“Oh, you’re from Seattle? You’re so lucky!”
This is coming from the Delta ticketing agent in Detroit. It’s been raining for weeks and it’s the end of June.
“Yes, I suppose, why?”
“Have you ever read fifty shades of Gray? Christian is from Seattle!”
I roll my eyes and try to be patient when I explain, in very slow words, “He. Is. Not. Real.”
Someone asked me once if I’d ever been to Forks. You know, where the Vampires live?
I usually reply with something not-at-all snarky like, “no, generally I hang with werewolves.”
Friday was our last day at the pre-school we’ve been attending for five years. No, our child hasn’t failed pre-school four years running. This school provide pre-K from 3-5 and Kindergarten for 6 yr olds. Both of our children have been at this school.
There are other families in the same boat and I see them at the little concerts and plays. They watch their children with a camera and compare the same production to the previous four. There are four of us families, no, five, and our children have grown up together. And Friday was the very last day we will go to this school.
I picked this school one day, which I remember vividly, when my daughter was two. We were looking at options because I was going to drive her to Canada and drop her off to live with a flock of geese and she was going to write terrible poetry about me to her therapist in a few years if we didn’t find a solution to our “situation.”
That “situation” was that I thought I could do the whole “stay at home” good mom thing and turns out, at six months pregnant with my second, I was deep in to “no way in hellfire.” It turns out I probably could have stuck it out and managed somewhat (as this video proved) but I had already reached out to this preschool on that dreadful day of desperation.
I won’t tell you the details of the tens of schools we visited, but I will tell you that this one school we went, set in a small farm house, was “the one.” They always say you’ll just know and we both knew. The teacher was my savior that day. The school was a perfect fit. The acre of outdoor play would possibly fulfill my daughter’s energy requirements after living in our tiny condo.
It fit us all. And it fit other families a lot like us. So we’ve made friends at this school, invited other friends to join the school, visited at every mother-living-hour-long concert/production (with video!). My children have best friends from this school and I do as well. In a small, but significant way, this school really did save us. It gave me hope on that one hopeless day in the trenches of a two year old with a pregnant belly. It continued to nurture our family as the children grew in to actual people. And then, Friday, we said good-bye.
I think I’m more choked up about this then the fact my youngest is about to start Kindergarten at public school next week.
No, wait. That kills me, too.
We are watching our parents age. Haven’t they always been the same age? So why are they deteriorating before our eyes now? Why do phone calls include doctor results and stories from forever ago? Of regret? Of routine?
When did I become the mom and for the love of god please tell the children their real mother is coming home soon.
Who owns this house? The big one with the barn and the garden overgrown with weeds and the busted old chicken coupe? Not us, not me, no way.
I’ve been listening to stories through music. They’re called lyrics. Maybe you pay attention to them or maybe, like most people I talk to, you just hum along and think, “what a lovely tune.”
While I will not claim to be magically artistic, there’s a huge chunk of my left brain that gets a little melancholy for the arts; music, poetry, a really good travel book. So when a tune catches my ear, the first thing I do is look up the lyrics. (In the old days we used to look on the tape covers. ON PAPER. Or in the really old days, when yours truly was coming of age, we looked on the back of the VINYL covers. Dear god but we did.)
This nice little diddy is as depressing as an Indy Documentary. I love the tune but oh, did it spark some reflection from somewhere deep within.
I’m reminded of seasons; of change, of constant shifting. I was 12 the first time I asked my mother about letting my childhood best friend go. “Friends are always flowing in and out of your life, hon.” I didn’t like it. Not one bit. And without sounding too Dr. Seusian, I did sit down and write a poem in my journal.
I’ve been melancholy for a very long time.
I’m reminded that I am not the person I was when I was 12, although there are pieces of her inside. She is more like the foundation buried under all these other years of wear and wisdom. But I am also reminded that we can get lost to ourselves. I remember an old boss, years ago, talking about his divorce. “We just lived our lives on this road and one day we turned around and said, ‘Who are you?’” I was 25 and a young professional at the time I heard this. Eleven years can be a long trek and suddenly I woke up and looked in the mirror one day and asked, “Who are you?”
My person will morph over time like those friends my Mom said would float in and out of life. I will be a version of myself, a friend, and then another and another. Over time I will be a variety of people; the business woman, the mother, the self-assured granny, the meek and uncertain college girl, the housewife, the feminist.
We all lose ourselves to time. “Time is but a stream I go a-fishing in.” - Thoreau.
In some ways I am both parts, she who is scared and lost and he who is standing by her side. I am both reaching out for a hand and offering one to myself. Former versions of me are there and future versions are waiting patiently. I am the only one who can find my way.
“Though the truth may vary, this ship will carry our bodies safely to shore.” - Of Monsters and Men.
Some kids collect stamps. I don’t know who these kids are but I think they’re all about 102 nowadays. When I was a kid, way back in the early eighties, I collected cabbage patch kids.
Somewhere around puberty I switched from wrinkly-butt dolls to postcards. I think this is where the first parts of who I am today began to show. This was the very beginning of a small fire that would grow steadily over the years.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” ― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It
My Uncle travelled a lot for work. He went to exotic places like: Turkey! and Istanbul! and Egypt! I asked him to send me a postcard from every place he visited. I hold these postcards sacredly in a book marked, “Places I Will Go.”
I have made it to, possibly, two fistfuls of those places.
“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” ― Mary Anne Radmacher
In college I sat on the floor in the house of girls I lived with reading the Atlas. Some college kids read the paper, others read their text-books. Back before the Internet was in every house, we used to read things on paper. PAPER, y’all. Remember paper? Anyway, we would be gathered in the living room, the four of us, each doing something different. Nearly always I would be the one spread on the floor with some sort of map, planning a lifetime’s worth of travels.
My roommate was also a traveling soul. She braved Europe just after college in the traditional “Backpack Across Europe” tour that every 22 year old should go on. I did not join her, though I ached to do so. I made a vow to myself that I would travel all of Europe when I had the money. The money was always the next corner away. “When I get this job.. when I pay off this debt.. when I own my car.. when the baby is older…” In essence, Life got in the way of Living.
The summer I did not take the Europe trip, I made a necklace of hemp (GO GO HIPPIE!) and placed a single charm on it: A globe. I wore this necklace until it frayed. Six years it stayed around my neck cultivating a nervous habit of spinning the globe subconsciously. I remember someone asking me once at my third summer beyond “that one that was not Europe” what my globe meant. “It’s a reminder,” I said twisting it in a circle, “that I will travel the world.”
We’ve talked about this “giving up of yourself for the good of now.” It’s been the topic of conversation for many years. I know Laura Ingram would say this. I know Billy Graham would. I know someone might write a song about it. Maybe they did.
I’ve said before that once you become a mother, your own personal aspirations need to be set aside. And I’ve done this. I’m proud to have done so. But a new way of thinking is bubbling and I’m wondering if maybe, maybe maybe, children can grow and flourish in my own happiness. That maybe, maybe maybe, the children can be just as excited about going to Germany as I am, or to England or Holland or Bhutan. And maybe, maybe maybe, if I’m in a place of happiness and not feeling like I’ve placed my own self on a shelf, maybe (maybe? maybe?) the children will grow in to that happiness. Perhaps, even, if I dare to say so, the children will cultivate an appreciation for how hard it is to find that happiness and when you find it, and I hope they find it, how necessary it is to grasp it with both hands and never let it go. My hope for them, if I can dare to dream, is to never have the need to spin the globe of wishes.
“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
“Don’t let them see me!” “Does the door lock?” “Don’t let anyone in.”
My son has yelled this in anxiety during many many wardrobe changes. He wears a rash guard in the pool so nobody can see his “boobies.” He hides his tummy from close friends because, “They will laugh at me.”
I do not know where he gets this stuff.
We’re not overly sensitive about nudity at our house. The children have grown up talking to me while I get dressed, asking questions about my body and me willingly answering. I started the “private parts are yours” discussion so early on, it would just be part of their knowledge and never an actual subject to discuss. The children shower together, brother and sister, and we figure they’ll let us know when it’s too weird to do so. I realize this could be any day now. And I’m ready for it. I’m ok with it.
But why my son is so worried about people laughing at his body, I don’t know. We don’t laugh at him. I ask him who does and he says, “nobody but they might.”
Granted, as a middle-class-woman of white-skinny-bitches age, I have plenty of my own body issues. Sure, I obsess and count calories (sometimes) and workout (used to) and try to eat well (most days.) And sure I beat myself up about this as often as a 17 year old thinks about sex. But why on earth would my five year old son ask me if his legs are fat? I don’t say a single thing to him about my body. I try, purposefully, to shield the children from any negative body image talk. I’m hyper sensitive to this fact.
So why the troubled five year old boy wondering if people will think he’s legs are fat or his belly is big or laugh at him with his shirt off?
He. Is. FIVE.
And this has been going on for at least a year or more.
We focus so often on our daughters. We worry about their body image. We try to tell them to be healthy and not worry about their body. “You can be so many sizes and still be ok,” I’ve always said to my young daughter. She’s tall, lanky, skinny, and ridiculously pretty. (And I’m not just being biased here.) She’s blessed with the features of “where the hell did you come from” and “you resemble Jennifer Anniston but your hair isn’t colored.” In the summer she is a golden brown, healthy, happy, thin, strong, blonde hair blue eyed girl.
I envy her some days. Ok, most days. Also, though, I am proud of my body for producing something so lovely because I know I’ve spent ages wondering what it was doing to me.
But my son, my wonderfully strong, agile, healthy, golden son is asking if his legs are fat? My brain wasn’t ready for that.
Suddenly it’s not just our daughters but also our sons. Suddenly I am telling them both how to have a healthy life: eat well and move your body and you won’t have to worry. Take care of your body because it’s the only one you’ll have. Treat yourself kindly because you have to haul yourself around for the rest of your life.
Sometimes I take my own advice.
I hope they take my advice so much more often.
This is the focus now. My children tell me how many grams of sugar is in their decision and they tell me if they haven’t moved enough today. My son is stupidly talented at ball sports (also: not from my genes) and runs faster than most children in his school. One day we’ll have a hard conversation about not being the most agile. One day we’ll have a hard discussion about not begin the fastest basketball player. One day we’ll talk about the missed pitches, the tackle, the fumble, the missed three point shot.
But for now, I do what I can, and that is this: Move. Eat Well. Love your family and friends. Get enough sleep. Drink enough water. Tell those whom you love that you do so and treat yourself well. And one day, no, every day, you will be thankful you did.
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