Tag Archives: journey

Olé to You Nonetheless

I’ve already written (here and here) on this blog that I enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I resisted reading it for so long – it just seemed so everywhere, so trendy, so Oprah – but, when I finally did, I found out why readers of all types (yes, though, mostly women) love it. My life is not like Elizabeth Gilbert’s… yet, it is. Reading her story made me think deeply about my own life, about love, about our expectations for ourselves and each other.

And, here she is again, making me think (darn her!). Oh, yes, and inspiring me, too. On her website, Gilbert posted this Ted talk she gave last year about creative genius and where she thinks it comes from. And, you know, my life is not like Elizabeth Gilbert’s, with its awards and accolades. Yet, it is. There is much overlap in any creative life – much to hope for, much to fear.

The speech is funny and inspiring, a morsel of encouragement for a fledgeling, just-trying-to-make-a-go creative type like me to tuck away for a day when the harvest is low. She really gets going toward the end. Here’s my favorite bit:

“If your job is to dance, do your dance. If the divine, cock-eyed genius assigned to your case decides to let some sort of wonderment be glimpsed for just one moment through your efforts, then olé. And if not, do your dance anyhow. And olé to you nonetheless. I believe this and I feel like we must teach it. Olé to you nonetheless, just for having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up.”

And, if you’re interested in watching the whole thing:

Dust Off Your Intuition

Some people know what needs to be done. They go forward confidently, not second-guessing their choices, actions, behaviors, or motives. They don’t vacillate wildly between items on the menu, outfits to wear, or names for their children. They might not claim to know the best way, but they know their way, and they proceed decisively and competently.

I am not one of those people.

For example, when I married the dude, I couldn’t decide whether or not to change my last name. My mother acted like it was a no brainer. Why wouldn’t I? My friends looked at my a little funny. Why would I? I read articles and essays about the history of women taking men’s names. I noticed everywhere which women had and which women hadn’t, trying to discern which club I most wanted to join. In the end, I made no decision at all. I did not change my name, but I do – sometimes – use my married name. I do this more or less willy-nilly, as I do many things.

Becoming a parent exacerbated the problem many times over. Before giving my kid Tylenol, I had to read three different books so I could get a handle on what the experts advise. When it came time for solid food, I spent countless hours trolling sites about baby food. Should I follow a prescribed method of slowly introducing mild foods? Or, should I follow a more organic, child-led philosophy? Should we wear sunscreen? Should I go back to work? Should we leave Brooklyn? Should I let Winnie wear pink? How will we stay connected as a couple? Does this bathing suit look awful on me?

For decisions great and small, I found myself turning to “experts” – writers of blogs and books who are peddling their philosophies on every topic under the sun to wishy-washy types like myself. There are so many resources out there – a great, wide, Internet-sized sea of resources! – that it’s hard not to defer to expert opinions. Parents, in particular, are under so much pressure to do things right that we often seek advice from those who claim to have the answers. This kind of dependence on expert advice, I’ve found, is habit-forming. When I did my week of reading deprivation, there were many times when I caught myself reaching for a parenting book or turning on my computer to consult WebMD. Surely it didn’t count as reading if I just needed a little guidance. Right?

I decided that even my well-intentioned (and, I thought, much-needed) searches for advice were off-limits during the reading deprivation. I would have to seek guidance elsewhere. Surprisingly, I found this guidance in a little-known but intelligent person named me. Turns out, I have these qualities called intellect, intuition, and reason. Imagine! Plus, I actually know myself, my family, and our circumstances better than anyone else. So, as it turns out, I usually land on decisions that suit us and don’t feel so much like we’re following someone else’s recipe for life.

So even now that the reading deprivation is over, I’m trying to break my dependence on consulting the experts. One bonus of thinking for myself is that it’s a lot quicker than trolling Google, so I have more time on my hands (time to change my mind later if I want). Plus, if I really, really, really can’t figure something out I have this other awesome thing I can use: Moms (between the kind I got the old-fashioned way, and the two I acquired later on, I’ve got plenty). They were doling out advice centuries before anyone knew of WebMD. They know some good stuff, and they feel real happy when I ask them to share.

Surprise Me

Of all the married and romantically committed couples I know, not one has had an arranged partnership. Every single one of us, myself included, fell in love and embarked on the whole I’m-with-you-for-good thing as a matter of free will.  I’ll never understand why some relationships work so well, while some falter or fail. How can some relationships work so well in one particular way, while other happy relationships function in a different way completely? Thinking about the couples I know makes me think that commitment is one of the more mystical and inexplicable phenomena, something akin to the moon’s pull on the oceans or the migration patterns of monarch butterflies.

Most of all, I wonder why any of us married or devoted couples have any problems at all when we, after all, chose each other.

People value choice almost to the point of worship. We want to choose our clothes, our friends, our professions, and, without a doubt, our romantic partners. We want choice, it seems, because we are convinced that we know better than anyone else what we want (even better than our mothers, though I’ve met with some resistance to that idea from certain people). When single, we have lists of what our future partners will look and act like, and we rule out possible mates based on their dissimilarity to our criteria.So, if are going to so much trouble to weed out the unfit and unearth the gems, why do so many couples face romantic challenges down the line? You’d think it would be smooth sailing from “I do” onward, right?

We all know that’s not the case. So, what gives? For one, it’s possible that we don’t know what we need as well as we’d like to think. Some of us meet our life partners when we’re very young. For example, I met the dude when I was just 23 – a mere babe. For goodness sake, I’ve changed careers twice since then. At such a young age, do we know enough about life and love to make such a weighty decision? If you follow that logic, we might as well cede all future match-making to our elders. (I think I just heard the sound of millions of mothers rejoicing.)

Speaking of not knowing enough about love, who among those of us who haven’t been married knows anything to speak of about marriage? This is one of the points that journalist Elizabeth Weil makes in her New York Times Magazine article “Married (Happily) with Issues,” published in December of last year. It’s difficult to know how to craft and maintain a satisfying long-term relationship, most obviously because “satisfying” has a different meaning for each person you ask. How do you build something that has no proven method of success and no blue print? And, yet, many people do just that, which brings me back to the idea of marriage as mystery.

I don’t have anywhere near enough information to speak as an authority on marriage. I’ve done it myself, messily and with the frequent feeling of toiling uphill interspersed with joyful, whirring downhills, for almost six years. So, I have that. And, I have a theory, which is this: That we don’t, in fact, know what we want or need in a partner – either because we know too little about ourselves or about marriage, or because what we want at 23 is not the same as what we want at 33 or 43 – but some lucky few end up with it anyway.

If I could approach selecting a mate as an a la carte activity, I’d conjure up a fella with some culinary skill, who woke up bright and early, and who spoke a few languages, none of which are qualities that the dude possesses. But, the dude has other qualities. For instance, he has the confidence to don admirably unusual facial hair with a swagger. He dreams big. He listens, even when he seems like he’s not, which makes him a good gift giver (something that I never would have thought or admitted was important to me, but it is). He is eager to learn about a variety of topics, from nutrition to experimental music. He has also made it his personal mission to find me the perfect notebook that I can carry around for my writing. None of these attributes would have made it to my top ten list, and they’re certainly not the reasons that I married him. And yet, they – and many other qualities – make this particular dude a good compliment to particular me. When we got married, it was our choice. But some days it seems that the choice was practically an illusion, knowing as little as we did about ourselves, each other, and marriage. Over time, the curtain draws up and I see the parts of our relationship that cause a frightening amount of friction and the parts that are undeniably sweet. And, really, they are never the parts I would have expected.

Love and marriage are indeed mystical, and I won’t be – or don’t care to be – convinced otherwise. It’s like a game of roulette. We have our strategies for playing the game. We identify patterns, prefer one color over another, or favor a number. But once the wheel is spinning, we keep our fingers crossed and hope to get lucky.

do you derive joy from diving in and seeing that

loving someone can actually feel like

freedom? are you funny? self-depracating? like

adventure and having many formed

opinions?

these are twenty-one things that I want in a lover…

– Alanis Morissette, “21 Things That I Want in a Lover”

In Which I Reflect on Fireflies

Fireflies on the Water by Yayoi Kusama

Fireflies on the Water by Yayoi Kusama, Whitney Biennial 2004

Vacation. Sunset. Your kid’s nap. Autumn. Christmas morning. Holding hands. Your looks.

When the end looms nearby, it’s hard to enjoy the experience itself.

It’s hard to be in the experience, rather than wring our hand’s over the impending finale. Whatever form that ending might take – the last chord, the first cry, the complete dark of night itself – knowing that it’s rushing inexorably toward us can prove a distraction, stopping us from lingering in the moment.

Perhaps I should just speak for myself.

In 2004, I went to the Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art and saw an installation piece called “Fireflies on the Water.” The most unusual thing about this piece is the way one experiences it: alone. I had never before had a solitary experience in a museum. Usually, I feel like I’m part of a many-legged organism, shuffling quietly and slowly from room to room. In this case, though, people waited in a line that snaked through much of the rest of the exhibit. People kept asking, “What is this line for?” Anticipation grew.

At the door to the piece, a guard allowed one person to enter the room at a time. He opened the door just enough to usher in the visitor. He acted like one of the Buckingham Palace guards, not making eye contact, not talking to anyone. Perhaps he had been instructed to behave that way, trained so that he was effectively part of the installation.

After about a minute, the guard again opened the door a crack. One person came out, one person went in. The person emerging from the room was dazed and smiling, like someone who’d been kissed rather unexpectedly. Perhaps they had, in fact. I wondered madly what was in that room. I had the wild thought that it might be a fortune teller.

When it was my turn, the guard opened the door and I found myself on a sort of runway leading into the center of a small room. I say that it was small because I had walked around the outside of the room but, if I hadn’t known better, I could just as easily have believed that the room went on forever. The room felt infinitely small and enormous at the same time. This must be what Lucy felt like when she walked through that little wardrobe and plopped down in Narnia.

I walked down that narrow plank, over a pool of black water. Strands of tiny lights hung from the ceiling, reflected in the pool and also in mirrors on the walls and ceiling. When I searched the web to find a photo of the exhibit, I learned that the piece had 150 lights in it – an astoundingly small number, considering that, in my first draft of this post, I had written that the installation had millions of lights. It felt like being inside a living organism, or perhaps being inside the night sky. Not just outside at night time, but inside the night.

The experience made me stop breathing for a moment. Then, as soon as I’d taken a good look around, I thought, Well, the guard’s going to be opening the door soon. So, I preemptively turned back. This is my way, so very very often, not wanting to be a bother, not wanting to take up more of my share. When I had walked the path back to the door, the guard was not there, and I argued with myself over what to do. Should I open the door and leave? Should I turn around again so I could enjoy the piece a bit more? Should I just stand here and wait until the guard does come, surely in just a few moments?

By the time I had decided to study the installation for as long as I could, and turned back to do so, the door did open and there was the guard, along with the next visitor, eagerly awaiting his chance. I smiled politely, and walked out. Once outside, I felt irrationally desolate. My experience was over, and I would likely never get the chance again. Why had I spent it worrying about pissing other people off?

The experience really did turn out to be a fortune teller of sorts. How many times since have I found myself outside the moment, wanting to shake myself and shout, For goodness’ sake, please enjoy this! PLEASE! But no amount of insisting at myself helps me to learn what I need to know, which is how to wrap my arms around the moments of my life, even (or especially) when I know that they can not or will not last. The older I get, the more accutely aware I become that the moments slip by quickly and easily if we let them. And, often, I do let them, whether out of politeness, or fear, or habit. Yes, I might cook dinner every night, but I will never cook this dinner on this night again. I will never have this embrace with this friend again. Never again this walk with my daughter on this rainy spring afternoon.

I think of that experience in the museum frequently. The installation piece functioned as my own magical mirror gate, showing me my own true nature and flaws. This is the person I must love and accept, but I need not let her live half a life. Part of why I’ve started writing with renewed attention is the sense I have that writing helps me to live a fuller, more thoughtful sort of life. Writing gives me a reason and an outlet with which to examine the world, and myself within it.

Writing – whether it’s here, in stories, or on spare napkins – gives me a way to examine those few, flawed moments that I spent holding my breath in a room full of fireflies, and to make something more of them. And that’s the best way I know to make the moments count – even, and especially, those “firefly” moments that insist on glowing for so short of time. Look carefully.

Sweet Nostalgia

PICT0142

When you were a wee baby, we wrapped you in an orange blanket.

Is there anything more lovely than hearing stories of when we were little? Even though Winnie is just two, she repeatedly asks to hear stories from when she was newly born.

When you were a brand new baby, your grandparents and your aunties and uncles came to see you. Everyone held you and kissed you while you smiled, or cried, or slept. And everyone loved you.

When you were our teeny tiny baby, you loved to lie on Daddy’s chest. When you finally fell asleep, he would lie back on the couch and fall asleep, too. When I woke up, I would come to the living room and smile at you both.

When you were an itty little baby, Mommy used to wrap you up tight tight tight in a blanket. I’d dance and sway with you, and whisper, “Shush shush.”

I swaddled Winnie’s stuffed bear in one of her soft, orange baby blankets, showing her how I used to wrap her up.  She pulled the blanket off the bear and insisted, “Wrap me up, Mommy!  I’m a little baby!” The blanket that used to envelope her like a cocoon now doesn’t even come down to her wrists.  I tucked the blanket as snugly as I could around her torso, and I walked around the room while I gently bobbed her up and down. She calmed down and listened, just as she did when she was an infant.

She still likes to play the game once in a while. “Wrap me up,” she says.  And I do, and I tell her about how loved she has always been.  I indulge this baby game because we both enjoy it. Goodness knows, it won’t be long before cuddling with Mommy loses its appeal.

I wonder if this is my daughter’s first experience with nostalgia.  Maybe she realizes – in her toddler way – that some quality of time has passed, and is unavailable to her now. I’ve spent quite a lot of energy over my 30+ years feeling nostalgic about whichever phase in my life happens to have just passed me by: the school years, the single years, the childless years… I have to remind myself that, if we didn’t grow and change, there would be nothing for which to feel nostalgic. So, feeling nostalgic means that we have grown. We are doing what we’re supposed to do: traveling along on this rolling, dipping, dizzying journey of a life.

And, yet, I  believe that there’s nothing wrong with looking back, reaching out to touch those especially sweet moments we have lived. We all do this, some of us through daydreaming, some of us through writing, some of us through hearing the stories of our lives from the people who have lived it right along with us. And me, I wrap up my too-big baby in her orange blanket, and I whisper, “Shush shush.”

Ski, Skate, Jump, Repeat

vancouver_2010The Olympic Games are truly magical.  Every four years, the best athletes in the world come together to show us what hard work and passion look like.  Some of them are familiar faces who resurface in our collective consciousness after four years of ambition, hard work, and injuries.  Then, there are the surprises, the unknowns, the upstarts.  The ones that no one expected would go that far.

I am amazed and inspired by all of these athletes, who sacrifice sleep, money, and time with friends and family in service of a singular goal.  I think of how much easier it would have been simply to do something else.  So much easier to stop when it got too intense.  Imagine, setting your sights on a goal so distant, so unreal, so void of guarantees… and then, giving up nearly everything else for that slimmest of chances.

It makes me feel like a child again, makes me wonder at the possibilities.  And, I don’t just mean I wonder at those athletes standing on the podium.  I do marvel at them, at the elation and pride I hope they are feeling in those moments.  But, sometimes, as I watch the media coverage, I wish that the Olympics didn’t have to be about superstars.  One or two people always come away from the Games looming larger than life, wearing their success in the form of endorsement deals, camera-ready hair and smiles, and glossy magazine photo shoots.  I often find myself thinking of the people who don’t make it to the podium.  The snowboarder who falls on a trick she’s done a thousand times during practice.  The figure skater who thinks his medal is a sure thing, only to watch someone else receive it.  I equally love the athletes who lose gracefully, and the ones who don’t.  I love the ones who never dreamt they would get a medal, but are having the times of their lives.  I love the ones who have that glint in their eye that means they’ve gotten a taste of the Games, that they’ll be back.

And, I think of the ones who dedicate their whole lives to an Olympic pursuit, and don’t get there at all, whether because of lack of resources, or injury, or simply because they couldn’t make the team.  I am in awe that they reached for something so gleaming and rare, at all.

The Olympic Games are inspiring because they remind us of all the ordinary mortals who keep their dreams in sight, and who don’t hold anything back in their journey toward accomplishing them.  These people – shall we call them fools?  – number a thousand for every Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White.  So, that’s why, at times, the Olympic coverage makes little sense (sometimes, even, makes me mad).  When glamour shots of the snowboarders are shown on a mega-screen behind them as they prepare to compete, or when the athletes (female only, of course) feel the need to wear flawless makeup during their events, knowing that their images will be broadcast around the world, the media has missed the point.  When coverage of women’s snowboarding means a video montage that includes showing the athletes in skimpy bikinis, complete with close-ups, well… then the media wasn’t even aiming for the point.

The point isn’t that these athletes are superheroes, or supermodels.  The point is that that they’re just like us.  They’re mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, siblings, and friends.  They’re just regular people who decided that realizing their dreams was worth risking it all.

And, for that, I thank them.  All of them.  Because I, for one, am enthralled.

Things That Can’t Be Undone

My amazing mother-in-law gave me The Mother’s Almanac right before WInnie was born. It’s filled with useful advice about feeding, sleeping, diapering, playing, cooking… nuggets of wisdom that my tired eyes tried to take in during those early months. Fortunately, one item did stick to this used-up old flypaper that is my brain. Authors Kelly and Parsons suggest that mothers try to do one thing every day that “can’t be undone.”

I think of that suggestion often as I grit my teeth through another load of dishes or laundry, or another bout with the vacuum cleaner. Those dishes just get dirtied again, the clothes stained with marker and applesauce, the rugs appear – within hours, it seems – to be sprinkled with a crunchy coating of dirt and playdough. All these things come undone. And, then, so do I.

So when Winnie was about ten months old, I decided that I would spend my precious droplets of available time more conscientiously, focusing on things that couldn’t be undone. I made my peace with dirty carpets. The family acquired more socks and underwear, which doesn’t keep our clothes clean, but it allows for more time between trips to the laundromat. Here are some of the things that I’ve decided to focus on, in my little pursuit of happiness.

First and most of all, I’ve become a reader, even more so than I was before. Sometimes I can’t find the energy to do anything that requires physical activity – like, you know, standing up – so reading suits me perfectly. It rejuvenates me, gets me thinking, gives me something to look forward to, and makes me feel like I have some company on lonesome days.

I’ve committed myself to making time for yoga, even if I can only find time for one class each week. The physical and mental benefits are very real for me. However, what really gets me jazzed is when my teacher Carla demonstrates a pose that I think I could never, in a million years, not even after three weeks of daily yoga and meditation on a beach in Bali, accomplish. And, then, I try it. And I do it. (Or, at least, my body sort of flails around with my limbs going in the general direction they’re supposed to.) And then, I can’t stop smiling.

Really, learning how to do anything at all, especially something that once seemed intimidating or challenging, makes me stand up straighter and gives me something to crow about. I’ll be posting about some of these new skills I’ve got in my toolbox, from knitting hats to making croutons.

My friend Sara helped me to remember how essential and nourishing a good talk with a friend can be. The best kind of talks happen in person, over a beer, and without having to stop every few minutes to say, “Don’t touch that PLEASE!” An honest share-fest with a friend can keep me going for a long time, like a bowl of oatmeal. It’s the kind of thing that too easily gets de-prioritized. I need to remember that carving out the time is so worth it. Perhaps I should get a tattoo, to remind myself.

When I was a kid, my mom used to tell me stories of how her dad – my Dede – would take her and her brothers into the city for a lunch date and a special trip to the bookstore. “We’re making memories,” he would say, signaling them all to do just that – to notice, to make the event special. Lately, I find myself trying to do this in my life. A trip to the library, a ride on the bus… anything can be an occasion if we sit up and look around, noticing what makes it special and, even, joyful.

Some days, I don’t have time or energy to knit, or to write, or to even hold up my end of a coherent conversation. Some days feel so full of “to-dos” that I don’t feel I’m really doing anything. On those days, I challenge myself to be aware of my surroundings as I walk. Regardless of where I’m going, I wrestle my focus away from my destination and take note of the steps I’m taking. I take deep breaths of air and notice its temperature as it travels down my windpipe, as it brushes on my skin. I reach my feet out as far as I can to grab hold of the earth, then push it behind me before once again lifting each foot so that it hangs, for just one moment, in the sky. Those steps, they’re almost like leaps. At the end of those days, when I think back over what I’ve done, at least I have that.

It’s not much, but they can’t that away from me.

Meditating, Knot by Knot

It was late at night. Usually I would have been reading a book. But, that wasn’t exactly what I wanted. I wanted to be alone with myself, not immersed in a world with other characters. I needed to be fully present to my thoughts and feelings, not escape them.

I had some thinking to do. I decided to knit.

I’ve been wondering what the purpose of my knitting might be. Years ago, it would simply have been a thrifty skill to have. I would have knit sweaters, scarves, blankets, hats, and gloves for my family and friends. I could even rip the stitches out of one piece after it’s usefulness was gone – say, after a child had outgrown it – and make it into something new. Talk about resourcefulness!

But, that’s not what I do. Nor is it what any knitter I know does. Knitters these days mostly knit as a hobby. They do it to express their crafty sides. For the satisfaction – and novelty – of making something with their own fingers instead of buying it in a store. Generations ago, it would have been unremarkable. Possibly, it would even have been embarrassing to wear hand-knit clothing. Now, it’s a practice that’s been adopted by hipsters. Women with comfortable lives and time on their hands. Women, I guess, like me.

There are lots of other things I could be doing with my time. I could cook – that’s very useful, and it’s also truly thrifty. I could be writing, which is something that I love and it’s also a way for me to earn some money. I could be reading, napping, catching up with friends, or any number of other errands that are on my list.

So, why am I knitting?

The answer (or, one of them) came to me that night as I lay on the couch in the middle of a quiet night. My fingers automatically completed the repetitious movements, my eyes saw the yarn but also looked past it. It felt a little like a meditation, like what I imagine a rosary might be like, if I ever did a rosary. I had some troubling thoughts, working out what I felt about big changes that are coming down the road in my life. As I knit, I was reminded – by row after row of purposeful knots – that sometimes we must allow for, even create, knots in order to make sense of our lives. In other words, sometimes things have to get pretty messy before we can clean them up.

In fact, knitting is a little like writing this blog. I’ve been questioning why I’m sending these little projects out into the hinterland of the Internet, out where few people will ever come across them. I’m realizing that, even if no one reads these meditations of mine, they are still useful, if only for me. I write to know what I think.*

Which, I suppose, is the same reason I knit.

*I’d love to accept credit for this sentiment. But, it was Auden who said something like this and many writers whom I admire have echoed and paraphrased it.

Time, Bye-Bye

The Giving Tree by Shel SilversteinImmersed as I am in the world of books for young children, I’m interested to see which books hold Winnie’s attention just as much as I remember them holding my own. Even more, I’m interested to see which books I enjoyed as a child that I can now enjoy on deeper levels as an adult.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein is one such book. This book has been a favorite of Winnie’s for some time now. Before she could say the full title she used to call it “Money,” because she loves the scene in which the boy asks the tree for money and goes away with arms full of apples to sell. Now, she asks for it by name and sets it on her lap, reading it to herself, to me, to her animals, to the ever-patient Mystery dog. Admittedly, Win’s version is much abridged but it retains some of the essence of the original. It goes something like this: “Once, tree. Boy come! Eat apples. Tree happy. Time, bye-bye. Boy older. Come boy! Tree sad. Come boy! Boy sad. The end.”

Is this a book about two friends growing apart? About unrequited love? How tragic a character is this tree, who seems to exist in a world without any others of her kind (although she does say, “the forest is my house,” which suggests that, somewhere, there are other trees – why can’t she keep company with them?), and who is in love with a boy, or with the idea of the boy used to be. She gives away every part of herself, gaining nothing except the possibility that her giving nature might bring the boy back to her someday. How sad must she be when she thinks that she has nothing left, that the boy would have no reason to come to her again.

Can’t she understand that people must grow and change? Does she expect the boy to remain a child forever? She does. She calls him “boy,” even when he’s so old that his teeth are gone. She doesn’t see him, only her memories of him, only who she wants him to be. Ah, love.

And how sad this boy, whose expanding horizons at first seem exciting. Going to the city, wanting things…. money, a house, then, finally, a boat to escape all the things he has wanted and obtained. His life becomes more complex and less bearable, until, finally, he is so weary from it all that he finds himself content again to just sit with his old friend.

Come to think of it, perhaps this is a story about parenting.

I think of this now, as I rock Win to sleep for her nap. Sometimes, Winnie changes so much, so fast, that my mind can not keep up. I feel foolish calling her “baby” when I see my little girl running through the park, pointing out that the trees are naked.

Accepting these changes in her would be more difficult if I didn’t feel hopeful that I could grow right along with her, that our relationship could change as it needs to. I am not rooted in one place, always pining for what used to be. I am glad, now, that she can run and talk. We can communicate, make jokes, even argue. This morning, she took her book and sat in the grass amongst the leaves. After reading for a few minutes, she looked up and saw me watching. “Mommy, sit right here,” she said, patting the ground next to her. Inviting me to do something with her, I thought. This is new. Next thing, she’ll be calling me up and suggesting that we meet for a drink.

This relationship we have is always shifting, and changing. It feels both as solid as the earth itself, and as changing as seasons. I’ll long, surely, for what has been. I’ll want to hold her in my lap far after she has any interest. One day, I will be lonely for her, as the tree is for the boy. One day, I will hope that what I have to offer her is enough to keep her returning to me.

I wonder if I’ll be able to enjoy our relationship, always, in all its present and future forms. I think I will, assuming enjoyment can live with lots of other emotions, such as wonder, longing, sadness, and pride. I want her to grow into the person she will be, and I know she can’t do that without leaving behind some of who she is, some of who we are together.

As Win said, paraphrasing Shel, “Time, bye-bye.”

Fall Leaves and Trapper Keepers

In autumn, the leaves change color in much the same way that my hair grays – in large, startling swatches that bloom overnight. Last week, I came across a tree that was vibrant summer green, all except one large bough that popped bright yellow, as if caught with one arm stuck through the sleeve of a bright sweater.

Autumn means industriousness. The trees are the first to get to work. They’ve been taking it easy all summer, soaking up the sun, and now the show-offs demonstrate their abilities in a final, brilliant performance.  Many years on the academic calendar – as a student and, later, as a teacher – have thoroughly conditioned my mind to equate the autumn with a different sort of colorful spectacle – new pens, folders, and binders (remember Trapper Keepers?) of every hue.  As the trees turn and the weather cools, my fingers itch for school supplies, my mind thinks, “Well, time to get back to work.”  Then, in the uncomfortable silence that follows, quietly wonders, “Doing what…?”

Since the birth of my daughter a year and a half ago, I have not returned to my work in the classroom. I miss the new pens, and that feeling of getting organized. (Perhaps that’s why I’ve spent the last weeks shopping for bins from IKEA, the thirty-something’s version of the Trapper Keeper.) I miss feeling both excited and anxious about welcoming meeting a new group of students, knowing that each school year holds in wait countless wonderful moments of learning and friendship, countless challenges to be met. I miss the change, too, the sense that one part of the year is coming to an end, and a new one is beginning. The school year gave a comforting and predictable rhythm to my life.

Mostly, though, I miss having a neat answer to the ubiquitous question, “What do you do?”  These days, when someone asks me what I do, my mouth opens, but none of the words that come out seem to fit. “I am a mother,” is the obvious answer. But that doesn’t describe me, not even close. The world of parenting – playdates, music classes, and playgrounds – is too small for me, too local. I long for a way to affect people outside my immediate circle, as I did when I was in the classroom, or when I led workshops for teachers.

I could answer the question with an attempt to describe the evolving truth, which is that in too-short bites of time while the baby sleeps or plays with a babysitter, I am editing books for teachers, I am preparing to teach workshops for GLI, I am reading books and writing about them, while also putting my own stories – both imagined and real – to paper. But, I usually don’t get that far. That answer is longer and more complex than most people care to hear. Plus, it seems too nebulous to be real – aren’t most mothers in Brooklyn also “writers?” It feels pretentious and unrealistic to describe myself as such before I’ve been published.  Well, Shannon, I ask, what’s so wrong with being “pretentious and unrealistic?”  Isn’t that just another way of saying “ambitious?”  I’m in uncharted territory here, and the truth is that I’m scared of looking foolish.  Scared that people might – God forbid – laugh.  At me.

It seems that I, too, am caught with one arm through a sleeve. What is this new identity that I am pulling over my head? What do I want it to be? Being undefined doesn’t feel entirely comfortable, but it feels very true. I am beginning to see the positive aspects of my situation; I have the power to set the terms and the goals, and the power to change them. It’s no easy task, stripping down to the essential parts of my life so I can figure out how to present myself anew. Just ask any tree. I hope and trust, however, in the potential to be brilliant.

 
This post will also appear on Girls Leadership Institute’s new blog Woosh!
 

Photo credit goes to: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aunto/