Friday, February 22, 2013

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Girl with Empty Hands

When I was nineteen I wrote a story about a girl with empty hands. She held nothing. She walked freely. Her hands were lovely and still.

The girl with empty hands became for me a vision of childhood lost, a picture of purity and health. Unencumbered and innocent, her hands were free: no books, no tools, no baggage. Looking back on those undergraduate years, I have to stop myself from laughing at my younger self. To think! I thought my life was so complicated, my responsibilities so weighty.

I do stop myself from laughing, because I know that, in fact, life was complicated, responsibilities were weighty, and decisions made at that time determined the shape of my future life. Those were the most important books, the most startling prayers. The man I chose then still sleeps in my bed, his children are mine.

But looking back now I realize also that no other time in my life was better suited for simplicity, I could have attained an almost monastic austerity, a life of solitude and contemplation impossible for me now.

And I was less burdened—things were easier. If only because I loved less, or had less to love.

Becoming (first) a wife and then a mother has taught me many things. That years multiply complexities, children destroy simplicity and silence, and love itself adds to the burden. The beauty, the joy--are real. But the journey is difficult, important, perilous.

I still long to see the girl with empty hands, to watch her move freely, even as my hands become more and more full.

I must have remembered her again while I was pregnant with Hugo. While pregnant the first time I was living abroad, practically out of a suitcase. I longed to buy baby clothes, to stock a nursery, to rearrange furniture. I longed to collect the things that make a home.

But this time my instinct was the opposite: I became ravenous with the desire to purge, to strip, to simplify. My taste in home design became austere: white walls, midcentury lines, unadorned surfaces. I began getting rid of things. I became almost resentful of gifts we received (more things to deal with). I gathered boxes and boxes of toys and clothes to give away. I hid the boxes from both Hattie and Devin for fear of their reactions: “but I need this!”

And often they would have been right. Often we did need what I gave away. Often my life was burdened NOT by the thing itself but by the loss of the thing: a favorite toy, a useful pair of shoes.

Then one day as I was obsessively clicking through minimalist lifestyle blogs (a whole genre of blogs, who knew!), I came upon one comment that startled me. The writer pointed out that, in the end, real freedom does not come from lack of possessions or even a simple life. The simplest room is, after all, a prison cell. Instead, true freedom comes from a wise use of possessions: when we use our things to enrich the lives of those we love.

I realized that I felt burdened not by my things...a precious book, a warm blanket, a cast iron pan, a box of dolls…but rather by the weight of love, fear, concern, and even joy (yes, joy is a burden!) that I knew a new child would inevitably bring. I was trying to become again the girl with empty hands, instead of embracing the fact that I was becoming a woman with hands very full, and a life very full.

There is real simplicity, and I still yearn for this. There is also a time for empty hands, empty rooms, and silence. For me that time is not now. I am learning how to rejoice in hands that are always full, always working. I cradle the baby, I hold the child, I prepare the food, I reach out for my husband. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Early Days

Early days yet. I repeat this to myself at various times throughout the day (and the night). This week has been so long. And this month--how long is February? Too long, my friend, too long. The first week of Hugo's life glided by like a little honeymoon, everyone snuggled in tight at home, staring at the baby, sleep deprived but happy. Last Friday everything fell apart as Hattie fell sick with the fiercest of Nasties: stomach bug. After three days spent laundering, cleaning, comforting, hydrating, disinfecting, laundering again--Devin also became ill.  Thus far Hugo and I have been spared. But I have found myself the only well and able person in the house, tending the sick, feeding the hungry.

Part of me has been fighting resentment: after all I am the one still reeling physically/emotionally from labor, delivery and marathon-all-night nursing sessions. Why this--now? My home in shambles. Everything an emergency, a misery. I am so tired. These days the exhaustion overwhelms the love, the gratitude I know I should feel when I look in the face of my son.

My "worser genius" responds: "I do not want to look at the face of my son when he is screaming for food and wide awake from 2 AM till 5 AM, when I have spent a long day comforting, cleaning, disinfecting...etc. etc."

But this, of course, is the act of love I am called to now. 

For a moment, for a moment. Better days will come. February seems long, but it is the shortest month. Bodies heal, babies learn to sleep, laundry will be done tomorrow, the sun will grow brighter, and already the resurrection lilies are sticking their green spikes out of the compost. But it's early days yet.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Welcome Hugo

 Hugo Campion

Born January 23, 2013

9 pounds, 1 ounce

Once again I am overwhelmed by the dignity of the human face: newly born, his person-hood is whole and complete, despite the fact that he has done nothing, said nothing. All is yet to come. "In my beginning is my end."

I see nothing in his face that reminds me of myself. I see only his father, and a person I don't know. Little man: you are so different from your sister. A quiet little brute, little lion. Her face was delicate, yours is wide. She was a storm, a fury, you are silent, still, skeptical. I wonder who you will become.

Once again I am left with my slack, after-baby body. Once again, the emotions, the exhaustion. But I am not overwhelmed this time, not surprised by the lack of sleep, my limp belly, the constant constant constant that is new-born care. Not shocked by the necessary stillness imposed by hours and hours of breastfeeding. I know all this, and I know all this will pass. I find I can wait in this moment, bear with it, savor the newness.


...from the Old High German word for "heart," "mind," or "spirit."

"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind..."

the meaning of Hugo reminds me of the strange Old English word "mod," which, roughly translated means "heart, mind, spirit," but can also mean strength. Or courage. Or even pride--arrogance. It is the strength, the stuff at the heart of a man.


after Edmund Campion, English priest and martyr, one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, killed during the English Reformation. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Lovely Mess and Slow

I almost cannot begin this post, so difficult it is for me to conjure words. Last night I spent twenty minutes trying to remember the word “redundant,” and could not. At some point late in pregnancy body, inertia, a slow instinct takes over. What is left of the energetic, at times frantic, nesting instinct of two weeks ago is past, or only exists in the form of a vague frustration as I look out of my huge body at partially completed projects. My messy daughter still playing in bed late in the morning. The raised beds outside, covered with snow, still full of dead vegetation I couldn't clear away in time. Bows and rnaments on tables and on the tree, yet to be taken down and stored. Little piles of toys to put away. Snow boots on the stairs.

My world is slowing, and I recognize the change in me: a change that will enable my body to birth this child. Not my mind. My mind can do nothing now. Survival and health are found now only in…eating, sleeping, growing, waiting, sweating.

Sometimes my mind tries to fight it. Am I ready for another baby? it thinks. Will I lose what I have with Hattie? When will I write? Will this baby be healthy? Will I love this baby too? Will I be able to get through this labor? Will I be able to sleep? Anxiety. Anxiety. The I MUST DO voice: “I must do the dishes. I must sweep the passage. I must organize the basement. I must plan the meals.” And yes, some things I must do. And doing is difficult. Feeding my family has become a task of epic proportion. Yet we must eat. My body demands: good food, clean sheets, a quiet room.

My body is teaching me what is necessary—to do, to left undone. I am leaving the small toys on the rug in the playroom. I am allowing myself to sleep in the afternoon, as the still-early sun sets.

Now I am listening to the air heat the house, listening to the dog snore. I am watching the snow melt into icicles off the roof of the garage, the pale light turn warm and gold on the bare trees outside. The antique glass in the dining room window warps the branches, marbles the sky.
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