Transitions

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As I went through his things this morning, writing his initials: A.M. on the tags of his coat, his hat, his mittens, his boots, his backpack, his blue plastic cup, it really hit me that this is who he is. He is A.M. Different from the other kids. Different from me. I am T.B. And today, his first day in Kindergarten, he begins moving away from me, from my sphere of control, from my ideas about who he is and who he should be. He begins to move into himself, begins to occupy his own life more fully. He’ll do things I know nothing about. He’ll learn things that I didn’t teach him. He’ll say his own name and ask the names of others. And this doesn’t scare me. I am so ready for this.

And here I am: T.B. Moving into my own life a little bit more, feeling more space opening up for myself, my dreams. More air for me to breathe. More silent moments for me to slip into. This writing today and the writing I’ve been doing each day this month, is a part of it, a part of moving forward. A part of my claiming, my reclaiming of what is mine and not-mine. The clouds reflect in the glass tabletop where I sit to write; the sky is lightening and, also, still grey. It is in transition as I am.

It strikes me that transition, this particular transition that has begun today or perhaps was begun weeks ago, is much like the quality of the days at this time of year, this far north. These shortened northern days are one long sunrise that fades into sunset a few hours later. It is a transition with blurred edges. No edges. It’s muted pinks and greys and mauves, it is always beginning and always ending, too. He has always been going to kindergarten and I have always been sitting at this table writing and writing. He has always been A.M. and I have always been T.B. and here we are, here we’ve always been in the indirect light of this winter day. He’s always been both mine and not-mine, always spinning closer and further away from me and I’ve always been doing the same, spinning closer and further from my self.

I sit here and write myself into the perpetual transition of the day, the dark morning fading to light fading to the dark night again. The sun rising and setting, so low on the horizon that soon we won’t see it over the hills that surround this river valley. He’ll go to school in the dark, he’ll come home from school in the almost-dark. I’ll write in the light, in the dark, in the dips and silences of the day. I’ll write my way closer as he explores further and further away. And then, before I know it, the other two will spin off on their own trajectories; are already spinning off on their own trajectories. We’ll all orbit one another and the light will rise and fall.

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Unlocking the Cupboard

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I keep the craft supplies on lockdown because I cannot handle the chaos that ensues, the paint smeared past the edges of the paper onto the table, the scatter of pipe cleaners, the glitter that gets into everything. Today, though, Colm found his way into a mixed bag of pipe cleaners and coloured pom-poms. He came running into the living room, tossing great handfuls of the stuff onto the floor. He and Charlotte continued, back and forth, from my stash to the living room, until the bag of supplies was empty and the floor was covered. They threw the pom-poms around; we twisted together pink and purple pipe cleaners to make bracelets. For a moment, I let go, just a little. I felt a bit of their joy at something so simple touch me. To access the joy of childhood is a letting go: of expectations, of the need to control. To access the joy of childhood is to embrace chaos, wild randomness. It’s to do just what each moment requires of you, just what would feel good. Hands full of velvet, a whirl of snowflakes, a silly walk. Giggles and secrets and your own private language of colour. To unlock the craft cupboard and let them be free with their own creativity, with mine.

This was a prompt from The Inky Path’s book “Bread Prompts”. The prompt was “joy”.

Image via Flickr user Essie

Daily Practice

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I spend a lot of time thinking about daily practices: how to fit them in and how they might change me. If I practiced something every day for one year, how would my experience of that thing be at the end of the year? How would it be going forward? I first experimented with a daily practice when I was learning about photography a few years ago. I made several attempts at a daily photo project. I don’t think I ever made it to 100 consecutive days. But even after those 40 or 50 days, I was a better photographer than when I’d begun.

What is important enough to me to practice every day? I think about a daily meditation practice, a daily practice of moving my body, a daily practice of writing. And they all feel important to me. Do I have to choose just one, at this point in my life? Truthfully, the only things I have done every day without fail for the last five years have to do with keeping babies alive and well. My own well-being is an afterthought. But it’s time to return myself to the foreground, time to find my way back to a daily practice, or to several daily practices. Because I’m intrigued by the idea of how I might be changed if I did something every day for a whole year. The discipline involved, the deep commitment to myself and my goals, is unfamiliar territory.

I want to prioritize a daily writing practice. Because I can practice mindfulness as I go about my regular day, and isn’t that one of the end goals of meditation? To be more mindful, more present with whatever arises? I practice that in real time. And I do move my body, though often at a toddler’s pace. The maximum weight I lift is that of my baby. But writing is a muscle that I feel I need to keep flexing if I’m ever going to go somewhere with it. I feel an urgency there, too, that I don’t necessarily feel with the other things. I know that in a few years I’ll have so much more free time (right?) but I feel like I’ve already wasted so much time in not writing. When that time magically opens up in the near future, I want to be further along, as a writer, than I am now. So I think about what a daily writing practice could look like for me. I keep trying, and then losing the thread, because life changes, schedules change, naps change, we move and move again. It’s hard to maintain such a focused routine as writing, through all that. I make excuses; it falters and dies and I begin to worry the Muse will forget where to find me.

This month, I’m going to try something a bit different. This month is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, where very eager and well prepared people try to write a draft of a novel over the course of 30 days. I am not ready for that. But coinciding with this month is National Blog Posting Month, or NaBloPoMo. That is something I can do. I like the idea of blogging daily as opposed to, say, writing a poem a day, because I typically write a post and hit publish with little editing. The focus is on just coming to the page and writing. I’m going to post here every day for the next month, as a way of showing up for myself and my craft. I hope it will be a way for me to jumpstart a daily practice. There are others doing this very thing this month, and I hope that community coupled with the fact that there are people (10’s of people!) who read my blog will keep me accountable.

I’m not sure what will come out of it, or who I might be at the end of the month. I’ll at least be a person who has blogged every day for 30 days, right? If I keep showing up, the words will find me.

Image via Flickr user Anonymous Account

Clear Skies

It wasn’t so long ago that I began to claim “writer” and “poet” as my identity. I put it on like a well-tailored piece of clothing: something made just for me, something that sets me apart and makes me separate from my identity of “mama”–because that particular identity is one that exhausts me. I don’t want to be solely defined by “mama”, in large part because it feels reductive. It feels like a threat to my perception of myself. But more than that, if I’m only “mama”, if I come to exist only for my children, if I am seen only in my relationship to my children, what happens when they grow up and move out? What happens when they don’t need me anymore, what happens if they move across the country or across the world? What happens if they die? Who am I then? If I hang all of my self on who I am in relation to other people, then when those people are gone, as they inevitably will be one day, I’m left groundless. So I decided that in addition to, or perhaps more than just “mother”, I am “writer.” I am “poet.” I’m more than mom. It gets me through the hard days, and it will carry me forward when the kids are gone.

But what about the times when I’m not writing? It happens frequently. It’s happening right now. As much as I’d like to establish a regular, daily writing practice, it just doesn’t seem to be a reality for me at this point in life. I’ve written about it before: as soon as I carve out a time for myself and my writing practice, someone drops a nap, or my partner goes back to work, or someone else needs me more. I haven’t written a poem in months. I torture myself, wondering if I’m still a poet, if I ever was a poet to begin with. How do I define myself now? What is my identity? Am I still just/only/forever mom?

In her book Love Warrior, and in speaking on several different podcasts, Glennon Doyle Melton, of the blog Momastery, says that we have an identity problem. She talks about how we (specifically, women) define ourselves by our relationships to others or perhaps by what we do for a living or as a passion. And when we inevitably lose those things, we’re left reeling. She has arrived at a place where she only defines herself as “a child of God.” She says that this is how she came into the world, and it’s how she’ll go out of it. That no one can take that away from her. That’s her truth.

And while “child of God” doesn’t ring true for me personally, I think I understand what she’s getting at. I’ve been reading a lot of Buddhist literature lately, and in some Buddhist traditions, it’s believed that we all possess an inner Buddha-nature, our true selves that become lost in the identities we put on and the thoughts and emotions we’re constantly reacting to. A common metaphor used to explain this is that of a clouded sky. The sky may be obscured by clouds for days or even weeks, but we know that beyond those clouds is a clear sky. We catch glimpses of it as the clouds drift by. We are born with that clear-sky nature, and we’ll die with it. This really resonates with me. In the last few days, I’ve been turning this idea over in my mind, along with Glennon’s ideas about identity.

When I first encountered the idea of non-attachment, I felt immediate resistance. If I’m not a writer and a poet, I’m no one. And that’s scary. I clung to those for dear life. I did not want to let them go. But now, I can feel that resistance loosen its hold. I’m realizing that there is a great freedom in releasing myself from my many titles. If I don’t cling to “writer” or “poet” or even “mama”, then I can’t lose those things. I can still write: there’s no denying the fact that it fills me up and connects me to some greater creative energy. And I can still mother my children, respond to their needs, move through life with them for a time. I can even still grieve those things when I lose them. But it’s not who I am. I am the clear sky above the clouds. That’s my peace, my truth right now.

On difficult days, and there are many, I try to catch a glimpse of that clear blue sky. I try to take comfort in knowing it’s there. With practice, maybe there will be longer periods of cloudlessness. Sometimes, the sky will be dark and I’ll likely forget that there was ever a clear moment. But it’s there. It can’t be taken away from me. I feel more free in my writing since coming to this truth; instead of trying to fit myself into that well-tailored piece of clothing that now feels too tight, I clothe myself in the expansive sky. I write when I can. I let it go when I can’t. I know that the intensity of parenting will lessen with time, and space to write more will open.

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Coming Up for Air

It really does feel like I’m drowning in children. Drowning in their whys, their wants, their unending demands for attention. Drowning in their little hands tugging at my hands, my legs, creeping under the hem of my shirt to tuck into the warm heavy flop of my breast. Drowning in cracker crumbs, soggy Cheerios floating in almond milk, toast crusts, uneaten vegetables, rotten apple cores under the couch. Drowning in broken toys, rocks hurled through air, sticks slapping the ground in a challenge. Drowning in the challenge of every day.

I’ve had a run of bad days. I’ve forgotten myself again. When I have a moment to myself I don’t even remember what to do with it. What do I like, again? How did I used to spend my moments? Oh, right. Doing whatever I wanted to do. When I see a free moment looming, I feel this rush of “shoulds” pouring over me. I should write, I should read, I should do yoga, I should meditate, I should wash the dishes, I should close my eyes and nap for a moment. Often I do none of those things because they all feel exhausting. I scroll through Facebook, news blogs, and then the moment ends and they need me again and I’ve wasted it. Fuck.

The negative self-talk is screaming loud these days. I won’t bring those words further into being by typing them, but they’re pretty nasty. And I’m starting to believe these awful things about myself, my life, my kids. And reacting accordingly.

So two days ago now, after probably the worst of the bad days, a day that ended with me yelling “HERE IS YOUR DRINK OF WATER” because I’d forgotten how to not yell, I woke up and told myself as kindly as I could “just be present today. Be present for you, for your emotions, for your kids and their emotions. That’s all you have to do today.”

And it’s working. Being present is working it’s magic. It still fucking sucks, a lot of the time. But I’m there for it, instead of checking out. I’m there, saying “yeah, this fucking suck, it sure does,” and there is power in that. Power in witnessing your own life, instead of going numb. And I’m there for my kids, too. I catch them before their “please pay attention to me” outrageous behaviour reaches its crescendo, someone crying and things broken and me just yelling like an asshole.

So here I am, present in this space, letting you all know that it’s not great right now but I recognize that all things are impermanent. This will pass. It’s a cliche but that’s because it’s true and it’s been proven over and over, with each moment passing by, it’s proven.

I’m not writing much these days. Which makes me question if I’m still a writer. I look over the poems I’ve collected for a chapbook and I hate them, because they’re all about how difficult this is. I’m tired of it all, tired of my own voice, my own words, circling over and over how difficult this is. I want to bury those poems, bury myself, or maybe that’s the wrong metaphor. Circle back to the beginning. I want to break through all of this, come up gulping fresh air into my lungs. I need something bigger than all of this, something outside of it. I’ve got an idea for a project, that might actually be two projects, and I need to focus on that. I need something to take me out of this groundhog day loop that is my life right now.

I am not just mom, mommy, mama. I am more than the maker of snacks, the breaker-upper of fights, the picker-upper of toys. I am a woman and a writer and I am interesting and interested and evolving.

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