4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
Part I: Fishbone Leaves
Last Saturday I was contemplating my role as a woman and a mother. I was deep in thought about who I am, and what I should be doing, and how the world sees me, while I was standing at the counter cooking, putting dishes in the dishwasher, moving laundry from the washer to the dryer, getting the kids to their last soccer game and the technology fair at their school. My oldest son was picked up to go have his first sleepover at a friend’s house, and somehow this was the final straw in a day of not being sure which end was up. My oldest child was willingly going to sleep somewhere else.
And so I went for a 2 mile walk in the woods across the street along a leaf-strewn path to gain perspective. As I walked I took leaves and slowly pulled out the strands between the veins like I used to do when the kids were little. We called these fishbone leaves, and by the time I finished walking I had made four different fishbone leaves. After I made each one I set it on the path to be quickly lost among the thousands of other leaves and kept walking. It felt like such a Zen giving over of myself to the world, a letting go. I even snapped a photo.
By the time I got home I felt better somehow.
That night it rained and I could hear the remainder of the leaves falling off the trees outside. I startled awake in the middle of the night wondering if my oldest son was okay at his friend’s house, feeling the tug of his distance.
The next day my husband took the kids for a long ride on their Razor scooters at that same park across the street. I stayed home to finish cooking or to clean up or to likely do something else menial and boring.
After an hour my youngest son came running in all excited. He said, “Look what I found on the ground while I was on my scooter, Mama! I found a fishbone leaf like the kind you used to make. Isn’t it pretty?” And he handed me what he’d plucked out of thousands of leaves, this thing I had cast away.
Part II: Hanging Old Lady Chads
Wednesday morning after the election I awoke feeling that way you feel when you’ve been sick or crying or you did something you can’t take back or you’re hungover or all four. I was trying to adjust my mind to a new way of seeing things after the election without letting my kids know that no one was currently at the helm of my spirit ship.
On the way to school we got stuck in traffic where they were doing road repair, and so we sat pointing out excavators, steam rollers and dump trucks like we did when they were little. Out of nowhere I said, “Someday you guys will cast a ballot for a woman for president who believes in the things you believe in. And if I’m not around on that day, I want you to think of me. I want you to step into the voting booth and I want you to think, ‘My mother would have loved this.’”
Which was me coming back to the helm, but also a slightly dark thing to say out of nowhere to four children between the ages of six and nine on their way to school.
Without skipping a beat my nine-year-old son said, “Mom, you’ll be around. You’ll be one of those old ladies down in Florida with the hole punch leaving those things hanging off your paper. You’ll be the one with the hanging chads.”
In the midst of my spiritual storm, I laughed out loud. Of all the things I’d been trying to tell them about this election over the course of the last few weeks, about the popular vote versus electoral college and how elections work, this had somehow stuck?
“But you’ll come down and help me, right?” I asked. “When I’m old and crotchety, you’ll help me cast my ballot?”
“Sure mom, I’ll come,” he said. “I’ll be voting, too.”
Part III: You Don’t Stop When the Pom-Pom Drops
Last night we went to a dance recital at a nearby high school. I love watching high school students perform, because it is all still so new to them, so real, so on the verge of falling apart, but also on the verge of greatness. And watching dance, even more than listening to them sing or play their instruments, seems to me one of the greatest, most exposing endeavors of all for an adolescent or young adult.
Their newly formed adult bodies are revealed in leotards and tights, and on their faces you can see their effort or transcendence. Sometimes I swear it is like a Katy Perry song, you can see them unzipping their skin and letting fireworks fly out of their bellies, but you’re never sure if it’s going to go right or if it’s going to end like a Great White concert.
In the midst of this there was a performance by their dance team, a group that dances with sassy spirit to pop songs as if for a halftime show which sounds like something maybe a feminist would hate, but there’s this gorgeous boy on the team, too, and the kids are a rainbow of colors and builds so in the end they just seem stunningly diva.
Partway through one of the girls, a newer dancer, dropped one of her small sparkly pom-poms. Everyone had two pom-poms and now she had just one. And throughout the rest of the number that one pom-pom got shoved and kicked all over the stage.
My youngest daughter leaned over to me pointing, “She dropped her pom-pom, Mama! She dropped her pom-pom!”
On the other side of my daughter was a friend, an amazing teacher, who counts among her students and colleagues in any given week people who are: Muslim, gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, male, female, transgender, questioning, recently immigrated, conservative Christian, blue-collar, rich, poor, white, beige, brown, black and dwarf. (Can you imagine how much differently this whole entire election season would have gone if every American were charged every single day to do that? To look every one of those people in the eyes and share grace and love?) We had been talking before the program and at intermission. This week has been a hard one for her, and her exhaustion was palpable.
My son on the other side of me leaned in, “Do you see there’s her pom-pom? She dropped her pom-pom!” My other daughter leaned across him, “Mom, she dropped her pom-pom.” As if it were over now, as if that girl had officially ruined the dance.
Amidst all this vulnerability, and all this effort, all my kids could see was that goddamn pom-pom. They could not get through it to the other side, that there was still a whole gorgeous dance to be had.
I turned to my daughter and said, “You don’t stop when the pom-pom drops. You keep going. You always keep going. Do you hear me?” and then to her brother, “You do not stop when the pom-pom drops.” And then I leaned over my youngest daughter’s head to my friend, and I wrapped my hand around her shoulder, looked her in the eye, and I hiss-whispered, “You do not stop when the pom-pom drops.Do you hear me? You do not stop.” She smiled, understanding my meaning.
“Is that a metaphor?” my eight-year-old daughter whispered, rolling her eyes. I turned to her and whispered back, “Yes. Yes, it is.”