Blink.

November 5th, 2018

I went idly scrolling through my November photos. As in all the Novembers since I’ve been keeping photos in iPhotos. Here’s what turned up from ten years ago: 

See me looking down at that kid? See that other kid reaching up to the cupboard?

These are those kids today. 

Maybe after another decade, I’ll have their permission to write more about these years in between. For now, know that I am so proud to be their mom. And that I have earned every one of these grey hairs. 

Rise within the veil

November 4th, 2018

On this Feast of All Saints, I woke up to day already dawned, and an extra hour of sleep redeemed from some chronological savings plan I don’t remotely understand, but okay, I’ll take getting up at 7:30 on a Sunday instead of 6:30 anytime. 

I made a big pot of steel-cut oats for the parish breakfast, woke up my altar boy, and ran the mic for Q&A at our adult Sunday school class where the guest speaker taught about her Islamic faith to a rapt audience of nearly 70 Episcopalians.  She brought copies of her holy book to give away and people were lined up to claim them. Then it was time for church. I love the liturgy of this feast day, and it was a particularly beautiful service. A new baby was baptised, which always makes my heart full and spill over the brims of my eyes just a little bit, and recalls to mind that quote of Rabindranath Tagore, “Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.”  

I am not yet, either. 

Give us the wings of faith to rise
within the veil, and see
the saints above, how great their joys,
how bright their glories be.

Vive la resistance.

November 3rd, 2018

Planted bulbs today. Little time bombs of spring. 

 

Turn

November 2nd, 2018

Spent most of the day at Starbucks, with an interlude at the warehouse club — we are out of everything– then back to Starbucks to wait for my son to get through with his shift at the restaurant two doors down. As much as I am still wistful over his decision to leave college, I love his proximity to home. I beam when he walks into the coffee shop, bandana around his head, the shimmer of sweat on his brow. It’s payday, and he needs to borrow my car to go by the bank and pay bills. He tears open his pay stub and tells me he’s one week shy of 2,000 hours since he started. He’s proud of it, and I am too. I tell him to keep the car for the night once he helps me get the groceries inside. Patrick is exhausted from Halloween socializing and I don’t have any plans to go out, until a girlfriend reminds me I do. 

It’s a beautiful fall afternoon, so I walk the half mile to the restaurant where my boy works, and meet her for happy hour cocktails on the patio that evolve into dinner inside. Little Rock is just a big small town, and this joint is one of its pulse points. Two tables down, the congressional challenger for our district is dining with his family. An employee in the white-hot mayoral campaign joins us for a bit. My girlfriend and I talk about politics and power and our own experiences on the margins of both. It’s the kind of deep conversation I love, the kind I would never take online, where no one seems to converse anymore, only pronounce and posture. Face to face, our stories are our own stories, and no one else gets to decide for us what they mean. 

In between time.

November 1st, 2018

It’s dark now in the mornings when I wake up, and still dim by the time I pull on clothes, find shoes, clip the leash on the dog, and head out for our morning walk. I don’t mind it as much I dread the falling back of the clock this weekend, the steep descent of night into the late afternoon. Once daylight is gone, so is the day, and with it my will to do the things still left to get done. The back-to-school energy of early fall has played out and the resolution of a new year is yet to come. These are the groggy in-between days — I lumber through them like a bear. 

For the first time I can remember since having kids, there were no Halloween decorations on my porch to step past on this All Saints morning. I never got around to putting them up. My youngest son decided to do a costume at the last possible minute and marched off to his friends house dressed as a ninth grader in a bathrobe and pirate hat. I invited some friends with younger children to be my excuse for joining the neighborhood block party. Since adopting my little terrier, I am always Dorothy on Halloween. It’s amazing how many little kids in 2018 still know who Dorothy is. Everyone admired my hyper-realistic Toto. “I borrowed him from the shelter,” I told them. “He goes back tomorrow.” 

Joking.

I took a photo of the sad, shut garage door at the end of the street to my friend who used to throw it open to one and all every year until she and her family moved away. “Just so you know you ruined Halloween,” I told her.

Mostly joking.

A season of my life is falling away, and this is the time in between. Some days, like this one, are laden with nostalgia, and memories cling damp and heavy. Others are crisp and bright, hints of new things on the wind, the heart’s giddy rustle and swirl. 

 

 

To you, at the pool, in your thirties.

June 28th, 2017

(for Mallory, who asked me to)

You are in your thirties–and which particular year isn’t apparent to me or at all important to you. Those second-place digits are just mathematical points along the blazing tail of a comet with you at its head, on fire with everything, hurtling towards the middle of your own life. 

So much is settled now, and so, there is so much to un-settle. Almost everything still feels possible, if not plausible, but for the first time you have–if not a sense, a rumor–of finitude. Somewhere in the distance, doors are closing, but you don’t live there yet. You spend your days picking and sorting through possible futures as if flipping back and forth through the pulpy pages of a choose-your-own-adventure story.  You decide to marry. To divorce. To stay together. To have a child. To not have a child. You decide you will have the affair. You decide you won’t. You decide your marriage can survive your spouse’s affair. You decide it can’t. You take the job, quit the job, start the thing, quit the thing, do the next thing. You decide to have children or you don’t. You decide to have the child you didn’t decide on. You decide you didn’t choose the child you couldn’t have. You decide you’re into women, or men, or both. You decide you don’t need god. You decide you do. You decide you can’t take one more minute. You decide to give it another shot. You pretend you are choosing, even when it’s not a choice. You pretend you didn’t choose, even when you did. So much on the outside is settled now, and so you are free to be unsettled on the inside. You boil beneath the skin of stability that stretches across your days.

You are more beautiful now than you have ever been, or will ever be–between childhood and old age–and it’s this volatility that makes you so–this late summer storm of your life. At last. You are becoming who you are. 

 

 

How to Ash Wednesday

March 1st, 2017

7:09 Wake up, reach for your phone, remember it’s Ash Wednesday and you were going to start the day contemplatively. Go find journal instead and start writing.

8:00 Kids are gone, break out meditation app you are paying a monthly subscription fee for, but have never used past the free trial period. Meditate for 10 minutes.

8:10 Pray using morning Daily Devotion from Book of Common Prayer.  Pray for your loved ones, your near neighbors, and a couple of people who frankly scare the shit out of you with their crazy.

9:30 Download audio edition of contemporary Bible translation to listen to while walking the dog. 

11:00 Get a shower, eat fish for lunch, share Deep Lenten Insights with husband. You are killing this whole Lent thing. 

12:00 Head to the church office where you work part time, login to Facebook to let everyone know you are killing the whole Lent thing. 

12:05 Wonder where all your co-workers are today, anyway.

12:20 Realize they are all in the sanctuary because DUH Ash Wednesday. 

12:30 Review plan with family to attend 6:30 Ash Wednesday service together. Plan surprise take out catfish meal to reward their cooperation. For once, you will all be in church together.

2:00 Get hungry, wander up to the parish hall kitchen, forget you’re abstaining from meat until the last of a leftover grilled chicken breast from the weekend fundraising event passes your epiglottis. 

2:30 Check email to see how you’re doing with your Lent Madness bracket. Nothing, because it’s Ash Wednesday, stupid. Get annoyed that you have to wait another whole day to see if your chosen saint is kicking the other’s saint’s ass. It’s all for the sake of fun and learning, but you better win, goddammit.

2:45 Evening begin to unravel as husband remembers he has other plans. You’re feeling magnanimous, though, because 10 minutes of British-accented guided meditation goes a long way. You tell him to where to get ashes to go, and to do what he needs to do, with your blessing.

5:00 Pick up middle son from film club. He wants to be dropped off at a friend’s house for the evening. You say no, but then capitulate on the condition he declare a Lenten intention. He does so, and it leads to such a great conversation about Ash Wednesday that you miss the turn for the catfish place and settle for McDonald’s filet-o-fish instead.

6:15 Arrive early with 2/5ths of your family at church. The oldest is needed to help in the nursery and the youngest has been drafted to stand in for the entire acolyte team. Take a seat by yourself in the transept pew where you can keep an eye on him.

6:30 Service begins. Resolve to be attentive, mindful, and present throughout.

6:55 Come “to” in the middle of the sermon, wondering if anyone’s ever left chewing gum on the underside of the pulpit rail. You have no idea what’s happened up to this point in the service.

7:00 Notice your youngest child, seated behind the altar in full view of the congregation, doing rhythmic gymnastics moves with his cincture. Wonder if you can discreetly fashion a pea-shooter from a pew card.

7:05  Someone’s phone is going off, and OH SHIT, it’s yours. Because it’s Wednesday, and the alarm is set to remind you to pick up kids from youth group. You scramble to retrieve it, thinking if you can’t deactivate it at the first touch, you’ll just throw it away from you as far as you can, like a grenade.

7:10 Ashes. This is it, maybe your favorite liturgy of the church year. You go up with the choir and your lone acolyte. “Remember,” Father says, “You are dust, and to dust, you shall return.” You look at your son, your golden one, the last baby, kneeling next to you. “I remember,” you whisper. Amen.

7:30 Realize during the offertory, youngest child has been missing from his seat for at least ten minutes. As you make eye contact with one of the clergy in the universal code for WTF???, said child emerges from God only knows where and resumes his position.

7:40 Communion. You love everyone. All of them. The ones you like, the ones you haven’t met, even the ones who are serious pains in the ass. You love every single one, at least in this moment. And as they turn from the altar rail with their smudges of ash, you realize you may live to bury many of them. Or perhaps they will live to bury you, to comfort your husband and children, to remember you as one of theirs.

It’s all dust. Remember, remember.

I believe in eternal life, you told your middle son in the car, just hours ago. It’s the love that lives on. Only it’s not something you believe. It’s something you know.

With all my heart amen.

February 12th, 2016

This was my first prayer.

Dear God, thank you for all the wonderful things you have ever given us.  Keep Mummy, Daddy, Emily, Kaila, Suzy, Eeyore Beth, and Lambie safe. Let us have no bad dreams, or anything like that.  Let there be no arguments tonight, and let me not cry when Poppy dies. I love you with all my heart, Amen.

I prayed it for the first time when I was eight years old, because Sister Wilhelmina had told me I could ask God for anything, in my own words. I repeated it verbatim every night, until it became chant. I remember it as clearly today as the phone number I grew up with.

The words changed only a little across childhood. Petitions adapted to circumstance. I eventually stopped interceding for my little sister’s and my favorite dolls and stuffed animals. My grandfather died in the spring of that year. I didn’t cry, and I took that for mercy. I had sensed it was asking too much, too late, for the cancer to go away. Strength against the coming grief was the next best thing I could imagine. My dog Kaila died a few years later, and other pets came and went. So did my parents’ arguments–my father’s word for his late night tirades–and their absences were mercy, too, if not the same as peace.

By the time I was in my teens, I also asked, “forgive us for all our sins, and help us to forgive others” (I always prayed in first person plural-it seemed like it was asking an awful lot for just one person). Sister Wilhelmina didn’t teach me the “five elements of prayer,” but they all made their way in there somehow: thanksgiving, intersession, petition, adoration, confession. I understand some of these things a lot differently now than when I was a child, but as prayers go, I could do worse–often do worse–than to be thankful, ask for deliverance from my fears and grace to face them, expect mercy, beg pardon, and love with all my heart. 

 

 

Kyran

Remembering.

February 11th, 2016

“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Remember you are dust, and to dust, you shall return…”

Our priest comes to my seventeen-year-old, my firstborn, and I look sideways and up to watch her press her charcoaled thumb to his forehead beneath the swoop of his bangs. Then it’s my turn.

“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

“I remember,” I whisper. Then wait, still kneeling, while she marks my other two boys with ashes. Were they dust once? Floating in sunlight?  Kicked up from a hard dirt road? Rising from the pages of an old book? Did I breathe them in before they entered the dividing cells, inhabiting flesh and bone of my flesh and bone? Are we not each other’s to keep?

No, I remember. Dust to dust.

I return to our pew with tears treacherously close to breaching my lashes, not from morbid sadness, but from the stark beauty of the liturgy, and the release of surrendering to what is. Ash Wednesday brings me around to face what I spend most days of the year frantically trying to outrun: the truth that all things must pass away–are passing away. I kneel down and assent to life’s terms, and in return I get a glimpse of what it’s like to be fully present in the present moment. To briefly feel as connected to everyone else at the altar rail as much I do to those I call mine. To see how we all belong to each other, and to God, for keeps.

 

Kyran

Losing the trail

November 12th, 2015

climbingDiscoveryFalls

From the day my first child was born, there was a blazed trail to follow. Sometimes I followed it exactly. Often I took detours. Either way, it’s been my guide.  I’ve wended my way through parenthood more or less along the same path my parents walked with me.

But here, sixteen years in, we come to an unmarked place. Here the path is broken.

I try to imagine my son meeting my sixteen-year-old self, and decide it would be an acquaintance my present self would be wary of, as I’ve been of certain kids who come around from time to time–the ones whose parents we never see, who leave only after everyone else has been summoned home, who seem to be pretty much on their own.

Where are the parents, we wonder among ourselves–“we” being the parents who exchange phone numbers, consult over curfews, and do routine fact-checking by text. Don’t they care?

Mine did care, and I always knew it. Always. But my memories of being taken care of end with my sixteenth birthday (perception is probably the better word…I’ve never been on the street–I was absolutely provided for). No blame and no shame here: my father was very sick, my mom was doing her best, I was being a pain-in-the-ass teenager, and we were all shipwrecked and rowing in different directions through a terrible, terrible storm. We lost each other for a while.

When we came back together, I was on the other side of 18, and our relationship picked up where it would have with a young adult and her parents. And went on from there. Though darker days lay ahead with my father, my parents have both been there for me in ways that others have envied. They’ve shown me what a gift acceptance and support is to grown children who are still growing. Those “missing” years are just a few pages from a much larger story.

Except that I’m parenting a sixteen-year-old of my own now, and it’s sometimes strangely counter-intuitive. I have to remind myself that he still needs me. That even as he is appropriately pulling away, it’s also appropriate for me to pull him back. To be the counterweight tug at the end of the ever-lengthening, ever-loosening safety line. Sometimes I have to remind myself that we’re not finished here yet, when my biographical clock tells me we ought to be.

Growing up is such a pushme-pullyou continuum, maybe every parent of a teenager feels this way. Like half the time we’re just guessing–how much slack to let out and when to pull up tight. One minute you’re talking to an emerging adult; then the child reappears. Maybe it’s disorienting by nature.

But the uncertainties are layered for me. The hardest work of parenting is withdrawing your own baggage from your child’s journey. Sometimes my son wraps his giant arms around me, and I realize with a pang that I haven’t really hugged him in a few days. Then I panic, thinking I’m not being present enough, that time is running out for us. And I know by the anguish in that thought–the hot tears in my eyes as I type it–that it really has nothing to do with here and now. This is my haunted place.

Seven years ago, as a tornado was bearing down on us at night, my seven-year-old son woke up to see Mommy and Daddy carrying his sleeping brothers downstairs to shelter, and believed he had been abandoned. For the minute it took Patrick to sprint back up the stairs for him, this was his reality. Not that we had more kids than we had sets of arms and were coming for him as fast as we could, or that he was in no more danger than any of us, but that he had been left behind. I know that no matter how many times we revisit that moment with him and give it context, and even laugh about it, a part of him remains in that room, small and terrified and left behind. 

We all have haunted places. In them, aren’t most of us children, believing ourselves to be all alone? The awful thing about raising kids is that it leads us back to those left-behind selves. The beautiful thing is that we go back as parents, and maybe we can retrieve them.