Tag Archives: being a mother

Long live the book (and long live the conversation)

from Peter and Wendy, by J.M. Barrie (illustration by Lucie May Atwell)

from Peter and Wendy, by J.M. Barrie (illustration by Lucie May Atwell)

Here’s a NY Times article that brings up some more questions about where and how we should read to children, and whether any reading (on an e-reader, for instance) is better than nothing.  (The brief answer:

“What we’re really after in reading to our children is behavior that sparks a conversation,” said Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple and co-author of the 2013 study. “But if that book has things that disrupt the conversation, like a game plopped right in the middle of the story, then it’s not offering you the same advantages as an old-fashioned book.”)

Again and again, what seems central to so much about how we live: being active (rather than passive) is almost always best.

“What if Peter hadn’t caught the wolf? What then?”

Was this the album cover of my youth?

Was this the album cover of my youth?

This morning, with my daughter’s school I went to hear the Dayton Philharmonic concert perform several stories, including Peter and The Wolf.  I was sleep-deprived, having worried overnight about a very scary situation a friend was going through–a reminder that we don’t get out of here alive. The strains of Peter and the Wolf  hurled me back to childhood, and left me tearful…the music (as music will sometimes do) approached me from other human hearts (composer, musicians), reached into my body, held my wrung-out heart, exposing that red and tender mess to music’s melodic touch.  Of course I cried.

At the end of the story of Peter and the Wolf, the characters parade to take the trapped wolf to the zoo.  “What if Peter hadn’t caught the wolf?  What then?” asks Peter’s grandfather.

I cried while I watched the story today in part because a friend from college, the roommate of my college boyfriend, went to the hospital last Christmas day because his stomach hurt.  It was stomach cancer.  Two weeks ago, despite the ever-youthful impish angel energy he carried with him so beautifully through the decades, after how many rounds of chemo and thousands of people circling him with love and support, he died.  (The wolf was not caught.  But my friend the imp-angel, in his final months, due to his loving, kind spirit, pulled back together a circle of friends whom I’d missed for years.  One bright fact in this horrible loss, the light he shone on us.)

This morning I learned that last night’s freshest reminder of our damned mortality, my friend who I worried about while I did not sleep, might have cheated death awhile longer.  This morning I pled in my journal , “Please let him be okay,” covered the page with scrawled hearts, as I often do when I’m wishing, but I might as well have written, more bluntly: “Please let him cheat death awhile longer.”

Each breath cheats death, doesn’t it?  As I write this and as you read it, look at the two of us: just a couple of lucky, breathing cheaters.

As a child, the wolf was a scary dark force, who always slinked up at the same point in the symphony, on cue.  This morning, watching the Dayton Philharmonic and the Dayton Ballet School amid an audience of school children,  my adult mind was able to see a crucial nuance: The wolf is hungry.

The wolf is always hungry.

So hungry, in fact, that she swallows the duck whole.  (If you listen closely, you can still hear the duck’s song.  That’s called memory, children.)

But what if Peter hadn’t caught the wolf?  What then?

Tidying up

flying softWhen I was in graduate school, I gave a seminar on J.M. Barrie‘s Peter Pan.  It’s one of my favorite books, in fact it’s maybe my favorite book, and reveling in the novel’s story and history was a joy.  I’ve been waiting until I could read it to my daughter, suggesting it often, but she repeatedly refused.  Wasn’t ready, or I was trying too hard.  Then someone loaned us an audio book of Tinkerbell stories and I told Merida that we have to read Peter Pan (the original!) before she could listen to it.  So a few days ago, she finally relented and we began The Great Book.  Now she’s begging me to read more whenever we have time.  After I read  this passage from Chapter One, we had a funny conversation.

“Mrs. Darling first heard of Peter when she was tidying up her children’s minds. It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. If you could keep awake (but of course you can’t) you would see your own mother doing this, and you would find it very interesting to watch her. It is quite like tidying up drawers. You would see her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of your contents, wondering where on earth you had picked this thing up, making discoveries sweet and not so sweet, pressing this to her cheek as if it were as nice as a kitten, and hurriedly stowing that out of sight. When you wake in the morning, the naughtiness and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind; and on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out your prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on.”

My daughter leaned over to me and said, “Do you do that?”

How to answer? I was vague.

She said, “Don’t you know?”

“It’s a story,” I said, and smiled.

To go skating on your name…again…

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“By tracing it twice, I fell through the ice of Alice…” –Tom Waits

Today, I went ice skating for the fourth time in my life.  The first time was in my late teens, and despite back then being a passable roller skater, my recollection of ice skating was that it was somewhat of a disaster.  (After mostly falling, I had no urge to try it again.)  Last autumn, when my daughter’s school had an ice skating field trip planned, they needed drivers.  I signed up.  I was anxious, but thought I would try skating again.

(It was fun!  And who knew I’d have the opportunity, at age 47, to revise my long-believed story that I couldn’t ice skate?)   I went on a second school skating trip last week, and again, had fun.  Both times my daughter skated, she grew more and more comfortable on the ice, as children tend to do when they are learning.  (It was odd but also fun to be learning alongside her.)  I fell once and hurt my wrist, but not so badly that it scared me off that cold frozen ground.

When a friend suggested we take our kids skating today, I thought, Sure!  (Ice skating twice in one week!  And with bruises to prove it!  I’m starting to feel like a jock.)  Today, again it was fun, but alarming (and annoying) how many people had stopped in the flow on the ice, tossing up human obstacles in the way of us beginners.  Why had they stopped?  Posing for photos or taking photos.  

On the ice.

As a novice, ice skating is an activity that forces me to focus on what I am doing at each moment.  The present.  (Remember that old friend, the present?)  On the ice, if I start to have a conversation, or think about something else for more than a moment, if my focus is on anything other than my body and my balance, that’s when I tend to fall.  (“To go skating on your name…and by tracing it twice…” sang Tom Waits, about to fall through.  More about that song here.)

I love taking pictures; I understand the urge.  Like skating, it’s fun.  But there’s a balance to be found, especially as a parent.  Accumulating roll after roll of photographs, as a new parent I realized I can either take pictures, or I can participate in my life.  (Today I wanted to say to the posers and clickers, “Enough with the smart phones and selfies.  Enough.  Stop documenting and live your life.”  But I was polite, and just said, “Excuse me,” as I skated around them.)

Maybe it’s time for a new bumper sticker: Hang up and skate.

Storing it all up

From Frederick by Leo Lionni

From Frederick by Leo Lionni

(Cynics: Please stop reading this post now.)

Sometimes the gratitude I feel at how wonderful life can be seems impossibly grand, too big for my being to hold.  Today has been like that.  Just a regular old great day of easy and beautiful moments with friends and family.  Pancakes.  Bacon.  Coffee.  Tea.  Laughter.  Sunshine.  Children yelling from joy, clumping up and down stairs.  Lights.  Mud.  The best part is those moments is sometimes their recognition.  The wish to mentally store those feeling for the less lovely days when I need a reminder of how good life can be.  Days like today reminds me of Leo Lionni’s book, Frederick.

Hoarders (and my recurring dream)

These are not my beautiful bears.

These are not my beautiful bears.

I just read an interesting story about piece of history owned by a psychologist, Dr. Barry Lubetkin, who treats hoarders.  From this New York Times article:

“A couple of weeks ago, Dr. Lubetkin was idly trawling the Internet for information on Homer and Langley Collyer, urban hoarders known in the 1930s and ’40s as the Hermits of Harlem.

Elderly scions of an upper-class Manhattan family, the brothers had barricaded themselves in a sanctuary of clutter at the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 128th Street.”

Turns out that Dr. Lubetkin owns the face of a clock that his father bought from the Collyers’ estate in 1947.  (If you have not heard of the Collyers–and I had not until today–they were Homer and Langley Collyer, who, according to the oracle Wikipedia, “were eventually found dead in the Harlem brownstone where they had lived, surrounded by over 140 tons of collected items that they had amassed over several decades.”)

All this reminds me of a recurring dream.  (There are two kinds of people in the world: people who recount their dreams to others, and people who cannot stand it when others recount dreams.  If you are from the second category, please stop reading now.)  My dream takes place in various settings, but the plot is always the same: I am looking around in a junk shop (or sometimes it’s an antique shop–there is a distinction, in life and in dream logic) and there, for sale, I see the Steiff and Schuco bears and various other toys (most often mohair stuffed animals) from my youth.  I always have to buy them back, and it always seems strangely unfair.  (And in a weird way, this recurring dream is one of the original germs that started me writing my novel, The Watery Girl.)

In real life, I still have those bears.  I used to think I wanted to be buried with them.  (I’m not kidding.)  Interestingly (to me), lately I’ve been thinking about the difference between collector and hoarder.  (There IS a difference, right?)  For years now, my bears have been in boxes with the furniture and clothing I collected (and often made) for them when I was a child.  Soon, I hope to realize the waking dream I have of setting up a dollhouse for them, so that I can look at them.  So that they will haunt my waking as well as my sleep.

(And it’s not a coincidence that I write this post on the day that, at her request, I moved my six-year-old daughter’s dollhouse and all its contents from her room to the attic.  She’s not ready to get rid of it yet, but she never plays with it, and wants more space in her room.  There is something here.  Something about generations, echoes, and ghosts…in finding this article about the clock face, and in my recurring dream plot, and in my writing this post today.  Something that I need to mind.)

“Wait, pretend that…”

none finer

none finer

I know it’s good practice for writing (and living!) to slow down and listen to children.  Their work (in my daughter’s case, drama and storytelling, the elements of theatre, almost every sentence beginning with “wait, pretend that…”) is as important to them as our work (making dinner, job stuff) is to us.  This morning, keeping up with my daughter’s work was aerobic, and impossible.  I was exhausted by the rapidity of the “wait, pretend that…”s coming from her mouth.  But then–for an instant–I was able to step back and realize something.  “Wait, pretend that…” is exactly what I want her to be doing.  It’s how I want her to be in the world.  It’s the stuff of childhood.  I never want to squash that spark.  I want to give it as much room and air and light as I can.  The collision of the “wait, pretend that…”s with the things I must do to get through the day defines a certain kind of tension, a tension that is maybe necessary for creating things (I tell myself).  And yet I wish that I could slow down enough to bask in her world of “wait, pretend that…”

And then I remember that I am a writer, and I have to “wait, pretend that…” if I want to do this work (that my soul calls upon me to do).

And then I hope that this tension will resolve itself into something beautiful.  (And I watch, in my home, as sometimes, it does.)

success and failure (and how so many things of parenthood, and life, defy duality)

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“What’s a snow cone?” my almost-six-year-old said this evening.  I’d been telling her a story about a girl and a mouse who thought it was hailing.  (“Tell me a Sally and Joey story and they think it’s a storm.”  For this section, she’d specified that it had to be hail.  In my fiction, quickly spun, the hail was actually someone shaving a snow cone.)  Her question was earnest, so I explained.  Then she asked, “Like an ice cream cone of snow?”  Yeah, something like that, except we’ve had real snow ice cream (bowl of snow with honey, or maple syrup, and sometimes for mama, smoked paprika and cinnamon) and we’ve had cider slushies at the local apple orchard.  But never the iconic Snow Cone.  (How I’ve failed as a parent, I thought.)

Later, in the kitchen, she described her method for peeling garlic. “You start with the tail,” she said, and demonstrated how.  (Maybe not a failed parent after all, I thought.)

And in this way, success and failure curl their necks around each other and get tangled, unsure of who is whom, and whether it matters anymore.

And today in that tangle for me is one of the sweetest bits of being alive.

Wishing the bubble were sturdier

Yellow Springs, a long time ago.

Yellow Springs, a long time ago.

(Caution: tired writer.  Mixed metaphors ahead…)

I grew up in a small town.  Though we had our quirks and craziness, and we were not immune to death and grief, the town felt safe when I was a kid.  It has felt safe to raise a kid here, too, and I am grateful to live in a true community, where people see each other, pay attention, and in the ways we can, take care of each other.  Having moved within walking distance to town, this summer, I was looking forward to echoing my own childhood: biking with my kid, hot afternoons at the swimming pool, soft serve ice cream, fun.  This sense of safety in my own town (yes, “my,” because I have a sense of investment and ownership in this place) is a cozy blanket I’ve enjoyed, and taken for granted, most of my life.

But since June, my security has been rocked by several situations that leave me feeling vulnerable.  I think back to the moment of Truman Capote’s “nonfiction novel,” In Cold Blood; I think back to the moment when people began locking their doors.

Earlier this year, there was a rash of burglaries that had many in Yellow Springs feeling vulnerable.  That situation ended in the arrest of a troubled man who grew up here.  Add the accumulation of things that is making me feel vulnerable this summer:

1. On June 12, someone sprayed undiluted herbicide on the grass at the pool, opening a controversy in our small town that is still going on;

2. On June 27, reportedly, someone with a gun was seen near the outdoor education center at Glen Helen where my daughter had been a camper earlier in the summer, which turned out to be a hoax reported by a camp counselor, who was then put on administrative leave;

3. On July 11, a local man attempted suicide, which resulted in a police search and brief lockdown of my workplace during the Antioch Writers’ Workshop;

4. Last week, another local man, allegedly pissed off about the potential for a farm lab at Antioch College, threatened to shoot the members of the Village Council and was arrested (sorry, I couldn’t find a link to this story);

5. Last night, there was a shoot-out resulting in a man dying, less than a block from a house where I used to live.

Notice: four of five of these summer situations involve guns, or the idea of guns.  Big deal, right?  This might not sound like much to people who live in larger cities, or dangerous parts of the world.  For a town with population under 4,000 people, however, these are big, and rattling.  I know people live (and even thrive) in war zones. But this summer’s accumulation of trauma in the village, the pile of things that shake our sense of safety, is palpable.  It takes brute effort not to pass my worry and fear to my five-year-old daughter.  (Oh, and, nothing to do with guns, but two  difficult events this summer: 1. Camille Willis, Yellow Springs resident and mother of my dear childhood friends–and a second mother to me–died very suddenly during the second week of June.  No gun involved, but the loss is central in wobbling my feeling of home, and safety.  2. Jimmy Chesire, beloved T-Ball coach, had a serious head injury.  Luckily, he is healing well, and so there’s some bright spot in that fact.)

When I think about where to focus efforts for controlling the proliferation of guns, I don’t even know where to start.  I know we also need deeper support for people who are afraid, for people who are in (mental, spiritual, emotional, physical) pain.  I know it’s more complicated than “guns kill people” but I also know that if it weren’t so damn easy to get guns, guns would kill fewer people.

I’ve been brewing a blog post about this soup of summer grief.  Today, after the latest event, I am sad and ragged.  Sad and ragged for all the people who’ve been hurt and affected by these situations.  I wish the bubble were sturdier.

Birthing essay published in Midwifery Today

I’m happy to announce that my essay about birthing my daughter, “Breeching Protocol,” was published in the latest issue of Midwifery Today (Issue Number 106, Summer 2013).  The essay that was published in Midwifery Today was abbreviated, but you can read the entire essay on my website here.

(And may breech birth continue to be less and less of an automatic emergency, and more and more just another way to birth babies.  With support and understanding, more breech babies can be born naturally.  I know this is true.

Remember, we make the world.)