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Making a Heart

She crouches in owl pose on the dog eaten bookcase, next to the window overlooking the driveway, little feet perched among soccer cleats and shin guards.  I pause as I pass by.

She wraps her arms around my neck, tightly, too tightly and plants small seedlike kisses all around my cheeks.

Most mornings I am frantic, running practically shoeless out the door, coffee balanced on lunch and schoolbag in one hand, car keys and hairbrush tangled in the other.  I’ve gotten skilled at the art of brushing in traffic.

She squeezes harder, desperate to impact change on the force of my forward motion with her tiny body… it is futile.  I have to go, and she has to stay… an equal and opposite reaction.

Sometimes her little chin trembles and her eyes well up, which I hate because our eyes are mirrors.

Always, she turns quickly away and starts frantically breathing deep breaths onto the window glass as I walk out the door.  She screams after me, “I’m making a heart!” and she traces one in the wispy fog with her five year old fingertip, in the exact same place she has for the past three months of her kindergarten year.

There are roughly 75 Chloe fingerprint hearts on that windowpane and I think often that if we ever sell this house I am taking it with me.

She screams that she’s making a heart, and she frantically traces it, over and over again and then she adds whatever motivational saying is currently beating inside her chest… I’m usually outside and halfway in the van, blowing kisses and smiling through tears, but I can still hear them because she’s yelling through the window.   “Always be yourself” or “Don’t ever change who you are”  or sometimes even “Don’t forget me ever do you promise?”.

This last one prompted the opportunity to wear her pink pliable plastic heart bracelet on my left hand.  She slipped it on one morning, worried that I would forget about her during the day while I work, completely separate from where she is.  “You can wear this, Momma and when you look at it you can remember all about me and how I’m making a heart.”

I’ve told my students all about this, and instead of smiling at the cuteness of it all, they have basked in the brilliance of the idea…    Two of them have gone home and given their own parents keepsakes to remind them of their presence when they’re apart.

It’s a tradition born out of her separation anxiety… separation anxiety that all the “momma cards” packed in lunchboxes couldn’t fix, nor could her own little trinket, to remind her of me.    It does not matter that I have told her a thousand times that I am always with her, that she carries me with her, that I remember her with every beat of my heart.

But this… this carrying her around with me… this works.  She’s no longer anxious during the school day.  Her teacher hasn’t rocked her, in tears, in over three months.

And I wonder.

I wonder how this five year old can possibly be as perceptive as I now know she must be.  To see the sad behind the smile.  To seek comfort through comforting.   I wonder to what extent this routine has changed the eyes that meet her own every morning as I’m walking out the door… these eyes that mirror hers.  I wonder if it has helped her to feel secure to see that she has grounded me in feeling more secure.

I wonder if she knows already that I need her as much as she needs me.

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stretch

We are rubber bands, linked.   Elastic.  Pliable.  Changing.  I can see how we stretch and contract, hold on and let go, over and over again.

I can see it in the way that Maddie rolls her eyes skyward and snips a response to push me away when I ask her a question she deems silly, then five minutes later wedges herself into my personal space desperate for contact.  This space, the space of me, is ever shrinking in its ability to accommodate her dimensions, and it makes her frantic as she squirms and stretches to fit the contours she is outgrowing.  I cling  to her body, however askew it may land, and let her know that I’ll hold her as tightly as she needs.

I can see it in the way that Chloe begs me to sit with her while she takes her bath, something she hasn’t done in about a year.  She sits among bubbles and figurines, but hesitates when I offer to play.  How long has it been since I played with her?  Really played, without distraction or interruption? Her eyelashes cling together in wet, darkened wisps and frame her eyes just as in infancy, and suddenly I remember kneeling in that same space and cradling her head, wiping bubbles from her rosy cheeks.  It takes my breath away.  Now her limbs stretch long and lean, her toes bumping against the very end of the tub that used to seem dangerously far away.  She holds me close with her smile. “Just sit with me, Momma,” she says.

I can see it in the way that Ben asks me for privacy when I happen upon him in the bathroom, his cheeks reddened and voice quiet.  “I wish there was a curtain we could pull around the toilet bowl,” he mutters.  “Well, there’s always the door,” I suggest.  He responds by gently nudging the door closed with his foot after I leave the room.  I swear yesterday he still pulled his potty into the living room for company while he went.

I can see it in me, as most nights I want to grab them and pull them to me, grip them tight and not let go, will time to stop and even move backward.   But then some nights I  swear the band is pulled to breaking point, stretched thin around so much life and love, and I can’t help but crave freedom, the ability to stretch my self and feel unencumbered, even for just a little while. Those nights I retreat to my pillows and blankets, overwhelmed and searching for solitude.

We are rubber bands, linked.

 

 

Scared

Tonight I’ll write about something that’s been on my mind for the last few days… a memory that I haven’t thought of for years and years, but suddenly has started bobbing to the surface.  I’ve been made aware of it bumping around inside my head, and so I’ll notice it… truly notice it by writing about it… and maybe by letting it see the light of day I’ll set it to rest again.  This is what blogging is supposed to be, for me.  To share the stories inside my heart, and maybe to reach the heart of another.

We are in the van.  Maddie excitedly mentions that her very best friend in the whole wide world is likely going to moving in to our neighborhood.  Not next door, or even down the block, but within a short walking distance.  She’s beside herself, and she says, “And Mommy, someday, maybe next year, I’ll be old enough that I can walk there and she can walk here all by ourselves!”

I feel as if the wind has been knocked from my lungs.

My heart pounds.

I remember.

“No, Maddie… I don’t think so. We can just walk there together.  I’m not comfortable with you walking alone… even when you’re older.”

“What?!!  Mommy!  I’ll be 10!  That’s old enough to walk around the block.”

She might be right.  And if she wasn’t my daughter, and I wasn’t her mother, she likely would be allowed to do it even now.

But I remember.

I’m 14 years old.  I’m walking home from my friend’s house, just a short distance into town.  We had gone together to the hair salon, where I had a practice session for the hairspray-lacquered style that I would wind up wearing to my first semi-formal that weekend.  I’m wearing shorts and a t-shirt, and sandals.  I remember the sandals because they made it hard for me to run.

I’m walking down the side of my road, and I’m about a block and a half from home. My parents aren’t home from work yet, So I’m returning to an empty house. I’m aware of how silly I probably look, with my hair put up in a pile of curls and bobby pins, in the middle of the afternoon.  I’d already gotten quite a few stares.

The truck is old and rusted, and it rolls past me at a slower than normal speed.  I notice it, but don’t truly notice it until it pulls a U-turn a bit down the road.  It then turns down the side street that I’m about to walk past.  He rolls down his window and calls to me.

“Hi there.  I’m sorry… I think I’m lost.  I’m wondering if you could give me directions?”

I slow, then I stop.

“Sure.”

He pulls a piece of paper out to show me, holds it up as though it were a map, but I’m still across the street.  He motions me over to his side of the truck.  Beckons me to look.

I can visualize the next part as though it were yesterday, but when I look with my almost-40-year-old-mother eyes I want to scream.  I don’t know why I didn’t run then.

I step closer to the truck.  Put my hand across the door, lean over to see the paper.

He grabs my hand.  Hard.  Pulls my arm inside the open window.  Other hand on my shoulder and he pulls me to him.  I can smell cigarettes.  His breath.  The whiskers on his face scratch my cheek as he leans in.  I scream.  Wrestle my arm free.  Pull away with all of my might.

And now I’m running.  The sound of flipflops in my ears only slightly louder than my heartbeat.  He’s behind me now, driving slowly, telling me that he’s sorry… he didn’t mean to scare me… could we talk?

I’m at my parents driveway now, and I’m running up the porch. He yells that he knows where I live.  I’m crying.  I’m in the house.  Lock the door, pick up the phone.  It’s over.

Later, I would recount the whole scene to my parents and then to the police.  I would help them make a composite sketch.  They would find out who he was, and they would let him off with a warning.  I never saw him again.

We all have our stories like this.  The stories that make us remember and cringe. The stories that influence every decision we make thereafter.  I know what could have happened.  Even then, I knew.  That was the day that my blind-trust died.  I would see that truck in my mind for years, until I didn’t anymore.  That day in the van with Maddie it came back, and it’s been idling in my head ever since.   How I’d like to go back to that moment.  What I would like to do, to scream.

I can’t.  I’ve made peace with that.

But, I can’t make peace with the fact that I have three beautiful children, and that we live in a world even scarier than the one that I grew up in.  My parents did everything they could to try to prepare me for situations like these, but terror exists where you don’t expect it.

All I can do, as a woman who has had this experience, is make damn sure that I do every possible thing in my power to make sure that my children are better equipped.  That they know to be wary.  That they are watchful, and careful, and take care of each other.  That they are confident in their ability, and their right, to say no.  To scream no.  To scream it at the top of their lungs.

I can do everything in my power to make sure that my children don’t go through what I went through.

And you can do everything in your power to make sure that yours don’t, either.

 

 

 

 

Joy, again.

peep

As I’m writing, I’m sitting in a bean bag chair in front of the fireplace.  I’ve started a fire, chilled from running.  I rotate my body in small clockwise turns to heat my skin evenly.  I can feel and smell the fabric of my running tights heating up, and that is how I know it’s time to turn.  I settle into the moment of joy.

A short space away from me my children cluster around the table poking toothpicks into a wreath made of hay.  On each pointed toothpick, they carefully press a pastel colored marshmallow peep.  An Easter tradition, this wreath will hang…

“BLLLOOOOOOOOOOOOORRRRFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“OH MY GOD!  OH MY GOD!  She’s barfing!  She’s barfing!  Ewwwwwwww it’s so gross, mommymommymommymommy!!!!!!!!!”

“Wow, Mommy.  Look at all that puke.  It’s kind of beautiful, but also realllllly gross.”

This.  This is my life.  In the middle of my contented bliss, which lasted all of five minutes, the dog has vomited up a heaping pile of the three pounds of jelly beans that she stole off the butcher block while we were at basketball earlier in the day.  We had known that something was amiss as soon as we opened the door and she met us, frantic and crazed, practically foaming at the mouth, like a hyperactive jackrabbit on uppers.

It’s my turn to clean it up, as she’s already voided her gut once on the living room carpet, while the twins and I were out for a run with my pals.  Rob fielded that one.  I scoop the puke.  The metric ton of jelly beans had begun the digestion process and are nice and slimy, glistening on the kitchen floor.  I dry heave at the smell. Rob tries to make things  more interesting for me by making constant retching noises.  Now the children join in.  I can’t even.

The kiddos have made their way over to the fireplace and are playing with the iron poking tools. Of course, Benny drops a tool handle first onto Maddie’s exposed foot.  She screams out in pain, a big blue welt already forming. She’s hysterically crying now, and Ben is yelling that it was an accident. Chloe is repeatedly yelling “Are you OK?!” to Maddie. Rob screams at Ben.  I scream at Rob, in Momma bear attack mode.  Ben didn’t mean it.  It was an accident.

Rob’s default setting is to yell, while mine is to withdraw.  Except lately it seems I scream back. I continue screaming.  Maddie dissolves into a puddle of tears and suddenly I am rocking her, back on the beanbag by the fireplace. Ben has moped off to the living room with Chloe and Rob is torn over whose sadness to tend to.

“I don’t want you to get a divorce,” she sobs into my chest.

“You fight all the time.”

Lately it seems like we do.

Rob is with us now, and tears streak down our faces too.  We are so sorry.  So very sorry. Rage converts to sorrow.  Clenched hands relax to stroke her head. How do we help her understand?  We talk about how hard it is to be a mommy and daddy.  How happy we are, but also how stressed we can be.  I tell her that I’m sorry for yelling.  Rob tells her the same. We tell her that sometimes parents fight.  That sometimes parents need time alone, and we get very little.  Her breathing slows.

And now we are three hearts in front of the fire, and I’m drawn into the moment, no matter how it was born.  I let it wash over me.  I bury my face in her hair.  Breathe deeply in, and exhale.  I take Rob’s hand, we are OK.

We cluster around the kitchen table, eating non-homemade rice pudding from tiny porcelain bowls.  Chloe has wrapped herself in a flannel fitted sheet, the one that I JUST folded and had laid on the couch.  I say this to her… she shrugs sheepishly and tells me how warm it is.  I swallow my mouthful of pudding and am acutely aware of how soothing it is to my throat, which I’m only now realizing is sore from yelling.  The guilt rises up.  I swallow it down. Hard.

Still, we listen to the fire crackling, and enjoy the warmth.

This is how joy exists for me.  These moments of connection, of peace.

Sun rays filtered through clouds.

Moments mined from the surrounding rubble.

My heart grabs hold of them when they shine out, and they sustain me.

I suspect this may be true for lots of other people too, this living off the moments.  Life can’t be all rainbows and unicorns.  It’s struggle and comfort and it’s sorrow and love.  But so often, we tuck our stories inside our own hearts, keeping them in the dark.  Swallowing them down.  Hard.

What if we let them out more?

Would our stories reach the dark places in someone else’s soul?

Would there be joy in that connection?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joy

 

joy

How does joy exist for you?  Easily?  Does it radiate off your skin without effort?  Or do you have to work for it constantly?

For me, joy comes in and out of focus like filtered sunlight through clouds.

Many days it’s right there shining down on my skin, warming my heart and feeding my soul.

Other days, I have to work really hard to find it.  Those days I can barely feel its’ warmth, and I have to rely on my physical memory and fake it until I can figure out how to pull it  out from behind a cloud again.

Those days are hard. Sometimes they come fast and often.  And it seems like there are more of them in the middle of winter… March especially.

Those are the days that I struggle to get out of bed, struggle to connect, struggle to smile.   I find I have to reach out and hook my cart onto the joy-haulers of others.   My family and my friends are my joy haulers.  They know when I’m withdrawing, when sadness is starting to creep around my edges.  They reach out to me… send me texts and phone calls, pull me along, wrap me up, let me know that they are there and that I’m loved.  And with this support it gets a little easier… I remember to breathe.  Exercise.  Eat well. Connect.  Write. Sleep.

And suddenly the sun shines down and I feel warm again.

Suddenly, I can be the joy-hauler for someone else who needs my love.

I have so much to be grateful for in my life.  So much love and beauty and friendship.  But there is also so much that overwhelms and frustrates me, and I struggle with how to make the conscious choice to not let it get the best of me, to not let the sun slip behind the clouds.

How does joy exist for you?

Piles and Patches

There are piles of paperwork overtaking the entire surface of my desk at work.  I regard them daily… they’ve always been there, regardless of the desk, regardless of the job.    All manner of detritus piled up all over my kitchen counters.  Heaps of laundry, clean yet unfolded on the couch, piles of laundry dirty and waiting in the basement.  Piles of doghair in tumbleweed formations accumulating in distant corners.

Piles of things running through my brain, all the time, all day long.

A friend recently asked me, looking over my desk area at work, “Doesn’t everything have a place?”  I stared at her like she had two heads, so foreign is this concept to me.  Who assigns these spaces?  How do I know where they are?  This is why my candles live with my slowcooker, next to the caulking gun and a bunch of tablecloths.  This friend has her act together.  To step foot in my house in its current state would likely cause spontaneous combustion of her eyeballs.

I find patches of time to take on these piles.  Tiny slivers carved out of crazy days of full time motherhood and full time teaching.  I run the vacuum between the basketball games.  I pile the toys in the toy room.  I ignore the laundry couch.  I rub red a patch of worry at the base of my neck, between my collarbones.  I fret over how I’m going to get to x and y while still trying to handle z.  I try to solve an impossible math equation that will always require there being more than one of me, more than one of my husband. The dog throws up a pile of paper towels that she got out of the trashcan.  I spray a patch of resolve on the carpet and swear under my breath.  I lash out at the dog.  My husband.  The kids.  He lashes back.  The worry patch grows.

I wonder if life will ever feel less frantic.  If I’ll ever have space and time to breathe.  And, if someday I find that space and time, I’ll want desperately to have my present day piles back, likely having traded them in for piles of a different (but still stressful) nature. I wonder if future me will think about present me with sadness, or resentment, for all the things I mismanaged…for all the shit I didn’t get done… for all the moments I missed by trying.  I can see future me being rather bitchy… the way present me regards past me and my silly fascination with registering for things like matching towels, crystal punch bowls and bread makers when I got married almost 17 years ago.

I want to talk to future me… to yell at her, really.  I want to tell her to put her goddamn feet up and remove her fingers from her neck.  I want to tell her that I’ve always done the best I can, until I can do better.  I want to tell her to go easy on me.

And, I want to remind her that some of the most brilliant, most beautiful souls have the messiest piles.

 

 

Spark

IMG_0158 (3)

“Mommy, You sound like music…I’ve been noticing that lots of times the things that I hear everyday sound a lot like music.”

Ben utters these words as he generously slathers a bite of fish with ketchup, the only way his five year old palate will tolerate it.

“Huh?”  I reply, mouth full, certain of what he said but unsure of its meaning.

He hesitates.  Puts the fork down. “I just mean that there’s music.  You know.”

I question him again, realizing too late, as usual, that in doing so I am essentially shutting him down.  He doesn’t like to be put on the spot, ever.  “I don’t know what the words mean.  I don’t want to talk about it.”

As quickly as it came, the moment is gone, like a spark that flares but doesn’t catch.

So many of these moments come and go, not fully realized but always noticed.  My Benny is a thinker, with an inner vision and imagination that he hasn’t achieved the language skills to express yet.  I don’t always understand.

He gets frustrated.  Especially when I don’t catch on.

This is the same boy who, last weekend, spent the better part of an hour decorating our mantle with colorful “cookies” made of playdoh, that he and his twin sister “baked” with me at the kitchen table one freezing afternoon while the space heater warmed our toes.

There are purple swirls with hot pink polka dots.  Yellow stars with glittered sprinkles. Orange hearts with blue piping.  Each cookie tells a story.  Each detail represents a moment.  I remember them all when I look at them.  It’s why I couldn’t throw them away, instead piling the dehydrated remnants in a cardboard box in the playroom.

“Let’s add some color here,” he mutters to himself as he places the cookies strategically on the stone.  He had found them in the playroom, and pulled them out with such authority, such sureness, that I didn’t have the heart to tell him that dry playdoh crumbles, that a mess was sure to follow.

Tenderly, lovingly, he lifts them out of the box, talking about each one as it passes through his hands.  I notice his hands.  He’s being so gentle, so careful.  The cookies remain whole. This is my son… my child who struggles most with language, who lashes out with these same hands to hit when using his words fails him.

I notice the startling contrast of brightness on the grey of the slate.

Now finished with the clay, he takes small handfuls of my  rainbow colored crystal and glass beads, and sprinkles them in small piles and patches among the cookies. I squelch my rising anxiety about beads and playdoh getting scattered about the house, as well as my ever present inner monologue about the excessive dog hair that abounds (even on the mantle).

“Momma!  Look!  I made spring!”

On a hunch, I raise the blinds to let in the light, and his work sparkles and shines out of the dull grey rock.  Like a spark ignited into flame.

He smiles… he knows I understand.