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“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” —Aristotle

Autumn has been meandering here in Southern Maine. In the orchard at my bigger boy Jonah’s school, the yellow jackets have hung around well into this colorful season sampling the plentiful apples. The leaves have transformed into magnificent shades of tangerine and amber and burgundy even as our winter jackets have remained tucked away inside. It is only in the last week that cooler nighttime temperatures have allowed for us to feel justified in lighting a fire in our wood stove, not just for the first time this season but for the first time in several years. In winters past, I’ve blamed our lack of a home fire burning—in this snowy, cozy place—on the diminutive size of the stove, on the lack of a window to see how the fire is faring, on protecting the little ones from hot surfaces. The truth is that there was something more holding me back.

Sometime in late summer I began to know that this would be the year that we would strike the match at last. I could feel embers simmering in the core of me. In anticipation, I shared with my husband thoughts of lowering heating bills, of warming our home with a deeper, more resonating warmth. I talked of getting in the habit of using the stove and describing how then it would become a part of us. These too were ideas dancing around the real reason that I needed to bring this fundamental, earthly element with all of its heat and passion and warmth into my life, into the lives of my children.

I lit our fire somewhat unceremoniously the first time. My husband was trying to leave to run an errand and I told him that I was going to light a fire and asked him did he know which way the handle on the side of the stove was supposed to be turned so that the smoke didn’t come billowing into our home. He said, “no” and went upstairs to get his socks. I think I needed to light that first fire in that way for the same reason one might pull a bandaid off quickly. I needed to just do it and see that I could. I didn’t really understand all that it was tied to for me at the time. I did know how I would feel once it was lit. That first fire did not disappoint. Within moments my two beloved boys and I were cuddled up around it. With the surge of the flames, I felt an inner warmth come alive inside of me. I felt Jonah and Adrian settle down into themselves, eyes fixated on the flickering wonder. I felt grounded and capable and secure—all at the same time. There was nothing wrong with the size of the stove and the doors could be easily propped open with a screen so that we could take in the golden blaze.

For years now, weekends have been a time of reunion with my husband for both me and for our children. I have been reticent to take time away by myself to refuel wanting to create memories of the four of us together, wanting to not put that pressure on my husband after a long week of early rising and late nights. But lately, with a chronic medical condition flaring, it’s become less of a choice for me. It was for this reason that I found myself being dropped off at home by my husband and two boys on a grey, Sunday afternoon. I didn’t know whether to cry or drink in the silence as I walked inside. I put down my things and headed straight for the wood stove. I pulled on my stiff gardening gloves and opened the creaking, cast iron doors and began gathering together logs and kindling. I took off my gloves so that I might better ball up a couple of sheets of newspaper and tuck them between the wood and the kindling. I leaned forward onto my knees, rolling back the igniting mechanism of my lighter, then pressing down, listening to the clicking sound as I moved it forward into the stove. The papers were lit and the flame quickly spread from newspaper to birch bark to wood. Despite the afternoon hour, the room felt dark and I sat back on my heels opening my chest, opening my heart to the firelight. It was then that I knew. It was then that I knew what had been holding me back from this glorious experience of this essential element. In that moment—my inner glow expanding—I experienced a fleeting memory of a time in which I had surrendered myself to motherhood, a time in which I had surrendered myself to my marriage, even. There with the warmth of the fire bearing down on me, a sensation traveled through me, reminding me of a time when I had convinced myself that I would only loose myself for a short while. That this would be ok. I convinced myself that I would only give myself over completely, temporarily. It was with this realization that I was reignited. A part of me that I had given away—albeit small—rejoined me then. It was the part of me that lights fires, of course. It was the part of me that makes art. It was the part of me that has time. It was the part of me that makes time. Attempting to savor that feeling was like trying to catch a snowflake in a gusting wind. It hasn’t mattered, though. I’ve remembered. That’s all it takes. Even on warmish days, I have found reason to light a fire in our home and I plan to do so until winter is no longer.

 

 

“To err is human; to forgive, divine.” —Alexander Pope

My family traveled inland a bit to Sebago Lake in the last weeks of summer. It was one of a few outings we made in those days—my husband lifting his head from deep in work and suddenly realizing the summer days were winding down. The sprawling, warmer, more-swimmable waters we found there were different from what we experienced on our typical ocean beach days that had made our summer so salty. There I found myself drifting on a pink princess water float—it was all they had left in the raft shack—with my bigger boy Jonah. He had changed in the summer—filled now with the budding confidence of a soon to be five year old, filled with maturing ideas about the world, with maturing movements and expressions and other ways of being. No matter how I try, I cannot keep him small. Jonah was willing to float on that raft all day long, no matter the purpling of his lips, no matter the slight shiver I noticed in his still slight body every now and then. I was chilly myself but I cherished this time alone with him and reveled in our companionship. Together we noticed a ladybug crawling up his arm. He suggested we make a wish on it before it blew or flew away. I’m not sure if I had imparted this idea of wish-making on ladybugs to him. It certainly sounded like something I might have shared. I made a silent wish for peace and harmony in my life and in my home. Jonah closed his eyes with a little squint and made a wish too. After the ladybug had gone, I asked Jonah what he wished for. He said we couldn’t share it with me or it wouldn’t come true—something else I might have inadvertently imparted. I really wanted to know his wish! I knew his wish of course. And it turns out he knew mine as well. I proposed the idea of guessing each other’s wishes and asked Jonah if we guessed them, would that keep them from coming true? He didn’t think so. “That would be ok,” he said. And so with a little grin between us, I asked him what he thought I wished for. “Peace and harmony,” he replied without skipping a beat. My eyes widened and I laughed with surprise. He grinned ear to ear. “What did I wish for?” he asked. “For chocolate ice cream,” I replied nonchalantly. I had only the slightest doubt in my answer. “Yep!” he said laughing. That memory is golden to me. I see the sun shimmering on the water and on my dear boy’s face. I feel my hair dripping and the freshness of makeup washed away. I notice the contentedness in Jonah, soothed and settled by the rise and fall of the raft for so many hours.

I had just given Adrian—my littler one—a bath. He’s standing in front of me in our long hallway, filled up with a plan for racing, for running from end to end. He isn’t noticing his little, compact body like I am—still with a diaper bump that will last not much longer. He isn’t noticing his round, soft cheeks. His hair is damp. I can almost smell his freshness. I am alone with him and before reading his bedtime books I am being challenged to a race. He guides me to the starting line at my bedroom door and gets his little body crouched into ready position and then in his deepest, loudest voice he shouts, “on or arks, et set, goooo!” Indeed, his call can be heard from neighbors all around, I’m certain. And as we begin running I feel as if I am in slow motion noticing the way he uses his whole body to propel himself forward, noticing the way he hoists his elbows up vigorously behind him. I am just behind him but looking over him as we run, fully taking him in, fully knowing that this exquisite time will pass. The diaper bump will be no longer. The desire to always be with me will fade away.

It must be very difficult if you read my blog and imagine that all of my moments are like these—if you imagine that I am always capable of noticing, of making the right choices. It must be difficult if you imagine that I have it all figured out. I want to assure you that I do not. Our family has struggled in the last few weeks. We’ve been challenged by illnesses and diagnoses, by transitions and logistics, by the very experimental nature of parenting in the way that we are. I have faltered. I have cried. I have made others cry. And the only thing that I have figured out is how to be an attentive witness of myself. Sometimes even as I am deep in this place of witnessing, I see the things that I do that are surely not the right things to do and I do them anyway! I do not despair, though. And neither should you. In my mind, intention goes a very long way and the intent to mother consciously, to mother mindfully is in the very fabric of my being. I trust in the end result of that. I trust in the end result of loving so much it hurts. And so should you, dear mother. So should you. Thinking of you all with love.