What Were You Doing A Year Ago?

Or two? Or four? Or ten?

I love this kind of reflection.  In the past, I’ve relied on memory alone to answer this question.

But since I bought a five-year journal last year, now I can read exactly what I was doing last year, on the same page I enter what I did today.  Genius.

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A five-year journal — you write in the year.

I always fantasized about keeping journals, but felt intimidated by the large blank page awaiting my entry at 11 PM when I’m about to go to sleep.  This journal gives you six lines to enter something for the day — just enough to capture what you did, or felt, but not enough to take longer than a few minutes.

I tested the waters last summer and then began to fill it out religiously after Owl was born.  I love looking back through the pages and looking at what was happening 3 months ago on this day, 6 months ago, 9 month ago . . .

I was doing the same thing with pictures the other day — on July 9.  And then I found this gem.

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This was the second-to-last night of our honeymoon.  It was only four years ago but it feels like a hundred.  We basically look the same, but there are more gray hairs (me), more lines on our faces, and some sagging skin here and there (me also).  Those physical relics are our evidence of all the has happened — new life, loss, needing to be stronger, more energetic, more patient, more creative, more forgiving, and more loving than we sometimes think we can be.  I look into these faces and see children, even though I was 35, and Eric was 39.  Though we did not know it, nine months later we would be parents.

On July 9 of this year, BRK and Eric’s mom and I returned home from a trip to Florida to see my mom.  This was BRK’s first flight as a toddler.

“Look, look out the window!” I urged,  “We’re inside a cloud!”

“Can I watch Shrek now?” BRK was laser-focused on the TV screen embedded in the seat in front of her.

“BRK, we are LITERALLY IN A CLOUD.”

“I want to watch Shrek.”

Sigh.

Seamless logistics, and Shrek on demand, returned us home without a scratch or a tantrum.

That night I wrote the following in the five-year diary: “Flew back home.  Was so good to see Mom, to see BRK to with Mom.”  I was tired and even those 6 little lines seemed to vast to fill.

I looked up, to last year’s entry, and then across the page, to the next entry, July 10, 2016:

“ . . . took Dad downtown . . . we went to Starbucks.  Told him I hate that he has to go through this, and that I have so many good memories and that I love him . . .”

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The sensations of that day washed over me.  The smell of Starbucks coffee permeating the car, the gray dress I wore, my belly grazing the steering wheel because it was full of 20-week-old Owl, that conversation.

Would I remember this if I hadn’t written it down?  Of course.  But there is something magical about getting to experience it again, on that day, one year later.  And on the future July 10ths when I write in these journals.

Don’t Ask For Too Many Things

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A page from A Fish Out of Water, by Helen Palmer and illustrated by P.D. Eastman

“Mommy, I want to ask for The Door, The Cymbal, and  The Train.”

BRK named the activities she would ask the teacher to do that day in our weekly music class.

“Well, maybe just ask for one thing.” I replied.

Then, I wondered about those words, hanging in the air.

BRK asked, “Why?”

Good question.

Why?  Why not ask for as many things as she wants?  I had discouraged her because when she rattled off all the things she wanted, my mind raced ahead to a place called Must Prevent Disappointment, and then shot to another place, called My Child Must Not Come Across As Demanding.

And I realized how problematic both of these ideas are.

I understand, intellectually, that my children must encounter and experience disappointment.  Yet, despite firmly embracing Cry It Out when she was a baby, and Time Outs when she was 2, now that she is 3, my emotional white knuckles feel arthritically stuck, unable to to let go, to let her be disappointed.  I think of a recent disappointment, when she asked another little girl to play and the little girl said no, and BRK kept bringing different toys over to the little girl, simply not understanding that no matter what she did, that little girl wasn’t going to play with her.  I watched the confusion on her face give way to her first inklings of rejection.  I needed a mop for the pieces of my heart.

My second line of reasoning, about coming across as demanding, bothered me even more.  I asked myself, would I worry about this if BRK were a boy?  Would I worry about this with Owl, who is a boy?  And I think my answer is, “I would worry about it less”.  I might see it more as “knowing what he wants” and “just being a boy”.  I would worry less about him seeming selfish or demanding.

I was reading a childhood classic to both kids last night, A Fish Out of Water.  There is the part when the boy breaks the news to the man at the fish store, Mr. Carp, that he didn’t follow the directions to “feed the fish just this much and no more”, and instead, fed him way too much.

And Mr. Carp replies, “Oh, dear! So you fed him too much! I knew you would.  I always say ‘don’t’ but you boys always do. Yes, I will come.”

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And I wondered about the girls.  Did THEY ever go against what Mr Carp said?  And if they did, what happened? Was it just no big deal, like in this case?  No scolding, just a gentle lesson learned?

Later I said, “You know, BRK, go ahead and ask for all the things you want to do in music class.”  My mind did race ahead to the possible tantrum that could occur, because it was unlikely the teacher would grant all the requests.  But it also reached ahead to BRK being just fine with it, which is what happened, and it was a gentle and real way to learn the lesson of Most Disappointments Are Not That Big Of A Deal.  And, I thought to my own life.  How many times have I amended my requests, making them smaller, in efforts to minimize future disappointment?  I noticed that when I invited people to things, I would say something like, “If you can’t make it I TOTALLY understand.”  I decided to stop saying that.  Why anticipate the No before it happens?  Why not wholeheartedly bound into the invitation, letting the person know how much their presence is desired?  A rejection might sting, but it won’t irreversibly harm.

I thought about all of these things, and especially thought about the messages I want and don’t want to send to BRK and Owl, about what is OK to ask for, and how it is OK to be.

**** I cannot believe it has been nearly 3 weeks since I last posted!  Tear.  It’s been an irregular 3 weeks of new summer schedules, lots of trips, etc.  We have one more week of schedule irregularity but then hoping to get my back to my standard Tuesday and Friday posts.  Thank you, readers, for staying with this blog! ****

A Sense of Place

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Note the timestamp — 5:05 AM. The kids are sleeping “late enough” so that I can resume Early Morning Writing!

 

I’m back, after a bit of a break.  The seasonal transitions require stepping away, reflection.  Another school year closes for me and this year, for 3-year-old BRK as well.

The kids are finally sleeping “late enough” for me to resume 5 AM writing.  I’m grateful for this — it’s a meditation for me.

I’ve been taking a writing class and for a recent assignment, was tasked with describing a place.  I chose to describe the place of being with a 3-year-old before her bedtime, a place I typically encounter with impatience, but that on this day, I wanted to relish.

Here it is:

My body sinks into the couch, deeper than her 3-year-old body sinks into me.  But she exerts a weight on me, for sure.  A weight just heavy enough for my quadricep muscles to call out, “She’s not a baby anymore.”

The gray velvet of the three-piece sectional couch is soft and comforting.  I ignore the stray blue and purple marker streaks, the ones that sweat-inducing scrubbing couldn’t touch.  A dark triangle of space connects the piece of couch I lay on and the adjacent piece.  Every single day, multiple times a day, I align the couches.  And every day, multiple times a day, couch chaos elves undo my work.

Her head feels musty against my lips.  Her strands of curly hair damp from the bath, murmuring orange and rosemary into my nose, from the adult shampoo and conditioner I use on her.  Her head is still so warm, like, a baby’s.  I’m inhaling vapors from a greenhouse of toiletry scents.

Her hands feel warm and dirty against my face.  One holds fingers that inevitably just crawled into a nostril then climbed into a mouth, and now it rests on my cheek.  I miss her pale soft baby hands that even when encrusted in baby poop, somehow never felt dirty to me.

Her mouth opens and paradise spills out.  “I am a BIG. OAK. TREE.  Stuck in the GROUND. IS. ME.  If I had JUST. ONE. WISH.  I’d like to DANCE. LIKE. THIS.”  She strikes each note like a mallet to a tone bar.  Will she be a singer one day?  Will her brother?  Will we have a family band? 

I sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to her and she sings along.  Her voice matches mine, at times in a perfect overlap.  She clutches the tail of her lovey, the stuffed dog named Big Oof.  Big Oof’s wet tail brushes my neck.  I wince.  The tail smells like a garbage truck on a stifling summer day.  To my daughter, that tail plus her thumb in her mouth defines comfort.

She asks me if we can just rest here.  I say yes.  I never say yes.  I always say, “No, let’s go brush teeth and then you can rest in bed.”  But tonight is different.  Two nights ago the news shook me.  Yesterday I googled “middle school bullying”.  Today I was at the doctor for a lump on my neck, which turned out to be nothing more than muscle strain from dental work gone bad.  My tooth throbs, and it will until I go to the dentist tomorrow.

So now, in this moment, on this couch with my 3-year-old, I want to rest.  I want to bottle this moment.  The label would read, “Putting June to Bed, June 5, 2017”.

Those musty curls are dry now, soft silky threads scattered against my chin.  Her body rises up and down, faster than mine.  We are drifting, drifting . . . BOOM she jerks awake.

“Let’s go brush teeth now, bugaboo.”

And we do.

 

Writing Goals

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I am writing a book.  And realizing that while writing is an art, it’s also got to have some hard features as a practice in order for it to GET DONE.  And I feel if I blurt out those hard features here, my likelihood of getting it done skyrockets.

The Plan:

3,000 words/week PLUS 30 weeks EQUALS a draft by Christmas.  I will use the Ink On app to track my progress!

Words Away!

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I didn’t write 4,138 words today.  I set up the app today.  I wrote 4,138 words over the past 5 weeks! 

The Funniest Book Ever by the Funniest Blogger Ever.

If you are looking for a brutally honest book about parenting that will literally make you laugh out loud, look no further than Welcome to the Club, by Raquel D’Apice.  It is JUST SO FUNNY, as is her brilliant blog, The Ugly Volvo.  This is a whole new level of funny.

IMG_3492One of my many favorite lines,

” ‘Is everyone else using this many wipes?’ as you tidy up something roughly as overwhelming as the Exxon Valdez oil spill.”

Brilliant!

Friday Night (Very) Short Story: The Cricket

I wrote this a year and a half ago, and read it at an Open Mic night on Houston Street on a freezing January night.  And thus began my moonlighting as a Open Mic reader.  I’ve done it 3 more times since!

The Cricket

“We have a cricket!” Edna called out to Louise and Ron, as they made their way up the front steps burdened with suitcases, a baby seat, and bags of all shapes and sizes hanging from their arms like Christmas tree ornaments.  Edna was 82 and lived in this house with her husband Arthur, 86.  Their daughter Louise and her husband Ron, both in their 30s, were visiting Louise’s childhood home in Massachusetts with their daughter, who was almost 2.  Three generations in one house, and, evidently, a cricket.

Resignation lined Edna’s voice.  As if the cricket had some kind of real estate rights, had moved in unannounced but with the proper paperwork.  “He’s been there for weeks,” Edna went on, speaking above the confusion of transporting items from the car to the house and determining what went where.  After unpacking, the cricket’s chirping took centerstage.  Louise heard it in all corners of the house.  “CHIRP!”  The 40th chirp of what was sure to be a long weekend.

“Do you hear the cricket?”, she hissed to Ron, upstairs, a full two floors higher than the basement, the cricket’s new quarters.  She wondered about the likelihood of any sleep whatsoever during their stay, as the chirp reverberated through two flights of stairs and a door.  Making matters worse, Arthur had recently repainted the guest room and chemical fumes saturated the air.  “I can’t sleep in here,” Louise stated, and in a huff made camp in the downstairs “den”, a tiny, cramped, claustrophobic room just feet away from the basement door.

Edna helped her daughter spread sheets over the couch.  “That sound is really annoying, Mom. ” “I know it,” said Edna, shaking her head, and then, in a softer voice, as if sharing a secret, “They say that crickets can nest “, her eyes grew wide, “and eat through your carpets.”  Louise imagined the house devoured from the inside-out, by an army of nesting crickets.  She felt that familiar annoyance of her mother’s reverence to what They Say.

Later, Louise and Ron sat in the den.  Ron watched football.  The cricket’s song was a metronome.

Louise had an idea.  She would time the chirps.  At the next chirp she pressed start on her phone’s stopwatch.  50 seconds passed.  CHIRP! 50 seconds, again. CHIRP!  This time, 54 seconds.  “Odd,” Louise said.

She tried again.  Same thing.  Intervals of 50, 50, then 54 seconds.   A few more rounds confirmed it.

She jostled Ron out of his football trance.  “Look at this!”, she exclaimed, holding the data up triumphantly.  “Do crickets chirp in intervals like that?”, she asked.

“I’m going down to investigate,”  Ron said.  The sound of the basement door opening sent Edna approaching.

“Be careful!” she called after Ron, who was already halfway down the stairs.  “I get goosebumps every time I go down there to do the wash,” she said, and peered suspiciously down the staircase.

Louise kept timing, believing the pattern would change in the presence of a human visitor.  The pattern held.  “That’s no cricket,” Louise said to herself.

Just then Ron emerged, something in hand.

“This is your Cricket,” he said, laying down a white square object.

“What’s that?”, asked Edna.

“A carbon monoxide detector,” he replied.  “I found it on the shelf.  It was tucked in between Scrabble and Battleship.  It’s low on batteries.  I disabled it.”  Sure enough, the chirping had ended.

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“For Heaven’s sakes!  Arthurrrrrrrrrrrrrr!” Edna yelled, “Ron found the cricket!”

“What?!”, Arthur staggered into the kitchen, aroused from an accidental early evening snooze.  “The cricket? You found him?”

“I found the carbon monoxide detector,” Ron said.  “The sound you heard was the low battery signal.”

“The what detector?!”, Arthur shouted.  This, from the man who upon being shown a North Face windbreaker on a recent birthday shopping trip for Edna, exclaimed in recognition, “Facebook! Oh yeah!  That’s a good brand!”

“We were trying to trap it with a bowl of molasses!,” Edna said,  “And all we got was mold!”, Arthur continued.  Both Edna and Arthur laughed, hard.  They were good sports.

Later that night, when everyone was asleep, Louise relished in the restored silence.  “What would they do without me?”, she uttered, feeling superior.  Edna and Arthur had Louise later in life, and she felt she was always opening their eyes to the world.

About to fall asleep, she stopped, went to the window, and looked out, scanning for branches, stray wires, or perhaps a fallen antenna.  She wondered if the woodpecker attacking the side of the house Edna talked about last year was still an issue.

“It Is Very Easy To Be Kind”

Last week we received four large boxes in the mail, from Newburyport.  I had selected the contents of these boxes almost two weeks ago when I was there — no worries, my AP English Poetry Project made the cut — yet opening these boxes yielded one surprise after another.  It seems once something is in a box, it is erased from memory, only to be discovered later as a treasure.  (Maybe next Christmas we should just put all of the boxes from our storage space under the tree?)

It was lovely to pull out my copies of Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic, to hold up a prom dress my mother sewed in 1994, to place a book about Polish immigrants that belonged to my Dad on my nightstand for bedtime reading, only to discover “Merry Christmas Dad, Love Sue, 2009,” scrawled on the opening page.

And in the midst of these accordions of memories, I came across “The Uncle Wiggly Book: The Rabbit Gentleman’s Adventures”, by Howard Garis.

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The cover of my childhood Uncle Wiggly book.

Oh, Uncle Wiggly.  My husband has no recollection of this certain Rabbit Gentleman, and so I wonder how widespread the Uncle Wiggly Fan Club really was.  (Was I the only one?)

How wonderful that someone decided to write about a Rabbit Gentleman.  And many other characters, including Uncle Butter, the goat gentleman who is  Uncle Wiggiy’s friend, as opposed to The Wolf, who is not Uncle Wiggily’s friend.

I vividly remember my mother reading this book to me, nightly.  It was published in 1978 and felt as good as new tonight as the pages almost seem to crack as I paged through.  I came upon a story that caught my eye — perhaps it had been one of my favorites as a kid?

It is entitled “Uncle Wiggly and the Sad Rock”, and the reader is encouraged to “Find out why the little stones would not talk to the Sad Rock”.

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I’m not going to give anything away here, but this story is a gem.  As you can guess, there is a Sad Rock, and this rock is sad because no one will talk to him.  At one point, after Uncle Wiggly talks to him and he begins to feel less sad, the Sad Rock thanks Uncle Wiggly for being so kind.  And here is the good Uncle’s response:

“It is very easy to be kind.”

These words stopped me.  Because it is easy, once you choose it.  But sometimes we don’t choose it, especially when we are stressed or in a rush or impatient, or have encountered someone else who didn’t choose it and we are subsequently infected.  Sometimes being kind isn’t my first choice and I think to myself you know what? Maybe it could be, more often.  I want to implant this nugget of Uncle Wiggly wisdom under my skin and recall it whenever I am in a situation when kindness is an option.

And, this is the essence of what I want in children’s stories.  No lofty lessons or empty repetition, but simple and true statements like this.  It is easy to be kind.  And Uncle Wiggly was no pushover (see “Uncle Wiggily’s Enemies”, the final story in this book).

These Uncle Wiggly stories are works of art.  The inspiring takeaways are woven into the details of rabbit bungalows and firefly lanterns, characters with wonderful names like Jimmie Wibblewobble and Nurse Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy, and the idea that adventures are to be found, versus had.  I think if everyone just read Uncle Wiggly on a sad, gloomy day, they’d feel a bit better.

That said, for those of us with gossip antennae that need tending, “Uncle Wiggily’s Enemies” beckons.  I’m going to refill my wine glass and dive in!