tension of the sweet spot

Where is that sweet spot? That place that challenges me to stretch farther than I thought I ever would without being so far to break me? I would appreciate if that place was easier to find, to be aware of within myself, to dwell in.

Recently a friend asked me to write a poem for her husband. I know some would argue that all of what I write is poetry, just mostly in the form of prose. But I do not think of myself as a poet.

When I wrote the one poem I have published on this blog, I felt terribly out of my element. Poetry is outside the box and makes me squirm. Very risky business. I don’t think I have that intuitive gut that tells me how the words need to be broken up, where they ebb and flow to make just the right song.

And yet, there is something weighty in the freedom to express something without having to spell it out. To guess my way through something based on hunches and relying on instincts I didn’t think I had.

This was also the first time I tried to write something for someone else. What a privileged challenge to climb inside someone’s soul and try to figure out what is locked in their heart and express it on their behalf. Looking into her words to find what is behind them. Empathy and listening – strengths I live in as easily as I breathe – become a foreign. I am a novice once again. And it feels good to be so green.

She gave me her raw material and I just about died. Her heart of love for her husband, this life they have built together, the respect and honor for this man. This was sacred ground. How could I ever do this justice? I almost broke the entire time, but I also felt like I was flying. How can that be?

I have a draft. She may love it. She may hate it. I hope she feels free to be honest. No matter what the result, I am better for it. I didn’t look for it, I didn’t orchestrate it, but this was that sweet spot, making me wretchedly uncomfortable and wildly energized all at once.

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sparkling goo

What kind of creature leaves behind such a beautiful trail? My kids and I all squeal when we walk outside after a good rain. The thought of one miss-step leading to a crackly scrunch followed by slippery ooze underfoot is enough to turn my karate-chopping boys into prissy little girls as they make their way down the path that heads away from our porch.

Seriously, snails are not the most enchanting creatures. They are slimy and – dare I say – gross. And now that the weeds are mostly gone (at least for the time being), they cover my walkway after the slightest bit of moisture released from the clouds.

Yes, they have cool shells. And yes, they make their way through this world on one foot, which is quite impressive. And yes, I DID graduate from the college with a slug for a mascot (UC Santa Cruz banana slugs…..the ecological mascot……whoot-whoot!). But no, I am not a fan of this family of creatures as I play frogger down my path to avoid killing them and leaving their disgusting goop on my shoe.

However, I must admit they leave awfully pretty art for me to appreciate after they are gone. And, quite frankly, the more they leave behind the better. Shiny, delicate, light-catching patterns mask the aging and barely-there paint of my concrete walkway.

How ironic that such a putrid creature can leave behind something so lovely. And I start to think of what I have left behind this week. It’s not nearly as pretty as the snails. And I think myself to be so much better than those snails.

During Spring Break with all my children home and driving each other nuts, the imprint I leave behind at the end of the day is more akin to a snail smooshed by my shoe than glimmering doilies of delight and joy.

But then those beautiful trails catch my eye again and I am reminded. A mucous-propelled creature left those trails. Redemption is alive and well. There is hope that somehow, someway even my ugly days can be refashioned to bring beauty.

whispers and a break

My heart is twisted and wrung completely out as I watch my son struggle. Four out of the five times I have been to the hospital with a child have been for him. IVs, staph infections, broken arms, and ear surgeries are petrifying for children.

I have seen more bravery from this child than I have living in my entire adult body. Because of course, I don’t define bravery as the absence of fear but the overcoming of it.

And with all of those trips to the hospital, I could offer my son comfort with my very presence. Hugs and kisses from mom softened the pain and made things more bearable. Just being there with him. Never leaving his side. Whispering encouraging words in his ears. Telling him I love him.

But in this moment, I must simply sit and watch. And make no mistake, it is excruciating.

Karate testing day always throws him. Most people don’t notice. He hides it like a master illusionist. But I, his mother, know exactly what his face looks like as he holds his tears at bay. And every time, I squirm inside.

But this is the absolute worst it has ever been. He is required to break a youth board, as he should be. We all know he is plenty strong enough to do it. If he came at the board the same way he tears through the practice target, there would be nothing but splinters left.

But he hesitates every time that board shows up. Of course he does. He is tender. He is kind. He is a lover.

So I watch him struggle. And fighting the instinct to swoop in and save or help or whisk him away from difficulty is one of the most difficult things for me to do as a parent.

He is in the best of hands, though. After more tries than it should take of kicks and elbow strikes, as we see him breaking down and wiping away tears he wishes were not coming down his cheeks in front of all of these people, his instructor pulls him close and tenderly whispers to him. He hands him the board and sends him back to his spot on the mat.

My son covers his face, pushing his nose into his elbow in a way that I know he wants to disappear from this moment. One of the other instructors goes to him, sits next to him and gently whispers in his ear.

A few minutes later, as class is excused and the children get up to have their boards signed (karate tradition), there are more whispers to him from a third instructor who walked around for days, perhaps even weeks with an unbroken board. He knows better than anyone in the room what my son is experiencing right now.

I have no idea what all these whispers are. But I am eternally grateful for them. Because I sit frozen on my chair. All that is in me wants to go and hug my son.

Instead, my hand grips the thigh of my friend next to me. She whispers me through this, reminding me of what I already know. That this will require something from my son that he has to find inside himself.

He waits patiently next to his instructor until the last board is signed. And then he says, “I want to try again.”

He throws a few elbow strikes as we all hold our breath. The tears begin to well up again when his instructor suggests a spinning back kick. On the first try, the CRACK of the board rings out followed by an eruption of cheers and applause.

I couldn’t be more proud. Not because my son broke a piece of wood. But because he refused to let that piece of wood break him.