Friday, October 13, 2006

Sunday Scribblings--If I could stop time...


How I feel after an average day, lately. This is Dali's Persistence of Memory
I love using Sunday Scribblings as prompts for stories, as it's the only fiction I usually write these days. But this prompt felt so personal, I couldn't seem to do anything but write my own story.
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It would easy to look around here and think that time has stopped. The same endless rolling clouds, the same wind blustering over the ravaged trees. The same four walls, painted in tasteful variations of off white and beige. The rumble of traffic that never quite settles down. And so you try to see the passage of time in your completed tasks...except that nothing ever quite gets finished. New dishes sit in the sink almost as soon as you finish washing the old ones. The day is full of the eternal sameness of breakfast, snack, lunch, nap, snack, dinner, bath, bedtime battles.

It’s a mother’s life during winter—forcing yourself to be indoors when everything in you screams louder than your toddler to be OUTSIDE! But you stay in, rationalizing about weather, and wind, and cold on an exposed little toddler nose.

But it’s not the truth. Not really. In fact, admit it, you’re staying home because you have not been able to stop time. Your sweet amenable baby, the one who cooed in her stroller at the passersby, the one who was perfectly willing to go to coffeehouses and spend time just gazing at the barista while you scribbled notes for a project...that baby is G O N E. In her place, there’s an uncertain, moody little person, anxious to put her stamp on the universe, to make her own decisions, toddle her own way.

And you thought you were prepared, you did. You spoke, loftily, the way all pregnant women speak, about "being open to her personality; looking forward to meeting her." And you believed that, then. But then she arrived, so pliant and small, and something tender crumbled inside of you. You experienced a merger you never would have thought possible; you never would have even imagined that you wanted it. After a lifetime of compromise, you reveled in having a total say over your outings, your schedule. And the baby cooed and grinned and acted as your perfect mirror as you poured out your life stories to her—trying to ground yourself and stop time in a world where everything had changed, where your teenaged, earnestly romantic boyfriend had become your responsible, aloof husband, where your parents had grown complex, spilling out of their assigned roles in your life. Where you had veered so drastically from the long wide highway of your life that you feared you had lost some essential treasures along the way.

And the baby cooed and smiled, and reflected perfect understanding and love back into your eyes, and the boundaries between you burned away like dawn’s mist.

You thought that you had finally gotten a handle on it all, the sleepless nights, the time that never ceased to rush past you. You devised tricks—to spend a little more time in bed, to rush through a few extra pages of a book, to stretch naps like warm taffy through eager fingers. You felt confident, admit it...even motherly.

But the baby wouldn’t be pinned down, wouldn’t stay small until you were fully confident. She refused to be your perfect little mirror, and the coos started to become plaintive wails and imperious demands. And all of the little rituals you thought you could count on forever, the ones designed to stop time and give you back the self you were afraid had been left by the side of the road? All pretty useless now.

Surprisingly, that wasn’t the worst part. You gritted your teeth, reminded yourself "You will have your time" and vowed to take fewer books out of the library. You congratulated yourself on your good sense and maturity.

Until you found yourself unexpectedly sobbing after an altercation with your daughter, after she stared at you with fury in her eyes. She didn’t want to go for a walk in the stroller; in fact, she’d rather not spend any time with you at all. She’s very much her OWN person, now, and she has her likes and dislikes which often clash with yours.

And it hits you—you miss those long aimless walks more than you ever thought you would. You miss those monologues, which helped stitch your sanity back together. You miss the fusion of her little body in your arms, as your hearts beat slowly in time. Together. You miss her looking into your eyes and you looking into her eyes until you couldn't see beyond those endless echoes. Even as she grins in glee at her newfound independence, even as you applaud the self that is being born, you wish you had the way to stop time.

Of course, you know these thoughts are irrational, immature; you try to squelch them, to be the perfectly nurturing and supportive mother you imagine is all around you at the playground. She still loves me, you tell yourself defensively. Nothing has changed. You blame hormones, either hers or yours. You try to stay patient. You feel guilty for wanting to deny her the chance to develop and change. You try to breathe through the anger, the blaming, the hurt.

Of course, nature has its way. Inexorably, she grows and learns, eludes your best attempts to clutch her tight, breaks free from your desperate grasp. You are faced the fear at the core of your frantic attempts to stand still. It’s the fear that you won’t be able to handle her anymore; that you’ll fail her. It’s the fear that this newfound loneliness that sits like a vulture on your chest will break you, leaving a hollow shell to mother your child. It’s the fear that she’ll look at you and not like what she sees.

Meanwhile, Time hurtles past you, on plump, unsteady legs that grow stronger every day.
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More ways to put time in a bottle here.

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18 Comments:

Anonymous fern said...

Wow, what an entry. I suppose the lesson in all of all this is that no matter how much we try to restrain it, life breaks free. We grow and change and live. Maybe that's a good thing because as we watch and mourn the good times passing, it teaches us that the bad times too will pass.

There's no better way to show change than with your beautiful words about your daughter. Enjoy this stage in her life because time won't stop here.

Wonderful entry.

11:55 PM, October 13, 2006  
Anonymous beth said...

You ARE writing a book.

I haven't been here for a while but was just catching up a bit. Looking back at this from my age, and my non-motherhood, maybe what I have to say won't carry a lot of weight. But at your age I was writing the same frustrated prose, wondering WHEN I'd ever have time to put my writing and reading and true self FIRST instead of always "after" - in my case, after the career my husband and I were in. This is what women do, unfortunately, and often have to do. So the question is, how to make it work so you don't go nuts with resentment and sadness and guilt that can turn into real bitterness. How do you make sure that beautiful bright lamp inside you doesn't go out?

One answer is to be absolutely determined to make the best possible use of the time you DO have. If it's twenty minutes every day while Madam naps, then let the housework go and use that time for yourself, and DO NOT allow yourself to feel guilty. You are a writer, and a good one. Don't try to write a perfect short story or make that time unreasonable for yourself, but do set down the most important thoughts you're having. Write what you know, as you're doing here; later you'll see it as the raw material for a bigger work. Write the details and events and conversations; SHOW us in addition to describing the overall situation and the feelings. The life you're in is real to millions of women. You can give voice to that, and you can be determined to craft something out of it that is better than a mushy brain and a forgotten sense of self. OK - before your daughter goes to school, you may have to be satisfied with a lot less than you'd ideally want in terms of time and energy. But if you make the most of what you DO have - and don't leave it for the very end of the day when you're totally spent - you will at least know that you are chipping away at your goals.

I wanted to write a book by the time I was forty too. Instead I was 53. But I did it. You can too, and I am quite sure you will. Dig down deep for the courage; you've got the ability already.

8:28 AM, October 14, 2006  
Blogger Jessie said...

yep--i agree with beth. you ARE writing a book. about motherhood.

sometimes i feel myself drinking up all your words as though i'm preparing myself for the possibilies of what it might be like. i don't imagine motherhood as being easy--and so i have always appreciated the honesty that your words contain.

love you,
j.

10:11 AM, October 14, 2006  
Blogger Laini said...

So beautifully written, as always. And again, my terror at the idea of motherhood deepens -- I barely get anything done as it is; what will I do with a toddler? I wish you would post photos so the inevitable adorableness of Madam would offset that terror a little! :-) Isn't that why babies & children are so cute, after all? To soften us up so we'll reproduce ANYWAY? Well, I love all you wrote about the wonderful feelings of having a small, cooing baby, and about wanting to freeze time then, but as that stage passed, so too will this one, and all too soon Madam will be in school and then you'll have a whole different structure to your days and find the time to write the book we are all waiting to read!

10:26 AM, October 14, 2006  
Blogger Alexandra G said...

I agree with everyone here. This post, so eloquently written, IS the makings of a book all its own. It seems filled with truths that I imagine you are far from alone feeling and I bet thoughts that pass many a mother's head and heart but that they are afraid to give voice to. Even though it is very different I am reminded of Anne Lamott's book, Operating Instructions and how much I loved it. Your book on the subject would be very different but I believe just as compelling, moving, & successful. A collection of journal entries as you navigate your way through motherhood and have the courage to share your full range of feelings of the experience. Just an idea, but this post, like all on this subject, deserve to have a wide readership. You may take for granted your willingness to voice what a lot of mothers won't or can't give themselves permission to.

1:36 PM, October 14, 2006  
Blogger sundaycynce said...

You have such an incredible way with words!! You put together absolutely marvelous phrases that glide across us like satin sheets, then zap us with reality.
".. to stretch naps like warm taffy through eager fingers." ".. monologues which helped stitch your sanity back together."
"..her looking into your eyes....couldn't see beyond those endless echoes."
Oh, do not give up your writing!! At least keep a journal, if it is all you can do til she is in school. Capture the ideas to be developed when you can. The stages all pass so fast and most are bitter sweet.

Forgive me if I share a poem I wrote about the changing stages of my daughter, probably the one you are passing into now and the next after that.
While She Grows Up
While I listened, sitting in my hidden place,
She held the doll, smoothed its dress, patted it gently,
Rocked it and sang a lullaby,
While I listened.

While I watched, daring not to breathe too deep,
She lay the baby carefully upon her bed
And tucked it in and kissed its head,
While I watched.

Now she goes, here and there, always busy;
While I wait, at a distance, to be told;
And I smile and bite my lip,
While she grows.

To give due credit, I wrote this as an example of "structural modeling" at a writing workshop for English teachers. The "pattern" which I followed was a poem by Robert Francis called "While I Slept" about his mother.

But your experience and your feelings so deftly and poignantly expressed reminded me of this poem I wrote more than fifteen years ago. Motherhood doesn't change so very much. It is priceless and beautiful, but not without pain.

3:09 PM, October 14, 2006  
Blogger Catherine said...

That stage when children take their first steps towards asserting their independence is so hard! And then they settle down fro a while, and then there is another turbulent stage - they come in waves, but there is respite between the big ones!

Your writing is beautiful, whether you are writing fiction or writing about your own life. One of the first I come to every Sunday.

7:13 PM, October 14, 2006  
Blogger Michelle said...

I kept thinking, as I read this great entry, that my experience has been exactly the opposite. My seven year old was demanding and impossible from the beginning, and astonishingly, has mellowed with age. Now we can sit peaceably together. I am thankful that time has passed, but I know I am in the minority.

8:42 PM, October 14, 2006  
Blogger Amber said...

Wow, what a beatiful scribble. You really can write! I understand so many of these feelings. So many.

:)

11:13 PM, October 14, 2006  
Anonymous tinker said...

This is beautifully written.
Please indulge me for a moment. I know this will sound so trite - but this time will pass faster than you ever thought possible. The minutes of wishing for time for yourself, will pass into hours, then days. Whole months and years...the time will seem both endless ahead of you - and yet, once it has passed, it will seem as though the clock and the calendar had grown wings and flew past at supersonic speed. You'll wake up one day realizing you've only got this last little window of time before she's out on her own, and wish that you had spent more time savoring each and every second she was still your little girl. Just as you're wishing right now you could have stopped time while she was a baby.
Yet, I know if anyone had told me this 20 years ago (and they probably did), I would have rolled my eyes. Sigh.
Have heart. Your time for you WILL come - and it will stretch out ahead of you for so much longer than these fleeting days of toddler tantrums and burgeoning independence. You won't regret the story you didn't write, because you can still write it. But you can only witness this time in your daughter's life in the here and now. I say this with all of the enormous admiration I have for your writing. As a reader, I can't wait to read your books someday - but I will try to wait patiently, because this is the only time you will have with your child.

Now I'll step off my soapbox and tell you how very much I enjoy your writing each week. I'm grateful you use what time you have for you to share your ideas through your lovely writing.

1:31 AM, October 15, 2006  
Blogger Jerri said...

SO glad to see your work here today. I echo the encouragement of others: your writing will find its way to the Light.

Keep believing in your gift. Remember that though you may not be writing as much as you wish right now, you are storing observations and thoughts and images that can be drawn upon later.

Winter is a difficult season in the Northland. Hold onto thoughts of Spring. It will come. It always does.

12:40 PM, October 15, 2006  
Blogger Colorsonmymind said...

My son is 19 months and I have had so many of these questions and frustrations.

I was a passionate teacher when I had my son and since-something has shifted in me and it scares me so much sometimes-and other times it excites me. Now I am leaning more toward painting and photography when I find the time that is.

I too am tired at night, yet I have decided to dedicate 30 minutes a day to art-no matter what- it has been a few days, and it feels really good. Before I felt I needed a bigger chunk of time but I just don't have it.

The cyclical nature of my days can be mind numbing at times. I have joined a play group (called the town office and asked about it) and some story hours (at local libraries) which has helped tremendously with adding some variety to the day.

I agree that this post and others would be great in a book of your experience as a writer and a mother.

Wonderful.
XOXO

6:02 PM, October 15, 2006  
Blogger DJPare said...

Whether its fiction or non, your writing is always wonderful!

8:28 PM, October 15, 2006  
Blogger wendylou who? said...

You write fiction and memoir equally well. I have pictures of my daughters as younger girls all over. I was literally in love with their beauty..in awe of their perfection. On bad days, I still wistfully touch the glass of these photos as I walk by. They are my best work. Period.

These days you wouldn't know that I'm still so deeply in love with them. They hurt my feelings..forget things, and can be just teenage drama queens. I find my self wanting to be with out them..They are in a catty stage and I wonder how I grew such stupid girls. Then I read your post.

Thank you. You reminded me of stages. "childhood" lasts so long...years really...and you think you have the hang of it. Then adolesence comes..and it living tantrums with teeth.

But it will pass. And ten years from now, I'll wistfully touch graduation portraits..and admire them..Children are our only way of truely speading greatness..better in ways than the originals..variations...innovations.
Hold on....please hold on.

9:36 AM, October 16, 2006  
Blogger paris parfait said...

Very impressive writing. You´ll find the time to do all the things you want.

12:07 PM, October 17, 2006  
Blogger Kay said...

My daughter turns 1 next week. I felt your post deeply.

Nicely done.

1:51 PM, October 17, 2006  
Blogger sophie said...

This post dashed by me in a
blur of remembered sleepless
nights and soft folded kisses...
and here it reflects how
fleeting it all is...
poetic and heartbreaking.

10:31 PM, October 17, 2006  
Anonymous Menita said...

Beautiful post. It's exactly the way I feel about my now-toddler daughter.

10:23 PM, November 22, 2006  

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