I know everything, apparently

How do dolphins have sex? How do fireworks work? How come the fireworks echo like that? How do stingray tails sting? How are stingrays related to sharks? How do you know if you’re in love?

My one little word for 2019 is “listen,” but we are nine hours and fifteen minutes into the year – and let’s be clear that I was asleep for most of those hours – and I have already yelled (just a little). We are on vacation. I am sitting on the couch trying to write, listening to the gentle creak of the hammock behind me, the not-so-gentle rise and fall of the children’s voices as they talk their way through some version of tennis on the beach (raquets, a ball, and nothing else), the heavy footfalls on the stairs as the adults try to get ready for the day.

The sounds paint a lovely picture, and I am listening, but I have already been asked approximately 304 questions this morning. Can we go to that abandoned house you found? Can I take home a seashell? Why not? Can I use your phone to take pictures? Can I have more for breakfast? Can starfish swim? Can you read to me when you’re done writing? Can we go swimming? Can we go now?

The metallic thud and clank of the screen door warns me that I am about to be joined again. The boys know that I need some space when I’m writing, but somehow quiet space is hard to find in this tropical paradise. Our senses are alight with novelty, and experiences blossom around every corner. No one is getting quite enough sleep because every minute – even the quiet ones – is full of something.

What’s the name of this bug? What is cassava? What makes bioluminescence? Can we keep it in a jar? Why not? What are you writing? What time is it? What’s for lunch?

So, this one little word thing, this “listen”, this may be a challenge for me. I guess I already knew that. But now – literally as I am writing – the sounds have come together and, astonishingly, I have found the quiet in the centre of the noise. And what I hear behind the tennis negotiations, the breeze, the hammock and all of those questions, is security, admiration, love. There will come a day when these boys will know that I do not, in fact, know everything – or even all that much. There will come a day when they will think I know nothing at all, in fact. These questions show me what a central role I play in their lives right now. Right now, I know everything, apparently.

So here is my blessing for myself today: May I hold onto the revelation that questions are love in wrapped up in words during the 4,537 questions that are yet to be asked today. May I listen and may I hear. May I not lose my temper. (And may I forgive myself when, at question 4,538, I do.)

Why do the birds follow some people and not others? Why do stores close on holidays? Why do we have to go home? Are you done writing? Can you come play yet?

Yes, yes I can. I’ll be there in a minute, my loves.

 

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Passenger

I am a terrible passenger. I am writing this so that I will not look at the road and

snowy trees.jpg
Look at all that snow! Too much for March – terrible driving weather.

involuntarily wince as my husband passes trucks. It’s terrible driving weather – snow falling, temperature hovering near freezing, road deceptively black and mostly (hopefully) wet rather than icy. He’s a good driver, but I still can’t comfortably watch.

So far, to keep my eyes off the road and my hands from gripping the armrest, I have played Sudoku while listening to an audiobook, read an entire book aloud to our children, and scrolled through my phone (supposedly to read the newspaper). Now I’m writing. We’ve only been on the road for two hours. We have two and a half to go.

I wish I were a better passenger. I wish I could settle in and allow someone else to be in charge without second guessing, well, everything. When I think about it, I can feel myself sitting back and admiring the scenery. I can almost hear myself chatting breezily with my husband and not holding my breath as we round a curve. I relax because I’m not trying to hide by my ridiculous reactions. I imagine the mundane joy of showing someone how much I trust them by simply remaining calm.

But this is beyond my conscious control, and my subconscious desire to be in the driver’s seat comes with a cost: my reactions can make others less confident (or sometimes even angry); I end up doing the lion’s share of the driving; and I struggle to let go. And then there’s the emotional toll of trying to hide the irrational panic that grips me as we pass another truck.

I am a terrible passenger. It’s something I am working on.

But… after we arrived, I asked my husband to read this because I was feeling like a heel. He agreed with every word (harumph), but he swears that he only barely noticed me holding my breath once on this trip, and he says I need to add that I am a great driver. I’m pretty sure he’s not placating me. In case you’re wondering, he’s a fantastic passenger.

Slice of Life, Day 15, March 2018

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for this wonderful month.

Learning to love again

Once, when my older son was about 3, not long after his brother was born, he started a list of all the things he loved. He was inspired by the large roll of paper we were drawing on and the urgent need to capture the incredible greatness of everything. He dictated; I wrote. He had a LOT to share, and I had trouble keeping up. At one point he stopped to take a breath, looked over at me and commanded: “Mommy, you do it, too.” Good idea: next to his list, I wrote the heading “Things Mommy loves” and underlined it. I wrote 1. Then I hesitated.

“Love” is such a big word. There are many things I like, but things I love? I wanted his expansive, all-encompassing list, but I could only think “my children, my husband” in the most common and inane way. I wanted to feel his urgency, but instead I was mired in uncertainty, unwilling to commit, unable to generate even one thing. I rejected everything: yoga? I mean, I really enjoy it, but love it? Maybe ice cream? How silly is it to start with ice cream? Teaching? I love teaching, but what does it say that my list of things I love starts with my job? I got tangled in my own head and couldn’t get myself unstuck. My toddler loved THE WHOLE WORLD and I couldn’t write anything. I was exhausted and I was nearly in tears. My child had no interest in my existential crisis.

“Mommy!” His little voice was imperious. “Do you like fudge?”

“Well, yes,” I hesitated.

“Then write that down.”

And my love blew the world open again.

—-

This memory returned to me when I saw Elisabeth Ellington’s 12 things I love slice. I was inspired. (She, in turn, was inspired by Margaret Simon who was inspired by two others.) With a nod to those who came before me, and special gratitude to my son, who continues to teach me to love, here are 12 things I love.

12 Things I Love

  1. I love fudge. (Because even though if I stopped to think about it, I would probably list it under “likes”, it counts. Everything counts.)
  2. I love chai tea, creamy with milk, in the morning
  3. I love the way my 7-year-old hums and sings as he goes about his day.
  4. I love reading a book that’s so good I stay up past my bedtime or sneak paragraphs in the car before picking up the children.
  5. I love breakfast. I love that we eat breakfast together as a family. I love that we make big elaborate breakfasts on weekdays and then laze around and eat dry cereal on the weekends.
  6. I love when the phone rings and the caller ID tells me it’s one of my sisters or one of my best friends. I love that sliver of time before I press “talk” when I’m already smiling.
  7. I love ice cream. I especially love Breyer’s vanilla ice cream with real vanilla beans. Because that is the best.
  8. I love starry nights at the beach.
  9. I love teaching. I love being in the classroom, getting to know the kids, trying to figure them out, trying to show them why I love literature, helping them find their own voice and their own love.
  10. I love yoga. I love feeling my body stretch out and my mind pull in to focus on body and breath, breath and body.
  11. I love baths. Long, hot baths are one definition of luxury.
  12. I love.

 

Day 13 of the Slice of Life Challenge