She comes to me with a handful of supplies: paper, scissors, tape, ribbon, glitter, glue.
"Let's build a castle," she says, "and mermaids to live in that castle."
She learned at school you can make people out of clothespins. So why not mermaids?
"For Christmas, we should have cake. Carrot cake so it's healthy. And I want to make a castle to go on top of the cake and we'll sing about how thankful we are for our family...Also, I want to write a book about sea animals."
She brings me a stack of drawings on construction paper. Carefully, she sifts through each one and places them in order. Her hair is wild, uncombed, that of a writer on deadline. She thumbs through, considering each crayon image, rearranging a few papers. Editing. Finally she is done and we staple them together and then she dictates the story.
"On this page, there's a manatee and I want you to write how we saved the manatee from being hit by a boat and we rescued it and we named her Sparkle."
Sparkle The Manatee? Got it. I'm writing as fast as I can, trying to keep up with her imagination. I'm writing as fast as I can and it's not fast enough.
I've learned I can't stop the creative process. Not hers. Not mine. When you have it, the creativity gene, it's a force you can't control. You just have to write or manifest whatever thing is pushing its way out of you -- be it story or drawing or clothespin mermaid.
Otherwise, if you put it off, if you suppress it, if you try to say "later, honey," it will ferment and become a violent, two-headed, snaggletooth beast that will strangle your heart. Not pretty.
People envy the creative, but really we suffer a lifelong battle, an internal tug-of-war between what we have to do (eat, brush our teeth, pay bills) and what our body wants to be doing (creating, thinking about creating, reading other creative works, sleeping and dreaming about creating). I don't tell Bronwynn this. Somehow I think she already knows.
When it comes time to talk to her about being a Creative Person, I will warn her of the pitfalls. The tortured artist is not a stereotype for nothing. But I'll also show her how to share her gift with others, bask in the support and love of people who value her creative mind. I'll teach her how to remain present, how to dip her toes in the past and future without being fully consumed. I'll help her learn to shut her brain off in healthy ways (exercise, laughter, prayer, maybe a little wine).
"Mommy, if I build a house on the bottom of the ocean, would you come visit me?" she asks. "I need to be closer to the sea animals. I want to know how they feel."
Of course, I tell her. I close my eyes and we're already there, together.
"Your temperature is 24 inches, Miles. That's bad."
"You know, Mom, I think Spiderman is a really good show to watch, because it teaches you how to be a superhero. We should watch it as a family and learn."
"I'm not cleaning up. I'm stacking up the mess so it looks tidy."
"I don't understand what God is doing flying around in outer space. I think he should come down here so I can see him."
"Mama, I not pick up toys. I kitty cat. I not have any hands."
"Mama, I love you too. And I love Evil Dr. Porkchop."
"The library people are so nice. They let you just take all the books without paying for them."
"For Christmas, I'm asking Santa to bring me a caterpillar that comes with a dinosaur. But if Santa can't bring me all the presents I want, it's okay. I won't be mad. Maybe he could just bring me a butterfly."
As is the case with home improvement projects, this one took longer and cost more than we expected. But we're thrilled with the result. No more toddler death pit! Just a wide open patio for lounging, for the kids to play on....for us to sit (on camp chairs for now).
Someone asked, and I wanted to clarify that this was not a DIY. We designed the space ourselves, but then hired a contractor to do the grueling work of busting out the existing concrete, leveling the space, filling in the pit and laying the tile.
The pit is now a planter with agave and various flowering groundcover. With winter temps in the 70s, we'll be able to enjoy this space immediately :)
It could be the heat (92F in November)
It could be the construction noise in my backyard
It could be an overwhelming empathy for Sandy victims
Or sadness for this family
Or, the fact that Miles started preschool, and I miss him
Or the constant push-pull of work and family
It could be any of those things. Or all of them. Or stuff that I can’t even name. But something is…off. I’m feeling the weight of things. And I don’t think I even knew it until my husband sat me down this morning, put his arm around me and asked what is wrong. "You're unhappy," he said. I am? "Yes, you are." How long have I been unhappy? "About a week," he said.
And then later, a woman I had just met said my eyes look sad.
As if on cue, I started weeping.
I truly hadn’t realized. I’ve been doing what so many of us do – keeping busy. Smiling. Carrying on. I’ve been in constant motion, checking items off a never-ending to-do list, moving swiftly from one urgent matter to the next, pushing away any nagging sense of sadness, loneliness, fatigue. It’s all too inconvenient.
But then, someone names it, someone sees me, all of me, and I realize my plan isn’t working.
Have you been there? Are you there right now, running the gauntlet alone? I have to wonder, because I look at everyone around me, and we’re all so FREAKIN’ BUSY. Each one of us, more harried than the next guy. It’s like we’re all running a parallel race, sprinting as fast as we can... but to what finish line?
I worry that we’re too busy being busy. We’re too busy to slow down and feel joy or sadness and support one another (beyond a thumbs-up or sound byte on social media). I worry that we’re all hiding.
Like many of you, I’ve been using November as an excuse to count my blessings -- which are in fact too numerous to count. I went for a run Sunday morning and felt some of the first cool breezes of the season across my skin. I felt gratitude for a strong, healthy body…and for the loving family who welcomed me home with fresh coffee and breakfast.
I have so much. I am fortunate.
But, for me, it’s not enough just to list everything I’m grateful for. What if thankfulness is sharing who we are and receiving the same from others? I want to be actively grateful by being open and honest and giving of myself…and creating space for others to be more open and honest and giving of themselves.
Of course, this is not without risk. Vulnerability is not championed in our culture. I know this well. I have been honest and vulnerable and I have been punished by those who would rather I not rock the boat. Maybe you have been too.
But I think about who I am and who I want my children to see, to model. I want to stop going it alone. I want to be real, to be open to grieving with those who have lost so much, even if that makes me the strange lady weeping at the post office. Because, while some would avert their eyes and walk away…others – like this woman – might grab your hand and give it a little knowing squeeze without saying a word.