The Heart of Winter

 

fullsizerender-7

It snowed! Gone, the soggy days and confused tulips. The sun was bright and the trees cast long blue shadows against the drifts. Clumps of snow clung to the bare branches. The bitter cold meant even the streets were white like the streets of my youth, winters long past. Finally, snow that sticks.

Earlier in the week we’d gone to the craft store, one of those chains full of fake flowers and holiday knick-knacks. Red hearts and doilies and paper valentines gave way to St. Patrick’s Day displays with shamrocks and glittery green top hats and signs shaped like bottle tops that read “Kiss Me I’m Irish.” A thought bloomed like a tiny crocus: winter isn’t interminable. The grey will give way to green. In a month, we’ll gather for corned beef and cabbage. The kids will circle the house screaming and laughing and we’ll walk uptown to the parade.

Every year I’m tricked into believing winter is a static state. Lulled into a myopic daze, I’m unable to see the inevitable spring.

My daughter disrupts my train of thought, darting around the living room announcing “Happy Valentine’s Day” as she places paper hearts in front of the cats and pastes a few to the window. My husband is locked in his office busy with work. I re-pot the purple cyclamen, and already six new blooms shoot up and promise to unfurl.  Winnie the Pooh sings exuberantly in the next room. As I write that sentence, I think, adverb, indulgent like a piece of chocolate I shouldn’t eat. I think of other writing advice: to use specific detail and avoid writing “dramatically” or about “feelings.” Still, I want to confide. In this static winter state I flit from guilt to ambition, malaise to joy, surrender to perseverance, despair to hope like a bee trapped in a cup softly banging against its enclosure not realizing it can fly straight up and into the open air.

We sledded down the high school hill at sunset, screaming as the snow hit our boots and sprayed into our faces. Later, my best friend treated us to dinner. The kids ate the basket of tortilla chips while we sipped margaritas from salty rims. We had one of those disjointed conversations made of snippets strung amidst toddler chatter, where every sentence begins with, “What was I just saying?” Eventually we gave up and discussed dinosaurs and played I-Spy and laughed with the kind folks at the next table who retrieved my daughter’s balloon again and again as she let it float up to the ceiling.

Advertisements

The Truth: 27/365

Coffee. Below zero February morning. The truth.

The truth is my last few posts have been a struggle. You can hear it, right? No wind in my sails. The truth is we were sick and sleepless for two weeks with racking coughs. I don’t go to the doctor unless it’s dire, like broken bones or stitches. It’s all lemon water homeopathic cough syrup tumeric cinnamon bone broth humidifier wet sock treatment herbal tea around here. Between the sick and the snow, I’m feeling housebound and a little stir-crazy. We make our little outings… Yale Peabody Museum to see the dinos on Thursday afternoons when admission is free. The library. The grocery store, always multiple trips as I can only ever seem to buy two days worth of food. We made it to the playground those few warm days before the temperature plunged to subzero. But Lordy, being home in the winter with a little one requires creativity and imagination. Play dough and books and dress-up and hide-and-seek and dining room table forts. Little 25 month old nursling commands, “Sit on the couch, mama. I need milky!” I give in, and while she nurses, she flings her toddler feet into my face and says, “My socks are orange!” and I say, “Yes, your socks are orange.” And she says, “My socks are orange. It’s like red. But it’s not yellow.” And I think, she’s a color genius! I go on a brief hunt for my watercolor paper, which has to be somewhere in this house, because if I can’t get my writing done, then I ought to add some painting to the heap of unfinished projects. My sneakers look like a dog chewed the heels out. (We don’t have a dog.) I don’t buy anything for myself. Minimalism is good for you. Deciphering between necessity and luxury is good for you. Not buying into our culture’s compulsive over-consumption is good for you. Last week I binge-read The Chronology of Water and had a reading hangover. The writing entrances while the content guts you. And how did she write a book of short stories and a novel during her child’s first year of life? C’mon Lidia, please tell me you had a nanny. Things like that make me feel hopelessly inadequate. Like how am I not getting more done? (If you’ve read that book, you’re thinking, seriously, that’s your takeaway?) But even this paragraph, I’ve been writing it in five minute spurts for four hours, and I ask myself, is it even worth it? That’s how things happen with a toddler, in five minute spurts. Nine minutes if you’re lucky. Sometimes I think I would like another baby. I wonder if my sweet girl is missing a companion. And then I think everything is perfect just as it is. I think about my body going through pregnancy and postpartum again and my brain shouts, NO WAY! And then I remember it’s not up to me anyway. The universe waves its magic wand. Or it doesn’t. I want to write a novel. I want to write and illustrate a children’s book. I want to finish one damn essay. I think about homeschooling and veer off into Waldorf curriculums. I want to raise backyard chickens. What else having I been meaning to say? That Anne Lamott talk from a few posts back. She quantifies writing time and it makes perfect sense. She says if you’ve got three hours, that’s two hours and ten minutes of writing time. Ah, so true! Little light bulb moment. I would like to quantify writing time + toddler. After I painted that Phoebe Wahl valentine I listened to an interview with her on the podcast While She Naps, and while the conversation is mostly around running a small creative business, it drifts into feminism and motherhood and miscarriage and homemaking. It struck a chord deep in my heart, the love of homemaking and childrearing and creative project making and being there for ordinary moments. And I was surprised to hear Phoebe, this young RISD grad, declare, “To say that domesticity is synonymous with submission is to dishonor the thousands of years worth of strong and independent women who have acted as homemaker, and the men and women who continue to passionately fill this role of their own volition.”

Now, instead of getting self-conscious and editing the heck out of this post, I’m going to hit publish and go look for that watercolor paper again.

Snow: 4/365

It’s finally here, the first real snow, a blizzard with big wind gusts and swirling flakes. Drifts on the front porch. The mute grey sky. Cats curled up. Baby napping. Chris clapping out wood and re-stacking the pile. I got the fire going again. Crackle, hiss.

I love the peacefulness of snow, the way it makes everything quiet. No cars, no sounds. That tucked-in, hunkered-down feeling. It throws a blanket over everything, even the chatter of anxiety, my frequent companion.

That’s something I’ve realized about this daily practice. Just four days in, and it’s already redirecting my thoughts. It forces focus. It quiets the swirl of rumination. It brings peacefulness too.

Empathy, Birds, and the Changing Internal Landscape: 3/365

My daughter was born during a cold and snowy winter. We lived by the water in a second-floor apartment, and I can still hear the scraping rhythm of her dad shoveling the long driveway while we looked down from our warm perch. Spring came like it always does, as an affront and a relief, crocuses and mud and stark sunshine. Every day I bundled her up and walked the two mile loop over cracked sidewalks that gave way to beautiful homes and smoother sidewalks and onto the boardwalk along Long Island Sound.

The geese and ducks return first. Then osprey swoop and dive, chased by groups of little birds trying to protect their nests. As the air warms, cormorants arrive and perform their hide-and-seek magic, diving deep and popping up again twenty feet away. Summer isn’t promised until the egrets appear in the estuary, long white elegance rising from the mud. Last come the regal great blue herons.

The birds’ arrival mean babies are coming. Not all of them make it. Sick or fallen or pursued by an osprey, casualties are inevitable. There would always be a few dead baby birds on the sidewalk or nearby in the grass next to beach roses waiting to bloom. One of those stark-sun days, pushing my little bundle in the stroller, we came upon a tiny, featherless creature on the sidewalk, so newly fallen its big eyes blinked and its beak mouthed a silent plea. I was tortured. I should have moved the doomed creature to the grass and offered up a hopeful prayer that its mother might rescue it. But I was a fragile new mother who couldn’t accept even the smallest death.

I felt panicky as I carefully scooped the bird into my left hand, transparent skin pulsing in my palm. I imagined my warmth was comforting as I pushed the heavy stroller with my right hand and balanced the bird in my left, still a mile to go, fearful of bird germs near my baby and not having any idea what I’d do when I finally got home. I jerked the stroller one-handed off the curb and back into the neighborhood, over sidewalks cracked from frost heaves and tree roots, my left arm outstretched with my palm up like an offering. The baby bird was still breathing and blindly searching the air the way every baby does.

At home I laid it gently under our holly bush. I needed to wash my hands and get my own baby upstairs before I could figure out what to do. I called my husband and a friend for advice, looked online, still pretending I could save it. When I made it back downstairs an hour later to check under the holly bush, it was being devoured by ants.

New motherhood felt raw and vulnerable. My entire being contracted with fierce protection, a myopic laser vision focused on my daughter. But inside, an expansive empathy spread and extended to every living thing, especially the small and helpless. Most days my world did not go beyond that two mile radius, but my internal landscape stretched out like a western vista, big sky country reaching up into my heart.