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my life is a poem
by britt kaufmann

My life is a poem, I tell myself. If only I can find the right words, I can turn this, the mundane, the oh-so-very common, into the universal, into something poignant…After all, everyone has snot, right?

Viscosity. I hang many moments on this word. The moments with the accursed ball syringe shoved up my son’s nose. I hear its sucking sound over his struggling screams and pull it out, expel the snot onto a rag and attempt to get the rest trailing on his upper lip. It’s stubborn. Viscosity, I think. And, This moment will pass.

“So, how’s the worst year of your life going?” my aunts and uncles ask me at my brother’s wedding reception. My mom must have shown them the article published in WNC WOMAN last year about my coming to terms with a two-year-old and twins on the way. I was sure it would be the worst year of my life.

“OK,” I say as I dash off holding one squirming twin under my arm to where my daughter, who has refused to take off her white flower girl dress, sits in the dust, dragging a stick through it to ‘build roads’.

Because sometimes there just aren’t words to say how it’s going—so when I go to hang a moment on a word, like a coat on a hook, I fall. I’m still reaching for that word on which to hang the 6 am projectile poop all over our king-size comforter that can only be washed at a laundromat.

My daughter, however, became quite good at naming her poos while she potty trained. “Look! I made two happy poos!” she announced after a bout of apparent dehydration. Others were snake poos, snowman poos, and even, once, an airplane poo. (It really did resemble one.)

But describing a thing is only one step in processing it. And I continue to need my vocabulary crutches.

When I would sit, strapped into the twin nursing pillow, each son tugging at a breast, I would desperately try to replace Cow with Corporeal. But trying to banish Cow when faced with the task of relaxing enough to let down, the whirring of the breast pump calling to mind Midwest dairy farms, and my two year old asking “What’s that thing?”—well, sometimes it was too hard a task.
Days still pass when I see mothering as just a series of Leavings. You birth them into the air and they cut you apart from one another. They are weaned (at 8 months). They learn to crawl away from you. Walk (at 9 ½ months). Preschool takes them three (blessed) afternoons a week. Then full day kindergarten. In junior high, you’re to pretend you don’t even know them.
This spring I watched a mother sobbing at her son’s graduation party and I was reminded that though it seems like time never passes for me and each minute is like the last, like the next, that it really will be gone in a flash. I will no longer have unquestioned rights to kiss them as I please in that little hollow at the nape of their necks. They will pack up their things and go. As they should. Already the twins turn one this October.

Ephemeral, I think. This time is absolutely too fleeting to be miserable mothering. What could the benefit of martyrdom be?

My friend says, “There’s a fine line between being a committed mother and being committed.” And I couldn’t agree more.

I am no superhero mom. My sister-in-law put in nearly 12 hour days at our house the first 5 months of the twins’ lives. The high school girls who came after early-release put in about 20 hours a week until school started again this late summer.

I can’t do this alone (even with a helpful husband) and I don’t want to. I want to be aware I’m living a poem. There is no sense in looking back when they’re in college and thinking, Why didn’t I bother to be happy when they were all here?

All too infrequently do I hang moments on Respite. But we have finally reclaimed our bed and a full night’s rest. No longer do their bodies nestle between ours and no longer do I wake in the wee hours of the morning to feed them. We find it hard to get to bed at night we are so bent on claiming a few hours of our own. After 9:00 when all the Cheerios are finally swept up off the floor, the children abed, the house cooling with night air, we can expand our chests enough to heave a few heavy sighs.

On a few occasions, my husband and I have managed to escape on a date where we sit, silent, through a meal, just happy to only be feeding our selves, wiping only our own bottoms when we go to the restroom. But inevitably we will stop at the grocery store on the way home to pick up necessities: bananas, formula, and beer.

One evening I even found myself with enough energy to challenge my brain and picked up Poets Teaching Poets, a series of essays edited by Gregory Orr and Ellen Bryant Voigt. In his essay “Poetry and Self-Making” Reginald Gibbons examines Yeats’ work, among others, which reflects on what writing poetry does to us. He concludes “… writing becomes our way of discovering and shaping our own understanding, and maybe thereby our own lives, and a way to share the self-empowering we gain from this preoccupation and artistic work with others.”

And that pulls it all together for me. I write to posses my life more fully, to freeze these moments of now so I can thaw them later, like blueberries, to enjoy again. I finally understand the Anaïs Nin quote on one of my high school graduation cards: “We write to taste life twice.” I write to change my life from the tedium to the poignant. I write to gain the necessary distance to appreciate my life instead of becoming mired down in it.

“I hope you’re writing this down,” a mother of older twins advised me. “You will forget.”

Writing this article, I reread a journal entry from just a few weeks ago I had already forgotten: “It is enough that they give kisses, big slobbery, open-mouth slurps that become zerberts or result in a sucking sound. It is enough that they reach for each other and hold hands, highchair to highchair, and completely forget me, pureed peas poised on the spoon. It is enough that they know I am their mother and prefer me to about anyone else. I can still hold them both, back swayed, and dance, slowly, to the music. Not much longer. But it is enough - this now.”

So, when I wake tomorrow morning, bleary eyed from staying up in the late quietness I need to write, I can approach the day’s tasks fresh. Though I will find myself, once again, mashing a banana into that odd, slimy consistency and be taken right back to Viscosity.


Britt Kaufmann lives in Burnsville with her three small children and kind husband. Once a month she gets away to help co-host Eve’s Night Out, a local women’s poetry reading at Blue Moon Books in Spruce Pine (the 4th Friday of each month at 7:30). [ britt.kaufmann@gmail.com ]

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