He’s up again. I tucked him in, sang him songs, kissed him. I hugged him one more time and promised to check on him later.
But here are the footsteps on the stairs, the pause in the next room, the little blond head peeking around the kitchen doorway. “Mama?”
Just one more kiss.
Just one more hug.
Just one more snuggle.
Up we go. I run through our relaxation routine. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in and make your body hard as ice. Breathe out and melt. Melt your toes, your feet. Your ankles, your calves. We move up his body, melting into the bed.
I melt, too. I move with him into a space of quiet. Our breathing is even. It’s time for sleep.
He’s down. And now I’m the one who has to get up again.
We live in an urban area – our neighborhood is called “Centretown” for heaven’s sake – but that has not stopped wildlife from declaring us invaders and insisting on reclaiming their land. Specifically, in my backyard, the squirrels and raccoons are feeling pretty comfortable.
The squirrels have more or less become family pets. They laze on our porch railing, in full sight of our cats, who have decided that they might as well all be friends. Convinced that my garden is just a complex food delivery system planted for their pleasure, the squirrels pause, looking up at me happily, as they take bites of nearly-ripe tomatoes and then toss them aside. They’ve gotten fat enough on what I grow that they don’t even bother eating all of the scraps of food that my children leave behind on their daily rounds through various backyards.
The raccoons are significantly less tame. A few years ago, a BIG one lived in our neighbourhood. This thug was at least the size of a small dog and came out the victor in several scraps with neighborhood cats. I think he might have been a mafia don in a previous life. Evenings, by light of the moon, he nonchalantly climbed over the raccoon-proofing on our neighbor’s fire escape and wended his way upward to his favourite spot on the landing, where he would sit and survey his domain. Unsecured trash cans were regularly mauled at night: not just turned over, but nearly destroyed by scrabbly paws and sharp teeth. I looked both ways before I went out to clean up the detritus, afraid that I would catch the offender in the act and suffer the consequences.
All this to say that I was not surprised to hear a loud commotion in the trees as I read on the back porch on Sunday. Distracted from the page, I decided to look for the source – and there, smack in the middle of the tree hollow of the Manitoba maple, a little face was staring out at me. I looked at her, she looked at me, and we were both still for a minute. Then, motion in her home: a baby – and then another! The babies were eager for mama’s attention. There was a lot of squeaking and pawing. Mama gave up looking at me and turned to take care of her brood. I watched, entranced. She nursed her little ones and, later, gave them both a good clean (to their apparent dismay). Finished, and looking slightly harried, she gazed out of her hollow again.
For my part, I made my mother-in-law take a break from cooking to come look. A few minutes later, my children arrived home from their activities and became part of the gazing back and forth. My husband found binoculars. The babies peeked out on occasion. My boys looked back. All the parents supervised.
Mama and babies are active just around the time we get home from school, so my boys and I have observed them for three days now. The raccoons have a clear routine; we do, too. Mama nurses and washes the children. I go in and out, getting dinner ready and settling my own children. Daily, Mama looks at me; I look at her. Then we both go attend to our chores.
I’m pretty sure her partner is the mafia don of raccoons, whereas mine is a civil servant, but for now, I’m enjoying this bond with another mother.
I am looking for my sunglasses. Again. I’ve been planning lessons – poetry broadsides for the 9s, I think, to emphasize the connection between word and image, but what will I do with the 10s? – and I’m not fully focused. I walk back into the kitchen and check the table. They still aren’t there. And they’re not on top of the shelves near the phone or next to the printer or even in the TV room near the lamp. They’re also not in the cubbies by the front door or on the stairs.
By now I have a blanket over my arm and a glass in my hand. I head upstairs to put the blanket in its bedroom and then downstairs to put the glass in the sink.
Four kids are already in the car. We’ve gathered our children and some neighbour kids and we’re heading to the Arboretum for a “romp.” This mostly involves tree climbing, but will also include looking for frogs, finding very large sticks and rolling down hills. Even though I will likely not do any of those things, I would like my sunglasses.
My husband has moved into the hallway, waiting patiently near the front door as I check the kitchen table one more time. After putting the glass in the sink, I’m here. The sunglasses are not by the refrigerator either.
He is nonjudgmental, my husband, whether because he understands my fluster or because he is used to it by now, I do not know. He usually helps me search for things for a minute or two, then moves to the hallway and eventually, quietly, into the car, leaving me to search for whatever I’m missing.
My sunglasses are not next to the refrigerator, but I do locate some sunglasses left over from my cousin’s wedding last fall. Or last spring? I should remember this. Let’s see… the baby is 7 months old… so….
These sunglasses are not the ones I’ve been looking for, but they are going to have to do. I pick them up and take a few steps toward the front of the house. I’d like to go meet that baby this summer. If I see my friend from college… when is that?… well, whenever it is, can we then get down to see my cousin’s baby? And when is Beth visiting? I should probably send her a link to “things to do in…”
I hear the door close. My husband has moved out of the front hall and into the car. I spot another pair of sunglasses – where were they hiding the last time I looked here? – on the bookshelf, but still not the right ones. Why do I suddenly have so many pairs of sunglasses? When did this happen? Nevermind. I have the wedding sunglasses. Good enough.
I move toward the front door, nearly stopping to pick up some nerf darts – no! I move on. I am thinking about the lessons for my 10th grade class. Again. Is the work actually “applied” or am I fooling myself? I grab my keys from the hook we installed so I can easily find them. I put on the sunglasses and head out the door.
(In case you are wondering, my sunglasses were on the shelves over the TV. I found them at 9:30 pm. While I was doing something else.)
*the title is taken from Elizabeth Bishop’s poem One Art
My son is learning to tie his shoes. It is not easy. It’s not easy to teach and it’s not easy to do. Learning to tie shoes, it turns out, requires desire, patience, persistence and no small amount of fine motor dexterity.
I watch him carefully cross the laces. He does not pull them tight before racing to form the first loop. Bunny ear. He pinches it together, hard, high above the shoe. Too high, I think, but I say nothing because he is already on to the next step, the one that gets us both every time. He takes the second lace, loops it around the first and… randomly stabs it through a space. He pulls. The maneuver does not work. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. So far, neither he nor I can figure out what makes the difference. I’m guessing it’s luck; he thinks it’s magic. Same same.
The bus will arrive in a few minutes. Does he have time for another attempt? Before I even finish the thought, he is pulling and pinching, looping and stabbing again. Without looking up he says, “You do the other one.” His focus is unbroken. Nope, it doesn’t work again.
He scooches his foot towards me, “Your turn.” If he is disappointed this morning, it does not show. This is just part of the routine. How many times has he tried this? How many more before he will be able to do this automatically? How many before he is teaching his own child, trying to remember the steps that elude him right now?
When was the last time I worked like this to master something? When did I last work through failures, secure in the knowledge that eventually I would get it? When did I last believe practice would lead to inevitable success?
Today, my son stands up, shoulders his backpack and skips out the door. His shoes don’t fall off. He knows that eventually he’ll be able to tie those laces. He’ll try again tomorrow.