Crossing Trestles

I handed in my final Master's project on Motherhood and the Imagination on the first day of May. So you would think all this free time would come rushing in the world would open back up. In some ways it has. I don't feel so pushed every morning as I walk the kids to school and daycare. We take our time. Play little games outside. Notice the flowers everywhere, the house sparrows. I bring the kids snacks when I pick them up--washed, cut-up fruit--instead of wasting money buying some junk at CVS because I didn't have any time in the morning to even think about after-school snacks. I love taking in the season with them. Not in the mind-set of "just get through the week" or only half listening to Wally talk about how the Titanboa could have killed T-Rex because I'm thinking about how to use what Derrida said about spectrality to find agency in 18th-century "daughters of folly"...all those days of tripping toward deadlines and somehow--not wanting to--but always seeming to be racing ahead.

But we all do race ahead, right? Like the freight train in that folk song, we run so fast. We have to keep catching ourselves and telling ourselves not to. Telling ourselves to take deep breaths. To be in the moment. To be where we are. Be here now. 

I remember last year someone telling Wally (on one of the first days of June) that June was essentially over and therefore First Grade was essentially over and it bothered me, that race to the finish line--and then, what? Always on to the next thing -- pushing babies to get through milestones and into toddlerhood and once they're toddlers we can't wait until they can do more fun stuff not just toddle around and we think about Pre-K and K and once they're in elementary school, racing through the what? 

The lilac bush that we watch and wait for day after day on our way home bloomed so quickly and faded so fast.Thank goodness one Friday evening toward the end of April we all went outside after dinner and enjoyed those magical trees. It was supposed to rain that night (that was the beginning of that stretch of cold rain, day after day) and I knew that might really be the last time to enjoy the pink blossoms. It was. The blossoms were gone in the morning. Here the kids are outside. 

Yesterday I was going through books to bring to the rummage sale at Wally's school. This book—Freight Train by Donald Crewes—I put in the give-away pile. 

Wally is reading The Indian in the Cupboard and as much as I truly believe all ages can enjoy picture books (and many times, the vocabulary in them is more challenging than in early readers or chapter books), I think we've read this one enough times. There's too much stuff in the house. He's not the train-crazy-kid he was. I stared at it in the give-away pile with too-small sweaters and a mini pair of rain boots. I remember how way before he could read he knew the words, like kids so often do, how he would recite "Red caboose at the back, Orange tank car next...". How, also like kids often do, he knew odd words at an early age, like trestle.

I pulled the book out of the give-away pile. I went about the other things I had to do. Laundry, grocery shopping, working on my two upcoming books, going up to Fordham to take care of some paperwork for Poets Out Loud (the job will end in a couple weeks). Racing back to pick up both kids, get ready for the graduate student social up in the Bronx, meet up with Alex, hand off the kids with their snacks. I asked Alex, "Do you have water for them?" He said, "I didn't think of water." How do you not think of it? They always need it. Especially if they're going to stay at the playground for a long time. On these beautiful nights, we stay as long as we can. 

I raced up to Rose Hill campus and tried to soak it all in and enjoy the lovely green grass and blooming azalias and seeing the grad school friends who will mostly continue on with their studies while, for now at least, I take a different path.

What path?

Walking Petra to her daycare another mother asked me my plans for next year. Would I keep her there or move her someone else? In New York at least, people are always moving their kids around. Day to day and year to year. Moving their kids around. I said I really didn't know what I was going to do. Last year (2014-2015) Petra had been in childcare only 3 days a week, home with me 2. That made work and grad school a bit crunched, but it worked out okay, and I still had that time with her. This past year she was in full time. But for what? For me to work. For me to go to school. Working, that one is "easy" psychologically - we kind of have to both work to some degree, even with our incredibly low rent. School was a choice, but why did I make it at that particular time, when she was so young? Why didn't I focus more on her early years? Why did it seem so important to reach my own professional goals? Goals that got choked off—like my album, The End of May—with parenthood. 

Maybe partly I'm thinking of the article I linked to a few weeks back, God I can't even find it now, can't remember the woman's name. She talked about how she got right back to work as soon as she had her baby and then realized that was kind of sad, to pride yourself on acting like you don't have a baby, when you do.

So I answered the woman, whom I really barely know, that I wasn't sure and was wondering if I might want to stay home with Petra even though I know that's ludicrous given that she's now at an age when she really does seem to benefit from the social interaction and stimulation of a daycare/preschool setting. This other woman said she felt exactly the same way. The same question was nagging at her. She said, of her daughter, walking beside her at the time, "I just realized that she'll go to one more year of preschool. Then it's onto elementary school and then that's it."

Yes, that's it. I thought, as I looked around Wally and Petra's room yesterday, hustling to clean it up a bit before I left for work because on nights Alex puts them to bed by himself he seems to find it so challenging to locate pajamas or stuffed animals or anything.  

Not, that's absolutely it. They're still around in the afternoons and weekends and vacations. It's not quite an empty nest. But there is something final about it. Those early childhood years. Those quiet, long, shapeless days. Those mornings reading picture books together on the rug. Making play-doh and playing dress up and settling into a rhythm together. Taking a walk, just a walk, not to anywhere, with a child who doesn't really know or think about anything else but your own little world together. That's it. Even now, just lately, I feel something different when I'm in the room playing with the kids. Petra's still fully immersed, but it's like Wally's partly not there. Partly he's thinking about the playground or friends at school. Just as my nieces--the last few times I've played with them--have suddenly seemed not fully in the game, playing maybe as much to please me as anything else, a different kind of role-playing, playing the role of the younger child who could fully inhabit that role. 

The lesson is partly the same one I always spin and spiral around back to—staying in the present moment, at much as you possibly can. The beginning of May is not the end of May. Sometimes those last days of school in June can be epic, fully live-in, sweeping days, the most inside a certain grade you ever feel. 

But there are other threads to tug at, in days and months to come. Why is it that I am faced with the choice, the difficulties, the distress, the tugs, of mothering OR career, while fathers do not seem seem to be torn by that same "or"? 

I'll begin, now that I'm done with my academic work—at least for now—by trying to be here now, and doing what I can to re-imagine motherhood.

Last night when I got home from the Bronx the whole house was asleep. On the couch, with plastic cups of milk left out unwashed, Freight Train. They had read it before going in to brush their teeth. I flipped through the last few pages. There's the train, "Going by cities, crossing trestles, moving in darkness, moving in daylight, going, going..."


  1. Ah, to be engaged like a kid watching a freight train; each car adding to the wonder.

  2. Oh boy, this one hit me right in the heart. "Those quiet, long, shapeless days... Taking a walk, just a walk, not to anywhere..." These days are so magical and fleeting. But sometimes I feel caught within the confines of the shapelessness, and the walks to anywhere make me feel restless. (We're going through a challenging phase of being 2 + a terrible cold + trying to wean, a negotiation I continually lose.) I am stretching toward autonomy, trying to decide what's next. The balancing act feels wobbly right now. But your lovely reminders, enjoying the short-lived lilac blooms, taking Freight Train out of the giveaway pile, are so heartening. Thank you for this beautiful post.

  3. Thank you Sarah for your response. I feel like we're looking at those lilac days from opposite vantage a're still immersed, but "stretching toward autonomy" -- love that, and totally know what you mean, as despite all the physical exhaustion of those days somehow in them there is not the kind of personal stretching or self-individuation that we so desperately seek, or not enough of it, not enough time to grasp and process and move forward oneself. Yes, your response makes me face the reality of the confining nature of the shapelessness sometimes, the restlessness of anytime, and no time. It helps me, to remember that too, not to look back with inflated nostalgia. The time when they are physically dependent on you--nursing or not (to me the first 2 years they are so much needing you physically)--those are just incredibly, incredibly hard.

  4. Hawkeye - thanks for the image of the seemingly infinite freight train. Yes! To be fully engaged by wonderful.

  5. I sense that you need some time to decompress and transition - taking some of those walks, reading stories, living with your children through some shapeless summer days... I hope you can relax and enjoy this season, for as you say, Today is today, not the end of the month, so take it as today and be who you want to be, do the things that a mother does with children the ages that yours are today, and don't feel bad about putting the brakes on the crazy train that is speeding dangerously out of control. Let it be a choo-choo a little longer, with lovely art and colors.

  6. Yes - that is exactly it Gretchen - time to decompress and transition. Thank you for this beautiful comment. Today is today - yes! Very Zen. I know from your writing that you are masterful at staying in the moment.

    1. Ha! Well, I write about staying in the moment a lot, but it seems that when we are writing about the moments themselves, we have to step out of the present moment trying to capture the past ones in words. I love the line in a Steve Miller song, "Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin' into the future."

      I bought the book Ongoingness: The end of a Diary but it's really kind of painful to read the author's thoughts that force me to examine my own tendency that she chronicles for herself, the "need to document herself amid ongoing time." In other words, a book about examining myself examining myself. Ugh.

    2. It's true about stepping out of the present moment to write about it, or to capture the past. Yet writing always grounds me and makes me better able to sink into the moment, appreciate and experience the fullness of it. Examining oneself examining oneself...totally relate to that!

    3. I know - writing makes all the moments better! ;-)


Post a Comment

Popular Posts