Sunday, May 31, 2009
2 a (1): a place of refuge and protection
Where do I seek sanctuary? A quiet room? My small desk overlooking my back yard? A sandy beach? A compelling book? How often do I seek it in a glorious throne? I didn't spend my recent vacation reading the Bible every morning. I didn't pray every evening, unless you count "God is great" before each meal. I didn't meditate on God's word or his work in my life.
But in my own ways, it was a worshipful time. I saw God's fingerprints. I saw them in the vibrant seashells lining the shore. The shells weren't uniform, monochromatic or dull. Even single celled organisms merit beautiful mansions from our God.
I also saw humankind's fingerprints, in less lovely ways. Mixed with purple butterfly shells, orange swirled conchs and bleached white half moons were dirty plastic bottles, torn roofing and rusted metal. These are not the fingerprints I want to leave on this earth.
My middle daughter is becoming more tentative and less bold as she ages. When B was two, I used to joke that if fear came in pill format, I would give it to her because she didn't have any of her own. And while many moms might like seeing her begin to think before acting, I desperately want her to keep a spirit that is willing to take risks. I want her to stay true to who she is. I want to protect the core of her being and consecrate her soul to stay true and pure to who she is meant to be.
So while I have sanctuary in a glorious throne, I also strive to make my everyday surroundings a sanctuary. I want my home to be a sanctuary for dreams, for art, for play and for my children to blossom into who they are meant to be. I want our home and our time together as a family to be consecrated and I want us to find refuge and protection with each other.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
What will these people think of me? Will they know I don’t belong? Will they be able to see on my face that I have no gift worth sharing? Should I just turn back the way I came and not face the rejection that surely awaits me?
The stream of questions my mind throws at me grind to a screeching halt as the woods end and I find myself standing on a cliff. The height of this cliff and the distance from one side to the other make my journeys from the crevice to the meadow seem like a walk in the park compared to the high wire marathon that awaits me. And I do mean high wire.
A literal high wire stretches tautly from one side of the cliff to the other. My body and mind stop at the edge of the cliff and I look around.
A huge Greek style amphora sits over to my right, filled with long poles. Trying hard to keep my eyes away from the cliff and what awaits me, I walk over to the amphora. It is the largest vase of its kind I’ve ever seen. The top of it comes to just above my waist and the designs are intricate. Someone studied Greek pottery very closely to be able to create a replica this authentic. Looking closer, I wonder whether this is actually a replica – the scene encircling the amphora’s neck is classic Greek subject matter and even the slip is faded, as it surely would be after centuries of use. Where exactly am I?
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Irene says quietly as I continue to crouch by the vase to examine it.
“Yes, I love pottery. I took a class in it years ago and fell in love with the fact that beauty is only part of the reason for pots. I think the blend of beauty and utility strikes a chord with me. There's no question of whether it's art worth making since it can be used immediately. And it’s amazing what people were able to make, long before electric wheels, gas fired kilns and metallic glazes. What are these poles in it?”
“They help you balance on the high wire. There’s always an assortment, so every traveler can choose the one that feels best. Does one look appealing to you?”
Wondering whether there is another vase somewhere containing safety harnesses instead of guide poles, I lift a pole out. I immediately know this is not the pole for me. Even standing on solid ground, I nearly topple over as I try to compensate for the heavy weight on the left and extreme lightness on the right. I try a few others that range from too heavy to insubstantial until I find one that feels just right. It sits perfectly in my hands and seems to anchor me to the ground.
Having found my guide, I walk to the edge of the cliff and look at the high wire. I thought the plank was thin, but that was nothing compared to this.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Seeking a place to still my body and soul, I come upon a quiet stream bordered by rocks worn smooth over time as if in preparation for my need for rest.
Irene is right that I am stronger than I acknowledge. I would never have believed I could have faced my fears – and seen others face them – and walked right out of that room. And I still get a bit queasy when I think about the thin plank that kept me from crashing into the cleft below. So I can do things that are hard.
But do I really believe I have a gift? What could possibly be special about me? And could I honestly expect a group of gifted people to welcome me as one of them?
Sighing, I look down into the stream and let my focus move beyond myself. The rocks lining the river bed are multihued, no two exactly the same color. But this is only apparent when I look closely. From a distance of even a few feet, the riverbed looks grey, the individual rocks merging into a seamless whole. But up close, each rock shines its cobalt, jade, mauve, amber, and yes, grey.
Maybe the people Irene wants to take me to are like these rocks – similar from a distance, but unique in their shape, in their hue, in their gifts. What’s one more rock in the river bed?
Knowing that my decision has been made, I decide it’s best to go straight back to Irene. The longer I hesitate, the more I will question what I know to be the right path.
As I walk to rejoin Irene, I savor the quiet of the woods. I’m definitely not surrounded by silence, but the crunch of the leaves under my feet, the high pitched avian communications and the rustling of small animals is soothing rather than jarring. I see Irene ahead, sitting quietly where I left her. Her eyes are closed and her face is thoughtful. As I approach, I see small changes in her face – a fleeting smile, a wrinkled forehead that smoothes, a tensing and relaxing of facial muscles – and I know she is not alone. Her prayers are almost visible as they leave her and soar up to the trees and beyond.
Saying my own silent prayer for boldness, I sit down beside Irene and wait.
I don’t have to wait for long. With a satisfied sigh, Irene opens her eyes and looks straight into my own.
“Let’s go.” I say as I stand.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
I have a fondness for salvaged items. It is, in fact, part of the reason I like modern art. My aunt once asked me why Marcel Duchamp is such a big deal as she looked skeptically at one of his pieces in a museum. My reply was that without his art, especially his use of found objects (ready-mades, as he called them), the art that followed couldn't have happened. Yes, he turned a urinal into art by turning it on its side and calling it a fountain. But isn't that true creativity? Seeing something for more than what it is? Seeing a beauty that has little or nothing to do with its original, designed purpose?
Dauphin Island, where we are staying this week, has been bombarded with several storms in recent years. As a result, items ranging from fencing to roofing to roads (yes, literal pieces of road) lie between our rental home and the water. One of my favorites to pass on my way to the water is this broken planter. I think it might actually be more beautiful in its current state and location than before the storm that landed it there. I haven't tried to pick it up, but part of me longs to haul it back to Nashville and create something from it...
Perhaps part of my fondness for salvage is that I feel like a bit of a salvage project myself. I feel broken up, in pieces, scarred. But I also feel like those pieces are being used to create something new, unexpected, more beautiful. And like the planter, life's storms break me up and land me in surprising places.
It's worth remembering my own brokenness as I encounter others whose rough edges grate against me. Can I find a way to extract something valuable and useful from everyone? I'd like to.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
While the grove is the furthest out on this journey that I have been, it feels like a middle ground. There is little of the stark hardness of the crevice and the greens, while monochromatic, are not monotonous. I find myself relaxing after the daunting traversal of the gulch and the subsequent meadow. Perhaps a walk through the wood is what I need to detox after my time alone and ready myself to carry on.
But even as I feel my breathing slow and my gait relax, I hear sounds up ahead. Muted whacks. Sharp pings. Low, deep voices and light, higher ones meld in conversation. The sounds are not threatening, but clearly indicate there are people ahead. My stride constricts, my pace slows and eventually becomes a near tip-toe. In my desire to prepare myself, I have forgotten there is someone with me.
“Shannon? What’s wrong?” Irene says calmly.
“Oh. I was just surprised to hear people. Where are we going? I was enjoying the quiet calm of the woods when I realized there’s more than trees here.”
“Well, yes. There are more than trees. What you hear ahead is what I wanted to show you. Do you want to sit and eat before we carry on? I’ve brought lunch in my backpack. While we eat, I can tell you a bit about what’s ahead.”
Thinking I would like to prolong my stay in the leafy shadows, I quickly agree to lunch. Breakfast’s bread and water in the crevice seem a distant memory at this point.
Sitting together on dappled ground, we lunch and I ask Irene about the voices and noises I heard up ahead.
“As a mom, you’ve seen firsthand how we all have different gifts, right? Well, up ahead is a group of people who are all working together and as individuals to find, understand and use their gifts. It generates some noise, especially in contrast to the forest’s quiet.”
“How did they all get here? Do they all know each other? Do they live here?”
“They got here in much the same way you did: they chose to leave some things behind and walk into an unknown place. Most of them didn’t know each other before they got here and some live here, some come and go. There’s really only one rule: everyone’s gift is valuable and no one, not even the gift’s owner, can disparage a gift.” Irene says the last with a tone of gentle urgency and waits for my reaction.
Thinking to myself that this place sounds as scary and as thrilling as Shangri-La, I ask, “Why are we going there?”
“I think you already know the answer to that, Shannon.”
“How do you know I’m supposed to go there? How do you know I even have a gift?” I sputter.
“You do have a gift. Why else would you have come all this way? You have given birth to children. You can birth your gift as well. All birth brings pain, but it is pain worth bearing.”
“You don’t even know me. How can you know where I belong? What if I fail? What if I really set out to seek my gift and come up empty? That seems far worse than not knowing the outcome for certain.”
“Shannon, you can do this. You are strong. You are whole. You’re being made whole even as we speak. The holes inside that only you can see and feel will be no more. You believe this. Examine your heart and your mind and you will know it to be true.”
Sensing immediately the truth of her words, but hesitant to just jump in, I say, “Could I have a few minutes alone before we head on?”
“Take all the time you need,” Irene says as she clears lunch away and watches me wander down a trail towards quiet.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Sometimes it's worth it to walk barefoot. I have city feet. Even in my own home, I wear shoes. I'm just more comfortable this way. But today, I had been wearing water shoes for most of the last twenty-four hours and the sand rubbing against my foot was beginning to chafe. So as I walked back from the beach, I went barefoot.
This required that I walk slowly, look carefully where I was walking and tread lightly. As I did so, I thought this was advice that perhaps I should heed in my life more broadly.
It would do me good to walk more slowly and generally proceed slower through life. There are experiences I miss because I am going too fast. Things I don't see. People I don't meet. Missed opportunities.
For similar reasons, I should look at my surroundings more carefully. The beach is littered with debris brought in from hurricanes. This means that tar, metal and plastic lie alongside the beauty that should litter any beach - amethyst seashells, pearly oyster shells, swirling conchs. It's worth surveying my environment instead of just moving through it untouched.
And while I tread lightly to preserve my tender feet, I wonder how often in life I step on others in my rush to do what I need to do. Treading lightly might make me and others a little less bruised...
“Boy, am I glad that’s over. I’m Shannon. I know we’ve met before, but I was too shaken to properly introduce myself. I’m glad to see you again and have the opportunity to set things right.”
“I’m Irene. It’s nice to have you here. No need to apologize about before, I’ve been through some rooms like the ones you walked through and I think I emerged feeling much the way you did. You seemed to need food, drink and rest more than conversation, so I was happy to oblige.”
“Yes, that was exactly how I was feeling. Thanks for understanding that. Is this where you live? I’d love to have a backyard like this!” I say as I gesture to the lush meadow surrounding us.
Irene smiles and says, “No, this isn’t my home, but I do enjoy it here. Would you like to look around? There’s something I think you’d enjoy seeing, if you’re in no rush to move on.”
Assuring her that I am in no rush at all, we begin to walk through the meadow. It’s the best time of year to do so: the wildflowers are a riot of color, the wind is cool without chill and the sun bathes everything in a glow of light. Winter’s greys, browns and whites are nowhere to be found. Just color, color and more color. It’s hard to believe this awaited me around the corner from my crevice, which was day upon day of grey. Yet I find the rampage of color leaving me dazed. After days of being safely enclosed, the meadow’s lack of confinement is startling. The variety of colors and flowers excites, but also exhausts. I find my attention flitting from place to place, with nowhere to settle and stay for a moment. While I know this is not a battlefield, I am relieved to reach the safety of the woods.
Friday, May 22, 2009
2: a state of being prepared : readiness
My back counter in the kitchen is loaded with food right how. A box sits in the center, holding items that are neatly stacked inside. But tidiness ends there as other items are stacked on top of the orderly ones, spilling over the sides, and filling the entire space. We leave for a week at the beach tomorrow and I will be so glad to get there, if only to be done with the preparation.
Once upon a time, the preparation was nearly as much fun for me as the trip itself. I loved the organizing, the planning, the execution, the completion. But I'm much more about the process now than the product, and the preparation just feels like something I must do to get to the good stuff - laying on the beach, feeling the salt on my skin as the water dries it, the smell of the salt in the air.
It also feels like preparation is keeping me from the good stuff - writing, reading, relaxing. I wanted to sleep in on the first day of summer vacation instead of getting up at 6 AM, knowing what awaited me.
But this is part of the tension of life - the need to prepare balanced with the need to experience. I hope all of my preparation today and this week will pay off by allowing me to fully, joyfully experience our time at the beach.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
My daughter K's name means "beloved." In fact, part of the reason we chose her name was for the meaning. Had she been a boy, her name would have been David, which has the same meaning. We knew during our third pregnancy that it would likely be our final pregnancy, unless God worked a major change in our hearts (which he clearly did not!). It seemed fitting that regardless of whether our last child was a boy or a girl, the child would be beloved.
What's interesting to me now that I know K is that of my three daughters, she is the least like me. As a first born girl myself, A and I share many traits - we're both highly verbal, both love to read, both perform (or performed, in my case) well academically, both fear failure to some extent, etc. B is also like me in more ways than I realized the first few years of her life. I like to think that B is who I would be if I had been born to different parents and had not been saddled with the implicit and explicit expectations of being first-born. I want to be the free spirit she is and seeing her encourages a latent creativity in me that I have feared or squashed for most of my life.
But how is K like me? I struggle to come up with any examples. She loves attention, talks a great deal, values human connection over most anything else, thrives on performing in front of an audience and lives a great deal of her life ruled by her emotions. K turns 5 years old today. So who's to say she will not be more like me in some ways as she ages? She might. Or she might not. Either way, it is fitting that her name means beloved, for she is dearly loved.
For all the ways that she can challenge me with her need for interaction and her tendency to let life's small disappointments get to her, she is an affectionate child, who laughs easily and loves much. I have learned many things from her sisters and I'm sure I will learn from K as well. I think she is already teaching me the value of taking life a little less seriously. I hope she'll learn from me as well and that, in the end, we'll both be changed... and still be beloved to each other. Happy birthday, my little love.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Yesterday morning, I was downstairs a bit earlier than normal. Usually, I walk down the stairs, check to make sure every girl is awake and on her way to getting dressed, then head straight to the kitchen to pack school lunches and start breakfasts. Not a lot of taking my time to wake up, savoring the crisp morning air...
But yesterday, I had some time. K was still sleeping in her bed, so I went over, sat down and rubbed her back. K is a big time cuddler, so she loved this. She curved her body into a tighter ball and kept her eyes firmly closed, lest I cease rubbing because she was awake.
As I rubbed her tiny back, I thought about the fact that she will be five on Thursday. Five. I love that my daughters are growing up. I love seeing the young girls they are becoming and getting flashes in a look, thought or action of the women they will one day be. But K is it for our family. I won't ever again get to meet my child for the first time. Don't get me wrong - there are lots of wonderful experiences that await me. But every now and then, I think about the experiences that are behind me, like swaddling a newborn, nursing her to satiation, laying her on my lap and the entirety of her fitting there.
Logically, I don't want another child. I just want K to take her time growing up. Luckily, she is a tiny child - 30 pounds at her 4 year check up. So my bet is that she'll always seem younger to me than she is. And I do love seeing her independence grow, her skills blossom and her imagination soar.
But I hope when it's the eve of her 15th birthday, she still lets me rub her back to waken her.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
I stop at the edge of the plank and look towards the other side. The meadow is the size of an urban back yard with an irregular border of trees enclosing it. Wild blueberry bushes can be seen even from across the chasm and my steady diet of bread and water in the crevice pales in comparison to the imagined taste of these plump blue orbs.
I look back, past my recent abode in the crevice, and see the heavy oak door and beyond it, the table. But there is room for nothing else here, so I steady myself mentally and physically and take the first step onto the plank.
After I’ve taken about three steps, I hear a voice say, “You know, you’re never going to be able to do this. You’ve never been good at balancing. You’re going to fall. And think about how much that is going to hurt.”
I recognize this voice. I've spent days, weeks, months trying to quiet my inner saboteur, but that doesn’t make it any easier to not listen. Her voice is so quick to target my weaknesses in the most sensitive spot. I focus my eyes a few steps ahead of me and try to clear my mind. The plank wobbles slightly and fear creeps under my skin, throwing tentacles outward with chilling quickness. Afraid to stop, afraid to turn back, I take another hesitant step and risk a look at the other side.
Standing there, I see the woman who prepared the table for me. The one who waited on the other side of fear. In a voice so different from the one in my head, she says, “You can do this. You’re almost halfway here. And if you can leave behind the comforts of home, the busy-ness of life, what you think you know and even your fears, you can walk a few more steps to get here. Think of what you've already done to remember what you can do.”
For some reason, the confidence in her voice seems stronger than the desperation of the voice inside my head. While my inner voice continues to insist I will fail, a hint of hysteria creeps in as the voice realizes I do not believe what it is saying. In fact, the inner saboteur doesn’t believe her own words. Like me, she’s heard the complete certainty in the woman’s voice and knows the outcome of the halting steps I have already taken.
And then, the board stills and I advance confidently to the other side, hardly noticing the narrow width my feet traverse.
J and I went to see the new Star Trek movie last night. I am by no means a Trekkie and was honestly compelled to see this largely because J.J. Abrams directed it. I am addicted to Lost because it keeps me guessing and twists my expectations continually, so I wanted to see what Abrams would do with this concept. I really enjoyed the movie: I liked the character development, I liked the plot, I think Chris Pine as James Kirk is a cutie. AND it was a nice date night with J.
While watching it, I was struck by how many times Kirk is skidding up to, sliding over or hanging on to the edge of a cliff. Kirk is the very essence of self-destructive, impulsive behavior, so I'm not suggesting I want to spend my life imitating him. But it did make me think about how much of our lives we spend trying to avoid the cliffs instead of accepting them as a part of our lives.
I want life to be easier than it is. I want to parent my daughters without damaging them. I want to love my husband well. I want the laundry done, the kitchen clean and the house tidy without constant effort. I want to sit down to write and have the words flow from my fingertips. I want to pray about, meditate on and ponder a question and receive an answer. Clearly, this is all sheer fantasy, not reality.
Life is not easy. It isn't a straight road with clear markings that takes us exactly where we expect. But would we really want it to be? What would we learn if life were like this?
I think I've personally tried to avoid the cliffs in life out of fear of falling. But what was interesting in last night's movie was that the one time Kirk went over the cliff, it brought great blessing. The other times he managed to hang on and pull himself back up, but the time he fell he found friendship and help. It changed the course he was on.
So am I too afraid of the cliff and what it might bring to fly over it, tumble down it, careen up to it? What am I missing out on because I am too bound by what I know and what I fear? I'm not asking for a cliff to appear tomorrow, but I hope the next time I see one in the distance, I won't change course just for the sake of avoiding it.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Always Having What You Need - by Hayden Furman, age 10
My wish for the world is that everyone has what they need. This includes clothes, housing, medicine, food, money, and love. Too many people are living without these things and it makes me sad. I think if people had everything they needed we would have less problems in the world.
Like 10 year old Hayden, I wish everyone could have what they need. Perhaps unlike Hayden, I know this will never be the case. There will always be people in need. But I hope that I will not lose the desire I share with this young child to change that. I hope I will not become numb to the need around us. I hope I will instead become ever more sensitive to it and bolder in my attempts to meet needs.
My mom always made a distinction between our wants and needs and even now, when I shop for clothing (which, let's be honest is nearly always a want for me, not a need), I ask myself whether I need the item or simply want it. I do buy things just because I want them, but like Hayden, I wish everyone could have what they need. Maybe if I had a little less of what I want, others could have what they need.
But practically speaking, how does that work? Simply denying my wants does not mean the needs of others are met. Am I giving enough? enough time? enough attention? enough money? enough of me? I'm not sure how to do a better job of this, but I'm thankful that a tenderhearted ten year old made me ask these questions. I hope I'll keep seeking the answers.
Monday, May 11, 2009
I wake in the morning to find a jug of lukewarm water and some bread. I read as I breakfast, having brought last night’s offering from the table with me when I headed for rest. The book is not great art, but it is an easy read and, more to the point, it keeps my mind off of yesterday’s rooms, what I left behind and what might await me.
Stopping occasionally to drink a bit more water, nap for a few minutes or stretch my legs.
But mostly, I stay in the crevice that seems made just for me and I read.
And then, after a few days of reading, eating and sleeping… I finish the book.
“What now?” I think to myself. Peering out of the crevice, I look back towards the table that once held food and a companion who had waited to meet me. Then I look towards the meadow that drew me in this direction a few days hence.
In the light of day, the plank to get to the meadow doesn’t seem as narrow as I remember– it seems even thinner, maybe impossibly so and the gap between the ledges seems cavernous. But what awaits me if I go back? A door that holds a room with all I fear most and a table whose offerings, while lovely, are not all that I want from this trip.
So I close my eyes for a moment, thinking slowly and deliberately. I picture myself straightening up on the ledge and confidently, slowly, successfully navigating my way to the meadow. Feeling calmer, I crawl out of the crevice and move towards the abyss.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
I am pro-life. I care about the unborn. I want them to get the chance to experience a lengthy period between birth and death. I want them to be healthy and safe in utero and I want them to have the best possible chance to make it through birth.
I care about the women who carry these children. I care about the quality of healthcare they receive because if these women don’t know how to care for themselves through proper nutrition and regular OB check ups, their children suffer. I care about these women and their ability to provide food, clothing and shelter – for themselves during pregnancy, for the baby after its arrival, for any children she may already have.
I care about the unborn after they are born. I want them to be well fed, I want them to have access to quality healthcare, I want them to be blessed with a consistent roof over their heads and parents who have jobs that allow them to not only provide for their families needs, but spend time together, too. I care about their souls.
I think we are too quick to say we are pro-life and by that mean that we want all women to give birth to any child they carry, but whatever happens after that is the woman’s own concern since she must live with the consequences of her actions. This is not only short-sighted as a society, it’s terribly cold-hearted. It’s not Biblical. It is, in fact, shameful.
I’d like to see the term pro-life indicate a value for life from conception to death, without judgment, free from self-righteousness, with mercy and grace running rampant. I’d like to see pro-life mean better public schools. I’d like to see pro-life mean that sick children are able to go to the doctor, regardless of how much their father makes and whether he qualifies for company sponsored healthcare. I’d like for pro-life to mean that hungry children are fed. I’d like to see pro-life supporters do such a good job of caring for those who are already born that no woman ever feels the need to have an abortion ever again.
Friday, May 8, 2009
2: the 5th circle of Hell in Dante's Inferno
OK, let's start today with the confession that I've never actually read Dante's Inferno, but I am fairly certain shopping doesn't play a key role. This is only because Dante never went shopping with K.
Yesterday, K and I stopped at a neighborhood store whose windows are packed with cute home items. I wanted to find gifts for A's and K's ballet teachers. Naturally, because I detest shopping, I had left this until the day of the banquet, so I had to find something.
A and her classmates had been very specific about what gift they wanted to give their teacher. They wanted a picture frame that they could sign their names on. I brought two class pictures with me so that I could pick the frame that looked the best with the picture in it. The easiest thing would have been to find a frame with a mat inside so they could sign the mat. Alas, this was not available in the cute little shop's offerings and I was unwilling to drive 15-20 minutes to a more traditional retail setting where I could be certain of finding what I wanted. (Besides, I like hand-made, unique gifts.) While I am looking for a picture frame and trying out the two pics in the frames, K is going bonkers over the craziest of things.
The store had a lamp made with old fashioned Barbie dolls hanging from its rims - it was as horrid as it sounds - and K immediately wanted it. The lamp was out of her reach, but there was a packet of the Barbies at her level. I wanted to just blurt out to her that the entire thing was creepy (pre-fab, unrealistic female bodies hanging from a lamp??!), but didn't want to offend the shopkeeper. So I tried to divert her attention while simultaneously keeping her from touching everything in sight.
SIDEBAR: If my brother-in-law read this blog, he would probably laugh at the fact that I have to keep K from touching everything. The first time he and I ever shopped together (over a decade ago), he asked me why I kept touching everything as I walked past the clothing. "If I don't like the way it feels, I don't like it," I explained very reasonably. Little did I know my daughter(s) would inherit this tactile trait of wanting (needing?) to touch everything in sight.
I finally find a picture frame while K ogles the packaged Barbies. As I go over to her, I see necklaces hanging nearby and distract K by having her pick out one for Miss B, her teacher. She chooses a lovely one.
We're all set. Except for the card. This should be fairly painless, right? Wrong.
K likes to look at the cards. She does not lack for an opinion on which card to buy. Unfortunately, she can't read and doesn't understand why it would be inappropriate to give her ballet teacher a "I'm so sorry for your loss card" to celebrate the end of a year of ballet since said card has a lovely flower arrangement on the cover. I finally talk her into the card I want by pointing out the beautiful star on the front and minimizing the fact that the words actually say what I want them to say.
We're almost done and I can nearly feel the relaxation that will be mine once we pay and leave the store. Almost. The shopkeeper (who has been on a phone call the entire time I've been in the store) offers to wrap my gifts. I allow him since this is one less thing to do when I get home, but it does mean more standing around. While we are waiting, K spies a jar of jelly beans. Now, one of the many things I did wrong on top of bringing K into this store is that we were shopping right at lunch time. But who knows how long those jelly beans had been there? Who knows if they were even edible? I couldn't ask the clerk who was still on the phone AND wrapping my gifts - two tasks seemed like more than enough.
So I distract, cajole, and order my daughter around for a few more minutes. Once we're finally in the car, I reward us both. K gets a happy meal and I get an iced coffee.
No more shopping, please.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Motherhood brings many things - joy beyond what you can imagine before experiencing it, a sense of urgency to do the best job possible of parenting your children, a new way of looking at the world, and, for almost every mother I know, guilt. Lots of guilt, over little and big things. Over actual offenses and imagined ones.
I read two things today that created an interesting juxtaposition on parenting. A friend posted on her job as a stay-at-home mom and I read Anna Quindlen's piece from a few weeks ago. I had different reactions to each one.
Quindlen's article affirmed me. It reminded me that I am not the only mother who fails her children, even though I try desperately not to do so. It also reminded me that I have many advantages poorer mothers might not have - I can call friends who are mothers, I have time to talk in the school yard at pick-up time because I don't work full-time, I can afford to have some time for myself when I am not working and not actively parenting. All of these things help me be a little bit better as a mother than I might otherwise be.
But it does NOT come natural to me. Parenting is hard work for me and of all the jobs I've had in my life, it's the one where I fail the most regularly. It's humbling beyond belief... and sometimes terribly discouraging.
So, a few years ago, a post like my friend's would have induced waves of guilt. Because I did miss my job. I felt adrift and I never really loved staying at home full-time with my children, even though it was necessary for our family for a while. I don't know how we would have retained our sanity as a family with J working 70 hour weeks if I hadn't been a full time caregiver. But it was a very hard season for me. Thankfully, I have matured as a mom and an individual and I don't feel guilt about this any more. I believe I was given a certain set of gifts and if work allows me to use the gifts I have, that is cause for celebration, not guilt over the gifts that aren't in my package.
I don't want to give the impression that I don't love my daughters. I do love them very much and I love being with them. But being a mother is hard work for me and, like Anna Quindlen, I think we shouldn't pretend it's easy - at least for those of us who do have to work at it. I think if more of us would be honest about parenting's pitfalls, challenges and flat-out failures, there would be a lot less guilt to go around.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
I take a deep breath. Closing my eyes, I exhale slowly and lean back against the closed door. Even with the door firmly shut, I can feel the fearful images crowding against the other side, trying to break through and swirl around me. But I was strong enough to go through the door and I will not let the fear come crashing through. I open my eyes to find I am not alone.
A small woman, with close cropped white hair watches me through serious, but gentle eyes. While I do not know her, there is something familiar about her. She’s an age my grandmother never reached, but seems so full of life it’s hard to believe her own life is mostly behind her. As I am processing the fact that someone else is on the precipice with me, she speaks.
“Shannon, I am so proud of you. I know that wasn’t easy to do. Those rooms are hard to walk through and even harder to leave. But you did it. You followed your gift. I’m here to help you take the next steps.”
Feeling like I couldn’t take another step, I blurt, “You mean I don’t get to rest here for a while?” The shortness of my answer takes me somewhat by surprise – I don’t even know this woman. She is unruffled and unsurprised by my reaction.
I apologize for my shortness and catch a look from her that makes me ask her, “Do I know you?”
“No, not really,” she says with a smile. “But I’ve watched you for quite a while and I couldn’t be happier that you’re here. I’ve been waiting for you for a long time. And you do get to rest before moving on. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Here, have a seat.”
This time, my mind is quicker than my tongue so I don’t demand to know why she’s waiting for me if we’ve never met. I’ve never been to the precipice before and I’m finding it a strange place thus far.
As I make my way to a table nestled on the ledge’s deepest spot, I realize what makes the woman familiar. It’s not really the way she looks, so much as the way she looks at me. It’s the way I look at my daughters when they’ve done something completely unexpected that gives a flash of who they are at the core of their being – a celebratory dance, a new way of seeing something, a smile that splits her face open. Why on earth would she look at me that way?
The table she leads me to is mirage-like. As I slide into the only chair at the table and take a sip of clean, cold water, I turn to ask my hostess if she’s sure all of this is for me. But she’s gone. I’m frankly too tired to go find her and just thankful to be alone after feeling crowded, bombarded, and hemmed in by my fears. Finishing my water, I sip a glass of room temperature red wine and nibble on a plate filled to overflowing with cheese, fruit and nuts. Reaching to refill my glass, I find a book sitting under the bottle. Several chapters later, I realize my eyes are tired and my mind is drifting. After re-reading the same passage three times without comprehending the meaning, I place a leaf between the pages, close the book and look around.
The table sits on the widest part of the ledge, to the right of the heavy oak door guarding my deepest fears and grandest hopes. To the left of the door, the ridge thins dramatically, curves and ends altogether. Just before it ends lies a rough hewn plank, about the width of my two hands together. The plank bridges a gap between the precipice I stand on and another, wider ledge surrounded by a verdant meadow. It looks much more accommodating than my current locale, but as I move towards the plank, I see it spans a chasm so deep I can’t see its bottom.
Having begun to replenish both body and soul, I know I need sleep, so I head towards the plank. I certainly can’t sleep on the table which fills the only available space on my side of the rift. I inch along the tight ridge. As I approach the section right before the plank, I see a crevice that appears almost carved to fit my body exactly.
I crouch down to peer into the crevice.
Inside, the stone floor holds a rough pallet. Crawling in, I find I can lie down fully, if not comfortably. Tired from the journey so far, I roll onto my stomach and fall asleep without giving the new ledge and meadow a second thought.
Monday, May 4, 2009
Even if I haven't been able to do so literally, I've spent the last three days in a proverbial crevice. This just happened to be a 700 page book instead of a literal fissure. I wasn't able to curl up on a sofa with my book, but I did squeeze time to read the entire book in less than 4 days, even with work, laundry, church and school festivals.
I'm not sure whether to feel ashamed for doing this, or relieved that my husband was gracious enough to talk to me when I emerged from the crevice, but kind enough to leave me alone when I crawled back into the book. I'm not sure what example it sets for my daughters, but maybe when they are exhausted young (OK, middle aged) mothers, they will remember me with my books and decide it's OK to do what refuels their tanks.
I'm still tired, but I did make myself get up and run this morning, for the first time in weeks. I can't promise I'll do that again tomorrow, but it's a start, as is acknowledging that I've spent the last few days in a crevice of my own choosing.
I don't really think it's wrong to spend some time in a crevice, but I do think it's a bit fearful. Am I hiding or re-charging? Is there a big difference? I think the difference is whether I come out of the crevice willing to walk forward, or looking back towards the safety of my lair.
I have a creativity assignment due on Thursday, so look for fiction on this topic later this week.
Saturday, May 2, 2009
I have been absent for longer than usual from my blog. I don't have a great reason why, other than I am fatigued. My weariness doesn't come from labor, but it might be from stress. Even more likely is that is results from continued stimulation. Like a baby who's had too much of being held, April has me strung out. I want to curl up on a sofa and read - for about three days - to detox.
I look back and can't quite put my finger on why I am so exhausted. But perhaps it's the culmination of many little things rather than one big thing. Easter was followed quickly by the recital in mid-April, which took a great deal of planning (it went fabulous, so the planning was worth it). It was followed in short succession by a fundraiser and then we went out of town - 14 hours in three days.
Whatever the reason, I am fatigued. I have been short-tempered with my loving husband and each of my daughters for the smallest of reasons. I am frustrated with myself that a low tank of fuel makes me so beholden to my emotions and ignites my impatience at the smallest of sparks.
Today's rain brought a small reprieve in the cancellation of today's soccer game, but this afternoon's commitment has just been moved inside, so I must find enough energy to engage in the type of activity I find most draining - many people, few of whom I know well, many of whom intimidate me.
So, a few more hours of cleaning and then maybe I can grab a few minutes with a book to fill my tank with something other than fumes.