The situations are as follows:
1. My parents are moving. The home they lived in for 39 years will soon be someone else’s. Another kid will fall asleep to the rush of the L outside her window. Someone else will get to say, “Right next door to the Maze Branch Library” as she’s giving directions to where she lives. Another father will build a sandbox and a swingset in the backyard.
2. I’m working on the biggest writing project I’ve ever worked on and I have no idea what I’m doing. I have no clue whether I will succeed or fail.
3. My husband and I are deciding where we should live next. Every once in a while, moving back to the Midwest comes up, and my heart says, “Yes, please.” I don’t know why, exactly, and I feel guilty admitting it here because I don’t want anyone to feel betrayed by this confession. Perhaps the idea of moving back is a form of nostalgia, but the Midwest is a place I think I know. Maybe this is simply adulthood, but the past 10 years I’ve felt like I’ve been trying so hard: at making friends, at trying to figure out what I’m good at and where I fit in, at mothering, writing, all of it. I desperately want a little “Mayberry.” I realize I’m projecting a lot on the Midwest; the harder work before me is that I need to stop trying so hard. I’m afraid to stop trying. I’ll carry that fear with me wherever I go.
4. A few weeks ago, in the Starbucks across the street from the school I teach in, the principal came up to say hi while he was waiting for his coffee. He asked if Jesse and I ever considered putting our girls in the school. He said it wasn’t required but that if we were interested they’d find a way to put them in. Nine years ago when I was pregnant with Hadley, he told me he and his wife had a crib if we wanted it. He offered a place for Hadley and Harper to grow and learn and be loved while they look at a few mysteries in the world in the same manner he offered the crib. And when he left Starbucks, I cried.
What’s that geyser at Yellowstone National Park? The one that shoots water a hundred feet above the ground?
I feel like a geyser. I need to let off some steam, and reading my situations, you can see why, though I feel lousy sharing them with you. I don’t want my parents to read this and feel guilty, and Rule Number One of the Writing World is you never talk about the big projects. Where we live is just as much Jesse’s story as it is mine, and it’s one that hasn’t been resolved. And where my kids attend school is probably something I shouldn’t share publicly either. But these things press on my heart and I need to somehow look at them.
So here’s what I do: I take a 4-by-6 Post-it note. Yellow, with lines like a mini-legal pad. I stamp the date on it and I stick it on my planner, and throughout the day I make observations.
For example, one morning while I am helping Harper tie her shoes, Hadley is outside in the front yard and she finds a rock that looks like a heart. “Mama,” she says, and holds the uneven, jagged heart in her palm. “It’s a heart.”
“It is a heart,” I say and run back inside to place it on a red cloth runner on the table Jesse built. I write “H finds a heart stone” on my Post-it.
We realize when we are buckled up and ready to go that we are ridiculously early for school. “Let’s take the long way,” I suggest. The girls think that’s a marvelous idea. The car ride to school is the time when Hadley and Harper talk the most. I don’t know why this is, but it happens every morning. The three of us always make big plans and talk about big dreams and questions on the way to school. We never have answers or resolutions, but it’s fun to talk all the same.
The long way consists of a curvy road in our neighborhood that in the spring is lined with cherry blossoms. Harper calls them ballerina trees. I found the road about three years ago when Harper and I went out to lunch and had some time before we had to pick Hadley up from preschool. Harper fell asleep and I explored the neighborhood beyond what I knew: Target, the library, the grocery store. That’s when I found the curvy, ballerina-tree-lined streets. I write “took the long route to school because had time. Pink streets” on my Post-it.
After I drop the girls off at school, I get a doughnut at Safeway. This grocery store is the most inconvenient grocery store in our neighborhood. The lines are always slow, and the parking lot is a nightmare. Still, every time I walk inside I am happy.
I was on mild bed rest with Hadley the last six weeks of my pregnancy, and every morning I walked to Safeway, picked up a doughnut and a coffee, walked back home and watched The Gilmore Girls. I feel that pregnant girl when I walk into Safeway. Part of her was given away, part of her is a few blocks away learning her letters and numbers; some of her stayed with me. “Safeway for a doughnut” goes down on the sticky-note.
At school, I have a few minutes before the class begins, so I do a little prep before I teach. I go over my lesson, set out papers on desks, straighten chairs, take down and put up student work. I love being in a classroom. I love standing in front of the kids, or kneeling beside them trying to help them write. I love grading stacks of papers, I love pressing thumbtacks into bulletin boards and running off copies. I was a terrible student, but I feel very at home and very much myself at school. I write “Go to school and I have a few minutes. I love being here” on my Post-it.
Jesse comes home from work and sees the heart rock on the table. “Somebody left a rock on the table.”
“I did,” I say, smiling. “It’s a heart rock. Hadley found it.”
He turns the rock over in his palm and lifts an eyebrow when he looks back at me.
“You’re such a scientist,” I jab.
“I’m gonna put it in the backyard,” he says and moves towards the sliding screen door.
“No! No! I have to keep it here. I want to see it every day for a while.”
“OK,” he says, handing me the rock.
“OK,” I say, taking it.
So the rock stayed, and I looked at it every day while my parents packed boxes, while I wrote and crossed words out, while Jesse and I decided where to move, while we thought about school. It’s no longer on our table. I’m not sure where it went or who moved it, but that’s OK. It’s OK to let the heart go.
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