4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
I have always been buried by the weight of parts of things. It’s the finding the cord to hook up the printer and updating the software to work with the printer and replacing the ink and finding the paper and then, alas, too much. Everything with more than three steps is too much.
It is like that with Christmas cards. The downloading of photos but now the IOS isn’t matching up to my hard drive and where’s the Snapfish coupon or should I do Minted? Or Tinyprints? And what should it say? And why can’t everyone just goddamn smile when I take a photo? And then where are the stamps? The pen that doesn’t smear? The addresses?
And this year it was the addresses that finally broke me. For years, as we moved from borrowed apartment to first home to fancy school house, I dragged this address list along, used for birthday notes and Christmas cards. It was tattered and torn, smeared and written on in fifty different pens, feathered with torn envelope corners of return addresses taped over obsolete addresses.
In 2001 this three page packet crisply stapled together had served as our guest list for the wedding I planned mostly myself as my husband managed graduate school and we both hustled at full time jobs (how I managed that, I have no idea, when I generally don’t have the wherewithal to manage an RSVP to friends weddings…) But I’d done it with hardly any technology to help me at all, with one accordion folder, a single pen tucked inside, a carefully typed list of addresses on crisp white paper, the focused mind of a gainfully employed single childless female.
Fast forward to 2014, and the list, alas, went missing. So I sat at the big clunky computer my husband bought me when the twins were born and I chugged around the internet as the now six-year-old twins and their four-and-seven-year-old siblings pulled at my legs, and I looked up every address of all these disparate people whose lives had intersected with mine, and I carried this list forward adding new names, too.
But sometime this summer, in the midst of a rushed desk clean-up and a new computer, that sparkling, updated, virtual list somehow just disappeared, alas. So I tried to find it in Google docs and Word docs and downloaded docs and then I hunted in bins and folders and boxes and baskets stashed here and there with the unfinished and unsent smiling baby faces my children once were from years past. To no avail.
What I did finally find was the fluttery pages of that original guest wedding list from fifteen long years ago.
But here’s the thing. Time moves on, these lives of ours. And the tattered old address list suddenly doesn’t hold the answers of who we have each become. Even as I remain the same befuddled organized, disorganized girl with large Christmas card intentions and a lifelong inability to manage the parts.
And our individual moving forward collectively means that one friend is no longer in Germany and another has married, the next has divorced. They’ve left the city apartment for a home in the suburbs and she’s moved someplace one town over from where she’d been before in order to manage joint custody. This one has died. That one too. And this one. And this one has fallen away from my world such that a newsy card from me would be awkward, a quacking cell phone ring during the liturgy, or worse, a pounding on the door at midnight.
I am determined in the Christmas card making. But also I am befuddled. I have visions of a perfectly piled stack of cards signed with a snappy “Cheers to you!” But evidence of boxes upon boxes (literally), these ghosts of unsent cards from Christmas past, that suggest otherwise. I am clinging to things I shouldn’t and probably missing the things that matter most.
This has been the story of 2016, Aleppo and pants suits, Orlando and Zika, the Dakota Access Pipeline and Black Lives Matter-ing, Prince and David Bowie taking leave, teeth raining down out of my four children’s mouths even as their bodies begin to smell like otherness instead of toddler skin, and my two little girls learning modern dance like strong, lovely birds, all four picking up lacrosse sticks to throw something hard and intentional into their mysterious futures. These things all seem uncontrollable, mostly beyond my reach, but deeply affecting somehow nonetheless.
I am not sure then what to do with these side notes and front page headlines that have marked these months, these years, this life. Do they weigh us down or are they our foundations? All these names and addresses, most obsolete, on shredded paper, written by a childless, unmarried woman who was barely thirty, who was me but really only a percentage of me. All these stories of lives and losses, hope and injustice, that flood our vision.
What has this all come to then?
A pile of Christmas cards. Hope burning eternal nevertheless that we can do better, send the cards earlier, get more addresses right, remember the stamps (oh, lord, so many stamps.)
I wonder if I send the cards each year in an effort to throw myself towards the future, to take back 2017 from whoever stole 2016. To make a mark. To prove that I can overcome my most base self. To get up, dust myself off and see how I can take part in this world in whatever small way.
Or perhaps I simply send them because my dear husband of fifteen years begins asking each Thanksgiving, in his own hopeful way, “How’s the Christmas card coming?”
Here’s to doing better in 2017 each and every one of us as Christmas card writers and humans. May we marshal our hope despite our better knowledge and gather our loved ones close but also throw our infinite net of human love wide and far, and throw ourselves forward into our inevitable futures, with our address list in hand, metaphorical or otherwise.