Wednesday, October 23, 2013

a poem for today by Charlotte Matthews

Patron Saint of the Convenience Store
     In this life we cannot do great things.
     We can only do small things with great love.
     --Mother Teresa

Think how tired she must be,
after she's drawn letters in the dirt,
jumped rope with beggar children,
cradled a man in the streets of Calcutta.
She can still come up with phrases
well worth writing down.
And here she is, in the 7-11,
buying clove cigarettes to bring
back the smell of High Mass.
Me -- my purchase?  A bright red
Tootsie pop, hard-shelled exterior
that only gives way and melts.
I'm thinking how bleak
the emptied city pool looked
on my way over, how it'll be
winter soon so sadness will set in.
She stands unswerving, probably
coming up with another great quote.
It is only through repetition
that we make ourselves.
Her heart, like this store, is never closed.
I follower her out the automatic doors
to the steamy black parking lot.
She slides into her seat, adjusts
her habit, drives away.



(published in The American Poetry Review May/June 2013)

Monday, October 21, 2013

It's All a Little Better Now

It's 8:31 and I'm toying with going to bed, which means I'll probably get under the covers soon, read Bon App├ętit, write in my journal, make some lists about tomorrow, think about cracking open the Bonhoeffer autobiography, text with Lindsay a few times because it will be pre-dinner making in her time zone, come down stairs for a glass of water, get back under the covers, make another list, probably about Christmas (seriously, I've started.  I love-hate that) or my brother's birthday party. And then it will be 11 and I'll be cursing myself for staying up so long.  This is pretty much how it goes every single night, and then it's 5AM, and Maeve is wide awake in America.

What do they say the definition of insanity is, repeating the same action and expecting different results?  Well, my "attempts" at being rested may fall into that category...

{oh, I should qualify that Ben is out, which is why there is no mention of him at all -- usually we do talk to each other, in case there was concern}

Today was a day of stuff: car that will barely start + really want sweet coffee = left the car running in the parking lot (for fear that it wouldn't start again if I cut the engine) and went in to order a a mocha with caramel drizzle (...) While there, the pediatrician whose office is in that same parking lot called to say I was, unbeknownst to me, supposed to be at their office.  SO, I left my car running longer and walked over to the doctor's where she told me that, yes, as I could tell from the lack of crying, fever, and sleeplessness, Maeve is better.  Thank you.  Next time I will ditch the $20 follow up... Gladly, my car was still running in the parking lot when I came out {small congratulations to the people who resisted the obscene temptation to drive off with a perfectly fine car} so I drove to the body shop to explain the starting problem and tell them it sounds an unplugged robot winding down each time I turn it off.  On the way home (in another car) I found a witch's broom for $2.99, some fluorescent tights with tiny witches flying on them for my big witch to wear, and orange and green hair spray.

Then I stopped.  Maeve napped for what felt like two days, and I sat on my bed.  Last fall I spent a lot of each day sitting on my bed nursing Maeve.  I watched leaves of the hundred year old oak trees change from green to yellow to golden against the bright flat blue skies, and listened to Ben and the kids raking, swinging, playing below.

Today we had that kind of sky, and wind whirled the leaves.

I almost can't remember those days of sitting on my bed with someone so small.  What did she sound like?

A friend just posted this on Facebook: "Pick up the nearest book, turn to page 45.  The first sentence explains your love life."  There is no book to be seen near me.  Bowl of edamame? Yes.  Eden's asthma chart?  Yes.  Pumpkins and gourds?  Yes.  Napkins, bulbs to plant, a tub of markers, school folders, a bottle of wine, a bottle of bubbles, some mail? Yes.  No book.  Oh! one book! shoved under Silas's homework folder.  I picked it up and turned to page 45:  "Who are you?"

I laughed -- I'm glad that does not explain my love life!

But then I thought.

Sometimes when people are so close to me, so in the thick of the every day, so familiar, I forget how utterly mysterious and other they are.  Today sitting on my bed was kind of about that.  After a morning of maintaining -- cars, children, caffeine desires, Halloween wishes -- I got to sit and remember mystery.  Sunday at the church we were visiting, each 2nd grader was given a Bible in front of the congregation.  The moment was personal and sweet -- they clearly knew each kid.  2nd grade Silas sitting two seats away from me (anger distance) was devastated to be sitting with us instead of standing with the kids -- an insult to the injury that we are visiting churches in the first place.  So today, I wrote him a long letter in the cover of a Bible that I "presented" to him tonight.  In that letter I wrote about mystery, God's mystery in the midst of all we learn, the mystery of the man Silas will be, the mystery of a book that's written Spirit to spirit.  Mystery.

So here at the end of the day, "who are you?" may actually be a good question for my love life -- another invitation to step back and look again.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

teething, fevers, shrieking, sleep

I am writing with Maeve standing in the chair behind me wielding a rubber basting brush and stomping her feet.  She's teething and will not let me set her down.  Incredibly charming when touching my body -- leaning her head around my shoulder, tilted to the side, dimpled smile, in a high singing voice: hi!  -- but as soon as her feet touch the floor, she throws her toy, crashes to the ground and cries, hence our double-deckered seating, which, even now, is deteriorating....

Today is our first cold day.  53 and raining makes a cold that sinks through clothes and skin.  This is the kind of cold that requires a shower to get warm.  What, I keep wondering, does everyone do who lives outside, who sits tucked under overhangs wearing wet sweatpants?  I talked to a man like that earlier today, John, who had accumulated a couple Starbucks cups -- people's gestures toward warmth and well-wishing.  What can I do for you, I stood there wondering, knowing a laundromat, a new set of clothing, a hot shower would all do wonders but were not possible.

****

That is as far as I got that day with teething Maeve.

Now is it several days later and teething Maeve has turned to fevered Maeve with a sore throat that makes her stick her tongue out and leave it there while she wrinkles her forehead and yells.  She's taken to falcon calling -- short sharp shrill screams (maybe not at all what a falcon sounds like) all day long..........

It's after 9:00 and I can hear that quiet wise voice in the back of my head telling me to slam my computer and run to bed.  I need sleep.  So I shall.  The house looks mildly like we've all walked around for two months throwing everything we've touched on the floor, so I hope I wake up in another place, maybe a hotel.

Friday, October 04, 2013

A Poem by Marina Tsvetaeva

What is this gypsy passion for separation

What is this gypsy passion for separation, this
   readiness to rush off -- when we've just met?
My head rests in my hands as I
   realize, looking into the night

that no one turning over our letters has
   yet understood how completely and
how deeply faithless we are, which is
   to say: how true we are to ourselves.



Doing it "Right" (the blogging break is over -- it was overrated)

Hello October!

Five weeks into school, and I am beginning to feel comfortable in our new rhythm.  Maeve has moved (or been moved) to one nap a day.  Our afternoons have some rubbery structure -- homework is mostly done before dinner (leaps and bounds above my rushing Silas through homework sheets at the breakfast table!!); sometimes we do science on Thursdays; Tuesday's and Wednesday's I have an hour with each kid while the other is at a class.  There are still things to figure out -- like how and when and what to make for dinner...  My sense of overwhelm at being responsible for my kids' spelling and fluency in addition and subtraction tables that left me ranting after Back to School night has even softened.

I've learned an important thing about myself recently.  I love latching on to a new routine and resolution: we will drink smoothies every morning from now on!  Every Tuesday we will go to the library and research a nonfiction topic!  Every week the kids will have these chores and put stars in the grid on the fridge!

But the fact of the matter is, as soon as I staple us into a strict routine like that, I buck it.  The IDEA of living these resolves makes me feel safe -- or, really, makes me, for the fleeting moment of drawing a magic marker grid and buying star stickers, feel in control.

One step into it, though, it's instantly clear that I'm not in control and may even be missing needs by pushing a rigid agenda.  But it does work well when I have, not family rules, but a thoughtful bank of ideas to draw from --  -- we could go to the library and research a nonfiction topic (we haven't ever done that); we could make green smoothies for breakfast; we could have a list of brainstormed chores on the fridge we all have to get done.

Yesterday a friend was talking about the constant busyness she feels taking care of three kids.  She said even though they're all in school now, the demands are constant: the dog needs long walks, she wants to help in kids' classrooms (now three), someone needs new pants for a performance, the grocery list demands trips to three stores, someone needs a non allergenic mattress cover to stop coughing all night long, the soccer ball has no air in it and practice is today, bills are due online  -- where is my time -- how can I do this better??  I could just stop trying to do it right...

I was struck.  Yes, how much pressure do we carry around trying "to do it right," to do it ALL right.  And how much time do we spend trying to present our "right" lives to the world -- instagram, blogs, facebook, twitter...

It's exhausting.

I lock into resolutions -- rules, really -- for the relief that, YES, this will make me do it RIGHT.  In my house, kids shower every night!

But then the kids don't shower (again), and I realize for the zillionth time that no matter how much structure I try to give us, it's not going to make me do it "right."

Sometimes the floor is just filthy.
Sometimes we have no fruit or vegetables in the house at all.
Sometimes I curse when I can't find the hairbrush, and I have to do Eden's hair in the morning.
Lots of times I yell when people can only find one shoe and the bus is coming in 3 minutes.
Yesterday I yelled so loudly about a sweatshirt and Eden cried so hard that I couldn't put her on the bus and had to say sorry while I drove her to school.

But the good news is that I am showing up and doing it.  As I let that impulsive resolution-junky quiet, there is freedom.  Pinterest-perfect "right" is not really the goal (though so lovely and aesthetically pleasing).  The goal is putting down my phone, looking at their eyes, smiling instead of sighing with exasperation, saying sorry, slowly learning.  It's good news when all I can think about is falling onto my bed and staying there for days and instead I'm answering questions about rainbow loom bracelets, about how to spell "said," about what's for dinner even when I haven't the faintest idea.  It's good news when instead of ignoring him and moving on, I attack Silas crawling across the floor under a blanket wanting to be laughed at, or dig through Eden's closet to help her lay out an outfit even though she's violently rejected my last four suggestions.  Today, I am standing on the good news.