Saturday, July 31, 2010
All the kids rush the pier and crowd around the hero fisherman who pulled in the gigantic bass. I'm the only one who doesn't move. I can see it fine from here, and that's as close as I want to get to the silvery green body, arcing in the air, flailing against death.
I love the lake and the waves and the breeze and the boat. But I don't like fishing – grabbing monsters by the mouth and hauling them up into the light where I'd have to deal with the weight of whatever was hooked. Better to let those things swim unseen in the underwater underworld where they belong. Silent in the murky water, snaking through forests of weeds, trapped in a finite space by a see-through Pandora's lid.
Yes, I'm afraid of fish. The kids think this is funny but I explain that the way I feel in close proximity to a fish – the unpredictable flopping, the beady black eyes, the mouth that isn't used for breathing – is the same way they feel about the spiders they shriek for me to sweep away or the shadows they fear on the bedroom wall. For some people, fish are beautiful. They're food, they're sport, they're a fascinating link in the circle of life. I can agree with all that from behind aquarium glass or through the pages of a book. But dangle a fish near me or put a pole in my hands or throw me in the lake to swim – and watch me squirm. Maybe even scream.
Like the time I plunged into the ocean wearing a snorkel mask, convinced I could breathe through my fear and find some bravery. I was with my Americorps team in the Florida Keys, and when would I be back there again? I followed my teammates off the ladder and treaded water for a minute to get my bearings. Then I submerged my face and what I saw nearly drowned me. Fish. Everywhere. Bright colored and beautiful – but only a body's length below me. I forgot how to breathe and what the snorkel was for. Sputtering, gasping, I lifted my face and floated on fear. I only lasted a few more minutes before I retreated to the boat. Everyone else was disappointed by the cloudy water quality, but the few fish I saw were experience enough for me. When the group went out again on a clearer day, I opted to canoe in the mangroves instead. A good choice because they could talk of nothing but the five barracudas they saw…
It's a silly, irrational fear. I know. But harmless enough. As far as phobias go, this one isn't debilitating or even particularly limiting.
But fishing presents an interesting parallel, a metaphor I must unwrap.
Let's talk about surfaces and depths and dragging things into the light that we don't want to see. Things that we'd rather leave alone, let swim in the deeps where they're unseen and easily forgotten. Moments we're not proud of. Thoughts that bubble up no matter how firmly we push them down. Ugly faces we parade in front of the people we love.
When I cast my line into the deep parts of myself, there are a number of big ones I could reel in. Monsters that have been growing hungrily my whole life and could stand to be pulled out and clubbed over the head.
Like the way I'm sorry always sticks in my throat, caught and choking on being right. The way I respond to criticism like it's a full blown, spear thrown attack. The way I wear my bad moods like a rain cloud, drenching and growling at those in my closest circle. The way I let my self confidence drain out with the bath water and sit there naked and shivering. The way I cradle self pity. The way I judge.
There are others, I'm sure. Ones I can't even see clearly enough to name.
But they're not all ugly. There are some brilliant colors down there, too. Like creativity and kindness and crystal clear intentions. Grace and gratitude and gifts I've yet to give. And love. Love pulsing through everything. There are angelfish swimming alongside my muskies.
And here's the really cool part of this metaphor: I'm not just looking at these fish – all these dark and light parts of myself – swimming around in some glass bowl. No, they exist in the unique ecosystem that is me and stuff is evolving all the time. So when I cast into myself – you know, do a little soul searching – I always catch and release. I toss the pretty ones back to grow more and populate my waters. And the scary ones? I'm figuring out ways to scrape off some of the gross scales and replace them with bits of iridescent blues and brilliant pinks, hoping to transform my ugliest faults into breathtaking creatures of the deeps.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
What the hell?
I dismount my bike and look closely at chain, wheel, pedals. Is something catching? Out of alignment? I can't tell and the deer flies have already found me. They're ruthless and equipped with flesh-seeking fangs, so with a quick leg up, I'm spinning again on this ribbon of pavement curling through the woods.
Spin – click. Spin – click. Spin – click.
It's there with every pedal stroke. It distracts me. Annoys me. But like it or not it's coming with me and I'll just have to deal. So I focus on the hill ahead and pulling up not just pushing down and the sound of my breath in my ears. I remind myself to melt my shoulder blades down my back and to draw in my core and fully fill my lungs.
The clicking fades to my periphery, diluted as I open to all the scenery and sensations waiting to be noticed.
Five minutes elapse and suddenly the sound is at center stage again, shooting right through me. But I shove it into the wings as I scan the woods and take a drink and lengthen my neck and blow some snot.
The clicking continues to bubble to the top of my consciousness at random intervals, but I get so good at shifting my awareness that it takes nothing from my ride.
This letting go takes practice, I find. I lack the natural ability to easily refocus my attention once it's gotten snagged and reeled in by some menial irritation. And there are a million little things that can do it, that can seep through my floorboards, flood my mind, and fill me with unnecessary frustration: The particular timbre of whiney voices. Giggling in the bathroom while the baby naps on the other side of that thin wall. Toys on the kitchen table. Car keys misplaced when one foot's already out the door. Can I have more before I've even lifted my fork. Chaos when I'm craving calm. Mouth-open chewing and guzzle-slurp drinking. A rough night punctuated by a premature dawn. Insistent persistence when I've already said no. A slow, slow pace when the endpoint is so near. Tattling. Crabbing and commotion while I'm trying to cook dinner. Kids who still need something after goodnight.
I tune into these insignificant clickings and they sound so loud in my ears. So distracting. So annoying. And suddenly I'm not enjoying right now at all because all my spotlights are trained on the one thing I'm cupping in my palm and the heat is burning my skin. I hate my frustration and fairly short fuse. It's not something I want to model to my children.
So I'm taking this lesson straight off the bike. I'll acknowledge the day's clickings and admit my irritation. But I'll widen my gaze and notice all the other details that make up that moment:
The scent of garlic still on my fingers. Weeds carefully saved in a table-top drinking glass. Somewhere Over the Rainbow sung unselfconsciously off key. A burst of soapy mint when I wash my hands. Big eyes watching me. Sunlight dripping down the wall. Cold kitchen tile under too-warm feet. Onesies flapping on the laundry line. The same breeze fingering the curtains. The moon, visible in the daytime sky. Lungs thick with breath, veins fat with blood.
All this is here, too. All the time. Treefruits mine for the taking. Golden apples bound to sweeten my mood.
And with practice, perhaps I can retrain my mind to hear but not fixate upon whatever it is that's clicking.
[And though I'm grateful for this lesson, I'm still going to ask John to fix whatever is out of whack on my bike…]
Saturday, July 24, 2010
I used to stand here a lot, in years past. Before kids. Before so many kids.
I'd watch the water, thinking about nothing and noticing everything – the curious optical illusion created over a mostly still lake, where slight waves moved toward shore and away at the same time. I could search for the divide forever. Or I'd listen to hissing rain strike the surface like so many small silver bells. Or track the loon's progress across the bay.
Sometimes I'd sit here and read a book, lost in a story for hours.
I'd even roll out my yoga mat here, saluting the sun as it set, all pink and gold and purple, sliding out of the sky and into my heart.
But this year I've only come to pier's end a couple times – to check out a kid's fishing catch or help someone into the boat. I could have made more time to just be here. But I guess I kind of forgot.
Forgot how big the lake feels when I'm out over it without trees or shoreline telling the corners of my eyes that I'm on solid ground. Forgot how silent the world feels with only the sound of the wind whistling over my ears and the water slapping the sides of the fishing boat and the frogs gulping from the other side of the lake.
I can't believe how busy I've allowed myself to feel. Here, where our whole point is to do nothing.
My mind hasn't been still yet. Its been turning dutifully around worries and ideas, pushing hard against the fog of too-little sleep and scrambling with spinning wheels against resulting low moods.
And for a bit there, I couldn't stop thinking about my hair.
My thoughts were tangled in my own tresses, highlighted and growing out. I twisted my doubts around my fingers, stuck on right thing and brave enough.
But right now, I'm standing here at the end of the pier, that decision behind me. It's 10pm and really quiet with no kids shouting their joy to the world. A neighboring cabin-goer pulls into the drive, car headlights momentarily illuminating the lake. The scene looks like a photograph negative, all opposites. I can see stuff I shouldn't. My mind drifts over what I said.
Kim, I know you're not self conscious about your hair, but if it was me, I'd want one of my sisters to do this.
I took off my hat. Nervous that she'd be offended or weirded out or take it the wrong way.
But her hug told me she understood my point. That I'm saying I love you and I support you and you're beautiful and brave and I want to teach that to my children the way you're teaching yours and all the rest of us.
[I'm on the left. Hard to recognize?]
I'm so glad we have another week here. Another week to rest and watch the kids run and realize again that this place is home and therapy and heaven and common ground and a thread that ties us all together.
And this week, I'm promising myself to let go. Unknit my brows. Quiet my mind.
And stand here at the end of the pier. Even if it only happens at 10pm.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Mama, can you build me this Lego house? You've been asking all morning.
Sure, I can, now that Ruthie is napping.
I sit on the floor and look at the instruction booklet, open to a heavily creased page. Your heart is set, anticipating. But it's just a picture – no step-by-step for this one. And lunch is looming and dishes are waiting and I have neither time nor head space to improv this design. To be honest, I've never been good at building.
I can't do it, sweetie. I'm sorry. I explain all the strikes against me. But the edge creeps into your voice.
I try to bargain. A different house? The one on that page, the one with instructions?
No. You're up another notch.
I try to reason, explaining that if you want lunch sometime soon, I have to make it now.
I know where this is going. I'm grasping at a rock wall that's shedding pebbles and threatening an avalanche. I try one last ditch effort, tossing a bucket dripping with hope at your smoldering fire.
Maybe Daddy can try when he gets home?
No!!! [Exclamation points are not sufficient here – is there punctuation mark that exudes whining and anger and disappointment and demands?]
I knew it wouldn't work. Your eyes are too fixated on your desires and you can't see me at the end of the tunnel, cupping points of light in my outstretched hands – reason, compromise, patience. The darkness of no crushes you, a freight train only you can feel.
And the tantrum lasts though lunch until you finally burn out and your silly, laughing, scheming self peeks out from under the wreckage of puffy eyes and tear-streaked cheeks.
In the space of time between here and your next breath, you forget all about that Lego house and the fit and the fire that raged through the hour. But I can't. I'm charred to a crisp, burned down and burned out from walking through the flames with you.
My stomach is stuffed full of hot coals, smoldering over what I should have said or done differently, how I could have reached out with the right strain of compassion to pull you away from your disappointment and hurt.
I'm bothered all day. Feeling kind of mad at you but mostly at myself for what I lack in patience and the steel skin to let this roll off of me. But I know that this is just you being three and middle and owner of all the spit and fire and wild emotions that make you you.
The day is done. You're in bed, nestled between blankets and stuffed snakes, eyes half masted and so near sleep. I say goodnight and you mumble I love you and we've both let whatever weighed us down before melt away into this soft darkness. Tomorrow will dawn quiet and spacious and we'll fill the new day up with different bricks and noises, immersed in the business and beauty of being.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
I step outside to retrieve a few rogue items from the laundry line before it rains – still-damp swimming suits that shiver sand when I shake them, towels slung up without clothespins. There's a pair of shoes in the grass.
It's darker than a usual 8:30 because the clouds cover the sun's final salutations. The wind is kicking up, rifling through my hair but I don't know how it can possibly press through all this humidity.
A kickball jostles in the grass, threatening to roll down the driveway when the storm says hello. The cartoon characters printed on the ball's face smile at me plasticly and those huge, unseeing eyes somehow sear through my skin. I pick up the ball and tuck it close to the house. Safe. Though I'm certain neither of the girls would miss it if it ran away.
Inside the house, I gather up the remains of the day – bedtime books left on the couch, a stuffed animal on the kitchen table, baby toys trailing like tell-tale crumbs around the house. And a doll lying facedown on the living room carpet. She breaks my heart for some reason, positioned like that. I reorient her gently in the toy basket, face up. On top. So she can breathe? I'm not sure why.
Everything is cleaned up, set up for a new day.
The silence – such a unicorn during the day I sometimes want to scream – suddenly presses on my throat, heavy with a far away sadness that I can't quite name.
I sit on the cleared-off couch and close my eyes for a second. There's nothing I have to do. It feels weird.
The baby's sleep-heavy cry startles me – she's so loud, instantly. I go into her room. She's sitting up in her crib and rubbing her eyes. I gather her up and she fits snugly in the crook of my arm. Her eyes flutter closed. She absently strokes my arm as sleep washes over her again.
It's so quiet.
And then it begins to rain.
Monday, July 12, 2010
It's not that I wasn't excited about the day – I had been dreaming about it with increasing degrees of certainty since we were 17 years old.
It's just that I didn't particularly care about the details. I mean, I wanted nice flowers and good food and a flattering dress – you know, one that stayed put during vows, dinner, and dancing.
And the dress had fit in the store, perfectly. So no need for alternations, no need to try it on again. But then on Big Day Morning, I put it on before church just to be sure and – oh no – there was something seriously amiss. Had my boobs shrunk? [Was that even possible?] But no matter what we stuffed in it or which fancy bra I put on, it was clear that this strapless dress would slowly shimmy downward unless I stood still through everything. I mean, I was looking forward to taking it off and all, but I needed to get through the day first. Clothed.
Some freaking out commenced.
And then Becky's mom came over and she did something magical with a needle and thread and – poof! – everything was as it should be.
So I got dressed at the church, and when everything was cinched up tight, all the ladies left my dressing room and I waited for you. My heart pounded unexpectedly – why was I so nervous? And then you walked in the room and I don't remember what we said but I can still touch that feeling of home that washed over me.
The chaos and giddy stress of the morning melted right then and we walked through the day floating on all the promises of love and new life.
It's nearly seven years later.
Dinner sizzles on the stovetop and I'm alternating between chopping onions and rushing to save the baby from certain death. I told you earlier I didn't want to do this part of the day alone. I'm tired. Really tired. But its almost five o'clock and you're still not home. And I'm past my edge. Angry at you.
You walk in, finally. Helmet unhooked, sweat glistening, exhilaration still clinging to your skin. Something curt and heavy passes between my lips – not even a hello.
I'm sorry. I went farther than I meant to.
I turn back to the duties of dinner, holding my grudge between clenched teeth.
But you cut up the watermelon and refill the milk glasses and make the kids laugh and wash the dishes and glide over my bad mood like it doesn't have tentacles and hooks that are trying to drag you down.
I can't stay mad, even though I try. Eventually, I soften.
Today I go out for a bike ride of my own on the route you recommend. I'm staring up at the hills you promised would meet me here. Mountains, I mutter. But I like the challenge. And it's nothing me and my granny gear can't handle. I creak slowly up the incline and my bike even sounds kind of arthritic until I make it to the top – kidding! – where the road just flattens and then goes up even more.
At the top – for real this time – I celebrate inwardly as I anticipate the fast decent. I tuck in my elbows and glance down – 36mph. You'd be going faster, but I know you'd wait for me at the bottom, coasting while I'd pedal to catch up.
But you're home with the kids while I'm out here alone. I think about you the whole time. And my bliss meets yours on these roads where I find speed and exertion and sun and silence and beautiful scenery.
And then I'm back and I walk through the door and you know exactly where I've been and what I saw and how I felt because you've been there too and wanted to wrap it all up and give it to me. And all I can say is thank you and offer you this in return and put my hand in yours and say here's to seven times seven more years.
And then you go out for your ride and come back a little bit late but this time I don't really mind.
Happy Anniversary, John. I love you.
Friday, July 9, 2010
I didn't realize I had walked through it until I felt it on my arm. The thin, sticky, hair-like strand stretched and finally surrendered like a finish line ribbon around the winner's waist. I turned just in time to see a smallish spider reeling herself back into the web, her night's work undone by my forward motion. But I know who she is, this eight-legged spinstress – she'll get that web restrung.
Sometimes shit walks right through our lives and blasts a rocket-sized hole in all that fragile stuff we wish was permanent. And then what? What do we do? Stare at the hole and watch everything slackening around it, eyes filled up and brimming with why me and fuck this and I give up? Let those emotions sap and stun and paralyze?
I probably would.
But not Kim.
She's staring down cancer treatment for the third time, this beloved sister in-law of mine (scratch in-law – I love her so much she's blood). But she's not letting this thing walk all over her.
She's got on her ass-kicking boots – black, heavy-duty, steel toed. Maybe her hands are shaking a little as she laces them up, but her fight is fueled strong by her faith and her will and her passion and her kids and her husband and parents and brothers (and sisters!) and friends.
She's taking ugly, good-for-nothing Cancer firmly by the ears and evicting it from her body and her life. And then she'll artfully knit over the torn places, colorful and beautiful and new.
You can do it, Kim.
We're all praying for you.
I love you.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
His top is down and his gray hair blows in the wind. I really like his car.
My hair is blowing too, but I'm going 15 in a 55. He passes me like I'm standing still, giving me a ridiculously wide berth like he doesn't trust my commitment to this straight line.
Maybe he's right to be so cautious – there's a wind coming out of the east that's trying hard as Hades to knock me off my bike. But I'm holding my own, moving forward, making my own breeze that rushes like an ocean in my ears.
I watch his car shrink and I squint after him, narrowing my eyes because the sun is so bright – for once not because sleep weighs heavy on my lids. Maybe I'm spending this extra energy with heady ambition – my tank will be so empty when I get home – but it feels good to move this fast. The mottled pavement beneath my front wheel blurs by in a dizzying pattern. My feet trace rapid circles and my lungs move like bellows to extend breath and life to all my edges.
I'm sure Convertible Guy is enjoying his Sunday drive, out here where 10 minutes replaces rows of houses with rows of corn and sings silence if you slow to a stop. But I smile the grimace of the grind off my face and inwardly brag that I'm enjoying mine even more: earning imagined merit badges for this stream of sweat and consciousness, for baking the winter white off my skin, for cresting these hills –heaving heavily but Here. Here. Here.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
She lunges to follow but the leash ends right then and the tension snaps her into a stumble-roll-stand maneuver that shakes the scent from her nose.
We continue walking, rabbit behind us and maybe forgotten.
Moments later a patch of grass distracts her and she stops. What stood here? Peed here? Where is it now? She roots with her nose while I continue walking, pace unbroken. The leash unravels until it pulls taut and she gets the message that I'm not going to stop. She trots ahead again as far as the leash will let her, adjusting her pace to match mine.
Our dog lives a purpose driven life – she exists to walk and she spends her days hoping for, begging for, and anticipating her next walk. If she could talk, I think she'd ask to go without the leash, though – Can I run ahead, Mom? Please? I'll be good! I won't get lost! I'll stay close! Puuhhleeaaaase? As much as I know she'd love to run free, it would only take one squirrel before she'd dart off: out of sight, out of reach, and out of our lives.
And though the leash is what holds her back, keeps her from chasing all of her dreams, it is the object of all her desires. She checks on her leash multiple times a day, verifying that it's still on the hook but hoping that it's in someone's hand. When someone does take it down, she runs in circles, whining and yipping in excitement. The leash limits her, but it lets her out of the house.
I'm going to be honest here – some days, I feel tied up and held back, too. Like there are rabbits darting under my nose but I can't chase them. Stifled. Stymied. Stuck. And in my least shining moments, I wax ungrateful and start blaming this life.
The kids woke up too early and interrupted my yoga time. The baby wouldn't go to bed last night and I had to start work when my eyes were ready to close. Multiple midnight wakings left me too tired to write. Tantrums and talking back tied up my muse and sapped her into silence. I want to run and bike but the time just isn't there. This life is too busy, too loud, too chaotic. If only kids would sleep a little later and a little better, if only we had a little more money and I could work a little less, if only we lived a little closer to family and I could rely on their help to create a little structured writing time, if only if only if only…just a little different…just a little…
But I know a different lake always looks bluer from afar – altered circumstances would be far from freeing. There's a leash in everyone's life. We're held back by money and health and a million other things. [Right?]
And you must know I love my life. I love my kids. Deeply. Even if sometimes they feel like a leash. [And maybe, sometimes, you feel this way about your life, too?]
So lately, I'm practicing that stumble-roll-stand maneuver I learned from the dog: when I bolt after something but reality jerks me back, when I stop to sniff something really interesting but the day drags me ever forward, I'm working to shake it off and adjust my pace and my expectations. And I'm working to honor my limits as the actual vehicles of my freedom – without the kids, I'm not sure I would have ever needed the quiet space in my life for yoga. Without a 9-5 job and career goals to pursue, I don't think I would have started searching for my voice and my identity through writing.
I belong here. In this life. I am linked body and soul to all my limits and freedoms. I can either embrace everything and run excited circles around every piece of it, or I can pull so hard against it all that I break in half. The choice is mine. Every day.