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May 2016

Pictures to keep

A few weeks ago Raphael asked me if I remembered what hand he smashed in the window when he was 3. I puzzled over it, closed my eyes and tried to picture the scene, dithered for a while, then said "OH, I know! It's on the blog!" And indeed, it was

We looked it up, which took way more time than it should have. It ended up with us meandering through old posts, mainly the ones about him. We laughed, a lot. He finally found out why Mir always says "Ah gonna DIE!" when talking about him. It was like taking an afternoon trip back to when the boys were little and I traveled in the midst of a cloud of them, their words, their adventures, their ridiculousness.

I enjoyed the pictures of them, of course, but back in 2003, there weren't that many pictures. But all the way through there were word pictures that brought those boys back so vividly that I could almost smell the grubby puppy scent of their sweaty heads. 

It made me think about Sophia, and how I've missed writing down a lot of her childhood so far. All those pictures that are gone already, like they were left behind on some picnic bench, to get caught in the wind and dotted with rain. 

So here are a few word pictures of my own girl.

The other day we went for a walk. I took Tchai (our ridiculous dog) and she took her scooter. She was excited to get to the big hill, a steep swoop of blacktop that takes her breath away with its dangerous, flying joy. The sun was easing down toward the horizon, and the light turned golden. She sailed away ahead of me, hair flying out under her pink helmet with the ears (wolf, not kitten ears. Don't call them kitten ears). We were almost to the big hill when she glanced over her shoulder to check on me. That glance caused a wobble, and in a moment too quick to see, she went from flying to curled up in a ball on the blacktop, cradling her elbow, and gasping in the air that was about to be a wail. 

Tchai and I ran to her, and by the time we arrived her elbow was bright with blood. It was an impressive scrape, spiraling around her arm from wrist to elbow. Her palm stung and her knee was tender, but the brunt of the fall was worn on her arm. I sat on the road and pulled her onto my lap and she leaned into me and cried spots onto my t-shirt. 

When she was ready, I picked up her scooter and threw it over my shoulder, and we turned to walk home. After a few minutes, her crying died down, and she rubbed at her eyes with the back of her uninjured hand.

"That was an impressive fall," I told her.

"I guess. I think I looked back and that's why. I didn't even get to the big hill."

"Sorry."

"Yeah. It seems like it's taking a long time to get home."

"Well, you were on your scooter before."

"Yeah. It's a lot faster that way." She fell silent, thinking. "HEY! I should put some of this blood on a slide! Do you think I could see something under the microscope?" She got a microscope for Christmas. 

"I think that's a great idea. That's thinking like a scientist."

"YES." Our house was in sight now, and she looked at it, then at me. "Why don't I run ahead? So the blood doesn't dry up before I get there?"

"Good plan," I told her, and then she was gone. I walked along, with my ridiculous dog trotting beside me and my daughter's scooter swinging from my shoulder with the rhythm of my steps. The gold of the light deepened, and the moment hung suspended. 

I decided to keep the picture. And so I did. 

20170528_193615

 


In the Service of Life

Every spring I experience two cravings. One is to paint my fingernails. Apparently (I discovered while hanging out around on campus) people don't paint their own fingernails anymore. I can't fathom the time and money required to get manicures that often, but whatever. I slosh polish on my own fingernails, every spring, and feel very pretty about the whole thing. Right now I'm very fond of a lavender shade.  

Unfortunately, the other thing I crave in the spring is gardening. I'm not a tidy sort of gardener, either. I don't wear gloves, because how do you feel the proper tension in the root of a weed with gloves on? If you pull too hard, you'll snap that thing right off, and then you just lost. How are you supposed to feel the texture of the soil, how compact or damp or crumbly it is through gloves? Look, I know lots of accomplished gardeners manage it just fine. I'm just stuck at some earlier stage of gardening development, apparently, where I have to feel it in my fingers. At the end of the day, I come inside wearing smudges of dirt, and fingers that are rough with drying soil.

Unfortunately, that doesn't do a manicure any good. It seems like every year I spend a few weeks fighting these two springtime urges until enough nails have given way to the abuse, cracking away in shards. I remove the polish and clip them as short as I can, and get back to the weeding.

It's a relief, really, because looking nice is not really something I'm all that adept at. I don't always grow things successfully either, but I feel better about that effort. As the garden takes shape, I sometimes run my thumb over my nails, feeling the rough tips that are traced with fissures, and scraps of hangnails that sting as they peel away. When tender nubs of green shoulder the soil aside to unfurl in the sunlight, it seems a fair trade. 

I will always choose to work in the service of life, even when I look foolish.

So, I graduated. That was wonderful. I don't think I realized just how much I carried the fact that I'd never finished my degree until I was there, within spitting distance of finishing. The last week of classes, people kept saying to me "You're graduating! You're out of here!" and I would shake my head and reply "Well, I have to get through finals first."

This was a silly thing to say, because I calculated my grades and I knew that I could not get a low enough grade on my finals to fail my classes. And yet, I muttered fretting things about those finals. It wasn't until I finished the very last one (Microbiology. You guys. Microbiology is SO COOL), that I realized I'd actually done it. I got into my car and drove home and sobbed the whole way. I did it. I finally, really did it. It felt so good, and I'm so glad I did it. 

Of course, now I'm job hunting. Here's a news flash that will be shocking to all of you, I'm sure: Job hunting is TERRIBLE. Don't do it, if you can avoid it. It's a horrible thing to do. It's been 22 years since I've had a job, and it turns out that the professional world was not waiting breathlessly for my return. Weird, right? Also, the entire process of looking for a job has turned into the very worst massively multiplayer online role-playing game EVER. I am not good at it. 

At the same time, home life has changed. Tre has moved out - well, I know that happened a while ago. But now he has his own apartment, which feels different yet again. He doesn't come home for the summer. Actually, when he leaves here, he IS going home. That's just weird.

Max also moved out. Hmm. How do I say this? The details aren't mine to share, but suffice to say it's not what I'd hoped. Ultimately, I believe in the heart of Max, and I believe in his future. Right now? There have been a lot of tears. 

We are down to a family of four, huddled at one end of the table at dinner time. I am no good at cooking for this number of people. I end up making hot dogs AGAIN or preparing an enormous lasagne that we will never, ever finish before it goes bad. I feel out of step in this new configuration. 

It's not hard for me to turn these hard things into self-doubt. I turned my back on the working world 22 years ago, assuming it would be fine. Now it's like a massive, smooth wall to me. There are no doors or window, no fissures that I can get a fingerhold on. I don't seem to have been very wise about this, and I'm embarrassed by how bewildering it all is. It feels like something a grown-up should know. 

But I put my grown-up self to the task of parenting. Maybe more than I should have, I invested in my kids. Maybe I should have kept more space for myself in my life. I look at the struggles my kids face, despite my every effort, and wonder what I thought I was achieving there. It turns out that in the best of situations, children are supposed to grow up and leave. It turns out that no amount of love guarantees the best of situations. It turns out that I was unprepared. 

I don't know. All I really got from those years is...those years. I got to spend that time with them. It's all I get right now with Raphael and Sophia, these days that slip through my fingers. I picked that over having a career. So maybe I look silly, a 46-year-old, trying to figure out how to win a job in a strange new world. 

But I suppose I will always choose to work in the service of life, even when I look foolish.