Thursday, March 29, 2012

So maybe I can't give you everything

Parenting is tricky.

The first few years you spend sustaining the fantasy that you can fulfill your child's every wish and whim. Life is a tiger and you have it by the tail.
 Mommy can do that. Mommy can get that. Mommy can be that.

The past, present and future of a small child seems so easily contained, easily controlled. Then, suddenly, you realize you are losing your grip, on everything.

You control nothing.

She's growing, changing, blossoming, learning, getting wiser by the second. She has memories and desires, based on more than just impulse. She has hopes and dreams and fears. She has thoughts you would never imagine she is thinking, but are shocked to discover in a "song" she's written.

Esther and I admired Jupiter and Venus stacked one on top of the other, with the crescent moon hovering on their left, or was it their right?, are the stars facing us, or looking away? the other night.

 Esther was enthralled. And Orion was dazzling as well. We sat there, kneeling at her attic bedroom window, looking out onto the dark meadow below and the black humming sky hanging above it. Esther talked about missing France, missing her friends in France, missing our French life. I knew this was coming. Almost one year out. And it almost made me angry, thinking about how often she made it clear that France was not her home, she didn't feel "right" there and wanted to come back here, to Vermont.

But I'm not really angry, just confused and empathetic.  Because, I feel exactly the same way she does. I feel that life is strange, and the more you see and learn, the more people you meet, the more choices you encounter, and the more aware you become of what could be, might be, what could have been, might have been, what will never be, what you have lost and what you have gained, what you have left behind, what you are facing head on, the less you really know and understand. You only feel.

And it's no help to my children to have a mother like me, who lives much of her life in some kind of a fantasy that anything is possible-- maybe we can, some day, maybe we can do this, do that, go here, go there, live like this, live like that, why not?

It all seemed so much more easily harnessed, the mom with the magic lasso, when they were tiny. Don't ask me what I'm talking about. I do not know.

So I will let Mary Oliver take over for me, with her achingly exquisite poem, Spring:

a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring
down the mountain.
All night
in the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring
I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue
like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:
how to love this world.
I think of her
like a black and leafy ledge
to sharpen her claws against
the silence
of the trees.
Whatever else
my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its cities,
it is also this dazzling darkness
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;
all day I think of her –
her white teeth,
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.

~ Mary Oliver ~

Monday, March 26, 2012

All the maple syrup that we can eat

I came home from picking the girls up from school last Friday to find this on my porch. The local  farmer, one of the last remaining ones in our village, tapped some of the sugar maple trees on my father's land that surrounds our house.

I remember the farmer asking, way back when, if we would prefer to be compensated with cash or syrup. I think I made the right decision.

Five gallons of Grade-A Medium Vermont Pure Maple Syrup. It's like getting five free tanks of gas.
But much, much sweeter.

And it reminds me of one of my favorite childhood picture books, Little Runner of the Long House, about a little native American boy who tricks his mother into giving him things which he can "trade for wampum to trade for all the maple sugar he can eat."

This will be our wampum, and we won't trade it for anything.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Is that a light up ahead?

I received the following letter from the United States Department of State National Visa Center, twelve days ago:

Dear Elizabeth Hard Shaw:
Your inquiry has been received at the National Visa Center (NVC).
Your request for expeditious processing of this immigrant visa petition was denied by the assigned U.S. Embassy/Consulate General. This petition will continue processing at the NVC. Once all the required fees and documents are received and reviewed, and an interview appointment date is scheduled, this petition will be forwarded to the assigned U.S. Embassy/Consulate General.
For further information regarding NVC processing, please visit

I read it, with shaking hands, these official seals always make my hands shake, that is what they are meant to do, no, while sitting on the back steps in the warm early- days- of March sun.

When I got to the part about the request for expeditious review being denied, I cried. I had been counting on that, I don't know why, but I realize now, there is no reason why I should have expected it to be granted. Who am I?

After a brief pity party I wiped my face and went back inside to face my children. I had decided not to tell them about the letter.

That evening, just four hours or so after reading the letter, I got an e-mail from the NVC. It read:

Dear Sir/Madam,

The attached correspondence relates to an immigrant visa referenced on the subject line.  This case is being processed by the National Visa Center. Please read the information carefully and follow the instructions.
Dear IAN M.:
The enclosed information pertains to IAN RODGER M's interest in immigrating to the
United States of America. The National Visa Center (NVC) has completed its processing of IAN
RODGER M 's petition, case number XXXX; and forwarded it to the American
Embassy/Consulate in PARIS.
An immigrant visa interview has been scheduled for the applicant at the U.S. Embassy/Consulate in
PARIS on April 10, 2012 at 01:00 pm. 

"Interest in immigrating to the United States of America? Why does that wording annoy me?

The attachment goes on for another three boring  pages. I'll spare you.

I should be excited, I know. We have a date. Well an interview date. And I kind of am excited. Excited and relieved. But I'm also kind of irked that every step has to have at least six weeks in between it and the next step. It feels gratuitously cruel, or somehow manipulating.

I mean, dentists appointments must be made months in advance too. But no one really wants to go to the dentist anyway.

But the very widely-spaced steps put forth by this immigration process take a very long stride and an enormous amount of patience, more than the average little girl who is missing her daddy has.

But what's another month, or two, when your daddy has been missing for 10 already?

Baby steps. Progress. Lights at the end of a long, dark tunnel. And all that.

It's good. Really. It's good. It's just not "now" enough for me, right now. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sundays are good to us

I have been meaning for months to start doing a weekly, image-driven Sunday post.

Sundays have long since been my favorite day for some reason. This was not always the case. I hated Sundays when I was in high school and college. Sundays meant imminent return to the drudgery of school. The end of freedom.

Since becoming a parent, though I do have this strange Saturday morning anxiety affliction, Sundays often mark imminent return of freedom and the sense of relaxed contentment that comes with it.

Does this mean I hate spending weekends with my family? No.

Proof of that lies in just how much I enjoy Sundays with my children And my children often reflect that serenity right back at me in the form of cohesive sibling relations and the promise of, if not world, then at least domestic peace.

They play well together on Sundays, usually. They get into home, being home, appreciating home, walking to Grant's store for the Sunday New York Times, sitting around the fire, making potions, dressing up, hanging around in the horse barn...

It's the one day home feels consistently good and right to all of us. Here's a compilation of images from the last three or four or five or six or seven Sundays:

 Just them putting on their bathrobes speaks volumes about their complacent moods. The fact that I don't own a bathrobe,  also speaks volumes.

 Today was no exception. The girls, Esther and Isla, shared several increasingly-rare consecutive hours of supreme solidarity. I even fell asleep on the couch to the sounds of their voices, cooperating and mutually respecting, as Esther found and cutomized a stick horse for Isla, then they groomed and tacked up their horses. When I woke up, they were schooling the horses over a jump course on the yard.

 Yup, in their stockinged feet.

Too bad the day has to end.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Curiosity killed the mom

I took Esther to see The Artist last night. We both loved it. She especially. She really glows when she knows she is being invited along to do something adult, with "Mummy." (I've noticed she calls me Mummy and Isla calls me Mama.)

And Essie rises to the occasion of grown-up dates--  her keen little mind opening up to swallow every bit of nuance and information it can get and I can hardly keep up.

On the way home in the car her questions just kept firing out of her mouth, rapid fire, and I was dodging bullets the whole ride home.

The conversation went from suicide, there is a scene towards the end of the film that gets suspenseful and, though nothing is shown, presented the visual of a concept Esther has never before been presented with, or considered. (Trying not be a spoiler here.)

Next we were talking about what would make someone so upset they would want to die at their own hand, and that led to the topic of depression, and then antidepressants, which, possibly, had my grandfather had access to, our family history would contain one less tragedy. I resisted the urge to tell her that sometimes, like right now for instance, I use antidepressants....

Then our talk switched to technology and how I feel it breeds loneliness and discontent, and then we were onto the economy and recession and how stressful money and unemployment can be for people, then she wanted to know what caused the recession, and then the topic came to divorce.... and at that point I was ready to raise the white flag and beg her to just put on her ipod nano, or put on some cheesy radio station, or talk about Justin Bieber.... something, anything, other than these deep topics.

And I am simultaneously wowed by her curiosity and her capacity, her willingness to try to understand so many adult concepts, and cowed by the breadth of her hunger for knowledge and the whole idea of me as a filter for the information she takes in from this world.

She is ten, after all. Ten. And her desire to know, to understand: Why are so and so getting divorced? Why does so and so want to stay with her abusive husband? Will daddy be able to get a job when he gets home? Not to mention her surprising understanding of the riddle that is navigating the socioeconomics of friendships:

"L doesn’t understand why everyone can’t go to the summer camp for a month, or why I don’t just order a pair of $Custom Converse.."

I’m proud of her little big mind. I admire it. But I struggle with knowing how much to feed it and how much to withhold because her appetite for information is insatiable and I don't like how easy it is to satisfy it, as if everything I say is exactly how it is. I hear her repeating things I've said, and hear my judgment and bias in her words, hints of sanctimommy in them, and I cringe.

The kid is paying attention.

I have no recollection of caring what my mom was talking about on the phone, or in the new living room over drinks with Mrs. Robertson, or Mrs. Cone, when I was a kid.

But Esther, she cares. And she is hanging, tightly, on every single word.