The beloved just closed her youth music theater company’s production of A Chorus Line, and with that the swing shift part of our family life is slowly, gratefully, opening back to normal. Two of us to do (and trade off doing) what drove a menopausal monotasking Baba half-way up a tree to do solo for too many weeks. With increasingly unhappy kids. Again, I have no idea how single parents do it.
I was already half-way up a tree in the first place, so being driven the rest of the way up it located me at the tippy-top, where the view might be pretty, but the balance is precarious.
Things aren’t been easy. Life-wise and blogularly, and particularly at the points — few, if significant — where those two lines converge. Those who write narrative nonfiction and draw heavily on autobiography are always in danger of writing themselves into a corner: it’s the Faustian bargain one strikes to gain access to the ever-present gold mine of material. But a corner of some sort is where I seem to find myself at the moment. At least until I can figure out how to turn it.
As a sensitive person (okay, Highly Sensitive Person, complete with capitalization and sketchy Wikipedia bona fides, and by the way don’t tease me; a lot of my best work derives from that condition), I am prone to becoming so moved by the world that I am slowed to an imperceptible pace. Some might even think I come to a full stop, but that’s because they’re moving so fast they don’t notice the eensy beensy, ant-like advance. Okay, so ants seem kinda speedy. Let’s say, lady bug-like.
I’ve seen lady bugs huddled motionless in this very room I’m sitting in now, for what seemed like weeks, in silent congregation at the apex of the ceiling. Then, when the temperature and light got just so, they slowly migrated toward the window, crawled into position, lifted their wee wing-armor, and took flight.
But so there’s the weight of the world clumping up every now and then. The public sphere is always a challenge, and the private sphere can sometimes rival the public for pathos, or at least drama. In both spheres the cumulative accumulation of it all can become heavier and heaver over time. The course of human events. Each death, for instance, sits on top of the previous one, which perches on top of the previous one, and so on, like the balancing elephants in that circus scene in Dumbo. I needn’t enumerate the weighty sorrows of the world. I mean really. Open the paper (one must say, proverbially, or virtually, since the opportunity to literally do so diminishes by the day, itself yet another weight, not elephantine, maybe, but palpable). Or if you really need an e.g., here (trigger warning, though).
Alleviation of the weight comes, but not always on time. For some, as the young gal at the other end of that link, not in time either.
There’s also the matter of our immediate family unit being in need of greater material resources than we are currently trying to live on. Time spent here, doing this, is time not spent working for the stuff that feeds, clothes, and houses the kids. So there’s that, too. It’s not getting any easier, much as I do my darndest to solve the problem creatively, such as by finding a nice deep drift of sand and plunging my head into it.
But finally, and perhaps most vexingly, there’s this: with the girlchild’s leap from preschool to Kindergarten, her world expanded more than tenfold. Literally: her preschool had about twenty kiddles in it, and three or four staff; her elementary school has upwards of 275 kids in it (small, by our school district’s standards), and about two dozen staff. Her capacity and desire to make new friends has multiplied exponentially, too, as has my desire (though not my capacity) to donate time and energy to the community there. Because I’ve already spent so much of my life working on and in public schools. Because this place will be the crucible for my kids’ understanding of community outside their family.
Think globally, act locally, I always say.
So the girlchild’s leap to elementary school has meant that some of my already limited discretionary time is redirected to the school, volunteering. (Nothing to complain about here: Aside from cutting out dozens of little black construction paper cats for the classroom and chaperoning a pumpkin patch field trip, I been strafing the garden and helping the gardening instructor, himself a volunteer. Never a bad day in the garden.) But the leap to elementary school has also led me to feel that the stakes for whatever I write here have shot way up. Tenfold? Who knows. Could all be a figment of my imagination. Hell, all this could be a figment of my imagination. You, gentle reader, may well be a figment of my imagination, except that a couple hundred of you filled out that survey for me, thereby proving your actual existence, thank you and the deities.
When she was in preschool, the scope of the lil’ monkey’s peregrinations was fairly limited, and her imaginary friends far outnumbered her actual ones. Now her circuits are sweeping wider and wider, and her actual friends may begin to equal, and soon outnumber the imaginary ones. And since Baba is not very playdate-forward (the logistics! the variables to remember! the healthy snacks to have on hand!), Baba has to limit her liabilities. It’s challenging enough figuring out how not to hurt the future feelings of my future tween kids as they read in the LD archives in 20-whatever. How can I do that plus not inadvertently misrepresent (god forbid insult or lampoon) an actual, present-day person (or her parents) who may one day want to come and line up small toys with my daughter?
Mind you, insulting and lampooning good kind people is not in my nature (arseholes? hell to the yeah). But I’m not sure how to even begin to describe all the interesting things I’ve been experiencing without exposing actual people, even if never by name. I mean, I was worried about our being the only lesbian parents in our girl’s class, one of just two families out of the 60-kid incoming Kindergarten cohort. But then nothing is ever that simple. Meaning, one of the co-PTA presidents is mom to the other kid-of-two-moms in Kindergarten. And the head of our regional LGBT family org has a kid in the school, another having just graduated from there. Our numbers are teeny, but our people are mighty.
And then, at the PTA meeting, while mannish lesbians were in short supply, white women were phenomenally, overwhelmingly over-represented. In the mornings, when I drop the girlie off, while every kind of parent is hanging around the younger grade kids, it’s white parents who predominate, even though the school is only about a third white. Much as we struggle to make our ends meet in our household, we’re doing so with schedules we have some control over, such that one of us can bike or even drive the kid to school, and linger there a bit.
The dynamics at the school are kaleidoscopic, not just in complexity but capacity to shift. With the stark exception of the elements that bound and define the space — the powerful impact of wealth and privilege. We have enough of the former, and most of the time, we benefit from plenty of the latter as well.
Can I write about these things in anything but the broadest (and therefore neutered) generalities? Narrative abhors a broad generality, that’s for sure. But I can’t really figure out how to be specifically descriptive just yet, without beginning to tie my girlie’s shoelaces together, if not to mine. And alas, I don’t have time enough to figure that out at the moment, either. Or, if/when time appears, I lack enough spirit. I’ve asked Robin Reagler to allow me to interview her about how, among other things, it came to be that she put her prodigious blog The Other Mother to rest (as it happens, around about the week her eldest began Kindergarten). She has graciously consented, and when I have the time (!) I’ll be able to find out, among other things, whether she faced similar dilemmas. My man Looky, Daddy! closed up shop recently, too, for some reasons quite different than what I’m stewing on, but also some similar, too.
Toward the end of A Chorus Line, one of the dancers injures his leg, and is carried offstage. The director asks the rattled dancers who remain: What would you do if you couldn’t dance? What will you do when you can’t? Thus launches “What I Did For Love,” a (rather saccharine) paean to the no regrets life, and implicitly, to the value of at least trying to do what you’re moved to do for as long as you can. This is not to imply that I’m about to dim the LD stage lights, as it were. I am trying to figure out whether there’s another act in here somehow, given the prevailing fiscal and social conditions, and if so, to what degree it will resemble the first acts. ’Til I make any traction with that dilemma, it might just be photographs and the occasional Mary Oliver poem here. I could do worse.