The other night I stood with a sleepy Whit while he went to the bathroom.  He looked out the window, the strangely-bright dark visible through the white slats of the blind.  “It’s really …” he began, halting, still looking intently out the window.

“It’s really what?  It does look kind of bright to me out there.”

“No, big.  It’s too big.”

“What is too big, Whit?” I brushed his hair back from his face, studying the familiar slope of his nose in the nightlight light.

“Everything.  Everything is too big.”

I sighed and carried him back to bed, aware that he gets heavier every day, wondering, again, if this is the last time.

Yes.  It is all too big.  The next morning was one of those raw, too-big mornings when I could not contain my heart in my chest.  Every morning now, like a drumbeat whose volume rises imperceptibly but inexorably, I hear the “these are the last days you have a child in kindergarten” refrain in my head.  This makes me feel a lot of pressure to stay with Whit and bring him up to his classroom, to read the morning message, to hug him on the mat before morning meeting.  Otherwise I could leave him at early dropoff (which he is very happy to do) and get my day started a good 25 minutes earlier.  Today I planned to stay with him.

And then.  We were heading over to walk Grace to her building when she turned to me, stricken.  “Mummy!  It’s the butterfly place field trip today!  We forgot to bring a camera!”

My heart fell.  We’d talked about this.  I was going to get her a disposable camera to bring to the field trip.  “Oh, Grace, I’m sorry.”

“Can you go now?” Her voice was urgent.

I started doing mental calculations.  The number of minutes before my first conference call.  The fact that I have to run somehow today.  The fact that I wouldn’t be able to take Whit up.  I looked at her, and she could sense that I was about to say no.  Her eyes filled with tears.  I made a decision.  “Fine.  I’ll run now to CVS and hope to get back before you go.”  They were leaving right after morning meeting.

I turned to hug Whit, sent Grace to walk to her building together, and ran to the car.  Every minute is a trade-off.  I felt heaviness in my chest as I thought, again, of all that I try and still cannot manage to do.  No matter how hard we try, we can’t capture it all, we let someone down every day, we have to barrel forward even when all we want to do is make it all stop and stand still.  I felt the loss of a dwindling number of kindergarten mornings with Whit, all because I forgot something I’d promised.  Some days – a lot of days – there is simply not enough of me for everyone around me.  I made it back to hand Grace the cardboard camera before they left.  And then I drove slowly home, feeling skinless, feeling sad, feeling spring pressing in on me on all sides despite the gray drizzle of the day.

And then I read this poem on Now is Good, a lovely blog I read.  And I wept.  Some days, it is all too big.

The Lanyard – Billy Collins

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

15 thoughts on “Raw”

  1. Most of my days are spent tugged between too many competing priorities, and I feel sometimes like life is just swirling, swirling out of control. Never is it more obvious then when I try to balance the conflicting needs of my children. My 2 year-old is at a particular incredible developmental stage right now, and I just want to eat him up and I find I spend a lot of time focusing on him. I can see that my oldest has noticed. It’s a constant counter-balance, trying to keep up and stay put.

  2. Oh, Lindsey, thank you.

    I hesitate to say this, but even with a nearly grown girl, I still feel that it is just too big, that there is not enough time, that, somehow, it is unfair that I have to choose this, or that, not both.

    This has been so on my mind and in my heart lately. Thank you.

  3. WOW what a poem. Thank you so much for posting it — that is one that will stay with me all day.

  4. I, too , have my last child finishing K this year. I, too, feel the same struggles. On Thursday, she has her birthday biography which the parents present to the child as a history of their life so far. I did a great job ( who says this?) on my other two kids but hers is barely started. But I don’t want to do it today because I always spend monday late mornings and lunch in the classroom. You can’t do this in first grade. So, today, I am torn between working hard to make her biography wonderful but I don’t want to miss the time in the classroom.

    I, too, have these pulls every single day.

    Thanks for posting.

  5. Dear Lindsey!

    Thank you so much for this post. On Saturday I had my moment when I realized that I was no longer able to pick up my just-turned 6 year-old son (at least not when he is an inconsolable mass on the floor).

    We were at the grocery store and he was flipping a rubber bracelet a friend had given him around his finger and it ricocheted into a tiny crack under a counter and was impossible to retrieve.

    A part of me felt sad for his loss, a part of me felt bad that I couldn’t help, and a part of me was appalled that other people had to witness his meltdown.

    It was when I tried to alleviate their suffering by carrying my son out of the store that I realized it wasn’t possible. Fortunately, after some time, I was able to soothe him with my words.

    Even though I can no longer pick him up and carry him away when he’s distraught, I’m comforted by the thought that he will always have days when he crumples over some disappointment (I mean, I still have them!), and I will be able to soothe him with my words.

    Thanks again, Lindsey, for your lovely, raw meditation on what it means to feel so many emotions so deeply.

  6. As you know, I know. I feel that pressing feeling from the outside. I understand raw. And I’m sending you a huge hug and I huge DC.

    (Billy Collins is one of my mother’s favorite poets.) xo

  7. Oh gosh. I had the exact same day. Thank you so much for writing about yours and making me not feel so alone. Only my Whit was Gus with 4 shots (vaccines) in his legs and Oliver upset about something I once again didn’t do right.

    And that poem – wow.

    I hope the rest of your day went better. I hope there was enough. (something I wish for often)


  8. I am going through similar days filled with angst. Especially when I realize that I may not be able to have another baby. Each day my kids grow more and more independent, and I stifle my tears. Somewhere, somehow, I envisioned my family full of children until I knew I would be done. And I still don’t feel done, but my body suggests otherwise.

    Anyway, this is what I needed to read.

  9. I felt the heaviness of this post.

    It reminded me of a beggar at the traffic lights I used to pass on my old route to work. With unemployment in South Africa being close to 45%; many people turn to crime, which is one of the reasons why the crime stats in this country are so horrendous. Anyway, this beggar was holding a sign that said:
    “I would rather die than commit crime to survive. But life is too big. And living is too expensive. Please help me in any way you can. Thank you.”

Comments are closed.