It’s Tuesday, which means it’s time for another This Is Childhood installment. You’re in for a treat–Amanda Magee. She is a gifted writer whose wise words are always luminous and true.
Today, she writes about Eight, “These years are motion and fire. They are amorphous and finite at once, molten lava coursing through time, inexplicably and unapologetically racing and slowing to form the many facets of a spirit.”
See what I mean?
The This Is Childhood Line Up:
THREE – Nina Badzin
FOUR – Galit Breen
FIVE — Allison Slater Tate
One night last week, Hubby put the kids to bed. I poked my head in to say goodnight to Abby, who lay in bed reading. I started across the hall to say goodnight to Henry and heard the faintest singing.
I reached his door, which was cracked open, and pushed my head inside. The smallest, green light from his Lego nightlight muted the dark. I could barely make him out in the jumbled heap of his covers. I stood quietly and undetected by Henry.
I listened to his song.
His faint voice, not unlike his night light, muted the dark. He sang an original composition of his day, the exact words muffled by his white, down comforter. I heard snippets about letters, a friend, a song. Even though I couldn’t make out all the words, I could tell that joy scored the song. I leaned in a bit further, held my breath and deciphered the last verse:
(Humming first, then)
I love my Dad
I love my Sister
I love my Mom
They are the best
I slowly backed away from his door and walked the hallway to my bedroom. The night lights spilled their honey glow onto the hardwood floors, illuminating my path, a path I could walk in the dark with my eyes closed. A hallway I’ve walked countless times: sometimes seething in anger, other times with bland ambivalence, sometimes counting dust bunnies, other times carrying towering piles of laundry. On this evening, I floated down the hall with a sated heart, feasting on the small slice of my son’s song of supplication.
These small slices of grace. These are what make life worthwhile.
This week, I’m writing from the cozy confines of my bed as bronchitis has taken residence in my chest. The bronchitis is a faithful visitor, always up for a late February, early March visit. Although it’s a pain in the ass, at least it’s predictable and consistent.
It’s week seven of our This Is Childhood series, which means two things.
2. I am posting in two weeks, writing about the lovely, the complicated and the transitional Nine. To say that I’m nervous given the tremendous talent of the This Is Childhood group is an itty, bitty understatement.
As I read Tracey’s vivid, beautiful words about the tender age of Seven, I nodded and smiled at her post, my heart catching a bit knowing that Seven is the next step on Henry’s journey.
Please visit her blog to read her Ode to Seven.
I know Six. Six lives in my house, cuddles with me, slowly sounds out words, clutters my floors and touches my heart with a tenderness that shoots straight from his soul.
In this week’s installment of This Is Childhood, Bethany Meyer writes of Six. Her words capture the magic and milestones of this age (complete with a six-year-old-boy’s fascination with all things Poop). Please read her beautiful tribute to Six.
Each following Tuesday, another writer will contribute their voice as we celebrate the varied, gorgeous, evanescent ages of Childhood.
If you’d like to read the previous posts in our series, here’s a list:
THREE — Nina Badzin
FOUR — Galit Breen
FIVE — Allison Slater Tate
I looked out of my office window and watched the snow fall. The pre-blizzard wind lifted snow off of the roof and sent it down into the yard below. The wind gusts forced the snow to intersect which created suspended, white herringbone patterns in the air. At one point, on this morning, before this snow storm gained full traction, there were only left-over piles of last weekend’s snow and brown grass dominating the landscape. Now, just three hours into this storm, the snow had won. I watched from my white desk, tucking my socked feet beneath me as I stared through the white paned window which framed it all.
I imagined the brown grass waving its white flag of surrender as it once again folded into itself, settling in as the foot deep snowy blanket surrounded it. What began as the first fledgling snowflakes drifting from the sky had now turned to a steady snow globe. Even the black street acquiesced to the snow. Soon, all I would see was white and hints of black. White sky, white ground, white frosting the inky black trees.
I’ve been thinking about what separates one moment from its successor, one life experience from the next, one reality from another. A thin membrane exists between. At some point, we straddle both, dipping our toes into this liminal meeting of two realities, and then passing into the new.
This passage, at times, confounds me. Surely there be an exact pinnacle where both realities co-exist? Where they touch, brushing up against each other for a brief interlude before moving on?
A moment between wakefulness and sleep.
An interview between a job search and employment.
A belly laugh shifting a perspective from morose to bright.
A day giving way to night, lavender twilight dancing between.
Labor straddling pregnancy and motherhood.
A small shift in temperature yielding rain to snow.
An imperceptible shift within, yielding massive returns.
Eight women gathered to delve into the writing craft for a weekend. We closed our notebooks as we wrapped our workshop for the night. With a crackling fire and lit candles as our backdrop, the shuffling sounds of ending filled our space. With a last glance at the orange embers dancing in the fire place, I pulled my wool hat down over my ears and pulled on my boots. I walked out of the warmth of the decadent country house and into to the night, softly cut by the light of the carriage lantern.
I looked up. Crystal snow flakes frolicked on the frigid breeze. The cold reached into me; my arms tightened my down coat–but to no warm avail. The frozen, dimpled ground made my booted-footsteps wobbly and unsure. I walked the short distance to the yoga studio.
I really, reeeeeeeeeally do not want to do this.
I could do so many other things instead of yoga.
Alice Munro! I’ll read Alice Munro instead.
I don’t want to don’t want to don’t want to practice yoga.
I reached the yoga studio’s vestibule. I made it. I’m doing it, I thought dejectedly. My other writing friends were there, bare-footed and cross-legged in the muted light. I stomped my boots, hung my hat and coat on a white peg and entered, inhaling the soft lavender and exhaling jagged bits of apprehension. Purple yoga mats lined like vessels, ready to transport us to right here. We began.
Breathing (Why can’t I get a satisfying breath?)
Meditating (Why is there a brick on my chest?)
Down dog (I could still leave)
Pigeon (I should really really leave and Damn does this hurt)
Savasana (Thank GOD)
My yoga teacher’s calm, sage voice finally guided my body into Corpse Pose. I made it. The lights grew lower still. Soft shadows, scents of lavender, a yoga mat and Berber carpet met me. I heard the peaceful, satisfied exhales of my writing compadres. Although I lay on the floor and although the floor supported me, and although I’d just practiced 40 minutes of yoga, my muscles were taught. Clearly my muscles thought my body was dangling from a tight rope. Or, perhaps, being chased by a tiger. Or preparing to jump off of a high dive.
My yoga teacher whispered that she would cover us with the heavy woolen blankets, her words falling softly around me,
How lovely it is to be tucked in
Allow yourself to be cared for
A hundred burning pin pricks rushed my eyes, tears gathered. They descended swiftly down my cheeks and into my ears, cascading onto the purple yoga mat below. My thoughts picked up speed.
Run, run, run away into the frigid night : Stop disturbing everyone’s Savasana : If you pad quietly no one will notice you’re gone
Her words and hands tucked me into a place I desperately did not want to be, but met me exactly where I was. My arms and mind couldn’t name the emotion, couldn’t fit around the discomfort. So I lay in Savasana and surrendered. Deep, cathartic breaths (laced with quiet sobs) finally came. I allowed myself to be cared for, arms out, wool blanket grounding, salty tears falling, heart open as one person’s kindness struck and ignited like a match to my soul.
Surely at one point my stoic resolve met my eventual release, handing me off like a baton. They met in a moment when my terse muscles and firm grip slowly loosened–holding on and then, not. A liminal passage between this reality and the next. A rain drop to a snowflake. A small coat that fits and then, suddenly one morning reveals bare, pale wrists. A woolen blanket and pure kindness nudging from terse control to letting go.
When a writer first decides to publicly share her work, it is, by definition, a scary, nerve-racking, hand-wringing, stomach-wrenching event.
My friend, who wrote the words below, whose stomach is currently in knots and fits, is a talented, gracious woman. I am honored to know her, and, honored to share her insightful, tender words with you here, today.
The Birthday Party
I am rushing to get there. I am late because this is a night that I work late. I didn’t schedule appointments as far into the night as I often do on Thursdays because I am trying to be more social, though it will be a loss of income, that we really cannot afford. Since our move to the suburbs 3 years ago, I had not created the social circle that I had hoped. I was still grieving for Manhattan. The last 18 months have been very hard, post partum depression crippled me after the birth of my daughter Isabelle and the city that I love most was attacked and people that I love died. I was trying to get back to having fun.
When I arrive it is clear that the party is in full swing. Women surround the big island in the kitchen and fill the plush couches in the family room and living room. There are more people then I expected. I throw my coat in the guest bedroom and walk quietly into the kitchen. I am hoping not to be seen, well, sort of. I deposit my purse in the corner with many other purses of beautiful, soft leather.
The birthday girl is surrounded by perfectly coiffed women with iron straight hair; on the island in front of everyone is the biggest tray of sushi I have ever seen. Meticulously crafted rolls, gorgeous colored sashimi and sushi pieces fill the plate. Everyone eats from it, but the amount of food on the plate does not seem to be getting smaller. Peaking out from under the mass quantities of fish are the colors of a tremendous tray. It looks familiar, I realize I had seen it recently in Oprah’s new magazine in the column called My Favorite Things. I was surprised that Oprah would include a tray that costs $600.00 in this list. Wasn’t her theme song, I’m Every Woman?
I join the crowd and help myself to some sushi. “Hey,” the birthday girl says to me. I smile and walk around the island to give her a birthday hug.
“Sorry I am late.”
There are no stools left, so I balance my sushi on one hand while I try to hold my chopsticks and water in the other. It is hard to get comfortable. Chopsticks win, I put the water down, then notice there is wine at the other end of the island. I commit to get some as soon as I finish my sushi. I try to tune into the conversation. I think I hear the words Port Charles, but I am sure I do not, so I just keep listening in hopes that I can somehow join in. “Well, I tape it everyday and watch it after I get my kid’s to bed. Shawn is annoyed that I don’t come sit with him when he comes in from work, but I tell him he cannot compete with General Hospital.” Twilight Zone music is playing in my head. Are they talking about General Hospital the soap opera?? I am sure I misheard. ”…well, you know they are bringing Luke and Laura back…” Now I know I heard correctly. I am stunned. All of these women are taping General Hospital and watching it? I’m so busy trying to balance work and kids, pay attention to my husband, and wishing I could fit in, I wonder how they have the time. And General Hospital, no less? I am so judgemental, who am I to comment on what people do in their spare time? I decide I am a bitch and I try to transport myself back to 1981, when in 7th grade I could have told you anything about Luke and Laura. I cannot.
My eyes wander around the kitchen, it is stunning, the appliances gleaming with perfectly polished stainless steel. The marble countertop has a dull finish, more earthy. The colors white, blue and gray spill together. It looks a bit like clouds on an overcast beach day. The huge, stainless refrigerator has no magnets, no calendars, no alphabet letters. I wonder where the hostess puts her kid’s artwork. I don’t see any, anywhere. In fact, I see no evidence that children live here. Where are they now? I wonder. I begin to think about my formica countertops. They seemed fine until today. I am calculating if we could afford to replace our countertops. I have just started my own business, my earnings barely pay my rent. I wish I had a different house. Why couldn’t we afford more, we work so hard?
I am getting irritated. I could be home now with my husband and young children. My second child is 18 months and she is a handful to put to bed. Is this worth not being there? A group of women have now moved on to discuss a show called Survivor. I have not heard of it, but apparently a group meets weekly in each other’s homes to watch this show. In fact, they are taping it now because it is on as we speak, and they have all gotten babysitters for tomorrow night so that they can catch up on what they missed tonight. Someone mentions that her husband is annoyed that she is going out two nights in a row. “I’m so psyched that I don’t need to feign a headache again. He will be asleep by the time I get home.” Many people are nodding. I still want to have sex with my husband, I decide I am immature, acting like a newlywed. Something is wrong with me.
Don’t they want to kiss their kids goodnight? I am completely over-involved in my kids’ lives, I decide. This is why I am have no real social life here. I wonder if I will be interested in Survivor. Will I like that more then reading Walter the Farting Dog to my almost 4 year old? The book is so funny, and my son’s laughter fills my heart with such joy. It is just one night I think, and I think of joining the Survivor group. Then I realize I will miss my husband. I am too dependent on him I decide. I should expand my circle.
I head to the bathroom, not because I need to go, but because I need to escape. I realize my childhood companions are with me. Loneliness has settled in its familiar spot, a lump in my throat and self criticism has wrapped itself around it’s favorite part of me, my heart. When I go into the bathroom I see a tremendous window treatment. The extra fabric pools on the floor and as I move towards the toilet, I am afraid I will step on it. I didn’t even know people had fancy window treatments in bathrooms.
When I come out of the bathroom, I see the hostess and thank her for the party and comment that she must have done so much to prepare. “Oh, no,” she says, “I ordered everything in. I don’t cook.” I only saw the sushi, I look around and see that there is much more food, filling up fancy serving platters. I wonder where she got the food, did she platter it herself or take it to be plattered?
I tell her how beautiful the fabric is in the bathroom and that I have never seen such a beautiful window treatment in a bathroom. She smiles, “yea, yea, it is stunning, raw silk. I originally wanted to do a simple shade from Home Depot but my decorator told me that she will not work with anyone who buys from Home Depot, that her houses must represent the finest. So, that is what we got.” I smile. I am embarrassed for her and thinking of the paper shades we bought at our hardware store. Her decorator would be mortified that she has even invited me to her party. I wish I was invisible, I feel invisible.
I wander back to the kitchen and see that the space is empty. A woman I had not seen before is cleaning up. I begin to help. “No, no,” she says, “go join your friends, this is my job.” They are not my friends, I think to myself. I wonder how this woman views us, the birthday party guests. I watch her go into the family room, where everyone is around the television, and ask the hostess what to do with the left over sushi. I see that the platter from which I took my sushi is still half full and there is another platter covered with Saran Wrap, untouched. “Throw it out” says the hostess. “You cannot eat sushi the next day.” The woman in the kitchen comes back and dumps all of the sushi in the garbage. Orange, red, white fall over each other. I feel physically ill. My husband would have loved some, I would have taken some for lunch tomorrow. There is a homeless shelter downtown. Would this woman have wanted to take some home?
My eyes begin to search the room for someplace to go, to rest, to feel safe. They fall upon the corner where varied colored leathers fill the space. The purses or pocketbooks, I have been told is the word that is used here in the northeast. The colors are like a painting, but some of the imaginery canvas is interrupted by words like Prada, Balenciaga, Gucci, and the letters D and G. I have no idea what D and G is or stands for. Are those the owner’s initials? I see my pleather bag tucked on top. I was so thrilled when the guy on 51st and 5th let me have it for $25, instead of $30. “Special for you”, he said, and I did feel special, for a second, even though I know that the same bag yesterday was $20 and he was letting people have it for $15. My bag stands out from the others. The old Sesame street song plays in my head, “one of these things just doesn’t belong here, one of these things just isn’t the same.” Through my eyes, I see it is my bag, in my heart, I know it is me.