Sunday, December 31, 2006

A New Year is Coming

I sent Christmas cards to Dianne and Michele, my best friends in college. Again. I thought about skipping them. I haven't heard from either one in a few years.
The last time I saw Michele was when she had a layover between Minneapolis and Seattle, where she works as an activist for the homeless. We walked from the terminal to a diner within sight of the runways. Mia was a baby and spilled a jar of carrots all over the booth. Did I not show enough understanding of Michele's work? Did I alienate her with my admiration?
The last time I talked to Dianne was the day after her younger brother died. Did I not do enough for her in her grief? I didn't do enough. A card to her sister, an orchid to her parents. I didn't do enough.
I send them cards, I keep sending cards, because I still love them and I want them to know that. I'm acting on a kind of faith, that we are still friends. When there is no blow-up to decisively show you the end of a relationship, when former friends just kind of fade away, the existence of the friendship is entirely your decision. You are friends if you believe it.
Tonight I'm working on the book out of faith too. I'm a little tired from staying up too late last night (Dreamgirls! Worth it!), I'm a little discouraged that I'm still hearing my voice jump into a bellow with the girls even after a week of Randy's patient help with them. So I work on the parts of the book that take less concentration .. organizing and transcribing letters, looking up locations on Mapquest, transcribing the tapes. I'm working on faith that I will be making something today that will be needed and necessary in the project tomorrow. The faith that my work has purpose.
It's the faith that keeps you going when the days with the girls seem full of pointless, aimless play, punctuated with their shoving and screaming matches.
"MINE!" "Nora, give me the horse! Mommy, she said it was hers!" "Girls, no screaming! Separate!"
The faith helps me hold on to the idea that they are learning at every moment right now and my presence, close and reliable, gives them the confidence and peace that makes that learning possible.

Friday, December 29, 2006

End of December

They hug in the bathtub, giggling. Will they be best friends? When will they start to discuss Mommy's strange yelling? Somebody said the toughest time for sibling rivalry is when they are 10 and 13. Worse than now? When Nora tears at Mia's hair?

At Whole Foods, they both want to drive the tiny child carts and it's a demolition derby, both careening down the aisles, Nora bumping her cart into the back of Mia's legs, making her cry. I maintain control, even when I'm paying and I realize I have forgotten the milk, the one thing we came for. They put all the groceries on the belt, reaching up over their heads to place the yogurt, the grapes, on the ledge. They sit on the low racks with the dog food bags while I pay. I'm so proud.

Then they reward me, after Whole Foods, after the Evanston Library, by going to nap at 3:30 and not waking. Nora sleeps straight through to morning, Mia wakes when Randy comes up to bed at 9:30. She's groggy, swaying, as we undress her at the top of the stairs. She stands naked between us, yawning as we help her into her diaper and princess nightgown. She's half our height, the distillation of everything beautiful and pure that is in Randy and me.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Happy Holiday

Out of the blue, Mia asks me, "Who took care of you when you were a little girl?"
We're eating yogurt at 10 in the morning. We call it second breakfast, three hours after the bowls of cereal, a couple of hours before lunch. It's a sunny Christmas Eve.
I stop for a second to flip through the possible answers I could offer her. The long story? The saddest story? The simplest?
"Well, I had my mommy, then Aunt Ruth took care of me."
"Who's Aunt Ruth?"
"Grandma Ruth."
"Oh," says Mia. I think she's satisfied. She's four. Her feet don't touch the ground when she sits on the kitchen chair. She is as old as I was when . . . What comparison do I make? The saddest one? She is as old as I was when the search for my parents was called off? No, today, I will make the simplest comparison. She is as old as I was once. But I am not four any longer.
It is her life in this room, in this house, not just mine. This is her Christmas, as well as mine. My Christmas may be a complicated tangle of the difficult past, the cherished past, the lucid and luminous now and the hopeful, shining future, but her Christmas is today. With jumping around to the manic Polar Express soundtrack, sunshine, dressing up as an angel for services at dusk, homemade mini pizzas for dinner and chocolate fondue for dessert.
She will have challenges to work through today. Resisting the urge to pinch the bulges in the stockings. Trying not to nibble on the gingerbread house. Remembering to place the snowman stamp ink-side-up on the table. Playing with her little sister without hitting.
My job today is to guide her through this Christmas maze of fun and mishaps and broken ornaments and tears, but not to lead her too near my own dark corners. Perhaps, if I let her, my daughter may just lead me to a place near the tree where the light spills in from the front window and we can love today fully, together.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Park in the Dark

The snow is gone. It's four o'clock before I chase down the girls to get socks and shoes on their kicking feet and coats on their twisting bodies. My brother calls as they are standing by the back door, the caller ID says BDGT INN MOTEL. He owes some guy some money, I have to interrupt him as he starts his story to say, "Listen, Ron, can you call me back in an hour? I really need to get the girls outside for a few minutes before it gets dark."

"No problem," he says quickly and I'm anxious that he won't call back, and add, "I really want to talk to you. Call me back."

"Okay, talk to you later."

We call it Purple Park because the house closest to the park is painted violet, with an even deeper shade on the trim. Their garden is a folk art gallery, with blue bottles on the tips of a tiny fruit tree, a deep koi pond. A tiny cowgirl-themed trailer named "Little Sis" is parked way in the back. Crispy dried Chinese lantern pods glow with no more luminescence than their orange color in the twilight. Art installations among the plants rotate through the seasons, a six-paned window frame hanging between two trees, a signpost giving the mileage to Ireland, Grandma's, the downtown coffee shop.

I watch the girls play, count the sparrows roosting high above in branches that are black against the sky. Seventy black huddling, chatting birds. The girls run madly in the chill. Is it Nora's lack of a nap that gives her this happy frenzy? Or have we escaped something debilitating and hope-stalling in the stale heated air of the house?

Mia asks us, "Is Christmas the next day? Is it tomorrow yet?" There are so many little happinesses coming up, parties at school and Randy's work. She even cried real tears one night, "I want it to be Christmas now!"

Here is where I can discuss myself as a child with language, with a shared history with my own mother. For it is the acquiring of the concept of time that distinguishes Mia's development now. Now, in these last days when she is still sharing my experience. In January, she will move on and have more time with her mother than I did. She'll no longer be my little glimpse into the past, my little Petri dish? My little time machine? I don't mean to unfairly project myself onto her experience .. frankly, I rarely recognize myself in her .. well, except for at the end of the Christmas party, after Santa's departure, when she danced around his chair on a sort of improvised stage and called out to her audience, "Now there will be a show," then danced in her hoppy, jumping un-self-conscious way that barely registers that an audience is watching, but exists solely for us. Hmmm. . . . Is that like a writer who resists publishing?

When it comes time to discuss religion, if we are to avoid the passive and dreadful "we're nothing," that could easily, lazily come out of inaction, then I need to simply say what I, and hopefully, if it is a worthwhile and worthy belief, we, believe. Not just what I doubt or find impossible to believe. I can imagine looking at them with joy and saying simply, "I believe that this life is all we get. So every day is absolutely precious." Nora can climb up the two round metal rails to reach the sliding platform now. And just this week she started pushing herself off to slide down the one with a double curve, giggling.

I can say "I believe that every night a child is born is holy."

Friday, December 1, 2006

First Snow

First snow and it's a doozy. Inches of wet white that fell the tall linden whose branches filled the view from our front windows. Her rings showed she was at least twenty years old; was it the drought two years ago or this year's wet that weakened her? Her trunk had leaned gracefully, but the forestry guy from the village said that you could tell from her upright top branches that she had done so safely for years. I looked out to marvel at her covered in snow as soon as I woke, then came back to the window moments later to find her down in the street. Mia cried, Nora stared.
On beautiful summer days the five block walk to a playdate at Jane's house can seem too daunting with the kids, but today's fresh fall called out for plunging into the wonderland. Soft snow delineates every delicate bare branch. I pulled Nora in the small red sled and Mia walked the half mile to, then from, Aidan's house. Mia fell face down in the snow to make her snow angels, licked at the tiny piles of cold white on pine boughs, broke off icicles to show me.
Nora shut down in the round capsule of the plastic sled. She was held in place by the high sides, her feet out in front of her. She hugged her stuffed Siamese Boo and bent her head down to shelter her face from the still falling cold flakes. She didn't struggle, didn't move, even when I jerked her over the icy boulder fields left by the plows or left her for a minute on the sidewalk to run across the intersection and carry her sister across the deep streams of slush.
We walk in the streets for a block or two but I'm frightened, even on this eerily quiet traffic day. I have visions of incautious SUV's, of locked tires, miscalculations. Is this what connects me to other mothers in a sorority of perpetual anxiety? Or do I belong to a fringe that dares to go farther, to a darker place, to a more vivid imagining? Where I hear my screams. I shake my head, come back to this moment and haul the sled over the curb back toward the sidewalk.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

First Overnight Away from the Kids

I've spent nights away from the girls, so has Randy. We just hadn't been away together. Until November. We prepared Mia, telling her we would have breakfast with her one day and dinner with her the next. We would only miss one bedtime, just like on date nights we've had. And if she was frightened in the nights, Jocelyn would be here.
Here's a stunningly obvious lesson I have only just figured out – when we assure them of our continuous presence, when we say we will come back soon and we will always come back, we do this for their well-being and peace of mind. Reality and possibility are not important to a four year old. Constant and abiding love is.