Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Afterword of Crisis

A library visit yesterday started off with me and the three Littles standing on the ground floor of the library, waiting for the elevator door to open.  When it did open, Middle reached out and placed her palm flat against the door, apparently to “help” it open. But her hand slid right along with the door into the crack between the elevator door and the wall.  Her hand stuck there. The door stuck there. 

My  years of growing up provided me with such an abundance of warnings about the dangers of elevators, escalators, skinned fingers, broken fingers, mangled and lost fingers. Somehow, I failed to convey these fears to my own children:  Keep your hands out of cracks where automated doors and railings are concerned.  Better yet, don’t even touch them.

I looked at Middle, grabbed her hand. “Can you pull it out?” I asked, tugging gently. “No,” she answered. The door was still trying to close, the force pulling her hand even further inside the crack, except now her hand was too thick to fit further in. But that door wanted it, it wanted it, it did. And Middle was stuck, paralysed, her eyes wide with surprise, fear.  She screamed, then.

There’s a moment, when time stands still in crisis, where you survey the scene, take in the problem, the potential solution, and realize that while everything depends on you (the lone witness) to get the problem solved, you (the lone witness) don’t actually have the resources to help, the power to stop an automatic door, to free your child’s hand from a crack in the wall.   So you yell, you yell into the quiet library, “Can somebody help?” And some men come running, at first in slow motion, as if it hasn’t really clicked yet—Child’s Hand. Stuck. In Elevator. And then it clicks, and they run faster, and then they run so fast you can tell you are in an Actual Emergency.  They run deliberately, right for that elevator door, like they know how to fix this problem, like they know what buttons to push. One runs right inside the elevator.  He must push a button. Thank God he pushes the right one. 

The elevator door slid open, releasing Middle’s hand, which was red from base knuckles halfway up her fingers. It began to swell. The nice library man—one of the men who’d come running—got a gauze bandage and medical tape, wrapping and securing it gently over Middle’s four fingers. He’d never done this before, he said, but Middle didn’t care. The gauze bandage was for psyche’s sake (Middle’s), only.  But the icepack brought by the library man did help with swelling.

I walk around without really thinking of all the many things that could go wrong in a day. But when we exit crisis, there’s a deeper knowing of how many things could really go wrong, how bad it could be, as well as deep gratitude that they haven't and it isn't.  It’s a revelation I take in, an internal shaking that lasts ten minutes through the filling out of the incident report, through the wrapping of Middle’s hand, through the wiping of all those tears.  In spite of this, the Littles have a sense only of a moment’s present danger, or lack of it—not all the coulds and what ifs I could apply to the future.  Tiny, in her stroller, had stared at the scene with apparent curiosity and now appeared disinterested, clamoring for Chex cereal pieces.  Middle, was relieved, and fixated on the nurture represented in the  gauze bandage, the pack of ice.  And Oldest, seemingly oblivious to the gravity of said crisis, emits an exasperated huff and said, “We’re wasting all our time at the library!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Endangered Metaphor

About the same time I started having oodles of I’m Pregnant Dreams a few years ago, I also had We’re Moving Dreams.  The houses in my dreams had lots and lots of extra space for lots of children, children’s toys, children’s nurseries, children’s clutter, and children’s run-around kinds of fun.  There were bathrooms (more than one—glorious!).  And secret rooms that opened into secret rooms for more space and more children.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve never taken the words “be fruitful and multiply” to mean that my two or three children were not plenty of apples in my basket. I’m perfectly contented right now with the size of my brood.  So, at the present time, the appealing factor in these dreams is the more space, not the more children.

But these dreams keep coming about moving, about rearranging spaces and making spaces—space so that I wouldn’t have to listen to Oldest and Middle argue every morning over whose blanket is in whose way and whose clothes are on the floor. And oh, what I would give for space for them to run around and dance and shout and hoot and holler, a space far enough from me in the house that I don’t have to listen/watch, where I can stay zen, where I can think quiet thoughts, whisper quiet prayers, chop vegetables in quiet and then, when I’m ready to dance and shout and holler myself, I can join them in that other place.

I’ve also pointed out to the husband that there are four females living in a house with one bathroom.  I give it two more years, tops, before this becomes a matter of national security.
Over the years, I have tried hard not to let my mind wander toward the idea of moving to a larger house. Much of the world lives in small spaces. Why can’t I?  The American model is start small, go big. Increase, increase, increase, until you’re an empty nester and all that increased-house size leaves some people feeling empty, lonely, wondering what it’s all for.  So I’ve resisted. If we could just make it through their teenage years, till they’re off to college--it’s only another decade till the first one goes. But I fear, if something doesn’t change, that I will lose my sanity before the decade is up.  My children need to run around and be loud.  I need to walk quietly and think in quiet.  This combination doesn’t bode well for harmonious living. Either I am the grinchy mom who’s spoiling all their fun, or they are my husband’s children from whom I need escape long before lunchtime.  
But moving is stressful.  That’s why I’m trying to stay so very zen about this whole process.  Maybe we’ll move ahead this year, maybe next.  Maybe we’ll wait till we have more equity in our home. Maybe we’ll sell our home quickly, by owner, or it’ll take forever. And maybe a home will open up in our girls’ school’s neighborhood that is just the perfect size, with just the right features, at just the right price and we’ll buy it before we even know what’s happening. 

And moving is stressful for children, as well as grown-ups. That’s why I’ve told Oldest I won’t mention it anymore until I know we’re serious about a change.  Right now, Moving is a thought, a dot, on the horizon we could be sailing toward.  Still, each day, I look around our Raven Street house more purposefully. I see the clutter that a realtor will someday tell me to remove. I am more bothered by a garbage disposal in the sink that broke last spring.  I am highly motivated to fix our garage door.  And today, during Tiny’s nap time, I spackled holes in our bedroom wall.
But there is one particular bit of nostalgia that makes the idea of moving difficult.  3106 Raven Street has not only been my home for the last ten years, but my metaphor for where life happens, where children are born and morph into beings with kaleidoscopic personalities, where marriages weave their threads into long epic narratives, where we learn how to love each other, where God is.  So now, my metaphor is endangered, and what does that mean for the groundedness such symbolism seems to provide me? 

What happened earlier this evening is almost too dramatically ironic, almost too ridiculously perfect to ever come to fruition, that I can hardly utter the words aloud:  I found a for-sale home in our neighborhood today. It’s the right size; it’s got the right features. It’s on a different street, with a different house number, which I almost didn’t notice when I drove up to 3105 Raven Court this evening and peered through the windows into an empty living room.

Possibly, God was laughing when I realized the home’s address—not because this is the house for us, necessarily, but because, truly, the power of the metaphor is what it points to.  And in that case, the joke is on me. Because--really—if we keep on living like we’re still learning, then every home we live in for the rest of our lives will be On Raven Street. And so will yours, if that’s where you want to live, too.

Friday, June 17, 2011

This Friday Morning

It’s Friday morning, in June. Most of the time these days I don’t know the date exactly, but just that we’re floating somewhere between The Last Day of School and The Ice Cream Social. That’s far off in a land called August and Sultry Heat.
This morning the air is moist and cool enough for me to pretend I am living near the sea. Only three blocks north and I will trip into a warm Iowa ocean.  On this warm, Iowa ocean of a Friday morning, and on any old Friday morning this summer, I try to get to two grocery stores between 7:20 and 8:20.  The husband and I have worked this out by prearrangement. I leave as soon as he’s out of the shower and get back before he needs to catch the bus to work.  This is better for us than me taking all three girls to the store in the middle of the day, tripping up and down aisles and repeating myself ad nauseum about only purchasing what is on the list.
When I walk into our local food coop this morning, I am enveloped in a sense of comfort, of familiarity.  The employees are unpacking boxes and stocking the meat counter this early in the morning. The produce guy, with those big round earrings set into the center of his lobes, watches me and smiles when I look his way. I know him, from these Friday mornings.  But surely, he doesn’t know me amongst the hundreds of customers who come in here each week. Then again, maybe he does, the way I know all these vegetables before me, have memories of treating them well—raw or with heat, garlic, olive oil—and sometimes dismally, allowing them to wilt in the crisper, their natural sugars fermenting beyond what any palate could tolerate.  I survey all the organic produce that is close to 2 dollars per pound.  I pick local kale, organic sweet potatoes, zucchini, oranges (from far away), apples, and local red-leaf lettuce, thinking I will make green smoothies this week, thinking I will copy that sage-and-sweet-potato recipe I saw on cable programming yesterday, thinking I better do something with all this produce because I pay fifty bucks when I get to the counter for the veg and some some meat and plain yogurt and one fancy schmancy drink I bought for the husband because he likes it when I come home bearing tokens of I-was-thinking-of-you.

When I arrive home, I don’t see Tiny at first. She is sitting on the floor, ensconced from my view by the bulk of her highchair. Husband, Middle and Oldest are draped against the landscape of the kitchen: Middle sorting through the remnants of a bag of corn chips; Oldest standing between fridge and table, passing ingredients for nachos from one to the other; Husband drying a bowl near the stove.  Tiny sits in front of the dishwasher, entranced by bobby pins and hair bows. Someone has brought the basket of hair accessories from the hall closet for her to play with, and play she does.  It’s rare for Tiny to be content these days unless you are holding her hands, helping her to walk.  But hair pins and bows do the trick. So do centipedes, grass, and compost.
This Friday morning, the big girls have two ginormous laundry baskets full of laundry to fold and put away. They will drape dishtowels on Tiny’s head instead and will only fold when I remind them, when I warn them, stop putting things on your sister’s head.  They will take half an hour, but in fits and starts they will finish all this laundry, begging for the swimming pool when they are done. I will promise to check the weather, promise to check the hours of the local pools before this Friday morning turns into Friday afternoon and then Friday evening, which contains an entirely different set of concerns: when is bedtime? who will pick what show to watch when the babysitter is here? how many snacks before bedtime do they get? How many hours of TV? will the husband and I stay out too late? How tired will we be when faced with the needs—of all three Littles, of the long grass in the yard, of the vocational work that has come home with us—when we wake up on tomorrow’s morning?  I won’t run to the grocery store, but I’ll take Middle to gymnastics, then the colorful and bustling Farmer’s Market. The girls will still rummage in the kitchen, foraging for breakfast.  And maybe the atmosphere will—or maybe it won’t—suggest an Iowa-near-the-ocean, fog rolling in from an invisible sea.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

When the Third One Comes Along

Tiny turned one year old yesterday. Exactly one year ago that day, I was walking the sidewalks on Raven Street with a friend, pausing for the hearty contractions, walking through the milder. My neighbors, most assuredly, peeped from their windows at my swollen belly and bent over form.  I was aware, good-humoredly, that I was a good show, more exciting than most of what happens on the block.  A woman in labor, just an hour or two on the other side of new life entering the world. In the coming months, the neighbors would gawk and giggle at Tiny from a respectful distance.  Only one would offer to hold her, coo, and make faces for her entertainment, jiggle her and rock her during rough afternoons. The rest are not those kinds of neighbors. Though at times I think how quaint it could be if they were, because then the neighborhood would be celebrating with us this week—this week that delivers us a Tiny who is a slender 18.8 pounds but tall: a willowy thirty inches tall when standing, assisted by a parent, sister, grandparent or other good-hearted charity worker who is willing to walk, hunched over, as Tiny leads them around the house/church/yard by the hands.  Her rosy cheeks, her quad-toothed smile, the chestnut brown wisps of bangs that part down the middle of her forehead make her a vision that could turn anyone into a lover-of-Tiny.

Or, so I think, biased as I am.   I have been a lover of all my babies, and have acted like the man in the New Testament parable who invited all his servant could find to attend his banquet, to fill up his table in celebration. For Oldest’s first birthday, our home was jam-packed on a humid June day. Twenty-five or thirty friends and extended family members, most over voting age, were invited to watch and cheer as our one-year-old bit timidly into a chocolate-frosted cupcake for the first time, as her fingers flirted with the satiny paper wrapped around a book, or a bag of blocks.

It was the same dimension of celebration with Middle, in frigid November. Her wisps of blond curls flipped out over her ears as she toddled and tripped over ribbons and bows scattered on the floor, and all the adults roared with laughter as we listened to the pre-recorded song on a battery-operated toy about a farmer and his hybrid animals: You put a pig in front, you put a horse behind. Put them together and what do you find? A Pig-Horse! Little Middle stared at us crazies, giggled, and toddled away. 

But yesterday, for Tiny, it was different. Our local family has grown enough to make for an adequate number of guests: Two big sisters, a grandpa, and his GF, who is also a lover-of-Tiny.  And I, well, I have grown so scattered, so stretched thin from loving the first two babies-turned-children who have so many wants I am working on fulfilling from day to day. And so many needs. There’s the obvious, such as laundry, and food in their bellies, and direction on bathing, or spelling, or chores.   There’s haircut, doctor appointment, and dentist scheduling times two. And then there are Deep Talks, where one of them goes philosophical and analytical and reveals her possession of more self-awareness than most grown-ups I know, and needs to ask questions about my childhood, about what it means to grow up, about the etymology of swear words.   The other needs Snuggling and Book Reading and relentlessly pursues accomodation.

So yesterday, the day of Tiny’s birthday, it turned out I had to take Oldest to her Annual Allergist Appointment where they performed Not-Fun Tests and made her eat peanuts, which made her sick, which made them make us stay in the clinic for observation, which meant we were late getting home. I had not made frosting for cupcakes, had not checked our supply of candles, had not wrapped the Eric Carle book I purchased for Tiny. By previous-child standards, these were parenting fails.

Thank God for Grandpa and his GF, who watched Middle and Tiny, and cleared our dining room table, grilled burgers, and boiled corn so we could sit down, ravenous, and watch Tiny squirm in her highchair.  And Grandpa’s GF dressed her in a special one-time-outfit—a pink birthday tutu and white t-shirt—that would be stained with chocolate chip frosting the second we brought out her first cupcake. When we sang happy birthday, Mark holding a plateful of cupcakes in front of her, she looked at us like we all had a touch of fever and then ripped into a cupcake, crushing it into chocolate smithereens on her highchair tray. Soon after, she let us know she preferred popcorn instead.

 Now that the third child has come along, the fanfare is  dulled—at least for us. Even so, my love couldn’t be more resplendent. And this same love is more prophetic  than ever it was with Middle and Oldest. I can see into Tiny’s future and love her as six-year-old Tiny and as almost-nine-year-old  Tiny because now I know what it means to parent not-just-babies, but children at the entrance to that long tunnel called Growing Up.  So at night, when I nurse her, I stare into her stained-glass-blue mosaic eyes and imagine her someday-fuller face, her someday-sloping nose, the someday-forehead that I will bend down to kiss goodnight or lean toward to kiss goodbye and my breath catches in my throat at all that expanse of change and time.