Tuesday, July 15, 2008
I woke up yesterday morning to see the trees in our backyard doing the hula. Leaves and branches were swaying left, right, and in circular patterns. Set against a horizon of silver, a billowing set of low gray clouds emerged in the window, and within 20 seconds, had disappeared out of its frame.
It put me in a mood.
Living in a place that sees the sunshine very little in 365 days, summer is supposed to be a cherished celebration for those of us who make it through the bleak skies of fall, the frigid winters, the mud season each spring. We are supposed to rise with sunshine and deep blue glory; we are supposed to be warmed by the breeze that dances in off the lake. We are supposed to lollygag around downtown, eating our nightly (or morning, noon, and nightly in my case) ice cream quickly because the heat will surely leave it running down the cone between our fingers. We are NOT supposed to wake up freezing, put on sweats and hunker down under a blanket, waiting for Mother Nature to stop the cruel joke.
Lizzie and I had just gotten through a long night. She was up no less than 300—okay, three—times, only happy if I nursed her sitting up while reading Pablo Neruda aloud. No, I am not kidding. Max woke up crabby, slamming his blanket around the room and shooting evil eyes at anyone who suggested he may want to please use the potty. Even Noah was glum, staring outside at the building winds with audible disgust.
My husband, who refuses to let the weather win when it comes to his Sunday morning bike rides, had been cycling across the misty pavement for well over an hour already. By the time he returned (two more hours and 65 miles later….) I was throwing myself a full on “where we live sucks” silent pity party. So when his sweaty, smiling self trounced in and suggested we go fly a kite at the soccer fields near our house, I was less than enthused. The boys were crawling up the walls, however, and jumped at an opportunity to harness the wind for something, anything semi-exciting.
As they walked down the driveway, I plopped onto the couch with Liz, hoping she’d drift into sleep and I’d curl up with a book. She had other plans. We nursed. We rocked. We laid together in bed. Every time I thought her breathing had slowed to that rhythm of sleep, I would wiggle carefully free and start to slide out the door. And her eyes would pop open, poltergeist style, leaving me to cry out after 57 minutes “what is wrong with you?!?”
Windy, nasty day, plus refusing to nap newborn, plus whatever else I was finding to complain about, equaled major meltdown waiting to occur. I put Lizzie in her car seat (that’s what you get, I thought as she arched her back in not-again-with-the-car defiance) and we drove the block and a half to the field, following the speck of red, yellow and green dipping and diving high above. Pulling in, I could see my boys laughing, though the sound was carried away from me, high above the trees with the breeze that held up their kite. Max waved enthusiastically and proceeded spread out in snow-angel making style, his eyes fixed on the long purple tail whipping above him.
Lizzie and I stepped out of the car. She gulped the wind, both giggling and sputtering at the bursts of air that she caught in the back of her throat. I jogged her over to Justin, and found myself promptly lying next to Max, watching Noah yank the kite string to and fro.
“It’s almost my turn,” Max whispered, his eyes never leaving the sky.
I nodded, my gaze following suit. The kite was soaring, following Noah’s full-speed run across the field as if it were his shadow. The colors were stark against the overcast horizon. The sound, that crisp, distinct noise of wind against nylon, swirled around us in dizzying fashion. I became fixated on it and on the colors in the sky. I was thinking of Khaled Hosseini’s book, The Kite Runner. A story based in tumultuous Kabul just before, during, and after the Soviet Invasion. Its beautiful, broken words tell much of childhoods lost to hatred and war. I was lying in the damp, green grass, watching my boys take turns with the reel. They released line to see the kite nearly disappear, winding it in again to make the sail flip and rocket, and I felt myself starting to cry.
This is where I must add: could my Sunday morning whining, my pouting, my poor-me-for-having-to-live-in-a-beautiful-safe-tight-knit-town-nestled-between-hills-and-fresh-water-on-such-a-yucky-day be any more ridiculous?
Every once in a while I have these uh-oh moments as a mother. They usually come when I am cleaning out the old toys from my boys’ bedrooms. I will fill a garbage bag full of plastic crap, games missing pieces, and one sock wonders. And still, their rooms will be full and I will be standing in the middle of it feeling heartsick with over-consumption and the abundance that comes with our lives. I end up going on a week or two warpath of “no new anything” and preachy lectures high atop my kitchen sink soapbox about the dangers of our consumer culture and the disgusting way we have fallen victim to it. Noah is nine. Max is three. They look at me with sad, guilty faces and sometimes bring up our three sponsored children in Africa, and how much they’d like to share with them and I worry that I’ve told them too much too soon for the magic of childhood. Then Max remarks he’d especially like to share all his carrots or peas or anything else that is green and he is forced to try, and Noah inevitably chimes in “yeah, and mom we don’t have everything. I mean, we don’t even get cable.” And I am on the warpath all over again.
Yesterday, however, was different. I didn’t jump up and demand the kite grounded so we could have a crash course in the horrors of war or the “do you have any idea how much this opportunity would have meant to child in Afghanistan—in the last days of the monarchy or now—this kite that we all take for granted?” Instead, I remained still. I watched the kite. I imagined Afghani mothers, afraid to let their children walk down the street because their height or the shape of their eyes may give them away as something deemed less worthy than a dog; I felt the fear that would go with it. There is something that happens when we become mothers, an ability to feel more deeply. It is a well of rich joys and also an understanding of bottomless sorrow—the kind a mother must feel if she cannot give her starving child food, or must dig through bomb-riddled rubble in vain for a cry she no longer hears.
When my children were born, I had the sense that time stood not still, but together, as if every mother, every birth was with me. It was a root of connection that has never been matched. Since then, I’ve tried to grow in my conscious efforts to make the world a safer, more peaceful place for women and children. Our family gives time and resources to causes that work tirelessly toward those goals. I am actively involved in Mothers Acting Up, a planet-wide movement of mamas, arising with a collective voice for change. I’m a doer—or chronic over doer Justin would say—because as a mother, I feel a weight of responsibility.
That’s all well and good, except for this: where is my gratitude? Standing up in the middle of that field I was struck by how much I take for granted. It is easy to say I am thankful to never worry about having a warm bed for my children, or food and water to greet them each morning. I find myself telling others that’s why I am an activist. Yet, I forget, on a daily basis, that each moment when my children are safe and well is cause for celebration and joy. This is the place I want to work on now; an attitude of gratitude. There is, I think, responsibility for this part too.
And so I watched my boys fly their kite. When it finally came crashing back to earth, Max picked it up, the wind pulling it quickly above his head. Noah cracked up. Lizzie giggled. Justin smiled. I stood, just breathing.