Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Kafka and My Feet (finally) in the Sand

Yesterday I finished reading Kafka's The Trial. This morning I woke up without the cloud of melancholy that I've been unable to shake for the last week or so, when I spent a little time each morning and evening losing myself in Joseph K.'s tribulations. It was an engrossing read, but perhaps starting and ending my days with it was the wrong approach.

I know I've thought of the tedious process of washing, drying, folding and putting away laundry as byzantine more than once in the last week. I don't think the word byzantine is anywhere in the book, but I'm willing to bet you'd find it in the Cliff Notes. And considering that my washer and dryer are just down the basement stairs and to the left, straightforward would probably be a more accurate description of my laundering process. Boring would suffice if you wanted the subjective experience captured in a word. Byzantine it is not.

I also remembered that 1) my previous employer (actually, it's the agency we partnered with, but my office was in their building, and they thought of me as their own, so...) holds a Thursday morning playgroup for stay-at-home mothers and their children, where I can stop weekly and visit my old friends, and 2) I had promised to host a Friday night get-together for all of them, and promptly forgotten all about it. So for all my complaints about loneliness, in lieu of making new friends I could choose to expend a modicum of effort and simply get in touch with the ones I've got.

My husband spent the weekend building a walkway from our driveway to the deck of our home. It was an eight hour Saturday followed by a twelve hour Sunday. I think this concludes our home-repair projects until next spring. We do have to fix the snowblower (again) but he claims that this will be short project (I'm not sure why I believe him; this is a standard lie he tells me to make both of us feel better; we always choose to believe it; we want to feel better).

He has done a major home repair project every. single. weekend. since. the first one in August. No wonder I'm lonely! I lost my job, began working at home with only the company of young children, and lost my husband to a mistress much larger, older, and more demanding than myself, all at the same time!

He has a new job; I have a new job; our home repairs and upkeep have been on fast-forward (and our previous speed was ultra-low), and we've taken almost no time at all to rest, relax or unwind. This is a tough transition. We're ready to shift gears, settle down, maybe spend a Saturday picking apples and pumpkins instead of replacing doors, rearranging attics, building fences or scrubbing baseboards.

I kept wondering why Joseph K. continued to show such willingness to participate in his trial. It's as if the events swept him up and along like a river, and he couldn't seem to stick his feet in the sand and stop moving. Reading the book was dream-like: the attic labyrinths with their stuffy air where the court resided, my short morning stints to myself before being overrun by the needs of several small children, the odd encounters he had with strangers who seemed to know more about his own trial than he did; my husband and I, self-deluded and scrambling to survive this last, momentous project we had promised to complete before we had any inkling of how overwhelmed we would find ourselves by late October, the way he knew he was supposed to plunge the knife into his own heart at the end, the harsh standards we're holding ourselves to, and the moments where we find ourselves, exhausted and almost weeping over the kitchen counters, clinging to each other, showing one another the kindnesses we seem to be withholding ourselves for no very good reason whatsoever, except that we've been picked up by this current and carried so far into the river of having to do it right that we haven't stuck our feet in the sand and simply stopped.

The Court wants nothing from you. It receives you when you come and it dismisses you when you go.

And it's that simple! Well, then, I think it's time to go.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


I'm lonely.

There, I said. Not that it was particularly hard to admit, but it was hard to recognize. It shouldn't have been--I knew that I got my fill of social interaction at work. I worked with a great bunch of women, and I'm terrible at keeping up friendships. My sister -who also just became a stay-at-home-mom- was here this weekend, and we were talking about it. I started off by saying: I guess I should try to make some friends.

But then as the conversation continued, and I listed the type of actions I'd have to take to make -and maintain- friendships, I realized I might well choose loneliness: I hate making phone calls, and plans. I hate sticking to plans. When would I do things? Tuesdays and Thursdays are my only days with just my kids, and we already have a routine we like. We go to the gym one day and a museum the other. We like that! There's only a three hour window where we can get out anyway. Evenings? Between dinner, and bath and bed? Weekends? The only time I see my husband? Ugh. Forget it.

So I might just have to live with it.

The way I see it is, there are two paths to take with any problem: Accept it, or change it.

I usually try acceptance first, and see how that goes. This will be no different, I guess. So I'm lonely. The question is: can I live with it?

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Unofficial Performance Review

Have you ever read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig? It's my dad's favorite book, so I read it one summer; I think I was 19. There's a section near the beginning of the book where the narrator -a former college instructor- talks about an experiment he did, eliminating grades for his writing students. The good students get better, pushing themselves harder than they've had to in the past, when the stakes were clear. The bad students get nervous and panicky, suddenly interested in what the criteria are for passing the course. Suddenly they begin to pump out work: more and of better quality than ever before.

I don't know if I'm a good or bad student in this comparison, but it's a little disconcerting that the goal posts have not just moved: they're nonexistent in my new life. And I'm running the gamut from panic to pushing myself harder in response.

I was always a good student: from kindergarten through graduate school. The criteria were clearly spelled out, and I did what I had to do to fulfill them. When I went to work, I did the same. If I had questions, I asked my boss, or did some research to find out what were considered best practices in the field. There were always rubrics and protocols, checklists to guide me. The challenges were usually intellectual.

Now the challenges are largely emotional, the terrain has shifted, and I'm out here on my own, with little guidance, and nobody observing, measuring, giving feedback, grading my performance.

I get nervous and panicky some days, like Pirsig's poor students, wondering what the minimum requirements are to consider this venture a success. Other days I go above and beyond what I imagine myself capable of, like the better students when the parameter defining the upper limit was suddenly lifted.

In the past week, I've finally gotten some concrete feedback, and it felt good.

One of the boys I babysit is dropped off by his grandmother once a week, later in the morning because he gets early intervention therapy at her house beforehand. She said as soon as she pulled into our driveway he began to pump his fists, kick both feet, and squeal with joy! This little boy has never been outside of the care of his family before, and he greets me each morning with a huge grin. It made me feel good to know I'm providing his first taste of life outside his family home, and that he likes it out here in the big, bad world.

The other boy has been in child care twice a week since he was born, with the same caregiver, before coming to me a little less than two months ago. His dad drops him off because he has such a tough time separating from mom, and he always cried and cried if she did the drop-off. But his father had a conference this week, and mom had to do it. She arrived, obviously nervous, with her son in her arms, and dropped down to one knee to set him on the floor. Suddenly my son opened his bedroom door and peeked out to see his buddy arriving. The little boy's face lit up, he yelled: Bye Mama!, kissed her quickly, and ran toward my boy, ready to play. She said in the year and a half he'd spent with his other sitter, he had never been so happy to leave her side. It made my day.

This is a challenging transition for me. Not the identity piece, which I expected, and which hasn't really turned out to matter a whit to me. I know who I am, and a professional title -or lack of one- doesn't change that. But the balance that I so carefully and deliberately set out to create for my life has been flipped topsy-turvy, and that is taking some time to get used to. I find myself more exhausted and emotionally depleted than I have ever been before. I find I need to dig deeper to find reserves of patience, compassion, and willingness to wait, to try again, to return to the same problems until they are solved to my satisfaction. I have to learn to take care of myself in ways I didn't have to before. I'm somewhat surprised to find out how hard on myself I can be.

But I'm doing right by these babies, if squeals of joy, pumping fists and feet, great big grins, and feet racing into our house and our hearts are any indication. And it's not like I'll be getting a performance review this year -or a raise!- so, hey: I'll take 'em! I will most definitely take them.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mealtimes, Squealtimes

It's the mealtimes that are really challenging. I'm brainstorming to see if I can come up with a better system, but so far, I can't. Feeding four children, ages 0, 1, 2 and 3, is just very, very difficult. And very, very messy.

Here are my biases, laid out from the start: I've seen research that suggests that kids who are permitted to eat whenever they want spend more time engaged in learning. Kids who are forced to eat at preplanned mealtimes spend more time wasted: in lines, waiting for adults, sitting or standing around doing nothing. This is in a child care situation, not at home. There's plenty of research supporting family mealtimes, so that's not what I'm talking about here. Another bias I hold is that I think it's a good thing -and important- for kids to learn to listen to their bodies. To eat when and what their bodies crave. So my ideal is an eating area where children can come and go as they please, grazing through their day, getting the energy they need to learn.

You can probably imagine that this could easily be recipe for chaos, but you guys, I am already so far from my ideal!

The boys arrive in the morning and my kids are usually still asleep. They wake soon after the noise level begins to rise in the living room, and we all play for a half hour or so, until I get the hungry signal from one of the kids. Fortunately, once one of them wants to eat, they all want to eat, so I'm not completely abandoning my wait-for-their-signals approach to individual eating.

My daughter's in a high chair. The two boys are in small chairs with trays on the floor. My son sits at a child-sized table. When it's dry food, I let the other two boys sit at the little table. I like this: the camaraderie, the family feel of it, the opportunity for interaction between them. But if it's wet food, the 1 and 2 year olds will end up covering the wall and floor in it, and it's nearly impossible to clean off the wainscoting and out of the crack where the wall meets the floor. So I've limited that to dry food.

Breakfast and lunch work about the same way. I'm scrambling to get hands washed by holding each kid up to the sink and scrubbing their hands with mine. Then I pop the three younger kids in their chairs and click their trays into place, leaving my son to his own devices. I sprinkle dry cereal or snack crackers across their trays to keep them happy while I warm their food in the microwave.

The two boys bring their own meals (they need to, due to feeding and sensory issues, so it's not an option for me to provide the same thing for all the kids) and obviously I'm providing for my kids, so we have -at best- three different meals that typically need to be heated (that's if my kids are eating the same thing, which: sometimes).

Everybody spills, so the floors around each seating area need to be cleaned. Hands need to be cleaned. Faces need to be cleaned. Everybody has a variety of snacks in addition to the meals, so I'm just racing: back and forth from the kitchen with heated foods, with Clorox wipes for the floor, to rinse dishes and get them in the dishwasher, with high chair trays and rubber bibs, and cloth bibs that need to be tossed down the stairs to the basement laundry, with one more snack to try because low blood sugar is an issue, to slice that apple because he can't eat one independently, to peel that pear because she can't eat the skin, to refill juice glasses and make chocolate milk, and wash my hands again because I just used a Clorox wipe to get the oatmeal off the floor and I don't want to touch the banana with Clorox wipe residue all over my hands. My son is the only one who's really talking yet (we've got some special needs in the group), so there's lots of grunting, and lots of whining, and lots of frantic pointing, and it's all happening at once while I'm running, running, running. And also, I don't microwave plastic (ew, scary cancer stuff, I just won't do it), so all the food is scooped from plastic, to ceramic, back to plastic (they'll drop and break ceramic), and all those dishes need rinsing before they go into the dishwasher, and before I can even stop for one second one is whining to get out of the seat, and then another, and then another, and I have to clean up: the floors, the trays, their hands and faces, and everyone's whining all at the same time, and:

It's just really stressful.

I keep my cool on the outside because I am good at keeping my cool on the outside. It is, in fact, my job to keep my cool on the outside. But inside, it makes me feel like a crazy woman. An unhinged, panicky, crazy woman.

And that's not really good for anyone, now is it?

Today I tried to eliminate mid-morning snack-time (we have breakfast, then a mid-morning snack, then lunch, then an afternoon snack. Can you see why this is a problem?), but then I was hungry (I can't eat while they're eating; when would I eat?) and tried to sneak away to eat something and they all trailed me (like Greyhounds, they are!) and found me and wanted to eat.

For lunch today I fed them each individually, which was actually quite peaceful, but it took and hour and a half, and the ones who weren't eating were playing in another room and that's a long time for them to play without any interaction from me (I can see them, so they're supervised, but I wasn't in there playing at all, which -in my opinion- is a big part of what I'm here for, and: is the fun part!). It worked out okay today, but my daughter skipped lunch and went down for her nap early. I don't think it would typically work, and I'm not crazy about it anyway, as a regular thing.

I have tried to simply stop stressing out about it, but it's not working. Which leads me to believe that maybe I need to change the circumstances somehow, instead of trying to ignore the chaos. Figure out how to make it less chaotic.

But I'm not sure where to start. Anybody got any ideas?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Students and Teachers

My husband noticed he had a voice mail on Saturday morning.

What's this? I missed a district wide call last night? What could this be about? he asked as he dialed to retrieve the message.

And then: Oh. Oh God. No. Oh my God. No. Oh God.

He frantically scrambled for a pencil and began taking notes on the back of an envelope. When he hung up the phone he stared into space, shell-shocked. I glanced down, but could make little sense of the random collection of words he had jotted down: a boy's name, a small town south of us, the hospital where I took my daughter when she fell and hit her head.

I asked: What is it? Are you okay?

He just shook his head, and kept staring forward, looking at nothing.

* * *

Nearly three years ago a girl walked into my classroom with her eight month old son. She was a teen mom, there to take the entrance test to qualify for our GED program. Her son had never -since birth- been separated from her at that point, not even to sleep. He cried for 3 hours while she labored over math and reading problems. We took turns passing him from staff member to staff member, trying every baby calming trick we collectively knew, to no avail. He sobbed until he was back in her arms.

* * *

One of his students died on Friday night. He sustained a hit to the head during a football game. He continued the game for a few more plays; no one even knew there was a problem. He got hit again and went down. He rolled over, sat up. He could talk, but wasn't making a lot of sense, so they called an ambulance.

They were en route to the hospital where I took my daughter, when he took a turn for the worse in the ambulance. They headed for a closer hospital in the small town south of us where the game was being played. He died there, a junior in high school.

* * *

She qualified for the program, which means either her reading or math scores had to be below ninth grade level. I can tell you it was both. Later we found out she had a learning disability that had gone undiagnosed for her entire school career.

She was on her mom's public assistance case, and their welfare-to-work caseworker wanted her back in high school. The same high school, same district, that missed her learning disability for all those years. The same district that had shuffled her through to tenth grade when she was reading and doing math on an elementary school level.

They wanted to put her baby in full time daycare so she could go to school. They pay for it, but they don't pay much, so he'd have been in the cheapest daycare she could find. They told her it was that or find whatever job she could without a high school diploma, and they'd pay for daycare for that too.

They didn't want her in our GED program, where she would get parenting classes, and interactive time with her baby. She didn't know why they didn't support it, and they certainly didn't feel they owed her anything like an explanation for the decisions they were making about her life.

She'd never been a good student, and they wanted her in a substandard school that had already failed her. She had no work experience, and no marketable skills, but they wanted her in a dead end job. She had one thing going for her: she loved that baby more than anything, and her instincts were dead on when it came to mothering. She had that one thing, and they wanted to take it away from her.

* * *

My husband walked around in a fog all weekend. We took the kids to the farmer's market, and he kept forgetting what was on the list. He tried to plot out the sidewalk we're building through the yard next weekend, and couldn't focus on the numbers on the blueprint. The boy's story was on the front page of the Local section of our Sunday paper, and when I asked him if he read the article about Obama in the Opinion section, or saw the Victorian house for sale in Homes he shook his head and said: I didn't read anything except the article about my student. I never got any further than that.

* * *

I called my boss, and my boss called the caseworker's boss, but to no avail. They assigned her to high school, and she never went, never enrolled her son in daycare, just skipped every day and sat at home with her baby. They started docking her mom's public assistance, so her mom went down and screamed at the caseworker, who finally relented, and assigned her to our program instead.

She had perfect attendance. Her son, almost 2 at this point, still sobbed when his mom left his side. So we set up a desk in the nursery, and she worked there, while he gradually ventured further from her side. Finally we began taking her from the children's classroom for short -and then longer- periods of time. We were shocked to discover that working unassisted in the nursery she'd brought her reading scores from a fifth grade to a tenth grade level.

She was a month away from passing her GED when we lost our funding and had to close up shop.

* * *

The student who died would have been in my husband's first period, Monday morning class. Going into work this morning was daunting. I saw the weight of it across the slope of his shoulders as he headed out the door. I turned the tea water on, and wished there was something I could do.

Later, I took the kids for a walk and saw a large bunch of deep red mums that someone had tossed out with the trash, though they were still in bloom, whole, and beautiful. I picked them up, folded them gently into the hood of the jogging stroller, brought them home and arranged them in a vase. I placed it where he'd see them when he first walked in the door.

At some point between walking out the door of our home and into the door of his school, he squared those shoulders, heavy with the weight of the responsibility he bore for the students who would have even less ability than he to make sense of the senseless tragedy. He squared his shoulders, walked into that first period class, and spoke to the kids in his first period class, minus one.

* * *

I called her caseworker before our program ended and she assured me she'd transfer my student into another GED program. Her son is old enough for preschool now, and we pulled every string we could to get him enrolled. He cried the first time he took the bus without her, but overall, he's doing incredibly well.

The caseworker didn't keep her word, though, and refused to refer her to another GED program, after all. The day she found out, I invited her over for a bowl of ham and bean soup, a hot cup of tea, a honey crisp apple. We looked online for another GED program, one that doesn't require a referral from her caseworker. We're still trying, and she's worried her math and reading skills are slipping.

Her son is testing above the 90th percentile for his language skills though, a testament to her strong attachment to him, her willingness to throw herself wholeheartedly into parenting, to soak up skills like a sponge and then pass them on to him. She wants his life to be easier than hers.

We were texting last night, talking about her love for her boy, when all of a sudden I read the following line:

I was forest to have sex, thats how my baby was made.

I had to whisper read it aloud to myself, to be sure I understood.

I wrote her back:

You are an amazing person.

She sent me a smiley face emoticon before I went to bed.

* * *

I can debate educational theory all night long: Maria Montessori and John Dewey, the Reggio Emilia approach, and what the latest findings in neuroscience mean in the context of the day-to-day drag.

I have opinions about the politics of it: unions versus reformers, Michelle Rhee and what she did in DC, merit pay and standardized testing. And if my husband and I get started, the next thing you know the wine bottle is empty and we're both all riled up. A perfect date night for me would be back-to-back showings of the most recent educational documentaries followed by debriefing over generous glasses of Cabernet.

But what's missing from the conversation is the slope of my husband's heavy shoulders as he walked weary from our house into the still dark morning, saddled with the weight of what he'd say to those kids. There's no place in policy for the way my heart stopped for a moment and the muscles in my abdomen involuntarily clenched when my student sent me a text that spelled forest for forced.

We talk numbers, and strategy, and we have to. We have to. But every time someone's child connects a letter to a sound, sketches a still-life on a thick sheet of off-white paper, finally figures out what the hell fractions are all about ... there are billions of beating hearts behind it. And if it didn't start -and end- with our heavy, hurt, imperfect hearts: all the theory and politics in the world would come to nought.  

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dinosaurs Eating, Vivid Motion, and Other Worlds

My son stood up on his child-sized chair, where he could reach the chalk and draw on the bottom of the chalkboard hanging on the dining room wall. It's high on the wall because the lower half of the room is covered in wainscoting, unsuitable for hanging much of anything, let alone an oversized and very heavy, wood-framed chalkboard.

And then, because it's high, we've adopted it for ourselves: we make grocery lists, jot down appointments, and detail our lunch and dinner menus for the week. The adults have bogarted the big blackboard, and the children must make do with the much smaller chalkboard aback the white board easel that I got for free when my former employer tossed it in the junk pile.

But the boy managed to balance his feet where his seat should be, and draw on the bottom of the blackboard, and then he said: Mommy, look at my chalking!

I forgot all about how you're supposed to ask about the picture instead of telling about it, and I said: Hey! Y'know what that reminds me of?

And he said: what? And so I told him.

It reminds me of a dinosaur, like, his head is right here? And this is his tongue! And he's eating this ... ball of stuff, over here. It reminds me of a dinosaur who's eating.

And he didn't have any particular objection to that interpretation, in fact, he welcomed it, and so it became a dinosaur, eating a ball of stuff.

Over the course of a week or so he added more stuff to the dinosaur's ball-o'-food. He filled in the dinosaur's head. He called my attention to it each time, and each time I validated his efforts to increase the concrete-ness of the dinosaur, dining in our dining room.

And then, one Friday night, his father -who hadn't been privy to the ongoing conversations about said dinosaur and his insatiable appetite for round-or-sometimes-oval balls-o'-stuff- erased the bottom of board.

In Daddy's defense, we had an especially long grocery list that week. We'd been out of town the weekend before, living on leftovers, and a large number of household staples were depleted.

Once all of us realized what had taken place, my son said: Mommy, can you help me make my dinosaur again?

And I said: No! We can never make the same dinosaur again. We wouldn't be able to do it right. You can't recreate the past. But you know what this is perfect for? I can wash the board with a wet paper towel, and you can start a brand new picture, and the colors will be so vivid! It can be anything you want! And I can't wait to see it!

And he grinned and agreed. And he started anew, and at the end I said (forgetting again): Y'know what THIS reminds me of? People running. It reminds me of motion. The purple and the yellow, and the orange and the blue? Look like they are racing across the chalkboard like Thomas and James race to the Wharf!

And he didn't have any particular objection to that interpretation, but he did enjoy the word vivid. And so we talked about that for a while.

As parents, we define dinosaurs, motion, and vivid. We can make or break the meaning of things. We're creating and defining worlds here. This is powerful, important stuff. This is exciting, my little boy's favorite word. More exciting than Thomas and James racing; more exciting than what a dinosaur eats for lunch.

We can create worlds, erase them. We can start anew. Where else do we get the chance to do this?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Schedules Unfolding

The children are all here today. Three are asleep while my oldest plays with wooden trains in the living room. I mopped the dining room and kitchen floors as fast as I could once the kids went down, hoping to find some time to sit here and write, although now that I'm here, a folded towel under my feet that I used to shuffle-slide across the still-wet floor to get to the computer, I can't remember quite what it was I was so anxious to say. I was thinking while I rocked one of the boys to sleep, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star playing quietly in the background, my mind wandering from the room where I sat. I was comparing my house to the classrooms where I've taught in the past, and...

...Oh yes, the unfolding. More about the unfolding. So here goes:

The first thing I would do as a teacher is make a schedule for the day. When I taught preschool, it looked a little something like this:

9-9:30: Arrival; Free breakfast for those who qualify; Free play for others in limited areas of the classroom
9:30-10: Circle Time; Make a plan for free play
10-11: Free Play
11-11:20: Kids meet with teachers in small groups and debrief: talk about how the play plan went (this, incidentally, -the making of, sticking to, and discussing play plans- has been shown to do more for a certain type of early brain development than any other single thing you could do in a classroom. I loved it.)
11:20-12: Outdoor/Gross Motor play and Small Group Activities
12-1: Lunch, followed by Storytime
1-3: Nap/Quiet play/Books for those who wake up

When I taught family literacy, with infants, toddlers and parents, it looked a little something like this:

9-9:10: Arrival
9:10-10:05: GED class 1/Parent and Child Interactive class 1 (half the parents went to GED while the other half stayed with their babies in the classroom)
10:05-11: GED class 2/Parent and Child Interactive class 2 (the groups of parents switched)
11-11:45: Parenting class; Kids with staff
11:45-12: Circle Time; Dismissal

You'll notice the second schedule was more for the parents than the kids. That's because while infants and toddlers need routines, each child will need a slightly different routine. If you have a group of them, a new routine will evolve. Their needs will change as they interact with the others. So I have four children to care for, and it's been six weeks, and we don't have a schedule that fits on paper perfectly yet.

Who do you imagine is the only person in the group who has a problem with that?

If you guessed me, you win the prize! It's a handful of goldfish crackers and a Thomas the Tank Engine sticker. Also, you'll have to swing by and pick it up. I drive a Hyundai Accent and there's no way four carseats are fitting in that sucker.

I like things written out on paper: schedules, to-do lists, projects I'd like to complete around the house, shopping lists, meals planned for the month, developmental checklists with little boxes where the abstract beauty of a child's first word or step can be reassuringly checked off, made concrete, filed in a drawer somewhere, perhaps never to be seen again. Doesn't matter. I just like the making of the lists.

But instead, I keep choosing things like caring for babies and yoga. Things that don't lend themselves to list-making, things that laugh in the face of the best laid plans. Things that unfold. That emerge, half formed, from an interminable period of time where one sits. Sits with discomfort, and simply observes it. Sits with sometimes a rising panic, a screeching JesusFuckingChristJesusFuckingChristJesusFuckingChrist inside one's mind. And why? Because the noodles aren't heating fast enough. Observes the screeching mind and says: it's only noodles, heating in a microwave, and the children are only mildly hungry. it isn't the end of the world. I keep choosing things that demand that I separate my better self from the screeching voice and say aloud, in a calm voice: the noodles are almost ready, my little pumpkins! patience, babies, patience! your food will be here in a moment.

They eat at regular intervals, and their naps are synced up, but the rest of the day -the learning- just won't adapt. Babies demand that the universe adapt to them, which is one reason why I like them so much, if you want to know the truth.

My son just interrupted me. He told me: Mommy, I want my engines to drive on the back of the brown couch! Not on their rails, just on the couch! I could tell he found this most amusing, although I wasn't exactly sure why. Do you want to come and see them? he asked me.

I asked: Can I come and see when I'm finished writing? and I saw his face fall, just a fraction of a millimeter, it's true, but I spotted it. Or can I come and see it real quick right now, and then finish my writing?

Yes! he replied with a giant grin, and he raced into the living room and leapt onto the couch. His engines were lined up and squished between the back of the couch and the seat cushion, and while I'm still not entirely sure why this is even funny, he burst into giggles every time he looked at them. So I did too.

It only took a moment, and that moment meant more to him than another half hour uninterrupted at the keyboard would have meant to me. And yet I yearn for a piece of paper that says: 1:30-2: Writing.

It's the silliest thing, when I can escape the screeching brain and just look at it slantways, out of the corner of my mind's eye, and see it for what it is. It's a way to feel some semblance of control. I keep walking off the edge of whatever cliff I've arranged my life upon, and then lamenting the lack of control in the free fall. It's the silliest thing.

So I'll sit with it, and see what happens. Something always does, eventually.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hope and Change

I haven't told you the whole truth. I have another job, of sorts. I'm a private early child care provider, if you want the report for the resume. I'm a babysitter, if you want it plain.

Twice a week I'm a SAHM, two kids, both mine, 3 years and 9 months. Once a week I've got my two and a third, a boy, 2 years old. The other two days I've got four kids in all, ages 0, 1, 2 and 3. Three boys, the oldest mine, and then my baby girl.

The day I realized I was super badass is the day I realized my mom, mother of six, a SAHM for 20+ years, never had this many kids, so close in age, home at the same time.

It is, without a doubt, the hardest thing I've ever done.

* * *

So, Occupy Wall Street? Anyone else amazed and hopeful? I walk through my house, wiping food from the hardwood floors with generic Clorox wipes, putting random CDs on -I let my 3 year old pick from his daddy's CD shelf and hope the swear words aren't audible, being not-a-music-person myself- and dancing with babies, one on each hip, and I hope for the future so fiercely it hurts.

I just believe in humankind. For no good reason, against all odds, I just believe in us. We're mostly good. We're working our way to better, even though it doesn't always look like it.

I mean, what's the alternative? Babies and dancing can't be in a world without hope.

* * *

The leaves are changing. What does time mean when you're no longer shackled to a narrative? My present story has been written down on paper, but it seems I haven't quite caught up to it yet. Or maybe it to me. Things speed up and other things slow down. Time is going faster than ever -can it really be mid-October already?-, but allowing things to unfold at their own pace -routines, and the suppleness needed to navigate the days gracefully- is excruciatingly slow. I'm bad at it.

I'm bad at allowing things to unfold at their own pace. I'm impatient, mostly with myself, but it slips over onto other people too.

And yet I keep choosing things that take time to unfold. Pursuing paths that require patience that I can only hope resides in my toes I'm digging down so deep.

* * *

We try, and we fuck up. And then we try again.

There's only ever hope and trying.

Any other way, the story ends.

And this feels so much like a beginning.