2008/06/04

The dizzying effects of an unexpected landscape

Yesterday, talking to friends about one more thing in my life lately that would never have occurred to me to anticipate or prepare for, I said something to the effect that I'd thought my life would be a Norman Rockwell, but I've ended up with M. Night Shyamalan. It's not terrible. Once you realize that the dead people are just trying to tell you something important, the village is an attempt to stay in an enclosure and comes with risks of its own, and the lady in the water could use a little help, it can even be a deeply satisfying and ultimately beautiful life ... but it takes some getting used to.

It seems as if life is a journey, and the middle of it is like the crest of the curve, and it's the place of a bit of perspective and awareness. You get up here, and you straighten up after your concentrated effort of the climb, and you catch your breath and try to stand all the way up, leaning into the wind. You shield your eyes a bit, wipe the sweat off your forehead, and you take a look around. All the way around. The view will take your breath away. Then, after you adjust to the light and the wind and the altitude, you can start to see a few details. You can turn around, and you can see where you once were. For me, it's a path strewn with all kinds of beautiful, orderly, sweet, dear Rockwell painting type things. I didn't have a childhood of neglect, so I was not thirsty when I crossed that landscape. I didn't have a young adulthood of anger or pain, so I had the wonderful freedom to choose a climbing partner who would both challenge and comfort me. The stuff back there is mostly very good. And I have the good sense now to be grateful.Behind me now are a thousand moments, pressed forever into the universe because they happened to me. Three babies in just under four years, for instance. That happened. With that, came the lesson that being happy and healthy is not the same thing as not being tired. Tired and happy can happen at the same time. Healthy and exhausted coexist nicely when you're pregnant and have toddlers. (Note the baggy eyes a couple of days before that kid was born. And note that the shawl-covered cedar chest is at a ninety degree angle from the couch - kid able to be only on one side, blocked from the open front door, if I remember right.) Really surprising Christmases happened. Really scary nights with really ill children happened. Deeply shattering anger between the couple who never fights - that happened too. Life is like that. There's no such thing as perpetual spring.

And there's no such thing as predictable midlife. Maybe that's why people call the reaction a "crisis" when this part of life has arrived. It can feel very much like a crisis. It's just so utterly different from anything you can anticipate on your way to get here.

And here we are, my courageous man and me, twenty-five years into climbing with each other, and ready to finish launching our hilarious, baffling, exhausting, absorbing, enchanting, frustrating, irritating, energetic, curious brood out into the world. And none of it makes sense in the way I thought it would.

The "gor baby" (that's toddler for "girl baby") doesn't wear pink ruffles anymore - she wears "BDU's" and boots most of the time. But she scoffs at calling the other options "civilian clothes" - instead, she says, "civilian clothes - or, as I call them, clothes." Somehow I don't think we've got a career military person here.

The little brothers are just as unexpected. Taller, curlier young giant has declared a double major of art and music. (Okay, that's not entirely unexpected. All those years of "stop drawing and do your math" were probably always leading to this moment.) But you could knock us over with a feather - or ... make that a fuzz! The younger, less curly bearded young giant used to be genuinely terrified of them - of fuzzes. His siblings could chase him around with just their fingers pinched together, claiming to have a fuzz they didn't even have, and the poor child was tortured with anxiety! We never did figure out what made wuzzes so terrifying, but he hated them. And he hated any physical pain of any kind, and never, never, never had to learn twice that something might hurt. So ... what's he done with his life? Or ... more specifically, his arm? I present, The Artist Formerly Frightened of Fuzzes. He didn't just endure the pain of learning to play - and then the discipline of learning to play well - he's also got these other indicators that pain isn't really his worst thing anymore. Sloppy work or disrespect for the honor in any creative effort ... yeah, that'll set him off. But pain? Meh. Not so's you'd notice.

So, what's a mom to do? What's a mom who thought Rockwell would be able to illustrate her life supposed to do with the obvious facts? The girl turned into a soldier, the boys into musicians and artists. The three each took different, and all unconventional, paths through the K-12 years, despite the fact that my journals confirm my expectations of being a classroom teacher - the counterpart to my professor husband - and any kids we'd have would be in "my" school for those years. (They were in my school, all right! The school of Maths, fold the clothes, and Bill Nye the Science Guy.)

We've changed from being the kids ourselves, to being the grownups with the babies and the grandparents held simultaneously in our lives - for a little while, anyway. We've changed churches, changed addresses, changed income levels, and changed china patterns. All that change seems to have brought a few unexpected (unexpected by me, anyway) adults into the world, and for better or worse, it's a done deal.

So I'm up here. I already did my "hills are alive" song, and already nearly fell over in a faint from the altitude. Now my pulse is returning to normal, and I'm looking around.
Behind me, there's a lot of texture and sound and flavor and there are a lot of scenes. All different kinds.

The season is about to change again, and the contrast is more clear. Where I was, Where I am, and Where I'm headed -- the shadows and the light make lines on the ground like the divisions of a number line. I love the number line. It's not a line segment, even if there are segments on it. It's made of segments, maybe. But life's line doesn't end at points. It has arrows at the ends, and it keeps going on forever.

4 comments:

Polly said...

Just want you to know that I read all your posts, but have nothing constructive to add.

Just watching,
P.

Wendy Melchior said...

beautiful life.

Greer said...

This is brilliant: 'being happy and healthy is not the same thing as not being tired.' I wish I had known this a couple years ago when I first started on the journey. The exhaustion of motherhood is the hardest thing to get used to, at least for me.

Di said...

Oh, I'm listening hard here. DS21, almost finished his chef certification, said in passing last night that he might go back to school, and take a degree in music, and then in education, then teach - my head's whirling already ......