Imperfect Serenity

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Goodbye Garden

Our community garden is being shut down. There’s a “For Sale” sign blocking the gate, and the garden is riddled with holes where people have salvaged clematis, lilac, irises, and lilies. Our own plot has been empty since Saturday when I pried the thick-rooted asparagus out of the corner it was wedged in and brought it to the only sunny corner of our small backyard. Our raspberries went to a neighbor.

The saddest part Saturday was seeing the garden’s founders wandering from bed to bed asking people how they were doing and if anyone wanted a really long hose. These are folks who put a lot more heart and muscle into the garden than we did, and I felt more disappointed for them than for us. We at least have the relief of one less thing to do on a Saturday morning. The garden workdays were starting to compete with Irish dance and soccer, but I wouldn’t have quit voluntarily.

When my nine-year-old daughter first heard that the garden was to be sold, she said, “All that work, wasted.” I tried to explain to her that it wasn’t a waste. The garden gave us food for seven years. It gave us pleasure and community. We’ve gotten to know people from our neighborhood who we wouldn’t have met without the garden. For at least the last few months, we’ve had a fenced place to let Spud run around off his leash.

I think my best memory from the garden is of watching Megan plant seeds. In recent years she’s planted them in rows, but before that it was by the fist-full. When she was two she took a bag of sunflower seeds and ran around the garden dropping them willy-nilly. The following year sunflowers popped up in the most unexpected places, and for years afterwards. When at eight Megan realized that a six-foot sunflower was probably the descendant of the seeds she’d planted years ago, she laughed with wonder and pride. That’s what I hope my children got out of the garden: the wonder and pride that come from planting a seed, watering it, and months later harvesting the results.

My kids can read science books at school or learn about nature on TV, but I’m convinced there’s something they learn about life when they plant a seed and water it that can’t be learnt any other way. For starters, they learn that growth takes time, patience, and care. They also learn that even when they do everything right, some seeds survive and others don’t. Like the garden itself, some plants grow for a season and then die, but that doesn’t mean their life was wasted.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


We were actually running on time this morning, even though a friend called at 7:20 and asked us to take her daughter to school. One extra kid was no trouble, especially since she sat on my bed and read while I admonished my own children to put their shoes on and brush their teeth. Still, things were running relatively smoothly, and I managed to get the three kids in the car by five to eight. So when Megan said she wanted to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the car, and Luke offered to run in and get it for her, I figured we could spare an extra minute to let a brother do a favor for a sister.

It’s what happened next that caused the trouble. As Luke ran back out with the book, Tom opened the door to wave goodbye to us again, and the dog darted under his arm, across the street, down an alley, and out of sight. Luke jumped into the street, his face contorted with fear, as Tom went running down the alley in his work clothes.

You just never know when life is going to get exciting.

Last time Spud ran away at least it was the weekend, so he didn’t hit rush hour traffic when he ran across Henry Avenue. Tom was annoyed at having to chase him up to the reservoir where he apprehended the pup playing with another dog, but at least Tom wasn’t late for work, and the kids weren’t late for school. In fact they didn’t know it had happened until it was over. This time Luke squealed anxiously that he hoped Spud wouldn’t be hit by a car or lost forever, as I cruised around the neighborhood with a leash, a doggy treat and three kids, hoping to spot my husband and/or my dog. Finally my cell phone ran with Tom reporting that the fugitive had been caught and Luke heaving a huge sigh of relief in the back seat. Megan went back to reading Harry Potter.

The whole incident didn’t last more than ten minutes, but it reminded me that we never quite know what’s going to happen next, even when we are trudging through a dull routine. It reminded me of the morning five years ago when Luke ran straight into the bathroom door frame, gashing his scalp open under his hair and landing us in the ER in our pajamas on a morning when I was supposed to work. It also reminded me of the morning Luke was holding Spud’s leash, and Spud almost pulled both of them into rush hour traffic on Henry Ave. For that matter, it reminded me of the two friends who have had lumps removed from their breasts recently and a woman I know who just lost her job suddenly.

Certainly positive things can happen unexpectedly, too, as well as accidents much more tragic than any we’ve experienced. But this morning I’m thinking about the gift often contained in life’s little whammies. For example, both my friends found their lumps were benign, and at least one of them has said that the anxious weeks of wondering if she had breast cancer made her more appreciative of her life. I certainly feel more appreciative of Luke whenever he comes safely out of another scrape. I even felt slight remorse this morning for all my complaining about Spud as we drove the neighborhood hoping to see his mischievous trot.

Even though we’re in that time of year that focuses on the dull business of brushing teeth, packing lunches, and signing permission slips, it’s good to remember that life is unpredictable and not to be taken for granted.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Letting Go

I had forgotten that my last post was called “Slowing Down” until I started writing this. It’s been unusually long since I’ve posted because I had to start teaching a week before the children went back to school. Then there was the Labor Day pot luck, the end of summer overnight camp out in Fairmont Park, the first day back to Irish dance lessons for Megan and her first fall performance, not to mention Philadelphians Against Santorum, for which I am a block captain. Yesterday I ended up speeding across the city to get to meeting for worship, a reminder that I haven’t mastered the slowing down thing yet.

So today starts the first full week of school for the children, and Megan wants to do a mind boggling number of activities: chorus, the school play, Irish soft shoe, and Irish hard shoe. But she wants to quit piano, for which I paid a deposit last spring. We are having some serious family discernment about how much we can handle and how to balance the encouragement of a child’s enthusiasm and talent with her less obvious need for down-time. We’ve talked to Megan about how she needs to let go of some of what she wants, while I’m secretly wondering if I need to let go of my desire to have her stick with piano. But the mom has to take the long view, and piano, while not as social and fun in the short term, has some real long term benefits. The mom also has to think about what’s best for everyone, so I must weigh Megan’s hoped for activities against how it will impact Luke’s schedule, as well as mine as Tom’s.

This issue of weighing what’s best for everyone has got me thinking in a new way about the book I’ve been trying to get published. When I first started writing about my spiritual journey as a mother, my children were so young it seemed inconceivable they would ever read. Now they are both reading, and I’ve realized that they’ll want to read anything I’ve written about them. Just recently they’ve both said that they don’t want me to write embarrassing stories about them, though they’ve said it’s OK to quote them when they say something profound or funny. I’ve been trying to respect that in this blog since they said it, even though Luke's antics have provided some of my best material. The bigger problem is that the book I’ve written includes stories that they will certainly find embarrassing during their middle school years, but also stories about how difficult motherhood has been for me at certain phases. I think all of it will be good for them to read as adults, when they’re old enough to understand the overall message of love and gratitude, but as children? I’m starting to have some doubts.

This raises some questions about the mysterious business of leadings, the Quaker term for things we feel led by God to do. I felt clearly led to write about my experiences as a mother, so maybe I just assumed that some publisher would feel led to publish it. Quakers say that “way will open” if something is meant to be. There are different opinions about what to do if way doesn’t open. Sometimes it may mean we have more to do (Should I rewrite the manuscript with more emphasis on Quakerism, as some have suggested?). Sometimes it means we just have to wait (How long? I’ve been waiting a year and a half.) And sometimes it means that this wasn’t meant to be.

The fact that the book hasn’t sold yet, combined with my fears about it hurting the children and a new idea about how to integrate some of the material into a completely different book I want to write (The Wisdom to Know the Difference idea I mentioned many months ago) made me start wondering yesterday if I should just let go of the idea of publishing the motherhood book. Mostly that feels OK, though it was years of work. Was it a waste of time? Actually, I don’t think so. I’m pretty certain that writing about motherhood, observing myself and trying to be more conscious, made me a better mother than I would have been had I not been writing. The process itself also gave me great satisfaction, which I think is important, even if it won’t pay the school tuition.

I’m still testing this new way of thinking about the book, but I actually don't feel that sad about it. I’m reminded that one of the book's major themes was learning to let go of what I wanted for the greater good. Maybe all those years of not getting enough sleep really did teach me how to let go.

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