We did not know how hard childbirth would be. Yet the babies arrived. Why fear what lies ahead when it seems we never knew our capacity to begin with?
My material is growing up. It’s going to middle school tomorrow. And 3rd grade. On Wednesday, kindergarten. Pretty soon, their stories will be their own—not mine to tell.
I’m sitting here with two glasses of wine and a glowing candle. When it goes out, I’ll stop writing and go to bed. For now, it is suspending me between summer vacation and children who grow up too fast. I had a toast with the 2nd glass, poured for my husband who can’t stop folding laundry. He also did some chores tonight that he’s had in the works for years. We have different suspension systems.
Tomorrow when I wake up I have to pack lunches and deliver my babies. It doesn’t feel that different than impending births. They still kick me in the ribs–especially my youngest. In utero, he once kicked me so hard it knocked me off course, foreshadowing the kid to come. At nine months, he climbed out of the crib, de-diapered, crawled down the stairs, ascended our countertop, removed a bottle of children’s IB profen from the cupboard and finished it as I rounded the corner after finding his crib empty.
Whenever I speak sternly with him, he responds, “Geez, Shawna,” as if we should be working things out woman to man. He is enterprising and canny and luckily, cute.
I am hoping his kindergarten teacher sees him that way too.
Speaking of small men, my oldest has turned twelve. I anticipate I will soon have a bearded transportation engineer on my hands and it will be time to retire to the lake and start selecting a nursing home. My rational self reminds me he still plays with toy trains.
I shared with my husband last week, “After they grow up, it seems like life will just be hard.” He reminded me that life with little ones is actually really, really hard. And no, we should not adopt a baby girl now.
I don’t actually want more babies. I want to know today who I will be with no babies in my house, the same way I anticipated who I would be once motherhood began.
Yesterday I ran 9 miles. Today, I walked the dog, hiked with the family, swam with my middle son and did some stairs. I have no babies to rock all night and toddlers to chase all day. I may break up more arguments, clean more wounds and talk through more hurts, but I feel a bit like a stretched out balloon that now takes more air to refill. For the first time in a long time, I have both a capacity I did not realize before parenting and time to fill it with a few more things for me.
Or so I think today. I am also still in transition to full time work outside of the bouncy castle that is our home. So far, though far busier, it feels less hard on my body. Sometimes, I speak in paragraphs and finish cups of coffee. But I am entering the unknown and nervous. Reprieves have tended to come and go like contractions over the past thirteen years.
I remember when my oldest was crying in my arms at the JCC when he was about a year old. A beautiful older woman who spoke very little English walked up to us and started to gently rub his brow. He fell asleep. She said, “Little children, little problems. Big children, big problems,” and walked away.
At this moment, I feel ill prepared for the heartaches of big children. I have worked in teen health since 1996, but it is so different with my own. Puberty, acne, choices, disappointments, bullies, grades, first loves, stress, insecurities, hormones…all lay ahead. I am more nervous for me than I am for my middle schooler because I am equally excited for him and self-discoveries ahead. How in the world could I stretch this balloon any thinner? What will it feel like for me when their lives feel hard to them and I can’t fix it?
My kindergartner is excited for school. My 3rd grader whimpered as I held him tonight, “I don’t want to grow up,” and “Do I have to go to school?” He is my tender-hearted, wispy-haired artist. I tell him I have a good feeling about this year for him. I swallow my own tears. The kicking of ribs and contractions have yet to cease.
We did not know how hard childbirth would be. Yet the babies arrived. Why fear what lies ahead when it seems we never knew our capacity to begin with?
The candle is flinching. It’s time to let tomorrow come.
Shockingly young-appearing camp counselors greet parents and offer tours. Many of us decline, no need to explain how deeply we feel at home here. In fact, we recognize them. They are us, twenty years ago.
I am at YMCA Camp Widjiwagan to greet my oldest, who has just returned from his first canoe trip.
I spent many summers here at Widji. As a camper, I thought I went for adventure and to meet new people. I did not think I went for the terrifying storms, 13-hour hikes, nauseating homesickness, weeks of damp feet, weepy blisters or thick mosquitoes. But camp was all of those things, too.
I thought I joined the staff for all the same reasons. And I wanted to be a teacher. This was experiential education at its finest: working with girls on the brink of adulthood in nature.
Yesterday when I arrived in the north woods, I stepped out of my car and was immersed in the smell of pines. The air was soft with impending rain and dappled evening sun. Immediately, the sensations seeped in through the bottoms of my feet like water. If you’d been there, you would have seen it begin to brim upon my lower lids.
This is why I returned to camp, summer after summer. It filled up a drained-out me like a dromedary. Every time I returned, despite all challenges, or perhaps because we endured the hardships so well together, I left with enough fresh water to make it through another year of school.
The nervous excitement growing in my belly feels odd and displaced. I am a parent awaiting a glimpse of my son. I am a camper excited to see my parents. I am a counselor eager to return from trail. My camper has only been gone for five days—I know this feeling isn’t just about this moment—it is about all of these moments.
So much feels the same. Some staff remain the very same. The trail building is in an entirely new log structure, yet it smells the same. The drying canvas packs emit the same heat. The big black camping pots were our pots. The canoe barn whispers history the same way it did when I first entered it. The towering pines, the wind off the lake, the feel of cabin row, the bursts of laughter, the screen doors—they are as mine as my heart.
Camp is peppered today with campers and counselors who are the children of dear old friends. This is how I remember camp too. We came home excited to tell our parents about our new friends, only to hear them say, “Oh that must be the niece” of so and so.
We learned “The Widji Way” to travel the wilderness. We sat around fires and told the same stories, generation after generation. We know the same songs and indoctrinate our children with them in their cribs. We claim it’s not a “cult” but we know. We know.
Tonight, we find our campers, freshly sauna-ed and sun-kissed. Their hugs are more lingering than usual. They look bigger than when they climbed aboard the bus. My head feels swimmy with memories. I slip easily from now to my childhood.
They introduce us to their counselors and walk us about camp, showing us their route on a map twice as tall as them. We hear about the storm, the stinky tent, card games, and happenings so funny they can’t get to the end of the story. They show us how to 3-person lift an 80-pound wood canvas canoe and how they can actually carry the beast. They are reverent of its strength and delicacy.
I am earnest about ensuring my son feels this is his trip, his experience, his discovery. I want it to feel as powerful, new and exciting to him as it did to me. I quiet my memories as much as I can until he beckons them himself.
We walk into the tripping center. He asks me to find my Mountaineer hat on the wall, hung with all the others. We find Molly’s, Rachel’s, Aaron’s, Peter’s, Amy’s and and and…I loved those friendships then when we were here together. It is a fraction of the gratitude I feel for those continued friendships in this moment. We look at names on plaques and paddles of Voyager and Mountaineer groups. “Mom, that’s cousin Jeff,” and “Look there’s Melissa,” and “Isn’t that the mom of my babysitter?”
After the banquet, we sing Viva la Companie and Madeline with a life-force revved by recent adventure. Each troupe rises to the front and each child, age 11 to 15 or so, shares something. “I am proud of myself for learning to steer a canoe.” “I loved seeing otters play.” “My favorite part was these people.”
What we hear as parents is that camp succeeded. The mission of the YMCA and Camp Widjiwagan is being expressed right here in front of us by the campers themselves. They speak to wilderness, quiet, learning, cooperation, bravery and growth that are timeless.
Through a soggy face, I watch my son sing in firelight. I’m lost in a “this is your life” montage. These songs we sing at family gatherings, weddings and funerals. These are my lullabies. “In time when you are ready, come and join me take my hand, and together we’ll share life out on the lose.” My son turns and finds me in the crowd and smiles. We know.
The funny thing is, I didn’t know. I did not project into sleepless moments with my infant a child of twelve. I sang those songs because they were the most familiar to me when I was my most exhausted.
I love this place. It was not perfect. Some summers we couldn’t afford to go. Sometimes I was nauseatingly homesick. But good and bad, camp helped me walk bravely into other communities, continents and experiences. Camp was the adventure that beget all further adventures in my life.
Camps are designed to help kids practice working through struggles they can handle, like getting along with others and sustaining a fire. It is a second family. If my kids find that at Widji, I will be thrilled. If they find it elsewhere, I will be thrilled. I know kids who find it through choirs, theater productions or sports teams. What we want for our children is experiences that make them feel attached and stretched—a place to learn skills that give them a sense of competency in the world.
We know it will.
This morning I passed through my fence, lunch bag, brief case, computer bag, errand bag, birthday gift, dog leash (yes attached to dog), coffee cup (somehow) in hand, and reached the other side slathered in bird poop.
It was as if I traveled through a bird shit portal. So not J.K. Rowling-cool.
I ditched my stuff in my car and pursued my five-year-old on foot. He was picking flowers off our crab apple tree for his daycare “mom.”
That was the lovely moment. The one I will remember. The one that will lead me to say things to young moms when I am sixty like, “Oh, the days will go so fast. Cherish every moment.”
I washed off the poop at daycare and headed out for the day: this was 9 a.m.
Before that, I had checked my 11 y.o. child’s throat and breath for signs of strep (you know that smell), rummaged through piles of dirty laundry for pants skinny enough for my 8 y.o., and dressed and redressed that 5 y.o. cutie pie three times before he was satisfied, including face paint.
I also scrubbed the toilet naked and had to get back in the shower after my hair made contact with God-knows-what. I sent myself a mental note to scrub the toilet before showering in the future–as if I hadn’t already learned this twenty times over.
I plucked an unwieldy hair from my husband’s nose as he drank his coffee. So satisfying.
I clipped the 30 finger nails of said children.
And fed them chocolate cake for breakfast.
Yes I did. From a box.
I delayed: breakfast, vitamins, probiotics, skin care, exercise, hair-do and make up. Seriously, what else are the stoplights on Hiawatha for? Furthermore, what are those vents for if not blow drying?
After 9 a.m. I helped neighbor moms rescue some toads. I returned a run-away dog. I changed out of my white pants–who am I kidding? I dropped off forgotten lunches and homework at school. I sent the emails for the important school committee thingy. I called my legislator and my mom and dad. They are all fine, aside from the Alzheimer’s and such.
As I approached my office, I saw a mama duck cross a busy street with seven ducklings. Once safe, she jumped up a six-inch embankment they could not mount. She did not look back. She fed herself in the grass on whatever ducks eat in grass.
In a few minutes, she jumped back down into the quacking fuzzy mess. They swarmed, and she led them away again.
I get it, duck mom.
By 9:30, I arrived at “work.” I put down my bags. I sipped coffee. I greeted co-workers that smelled good and had clean faces. I got an update on our hurdles for the day. I was very glad to step up to each and every one of them.
I’m tired. My throat hurts. I’m scattered. Hungry. Irritated. Parking ticket kind of day.
I’m going home for cooking
I might stop for groceries.
I am going home for hugging and playing.
I might even do nothing
I dare you too.
Not to do list
- I will not return phone calls
- I will not return texts
- I will not worry about, everything
- I will not work (it never actually just takes a second)
- I will not volunteer
- I will not pay the bills
- I will not make plans for October (in April)
- I will not “want a new” anything
- I will not pick up
- I will not clean up
- I will not catch up
- I will not say “just a minute sweetie”
- I will not even plant seeds, though it is time for spinach
I am going home.
There is something I have got to find.
Something I lost.
I dare you.
My kids asked me who I will vote for tonight. I stood in front of them and their futures and their health care and their college loans and their warming globe and their wages and their gender identities and their military service and their spouses and their safety and their financial security and their educations and their sense of social justice, and I thought good and hard.
My entire career has been about social justice, empowering young women, supporting young men, building educational opportunity and strengthening networks of social support. Who is my candidate?
I am voting for who I believe is the strongest candidate for the job. I am voting for someone I admire. We all should, and respect one another for having an opinion and voting tonight.
I read last night about Hillary, “She’s just another Al Gore” and the whimsey imbedded in that comment by a friend chilled me. I am not voting by gender for the highest office in our country, but I will also not ignore gender’s role in our politicians’ careers and candidacy.
In the country in which I have grown and worked, been an activist, a mother and a child, a student, voter, teacher and policy advocate, in which I have been employed and unemployed and underemployed, being female has affected my experience. It feels different to me, being female, when I walk home alone after dark and when I apply for jobs. It felt different when I compared my pay stub to my brothers for the same job and he got paid more. It felt different in chemistry class when our teacher made the girls sit in front because science didn’t come “naturally” to us. It felt different when six of my friends were raped during their college careers. It felt different for me when I left my career to parent and attempted to re-enter it. It feels different when I read stories of girls being followed home from South high by men in white vans. It feels different that only 15% of elected positions are held by women in Minnesota. It feels different that I have never seen a woman President run our country.
In interviews that compare potential female to male candidates, women cite reasons not to run such as family obligations, lack of role models in policy careers, what the media does to female candidates, investing their family’s money in an election, being physically threatened by elected officials, and knowing their constituency would not support a woman for the job. Men do not. I love Bernie’s ideals, and he could be my candidate. But I will not deny his privilege and I can’t imagine he would either.
A woman could not be a candidate for President today without political connections and savvy. She could not run on aspirations or even ideals alone. She must wear a coat of armor yet she cannot raise a fist or speak in an angry tenor without repercussions. She cannot have a history that includes arrests. She cannot move to the top without the time it takes to make mistakes and change her mind on issues. I actually WANT a candidate who is willing to think and think again, perhaps change her mind when she hears something new from the people she represents.
Whether or not you agree with her or want to vote for her, seeing a woman run for President is a mark of progress toward a more liberal country and it thrills me to see it. Progressive think tanks studied and demonstrated years ago that there has never been a politician more denigrated by the media than Hillary Clinton. Support has been withdrawn from some of the progressive left, which I consider myself very much a part of, and that may be based upon her record. But there is no way we can separate her record from the misogyny that follows her everywhere.
Bernie and Hillary have similar ideas. I am torn. But I also recognize that the material Bernie’s supporters use to separate him, at times, is the very sustenance it took for her to be his colleague today. What sets her apart for me is not her gender. But I am impressed by the extra labor she has done because of her gender. Regardless of your vote, I would like to see progressive America honor this moment in time.
I believe that Hillary will be more successful in this particular role in government–feel free to disagree. But please stop underestimating my research, my intelligence, my ideals and my reasons. It is antithetical to your vote for progress. Let’s go vote. Tomorrow we will likely find ourselves on the same team and I want to be proud to be there with you.
Early this morning a car blew through a stop sign in front of me and I did a 360 degree skid getting out of its way. It didn’t even slow down. I chased the car down and got the license plate.
Soon after that I blew a speaker and fogged up my ears listening to Led Zeppelin.
Then I got my nose pierced!
Leaving the parking lot I nearly backed into someone and refused to apologize–what kind of nincompoop walks that closely behind a moving vehicle.
At the gas station, I stole a snickers bar because it said, “rebellious.” Come on–does anyone pay for that one?
I impressed some teen-agers with the speed of my car and volume of my bass.
I also got Lasix surgery and they threw in botox between my brows.
When I got home my child asked me for candy and I responded, “no.” He asked “why” and I yelled “because I am taking my ###@!! poop in peace.”
Then I went to take a one-day workshop on electric guitar and now I play. Like a boss.
On the way home, I illegally passed a very slow, dripping clean, white Mercedes while driving on a twisty residential street.
And I sang along to Supertramp so loud, they say I’ll need vocal node surgery (like Adele. Adele is so awesome).
Hopefully it will be a quick recovery, because I also got a call saying I made the cast of Ordway’s production of Wicked, coming soon!! Dream come true!
And coincidentally, I qualified for the extreme rescue division of the International Red Cross.
After I found out, I played the drums in my garage in a white tank top until I sweat like Mary Stewart Masterson. So. Inspiring.
And I dyed the ends of my hair five shades of pink and belted out, in my fast car, “Na na na na na na…she’s got the look” on my way to work.
When I walked into the Senate in a power suit and declared, “I’m selling your salaries to the highest bidder until you add inflationary increases to the General Education Fund,” they did it!
Since I was on a winning streak, I stabbed a snake fang into a book on Alzheimer’s and the disease oozed into the ether, like Voldemort in the Chamber of Secrets, only forever.
Then I perfected my conversational Spanish.
Then, I had an affair with Kendrick Lamar.
I put my name in the hat for Presidency.
And drove twelve minutes further, bought a ticket, and sat alone among strangers on a plane to San Juan, anywhere.
But I made it back for choir, where I sang my angst so loudly into Beethoven’s 9th that my fingers bled (paper cut).
I tucked in my kids.
And drank tea.
Some days I amaze myself.
“Mom, are you are a princess or a queen?”
“I’ll be the Queen. What is dad then?”
“He can be the Prince until you retire. Then he can be King.”
“And I am your Royal Wizard,” replies my enrobed seven-year-old.
He pulls out a satchel.
“I have here my wizarding goods. An extra wizard robe and hat. Two magic bandages. A pack of magic pills. Super magnifier. Enchanted sponge. Dark magic. Coconut oil. Mint oil. Wizard crystal. A flaming mirror. A bonker. An oil I made – you should smell it. Petrified wood. Enchanted petrified stone. A cork. Fire in a bottle. And last but not least, flexipotion. If I attach this to the medicine and my ears, it will warm me up.”
His collection is adapted from my childhood Fisher Price doctor kit. He appears to equate wizardry with healing. I inquire further, “what are your plans for our kingdom, Royal Wizard?”
“I am thinking I could help those homeless refugees. Fresh food, fresh water, fire in a bottle and some other potions. A house in a box. You need magic. Unfold it. Tap it with a wand, say “pigtail” and out pops the house.”
What would the Queen do without her Royal Wizard?
It is zero degrees outside today with a -20 degree “real feel.” We are discomforted only by the cancelation of plans to ski. We do not anticipate homelessness, ever, for ourselves or our offspring. We have no need of wizard’s work. But this wizard has big plans.
Across the globe, other families do need his help. They are homeless and growing colder everyday. Or they are in refugee camps. Some are housed among inhospitable neighbors and cannot find work. Others have faired better and are creating new lives. But they are not home. It is unlikely they will ever go home. According to World Vision, “the crisis in Syria affects more than 12 million people,” well beyond the scope of a seven-year old Royal Wizard.
Yet he doesn’t turn his back. He’s thinking, “what could I do?”
O that men like this gentle helper, who saved a wounded man and treated as his neighbour an unknown stranger, may be found all over the world.
Disease is spreading, war is stalking, famine reigns far and wide.
But when one mortal relieves another like this, charity springing from pain unites them.
This prose, translated from Latin to English, is lifted from Benjamin Britten’s Cantata Misericordium and tells the story of the Good Samaritan. In September, I listened over the shoulder of my choir director as he played the haunting chords and read to me from this score. Our choir, MacPhail Center for Music’s adult ensemble, Sonomento, had just begun rehearsing this piece for our January 31st concert. It was the week stories of children drowning and boats capsizing and families walking hundreds of miles began to break our hearts. Through wet eyes, I said, “This is about Syria.” He agreed. “You know who our neighbor is…” He looked up, uncertain where I was headed. “The American Red Cross. We can’t sing this without singing for them.” Surprised, Craig revealed, “Britten actually composed this Cantata for the 100th anniversary of the International Red Cross in 1963.”
In that moment, the opportunity to do something on the behalf of the refugees presented itself to us. MacPhail sits a few short blocks from the American Red Cross in Minneapolis. The International Red Cross has been tirelessly involved in refugee relief efforts across Europe, the Middle East and the United States. Our January concert became a collaboration between MacPhail and the International Red Cross.
Music is not a house in a box, but it has magical healing properties, bringing people together and expressing what we fall short of in words.
Misericordia translates, “mercy.” The Cantata concludes,
Who your neighbour is, now you know.
Go and do likewise.
And on Sunday, January 31st at 7pm in Minneapolis, come hear us sing for our neighbors near and far.
Today Douglas Hedlund, my dad, turns 80. I couldn’t find one picture of him without his arms around my mom or tightly holding my brother or I or his grandkids. He grew up in a farming family in Fargo. He was the first in his family to attend college. He served as a Navy doctor during Vietnam. He was a psychiatrist for 53 years. He left Abbott hospital when they wanted to restrict the length of his appointments and the amount of therapy he could offer patients. He toured churches giving lectures on becoming affirming congregations. He campaigned on behalf of later school starts, more hospital access for mental health patients and the ethical responsibility of mental health providers to accept Medicare and Medicaid. He also never missed a race or concert, not mine or my brothers.
I remember my brother and I used to have contests to see who could get him to laugh. He was often busy working, thinking or reading reading reading. He remains a lousy small talker. But if you’d like to discuss feminism, hone your decision making skills, attempt to solve the riddle of anxiety disorders or just tell someone your life story as he sits and listens deeply and pats your arm, he is your guy. He won’t judge. He will take your late night phone call when you can’t stop crying or worrying and he will always succeed in making you feel better–and he does not reserve this for his kids. Really, you can call him anytime.
In his seventies, he reduced his private practice hours in order to work one day a week at Lutheran Social Services. He did it again when Tennyson needed infant care. He loves babies. Do other dads stay nearby and offer breastfeeding advice? With my parents doing childcare for me, I felt like I got to witness how they raised me–what a practice in gratitude.
Though cloudy with Alzheimer’s, I recently couldn’t help but call him when once again, I had to explain the news of a mass shooting to my kids. I asked, “Is the world becoming a more violent place?” Keep in mind this is a guy who can’t keep the days of the week straight these days
“Yes. There has always been hatred and extremism and war. But now children see it everyday. They have access to images and stories and videos because media and information have changed. It doesn’t matter if there is more violence in the world. Our perception of the world is more violent than it once was, and it is that perception that shapes our well being, our sense of safety and our mental health. I worry about that for children and I worry about access to guns. Talk about violence and their fears, but talk about peace too. Talk about solutions and let them know they are safe.”
Maybe it just doesn’t matter what day of the week it is today.
My dad also struggled with depression and anxiety. I asked him once if I could write about that–reveal that. He said, “We should all talk about our mental health struggles more.” I deeply believe that he would not have been as long in this world without my mom. They love each other fiercely and as they reach their eighties, appear to have somewhat exhausted themselves in the care of each other and their family and friends. With luck and persistence, he wooed my mom with a song. I believe that song saved his life.
My dad was not typical. He was not easy. He married levity and an easy laugh with the wisdom that he lacked it himself. Only in the company of children, laughing with my mom or on the golf course does his lighter side appear. And that is why Alzheimer’s, despite all we hate about it, has eased some of his burdens. It’s not so bad, after all, that he can’t get to the end of every troublesome thought. He smiles more. His laugh comes more easily. He will walk next to you now, not a mile ahead.
I know we are losing a little of him everyday. I miss him sometimes after spending the day with him. We will miss his thrilling intelligence and stories of American history, adventures in Fargo and recollections of his cousins. Alzheimer’s feels some days like a sickening long goodbye. Alzheimer’s also has the potential to feel socially awkward. Luckily for us, nothing new there. A nurse recently said, “He seems to be growing more quiet and thoughtful. He didn’t want to talk about the weather.” My mom and I just laughed. Some days I’m angry that the universe paid him back for his service by afflicting his mind. But mostly, I am grateful he is turning eighty today and I am still his girl.
6:30 in the morning: The room is dark. I attempt to fish earrings out of my jewelry (and miscellaneous junk) box. I get one on and the other’s backing will not take hold. I peek at it in the light of the glowing alarm. It’s not an earring backing. It is someone’s baby tooth.
Parenthood is so weird.
At a recent interview: My interviewer, a pregnant thirty-something in a nice maternity suit, asks me about the “five year blank” in my resume. I tell her I was home full time with my kids, but as she can see, I chaired committees, fundraised thousands of dollars, spoke professionally at hearings and rallies, wrote a blog, coached, managed, scheduled, entertained, taught, multi-tasked, created, evaluated, led and negotiated like a boss during that time. She responds, “It’s not that I don’t respect what you were doing, it’s that while you had the privilege of taking time off, other people were working hard.”
Parenthood is so easy.
An hour into my workday: My boys’ school calls me to retrieve my sick son. Two of three have thrown up in the past week–it is his destiny. We make it home. He has the best aim of all of them–I am weary of scrubbing and grateful he is last. We read some Magic Treehouse. I snuggle kids with sore throats and fevers. I do not snuggle pukers. I make up for it with Sprite on crushed ice and a straw, popsicles, saltines and unlimited screen time. Until he actually felt sick, I am pretty sure this kid was jealous of sick 1 and sick 2. He’s attempted fake-sick everyday since I first made jello. We get a nice rotation going of couch, porcelain, shower, couch. After a long rest and two vomit-free hours, my husband takes over while I go for a run. Upon my return, he is quite proud of getting a full glass of water into the child. Post run and shower, I approach the bed to check my cutie-pie’s temp. He projectile voms a full glass of water and orange jello straight onto my chest and down to my feet.
Parenthood is a puke train.
I am singing my favorite song. My youngest starts to sing along with me. “Mom, do you want to be a rocket star when you grow up?” I say, “Yes–of course.” He inhales sharply, “You can sing and play your guitar and I can play my…” he trails off and returns strumming his ukulele. We sing. He stops thoughtfully and looks at me; “Wait but mom you already growed up and you are not a rocket star.” He suggests that if I make my hair crazier, perhaps I could still be a rocket star. He asks, “what are you then?” I say, “I sing in a choir. I am a mom. I write and I work for schools.” He says, “That is so sad.”
Parenthood–damn. I’m doing my best here, small man.
After a long week home with sick kids, I take the dog for a walk. I generally follow the rules but it is about as good a day for bending them as I’ve had in awhile. No one is around–I let her off leash. She runs toward the willow fort the neighborhood daycare kids built. She poops just outside the door. I realize I’ve forgotten a bag so I pick it up with two large leaves. Even green leaves crumble in the fall. Dangit. It is then I realize two things. One, I do have a bag. And two, she pooped on a dead squirrel. What the hell? Unfortunately, I care about the daycare kids. Dangit dangit. The thing has adhered to the ground in some sections so I have to dig a little with a stick. I first decapitate it (not my intention). Bit by bit I bag the squirrel. I have not flinched nor faltered. The doorway of the willow fort is clear.
Parenthood is so rewarding.
The school district sends home a letter: “If your child misses three more days of school this semester…asking you to be responsible…could result in a hearing…your child’s education is important to us.”
Parenthood is gratifying.
I wake up to my eleven-year-old making pancakes before school this morning. He tells a joke I genuinely get and we laugh. Later, his best friend stops by while biking home (alone) from the library–wait–didn’t I just pull you two there in a wagon last week? I can’t keep up. I secretly liked it when my son was sick and we watched big-kid movies and played monopoly all day. He now smirks during movies when there are scenes with girls. We’ve talked about “stuff” including whether he relates to those moments? Yes, he says, but it seems unrealistic that boys in movies never have boyfriends and girls in movies never have girlfriends. How would someone feel? Whoa–empathy–didn’t you just learn to share toys?
Parenthood is ephemeral.
We are outside under an eclipsing moon. As it grows darker my “baby,” age four, reaches up as far as he can stretch. “Pickle me up” he says because he knows I cannot resist. When I situate him about my waist, he has to stretch himself down to my shoulder to rest his head. I hold him a little lower. I think, trying not to think, I can barely hold him. Arms shaking slightly as we stand very still, I ask him what he thinks of the eclipse. He says, “aliens are eating the moon. Let’s go inside.”
Parenthood is heavy.
A friend shares with me decisions she’s untangling about her career and upcoming changes. She exhales and gestures toward her daughter who is laughing with her friends one hundred feet away. “You know, at the center of so many choices I make is something that is constantly changing and will someday, “poof,” leave my home forever. It goes faster than I ever expected.” I relate. “Poof:” it will feel like a fleeting shadow to have woven an entire career, lifestyle, finances, emotions and even our physical space around. If I am the moon, they are the aliens.
Parenthood is being eaten alive.
Our children come along and make everything look as different as night and day. But they never stand still. In practically the same moment we are eclipsed, we reappear.
Parenthood is knowing the moon will survive.