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DIY MFA: Text #4, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

The fourth book in my DIY MFA is Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. The book wasn’t received well when it was published, so I didn’t know what to expect from my reading. I can only say now that I loved reading this book, and loved seeing the world through Janie’s eyes. This book and its characters have fastened themselves to my mind. In this post, I’ve chosen to discuss three of the many aspects that beg exploration: the beginning of the book, Janie’s character arc, and Hurston’s beautiful language. As I examine these aspects of the classic novel, I’m always thinking about how to apply what I’m learning to my current work-in-progress, and to my writing in general.

Hurston creates profound sympathy for Janie from the first page. The story begins as Janie  walks a gauntlet of prying, gossiping neighbors. Out loud, they talk gleefully about how she’s fallen in the world. “She ain’t even worth talking after,” one neighbor says, as they continue to discuss nothing else. “She sits high, but she looks low.” Janie earns the reader’s sympathy by enduring her neighbor’s stinging hostility; she more than endures. She walks by without withering, without stopping to solicit the neighbors’ good opinions. She sails by, with the grace and confidence of a woman who deserves admiration, but doesn’t need it. In just a few short paragraphs, Hurston tells us much about this character, and also allies us readers with her.

Getting readers to be on the main character’s side is something that Cheryl Klein has talked about in her book Second Sight (and also in this post on her blog). Klein says the author can make a character sympathetic by showing unlikable characters mistreating him or her. Klein discusses this strategy via Harry Potter (as is her way). She writes, “What happens is basic literary math: We dislike the Dursleys, and the Dursleys dislike Harry, so we automatically like Harry.” Janie couldn’t be more different from Harry Potter, but the same strategy works in both cases. If it can work in these two texts, it can certainly work in mine.

Hurston seeds the introductory pages with elements that pulled me instantly into the story. There is, as I’ve said, the friction with the neighbors. We also learn almost immediately that there has been a death, but don’t yet know who has passed away. Then, we hear about a man named Tea Cake, and we know only that he’s younger than Janie, that the neighbors didn’t approve of him, and that they assume that he has been an instrument of her downfall. Death, envy, and sex – what could be more titillating?

Janie’s arc from a person who lives according to society’s values to someone who lives by her own is a compelling and beautiful one. It’s not only that Janie has an unconventional love affair, or that she finds her voice. It’s what she says, it’s that she learns to say what is in her heart. For example, when Tea Cake asks her whether she regrets leaving her secure and affluent life to be with him, Janie says, “If you kin see the light at daybreak, you don’t keer if you die at dusk. It’s so many people never seen de light at all. Ah wuz fumblin’ round and God opened de door.” Earlier in the story, Janie resigns herself to a separateness of her outer and inner worlds. Such an emotional speech is only possible for her later in her life, when she feels whole.

Their Eyes Were Watching God is a coming of middle-age story. There are many stories like this, about the older and wiser woman who, after spending her youth doing what society expects, sloughs of external obligations and begins to live for herself. I, an almost middle-aged white woman in the Pacific Northwest, relate deeply to Janie’s journey, though we share little else in common.

The beauty of this book is its language. Hurston writes with two distinct styles: the narrative voice and the dialogue. Both are rich with rhythm and metaphor. The narrative voice contains some of the Southern vernacular, but it’s in the dialogue that the characters and setting come to life. Hurston uses open vowels and dropped consonants, writing phonetically to make the dialect accessible to readers. Even though I’m not familiar with the dialect at all, within a few pages I felt at home in it.

Here’s an example that shows both narrative voice and dialogue. In this scene, Janie and her second husband Joe are having one of the fights that erodes their affection.

“You sho love to tell me whut to do, but Ah can’t tell you nothin’ Ah see!”

“Dat’s ’cause you need telling’,” he rejoined hotly. “It would be pitiful if Ah didn’t. Somebody got to think for women and chillun and cows. I god, they show don’t think for theirselves.”

“Ah knows uh few things, and womenfolks thinks sometimes too!”

“Aw naw they don’t. They just think they’s thinkin’. When Ah see one thing Ah understands ten. You see ten things and don’t understand one.”

Time and scenes like that put Janie to thinking about the inside state of her marriage. Time came when she fought back with her tongue as best she could, but it didn’t do her any good. It just made Joe do more. He wanted her submission and he’d keep on fighting until he felt he had it.

So gradually, she pressed her teeth together and learned to hush. The spirit of the marriage left her bedroom and took to living in the parlor. It was there to shake hands whenever company came to visit, but it never went back inside the bedroom again.

– Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes  Were Watching God

In a recent SCBWI workshop on dialogue, Lin Oliver advised writers only to attempt regional dialogue if they really know it and can comfortably keep it going throughout the whole book. Hurston writes the dialect precisely and consistently; it’s the tongue of her childhood.

My current work-in-progress Nana’s Bikini has several characters who speak with a heavy Italian accent. I’m struggling with consistency, and with how to convey their accents at all. Oliver’s advice is to indicate the dialect with key words or phrases, rather than try to carry the dialect through to the end. I’ll have to go back to my manuscript, and think carefully about how to do this. What could the key words be? What is the best way to write the Italian accent phonetically? Once I decide these answers, I have to make sure I carry that through from beginning to end.

This book was a gift to me as a writer and a reader, and I’m grateful for my DIY MFA for prompting me to read it. Thank goodness, too, for Alice Walker, considered by many to be responsible for rekindling interest in Hurston. In 1975, Walker wrote an article for MS. Magazine called “Looking for Zora” about her trip to Hurston’s final hometown to find her burial site and to speak with those who knew her. It’s a wonderful read about Alice Walker paying tribute to her hero, her adopted ancestor.

To read previous entries in my DIY MFA series:

Book Notes: The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer“The first few moments up there were terrifying.

I felt stupid, actually.

Vulnerable. Silly.

It was lucky that I was covered in white face paint – my face burned bright red beneath it for the first ten minutes, I could feel it.

The sheer absurdity of what I was doing was not lost on me.”

Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking

Before Amanda Palmer was part of punk-cabaret group The Dresden Dolls, before she was a Kickstarter phenomenon, she painted herself white from head to toe, dressed as a bride, and stood on a crate in Harvard Square, performing as a human statue. When someone dropped money into her hat, Palmer offered a flower and a moment of meaningful eye contact.

Palmer’s new book The Art of Asking is part memoir, part manifesto. With her life stories, collected anecdotes, ideas from other artists, and a dash of scientific data, Palmer talks about her journey to becoming a master of asking people to help her.

There are several reasons why people feel uncomfortable asking for and accepting help. For one, our society prizes self-sufficiency and disapproves of anyone who appears to be asking for a handout. Those who do ask for help are often criticized as unworthy poseurs. Palmer calls these critics the Fraud Police.

She points to the example of Henry David Thoreau. He has been criticized because, while he was writing his treatise on self-reliance, he accepted the generosity of friends and family, who gave him the land and food that sustained him throughout his work. Palmer writes that “every Sunday, Thoreau’s mother and sister brought him a basket of freshly baked goods for him, including donuts.”

Thoreau’s donuts become symbolic in Palmer’s discussion of support for artists. She points out that no one would criticize Einstein or Florence Nightingale for accepting donuts. But artists “just can’t see what we do as important enough to merit the help, the love.” She urges all of us to “take the donuts,” to see what we do as deserving of help, whether that help comes from fans, patrons, or family.

Palmer writes that she’s frequently asked how she “gets” people to support her work. Her response: she doesn’t get them to, she lets them. These aren’t strangers; these are her fans, her tribe. These are people who have shared stories with her, opened themselves up to her, allowed themselves to be moved by her. Palmer understands that her community wants to express their love and appreciation for her. As she writes, “Accepting the gift IS the gift.”

The book is beautifully written, with humor and, at times, raw honesty. The idea of asking for help ties me up in knots of anxiety. I don’t like imposing on people. But, as I read this book, I realized my inability to ask is really stinginess wrapped in a disguise of selflessness. There’s a generosity to asking, to letting people see your vulnerability and need. When we let people do for us, there is a ripple effect. Giving to each other strengthens bonds and gives others permission to ask for help in their times of need. Palmer call this “tightening the net.”

Palmer’s way of looking at life makes a lot of sense, not just for artists, but for everyone. In her world, giving and receiving are equally necessary. Both keep the ecosystem strong, breathing out just as critical as breathing in. They’re so equal that the lines become blurred; it’s hard to tell who’s giving, and who’s receiving.

Give the flower, take the flower. Give the love, take the love. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that, as Palmer says, the gift keeps moving.

Meditations

I’m not good at meditating. The balance between mental focus and emptiness eludes me. My mind races toward distractions with a quickness that is almost eager, as if any escape hatch is preferable to simply being alone and quiet with itself.

And yet, I keep trying. I’ll admit, part of my motivation to meditate has to do with the widely held belief that it is “good for you.” Meditation is the kale of the creative world. But it’s a frustrating endeavor. Sometimes, when I realize that my mind is coming up with new combinations for pizza toppings rather than focusing on my breathing or the space between my eyes, I want to stop the timer, turn it back, and start it over again. But, I don’t. My theory about meditation is that it is precisely this coming back to stillness after wandering away, that makes it so valuable. My goal when I meditate is not to have consecutive minutes of perfection; my goal is to notice when I’ve gone astray, and to keep bringing myself back. Over and over and over again.

And as I was engaged in this practice of self-correction, and trying not feel too bad about it, I realized that it’s not just in meditation that I feel the urge to go back in time. I long for do-overs when I spend twenty minutes browsing celebrity pictures on the computer, or when I feel sick after my second helping of ice cream.

The do-over that I most yearn for has to do with my writing.

When I was younger, at the age when I was told I should decide what I wanted to be, I wanted to be a writer. I had always been a writer, in practice. But when it came time to “go public” with my career choice, I chickened out. I told myself that there was no way that I would ever be published, not with all the aspiring writers out there. I believed myself, too, and laid my dreams aside with hardly a word of protest.

I’m thirty-seven years old, and I’ve finally allowed myself to say these words: I’m a writer. I’ve finally allowed myself to carve out and protect the time and space I need to work. I’ve finally articulated (publicly) my wish to be published.

Writers much younger than I are published many times over. They’re winning awards and gaining readers for their work. And there are so many days that I just want to cry with longing to turn back the clock and start this career when I am just eighteen, or twenty, or twenty-five. I want to go back and convince my younger self to stop insisting that the writing is a hobby, just something I do “for myself.” I would encourage myself to put my writing out into the world as soon as possible. But in life – as in meditation, as in anything – do-overs aren’t possible. We can’t erase what’s come before, no matter how much we regret our actions (or lack thereof). All we can do is gently bring ourselves back to the path, and move on.

Does part of me fear that it’s near impossible to get published? Yes. Does part of me think I don’t deserve to get published, since I didn’t believe in myself enough to pursue my dream? Uh-huh. But, the timer is still going, and each moment rises before me and provides me with an opportunity to do the thing I love. So, I pull myself back, gently, but firmly, to the writer’s path, which, as far as I’m concerned, is the same as saying to the path of my life. And I’ll do the only thing that I can, which is to start now.

The Transplant

When I see my new house in Portland for the first time, it’s something I’ve only heard about, and viewed through pictures. It’s a familiar stranger, a storybook character come to life. My eye looks for and finds little things that are amiss, not how I imagined. For one thing, the temperature is chilly, until the heat kicks in and blows hot dry wind into my face, drying my skin and leaving my throat parched. The paint on the walls is erratic, with scuffs and mismatched colors. The electrical system is nothing short of bizarre. Lights that should all be controlled by the same switch, or, at least, by switches on the same plate, are instead controlled by switches located on opposite sides of a room. Half of the switches in the house are an old-fashioned push button style that I’ve never seen before, and the fact that each room has at least twenty outlets raises my suspicions about previous activities on these premises.

If it was just me here, I’d spend as little time as possible in this empty, depressing house, where there is not so much as a single comfortable seat in which to rest. I’d figure out the bus system, not caring how long it took, as long as I could read a book or look out the window to get familiar with the neighborhoods in my new city. But it’s not just me. There are two little ones, and the baby is waking me up at four a.m. because his strict bio-rhythm (a drill sergeant!) dictates that, despite the pitch black, this is definitely the time to rise. The rest of the day, we are all wrecked, but at least the baby goes down for naps. During these naps, Thing One and I knock around the bare, echo-y walls looking for something to do. We try to make the place a little homier. We hang Christmas lights from the porch, but I’ve never done this before and so I don’t quite have the knack. What looks inviting and warm on our neighbors’ porches looks bedraggled on ours. We make paper snowflakes and a gingerbread house. All of this is more exhausting than satisfying, but, still. It’s done.

Having heard the tales, I ready myself for the onslaught of neighbors. They will come, I’m sure, bearing casseroles and cookies. Their children will clamor for play dates with mine, and we’ll be forced to initiate the rite of suburban basement play dates. Though the intrusions will border on annoying, we’ll be glad to connect with the people around us. We will be rescued from our solitude.

As hours and then days pass, we wonder, where is everyone? Winnie wonders the same thing, aloud, and repeatedly. In Brooklyn, we had a dozen casual encounters each day, with neighbors, friends, and acquaintances whom we just happened to meet on the stoop or on the street. Here the homes look vacant, except for those movie-set-perfect lights on the porches. Days go by in which we see not a soul.

I feel like a heart that’s been transplanted to a new, foreign body. Everything about the place is strange, from the smell of the air to the cadence of the speech. At first, I feel like this new place is rejecting me. Then, little by little, glimmers of welcome shine. Strangers surprise me with their helpfulness. One, then two, neighbors knock on the door. There aren’t casseroles, but there are donuts and chocolate wine. An acquaintance makes wonderful efforts to connect, and quickly starts to becomes a friend. It’s the few people who make the most difference.

This body is not as inhospitable as I once thought, but if this transplant is to be successful, I will have to make my own adaptations. I’ll have to forge my own connections, and adjust my own rhythm. I’ll have to come out of my new, imperfect home rather than sitting inside and waiting for the knocks on my door.

I plan to make my own cookies and casseroles, and invite my neighbors to share them with me. I’ll do it, I swear. Just as soon as it stops raining.

This Little Life

A news story caught my attention yesterday, a startling story about a group of Taliban soldiers who dressed as Americans in order to penetrate a U.S. military base. As I stood at the stove cooking dinner for my kids, I couldn’t fathom that something like this had really happened. The event sounds more like a movie, or a dream, than real life. Real life – my own life – is the furthest thing from a violent, dangerous event like that.

I struggle, sometimes, to envision a world in which the whole spectrum of experience coexists. How can it be that I am making a vegetable saute while another mother is watching her son leave the house for the last time? We’re all the same, tiny vessels of emotion and intellect, roughly four and a half cubic feet of hormones and synapses, bones and sinew. Each of us is consumed by our own worries and desires, so consumed that it’s hard to have perspective about whether our pursuits are important or meaningful. If I had such perspective, would I still feel anxious that dinner was late to the table? Or that the countertop in our new house might need replacing?

Our lives are all, by definition, small. Our days are tragically short. Our hands only reach so far. Yet, some lives seem smaller than others. As I listened to the world news on the radio, usually not much more than a bit of background noise, I realized that my mind has lately been occupied with issues that are unique to myself and my family: our son’s birth and infancy, our daughter’s needs and schooling, sick relatives, my friends, moving to a new city, finding a house. Big things to me, yet irrefutably small, in the scheme of the world.

I can’t live the life of an Afghan or anyone else. I can only live the life I’ve got, and I am grateful for and baffled by the blessings I have. That can’t be the end, though, to just feel grateful and go on with the vegetables and the countertops. I can only live my life, yes… can only reach my arms so far, yes. But, perhaps they could reach just a little farther? Perhaps my life, while it will always be small, could be just a little bit bigger?

It seems to me that we who are born into a family – or a country, or a time – with so many advantages and opportunities, have more of a responsibility than others do. A responsibility to use whatever meager time and talents we have for something bigger. Sadly, it sometimes feels as though the opposite happens. We who are born into lives of ease, we take it easy. Let others stretch and struggle.

I am grappling with this. It’s easy enough to say, reach. But how?

My Girl

I am looking at a picture of my daughter. In this picture, we are on vacation in Mexico, and she is playing on the beach. The game she is playing is one that she made up, and she calls it “Beach Kung Fu.”

She is lying down in the sand. Her eyes are closed. Her arms are flung in opposite directions. Her legs are splayed. She looks as though she might be dancing, or practicing a swim stroke. Or simply making sure that there is sand stuck to every inch of her skin. Only she knows that what she is doing is practicing her “Kung Fu.” Though now that you know, I think you’ll agree that it’s really quite obvious.

My girl is content, and contentedly oblivious. She looks ridiculous, but she doesn’t care. She will certainly have sand lodged into the most uncomfortable places, but she doesn’t care. She will need to take a shower and people are probably looking at her. I’m not sure whether or not they were, because I didn’t care about them any more than she did.

When I read Ayelet Waldman’s book Bad Mother, I noticed the many times that she talk about her children’s bodies. In particular, she talks about the “buttery” feel of her babies’ thighs. I thought that I probably should be annoyed, but I get it. Our children’s bodies are wonderful, wonderful things to touch and hold. I remember how Win’s body felt in my arms at every stage. The babies are buttery, all right, but I look at this picture and I know that my daughter is well past butter here. She’s steaky. Her legs are solid. Everything about the way the way her limbs look, feel, and move is confident and strong. Whether she is dancing or scooting or doing beach Kung Fu, she moves for the pleasure of the moment.

I hope she grows up with this certainty about her physical self intact, but I know that she probably will not. At some point, we all become aware of and concerned with how others perceive us. We think about the consequences of our actions, including whether or not the sand will be itchy and whether or not we’ll find it in our hair for days afterward.

But, this picture represents one of the many ways that I will remember my girl. I add it to the other memories like charms on a bracelet: the infant sleeping on her father’s chest, the toddler blowing out birthday candles, the kid going off to school for the first time, meeting her baby brother, drawing in her sketchbook, making friends. And beach Kung Fu.

Beach Kung Fu

Making Do

I take pride in making do. As if it is a testament to my inner iron, or to my frontierswoman spirit, I proudly go without. Who needs a dishwasher? I’ve got hands, haven’t I? A car? An elevator? See, I’m just fine without all that stuff that other people think they need.

Ah, but I’m not bragging. There’s danger in all that pride I take in my own (perceived) virtue. See, sometimes I go without things like sleep. Or time to myself. Or the help that I can’t bring myself to request. And who does that serve? No one. Sometimes I’m so busy being fine that I forget that being fine is not the point. The point is to flourish.

And, in order to flourish, I need to give myself permission to want and need and dream and demand. To be the happy and creative and balanced person that I am at my best, making do won’t do at all. The list of things that I need is not long, but it’s also not negotiable: Time. Space. Sun. Rest. People (the right ones, of course).

Starting this month, I have been attempting the radical. Instead of being so busy and put-upon that I can’t engage in anything exceptional or creative, I’m going to prioritize my creativity and let the rest slide.  I’m making fast, simple food. I’m dropping off the laundry. I’m turning off my internet connection more often. Rather than making do, I’m making myself do.

The other day, I walked in the park and couldn’t stop noticing the trees. They are a gorgeous sight this time of year, with bright green leaves unfurling and buds of every hue opening like eyes waking to the new morning. The branches reminded me of a particular hand position that a yoga teacher taught me a long while ago. The palms face up and fingers extend, signaling openness and readiness for giving and receiving. As I walked I felt my fingers mimicking the trees’ gestures, turning toward the sky, opening to possibility.

So far, I’ve been surprised how even the slightest shift in attention and effort reaps rewards. I’ve arranged for some additional child-free hours, which frees my schedule to focus on my creative projects. I’ve joined with an excellent writer and awesome person in a writing critique partnership, which gives me the motivation to work on my book every day. Time, space, sun, rest, and people. Opportunities abound, and my palms face the sky.

How I Hold Them

When she was first born, she was my fragile thing, my carton of eggs, my soap bubble.

As she got older, she was no less precious, but not quite as delicate, so I jostled and shimmied and jumped and danced with her. Anything to make her sleep. Make her laugh. Make her happy.

After that, I held her on my hip, casually, like a load of laundry or a sack of groceries. She put her head on my shoulder, looked over my shoulder, looked all around. She pulled away, she pleaded to get down, to run. After such intense dependence, she shocked me with her yearning to be apart.

More and more, it was I who yearned for separation. I put her down. I made bargains and contracts and rules. I carried her only on the way there, only until that tree, only if she stopped crying, only if…

When she was hurt, or sad, or tired, I held her like a baby again, pressed her chest against mine. She wrapped her arms tightly around my neck like a dance partner.

It gets harder each day to pretend she is still a baby. I can only hold her on my lap if I fold her over onto herself. She lays her head against my chest and I wrap my arms around the whole of her, stretching to contain her limbs. We both stay longer than is comfortable, knowing well that the moment is gone already.

Still, I can hold her hand, which she doesn’t seem to mind as much as she used to. I hold her face between my  hands. I hold her close to me when she climbs into our bed in the mornings.

With the boy, I’m back at the beginning. He looks up at me, his face round and full of easy delight, a wide grin to greet the world. He looks my way and, impossibly, he opens his mouth even wider, showing me his gummy smile. And I smile back, both of us content to be safe and happy and together in a world no wider than the circle of my arms.

And, at night, I press him against my chest, and tuck my chin over his velvet head. My arms wrap all around him, my back curves forward to shelter him. He is my stolen loot, my thieve’s ransom. I say sometimes that I wish I could steal him away from time, from the changes the future will bring. And the words are true when I say them.

Really, though, I marvel at the different shapes our embrace will take. I can be their cocoon, their clown, their toy, their bed, their haven… And then what? And then what?

New Baby Boy

How very small my world is just now. A rocking chair, a bassinet, a bed. I mark time by listening to the world outside. Through my window, I hear the store gates open, the car radios blaring, the children laughing and racing ahead of their parents on the way to school.

But, here, just above the raucous world that exists on the sidewalks below, my only wish is to make you happy, my new baby boy, largely because it is so easy. Nuzzle you, rock you, feed you well, sing you to sleep, and you reward me with a contented burp or a sigh, the sweet heaviness of your body melting against my chest.

The mornings are my favorite, when you are finally sound asleep. Your sister comes in like a hurricane, then settles on the bed between your dad and me. She snuggles her body into mine, into the spot that, to be fair, was hers first. I feel so exhausted that I can’t raise my head. For a few moments, no one has to move.

I can smell my children, hear them breathing. I can touch my husband’s face. Those dearest to me in the world are within these four walls, and it feels like being inside a present.

One More Makes Four

When I was pregnant with my daughter, people often told me, “It goes by so quickly!” Several times a day I heard this, so frequently that I got a little tired of it. I know now how true the sentiment is, and also how many different things that simple phrase can mean.

It can mean how hard it is to see your sweet baby pass through phases that she will never visit again. These days, I linger over photos of my girl when she was just a baby, and my heart swells with love, along with a bevy of other emotions – nostalgia, sadness, joy, pride. I can not believe that she will never be that size again. Each day that passes is too short, and she changes so quickly in each. Each day she grows up more and more, and she needs me less and less. It makes me want to weep, freeze time, push on her head… anything to slow it all down.

Meanwhile, another voice in my head shouts, “Thank heaven that the time passes so quickly!” Because the truth about parenting is that, while those early days are precious, they certainly don’t leave much time for one’s own pursuits. That the neediness of her infancy is finite means that I get to enjoy parts of me that I’ve sorely missed over the last couple of years. I get to go back to being a creative, social, working, WHOLE person again. And it feels really, really good.

Our little family is pretty sweet right now. The fact that we big people have little people outnumbered means that the dude and I can easily tag team parenting duties, and help each other make time for the things we love and need to do. Living with one child, which used to feel so overwhelming, now feels quite manageable. In fact, living with Winnie has become a little like living with a foreign exchange student. (Not a hot French one, but more like a slightly geeky one from Poland.) We have to explain absolutely everything to her and put up with her hanging around us all the time, but she also says hilarious things because of her limited English skills, and she helps me to see the world in a new and more expansive way.

There are a million reasons to be glad for what we’ve got, and not mess with a good thing. And, yet, messing with it is exactly what we’re doing. We’re having number two.

Deciding to have a second child means signing up for exhaustion, physical and emotional upheaval, dirty diapers, and mountains of laundry, not to mention the strain on our relationships and the cost to our professional lives. But we’re doing it anyway. Why? Are we gluttons for punishment?

Perhaps. But we also know now, better than we did before, how fast these days, weeks, months, and years will fly. How the drudgery will be sprinkled with delicious moments of laughter and delight. How those moments will rush around us like water, buoying us up (and sometimes threatening to pull us under).

I need the miracle and mystery of parenthood in our lives. When our second is born this summer, I know that our hearts will crack open in a million painful and beautiful ways, just as they did when Winnie was born. Only now Winnie will be here, with us. It will also be her world that is shaken and rattled. We will each – all three of us – miraculously become more than we were before. The dude and I will grow to adjust to the new challenges of parenting two children, and our little girl will become a big sister. She’ll face her challenges, too, I’m certain. She’ll be forced to practice patience and compassion, and sometimes she will fail. She will love and protect her sibling, even while she resents and even dislikes him or her at times.

As she accommodates – or not – the newest member of our family, she’ll learn her first lessons about love and all its mysteries. Loving someone when you hate him. Loving someone when you’d rather not. Loving someone, and being in awe of the hugeness and complexity of your feelings. We’ll try to explain it to her, and I’m sure she’ll have plenty to teach us, too. I hear it’s different in Poland.