time

To my Beloved: the last days of six

October 5, 2015

It’s just after eleven pm on your seventh birthday, and you are sleeping in my bed, snuggling two of your favorite stuffed animals.

It’s been years since we co-slept, years since you hollered for me in the middle of the night most nights of the week. These days you are a bunk-dweller. You climb up past my reach and stay up too late with your comic books and your headlamp. When I tell you to go to sleep you sigh and say “Just two more pages.” When I climb up to change the sheets, I can feel the traces of you in your empty bed, the grit and the scent, as if I’ve invaded your lair.

But tonight for your birthday you asked to sleep in my bed. You said that you wanted to listen for the owl who’s been hooting outside my window for the last two weeks, the same call I heard seven years ago as I lay in this same bed breathing through contractions.

You are seven already. How is that?

I’ve been thinking all week about things I might want to tell you in some future year.

  1. Last week I brought you to the free movie night at your school. You’d been begging me all week and so I hustled to get us all fed after work and make it to the gymnasium by six. I was surprised to see a girl your age greet you and chase you across the gym, and then more surprised when the movie started that she took a seat next to you on the floor. And actually, she wasn’t just next to you, she was against you. Eventually she rested her hand on top of yours. You let her. And in the moment a part of me cried out NO! Not Yet! while a larger part of me soaked up the feeling I felt between you. It was sweet and expansive. It was warm. My boy is loved, I thought. I took comfort in it.
  1. The week before that I was extra busy at work and had places to be in the morning. I didn’t have time to park the car, to walk you inside of your school, to battle your brother to get back in the car, and so I bribed you to do something you didn’t want to do. I offered you two dollars if you’d let me drop you off at the curb like some of the other parents do, if you’d walk your own self to the door. “Okay,” you agreed with a sigh. I had no idea how nervous I would feel watching you walk alone to the school entrance. All this time I had told myself that you just needed a little push and you’d be ready. It hadn’t occurred to me that I wasn’t ready to watch you walk away. All day I worried about you, as if somehow you might have gotten lost in the twenty feet between the heavy doors and the first grade line, as if you might be wandering our neighborhood, lost and alone.
  1. Your gait that day was excruciatingly slow. You looked at your shoes as you trudged along, and so many kids passed you. I felt sad watching you. That night I asked you, “How did you feel when I dropped you off this morning?” and you gave me a blank stare. “I mean are you sad, or is it okay?” “It’s okay,” you told me. In my mind’s eye I watched you inch so slowly towards the door, and that’s when it hit me: that’s your pace. Slow is how you go when I’m not pulling on your hand, or running after your brother or asking you to CATCH UP.
  1. We don’t talk about your R’s anymore, about the fact that you can’t pronounce them. After seven months of speech therapy, I wanted to give you a break. But I still hear you pause over words that feature R’s. I hear the intention in your voice when you try to say “Grandpa Richard.” I know that someday you will pronounce them, that your struggle to be heard and understood will be just a memory your body carries. I know this, but I can’t yet picture it. To picture you with fluid R’s is to picture you as a grown man, tall, quiet, freckled, and totally independent.
  1. Earlier this month, a kindergartener shoved you on the playground and called you a loser—three times in one recess you said. Apparently this is one tough kindergartener. And though this isn’t the kind of situation I wish for you, I enjoyed hearing you and your best friend brainstorm solutions to the problem. Your friend pointed out that the principal walks through the cafeteria at lunchtime and you could catch his attention then. You reasoned that next year, when you were in second grade and this student was in first, you would no longer share a recess period. You could simply wait it out. But you instantly questioned this strategy. “That’s, like, one hundred and eighty recesses away,” you realized, and recommitted to solving the problem.
  1. You never forgot about Jeremy, the child with a tiny voice who was your best friend for two months in kindergarten, and who moved away and left the school suddenly. I kept waiting for you to forget him but every few months you mentioned him again, pining a bit for the friend you lost. This year, when I asked whom I should invite to your birthday party, you rattled off a few names before you came to Jeremy. You said his name casually, but then looked me in the eye to see if I had heard you. “I’ll see what I can do,” I said. For all I knew he had moved to Kentucky, but I found his mother’s email address in last year’s school phone book. (By the time this phone book arrived it was spring and Jeremy had already been long gone. I doubted you’d ever see each other again.)

Jeremy’s mother wrote back within an hour. They hadn’t moved across the country; they lived a half an hour away. Jeremy’s grandmother would bring him to your party. I was filled with joy for you, but also a little worry. You hadn’t seen him for nearly a year. Once he arrived, would you even care? Would it be awkward? It wasn’t awkward. Jeremy arrived, six inches taller but with the same tiny voice, and carrying a giant box of Transformers. I watched him shadow you for the whole party, and I watched you keep him within the realm of your attention for the full two hours.

I’m not sure why your seventh birthday has hit me so hard—maybe it’s because Kellie is away for work and there’s no one around to distract me from my nostalgia. Or maybe it’s because seven is serious. You have left your baby-ness behind forever. Your mouth is a mess of teeth falling out and growing in, giant grown-up teeth sharing space with wiggling baby teeth. I can see you transforming away from cute and into a self that will continue to stretch and gain angles.

And somehow I wonder, are you going through this too? Do you get a little wistful at your birthday? Is that why you’re snuggled up now with your smallest stuffed animals, your chipmunk and your dog, sleeping in the bed that smells like your moms? Or do you just sense my own wistfulness and respond, as you do, with kindness. If that is the case, well then thank you for humoring me. Thank you, forever, for your patience.

Broken Time

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The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dali, 1931

Of all of the clocks in my life right now, not a single one tells the right time.

To begin with, there’s the giant wall clock in my office at work. Up until last week, it was off by an hour plus some minutes. Daylight savings time had ended, but I still hadn’t gotten around to changing it. Often, when a student or colleague visited my office, they would glance up at the clock on their way out. “Is that the right time?” they always asked, alarmed. “No,” I got used to saying. It was a little funny to watch the momentary panic rise up in them and fade. It’s always disturbing to think you’ve lost your grasp of time.

Earlier this week the clock’s battery died, and now my office time is permanently 9:43. It turns out to be a surprisingly useful time, since I teach at 10 am. If I look up at the clock it conveys urgency—class is starting soon!—while at the same time it’s reassuring—I still have eighteen minutes to prepare. All morning now, I work away as if I have eighteen minutes left.

il_340x270.631451604_gfxxThere is another wall clock in the classroom where I teach, and on the first day, it was stuck at 8:20. The class has continued for two full weeks, and every day the time has been wrong in a new way. On Tuesday it was exactly an hour behind, and on Wednesday it was five minutes ahead. To cope, I’ve been checking my iPhone every so often, which I worry makes me look unprofessional, like a texting professor. Correcting the problem would require me to remember to submit a work order from my office so that a worker could arrive during off hours with a ladder and new batteries. I find myself brooding over what this means, that even in a lecture hall full of computers and cell phones the marking of time still requires maintenance; we still feel the need to look up towards the ceiling and see time marked, accurately, on the round face of an analog clock.

At my house we have two kitchen clocks and they are both ten minutes fast, because Kellie insists this practice helps her be on time. I’ve lived with these kitchen clocks this way for about twelve years, and I’m still doing subtraction every time I glance at them. Subtracting ten isn’t hard to do, but still, the action makes it seem like time is imprecise. In the world of our kitchen, I live in the illusion that I’m always late, or that I always have an extra ten minutes.

Digital_clock_changing_numbersThe bedroom alarm clock, a classic faux-wood box with glowing red digits, is also ten minutes fast. In the bedroom, it must be said, loose time bothers me less. What drives me crazy about the bedroom clock is that Kellie often sets it face down so that the glowing red digits don’t keep her awake. When the face is down, I wake up and look around in darkness, unmoored, unsure if I’ve been asleep for seven hours or twenty minutes.

My internal clock is also broken. Stump has broken it, many times and in many ways. Most recently, he has broken me by refusing to sleep past 5:30. Some mornings he wakes at 4:50; other mornings he makes it to 5:10. (Subtract ten minutes from these times. I’m looking at the bedroom clock.) My body likes to rise at seven, but after two weeks of early rising, I jolt awake now at 5:05. I wonder, will this be the morning that Stump sleeps until six? I try not to stir, for he is next to me in the bed. I can’t help it. I move an arm. He wakes. The pattern continues.

I remind myself that time passes in larger swaths too. When this pattern began, I told myself it would last a few days, maybe a week. Now I tell myself that even if it lasts months it’s still temporary, a blip in my life that I may barely remember at the end of this year.

And, once it’s forgotten, once I am rested, the whole thing will be erased from time, more or less.

Embraced by the Curve of the Earth

Apparently yesterday was one of those days where I had to lash out at two of the people I love the most.

Stump had woken me at 4:50 am for the fifth morning in the row. It’s my punishment for night weaning him. He sleeps beautifully now until 4 a.m., but he just can’t forgive me yet for the last three hours. He wakes a four and coos in my ear “Nursey time? Nursey time?”

“No nursey time,” I whisper, and he cries for a while, and dozes for a while, and then wakes himself up so that he can ask again. “Nursey-time?”

Sometime around 5, I give up and we sit and eat our breakfast with the kitchen light on, the world pitch black outside our windows. At 5 Stump and I are both awake, silent, too tense to return to sleep, but too weary to function as our best selves.

At 7, Smoke rose, curled up on the couch, complained that he was cold and didn’t know what he wanted for breakfast. After minutes of negotiation he settled on an English muffin, and I fried an egg for myself.

While I stood over the pan staring off into space, Stump reached to the counter and tugged on the edge of the open egg carton. It fell to the floor. Every egg tumbled out and broke on the floor.

An hour later, once I finally had lunches packed, bags packed, and all of the bodies dressed, Smoke decided he was “too weared out” to go to school. “You’re going,” I told him. “You can stay home all weekend but today is a school day.” I told him to put on his shoes and meet me at the car.

Usually that works. Usually, the sight of me loading Stump into his car seat is enough to convince Smoke that our departure is imminent. But this time, when I came inside, he was lying on the floor feigning fatigue. And I lost it. “Oh My God,” I said. “I Can’t Believe You.” My voice held all of the crankiness of five days of lost sleep, and all of the rage of having lost control of my life, along with eleven freshly-laid winter eggs. By the time Smoke made it to the car, he was in tears.

Later in the day, it was Kellie’s turn. We had wriggled out of our Friday afternoon obligations to celebrate my birthday, one day late. As we drove to the Olympus Women’s Spa in Tacoma, I fought against my angst. I wanted to want to sit in a hot tub, and I had been looking forward to this outing for weeks, but what I really needed was sleep. And I had work to do. Piles of it. When would it get done? “Do you want to turn around?” she asked. “Don’t even ask me that!” I snapped. If my goal was to make our drive to Tacoma as unpleasant as possible, then I did an admirable job.

Later, after Kellie and I had paid our thirty-dollar entry fee, once I found myself lying on a heated salt floor in a cotton robe and a pink cotton shower cap, once the tension inside me started to uncoil a bit, I remembered that it was my birthday and stifled a laugh. Of course I was threaded with angst, itchy like a healing wound stitched too tight. That’s what birthdays always are for me. An extra celebration once the holidays have ended, one that no one is quite up for. A measuring stick for where my life is abundant, where it is scarce. In the past few years, I’ve tried to cope with birthday angst by celebrating sideways, by spreading out treats over the course of days, rather than focusing on a single day. And I like my birthday, too. I like cupcakes and flowers and Facebook greetings, it’s just that angst is an undeniable part of the thing.

Thorns“Embraced by the Curve of the Earth,” was the title of a blog post I was meaning to write all week and never got to because every evening, once the kids had gone to bed, all I could do was blankly stare at Facebook and tell myself to either write or go to sleep. Instead, I just kept scrolling. The post wasn’t going to be about my birthday. It was going to be about my trip to Whidbey Island with my sister, and I was going to describe, among other things, these two moments.

1. Waking up at eight-thirty in the morning, when the sky was already bright and grey. Noting the feeling of having slept for eight continuous hours. Making tea while my sister slept in the next room and no one pulled on my shirt saying “nursey time”, and no one asked me to carry him from the couch to the kitchen table because his legs were “weared out”. As I settled with my tea, a bald eagle flew right by my window. And I couldn’t remember the last time silence had been so rich or so magic.

2. At the end of that same day, my sister and I went for a two-hour walk along the side of the island. The clouds kept changing, making windows of light and dark. At one point, nearly halfway through, we reached a special spot where it seemed that the earth was a cradle and we were held there in its center. By the time we returned to the car, it was night.

Sometimes I remind myself that time isn’t linear, though I may experience it that way, and so even though I’ve reached the end of a tight and angst-y week, even though my nerves may feel stretched and brittle like an old rubber band, I am still living that moment where the eagle flies across my periphery, and I am still standing in that spot where the earth looks extra round. Because if anything is true, it’s this: every moment, every day, I am embraced by the curve of the earth. Curve1