It doesn’t look like much, yet. But it will.
This used to be a deep closet that held the washer and dryer behind ugly accordion doors.
Full story, coming soon.
When you sleep, I watch your profile. You are total stillness. I love sleeping next to you, the salt-smell of your hair, your warm, thin limbs flung lightly outward. Your bird-bone hand might flutter against my shoulder and I hold my breath to keep it there.
Your profile is still exactly at it was on that sonogram image, seven-plus years ago. The upturn at the tip of your nose. The slight bloom of your lips. Your forehead, high and smooth. From your first glimmer, you were a question-mark. Not your being, but your impression upon my being. Our connection was not the instant “I know you!” as reported by the magazines. It was then as it is now — a connection filled to spilling with a query: “Who are you — so miraculous and intact and outside all prediction? Who are you — full of contradiction, all intense need and pushing away? Who are you — already so whole and so skeptical?”
I think you were almost instantly disappointed by the world and the way it squashes magic. So you brought your own. You had, I think, from the moment of your arrival, little patience for much of what this realm has to offer.
You are my mystery. You are my horizon. I carried you and could not even then interpret you. You have always been exactly you. Even inside, you slept when you should have kicked. I fretted. The contractions that brought you were upside down, at the top of my ribcage. I didn’t recognize them for what they were. You saw no reason to dilly-dally and came sliding forth two weeks early, within a few hours of announcing your intent with a shocking gush of water. (That, then, was the one time that you matched the movie-screen cliche of parenting.)
I have learned that my job is to ride your wave. To stand and stay standing, correct my angle, stay balanced. If I steer that way when you want to go this way, I will fall smashing and get rolled up on the sand. Splutter.
There was no struggle to bring you out — only holding on for dear life. I quite literally grasped the railings of the bed and lifted my body upward in an effort to keep you in. And finally they said I could push.
Oh, I should have laughed.
You could not then, and never since, be pushed.
I birthed you — but a more accurate description is this: I let go. I was your gateway, child. From a place within and above, I observed your entrance. From inside a narrow tunnel of conscious-altering pain, my work was only to let go.
You arrived all squinty consternation and bird-baby squall.
You slept when you should have eaten. I nearly broke myself trying to feed you by the book. I finally taped a tiny tube to my finger and pressed it against your high, narrow, soft-as-silk palate and tickled your chin to make you drink. I murmured and implored you. But it was always on your terms.
You taught me in those early, hazy days that when you cried a certain way, you did not, in fact, want to be held or rocked. You told me, in the wordless, forceful telepathy of infants that you wanted to be put down. So I did. And you settled and slept.
But oh, I could not stop gazing at you. You, child, were and are gazed upon with so much love and awe.
Always, you and I, we’ve had a dance of instincts. Synchronized for an instant and then utterly off-kilter. I learn, over and again, to let you lead. Our path is one of constant course-correction.
This morning I brought you to your first grade classroom. A new school in our new town. You said to me several times, “Mama, I feel so important today!” You told me that you were certain the fairies had come in the night to “extra-polish my sweater buttons!”
You brought Piggie in your backpack. Did you choose him because you remember that Piggie was the stuffed friend who saw you through your early, hard days in preschool? He used to ride with us in the mornings. He went to school too, you see, and was scared. You talked to him about it, back then. It helped. (My Piggie voice: anxious whisper and quiet enthusiasm.) You talked to him about school again, last night. (Then you looked at me and whispered, “Mama, can you stop making Piggie talk?”)
You were thrilled on the walk up the hill. You were tickled that you have a crossing guard, “Just like in the old fashioned days!” You told me that you thought the desks would be set in rows, and would open, and that the teacher would teach from a platform, with a book open before her.
You were disappointed in the flat-topped desks grouped in squares. You shushed me, embarrassed, when I pointed out a teacher walking by, a dapper man in a bow tie. You love bow ties. You do not love it when I talk too much.
And when it was time for me to leave you at your desk, you gripped my hand with both of yours, tight.
“I’m scared, mama. I want to be with YOU!” Tears. We walked into the hall and I tried to help you get it together. I murmured encouragement, I told you it was time, that I knew you could do it. That I would be right there, at the end of the day. You would have none of it. “I will NOT go in.” So I brought you back inside and handed your hand to the teacher and you gave in and hugged her leg and cried.
Oh, Noodle. Again, my basics instincts were stymied. You don’t know how hard it was for me to peel your hands away. I looked back and you were peeking at me, tear-streaked, from behind your teacher’s leg. I shot you a thumbs up and a huge smile. My heart was thudding. It was just like those many, many preschool mornings, handing you over to the day.
You didn’t want to let go. And neither did I. With a push, off we both went into Wednesday.
News today. Hard news from a dear friend, and what can I do except … love. I’m sitting in one of my favorite spots in town, with a complementary bowl of gazpacho at my right hand, and a mason jar full of cold-extract coffee to the left. There’s sad-hopeful music streaming, and outside it’s all sun and blue. There’s a river sliding by, 90 degrees in the forecast, and white slashes of snow still on the distant peaks. Everything is lovely. And hard. The world is not nice or beautiful or fair. It isn’t.
But it is. It’s just … glorious and sad. Shake your fists at it, and it smiles gently. Carry on. Order a Slip n’ Slide, make quinoa salad, read a book that makes you believe that good things can happen.
We can teach children to be kind and respectful. We can be generous. We can ask for forgiveness, and (best and most magical of all) we can grant it. We can ask someone how they are, and mean it. No — how are you, really?
We can be moved by David Foster Wallace’s assertion that This is Water — and we can think about why, if he knew this, he blew his brains out. And then we can thank him for the wisdom he left despite the pain he couldn’t overcome.
This morning I had a disagreement with my child about naked mole rats. Yeah, I did. She declared them “cute.” I declared them the exact opposite of cute, they’re not cute, how could she say they’re cute? “They are the cutest things in the world, mama. I feel sorry for them and I think they are CUTE.” Agree to disagree. Exchange eyerolls and smiles with the spouse, the dry wit born of parenting.
There’s something in here about perfect imperfection. Ugliness inside beauty marked with flaws. I could dig out an analogy around the ideal design of a veiny, fleshy, naked rodent with huge, yellow teeth and squinty eyes crawling along on the same planet as whiskery teddy bear hamsters and rosy-cheeked human babies, and truly good people with truly hard circumstances.
I’ve faced a lot of ugly in my life so far, in varying degrees. I’ve had my tongue slashed with bitter disappointment. Shockwaves have rattled my chest. I’ve been tossed into the darkest slot canyons of the heart. I’ve skinned my fingertips, crawling out.
There is a deep, clear sweetness in the aftermath. We can soften. We are so fortunate — our arms are built just so, right and left coming together, forearm over forearm, palms up. A cradle beneath a sky of loving eyes.
My first word was “gentle.” Let us be so.
I’d entirely forgotten these things.
Hammocks. Popsicle-sticky wrists. Sun hats and the red, sweaty band across your forehead, later.
Watermelon. Lemonade with crushed ice. Nothing but cheese and crackers for dinner.
Grasshopper chirring and the hiss of a breeze in high branches, teasing. Somnolent wind chimes in the neighbor’s yard.
The smell of wet pavement in the sun. The rippled edge of book pages turned by soggy fingertips.
Struggling and twisting into damp swimsuit straps. Cherry pits in the grass.
Singing into the electric fan – every word vibrato (Mister Roboto).
Flipping the pillow to the cool side. Again. Citronella candles. Night noises through window screens.
It’s been a long time since I stepped both feet into summer. So glad to be here.
Hi, you. It’s been awhile.
In a month, seventeen boxes of books get unpacked.
A room filled to the ceiling with boxes and furniture is transformed into a home office/guest space.
A yard pushes up surprises: columbine, lily of the valley, forget-me-not, day lilies, painted daisies, hosta, daphne. Wild roses and strawberries.
The eight-months-missed touchstones of home emerge from boxes and find new nooks. Our artifacts. Our us, in objects. The small stone jaguar from the Yucatan. The sonogram. The flower pot decorated with buttons and crayon scrawls. Grammy’s desk.
Paid work gets tackled every day. Kindergarten races toward the finish line. We meet the sweet neighbors who live with their 90-year-old mother named Violet. The first water bill arrives (xeriscaping and water barrels are in our future). I cut an inch off of my own hair. Mainly to avoid auditioning curly-hair stylists. Two bummers about moving: new dentists and new stylists.
The kid writes a song about fleas on a dog’s knees that get blown away by a breeze onto the trees–and sings it to me whilst strumming our out-of-tune ukulele on Mother’s Day.
In two months, a fence gets half built. There are 260 linear feet to cover, in total. Half is good.
I realize it’s my first summer without a daily office job since the kid was born. Longer than that. I buy a wading pool and a stack of bubble wands and make a huge list of fun-but-educational games and at-home science experiments for an enriched summer experience and … yeah. I know. It will be popsicles and mayhem.
Our coffee ritual transitions from warm to iced–we unpack the espresso machine and the cold brew kit. The fence continues; the neighbor offers beer and sends her kid out to help.
We take our picnicking skills for a test run, sandwiches and potato salad and gritty sand in the wrong places. Crawdads. Lifejackets. Sunscreen protests. Aloe vera. Inexplicably, my head is too big for my old sunhat. Can an adult outgrow a sunhat? The lake’s water is rimmed in a wide band of bright yellow, rocking in the small, lapping waves. It’s pollen from the pines, blown across the water and pooling at the edges. I don’t realize how vibrant and beautiful and strange it is until I look at the photos, later.
We glance at the boxes still stacked against the dining room wall. We studiously ignore the Chaos Pit otherwise known as our garage. The (now gutted) second bathroom fades to a vague future dream and we forget what it’s like to have a bathtub. Almost.
The kid’s kindergarten graduation ceremony happens. I don’t cry.
The next morning, I drop her off for the last day. Through the classroom window, I see her toeing off her velcro sneakers and sliding on her indoor slippers–a preschool routine for four whole years. Goodbye, soft-footed mornings. I cry in the parking lot.
We think about adopting a kitten. We discuss our chicken coop dreams, sketch plans for a treehouse, talk greenhouse strategies. We stare at the mistletoe infection in our junipers and mumble hopeful predictions and go inside.
I finally have lunch with a new friend.
A 34-year friendship is shored up with a visit. I make her look at mountains every single day. I make her break her cleanse with beer and a cheese plate. (I once force-fed her an olive. We were eight. A story for another time.)
Dance recital rehearsals are incessant. They are a flock of little girls, skinny and pudgy, knock-kneed and swaybacked, awkward and graceful. They match only by merit of their identical pink leotards and ballet slippers, gauzy skirts above playground-bruised shins. They are certain of their own beauty.
We count nine months since we hightailed it to our new life. It is vibrant and beautiful and strange. Knock-kneed and soft-footed. Awkward and certain. Stories unpacked. Pushing up surprises. Wide open.
It’s been a little over a month of living with our kitchen, up and running — hard — in our daily lives.
We use our kitchen, and I was curious to see where the clutter would gather. How the surfaces would hold up. If the gooseneck faucet would have splashback issues. Whether one of our new drawers could withstand the weight of a dozen vintage Pyrex bowls, two waffle irons, and five serving trays.
So far, so good. Last night, we rolled out fresh tortilla dough on the laminate countertop–and it performed beautifully. The stainless appliances aren’t streaking or smudging (relief!). The evenness with which the electric stove bakes a cake is a thing of beauty, and the continuous grill across the gas range is soooo helpful when you’re playing musical pots and pans for a dinner for eight. And if I ever questioned a single vs double-bowl sink, I never will again.
In the Big Reveal post, we skipped over the pantry. And this pantry deserves some attention, because I swear it’s got magical properties. It never seems to fill up. We reduced the pantry size by more than half, and I can still store all of my staples plus weekly dry goods in here, and feel no clutter.
After removing the horrid accordion doors, we ripped out the shelves, knocked out the back wall, and pushed the whole space back about a foot. This meant losing closet inches in the adjacent bedroom. (We then restored those bedroom closet inches with new framing, sacrificing some bed space — gain a foot here, lose a foot there). It also meant the pantry would have an odd L-shape, because the furnace is located directly behind the back left corner, but it would increase the overall depth of the shelves — and it would let the fridge nook hold a standard-depth fridge, if necessary. Mid-stream, it looked like this:
On our first attempt at building pantry shelves, we went with plywood — inexpensive, large enough sheets to cut out the odd shape we needed. But we cut exactly one sheet before I confessed how much I would hate returning to painted shelves. I lived with painted shelves for seven years. Everything sticks to them, no matter how long the paint cures. They chip, get gooey, and suck to clean. Back to Home Depot went the spouse, for sheets of white MDF.
We made an L-shaped template, decided on shelf heights, attached the support ledgers, cut the shelves, and installed. There was some caulking and possibly a few curse words. We built and hung the over-fridge cabinet (aka, The Liquor Library).
And then, oh wouldn’t it be nice to have the microwave hidden? Wiring an outlet inside the pantry, no big deal, you go ahead honey, I’m just going to make an iced coffee …
Of course, he totally did it. And then it looked like this:
One of these days, we’ll paint the unfinished door. Voila!