It was good to take ten weeks off from blogging this summer. It was the kind of good that cannot really be explained in few words, perhaps other than to say I read far more than I usually do, experienced a lot of peace and joy, and felt an overwhelming connection to my daughter and husband (particularly in August while he was home on a month long sabbatical). I also finally gave attention to and stared down the barrel of some hard truths. To be honest, the break leaves me wondering whether blogging still fits into my life. My enjoyment of the writing/submission process I am now knee deep in elsewhere suggests that is where my energies will be better focused more of the time. I sense a necessary blogging downgrade in that regard. So does the fact that my daughter is turning eight in mere days. It is increasingly more complex to write about her while maintaining her privacy.
But back to summer.
How do you capture the essence of something like summer? Yes, I can take pictures and that certainly helps. But to me, remembering summer feels like trying to permanently etch into my mind the energy and atmosphere of a live concert; it’s almost impossible to do. It’s too ephemeral. There’s also such an onslaught to all five of our senses during summer. Maybe even more so this summer because of the brutal winter we experienced here.
Summer, in a word, overwhelms.
Still, I want to try to remember those sensations. There are countless things I want to look back upon from this summer, but I’ll choose eight, in honor of my daughter’s birthday this Sunday.
♥ taste ♥
Bing cherry ice cream in Rhode Island
gin & tonic with lime
fresh corn from our CSA box
Moonglow tomatoes from our garden
bratwurst with grilled onions and grainy mustard in Vermont
♥ smell ♥
my daughter’s hair after a week in the ocean
fresh cut grass
unadulterated mountain air
faint musty scent of our summer rental
sunscreen on skin
rosemary in our garden
petrichor through the front door screen after an overdue rainfall
♥ sound ♥
vigorous splashing in the kiddie pool
the click-click-click of puppy toes on wood floors
almost unbearable silence in the mountains
uncontrollable giggles when the puppy hyperruns across the yard
my girl’s continuous serenade of made up songs from another room
the sound of her bare “pony feet” scampering across the house
breezes through the maple tree
♥ touch ♥
her soft hand
sand in my flip flops
the breeze from the ceiling fan
hot leather under my legs
the weight of a book in my hands*
dirt under my fingernails
the cold slick of a sweaty glass
her stuffed cat pressed against my shoulder when I read to her at night
♥ sight ♥
the puff of a Corgi puppy’s tush
bravery on the diving board and in the deep end
the Milky Way in the Vermont night sky
sand castles and deep holes at the water’s edge
dozens of sunsets
my first Indigo Bunting
friendships forming, deepening
and, most of all, her face
I hope you enjoyed your summer too. Tell me, what do you want to remember about this summer?
* the books I read this summer:
Ongoingness: The End of a Diary, Sarah Manguso
The Gracekeepers, Kirsty Logan
Fat Girl Walking, Brittany Gibbons
Single, Carefree, Mellow, Katherine Heiny
All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
The Nearest Thing to Life, James Wood
Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing, Roger Rosenblatt
My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Fredrik Backman
When It Happens to You, Molly Ringwald
The Pawnbroker’s Daughter: A Memoir, Maxine Kumin
The Mermaid of Brooklyn, Amy Shearn
Miss Emily, Nuala O’Connor
Kitchens of the Great Midwest (audiobook), J. Ryan Stradal
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
I’m in the middle of working on an essay, and much of it describes certain steadfast elements of our natural world. As most writers do from time to time, I needed to step away from the piece for a few days. I was losing focus of what I was trying to say. A few more thoughts have since gelled—funny how two minutes in front of the stove waiting for a pot of water to boil can lend itself to puzzle pieces clicking together in one’s mind.
But I also returned to a few chapters in Writing Wild by Tina Welling. In Chapter Eleven (Creativity and the Four Elements) she opens with this:
Our bodies are our link to the earth. Our senses are our power lines.
I love that. I recently wrote here about the senses of motherhood, but this deeper idea of our five senses being where the energy flows in our connection to the earth is so keen. When we are rushing or distracted, we can easily take touch, smell, sight, sound, and taste for granted. Scrambling into the car before school, we can miss the scent of the neighbor’s recently opened flowers. Ticking off errands we can be deaf to the overhead calls of seagulls searching for a snack. Checking the mail we can be numb to the cool dampness of the wooden porch following an afternoon rain.
But when we pay attention to those things, there is an energy that flows through us. The voltage may be low, but it is no less vital. We feel connected to the right here, right now on this spinning globe. And we better understand our small yet important place on it.
I hope you find some energy flowing through your power lines this weekend.
What is your strongest sense(s)? Do you feel energized when you pay attention to the signals they send?
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
In darkness, she moved tentatively from the doorway to the foot of my bed. I could sense she didn’t know if I was awake. Until I realized I was alone in bed, I was uncertain whether it was the middle of the night or moments before the day was to begin.
“What’s up, Buggy?”, my voice still groggy from sleep that ended abruptly just minutes ago.
“Hi, Mama,” she said cheerfully as she slid into the still warm but empty spot next to me. She wrapped her featherweight arm around my waist.
I heard the rise and fall of her breathing, the wild energy of her feet dancing under the cotton sheet as she settled in close. I rolled onto my side to face her. She beamed at me. I kissed her cheeks, devouring their cool, rounded softness. Her hair, still silky from last night’s shower, smelled faintly of citrus. It fanned out in ribbons on the pillow next to me. Even without my glasses on, I could see the grey-black gaps between her new and disproportionately large teeth. I wondered when the remaining four teeth would fill in the spaces, completing the smile she’d flash for the rest of her life. A light knock on the doorjamb said it was time to awaken for the day, so we rolled out and shuffled down the hall together.
The moment was brief, but our connection was deep. How much longer would I be able to consume her—know her—just like this, through all of my senses? Loving a child bestows a profound intimacy and understanding of who they are and what they need. But it is temporary. I am increasingly aware of how much sand remains in the top of the hourglass.
When she was born, the inputs that had helped me understand and revere the world were instantly overwhelmed. My dendrites of daily living dialed to a new frequency. I now needed to share my senses of smell, touch, sight, sound, and taste in order to read her cues and sustain her life, not just mine. As someone who was already highly sensitive, this was no small undertaking. But I quickly parsed out the difference in pitch and volume in her cries of hunger, fatigue, and discomfort. I pressed my lips to her forehead to detect fevers during the longest of nights. I identified stains on my shirt with a quick sniff, removed a spot of raspberry jam with a quick lick on the fly.
Overwhelmed shifted to heightened. Heightened shifted to enlightened.
I still experience the physical world in a totally new way because of her. My eyes and ears are more open. Things that had become bland and dull are once again gourmet. In many ways, I returned to my own childhood, even those stretches of time I cannot remember. And though I still feel everything acutely, I’ve also noticed that the senses of mothering are starting to gradually diminish.
The first sense to go is taste, it seems. I remember the purees, crackers, and juice, all tasted second hand from chubby little fingers or a sticky nose. The sweet, milky taste of open-mouthed kisses that were given freely have long since stopped. Now, I’m occasionally treated to a salty tear on sad days or the trail that a powdered donut leaves behind, but not much more.
Thankfully, I can still relish the scent of her hair when she returns from playing outside on a late autumn day when the neighbors’ fireplaces are in full swing. It is nothing short of magic how a child’s hair can grasp so tightly onto the essence of pending snow and wood smoke, and hold it just long enough for me to inhale indoors. It’s always gone an instant later. Even her skin radiates a subtle fragrance that she’s had since birth, one that I could detect blindly in a room full of people. As she grows, I am sure a few more blossoms will be added to her bouquet, whether it be the hard won sweat of exertion or the sickly sweet fog of drugstore perfume, but she’ll always have those notes of baby underneath. I will inhale deeply to find it, when she lets me.
Seeing her, hearing her, and touching her, I imagine those will remain steady and frequent for a long while. The softness of her cotton leggings and the clammy feet that stick to me while we’re reading on the couch. Her still baby soft skin that confirms her youth when she holds my dry, wrinkling hand. The squeals in the backyard while being chased by her dad after dinner, the off key singing from the other room. Watching her limbs stretch year to year, already displaying whose genes she is going to have. The last few blond strands glinting among the darkening brown while she plays in the mid-April sun. The lake blue eyes that just as easily lift me when she smiles as they do unsettle me when she tests out some new form of defiant independence.
This is how I know soon enough there will be shut bedroom doors, less snuggling close together, and possibly fewer words spoken. So for now, I will let all of her in, every which way I can. I enjoy feeling enlightened.
What sense could you not live without? Do you have one sense that seems more heightened than the others? If you have children in your life, how do the five senses come into play when you are with them?
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
Once in a while, I find myself comparing M’s childhood to my own. Do you do this too? For example, the place where I grew up—a bona fide hamlet of a couple thousand fine folks in the mountains—is so much different than where she’s growing up—a culturally diverse city of 90,000+ less than 2 miles from the ocean. She has the world of technology at her fingertips and can roam the house while on the cordless phone with her Gramma, yet I was tethered by about ten feet of curly cord when I talked to my Grandma. Things like that. Not necessarily weighing the differences, just noting them.
Anyway, one night when I was laying next to M in her bed in the middle of the night,* I was strangely and acutely aware of the difference in the kind of nighttime sound I had during childhood sleep, compared with what she has had, especially during the summer. I had katydids as my slumber soundtrack. Lots and lots of katydids.
Have you heard them before? Katydid, katy-didn’t. Katydid, katy-didn’t. Katydid, katy-didn’t. To this day, if I happen hear one of those green guys—which isn’t often at our house—I am immediately transported to my upstairs bedroom on Holland Drive.
But M’s ambient lullaby? There are a few. Though I am not really happy about most of them.
A noise machine playing artificial ocean sounds. It used to be set to “rainstorm” but we switched it because we thought that was what was making her wake up to pee 2x a night…but no dice. Of course as I type this I realize we’ve not made it much better with the sounds of an ocean! I guess it bugs me on some level that we are using that machine, something else to plug in, to block out other sounds from outside and the clatter that comes with living in a small house.
The booming bass of a car that drives to and from the apartment around the corner, every night. It’s not just loud, it’s sonic boom loud. This guy has been living around the corner for a few months now and the only time he seems to drive by is very late at night, which means I can’t shake my cranky old lady fist at him to ask him to stop. And it’s not like we only hear it for a second or two. We live on the corner and so we get to hear him roll the entire way home and sit in his car for a bit to finish up the song. Yo dude, I don’t care if you want to blast that mofo during the day, and I’m not even complaining about the kind of music you’re playing because I own some of it myself, but really…do you need to have it cranked up so loud as you cruise into the neighborhood where you live, surrounded by people who you should be “neighborly” to? It kills me that people like him just cannot extend a courtesy like that. I know it’s a free country and all, but really how free are we without some semblance of quality of life at 2 fucking AM!
Background noise from the airport (which, thankfully, ends at midnight) and the highway. Because of where we live, and the topography that comes with living in an old granite quarry, sound is amplified and bounced around more off of our house than others nearby. It does have a kind of white noise, soothing effect after a while, but some nights it is seemingly crushing. Low cloud ceiling and the planes fly lower. First few nice days of spring and the motorcycles are in full force cruising at high velocity down the almost empty highway lanes in the middle of the night. Comes with urban living, I know, but there are times when I wish I could just turn it off for a while.
And, lastly, maybe even oddly, the Eastern Screech Owl. We heard this for the first time the other night. I was wide awake dealing with the aftermath of an unwisely chosen caffeinated beverage enjoyed in the late afternoon, tossing and turning. I think I had just fallen asleep, when I heard this outside (on the Sounds tab, scroll down and click on “Descending whinny, monotonic trill” and listen).
What. The. Fuck. Was. That??!!! You know when you’ve been startled awake by something and things seem surreal for a minute or two? Yeah. It was like that but I wasn’t sure if I was still even on planet Earth. I think a glow of sweat came over my brow as I tried to recall what I had just heard and whether it was remotely human or not because it was definitely coming from the backyard and it got me thinking about the guy in our yard last year.
Then M woke up, wide eyed and scared like me.
“What was that!!??” she said.
Being brave Mommy, I said, “Oh, just a possum probably in the backyard.” Do possums even make noise?? I had no idea but usually she doesn’t press things like that at 3AM.
But then I heard it again, in the front yard. And then again within 3 seconds up high in the back yard again! Um, possums don’t move like that!
We only heard a few times and then it was gone. M was sufficiently freaked out and wouldn’t put her feet under the covers or touch the ground to use the bathroom for a good 45 minutes until the levee was about to break, so to speak. Then the next night she had a nightmare about millipedes at the foot of her bed and would only sleep on her pillow. So yeah, that was fun.
But we looked it up for a while the next day to see if we could figure out what it was (thank you, Google!). And now we know what a skunk, fox, possum and raccoon sound like because those were my first few guesses before it dawned on me that it must be something that flies. Something that flies only at night. Ah, yes. The mighty Eastern Screech Owl. Admittedly, I was scared when I heard it, but now I am happy that I did because I am not sure how often that little guy will be passing by our house.
As an interesting but related aside, here’s another difference between my childhood and M’s: the ability to look stuff up online. Stuff with audio. Wouldn’t you know that my whole life I thought there was only one kind of katydid sound. Not true. All summer we’ve been hearing a tick tick tick tick tick tick tick sound at dusk. At first, I thought one of the electrical transformers on the telephone pole across the street was on the fritz, but then we started hearing it in the yard and various places. Then I thought it might be a bat, but (thank you again, Google!) the bats around here don’t make sound in a range humans can hear without assistance. Long story short…we discovered together it is the sound of the Greater Angle Winged Katydid! So she is hearing them, or at least the cousins of the ones I knew. What a lovely sound!
Night sounds. One difference between M’s slumber and mine growing up. I guess I struggle with the idea that too many of them are artificial, but sometimes we get lucky.
* As a side note, yes, you read that right…we still play musical beds in our house…M has been a crappy sleeper since the day she was born. I am not joking when I tell you that her first year was comprised of 2 or 3 daytime naps that NEVER lasted more than 20-30 minutes, and it never got better. Because of that, sleep has become the lowest common denominator for me, no matter where it happens, which is why we have chosen the various sleeping arrangements we have for these past 5 years. Maybe if Elizabeth Pantley comes out with The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Kindergarteners, we’ll gain some ground because the first two books certainly haven’t stuck! And we all have our parenting styles and skeletons don’t we, so I’ll take a blind eye to yours too.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz.
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