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Have you ever realized something fairly simple about yourself in what feels like a very delayed amount of time? Last week was the best and the worst. It was the best because I’m emotionally steadier than I have been since Before Corona (BC onwards). I’m feeling more like my legs are tree trunks with years worth of roots in the ground. These trunks and their roots are substantial enough to weather severe winds or worse because they have experienced enough to know that atmospheric conditions are fleeting.
It was the worst because being an adult sucks sometimes. When I’m overwhelmed, I think my knee-jerk reaction is the temptation to shed the armor of responsibility and hatch an escape plan, even though I never intend (or want) to pursue either of those options. It seems I am more a proponent of fight mode, but that I can only arrive at this conclusion after I have cycled through all the ways I’m certain flight—fleeing—will never work. It took me 31 years to figure this out, but isn’t it simple?
It’s Wednesday afternoon right now—I’m looking out the window above a desk in my bedroom and even though it’s daytime, my desk lamp is lit, which I hate. The clouds outside are too heavy for me to shut the light and I’m watching a layer of mesh that is tied to four metal poles as if a makeshift roof, swaying from the top of a building across the street. Next to this makeshift roof, there is another sheet of white fabric. It looks like a plastic table cloth that is about to rip off of itself. I have known work was being done on this building, that mesh layers and plastic cloths have been covering the various construction materials that are on it, but before quarantine, I never stopped to wonder about the intended purpose of these materials. Or the construction. The building looks good to me. But what do I know? It just never occurred to me to ask, acknowledge, or wonder about it.
But lately, I have marveled in keeping a digital chronicle of things I have noticed, per a recommendation that Gyan made last month. Logging what I see instead of what I feel is, I think, its own form of meditation. Dare I call it healing.
Another thing I saw that filled me up with hope: Yesterday, I took Madeline and Laura for a walk through Little Italy (I live on its precipice) and three masked men were power washing a row of umbrellas on the corner of Mulberry and Hester. Madeline shouted at one of them, “What are you doing?” And graciously, he replied, “Getting our umbrellas ready for the summer.”
It seems unlikely that they will be needed this summer—I hope I am wrong— but it doesn’t matter either way because for a moment yesterday, while the sun was shining and my kids were in shorts and I was wearing sandals, I could see a pathway toward normal. In this daydream, restaurants were so busy, you could feel the vibration coming off the sidewalk. Tourists were asking for shade. I could smell oregano emanating from moving plates.
A pathway toward but not back to normal. There is a distinct difference because no matter what happens next, we are changed. I hope I don’t forget it.
Meanwhile, I spent the first 10 minutes of our walk, all three of us on foot, explaining to Laura and her sister that neither was allowed to cross the street without holding my hand. They are relatively good listeners, particularly when I speak with a sort of gravity; sometimes I can hear myself and think: If my mom spoke to me like this, I’d disobey her all the more. But I don’t know how to stop! Even so, both were pretty great about adhering to the order. Madeline seemed to be exploring her own understanding of boundaries as I kept my mouth closed and she ran up a sidewalk, holding neither of my hands but stopping just short of the curb that separates the sidewalk from the crosswalk to ask for an embrace
Then Laura released her tiny hand from the palm of mine and floored it down a crossing. I was next to her, fine, and there was neither a car nor a person in sight, but what the fuck? What sort of action is a parent supposed to take when their 2-year-old so unapologetically gets a thrill out of doing exactly the thing they know they’re not supposed to do—and believe me, she knows. So I didn’t do anything. I mean, I yelled her name as she was running because it scared the shit out of me that she could be so fearless (maybe I was inspired? Is fearless the word?), then I kneeled and said: Why’d you do that?
Of course, she didn’t answer. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I asked anyway because, I guess, my jerking knee told me I should. I thought about punishing her, but how would that have worked? We were like five blocks from home and by the time we returned, we would have cycled through so many experiences, there is no way she’d have been able to track the crosswalk fiasco to the punishing. And honestly speaking, I hate punishing them. It doesn’t work, I mean, it works, but does it work? Every time we’ve done it, I wonder why our method is to create this dynamic of threatening them to make them listen to us. It’s either that or bribing them to get what we want.
But won’t raising them like this totally fuck up their perception of how the world works? Or am I wrong—is this how the world works?
I know from experience that it’s idealistic to assume they’ll just comply—that if they did, I’d probably hate it because I want them to test their own senses of curiosity, to experience the adrenaline rush of fearlessness, the pang of sometimes-consequent, but never fatal, recklessness and the spectrum of all that sits between the opposite ends of coming into your own agency. But I guess I wonder if these pursuits are idealistic too—if I say I want these experiences for my kids but have mentally omitted the fact that I don’t want them at my expense because: I’m tired (it was a long day), my fuses are short (dad and I had a big argument), I’m impatient (I need to make dinner), and on.
Sometimes I forget they are two. Of course they can’t see where I’m coming from. Do I really expect, even want them to? It’s my job to evaluate where they are, to meet at their levels, where the armor of responsibility has yet to weigh them down. Where every plan is an escape plan because that is the default setting: there is nothing to escape yet. How lucky they are, how lucky I am. What a finite privilege to facilitate their living like this. Did I forget that?
I have known that my kids are growing up. That even if everything looks the same—much like that construction scene out my window—there is much more to it. They see and think and perceive their worlds a little more fully every day. I guess it just hadn’t occurred to me to ask about it, even acknowledge that it’s there.
But here it is. Here we are.
Where are you?
Graphics by Lorenza Centi.