A few years ago I was beautifully and impossibly stuck in grief. Why would I use the word beautifully? Goodness, that’s ridiculous and insanely weird. What’s beautiful about all those tears that streamed down my face as I pushed this rock that I thought of as my daughter’s learning issues up a hill?
She repeated kindergarten. I repeated beating myself up for not getting help sooner. As I watched her struggle and realized the depth of her despair, I thought, oh, it’s my fault, let me add more rocks to the pile and I’ll keep pushing her up the hill as she learns how to read and count and not be afraid of the dark.
In reality, I was pushing this rock that was myself up the hill. A friend said to me, this is her rock to push. You just have to get out of her way. This friend was quietly telling me to deal with my stuff. Lord, I have stuff, rocks and rocks and years and years of stuff. I hardly worked during these years of despair. Instead my work was sitting in my office and crying as I wrote about those rocks and rocks and years and years of stuff that I needed to clear away so I could see her.
I wrote an entire rough draft of a memoir about my daughter learning how to read and count and not be afraid of the dark. People read it and told me it was too dark. So I added moments of lightness and happiness. Wait, I thought, despite the hard tutoring sessions my family managed to have fun. As I wrote I saw we were getting through something but that friend was right. This getting through was a lot about me figuring my shit out. I wrote five drafts of that memoir.
I couldn’t let go of that memoir. I wanted it easily published so I could say, look, I turned despair into beauty and grief into pretty words. I signed up for a nine month long memoir class and told myself I needed to find an agent who would sell that book by the end of the memoir class.
Wouldn’t it be great if I could write right here that my memoir is coming out in a few months? That rock I pushed up the hill that I thought was my daughter but was really myself, we are done pushing that rock up the hill. Ha, I dropped out of the memoir class. Taking a class actually made me stop working on the book. I didn’t know how to fix the manuscript to make it as good as Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. People in the class had real problems, too. Who wants to read a book about a girl who has dyslexia and her inconsolable mom? Why can’t this woman stop crying? Dyslexia? WTF?
I wanted perfection but as soon as I stopped writing the memoir I looked around. My life was pretty great and that daughter of mine who I was doing an excellent job of helping was learning how to read. She could finally count up to and past the number 30 (30, her brain didn’t want to learn the number 30 for 6 months, I kid you not). As her worry over being stupid waned, I learned to call her fear of the dark anxiety. Wait, I’m anxious. Reading about her anxiety soothed my anxiety. I saw writing the manuscript had cleared me out of many cobwebs, too.
And I didn’t pick up my pen again. I laid down the rock of creating the greatest memoir ever about the scintillating topic of dyslexia because in truth the book is about the mom who can finally see her daughter by word number 80,000. And her daughter is beautiful and smart and learning and still afraid of the dark.
And the mom no longer thinks of learning differences or disabilities or whatever you want to call them as rocks that we need to push up the hill. They’re just parts of my girl, like her singing voice and sense of humor and her love of big words with many syllables. And the rock that is my stuff? Oh, some days it’s heavy and I have to write a poem or an essay or cry a ton or walk a few miles until I ease my grief. Mostly though, my beautiful grief that I spilled all over the pages of my manuscript found a home and I changed into someone who’s so glad I wrote a manuscript that may or may not ever be fixed or published or famous. I’m no longer impossibly stuck.
I want a ribbon or a bow to tie up these words that I just wrote for you. There’s no ribbon or bow. There’s still a girl that cries over homework and is years behind in math. And there’s a manuscript I do want to work on again someday. But I’ve stopped thinking of her learning issues as heavy boulders. I’m not Sisyphus and I know my daughter is strong enough to manage her problems if I’m at home waiting to gather her in my arms. At night I lay in the dark with her, hoping someday soon she’ll learn to like night time more, too. But mostly I’m just enjoying the dark and the privilege of laying with my girl as I marvel at the years we survived to get to this beautiful safe place we call home.