The Beanstalk

Record of a writer, a family & an adventure.

Month: October, 2013

Grocery line judgment.

I always think that the person in front of me in the check out line at the grocery store is the items they’re buying. The thick thirty-something with the five o’clock shadow buying a half gallon of ice cream, frozen fish sticks, and a case of Miller Lite is single, probably lazy.  The woman in jeans and sneakers, her hair pulled back with a colored elastic buying diapers and milk is a frantic mother of a few boys who hasn’t got time for stylish dressing. The diminutive woman with pouffed white hair and orthopaedic shoes buying canned vegetables, bran cereal and Pecan Sandies is a retired school teacher who lives alone now. 

Today when I checked out at Costco I thought about this in reverse. The man behind me was thinking, The enormous box of size three diapers means she has a baby, but not an infant. Her house is probably a disaster. This is compounded by the fact of that fifty pound bag of “large breed” dog food — lady has a baby and a large dog. The organic spinach means she’s really healthy, but wait, she has a bag of sweet kettle corn the size of a toddler, so the spinach is a ploy. The apples. She doesn’t have much time perhaps, eats on the go. So she’s a young mother trying to keep a large dog away from a baby, trying but failing to be healthy. She’s showered, so that’s something. She’s also alone and tapping her foot, meaning she’s rushed.

And all of that is true, but there is more! I am more than my groceries! First of all, I forgot the laundry detergent, socks and fleece PJs I meant to buy. I also forgot to look at books, bath towels, candles and cleaning products because I had a very small window of opportunity before I had to be home to take Jack so Mark could get to his soccer game. This all means that the man behind me was right about the disaster, the not much time, the rushed. What the man behind me doesn’t know is that the baby is really chubby, but so very sweet and laughing all the time. The dog is more than I can handle, but she’s pretty. The spinach is for a soup I plan to make for my family on Sunday evening, and the kettle corn is what I eat every single night before bed. He’s right about the apples. He thinks this woman is that cart, meanwhile I think about ten million swirling things as we wait in the long line.

You can never know what is going on in someone’s world. The thirty-something may be a dad who’s wife is away for the weekend on a girls trip, trying to keep his kids fed. The pony tail is probably a mom, but maybe she works nights as a nurse and one of her kids isn’t white, is adopted from Korea. The old woman? Maybe she volunteers at the Children’s Hospital, something that gives her joy. Who knows? Isn’t it funny how we think that people are their groceries?

My sister and I took our kids to visit our parents this week. Girls up front, our babies in the middle, and her two older in the back. The road trip was really just a mess. The boys in the back watched movies, throwing chicken nuggets and french fries on the floor, sticking stickers on the windows when we didn’t even know it was stickers that came in their happy meals. The babies slept some, cried a good bit, did their needy baby thing. We split driving (I mostly drove) and whomever wasn’t driving was climbing around the back meeting various needs of various children. It was hilarious and stressful and loud and long, we almost hit a few deer, but we had fun. The older boys were watching the stampede scene in Lion King when Mufasa dies when we heard this conversation:

“Jon-fin, Jon-fin, Jon-fin (trans: Jonathan)!”

“What, Will?”

“Jon-fin, what are dose?!  Dose bugs? Dose bugs, Jon-fin?”

“No, they are not bugs.”

“What are day???”

“They’re wild-a-beestes.”

“Wild-a-beestes?”

“Yes, wild-a-beestes.”

 

That was kind of the way the whole journey was. On the way home we were stopped on the highway because of an accident. The kind of stopped when people turn off cars, get out and walk the shoulder, make friends with the truckers to find out what the CB is saying. We opened the windows, Hannah got out and bounced a screaming Sam in the middle of two lanes, someone (not specifying) used the bathroom. It was a comedy, but I kept thinking about what everyone around us thought of our car. Those poor, crazy girls with four children, they probably don’t have husbands, they’re a mess. How erroneous a judgment! Sort of. 

What the hypothetical man behind me at Costco missed, what I miss when I size up someone based on his groceries, is the opportunity for a whole universe of life. My thwarted imagination only gives this much room, when a room the size of a football stadium is really required. I need to remember that I am not the only one who is more than my groceries! How many worlds there are within the world in which we live!

 

Hello, white desk.

Hello, white desk. It’s been weeks since I have sat before you, stared out the windows, read the titles of the books that stand propped up on your raised shelf. You have been covered with junk that has no place in my house and I have not paid you the slightest bit of attention in the way that you wish I would. But I’m here this morning. It’s graying fall outside, the house is quiet, and I am ready to write.

We have traveled far and wide this month, kept ourselves quite busy, celebrated two weddings of great friends, visited the North Carolina coast for beach time with Mark’s family, launched a small group with some friends from church, gotten through some serious baby sickness. The atmosphere changed in a flash last week, dense with heat from the summery sun, to suddenly pleasant and light, cool — I can walk in jeans without sweating — my personal barometer. With that change I said goodbye to the summer and started the organic transition of slowly settling into the warmth of my home. Baking, (planning to) make soup from raw ingredients like chicken and white beans and squash, unfolding boot socks and sliding them up over my tanned feet that now find the hardwood floors surprisingly cold. 

I’m also reading. My new year’s resolution was twenty books this year, and I believe I’m somewhere around fifteen. I don’t know whether I’ll be able to pull out the last five, but I decided to re-read one of my favorites, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. I cannot speak highly enough of the creative, beautiful construction of this story, and re-reading it has given me such exquisite pleasure, like slipping into a hot bath after you’ve spent the whole day chilled. I read slowly because the sentences grow like detailed vines and converge into a vineyard. I am fascinated by it — she is a skilled wordsmith. 

The last time I read The History of Love I was in college, or maybe just out. It meant so many things to me then, but now my life is very different. I did not remember that it had one thing to do with the relationship between a mother and her children. The primary story is not about parenting, but now, to me, the relationship between mother and children rises to the top like cream separating from fresh milk. So this is what you meant, I nod. The History of Love is a love story, a tragedy of some kind across many generations and many countries, and it is epic and mysterious. The other aspect, part of the same aspect, of the book is about Alma and her brother Bird, and their mother. 

Narrated by Alma, this stood out to me:

When I’d come in, she’d call me into her bedroom, take me in he arms, and cover me in kisses. She’d stroke my hair and say, “I love you so much,” and when I’d sneezed she’d say, “Bless you, you know how much I love you, don’t you?” and when I got up for a tissue she’d say, “Let me get it for you I love you so much,” and when I looked for a pen to do my homework she’d say, “Use mine, anything for you,” and when I had an itch on my leg she’d say, “Is this the spot, let me hug you,” and when I said I was going up to my room she’d call after me, “What can I do for you I love you so much,” and I always wanted to say, but never said: Love me less. (43)

It seems insane! But I understand now. I used to view this strange relationship as Alma, the daughter, and suddenly, strangely, I read it as Charlotte, mom. I find myself doing these things, saying these things, dousing Jack in this kind of affection, like thick lava bubbling, surging from the top of a volcano, spilling down in thick ribbons. I cannot help myself. And yet, the end of the passage. Love me less.

The power of words is truly an awesome thing. That I could mull on three little words for a week! And I have. What I believe Alma really meant was not that she wanted less love from her mother, but that she wanted freedom. Suffocate me less. Let me fly. In the wake of her husband’s death Charlotte is afraid of losing the remainder of her earthly treasure — her children. She effervesces affection for her children out of a fierce grip, and the result is that she squeezes the life right out of them. It makes so much sense to me now. Every night I lean over Jack’s face and blink my eyelashes against his cheek so that he’ll stir and confirm to me that he is okay, breathing, still there for me. Five thousand times a day I tell him that he is loved, and ask Do you love me? I spend a great deal of time afraid of losing him.

The Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran wrote these words:

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you… You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday… You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.  (17-18)

Learning to be a mother is more complicated than I understood, so many things make sense to me now that did not before. My child is not my child. Suffocate me less. Let me fly. 

Krauss, Nicole. The History of Love. New York: Norton, 2005. Print.

Gibran, Kahlil. The Prophet. New York: Afred A. Knopf, Inc., 1951. Print.