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.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Birthday Walk, with Mailboxes


At two, she seems poised on the edge of knowing, of actually meeting and growing curious about the planet. Sometimes now she seems so much like an alien: by which I mean, not yet of this world. She's the most gorgeous and funny alien I've ever met.

On the morning of her birthday, I talked to her as we walked, pointing out all of the important stuff: trees, leaves, squirrels, the colors of cars and houses and flowers. She participated, repeating the words she knew (tree! sqwrrl! car car car!) and asking, occasionally, "What's that?" She asked that once when we passed an animal smashed in the road, and I said, "Oh, that's nothing, nothing." And kept strolling. I don't have to introduce her to that part yet. Please don't make me introduce her to that just yet.

My heart was full of her two-ness as we walked. I carried all of the days of our acquaintence around with me, and I felt sure I would weep at something. But it wasn't the dead creature in the road that made me feel like I might weep. It wasn't showing her the trees and the kitties. I didn't feel like weeping when I picked a little orange flower for her and she carried it the rest of the way, and I didn't feel like weeping when the petals came off and she tried to put them back on.


Oddly, it was when I told her about mailboxes that I got choked up. Of everything I showed her, the mailboxes seemed so uniquely earth-y, so specific to our planet and the human experience. I told her that we all have mailboxes, and that a mailman comes and brings letters. Mommy and Daddy have a mailbox, and we go out to it and bring the letters inside. And if we want to send a letter, we put it in a box and it gets delivered wherever we'd like, just about anywhere in the world. The mailboxes on our street seemed so remarkable then, so beautiful. Or not beautiful, because they are weatherbeaten and leaning and a little sad. But still marvelous, still somehow miraculous. Welcome to being human, Henrietta. There are things called computers and emails and text messages that try to negate these mailboxes, but here they are. You're going to love this place.

Sometimes, when she's resisting bedtime, Henrietta asks to see the moon. Just because she knows it's there. And she knows if she asks for the moon, we give it to her. How could we resist? The three of us leave the house and stand at the edge of our driveway and point up to the sky. We say, "Moon!" with an extra long O. "Mooon!" we say. 




Sunday, October 5, 2014

Twenty-Five Marvelously Cute Things Henrietta Does at (Nearly) Two Years Old


Helping me make cookies.

1. She calls water "otter."

2. She calls yogurt "ogre." 

3. Tonight she did "this little piggy" on my toes. It sounded like this, "This! Piggy! This! Piggypiggy! Weeweewee Piggy!"

4. She comes up to me, holds out her arms and says, "Again?" This means she wants me to do "Itsy Bitsy Spider" up and down her arms. Then she does it back to me.

5. She counts. She counts like this: two? two? three! six? nine? 

6. She's devoted to saying thank you. She says it when anyone gives her anything, or when she gives us something, too. My favorite is when she says, "Thank you much."

7. Her favorite activity is undoubtably running circles through our living room, kitchen, and dining room, chasing us or being chased. She growls, we growl, and then we all giggle. 

8. Dancing consists of spinning around in a circle saying "Dance-a! Dance-a!"

9. She can say Rothko. She says goodnight to Rothko when we go to bed. 

10. When I drop her off to be watched while I work, we put on her shoes and I help her on with her toddler backpack and I hold her hand and we walk to the door. The image of her wearing her little backpack: I cannot get enough of it.

11. Aside from when she's throwing a tantrum, she's so insanely happy. She giggles and chatters to herself. Her first sentence was "That's funny," and she has a generous sense of humor. It doesn't take much to make her laugh and laugh. 

12. She is, unaccountably, fascinated by covering her head with a blanket or a towel or a box or whatever is on hand and walking around so she can't see. She runs into things, but she still does it. She seems to do it in order to run into things. 

13. She knows that The Little Mermaid is on her training pants. She calls her "Mer-mer." In fact, all princesses or pretty animated ladies are Mer-mers. 

14. One morning, when I was upstairs getting dressed, I heard her start saying, "Oh boy!" I'd never heard her say it before, but she said it over and over again: "Ohhhh boyyy! Ohh Boyyyy! Ohh Boy!" Now she says it all the time. Along with "okay." Sometimes she says, "Okay! Oh boy!" When Sam got out a slice of birthday cake for her this evening, she kept saying, "Oh boy!"

15. She loves balloons. She loves them so much. 

16. She holds her baby doll, pats her head, and tells her, "It's sososo kay." 

17. She likes to climb up things and then jump off of them, preferably into our arms. 

18. She snuggles me. We watch shows in the evening so we can sit together and she can lean her head on me and take my arms and wrap them around her. I don't mind. 

Snuggling
19. She's got this funny little mincing walk. She takes tiny tiny steps, making tiny stomps. 

20. When upset, for some reason she says, "Doctor! Doctor!" We have no idea what this means. I've heard Sam tell her she needn't be so formal with him, that calling him Dad is just fine. 

21. When given a sticker, she places it immediately on the back of her neck.

23. She climbs on my back and says, "Kitty-ya? Kitty-ya?' This means I'm to crawl around on the floor pretending to be a kitty. You better believe I do it. 

24. When I come to get her, or when I come home, her face lights up like no one's face has ever lit up for me. It's astonishing every time.

25. When she wants something, she says, "Gah me." When she really wants something, she says, "GahmeGahmeGahmeGahme!"



Friday, August 1, 2014

The Sound of Rain Falling on Leaves

As I made the two of us a smoothie, I noticed it began to rain. It was only sprinkling, but I rushed Henrietta out to the back porch, both of us still in our pajamas, telling her we needed to save the sidewalk chalk before it disintegrated. I picked up the thick sticks of chalk--already a little damp-- piled them in a bucket, and set it down inside the back door. When I turned around, Henrietta had climbed up into a patio chair, and was looking up at the rain.

I pulled up another chair, and we sat together. It was gorgeous out, mild and misty and so quiet we could hear the sound of rain falling on the tall trees in our back yard. Henrietta was barefoot, and a bit concerned about the leaf debris on the bottoms of her feet. "Help! Help!" she said, showing me. And I did my best to brush them clean. She wore her jammies with the ballerinas on them, and a grey and black faux fur vest which she's recently become obsessed with and insists on wearing at all times.

I loved her as we sat there. And not just the way I love her as her mom--with a blissful and billowing and fierce sort of devotion--but as a companion. That's what we were, sitting there: companionable. We both wanted to be there for no other reason but to sit for a moment and look at the trees in the rain. Our wills--which do their share of clashing throughout the day--were for a moment perfectly simple and sweetly aligned.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

What it Means to be Settled


Honey Dewlicious Melon

And then, one morning this past week, I felt settled. I cut up a melon for breakfast, and it was in the top five most delicious melons I've ever tasted. The three of us sat at the table, eating melon (or rejecting it wholeheartedly, in the case of Henrietta) and talking. The house was in good enough shape that I cleaned up easily, without stepping around enormous boxes or having to look at a baffling mess in the living room while I did it. We had all rested. We had things to do which didn't seem like pressing emergencies in order for us to live in this place. We could just be here, working out our days in this new house with the big, green trees out our windows.

The view from our bedroom window
I'm not sure why exactly, but so far Alabama--the place itself--hasn't been the difficult transition I expected. It is undeniably beautiful here, which I'm sure helps. On my way to Target I pass green fields full of horses and the most incredible trees. The trees, the trees, the trees. Can you tell I lived in the desert? It rains here, rains quite a bit, so moss grows on the trees and the rocks, and sometimes when I'm outside I see the world's finest, fingernail-sized frogs, which look like tiny leaves until they jump. Henrietta plays in our backyard, running over to look at the neighbor's chickens, running to chase me, running and laughing. She has so much room.

The house is the right house. It's big enough for us to stay here awhile. I type you this missive, dear reader, from my own office, located in the back top corner of the house. It's quiet in here, full of my things and the art I love is on the walls, and my books are on the shelves, and I can see my sewing machine waiting for me.

Looking out the window, wrapped in sheer curtains
At the produce market, I stop a woman who is grabbing big handfuls of strange, long purple and green mottled beans. Pink-eyed Peas, the sign reads. I say, "Excuse me, but how do you cook those?" "Same way I cook collards," she answers. And she tells me. We have them for dinner the next night. Another night I make cornbread and Sam boils shrimp. Another night he fries okra. I steam summer squash and toss it with a little butter and Sam declares it the best thing on the table.

People are so kind here. And I know some of them may not be as kind as their exterior, but I'm frankly so pleased to mill around with kind exteriors all day. The young man at the grocery store, eyes bright and clear, looks in mine, and says, "I would really love to help you out to your car with these groceries." And I am so astonished that he seems to mean it (even if it is store policy--store policy! to help everyone out with their groceries!) that I can't answer for a second. I want to hug him.

I don't really know what this place will bring. I don't know how long we'll stay. But I have a feeling that we'll stay for awhile. That we are, to some extent, experiencing what it means to be settled. Cross my fingers, say my prayers.

Walking to the Farmer's Market