Friday, January 18, 2008

If I could just recall how to float. . .

Life is a study in discord, chaos and catastrophe right now. I have developed a habit of breaking things down, one by one, in my mind so that they don't seem overwhelming to my head. I have not mastered this skill for my heart.

My heart murmurs quietly inside my chest, its demure speechlessness no match for the big voice of my mind. It's so easy to listen to directive and solid words, thought out loud or stuck inside to rattle around my skull. It's harder to stop and let the heart have its say, simply feel.

I find myself flailing, crying out in a childish and needy voice, "Hear me, HEAR ME, I am lost in this mess, but it is my job to guide everyone out and clear it up."

Except I do not use such precise and clear language.

Instead, like my children, I focus on the minute and concrete, "What a mess! We need to tidy up the playroom!" "Who left these shoes in the center of the hall? They need to be in the shoe shelf!" "Markers and crayons need to be cleared up!" "Oh no, not another event to go to, can we ever have a down day?" "I can't just now, I have to wash the dishes and then put the laundry in the dryer. But next, just as soon as I am done..."

And by redirecting attention to things, it is off of me, and people miss my cry and hear only the sound of my nagging.

I am so anxious that if I am not careful, if I leave one thread untended, it will all fall apart.

Things, you know, do fall apart. But it is not really the things that worry me. It is the people.

We have lost our things before. Someone else's selfishness and carelessness lost and ruined our things, and three years ago we had a fresh start. There is very little in our house, now, that we had before. Clothes, photos, toys, much gone. We fought for too long for replacement value of these things. When the check arrived, it was sweet relief; we could let the things go. Except every now and again, my mind will think, "Oh yes, let's go get the such and so, that will be useful now..." But it is gone, now. We had a cold snap the other night and I ran to the chest of drawers to get fleecy footie PJs for Peristence. We had scores of them for Patience. Except there were none. I began to search, checking storage tubs and labeled boxes in the attic, to no avail. I had forgotten, for a minute, that most year three things of Patience's were lost, now. And by lost I really mean no longer in existence.

The most painful loss are the videotapes. No more baby Patience, no more baby Persistence in action. I console myself with the knowledge that family members took video, except it wasn't spontaneous day-to-day, at our home. But it's enough. It's something.

My father-in-law picked through family photo albums and meticulously replaced the photos we had in frames around our house. Such a thoughtful and time-consuming gesture was extremely kind for his practical, scientific fact-based self.

In the end, we told ourselves, it's not the biggest loss possible; they're only things. In time, we believed this, we knew it to be true---after the first ache of remembering each lost thing subsided.

Now I look around and we are flush in things, again...too many, in a way. Knowing their vulnerability, I tend carefully to these things. Anyway, they are much easier to tend than people, especially when people are complicated.

I don't want to run away; I just want a pause button so I can stop things, rewind them, look at them more carefully, pause again and think, then push slow so things can play out at a speed I can manage right now.

Thursday evening at a dinner, Patience and Persistence danced in a cafeteria that was decked out like an Italian cafe. Frank Sinatra blared from large speakers, and Persistence had shoveled her food down quickly to leave more time and space for fun. Before she'd even swallowed her final bite, she shouted, "Let's dance! I need to dance!" We all moved to the front, by the music, and they clasped hands and did a swing and bop and ring-around-the-rosy. Patience taught Persistence how to spin and twirl while holding hands, and we laughed, the children grinning from the fun, pride, and attention.

Fun is as infectious as anything else, and it wasn't long before a trio of little girls came to do the same beside them. The other little girls got more rambunctious and began singing little songs as they spun. Patience and Persistence paused in their dance, and turned to watch, their joined hands left together, forgotten in their partnership. The tallest of the little girls, dark hair pulled back by a band and then down into a ponytail, leaned in to the circle and whispered to the other little girls. Three heads swung to look at my daughters, and I tensed.

The trio--all in a line, hands still together, but the circle open---walked to my girls, and the middle sized one, hair bobbed short and bouncy, a ribbon tied at the waist of her jean Capris, said, "Would you like to come dance with us, too?"

Persistence immediately smiled, but Patience froze. Persistence reached out a hand and just before the smallest girl took it, Patience yanked her away, and quickly turned her back to the trio. She looked at me and her father, her face locked in longing and fear. Unable to reach past her shyness and accept the invitation, she could not bear to see it before her.

Persistence peered over her shoulder to look at the girls one more time, then slowly turned back around, her allegiance unswervingly to her sister.

The trio stood still, each girl as surprised as the other. Confusion, shock, and indecision flickered across their faces. I wanted six arms to reach out to each girl and pat her reassuringly. But like Persistence, my allegiance belonged to my girl.

And just for a moment, as I wished, time seemed to hover, suspended between seconds. With my brain silenced in bewilderment and dismay, my heart seized its chance, took the opening, and a flood of feeling shook through me: empathy, sadness, worry, concern, disappointment, annoyance. I had forgotten that a feeling can be worth a thousand words. I was captivated by the power of emotion, more so than words can ever do. My heart had its say, and when the shockwave subsided, I felt wiped out.

I smiled ruefully at the trio, and shrugged. In unison, her father and I told Patience it was okay to go dance with the girls. Hearing this, they paused, their offer still open, and waited. Asking permission, she's asking permission, that's all, I could hear their relieved minds sighing, grateful for a reason they could comprehend---even if it was in error.

Patience, distressed, shook her head no, her back still to the girls. We said, "Please, be kind and say no thank you." But she shook her head again. Perplexed we sat silent, our brains racing.

Not asking permission, rejecting, I saw them each comprehend, in turn. The confusion returned to their faces.

The middle girl let it roll off her back, and said, "Come on, let's go dance!" She smiled, no hard feelings I think, and they resumed their fun.

Patience stared hard at my face and I couldn't hide my dismay. She saw that only, and didn't understand it was concern, worry, and love, too.

I looked at my husband, our family of four, together, alone, and I said, "It's time to go."

As we shuffled out, down the long school hallway, we paused by the Good Citizen wall so Patience could point out her friends who had won the award. Each child stared out of the photo, the typical young child grimace grin adorning each face, a certificate with a shiny gold edge clutched barely below each chin. She asked me to read the reason why each got the award.

"Always kind to others," I read, "Helpful and good-natured."

I moved to another, "Friendly, always includes others in her work and play. Reliable, will always help."

Patience and I stood there together, quietly, each thinking, I think, that right now she is not somebody's idea of a good citizen. I could think of nothing to say, so I took her hand, pulled her close to me, and we walked out together.

My mind and heart fought equally strongly for airspace: my mind shouted questions, shoulds, shouldn'ts; my heart surged need, pain, and want. I thought about walking home from school the other day, a six year old girl on either side of me, each chattering away without pause. I caught nothing of what either said, and only nodded and hmm'd when it seemed they needed confirmation I was there. In this time and place, inside myself, with so much noise, I could only feel the need, the desire to fix this, to do do the right thing. A simple hmm or nod would not do. My heart won, but on its own, it is simply raw emotion---a panicked deer running with no plan or direction. I needed my thoughts. But they had shrugged and smiled ruefully at me, in mild mockery of myself. They sat as silent as I had.

As we left, my mind kicked in, running through all that I had to do at home. Worst of all, I realized I have to tell the kids about the dog. He is going in for surgery Friday, depending on whether he gets the clear from the surgeon.

On my last day of children in school before a half week next week, I will be unable to work. Instead, my dog and I will go see the surgeon. I will hope it is simply a mass, nothing malignant. I have to stop thinking of it as an omen. It is a tumor. In my dog. I am the supporting cast in this show.

The kids will want specifics. If I had illustrations, they'd want to see the step by step guide of how the surgery goes. They need reassurances that all will be okay, but I quit believing in that a long time ago. I can't promise it; it is hollow and false and against my principles, now.

There is no preparation against bad things, including pretending they are not possible. The key, I think, is to know you can stand them.

So you focus on the hope, the wish for a good outcome, while not uttering false hope or covering up the possibility of a problem

"It's a common operation, and it should be just fine. I'll be there. He'll be with me, I'll take care of him," I reassured, and they believed me utterly. I exist to take care, in their minds. "And remember, we're a family, okay," I reminded them, as they hung over the dog, petting him, hugging him.

Each wanted a pass out of school to come with me to the surgery center, and I couldn't say that they couldn't come because they would be unable to set their needs aside during a time when my attention would need to be focused elsewhere, or nowhere. So I mentioned the good things at school, the fun they can have, and how by the time they come home, we should be home and it will be behind us, hopefully. They accepted it, but probably simply because their pre-bedtime fatigue stole the fight from them.

Patience read the bedtime book to us. After the school test that measured her reading skill level, her gig is up: she not only can read, but she can read well (and probably has been able to for quite a while). The book finished, two tired girls shuffled to bed, then a worn out mom and dad endeavored to unwind and process.

And hopefully, by morning, we will all recall how to float.

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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wheelsonthebus said...

THat must have been very difficult to watch, knowing that those girls would be hurt and also knowing that her behavior stemmed from shyness, not malice.

I am sorry about your dog. I know how much the whole family loves him and hope he will be chasing raccoons again soon,


slouching mom said...

This was moving in ways my words cannot equal. It's left me aching with its truth, beauty, and sadness.

Strength, friend.

Suki said...

:big hugs:
You know it's just fine for Patience not to dance with people she doesn't know, and she needs to know that it's fine for her not to want to dance with girls she feels are strangers. I wish the journey to learning "finer" things such as diplomacy and brushing people off came easier to kids. Or to me, for that matter.

Hang in there, Julie. And sometimes, I think you could let your family know that you need some help! We all do, don't we?

Mayberry said...

Oh, Julie. Sending you strength and peace from far away (where it's really, REALLY cold).

melissa said...

Wow. That can be so hard for kids. My younger one isn't shy, per se, but he likes to be by himslef so he can think and create. You just have to teach them to say no while still being polite. It's hard.

And prayers for your poochie. I hope all goes well.

Sober Briquette said...

Julie, I don't know what to say. It's awkward to gush about what a great post you've written when it's so painful.

Patience will be OK. I hope the same for your sweet poochie.

Professor J said...

I'm thinking of you all.

Kathryn said...

Words fail me right now. Your writing is amazing.
Sending warm, floaty thoughts your way.

thailandchani said...

Beautiful... what a portrait of two different types of girls and their responses to the same thing.

SciFi Dad said...

I must admit to being curious as to what happened three years ago... my mind raced with questions... fire? flood?

And, as already stated above, an amazing portrait of how two people can see something so differently, as well as the bond of sisterhood.

Family Adventure said...

Painfully beautiful post. That is all.


Jennifer said...

You write so beautifully.

Yolanda said...

So much about that post gripped me, today. Especially this:

There is no preparation against bad things, including pretending they are not possible. The key, I think, is to know you can stand them.

Just know that someone out there believes that you can remain standing, and even if you fall, will cheer for you until you get up.

Cathy said...

This was achingly beautiful.

Sending hugs your way.

Kyla said...

Oh Julie. Sigh.

It's all so tough. Hang in there, friend.

Lawyer Mama said...

Oh boy. I know it's so hard to watch that. I see it in my oldest too. It hurts to watch.

Float. We all forget how to do that at times, don't we?

I hope the doggie is OK. Poor thing.

Oh and I love, love, love your photo up there. It really does make me think of floating. And calm peace.

ewe are here said...

THis is a remarkably beautiful post.... I'm not quite sure how I missed it when you first published it, but I'm glad it got the Perfect Post nod so I could find it.

Christine said...

i can see why de gave you the perfect post, friend. this was glimpse into your heart and your family--thank you.

Running on empty

crazymumma said...

I put so much of me into what I see my of girls life. Impossible not to.