A meeting with Jonah’s teachers at his lovely, pink straw bale school house fills my early morning. A babysitter is home with my boys and I steal a little extra time to stretch my legs and my soul at the local YMCA. It’s a rare luxury these days, time alone on a treadmill mid-morning. I have forever loved exercise but lately my spare time seems to be filled-up with errands and long ignored doctor’s appointments—or with just finding a quiet place to sit and breathe. On the treadmill now, images of Jonah brought to life by his teachers swirl around in my head. I’m thinking about how they say they have noticed his depth, his wide-eyed observations of the world. I’m thinking about how they say they have noticed his “goodness” and how he—like all of us—is also interested in discovering the other, varied sides of himself, the varied sides of life. I am reminded of my own struggle to be accepting of the many facets of my being and how I would never want for Jonah to feel the need to live up to an unreachable standard—a need that I have been working to shed for nearly two decades now.
Nostalgic and poetic lyrics speak to me through my headphones and I am transported away from thoughts of Jonah—away from thoughts of my entire family who are almost always the main occupants of my heart and mind. On this day, I am no longer exercising at a YMCA in rural Maine, looking out at a wooded, still-wintery scene but back in New York City instead. I am meandering through the city with my dear friend, climbing over the Brooklyn Bridge. I have no diaper bag in tow. It’s September 11th now and I am stepping out of my apartment looking at the ash on my street and wondering if I should flee. I am meeting with a another friend in her Upper West Side apartment, plotting to save the world. I am looking for love in all the wrong places. I am schlepping giant paintings on the F train to fringe art shows in Brooklyn. I am being photographed on a tire swing, under the Manhattan Bridge—feeling like a dolphin. I am taking a leap of faith and buying an apartment, buying my first set of real furniture. I am dressing up as Pippi Longstockings for Halloween and staying out until dawn. I am picnicking in Central Park on my 31st birthday, falling in love in a better, more final way. I am so very, incredibly free and yet so incredibly filled with longing.
I’m walking on the treadmill and as these images flood my mind—and my heart, and my soul—I am wondering how that girl from long ago can be the same person who is now the mother of my two boys. I am wondering how that free-spirit with her total disregard for bedtime can be such a force of reliable rhythm for her children now. How can that young woman who teased her then boyfriend—now husband—about his constant need for an itinerary now be the one often in need of more certain plans. How can that girl, then on a constant roller-coaster of emotions now be the one kneeling down before her boys—often creating a lap for two—offering comfort and stability. I am wondering which parts of that girl have been tucked away and which parts of her have permeated her (my!) life today.
A few weeks ago my husband and I had a morning to ourselves and visited a few art galleries in Portland, ME. There was one studio that caught my eye from a distance—it was the vibrant colors of the paintings in the windows, colors in my own palette, that drew me in. We made our way toward the gallery and stepped inside, discovering an artist at work amongst his many paintings for sale. He and I had an instant camaraderie—we shared my maiden name. He was around 80 years old but his eyes were as shiny and tickled as a twenty year old. We chatted for a few minutes and he asked us where we were from. We said we were from “here.” He said, “Hmmm. I would have thought you were New Yorkers.” His comment made my heart sing a little. That life in New York—that decade plus a few years—unfolded me. It made me into the woman that I am today. It made me into the mother that I can now be to my two precious sons.
It turns out that artist—my namesake—is looking for someone, an abstract expressionist like myself, to take over his studio so that he may go away for a while. It did cross my mind that maybe our meeting meant that I should be the one. Ultimately, I knew that it was not for me. Crossing paths with him did reinvigorate something within me though. It reinvigorated my need to not fall in line. It reinvigorated my need to live unabashedly and to allow my children to do the same.
Looking around my home and at the way in which I live my life, I see that girl has been making herself known in the best way that she could between diaper changes and nursery school pick-up. I see her in the colorful drawings pinned-up in nearly every room. I see her in the picture collage on our hallway wall. I see her in the wild imaginations of both of my boys. Still, as my little ones grow, I hope to unearth her further and share with them a little more of the fun that can be had when we set ourselves free.