It’s a dreary day. The kind of rain you can barely hear because it’s heading straight to the ground, no courteous play against the window panes, a rude rain. Or maybe it’s trying to be polite, not to make any fuss, just getting the job done. Whatever the motive, its effect is blah. Spring Break Day Two for the kids. Looks like we’re decorating eggs and a lot of them.
I’m reminded of my trip to Ireland years back. While there, I read a funny article comparing the many types of rains to wine variants: a light crisp one, one somewhat sparkling, a precipitation blend. This one today is a full-bodied red: a deluge of Shiraz.
When I was in Ireland, though, I didn’t mind the weather. I was there for eight weeks and it rained constantly. I guess it was the being somewhere else, a place I’d never been but felt I had: somehow innately familiar, perhaps through family stories, through distant bloodlines. I thought the Emerald Isle was aptly dressed in a grey that allowed the green to pop. Ireland could carry it off, the dark tone, and from what I’d read of Yeats, Joyce, Synge, the tone befit the stories and history. What would a ferry ride to the Aran Islands be without a little tumult, without the lift of some jarring swells? To arrive on those islands, to witness sun fighting through clouds–it’s as it was for the mothers of Synge’s fishermen, surrounded by ghosts; it’s as it was for those enclosed by Dun Aengus, the fort on the cliff, 300 feet up from the Atlantic, thick walls of stone circling, circling from the Bronze Age all the way to where I stood when I stood there. And circling still.
It’s what the Irish do with their weather, their tumult, their loads of rain–the making light of it, whatever the weight, turning the tragic into good solid storytelling–that’s what I love. I search for that quality in myself, like we American Irish search with an edge of desperation for our lineage, some connection to the beautiful place, a branch on that tree that puts us right there in County Sligo, County Clare, Kilkenny or Limerick, singing the old songs, gathering secretly at night on the edge of the pale, teaching our children Gaelic phrases, keeping our language alive, our history alive, keeping ourselves alive.
The modern Irish may scoff at the romanticizing, but I want to align myself with those who trump life’s sadness with laughter. I want to endure in just this way.
And I want my children to do the same.
I drum up a batch of pancakes for the girls and their friend who spent the night. We’re in jammies, still, as the rain continues soundlessly. The water on the stove boiling and popping with eggs makes a noise like rain. I add soft music, not much tannin, for a round, rich, late-morning, early-spring feel and sit down with the girls to eat. I feel the tug of the Cosmos, reminding me to immerse myself in whatever makes me happy, in the everyday, inarguable details: winter is over, my girls are tearing pancakes into pieces, fingers smothered in sloppily lapped-up syrup. Despite any mystical connections I may have to past and other places, this is the place. This is the time.
Before I can stop myself, though, as I’m sitting with the girls, I act the adult and pull in the weather as dreary conversation. I had just lived a moment graciously but then knee-jerked into negativity: “Oh, it’s a rainy, yucky day.”
“And a giggly one,” my youngest said.
She didn’t even look up as she lifted a sticky finger from her sticky plate, as she licked and dripped. Sweet, sweet wisdom of the ages spewing from the mouth of the map of Ireland herself: face filled with freckles, big, blue eyes, still staring downwards, taking in the magic of the circling, circling spirals of maple syrup.
Recent conversation with Lexi follows:
Mommy, how was your book club?
Great! We had a nice time.
Who finished the book first?
For Lexi there are two options—1) she can win or 2) she cannot lose.
Try as Caroline might, she has never been able to brush her teeth first in the morning.
When Lexi’s “it” during I Spy Something Blue, we, the rest of her family, are mere puppets. We’ll have guessed every possible blue item in the kitchen then she’ll toss up a game-changer—a three-pointer at the buzzer—“Actually, it’s red.”
Lexi is competitive even when there is no competition. I was brushing her hair this morning and was darn close to completing the low ponytail when she looked at me through the mirror, put her index finger in the air and wiggled it back and forth, “No, no, no! Not today!” She is Dikembe Mutombo in the Geico commercial at least eleven times a week. “I wanted pigtails.” More wiggly finger. “Not in my house!”
I am slightly competitive. My sister-in-law will insist that I misrepresent myself with the adjective “slightly,” that I am savagely competitive, that I cannot lose gracefully in anything—Clue, cards, kickball. This may be true, but so far . . . there’s not a ton of hard evidence (because I usually win).
You have hiked into the Grand Canyon and you are on your way back up—about a mile to get to the top. You are with two other friends. You are enjoying a leisurely walk, stopping on occasion. As you go, you continue to follow then lead then follow a couple, two strangers who are also making their way out of the canyon. At one point the female of the couple jokes, “Beat you to the top!” as you walk by them. You do the following:
a) Laugh a sincere laugh as you walk by then put the passing comment from the stranger out of your head forever.
b) Continue to enjoy your leisurely walk, stopping to take in scenic views because you are, after all, at the Grand Canyon.
c) Stride to the top with purpose. When one of your friends wants to stop to rest and take a drink of water, somehow don’t allow that to happen. When that same friend points out a colorful shrub, give it a glance then continue your gaze behind you, making sure that the couple is not in clear view. Stop contributing to the conversation. Notice that the other one of your friends is doing the same exact thing. Finish. Breathe a tired sigh of victory. Let it be known that you wanted to—and did—beat the couple (the strangers you will never again see) to the top.
We do not get to choose what qualities we give our kids. We get who we get. They are who they are.
In fact, if anyone’s doing the choosing, it’s the kid herself–she’s watching us. She’s learning from us. She’s listening.
The other night at the dinner table, Caroline said to Lexi: “Pick that up and put it in the trash!” Then she turned to me and said, “I did your speech for you.”
But what if we could choose?
What if we could pick the qualities we’d like to pass on to our kids. Holding cosmic tongs, we could grab from the Genetic Salad Bar. I would have picked the freckles and the straight blonde hair for Lexi, Caroline’s spunk and her sense of humor. Really I would have grabbed all that Caroline is, all that Lexi is . . . except for the toes-pointing-outwards. They never did me any favors in the 50-yard dash.
What about your own Genetic Salad Bar? What of you have you given your kids?
I like a list.
I like checking things off of a list, getting things done.
I was at Trader Joe’s today, had a list of at least 100 items, organized in sections the way the store is organized. I knew to get smoked turkey because my list said it. I knew to get cucumbers because my list said it. As I walked by Produce, I realized we needed bananas, which were not on my list, so I quickly scribbled the word “bananas” in the fruit section of my list, then crossed the word out as soon as the bananas hit the cart.
When I was unpacking from our Easter trip to Philly, I came across a list titled, “What Lexi Loves.” I like this list. For a lot of reasons.
One reason is that my daughters worked on it together. I picture Lexi pacing back and forth like a 1950’s businessman, dictating to her secretary (Caroline), to “Get this down!” Caroline though, I’m certain, had as much to do with generating the ideas as Lexi. Perhaps Caroline was testing herself, in the way of that old television show, “The Newlywed Game,” seeing how well she really knows her sister.
I obviously like the content of the list. I’d bet high that it’s in no particular order, because “Mommy” is listed before “Pink Doggie,” because “Grama’s cookies” are listed before Grandma herself, and because first comes God, then Cake, then Mary and Joseph, then Icecream Cake.
I like this list because it got me thinking about list-making for other reasons. Not just the getting-things-done reasons but the celebrating life reasons. How great would it be if we could all keep these kinds of lists more accessible?
Here’s mine for today…in no particular order:
What I love:
- Ed Harris
- good news
- my family, flaws and all
- yellow roses
- hiking with Dave
- mint-chocolate-chip icecream
- my kids’ laughter
- odd numbers
- the sound of wind in trees
- Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” especially the bridge
- other people’s stories
So…tell me, what’s on your list? Just jot down a response in the comment area. How about FIVE items–that’s a nice, odd number!
“Do you want to be my friend?” Caroline looked at the little girl kind of funny, a small, slanty glance, shrugging her off in a—Are You Talking to Me? –kind of way. Caroline’s used to being the shy one in a crowd while some of her peers bust right into each other’s personal spaces. Even at school surrounded by familiar, friendly classmates, it takes Caroline a while to warm up at certain events.
So when the little girl with the round face who’d just arrived at the sledding hill went directly up to Caroline, stood an inch from her and asked, “Do you want to be my friend?” Caroline was thrown. She looked at me. I suggested that she ask for her new friend’s name and the new friend interrupted, “Do you like princesses?” While Caroline was beginning a nod, the new friend said, “Because I like princesses.” Caroline smiled, eventually made the point that she was going to go down the hill with her sister, and that was pretty much the extent of it. No numbers exchanged. No plans to be in each other’s weddings.
Even though I was never that kid, I like that kid–the one who announces it, keeps nothing inside, puts it all out there: BE MY FRIEND. DO IT. IT’S THAT EASY. That’s got to be a healthy approach to living, right? That kid will not get ulcers or have panic attacks. That kid will not wonder, What if I had just….because she WILL HAVE just about anything she wanted to do, on the spot, without worrying or speculating the pros and cons of it.
I obviously like my kid, too—both of them. And I don’t expect them to change. I suspect genetics has something to do with their sometimes guarded approaches. But I love it when they feel comfortable enough to let their guards down.
Like at the bus-stop. Lexi decided to roll out our old umbrella stroller for the trip to the bus-stop last Friday. For the record, I was against it because what I bring to the bus-stop is sheer exhaustion, and a mug of coffee—that’s it. But what I inevitably schlep home are all of Lexi’s “good ideas” from the morning: basketballs, stuffed animals, face-painting kits, bowls of cereal.
Lexi and Caroline took turns pushing each other in the stroller. They sang some goofy song, went from slow to fast then –“Whoa!”—turned quickly to a stop. Again and again. The kindergarten through second grade crowd was putty in their hands. Bright smiles. Crazy eyes. Early morning giggles. Funniest. Girls. Ever.
I noticed a 6th grader who waits at the same stop for the “big kid” bus walking by at one point–the Stroller Comedy Show didn’t slow her down at all. She went through the little kids like they were mini-Jacob Marley ghosts. Not a glance their way. She walked right by, towards her peers: the lanky pre-teens standing around on the hill, listening to iPods, boys staring through drooping bangs, girls straightening with colored fingernails already straightened skirts.
I noticed, too, that Caroline and Lexi did not give the big girl an inch of attention.
These days may be numbered. But for now, praise be the 6-year-old, fast-friending on the sledding hill and stroller-derbying at the bus-stop.
6th grader, I say to you: Walk on by.