Oct 20, 2007

2 Much

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance there's a section, early on, that suggests that we can never know what our life would have been like *if*.

If only I'd taken that high school teaching job upstate then... Then--nothing. Enormous gratification and success? Killed by drunk driving teenager on back country road? Impossible to know.

If only I'd kept dating that millionaire then... Then--nothing. Spa treatments and expensive clothing that fits me well? Lost at sea on the family yacht? Again, not worth imagining, because I didn't.

The image we've all grown up with is that of standing at a crossroads--looking ahead at all the possible paths. Our lives as the Game of Life, with all the colored squares laid out ahead. A stack of baby-pegs wait to be plugged into our cars. And will it be college and debt or shall we skip college and have lower paying jobs but get out there more quickly?

But imagine our backs are to that crossroads, and we can't peek over our shoulder. We're falling backwards through life--NOT walking forwards. We can only *know* what's already happened. We don't know anything else.

I liked that concept so much that I stopped reading the book.

If we hadn't had a third child--maybe we'd have been on a safari by now. Maybe we'd have been captured by rebel forces, stampeded by elephants.

If we hadn't had a third child, maybe I'd have gotten a Masters degree (in anything!). Maybe I'd have had a series of successful art shows. A retrospective at the Whitney? Maybe I'd have been slammed by reviewers.

Maybe I'd have written a book. Maybe Oprah would have had me on her show to tell me in person how offended she was by it. Maybe I'd be in a padded cell right now.

There is no way of knowing what our life would be like if we didn't have Piper. But motorcycles be damned, I have a few hunches.

Bedtime might run like clockwork, and involve long luxurious story time. Maybe we'd have read all of the Harry Potter books.

Maybe we'd have family game nights every night and protecting our scrabble tiles wouldn't be a crucial part of the experience.

I'd have won volunteer-of-the-year awards at the elementary school, the halls of which would be filled with imaginative and important murals overseen--of course--by me, Mom of the Year.

We'd pop over to London for long weekends several times a year.

Car trips wouldn't involve repeated playings of the Wonderpets soundtrack.

We could sit wherever we want in the minivan--and at the dinner table.

We wouldn't run out of ketchup every few weeks.

I'd enroll my daughter in as many after school programs as she wanted. Her friends could come over and play and they wouldn't have to find ways to include a grabby three year old at every turn.

We'd sleep in til eight, at least, on the weekends.

We'd have forgotten the numbers for the PBS channels, and we'd never have to hear the Barney song again.

When I was pregnant with her another mom stood in the playground and told me, while her own number 3 clutched her leg and sucked his thumb, that she often wondered what life would be like without him and that sometimes she thought it would have been a lot nicer.

I shuddered at her insensitivity then (judged her, told the story to other disapproving moms, all that bad mom stuff). And I think about her all the time now.

I could end this rant with a list of touching 'of courses'--(of course we love her ferociously, of course we wouldn't be a family without her, of course...of course of course--) but that would be so predictable and wouldn't really match the mood I was in when the first few sentences of this popped into my head as I brushed my teeth before going to bed a few moments ago.

We can't know what it would have been like without her.

There may have been no NOW for us. There may have been MORE now for us.

She's here. Now there are three. And sometimes it's too much.

Oct 15, 2007

A Two Year Old's View of the World

I wake up begging for Barney but you say you need to check the weather. You say Barney's not on anyway now but I don't understand because I can't tell time. You turn on the news but it isn't the weather and you say to wait because we all need to know if it's going to rain and that reminds me of the Dora umbrella that I like to open in the car but I get in trouble because it's Etta's umbrella and Amos complains that we're all going to have bad luck and you remind Amos that only the one opening the umbrella will have bad luck and the one opening the umbrella is me and I don't know what bad luck is. But it doesn't sound good.

I slide off the bed and run to the other rooms to yell "it's eight o'clock!" They laugh at me because something like it's not really eight o'clock but eight o'clock is the only clock I know and it wakes them up anyway so what's the big deal.

It matters what everyone wears except me. It matters what everyone wants for breakfast except me. It matters what everyone wants to bring for lunch except for me. But I take a pudding and a juice box and some Doritoes and put them in a plastic bag and put it somewhere just in case. Sometimes I bring two of everything one for me one for Chloe but whether or not I see Chloe is never up to me. But I pack them just in case.

I give a big kiss and a big hug and sometimes a high five to Daddy and Amos and Etta when it's time for them to go. Sometimes they're gone when I remember to do this, or they slip away when I'm taking care of my lunch and Chloe's lunch and if I cry and scream loudly enough and if they're still on the block they run back.

I'll spend half the afternoon in the car when it's time to get them. And it really matters what seat I sit in because I don't want to be next to the door that used to have the gum stuck to it even though you finally cleaned it up, and I don't want to sit in the other seat because a piece of plastic is missing from the handle on the back of it and sometimes this is important to me and sometimes I forget. And sometimes I want to buckle myself and sometimes I want you to buckle me in and sometimes it takes me a long time to decide and sometimes you get mad and say you'll take something away but I don't really understand because I'm two and a half and I usually get what I want when I really want it.

Oct 7, 2007

These Moments

Washes of pure joy flutter over me. Sometimes. They feel like the pretend egg we used to crack on each other’s heads when we were young, minus the startling knock with the knuckle part. It feels like the good part--flat palms oozing down the sides of my head, soothing, tingling, and finishing somewhere below the shoulders.

These moments of elation shiver through me like the wet heavy warmth of a dry head of hair leaning back into the rush of a hot morning shower. Or the shudder and swell of heat that warms my insides when I take that first sip of hot tea on a cold morning when I’ve had to get up too early.

These moments are not the result of loads of happy thoughts--the happy math I always think should work but that I’ve learned I can’t count on. My kids are great+I have a nice house=I’m on cloud nine. My husband adores me+I’m satisfied creatively=consistent solid happiness. It’s not that way. It's never that way.

These moments find me. I don’t find them. And they show up in the weirdest places.

Turning left onto the service road down by the Eagle Warehouse on the way to pick up the kids from school? Peaceful loving happiness floods into my heart. Glancing at the jumbled contents of my underwear drawer as I push it shut in the morning? Sparkly sunshine lights up inside. The one last look at my living room before I turn the light off and head up to bed? A cozy rosy glow envelopes me. Granted, that particular left turn happens when I’m facing the East River and Lower Manhattan--the grand sweep of the Brooklyn Bridge and all sorts of busy adorable-seeming watercraft jaunting by, and some of my underwear is pretty, and my living room always looks so peaceful once the kids have gone to bed. But that’s not the point.

The point is that these moments find me not only when I’m not paying attention but when I’m doing the kinds of routine or boring things I’ve spent thirty-nine years avoiding doing.

I’d always thought that I needed adventure to be happy--new experiences, new places, new flavors...excitement. It seemed obvious. Anything but repetition, routine, sameness. Chores weren’t a part of my childhood, and I’ve always resisted standard procedures and tasks--just ask my husband who balances the checkbooks, eats peanut butter and crackers every day for lunch, and remembers to change the bedsheets. Doing the dishes, folding the laundry, even walking the same route to work every day are the kinds of things that used to slay me. I thought I’d die if I had to do them. Surely life wasn’t about these boring tasks--surely I should be striving for more. If only someone could just take care of all of that mind-numbing tedium! I can’t be bothered with it! I should be travelling the world! I should be out chasing happiness.

Every job I tried bored me to tears, once I had the basic systems down. Going into an office building in the first summery days of spring killed me. For years I quit my jobs in the spring--it just didn’t seem natural to ignore the nice weather. I aimed for an academic calendar, so I could be released into summer happiness every June, and ended up being an art teacher who could never teach the same lesson from one year to the next. Who cares if eighth graders learn a lot from drawing their own sneakers? I oversaw that project last year, I can’t get excited about doing it again.

Before I discovered the dubious bliss of academia, I spent one happy summer camping all over America with a friend from college. She approached me with the idea and I quit my job (it was springtime!) and went along--for the adventure--of course. A new campsite every night! Creepy Lonely Lake, Kentucky. Armadillos are Roadkill, Mississippi. Watch out for Alligators, New Orleans. Oh No We Have New York Plates, Idaho...Every night we’d arrive and pitch our tent--lay down tarp, thread long snappy poles through holes in smooth laid out tent...and every morning we’d get up and break it all down. Pull up stakes, unthread long snappy poles, pick up shake off fold up tent, pick up shake off fold up tarp--origami it all into little nylon pouches. Pack up, drive off. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

One morning in a pine-grove outside of Aspen, I got really really sick of the routine. If I’d been a teenager and my friend had been my mom I so totally would have pouted on a log instead of helping out. But I did help. Because we couldn’t just drive off without the tent--and we couldn’t get the tent without breaking it down. And in that moment--that chilly-breathed sharp-piney frosted-toes pre-breakfast moment, I was overwhelmed by the fact that you just do it because you do.

I was years away from having kids then--but I figured that that’s what parenting must be mostly about, besides the love part anyway. The stuff you do because you do. Not because you want to, not because it’s your turn, not because it’s fun, not because it feels good, not because someone might call Child Services, but because you do.

And I didn’t get flooded with joy one time during the three thousand diapers I’ve changed as a mom, and sorting through handmedowns and putting away laundry has never done a damned thing for me (full disclosure: I always wait too long to do those things because part of me is still just a teenager pouting on a cold log on the edge of the campsite)--but something incredible has started to creep in--and it finds me when I’m doing these systematic does-life-get-any-more-regular-than-this?! kinds of tasks.

So I’m less inclined to feel like I should be varying my route when I drive to pick the kids up, and I’m less inclined to resist the inevitable routines of a life with a mortgage, a budget, and three kids in school. Because in the moments when my body and my brain are locked into something ordinary, a window I never knew I had might open. And more of these moments might come streaming in.

And I’m grateful, and I’m noticing--and I’m grateful to be noticing. And I’m trying to capture the feel of it now. Here. Because if I don’t, and if routines become nothing but routines again, I’d never believe any of this could be true.