May 18

Re-frame

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I want to write in the third person to get some distance from my flaws.

I want to believe Madeleine L’Engle when she writes that our flaws will get us through.

I want to tell you that my youngest donned a helmet and a harness and climbed halfway up the rope ladder and almost made it to the climbing wall. That she hugged me when she was done. It was success to just get her onto the rope part of the climbing exercise. It was success for me to say yes when she asked to come down.

I watched other kids get to the top. I cheered with the class.

And the boy who told my daughter she did a good job, he’s the one that saw her for who she is and reminded me yet again how I get in my own way. I mean, I saw that too, but I also let my mind muddy her success as I wondered why she didn’t go a little bit further.

The tree root I rested on reminded me of my own strengths, how re-framing is the only way I get through the day. How I closed my eyes and knew my mind will never get me where I need to go. Only loving gets me through. I knew success when I saw it: Annie on the wall, Annie hugging me in victory. I also knew the feeling of watching other kids and wondering at how different they are. How easy it is to cheer the Olympic athlete. How easy to be jealous, too, to want what is not our life.

When I was in high school, I peaked as a runner my sophomore year. It was glorious to make the varsity team. I never had a year like that again with running, but after that it was the team that was the gift. Lately I’ve been piling through high school pictures, so I can remember what it was like to be 16. At 16, belonging was everything. There I am, next to my teammates, joking around on the bus. There’s the locker sign they made me that reads, “Best Singer.” Not because I was the best, but because I was the worst, but I loved singing and I sang loud and often. I spread my joy and my friends were glad for it.

My tale today isn’t perfect, and my flaws don’t seem to get me through. But sitting on the tree root with my eyes closed, I came to that knowing once again that every kid is on some path that is not visible from the outside. And my mind tricking me into thinking my kid should be the one at the top: um, not helpful. More helpful: the boy that sees my daughter and says, “Good job climbing.”

It’s also easy to heap envy or even dislike to the kid on the top. And then I remember the girl on my cross-country team who won state every year. How gracious and funny and human she was, sharing with us things I won’t even write here. She made me faster because I ran with her at every practice. She’s probably why I peaked sophomore year. That’s what people are talking about when they say classes should be mixed. It would be great if the hierarchy would disappear in those mixed classes. Yes, it would be great if life were perfect. Instead, it’s just this: Messy, me re-framing while sitting on a tree root. My daughter hugging me so happily after she un-clipped her harness form the climbing rope. The air cool and clean and the trees not caring about my flaws.

 

 

 

May 11

Fear & Freckles

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Photo by K. Kelley

The years lay down a soundtrack that no one can fall asleep to. Isn’t that why Buddhists ask us to clear the mind? What do you want to believe? That all is suffering, or that each moment is new?

When I take the time to really look at your freckles, I find the path out of my misery.

But still and yet.

So much is unknown. Like the end of the story. Where the arc of history is leading. If her story ever becomes as important as what he said, what he wanted, what he claimed as his.

Yes, I need more freckles and less rage.

A Buddhist I follow tells me fear is under all the anger. Yeah, fear that the world will never change. “Be the change you that wish to see in the world.” Do I need to deviate and tell you who said that? (Writer Brian Morton tells us there is MORE to this bumper-sticker rendition of it.) Will it matter, this being the best me I can be even if I can’t read the news due to the overwhelming grief that bleeds all over my skin as I read it?

The dictionary says faith is complete trust. People who practice religion tell me their faith wavers. Is faith a living thing? Water what you want to grow. My head is full of so much thought. Still, I’m going to water those freckles. And practice turning away from the news while I learn how to swim in the suffering.

May 10

Advice

Blue hills

Advice by Nancy Schatz Alton

“In fact it takes a long time to realize/ your suffering is of very little consequence/ to anyone but you.” –Melissa Stein, from “Seven Minutes in Heaven.”

When the suffering comes the entire house sleeps

Or it feels like that

But the noises tell you otherwise

The rain drips from the gutter

The fridge cycles on and off

Your daughter turns over

Maybe she wakes for two seconds.

Still, the dark is your only company

And she doesn’t make tea

She is silent

Remember how the teens told you

The speaker advised them not to give advice

When friends complain?

How ridiculous, said your teens,

We want advice!

They aren’t 47.

At 16, there’s an answer that sounds right

Existentialism is different at every age

And suffering has consequences:

Some people will leave you when you are ugly

Some people won’t.

Some will say as they drive you to get you finger stitched up

Why don’t you go ahead and cry?

This is a consequence of love

Both the leaving and the staying

You get to grieve the leaving

Send pictures of the stitches.

Your amazement at how the body heals

Worthy of amazement.

Life’s grand pageant: shared.

5.10.2018

May 07

Not Sleeping

riptide-wave

Perfect Blue Tube

The endings pile up and I lay awake at night and think about faith. Not faith in a specific God, but faith that all will be well enough. That I will let go of the outcomes for my kids and they will fly well enough, fly away from me. My oldest stretches and leans away from me hard. If I try to peck closer in: snap, stand back.

And it’s not a hard snap. It’s a lie-awake-at-night and think about faith snap. How my faith in institutions wanes but my faith in my kids grows. It has to grow because their time needing me to hold them all up: it’s over.

A song blows in my ear: “This is how the summer ends.”

Summer isn’t ending, but a new season has been approaching for such a very long time. I’ve been saying hello to it again and again.

Last night I thought about faith. How the world is asking me to have some faith that all will be well enough. To recognize that my friends and family and strangers hold me up. And they’ll hold up my kids, too. That I can fall asleep before my eldest is done with her homework. And she’ll call my name an hour later and I’ll fumble awake. What does she need?

She needed help pulling down her blind.

That’s it. That’s all she needed.

I’m starting to be more silent. Don’t ask about the geometry. Or the small plans. Or the big life plan. Lay in your bed late and night and decide you need some faith.

I wake up in the morning and I have more faith. Which gives me more love. And I hand it out for free.

 

 

 

 

 

May 04

Want

coffee

Want* by Nancy Schatz Alton

 

The older I get the more I want

to see the eagle’s wingspan opening

after he snatches the vole. The more

I want to clearly see my place

in things. If I’m going to die

let me know the ground took

every piece of me and

made something useful

vole-to-the-eagle

wit-to-the-mushrooms

grief-to-the-grass.

5.4.2018

*with a nod to Melissa’s Stein’s poem “How I

May 02

Here Comes The Sun

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Here Comes The Sun

by Nancy Schatz Alton

 

I coast in on the voices of my children

How they sing together at dinnertime

Doesn’t that sound glorious?

It’s warm like the sun.

If I wake up

the rays reach me with joy

& leave my storyline alone.

I catch up:

I really hear the singing.

5.2.2018

Apr 30

Learning to See

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I see the picture of the girls’ choir on their weekend trip and my insides lurch with an ache that’s familiar as my daughter’s profile.

My girl didn’t go on the choir weekend. We paid for the trip. She never really wanted to go. We planned and plotted and called it scaffolding.

The day before the trip, she stayed home sick from school.

We prepped anyway. I steeled myself, grieved a bit, thought to myself, ‘she might not go.”

I hoped she would go. Before she was sick, I knew it would be hard to send her off. I also knew she’d have fun, she’d grow into the weekend because her choir director had her back.

My closest friends told me it was OK if she didn’t go. Good God, we wanted her to go. Our older daughter was on a choir trip already. My older daughter is nothing like my younger daughter. She’s been going to sleepover camp since she was 10. She never turns around to catch a glance of me after she walks toward wherever she is going. She is going, going, almost gone.

That’s not my younger daughter. It’s safe to say my younger daughter needs me 200 percent more than my older daughter.

I’m writing this because I saw the picture of the girls’ choir on their weekend trip and my insides lurched with an ache that’s as familiar as my daughter’s profile.

My daughter woke up Saturday morning and the first thing she said was she didn’t want to go on the choir trip.

We didn’t have a graceful morning. We want so much for our daughter to grow into independence faster than she wants to grow into it. We did have a graceful enough morning. She stayed home.

And we didn’t stay home. We went clamming on our favorite beach. An eagle swooped before us and picked up a vole and carried the vole to his/her ending. We drove to our favorite town by the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We hiked in the rain and were stopped by the hooting of two owls talking to each other. One owl flew by us to meet the other owl on a tree branch nearby. I read Sam Hamill’s poetry on the sculptures in the woods. Our youngest sat on a statue with our dog nearby and my husband snapped a picture that captured the moment. The moment says our youngest was happy: happy to be with us.

I’m writing this because I saw the picture of the girls’ choir on their weekend trip and my insides lurched with an ache that’s as familiar as my daughter’s profile.

To really see my daughter, I have to keep adjusting what I want. It doesn’t feel easy when I see the girls who seem happy to be on the choir trip. There’s an ache. There’s an ache that I have to meet with the truth: my daughter loved staying home. She’ll grow into her independence on her time table, not mine. And then I’ll miss her the way I miss my older daughter. Because life is weird. And while my ache feels real, her profile in front of me is more real than a picture that she isn’t in.

 

Apr 26

Now

nancy4

Now
By Nancy Schatz Alton

 

I’m on the edge of something.

Its curves lead to my flaws,

the messes I’ve made,

the ruptures followed by repair.

 

I’m dancing to Prince.

My youngest returns all notes

with her perfect pitch

We’re weaving a story out of song.

 

One of my oldest friends

hands me back myself:

an introvert who parades as an extrovert

a girl who can’t stop singing.

 

I find an old hat.

Everyone in the family

tries it on.

We all wear it best.

 

I’m opening paint cans.

every brush is colored orange.

My skin glows pumpkin.

My daughter snaps a picture.

 

I’m standing on the S-curve.

I’ve forgotten all the math.

I let go of the equation.

I let the music move me.

4.26.2018

 

Apr 23

Arrived.

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Dale Chihuly glass art

Arrived.

I’m empty-handed & full

plate-cleared & almost satiated.

I stare—open-mouthed—at babies & mamas

while nodding at the woman with the teary-eyed teen.

My amazement never ends,

my how-did-I-get-here verbalized,

my seething annoyance at too-much-science homework

handed down—generation by generation.

I want more-more-more!

just like my baby who tore pieces from me:

which I no longer want back.

I open up my palms—wide & say to the universe:

Thank you.

-Nancy Schatz Alton, 4.23.2018

 

Apr 17

The Nest

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I want to be in the choir. In step with the people who are snapping their fingers, stomping their feet, slapping their legs. Harmonizing. I am out of step but fully ready to immerse myself in joy. To say I belong even if I’m out of tune and still learning the song.

***

I grab backwards and flip through old pictures. There I am: in cross country. At camp. College. Young, tiny, beautiful. Experiencing belonging outside of my home.

***

My daughters are in choirs. They can’t snap their fingers, but they can sing in tune. They are teens and they are belonging to new worlds. Choir and friendship groups. Camp and school. They belong in our home, too. We make a nest and we settle in. They jump out and fly back in. The nest is always here.

***

I am in choir with them. Chris is in choir with them. We have a song and a melody. My girls bring us their favorite songs and we bring them our stories. I reflect back their light and I turn my light toward them. I am in the choir. The slip-stream of the now is where I want to be. I gather rocks from the beach and I sweep up dirt. I am weaving a nest for where we are today.

 

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