you are not meditating

Posted by on February 16, 2011


Kids at ND lake in winter © 2010 Julia Mason Wickes.

Kids at ND lake in winter © 2011 Julia Mason Wickes.

First Lesson

By James Tate

This is a meditation:
a snake with legs,
a one-legged snake,
a snake with wings,
a one-winged snake,
a rat with sparks,
a fiery rat,
a rat that sings,
a star rat,
a horse that explodes,
an atomic horse,
a horse that melts,
an ice horse,
a bee that flies through concrete,
a pneumatic bee,
a bee that lifts buildings,
the world’s strongest bee,
a tree that eats the noses off children,
a bad tree,
a tree that grows inward until it is a dot,
a hill of dots that eats lots of children
(you are not meditating).

* * *

Lately I have been through some rough patches with my four year-old. I often feel like a very uptight person in her presence. She is forever chasing the butterflies of her mind while I am trying to get each of her five uncooperative fingers into the right slot of her gloves. She is running to the window to see what made some sound outside, while I am standing there, holding the pair of pants that she was about to step into. She is also going through a phase in which she continually asks me to look at something or choose something. “Which stuffed animal do you want?” To say, “Actually, I am wearing rubber gloves right now and they are dripping with soapy water, and I would prefer not to take either stuffed animal,” is not an option. Even while watching a cartoon– something that is supposed to provide me a slot of time to myself, she has started saying, “Mama, look that this!,” every two minutes. She also cannot make it through a meal without feeling the impulse to jump up and show me a dance move from her creative movement class. Often it’s as if, in her world, nothing really exists until one of her parents sees and acknowledges its existence. Until the moment I turn and give her my full attention and tell her that yes, I see, she will tug and tug and tug at me. All day long my own private stream of consciousness is interrupted, and all day long I exert one burst of energy after another in the effort to reign in her attention to the next practical task.

The truth is that she is a perfectly delightful girl– bright-eyed and exuberant and everything that I would wish her to be. When we do connect over something, like drawing on a page together or playing a game of memory, it is always sweet and special. But her naturally childish inability to draw boundaries around herself and focus on the thing at hand makes me sometimes feel as if I share my life with a whirling dervish. When she is so tired that she is falling down on the floor sobbing, and needs to expediently get into her pajamas, brush her teeth, and go to bed, but still wants to us to read her three more books, then tell her “the story of her day,” and then explore that noise she heard out in the stairwell, I see an extreme demonstration of a human being who does not know when to say when–ever. Sometimes I cross over the threshold of tolerance and I want to scream and throw something, much like a four year-old myself.

I’ll come clean and state the obvious: part of my frustration is that my child presents me with a hyperbolic picture of myself when I do not draw boundaries between myself and my world, when I react to what is happening around me instead of act, and when I fail to manage my day well and live consciously.

The big news right now is that our family will move to Washington DC in the fall. My husband just received a fellowship to study at Dumbarton Oaks for the 2011-12 academic year. He traveled there a few weeks ago, in the wake of the Blizzard of 2011, to interview with five other candidates. We had no idea what his chances were, but of course, both of us were entertaining daydreams of moving to this wonderful place, while trying our hardest not to entertain daydreams of moving to this wonderful place. The difficulty is always to live in the present, give my best to today’s choices, and surrender my entire life to–I believe–a God who loves me and whose love transcends my most immediate wants and desires, just as my love for my children so often runs contrary to their will.

The other day we got Chinese take-out and Esme’s fortune cookie said: “Cooperation will work better.” I wanted to frame it and tell her that yes, we absolutely believe in fortunes. But this does take a conscious effort to pray and meditate and bring my mind back to a reality that exists over and above the busy things happening around me, and the ways that life would most certainly play me. It also requires drawing real, concrete boundaries between myself and the words and actions of others (silly old facebook being high on the list of Things to Block Out for the Most Part), and everything else that could be categorized as the external stimuli which is completely out of my control and very often none of my business.

Poetry Wednesday

  1. Beth
    February 16, 2011

    A lovely poem. Profound in its simplicity. I really appreciate this post Julia because you have captured and expressed exactly what most of my days are like (and I have been known to call the wonder twins, whirling dervishes) though the last several weeks have been filled with me acting like a child and losing control of my temper (what a great example for my kids). Anyway, congratulations on your upcoming move. And yes, how easily distracted I am (though thinking I live in a vacuum) by the stuff of life that is really trivial and inconsequential.