I’m in some church parking lot off Highway 12, yanking away the plastic water bottle my son has been crinkling in his sister’s ear for the last 3 miles, telling them popsicles are off if we can’t make it the rest of the way to the store without fighting. The even, sweet mother I planned to be this morning when I stepped out on my deck under the redwoods for that one moment alone with the turkey vultures and the sun vanishes under the complications of...summer. And now, August, signalling summer’s end, with it’s turn towards the dreaded need to be somewhere by a certain time with shoes on...
To be fair to my children, it is 104 degrees and they’re all three crammed shoulder to shoulder in the middle van seat. We took out the back seat to bypass the fighting over who would sit where, only now they perch smack up against my ear with their altercations, feet and elbows ready weapons and effective. Definitely not worth the extra room to change out of wetsuits.
To be fair to me, I was up until 11:35 p.m., without the heart to boot my children into their own beds. Under the ever-present guilt of not paying enough attention to each of them individually, I’ve allowed bedtime to get out of control. My daughter stakes out ¾ of the bed with her stuffed animals; my youngest son has the other ¼. At 9:42, when I’m finally dozing off, there’s a complaint about sand in the sheets. At 9:50, a mosquitoe. At 9:57, a request for cream for an itchy toe. At 10:10, the mosquitoe returns. At 10:20, a call for a cup of tea with just Momma, please, because the boys are finally asleep, each request jarring me awake from that delicious slide into sleep. Where’s the tantric payoff for sleep interruptions, as there is for persistently interrupted sex? I have yet to have such a punctured night lead to a blissful high of sound sleep worth the ten wakings.
While the metaphor doesn’t hold for sleep, it holds for the writing of a poem, or the making of a sculpture. It has to. Or so I’m trying to convince my sculptor-mom friend on a stolen night out together. The boy Barrista at the coffee shop thinks we are hilarious...giddy with being out sans children, I’m telling him, “A vanilla latte, and make it decaff or I’ll be a bad mom tomorrow...” He thinks I’m joking. “I’m not kidding,” I reiterate, and he tells us to sit on the stools by the window so we’ll be within earshot. We acquiesce, and discuss: the strain of persevering with one’s work against the constant interruptions and demands of motherhood. Do you just not go as deep or as far in your work? Or when you do finally get the moment to drop within, grope around in the fertile subconscious and resurface with something in hand, is the work that much richer for all you’ve gone through as a parent, struggling, an uncomfortable god of the emotional tenor of your children’s lives? Or is it simply true, we joke, we too need wives so we can focus on our careers as artists?
Older friends, with adult children, remind me to covet this time with my children, for it will hurtle past, and whatever it is I so rigidly think I have to get done will get done just as well when they are grown. So I try to relish it all, sleepily listening to my daughter’s 10:49 p.m. skinny on her day, aware that I’ll be lucky if she’ll let me be in the same room with her when she is a teenager, as so poignantly expressed in Ellen Bass’s poem, “Dyeing Her Hair” : My daughter sits in the yard in my old nightgown/while I work the chemicals down to the roots, grateful to have an excuse to touch her./ In the last sun of the afternoon, her hair drinks in/the deep paprika hue. She’s safe.....” and several lines later,
She leaves tomorrow, returning/to a life so dangerous I have to exile my heart. (Missouri Review, Summer 2009)...a beautiful reminder aches of a more complicated kind await me as my children grow.
Poetry collection titles for Ellen Bass: The Human Line and Mules of Love. Nonfiction titles include The Courage to Heal and Free Your Mind. Her website address: www.ellenbass.com