Painted Smiles and Iron Guts

25 08 2009

This morning, my classroom is buzzing with the taptaptaptapping of students’ fingers on keyboards. I thought I would miss the sound of pencils and pens scraping against paper, scratching out ideas and shaping words. The tapping has much more energy–it’s a sound you can almost ride, and I do. And I almost feel like I’m cheating in a way, drafting off these young minds punching keys with the conviction that they have something to say that matters.

Anyways, this morning we’re tapping about objects. The kids brought in autobiography boxes, which they construct from pictures, drawings, artifacts, newspaper clippings. One student brought in a box that lights up, another chose to adorn his with a plastic mound of spaghetti. They’re all shapes and sizes and they contain all kinds of magical talismans: wands, Eiffel Towers, rubber duckies, pom-poms, dog collars, movie tickets, pigs made out of yarn. So the prompt was to write about an object–tell the stories or ideas that your chosen object represents.

My object is a gummy worm. Last week, when I went to pick up Ruthie, she came charging towards me with a strange, lopsided gallop. Usually, I get knocked over with a hug, especially on days when she’s particularly good, but on this particular day, she ran towards me and took a knee. And then, my little buddy reached into her shoe, where she’d been “keeping it all day so it’d be safe.” There, in the toe of her baby blue croc, she had been hiding a plastic baggie containing a single yellow and red gummy worm. She proudly handed me the baggie, proclaiming, “I sabed it for you, Mommy! All day I sabed it for you! It’s a treat for you for being so good.” Her little eyebrows arched with the seriousness of what she was saying. Of course, I had no choice but to take the treat from her with a wide, affirming smile. “Go ahead, Mom, you can eat it.” So I did. It was very warm. I didn’t really think much about it until the teacher told me, with the worm half-eaten in my watery mouth, that she’d had it in her shoe since they received goody bags that morning. Mid-chew I realized that I was consuming a worm which had endured the playrgound, the toddlers’ bathroom, naptime, lunch, and all of the super-yuck places that toddlers put their feet. Then, having made the decision to not-think about where this worm had been, I swallowed. Hard. With my eyes shut.”Thank you, baby. That was, er, delicious.”

So much of parenting requires an iron gut and a painted smile. There are so many things you have to do has a parent: maintain a calm and even voice, place your screaming-squirming-kicking-thrashing toddler on her “angry spot” with a stoic face and a gentle grip, create a dinner out of nothing at the end of a 12-hour day. Being an adult is not so glamorous or powerful-feeling as I’d always thought it would be. I never thought I’d find myself standing, in a dress and heels, consuming candy from my child’s shoe.

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“I didn’t even guess that I was happy”

17 06 2009

There is this wiggle-shimmy-dance-thing that I do whenever I am enjoying what I’m eating. It’s subconscious. I never knew I did it until I caught Ruthie doing it one day across the dinner table from me. We were positively inhaling sugared strawberries from a bowl between us. She started wiggling her little booty on the seat and shimmying her shoulders, her mouth closed in the shape of mmmmmmm. Even now, I can remember the way those strawberries felt so cold and so new on my tongue; the way they bled that sweet, pink syrup; the way they melted into the insides of my cheeks.

Today, as I sit down to write, I catch myself doing that dance of satiation. Why? Because I have three glorious hours of quiet writing time spread out before me like an empty glass lake. Because ever since I woke up this morning, my mouth won’t stop smiling and my toes won’t stop bouncing in time with the music I’ve been listening to. Because my coffee is the perfect temperature. Because today, I am my friend.

Mornings like this make me wish I were a poet, which I am not. So I’ll share a few lines from the poem that captured my attention this morning. Linda Pastan, in her poem “The Happiest Day,” writes

I didn’t even guess that I was happy.
The small irritations that are like salt
on melon were what I dwelt on,
though in truth they simply
made the fruit taste sweeter.





PJ Rides

15 06 2009
Ruthie touches the wind.

Ruthie touches the wind.

My Saturday morning begins with the heavy sounds of Ruthie barging down the short  hallway that joins our rooms, still half-asleep, blanket and bear in tow, her hair teased a solid four inches out from her head by what I call sleep-traveling. She’s almost always smiling, proud of herself for spending the night alone and happy to be jumping into my bed, where she not-so-patiently waits for her chocolate milk as I fumble for the remote control. Once I get the t.v. on, I can usually steal a few kisses on her forehead, right along her hairline, which has the sweetest smell I’ve ever known.

Every morning, she has two chocolate milks. On Saturdays, I let her drink the first one at home, then we go to Starbucks for the second. This past Saturday, we loaded up at the wee hour of 6:40-something to make our weekly coffee schlep: Ruthie wearing panties and a chocolate milk stained butterfly t-shirt my parents bought her at the zoo when she was less than a year old, me in my pajama pants and Hanes tagless undershirt. Neither of us had on shoes. I picked her up and thunked her into her car seat, buckled her in (so she wouldn’t “go to jail”), and tucked her blanket in real tight around her legs. With Allison Krauss playing and the windows rolled down, we crept out of the driveway. I caught Ruthie’s eyes in the rear view mirror to see her mouth pulled into a tight smile that only children in a state of heightened anticipation can manage. As we picked up speed down the street, she squealed, “We’re goin’ on anudder PJ ride, aren’t we, Mom? Only girls go on PJ rides, huh?” She laughed and laughed from her gut and so did I. In Alabama there aren’t many days when the air feels cool on your skin, but on this Saturday morning in June, the air felt delicious. We spent the rest of the drive in awed silence, both of us with a hand out “touching the wind,” as Ruthie put it.

Until Ruthie gave it a name, I hadn’t really thought of our PJ rides as a ritual––they were just what we did. Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about rituals, how they’re made, and why they’re so comforting. At what point does one aspect of a daily routine begin to shape itself into a ritual? What’s the difference between a ritual and a routine? Why are rituals so satisfying? And what are they satisfying?

So I picked up an old friend (Robert Fulghum’s From Beginning to End: The Rituals of our Lives) and began reading. Again. Here’s what he says:

To be human is to be religious.
To be religious is to be mindful.
To be mindful is to pay attention.
To pay attention is to sanctify existence.

Rituals create sacred time.
Sacred time is the dwelling place of the Eternal.
Haste and ambition are the adversaries of sacred time.

When I think of the word ritual, I think of churches and candles and chanting or reciting words that I don’t understand. Fulghum’s interpretation of the word is so comforting to me because it’s so personal. In a sense, we make our own rituals out of the things that we do on a regular basis, out of the routines and habits that structure our daily lives. Having a three-year-old around makes it much easier to recognize sacred moments when they happen, because three-year-olds are mindful. Always.





Morning has broken

9 01 2008

4:45 am Alarm plays Bela Fleck. I am in a cocoon of darkness and blankets. I will wish I were here for much of the rest of the day.

5:05 am My cocoon is pierced by the closet light as Adam tugs on the string.

5:17 am I begin to lift myself out of bed only to flop back down as my better judgment kicks in.

5:19 am I hear Ruthie cough over the monitor and secretly hope she will wake up though I know that her stirring creates dread in Adam who still needs time to drink his coffee before the day begins.

5:23 am I convince myself that I actually need to get up but then I remember how I got ready in 12 minutes yesterday and my better judgment wins again.

5:34 am I throw back the covers, stomp to the closet, scoop my clothes up off the floor and go brush my teeth.

5:44 am The litany of lost items begins: Where’re my keys? Where’s that thing I had in my hand? (Adam: What thing?) You know, that thing. Uggh. And my name tag. Where’s that?

5:52 am I turn our 100 year old (literally) door knob and it makes 3 or 4 loud clacking noises that make Adam cringe since the front door is right by her room.

5:54 am Engine starts and I am running 10 minutes late. And so it goes until I lay back down again. It is still dark.