Day 9: Age Eight

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Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Nine.

I was eight when I tasted my first bagel with cream cheese. Linda Hoffman brought one to my third grade classroom, and she tore off a small piece at snack-recess and let me try it. We were leaning against the metal bars on which we would fling ourselves forward and backward, tumbling in dizzying summersaults, until our hands and knees were raw and blistered, and I popped the chewy, creamy bite in my mouth. It’s been decades now, and that bite was still one of the best things I have ever eaten.

My teacher was Mrs. Hessenflow, and I still occasionally catch a faint wisp of the perfume she wore when I pass an older woman in a department store. When I was eight, she seemed to be about eighty. But she was kind and gentle, and she had patience with me and my wiggly, pencil-chewing self.

I had my first crush, and it was a monster crush, sitting in her classroom. His name was Erik, and he had blond hair and bright, rosy cheeks. He would make my own cheeks flush and I had no idea what to do with those feelings, so I would run away from him. Then I would sit in class, chewing again on my gnawed pencil, brushing the flakes of Ticonderoga yellow from desk, and wondering why my sneakers were never as white as Renee Steinberg’s shoes. No matter what I did, I just couldn’t keep my shoes white, or even tied. I didn’t know having white shoes should matter, but it somehow made me feel deficient, and I coveted having clean sneakers. Then I would go outside again, and forget that I wanted white shoes, and would jump over puddles, run from boys who gave me the oddest sensation in my tummy, and climb trees on the edges of the playground. They let us do that back them- climb trees, play in the dirt— we even had a wood cart with hammers and nails and scraps of wood we were free to play with. The wood cart always had a crowd of children around it. No one at the wood cart had clean shoes, either.

The whistle would blow, and I would drop from the metal bars to examine the new, broken open blisters dotting my palms, and run towards the drinking fountains, where the tepid California water would sting the raw skin and the smell of metal wouldn’t go away. Sweaty and disheveled, I’d bounce towards the line outside my classroom, my orange dress disheveled and my shoes untied, once again. So much for appearances.

Day 8: Birthdays

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Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Eight

When I think of birthdays, I think of the day Jeffrey was born, the day I became a mother, and the day I first ever was certain of a belief in God. All points and directions in my life triangulated at that moment. It felt like the fullness of time, place and spirit. A pinpoint of light, tearing open the veil of heaven in the smallest—but very brightest—and most unmistakable way.

His eyes were still squeezed tightly shut, his body covered in the vernix of birth. They laid him on my chest, and I marveled, almost unable to breathe, that in that moment, something that wasn’t only a moment before, suddenly was. How was this possible? Where did he come from? I gingerly stroked his velvety cheek with my finger, almost afraid to touch him. The perfection of a newborn still leaves me in awe, every time.

Slowly, he opened one eye, the other smashed into my chest, his fists curled up like flowers still unfurling from their protective sepals. Tears were running down my face, and I looked up- he was a redhead! He had no hair, but his lashes— his tiny, new, curling lashes, were the color of a bright new penny. In all the years I imagined my child, I never once imagined a copper-haired baby. But there he was, and I was head over heels in love.

I have no idea how long I lay there holding his curled body against my warmth. I know the doctor was busy doing unseemly things to me, but I wasn’t paying attention. I was blown away at the act of creation, that creation happened through my body, and that this baby— this very clearly someone-baby—was suddenly, just-like-that, embodied. I was a mother. And I knew there was a God. It was a pretty triangle.

Day 7: (Un)Finished

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Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Seven

I am terrible about finishing things. The better part of my life has been spent making stuff- painting, writing, sewing, knitting, babies, cooking. And while I finished the baby-making and I usually finish dinner, there are very few projects or goals I finish, really finish, on the first pass. I used to feel bad about this- when I would paint, I imagined if I didn’t finish it the first go-through, it was never getting done. And it became something of a self-fulfilling prophesy. I believed the story I told myself about me.

As the years have swept over and past me, I find I look at many things differently now, and my propensity to leave things unfinished is actually okay. I come back to them, I rethink my ideas, I circle around, with a new perspective, like ascending a spiral staircase. As my life moves on, I come back around to themes and vistas that are familiar, only I am not exactly in the same space, and I can add something different to my work. There is nuance in trusting myself this way.

Recently I have been listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History, and he spends one whole cast talking bout creativity, and the process by which art and made-things are brought into the world. There are people who burst full-force and fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus, they are Picassos. There are people who incubate, who spiral around, who revisit and retool and rewrite; they are Cezannes. Both are important and vital. Age makes me more comfortable with the duality in my own life- there are times I am Picasso, and there are times I am Cezanne. Both manifest differing impetus to create in my life, and both yield important, if very different results.

I think the trick is to be kind enough to yourself to allow yourself the room to be both.

One of the things I have Cezanne’d is finishing my graduate degree. I started, full steam ahead, but when my program was changed and I was offered a spot in a different cohort, it wasn’t what I wanted to do, and I found myself at an impasse. It seemed like a good time to take a break, and now, education-wise, I am a lonely train on a siding, and I’ve got some weeds around my wheels. Honestly, I love (love!) being in school, but every time I mention it, my kids audibly groan and side-eye me. They remember my college years, unlike most kids, and they know the work involved. But it bothers me that I left it undone.

When I am kind to myself, I actually see the body of my work, and it cannot be summed up in a degree or in a trite statement. The things I have created are complicated, varied, vast— and maybe some of them are even meaningful to some people besides me. My life has not been simple or boring, and the stories behind the things I have made might one day fill books. More and more, I am hearing the whispering: It’s time.