Songs in Turns

songs-in-turns

“OK, it’s Papo’s turn,” I say, turning in my seat to look at him, his hands on the wheel, eyes straight ahead. “What song would you like?”

“I’d like a nice surprise,” he says, emphasizing nice so that I don’t tease him by playing Sufjan Stevens, whose voice sets my husband on edge. He’s patient with me and my scrolling, trying to decide. So many songs make me think of him, but on this — and maybe only on this — I’m the over-thinker. In the end, I choose a Billy Joel song from the 1990s for him, an upbeat tune I know he likes, a song with a rhythm that seems to hide the wistfulness of the lyrics about searching forever in the water, in the valley, for something sacred, undefined, and lost. My husband, at my side for twenty-five years now, sings along, the crinkles at the edges of his eyes pressing each other. I tangle my fingers in the curls at the nape of his neck, content to be here next to him as he drums the steering wheel with the side of his hand.


The song ends, though, and it’s my older daughter’s turn. She has put her mountain of hair into an enormous bun; is knitting another smart-phone cozy in her lap. Her eyes look up as she considers, and I remember reading Junie B. Jones with her, when Junie B. (“the B stands for Beatrice, but I just like B, and that’s all!”) says “Mother rolled her eyes and looked at the ceiling. I looked up there, too. But I didn’t see anything.” And there she is, my no-longer-first-grader, no-longer-middle-schooler, almost-college-girl looking at the ceiling, too, trying to decide. I wish I could see inside to guess what she wanted, like when the choices were all songs from The Muppets. Eventually, she says, “Satisfied. And I get Angelica’s part!” She tips her head back and so much sound comes out, so much bravado and beauty, loud held notes, anger, love, desire, somehow accessible in the soul of a girl who used to twirl her finger around one curl as she sucked her thumb. I remember that dreamlike candlelight, like a dream that you can’t quite place… And the world goes by outside her window, so fast I can’t even make out the shapes of the trees.

“Your turn, Sammi,” she says as the song fades into its last notes.

She’s been waiting, my littlest one. She’s clear as a brand new glass of water, ready with her answer. “Scars to Your Beautiful,” she tells me, and I think of course. She’s literal and poetic at once, the message below the surface of her middle school drama and also, of course, right there on her shoulder blade, slit through twice as doctors pushed her rips apart to get to her aorta. The world, I want to tell her, might never change its heart, might always look right over her head at the space above her stature, might look past her unless she leaps into their view. The heart that needed to change was hers, will always be hers. Let me be your mirror, help you see a little bit clearer… But she sings along, trying hard to bring her bell-like voice above the belt of her sister’s. The growing band of bracelets on her wrists slide up and down, her finger curled into one rubber one from camp, a lifeline to people who understand her. I reach my hand back along the door and grab her ankle. She puts her hand on top of mine.

When the song ends, I’m ready with my choice, having considered it carefully. I’m always thinking through a series of eventualities: what will happen then? what will happen if I choose this? that? who will like it? who will sing along? who will listen and fall in love and ask for it again? who will be offended, inspired, bored, annoyed? I’d ruled so much out, scrolling through my lists, but here was just the thing for a rainy day on a road trip, a cover of something nostalgic, a version by William Fitzsimmons of Sarah McLachlan’s “Ice Cream,” dedicated to the precious cargo in the seats around me.

Your love is better than ice cream
Better than anything else that I’ve tried
And your love is better than ice cream
Everyone here knows how to cry

And it’s a long way down
It’s a long way down
It’s a long way down to the place where we started from

I wish I could touch all of them at once, but in the car, I can only reach one at a time with my hands. Instead, as I sing, I send tendrils out from my heart, bright ropes of light that encircle each one, snared forever, energetically connected to me as I tell them that nothing, nothing is better than them, nothing, not ever.


This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post, hosted by Kristi of Finding Ninee, with the prompt “Road Tripping.”

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There Was Joy

rear-view-mirror

There are so many things I had to refuse her.

I was newly a mother of two when a doctor – a kind doctor, a thoughtful doctor – told me that my new daughter would almost certainly end up in the hospital with every respiratory infection she got. Not a great idea, he said about twice-a-week daycare. Probably not, he said about baby-and-parent music classes. No, I don’t think so, was his answer to my hopeful questions about baby swimming, a smaller daycare, a playgroup. After two hospitalizations in her first five months, I believed him.

Through that first winter watched through front windows into an empty courtyard or through car windows into big sister’s preschool, my new daughter and I eyed the world with suspicion: me because it contained too many germs and her because nothing in it made her feel quite right. There was no sleep, no break, no time apart for the two of us to learn the beauty of missing each other and being reunited. There was just us, with the world outside the window a mystery.

The winter turned into years, isolated and treading water. Continue Reading…

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There Are No Adults

there-are-no-adults

“I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

I used to think there was such a thing as an adult.

At first, the adults were my parents and my teachers. They gave me answers in absolutes; this is the right thing and that is the wrong thing. That made me feel safe, and also freed me from my own opinions. If mine didn’t match theirs, it must be wrong. They were older and smarter and more experienced.

Then I got older and met more adults, and some of them seemed even more expert than my parents and teachers had been. Some were as sure of themselves as my former “adults” had been. It was terribly confusing to learn that the things I’d taken for gospel were, in fact, debatable. Some of these adults were gentle in sharing their wisdom, offering it alongside the wisdom I’d held before, calling it not the choice but a choice. That made me feel unsteady; how could I choose the adultiest adults, the rightest choices, the smartest smart people? If they all disagreed, did that make my original parents and teachers right? wrong? neither? WHO WERE THE REAL ADULTS?

It wasn’t until my youngest daughter got sick that I realized that there is no such thing as an adult. Continue Reading…

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Cream Cheese and Jelly

panini

Last month, my daughter texted me from school to ask me if she could buy a panini press.

“Where would you buy a panini press?” I asked her, mentally picturing the route home from school which includes only an indoor play space for toddlers and a gas station.

“At the school store,” she answered. “With my points!”

It turned out that, against all odds, there was a panini press at the school store where students can “buy” things with the points they earn for good behavior. I tried to figure out how it fit in with the erasers and plastic jewelry and school swag and soccer balls, but I gave up. Maybe it was a toy.

“Sure,” I tapped back into my phone.

By the time she came home, I had already forgotten, but there she was, grinning broadly beneath cheeks flushed with the cold, clutching a gift bag that sagged with the weight of a used panini press. She’d spent half of her points for it, and the teacher who’d packed it away had asked her if it was a gift for me.

“I told her no, it’s for me. I love paninis!” my girl told me triumphantly, hoisting it up onto the kitchen counter. Continue Reading…

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New Year, Same Short-Sightedness

Clean eating. Boot camp. Paleo diet, no-processed-sugar-January, new year cleanse. Slim down, tone up, burn it off, amp it up! 

To all of this, I say: you’re worse for children than pornography.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the danger of asking people — mostly women — to think so hard about their bodies. I think about it every time I see pseudo-food being peddled near in the grocery store — “low carb” bars and no-calorie salad dressings and lettuce proudly labeled “gluten free!” as if lettuce could ever contain gluten. Once, I did my best to listen respectfully while a member of my family described donuts as “absolute poison.”

Poison.

Donuts.

Around this time of year, the everyday drone of insistence on vilifying foods and hating our bodies gets louder. Every January, the ads on the internet and TV and in magazines and the newspaper start preying on the women who have not managed to set — or follow — new year’s resolutions to love themselves harder, no matter what. I think about it all the time, and fight its imprinting on my brain with my whole heart, but this week, I got involved in a Twitter thread that reminded me — in case I wasn’t anxious enough about how this would all affect ME — that there’s a population even more vulnerable than adult women.

That population is teenagers. Continue Reading…

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