Child Fears

My daughter had a friend sleep over Friday night, and this sweet girl had an anxiety meltdown when it was time for bed. She wanted her mom. Although I know that it is important for kids to be a part of the decision making process about their lives (and I was very willing to bring her home if necessary), I convinced her to stay. For the sake of making this easier, we can call the child Leah and mom April. It will be easier.

You see, Leah wasn’t alone in our house, though she may have felt alone. We are a house full of anxiety meltdowns, and they happen on a regular basis.

I knew that her rational mind really wanted the sleepover. She had been super excited about it. I also knew April really wanted her to get through it. There had been some failed attempts previously.

When she started crying, I sat down next to her on the floor and just waited till she could hear me, all the while gently rubbing her back. It’s hard to know whether physical contact will comfort or escalate the situation. With my kids, I can touch them but anyone else trying would likely cause a major eruption.

Eventually there was enough silence between sobs that I could be heard. “Leah, you were really excited earlier, and I know that we can get through tonight if you really want to. Do you still want this?”, and she nodded. “But you miss your mom?”, and another nod. “Okay. Let’s give it one hour – get ready for bed and I will tuck you in. You can choose which pillow you like best and what lights we leave on, and if you aren’t asleep in an hour, we call your mom. Does that work?”, and a nod.

I washed her face, found some toothpaste she’d use, and tucked her into bed. She was still crying, but more calmly. My kids hovered, wanting to help but knowing all too well that might not work. I checked on her twice in the next half hour, and the second time she was asleep.

In the morning, I asked Leah if she was glad she’d stayed, and she was. While she was eating breakfast, we all sat at the table with her, and we talked about the things that make us anxious. My Sana’s list would’ve gone on all day if I had allowed it. I think it made her feel better to know there was a lack of judgment, and that she didn’t have to hide her feelings. I got a nice hug when she left for the day, and April said she doesn’t offer those often.

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Effie Street

They lived in a little box of a cottage. It was yellow, with green and white scalloped awnings, and a white painted screen door that slammed shut if you didn’t stop it with your foot.

There were roses in the front — mostly varieties of pink, because Kate loved pink, and she owned the house, so her ideas dominated. The chinaberry tree on the right dropped berries by the handful onto the window unit and the awning, and the holly on the left gave lovely sprigs of green and red in winter. In the back yard, there were two metal clothesline poles, and crawfish mounds grew like weeds all summer in the swampy grass.

Kate had an idea about a screened in back porch for resting on hot days, so it was built. All of her plants were there, growing wild. She could name each of them with its country Georgia name, and she had a gift for growing. The porch held a space for either a washer or dryer, I think. I am not entirely sure which, but whatever it was, Kate never used it. Appliances were made to be bought and then to look pretty; they cost too much to run for her depression era values.

Kate and Dolores shared this little box of a house. One lady was made of frills and rose-scented powder and taupe handbags, and the other was a chain-smoker with a loud television always set to a game show and a love for raucous stories of her youth. I lived for Friday nights when it was time to visit them.

Kate had beautiful china that I’d set for my tea parties, and buttons that were my coins when I played store. Dolores would tell me stories about growing up in New Orleans, running home from school for lunch and having too much wine with the meal. She and her brother would return sleepy, and would suffer the wrath of the nuns all afternoon.

The house was full of life. The life was slow and calm, as befitted two old ladies, but the bickering was constant and the ice cream plentiful. The candles were wrapped in waxed paper and kept in the bottom drawer of the fridge, along with the batteries and nearly every food that wasn’t canned. There was tea so sweet and cold that it made your teeth hurt, and a scent of roses and smoke and maybe mildew all mixed together. I know it sounds awful, but it was comforting and solid.

My great-aunt Dolores went into the hospital for the last time on a night when I was there for a sleepover. I remember her telling Grandma that she couldn’t breathe, over and over in a panicked voice. She had emphysema, and her cough was pitiful and wracked her whole body.

After Aunt D died, my grandma Kate changed the carpet to sky blue, and draped the windows in silky robins-egg. The flowers grew out of control for a bit, like Grandma left them to be wild so they would fill the space left empty. Aunt D’s bed was always made, perfectly, with an ivory matelasse cover and two plump pillows, and her sheets had tiny little roses that smelled of bleach and mildew. I slept in that bed on my Friday nights, and somehow it was now new and empty, and clean of my beloved Aunt.

That house for me will always feel like a place where old ladies sit and gossip, even though it’s now a home with a young child and a tricycle in the drive. The poles for the clothesline are likely gone, and the roses were long ago dug up. The chinaberry is still there, though, pinging it’s missiles onto the awnings and the window unit. I hope they left the worn old wood cabinets. Maybe they kept the small bathroom radiator, so the little one’s feet don’t get cold in the iron tub or on the tile floor. I hope there is someone to tell her stories, and have tea parties. I hope the memories I left there make her feel safe.

A choice of virtues

She used to think that Reality was the right place to stand.

She would walk through the doors of Truth, and see her reflection in the pool of Honesty, and it was lovely.

One day, she lingered there at the pool, and watched a long necked egret wading there. The egret would take one leisurely step forward, and stand with its legs like prongs, and the water of Honesty would ripple around his movement. He would use his beak to pierce the surface, and come up with some tasty tidbit to eat.

As he moved the tines of his legs, and broke Honesty as he ate, she saw that his reflection would shift in the water. He wavered. His legs became grasses moving in the breeze, and his long lovely neck split and fractured into two, and then merged back into a sinuous curve.

Honesty moved; it was not still or quiet. As it was disturbed, it reflected something different, both a change to the source of its chaos, and to the view through the doors of Truth and beyond.

This was a new Truth, and Reality didn’t feel like the right place to stand anymore. Honesty was ephemeral if you lingered there long, so she sought a new set of virtues.

Library

There is that perfect scent of paper when you walk in; a blend of learning and solitude and early morning rituals. I quietly slide the door open, and use my knee to cushion it as it swings closed. I wouldn’t want it to make noise.

I walk to the section with the dark blue walls. Here are the true tales of vice, valor and victories; days of the famous recorded for my vicarious readings. I find Lincoln and Mussolini next to LeBron and Prince. They all call to me, and I ignore them in search of humility.

The yellow room is set aside for my beginnings, which are certainly humble. There are deeds and directories, aging and growing dust, the pages mirroring the dim sunlight color of the walls. I’ve found my grandmother’s profession in 1952 in this yellow room, and the opinion piece my great uncle wrote about city codes in 1947.

My children have a mile of space to run and be noisy, disturbing the old and serious as they careen their way to their lair, arms flailing and voices as loud as hushed can be. I am not sure why the designer put juvenile fiction in the back corner, unless it is to challenge adult patience as we guide them there there through hallowed stacks of silence. The best of everything is found in the children’s books; Matilda and Maniac Magee, Bud Not Buddy and The Berenstain Bears. Great literature is born here, near the story time rug.

I’ve wondered too, how mystery and science fiction were special enough to be separate. Why not great literary classics? Or is the Library of Congress afraid to offer guidance on whether or not Margaret Atwood and Toni Morrison belong in the classics? Great literature, certainly. I would say classic, but I’d put Michael Chabon there, too.

I think the library is the home of my heart. I feel complete there. The chairs are soft, the study carrels complete with graffiti from years past, and ages of calculus and physics permeating the wood. I cannot imagine anywhere I would rather spend this rainy Sunday afternoon.

Writers

There are three types of people in the world: those who write to live, those who live to write, and those who neither live nor write.  I suppose they actually may live, but I’ve not yet figured out how.

Picture yourself in a boat. You row for a moment, and go a bit too far to the right because you aren’t thinking.  So you use the left oar to correct, and soon enough you’re either going in circles, or have given up altogether in favor of trailing your fingers in the water and breathing in the scent of South Louisiana heat.

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I love writing even more than I love being in a boat, but find myself drifting away. I begin journals (cue right oar) or notebooks for my children (then left oar), or stories (correction), and then I close the book and put it on a shelf (drifting and breathing). A year later, I buy another book, try again, and step away.  I like the way I feel in the moment, but I don’t like the commitment of feeling like I HAVE to do it (when it is for someone else).  When it is just for me, I like the commitment, but since I am unimportant, I don’t live up to it.

I’ve shared this blog with my brother and niece, and my children have read curated selections that fit the moment they are in, but I have never told anyone else that it is there. A few people follow it, but I don’t know them in real life.  Yesterday, I put a link to a particular post on a Facebook group that I’m in, and in Twitter. It was scary. I know that the people who see it or read it don’t know me and won’t know me, but the Facebook group has my name and photo, and I feel so exposed!

I am trying again with the writing. I’ve passed the last few years as a block of ice, barreling my way through parenting and partnering, and pretty much neglecting myself. I am desperate for meaningful connection at this point, but I’ve learned that meaningful connection has to start with connecting with myself. Hopefully this time I can keep it up. My goal at this point is going to be to write daily through the end of the month. If I can do that, I can continue.

 

Aging

I am struggling to focus. There is a sideways skittering in my head. I pick up the hammer of discipline and try to nail it down, but it escapes me again. I hope it isn’t permanent.

As I sit and unfocus, I am lonely. Not in general; I am very specifically lonely. I miss talking with someone interested in me (not my children). But there is little left for someone to be interested in. I am hollow and skitterish and swing wildly through parenting and working and cleaning and chauffeuring, and I fail at being substantial.

Last week I could read. The week before I was a chef. It’s been a month since I touched a piano. It’s been a lifetime since I wrote.

It is remarkable how self-centered I am in my writing. I suspect it is because it is the only place left for me to be self-centered. Everywhere else I give of myself and flavor the world, and am left tasting bland. Here I can release my jealous child; I can allow my rancor some air.

I despair when I realize there is likely nothing but this remaining. I think, perhaps, that my time in the light is over; twilight even has passed, and I am done. I want more, but more doesn’t want me.

Silence is golden (and black)

My eyelids are heavy and I could sleep for hours.  I am up earlier than I have to be, because I need time to prepare myself for contact with the world. This first 30 minutes of the day is the time that I put on armor.

I will go upstairs soon and wake my children and that will be the first conversation of many I have today. As I go through the workday and then a busy evening of homework and trumpet practice and delayed bedtimes, I will crave silence and feel lonely all at the same time. 

The dogs will come to tug on me, asking to be let outside. My phone will ring, and I will delay answering as long as I can to avoid the need to say the things I am supposed to say. My computer will ding every time I receive an email, and I will intend to disable that setting but will forget.

I will hear airplanes if I try to take a nap. They avoid my house all day until naptime and then they buzz overhead like angry wasps.

As soon as I start working on that task I hate, the phone will ring and I will answer quickly to avoid the task (and then regret doing so).

I hate the sound of the kitchen sink dripping (now, as I gird myself), but cherish the near silence that allows me to hear it.