Before Bedtime Requests End; I Hope I Hear Them

Posted on December 16, 2014

Somehow I thought that in the years of chronicling the ups and downs of parenting, maybe a lesson or two would stick. Perhaps a bit of writing it down would offer up a moment of grace to keep me from utterly screwing things up because I’m in a bad mood.

Mostly that doesn’t work,  the truth ends up being that as I tally board at the end of the night it comes in at a draw, the screw ups and wins in a dead heat.

The other night I was looking through my iPhoto library and was sobered by the absence of photos of Briar. What happened? There’s Ave, there’s Fin, there’s another selfie. Do I not see her? Are pictures of her not as easily sharable and framable and, “Look, we’re happy. Life is easy!” Maybe it’s that she’s getting older and I am being more restrained out of respect?

Noticing

I decided I had to somehow make it right, but I ended up doubting myself. Right, you’ll take a picture and make yourself feel better, removing any doubt that maybe you are neglecting her. Ha! I’d wager, parenting has never seen a better villain than the critic we carry inside of ourselves.

The last couple of nights I’ve spent more time in Briar’s room at night, not to compensate. It’s been a genuine effort to explore the shift. What is keeping me from her? Do I think that she doesn’t need me? One night I massaged her forearms, explaining that when I get a massage it’s my favorite thing that they do.

“They always massage for back and your neck, which is great, but that’s not he best part.” I said.

“It isn’t? What’s the best? What do you love, mom?” she asked eagerly.

“Well, for me it’s when they take my arm like this,” I put one hand under her arm and lifted it up and out from the bed. She watched me. I raised her arm, which still shocks me sometimes with how slender and fragile it is. I shook it a bit, and then placed my hands on the underside and ran them along her skin. I pulled and fluttered my fingers, pressing into her flesh; she sighed.

“They just pull and press on your arm until they get down here,” I massaged her forearm, letting the tendons slide back and forth between my fingers, before holding her palms in my hand and shaking out her hands, “Let’em hang there, sweets. Just let your hands collapse.”

She tried to let her arms go slack, but her shoulders rose up to her ears. “Loosen up,” I chided. She smiled and her arms went soft, shoulders dropping, and her face melting into a smile. I saw my baby in that face. I squeezed each finger, like wringing toothpaste from a nearly, empty tube.

“They pull the stress and effort of the day right from your fingers. All of that pencil holding, bag carrying, and Minecraft making gets untangled. Let it go.” She did.

Tonight, in that same scenario, I ran my hands up and down her arms, my fingers working until my eyes watered from the effort. “Your hands are so strong, mama. They feel so good.”

I kept rubbing as one of the kittens swatted from under the bed at my bare foot. “Ouch,” I cried.

Briar smiled, “Is that a kitten?” I said that it was.

“Do you want me to scoot over?” Briar asked.

I squeezed her hand. “It’s ok, baby. I’m fine.”

“Mom, you are more than fine. You are like magic. You’re like Maleficent, every step you take makes magic beneath your feet. The kittens follow you, the girls follow you, Dad waits for you, we all come after that magic you make that glows.” Her eyes stayed closed and I watched her. How many nights did I not stay to rub her arms? How many good nights were called to her as I sped down the stairs to feel unneeded.

“Really mom, you just do everything to make us feel so loved, so peaceful,” she sighed contentedly.

I let it hover, settling over us like a warm veil, this moment of having stayed. Maleficent, a character whose lack of apology for being both good and evil, powerful and vulnerable, seemed a perfect comparison. My jaw ached as I swallowed a sob.

“Oh, baby, you girls woke up my magic. All I have has come from you,” my voice was raspy.

“I’m so glad I have you as my mom, Mama.”

“Me too, baby girl, me too.”

IMG_7074

Can’t You See You Like I Do?

Posted on December 8, 2014

“Mama, you are so pretty in that shirt,” I turned to look at where the voice had come from and saw Briar. I had known it was her talking, but the words were so out of context with how I was feeling. Her lips were turned up in the sweetest little smile and her eyes danced, happy.

“Thank you, sweet love,” I said smiling at her. My smile was genuine, my face calm, but my insides were racing. I’d gone through the morning bedraggled, stretched out pajama bottoms hanging from my frame, a t-shirt with just a tank top underneath, and my hair doing that 40-something, morning halo of kinks. The bags under my eyes taunt me, even after a night of more than 8 hours I can look like it’s finals week and I have the flu.

“Your face looks really pretty right now too, mama,” she was nodding and kicking her feet in her chair. I laughed out loud, which made her beam even brighter.

“Wow, honey, that’s really, really sweet of you. I was feeling kind of messy,” I said. She shook her head and nibbled at her toast. I walked back into the kitchen to finish with lunches. My mind wandered as I spread mustard on wraps.

When exactly was it that I became ashamed of not being done up? Just the other day I confessed to other moms on twitter that despite wanting to not ram a superficial agenda for the girls, I yearn to be pretty for them. When Finley watches a performance and says, “Mama, that girl is so pretty,” a little flame of fear and defeat flickers. Am I not pretty enough? Does she wish I was prettier? It’s absurd, but it’s there.

I look at the girls in the morning and revel in their bed head and pillow wrinkles, always have. The slow process of their skin settling back into normal as they grow more alert is a delight. When I consider my own morning cycle it is nothing like that. It is all judgement and critique.

I look over at Briar who is now playing on Sean’s iPad, scrolling through pictures she and her sisters have taken with Photo Booth. They take these pictures to make themselves look silly, completely unafraid of being ‘not pretty’.

When does that go away? I wonder. My chest feels heavy thinking of them having days when the natural state of their face or hair makes them ashamed. Is it avoidable? Considering my own habits and tendencies, it occurs to me that maybe, like so much of what we are supposed to teach, there is no template, no surefire recipe for avoiding it. Perhaps like happiness, the harder you chase the perfect vision of contentment and acceptance, the more elusive it becomes. The best thing that I can do, for me, for the girls, for our whole little family, is look in the mirror and go about my day caring for myself as unconditionally as I do our girls.

“Hey B, you about ready to go to the bus?” I ask Briar.

“Sure, but do you think maybe you could drive me today and we could be together for a little more time?” She is wearing the leggings I bought her, birds running up and down her slender legs, a long tunic poking out from beneath the cardigan she sewed. I smile again.

“Of course, I’ll meet you downstairs.”

She pops out of the chair and darts off to grab her backpack as I look down at my pajama bottoms reconsidering how they look. Maybe this morning me is special because no one else see her. Or maybe I do look pretty in this shirt. Could be that it has anything to do with shirts or hair, and way more to do with the way being with me feels. Briar makes me feel incredibly lucky and beautiful. She and her sisters help me see everything and everyone in new light.

SidewalkWisdom

A New Page Dusted with Compassion

Posted on November 30, 2014

There are people and voices I follow online that are intuitively sensitive, sending out reminders periodically that there may be people hurting, or that as we celebrate a new thing, we ought to give pause to those who may feel no cause for joy. I am deeply grateful for these people, like the gentle lights along the aisle on a plane, offering light—not so much as to illuminate all, but just enough that a person can make their way more confidently and safely.

Tomorrow is the first of December. We are moving toward the end of a year, maybe it’s the last month of the last year you’ll ever have had with a beloved, maybe it’s one month away from the first year of an entirely fresh, albeit challenging, start, maybe it marks the first holiday you’ll pass alone. Or maybe its just another month that involves a kind of sadness that won’t quit.

I’ve come to understand that I cannot fix any of it, can’t always say the right thing, or offer the perfect gesture, but I think that there is an energy that comes from just considering other people’s realities. From Ferguson to being fired, home schooling to heart searching, new jobs to fresh sobriety, just having a little corner of my mind and heart set aside to be gentle, to be the cushion, whether in person face-to-face or somewhere in conversation in defense of those who can’t speak for themselves.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense, but as the list day of NaBoPoMo passes, I am choosing to start the next month with a daily intention of compassion. I may even afford it for myself one day.

Here’s a poem from a man who gave us much beauty, despite a hurt in his own heart that came like a darkness with the reliability of the sun. Thank you, Mr. Frost, for giving us so many miles of beauty as we moved toward a tender sleep.

 

My November Guest

My sorrow, when she’s here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted gray
Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.

No Penalty

Posted on November 29, 2014

Briar sang at a hockey game tonight. She’s right there in the first photo, front and center. This is my first-born, the one who froze at a photo shoot she’d wanted to be in, backed out of a lacrosse clinic she’d agreed to do, and who has lost her ability to speak in public settings at times.

“You going to be ok?” I asked as I lead her toward the music teacher and chorus kids waiting in the corridor.

“Yeah, of course. Why?” she asked.

“I don’t know, just checking,” I said.

I got back to Sean and he said, “Did you tell her the place was going to have 5,ooo people in it? It’s standing room only.”

“Of course not, I don’t want to freak her out.” I said.

I needn’t have worried.

Chorus

Avery and Finley were at the game to support Briar, but also because their karate studio was having a game night. We arrived early enough on account of Briar’s performance that all three girls received jerseys. The backs of the jerseys were emblazoned with a logo that we had done for the hospital. It blew their minds. My own mind was similarly blown as they donned the jerseys and proceeded to cheer, chant, and posture like the best of ‘em.

 

 

 

 

Jerseys

Capping it all off, we bumped into the Tramp staff, who were in fine spirits. I passed out obligatory Thanksgiving hugs which were more sincere than I expected. Over the past few months our crew has bonded as we’ve weathered obstacles, soldiered through insane deadlines, and created squirrelly hilarity. We spent some time catching up, paused for a quick photo pop, and then Sean and I made an early exit with the girls.

 

 

Tramps

 

Briar and Avery would have happily stayed through the game, in fact on our way out we passed a girl from their summer lacrosse program who is a couple of years older than Briar. This girl appeared unchaperoned and both girls were awestruck, but gave me no trouble. I was surprised by how ok I was. These milestones we face, they threaten to double us over, but every once in a while the glimmers of the magic they’ll have break through and quell our terror. Tonight I had Fin in my arms and knew that it wouldn’t be long before she wouldn’t want to clamber up in my lap. That will be ok. Tonight, she is still in my arms and the big girls are still holding my hand, though the pull to hang out without me grows stronger in them each day.

 

 

 

Cuddle

 

It is as it should be. I cherish this time and these girls while I have it. That is enough.