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.