A promising emptiness

I'm here tonight as if an obstinate magnet, pulled toward the light of an empty page like a moth that spots a beacon on a dark and stormy night. He flies toward it, hopeful, determined, in need.

I can hardly keep my eyes open and I'm already in bed, but unfortunately, today was another mostly-dreadful one. And so I am here. Flitting over the promising emptiness of a white expanse and an eager cursor. 

The page asks nothing, and it is infinitely patient. It is an open embrace that never tires. It doesn't tick or talk or melt down or whine. It doesn't judge or pressure. It accepts truths and lies, ugliness and beauty. It is not defensive or harsh or rude. It never glances subtly toward a clock or a phone. It asks nothing but offers everything. And so I am here. 

In front of this empty slate, I am never cold. I am not lonely. Or overwhelmed. Or exhausted. I pour onto the page that my littlest boy called me a jerk, that he kicked me, that I snapped and spent a decent amount of time crying on the kitchen floor because this week has been relentless and "jerk" was the last straw. In doing so, I release these things and can start to let them go. I come to a peace, of sorts, with the underbelly of this life that is mine. The parts that aren't pretty but are real, the parts I don't like but must handle, the parts that others don't often discuss but must surely experience too. And so I am here.

I also record the moments that light my heart on fire: the graceful way Jack received the news that our pug would be staying in Brooklyn; that amidst his tears, he first asked "Is Percy happy?"; and secondly, "How will I tell S? Can you help me, Mom?" (S is a friend who adores Percy and sometimes had him sleep over.) I can hold on to these twinklings with specificity and accuracy, integrating them more fully into memory and heart. 

When I write, my cat sits by me. Almost always. He purrs like a gentle motor, bathes himself, falls asleep, snores in a subtle, irresistible way. He lets me reach over and play with his little pink toe pads. They're like warm jelly beans. I think he likes when I write, think he likes the positive zen flow over and around us as a page fills. I do.

The page never suggests that I am too much. It doesn't blink when I rage to it, doesn't mind if I cry. It welcomes jokes and also deeply serious privacies. It is consistent and punctual, generous and reliable, even when little else seems to be. It is enlivening and comforting and the best tool for unearthing self-understanding and acceptance that I've discovered. And so I am here.
This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, inspired by the prompt "Sometimes, I wonder about my writing. I keep on and on because..." This week's link-up is hosted by Kristi Campbell.

"If he's happier..."

Oliver had just finished his cinnamon toast and started in on his scrambled eggs when he innocently asked, "When is Percy coming home, Mama?"

Bleary-eyed from nausea and a fitful night of sleep, I fumbled briefly and paused.

Jack won’t be home until tomorrow; is it wrong to tell Ol first? Should I wait for Tom? Oh, how I have been dreading this, but oh, how I want to cross this threshold.

I sipped my tea and glanced at my darling boy, wearing only super hero undies and smiling as he speared egg with a Lego spork he outgrew years ago. I took a deep breath, put my tea gently on a coaster, and said, “Sweetheart, Percy is so happy with Suzanne. Do you know that she makes him meatloaf every day and that they sleep together?”

I watched as the brightly-colored utensil arced slowly toward Ol’s plate and felt my heart break as my boy started to understand where I was going with my lengthy answer.

“Suzanne is very happy too, Ol. Her pugs died last year, and she has been lonely for a dog to love. Percy is lucky to get to live with Suzanne.”

I watched as the spork landed on the china plate dusted with cinnamon sugar and a rapidly chilling yellow-orange mound. I saw my boy’s eyes fill with worry and the first tears, watched him take a deep breath and bravely ask, “Is Percy going to stay there, Mama?”

“Yes, precious. He is. Daddy and I feel it is the best thing for him. We couldn’t love and care for Percy like he needed and deserved, but Suzanne can.”

My arms opened as Ol scurried around the table to my lap. He and I always feel so in sync. Like when we’re walking and our hands find and clasp each other’s tightly, even when our eyes are on the path ahead or the sky above.

“But why, Mama? Why? I do not think this is the best decision. I love Percy and I want him here.” His tears wet my pajama shirt, and I struggled to hold him in a way that didn’t allow his sweet tush to feel like a pair of pile drivers into my thighs. Vomiting for hours really screws with your muscles.

Neither Jack nor Oliver has ever known life without Percy. I forget that sometimes; that Percy came first, and the boys after. The kids never seemed terribly connected to Percy, didn’t hang on or try to sleep with him, didn’t talk to him in the ways some children do with their pets. And so while I knew they would be sad, I wasn’t sure how that anguish would show itself.

Ol and I sat together for a long while. He cried and snuffled, and I kissed and comforted. And then I gently reminded him about school and his field trip and suggested we get dressed. I emailed his teachers and was lucky to find that a dear friend was Ol’s group chaperone today; loving eyes were on him.

At pick-up this afternoon, he seemed buoyant, and I took him for a frozen yogurt date. I let him get an absurd amount of toppings, hoping some extra sweet would ease whatever pain might be coursing under his beautiful surface. One of his friends was there, with her grandmother and little brother, and Ol whispered, “Mama, would it be nice if I asked them to come sit with us?”

“Oh, yes, sweetheart, that is a fabulous, kind gesture.” And so he did, and we enjoyed their company, and I smiled upon my little boy who is both simple and complex, young and old, placid and feisty.

Afterwards, as we pulled up into our driveway, I heard Ol’s voice from the backseat. “I have so many happy memories with Percy, Mama. It didn’t make sense to me this morning, your decision, but it makes sense now. If he’s happier…” As he trailed off, I glanced in the rearview mirror, dumbstruck by what a seven-year-old had just said.

We got out of the car, and I knelt on the ground and pulled Ol to me. “Oliver, you are an amazing child, and I am lucky to be your mother.” And for the second time today, we just stayed there, as if a mother-child sculpture cast in an ephemeral moment but one that could represent so many of the small moments mothers and children share.

There are times that motherhood is the opposite of this memorable, moving bliss; times I very nearly hate it and all it demands and asks and takes; times in which I am so fatigued that I’m not sure I’ll be able to give for another hour, another day; times in which I miss having time.

But too there are experiences like those I had today, where in a child I see such courage and wisdom, where in that child’s understanding of an event I am able to better understand my own understanding of that same thing.

Our brief exchange in the driveway this afternoon felt profound. I can’t explain it better than that. A little boy received some sad, surprising news, carried it with him and processed it all while visiting the National Portrait Gallery and being fully present there. All while enjoying his friends and recess and our fro-yo date. All while acting chivalrously too.

The tears came again tonight, as they so often do when darkness and tired seep in. I held him tight and answered his questions and softly but firmly said that the decision was final. We turned on an audiobook, and before I could blink, he was immersed in the science mystery Einstein Anderson had begun to solve.

“Goodnight, Ol. I will come check on you later. I love you so much.”
“Goodnight, Mama. I love you too. I hope you feel better soon.”
This post is inspired by:
my need to write and remember this day with Ol;
this week's Finish the Sentence Friday prompt "The things I've seen this morning...", hosted by Kristi Campbell and Leanne Russell;
and my 40 in Forty series. Today's bit of wisdom: listen to some of that which comes from the mouths of babes.


Running ladies and reaching out

Several times a week, for at least the past six months, the boys and I drive past a woman we’ve taken to calling “The Running Lady.” In cold weather or warm, rain or shine, she runs. Her outfits are coordinated and weather appropriate, and always she wears a backpack.

Perhaps it’s a Camelbak, carrying water so she stays hydrated. Maybe it’s a standard pack that carries first aid supplies, her phone and keys, or sweat towels. It could even be a stamina-enhancing device; run with weight, train harder.

She is always red-cheeked. Often, she looks tired, as if her exertions are just that: exertions. Her shape is not perfect. Her runs don’t look easy. I admire her perseverance.

I have come to count on The Running Lady, as a basic, trustworthy symbol of dependability. I appreciate her commitment, I enjoy seeing her; it’s as if we are friends, but she just doesn’t know it. In a very basic way, I rely on her. I would like to meet her some day. The boys and I have discussed writing her a card of appreciation or admiration, but then we decided that would probably be weird.

I am grateful for rocks like The Running Lady. Like my boys waking up between 6 and 6:30 each morning and my husband coming home between 7:30 and 8 each night. My cat nipping at my ankles if I’ve not remembered to refill his bowl of kibble. February being the suckiest month of the year, each and every year.

I am grateful that my favorite recipe for bread always rises, that Nanny’s cranberry sauce makes everyone smile. I’m grateful that my sons are healthy and bright, that my car starts each morning, that I love my parents and sister and my in-laws too, that the Soda Stream was invented.

I am grateful for good food and wine, for writing, for my friends. I give thanks for my sons’ school and for the endless beauty that is everywhere, if only we open our eyes and look. For strong boxes and packing tape, shredders and bubble wrap.

These rocks constitute the foundation on which I root my life, my future, my sense of the world and my place in it. And yet I know that in many ways, those rocks are illusions. Tenuous, they could slip at any moment. An aggressive tide could wash in and sweep a cornerstone away.

Life is never sure, never fully in control, never wholly known, no matter how much we wish it so. That truth is a tough pill to swallow, but as we grow older, it’s worth remembering that even concrete and diamonds crumble under the right pressure.

People die too soon, by their own hands or those of others. I’ve lost acquaintances to both this month. This month. Goodbyes to homes, pets, finances, friends and family are forced upon people in our midst all.the.time. To pretend otherwise, to ignore the truth of those losses, weakens the foundation on which we all live; it debases the communities we could and can, do and need to share.

I am grateful for the people in my life who are there for me regardless of how I present myself. Who pick up the phone to my glee or tears or wonder and say, “Bring it on. I’m here.” I’m grateful for all the friends who let me be that ear to them.

Not everyone has that, or thinks they do, and that is a shame of epic proportion. Let people know you love or value them, for every reason or none at all. Reach out, show compassion, write the note, look around. Even a stranger might welcome an admirer or friend.

*This post is in response to last week's Finish the Sentence Friday prompt, "I am grateful for...", hosts for which were Kristi of Finding Ninee and Lizzi of Considerings.