Morning Muse

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I want to be a daughter of the morning.

One who rises easily, fresh and alert

Waiting for the sun to say, “Come, meet the day.”

I admire the soft sunlight that bathes the still streets outside my window

And long to savor this moment to sit and gaze and create.

But poetry halts as I realize that I did not wake quite early enough today.  Cue cartoon sound effect of creative gears screeching to a halt.   There are two little boys plodding down the stairs.  The news of the morning is Louie’s bloody nose.  His sheets and pillow will need to be washed and his little nose is crusted over with a smudge of reddish brown.

Sigh.  I will just finish this blog post after…

I wash blueberries out of the bunny Pez dispenser (Because mom says no more candy today)…or after-

I wipe yellow dye off the senile dog’s back (Otis bumped in to me while I was blowing my Crayola colored bubbles.)…or after-

The clock strikes 10:00 p.m. and I finally plop down and stare out my windows at the still street bathed in darkness.  There is no promise of day awaiting, but the anticipation of rest is sweet too.  I still cannot seem to lasso the morning for my muse, but the process is still fulfilling.

 

 

 

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Golden Eggs & Rotten Eggs

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It feels great to sit down and take some deep breaths at the end of a busy fun-filled weekend.  We had a neighborhood egg hunt yesterday and an Easter extravaganza with all the cousins today that included an egg roll, bunny ear crafts, and lots of candy and ham.

Like most holidays, my nostalgia erupted and I was reminded of the annual egg hunt that my parents would hold in our backyard.  Throughout several consecutive elementary school years, my parents would let me invite all of the neighborhood kids and a few friends from school to our house for an egg hunt.  The eggs were scattered throughout our backyard and included mostly coins, stickers, and candy- but there were also quite a few that had dollars and even one golden egg that held a five dollar bill for the lucky finder.  I remember it being a big deal to invite friends to our home.  Hosting playdates was not something we did very often when I was a kid, mostly because my parents’ health was always wavering.  But I have really fond memories of these egg hunts.  I remember feeling proud at my parents’ initiative, at my moms’ creative surprise eggs filled with confetti, and at how wholesome and normal our family appeared on these spring days.

And just for fun, I’ll share one more egg story that has become a year-round tradition in our house.  As a ploy to get our boys upstairs for bed in an expedient manner, we began the classic idiomatic chant: “Last one up is a rotten egg” or sometimes “First one up is the golden egg!”  Our boys really embraced this game, so it has become a nightly ritual.  But the funniest part about this routine is that our boys have adopted their roles and refuse to waver.  Everett always wants to be the golden egg and Louie always wants to be the rotten egg.  It actually doesn’t matter who gets to the top of the stairs first.  It matters that they can enact their adopted roles.  As our firstborn, Everett plays many of the stereotypical roles of his birth order.  He is a rule-follower, a bit of perfectionist, and generally more serious and reserved.  In contrast, Louie has always been mischievous, witty, and a complete silly goose.  The fact that he chooses to be rotten every night fits him perfectly.

I’m wrapping up the weekend feeling thankful for this Easter filled with sweet memories and the very best golden and rotten eggs around!

 

What will April bring?

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As the end of March draws nearer, I find myself wondering what April will bring.  There’s no doubt that I have enjoyed this writing challenge.  I have found that as much as I consider writing a hobby and even a passion, I still seem to need an external impetus to do it.  At the end of a long day, I don’t finally sit down and think about how badly I want to crack open the laptop.  And I certainly don’t feel the excitement to be creative when my alarm goes off at 5:15 a.m. on the mornings that I attempt to rise before my children.  The Slice of Life Challenge has been just the motivator that I needed to create a writing rhythm.  But what will April bring?

In the last year I have taken creative writing classes, both in-person and online, in an effort to force my words on to paper.  I’ve even looked into MFA programs and wondered if the structure and dedicated time would be my ticket to prolific creation.  And yet I have a hard time making the time and financial investment.  My husband points out, “Erica- you are not writing regularly now. What makes you think you will be writing after dropping several thousand dollars?”  I curse his practical mindset, but part of me knows there is truth in this challenging question.  I don’t necessarily need coursework.  I need intrinsic motivation.  And if I don’t have that, maybe I don’t have what it takes to be a writer.

Over the past couple of years, I have given a lot of thought to whether or not I could get serious about writing.  Despite his pragmatism, my husband is one of my biggest cheerleaders.  He frequently urges me to go update my blog and has even gone as far as doing Internet searches for writing contests I could enter.  While I appreciate his intentions and love that he sees this flame burning within me, I often reject his suggestions usually citing the ever-growing list of life responsibilities that demand my time.  In fact, we had this conversation again today.  The topic of me going back to work when our youngest begins school surfaced again and Ben said, “You could take a year and see if you could get serious about writing.”

There’s that phrase again– “get serious about writing.”  I’m not even sure what that means.  What does it look like to have a serious committed relationship to your writing?  Does it mean I have to do it daily?  Do I have to get published?  Do I need to get paid for it?  Would I try to write a book?  Could I free-lance for magazines?  Would I still enjoy writing if it became a job?  So many questions.

Every time I enter a phase like this where I am grappling with piles of questions, I remember one of my favorite quotes.  I looked it up again tonight.  Reading it always brings me a peace and reminds me that the answers will come.

…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903
in Letters to a Young Poet

Perhaps this is true about my writing.  I cannot live the answers to these questions now.  It may not be the right time, this chaotic phase when I some days struggle to find enough time for myself to take an uninterrupted shower.  But living the questions now is sufficient and really isn’t that what writing is all about: bringing life to all the questions?

TGIF

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Ah- it’s Friday at last. 6:32 p.m.  My husband is out in the backyard with the boys while we wait for the Chinese food to be delivered.  This mama is Done, with a capital D and underscored for emphasis (although I don’t know how to underline something in WordPress.)

I’m snagging these few moments to myself to eek out this post…and drink some wine.  This has been a harrowing week.  I’ve found that the weeks following vacations are always tough.  This always frustrates me, because I feel guilty when I struggle.  I feel like I should be rejuvenated after having a week away from the normal routine and a week of having Ben around to truly co-parent with me.  However, I often find that my patience is lower than ever as I struggle to get back in the swing of things.

I had one of those awful moments today when I just completely lost my cool.  I yelled, I snatched things away from little hands, and clenched my teeth to prevent mouth-foaming rage.  These moments are the worst.  While it feels so good to yell when you are in the moment, so cathartic to release all that frustration in a physical way, it always feels absolutely terrible afterwards.  I could feel the hoarseness in my voice from my 30 second rant for a couple hours afterwards.  It scratched at my throat like a burning Scarlet “A”, while we played at the park.  And yet, I remind myself that I am human.  And I am exhausted.  And exhausted humans make mistakes.

My biggest struggle right now is that my boys are in a phase where they are ganging up on me.  Yes- that’s right.  My not-quite-3-year-old and newly-turned 5 year old deliberately gang up on me.  I know why it’s happening.  They have learned that it is a lot of fun to be partners in crime.  They actually run around giggling and saying they are going to “make mischief.”  I think the fatal turning point was when I laughed out loud when I discovered my youngest in the bathroom making spit balls and throwing them on the wall.  By the time I got there, he had wet at least five Kleenex at the sink and chucked them all over the wall.  I didn’t learn to make a spit-ball until fifth grade and here was my 2-year old figuring out this act of mischief on his own.  They hide in the pantry together and sneak snacks, whisper ploys to one another, and run out to the van to play jungle gym in the cargo space before I can get out there to buckle them in.  As they do these things, they giggle hysterically and I can watch their bond growing stronger and stronger.  Although these acts of mischief are harmless and sometimes even hilarious, it doesn’t make the deliberate defiance any easier to handle.  And there are times like today when my lack of control over these twirling tornadoes just runs me to the brink.

So that’s where I am on this Friday evening–at the brink.  I’m thankful that the weekend lies ahead and that I have a wonderful involved husband that will step up to the plate to bat at these wild pitches for the next two days.  So I suppose I’ll try to let the guilt go, pour myself another glass of wine, and welcome the weekend as a clean slate and an opportunity to give out more patience as I corral the mischief-makers.

The Buzz

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I can feel it creeping up again.  The buzz that begins quietly reverberating in my ear both intrigues me and irritates me.  At first it is a melodic hum that sends me reminiscing and daydreaming, but at times it gathers so much momentum that it drives me to action.  I’ll find myself stealing away to search databases or even sitting down to update my resume.  That is usually when the buzz starts to take on more of a mosquito-pitch whine.  I start to bat it away and shake my head at this waltz with my ambition.  “Now is not the right time for me to go back to work.”

After saving the latest update on my CV, I close the laptop and send my focus back to my current full-time job: boy-wrangling.  Now don’t get me wrong, just because I have the urge to search job databases and refine my resume once every 3-4 months doesn’t mean that I am not content and grateful for the reason for my voluntary career hiatus.  I am so thankful that I am able to stay home with my boys while they are really young and it is a choice that was 100% voluntary.  And 85% of the time, I feel completely confident that this is what I want to be doing.  It’s just the other 15% of the time that the buzz saunters in for a quick nag.

As the boys get older, I find myself thinking about my next career move more and more.  I truly loved teaching and I miss it.  Last night I was talking with one of my new neighbor friends on the way to the concert.  Her husband happens to be a Teach For America- Houston alumnus and is now the executive director of the charter school KIPP- St. Louis.  I am also a TFA-Houston alum and have had a good deal of experience with KIPP schools.  I found my heart racing as I talked excitedly about my past life and compared it with her husband’s current work.  The conversation stuck with me today as I imagined myself teaching high school literature again.  I found myself chatting with another mom about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and how I paired that novel with contemporary nonfiction essays about science and technology during one of my AP Language and Composition units.  And then tonight, the buzz caused me to take action yet again.

Right after putting the boys to bed, I snuck out to the library to pick up two books that I have on hold.  One of the books is next month’s selection for my book club and the other is called The Soul of Discipline, a new parenting book that I desperately requested from the library earlier this week in the midst of a particularly harrowing day “at work.” As I was walking out, I let myself linger near the discarded books shelf, the place where lonely forgotten titles are bargained out of the stacks for a quarter a piece.  I ended up picking up a young adult anthology of short stories called “Every Man for Himself: Ten Short Stories About Being a Guy.”  As I skimmed the table of contents, I recognized some great young adult writers including Walter Dean Myers and Mo Willems.  I imagined pitching the book to some of my most reluctant boys, the ones who would pull up their hoodies as they trudged to the classroom bookshelf to select a text to “fake-read” during independent reading time.  While I have no immediate plans to return to the classroom, I secured the hardcover anthology in the crook of my arm and took my quarter up to the circulation desk.  Twenty-five cents may not seem like a serious investment in this ongoing deliberation, but for me it definitely signaled that the buzz is back to stay for a while and I will both swat and swoon as I contemplate the opportunities that await.

 

Galileo

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Okay- It’s 11:33 CST as I begin to type this.  I’m getting this one in just under the wire.

The reason for my late late night post is that I just got home from a night out seeing The Indigo Girls in concert.  They played at a small venue here in St. Louis and I went with a group of women that live in my neighborhood.  These women are new friends and it was so great to have a fun event such as this one to get to know them better.

Because it’s so late, I’m just going to wrap this post up with some quick highlights:

  • The best part of the concert for me was hearing The Indigo Girls play “Galileo.” My mom was actually a fan of their music before I was and this song instantly takes me back to 1992.  I was 12 and my mom was blaring this cassette in the car.  We would sing and sing and sing our hearts out together.  This song is a beautiful mosaic of allusion and poetry and harmony.  Here is one of the many beautiful stanzas:

But then again it feels like some sort of inspiration
To let the next life off the hook
Or she’ll say look what I had to overcome from my last life
I think I’ll write a book

How long till my soul gets it right?…. 

  • The other incredible thing about the performance of this song was the usher in the aisle next to my row.  She had to be in her mid to late sixties with long wavy white hair draping over her tuxedo uniform complete with bow tie.  When “Galileo” came on, she walked down to the edge of the balcony and just began dancing like a college girl on top a bar.  She swung her hair and waved her arms and belted out the verses at the top of her lungs.  I could not help but think of my mom who would be 60 this year. She would be doing the same dance with no inhibitions.  My teenage self would have crumbled in embarrassment, but my adult self wanted to share that moment with her more than anything.

 

On the way home, the six of us streamed the Indigo Girls songs we didn’t get to hear through the bluetooth feature of the Minivan stereo.  We sang and harmonized like we were kids again.  While I don’t know these women very well yet, it was amazing how well music could bring us all together.  Singing these ballads word for word by tapping into the depths of our long term memory, I realized the profound effect of shared experience.  We were all re-living the same era.  Sure it looked a little different for each of us, but the electric draw to those harmonies was a common denominator that showed up in all of our youths.

 

Darwin Fish

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As I was driving to pick up my son from preschool today, there was a car in front of me sporting this bumper sticker:

darwin-fish

I hadn’t seen this clip art credo in a very long time and it instantly brought to mind a series of memories with my mom.  When I was a sophomore in high school, my mom was cruising through one of her longest periods of health and sobriety.  She had landed a great job as a library assistant in the Engineering library at Washington University and woke each day with energy and a confidence that I had not seen before.  Toward the end of this year, she decided to get her own new car.

I was excited about this purchase because it meant that we were finally get rid of the “gray clunker,” a beat-up Pontiac with peeling paint that announced its arrival a mile before coming into view.  I used to cringe when my mom would roll up in the clunker to pick me up from school or a social gathering, the “clank-a-clank-clank” cueing me to cower and prepare for a quick exit.  I’d slip into the car and quickly mat down my straight fine hair as it was magnetically pulled to the gray felt ceiling fabric that draped down in an unsavory undulation.

My mom was so proud of her new car.  She leased a black Geo Metro from Enterprise that my friends and I lovingly named “The Ghettonugget.”  This was not a derogatory term, for the little black capsule car was in great condition.  Our teenage propensity for silliness just reveled in the image of my quirky mom bouncing around town in the sleek little bauble car.  My mom called it “the Bean,” a slightly more sophisticated epithet.  After she got proper license plates for the car, she removed the plastic Enterprise advertisement plates and put them in a scrapbook.  On the bottom of the plastic vinyl plates she used a black Sharpie to write, “My first car leased with my very own credit.

Shortly after adopting her little black nugget car, my mom bought a fairly large Darwin fish bumper sticker which she centered beneath the sloping hatchback door.  If I’m honest, I was amused at my mom’s desire to personalize and even politicize her new symbol of self-security.  However there was a part of me that was frustrated by her forum for free expression.  Now that I had my driver’s license, the Geo Metro had become my borrowed mode of transportation, a chariot of mobility that helped me navigate my social ladder.  While I had never had any qualms about being raised by two hippy Atheists, I longed to fit in with the classic suburban Christian families that engendered by peer group.  Most of my friends had “Young Life” decals stretched across their back windshields, advertising their allegiance to the hottest Jesus-centered in-crowd around.  I drove around with a decal that at best denounced creationism and at worst mocked a sacred symbol of Christianity.

I don’t recall that the Darwin fish sticker came up in many of my social encounters.  I think the self-consciouness mostly resided in my own head as I played tug-of-war with allegiance to my family’s values and a desire to weave myself into the unwrinkled fabric of suburbia.  I think I probably headed off my own discomfort a few times by making comments like, “Oh, you know my silly mother.” or “You know my dad was a science major- he’s a big Evolution and Genetics guy.” I just wanted that sticker to make another statement than “She comes from a heathen family. They’re different and weird and dysfunctional.” I even parked that car in the church parking lot every Sunday evening when I attended Agape, the youth group that 5 of my best friends were deeply attached to.  While I was an unlikely youth group candidate, I could not bear to be the only one of our crew missing out on sessions of flashlight tag, summer-camp style service trips, and opportunities to hold hands with your guy friends during the prayer circle. To be fair, I got a lot more out of my youth group experience than opportunities for fun and flirtation.  It gave me an opportunity to explore my own spirituality and deepened friendships that I still cherish today, but that Darwin fish always stood guard as a threat to my quest for assimilation.

When I saw that Darwin decal today, it made me smile and feel thankful for my parents’ individuality and disregard for homogeny. Two of my parents’ classic lines were “Question everything, Erica.” along with the question they asked me almost every time I ventured out on my own, whether for an evening at the movies or for a semester at college: “Who is going to take care of you?”  The correct answer to this parting question was always, “Me. I will take care of me.”  It was their way of teaching me the importance of self-reliance and standing firm upon your own values.  I would say that is worth the teenage angst of a Darwin fish sticker swimming in a sea of model Christian souls.