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Archive for May 2010

The Shape of the World

I’ve been holding on to this installment of the American Life in Poetry project in my inbox for some time now–from back in September of last year. I was so moved by the picture of hard work, of changing the landscape, of observing the motion of change. I just couldn’t let go of it, but I also didn’t know quite what to do with it.

My life is undergoing some changes right now. (Aren’t all our lives?) I hope to share more over the next several weeks, but at the moment, so many things are in that frustrating state of transition that I can barely breathe. Transition is incredibly uncomfortable. In the vernacular of Ms. Woloch’s poem, that ill-defined process of going from chunks of rock to dust somewhere between the old place of concrete and the new place of re-formed earth is frightening to watch–and to live. I like for things to be settled. I like to know what’s going on, what’s going to happen, where I stand. In real life, that’s not always possible. What do you do?

The best course revealed itself with another reading of this poem as I was clearing out the cobwebs in Mac Mail. The simple thought of changing the shape of the world with each single motion seemed powerful. In the seemingly powerless state of changing circumstances, my old friend diligence brings comfort and purpose. I want it now. I want it done. I want it really with as little effort and discomfort as possible. But, in reality, not much change happens that way, does it? The diligent and steady movement toward change may be sweaty, but it works. Simple and consistent–even faithful–acts affect change. They affect change at a pace that is manageable. With each blow to the hardened concrete or the bumpy ground to create flattened space, I grow more and more comfortable with the new form of my life. I’m more and more able to embrace the new terrain. And, I’m more and more capable of tilling it into new fertile ground. Diligent acts. They change the shape of the world. And, they change the shape of the world again.

American Life in Poetry: Column 236
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006

Cecilia Woloch teaches in California, and when she’s not with her students she’s off to the Carpathian Mountains of Poland, to help with the farm work. But somehow she resisted her wanderlust just long enough to make this telling snapshot of her father at work.

The Pick

I watched him swinging the pick in the sun,
breaking the concrete steps into chunks of rock,
and the rocks into dust,
and the dust into earth again.
I must have sat for a very long time on the split rail fence,
just watching him.
My father’s body glistened with sweat,
his arms flew like dark wings over his head.
He was turning the backyard into terraces,
breaking the hill into two flat plains.
I took for granted the power of him,
though it frightened me, too.
I watched as he swung the pick into the air
and brought it down hard
and changed the shape of the world,
and changed the shape of the world again
.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Reprinted from When She Named Fire, ed., Andrea Hollander Budy, Autumn House Press, 2009, by permission of Cecilia Woloch and the publisher. The poem first appeared in Sacrifice by Cecilia Woloch, Tebot Bach, 1997. Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

oh happy day . Rabbit Trails

Little Drummer Boy and I saw this little long-eared guy in the driveway this week. We’ve been spying him around the neighborhood for several weeks, particularly in the side lawn across the street. When we saw him hop across the concrete, we were glued to the living room glass. I scrambled to get the camera and to keep LDB from bounding out the door to get closer to him. Without any startling movements from us, the rabbit munched for a few minutes on our grass and the dandelions. Then, he hopped to the neighbor’s yard and out of site. Little Drummer Boy raced to the porch to see him again, but he was gone. I’ve been thinking about the little guy ever since.

In trying to narrow down this week’s Oh Happy Day gratitude project report, my mind keeps wandering back to the bunny on the lawn. For some reason, getting to see something so common, but so special, in our own front yard stuck with me. He’s inserted himself into my week quite often. So, I suppose I’m thankful for him and some of the random thoughts he’s inspired–gratitude gifts from the rabbit in our driveway.

I’m thankful for large lots. At least the lots of the houses around our neighborhood. It’s so nice to see green space and the life it inspires and attracts. Spring settles in with a renewed awareness and interest in this greenscape–the buds and blossoming it produces. That life is often contagious. Something about the living relief from pavement and hard edges brings relief to my spirit, a raveling of the edges that may have hardened in my thinking.

I’m thankful for nature’s playfulness displayed right in my own front yard. The newness and continued thriving–the hopping–of bunnies right before my eyes is a welcomed sight. It mimics the jumping and hopping and running so often displayed within my walls and in virtually every available outdoor space as well. It’s a joy to take our cues from the random acts of nature’s flora and fauna and just play. Without wondering why. Without keeping time. Without knowing the score.

I’m thankful for green pastures. They get a bad rep sometimes, but I’m thankful for the ability to see greener pastures. Who knows why the rabbit crossed the road? Why he crossed the concrete to choose one patch of grass over another? But, I’m all for recognizing the difference between green pastures and concrete. A conversation with a friend a few weeks ago reminded me that we sometimes have to discipline ourselves to value the greener pasture, to strive for the higher ground, to seek the better options. Especially when we’ve learned to subsist in the pavement.

I’m thankful for chasing. Little Drummer Boy’s urge to fling open the door and swing back the screen to chase after this wonderful rabbit was automatic. He does it with birds. He does it with dandelion parts. He and Bug and Baby Girl so easily follow after the spectacular. They haven’t learned to restrain themselves or limit themselves or question it. They haven’t learned to worry that they might scare it away. I so envy that full-hearted chase at times.

I’m thankful for weeds. For all their prolificness, they are at least a sign of fertile ground. The rest is all in the cultivating.

I’m thankful for zoom. With the help of technology, I was able to stand in the living room and get a close-up view (and memory) of the bunny gracing us with his presence. It was a perspective I couldn’t have gotten otherwise. There is a similar refreshing opportunity when we choose to reduce the distance between our hearts and the things and people that matter to us. It’s sometimes a scary process, but a special blessing to draw closer. To adjust our focus and see with fresher eyes the situations that are causing frustration or creating impatience. To look past what is meaningless or distracting. To choose to embrace what we love. To choose to lay aside what holds us back.

Diligence

Spring in Mississippi is so fun. In a week’s span (or less) we might experience the gamut of 90 degrees to 40 degrees and all the breezy, sunny, partly cloudy weather-joy in between. While it sometimes wreaks havoc on my sinus cavities, I can still say that Spring in Mississippi is so fun. May is usually very flirtatious with Summer. It flirts with the Magnolia tree in my front yard, too. The evergreen leaves are with us year-round, but the white velvet flowers tend to signal for me the wishy-washy transition of Spring to Summer around these parts. As Spring pulls up a chair and the days get warmer and longer, the magnolia pods begin to open. I’ve been anticipating the event for a few weeks from the front porch swing.

In typical early May fashion, just last week I noticed the first blooms opening near the top of the tree where the sunshine hits most readily. Slowly the ones closer to the ground feel the pull of the heightening sun and begin to unwrap as well. I’ve been watching one particular bloom carefully for the last few days. It’s on the lowest branch on the north side of the tree–one of the few growing right in gazing distance of curious eyes and inquisitive noses. This bloom started small and tightly held as they all do. Slowly it’s been pulling away from the branch, reaching higher. And, it’s been getting whiter with each motion. Yesterday morning I noticed it at it’s plumpest posture so far, and I wondered if the intricate yellow stamens might make an appearance today.

By the time we made it home from Little Drummer Boy’s preschool “graduation” (hark!) last night, the daylight was almost gone. But, I still had my eye on that bloom. It had slowly opened throughout the day to a tulip-shaped cup. We were almost there. I didn’t get to photograph it before the darkness arrived, but I was eager to see it this morning. In an amazing twelve hours, that velvety cup of Southern goodness had completely opened, and through some crazy midnight wind gust or cardinal in flight, it had already begun to drop some of it’s pink-tipped stamens into the waiting petals. Life happens quickly with the magnolia.

The scent of a magnolia flower is fresh. It has a pungeantly clean smell to me — a sweet and lemony fragrance that seems untouched by a botanist’s manipulation. When the blooms open, you don’t have to stand very close to sense the strength of that scent–to feel the place from which it comes. The magnolia is a plant of my “place.” An environment so familiar to me that the blooms sometimes go unnoticed despite their glaring whiteness against dark green leaves and their powerful fragrance. But, I’ve been waiting for this one for some reason. I wanted to see inside of it, to see again what it was made of.

The slow and diligent process of blooming is inspiring. It is patient, but intent. It is subject to wind and weather, but resilient. With encouragement from the sunlight, the bloom slowly and methodically unwraps itself from a tightly wound cocoon. As I’ve written before, it reveals it’s core in that process.

That blooms are bent on opening is a confusing endeavor at times, given the fact that the flowers so easily fade away. But the magnolia’s diligence is perhaps most perplexing. This delicate flower fades to brown and petals fall away rather quickly by blooming standards. They don’t tarry in the elements for long. They bruise easily with the slightest touch of a person or some other ambassador of nature. Soon the stamens released into the petals’ cradle will be scattered by breezes or birds or beetles or boys. It won’t maintain its pristine white for long if plucked from the tree–only a matter of hours really. Yet, I’ve read that Magnolia fossils have been found that date the tree to the time of the dinosaurs. For all its vulnerability to bruising and brevity, this tree–this flower–has staying power.

There is a precious quality to the magnolia. Something valued and worthy of anticipation, even in this native land where it is so prolific. Perhaps it is its delicacy, its subtlety, its brief brush with the world that makes it seem so valuable. And, its unqualified diligence to expose that worth, even if only for a few moments is even more coveted. As I think about my own growth, my own life changes and my own exposure to the face of the sun, I’m recognizing some lessons from the magnolia. To remain hidden and covered is easier. To allow life’s wind and weather to deter or confine the process of flourishing. A slow–perhaps even defiant–method of diligence despite any bruising the stuff of life may offer is sometimes required to reveal that hidden amazement, that hidden desire to connect with those around me, those hidden gifts waiting to be given. The revelation is precious, no matter how briefly it is uncovered. But, as precious and revered as the open petals are, I’m learning that the greater rarity is the diligence. The persistence. The insistence. A thing all the more precious to seek. All the more precious to possess.

“The precious possession of a man is diligence.” (proverbs 12:27)

Motherhood and the Art of Celebration

“You have in store an outpouring of one of God’s greatest blessings on Earth–the joys of the gift of a child.”

My mother wrote that prediction in a book she gave me for my first Mother’s Day as a mother. I was blessed enough to be able to spend the holiday this year with both my mother and my children. And, as it so often happens, the day played out with Mama spending most of it serving me. Mothers are remarkable creatures, indeed. As you may have surmised from last week’s posts, that first Mother’s Day holiday for me came just a few days after Little Drummer Boy was born. I was still reeling from the sheer joy and wonder of actually being able to see and touch him. Mama was right. Being a mother to LDB, Squiggle and Baby Girl has been the most soul-changing, incredible, challenging, rewarding, frustrating, amazing, exhausting and joyful experience of my life. All at the same time. I’m sure most mothers would say the same thing. It’s the nature of the job. When Little Drummer Boy was born, I remember feeling so unprepared, but I sort of fell into the role led by my love for this incredible little human before me. And my mother helped.

Mama stayed with me for several weeks after Little Drummer Boy was born, as she did with each of my gifts. She was on-hand to offer support and to help with the requisite diaper-changing, bathing, answering of questions, sleeplessness and general cooking and cleaning. That practical service was much needed, of course, but she helped me in ways she probably never realized. And, it started long before Little Drummer Boy’s birth.

As a child, I remember my mother talking to me. I remember her reading books like Are You My Mother? and admonishing me to put my own book away at bedtime as I grew older. I remember her asking me every afternoon about what I did that day and listening to the answers. I remember her giving me time. I remember her baking cookies and decorating them. I remember her putting money in a small envelope in the cabinet for our vacation. I remember her planting violets and marigolds and looking at wallpaper and sewing patterns. I remember creamed tuna on toast with English peas. I don’t ever remember sharing a negative word about Mama with anyone else, not even during those teenage years. There was just something wrong about it, something of a betrayal of her endless effort on my behalf that kept me from falling into that all-too-common mindset of growing up. Perhaps it was because I grew up as an only child. As such, I spent a lot of time around grown-ups, mainly my mother and father. The enjoyment, conversation, togetherness and anticipation of family time was ingrained in me at a very young age. Somehow Mama instilled in me a love of spending time together.

In all these mundane and daily experiences, I remember Mama’s ability to elevate the commonplace to the level of celebration. I’m not sure that was really her conscious and well-conceived intention, but I’ve always felt that the art of celebration was–and is–her gift. I grew up and came of age knowing that paying attention to the joy of life’s daily experience was important to her. Knowing that celebration itself is important. Knowing that it can be a way of life, if you’re just willing to make it so. Beyond her cooking ability, her penchant for gardening, her prowess as a seamstress, and all the other womanly and motherly traits she possesses, that skill of celebration–that discipline–is the one that rises to the surface this Mother’s Day. It has colored a thousand other experiences for me. It is the chief lesson I have sought to incorporate into my own home. It is the mother I want to be.

Far from being a formula, as I think about those memories of childhood and the approach my mother took to homekeeping and mothering and celebration, some themes emerge–lessons I’ve noticed that characterize her way of living, her way of raising me and even her way of being a grandmother now. It’s these lessons my Mama taught me about being a mom, about keeping a home and living a life that I strive to put into practice, just as she did.

Effort is worth making.
It is. I grew up knowing that if something needed to be done, my Mama could do it. And, she would do it. She wouldn’t let anything get in her way. No setback, no empty jar of something or another, no shortage of fabric or icing or whatever requirement for the latest task would deter her from making a project be what we wanted it to be. At age 40 with my own mothering experiences, I now understand that in all actuality, Mama couldn’t do everything. But, there remains a common sense of ingenuity and creativity that was fueled by her insistence that something be special. It was her necessity. Something she wasn’t willing to give up. And she made it happen. Through her own demonstration, Mama taught me that common experiences are worth the extra effort. I don’t mean that things were always perfect or that our home was an issue of Martha Stewart Living. No, we lived a real life. But, Mama put equal effort into making both Beef Wellington and Cheesy Dogs seem special. It was a gift to the people around the table, whether they recognized it or not. Whether it meant staying up late until the turkey was done, chasing down red hots for snowman cookie eyes and buttons, or taking the seam out three times to be sure it would lie flat, I grew up knowing my mother would put in whatever effort was required. I want my babies to know that too.

Little things are important.
They are. My parents were both public school educators. Mama taught third grade. With those professions in Mississippi (or anywhere, really) I’m sure their budgets were on the meager side of adequate. But, I never wanted for anything. Anything. I’m sure there were things and experiences that I missed out on, but I never knew it. I never knew of a time when I didn’t have an abundance. I attribute that overflow to my mother’s ability to make little things important. I didn’t need big things. The small details were given greater significance because of Mama’s attention to them. And because we experienced them together, while giggling and talking and sharing. I came to appreciate the unfinished doll house at Christmas rather than the fully-outfitted one–because I had the fun of Mama helping me choose our own wallpaper for the tiny rooms, sewing the tiny curtains for the plastic windows and painting the front door before hanging the tiny wreath on it. I came to appreciate that we rarely had a meal without placemats–because they just changed creamed tuna on toast and cheesy dogs somehow. I came to appreciate the extra ruffle sewn on a pillow case or the seat cushion covered in coordinating fabric or the bow added to the standard lampshade. These were the little things that made a house a home, and a home our home. I hope I can give my babies that same abundance.

Memories matter.
They do. Mama kept things. Whether small trinket gifts from her third-grade students, the churn top that belonged to her grandmother, the last remaining (albeit chipped) cup and saucer from her wedding “everyday” tableware or some framed “artwork” I made in preschool, these artifacts adorned our home in some fashion or another. One thing I learned from my mom through her tendency toward not throwing “stuff” away is that things are things, but they also often hold the memories and impressions of experiences. They are tangible evidence of joy and struggle and the full gamut of the life we partake. The value of “things” doesn’t necessarily rest merely in their shape or the material of which they are constructed, but in the memories they hold of significant times and places and people. Through Mama’s celebration bent, I learned that traditions and keepsakes are how we bring experiences forward to the next ones. They are how we string experiences together. Telling stories, keeping reminders, and displaying the artifacts of our experiences can teach us the context from which we come and offer a framework for the places we’re going. I hope I can move those memories forward with my children.

Above all the lessons in the art of celebration imparted by my mother, perhaps the one most poignantly seen even today is that motherhood is serving. And, it’s a lifelong endeavor. Mama never fails to fold laundry while at my home or to read a book to a grandchild. She has taught me as much in my adult life as any other time that mothering is giving. Time, money, energy, effort, wisdom. Motherhood is giving–even when it hurts. Giving when it’s frustrating, when it’s painful. Giving. When it’s hard. And as I watch her example and strive to put that particular lesson into practice, I’m finding that motherhood has a unique ability to pull from a deep well of love-fueled resources. It finds the ability to give when it seems there is nothing to give.

For me, these are profound lessons for motherhood gleaned from my life’s best demonstration. And, oddly enough, they happen to be pretty good lessons for life beyond motherhood as well.

Thank you, Mama.


Oh Happy Day 050710: A Time Piece

Hello, Friday! It’s the day that marks the end of the work week and the beginning of the weekend (at least it does for me at about 5:30pm CST.) For the latest installment of my Oh Happy Day! Gratitude Project, I’ve been thinking about marking time.

Last weekend, I took three watches to the store to install new batteries. I kept forgetting the task for several weeks, and each day at work I’ve been completely lost without the wrist-bound vehicle for marking time. I found myself glancing to the upper right corner of Kermit (my trusty laptop, for the unindoctrinated) repeatedly throughout the days just to orient myself. It’s interesting how much we come to incorporate that simple task into our daily routine. There is something special about keeping time, about acknowledging its passage. It orients us. It gives us context. And, although it may appear to speed up or slow down depending on our activities, it’s very consistency puts our own context in parallel with the rest of the world’s.

So, I have three watches. Two of them have been without batteries for a while and lost to me because of my annoying tendency to procrastinate. (Evidence that time and I need to come to an understanding, I know. But, that’s another post.) When the third battery wound to a complete halt, it served as my motivation to act–a few weeks later of course. Sigh. One watch is a quirky Minnie Mouse version I purchased during my first summer living in Las Vegas, NV back in the day. Minnie is sporting her typical babydoll dress and flirtatious pose in silver on a plain black background. The glass of the face is faceted to provide just enough sparkle as the light hits both to make me smile and to hinder my ability to focus on Minnie’s big hand all at the same time. My second watch was a gift from my Mom and Dad for my 30th birthday. It’s a demure and very professional-looking black leather and silver Ann Klein version with no numbers and a slight pin-stripe face. The watch that broke the camel’s back (so to speak) is a lovely Swiss Army Victorinox stainless steel linked variety that the Queen gave me in celebration of my 10-year anniversary at the day job. We often choose carefully–and people choose carefully for us–the instruments for marking our time.

It’s been an eventful week in my relationship with time. You may have read in the essays about birthdays and anniversaries I’ve been celebrating. Topping my gratitude list, I’ve been thankful for the joy of keeping time, of marking events in celebration. I’m realizing that time is celebration-worthy. So often in our striving to mark it this way or that way, we think of time as our enemy, and the keeping of it as a cumberson task that reminds us of how little we’ve done or how little of it we have remaining. We hate waiting. We resist moving forward. We’re disgruntled with looking back. We’re intimidated by looking ahead. We are even dissatisfied with this moment. With every passing day I mark, I want to resist this notion.

There is something very God-inspired about keeping time. The Bible’s account of Creation draws our attention to it with every action. “There was evening and there was morning, one day.” “There was evening and there was morning, a second day.” And so it goes. In the inception of time, the marking of it began. The commemoration of evening and morning. The capping off of one time period to usher in the next. The acknowledgement of time’s passage was ingrained from those very first moments.

Having just celebrated my first-born’s fifth birthday, the 2-year anniversary of EyeJunkie and a hundred other significant and more ordinary occurences evident in the passage of time, I find I’m grateful for the sheer joy of marking it. The joy of remembering, of remembering milestones. The joy of evaluating, of finding the value from seasons. The joy of even having time, of experiencing this life in sequence. The joy of celebrating time spent, invested. Together and apart. This marking defines a thousand starting points and perhaps just as many ending points and all the markers along the way. The counting down of hours and the counting up of years.

It’s true that this moment is all we have. We have memories, both bitter and sweet, of time passed. We have hopes and dreams of the time ahead of us. But, we are living THIS moment. If there is anything to be gained from the celebration of milestones, the marking of important events and significant (or even just regular) time periods, it is that this moment deserves an audience.

So, today, I’m sitting with attention. I’m moved by the action in front of me. I’m standing in an ovation. I’m offering applause. I’m so grateful to have put THIS moment on my calendar.

Oh Happy Day!

The Reason Behind the Reason

Today marks my two-year anniversary as a blogger. What a journey! This week, I’ve been thinking about the EyeJunkie adventure as it relates to my 2010 theme word, courage. Over the last few months, several friends and commenters on the site have made reference to openness and the courage required to express thoughts so transparently in this particular medium. Can you say world wide web? Emphasis on world. While I don’t necessarily see myself as courageous (hence the year-long posting pursuit), I do recognize that sharing one’s thoughts and life in any authentic way with the internet is not for the timid. It’s intimidating. It’s scary. And, yes, I think it can be a little presumptuous. I mean, what do you care, right?

I’ve actually been amazed by how much you care. By how much credence you’ve given to my sometimes haphazard thoughts. I know my own time constraints and schedule, and I’ve been amazed at how ready you’ve been to carve out however brief a space in yours for this blog. I’ve been honored by the comments–both here and on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve been inspired by how many of you have taken the time to send me a personal email about something you’ve read or seen here.

Still, courage? Contemplating whatever courage might be required to enter the blogosphere and the daunting task of interjecting my voice into the fray has me thinking about the reason I started this “thing” in the first place. And, the reason behind the reason I’ve realized since.

I had been contemplating this adventure for some time before I actually began. I’ve always enjoyed writing and journaling. This particular medium seemed (from an observer’s position) to be the perfect combination of both. I was pregnant with Baby Girl at the time and swimming in a sea of toddler antics, dirty diapers and waning second trimester stamina. I was immersed in the usual schedule of home-making and nursery preparations. I was keeping my head above water with a healthy design schedule at my day job. And, I was realizing that, for the first time in my life, I had virtually abandoned any personal creative pursuit.

For those of you who haven’t read all the fine print, my day job is with an advertising agency where I am a graphic designer. So, I use my creativity for a living. However, I’ve always somehow needed an outlet for exploring ideas in a more personal way. Whether through painting or poetry or book-making, expressing myself–usually through some combination of words and pictures–has always fueled energy and creativity in other areas of my life.

It began to dawn on me as I made it through the considerable energy drain of a third pregnancy paired with two toddlers that my children didn’t yet know that creative person, that writer, that painter, that maker of things. Somehow through complacency or busyness or sheer exhaustion, I had forsaken those pursuits. Then, I began to notice this odd on-line medium called blogging. I began to see this type of outlet as a way to incorporate those creative tendencies back into my life without the less than kid-friendly materials and space required for something like the watercolor painting or collage I was prone to. In early 2005, my parents gifted me with an exquisite little MacBook named Kermit. He opened the doors of reality on that little idea that had been germinating. I began brainstorming and making notes and sketches for how a personal blog might actually flesh out. You can read the evolution of “eyeJunkie” and the “adventures in paying attention” theme another time, but suffice it to say that one domain name, a web hosting account, and one WordPress download later, this blog was born.

“Hello, world.” That statement was enough to intimidate me for sure. It was the title of the test post WordPress Dude includes in every download of the application. It chrystalized the nature of this experiment pretty clearly–my words, my voice broadcast to the world for all manner of internet-goers to partake. Yikes.

My voice.

As I plugged along with writing and posting, EyeJunkie certainly filled the creative bill. It helped me accomplish that goal of a creative pursuit. Those readers who have been around for any length of time can attest that I’ve subjected the Junksters to all kinds of experiments and hare-brained ideas–graphics popping up here and there, series starting and fizzling, run-on sentences and fragments abounding. But, something else beyond a basic creative outlet has emerged for me in these two years.

Recently, I was writing some thoughts (something about underwear purchases or chili… don’t even ask) in an email to a friend who commented… “this sounds like an EJ post.” Wait a minute. EyeJunkie posts have a sound. That stuck. The comment made me realize the reason behind the reason that this blogging adventure matters to me. I’ve noticed a voice emerging. Mine. A consistency and willingness to speak. A thoughtful, but emphatic tone. An amalgum of emotion framed in a single sound. The sound of my own voice.

Through the months of blogging, I recognized that I had been in a period of my life for some time when I felt that my voice was being drowned out–perhaps by difficult relationships, distractions and interruptions, the absorption of care-giving and kid-loving, dailyness and just plain busyness. I found that my own voice was hushed and difficult to discern–even to myself–above (or below) the din. Through the act of writing and exposing thoughts to the world regardless of who may or may not be reading, I was finding my voice again. I realized again that I had something to say, and this venue gave me the inclination to say it. To find the courage to speak it. In my own voice.

Is transparency in this world brave? Perhaps. Is writing an authentic blog essay courageous? I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve put courage into this body of nonsense as much as it’s put courage into me. Writing an EyeJunkie worthy of your attention has encouraged me to speak. In my own voice. If the question of courage is “where can I find it?”, for sure I’ve found at least a little within this cyber space. Thank you for listening to that process.

In a Wildflower

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

(William Blake)

These first four lines are likely the most recognized of William Blake’s much longer rhyming treatise on nature’s lessons and need for protection alongside human nature’s frailties and inescapable tethering to creation. It’s from the poem, “Auguries of Innocence.”  To me, it has always been the colossal urging to pay attention to the details. It’s so easy to miss the longevity of a single moment.

Little Drummer Boy and Bug have taken to bringing me “prizes” in the form of wildflowers (and sometimes grass, sticks or the occasional lizard) found around our lawn. They are quickly coming to realize that mommies always love flowers. This knowledge has something to do with the squeals I offer them in return every time.

They each presented half of this bunch to me last week and were eager to see the blossoms find a home in my “flower glass.” They seemed satisfied with this spice jar repurposed to showcase their treasure. And a treasure it is. It’s been way too long since I’ve buried my face in a mound of clover blossoms to enjoy their sweet and tender fragrance — it is summertime’s rite of passage in Mississippi. Last Wednesday, I was all too eager to poke my nose into the center of this bouquet at the insistence of the boys. “It smells!” they said with renewed discovery. It was a discovery for me as well. I had almost forgotten that these ever-present reminders of the grass’ need for mowing actually have a scent. How often I miss the sacred place found in something simple like a collection of white tiny-petaled “weeds.” How often I breeze past the pursuit of these treasures by pudgy, dirt-stained fingers just to get inside the door at the end of the day. How often I fail to embrace and really soak up the infinity of that moment as these prizes move from their sweaty palms to mine.

Yes, I’d like to get back in touch with that little girl who didn’t mind burying her head in a field of clover. In the mean time, although it wasn’t quite the same as lying facedown in the field of green shapes, to bury my head in each of their little bodies in a thank you embrace was most definitely heaven.

First Fruits

Little Drummer Boy, my firstborn, turned five yesterday. You can all share a collective sigh of amazement with me, and possibly pass the tissues. He’s my firstborn. And he’s five years old. It’s taking some getting used to. In August he will start “big school” and launch a whole new trajectory of independence. As with every stage, he’s forging the way Bug and Baby Girl will follow all too quickly.

Whether we like it or not, firstborns seem to prime the pump by virtue of their very newness. They are the first fruit of anything (or anyone) else to come. LDB set the scene for pregnancy, childbirth, infancy, and all the developmental stages beyond. He christened me in all those areas. I was wide-eyed in wonder most of the time and hyper-sensitive to each nuance. He formed the assumptions upon which those same experiences with his siblings to follow were based. While I’ve resisted the urge to compare and contrast, it happens. His has been the benchmark by which all their stages have been measured — not in terms of good or bad, but in the way of expectations and the anticipation of growth or change. His has been the benchmark of change in myself, the transformation of woman to mother and all the complicated soul-immersion that title entails.

I named him Little Drummer Boy in this venue because during his toddler years, he always seemed to follow the beat in his own head, and he pressed anything and everything around him into the service of articulating that syncopation. As he’s grown, he’s become less enamored with the perpetual and all-encompassing trap set, and more involved with the typical car chases, fire emergencies and train adventures in which boys are usually found. However, I still notice his beat. It’s the one heard in his plethora of very distinctive sound effects. It’s the one found in his unending toy sagas where rockets and dinosaurs seem to thicken the plot every time. I have yet to find it in my heart to call him anything shortened for blog-aging purposes. This particular Drummer is and will always be MY Little and Boy as well.

He was born four weeks early, to the day. Little Drummer Boy’s unexpected birth on May 2 came after some minor concerns during the last part of my pregnancy. My doctors’ good care and cautious natures recognized that the risks possible with LDB were minimal, but insisted on consistent sonograms and stress tests to confirm their suspicions. Therefore, I saw lots of pictures of Little Drummer Boy before he was born. Those sonograms were difficult emotionally. The fear in waiting for results each time was inescapable, even though I knew there was likely no need for concern. They were difficult because they made LDB so real. Yes, I knew he was real. I had felt his early movements. But, in seeing his tiny and newly formed body, I fell in love with him. Completely. It changed me. It changed so much about how I saw things. How I saw Little Drummer Boy, how I saw myself and my life, and how I saw the rest of the world. I think I’m only just now getting past that gripping fear of knowing my whole world was wrapped up in this other new person.

Little Drummer Boy offered first glimpses of that wonder of having another human being formed inside me. The most amazing thing I remember about being pregnant with LDB was feeling him move. I so vividly remember that feeling of having him touching me from the inside. It was strange and amazing all at the same time. And, while I wasn’t overly romantic or existential about this unique womanly experience, it was unforgettable. I can also clearly remember that moment when he was out of my belly. There was such a void there. I was empty, but relieved all at the same time. It brought so much joy to hear him cry and see him and hold him in my arms the first time. I remember those feelings with each of my children, but I suppose they were most poignant with Little Drummer Boy. My experiences with Bug and Baby Girl were certainly no less precious or significant, but their births simply had the reality of not being first. The wonder was still incredibly wonderful, only not the wonder of a first “weaving.”

Little Drummer Boy offered me first fruits… The first fruits of watching my very heart sitting outside my body. The first fruits of love that is unquenchable–by the dirtiest of diapers or the loudest shout of “no” or the most frustratingly tearful bedtime. First fruits of wishing I could control the entire world, but knowing I’ll never be able to do that. First fruits of being sure I’ll never know any greater joy than this moment, only to have the next moment surpass it. He offered the first fruits of realizing this other person, this other tiny soul, is totally dependent on me. The first fruits of dreading that day when he’ll be disappointed. First fruits of knowing, as impossible as it seemed during those beginning years, that he would live to make a wrong choice at some point because that’s what humans do. Firstborn sadness of seeing that wrong choice and knowing I’d give him ten thousand other chances to get it right, plus one more. Firstborn fruit is sweet. And bitter. And utterly defying of description, although I’m desperately trying.

When I think about how small Little Drummer Boy was when he was born and how he just covers me now when he sits in my lap, I can’t believe it. I find myself thanking God he still wants to sit in my lap. LDB is a gentle and curious spirit. He has a big vocabulary, loves books, and loves stories–mainly telling them. He always has a story line going on in his head. It incorporates everything he’s interested in at a given moment, so his story is a precious picture of his heart and mind I want to discipline myself to hear with undivided attention. My Little Drummer is very inquisitive, but also very cautious. He is my child who always contemplates before making a move. He doesn’t always do new things very quickly, but he’s a very thoughtful child. He is quick to say “I love you,” perhaps because I tell him so often myself out of sheer necessity in my soul. He says it without being prompted. He often says it first. First fruits from my firstborn. He changed my life.

Little Drummer Boy, my firstborn, turned five yesterday.

Five

Happy Birthday, Little Drummer Boy! You completely changed my life five years ago today. I’ll never be the same, and I’m forever grateful for the simple and amazing gift of you.

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