What I told my daughters on the last week of school — when the sun was beaming through our open windows, when the pool within sight of our home was filled and blue and waiting to be jumped into, when cherries plump and rinsed sat in a bowl ready for snacking — was that the first thing they needed to do once school was out was clean their rooms.
It did not go over well.
I admit, a year of virtual school has muddled the organic process of my letting go of my girls. When they were younger and joyfully relied on me for everything, motherhood was still hard, but there was an acceptance to it, and that led to creativity. I figured out a nice volley of taking care of myself and them. A trip to the park gave them a chance to play while I sat on a bench and read. Nap time and quiet time gave us all independent rest and play. It was then that I began my writing habit.
Hadley and Harper no longer need me to set their schedule, to make all their meals, to get them dressed, and I’m grateful for their growing independence (and their excitement and willingness to be independent), but I was better at handling that when we weren’t always under the same roof 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Over the last year and a half of the pandemic, I am beginning to see how I’ve regressed to their toddler days. Worse, I’m doing it out of fear. Not fear that they can’t get dressed or eat by themselves, but my worrying about every little thing they do or don’t do somehow provides a balm (or maybe a Band-aid) for my deeper pain and fear: What if they don’t have a good summer? What if they can’t make friends? What if the friends they make don’t like them anymore? What if when they go back to school they grow overwhelmed and lost?
I know I cannot control any of this, and yet I made efforts to do so, like insisting my kids clean their rooms first thing. The truth is that the world opening up again feels to me like a scar busting open before it’s had a chance to seal itself with thicker skin.
The day of my room-cleaning announcement, I met Jesse in his home office in the basement, where he now works. (He is also a casualty of what is clearly becoming an unraveling for me; it’s simply too easy for me to ask his advice on every single thing I do instead of relying on myself.) I needed to tell him that I am afraid to go to the pool with Hadley and Harper. I explained that it was too hard for me to sit there and worry about whether they are having a good time.
“So don’t worry about them,” he said.
This is like telling me not to breathe. Worry has become instinctual and overpowering. I am exhausted, and as Jesse gently but insistently told me, I’m having a hard time functioning.
What does poetry have to do with all this?
I am not proposing that a poem is the answer to my or anyone’s re-emerging into the world. However, I do think that poetry can help us with the questions reopening presents. I think a poem might suggest that we don’t need thicker skin, that it is okay to walk in the world with wounds and fears. In The Joy of Poetry, Megan Willome shows us how poetry can help us in crisis.
She writes about an afternoon when she went to get a sandwich to cheer herself up. (Her mother had recently died after a long battle with cancer.) The place she chose was closed, and she sat in the parking lot to tell a friend about her disappointment. She admitted she was being petty, but in true friend form, her friend paid no attention to that. Instead, she sent Megan links to every single sandwich shop in her town that were open. She also sent Megan a poem that, when she read it, said, “I felt you in this poem.”
Megan wrote that her friend made sure “the world opened up to her,” through sandwiches, yes, but also poetry and friendship, something I am beginning to understand is its own form of poetry.
It is officially summer break, and to kick it off, my friend Jaime and I took a spur-of-the-moment road trip to Louisville, Kentucky. We ate dinner on a rooftop deck and watched the sun set. We stayed out way too late, talking and laughing like teenage girls. We had coffee at a bodega that was also an art shop, and which included a parrot that wanted attention and screeched for it but didn’t want to be touched. “I feel you,” I whispered to the parrot, raising my mug.
On our way home the sun set again, and I grew quiet, turning over the symptoms of my current plight. Knowing I’ve gone over to brooding mode, Jaime asked me a question to get me talking. I responded, and my voice began to shake and then crack, and then Jaime said, “We can talk more about this. I want to talk more about this. But I love this song.” She hit replay on the stereo. “Will you sing it with me?”
I love singing with Jaime. Her voice is one of soothing and ease, plus, she can find harmony that isn’t obviously there at first. So we sang, and I started to cry. Because the sky was one hundred shades of blue and black. Because the song was beautiful. Because, like a poem, Jaime made sure the world opened up to me with a melody so sweet I believed I can find a way to dance the questions.
In her poem First Saturday in June, Eileen Spinelli writes that her mother tells her to clean her room. And while she admits that this is a good thing, there are better things to do, and she goes on to list them.
And it’s not that cleaning my room
is the worst thing to do.
It’s just that there are so many other
better things to do,
This week write a poem about summer things to do that are better than the worry that swirls around us.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here’s one from Crystal Rowe we enjoyed