life is a poem
by britt kaufmann
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?
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.
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.
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’.
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
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.)
describing a thing is only one step in processing it. And I continue
to need my vocabulary crutches.
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.
I think. This time is absolutely too fleeting to be miserable mothering.
What could the benefit of martyrdom be?
friend says, “There’s a fine line between being a committed
mother and being committed.” And I couldn’t agree more.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
hope you’re writing this down,” a mother of older twins
advised me. “You will forget.”
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.”
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). [ email@example.com