Bryce walks into the room as I’m giving Juniper her sippy cup of milk and reading her a book to help her wind down for her nap. He is holding a pot and a wooden spoon, and begins vigorously drumming.
“Please don’t do that,” I implore. “I’m trying to get Juniper to settle down for nap time.”
Unfazed, he walks out of the room and returns with two pot lids, which he proceeds to use like cymbals.
“Bryce,” I say with annoyance. “That’s too loud. Please be more quiet right now.”
“But Mama, I want to make music!”
“You can make music later. Right now you need to be quieter.”
He returns with a single chopstick, gives me a look that hovers between rebellion and triumph, and retorts, “I’m going to be the conductor. Conducting is quiet.”. He then commences waving the chopstick around, his eyes never leaving mine.
Totally my kid.
I want to make art.
I have spent a large portion of my life aching to make art. Sadly, it’s a much larger portion than that I have actually spent making art. I yearn instead, look down at my hands and wish they were splattered with vibrant acrylic paint splotches, look at my clean trim nails and wish they were filthy and caked under with clay.
I write, and writing is art. The act of putting words out, in a specific order, grouped together in a way they haven’t been before, in a way that probably no one else in the universe could replicate, is art. It is art as much as piecing images together in your own way is art. But I don’t do that as often as I should, either. I mostly yearn about that, too.
Yearning, sadly, is not art. If it were, I’d be quite the accomplished artist.
Today is St. Patrick’s Day, a day that for me always seems to mark a sort of bittersweet looking back and remarking on how different my life is than it used to be. I think back to when I was in college and half-stumbling around Cleveland with my dearest friends, winning Guinness-chugging contests at 6am and stealing life-sized jointed leprechauns from bars so I could hang them up in my apartment. I look back, and then I look at now and think about how different things are, how long ago that seems, how much I’d like to take a brief vacation in that time so I could revisit it, again.
But I forgot to do that today, until I remembered just now, at almost 2pm. And I’m still not really looking back so much as I am remembering looking back.
That first St. Patrick’s Day in Cleveland was 13 years ago, now. That’s mind-blowing to me, that something that happened to me during my adulthood could have happened 13 years ago. But there is is, 13 years are gone and here I am.
I dressed Juniper in a green dress today, and she struggled because she is going through this stage where she DOES NOT WANT TO HOLD STILL for anything, whether it’s a diaper change or a snack or an episode of “Sesame Street”. Bryce chose a green shirt himself, a dark-and-acid-green-striped one that clashes nicely with his blue and red plaid pants. I remembered to wear my green sweater, and I own many more green options than I did back in the day. When Juniper wakes up from her nap, we’re heading over to my friend’s house for a St. Patrick’s Day playdate, complete with jello jigglers and Irish Beef Stew. It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and that means something different now than it used to for me.
And mostly, that’s Ok.
If I could embed the video of this and her previous TED talk into my psyche somehow, I’m convinced that I’d accomplish all I want to accomplish, all I’m meant to accomplish, all I could accomplish. But since the psyche-embedding process is far from perfected, I guess I’ll have to make do with viewing her talks and trying to really, truly internalize her message.
I love what she says about vulnerability being the first step towards innovation and creativity.
If I had to pick one thing, just one thing, that it feels like I do incessantly, that I am always doing, day after day after day after day, it would be wiping down flat surfaces in the kitchen. I wipe down the counters and then make a sandwich and get them covered in crumbs, so I wipe them down again. I wipe off the stovetop and then prepare a meal, so I wipe it off again. I wipe off the table and then feed the children a meal or a snack, or maybe they decide to do some arts and crafts, and I wipe it off again. And again and again and again.
My house is far from spotless. We have a cleaning crew that comes every other week to help us forge a battle against clutter and dirt and grime, but it seems like even so we’re barely breathing above it, surfacing from the crap every so often to suck in great lungfuls of air before we dive back down into crumbs and play-doh and stray pairs of underpants.
But the wiping down of kitchen surfaces is non-negotiable to me. It pains me to leave the dining room table covered in the remnants of our dinner, even though technically it’s Sean’s job to clean up afterwards. (He sometimes FORGETS TO WIPE OFF THE TABLE. How is that even possible?!) I know it’s there, and it bothers me; much more so than the toys collecting in piles in our otherwise lovely living room or the light film of dust forming on top of the refrigerator or even the wayward drops of little-boy urine that make their way to places other than the toilet bowl. Kitchen surfaces, they should be clean, even if there’s a pile of bagged high-fiber bread options on top of them.
So I wipe down, every day, multiple times a day. I hold the dishrag under the faucet until it is soaked, then wring most of the water out of it. I fold it into quarters, making a neat square. And then I start to wipe. The counter under the window, the counter beside the sink, the counter in front of the microwave. Then the counter beside the coffee pot where rings of spilled coffee sometimes collect, the breakfast bar where my laptop and the radio perch. I rewet it when necessary, then move to the dining room table, where I methodically remove the bits of rice, the sticky drips, the rings from a water glass. I get under the table where my toddler sits, lest I later find a quart of yogurt smeared into the dark Asian hardwood. I wipe down the booster seat, the chair pads. I clean them all up, the messes of everyday life that form on my counters and table. Because maybe I feel like I might be losing my grip some days, those dark days where every request is greeted with a wail and nothing falls into places as it should and you feel like there’s no way you can do this, This, this caring for small people, a moment longer. I might be pleading through tears with my toddler to stop climbing over the stair gate and running upstairs, I might snap at my preschooler for refusing to choose a fucking snack, already. But the surfaces in my kitchen? They are clean, they are orderly. They make it appear that I am clean and normal and detail-oriented.
One day, maybe my life will be more like my kitchen counters.
I realized this morning that a great number of my jeans are currently too loose. No, they’re not also high-waisted and faded and small-pocketed, but they are mom-jean-esque in their looseness. I finally put them in a pile so I’d remember to either donate them or make cutoffs out of them.
Having too-big jeans isn’t such a bad problem when you’re currently trying to follow a healthy eating and exercise regime, of course. Except for the mom jean factor.
I am a terrible decider. A terrible choice-maker. It’s true. I keep an even keel, our home is not utter chaos, and my children have all that they want and need (I think?). But when it comes to ME, I am just wretched at selecting a path and heading down it.
Sean knows this, and teases me about it when appropriate.
When I was a little girl, I was choosing a new parakeet. There were two finalists among the cages and cages of birds at the pet shop, one traditional-colored medium blue budgie with a black stripy head, and one mostly-white parakeet with blue-speckled cheeks and mottled black wings. One was prettier (the white) and one seemed potentially more affectionate (the blue), but it was hard to tell about personality when they were both in cages with so many other birds.
I paced up and down the aisle, visiting first one parakeet and then the other. I made mental notes on how they each interacted with other birds, how they ate their seed, how they stretched their necks and peered at me. I coaxed them each in turn to my index finger, offering a nibble or a scratch on the face. I still couldn’t decide. Which one was better? Which one was MY budgie?
Finally, my mother applied sufficient pressure, and I made my choice. The white parakeet! I was sure of it. But then I burst into tears. Dismayed, the store worker asked if I was Ok. I nodded through stifled sobs.
“You can have whichever one you want!” my mother said. “It’s Ok. You can have the one you want.”
“I know.” I replied, sniveling miserably.
She looked at me quizzically for a second and then asked, “Are you crying because you don’t want the blue one?”, then laughed as I nodded sadly.
I had chosen the white one. That meant that any future with the blue one was gone. I wouldn’t be taking him or her home, giving her a name, playing with him, teaching her to talk. The Blue Parakeet Path ended there, eternally severed. And the finality of it all distressed me terribly. How could I know for sure that I’d made the right decision in selecting the white parakeet?
I still grapple with decisions like that. With the impossibility of knowing that the decision I’ve made is The Right One, the one that will bring me success and love and happiness and health and longevity and Really Good Hair. I don’t linger too long over restaurant menus, or flip-flop over the weekend’s activities. (Well, most of the time, anyway.) But with decisions that could Really Matter, I freeze, terrified of making a decision so very, very wrong that it will send my life into a tailspin.
I made a decision today. Impulsively, impetuously, sort of. I haven’t put the wheels for it in motion yet, so it still would be easy to pretend I never decided such a thing or never mention it to anyone so I didn’t have to follow through. It would be easy to ignore it.
But I don’t want to ignore it. I don’t want to sit any longer, waiting as if I sit long enough, the life I want will come and find me, falling over me like rain. I want to work harder at making my life the one I want, the one that suits ME. So I made this decision, this decision that probably sounds so minuscule but felt enormous to me.
I decided that I would put my almost-2-year-old daughter in daycare 3 days a week, and keep my 5-year-old son (who’ll be in kindergarten in the fall) in extended day programming on those same days. I decided that instead of focusing on putting Juniper in The Very Best Place With Only Wooden Toys and a Huge Play Area, I’d focus on putting her someplace still good, but that is also reasonable enough that we can afford to send her for 3 full days, and can afford for Bryce to go to extended day programming. I decided to do that so I can take that time to write, to really make a go of making writing my career and not just Something I Wish I Could Do, or Something I Hope to Do One Day When There is Time.
I’m a little terrified, because taking those steps means taking writing seriously, which means I could actually suck and fail and have to live with it or learn how not to suck and fail. It means treating it as what it is: my chance to do it or not.
The parakeet’s name was Speckles, by the way. She was quite a little scamp and I loved her. But I never did stop remembering the blue one that I didn’t choose.