Thanksgiving Eve

Drip coffee in my cup with a thick swirl of eggnog this morning.  I just left the kitchen, talk of dreams and rejuvenation - or not- and better dreams with feet pointed west instead of east.  On this Thanksgiving Eve, our house is full and tomorrow it will swell to the brim with even more family.  Nothing makes me happier.  I said to my husband the other day, let's just skip giving each other Christmas gifts this year.  A slowed schedule with long mornings and hours spent cooking and baking with tunes and candlelight and the sound of my children and the geese is all I want.  And he said, but I'd like to give you something.

This time of year gets me worrying, especially about Theo and Sully.  An abundance of talk of the "wanting" variety when so many children have so little, if anything at all.  Their noses deep in the Target toy catalog with anticipation and, even worse, expectation.  I circle with talk of gratitude and the importance of appreciating what we have, and I might as well be on my hands and knees cleaning baseboards and dusting art.  They could care less.  And then I remind myself that I feel mostly good about what we model in our daily lives and how we live and what we're hopefully teaching them, even if they don't seem to notice on the surface.  They're kids.  I was once, too.  I'm sure I did the same thing, and anyway sometimes I want the "stuff" still, but the very best present is the presence of my family and dear friends, the comfort of our home, and a plot of dirt to call my own, bent over on hands and knees, earth to work, gratitude.

I walked my laptop to a sunny corner of the house for a sliver of quiet and glimpse of open sky.  It is here where I sit this morning before the cooking will begin.  My list of to-do's is long but I've long since understood when my need to write it out trumps all.  Like our current sleeping arrangements, it's been a while since I put my back to the east while the words string themselves along.  It feels wonderful this morning to switch it up.  Anais Nin said that life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage.  I keep thinking about that when I worry, too.  There's nothing courageous about changing rooms, but there is courage in changing direction. 

just write.


Quick Math

My sons have created this thing.  It is something of a game and it always begins like this: How old will you be when...?  

When I'm six, Theo, you will be eight.  When I'm eight you will be ten.  When I'm ten you will be twelve.  This continues for one or two more minutes, and then it inevitably goes something like this:

When I am twelve, Mom will be forty-six.  When I'm eighteen, says Theo, Mom will be fifty...

I listen to their voices and I admire their budding ability to do quick thinking math.  Their lovely sugary sounds ping back and forth from mouth to mouth, and I go still.  This is funny business to them.  They're competing.  They're showing off - How old will Mom get?!  

There is cotton in my mouth.  My heart pauses.  I think but do not tell them that hearing their voices roll our ages out before us, as if each passing day isn't going fast enough, is like beating the rug of our life; the dirt and dust shaking out in lines that appear around my eyes, mouth, forehead.  Particles mixed with light linger on my no longer taut belly - the one that has stretched and exploded before me in the most beautiful soft roundness, not once but twice, that I could push in with my finger and feel a foot fold, touch heels when they were on my insides.  At times there is even an ache and the phantom pain of an arm stretching, a head turning straight towards my soul, a story past.  Wasn't that just yesterday's story?  Wait, wait, I say, I'm still doing the math.

I am at my computer editing photos.  Pandora is set to Joni Mitchell radio.  Her voice makes me feel woozy, like I just hit the bottle of my early twenties, when what was time?  Theo saddles up next to me and I stop what I'm doing to smell the top of his head; to kiss his thumb sized hole of missing skull bone that pulses in beat with my own heart.  He takes my love but dryly says that Joni Mitchell is no Katy Perry.  No, I suppose not, I say.  But she's just as awesome - in a different way.  He raises his eyebrows and gives his head a shake back and forth, his lips fold into a smile.  That is his second-grade way of saying, whatever, Mom.  Whatever.

Then I find myself alone at the kitchen sink.  I'm peeling a mandarin and staring out the window at the blanket of fresh snow covering our world, the bright scent filling me.  A winterized goldfinch sits still on a tree branch.  Across the way in the park, the geese have returned after a long summer and mild fall; they are huddled together with the last bit of day's light resting on their backs.  I am aware of my reshaped space, the softness of it, the feeling of possibility.  Still, it is a challenge, I think, to not always be doing the math.  At least it is my challenge.  


Something Big Like That

When I was a kid, I remember wishing to be one of three things when I grew up someday.  In no order, I wanted to be a school bus driver; a baby deliverer; someone who worked with books.  I also remember thinking that "growing up" would just, like, magically happen someday.  It was simply something that would occur, like going from fifth grade to sixth grade.  Something big like that. 

Lately, I have been waking up in the middle of the night in a mess of anxiety and heaviness.  My mind unravels like a ball of yarn, and that yarn passes through my heart where it pulls and makes its way to my belly, where it just becomes a knot of disappointment.  What am I doing with my life?  God, is this enough - writing stories, suspending the beauty of a moment in a photograph?  Am I serving?  I want to serve You - the light that shines in the highest presence of myself.  If I am not doing enough, please guide me. I'm not doing enough.  I'm not doing enough.  I toss back and forth like a fish out of water, pleading for clarity.  I wish the curtains were open so I could look for the moon.  I wait, thinking a sign will magically appear, but nothing happens.  Only the passing of time, and eventually I fall back asleep. 

Always, deep inside, I have wanted to be someone who served a higher-purpose.  Thinking back, I was a very creative child.  A lot like Sully, I think to myself now.  Creative and a caretaker.  Perceptive; an observer.  When I'd play school bus driver, it was the route I loved riding on my bike.  The crack in the sidewalk that was a "stop" and the way I'd pull over on my bike and wait patiently in the hot Florida sun as the children of my imagination got on or off the bus.  Or the way I would set my dolls up with great care beneath the waxy, navy green leaves of our neighbor's magnolia tree.  I'd place one of my pocket-sized Beatrix Potter books in front of each of them and tear apart magnolia blossoms, "cookies", that scent just as much a part of my being as my hair or nails.  I tell these stories to my boys now, and they love to hear them over and over again, especially the day that as my dolls were having treats and stories under the tree, a bird pooped on my head.  Warm white drippings slid down my forehead and I ran home in tears.  When I came back to retrieve my books and dolls, my neighbor -who was like an adopted grandpa to us - asked me what happened.  I remember the smile that spread out across his face, and his words, You know it's good, good luck to be pooped on by a bird, his North Carolina accent sweet-thick and drippy.  Those words, they became as much a part of me as my liver and my skin.  

I awoke again last night, in the middle of the night.  Only this time the voice inside of me hashed out something like this:  Just stop.  Stop!  You live a life of service each and every day.  You are accountable for two boys who search out your arms when everything in the world feels like it's falling apart.  A peanut butter and jelly request is not just a peanut butter and jelly request, but your homemade strawberry jam, please.  You know when to just hold someone and teach them to feel the feeling, because a fix isn't always the answer.  Sometimes the salve is simply the story of how you once got pooped on.  Shit happens.  And then I hid my eyes because the sight of my dad came to my mind's eye, bone-to-bone.  The care-taking that was scary, that breaks dying and death into little pieces that together make you realize that life is both fragile and never long enough.  A circle of gold light.  That's what we are now.  Heaven and Earth. 

One time Theo asked me if I was a change maker or an artist.  He had been studying change makers - specifically writers locally and globally that make a difference in their communities and the world - in his class.  I was stumped so I asked him to elaborate.  He said, well, you write and so do many change makers, but you are also a photographer, and that's being an artist, right?  I couldn't answer him.  There was no magical thinking, only the humble reality of finally being a mixed up grown up.  I told him I wasn't really sure what I was.  He said he thought I was maybe both.

Those words, I swallowed them.  They are as much a part of me as my soul.  Only sometimes I forget.