Just a normal Saturday of “getting a few things done” stretched out before us. Bathrooms were cleaned, and I got to sleep in a bit. Coffee was brewed, eggs were fried, and showers were taken. Sheets got stripped from the bed and thrown in the wash so that they could be put back on before our next slumber. These are our favorite sheets, a soft jersey cotton and miraculously still brilliant white. They offer a full body embrace at the end of a cold winter’s day.
Puttering was in full swing until at least noon.
But there were things we had to get done out in the world too. Printer ink needed replacing, and new set of dry erase markers was long overdue. We can barely read the kitchen calendar, especially if green needs to be used—that’s my color and it seems as though I’ve been the busiest because it’s been dried out since January. A deal was made: let’s get the office supplies and then hit our favorite restaurant nearby for some grilled cheese and nachos. We hardly go out like that for a meal just the three of us. It’d be fun to change things up a bit. After that, they could get haircuts and drop me off at home on the way.
Quite unexpectedly, and perhaps a bit unusually considering the time, there was a long wait for a table at the restaurant we wanted to visit. We didn’t have time to wait.
A plan was devised for the second best option just six miles down the road and so we changed gears. Only, we hadn’t been since before M was born some 7.5 years ago. We were a bit suspicious when we pulled into the vacant parking lot. Closed for renovations. Figures.
A third plan was hatched, this time across the street from the hair cut salon, but still another twelve minutes away and we were all getting a bit hungry. Good thing I thought to bring some apples for her to snack on. Thankfully there was no wait, and we were soon filling our bellies with food. She enjoyed her grilled cheese, but we were left disappointed. We laughed about it though—Who puts parsley on nachos? Is this tomato sauce? I don’t think it’s salsa! The cheese is weird too. She forgot the lemon in the iced tea. Oh well. The nachos were largely left untouched and we stole fries when she wasn’t looking. (We eventually got busted.) We watched her blush when we told her to say hello to a (boy) classmate who was also there with his family. The waitress stopped to talk to her dolls and so she got an overly generous tip.
They got hair cuts and I picked up some small things for dinner at the adjacent grocery store while I waited for them. I lingered in the magazine aisle awhile since I wouldn’t get that time at home as I’d planned. Why are there so many magazines about guns?, I wondered. I left irritated by the feeling that so many buzzwords—mindful, clean, happiness—were making me reach for magazines that were largely devoid of meaningful content once I’d peeked inside.
As I made my way to the checkout line, I spotted a tiny pink birthday cake, smaller than a teacup saucer. Her half birthday had been the day before. It feels like a whirlwind on her actual birthday with the start of school and Labor Day every year. But early March offers a nice pause and so we usually do something very small to note the mini milestone. Last year it was a balloon. This year it would be a bit of cake. There was some confusion when I asked the bakery clerk to write “7 1/2″ but eventually she got it right. I hid it in the trunk of the car.
We sang “Happy Half Birthday” after the groceries were put away and the birds were given an extra suet cake on the tree. She was delighted. “When did you buy this!?” she gushed. Mission accomplished.
A gin and tonic was poured, and I skimmed the first few pages of The New Yorker. Björk is 50 years old? I saw her in concert a few… wait, well more than a few…years ago. I am a longtime fan, even from her Sugarcubes days. How could this be? Where is the time going? I let the ice in my drink brush up against my lips as I pondered this perpetual mystery.
Without me realizing it, the two of them had escaped upstairs to play for a bit. Twilight arrived and I started to lower the blinds. As I coursed from room to room, lowering each one, I thought to myself how lucky I am that we are all tucked safe inside this house tonight, together. We made it through another day. There are so many who didn’t. And tomorrow, that will happen to a few more. One day that will be each of us, but right now, in this moment, we were fortunate that we got another day.
As I got to the last of the windows, the ones in my office, I glanced out the French doors that face the backyard to the west. It’s my favorite view at the end of the day. I noticed dark, gauzy clouds enveloping the light fading on the horizon. I was reminded that the clock will thrust ahead an hour and a bit of sleep and rhythm will be lost as a result. Moods might swing for a few days. No matter, I thought, this—days like this—is what matters most. We will be lucky to get another one together.
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
I didn’t know this at the beginning, but it’s only after you have a child that Father Time likes to play his most sinister tricks on you. He knows the predicament you’re in now. Or maybe he just thinks he’s funny. But he’s sly, like a fox, that guy.
At first, you just sense him lurking along the edges of your heart and frayed nerves. He lies in wait until you’re settled. He only makes his presence known once you’re deep, deep in love. But by then you’re too far gone. There’s no way out.
Father Time is running the show. Tick. Tock. Trick.
You don’t read about his antics in any of the parenting books. There’s no chapter titled, “Dealing With Father Time,” or an outline of what to expect from him going forward. When you’ve read the same books aloud for months on end, there is no entry in the index for “Time, passing too slowly.” When you’re giving away the newborn onesies and halfway through first grade all in the same nanosecond, there is no entry for “Time, passing too quickly.”
No, that word—time—is glaringly absent from the books. There is no advice to be given. Even the experts are stumped into silence.
Your only signposts are the weathered tenets and thinly veiled warnings whispered by more seasoned parents. Sometimes they look directly into your eyes with glimmering reminiscence, a gentle smile on their face. A bubble of hope rises through your sternum that makes you believe that there’s a speed bump ahead that will slow things down eventually. But the optimism is ephemeral. It’s the ones whose eyes are downcast that make me most worried—they have more hindsight. They know the truth.
Enjoy it while you can.
This too shall pass.
Live in the moment.
I remember when mine were that age.
They grow up so fast.
Millennia have passed and this is still all we know. These are our best defenses in the face of time passing with those who completely obliterated everything we knew about love before them. This armor is not adequate. You are pummeled to the ground with the notion that Father Time is in control here, not you. You rise up and wipe the grit from your wet eyes. You empty the heavy stones out of your pockets and brush away the dust. You submit. Again and again, you submit.
He holds the strings, after all. In a complicated game of Cat’s Cradle he weaves them in and out, over and under, plucking and strumming, fingers flowing with magic and transformation right before your eyes. It’s mesmerizing, simultaneously fresh and predictable.
But you never know when he’ll turn on you and tie your heart up into knots, the string a crumpled mess in his hands.
On a wet weekday morning in November, it will be on the way out the door, on the heels of a late night dealing with a stuffy young nose, after you’ve packed your five hundredth container of cut apples. Time will come to a screeching halt, your tires spinning in the rut of a well-worn routine. You cannot possibly do this again tomorrow. Time is passing too slowly.
On a lazy Saturday in August, it will be while you’re lying on the deck warmed by the afternoon sun. You’ll catch a glimpse of a fine flaxen line in a long brown ponytail and remember when her whole babycrown was woven with wisps of blond curls. The shimmer of superfine leg hair will catch your eye and you lament that shaving is only a few more years away. Life is shifting quicker than a bolt of lightning from a sodden cloud. Time is moving too fast.
You cannot seem to catch your breath in this two-step of fast and slow. You want to grab highlighters and take notes and snap photos and just remember it all—contain it somehow—so you can take it all in again and again, now and later. You want to press pause and fast forward at the same time.
The silver fox tricks you once again. Your effort is futile. It cannot be done.
Father Time is unfair.
Tick. Tock. Trick.
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
There are so many wonderful words written by parents who have more than one child. Some lovingly lament the last of their babies shoving off for Kindergarten or college. Others offer hope for the relative ease of parenting that settles in when child number two or three or even four comes along. War stories of parental exhaustion are swapped around virtual campfires. Revelations about raising sons and daughters are bricks laid in these family foundations, and the intricate and intense relationships that form between those siblings are the mortar that holds it all together.
Yet, as the parent of one child, I can’t write some of those stories.
Sure, I can glean tiny bits from the perspective of being a sister and growing up with a brother myself, but as a parent I am not quite able to walk the full mile. I’m not sad or remorseful about that—those words are too strong—but I am sometimes curious about what differences I might’ve seen, both in myself and within my family as a whole, had we chosen to have more than one. Would patterns in nature versus nurture emerge more clearly? Would I second-guess myself less with each added child? Would I be faced with the question of “whom do you love more?” and, more to the point, would there be an answer I could truthfully utter aloud? Would she have been the amazing older sister I know she wants to be? Would I have found that my well of patience and resilience is actually much deeper than I think it is? I don’t play often here in this treacherous land of unknowable answers because it’s too easy to get lost in shadows of doubt and mystery, but sometimes I do.
Leaving the baby stage and the utter exhaustion during those early years, those I can relate to, but in a different way. For me, saying goodbye to the open mouthed kisses and baby cellulite happened only once, and the fatigue was shorter lived because I didn’t renew my contract with late night feedings and diaper changes. At the time, I didn’t necessarily appreciate the gravity of these things ending, but I certainly had a strong hunch I wouldn’t be going for another round. By the time she was three, we were pretty settled that she would be it. Even our momentary, three-month change of heart when she was almost five was half-baked and half-assed. We knew from very early on that we should pay attention to the milestones because we’d likely see them only once. There would be no reminiscing that started with “Your sister was … when she did that.” Those first several years, I was equal parts “thank goodness we are almost done with this” and “oh no, we are almost done with this!” It’s an odd, unsettling feeling when that is all tied to one child rather than more.
For us parents on this particular path, whether it be by choice or otherwise, I’m guessing some of it really is different, though certainly stitched with the common thread of sorrow that binds all of us parents together. Honestly, I’m not even sure if parents of multiple children can fully understand what it is like to have just one child because, on some level, it forces them to imagine their life without one or more of their children. That’s an impossible exercise. You get only a small taste of what it’s like between the time when your first is born and the second comes along, or perhaps when the last one is still in the house after the others have gone, but I imagine the flavor will never be as robust or nuanced as raising just one with intention.
I often wonder if parents of onlies and parents of multiple children ask themselves what I see as two sides of the same coin. For me, I wonder how could I possibly love anyone else as much as her…how could that possibly fit in my heart? And yet, I feel like parents of more than one might ask how could you stop at just one? because they actually live that intense love that (I’m guessing) doesn’t diminish despite more juice to pour or teeth to brush.
For me, the biggest discovery has been how I straddle the worlds of “firsts” and “lasts” so much of the time. My oldest is also my youngest. Her first day of Kindergarten was the first and last time I will ever have to do that. I won’t know if it gets easier with each child, or whether it grows harder knowing what’s on the horizon. It’s all easy and hard at the same time because I have no idea what to expect nor do I have to endure it again. I do not get that next child to “get it right” or “pay better attention.” This is it.
If we are going to see the twirl of her favorite flowered dress again, it might be on a friend or a niece, but certainly not another daughter (I have saved a few for a maybe granddaughter…you caught me). We will cycle through only one string of teachers in school, and there’s only one set of pencil marks on the wall recording how tall she is each year. She always gets the last cookie in the box, undivided and without elbowing a sibling on the way. In the same vein, we have to make sure she gets other opportunities to learn how to negotiate, respectfully disagree, and work through disappointment in ways that families with multiple children might take for granted with a home-based band of nations.
I don’t have to tend less to anyone for lack of arms or time or energy. There is enough of me to go around. The flip side, of course, is that once she’s too big for my lap, my legs will be cold again forevermore. That’s an inherent liability when you raise one child, but I choose to see it as a reward. There is an intense ability to savor and dwell in many of the moments because I am able to focus, stand upright, and face in only one direction.
Depending on the day, it can look like a sprint or a marathon, but it is certainly not a relay race. She is the only one on the track, and so I can wait patiently for her to cross the finish line in her own time. But this all reveals that being the parent of one child can be intense in a very singular and sometimes uncomfortable way for both her and me. I am sensitive to her life possibly unfolding under a magnifying glass, on center stage, or in a fishbowl.
There are simultaneously too many rules and not enough. There is no brother to blame for broken vases, and there is no sister who will break curfew first in order to soften our position when she does. If I want her to feel confident enough to take risks and make mistakes but without the burden of feeling like she has to please us all on her own, then sometimes I am (and will be) forced to avert my eyes, even though I don’t want to.
As with any first-born child, there are no worn cart paths to follow and guide my way. But the difference with one is that I will only travel down this road once. Any wisdom picked up along the way is nice to know, but not necessary for another time. This is why so much of parenting one child is now or never, and I feel that so deeply sometimes that I’m afraid to blink. I don’t want to miss all the brass rings. I know this wonderful carousel pony is eventually going to slow down and stop. And I know I only have one ticket to ride.
This post was inspired, in part, by some of the words I read here by Dina L. Relles. Do you know her writing? You should.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
My beloved maple still has a full verdant crown. Only a smattering of leaves have been tinged with a kiss of deep burgundy. Jewels in the crown. Those will fall early, it seems. Did the arborist tell me it was a Norway maple? I think so, but I can’t remember. It doesn’t really matter. I love this tree, deep into the heartwood. It’s a constant that I gaze upon often. Though I worry about the wet autumn winds when she is still heavy with leaves. Will she weather the storm another year? Is it better to have the three trunks instead of one? It seems as though she is stable, but I’m never entirely sure.
She turned seven this month. Her hair is barely blond anymore. Is that because she’s going to be a brunette or we didn’t spend enough time outside this summer? I need to be better about that next year. I can’t even remember most of August and here she is starting first grade. New teacher, new classmates, new expectations. Even our morning routine feels a little different, though I can’t place how just yet. She still likes to snuggle on the couch for the last ten minutes before we leave. I know the transitions are hard for her, but nothing like they used to be. I’m happy for this change, though more for her than for me.
The colors don’t seem as vibrant as last year. Or maybe they are the same. I really don’t remember. I always think I will recall year to year, but then I never do. Black spot has peppered the changing leaves this year, but it’s only noticeable on the few that have reached the ground. The crown is now dull and muted, like an army boot that has trudged through miles of terrain. She’s getting ready to let her leaves go. But not without a show first. She waits until the very end of the month to glide into a spectrum of golds. Did it happen overnight? It seems that way. I try to catch a few of the big ones to press between a heavy book so I can remember their vivid yellow, but my effort is futile. I leave empty handed, with only a memory lightly etched into my mind’s eye. Or so I tell myself.
I know what it is now: she doesn’t want me to read to her before school anymore. She’d rather look out the window or play in the last few minutes before I say, “it’s time to go” and hunt down shoes and keys. When she was three and four and five, clinging to me and crying, this is what I longed for, right? Then why do I feel like an awkward interloper? I’m no longer a necessary participant. When did that happen? She’s only seven. Yet she still wants to hold my hand on the walk to school. I clutch her small fingers as though they were gold coins. I don’t want to let go of my riches while I still have them. I’m holding on tight.
It only took two weeks. The branches danced vigorously some of those nights, dropping confetti on the lawn. When I look out my window in the morning, I see the party is almost over. Points of gold and brown flutter and glow in the low angled light, stuck between blades of grass. Are they waving goodbye? Only a few leaves remain on the tree. Maybe they are stubborn and don’t want to let go. I wonder what holds on tighter—the stem or the branch? If it’s the tree, I would understand completely. But, eventually, the leaves will drop. They always do. There are never any leaves left come December. Some drift into the yards of neighbors or clog the storm drains along our sandy streets. The rest get raked into a pile, only to end up in the city’s hands or in our compost bin. The cycle of life. I try to keep as much of them in my yard as I can. They will feed the soil and fuel the flowers come spring. They are mine and I don’t want to let go.
We sail through the mornings. No more “hurry up” or “did you remember?” is needed from me. Afternoons are spent in mutual space but individual thoughts, especially when I let her take the lead. That’s been true for a while now. I just wait idle in the living room while she goes about her routine. Though I want to feel needed and find myself offering a gentle reminder before she even needs one. I get heavy sighs and “I know” in return. She’s making it clear that she’s letting go in this small way that doesn’t feel at all small to me. She’s asking questions about things that I know she’s picking up from friends as she flutters with them through recess and snack time. Things that seem like they are on the other side of the cusp where she stands. They are “what’s next” and I’m not entirely ready. I take pictures of her, much like the way I’d press those leaves I never seem to catch. I’m afraid I’ll forget, that my memory won’t be strong enough to withstand the windy days and barer branches ahead. She is mine and I don’t want to let go.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
Relevance has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ll tell you why, in a minute, but what I find myself mulling over is this:
How does our desire to be seen and heard tie into relevance?
Is relevance one way we value ourselves and determine our self-worth?
Is there an inherent impermanence to the kind of relevance we need and seek?
How does the barometer measuring our relevance rise and fall when we talk about love, friendship, and living on this lovely blue ball?
Do we need to feel relevant? And if so, to whom, exactly, and why?
I was headed into Boston. I was on my way to my first mammogram. The reflection of full swaths of grey hair staring me down each morning usually does it, but I was feeling particularly forty that morning.
I dislike driving in heavy traffic so I took the T. As I waited on the subway platform, I noticed the slant of light that early October morning. It filtered through the almost leafless sumacs across the tracks onto the concrete platform and yellow warning strip. It reflected in irregular glints along the third rail, a subtle spotlight on the danger that lurked six feet below. I thought the light was lovely, calming even, as I waited with the commuter crowd on my way to an appointment which would render me half naked in less than an hour. I dug my iPhone out of my pocket and shared the scene on Instagram. At forty years old, I felt progressive, if not relevant, in this technophile society.
Even though I really don’t like driving, I prefer taking crowded public transportation only a hair more. I’m claustrophobic in a dentist’s chair or in a windowless room, so bodies pressed upon bodies in a hurtling tube of metal is not exactly relaxing for me. So the other thing I do to talk myself down from my anxious tree is watch people.
The pistons inside my brain started firing immediately when I saw him. He was hipster cool with his glasses and standard issue beard. The black denim jacket added an extra layer of New England badass. He was easily fifteen years my junior. But it was his Anthrax baseball hat and the way he sailed right by me like I was invisible that ultimately pierced the thin skin of my “I don’t need to impress anyone anymore” attitude.
The thing is, I was invisible in that moment, standing there in my grey cardigan and practical black pants. A nameless face in the crowd, just like everyone else. I wasn’t relevant, at least not to him.
I wanted to walk down the platform and tap him on the shoulder and tell him that when I was in middle school—and he didn’t even yet exist—that I had the biggest crush on Scott Ian. That I had two Anthrax posters on my bedroom wall. That I knew all the lyrics to “I Am The Law” and was keen on what efilnikufesin meant. That I would go home later to look up a few of the videos for old time’s sake. That I used to be relevant, man, at least when it came to heavy metal music. That this bland vision of a downtrodden wife and mother on her way to a nondescript hospital exam room, hoping to return in time for after school pickup is not who I really am.
Or is it? Is this who I am now?
Am I still relevant?
I think we all want to leave our mark somehow. We want to know that we mattered, and that people noticed. We want to feel relevant in this world. For me, as I get older, I see that the people that I need to feel relevant to has shifted and the circle has gotten smaller. Though as my brief encounter with Mr. Anthrax shows, not always. That self-conscious girl from high school still lurks in the shadows of my mind and memories. When these blips happen, I wonder why.
Perhaps my looser grip on relevance in and to the wider world now has more to do with my growing sense of mortality rather than a base need to feel admired or respected by others like I used to. Maybe I’ve realized that the currency has changed. At some point, it had to. Instead of my tastes in music or fashion trends, I want to know that my love and presence matter more to others and will be what leaves a lasting impression. Yes, I think I’m coming to see that this is what makes a nisefukinlife.
How does your relevance to others play into your life, if at all? Has its importance diminished over time in certain circles?
In case you missed it, I was at Literary Mama earlier this week. Come see!
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
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