Wednesday, December 24, 2014


Did we go straight from a 6:30am flight to Santa's lap?  Yes, yes we did.

It's the day before the day before Christmas.  It's 34 degrees and the sleet-snow that covered our cars this morning has run into the gutters.  Thin gray clouds moving fast over a slightly lighter thin gray sky.  The coffee shop is full of people home for the holidays talking to people they think they should talk to when home for the holidays.  Or they sit at tables and check their iphones simultaneously. 

Today both you and your sister are at daycare so it's a special holiday for Daddy and I.  A holiday filled with grading and last minute holiday errands: wine and sweet vermouth and whole milk and butter and powdered sugar and grapes and sugar snap peas.

You are, 90% of the time, the sweetest creature imaginable.  We flew to Maryland and back last week and you actually were NOT a holy terror on the plane.  You were quite content to move from my lap to Dada's, to have Thisbe press butterfly stickers to your cheeks, to munch thousands of graham crackers, to point out to lion, the teapot, the umbrella.  Your lexicon mostly consists of "ba" and the closely related "ba-ba" which actually makes you sound reasonably smart when you point to a ball, a bubble, the bath, or a sheep.  Oddly, you also say Jesus but it comes out as "sheesh."  So there's a lot of pointing to creche scenes and saying "sheesh!  sheesh!"  You like to be close, to be cuddled.  Your daycare workers describe you as "chill" and are not worried about your upcoming transition to the toddler room. 

Your sister remains the opposite.  She continues to have a tough year.  Struggles with constipation and anxiety.  Today she asked me which Santa I thought would be coming to our house tomorrow.  "What do you mean which Santa?" I asked.  "Well, there's the Santa who came to Gak's party and the Santa we saw yesterday at the store.  I don't think the one at the store was the real one."  Which made me realize that we were idiots to introduce her to two different Santas.  But her comment also made me feel that crack, that sliver of the real world that's beginning to creep across the veneer of safety and certainty of the world we've created for her.

I've been feeling bad this year for the way, in all honesty, we celebrate Santa more than Jesus in our house.  Your father has been good about trying to wedge an advent reading into the twenty seconds between when we sit down at the table and all hell breaks loose but I'm not certain those readings are sinking in too much. 

This time of year stresses me out.  Me and a lot of upper middle class Americans.  It's not really justified stress, it's created entirely out of our own consumptive choices.  Not just stuff but also experiences.  Building a ginger bread house!  Going to see "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas"!  Going to see the "Nutcracker"!  Drinking coffee and shrieking at the Santa party!  And there are adult versions of all this too: holiday work parties!  holiday book parties! holiday drinks with friends!  I think until this year I didn't realize that my over-full feeling comes not just from the cookies and Manhattans and tinsel and wrapping paper and gifts but also from the fifty zillion Christmas activities that we should do because they are so fun dammit!  The accumulation of experience as its own kind of consumption.

My own favorite holiday moment will be seeing your sister on Christmas morning (assuming no one is puking or running a fever KNOCK ON WOOD).  The absolute joy that I think comes not only from the mystery of wrapped packages but also the mystery of this mythic figure showing up.  Making himself known.  And I think there's part of me that likes watching because a part of me wishes God worked that way too. 

And part of me aches to have Thisbe's relationship with God work this way.  Cookie crumbs and wrapped Elsa dolls so that she sees and feels in a palpable way that she is remembered, that she is loved, that she is not forgotten.

Instead she is transitioning into seeing this world.  The one where thousands die of Ebola.  Where students at the St. Olaf need to lay their bodies down for four minutes so that we remember that black lives matter.  Where someone can go out for a walk and fall or be hit by a car and changed, hurt, instantly.  Where cancer slides its grubby fingers into people that we love and each day animals vanish and disappear and don't ever come back again. 

And the truth: in the middle of all of this, God does not always show up.  Or rather, God does not always show up in the way we want God to show up.  If you're being persecuted and someone promises you a savior, I bet it sucks pretty bad when all you get is a baby.  We've made baby Jesus into the happy ending of the story we tell today.  But a baby is not a leader or a conqueror or a politician or a lobbyist or a radical or a medical professional or a genius or a scientist.  A baby sure as hell does not solve the practical problems of someone who is suffering.

It is hard to learn that the world is a complex place, full of violence and pain and rage and hate in addition to the joy and peace and reverence and love. And it is harder still to learn that a sparkling figure will not arrive to offer us exactly what we desire.  It's easy to help a kiddo have faith in Santa Claus; it's harder to help a child to have faith in a God who mostly appears in the shards of grace and goodness in those around us. 

So this year Santa will not bring Thisbe exactly what she desires.  There will be no Disney Elsa doll below the tree.

Instead there will be the Creative Kidstuff knock-off Elsa doll.  Because, you know, baby steps.

This photo has nothing to do with Christmas.

This photo also has nothing to do with Christmas.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Extra Laps

Six degrees this morning.  Blue skies and all the parking lines downtown smudged away with snow and ice.  We bundle you in a coat that makes you look like the Michelin Man and an ear-flapped hat and mittens that velcro around your wrists.  You rip the mittens off and by the time we get anywhere, your hands curled into cold comma marks.

Anytime we ask you for a word, you say "gah-gah" which sometimes sounds like "cracker" or "dada" but nothing like "boat" or "spoon" or "weevil."  Unlike Thisbe, who resorted to anger and screams of rage when she didn't obtain desired objects as a toddler, you resort to acting like a heartbroken teenager.  Yesterday, after I mixed the batter for a pan of brownies, you pointed at the bowl emphatically.  "No," I said, "all done."  Then I even washed the bowl and showed you the glow of the clean glass to further reassert my point.  But your face simply melted downwards, the edges of your lips threatening to run over the bottom of your jaw, tears streaming freely.  You sat, cried mournfully for a few seconds, and then laid on the floor, cheek to linoleum, and cried further.  You did this until your sister entered with a drum over her head at which point you promptly got up and started following her, signing "please, please" against your chest. 

You repeat this process (desire, grief, desire, grief) probably ten times every hour about tragedies like: not getting to go outside, not being permitted to play with Mommy's computer, not getting to touch the pot of boiling pasta, not getting to color with permanent markers.  It's like the Gestapo around here as far as you're concerned.

Your sister is decidedly your sister.  She likes to spend her post-dinner hours leaping from the couch to the ottoman and back, often for hours.  She also enjoys drawing pictures of houses, stars, flowers and carriages pulled by slaves (thanks, Sunday school).  On Saturday, in the middle of a playdate, I found Thisbe and her friend Mae sitting on the floor of Thisbe's room sliding their legs open, closed, open, closed.  They were pretending to be swimming instructors.  Inspired by the fact that she is now forced to sit through the entire service on Sunday mornings, she often spends Sunday evening carrying around a Lutheran Book of Worship and offering us songs and prayers composed on the spot.  Yesterday one included the line, "this is my chance to walk away / God loves Jesus and the day."  Last week there was a lengthy section that went back and forth between "God have mercy on me" and "God worship me."

Your father and I spend our days scrambling eggs for you in the morning and picking up tambourines and rubber ducks in the evening.  Your father wore the same purple sweater every day last week as part of an exercise for his creation/environment class.  I tell my students to cut up facts and information, to spread it across their dorm room floors and rearrange.  Your father shovels, heaves bags of dirty diapers out the back door, washes the dishes while you head-butt his thighs.  I exclaim over the new design in the foam of my latte at Blue Monday, carmelize sweet potatoes and onion and kale, return library books before they expire.  Every once in awhile we walk together around the track at the YMCA and every once in awhile we have to think about a big change or the absence of the possibility of change.  Every once in awhile his eyes glaze with tears or mine do and for a few laps we hold hands.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Waxing and Weaning

Today the temperature plummeted and wind scraped the rest of the leaves from the emaciated branches.  In front of the car, curled and dry, the leaves went tumbling, skittering, scrape-wheeling across cement peppered with drops of rain.  It's not really legitimate to complain about the weather; the last weeks have been blissful.  The sky a continuous parachute of blue, trees fanning their bronze-ey wares, temperatures permitting us walk after walk without the fuss of mittens or hats or blankets tucked beneath thighs.

Last weekend we went to Trego, Wisconsin for Holden on the Road.  We saw friends and family and went for hikes through the woods and ate doughnut holes and drank too much coffee.  Daddy did a session on the ethics of the PolyMet mine and I did a session on nature writing and Thisbe played the Frozen matching game with Grandpa Mark and constructed jigsaw puzzles with Grandma Dot.

You and I didn't go to Vespers.  Instead we sat on a chair between two wooden bunk beds, beside a dresser filled with your Robeez slippers and Thisbe's cheetah leggings, facing a window outside of which the light stretched from golden to umber behind the black vertical stalks of trees.  I nursed you and while I nursed I sang all of Holden Vespers, off key and out of tune, "God of daybreak / God of shadows / come and light our hearts anew."  And somewhere in there, as the light behind the trees smudged into the darker forms of the trees themselves I decided that this would be the last time I would nurse you.  I'd been thinking about it for a long time.  You've only been nursing at bedtime for months now and I knew that I would definitely stop next month, when Daddy and I go away for three days.

I don't remember the last time I nursed Thisbe.  I didn't think it mattered to remember because I thought there would be another baby and I was so ready to have my body become entirely again my own.  And I didn't feel sad to wean Thisbe.  It felt right.  And OK.  But somehow with you I wanted to be aware of the last time.  Wanted to take stock.  To remember the moment.

But last night I regretted my choice, you hollered when I put you to bed and I thought, at 10pm, that maybe I'd been mistaken, maybe it wasn't time, maybe you nor I was ready.  So I slid into your room and took you out of your crib and tried to feed you.  You didn't wake, not really, you just started to make a sweet sucking noise inside your mouth without actually opening your lips.  I tried to get you to open your lips.  I was the ridiculous mother stuffing her fingertip into her sleeping toddler's mouth because maybe I wanted to know that we were still connected, that my body was somehow still your body, that you needed me still in this most basic way.

But you wouldn't open your mouth.

So I went back to my own bed and sobbed.  Daddy tried to stroke my back but also I think Daddy thought I was a little nuts.  I thought I was a little nuts.
"We're never going to have any more babies," I sobbed.
"Matteus still doesn't talk yet," said Daddy.
"I know," I said, wiping snot on my sleeve, "but I mean we're old now.  This part of raising children.  It's done.  It's gone."
"Well, if you don't want it to be done you could get your IUD taken out," said Daddy.  Not helpfully.

I cried again after class today, driving down Olaf Avenue, the leaves skittering and scraping ahead of me.  Maybe I'm sad because you're a boy and I don't know if or how we'll have a close relationship as you get older.  Maybe I'm sad because I won't be able to offer you this source of comfort anymore, when you inevitably get sick (likely within 48 hours).  Maybe it feels like loss because today in class we read an essay about lynching and an essay about racial captivity and talked about the complexity of the world, victims becoming abusers, telephone poles turning into gallows and maybe the act of nursing just feels simple and straightforward and GOOD. 

When I started this post I wanted to work my way to an enlightened ending, wanted to find a way to make the sadness lessen or make feel more justified somehow.

But I think I needed a ceremony.  A way of stepping across this particular line, a way of marking this choice and this particular ending.  I'm not usually one for smoking sage or burning origami swans with "intentions" written on the wings of henna-ing my hoo-ha (I don't think that's actually a thing).

But this week I could have used a litany.  This week I wanted the strong hands of women near me.  This week I could have even used some floating tea lights bobbing in my bathtub, some imperfect sign of what it feels like to get go of something that doesn't have a name.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Thank you (no, seriously, thank YOU)

Fall keeps flaunting ridiculously glorious days.  50-60 degree highs.  Cloudless blue skies.  Leaves the color of ripe pears sieved with sun.  At the park this afternoon we chatted with good friends and ate clementines and brownies.  You attempted to go down the baby slide for the first time; meanwhile, Thisbe played a lengthy game by herself, barefoot, on a stone wall.  I watched her talk to imagined figures on her right, on her left, and then raise her chin, denying her servants something.

You still walk as though there's a see-saw inside you but you're getting faster, more adept.  Except when we put you in sleeper pajamas.  Then the hard wood floors become an ice rink and you slide all over the place.  You play for long stretches on your own (thank you, baby Jesus!) and are fairly content at daycare or the YMCA childcare center or the church nursery. 

A few weeks ago, Daddy's book, "Kierkegaard, Aesthetics, and Selfhood: the Art of Subjectivity" was published and then last week my memoir, "Tailings," was released.  My first copies of the book arrived just before you and I were headed out the door to join Gak and Thiz at the library so I brought a copy along. When we arrived in the children's section I swept the book out magically from the diaper bag (beside the red couch that was recetly removed for cleaning after someone spit up down the front of it).  Gak tried to "ooooohh" and "ahhhh" over the sound of you whacking a fake cabbage against a fake log (in the Peter Rabbit display) and Thisbe whining (because attention had been diverted from The Berenstain Bears Teach Us Another Dull Lesson About How to Behave).  I then pointed out to Thisbe that her name was in the book and she quieted and gazed at it far more reverently.

But for a second, before we arrived at the library, when you and I were walking down second street, your hair glinting, your tiny index finger pointing to everything and nothing, it felt like a bell had been rung.  Like all those crimson, marigold, glorying leaves were reverberations of sound.  For this long moment I was proud and happy to have this book in my hands.  I have written with the real hope of "being" a writer since I was 21.  I am very grateful for that walk, for those moments when the book felt like mine and my heart just circled around it happily, tail wagging.

But now the book isn't really mine anymore.  It's out there in the world.  It means that people can buy it or forget to buy it.  Read it or skim it or shelve it between a cookbook and "Where the Wild Things Are" and then never look at it again.  Some people will find themselves, or a version of themselves, on the pages of the book.  And those people could be angry or hurt or upset; they could be grateful or nostalgic or indifferent.  The book being in the world means that I can go to Amazon and watch the rank of the book rise and fall.  That reviews can be written or decidedly not written.  It means that I have to say, again and again, "here, this is a part of me, will you buy it?"  And it means that though my husband will repeatedly tell me otherwise, that I will judge the import of my story and my writing and a small slice of who I am on whether people buy this book.  This is all the truth.

Here is another truth: in church today Pastor Tim reminded us in his sermon that those of us in the pews chose and choose to recognize ourselves first as Christians, before our roles as citizens or teachers or mothers or husbands.  This was in the context of what to render to Caesar and what to render to God.  But part of being a Christian means believing that you are loved, completely and entirely from your beginning by this Being that knit you in your mother's womb. I trust that I am loved by God, but that love often feels vague and amorphous to me unless it's shown in the humans around me.  (And it's also easy for that love to get drowned out by my obsessive anxiety rooted squarely in a gentle waxing toward narcissism.)

And this next part will sound stupid and obvious and banal and cliche, but I when I let people know about the book on Facebook the other night, I was completely taken aback by the outpouring of kindness and support.  I don't mean people were buying the book.  I mean, maybe some people were buying the book, but that's not what I mean by kindness and support.  People just seemed legitimately happy and interested.  Like they really wanted to celebrate with me.

There are also a lot of people dying of Ebola right now.  A bunch of "likes" on a Facebook page seems pretty superficial in light of bodies being left on the street. 

Except, I suppose, that it's a good reminder that our communities, these people around us who bring us cream of broccoli soup and text us recipes and remember our children's birthdays and sing us songs when we're dying and offer us "yahoos" and "congrats"  are what make the moments, all the moments, bearable and rich and holy.

This post is my way of saying thanks.  Not just to you and Thisbe, though I am thankful for you both, but to the people who have been my village for almost 35 years.  Family and friends and mentors and teachers and pastors and colleagues and whoever the one guy is in Estonia that reads this blog.  You're in my village, too, Estonia guy.  And maybe some day I will travel to your good food resort.

Thank you and thank you and thank you.

Monday, September 29, 2014

"Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness"

Today is 60 degrees and gray but the weekend was lovely.  Full of the warmth and drowsiness and o'er-brimm'd-ness of Keat's autumn, the "later flowers for the bees," the "fume of poppies," the "last oozings." 

The trees are blazed and blazing.  Their colors look violent, pensive, mysterious.  And then there is the pattern of the falling leaves that turns some trees into torches and others into ruined faces, empty bowls. 

You are taking your first tottering steps.  You don't care about walking.  You do it only when you're not thinking about it or when a single step or two seems like the easier route from here to there.  You've started up with consonant sounds, chugging them out in the back seat of the car or sending them lilting around the darkness of your room at 6:30am.  Last night you had a fit because we promised you a bath after dinner, failing to consider that "after" in not a concept you appreciate yet.  You sobbed through most of dinner, pointing to the doorway, until finally I carried you through the squashed bits of spinach pie on the floor and up to the bathroom where you slapped your palm emphatically on the porcelain edge of the tub saying, "ba! ba! ba!"  You've also finally figured out the hand sign for "more" only instead of bringing all your fingertips together, you use only your index fingers so the expression of the word seems more delicate and solemn.

This weekend your father and I went away for a night for the first time in 18 months.  We were supposed to go to a dear friend's wedding in Chicago but then a rather wounded individual lit an air traffic control tower on fire and thousands of flights were cancelled so instead of getting fancy in Chicago we got fancy in Minneapolis instead.  We stayed at a hotel downtown that had recently been remodeled.  This meant that bright red chairs in the lobby were back lit by forty television screens together projecting images from nature.  On each floor, the elevator doors swished open to the same fluorescent pink print of what looked like a virus under a microscope.  Meanwhile, Daddy couldn't look at the hallway carpet for fear of vomiting, such was the nature of the white/navy striped pattern.  Our room flaunted a wall papered with drawings of cassette tapes.  That we did not find all of this cool confirms that we are old.

We pretended not to be old, though!  For lunch we ate fish tacos and chicken salad on Nicollet Mall.  A bee flew into Daddy's beer and he rescued it and then poured water on it to try to resuscitate it.  I sipped chardonnay and grew too hot in the sun.  We spent the afternoon being lazy and then went to dinner wearing our fancy wedding clothes.  We tried steak tartare for the first time, scooping the pink bits onto toasted circles of baguette.  Afterward we went to an underground bar with a purple door (thanks for the rec, uncle John!) and sipped cocktails infused with pine buds and charcoal and chatted with the bearded, plaid-shirted bartender whose name was also Peder but who pronounced it Peter.  The next day we read the paper in bed and shopped for towels at Macy's and had lunch at the Sculpture Garden and I drank a latte infused with honey and lavender.  It was good.  Though I am still sad to have missed my dear friend's wedding.

Every Minnesotan was outside this weekend, I think.  It was the last swelter of opulence.  The oozings and the drowsiness and the hum of bees will soon give way to the cold and the starkness, the swift blanket that mutes perfumes and hardens sap.  Jennifer died at this time a year ago.  I am glad to be especially reminded of her now, in this season where we fill ourselves with food and warmth, with long walks and the claps of color from the trees, when we prepare to give our bodies over to a different way of living in this world.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

How to Eat a Taco at Our House

Decide to make turkey tacos.  Set your laptop on top of the microwave, open to the Food Network recipe you've selected.  Smile inside, maybe a little smugly, about how you will be using vegetables from your CSA for these tacos.  Touch lovingly the dirt-smudged skin of the onion, the green hulk of the zucchini.  Set up a Paul Simon Pandora station, begin to saute in rhythm to a song that sounds like something Paul Simon might have written if he had a sore throat or no hands.  There is a tugging at your pants. Look down into the big eyes of the baby who is not really a baby anymore.  Open the doors of the cabinet in which you've stocked only baby-proof items.  Tupperware and packets of tea and Emergen-C.  From the other room there is the sound of the five-year-old flopping onto the leather of the couch.  Keep chopping.  The baby flings the tupperware about the room and then lays on his back, crying for no apparent reason.  Say to the baby: "Can you find the piggy?" and point toward the magnetic farm adhered to the refrigerator that sometimes randomly makes oinking noises when you take out a piece of pre-sliced cheese late at night.  The baby keeps crying and begins to move his legs so it looks like he is back-stroking across the kitchen floor.  Say: "Daughter! Can you find something to do with your brother?" Five-year-old enters with the wooden recorder from who-knows-where that tastes like patchouli when you play it.  Five-year-old is playing it.  Baby stops crying for no reason, brings himself to feet and waves his hands in air.  Sister dances around not giving baby recorder and baby begins to cry for an actual reason.

Peak head into living room.  Husband reading "Entertainment Weekly."  Carry baby into living room and deposit on rug near husband.  Return to kitchen.  Attempt to look sunny and pleased when daughter asks if she can help.  Dump olive oil and salt in a bowl and let her spread mixture on tortillas with a little brush.  Someone who is not Paul Simon is whistling and singing about trains.  Add 2/3 cup broth to the sauted vegetables.  While you wait for sauce to thicken set out plates and sour cream, CSA greens and a bib for the baby.  Ignore the heavy yellow sheen of oil soaking into all the tortillas.  Place them in the oven.  Stir the sauce and notice that it is not thickening.  Announce loudly that dinner will be ready in five minutes.  Cut avocado while five-year-old rocks back and forth on step stool chanting "Mama, mama, mama, mama" and baby, after re-entering kitchen, attempts to use his head to bulldoze your feet.  Note for three seconds the pleasure of scooping out a neat row of avocado pieces with your thumb.

Stir the sauce again.  Note that there is no thickening, that you've created seasoned meat and veggies swimming in broth.  Decide to serve it anyway.  With a slotted spoon.  Ask your husband to prepare the drinks.  Remove the tortillas from the oven and sprinkle two with cheese.  Return to oven.  Buckle baby into chair.  Bark at five-year-old until she sits on bench in breakfast nook where you eat all your meals because it's too much work to carry everything the extra five feet to the dining room.  Say table prayer with baby screaming, five-year-old pushing index finger into piece of avocado and husband tipping box of wine toward coffee cup with the insignia of college where you teach upon it.

Take melted cheese tortillas out of oven.  Sit down.  Cut tortilla into pieces with pizza cutter for baby.  When five-year-old tries taco meat and says in a whiny voice "I don't really like it, Mama," say "thanks for trying it!" in a falsely bright voice.  When baby screams and flings bits of avocado on the floor exchange The Look with your husband, The Look that means my-God-we-are-lucky-to-have-children-and-we-love-them-so-much-but-why-is-each-meal-such-a-shit-show-is-it-too-late-to-live-in-Victorian-times-when-we-would-only-see-our-children-occasionally-after-they-had-been-bathed?  When five-year-old slides from bench onto floor, let your husband tell her to sit on her bottom please.  Ignore the fact that she is not eating but instead deflating each of the air bubbles in the tortilla with her fork.  When she says, "Mama, put your finger in here," say "I'm eating my food right now." 

Remember to take a bite.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

When the World Tilts Toward Autumn

Today is that day when the weather turns and the world tilts toward autumn and we know that even if there are days of warmth to follow that in the weather scales those days will be on the lighter end, the side rising higher and higher into the cool gray air as we begin our decent to winter.

This means you wore gray fleece booties and a mustard yellow Columbia fleece to Econo-foods today.  It means I drew your fingers across waxy orange skin saying "pumpkin, pumpkin."  It means we peck at you with Kleenex already and constantly.  It means in the car your sister wept when she couldn't pull her pink fleece pants down to stuff them in her socks.  She's grown and there's a rim of skin below her cuffs.

This means Daddy and I are back in the swing of tic-tacing e-mails to students at all hours.  This means that on Tuesdays and Thursdays we put on slacks and shirts from hangers, stuff tupperware tubs with leftover soup into plastic bags, try to remember the set of car keys that has our office key attached.  That we communicate mostly about who will pick up whom and when and who has the department meeting and who has the student conference.  Who will make sure there is dinner on the table and who will get the oil changed.  Who will go up the stairs and turn Thisbe's pajamas right side out and who will wash the steamed carrots out of your hair.

Today is that day when the weather turns which means our blood is trying to thicken and seems to speak with a slow drawl as it courses through our veins.  It means that the wind is pushing our front door open and I'm setting the crock pot on the counter.  It means the coffee shop is a warm cocoon and on the street drizzle swishes its wings past our faces.

This means on Tuesdays I bring a patchwork bag with ballet slippers and a black leotard with rhinestones stitched to the front to Thisbe so that she can point and bend and make monster faces in front of a wall of mirrors.  It means that we eat dinner at church on Wednesdays.  That on Tuesdays and Thursdays we label string cheese and fruit pouches with your name and leave you crying beside five other babies.  That on Mondays when we go to the farm we come home with the heaviness of squash and onions in our bags, the spinach floating light across the top.

Tomorrow I am teaching Robert Hass's "Images" essay to my students.  The personal images he draws on are from this season, "the submerged melancholy of the end of summer."  And he talks about the way that images, unlike metaphors, "do not say this is that, they say this is."  That in the arrest of the image "what perishes and what lasts forever have been brought into conjunction, and accompanying that sensation is a feeling of release from the self."

Today is that day when the weather turns and the world tilts and you tell the students (so that you can tell yourself) to write it down so that this time stands still even as it is already swept away. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Metaphoric Failure

It's August 31st which means that behind this window on my computer screen are open word documents sprouting kind-of-finished syllabi.

It's August 31st and 75 degrees, sun and flaking clouds, a mass of black-eyed susans waving at the boulevard in front of our house.

You're sleeping upstairs, curled around Mr. Meow, wearing a red onesie with a train puffing across the front.

The last few weeks have been so busy, such a blur, that I'll share images again:

Thisbe furiously dog paddling from the place where a white water slide dumped her to the edge of the pool, bangs pressed into a razor-straight line across her forehead, fluorescent pink suit creating its own kind of hallucinogenic light below the surface of the water.

Your right index finger, pointing.  To lights, to people, to the peach pieces you want in your mouth, to the stairs, to my nose, to the window when you want outside, outside.  Oftentimes, pointing just for the sake of pointing.  You've still got no consonant sounds, no words, so the pointing seems to be your way of marking the world, naming it through gesture.

A ramp unfolding into a dark lake, heat behind and cold ahead.

Thisbe elbowing you repeatedly as she tries to play Old MacDonald Had a Farm on the toy piano Grandma Gail and Grandpa Michael gave you for your birthday.  Each letter trapped inside a colored bubble.

Items we used to make damp wood burn: pages from Thisbe's art pad, crumpled snippets of an Ely tourist magazine, a welcome brochure from Camp Du Nord, a paper bag from the Co-op.  Fire starter, finally (thanks, Bonnie and Dan!).

The deep-throat sound you make when you push a train back and forth, the "vroom" of a corpse coming back from the dead.

The way, after standing for ten seconds on your own, you fall on your butt and promptly begin applauding yourself.

Scent of children's de-tangler in my hair and the weight of a necklace on my head ("it's a crown with golden leaves!") as I sit at Thisbe's beauty salon.  When asked where she was trained: "at the Northfield Minnesota state fair."

Cheerios filing the the tray of your stroller, Cheerios stuck to the bottom of your pants, Cheerios crushed to dust on the kitchen floor, Cheerios lining the bottom of my back pack.

Thisbe dressed in long underwear on a stage, holding up her hands as claws, roaring with a gaggle of four and five-year-olds, the lake peeled gray behind them.

Cut up canteloupe in tupperware, yogurt mixed with spinach/pear pure in tupperware, string cheese broken into bits in tupperware.  Tupperware labeled "Matteus."  A stack of diapers labeled "MJ."  A white crib with Mr. Bear inside (his ears chewed to wet, dark knobs) beside five other identical white cribs. 

Labor Day weekend feels like the longest bridge in the world.  I'd rather stay on the summer side, marking each morning with writing time, marking each afternoon with walks with you, train time at the library with iced latte in hand.  And I wish that on the far side of the bridge, Thisbe was entering kindergarten.  I thought I would feel OK with her spending another year at daycare, but I don't, not really.  I think she's ready to do the next thing--though I know if she were starting kindergarten I'd also be torn up.  You, Matteus, seem to have made the transition (to part time day care) the most effortlessly.  I'm grateful for that. 

Whether we want to be standing on the side of summer or the side of fall, Labor Day weekend feels like the longest bridge in the world.  May we have the grace to take in the view while we're here. 

I've just realized that the moral of this blog post is also the moral of "Thomas and the Big, Big Bridge." If that's not incentive to NEVER WRITE ANYTHING AGAIN, I don't know what is.  Sigh.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Summer in Segments

Summer seems to be sifting away.  It's July 21st so by the calendar, summer is only halfway gone, but for those of us who have put off doing class prep until August 1st, summer is looking decidedly shorter.

Today is the first hot day we've had in weeks.  Mostly it's been unseasonably cool, rain and clouds and wind washing through.  We've chosen to spend most of our time at home this summer, partly because Holden is closed, partly because, at eleven months, you wouldn't be a particular joy to travel with.  So the summer feels more imagistic than narrative.  When I think of the last weeks I think of...

Your two upper teeth pressing through the guns, the thin open bar of space between them.

Your bare toes, the tops dirty with grime from carpets and hard wood, now that you're beginning to crawl.

The figures of the wooden ark spread out on the carpet (anteater, peacock, the chunky elephant) and you in the midst of them while the World Cup plays on TV.  Men in a line, hands covering groins.  Men rolling on the green grass, miming pain.  The handsome former soccer players who sit behind a clean desk during the halftime break, trying to sound articulate.  The plastic wrapper of a string cheese parted, your mouth upturned for the bits Dada offers you as he watches.

Princess underwear hanging from the shower rod, from the line outside; damp princess underwear stuffed in plastic bags and sent home with your sister.

A dragonfly, briefly lighting in the middle of my chest as I pushed you in the stroller across Plum street.

Tiny cymbals in tiny hands.

A cardboard flat filled with blueberries.  A bit of bark hanging from your lip. Your sister bragging about how her bucket is way more full than mine.

Afternoon walks with you in the Ergo because your napping has been an absolute shit show.  How aware I am, as we walk, of how loud it is here in the summer.  The steady drone of cars passing, the louder gravel-growl of the motorcycles, lawnmowers ebbing and flowing, barks behind screen doors, rocks under my tennis shoes, the tapping cane of a man with Elvis sunglasses, kids yelling orders as they round the bases in Way Park, conversations drifting over porch railings.  I track each sound by the way it prompts your eyelids up again.  We move into another pocket of quiet and down they sink, that subtle shade of lavender behind the pink.  Long lashes.  Your cheek.  Mosquito bite on the bridge of your nose.

Animals in picture books with half-moons of of fake fur and fake scale and fake paw.  The tiny scratch of your fingernail across those surfaces in the dim light of 6:15am.

Your study of the holes on the child's carpenter tool box.  Working screws with primary colored heads into each open hole.  Or fitting the neon plastic shapes (orange circle, green square, pink cross) into the corresponding gaps at the top of the toy pail.

Thisbe, lying perpendicular in her bed, Minnie Mouse nightgown pulled up to reveal bug-bitten thighs and Ariel pull-up asking "Mama, what does it feel like to die?"

A hawk in the grass by the railroad tracks.  Wind ruffling its feathers.  No signs of death besides the flies crawling in its eyes.  A rabbit head on the basketball court in Way Park.  The bloody stem of the neck.

Cherries cut into bits on your white high chair tray.  Bits of banana.  Bit of bread with melted cheese.  Scrambled eggs, pale yellow on a blue plate, cut into segments, strands of steam rising.

We are lucky.  For these days of warmth.  For the time and strength to see them as they pass.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Silver Whistle in the Throat

It's the beginning of July and unseasonably chilly.  56.  Grey clouds.  Wet patches on the pavement.  It's been a month of rain.  The Cannon River swollen over its banks, caution tape warning us off bridges, men with bows and arrows picking off carp that froth, disorientated, in the tumult.

This morning you woke at 4:15, I nursed you, and then you refused to go back to sleep, choosing to scream from 4:30 to 5:55 instead.  Midway through the scream-fest I went in to check on you, to make sure you didn't have a dirty diaper or a horn sprouting through your skull, and found you sitting up in the kalidescope light of your mobile, a mobile that you can now turn on by yourself.

You have two teeth cutting through your upper gum.  You've perfected the art of land swimming and easily navigate the space from room to room, making little squeaks of glee as you go, toes pressing into the floor and raising you up and forward.  In the last few days you've finally started to get up on your knees; you rock for a bit and then commence land swimming again.  Bananas are your food of choice, always, followed by bits of bread and cheese, other fruits, yogurt, puffs.  You'll tolerate mashed sweet potatoes only if they're spread on a banana or piece of toast first.

Yesterday we received a flyer in the mail from Rice County, the kind that tells you (with exclamation points!) which milestones to look forward to in the next few months, reminds you that you should talk to your child, instructs you not to feed him peanut butter or popcorn, and urges you not to refer to medicine as "candy."  One of the developing milestones was "begin using more words."  Which is a milestone that suggests your child already has a few words in his or her lexicon, that he or she likes to bust out a "hi" or  a "mama" or a "doggie" now and again.

What you like to bust out is a horrific, ear-piercing shriek.  It's awful.  The other day in the check-out line at Cub you shrieked and everyone within a 20-foot radius turned to look.  Your other chosen vocalization is sing-songey vowel sounds in the back of your throat.  It's quite lovely, actually.  Often you'll be sitting on the rug, happily placing plastic rings on a stick, making your little turtle dove sounds and then, all of the sudden EEEEEEEKKKKKKKK.  Daddy and I then look at each other with mild pain and disgust and rub our ears as though rubbing could ease some of the ringing within.

We've tried ignoring the shriek.  We've tried saying, firmly, "no."  We've tried offering you choices when you shriek, pretending to understand the shriek as an expression of a particular desire.  We've tried shrieking back at you.  Nothing seems to work.

And truthfully, I am getting a little tired of the whole "don't compare your children" thing.  We live by comparisons.  We love bestseller lists and super-food rankings.  We're constantly passing around graphs on Facebook that show which country has the longest maternity leave, which state has the fattest children.  We compare car seats and deck varnishes and sneakers.  Before we chose a life partner we (hopefully) put that person in an imaginary line-up with the ones who have come before.  But when it comes to children, everyone acts like comparing them is the work of the devil.  And maybe it is, but we are raised in a culture of comparison and to pretend that we should be able to shut that side of ourselves off as soon as we have a second mewling infant added to the household is total bullshit. 

Comparisons do suck a lot of the time.  They're dangerous.  But all the same, I brought up the videos yesterday of your sister at eleven months.  I watched her walk--then run--all over the house.  Watched her obediently bring me a book when asked, watched her point to pictures within the books, watched her utter a single, breathy "hi" (and then "dicka," repeatedly. No idea.)

It is very hard not to see difference as deficiency.  Not to see it as lacking.  Or slowness.  Not to see you as below the curve.  Even though I rationally know this is not the case.  Even though I know that even if you are slow or below the curve, that my call is to love you in the exact same way.  Maybe it's the strange combination of slow(er) development but the new intensity of your shrieking that has me confused.  After my former post about your lack of desire, you suddenly seem electrocuted with it, sizzling with a hunger you can only articulate with ear piercing shrieks, contained by a body that will not yet do your bidding.

I suppose thwarted desire always has that effect on a person.  As adults, thwarted desire comes out in ways that look like anger or adultery, fear or depression, violence or anxiety.  When there is a part of our inner world we can't offer to the outer world, a part of us gets mangled, injured, destroyed in trying to keep that desire contained.  Maybe your shriek is the purest version of that experience, maybe the world is filled with thousands of muffled variations of that sound.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Death by Logistics

Well, so much for blossoms and butterflies.

Yesterday was gray, rainy, and unseasonably cold.  Thisbe had a playdate in the morning but it was clear (to me, at least) that we needed a game plan for the afternoon, too.  I, for one, did not want to sit inside the house for two hours until the possibility of further diversion (via another playdate) arrived.

"Look," I said to your father, thrusting my laptop in his direction.  "It's an indoor park.  Trish says it's good."
Your father sighed and glanced briefly at the screen; then he returned to reading Redbreast, a disturbingly-named Swedish thriller.
"Should I take Thisbe and you stay home with Matteus or should we all go?"
Your father put the book down on his chest and raised his eyebrows at me. "Well," he said, "I don't really want to go.  And I don't really want to stay with Matteus."
"Do you have a better idea?" I asked, rather archly.
"Well, if we're being honest, I'd rather just have you take both of them."
(Expletives followed)

Two hours later, we were on our way home from the ironically named "Good Times Park."  We'd stopped at Leann Chin's for dinner and let your sister consume only an egg roll and fortune cookie for sustenance.  You are at the lovely stage where you pick up pieces of food and then clench them to bits in your fist before trying to deposit them in your mouth.  There were smashed bits of sweet potato smeared on your face, in your hair, and on the cleaned-only-bi-annually high chair.  The lime green, cherry, and tangerine walls combined with the MSG in the noodles and the still echoing shrieks from the indoor park worked collectively toward inspiring a mild seasickness in my gut.

Our conversation in the car turned to logistics.  Yes, the epic battle of whether it's fair to take the older child away for the weekend leaving the other parent with the baby and the duty of distributing name tags at church on her own.  Thisbe sang made up songs to you and you gurgled contemplatively, your own desire to shriek apparently diminished by your parents' ability to fill in the gaps with similar decibel levels of pissed-off.  We finally reached the Sophie's Choice of logistics in which your father asked, in a raised and steely voice, "Well, what do YOU think is more important, me taking my grandmother to a doctor's appointment or you spending time with your good friend you haven't seen for a year?"  His tone suggested that this was a rhetorical question.  I didn't take it that way.  It was quiet for a long time.

Later we hugged and talked and fell asleep by 9:30.

Today is Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit comes as wind and fire and the disciples are a cacophony of different languages, their incomprehensible uproar enough to make those outside think that they're drunk.

Oddly, our pastor told a story about a congregation he knew that had lost members because the congregation had decided to reach out to a marginalized group that the departing members didn't feel comfortable co-habitating with.  Our Pastor's point was ultimately that congregations filled with conflict and distress were bad and that congregations filled with harmony and trust were good.  And obviously, there is truth to this.

But Carroll Hinderlie, former director of Holden Village, said that the Gospel lives through controversy.  And I believe that too.  It felt strange, on a day when we celebrate the disciples' inability to understand one another, on a day we believe the Holy Spirit is possessed with tongues of fire, that we would think fondly of harmony.

Or maybe I don't want to think fondly of harmony today because sometimes marriage feels like being tiny sailboats on a wide gray sea, on good days anchored and bobbing close and on bad days drifting further apart, visible swells and invisible depths between you.

I don't mean to suggest that your father and I are on rocky ground.  (Really, we're not).  I just mean to say that today I was glad to be reminded that sometimes the Holy Spirit is a whirlwind, a tempest, a deluge, a flood. 

Pentecost is the longest season in the church year.  The other two seasons, Christmas and Easter, are intense.  Glittery and joyful and stricken and bare, filled with babies and death, angels and ghosts.  Maybe Pentecost is the longest season because it's the season of the rest of life, the parts where we have to learn to live together and talk to each other, the parts where we're commissioned with hard work, where we're expected to extend love and grace in the middle of the staid gray sea of the everyday.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Take That, Hallmark.

It's been far too long since I've written, sweet boy.  Unfortunately, I haven't written because May was such a crazy month...which means, of course, that there is much to tell.

Summer has fully arrived.  School is done, our grades our in, and the President of Estonia has come and gone (for the Olaf graduation).  We went bowling for Dada's 20th college reunion and Thisbe learned about the slippery joy of bowling shoes and the drama and glory that black lights can offer a four-year-old.  Dada and I got to dine with a group of lovely friends in honor of a book I edited and an equally large group of family members gathered to watch your sister's first dance recital.  We had our first meal of the year at the Pizza Farm and Grandma Gail introduced you to the joy of the piano (and introduced Mommy and Daddy to the names of the plants in our backyard).  Friends from Slovakia came to visit and Nanny Barb officially said good-bye (to being your weekly caretaker, at least).

Then, to top it all off, Auntie Martha gave birth to gorgeous Naomi Dorothy, a beautiful pink-skinned, dark-haired darling whose features are tiny, perfect.  Deliberately and finely drawn.  And on the day Naomi was born, the caterpillars we'd been tending for Nanny Barb hatched from their cocoons and started fanning their marvelous wings...

It is an odd feeling when the truth seems so close to a treacly Hallmark card.  But it has been this way, a little.  For a week our yard was covered in pink blossoms.  It is impossible to think in January that the day will come when the path to your car will be carpeted in petals, when your child's safety belt will click easily into place (without the burden of fifty thousand layers) and when you will go for weeks at a time without wiping a nose or sponging vomit off the floor (KNOCK ON WOOD).

And you, sweet one, you are finally learning to inch your way across the floor on your belly.  Tonight the rest of us stood in Thisbe's room and cheered you as you inch-wormed across the carpet, stopping occasionally to smile grandly.  You still don't make consonant sounds or clap, but we had a person from the Northfield public schools come out to assess you (since it was free and, it being summer and all, we had some time to kill) and it turns out you're perfectly, blissfully normal.  You've also taken to spitting your baby food back in our faces and only devouring solids that you can pick up on your own--the majority of which you then manage to drop on your lap or down the sides of your high chair where it somehow finds a way to brown and rot.  Unfortunately, you still love to shriek and still feel most comfortable clinging to your mother.

You're sleeping now.  The fan is whirring in your stuffy room and your sister is singing "Wheels on the Bus," her garage sale Princess nightgown bunched around her thighs, Dog Do her ever-patient audience.  Your father is at a Twins game with some friends.  It's the bottom of the fifth and the Twins are up, 4 to 3.  And I'm in the living room where I can see the pale sky dimming.  The cool night air is floating in the window and a few birds are still conversing. 

I know this won't last.  Not the weather or the health of ourselves and those we love, not even the good health of the earth we're living on.  I have friends who are on the other side of beauty right now, who are living through places of grief and pain, who are moving day by day because imagining an endless unfolding of time is simply too painful.  We will be there too.

But tonight I am simply full of gratitude.  Seeing tiny Naomi, as she was weighed and measured, shaking her tiny, perfectly formed appendages in the new air of our world I was reminded of you and your sister, how when Thisbe was born I wept because she was so perfect and all I could possibly do was to somehow mar that perfection with all of my failings. 

When I saw Naomi, though, I wept not out of terror for what we might do to her but out of gratitude for the gift of what she will do, what she has already done, for us.