Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Twig for Tears

Yesterday, Liv and I spent a good hour playing in the field behind our home. It was nice to be outside for a little while since I've been hibernating and hiding from the world as of late. Watching my daughter play outdoors is quite a nostalgic experience. Liv just loves playing with natural things as did I when I was little. Little Gwen, maker of a mean mud pie, keeper of caterpillars, huntress of bees. My sister and I would pull onion grass from the ground, roots and all, to make some homemade "soup" for our "restaurant". We had blackberries that grew wild by the back fence. And, of course, the honeysuckle. I'd pull the thin strand of a hundred flowers for that tiny drop of nectar on the end of each one. There was just so much to discover in our small yard, so much opportunity for pretending. And that outside place became a refuge from the storms raging in the inside place.

Sometimes I'd sit on one of our swings, holding tight to the chains and dragging my feet in the dirt, praying for the screams to stop. Praying that God would forgive me for the fight I surely must have caused. Praying that no one could hear the violence in my home, the sound of anger echoing throughout the neighborhood like a mad locust's love song. It was all I could do: Pray and wait. Pray for forgiveness. Wait for the quiet and a chance to make it right. My father would have left by then, bewildered by the conflict. I'd hear his car pull out of the driveway and I'd make my move. Creep up the stairs clutching a bouquet of wildflowers, following the sounds of sobbing. And then, the tender, tentative whisper, "Mom? I picked you these flowers." Crying. "Are you alright?" Crying. Crawling beside her shaking, wailing body. "Every thing's alright, mommy. You're going to be alright." Tandem crying. Tears in her eyes and in mine.

I don't know what I was thinking. I guess I thought the problems of grown-ups were simple, something easily fixed with an apology and a bouquet of wildflowers. I honestly believed I could fix it if I only tried hard enough, behaved well enough, said the right words, was the right kind of child. I wanted so badly to heal the wounds, stop the hurt once and for all. I carried it around in my heart, heavy as the boulder embedded in the ground in our backyard. My mom didn't ask me to. I raised my hand for the assignment. I swallowed the heaviness whole, buckled under its weight all those years. It's no body's fault. It is what it is.

Yesterday afternoon I watched my daughter digging into the earth with her bare hands, a pile of collected rocks at her side. I thought in that moment that she was oblivious to everything but her seeking, her private mission. Until:

"Mom, why are you crying?" Shit. These days the tears come unbidden and unwelcome in the oddest moments. They well up and there I sit, leaky as a faucet.

"Don't worry about me, sweetie" I said, trying to collect myself, "Mommy's just a little bit sad."

"Why? Why are you sad?"

"Because I'm silly." I got up and chased her with my tickling hands. I grabbed her at the waist and we fell in tandem, laughing. My eyes were still wet with tears, but I willed myself to stop making them. Not here, not now. I laid on my back while Liv went back to her play.
A few minutes later, in the midst of the very heavy work of not crying, Liv ran back to me excited.

"Look what I found, Mom!" She was holding a small, curved twig in her hand.
"Wow! What is that?" I said, over-enthusiastically.

"It's a smile. A smile for you." And she took her little smile-shaped twig and pressed it against my mouth, willing me with all her precious heart to be happy.

"Now you won't be sad no more. Now you are happy!" My sweet Liv stood in front of me with a belly full of pain. My pain. She has swallowed that heaviness and it breaks my heart.

It is the hardest thing in the world to pretend that I am whole for my child when I am all fragments and loose parts. I ask myself the question over and over, "Is it better to have a crazy mother or no mother at all?" The jury's still out on that one.


  1. Crazy mother.

    Liv sounds fantastic.
    I was eating some honeysuckle just the other day. It's strange how hard we used to work for that little taste of nectar.

  2. Oomph. That was an amazing post.

    Your daughter sounds like a remarkable little girl. And to answer your last question, she had to learn how to be that amazing from someone.

  3. This is a gut-achingly lovely post.

  4. She's a love. And you're working on the crazy.

  5. My kids know when I'm down. It hangs in the air, thick and tangible. Which makes the moments when I smile at them, for their caring and love, that much more meaningful . . .

  6. Beautifully written. I haven't thought about that blackberry bush in years. Who cut that down?! I also made "soup" with that onion grass! And I used to pretend that the nasty mosquito larvae that would grow in that old baby pool were noodles. I was one disturbed child.

  7. Geo - Yeah, that little drop of sweetness was just so worth the effort.

    Sci Fi Dad - It's hard for me to see right now that I have anything to do with her amazing qualities. But it's worth considering. Thanks for the comment.

    Maggie, Dammit - Thanks for thinking so, and for reading. I worry about bringing folks down, sometimes. That's not my intention at all.

    Magpie - You're right - I am working SO hard on the crazy. Thanks.

    Ty's Daddy - So you know how it feels then. I wonder how much of ourselves we need to hide from our kids.

    Jodi - I think we all were a little disturbed. Still are, maybe? I don't know who cut the bush down. Probably Dad. He cut down those forsythia bushes in the front yard that I loved so much, too. So, I wouldn't put it past him. :)

  8. Gwen--that was a lovely story. Isn't it funny how things from our childhood pop up in the most random ways, at the most random times?

  9. Sweet child. You raised her well.

  10. I don't think your daughter has a crazy mother. I think your daughter is a lucky little girl. I also think that, if we let them, weed bouquets could cure a lot of our ills. My little boy, doing what little boys do, put one of his toys in my bag last week and that little gesture got me through a day.

  11. Ooooo honeysuckles = metaphor for life!

    and I forgot to say, this is a lovely lovely, caverns-of-our-heartspaces post.

  12. Tremendous insight and poetry. What would your mother tell you RIGHT NOW to do about your sadness?

  13. Wonderful post, Gwen.

    You've hit on something so powerful and so gut-wrenching (for me) that I usually walk around, gingerly poking it with a stick, but never really thinking about it.

    This was helpful, made me think about it, whether I liked it or not.

  14. "Is it better to have a crazy mother or no mother at all?"

    At one time my children had to witness me in a fetal position on the floor, begging for my life to end. They watched as panic attacks swallowed me whole for weeks, and I could barely function.

    It hurts to know what my pain put them through. I wish I had been stronger. I wish I could have spared them.

    But, life is what it is and there's no undoing it. And we've loved each other. Through it all.

  15. That was absolutely beautiful and I understood every word of it. Thank you for putting it out there.