Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Outrageous Expectations

Henrietta, in a field by my parents' house, doing her funny little slumped-shouldered, overwhelmed run.
 Last night, as Sam and I put Henrietta to bed, I noticed a pair of silky, light-purple pajama pants on Henrietta's floor. They were handmedowns from cousins, which I had sorted out of her dresser the other day because the elastic waist was shot, and I thought, picking them up to find a place for them, "I should just throw these out."

And my next thought, sponsored by the mean, Pinterest-saturated voice in my head was, "Throw them out?! Are you kidding me? How shamefully wasteful. You really ought to turn them into a pretty little purse for her. Yes, yes, that's it, sew the fabric into a pretty little purse. She'll love it forever. You say you don't have time? Absurd. Sewing them into a purse is really the proper use of resources and time. Just make time for it. It's important. You have to. It won't take long. If you care at all about Henrietta and your finances, you'll do it."

That voice in my head says stuff like this to me all day. About organizing my pantry shelves. About carefully going through my jewelry and repairing what's been broken by Henrietta's enthusiastic touch. About over-the-top things I should do for friends, like sew a quilt with two days notice, or make dozens of fabric snowballs as a birthday gift for a child. I get these ideas all day, these arguably good ideas, but outrageous all the same.

I don't have time to sew the worn out pants into a pretty little purse. Ain't nobody got time for that. And this was where that mean voice made a mistake: it was so absurd I was onto her. I was onto her! And all the other things I had been thinking about my life, all of the other absurd expectations I had issued myself came tumbling down, and even the reasonable ones were called into question.

I'm still working on this. I'm always working on this. Didn't I write about this before? But here I am. Doing what's in front of me, what I have a moment to do, instead of making elaborate plans to do it every day at this time, perfectly, forever. And now I'm going to take a walk, and I'm going to try to just think about that walk around the neighborhood, and I'm not going to think about doing it every day until I can run a marathon, and I'm not going to think about how I really should have made fresh granola yesterday for breakfast while I eat my cold cereal. I'm going to try again to hush that voice and get to work, the work I can actually do. And when the day is over, it will be over. And I will throw out the pair of pants and sit on the couch for a show and a piece of chocolate before I stumble up to bed to sleep and try again.

Henrietta, resting after her funny little overwhelmed run.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Even a Bird

Photo Source.  (We didn't take a single photo. It seemed like taking a picture of a holy moment, or a car accident. So here is a blue jay who is not ours, but is also lovely.)

We recently watched our neighbors--a nice retired couple with chickens and a gorgeous garden--build an elaborate net structure around their bushes to keep birds and squirrels out. It was like a room for their blueberries, made of net. Since then I've seen birds fly into it, glancing off one way or another as the netting pushed back. 

But last evening, as Henrietta and I hung out in the backyard while Sam finished dinner, I realized the bird by the blueberries didn't fly away, though he tried. And then I realized he was somehow inside the structure, flying against it from the inside again and again, getting more frantic each time. 

"Birdie stuck?" Henrietta asked. 

"Birdie stuck," I said. "Let's go tell Hank and Linda." I carried her on my hip and we walked next door and knocked, but no one was home. So we went in and told Sam, and he came out with us to see. 

While Sam stood by the blueberries and Henrietta and I watched from our yard, I looked up the bird on my phone. He was a blue jay. A gorgeous one. His belly looked very white and his wings were brilliant blue, and the pattern of his tail feathers was so pretty that I imagined long lengths of cloth in the same print. I wanted to make a dress from the imagined fabric. I would have worn it to the moon. 

"Birdie stuck," Henrietta told me, her voice concerned. I was concerned, too. We didn't know how to free him. Sam was worried we'd make things worse, that we'd destroy the structure while our neighbors weren't around. We didn't know them well enough to know whether they'd charge us with trespassing or destruction of property. Also, we were concerned that we'd upset the bird so badly that he wouldn't know how to get out. We wished our neighbors would just come home.

And then, before we'd figured out what to do, getting the bird out wasn't so much an option. The blue jay's feet tangled in the netting. He hung upside-down on the wall of the net room, unable to move except to thrash. His black beak was wide open, wider than I've ever seen a bird's beak, and he called and called, his song turned a plea for deliverance. But we couldn't deliver him. With his feet stuck, we really didn't know how to begin.

The next hour or so is a blur. I made call after call, trying to find someone who would care about a blue jay on a Sunday evening and come rescue him. All the while Henrietta tugged on my hand, "Come on, come on," she said. "Birdie stuck. Birdie stuck."

Holding her hand, pacing between the fence so she could see and back to the house so she wouldn't see, I  called an animal rescue place. I called the small animal clinic on campus. I called animal control. I called a family in my ward who has a farm. I talked to a few people who were concerned, but there wasn't anyone to come out. I'm not sure why I cared so much, or why his plight seemed so real to me. But it did. It seemed I knew that feeling. I knew what it meant to have gorgeous wings but tangled feet. 

All my calls made and fruitless, I stood at the kitchen counter and cried. I rested my arms on the countertop and found myself praying for the bird, that the bird would be okay, that his small heart would calm, that his wings would settle, that he'd somehow feel comforted, that we'd know what to do to help him if we could.

Our neighbors still weren't home. We ate dinner with our side door open, watching their driveway. And still, after dinner, they weren't home. Maybe they were out of town, we thought. If someone was going to save the bird, it was looking like we'd have to do it. We couldn't leave him there indefinitely.

We figured it was at least a two-person job. One to hold him and cut him free, one to hold the net open so he could go. But how would we do it with Henrietta around? She was almost as intrigued and worried as we were, but she was tired. She was throwing tantrums, flinging herself on the floor every few minutes to weep at some injustice. I knew that if we went out to save the bird, she'd never let me put her down. 

I don't know how I thought of it exactly, but I texted our friend Dan and asked if he'd be willing or brave enough to come help with a stuck blue jay. His text came back quickly: "Yes, I'll be there as soon as I can."

I took Henrietta up to bath time and bed, and this is my biggest regret: they freed him while I washed her in the tub. I wish I could have seen. Sam says that Dan had worked with birds so he was confident, and made Sam confident, too. Sam says the blue jay was soft in his hands, and he worried he held him too tight while Dan clipped the tangled net with a small pair of scissors. And then, quickly, Sam was just holding the blue jay, wondering what he ought to do. The jay's foot looked slightly injured, but he seemed more or less okay. Would he really be okay? 

Sam told me how it went, and I keep imagining it, the moment I'm most sorry I didn't see: Sam simply opened his hands, and the blue jay took off. The bird tucked his feet. He spread his wings. He took off flying for the trees. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Make It

[First I want to say that I was overwhelmed by your kind responses to my last post. Really, thank you so much for your kindness. That meant the world to me. I continue to feel better, though it's not a straight trajectory by any means. As one of my teachers used to say, We live in hope.]

Sam with the Artist

Henrietta has taken up painting. And coloring. And, just, making things in general. This is exciting, since I've basically been waiting for it since she was born. At three months, I helped her make her first work of art for her dad for Father's Day, but I confess it made her cry. And ever since I've been waiting, waiting, watching other kids her age get into it and trying not to compare. But I totally compared; let's be honest. And she was much more interested in putting the crayons in and out of the box than actually using them, and this made me feel a little panicky.

Painting is An Energetic Dance

So when she suddenly started saying, "Paint! Paint!" I immediately went out and bought more paints and brushes and fat crayons, and now we set her up at the kitchen table pretty regularly so she can get to it. 

I can't help it. I think it's so beautiful. 
And here's my favorite part, the part that makes me feel like I'm witnessing the miracle of life somehow. When we set her up and get the paints out, she says, "Yay! Make it!" She claps her hands. She is so excited to make something, to create. And I forget the dishes and sit there with her, painting with my own very meager skills, and just absolutely glowing with joy. Dark days aside, watching her  make art is the happiest I've been in years. And though I'm more or less obsessed with all of her words, "Yay! Make it!" might be my favorite of her phrases. It's the one I most want to remember and say to myself. Let's make it. Let's do this. Let's make beauty where there wasn't any before.

The Artist paints a "big monster."

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Rotten Vegetables of Hope

Last night I cleaned out our fridge, a task I've been dreading and avoiding for some time, which made it particularly daunting.

I moved swiftly, trying not to think, shoving shriveled red and orange peppers into a garbage bag. I I shoved a package of pale ground turkey and a clamshell of already-cut and now softening butternut squash in the bag, too.

It felt late at night, though it was only eight. Henrietta was winding down, and I was sweaty from cleaning my kitchen while dancing and listening to Taylor Swift. The energy I had begun with had gone, and the mean voice in my head began to turn on me. What a shameful waste of money, the voice said. Look at this nearly full garbage bag full of rotten food! What a failure you are, what a loser. Who do you think you're kidding?

I stood up and shook my head.


Just after the end of classes, about a month ago, I entered the deepest bout of depression I've ever experienced. I don't know how much I'll end up saying on here, but I will say it was terrifying. I will say that I narrowly avoided spending Christmas in the psych ward, though now I think I really should have spent time there. I will say that I'm lucky to be alive. I never tried to hurt myself, but I thought about it constantly, and I needed a lot of help.


I'm lucky to be alive, I said to myself, standing in front of my refrigerator, bag of rotten vegetables at my feet. I thought of the shriveled peppers, the bright colors, the way I felt when I bought them at Costco just before I got sick: hopeful. There's a certain hope involved in buying large quantities of vegetables, is there not? I had felt hopeful then, and I decided to feel hopeful last night. I was there, and I almost wasn't. I was there to clear out my fridge, there to see the colors of the peppers and to consider a dubious head of lettuce. I was there to take what was old and let it go, exposing clear shelves and bright lights, hopeful for more, lucky.

I took out the bag to the trash. The night was cool and Southern. A car approached from the street opposite, shining headlights on me, and I wondered how I looked to someone who didn't know me. Like a mother, like I'm tired, like I'm not entirely better yet, but I'm getting more so, like I had a bag of trash, and I knew where to go.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

I Died for Beauty, and It Was the Beauty of My Dreams

Emily Dickinson, who may have been amused, but probably not.
Eleanor Roosevelt, who I do not think would have been amused.

Yesterday I was teaching Emily Dickinson's poetry. I was so excited to be teaching Emily Dickinson's poetry that I felt like dancing right up at the front of the class. I had inadvertently assigned five creepy poems about death (which is easy to do when you're assigning Dickinson), but it didn't even matter because she's so awesome and I love her and I want to be her when I grow up and I think she had one of the most bizarre and most brilliant minds that has ever graced this planet. 

We were talking about this poem, which begins "I died for beauty, but was scarce / Adjusted in the tomb, / When one who died for truth was lain / In the adjoining room." But when I went to read to it to the class, I accidentally said, "I died for booty." And then I couldn't stop laughing. I leaned over the podium, gripping the sides of it, and could hardly catch my breath; I was laughing so hard. 

And so I had to tell them about another time when I made such a mistake.

Here's the scene: I was graduating from middle school. I was valedictorian, or maybe I was salutatorian--I can never remember. I was asked to give a speech, and I had so carefully prepared it. It was full of inspiring quotes and nostalgia and hope and smarm. The ceremony was out on the field, and I stood at the podium on a platform, all of my classmates and their families in front of me, and pronounced into the microphone, in my clearest voice: "Eleanor Roosevelt once said, 'The future belongs to those who believe in the booty of their dreams.'"

I mean, what I said is also more or less true. But boy, was I embarrassed. 

Yesterday, my students loved this story. And then I kept teaching Dickinson. I kept right on teaching Dickinson until it was really very much time to go. On their way out, some of them said she was creepy, and some of them said she was cool, and I think some of them knew what I know: that she is so obviously both. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Thank You Much

Her adorable lamb costume finally arrived in the mail at five this afternoon. The party was at six. 

I tried to put it on her and she screamed and writhed, as I somehow knew she would. Long before today I tried to decide what she would be for Halloween, but I kept imagining her tugging at whatever I put on and saying "No like it!" It was sort of like that, only she just screamed and writhed on the floor. 

So I abandoned the lamb and put on her pinkest, fluffiest dress. I thought about how grateful I was to the Target dollar bins for these wings I bought months ago. I told my inner feminist tough beans, and I called her a fairy princess. 

This was the only picture I took, and it's not great. 

I felt terrible as we left home for the church party. I felt spread too thin and not nearly creative enough as a mom. I felt so tired. 

Luckily, a fabulous Halloween takes so very little when you're two. I'm pretty sure this was the best night of her life. At first she was confused when other kids stopped by and we kept giving away what was clearly her candy. And then as we walked around she was confused when someone tried to put more in her bag--she cried out and held it back, afraid they would take what she'd been given. 

And then I watched as the nearly incomprehensible glory of trick or treating dawned on her. These people were giving out candy. Putting it right in her bag! What a world. 

"Thank you. Thank you much," she said as we walked from trunk to trunk. 

Halloween wasn't about me at all, thank heavens. It was about her. It's all about her now, and I couldn't be more glad. It's about the incomprehensible glory of free candy, and your mom not objecting when you reach for a tootsie roll. It's about walking along, knowing you're holding goodness, and saying thank you. Thank you much. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Late Late Show

Henrietta no longer believes in bedtime. She believes in fighting with every tool available to her until she falls asleep on the couch, watching Scooby Doo (known in this house as "Dooby") at way too late an hour. I'm not a big fan of this development, but we go through phases like this now and then, and things ought to change soon.  

Until then, we're exhausted. Sam usually volunteers to stay up with her, but it's his turn to sleep. So it's 9:36, and I've been grading papers, and we've been eating popcorn, and she's been practicing reacting to the scary parts. She runs to the couch, looking behind her frantically, gasping, and saying, "Oh no!" 

And now I'm done grading papers, and her head is on a couch pillow, and we're watching The Wizard of Oz, and she's practicing saying "witch" and I'm suddenly so happy to be sitting by her that I can hardly stand it. 

"Wish!" she says.  

"Witch!" I say. 

She points to the Wicked Witch of the West in her green face paint. The witch is very upset. Henrietta says, "Wishttt! Whisht! Whiiisht!" She sits up, gets very close to my face, and says it again, clearly prompting me to say it back. 

It occurs to me that it's a funny word to learn by saying it in someone else's face. "Witch," I tell her, slowly, and she watches my lips and my teeth carefully to see how it's done.

She settles her head back on the pillow. "Wisht," she says, satisfied. She's beginning to show signs of slowing down. She's placing the small bottoms of her feet against the bottoms of mine. Soon she'll sleep, I hope. I hope that soon she'll sleep.