Sun hats like dappled haloes
Pulling grape hyacinth flowers off the stems
Raining through our fingers
This day of union and warmth
Of babies and sunlight and lazy limbs
I handed you a quarter as we left the shop
You love to inspect the imprint of the bird
But we still have to walk home
Holding my hand
And the coin, concomitantly
The texture of our fingerprints
And our intention
The only things keeping our full hands
Though I want your hands full
I will miss your prints on mine
And I’ll buy myself a ghost town to miss you in
Mayor, librarian, and tavern-keeper
Waiting for you to come see my new garden
And let me trace those little womb vibrations
After you are re-potted
As the summer is leaking into our lives more and more, we are often in our backyard. Most of the time you’re naked and running around and happy. The sun looks good on you. But there are times when you get a sense of intense focus and interest that seems beyond ‘fun’.
I know that as a child, you don’t have a lot that you ‘have’ to do. Provided that you eat, sleep, and poop, you really don’t have a lot else on your agenda that’s necessary. Or, at least, from my limited adult view of things, this seems to be the case. But I know you don’t have this view of your life. It’s not like you contemplate your complete freedom to do nothing of consequence. You don’t say to yourself, “I’ve got the day off for the next few years, so I’ll just do whatever.” No. You have this sense that everything you willingly do is important.
Today, like most days, as I was doing my own work in the yard, you brought me rocks. You brought them, one by one, occasionally saying, “Present for Mama!” or “Surprise!” And I thanked you over and over and put them next to me. You did this for at least half an hour. Some days you don’t even bring them to me, opting to line them up on the deck and count them and tell me about their colors. (You don’t know this, but I put the rocks back in the same place you get them from so you can do this every day.) This wasn’t just play for you (although I do know that play is the work of childhood and how you explore the world). It was work. You focused on your task, dirty hands and sweaty brow and muddy feet, to do something important. I don’t pretend to know exactly why it’s important, but I know it is. And just because it doesn’t fit into my adult idea of what work is doesn’t make it less valuable.
Kahlil Gibran says that work is love made visible. Work is how we stay in tune with the earth and the seasons and each other. I only hope I can work like you do, not justifying my tasks to myself or others, but simply doing them because it is inherently good. And if your work today is bringing me pebbles, your rest is well-earned.
There is something that has been called a family gift by my father, but I believe is everyone’s gift, provided that your eyes can be open and accepting of gifts. The gift is that of serendipitously finding just what you need when you need it. That song that you half remembered in the shower the other day will be playing in the coffee shop you walk into. The story you heard on the radio will have you thinking, and then a week later a book will catch your eye at the library and it will have an insight that you never thought would relate, but it does. The ache in your heart doesn’t know what it needs, but then a toddler helps you rediscover an old movie or hands you a book of poetry with all the answers you needed.
Lately, things have been tense between your father and me. That happens sometimes, and while it’s normal, it’s hard. And when you handed me ‘The Prophet’ again, a book we hadn’t read in months, I thought, “Wow. This was what I needed. I know exactly what I need from this. How lucky am I?” And we began to read it again, and it really renewed a lot of the truths I had put on the back burners of my mind.
Turns out, the part I thought I’d need, “On Marriage,” wasn’t even the part I actually needed. I needed “On Giving” and “On Work”. I was reminded how much I long to be worthy of giving to you and your father. How much my work as a stay-at-home mom is the gift of my life. How working with love makes us all blessed. Sometimes it’s a lot when your work and your relationships and your home are all the same thing. It can be such a heavy weight when you feel like you aren’t doing a good job, which means you aren’t doing a good job at any part of your identity. But it does give me an opportunity to do it all well if I can readjust and get back to mindful, loving work.
So this gift, this serendipitous discovery of truth wherever we go, is something you should never take for granted. Look for the signs. Listen when you hear things. Read every book a toddler places in your hands. Thank you for reminding me how to work with love.
We dwell in a house of bellies
Always hungry, ever expanding
Mouths continually tipped back
Guzzling cheap wine and sweet tea
Making lists of pretties we like
A cheap replacement for shopping
Imagining if we owned them
We would be full
But though the grease clings to our hips
We haven’t the substance to fill those dresses
Our needs grow and grow
As we continue to feed the wrong wolf
And though we should have such oneness
That when one weeps
The other tastes salt
Your needs make me ache
And mine you only fill with sighs
All the salt in our mouths
Has deadened our tongues
So we continue to consume
A house full of hunger
A paper kitchen full of rot
Only giving birth to ache
I am all bullet hole
and you are all bread
You insist more of you
and the things that inflate you
Will surely pack the wound
Make everything bearable again
But the more we stuff in
The more rots away
Whiskey can only keep the infection away
For so long
Let me breathe
Cold and open awhile
Let me rest
Let the wound scar over
The crater that’s left
Will be a chalice
Filled by water and sun and all things free
Sometimes I wonder what you know of love. ‘Love’ is one of those conceptual terms you have been inundated with your whole life that takes a lot of effort and understanding to explain.
I know that you know to say, ‘I love you’ when Papa leaves for work. But I realize your understanding of that sentence is exactly the same as the one you always say after it, ‘Don’t forget your lunch!’. I know you learned that from repeating after me every day, and tugging at my apron strings while I pack a lunch for your dad every morning. And I know children learn more from actions than words.
That’s the concrete manifestation of love for you every morning; wanting to send each other off fed and kissed and missed. You’ve started to say ‘Don’t forget your lunch,’ to everyone you say goodbye to, and I’m okay with that. Because I know that means your idea of ‘I love you’ is, ‘Until we meet again, may you not go hungry, may you be missed.’
Don’t forget your lunch,
You turned two yesterday. I’m trying to save up everything about you so I don’t forget when you’re big and these days are fainter in my memory.
You love to sing. You love Dolly Parton and Bob Marley and Kacey Musgraves and Elvis and Willie Nelson and Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino. You are a voracious reader and are especially inclined towards science books. I think I’ve read ‘Quantum Physics for Babies’ a hundred times with you.
You love birds and butterflies and throw a tantrum every time I make you come inside. You love to explore plants and you help me water them and eat lemon balm leaves straight from the planter, but only after you’ve sung to the plant.
You talk all the time and are very good at pronunciation for your age, so the rare mispronounced word that you hold on to is so cute and so treasured. Every time you say ‘oopies’ instead of ‘oopsie’ I giggle a little. You give kisses freely and always say, ‘Bye bye! I love you! Don’t forget your lunch!’ every time we say goodbye to anyone. You always trust I’ll catch you when you run to me. You love talking on the phone and are so polite. You ask to cuddle a hundred times a day and bring your blankies when you want to snuggle.
You exude the sweetest empathy all the time. When you see someone upset, you offer them your sippy cup and a blankie and start doing deep breathing. When you see someone happy, you clap for them and tell them ‘Wow!’ and ‘Good job!’. You run and try to jump and spin, telling me, ‘Dancing!’. You have the softest, finest blonde hair that I can’t bring myself to cut, the long curls at the nape of your neck lighting up in the sun.
All this is to say that I see you. You are the best of a lot of people who pour themselves into you. You are my best friend and my one and only. You’re my binary star that keeps my orbit around things that matter. You give me life, little one. I can’t wait to see you grow even more while I try to burn the image of two-year-old you into my memory.