i’m gonna kick tomorrow (upon hearing my daughter, age 8, say, “i really enjoy writing.”)

kids.

I say I’m a firm believer in telling my kids they can be whatever they want to be.  They have all of the freedom in the world to follow their dreams (I suppose it’s better than raisins and explosions).

But the truth is, I don’t mean it.  There is one thing none of them can be.  There is one thing I won’t let them be.  Not one of my children will be a writer. And if they ask, you can tell them this:  You cannot be a writer because most of your life will be spent not writing. And the not-writing hurts too much.

You cannot be a writer because when you’re a writer, if you’re lucky, you yank yourself from sleep at 4am into the quiet half-dark of the living room.  And you bite your fingernails down to the quick as the clock ticks closer to six or you hear your son kicking the rails of his crib.  Because soon you will be not writing.

On the ride to work,  a steeple silhouettes itself against almost sunlit sky.  The lake reflects it. You want to write it.  Every morning.

prisoners.

You think that it might be sweet relief just to read a line of good poetry.  So you work Yusef Komunyakaa into your senior syllabus even though he isn’t British, but you’ve already covered Owen and Sassoon, so why not? Since you’re on the subject of war, you might as well read Tim O’Brien. You stand at the podium, pouring over each thing they carried.

Two periods later, you introduce an acrostic poem that you’ve read ten thousand times before, and you think back to the first time you read it, which was sixteen years ago now. And you’re moved like the first time you read it.  You stand in front of your Smartboard, wondering for a minute if the students notice, but then the quick ones call out, “It spells Martha Stuart!”  And the rest of them put down their phones long enough to look and say, “Martha Stewart’s dad wrote this?”  You think you hear yourself sigh and say,  “No, that’s a different Martha Stewart.”  But you can’t be sure.

discovering.Your AP class is reading The Road. You’d like to carve it into the pulp of your heart.

You lay your head on the desk and say to yourself, This is a drought. What we have here is a drought.

It’s a number of days before another 4am.  You think of the hours you’ve lost.  The days. The weeks.  The months.  The childhoods.  And you realize that for eight years, you’ve been meaning to write a poem about your daughter being born in the caul. (Which means it’s been eight years and two weeks since you finished that novel.)

You read somewhere that Lois Lowry published her first book when she was forty, and for a minute you’re given a reprieve from the panic.  Until you remember it has nothing to do with publishing.  It has only to do with getting the words out of your body and onto the page. An expulsion.  Maybe an exorcism.  There’s a little towhead named Liza in there, and you know her compassion runs too deep.  But she’s stuck as a shadow because you haven’t written her.  Yet. (Yet is what you keep telling yourself, anyway.)

soccer.You look at your daughter’s face and consider the way it has changed and the way that it hasn’t, and you think, I could write this. Your son has a lying-down tantrum on the sidewalk outside daycare and you think, I could write this. The trees that line the practice soccer field lose their depth and definition as it turns to dusk.  The landscape wears a purple halo and people are suddenly harder to see.  You come close to screaming, I could write this!  I could write this!  I could write this!  

You think it’s an addiction.  Maybe a compulsion.  Until, ultimately, you decide it’s an affliction.  You want to look at a peony and not make it a firework.  You want to watch the Gulf of Mexico swallow the sun and not wonder if “swallow” is the right word. You want to just be a wife.  A mom.  A teacher.  A person who reads books because you like to read books.  That’s all.

swallow.You want to feel what normal is. But you can’t.  And you won’t.

You cannot be a writer, so if you have some obligation to create, take up something else: watercolor or gardening. Grow peonies or peppers. Something that shows you an end result, even if your toddler wobbles over and picks all of your peppers.  At least you can see them lying in the dirt.  At least they’re not just a pile of words.

give me something to believe in

Santa.I went into this holiday season knowing that, probably, it would be the last year my oldest daughter believed in Santa Claus.  After all, the doubting had already started: But someone told me Santa is really just your parents. And, He can’t possibly be in Africa right now and here tonight.  And, Reindeer can’t actually fly, Mommy.

Until this year, her grandmother and I had disagreed about encouraging belief in things like Santa Claus and the tooth fairy (though my daughter is still fairly certain the two shared a cup of coffee in our living room last year); I didn’t see the harm in it, and perhaps she didn’t see the point.  Sure, eventually, we all find out that it’s not exactly as we thought. I can vividly recall sitting at the white cafeteria table in fourth grade with a girl named Tammy, who always wore a ribbon barette on each side of her natural part, forcing her head to resemble the handlebars of a small child’s bicycle with its plastic tassels blowing in the wind. She said, tilting her handlebar head, “I believe in the spirit of Santa Claus.”  As far as I was concerned, there was no need for a spirit because Santa wasn’t dead.  (Did I mention that I was a very young fourth-grader?)

Sure, I was disappointed.  But there was no emotional scarring.  And I didn’t consider my parents to be liars.  And after reading this article, even my mother-in-law was convinced.

This face.

As a parent, I don’t always know what I’m doing (it’s only on rare occasions that I do know, it seems), but one thing I’m certain of is that there was something in my daughter’s face on Christmas Eve; her skin was so bright and white, as though it had been lit from somewhere inside. Her eyes were crisp and ready.

We came home after an evening of church and family and too much food. All three kids watched their messages from Santa (individually, my daughter said, just in case someone was on the naughty list — it wouldn’t be nice for the rest of us to know). They had opened the packages marked for December 24th, and donned this year’s pajamas for a picture in front of the tree. They put out the carrots and water, the cookies and milk.  I suggested leaving Santa a beer, but my oldest reminded me that he still had quite a bit of driving to do that night.

Shortly after we tucked them in, she came out of her bedroom and clung to the door frame.  She knew the rules:  no leaving the bedroom until it was light outside. “But Mommy,” she said.  “We forgot to put out the stockings.”  Her eyes were desperate. Please, they said. And almost, Just in case.

Stay this way.Maybe it’s that, sometimes, we forget she’s only seven. But she doesn’t. What I’ve learned about her, especially lately, is that she really enjoys being her age.  She likes being a kid, and maybe even a little kid. She’s in no rush to grow up.  Just the other day, during a quiet moment on the ride home, she said, “Second grade is going by so fast.”

She still holds my hand when she’s around a gaggle of giddy girls who can tell you the difference between the iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S-4, and have some working knowledge of Harry from One Direction. I admit that I bought her a pair of skinny jeans last month, but only because they were no others in her size at TJ Maxx and her single pair at home was covered in paint, with holes in each of the knees.

She wants to grow up slowly.  And we’re okay with that.

So maybe, this year, she wanted to keep believing, and so she was only letting herself believe.  She was practicing her own “willing suspension of disbelief.”  Maybe she was believing for her siblings.  Or for me.

Or maybe because there’s so much about this world she isn’t ready to believe in.

Yes. This.

We drove to the beach on Christmas Day, to our favorite pocket of the county.  The kids built castles and stood knee-high in the Gulf of Mexico.  We rocked out to ZZ Top on the ride home ’cause every girl crazy ’bout a sharp-dressed man.  That evening, we ordered General Tso’s chicken and Mu Shu pork and as we sat together, she said, “This is nice.” At the same time, I was thinking, This is what I believe in.

I’m going to wait for her to tell me that Santa isn’t real.  And, maybe, she never will.

stuck in the middle with you (a thank-you for sweet jane)

baby jane.

In recent weeks, as my toddler has begun his floor-kicking tantrums because he’s two (or because he’s now getting the molars I thought he already had), I have grown increasingly appreciative of my middle child.  And it’s not a favorite thing; I love them all the same.  It’s more of a time-out, a “Hey, thanks, Jane.  You could be making this so much worse.”

The middle child.  Sometimes I take her for granted. Sometimes I forget that she has only been here for four years, that her own toddler days weren’t so long ago. (Just this morning, I asked her to remind me to drop off the daycare check. Yes, a preK-er.)

eyes.  I, too, am a middle child, and so perhaps that’s why she makes so much sense to me. Of my three children, she is the most like me, in appearance and personality.  She says things like, “I want to climb a ladder to the sky so that I can kiss the moon.” She runs barefoot where she’s not supposed to (and inevitably steps on sand spurs or a fire ant mound). She makes funny faces for a laugh.  And hurts too much for others.

Maybe I expect so much from her because I sometimes forget that she is not me.

Or maybe it’s because her manner has always been milder.  She didn’t burst into this world, screaming until her body shook like her sister did.  Instead, she gave a little whimper on the scale, then fell asleep. There were no “terrible twos” (or threes), because oh, jane.  there just wasn’t time for that. She never took a black Sharpie to the beige couch cushions or poured gasoline on the floor of the garage. In fact, most of the time, she kind of does what she’s supposed to do, and apologizes when she doesn’t. She is a pleaser. And she wears her middleness remarkably well.

Once, she said she wanted to sit on a cloud.  “You can’t, Jane,” said her science-minded sister.  “Clouds are just water and air.”

Sometimes, I think she’s up against too much. She’s always had to do everything faster. Walking, potty-training, moving from the crib. We couldn’t carry her because our arms this girl.  were full of someone else; she’s been running to catch up since the day she was born. The truth is, I don’t remember much of Jane’s babyhood. It happened in the winter.  She got a virus from her sister and was hospitalized when she turned a week, and there were tangled wires stuck to her chest, IVs too big for her tiny hand, bars on the bed (I remember that part).  I remember, too, that she didn’t crawl, but scooted on her little butt across the floor.  Once, there was a neighborhood Christmas parade, and she fell asleep with her soft cheek against my shoulder.  I wished, momentarily, that she could stay that way forever.

Maybe even then, I knew.party girl.

Just the other day, Georgia said, “It must be hard for Jane because she doesn’t know who she is.  Is she a big kid?  Is she a little kid?  She doesn’t know.”

Maybe I don’t know, either. She is the in-between. Sometimes I scoop her up inside my arms and rock her back and forth.  She’s always been the most petite, the easiest to hold. She rests her head against my chest and closes her eyes, pretending to sleep like a baby. I imagine those lashes, that upturned nose on a much tinier face.  And then it seems not long ago. Other times I send her to the bathroom to potty-train her brother.  And I wonder where I was when her legs grew so long, when her face lost all of its babyness.

Maybe I was in the middle then, too.  Maybe I still am.

camping jane.So Jane, someday when you read this (I do realize that you can’t read just yet), please know that I was thanking you.  All along.