a fundamental pause

Posted by on May 14, 2014

Statue at the St. Louis Art Museum © 2016 Julia Mason Wickes.

Statue at the St. Louis Art Museum © 2016 Julia Mason Wickes.

Crumbling is not an instant’s Act
A fundamental pause
Dilapidation’s processes
Are organized Decays —

‘Tis first a Cobweb on the Soul
A Cuticle of Dust
A Borer in the Axis
An Elemental Rust —

Ruin is formal — Devil’s work
Consecutive and slow —
Fail in an instant, no man did
Slipping — is Crashe’s law —

by Emily Dickinson

* * *

My weekend was good. Friday night my husband and I went on a date to the art museum (pictured above), because my mother-in-law was in town to babysit. Since she needed to leave town Sunday, we celebrated Mother’s Day on Saturday at one of my favorite brunch restaurants in town, which is attached to a garden center. If the weather is perfect you can have coffee outside while ogling the geraniums, hibiscus, and herbs, and let your eyes glaze over into a speckled impressionist painting as your inner gardening imagination runs far beyond its real-life budget. My daughter’s choral concert was also on Saturday and it was a beautiful ending to her first year in an amazing local choir program. Sunday my husband was very good about giving me the day off, so all in all, I would say that I am a very lucky woman.

But all these things were moving around the core of a troubled heart. I recently realized that after a year of being at home with my children– day in and day out because of homeschooling–my attitude has been gradually deteriorating. I know better than to let this happen; there are ways it could have been prevented. But it snuck up on me, and now that I have lost my footing– my composure– it is hard to regain it. Some time apart would be mutually beneficial right now and bring things back into balance– I’m sure of that. In the fall they will start at a great new school. But fall is fall and here we stand at the beginning of summer, that structureless land of long days and wild romping through sprinklers, sidewalk chalk and tracking grass and dirt into the bathtub. Most mothers brace themselves between the school years, but the “school year” has not even ended and I am already clenching up.

A friend of mine emailed me a link to a documentary which is about mothers who are artists. It follows four women– two young artists just having their first babies, and two older artists who developed their art over the course of their lives as their children grew up, and whose children are now grown. The documentary, called Lost in Living, was made available for free over Mother’s Day weekend. I tried to watch all of it but succeeded in only watching part (RW, if you are reading, please know I tried to watch it all but the whole lost in living–the lower-case kind–interfered). Nevertheless, I appreciate knowing that the documentary is out there– that someone thought of exploring this theme seriously. I could relate to the women very well.

There is a part of me that would know how to live in a cabin in the woods alone, let my hair get tangled, and be nocturnal, anti-social, and hermitic. The thought of getting lost in a creative project– sewing or writing, maybe– without any time limit or interruption is like a trump card that I have constantly tucked up my sleeve. But I am morally opposed to cheating at cards. I would not want to be alone and left to my own devices– blowing around with the wind– however creative and artistic my achievements could be under those circumstances. I am genuinely grateful and relieved to be knit into the web of family life and the long-term contract of raising children. Motherhood balances me out in a way that I know is healthy. It keeps me bound to the workaday world of routine, respectability, functionality, and yes, sanity. And I would never– ever– abandon my children for any reason. That includes emotional abandonment or neglect while being physically present– a possibly even more damaging type of abandonment.

And so here we are– all up in each other’s faces– all of the time– perhaps too much– making me crazy.

I think I am right where I need to be, in the general sense of vocation and the arrangement of things, broadly speaking. And I definitely do not regret this year of homeschooling. But something bad is at work when I snap easily at my kids, am relentlessly demanding, nag them, am irritable upon getting out of bed, and again when putting them to bed. Something is askew when I am depleted of answers to their questions before they even ask and too tired of talking and interacting to even pretend to laugh at their appropriately non-funny knock-knock jokes (which they think are hilarious). Any number of these things could be a red flag– or a host of red flags– telling me that something is being mismanaged.

Our homeschool year together was not this way before– it was remarkably good for a long time. Only recently did irritability creep upon me in this imperceptible fashion– a slow dilapidation. One day off for Mother’s Day is not really enough to repair this. I think I probably need a different arrangement altogether– one that allows that messy-haired artist to come out and do her projects uninterrupted. Every once in a while. Regularly.

Poetry Wednesday