Saturday, August 18, 2012

Still Life with Mother

Of course the best thing about being a writer is being able to work while wearing pajamas. But, in additional to sartorial freedom, I’d always had a vision of the writing life that included a loyal dog, curled at my feet, waiting patiently while I tapped out my latest assignment.

I’ve had a number of dogs over the years. Their degree of loyalty has varied, but they were consistent in their refusal to do the feet-curling thing. The best I’ve ever been able to achieve is a vague lingering in a nearby hallway, but barking at passersby out the side window has always proved a more enjoyable way to pass the daylight hours for my ill-bred canines.

I have to admit that the dogs are not to blame. The problem is me. I had to laugh when I read a recent report that sitting still for too long at work will kill you. If that’s the case, I’ll live forever, because I’m continually hopping up from my desk for a pointless household errand or unnecessary cleaning chore. No wonder the dogs don’t stay nearby. They’re in constant danger of being run over by my desk chair, as I suddenly remember that I need to switch the laundry to the dryer, turn off the tomato hose, or take cookies out the oven. On especially boring conference calls, I put on a headset and prowl my kids’ bedrooms, dusting furniture and tidying drawers.

I just don’t sit still for very long, which is bad during corporate meetings, but great for my longevity, I guess. Still, it makes me a less-than-ideal pet owner, and I suspect it makes me a difficult mother, too. I’m sure my children remember me as little more than a blur, one who promised to sit down for a nice long game of Barbies and who always sprang up to start a batch of brownies, instead.

The one time I slow down is at night, when I quickly decelerate to sloth-like levels. Talk to me at night (if I’m still awake), and I won’t seem like the same person who gyrated from room to room that morning. I have a tendency to head for bed around sunset, which is swell in July and becomes a bit problematic in December.

My children, God bless them, seem to have adjusted. And this week, as the weather cooled and the skies grew dark at  8 p.m., I found an unexpected side benefit to my sudden need to lie flat when the stars came out.

Each of my girls managed to find me, stretched out upstairs with a book. And they began to talk. Mary showed up on Sunday,  the night before she left for camp, and shared a week’s worth of dreams and worries about being a high school freshman in the fall. Emma presented herself a couple nights later, and told me more about her nine months in China than I think I had heard since she arrived home in June. She came back the next night for more of the same.

It makes, sense, of course. When fall evenings come, they finally know where they can find me. I’m not searching for my car keys because I’m late for yoga, I’m not racing off to see a friend who needs help of one kind or another and I’m not spazzing out the door for another volunteer gig.

I’m here. I’m quiet. Because I’m moments from unconsciousness, I’m probably much better at listening. I lack the energy to talk too much, ask too many questions, or offer unwelcome motherly opinions. I am, short of the moment I slip into a coma, about as receptive and available a mother as I will ever be.

And when I wake in the morning, usually at the absurdly early hour that comes to those who turn out the light at ten, the first thing I think of is the last thing I saw the night before – the sweet and shining face of one of my girls, as she opened her heart to a mother who was practicing stillness, in all its glory.

1 comment:

  1. Brought a tear to my eye as tonight is my last night to do anything remotely close to this as my oldest and only daughter leaves for college in the morning. Let's see if either of us can lay still tonight to have a chat or if we end up running around like chickens without heads packing the last of college necessities.

    Wonderful story - thank you for posting.

    Kelly Emerson