I spend my life with my kids. I talk to them, teach them, play with them, train them. I can see a mood coming on before it even crosses my child’s face. Then, I take them to a place where they are with other kids, busy interacting with other people, and I can see things I don’t see from close up. I see how young five-years-old really is. That is what struck me today. I look at my kids and think how young and vulnerable they are yet. What a strange learning curve they have! On one hand they are being taught the sophisticated rules of reading and arithmetic. On the other hand they are still in love with stuffed animals and favorite blankets, and they want to be rocked a little before bed.
It must take a lot of wisdom to keep little kids in perspective. I hope we all grow in wisdom.
Gloucester Harbor, Winslow Homer, 1873
I wanted something calming tonight. Sailboats on calm water. The lap, lap, lap of little waves. A seagull calling. Bigger-than-life clouds reflecting the sunset. Smooth movement of the oars, and the slow pull across the harbor. Breathe in that salty air.
October in the Marshes, John Frederick Kensett, ca. 1872
At mid-afternoon my six-year-old comes running up to me with his binoculars and says, “Let’s go to the Horicon Marsh!” His sisters immediately make alternative suggestions (Park! Beach!). I hadn’t planned on going anywhere. After demanding some time to think about it, I decide to grab the water bottles and go to the marsh. The day already had its ups and downs and I don’t think sitting around the house is going to improve anything. When we get there we decide to take the trail backward (woods first, and then floating boardwalk). Halfway through the woods I actually say out loud, “I already wish we hadn’t come.” I don’t know. I was in a bad mood or something. God has a funny, ironic way of showing His grace because when we get to the long floating bridge a man with a gray ponytail and the high cheekbones of a Native American starts showing my kids the sea-snail shells he collected for them (he had seen us on our way there) and then goes on to teach them about sea snails. He has a pleasant, conversational teaching style and genuinely wants the kids to be interested in the marsh wildlife. He goes on to show us two leopard frogs hiding in the reeds, a dragonfly nymph, a turtle sunning itself on a branch, a great blue heron perched on a distant treetop, a lone pelican flying by. He lends us his glossy, full-color marsh wildlife brochure. He focuses the telescopes for us. He warns my son not to fall in when he leans too far over the edge. A free, unexpected nature guide waiting for us only a minute after I wished we hadn’t come! I am humbled. And grateful.
I have wished a bird would fly away,
And not sing by my house all day;
Have clapped my hands at him from the door
When it seemed as if I could bear no more.
The fault must partly have been in me.
The bird was not to blame for his key.
And of course there must be something wrong
In wanting to silence any song.
– by Robert Frost (1874-1963)
Robert Frost sure touched a nerve here. Except my “birds” are my kids at the dinner table. At the time I wouldn’t have called what was coming out of their mouths “singing,” but neither was it anything offensive. I’ll try to bite my tongue (or stuff my dinner in my mouth) next time I have the urge to silence them.
Splickety Love, a print and digital magazine featuring flash fiction romance stories, has turned out a new issue today. One of my stories, “Impressionistic Love,” has been included in this issue about hurt and healing. You can buy a copy of the magazine here or subscribe to the magazine here.
Another notable short short experience happened to me this summer. I won first prize in the Lakefly Lit flash fiction category. Lakefly Lit is a Wisconsin-based literary organization. My winning story is entitled “Sleep-Talk.”
Little by little these short shorts might add up to something! :)
Deer in a Clearing, Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)
Albert Bierstadt’s landscapes have just the right combination of wildness and perfection. I saw two real deer while walking on a trail in the woods this morning, and the scene was so ideal, so picture-perfect. Although Bierstadt and other Hudson River artists idealized the landscape, there is truth in that ideal. It is the true landscape minus the imperfect things, like a clumsy mom turning her ankle and hitting the ground with something snapping in her foot. Bierstadt would never have painted that. I’m pretty sure my foot isn’t broken. I hobbled back to the car. And now I hobble around the house. I’ll be okay eventually.
This journey took place in a part of Canada which lies in the northwestern part of the great sprawling province of Ontario. It is a vast area of deeply wooded wilderness–of endless chains of lonely lakes and rushing rivers. Thousands of miles of country roads, rough timber lanes, overgrown tracks leading to abandoned mines, and unmapped trails snake across its length and breadth.
– from The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford, 1960.
I enjoyed this book as much as my son. The three animals, a labrador, bull terrier, and Siamese cat, are old friends by the end, and the wilderness they travel through is described with a great deal of personal knowledge.
I chose the above quote, the very beginning of the novel, because I needed some passage into deeper, darker subjects. I don’t exactly know what is going on right now, but I am following an unmapped trail through my life. My house is messier than usual. I’m reading like a maniac. I somehow manage to get all the meals and food issues taken care of (though I’m not sure how). I write when I can even to the point of writing a new story freehand on the back of my kids’ scrap paper. I’ve gotten myself and all three kids to the dentist in the last few days. School beginning is at the back of my mind, and I’m stockpiling the necessary books and things. And now I’m thinking, with all this strange busyness, this push to get my book read, get my story written, get school going, get everything done, where am I headed? What incredible journey am I on? Did those animals know exactly where they were headed? The lab did; he was the leader, following his instinct to his home three hundred miles away. The other two followed because they always stayed together. Am I running on instinct right now? Am I simply following a path God set out for me? My life feels so strange.
But here I go, ever forward. Don’t look back.