The Beanstalk

Record of a writer, a family & an adventure.

Month: June, 2014

The thief.

When I was little I was jealous of my friends who had TV names. Audrey, Kelly, Kristin, Sarah, Jackie, Katie, Caroline. I had a grandmother name, Virginia, which, shortened to Ginny, seemed trivial and odd. Ginny could never be a prom queen, which, as it were, isn’t actually the chief end of success, though at the age of nine it seemed like it was. I did not go on to become prom queen.

In middle school the peak of my envy was over hair. Between middle and high school, the long, ultra-flat, part down the center, glued to your head look was in for girls. Straighteners were not what they are now. It was, looking back, a lot like the first iMac computers. Bulky, slow, fairly ineffective, and very expensive. I had a friend who helped me “straighten” my hair. It took ninety minutes and, looking back at photographs, was ultimately a tremendous waste of time especially in summer because it ended up a bit like a frizz helmet. I spent a lot of years, the majority of life as a matter of fact, hating my hair! Granted, I didn’t know about mousse or not using a hairbrush, but I digress. 

 At the beginning of college I started comparing myself to other girls in terms of shape and stature, the way I talked, what I studied, who I hung around with, what I wore. In most areas I felt that I measured up, but not all, and in those things I tried to fit in and it wounded me deeply. Later in college Ginny Weasley had come onto both the literary and Hollywood scene, so my name wasn’t as bad, and curly hair had become enviable. I had also grown into myself in many ways, and accepted that my name and my very recognizable head of hair were actually appropriate for my personality, right along with my Chuck Taylor All-Stars, my love of the library, my infatuation with Patty Griffin. My best friend at one time called me “quirky.” That’s a great descriptor, but it took a long time to accept it for myself.

Comparison is the thief of joy. Theodore Roosevelt said that. 

I thought all of that stupid inner competition and envy would dissipate when I became an adult, but it only changed. It found new homes in places that have continued to appall me. The latest is in parenting.

An example. Jack is fifteen months old and he isn’t walking yet. He stands up, moves from object to object holding onto the dog, tables, my legs, the wall, crawls really fast, and even does this incredibly impressive plank walk that takes a ton of abdominal strength. He doesn’t walk. Apparently most toddlers are on foot by now, which I didn’t know since Jack’s my only child and I didn’t pay attention in AP Psychology.

I was pretty thrilled when he started crawling, and basically ecstatic the first time he pulled up on a plastic light-up car and pushed it across the floor. 

Then one person, I can’t even remember who it was, said “Is he not walking yet?” And wouldn’t you know, just like that, all the excess of joy I’d been frothing with dried up in an instant. I went home, googled When should a baby start walking, and discovered that according to standards set by whoever sits in the Baby Development of the World office, Jack is late. Mark walked in from work that night and immediately said, “Oh no, what’s wrong?” That’s how glum I was.

Roosevelt’s words are stark and true, and as I become a mother (I guess I am one, but it feels like a process), I feel more hostile to that powerful thief. My initial response is to reject comparison outright, but that only leads to contrary and self-righteous individuality. I want neither! I long for my heart to change, so my buoyancy is not derived from the acceptance of men and women. 

Jack will probably walk, or else we’ll buy him knee pads and his chores can be cleaning the baseboards, weeding and mopping. I will probably compare myself, my family, my life, my faith against others because I am a messed up human being. But I hope, over time, I’ll stop.

Comparison is the thief of joy.

A tribute to the ordinary.

I wake up to the alarm, an African drum beat every morning, the only option that doesn’t sound like a child’s toy. It is twilight now, my feet feel tender on the floor boards. It isn’t hard anymore, it is habitual.

I pour coffee (YOU) set up to brew on a timer last night. (YOU) do this for me every night. 

I walk to the living room, open the blinds, switch on one floor lamp. I survey the street, asleep. I sit Indian-style on the wooden chair in front of the desk (YOU) gave me when we got married. My ankle bones need to be situated so they don’t get sore. I work on my novel for an hour. 

I hear (YOU) and (you) stirring in the back of the house. And the dog. I continue to push through my work, trying for a complete hour, trimming and shortening, making descriptions leaner, always searching for the right title. The dog comes out to see me. She rests her precious, soft head on my lap. I break to let her out, replenish my coffee, use the loo.

(YOU) married me when I was twenty-two. I hear the bed groan as (YOU) rise to sit on the edge, then stand. 

I hear (you) giggling in your crib.

(YOU) leave for work, and (you) watch from the front window, pressing your hands against the glass. (you) have dimples for knuckles.

I make a smoothie for (you) of spinach, bananas, yogurt and peanut butter. I was so relieved (you) weren’t allergic. When (you) eat, a lot of it ends up on the floor or in your seat. Some in your belly button, your ears, your hair so it hardens. I don’t mind because the dog cleans the floor and your seat, and the bath cleans your body.

We go for a walk, usually an hour, with friends or without. When we go without friends I listen to TED talks or This American Life or an audio book I borrowed from the library. I watch pajama feet kick wildly, and when I peek in, (you) smile at me.

(you) eat lunch. I eat a poptart. 

Across the street the neighbor is yelling at his brood of dogs. William, Elizabeth, Stanley to name a few. We laugh at him, and (you) call out a response. Sometimes he mimics (you). He meows for Henry, the orange cat who has gone missing again. I think he is the strangest person. He doesn’t say hello, or wave, just mimics (you), meows for Henry, and goes inside.

When (you) are asleep, I pray for things that return to me because they are difficult, because I know that returning to prayer helps. Jesus did it, and “the praying Christ is the supreme argument for prayer.” I also read my Bible. Now it’s in small bits, and I’m always hoping that a little will be enough.

(you) grew inside me and on your head there are curls growing. (you) look like me. When I pray I usually think what if I lost (you)? what if I lost (YOU)? I don’t know why it always occurs to me.

I work while (you) sleep. And sometimes a little while (you) play with toys.

We are so excited when the UPS man in the brown truck stops in front of our house. I love seeing him, or the mail lady. I think I wait all day for them. (you) love seeing their trucks. Garbage men, recycle trucks, lawn care trucks, moving trucks. (you) go silent until they are out of earshot, mesmerized.

(you) are the darling of the grocery store, everyone’s favorite customer. I don’t blame them, (you) are my favorite too.

When (YOU) text me to say the day is finally over, (you) and the dog and I wait outside in the front yard. (you) toddle around in the dirt. When the white van full of wheelchairs pulls up front, (you) shriek with unfathomable delight. (you) love that man more than life. I do too. 

(YOU) put (you) to bed and once again, the house is quiet. (YOU) and I eat dinner late, and sometimes we are very quiet because we are very tired. (YOU) have a beer and I have a glass of wine. 

When we are in bed (YOU) confirm the doors are locked. I kiss (YOU) goodnight. “I love (YOU).” I fall asleep before (YOU) because I never hear (YOU) breathing.