time as my mama-instincts chastised my inattention and worried over my sweet baby, the true bad mother within shouted angrily, selfishly.

Ugh. This better not mean I have to miss my afternoon out. I better not be running to the ER with this kid when I'm supposed to be having my feet rubbed. Ugh. Damnit. You better be okay, baby.

After a moment of nursing, Ruthie seemed to forget all about the red mark blooming on her cheek. Her eyes were alert and her tears were abated. She was fine.

But you know what? I'm really not ashamed of that bad mother within me. She's the one that says In a minute to the crying baby and hungry kids while she finishes a blog post. She's the one that covers her ears during a tantrum. She's the one that throws tantrums sometimes herself. She's the one that reads books while pushing kids on swings and absently says uh huh to all their questions. She's the one that won't let the kids play games on the iPod right now because she wants to check her email.

She's not really bad. Just interested in self preservation. She is the champion of my sanity. She fights to keep me separate and whole.

I kind of like her.

And her toenails are painted red.

Monday, May 10, 2010

what i want to be

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be…a little boy.

I chose short hairstyles and preferred He-Man to Barbie. I liked remote control cars and pretended to be the Karate Kid. Once, I tried to pee standing up.

The doctor told my concerned mother not to make a big deal out of it. He was right. It was a phase that passed – I wore a dress to prom and years later married the man I danced with and birthed babies the way women must.

But between then and now, I've tried on identity after identity like so many pairs of pants in the fitting room, searching for the perfect pair that fit like a glove.

In high school, I was a runner. I tied that label onto the soles of my feet and let it carry me through those four years and beyond. When the balance between pride and pain tipped too steeply onto punishment's court, though, I stepped out of those shoes and left that identity to soak in its puddle of sweat.

In college, I wanted to be an engineer. I thought it was what all the smart kids did. But as I began to walk to required track, I found nothing that interested me in the scenery. I saw only miles and miles of numbers and logic and I felt no passion. So I derailed.

And then there was Maggie, a girl I met during my year away from college as an Americorps volunteer. Deep down, I loved her. I wanted to be her.

Actually, deep down isn't right. I wore it all over my face as I watched her animated beauty with wide eyes. She must have noticed. But she put up with me. Perhaps she sensed how fragile I was back then. That I was still in my shell with soft, vulnerable skin.

She knitted. She ate no meat. She bowed her head before meals but attended no church – hers was a god found in the trees and cupped between her hands. She didn't always wear underwear. She saw beauty everywhere and netted it onto white edged photographs. She cared deeply about the world.

But I couldn't wiggle into her mold. I felt weird without underwear and my knitting tied itself in knots. Too many beans in my diet gave me gas and I didn't have a good camera.

I'm not a boy. I'm not a runner. I could never be an engineer. And I'm definitely not Maggie.

But I am a mother.

This is an identity I will never grow out of or leave behind or decide against or realize just isn't me.

It IS me.

It washed over me in relentless tidal waves when I was in labor for the first time, drenching me in the kind of pain that made me want to jump out of my skin and leave it writhing on the floor for someone else to deal with. But I couldn't. I had to hold on and hang in there and breathe breathe breathe. And I did.

When that baby was born she was mine. And I was hers.

I found myself in her eyes and later in her sisters' eyes. And I lost myself in them, too. Sometimes I strain to see my own toes wiggling in the often white-capped, often muddy, often whirlpooling waters of loving them. But I'm finding that if I lie back and let mothering close over my head, I can still see and breathe and be.

I can be a writer and a baker and a lover and a sun-catcher and a watcher and a sponge and a believer and a think-deeper and a critic and a grower and a student and a storyteller and a connoisseur and a giver and a take-backer and a champion and a seeker and relentless and poignant and focused and strong.

I am a mother. I am me.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


I've been writing more. Working more. Sleeping less.

Enjoying my days but finding that they spin rather fast and the resulting centrifugal force has been scraping a few things off my plate. Narrowing my focus.

  1. Baking Day – at its inception, a chaotic day of dishes piled to the ceiling and flour suspended mid-air where I'd churn out bread and muffins and cookies and a headache – has retreated into simply Bread Day. It's filling us, though – with a warm and well-loved daily staple. And I've been finding time to squeeze it in more than once a week – its getting easier, and doesn't need its own "day," as I'm finding ways to weave it into the flow of regular life.


  2. Walking the Dog – once a daily escape for me – squeezes in as part of family outings or as the occasional solitary indulgence. It's enough, though the dog does not exactly agree. And its fun to watch the girls run ahead, wind in their hair, playing some crazy made-up adventure that usually somehow revolves around The Wizard of Oz.


  1. Yoga – formerly a consistent morning routine – can't seem to come home with me from class. But attending twice-weekly is sustaining me, at least for now. I found a teacher at the athletic club who teaches in a similar flow style as my previous [beloved] instructor, but she ups the intensity and the change has invigorated me.


  1. Swimming – at first a light in that late-winter tunnel –occupies the dusty space in my maybe column. I'm okay with that, though, because there just isn't time. My suit has been hanging the basement for weeks now, but I know I can jump back in if I find some space and motivation.


What about you? What are you doing more? Doing less?


So. Writing more. Motivation and inspiration have been swirling all about me, and I feel the need to throw my kite into that wind, and soon. I guess I've been held up not only by fear, but by all the pre-writing I know I must do – plot outlines, character sketches, scene cards. But maybe that doesn't have to come first. Maybe I need to pull out the stopper and let some stuff flow out, even if its sludge at first. I can filter it later. So very soon, I think I'm going to commit to some kind of writing challenge – a page a day? a certain word count per week? Not sure how it will shape up but I know I must write out a commitment. Because writing a novel is not something that I will let fall off my plate – its cemented in.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

what she’ll remember

Friday. A final goodbye. One last bear hug. A period at the end of a sentence that I know she can't really see.

Okay, you can let go of me now. Okay. OKAY.

Unbound, she waved once more to her friend as we left the classroom and walked to our car. His family is moving to the West Coast. [Best wishes, you guys!]

His mom told me that as he looked moving away in the eye, he brushed his fingers over the idea that he wouldn't finish the year with his preschool friends and said, But how will I marry Claire O?

She has a picture hanging on the wall next to her pillow – a goodbye art project he gave to her. A marker-drawn red heart next to his name.

That way, we tell her, pointing out the front window in a south-westerly direction. You can look that way and think of him.

That fact that Claire will likely never see this little boy again rests like a lump in my throat. It's silly, I know – change is inevitable and we say goodbyes all the time.

But I'm also thinking about being five and about the fact that I remember being five.

I remember climbing the slide at St. Bernadette's chanting I think I can I think I can with Andy Dirk. We ate raisins together. It might have been him who dunked someone's stuffed animal in the fish tank on Bring your Bear to School day. Maybe not, though. Those memories are brittle and yellowing around the edges.

I remember walking around the block with my older sister in bare feet after it rained. The corner—our boundary, the edge of our world. Tracing those footprints sunk in the street cement with my mind's eye – a ritual. They abruptly stopped midway across the street. Santa got in his sleigh right there— I just knew it.

I remember waking up early – before my sisters – and tasting the privilege of parents all to myself.

I remember not napping and instead helping my mom with something in the kitchen. Mixing salad dressing? Something got in my eye and I cried out in a voice that didn't sound like mine. You'll wake your sisters.

I remember swinging and jumping in leaf piles and playing percussion with sticks on metal garbage cans. I remember pillow football with dad and chicken and baked potatoes with Grandma. I remember Mr. Rodgers at lunch time and spreading liver sandwiches made by mom and the smell of our living room carpet and the shape of that room's crown molding.

There's a lot I don't remember, too – scenes and emotions that have gone dark under the weight of years and other experiences. Notably, I can't dredge up much strife or conflict. I know I threw fits and fought with my sisters and felt minute injustices and fell on scraped knees. And I know my mother must have felt a lot of the daily frustrations that I feel these days. And maybe she even showed it. But I don't remember that.

Claire is up for the day, already breakfasted and off coloring in the very-messy room she shares with Eliza. I wonder what her memory is recording right now and what will bubble to the surface in twenty years when she consciously tries to remember being five. I wonder if she'll remember hugging Ty goodbye last week. I wonder if she'll remember yesterday's out-of-control emotions when a promised evening outing couldn't deliver. I wonder if she'll remember Goodnight Moon at every bedtime or playing Little House. I wonder if the sight of a dance leotard will always make her hungry for pizza. I wonder if she'll remember begging for stories and learning to tell her own. I wonder if she'll remember helping me knead the bread. I wonder if she'll remember the frustration that some days write on my face and embed in my soundtrack.

There's a lump in my throat as I wonder what she'll remember because one day very soon being five will move away. Not all at once but little by little and I might not be able to grab a big enough handful to hug it goodbye before its gone.