Transitions

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Photo Credit: Alex Chalkley Photography

I want to stay in this place. I want to sit here and focus on my baby girl.  I want to capture more of her stories in my writing. I want to work through the frustration of nights when she won’t sleep.   I want to remind myself how she hushes me at bedtime so she can sing the songs I’ve taught her.  “Shhh. No. No, Mommy. Top. Top,” she says while holding my cheeks before singing Twinkle Star (as she calls it), the ABC song, My Girl or Stop in the Name of Love... I want to remember how she Koala hugs me and won’t let me put her in her bed. How she chases me in a fit of frustration when I try to leave. How I have to put what feels like 5,000 teddy bears, 3,000 books, and every single blanket in exactly the right place. Angel bear, pink dog, brown dog, and water cup go in her right hand. Pink bear, brown bear, and rabbit go in her left. She must be on her belly. There must be exactly 2 books for her to lay her left cheek on. The big blanket must go first. The mermaid blanket must be on top. Every night we discuss whose turn it is to turn on the fish tank music box.

It’s easy to get lost in this place of nighttime routines and details that pretend to be important because they hold memories that are absolutely the heart of human life on earth. Having love, giving of ourselves, watching the growth of another are exactly the kinds of places in which we are better off being lost if we must be.

At 3 AM she comes to find me. With her doll in its basket she shuffles in and says, “Momma bed.” I half laugh with frustration and exhaustion. Then groan. There is no rest tonight. We mothers, we give our children breath, and with our heartbeats we set its pace. In the darkest of night, we make life safe. Don’t we?

There’s enough in this world for us all to be safe. There’s enough to eat, enough to find peace, enough love, but there’s too much hate. For so many months I’ve looked at this little girl, the one who loves nothing more than to hide on my tummy and curl up under my sweatshirt, the one who at 2 is still learning how to find peace without me. We’ve spent so much of this time battling through the transitions that come with the steps of learning how to sleep. Over these same months I look at the world and know I face the same battles to find peace. I see creeping from the shadows examples of blame and hate. I question if my surroundings are safe. That, in and of itself, scares me because I am her gate. For now, I shape her life. I let in what is safe. I keep out the rest. I lead by example, but she can’t see that yet.

At the top of the stairs and behind a baby gate she stares at me after her nap. Her hair is ruffled. I love her pout. She looks up and through her bangs, but not quite at my face as if to say, “How dare you leave me to sleep and not be there when I wake?”

She wakes up into this world more and more each day. As she grows so must my goals. I am where safe comes from; first in my belly, then on my belly, then as far as I can spread it throughout the world. There lies the leap I have to take. I can’t be lost under the 5,000 teddy bears or the 3,000 books. I can’t get stuck on my next technique to get her to sleep through the night or struck by my endless lack of sleep. These shadows in the world are not the thing of toddler nightmares. They are the broken things that threaten life and peace.

Already she is learning. She practices putting her brother to bed. “Shh,” she says as she softly pats his cheeks. “Go to sleep,” she whispers as she pulls up the sheets. Of course when she does this to me she takes the added step of opening and closing my eyelids to make sure I am asleep.  She is eager to take my place. After all her practicing, she soon will.

This is the world I’m asking her to wake up in; my comfort lies in the fact that I go first. I have no intention of staying a gate. I don’t believe that safe comes from a place where we have to block everything out. I believe safe comes from opening up. So I’ve left this blog, at least for a while. I’m focusing on something bigger- a different way to take care of my kids. You’ll find me at www.comfortea.net writing with a different focus. I need others to see the people I see. I need others to care. For all of my life, on the good days and bad, the difference in my life has always come from kind words from my friends and soon to be ones.  Some check the same demographic boxes as I do. Some grew up like me- in small towns, and then spent years in big cities.  Others don’t seem to share a thing with me; they have different hair and skin color. They spoke a different language first or came from another country. But they all mean something to me. They are so darned interesting. I can’t imagine not knowing them. I can’t imagine not caring about them. I can’t describe the peace they give me. I just don’t see this world of us vs. them. I can’t imagine how anyone could sort us into that. I can’t accept what we’d lose if we did. Because I do believe there is enough room for everything in this world- everything that is- but hate.

I am thankful to have found this place and all of you. I have appreciated your comments, your readership, your blogs. I have benefitted from your stories, advice, and presence. I hope you’ll join me for the new series Tea with Me. I hope you listen to these stories I’ve collected about friends and neighbors. I hope you’ll carry them with you. I hope you’ll care about all of these Americans as you focus on something bigger than those details that pretend to be important, that close gates, and distract us from why we’re all really here.

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Rebuilding

I like the fall. I like the mountains with their red, orange and yellow colors. I like how the days get cold and force you to wear sweaters. I even like those lingering gray days that last until spring when you see mostly branches, and it feels almost lonely as it begs you to stay inside.  But that’s not why we started to have a Halloween party. Four years ago when I looked excessively pregnant and was truly about to deliver we held our fall party on the end unit town house on the last edge of Old Town. I think we realized it was likely the last time our home would be clean and definitely the last time we’d enjoy socializing.

Every year we go through this process of will we or won’t we hold something. One year we skipped it, twice I was pregnant, and on the third I was sure it would be fun. This year we debated. I’m learning with kids how fast the scenery changes from play dates to preschool and even who is around in this transient town. This year we wondered who would come. We changed our perspective a little as we debated the will we or won’t we make it a tradition and began referring to it as our service. We’d laugh as we said it because even from the beginning we knew no one got more from it than us. Still it’s nice to feel like you can do something. It’s easier to take on the hard work when the hard serves more than just you.

So we invited everyone the way my husband does: the neighbors, the old play group, someone who just had their second child and could probably use some warm food, new school friends and someone we saw at church after a long time. I worried the way I do: the floor could be cleaner, the decorations were never unpacked, I botched the caramel apples, I should have made more food.

We bought this house not long after that first party and since then we’ve been rebuilding. We’ve taken out all of the floors, the dining room and kitchen walls and a corner of the basement along with most of the front yard. We have replaced every window and door. We still need a new stove, backsplash in the kitchen, an accent wall in the living room and a functioning master bath. All of these are good reasons to buckle down, work harder, and not welcome in anyone.

Every year I wonder if there’s enough room, but we make the best of our space. We’ve squeeze into corners. We’ve gathered blankets to make space for entertainment outdoors. Somehow we make it work in whatever state the house is in because it isn’t about that. There is something about Halloween. It’s never been my favorite. It’s about death and pretending to be someone you aren’t. That’s not really my thing. I’ve always thought it was a bit creepy. But in this neighborhood it’s this fun evening when everyone is walking around. So in our second year we caught on to the vibe. Sure we put out the candy and we walk around, but we also open the door.

Whether it’s warm or cold, the lights are on and the door is open. There is some soup on the stove. There’s a place to go for people who need one; the ones who find it convenient, the ones who come for us. Every year since we started Halloween has become a reminder of what hard work is for. We aren’t in it alone. We welcome new preschool classmates; old friends from play groups; the neighbor who comes when I call and say, “toddler tells me his chest hurts”, the same ones who once delivered Christmas dinner; the neighbor who has fixed the HVAC and replaced our water heater, the ones who are funny and caring and a whole bunch we want to know more. These people are amazing.  I love this quirky modern, old-fashioned town.

It’s December, two weeks till Christmas, and yet here I am thinking about Halloween. Because I know this next year is a time for rebuilding. It’s going to be immensely hard. This was a week of sickness in our house: a root canal, another ear infection and someone just puked (three times). It’s easy to get overwhelmed. There will be less cookie trays this year. I will be less thoughtful about presents. But we will focus on the right things. This was also the week where the stories from Aleppo threatened to break us. It has been a week or so since the Standing Rock pipeline stalled, not yet answering the question of whether people are worth more in America than oil. The tally is still running in the surge in hate crimes which just inched passed 1,000 in the month since the election.

I’m not an expert in construction, but I’ve been in places like this before. It will hurt; this finding common goals. The tasks will feel endless. There will always be more work to do. When we walk this Earth we must remember to treat every place as our home.  We have the power to rebuild it and we are called to especially when it feels scary or broken.  Details will matter like who we let in the front door, if we leave it open, put something on the stove, find space for all the people, try and ready even the darkest corner. It will matter.  This year amid all the coming deconstruction and all the pain that it can bring, I’ll be thinking about Halloween and the hope that can find us in unexpected places.

Because hope is still the most powerful thing.