Put words on the page- even if they are bad. Really bad.
One of my recent posts caused tension and upheaval. I was asked- why do you write this stuff? Maybe that was the voice in my head? Or maybe that was my closest friends? What’s so great about what you have to say? People I love remembered all the reasons I have to be insecure. And then life got crumbly and messy. Christmas became this race against the postal service and my bank account which I always think is fuller than it is. Kids had covid and plans became insular. The condo shrunk. I neglected writing. The camera sat in the bag. I feared the worst. I am not enough. I don’t have enough.
It wasn’t true.
Christmas came and everyone I forgot to trust, showed up.
Before the doom and gloom hit, I had plans to write a brilliant piece- The Three Wise Women. It was inspired by In the Bleak Midwinter and listening to NPR. There was a promo for a story called The Three Wise Guys and that sounded moronic so I plotted my soon to be viral post.
It started like this…
The Three Wise Women
Love was born at Christmastime- a lyric from a sweet sweet song on A Shawn Colvin Christams album that has soothed my anxious heart a thousand times.
I grew up Catholic. Married an atheist. And now I crave Mary statues, angels, and tiny Mexican colorful nativities.
I was venting to my mom and my oldest about the difficulties of gathering the chosen gifts of six kids and my mom wrote back- Your children know that Christmas isn’t about the gifts. PAUSE.
Do we? For us secular Christmas celebrators- it is the season of giving. My big kids and I acknowledge the need throughout time for a holiday in gloomy winter to light our souls. The tree. The music. The blow mold Black Santa. Those chicken wire balls full of lights strung in the highest trees down on Parkwood Street. The coming together. The cookie making. Lovingly gathering treasures our children might enjoy.
The crux of Christmas for me is in the song In the Bleak Midwinter, by Christina Rossetti
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
What can I give the world? Give my heart. My writing and my life and my job and my personality even my enneagram seem to provoke me to share my heart
Our first example of The Three Wise Women. Is it Christina Rosetti who wrote her iconic poem first published in 1872 recognizing, cherishing and immortalizing the simplicity of this revolutionary moment. Mary’s kiss. Offering our heart. Shepherding the lamb all more uplifting and Christmassy than the gold, frankinscence and myrrh. Or is it the Virgin Mary breastfeeding her newborn while sitting on itchy straw in a smelly stable.
Mary is told she is carrying a King of the Ages and what is her birth experience? Riding a donkey while 9 months pregnant, fleeing an evil dictator, unsure of her relationship with her husband. And what does she do after birthing that sweet baby? She loves him and snuggles him and wraps him up like a baby burrito. Keeping her baby warm and fed just like so many mothers.
We arrive at motherhood empty handed and ill prepared and we give our heart.
I never finished that brilliant post. I never do finish the brilliant ones. The stream of consciousness usually come out fine. Typos and hearts on my sleeve pour right out of me but not plots and themes and good writing.
I wanted to shepherd my sheep and make the Christmas cookies but, my reality looked more like fretting about wormhole tights worn by at least one of the Kardashians made in Milan. Some of the kids had opted for money instead of gifts and then I went and bought gifts anyway except for George because he never gave me a list and he avoids new items and products made using current business models. I just kept wrapping. To escape Covid. To escape feeling less than.
Christmas morning, Walt showed up driving around the back alley of the condo loop with a huge bunny hutch exactly like Dolly wanted for Moxie and Mim’s yellow vintage bike overflowing the back seats of his white Wrangler. We all sat outside. At that point four of us had positive test results of Covid. We sat outside with two fires, opening nine stockings moved to wintery bushes instead of hanging form the nails inside. They praised my french breakfast muffins. George gave Addy and Ficken a bench he made for their wedding. Tuck sent gifts from Santa Cruz- pot loving sweatshirts and cryptic message t-shirts. I got precious bumper stickers and photographs. Addy made Walt a calendar full of wedding photos They all got the money they hoped for. And I learned, I’m not alone. This is our Christmas. And moms are responsible for so much of the work. Right- we hear it all the time. But this year, my family had given each other a wonderful Christmas. The change is beautiful and relieving. One day, I’ll be the grandmother in this Christmas scenario. The shift has to happen. The kids are moving to adults. And I am moving too.
When the kids were little, I had a beloved system for the gifts. (I am forever proud and lucky to have been able to be that Santa Claus with Walt all those years.) I used my passion for childhood and created lists- one fine motor toy, one gross motor toy, imaginative play, a musical toy, and an outdoor toy. I can picture three year old Tucky. For instance—Thomas the Train, a red playground ball, the small doll Pepito who is Madeline’s friend, a plastic microphone, and a kite. He turned Pepito into a bull fighter because he had a cape and so did the doll. BeBe and Addy played too. BeBe would be a bull and Addy would be the Madeline doll directing. Tucky carried his trains everywhere. Losing them one after the other and loving them ever so dearly especially the long ones like Henry.
I controlled Christmas. No Barbies. No battery operated toys. No guns. Non- negotiable. My parenting standards were intense and so fucking lovely. We played outside. We stopped and picked dandelions. We lived at a blue playground most days. No monkey bar was too high. The kids dug for worms. Kitchen counters were for homemade play dough and Dixie Chicks concerts. Umbrellas caught rain. The neighborhood was ours. Ben &Jerry’s and feeding ducks on the Potomac’s edge was a lovely day. Kraft Mac and Cheese and a can of mandarin oranges. A bathtub with baby dolls and dinosaurs. Photos on film. Movies on vhs tapes. They knew about homeless people from our Metro outings in DC museums. This was 9/11. The bad guys were still out there. Or over there. They managed to hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon but we knew who that bad guy was, and he was other. And, he was from far away. The Chicks documentary reminded us that war was hell and I saw Kenneybunkport, Maine and knew Bush was other, too. He was mega rich. And mega Texas white. The idea was that if we could just afford the smallest house in this really awesome neighborhood, we would all be safe and happy and whole. And I could keep eating disorders away by putting Barbies in the trash cans. And I could raise peace keepers by opposing guns, singing folk music and teaching kindness. We shared. Kindness is the rule. Nothing like now when the bad guy may wear a police uniform or sit in the Oval Office.
Public school allows us to join the world. And we are of the world. We are the world. But people opt out. They go private. They go religious. They are hungry. They are marginalized. They are too rich. They are so poor. But this was before school. It was when home was their world. Or at least our family was their world. Our little unit ventured out and all over but we were together. (I can’t advocate avoiding the world. I do not see how that will work. And it may be contrary to being a member of community. We are civilized humans living in a civilization.)
This year I mailed Tuck’s gifts to Santa Cruz.
Mim was on the phone with one of her friends and Sophie said nonchalantly “Are you jealous of my big house?” And Mim answered quickly and innocently “Yes, I worry my mama is poor in this tiny house.”
Rounding the curve of 2021 not being able to see what is down the road of 2022.
Mim and I planned Krispy Kreme last night. We wondered of the burnt down one was serving. Mim insisted that her teacher said it is a truck now and you can buy doughnuts there. Due to the gray sky and rain, we slept in. Mim and I set out for Krispy Kreme right after 10. To get her off my phone and youtube or Netflix (Walt introduced her to Shameless? – by Mim’s report-WTH. She finished watching every single episode, every single season of Chicago Med. She fast forwards through some discussions but the surgery scenes do not bother her at all.) I asked her to put on some music- we both love Olivia Rodrigo- even my big girls like her. Mim plugs in our aux cord and finds Olivia’s songs. She navigates the whole system seamlessly.
Have you listened to Olivia Rodrigo? I dared to say that her story telling ability is maybe better than Taylor Swift. Dolly- one of The Wise Women- said Mom, no need to pit them against each other. Olivia and Taylor are friends. They are both gifted in their own right. God- Dolly is smart. I’m so lucky to have access to this knowledge and progress and feminism.
Olivia’s lyrics- mercy- she captures young love so grippingly.
“You said forever now I drive alone past your street.” I emphasize the lyrics to my Mimmy. She is here in some magical ways. Middle school. Teenage-hood. Wanting a boyfriend. Every boy’s attention must be love. I sing the song to Mim and she mumbles it back to me, day dreaming. A boy came up to her in a the school hallway. He was eating a green pepper. He put the half bitten pepper in her face and said -Want some. Want some? Mim said No. He said, you want to be my girlfriend? Mim said No. She told us the story multiple times a day for a couple of weeks. The green pepper made a big effect on her. Why a green pepper? Why would she want it? We told her he was a jerk. A bully. I asked her every time she retold the story if he had talked to her again and she said No. She found him in a hallway and told his friend- Hey, tell him I do want to go out. They were like- what?! Mim reminded him. He said it was a dare. And walked away.
I sing the lyrics and stop after each line to make sure she caught the meaning. This happens to all of us. “Watching reruns of Glee. Being annoying singing in harmony. I bet she’s bragging to all of her friends You’re so unique. She thinks it’s special. It’s all reused. So when you going to tell her that we did that too. When she’s with you do you get deja vu?” We tell Mim stories of dumb boys mistreating us- focusing on the part where we walk away.
The original Kripsy Kreme on Ponce has a temporary fence all the way around. There is the truck that Mim’s teacher described, but no way in. We opt for another Krispy Kreme. We head toward East Atlanta. She holds the phone and reads to me the Maps. It is one of her main sources of reading lately. She will read the episode number and series number as well as episode title of her favorite shows. And she reads text messages. (Reporting that Walt’s new girlfriends wants to cuddle.) The Maps is hard to read. There is a time constraint and numbers mixed with letters and it is customary to say East and not just E. She does an awesome job. I don’t care how long it takes us to get to Krispy Kreme. A few U-turns is worth a little reading- seems like a useful skill.
It is my imagination but I feel Mim ease into her mood as we drive around East Atlanta- More black people. On the sidewalk. In their cars. On billboards and brightly painted walls. Her beauty is magnified. We walk into Krispy Kreme and Mim announces, This is the best smell in the world. She orders for us and grabs BeBe’s chocolate milk. The cashiers and workers are all black. Mim talks with ease and one tells her how cute she looks. Christmas green and red onesie and platform furry pink and lavender slippers. Her hair is extra curly because we washed it yesterday. I attribute her ease to the shared skin color. I wait for our doughnuts without saying anything for so long, that the workers wonder why I am still standing there. I do not want to request anything from them- honestly. I don’t want to make them work an extra minute for me. Mim steps in front of me and says, Please get the really hot ones for my mom. She likes them really warm. Mim showed them the sprinkled chocolate ones she wanted.
We get in the car and eat the hottest doughnuts I have ever had. Mim takes care of me and I thank her. Instead of using Maps to get home, we drive around and I wonder what it would be like to live here in East Atlanta instead of our condo.
I dream of a big common room, huge ceilings where a family of twenty or fifty seven could gather. I don’t see that big openness here in East Atlanta in any house I could afford. I probably could not afford the small bungalos. If I take Mim away from Atlanta she loses access- to transportation, to black upper middle class, to a place she knows. If I move to the country where I can afford an open common room for family holidays and pancakes on Saturday morning before the grandkids play soccer, we lose the benefits of our big city. Right? How do you know if you haven’t tried?
Turn up the music Mim, please.
I recommend screaming at the top of your lungs… I promise you will feel better.
I’m so insecure, I think
That I’ll die before I drink
And I’m so caught up in the news
Of who likes me and who hates you
And I’m so tired that I might
Quit my job, start a new life
And they’d all be so disappointed
‘Cause who am I, if not exploited?
Is wisdom overrated?