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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Life/The Writing Life

My ten year old left for sleep-away camp on Saturday afternoon. Here we are right before he boarded the big school bus for two weeks in the woods. He was probably thinking to himself "dang, no screen for a long, long time," and what was going through my head? Lots of stuff. For instance, he lets me hold his hand/hug him in public when none of his friends are around, but when he's on the school playground with me he'll ask me to please leave right now. I've been a little bit sad since we said our goodbyes. Out of sorts. Not only is the house unusually quiet, but I keep having these moments where I think I need to pick him up from somewhere, or get him to his piano lesson or soccer practice.

And then I remember he's not here.

It's a bit disorienting. I've been programmed to fetch, and there's one less kid to fetch.

Pathetic, right?

I mean, here's my chance to write and relax, or clean out the garage, or take a load of old clothes to Goodwill, and instead I am ... noticing all the mommies with toddlers and preschoolers and...envying them. This kept happening yesterday when I took my six year old to the zoo (yes, I still have a six year old; I have no business being nostalgic about raising children!): we would pass by a family with little ones in tow, and I would look on mournfully, remembering the stroller days (Strollers? Am I serious!?).

I can't explain it, and I can't seem to shake it. As I was stirring a Moroccan chickpea stew this afternoon (see below), I wondered if it might be some sort of evolutionary/biological trick, this selective amnesia that instinctually lets slip away the mind-numblingly boring task of watching a small child or children. How am I so easily forgetting (it takes work to recall this next part of the sentence) those days where I checked my watch every minute as I built yet another tower of plastic yogurt containers, yet another Thomas the Tank Engine track, or pitched yet another wiffle ball?

Is it really true that from now on all my kids are going to hear from me is how much I miss pushing them in the baby jogger? I don't want to be one of those older moms who can only remember the good stuff--who forgets the tedium and pain and sacrifice of raising kids--but at the same time, what's most forefront in my mind after ten years of raising my son is how much joy I found (and continue to find) in watching him learn and grow.

Okay, now I'm going to go crawl up in a ball and cry me a river.

But actually, I won't cry even a little. I might be a little out of sorts, but I don't have it in me to wallow. There's a lawn to mow, after all, and then taking my daughter to the library.

Also, as my poet friend Barbara Crooker reminded me this morning, poems don't come from an easy life. Instead, as she wrote in her email,

poems are like coal--they need the intense pressure of an out-of-control daily life to be able to turn into diamonds. . . .

What I take from this is that sometimes it's important to feel the feelings (even the ones I'd rather not feel), and not write. To chop the veggies, stir the stew, to let life unfold in front of my wide, wide eyes.

To know that poems can be born from bad days, from unwanted feelings, too. They always do. And in the meantime, I know my son is canoeing, horseback riding, and all the other fun things one does at summer camp.


Wendy Wisner said...

This is beautiful. So true. I think you've captured just what I've been feeling lately, that mourning. And my son's only 4 1/2! And the poems, too, yes, born out of chaos.

Martha Silano said...

Thanks for the compliment, Wendy. It's understandable you're having those mourning-babyhood feelings toward your son--4 1/2 is when they start to get quite independent (dressing, eating, knowing what they want, etc.), so it makes sense.

The good news is that today, though it was very quiet and not chaotic in the least, I was able to do some serious revising and submitting.

Small victory.

Joannie said...

I love the way the poems in your book capture both sides of parenting--the tedium and the careening joy.

When he comes home, you'll get to hear the stories and sing the camp songs (a lot of them haven't changed).

And our youngest (18) leaves Thursday for her next adventure--so if you get too lonely, come on over!

Martha Silano said...

Thanks, Joannie, for both your kind words re: my book and for inviting me over!

I never went to sleep-away camp, so it's all sort of strange to me, but I did learn some of the songs when I went to Girl Scout day camp.

I can't imagine what it will be like when he's 18 and going off on adventures. Camp is very mild in comparison. Good luck with your version of quiet!