A Bear, Tomatoes, and an Exercise in Resisting in Metaphor

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A black bear is wandering our small city. Braving the busy main roads, trotting down quiet side streets and into little backyards, finding temporary refuge in the marshes and sparse woods. Two days ago, he was across from my mother’s house, moving so stealthily through the neighbor’s yard, he didn’t even disturb the laundry on the line. He took the beach route to our side of town, must’ve walked right past our house to get to the tennis courts by my dad’s where he was last photographed. He’s a young male black bear, alone, and most certainly lost. I wish he’d stop by our backyard and rest awhile in an Adirondack chair. I’d bring him a stack of toast with butter and jam and a drink of cool water, walk him over to a good fishing spot where the woods meet the marsh, and invite him back when the tomatoes are ripe.

Days of rain kept me from the garden. When the sun finally returned, I went out to weed and see if it was too late to plant cucumbers only to discover there wasn’t an inch of space. The garden is wild with tomato plants, volunteers from last summer. I have only a little tending to do: some transplanting to reduce crowding, a bit of weeding and watering. Sometimes the things we create take on a life of their own. Some growth comes not with labor but with ease.

Before I get metaphorical and compare gardening to writing, I want to pour my Marie Howe collection of observations on the table. If you decided to play along, I hope you’ll leave me a few (or a whole bunch) of yours.

A man, large and bald with thick glasses, sweeps the cafeteria floor near the table where I sit writing, looks at me and asks, “How do you like world war three?”

The boy with the missing front tooth and greasy hair always wears the same grey-brown clothes and sits alone, but at least he has a phone, and today talks briefly–so briefly–to a girl sitting nearby.

The copy machine in the teacher’s room whirs and chugs and spits so loudly, I can practice my poem in full voice without anyone hearing.

My daughter runs across the wet, green grass through the sprinkler and shouts, “Drink, mommy, drink!” I bend down and lower my face to the spray, catching the cold metallic-tasting water that feels somewhere between a tickle and a sting. I shriek with laughter.

Thin clouds gauze over the blue sky. We count two lobster boats, one barge, four sea gulls. Charles Island in the distance.

Tiny 3-year-old feet with chipped red nail polish run through the sand.

I press my nose to the back of my daughter’s head and breathe deep the scent of salt air, sunscreen, and a sweetness that belongs only to her.

The tides comes in and we watch the seaweed–green, brown, red–dance around our ankles.

Evening on the front porch. The swish-swash of the swamp maples waving in the wind. The tink-tonk of the bamboo chime.

The full moon casts a glow over the rippling water. I sit in the wet sand and watch.

 

 

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Slow Down

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Photo credit: Famlii

Today was a juggling running around catching up with course work almost forgetting to order cupcakes for the birthday party kind of day. Wondering if/when I’ll catch up, find my equilibrium. I do much better with a routine, and I’ve been knocked off mine for so long now, I feel like I can’t quite get traction.

When I become impatient and an edge creeps into my voice, my daughter says, “Okay, mama, just slow down.” I have no idea where she got it from. But it works so much better than “relax” or “calm down” or “take a deep breath” or “count to ten.” Just slow down, mama. Okay zen toddler, lead the way.

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This is 3!

 

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This is 3! We hung the birthday sign and the paper chain and blew up balloons. I made blueberry pancakes and lit a candle and we sang, all before sun up. I was a full and present parent who didn’t try to juggle other tasks into the day. She chose the Peabody museum, so we went to New Haven and, as luck would have it, they were feeding the bearded dragons and frogs and Vietnamese walking sticks, so we got to hold and touch and marvel up close. In the afternoon it was warm enough to go to the beach and build sandcastles. I’m still off food from the stomach flu, so when my mom offered dinner and a birthday muffin, I said, oh yes please! (I’m getting a lot better now at saying, yes, thank you for your offer to help, I’ll take it!)

I would like to write another ode to age 2, but I’ve been catching up on my course, and must save it for the weekend.

Thank you, dear readers, for hanging in there and leaving so many kind comments during this stretch of thin posts and two bouts of illness. It was a beautiful day celebrating my sweet girl and I’m feeling so grateful.

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If the Season We Could Keep

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Thank you for all the kind words and encouragement during this wacky week of Intro to Potty Training. I swear I’m going to stop writing about it. Today is a better day for no particular reason other than it just is. These last few days I’ve wanted to hit fast-forward, but last month I wrote this essay about the moments I wish I could keep, and it’s on the Brain, Child blog today. A good reminder that there are so many little joys and that things are changing all the time.

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A Restlessness

I’m trying like heck to get a few short pieces submitted. I get tripped up by cover letters. I wonder if the piece is ready, really ready. Then I wonder if I’m waiting too long. I go to submit and end up hopping around the journal. I see names I recognize and start reading their work. Like this flash piece by Steve Edwards at SmokeLong Quarterly. “Love is a mess.”

It was not a great day of potty-training. I couldn’t seem to dig up enough enthusiasm to counter the resistance. I wasn’t patient enough. I tried to accomplish other things, and none of it really worked out. The days have been grey and confining. I wouldn’t be pushing it so much if preschool acceptance didn’t hinge on her being fully potty-trained. In a way, it’s like the weaning experience, a big change, and I’m trying to gauge readiness. The weaning process taught me that a child can be both ready and unwilling. It’s mostly a matter of being gentle. And sometimes it’s hard to be gentle when the day is grey and you’re trapped in the house thinking of a hundred other things and you realize you’ve got nothing but black to wear to this weekend’s Christmas parties and goddamnit is that unnameable idiot really, really going to be president and the paperwork needs completing and the car needs to go to the shop but for god’s sake no one’s dying and everything is fine and why can’t I just be happy batting this balloon around the kitchen with my kid? Yeah. Some days it’s just harder to be gentle. And you have to find a way to trade the guilt for forgiveness, surrender what’s passed, and look ahead to the fresh new unmarred day.

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Paper Snowflakes

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Day 2 of potty training. It dawns on me that this task requires ALL of my attention, energy, presence. Once past the wailing resistance of the early morning hours, we reach an agreeable place, a sort-of fun game of turning off the timer and re-setting it. She says, “tick-tock, tick-tock.” The entire day is spent in 15-minute increments, conducive to little arts n’ crafts projects like cutting paper snowflakes while she paints, like pulling out the felt board, like finally cleaning out the toy closet in the den. It is not conducive to writing, submitting work, answering emails, or working on the photo albums I’ve procrastinated too long. It’s a day I find myself sitting on the bathroom floor in pajamas reading a Curious George book for the tenth time before resorting to blurry YouTube renditions of “Frosty the Snowman” on my phone to keep the kiddo on the potty. I have no idea what time it is, only that it’s 15 minutes from the last time I sat on the floor and read the book and watched the video. These are long days, my friends.

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Tiny Triumph

[Photo of naked toddler with fairy wings decorating Christmas tree.]

Isn’t it magical? A naked Christmas faerie appeared this morning and rearranged the ornaments on the tree. Later in the afternoon we cut paper snowflakes. And between those two short-lived activities, we potty-trained. Which looked mostly like this:

[Photo of child in high chair with hand raised, tearfully expressing the word “no.”]

Potty-training the resistance, an utterly exhausting process that requires equal parts enthusiasm and patience. But we did it. We had that triumphant moment when she initiated the potty before the timer went off, and she did it! Cheering and high-fives and stickers and smiles. That was our win for the day. I wanted to write about Lucia Berlin, but that will have to wait until tomorrow (because a migraine is now taking over.)

Goodnight, sweet readers. Sleep well.

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Changes and Traditions

These last couple of months leading up to age three are all rapid change and growth. Increased vocabulary and refined pronunciation. Heightened awareness and comprehension. Assertiveness, a strong will. There’s a lot more resistance, a lot more “no!” She will hold up her hand and say, “No, mommy, leave me be!”

She still has an ethereal essence, a sweet and gentle soul. It shines through her big brown eyes even during crabby moments. But a fierce will is emerging, and though it sometimes wears me out, I’m glad for it. I want her to claim her space, raise her voice, stand her ground. She is an incredible combination of peace and strength and silliness, teaching me all the time.

If you ask her what she wants for Christmas, she will answer, “A present!” There is no material good she longs for, except perhaps another book to add to her collection. She is still blissfully unaware of our consumer-driven culture. I know it won’t be long before this changes, and I’ve been thinking of little traditions that focus on what truly matters. I love the tradition of decorating a tree in the yard with edible ornaments for the animals, detailed over at Wilder Child. It’s a simple craft project, an experience, and an act of giving. It turns our attention to the creatures we share space with and instills a sense of responsibility to wildlife. And it looks so lovely, the cranberry strands and orange cups of birdseed hanging from the tree. We’ve been reading Jan Brett’s The Mitten every night and thinking about all the creatures in our backyard.

If I had any talent for sewing, I’d quilt an Advent calendar. My favorites are the fabric ones with pockets for little felted ornaments and candy canes. This year we have a beautiful paper one from my sister. Perhaps next year I’ll craft one from fabric…

How are your little ones changing? How do you celebrate the season?

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Make Something, Anything

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First, put down your phone. Forget the torrent of bad news on Twitter, the cabinet of deplorables. Forget that the car died and the auto shop resurrected it and then it died again. Sit down on the floor with your child and build something. She will knock it over. Keep building. The cat will plop himself in the middle. Build around him. Realize you’re out of diapers, but have a bag of pull-ups. Coax the potty-resistant toddler to the potty. Make it fun! Get some books. Cajole, cheer. Be gentle. Set the timer to 15 minutes with a delightful ring called “Twinkle.” Think, positive associations. Think, be inventive! Remember that you have drinking straws in a drawer in the kitchen. Create a game, a magic trick. Can you make the water disappear by drinking from the straw? Cajole. Cheer! Per toddler’s request, slice half an apple. Renew your commitment to limited screen time. Declare a meaningless warning, only 15 more minutes of Caillou. Note the Twinkle timer. Use a joyful voice to announce, it’s time! Drag the limp-limbed toddler by her arms while she cries, then laughs, and eventually sits on the potty. Read more books. Make it fun! What animal likes apples? The horse, yes, the horse! Note the dust and hair collecting on the floor behind the sink. Get the bottle of diluted bleach, get down on your hands and knees, and scrub the floor. There, an accomplishment. Make a potty chart with stickers. Turn off Caillou and endure a 10-minute tantrum. Bring the felt board into the living room. Coax. Cajole. Try to sit at the table for a moment and write (ha!). Try the make-water-disappear-with-a-straw magic trick again. Coax. Cajole. Breathe. Sit in front of the felt board and pull out the tree-shaped piece of felt. Place a red circle near the tree and claim it’s an apple. Watch the toddler grab it and declare, No, it’s not an apple! It’s a red circle. Acquiesce with a sigh. You have no argument. Twinkle timer. Coax. Cajole. Find a new book to read. Please stop touching your bottom. Try to keep the edge from your voice. Be gentle. Admire your freshly bleached bathroom. Note the sun rising higher in the sky. It’s 9:00 a.m. You’ve been at this for 2 hours, eight 15-minute increments. Note this is how big things are accomplished, in tiny increments. Endurance is key. Your husband returns home from running errands and takes the toddler for a walk. You sit down to write this. You are interrupted by the friend delivering a cord of wood. By the toddler home from the walk, demanding TV. You swallow frustration. You accept that there will forever be forces running counter to your mission. You wonder why you bother. But deep down, you know it counts. You renew your commitment to remain Twitter-free, news-free for 24 hours. Mental health is key. You will stop consuming. Start creating. You will make something, anything.

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Twice Daily

Beginning today I’m writing twice daily, here on the blog and in my notebook from Flash Nano prompts, through the month of November. I’ve needed the uncensored freedom that happens with journal writing. I also love beginning with a prompt, a starting point that allows me to access new ideas. This morning’s prompt had to do with the color brown. At first I thought, how boring. Then I thought of yesterday’s crunchy autumn leaf pile. Cheerios. Half-eaten fruit. Cinnamon. Coffee beans. Sea glass. A palette of browns telling the simple story of toddler days and time passing. Just when I thought I’d run out of ideas, another one turns up. Thank goodness.

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