February 20, 2011 § 10 Comments

After the fall.

The winter has ended here in Alexandria, and for that I am so grateful. I know, people  here say it will snow again, but whatever. Big whoop. Winter as I remember it – below zero temps, icy roads, wind so cold it hurts, snowdrifts so high you can’t even see the tops of parking meters – is over. In fact, here, it only lasted a few weeks.

Now, instead of winter we have mud. The park the boys love the most is called The Pit because it used to be the staging area for houses in our neighborhood when they were built in the 1930’s. Now, it’s a big park with an asphalt play area, a big sand box, abandoned bikes and scooters and toys, and a mini woods with a trail kids can run on. In the summer it is scorching, and now, in late winter, it has mud like quicksand.

We went the other day and were the only ones there except for two moms on the asphalt area. They were the Perfect Moms, as I call them, right before I scold myself for judging them. But really, I am not judging, I am just envious of their blow-outs, their perfect figures, the way they can look beautiful in down jackets. They wear cute flats or the fur-lined, Sorel snow boots I covet but can’t justify spending money on based on the fact that I live below the Mason Dixon Line. Most of the time, these perfect moms don’t have sons.

The day we went to the park, the two Perfect Moms were talking while their young daughters played. My own boys roared passed them, their coats flapping in the wind and their sturdy LL Bean boots making them look like tiny astronauts. Tiny astronauts headed for the mud.

I tried to make eye contact with the moms as we went by but they were deep into their own conversation. Just as well. My red hair was -as usual – a crazy cloud around my face, I had on a baggy fleece jacket, and my own feet were tromping by in a pair of Lowa (not cute) hiking boots. Oliver took one of the scooters that “live” at the park and headed straight into the mud and Gus followed behind. The mud was so thick that Gus’ boot got stuck and he started crying. The scooter Oliver was using also got stuck and he laughed, delighted at the force of the mud, at the pull of  Nature.

I was waiting for it. I knew it was coming: “Girls, Stay OUT of that MUD,” called the Perfect Moms. I closed my eyes. Usually, I tried to at least make eye contact or wave. Sometimes, if I am feeling friendly, I ask if it is OK my boys are playing in it. Today though, I just didn’t care. Oliver and Gus had been forced inside by the weather for too long, housebound while their neurotic mother followed behind them with a broom and a dustpan. “Don’t jump on the couch, don’t run in the house, wipe your feet.” I had been a broken record for weeks now. If they wanted to play in the mud, then they could damn well play in the mud.

I thought we would last longer than we did, but it was only about 15 minutes before Oliver’s boots got stuck in the mud while he himself was still moving forward, his arms on the handlebars of the scooter. He was launched out of his own boots and landed headfirst into the mud. If it wasn’t my child, I probably would have been doubled over laughing. It was kind of hilarious, actually, like something you see on YouTube. But as I ran over, I could see Oliver was upset. Gus also came running over, and as he saw the mud running from Oliver’s hair to his nose, he  started to cry. I comforted Oliver and wiped the mud from his face and Gus too settled down. “Nice work,” I told Oliver, meaning it. “That was pretty cool.” Oliver smiled. “Did you see that?” he asked after he had calmed down. “Absolutely,” I said, and then Oliver got upset again as more mud ran into his face. “It’s OK,” I said. “There’s a towel in the car.”

Unfortunately, we had to march by the Perfect Moms on our way out. “Ewww,” said one. “Look at all that mud. Someone’s going to have to do a lot of laundry tonight.”

I smiled at them, one of those tight smiles that really means “Shut the fuck up.” Yoga, I thought. Remember the yoga. This depresses me, the fact that although I have been doing yoga for years, I still have these loud, ungenerous thoughts.

Inside my trunk were two huge fleece blankets for covering the boys up on school runs, when the heat in the car doesn’t turn on fast enough to warm them up.  I told Oliver to take off his hat and coat and shirt. His boots. All of it went onto a blanket and I bundled him into my fleece jacket. I carried him into the car and got Gus bundled in as well. Oliver was so dirty that there was mud in his ears, inside his nose.

The Perfect Mom was getting her own daughter into her Range Rover. “I love a mom who’s prepared,” she said in her singsong voice.

“Uh huh,” I said back.”Thanks.” I loaded the bundle of mud back into the trunk of my own very dirty Prius, feeling like I was in high school, that somehow, I didn’t have the DNA to be cool, that I had missed something fundamental to my development. That even if I could afford a Range Rover, mine wouldn’t be as clean as the Perfect Mom’s. My hair would never be that straight. If I wore ballet flats, they would be filthy within hours.

Whatever, I told myself. The boys seemed happy. “I didn’t get mud on my nose,” Gus kept saying on the way home. “Mommy, did you see that fall I did?” Oliver asked.

At home, I raced up to start the bath. I herded Oliver and Gus downstairs into the laundry room and peeled off the rest of their clothes. Scott came home right after and put them in the bath, marveling at the mud that was caked into almost every tiny fold of skin, every finger, and every toe. I went back down to the laundry room and began to remove the wet liners from the sturdy boots. They could be washed. I took apart the 3-in-1 coats, which required 8 snaps to be undone. I went back upstairs and back out to the car to clean the car seats and to take in the mittens and hats. My own fleece, now full of mud.

I had to pause for a second outside and catch my breath. Suddenly, this simple task seemed insurmountable. The mud. The dirt. Every time I cleaned it up, it appeared again. It lasted for days. I found it in a corner of the kitchen, under the dining room table, on my jeans. It was never going to go away. I thought of something Lindsey posted: “Do I ever arrive anywhere without a car trunk full of things that need unloading, unpacking, putting-into-place?”

My life would always be a mess. I would always have unkind thoughts, eat too much chocolate, be unable to go vegan. I would never be one of those lovely, graceful yoga teachers. Hell, I wouldn’t even be someone with Sorel boots. Really , was it too much to ask for? I just wanted to be fixed already.

This winter, I made a commitment to embrace the darkness, to really go within this year and see what I could dig up. In the words of Alana at Life After Benjamin, I vowed to go in with my Mag light and tool kit. I wanted to excavate the ruins. I wanted to find something gleaming that would be worth saving. I wanted to find some gem within myself that shone brightly. And there have been discoveries, semi precious jewels that are banged up and a bit cloudy but that might be valuable someday. There have been moments where I haven’t eaten the chocolate, or poured the glass of wine or madly tried to clean the house in order to just feel better. But I still do all of those things. I still try to escape my own skin sometimes. I still try to outrun myself in the hopes that the me who I don’t like so much won’t catch up. Standing there outside as the cold came back and the darkness fell, and still, loads of laundry to do and mud to sweep up and soon a bathtub to scrub, it all just seemed too much. Perhaps I was beyond any kind of redemption. Maybe there was just too much dirt.

I thought of what my college track coach used to tell me before big meets, when I was so scared I couldn’t see straight. “You know what to do,” he would say. “After the gun goes off, it’s just work. Just do the work.” Then the work was running around a track 13 times, putting one foot in front of the other for 5000 meters, trying to make my split times, trying to run faster than the girl next to me. Now the work is more nebulous, the pain more diffuse, the epiphanies diaphanous, the questions looming.

But there are voices too. There are blogs, this kind of other-world where people are greeted by the words of their hearts. There are echoes from the past, of others with more guts than me. “Tell me,” Mary Oliver asks as I turn the dog-eared pages, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Where Am I?

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