Commonplace

seeking the story in the ordinary

Today I’m over at Raising Humans with a guest post on my friend Tricia’s lovely blog.

Tricia is one of those people who blur the lines between real and virtual friendship. I am so grateful our paths have intersected and now run parallel. She is a gorgeous writer and a true storyteller whose words echo in my mind as I walk through my days. Her words have a way of flowing across the page, carrying you with them, until you forget where you began and feel like you are traveling right along with her. She is reassuring and relatable, and knowing she’s out there softens the edges of my world.

She is also gracious enough to open her site to other mother-writers’ stories in her lovely “Growing Together” series. I’m honored and humbled to have my words appear there today.

Please head on over to read the full piece, in which I reflect on what it’s like to raise a son who is so much like me. And then spend some time exploring Tricia’s cyberhome, Raising Humans.

Thanks, all.

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Happy New Year.

I love New Year’s, as I love early mornings. For its promise and possibility. For its quiet reflection. For its gift of a blank slate. But I also love it for being a secular holiday we can all enjoy. For inspiring a common greeting we exchange on days like this when we allow our eyes to meet in passing. An acknowledgment, however brief, that we’re on this same earth, that we’re in it together–a shared understanding that we begin something new. A subtle shift in our collective consciousness. I’ve perennially had a personal challenge to offer ‘happy new year’ greetings as long as I can, and at least until February 1. To somehow perpetuate this common language. (I have yet to succeed.)

I’m writing this in the first hushed hours of this brand new year. Beginning with words. The thread that ties together all our days and connects us one to another.

I often take note of the first words spoken in the new year, as I did those spoken to each of my children upon his entry into the world–as if they should carry some significance. As if they should relay some fundamental truth. Invariably, I muck it up with something mundane. But maybe that’s how it should be.

Like this New Year’s. As mundane as they come. Just the three boys and me, home alone. Dance parties in the den as the sun goes down. Acting silly as only we can, and only with each other. Watermelon and chocolate for dessert. Skipped baths and seven books before bed. A late night made later by jet lag. I rest the baby in his crib: “Goodnight, dearest G. I love you. Sweet dreams.” Whispered last words of the year. Except he uncharacteristically cries out, jet-lagged too, and joins us for stories. Three boys vie for a spot on my lap. We read and sing. I put the baby down for bed once more. Tired, I let my “big” boys tuck me in for a change. They flit around my room, exploring stacks of boring papers, drafting a list of activities for the next day, drunk with freedom. Then they climb into bed with me and drift off to sleep.

Maybe the mundane is the most memorable.

~

I ended last year with my first piece on Literary Mama, exploring Why We Write.

And I begin this new year in one of Jena Schwartz’s wonderful online writing groups, with daily prompts that unlock the thoughts in my head and usher them onto the page.

Come February, I will participate in one of Dani Shapiro’s writing workshops.

And so we begin again. With words. With each other. We break through the silence of this blank page.

Happy New Year.

It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. – Vita Sackville-West

I’m writing in the dark, slow and steady…because my kids are young and underfoot, and that’s how it has to be, for now. – Dana Schwartz

The goal is to allow the written word to connect with your original mind, to write down the first thought you flash on, before the second and third thoughts come in. – Natalie Goldberg

That’s it in a nutshell — wondering, asking “what if”, allowing your mind and imagination to wander. – Lara Anderson

Writing… is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. – E.L. Doctorow

Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone. – Rebecca Solnit

It is the job of the writer to say, look at that. To point. To shine a light. But it isn’t that which is already bright and beckoning that needs our attention. We develop our sensitivity…in order to bear witness to what is. – Dani Shapiro

…writing is a way to stand still and recognize time, a way to find out just when and where I am. – Alisa Brownlow

Before any trip, break, vacation, I feel uneasy and unsettled. On edge.

I am, after all, a lover of the ordinary day. A creature of habit. A homebody steeped in ritual and routine.

Now I’m sitting in the space of a sleepless night. Working through it with words.

As the distance widens between home and away, as the outline of the next everyday grows blurry and faint, far off beyond time and travels—suddenly my love of setting out, seeing the world, exploring the unknown temporarily abandons me. I want to get there already, have my experiences, and get back home.

But as I was readying breakfast this morning, my mind began to wander to vacations past. I would settle on a specific one:  say, two summers ago at the beach. Where were we in our lives then? Had the baby been born? Was my sister-in-law already pregnant? Had I switched jobs yet? Or was I just in the midst of applying for the new one?

Our deviations from routine, these blips and hiccups, are precious pauses. They force a stop. A stare. A look at who and where we are at a particular moment in time.

They offer an oasis, a way to stand stranded and suspended in the steady stream of life and look back, peer ahead. Recall and wonder.

We extract from tethers and tangles, perch on high, assume a new vantage point, examine the familiar and foreign from alternate angles.

It is the crack that lets in the light,
the exception that calls attention,
the examined life that’s worth living.
It is the peculiarity that prompts a question,
the irregular or off-kilter that catches the eye.
It is the ache that deepens the appreciation for comfort,
the absence that makes the heart grow fond,
the unsettling shift,
the side step from the well-worn path
that helps us take stock.

It is the wandering that leads us home.

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One year. It’s been nearly one year since I began this blog. Since I started writing regularly. And I’m sitting here in disbelief. That it’s been a full year. That it’s been only a year.

Time is funny that way.

When I set out a mere several hundred days ago, I never could have known all the worlds these words would take me, all the lives it would bring into mine. I look at these letters lined up, marching one right after the other, created out of nothingness and brought into the world to say ‘I’m here.’ And you have responded, ‘me too.’ I am more convinced than ever that this world, this life, is a common place, one we walk through together.

My ‘blogiversary’ aptly coincides with the turn of a calendar year. I have always loved New Years. While it once meant frolicking on the streets of Philadelphia with old friends, now, more often, it involves sitting in sweatpants with a glass of red wine and the crackle of the countdown broadcast in the background. But always, wherever you are, it feels like early morning—full of promise and possibility. Reflection and reminiscence.

It is a clean slate. A blank page. Untouched, unmarred, unknown. Like newly fallen snow. Footstep-free.

There was a book I read in college that had a profound impact on me. I recently re-read excerpts of it. The Crisis of Democratic Theory by Edward A. Purcell, Jr., and specifically chapter 4, explores how the discovery of non-Euclidean geometry transformed intellectual thought. In a nutshell, non-Euclideanism proved that alternate, valid mathematical truths could exist other than Euclid’s, which were (up until that point) considered absolute.

Suddenly knowledge—about how the mind and world work, across disciplines—was no longer presumed to be a priori, or innately true (as opposed to discovered through logic and experience):

“The concept of non-Euclideanism…robbed every rational system [religious, social, ethical] of any claim to be in any sense true, except insofar as it could be proved empirically to describe what actually existed.”

“Horace M. Kallen concluded that it was impossible to discover, much less validate, any single, universal system of ethical beliefs.”

“Certainty has vanished, and there is no hope at present of its return in any form which we might recognize.” – Eric Temple Bell

At the risk of butchering the philosophy for the sake of simplifying it here:  these theorists suggest that there is no irrefutable objective reality, no single truth. Only our experience of it, our being in the world. This is all we know for sure.

Nothing is inherently right or good.

No one belief is superior to any other. Because it is fundamentally impossible to prove the truth of any of it.

Michael Frayn wrote the compelling play Copenhagen, which explores a meeting between physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in 1941. He has a haunting quote in the postscript:

“And since, as the Copenhagen Interpretation establishes, the whole possibility of saying or thinking anything about the world, even the most apparently objective, abstract aspects of it studied by the natural sciences, depends upon human observation, and is subject to the limitations which the human mind imposes, this uncertainty in our thinking is also fundamental to the nature of the world.”

All knowledge is subjective. Uncertainty is inevitable. It is part of the very fabric of our shared human experience; it underlies the fundamental nature of all things. It is of necessity.

And it softens, humbles us. It opens us to the possibility that we are wrong. That we know not everything. That someone, somewhere—elsewhere—sees things differently. And they are right, as we are. That we shall hold a space beside us, across from us, millions of miles away from us for others to coexist, walk alongside, perceive—in their inevitably idiosyncratic way. In the way only they can. In the way they must. And speak of it, and write of it, in their necessarily unique voice. And if there exists a kernel of commonality, of understanding, of the ability to relate, well then, coexistence. Community. Connection. These become possible.

The only truth is that there is none.

All we can know is that we cannot know anything for sure.

Jarring, perhaps. But freeing too. I’m comforted by this uncertainty. The thought that as little as I can know to be true, it is the same for you. And so we walk together. Living in the questions. Comforting each other. Lifting each other up.

It is in good company that we timidly turn this calendar page, round this corner.

We can stop searching, seeking, yearning for something else, more, different. For an answer. For some other life. For we are, right here, in this moment, all that we are meant to be.

Let’s softly saunter through this shared world of ours, unsuspecting, unassuming, open to possibility. There is only this day. Only this moment. Only our experience of it.

The blank page.

The year ahead.

Let’s simply set out and see what will be.

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*Parts of this post were inspired by my dear and talented writer friend, Barbara Mahany, and the deeply moving experience I had as part of a two-week writing group called ‘What If You Knew,’ led by Jena Schwartz.

It’s my first time. Since becoming a mother, this is the first time I haven’t had a baby.

Tomorrow, my youngest son will turn two. My three boys are all 20 months apart. When anyone turned two, there was already another baby in the house. It’s been six years of consecutive pregnancies, nursing, and newborns, without a break or a beat. But now it’s been a full year since I’ve given a breast or bottle.

And lately, I find myself looking around as if something’s missing.

I’ll accidentally happen upon the infant aisle in Target and move quickly past the pacifiers and swaddle blankets, the boppy pillows and breast pumps—but not before a lump forms in my throat. No need for them now.

I ventured into my grandmother’s basement earlier this week to retrieve Rubbermaids stuffed to the brim with baby clothes–now hand-me-downs for my nephew-to-be. I pause to finger the soft cotton hospital-issue onesie and am instantly transported. Oh it’s trite, but truly, were they ever that small?

Now, while I’m fixing breakfast for his brothers, he darts by, impossibly fast, a flash of fleece pajamas and towhead blond hair. I know those pajamas, I think. Navy blue and orange with soccer balls dancing all over the legs. They are size 2T. They are the ones that always fit the toddler waiting for me to bring home his baby brother. And my arms search and heart aches for the newborn who must, it seems, be nearby.

But I only find him.

My littlest boy. Who wraps his arms around my neck and squeezes, tight. Who sits next to me and puts a plump hand in mine. Whose soft blond hair is still wispy. Whose face, when he sleeps, still resembles the grainy ultrasound picture from before we even met.

But suddenly the clarity of his language surprises me.

And his pudgy toddler thighs fill my lap.

And he helps himself to a cup of water.

Brushes his own teeth.

Now I walk by the full-length mirror and the reflection of a baby too big to be carried startles me.

And it’s almost awkward to gather him on my chest.

Tiny, yet epic moments that were somehow missed the first two times around, or at least muted by a newborn’s urgent cries or a firstborn’s insistence.

Now there is no new person here to suddenly make this boy seem huge. And so he remains my baby.

But he will be two soon. Too soon.

Even his entry to the world was earlier than expected–four days in advance of the scheduled C-section, a burst of amniotic fluid during his brothers’ bedtime routine signaling his dramatic arrival. From the start, all of it passing us by far too fast, and ever so slightly before we are ready.

And here I am, nostalgic for the hospital’s postpartum ward—its soft turquoise and peach décor, its long, slick hallways. Trays of comfort food and shuffling, doting nurses. And of course, the tiny, pink infant alternately swaddled in the plastic mobile bassinet or carefully tucked in my grateful arms.

It’s as if I don’t quite recognize myself without a newborn.

We’ve been hurtling towards two with a sense of inevitability—an impatience almost. Because ’22’ and ’23’ months are suddenly too cumbersome to say. Because it comes, regardless.

And as my sons grow, so does the chasm between what they need and what I can give. Their world will expand far beyond this home with me in it. And me, oh with my fixation on the small—from tiny newborn hands to the simple challenges of a life with little ones to the ordinary moments of our everydays.

We are outgrowing them all.

Yes, I feel tethered by my children, but anchored too. And now, as the ties slacken slightly yet steadily, I wonder what will secure me. On a recent afternoon to myself in Manhattan, I ascended the subway steps only to arrive at a corner, disoriented, battered about by brazen passersby. Without the weight of children in tow, I come loose. Whipped about, like a stray plastic bag in the breeze. A bit lost.

Sometimes I worry when they’re gone, I’ll no longer recognize myself at all.

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