Monday, May 27, 2013

The Clothesline

Once upon a time, back when there were only three of you, you packed up all your stuff, loaded it in a truck, and drove (westward ho!), landing yourselves in Michigan. It was time for a Life Adventure. The Gingerbread Man had finished an MBA, and together, you decided more graduate school was in your future. So you sold your house, ending up five-seven-nine hours away from your respective families.

Faced with your situation, most women would get a job with a paycheck, but you are not most women. You had a job, a full-time job and then some: the gingerbread boy. He just didn't come with a paycheck. You know some would be quick to criticize that choice, calling you selfish or stupid or a drain on society. But you weren't.

Instead of making money, you made do. You knew the difference between want and need. You owned your car. You owned a house. There was no cell phone, no cable. You had dial-up internet, but no consumer debt. You had a Kitchen Aid. You knew how to make bread. You knew how to can. You knew how to knit. You knew how to sew. You kept a garden. Sometimes you walked places because you didn't have gas money, since gas had inched up over $2.00 a gallon. And the Gingerbread Man constructed a clothesline in your yard out of 4x4s and rope.

Once a week, you would carry the heavy baskets of wet laundry up the basement stairs, out the side door, over the small deck, down the stairs, past the pine tree, to the spot with the sun. You'd take a towel out of the basket, shake it out, its wetness snapping, and pin it up while the gingerbread boy played in the grass or swung on the swing or investigated the sand box. Retrieve, shake, pin. Retrieve, shake, pin. The repetition had a zen-like quality to it, so by the time you were done with one load, you were calm and ready to face whatever came next. You needed calmness in those days; the gingerbread boy had lots of needs requiring lots of patience.

If the sun were strong and the breeze was brisk that day, some of the laundry would be dry by the time you brought up the next load. You would walk down the lines, feeling towels, sheets, pants, dry and stiff and crunchy. You loved that feel; there was texture to it, but the texture would soften almost immediately, leaving you only with the sweet smell of the fresh air that no detergent company has ever been able to replicate.

You moved on after graduate school was over, and you miss that clothesline. Your needs are met now, and most of your wants are too, but you lack a sunny spot in the backyard in which to hold a few 4x4s and some rope, a place for the wind and the sun to make magic.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Because That's What We Do, Isn't It?

It is raining and I am tired. The youngest gingerbread boy was up last night at 12:42 am, then 1:30 am, then 2:15 am.

And he wants me.

Not that Daddy is an option right now considering he has shingles and is down for the count himself.

It's me he wants to hold his head, to get a wet washcloth, to sit by his bedside, to read to him, to carry him to the bathroom. To be.

And the whole time he says, "I love you so much, Mommy."

And he says, "I don't want to miss school. I haven't missed school all year because I was sick, and they give out prizes at the end of the year."

And he says, "You used to call me sickie-poo when I was little and got sick."

And he says, "I wish I didn't feel so awful."

And he says, "Will you pray with me, Mommy?"

So I pray with him and I call him sickie-poo and pumpkin. And I sit by his bedside. And I rub his back. And I hold his head over a bowl. And I bring him a wet washcloth. And I give him sips of water. And I read to him.

And I am exhausted. And my back hurts from perching on the edge of the bed. And I am cold. And it is dark. And the rain comes down. And I want to go back to bed.

But I don't. I call him sickie-poo and pumpkin and take his temperature and bring him chewable ibuprofen, grape-flavored, and I hold his head over the bowl and get him a wet washcloth and wash my hands for the millionth time.

Because that's what we do, isn't it?

Sunday, May 19, 2013


Once upon a time, you read Cheaper by the Dozen and you thought you'd like to have a dozen kids. How different that would be from your childhood, much of which was spent alone. Everyone would always have a playmate. It would be insta-party, all the time.

Then you had one child.

And a second.

But you didn't make it to a third, or a fourth, let alone a twelfth.

Two are party enough.

It's hard to remember the Before, the sans children, the time when you could sit on a sofa and read a book if you wanted to. Or you could go out if you wanted to. You could have whatever you wanted for supper, and not have to accommodate a picky palate. There were few tears, and no fights, and the quiet was immense.

But so was the emptiness.

Motherhood is such a complicated thing. It should be as easy as delivery: take a deep breath and push. But delivery is painful--not easy--and the pain doesn't stop once a child is born. The pain continues, though it moves upward from belly and bottom to head and heart.

You love and you ache and you hope and you plead. And your expectations of what motherhood "should" be are never met, but what you have is somehow better than what you expected, even if it's not perfect.

Especially if it's not perfect.

You look at your infant and his smooth soft cheeks, his tufts of hair, the curve of his lip.

You see your toddler, with his graham-cracker-dusted hands and his will and his want. You're toppled by his exuberance.

You send your baby off to kindergarten, and he seems so big...and yet so little.

You watch your school-age boy master Legos and multiplication tables and bikes.

Before you know it, you send him off to a social. A dance.

The days are long, and the years are quick.

What could bring more joy?

And yet, what could bring more sorrow?

You know you should savor each day, and you try to, but the days really are long and sometimes you just want to be alone. There are big personalities in these children of yours, and they clash frequently. They have great gifts, but great gifts come with great challenges. It takes everything inside of you to calm and to quiet and to teach. Somedays, it takes more than what you have to give.

Tonight, you ache to be by yourself. You love, yes, you love, but sometimes you need to remember who you are and who you were and how it feels to breath all by yourself and what you looked like as a little girl, back when you thought a dozen children was a good idea.

And so you hide away, squirreled in a dark corner somewhere and look at pictures your mom just sent you, pictures of you as a baby, at four, at six, at eight. You hardly remember your childhood, perhaps because your mind is full of the details of Life Now. But you look and you look--backgrounds and expressions and people and clothing and furniture--and there out of the blue, you're looking at the round face of the oldest gingerbread boy. But it's not him, it's you. You cup your fingers around the long hair. Yup. It's his face. You flip to a different picture. There's the expression of the youngest gingerbread boy. They are now what you were then.

Did your own mother feel such complicated feelings about motherhood? Does motherhood still feel complicated to her now? A great big soup of love and fear and worry and exhaustion that will never go away?

You put the pictures down. Motherhood is immense and long and weighty. But it is also sweet and full and surprising.

Friday, May 10, 2013


Walking preserves your sanity. So you tie up your sneakers, pop in your ear buds, and around the loop you go.

Well, you think, there are better things that preserve your sanity, but walking is the cheapest. And the most accessible.

You set a good pace--enough to get your heart rate up--one foot pounding the pavement after the other. It's rained, and that means one thing during spring in New England: slugs. You watch where you step.

You stand up straight, shoulders back, moving from the hips rather than from the shoulders.

Before long the music gets to you.

The fact is, you're a dancer. You've always been a dancer. From the time you were little, doing "Red Dances" and "Blue Dances" in the living room, to the time you performed with dance companies much later.

You're a dancer.

Dancing is what preserves your sanity.

But there's no stage and your body is injured and doesn't always do the things you want it to do.

So you walk.

Walk, walk, walk, walk.

Walking is boring. And the music. Oh, the music. Your mind begins choreographing, and in your head you're spinning and twisting, arms and ribs undulating. Your feet are moving, and in your mind, you leap, no longer earthbound. Your pace slackens as your imagination takes over your movement.

A bird calls out, and you are back on a street in your neighborhood, not on a stage somewhere. A street with slugs on it, and ferns unfurling by the roadside. A river flows nearby. And your feet are walking, walking, walking.

There's no one here.

The road is before you.

The road is empty, and wide.

Just like a stage.

It's tempting. So very tempting. One of these days, you're going to do it. You're going to dance down that street like it's nobody's business, with only the trees and the ferns and the lady's slippers and the woodpeckers for audience.

But not today. Today, you're going to walk. Maybe tomorrow you'll dance.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Small Things

You are forced to arise this morning when the youngest gingerbread boy knocks on your door.

"Mmph," you say.

He takes that to mean come in, because a few seconds later, the door knob squeaks, and the door opens. If allowed to wake up on his own, the youngest gingerbread boy is painfully cheerful in the morning.

"Good morning, Mommy!" He walks around to the other side of the bed, moves the pillow, and climbs in. "I came to see you."

You crack an eye open. It's hard to be anything but happy in the face of such filial devotion.

"Is it Mother's Day tomorrow?" he asks.

"No, not yet."

He snuggles up to you. He's been asking you when Mother's Day is for weeks now. There is a large wrapped package hiding in the other gingerbread boy's room, and the waiting is almost more than he can bear.

The siren call of morning cartoons sounds, and he leaves you for some PBS. That's ok. You got a morning snuggle, a hug and a kiss, and now some quiet time for work.

Later, there'll be cleaning. There will be planting. There will be piano and cello. The soundtrack of your life has moved on from the Peanuts theme song and Moonlight Sonata to Red Balloons and the Entertainer. Once, it was Pomp and Circumstance, and every time you walked from room to room, you felt obligated to walk a slow step-touch-step-touch-step-touch.

Graduation is still far away for your gingerbread boys, though. You still have a few more years to mold their characters, to teach them what they need to survive. And in the meantime, you're grateful for the morning hugs and kisses from the younger, for the fist bumps and half-hearted hugs from the older. You're grateful for a sunny spring morning, for the trees lifting their lacy branches into the sky, for the lily-of-the-valley that's springing up at the edge of the forest. You're grateful for the breath in your lungs, and the space of a whole day awaiting your will.