Are you like us, thousands of miles from your family during the holidays? Even if you’re not, it’s hard to resist doing a few Thanksgiving crafts: turkey cards (cut on the Silhouette – I finally figured out how to use it, only a year after purchasing it on cyber Monday!) with a note inside telling our loved ones how thankful we are for them, and a collaborative mother-son hand tracing fall tree for the grandparents. And we do have so very many things to be thankful for: the basics (which so many around the world don’t have) of clean water, a safe place to live, enough food, relative health, stable employment, good friends, visits with family, and so, so many more that my heart nearly fills to bursting when I stop to think about it. Happy Thanksgiving!
Earlier this summer I was a little saddened to see my son’s reaction to being in the unfamiliar forest (see this) – my beloved forest! He hated it. He cried to go back. Meanwhile, his local cousins happily romped through the ferns and pine needles. Oh, my beautiful, beloved, wonderful Black Hills forest that I’d explored since my earliest days! But during our three weeks there, he began to reach out more, to touch things, to not feel so out of place. This cheered me. One day we followed a path in town lined with purple dame’s rocket and other wild flowers (and invasive weeds, if we’re being honest), and he reached out to touch things and notice them. I was so proud of him, so very happy to see him becoming acclimated to a place (the Black Hills) where being outdoors is basically a part of everyday life. We have the misfortune to not be able to live there currently, but my hope is to claw more and more time each year out for us to spend there, in the place that I love and consider home, and that hopefully he will come to love as well. Baby steps. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
Even now, only November, I’m counting the weeks until we can return in early summer.
rip·ple (ˈripəl), v.t. [RIPPLED (-id), RIPPLING], [Early Mod. Eng.; orig. of stormy, dangerous water; hence prob. < rip, v. + -le, freq. suffix], 1. to form of have little waves or undulating movements on the surface, as water or grass stirred by a breeze. 2. to flow with such waves or movements on the surface. 3. a) to make a sound like that of rippling water. b) to proceed with an effect like that of rippling water: said of sound. v.t. 1. to cause to ripple. 2. to give a wavy or undulating form or appearance to. n. 1. a small wave or undulation, as on the surface of water. 2. a movement, appearance, or formation resembling or suggesting this. 3. a sound like that of rippling water. 4. a small rapid. –SYN. see wave.
That summer, I attend aqua aerobics classes with a handful of elderly women, where I can float and swim with no crowds. Their soft, saggy upper arms wiggle as we raise plastic dumbbells overhead. I find childlike delight in the water. I wonder if you feel as buoyant in your amniotic fluid as I do in the pool. Sometimes I have to stop moving and stand still because the intermittent waves of morning sickness don’t combine well with the splashes and slaps of the water as we bounce up and down with our foam noodles.
My doctors are ultrasound crazy. I see you on the screen many times and imagine waves of sound moving around your body. At thirteen weeks, your tiny arms curl and uncurl on the screen, and I see that your vertebrae have unfurled down your spine with precision.
You travel to many places that summer. We circle the continent in our comings and goings, making loops back and forth between Houston and more beautiful places. Your father and I trace our history and at the same time turn outward to imagine our future, turning to places we’ve already been, and some we haven’t, wondering what travel and life will be like once you arrive.
In New Mexico, I sit on the edge of the hotel bathtub and run mountain-cold water over my dusty feet. The sand from my toes is carried down the tub drain by small ripples. I buy tiny, sweet strawberries at the Santa Fe farmer’s market. Miniscule seeds speckle their red flesh, beginning in a tight whorl at the tip of each berry and spiraling out into wider rings toward the stem. On the way to Taos, we stop at a state park. I stand and watch a small, clear stream running over its rocky bottom while your dad hikes up to a raging waterfall. He shows me a picture of it later, water pounding in a steady rage over a cliff.
In South Dakota, your dad and I walk deep into the woods behind Pactola Lake, following the course of Rapid Creek. He finds the biggest slate pieces he can lift and swings them into the moving water. They crash loudly on the stream’s surface before sinking to the bottom, the impact sending small circular waves toward the banks. I don’t know why he thinks this is so amusing. Ferns are unfurling themselves along the forest floor, tips tightly closed as they lean upward and unroll themselves toward the sun.
In Minnesota, I do the dishes when we visit my mom, your grandma. She’s only 56, but her dementia is moving quickly. Sometimes she will pick up the dishrag and dip it into and out of the soapy water, drops puddling back into the sink from the soaked rag. We visit the largest farmer’s market I’ve ever seen – stands of vegetables, fruit, flowers, and baked goods march onward in even rows.
In Oregon, we rise early, at low tide, and chase to the shore as I did fourteen years previous. The waves flatten on the wide beach. Each footstep in the shallow water makes a lovely splish-splash. I scan the beach for sand dollars, wanting to find them before the flat waves that brought them in carry them back out. Mesmerizing patterns cover the beach, ripples in the sand replicating the ripples of water that have disappeared. Rivulets begin to run into the tide pools as the morning moves toward noon.
In Pennsylvania, we baptize another godchild. She is dunked three times into the large metal font, water splashing up and beyond the lip, white towels already piled around the base. Their folds rise and fall along the floor. In less than a year, it will be your turn for this ancient immersion.
Your limbs move visibly across my stomach as you turn inside. Some women call their contractions waves. I suppose they do start slowly and then build in intensity as a wave does, and to me, they are as violent as the waves we saw pounding a rocky shore in Maine, water still pouring out of the clefts as each new wave came in. I wanted to use a tub for at least part of my labor, but medical interventions make that impossible. We watch the undulations of my contractions on the screen, another line below charting the valleys and peaks of your heartbeat. The two lines are not as synchronized as they should be. I wear a mask, oxygen flowing into my lungs, not for myself but to try to help you. They break my water, thinking it will speed labor. White towels are put out to catch the stream. A photo shows the doctor grasping you as you emerge, a circle of fluid radiating around your head.
You sleep next to me at home and little pools of milk spread out in circles on the sheets. You nurse and then rest, nurse and then rest, rhythmically swallowing. Blue-white milk streams down your chin and onto your neck.
Two weeks old, you relax visibly as the warm water I pour over your scalp trickles down your shoulders. Eighteen months later, you still want me pour water over you in the tub, protesting with a little grunt when I stop. You are mesmerized by the thin cascades of water running down your skin. You hold your hands under the hose as water sprays in a circle onto the perennials, wiggle your fingers in the dog’s water bowl. You pick up the bowl and dump it onto the floor into a huge spreading puddle if I don’t catch you in time.
Each month of your life expands my own, rings of experience and memory growing bigger with time, carrying the three of us forward just as the flattened waves in Oregon slide sand dollars out of the ocean depths and onto the level sand, into the wide open.
I wrote this essay a while back. It originally appeared here.
I’ve been trying to scrape back a little time these last few weeks from our overcommitted days, in disbelief that my son is almost four and with the yearning to be home purposefully spending time with him. I am at home with him, but I take on too many projects and end up spending too much time running in circles. I miss our lazy days of puttering on projects together. Since fall is finally beginning here, today we made time to gather leaves from our backyard with the intention of turning them into wreaths. He just liked gathering leaves, happily scooping up dirt-crusted ones and fallen lime leaves off the patio. He asked to pick some Meyer lemons from the well-laden branches. He glued three leaves into the middle of a paper plate and called it good, but I decided to complete a birch wreath as planned. I glued my leaves around the trimmed edge of a paper plate and will punch a small hole in it when dry to hang it. I feel so blessed to have had that short time in the yard together and, I’ll admit, blessed to have three lovely birch trees! When they turn, I can admire their yellow leaves on the green grass and pretend that I’m in the forest of the Black Hills again.
My son’s creative acts these last ten days have largely revolved around what his grandparents are doing: making pies and cookies with Grandpa, watching Grandma tat snowflakes (like the glow-in-the-dark ones she made for his bedroom mobile.) I rarely bake and I never do hand needlework, so I love to see him enjoying the change of pace, and I love that the grandparents so readily let him join in.
I took my son out early one June morning for a stroll in the meadow near our rented cabin. It was foggy and grey and beautiful, a wonderful time to be outdoors in the Black Hills. I planned to follow an old road bed over a slight hill and see where it went. I took his little hand and he bravely crossed a cattle guard for the first time, placing his feet carefully on the metal bars so he wouldn’t twist an ankle. He seemed braver than I remembered being as a child when I had to walk across cattle guards, something I still don’t like to do. I was proud of him.
We crossed the gravel road and entered the field. Within a few steps, he was unhappily demanding to go back to the cabin. “I don’t like it out here!” he proclaimed. The grass was wet and so his shoes, feet, and pant cuffs were getting wet. The fog was so thick we couldn’t see the horizon. The field was full of yellow dandelions and the very tall grass was a lush green that we don’t ever see in the brown, dusty desert where we live. Perfect conditions to me, but not to him. He began to cry even harder and so I turned back reluctantly, leaving behind my hopes of a beautiful morning walk. I knew all of it was unfamiliar to him, and I knew it must be a bit overwhelming on a sensory level. I remembered our hike the week before and was again saddened by his reaction to being outdoors in a place that I love.
But the next day, when his cousins visited, he very happily followed them back into that field, way out into the deep grass that reached nearly to his waist in places. He even sat down in the tall grass and sprawled out on his stomach, rolling in the grass like a puppy, picking dandelions to show me. The sky was gray with an impending thunderstorm, but he didn’t mind. I was confused by his sudden change of attitude, but also very happy to see him enjoying himself. This time, he was the one who didn’t want to leave the grassy field when we finally had to seek shelter from the storm.
Early one morning at our rented cabin in a remote corner of the Black Hills, I finally brought out the small stones, brushes, and paints that I’d been promising my oldest nephew. We sat down at a picnic table on the piney slope in the cool breeze, where underfoot many lovely little shooting star wildflowers popped out of the thick layers of pine needles. We followed directions that we found elsewhere online, putting down a white base (to help with color vibrancy when the top layers were added), letting it dry, and then completing the image. He made a house, a star, and other symbols that must appeal to seven-year-olds. The younger three also had their turns, happily painting away in the dappled shade. The idea is to create pictures on stones that one can then use to make up stories, arranging the stones in a different order each time and challenging the parent and child to tell a new tale with each iteration. At home, we have used purchased story cards, and my three-year-old adores setting them out before me and waiting to see what story I can come up with.
It seems like just a children’s craft, but it’s so much more than that, as I realized this morning thinking about the various ‘story stones’ that have been added to our life this summer, mainly that of Mom’s passing. Just think of all of the story stones we could paint of our life’s journey: pieces of our identity, challenging events, happy events, accomplishments made. Just as a child can re-arrange a set of story stones to make up a different narrative, I suppose that we can do the same, finding new, creative ways to view the collection of memories and choices that weigh us down at times with their emotional significance. In our mind’s eye, we can set out our story stones and adjust their placement, giving them a new meaning and role just as we might as we make up a different story for our children every time we bring out the story stones they’ve painted.We can add new stones as we grow older, stones that can completely change the meaning of the story, stones that change something that seemed final into something that was just a passing challenge, stones that can turn what looks like a sad story into a happy story.