After a long day…
Me: Do you know how much I love you?
Boy: A bunch.
Me: And how much do you love me?
Boy: A lot.
Me: Which is more?
Boy: A bunch.
Me: So I love you more than you love me?
Any holiday that results in the world being filled with flowers and slightly burnt toast can’t be all that bad. Our mother told me that some of the best days of her life as a mother were when her own children had kids of their own and felt the weight of responsibility that comes with holding a newborn. She paused for emphasis and raised her hand with a flourish and proclaimed: “Instant respect!!” And she treated all of us like people all the time – no talking down – never really couching her guilt trips (there were many; they can be useful) in a way that diminished motherhood itself.
A feminist who disdained the very word, she understood the power of matriarchy and wielded its grandly. And her belief that children are gifts from God, given to us to teach us about ourselves as part of a the pursuit of the divine was probably her greatest lesson to me. She believed in everyone having a divine purpose and often said that pride was her biggest obstacle to pursuing the path laid out for her. I get that.
Mom said she had to remind herself that she could neither control nor shape the fates of her children (though that really didn’t stop her from trying) but the more powerful thing she said was that her belief in divine providence reminded her that she could neither take credit for our successes nor blame for our mistakes. And while there were times I thought that statement was a cop out, I can see how she thought that when I look at my own children; I don’t know that much more about them today than I learned in the first 24 hours in the hospital after each of them was born. They have all been so much themselves from the very first moment we met, and yes, I factored in the autism. Certainly we must give them all the tools we can to release the full potential they have; to keep them healthy and safe but most of all to help them know and understand the power and meaning of love. It sounds simple and it’s pretty straightforward until you have that moment as a mother where the greatest love means letting go.
When preparing for meetings I find myself glued to the computer, doing research, typing notes, reading and organizing old files – mission statements, health care plans, meeting agendas. I am bushwhacking; managing the jungle of information in front of me in hopes of paving a road for us to walk on, hoping to keep us from falling off of some existential cliff that I imagine is there if we do the wrong thing or miss the wrong cue. My mind and my fingers move so furiously that the rest of me is paralyzed and exhausted. I don’t want to cook or clean or be social; all I want to do is sleep and prepare, sleep and prepare. I am a tenacious, insufferable, boring, anxious, obsessed stick in the mud. On-screen diversions – Facebook, The Times – don’t count because they are filled with reminders of the task at hand and then tend to divert in the wrong direction.
But I was prompted last week by a parent wiser and stronger than I, that motion – physical, heart-rate elevating motion – is necessary to calm the psychic storm that comes with these moments of transition. She faces some of the same issues I do and she is making herself run; I will have to be content to walk, but I will do that and whatever else I can to get out into the daylight. I will take a walk, get my hair cut, and go to the hardware store and get things that have been languishing on my list for weeks.
The last time we were retooling at home and school like this, the same novel sat on my nightstand for three years, unopened, collecting dust. By the time I got around to picking it up I was so tired of looking at it I gave it away instead of reading it. The moment had passed. I don’t even recall what book it was; I only remember that moment of picking it up at all is that it happened when I was talking on the phone to my cousin who was dying of cancer at the time. We were talking about things left undone and I mentioned the book that was sitting there, and she told me how she had managed to pare down her life to only the essentials and divested herself of the distractions of television, newspaper and computer. At that moment I realized that there would always be something better to read than that book.
Now the books – good ones this time! – are piling up again (sorry, Walter Issacson, William Trevor, David McCullough) but at least I am learning to make it mostly non-fiction or short fiction. I must finish it before bed or know how it turns out. I am interested in knowing about the journeys of all kinds of people in the 20th century, and so the book that rescues me today is Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies. I’ve seen so many of the movies he made and he writes so easily and compellingly about the process of film making that it gives me something that is both easy jump into and easy to let go of when my attention is diverted, as it so often is at these times. At this moment, it is the right mix of nostalgia, entertainment, and clarity of process that makes me happy and still keeps me learning.