Andalin, Alive

Irises, Vincent van Gogh, 1889

I had some time ago written that I was cutting back to two posts a week rather than the usual three. My full intention was to work on more nonfiction, short fiction and poetry and to submit my writing more again. I found, however, that I could not write much beyond my usual posts for three and a half months. It has been miserable to wait it out. Then suddenly there came a name that stuck in my mind and soon I was whisked away to a seemingly bucolic yet rather mysterious setting in a time and  place I did not yet know and where an unusual baby was being born to wildly differing parents. I could almost see the life that lay ahead; I knew part of what was important about the story already but had to find out more. It is not the sort of thing I expected I’d write, for many reasons. But we will see. This is just a rough first draft–no editing, really–of a very first chapter of what seems to be a new novel…or at least a bunch of ideas for a first chapter… or a very long story. I have much to imagine, write and revise….and it is blissful to enter into this work again at last.  I may still write and submit those other pieces. Once the imagination’s floodgate is opened and hard work starts to shape up one creative endeavor, other unforeseen and good things can happen….

I hope you enjoy the first foray into my new novel idea.

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Photo, Cynthia Guenther Richardson

The infant was not what Renata had conjured in the dense, shadowy regions of her obstinate mind.  Or the blurry frontiers of imagination she preferred to the current reality. Nor was it what she desired, though compelled by decorum and convention to affect a satisfied smile as the minuscule human being was held aloft. Her long inhabited, now finally emptied womb throbbed, her back ached as if it had been pummeled, her nether regions surely ruined. How primitive the whole thing was, how unwieldy. And was it morning or night? Sometime strung between, she conceded, in a time of birth and disruptive change.

And Tillie the midwife’s hesitance telegraphed all was not going to proceed well. Renata turned her face to the wall so she could see the painting of swans adrift in a grassy-rimmed pool, gentle light skipping across the glassy surface. Her pond, her swans, not visited in too long. This bed had claimed her for weeks. She had only wanted some spare replica of herself if pressed for the truth. Or perhaps no infant at all. Certainly not one naturally given to screeching from moment of entrance, normal behavior or not. The ungodly sound reminded her of peacocks from her childhood. She had worked so hard to do this; could there not be a peaceable conclusion?

Tillie offered up the cleaned and swaddled baby with excitement even as her mind was riven by concern. A new being was reason for more hope, for a suspended few moments shaped by suggestions of future delights. She stayed in touch with many of her babies as they grew up. It filled her with pride to know she had  helped ease them into this realm of earth and air, into its defining gravity. They were manifestations of a higher energy to her, given complicated bodies with which to roam and learn and create for awhile. So short a time. Tillie never failed to find each a curious, holy astonishment.

Yet she knew this woman, this newest mother, well, how untidy and disagreeable she tended to find the world; they had been close friends, once, long ago. And being a mother was not something she had intended to occur and then there it was. It was true she accepted it as meant to be; she then formed distinct expectations. The birth was, surprisingly, not difficult despite Renata’s virulent protestations. Tillie felt a frisson of fear sweep over her: this mother was already obstinate, too wary.

And this infant was not what anyone might expect with those wide, strange eyes. Their translucence. Was this baby observing or not observing her landing spot? Oh, well, Tillie knew better; it would be awhile before the baby could make out much. Still. Something was different.

“She’s a hearty and fully unique child, one can see it already, Renata.” She smiled warmly at the pale-faced child who had quieted her voice at the sound of her own, as oft was the case.

The new mother resisted opening her arms, a wisp of breath and pounding heartbeat crowding her throat. “Her coloration before I chance a look–is it Dane’s or mine?”

The infant resembled no one so much as herself, whoever she was to be, yet gave off a magnetism the midwife found arresting as she nibbled a patch of dry skin on her chapped lips. The child had pursed lips now as she stared up at her. Tillie held her over the bed with its sighing occupant. To have any child to love was a wonder, but Renata was not a devotee of wonder, not these days. Rather, a cynic who might give way to higher leanings from time to time with prodding. May she find those within herself now.

There was no choice but to firmly nestle the bawling infant into her mother’s half-opened arms.

“See for yourself. She’s a strapping, lovely new person.”

Renata let escape a whimper as furrows creased her brow and full lips fell slack. “What on earth…Tillie, what of her eyes! Is this baby blind? Or even a…oh, please no–is she albino?” She loosened her arms so the again squalling infant rested atop the mound of emptied belly.

Tillie’s hands flew to help, pressing the baby once more to Renata’s chest. “No, really, I don’t think so! They’re just the color of… water under grey skies right now, and a nice shape, aren’t they, and all that downy hair–”

“Her hair is his, though nearly white but the eyes are–Tillie, they’re about translucent…unattractive and odd.” She shuddered, released the child then let her own dark, bloodshot eyes close. “I’m so worn out and sore. Can you please deal with things for me? Tuck the baby away in her bassinet? I’ll hold her later….of course I will. ..and you know her name already so please record any pertinent information.”

And with that she turned her head to the wall again, eyes shuttered. She already blamed him. Dane, who had been known to be a spoiled wastrel in his youth–maybe he had strayed recently, he was gone so much ad she had become more distant when he had returned home. No telling what he brought to their child’s genetic code. He’d naturally be more pleased to meet her; he’d wanted a family addition for years. Someone to guide, to dote upon, more so since his wife had grown prickly and vacant every other week. But a boy, that had been the plan, despite his desire for any child they might create. How typical, even common of him, she thought with impatience.

“Must keep the family blood line going and what fun to bring up a little person, to set free upon my land, to share knowledge with!”

Renata swallowed her tears–of physical discomfort and the burden of worry. How would she do this? And who was the person hiding inside such wrinkled, compact, pallid skin? Where was her Italian heritage in this child? Those eyes filled her with anxiety and distaste.

Tillie cradled the little one in her thick strong arms. “Andalin,” she said with proper emphasis, “Andalin Chiara Luvstrom, welcome to our world. Who shall you become,  little one?”

She stood in the brightening morning light, swaying side to side, humming to her old friend’s baby, praying for that love to surround the child, to infuse her with blessings. Andalin closed her petal-tender lips and blinked at Tillie. Then she seemed to gaze in bafflement beyond the window. As if this was not the  expected destination any more than she was the mother’s own sweet dream. As if there had been a mistake. As if she had made a last minute detour. But then she closed her eyes and her soul dreamed of the future, formless and billowy, colored by pain and beauty and care, a work of art not yet realized.

Tillie mused over the child in her rocking bassinet as she got a small bottle readied. She spoke softly although she knew the woman was enveloped in post-birthing deep sleep, would slip in and out.

“Eyes like water are for those who see far. They will change others, Andalin, and so shape you.” Dane’s heavy footsteps were on the stairs, his vibrant baritone calling out Renata’s name. She kissed her fingertips, placed them upon the infant’s forehead. “May you be safe and blessed today and ever after.”

The door burst open and he filled the room as was his way, now made greater with excitement. His large head with bristling crown of hair swung back and forth until he spotted the infant. He turned to Tillie, seeing his wife resting, almost reaching to touch her as she stepped forward. “So our child is really here at last?”

“Andalin has arrived,” Tillie said and he took her and brought her to his chest, laughing so that the room vibrated with it. Andalin made not a sound at first then squealed several times, whether in delight or distress, it was not easy to decode.

“Andalin Chiara Luvstrom, our shining daughter! Look what we made, Rennie!” He brought her to his whiskered face and his  words evaporated as Andalin opened her eyes. Such extraordinary beauty! Such magic in her stillness as she sleepily looked upon him, her newness primeval, her body bared to light and sounds and smells. Those wide, clear, colorless eyes…oh, this child!

“My wife is doing well enough?”

“She is. Give her time, Dane.” She looked down. “Mr. Luvstrom.”

His first name hung between them, a golden mist that obscured time, and then he rushed to Renata’s side but she had travelled far from him, floating into a sea of subconscious where she drifted far. She was loathe to come back. Which Dane recognized well. This was another start of her absence and his infrequent if enthusiastic presence, their child caught between in a fine net of their making. How would he keep her from falling? How could he not fail her?

But today he was a new father and proud and he held her close, beaming and sputtering, true to a vigorous personality. He had planned a feast for all his friends and neighbors, not yet but soon, perhaps in a week or two. In the meantime, he longed to take Andalin outdoors, show her the fields and hillocks, the flowers and birds. Let her breathe, let her feel it all.

Tillie held out her hands. “Later, Dane, she now needs to recover from her birthing.”

“Do you need anything?”

She shook her head. As Andalin was transferred from his arms to hers, Dane longed for it to be Renata there, but he would not speak to her for two more days when she finally allowed him in again. He avoided Tillie’s gaze and she, his, as was their habitual  manner. He hadn’t looked directly at her for many years now. A lifetime. But their gaze did not have to connect. They knew each other’s thoughts. This young one would be loved well; he could count on her to not forget her place in this home as well as utilize her natural compassion and bravery. Keep the child within her wide range of power. Dane suspected they would all need help and who better than Tillie Everlin to do whatever must be done?

When he left, his presence stayed behind. Tillie felt it like a warm veil of a sunrise glow and then, as moments passed, a sheer flicker of sadness that dissipated as she busied herself with cleaning up the room.

And then Andalin spoke.

“Home,” she whispered from the white, softly lined curvature of the rocking bassinette.

Along Tillie’s forearms the tiny hairs stood straight  up. She rushed to her. “Yes? Andalin?”

But Andalin was only and naturally dozing, breath oozing in and out of half opened mouth, a slight sizzle of a sigh, a tail end of infant melody roaming the room as she snored so gently that even Tillie knew she had to be mad to think a baby, even this one, could form one word. And yet she knew just what Andalin must mean, language or not.

Renata started, propped herself up on both elbows. “Is he back yet? Did he come in?” she asked, wiping her parched lips on the back of a finely veined hand, then reaching for a bedside glass of water.

“He did, Renata, and he held her so close. He’s very happy–shall I retrieve him now?”

She held up a finger and gulped all cool water, relieved to have slept if not nearly enough. “No, not yet. I need my brush, I want to wash. But first may I look at her once more?”

Tillie was heartened as she got the child and took her to the bed and the more welcoming arms. Maybe she would now glad to have Andalin and it was all worry for nothing. The months of encouragement and advice from herself and Renata’s two closest friends might have paid off. It took time, that’s all. Most births and the following days and nights were complex on every level; new parents had doubts and fears and wouldn’t anyone with such a raw creature in their hands? Though, rarely, a bonding between mother and infant did not come to fruition. It was this that Tillie dreaded most of all, even over several health hazards, even over unexpected, sometimes brutal deaths.

“Well,” Renata said. Andalin still slept, a tiny bubble issuing from her lips, then disappearing. She stroked an arm, a hand, the nose and forehead with a forefinger. “Goodness. So fragile.”

Tillie smiled to herself. So strong, she wanted to say, to be born of a woman who resisted allowing an ordinary though always remarkable passage here.

“Andalin,” Renata said but her daughter did not stir, did not open her eyes, did not gurgle slightly. Renata looked up in mild alarm. “Is she supposed to sleep so soundly not knowing me? Did she awaken when Dane held her?”

“She’s tired out, same as you.”

“Take her then, I want to clean up.”

“In time, my friend, all good things slowly unfold.”

“You always think you know what is needed but it isn’t always so,” she said sharply, smoothing her nest of piled mahogany hair. Her striking cheekbones had become fuller the last few months, lending a dramatic look to her otherwise ordinary face. Her face now came alive for the first time in a long while, thick eyebrows raised high, eyes flashing a warning, mouth in a small twist. “I would very much appreciate a wash if you can help before we call back Dane. Not more of your sage advice.”

“Of course, but first we should see if she will take the bottle,” Tillie said, although she wanted to remind her that she was not nursemaid to her, only to the child this day, and that in a few hours they would be on their own. She had other patients, duties elsewhere. Though Dane had suggested he would pay her for a week’s worth of assistance she had refused. He was to have asked his older sister from beyond Iron Mountain. Tillie wished her luck and Rebata twice more for Marga was not an open minded, patient woman the last she knew, but so it was.

Andalin did take the bottle and suckled well as Tillie got her started, then placed her with utmost care in Renata’s arms. Baby and mother settled into one another though Renata was anxious for the duration, casting frequent glances at Tillie, seeking approval. So it was with every new child and mother; nothing could erase uncertainties until they came to know one another’s ways. Yet Renata would have to overcome her fierce need for singularity in order to share her energy. Her life. It was fortunate Dane had more to spare–when he was home. His work required frequent travels as Mediator for the entire district; he was also a sought-after speaker at prime events.

They both dozed as Tillie cleaned the last of labor’s detritus and the expelled afterbirth which she placed in a terracotta jar for disposal in loamy dirt. She soon sought a welcome break in the heavy, creaky rocker by a leaded glass window, amd lazily sipped a tall glass of water.

Outside, two willow and several oak trees’ branches leaned and lifted gracefully, rustling in spring gusts, and further out by the blue sky-filled pond were elegant yet homey yellow, purple and white irises bobbing on sturdy stems. They had only just been blooming the last day or two, a good sign: yellow for passion; purple for wisdom; white for purity. The mated swans hovered at the edge, looking toward the house. Some would say she was old-fashioned, enamored of more ancient ways but she knew what she knew and it changed little if any. The child was being watched over.

Her own weary eyes unfocused as her thoughts roamed, present to past to future. To Renata, Dane, Andalin. Back to her own satisfying if sometimes lonely life in the octagonal lodging she had built with her late husband, Tar, in red earth. A right habitat to provide for and protect, a place for healing, for regathering love. She would be glad when the day was over and she could be at her leisure. Until tomorrow came to be.

Andalin awakened and with that her little bud fists and restless feet flailed until Tillie took her from Renata, now stirring, too, and ready for her bed bath. The midwife put the infant into its cocoon of blankets and studied her with her heart wide open. The child registered her presence with widening eyes like quiet, clear water which would before long change from season to season, shine on the world in cobalt or aqua or pearlescent grey and more, to a palette of colors that others couldn’t quite name and didn’t try, so mesmerized were they and sometimes, so afraid.

Yes, Andalin, I know. Home, the great longing.

Tillie got the porcelain wash basin, the thick ivory wash cloth and towels and luxurious bar of eucalyptus soap. Renata beamed up at her with gratitude. Only for her old friend would she do this last thing, taking her time to gently clean and then ply Renata with special healing lotion of virgin cocoa butter, calendula, yarrow and red clover. Chatting with her, encouraging her even more than required– before she slipped out, just as Dane returned to shower his renewed affection on his life partner and coo at this surprise of a daughter, Andalin Chiara.

It was already time for Tillie to depart–sooner than expected but he was filling up the spaces and his child and wife needed him more than herself. This time.

“May mercy and courage of the powers of Love remain steadfast here,” she murmured and touched center of chest, then forehead, and with a firm hand pulled tight the door behind her. She took two steps when Dane’s thankful words for her breached any thoughts and the rapidly heating air.

 

 

(Please do not print or share due to work © 2018 Cynthia Guenther Richardson and being an ongoing writing endeavor, separate from the usual WordPress posts. Thanks–but comments are always welcome!)

A Separate State of Being: Childhood Play

Granddaughter with Wolfie; Cynthia Guenther Richardson 2009

There were three of them, girls in summer dresses, perhaps ages 6 or 7, and they were aglow with an apricot-and-honey cast of sunlight falling through the tree canopy. They were stepping precisely among broken branches laid this way and that, avoiding the bark as they maneuvered with small bare feet. They spoke in secret voices as they moved, the space between branches a claimed interior space, perhaps their house, or playroom or just a verdant spot that belonged only to them. One girl then gingerly stepped between two long sticks and found herself outside of the loosely defined oval “room”. She hesitated as she came to a narrow space between longer branches as if uncertain whether or not to enter again. A second girl, however, said, “You can come in, this is our door.” The awaiting child smiled and stepped in, as if over a rise. All three again were together, talking and walking the area when the third child left the space. She hunted and gathered two short sticks that fit well in her hands and knocked them against each other with a pleasant thudding rhythm, and began to sing along with the beat.

The scene had stopped me on my park walk; I caught my breath at her song. Sunlight gilding the greenery, the girls immersed in their own world, dresses in a play of motion against the sweeping background, an afternoon so far removed from hurricanes and wildfires and wars that I felt enchantment had cloaked the park. I could have remained there as long as they. The mother/nanny/neighbor sat nearby with an infant lying on crossed legs; now and then she nodded when they looked to her for reassurance. These were beloved children, so content that their peacefulness emanated large and beautiful from their smallness.

The strong urge to raise my camera visited me, though I rarely photograph unknown children without permission. But it passed. It was their completeness, the perfection of the scenario. How the vibrancy of their playfulness shone. How gentleness and joy tipped some vital balance to make things right and new for a few gifted moments again. I moved on before they did. I didn’t want anything altered, nor my gratitude to lift.

I have thought of those children and their impromptu branch house for days, and of the mothering person, her devotion to those children a certainty. I think she got it right with them. How much time and effort does it take to give a child this kind of freedom, this happiness? Beyond securing adequate food, shelter and safety and steadfast affection–which are so vital most cannot survive without them–what does a parent need to do? And how much can it matter in the long view?

I believe it requires patience and self-restraint to let children be. To just play, let things unfold naturally without interference. I’ve observed kids being directed, cautioned and corrected excessively, as if they cannot create effective ways to open up the gates to make-believe; navigate ordinary conflicts with others; or discard one idea for another to maximize interest and fun.

It is as if adults feel the need to press their own expertise upon children’s improvised alone time, or they worry that they will get into mischief that cannot find its own good solution. Cared-for children are cautioned from day one of countless potential, current or highly suspected dangers. They are taught without ceasing numerous socially accepted behaviors, the how and when to do them. They are urged to do reach for a higher bar, are cheered when they make the mark, are instructed to get back up when they fall down. Children are corralled, disciplined, corrected, warned, filled with information and emptied of many illusions before they even tie their shoes without knotty spots.  So why must they also be “improved” during playtime? Children apparently need all those fine art classes, yoga and martial arts, foreign languages, preschool math and reading courses, a library of DVDs, computer-driven tutoring and entertainment to fill up their extra time–and phones so young…all well and good. Or is it?

There will always be overzealous parents, propelled by determination to create “superior” offspring–as if this was even the best they could do for their children. But I am also addressing the ubiquitous availability of gadgets, their unending, expensive “new edition” spawn. The technological manifestations that children have to embrace as they become older are immense enough in number with attendant skills required. How much does a child have to know about anything that requires Wi-Fi to enjoy his or her life before first grade? (I’d suggest age 10 at the earliest if it was up to me.) A child does not thrill to more distraction than contemporary life already dishes out. Nor does he or she need overt cues or flashy music and garish visuals to excite and improve a naturally growing brain. A child can find her own way in realms of play and learning, When there are questions, a supervising youth or adult can offer to help search an answer.

All they truly require are a few sticks and a grassy spot or a few rocks and a stoop, a small corner and a real or imagined playmate. They will, without any doubt, make a game of it. The ability to adapt, create and embrace the simplest pleasures will guide them forward toward their futures. Perhaps even one day save them.

Watching those three girls at play brought back my own childhood. I’m not indulging in any sentimental send up. Of course I know this is not the 1950s; of course our culture has morphed a few times (even gone back in trendy loops) and industrialized civilization is busier and vaster than ever to address notably different  needs and wants. The threats to well being seem harder to decipher and predict.

But children’s time apart from grown ups has always been and will remain just children’s play. The beauty of this is the innate simplicity primed with spontaneity. And it belongs to children as surely as their unique rates of growth and language use, their childish ways of reaching and touching our hearts.  Even alone, a child can entertain herself for as long as she wishes, with very few material objects to aid her. I say, leave her and him well alone as long as they are safe and within reasonable hearing range. Let things unfold of their own accord. That reaching mind utilizes its fledgling critical thinking skills to work out kinks, follow diversions. Make a good game of life.

I’ve written of my old neighborhood’s outdoor gatherings and family games of childhood days. I’ve stated my parents directed me to “go find something to do” if I dared utter that foul word: “bored.” I had a fairly busy childhood schedule with school and church and the arts–which I adored–but there was “down time” as well. (We did not own a television until I was thirteen–there was not enough time or interest–and even then it was seldom turned on. I found it novel, even strange that friends were wild about cartoons, and just did not feel the tug of it.)

So it was up to me to get in touch with buddies or ride my prized blue Schwinn, create basic seriocomic stories with my dolls and pillows and scarves or the fabulous miniature farm set, build with Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys, draw (even in dirt with a pointy stick), sketch and paint or attempt crafty things, write a poem, play hopscotch and jump rope, make up a song or dance, give a puppet its own theater, climb the maple tree and survey the intriguing horizon. I liked to watch cars go by, count the models and makes and colors. Play in the sprinkler or water “Plant” a garden while watering with a miniature sprinkling can. Hit a few rounds of croquet acorss the uneven grassy yard–even alone. Heck, I could play everyone’s game, couldn’t I? And win them all. It was for just a bit of fun, after all.

But I loved hanging out in my small hideout in the dense thicket of bushes and trees in the northwest corner of back yard. There was a scarred wood bench to sit on, a table devised of broken pine branches and scrap wood. I could be anybody I wanted.  There were supplies kept there–paper and pencils, glass of water, saltine crackers, a homemade slingshot, an dirty hat. Or I’d explore the tree nursery right behind our house, galloping about as if atop a wild stallion, on the lookout for bandits. In winter I dragged the toboggan around in knee-deep snow under a star-pierced sky, and truly felt the intrepid adventurer.

I was never lacking options, only impetus at times, and soon could find something to enjoy. Play–not much supervised or directed– was a pleasurable part of my day.

I did not live in a shielding bubble, however. Not by the time I was eight years old, when over the next three years sexual abuse altered the course of day and night, a violent twist in the flow of a heretofore secure childhood. But one thing that did not change was the escape and rest offered by play time on my own–or fun with friends and family, if desired. Play saved me in broad and deep ways. Yes, rescued me. It taught me to cope with not-yet-understood stress, how to mine and polish more elusive positive moments, how to improvise, figure out solutions. How to keep in touch with hopeful possibilities beyond the silencing, invisible prison of abuse by a man who appeared harmless, trustworthy, but was a menace, one who threatened grave violence if silence was broken.

It appeared that the play and work, the holy and profane existed side by side in a life filled with love of God and family and redefining losses. I felt weakened before becoming stronger. Separate time to be free of fear, to enjoy ordinary moments as well as try out scenarios of a happier day was vital.

As I later suffered consequences of difficult times, I could delve into that short era of innocence and dig for the light still alive in darkness. I had once so easily embraced or created contentment and laughter; thus, it was possible to experience both once more. Had I not been brave and curious, steady in body and mind and open to the amazements of life? It was all still out there along with the harder stuff, and it could happen for me again. I had to recall that childish impulse toward play as much as anything else as I sorted things out on the way to recovery. I looked for more reasons to laugh. Marvel. They were there, waiting to be spotted. If I could rebuild a foundation of trust brick by brick, I could build a better life. Hold onto happiness. And over time, that is how it unfolded.

Nothing turns out just as we think it will be as children. My life has not the story arc once imagined–it has been tougher, often better and very different. I can still re-design much within through creative engagement, enable more good via prayer and work and compassion. But also in simple play. Because I was long ago encouraged to explore the “what ifs” and “just try its” mode of operation, and learned to do it pretty well. Just grant me a little space. A few minutes. I’ll come up with something that will lead to more fun.

I recall when counselling those in addictions treatment, especially, asking one question over and over: what have you done today that is safe but also fun? And ending group sessions reminding them to put back fun in their lives. Because the ways to enjoy and care about life are like a veritable smorgasbord of surprises. Try one; find out what happens. It will stir up those mood-altering hormones we already possess to boost well being. Think back, I’d suggest: what gave you a great feeling as a small child? How can you recreate that again? We are wise about wonder and delight when starting out in life–so reclaim it.

So play on, little daughters and sons, conjure new worlds into being at a touch, a word, a dream, all right within this one. Pick up that stick and beat the drum of earth and leap through invisible doors. Practice your own robust magic. And do not forget.

 

Acting the Expert When Surrender is Needed

The human being has a serious inclination to make masterful talk, to inform, educate, even enlighten another of our species, then ultimately persuade the listener of one’s own point of view. We do this nearly without thinking during normal conversations, peppering our speech with ideas and details that are meant to define an experience with our first hand experience, and thus determined authority. It’s as if we believe we are each born experts in both broad and specific ways and so proceed in life on that presumption.

Perhaps we are experts–but of our own perceptions, our individual viewpoints. Or education and long experience makes us seem so. For all intents and purposes, what we think we know is also what is more or less real–in our minds, if no one else’s.

Consider one ordinary exchange:

“Watch out, you’re going to hit that car–the light is red!”

“What? I see the car, the light was yellow. Plenty of room, no harm done.”

“Yellow means slow to stop soon and was red as you turned. It’s alarming how that might have been an accident.”

“It means to speed up to not get caught in a red light, actually. I had plenty of time. You overreacted.”

“It’s not safe, pushing on fast at the last moment, not gauging distances clearly.”

“What’s not safe is you barking at me to watch out, it distracts me, then I lose needed focus.”

“You need to drive more carefully.”

“You ought to chill out and just let me drive. I’ve been doing so a long time now.”

“Wait, where are you going? Turn left there, it’s much faster.”

“It’s actually longer, that way is residential streets.”

“You miss traffic jams. I guarantee it’s ten minutes faster at least due to light traffic. I go this way all the time–”

“I’m turning on Siri; she knows the best way.”

“My gosh, an annoying computer and not one bit of driving experience although ‘she’ insists on directing us.”

“Siri has updated, inside info on all routes.”

Slightly sulking wife turns to the window, stares into the traffic. She would like to silence that computer once and for all, just take charge of that steering wheel herself. She sighs. It’s better to relent sometimes. But next time she is insisting on driving, her way.

Both are convinced they know what’s going on and what’s needed and what is not. They likely each have valid points. They each have literal viewpoints that create a manner of decision and action. Yet both desire to exert influence over the other. One or the other will win out unless a stalemate occurs. This time the driver did since he was in control of the vehicle and she at least verbally backed down. And it’s just a drive through town on a few errands, not a critical point to be made, not a major decision (unless he should not be driving due to a fading of keen senses). But we love our viewpoints, our familiar and comforting subjectivity. We know our own minds and assert them.

I’ve delved into this issue the past week–that sometimes overwhelming urge we have to make our voices heard, opinions accepted, our purported knowledge well heeded. There is such a powerful need to impact others, to even change them in some well-considered ways. And it is usually “for your own good”–this, from our singular and considered position.

If it is an acquaintance or even a stranger, that is one thing. We have interchanges in an elevator, on a park bench, at an event or when sharing a ride to work. But even interactions about weather at the grocery check out stand can be comically loaded with impulses to have the last word. This happens to me.

Checker: “How is it out there now?”

Me: “Great. Started out out temperate, getting hotter. So nice I got my sandals out.”

C: “I’ve waited so long for a day of real sunshine. It seemed grey and chilly earlier.”

Me: “Sunshine will prevail. But it changes you know, rain and wind, a smattering of hail, then bright clear skies. It’s Oregon, we like it.” (What does he mean by “real sunshine”?)

C: “I actually bought an umbrella, first ever. I’m from Arizona. It’s never warm enough here, wear layers all the time or about freeze.”

Me: “I see…it’ll be up to eighty, ninety soon, stays clear and hot until late October then the rains return.”

C: “I’ll adapt, right?…There you go, thanks for shopping at Fred Meyer!”

Me: “Welcome to Oregon, hope you’ll enjoy being here!”

It was only a chat about weather…but I really wanted him to appreciate a place where the beauty is magical no matter the season and go on to explain how our weather changes our landscapes and impacts choices in interesting, positive ways. He surely wanted me to understand how hard it is to get used to a different clime; he missed the predictable dry heat of his home state.

Just a passing exchange.

What happens when something closer to home challenges us? When we feel that something is not going the way it ought to according to our estimations and yet the other person insists it is well and good? The hardest of all quandaries to address meaningfully is with those we love. When is too much said, too much influence attempted? When do we step back, admit things will go the way they will go? When do our frank opinions start to sound like severe directives? The dread static of interference?

As a parent, we are expected to be the ultimate guides. Or to at least gain enough trustworthy information that we’re able to behave like we can do the job. Some decisions are instinct for most parents: to nourish our children physically, mentally and emotionally; keep them safe from harm; train them in all sort of skills; provide assistance and feedback as they progress or need more aid and practice. And we want them to feel well loved. According to our cultural norms and traditions, we have further priorities to address as they grow up. We do whatever we can to ensure they get the information needed, then use it satisfactorily. And explore their lives from a solid base of confidence. This all seems reasonable most of the time, an arduous task during others.

But we all know that no matter how well we manage to pull off parenting responsibilities, little ones have minds of their own from a very early age. And then they grow up and our opinions and expertise mean less than a a pinch of salt and a dash of pepper tossed over popcorn and potatoes. They can and do make up their own minds They’re turn into adults somewhere in their early twenties. They’ve already stumbled, fallen and gotten back up, even become stronger and smarter–more than a few times if fortunate.

So just why am I standing here going on and on about what may well be the better way, what is probably in point of fact the wiser choice? Excuse me, a look tells me or a pause on the phone: thanks for those awesome words but we have complicated lives to attend to and we do have a tentative plan–don’t I have a busy life of my own? They might not say all that but I hear it.

Yet, wait a minute. I have decades on them. I have experiences they have never had and may not. I have knowledge that might be derived from excellent and arcane sources that could transform their lives. I just know those adult kids really well after the diapers and strep throats and night terrors and scabby knees. After we’ve shared heartbreaks and missed chances and anxiety over more change and the victories and moments of stirring clarity and the strength and courage that courses through their tender selves like life giving, sometimes even holy, water. The healing that comes when loving kindness is infused into rancorous wounds.

It’s sacred, being a parent. It demands of us much. We are witnesses to a life changing before our eyes. And our speaking and listening both helped keep them on the road that’s unspooled present and future for a long while. Safe! we’ve breathed again and again. Or if not then we waited without end at bedside, outside closed doors, in the night as we called for angels. In the kitchen making something that they liked. Put that kettle on for soothing tea, anything to help them rebound.

The truth is, I would take out my heart and lay it down for them. I would leap over a burning bridge to rescue them. I would find and carry their souls in my own hands out of a menacing darkness and into the lustrous light. And I am a woman for whom motherhood was not originally in the foreseeable, feasible plan.

So when an adult who was once my small child, a grown person whom I so love chooses to do something I do not understand, I have tried to quell my response unless requested. But not always, not by a long shot. I have to be honest, it almost seems unnatural after those intense decades of being ever-present and needed. So I attempt to offer thoughts with care even when I feel the weight of urgency. I remind myself: they are smart people, creative thinkers, they have an array of attitudes, ideas and feelings, too.

It’s not my life, after all.

It might be marrying someone I have not even had the chance to properly know. Leaving a fine job for other interesting but uncertain possibilities. Adventuring to places that are so far away and seem risky. Changing the configuration of a family despite the clear challenges. Moving to another place when the old one could improve if given more time and effort. But they have come up with a mutable plan, a working map and preferred criteria. My input is only useful or impractical data and may or may not be discarded.

The thing is, I know they generally value my well honed opinions. They call or stop by to toss about ideas with me, share work lives and creations, ask for some skill or ability of which they need to avail themselves. Most still even name their hurt, hopes, joys. They know they can always get a hug. They know I can listen. I have spent a lifetime of listening to clients and also to friends and family. I can be quiet, can wait, observe. But I also have a need to be honest about what I think and to inquire after more when I don’t understand well enough.

I am not good at being fully neutral with my family. Aloof or inscrutable, disengaged. Utterly objective. Sometimes I have to pray long and hard to regain a viewpoint that will enable me to place distance between us even as I zero in on the issues. It can be a hard maneuver to pull off but I have gotten better at it. I also pay attention to Mother Wit, my gut.

Nonetheless there are many times when what I think is not particularly relevant to these adults. They may not even ask much less tell me the good stuff in the first place. But when they share their lives and I’m taken aback by matters revealed, I have to remember I want to be the sort of parent I at times wish was here for me: someone calm, attentive, with a sense of humor, too. Able to consider a kid’s view valid even if all whys and wherefores are elusive. I would want respect. Trust in ability to make good decisions. Due consideration of the whole story. Acceptance of my adult life, anyway. Love.

All this is just what they deserve, as well.

I also ask myself: what was I thinking and doing at their age and what did my mother say or not say to me? She managed to get some decent sleep and also care about me despite some choices made that she sighed or likely wept over. She knew what I know now: you cannot act like an expert and blatantly insist on the wisdom of parental opinions and viewpoints no matter how you might want to… not with grown children. Especially when it is not their wish. I can’t any longer take away treats; I can’t give them “time out.” Nor do I want to, thank goodness.

But lest the reader think the five I raised are not quick to engage in their debates, too, it can seem like pandemonium around our table when they visit. Each one for themselves and yet in the end they are each one for all, too. I guess they’ve been taught to question, to probe, to re-imagine, to assiduously examine. But they know when enough is enough. They know to be kind.

So, I now do know what to do with my important advice. Leave it, tell it to pipe down. All my pushy, incisive, needful words can find another place to stir things up: a poem, a story, a walk along a brilliant river. Or to find solace: a prayer, a talk with my spouse or a friend, another walk in life-affirming woods and dale. I can manage my own self. Why would my children not do the same?

I feel humbled. I don’t always. Sometimes I feel as if someone must please hear me but today I think I’m the one who needs to reckon with greater truth. What do I know except for myself and even then…? I am not in charge of anyone else’s life. My mind can be a lively though peaceful haven or a corral knocked about by a hundred wild horses in it. I want to let out those beautiful and maddening horses. I can always look for them later. I prefer my innermost haven more right now.

My children, I surrender my worries and questions today and maybe even the morrow. I give over to the choices and aspirations that make up your own journeying. I want you to take chances that matter to you, to dream wiser and farther. To become your extraordinary human selves. And may our paths forever cross along the curious byways we take, the bends, twists, peaks and valleys that we each chart and traverse along our way.

 

Friday’s Passing Fancies/Poem: Sledding

Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson
Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

With such action the day became
what it was only meant to be,
careless of strife and competing,
far gone from remove,
crash landings of happiness
splayed across the white canvas.
Father with sons created a pact,
unearthed and sealed it in good snow.

It was all of this once for us and ours,
five with their ten legs and ten arms,
voices warbling, wrapping up air.
Soon, petty border disputes forgotten,
jealousies waylaid, hurts vanished,
that madcap gang spilled into
cold sweet banks and each other.
Laughter was life heat, grasping
the game with each other.

This was the way it was. I was there.
That was what we meant it to be,
love masquerading as riotous fun.
Their overlapping echoes boomerang
through thinness of memory,
fluid and crisp as a five part harmony,
those feathery humming arrows
that fly to target
in the center of me.

Being Here with All That Matters

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It can take a lifetime to realize your true worth. Sometimes I still feel I am on the verge of determining what, exactly, that is. Most of the time, despite self-doubts that knock around in my head at inconvenient times, I have a handle on it. For starters: I’m a human being who is glad to still be here. Who is hopeful I can carry out at least one kindess a day. And I love to create. But there are those times when I am not so sure that is enough.

If one has siblings who are super achievers, the weighing in can feel a bit aggravating and arduous. I don’t mean in terms of status and prestige, although it is tempting to oversimplify and stop right there. So, for example, calculation of my life income via nearly thirty years being a counselor and in other human services positions is easy and swift. It indicates my social security is nothing to broadcast but, let’s face it, every bit helps. When I called my sister she responded, with frank sympathy, “I’m sorry.” There was a pause on the line because, in fact, I was thrilled that there was more than a few bucks coming my way. I didn’t know quite what to say next. She knows my husband has done well enough; we will get by. Or figure things out as we go, as more and more do in later life. But this is a person who has made savvy and multiple investments. The fact is, I didn’t manage to accumulate what the rest of my siblings did. I trod different paths. I was busy first surviving and then, relieved at last, paying bills readily, helping out kids and enjoying modest vacations a couple times a year. And being grateful. Once you have been poor, you do not forget blessings.

This came to the fore of my thinking before all four of them (plus spouses and my adult kids et al) arrived for my daughter’s wedding. I looked around our apartment, aghast. I was throwing a pre-wedding, large brunch for our daughter and family. I scanned the main rooms and saw the place again as others must. And felt compelled to buy new curtains and exchange the old, dust-expelling vacuum I’d used for eighteen years for a fancy new model. Cleaning took days, wherein I found lots of things I hoped I would. And hoped I would not. And then I found myself trolling the sort of store I usually avoid. It was a place where you drop good money on decorative items. It was introduced to me by another sister and niece who like to shop there to change up their already gorgeous homes. I had no idea it existed until then.

I roamed awhile before I was willing to part with nearly forty-five dollars for a cake stand, small fabric and painted wooden pumpkins for my big dining room table, fake and colorful fall leaves to spread around them and a ceramic candy dish that looked seasonal. Okay, it was another pumpkin-type, but white, with a lid. Rarely do I purchase things that intentionally reflect the season. I bring things home from the woods, or beach sometimes. But I was about to perk things up in my humble home! It felt so foreign. Usually my idea of decorating is buying new books to stack neatly on and around various tables and a desk. And flowers, always bright ones in interesting vases, with some good art and photos on the walls. And frig. Yes, still, at this age. (I also cut out magazine pictures to tape on the laundry room wall. Something to look at as the clothes spin.) But I was willing to venture into a new direction to spruce things up a bit. To feel better about “entertaining”, such as it was.

All this extra fuss for my own family–which has been here several times over the years, of course. It was a special event, true. But I could not escape that familiar, uncomfortable feeling that my siblings got to where I once expected to end up. But never did. And that it mattered, still. Not like it did when I was thirty or forty, no, yet I was left with a niggling of anxiety. Then I bought and arranged the flowers and set them about and felt…more at home. My cozy spot in the world. I excitedly prepared with my daughters and husband, laid the table with a favorite yellow tablecloth and matching and stray pieces of stainless. I lit a white candle in the glass owl candle holder. Around which were the fancy pumpkins and leaves.

There was a time when I was ashamed of what I failed to accomplish. That I wasn’t a professional musician, too–or just a bone fide, high-paid professional with the Italian leather heels and smart suits to prove it. That I hadn’t finished my Bachelor’s degree. I had one and a half more years to go but it never seemed feasible. I was swamped with raising five children under the age of six while my husband advanced his career. He was often gone so I learned quickly to take care of household and children, adapt to one more town after yet another company transfer. I struggled with chronic health issues not yet correctly diagnosed. My friends were the mothers who dropped off their own kids before hurrying off to jobs. I grew up in the sixties and became a mother in the seventies–this was a time to be breaking waves, Doing Something Important! And I, feminst and rebel that I had been before marriage, was now a housewife, raising a bunch of fascinating, mischievous, fussing kids.

So I labored over self-improvement in smaller ways. Tried to bury the disappointment in myself. Found solace in nature, the kids on their own treaure hunts. Still, I developed an alcohol problem after a few too many of this and that to ease me into dreamless sleep or numbed busy-ness. That was not a good learning experience but learn I did, in many hard ways.

I did return to college a few times. One more class, a few more credits. Many more classes and trainings for my eventual paid jobs. But there was usually a more pressing need of our money or my time. As I organized the house or ferried the children to one activity or another I was haunted by my father’s voice from years past: “You’re really not finishing college?”

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But I dreamed. There lurked, still, that fervent desire and visceral need to create something, a book of poetry, a painting, a dance, more music. Even a noticeably better world, yes, please God. Between laundry loads that were completed by one a.m., errands tightly scheduled and child rearing, little stories made their way from mind to paper. I was struck with sudden melodies and lyrics that I configured and sang when the house was empty. And one of the happiest of winters was when I took a correspondence course on writing for children and youth–and got thorough critiques and encouraging feedback. Yet somehow, deep down, the confidence I’d enjoyed as a child and youth did not return with enough force. I tried to stop hungering for artistic pursuits so deeply. To no avail. Making crazy fun art with the kids was a joy, dancing and singing up and down the stairs with them was freeing for us all. But too often it was like I had lost my one great love– despite all the other wonderments in life.

As parents know, it can be quite demanding enough to get food on the table and children safely tucked into bed. Add also: to guide, corral, hug, discipline, instruct, reassure, cheer on, nurse and hold them up with an underlying and undaunted spiritual faith. All this counted to me, every moment. I hadn’t planned on being a mother but when it happened I felt like I’d hit the jackpot with five. Especially since two of the children were little ones my husband had started to raise and the three others had arrived despite my being informed they would never happen. Does anyone need an immediate lesson on altruistic and undying love? With kids as both students and teachers, you must dive in and swim, making certain they’re close by at every turn and dip. Your frenzied focus becomes adoration in no time without your even realizing it. You also discover how much courage can be summoned.

So it went. There are countless untold stories of women–and men–who’ve had dreams that seemed to drop away. Who so gave to their families yet also craved what called them creatively, artistically. Who look into themselves and fear there will be parts of their souls missing sooner or later. That they may even disappear. Tragically.

Well, the truth is: this is nonsense. Such a potential fate seems suitably dramatic when you are younger. Long before you endure the grief of unexpected losses and live through real life nightmares– yet also unearth resources within and without that you never once suspected would be there. The secret answer to the dilemma of “everyday life versus art” is that you just do what matters most, for whatever reason you choose. And it can all become holy. It is in how you see it, become it. I have primarily loved my children–first. It wasn’t hard. Loved life, itself, which sometimes felt harder. But nothing has been left out, not laughter or tears, not designing ways to solve tenacious problems or being surprised by miracles. It remains each day lived authentically that has mattered. This moment-by-moment creative act of becoming a full human being. Taking it all in. The beautiful, boring and unattractive; the sweet, spicey and bitter. And making–or letting–all the unknown or noteworthy things happen.

Who I was became who I am, a person with diverse interests and skills, talents and limits. Not once have I regretted hurtling myself into happy curiosity. Or nurturing a passion for mercy, a belief in kindness. Persistence. Faith in that power of Divine Love even when it seemed the distance between God and myself was so great I had to shout for help. Those, I would have not forgiven myself for failing to claim. It’s certain my life has been marked by failures. Yet what I didn’t learn from well has come to matter much less as time goes by.

Where did this post begin? Oh, our front door kept swinging open. My husband was finishing up the eggs, bacon, sausage. My family brought top-notch scones, pastries, muffins–of course. I got coffee brewed. Orange juice filled my mother’s old, pretty pitcher. The place vibrated with chatter and laughter; there were hands extended, chairs added to make the circle bigger.

As they arrived, I completely forgot most of them are better educated (well, my children mostly are, too), have made more money, have owned more real estate, have travelled the world many times between them and, thus, speak more languages (in more ways than one). My siblings and I may not have so much in common besides blood ties: large, blue or softly hazel eyes and musical ability. I guess I should include a mulish stamina despite physical and other challenges. And a manner of speaking that reflects our upbringing, growing up within a culture of, well, culture–it can seem rather too civilized, perhaps. And then there is how we take over conversations, insinuating there is a fascinating story unfolding (often true). How we can shrug off everyday ridiculousness. And, come to think of it, a concern for the well being of others. But our defects of character? Don’t tempt me. Loyalty forbids I divulge too many secrets tonight. For that, there is fiction to write!

It looks like we are more like family than not. You can see how I love them, bottom line, even after all that has changed, even distanced us. They are valuable and deeply valued. And so am I.

So we hugged, gabbed and ate our fill and the daughter about to be married felt great that her extended family came from afar to celebrate with us. Me, too. Thank You, Lord, for such good moments and more to come.

 

 

Processional: I walked my daughter to the altar and her groom; her father played guitar as she walked.
Processional: I walked my daughter to the altar and her groom; her father played guitar as we walked.