I know what I know if you know what I mean

I am a reformed know-it-all.

I used to roll around in knowledge like a warm Dunkin Donut munchkin in powdered sugar. I wanted to be covered in it and then I wanted you to lick me.

Because I knew something. And if I knew it, you should know it, too. Then all our lives would be better.

My knowing has always been a well-intentioned sort.

It didn’t matter what the knowing was: At some points in my life, the knowing was boys. At others, it was Judaism or organized religion. At another junction, it was true love. And at yet another, it was friendship.

I knew what I knew and knowing it made me right. Being right made me feel safe. Not just on-the-surface safe — not the kind of safe we feel when we double-lock our doors or put on seat belts. No, a kind of subconscious, impregnable bubble of well-being that convinced me I knew people and I knew the world and I knew what should be done to make things right or better or good.

Then, something happened. Someone convinced me that there were things I didn’t know. Not only that, someone convinced me there were things I could never know — like what it was like to live during the French Revolution or what it felt like to be in the 2004 tsunami — no matter how much studying I did; no matter how much learning; no matter, even, how much listening. Some things are just unknowable because they are unique experiences. Even if, God forbid, I one day faced a tsunami, it would never be the 2004 tsunami. No matter how many videos on YouTube I watch, I am still an observer.  No matter how many poignant blogs I read, I am still only a participant in my own experience. And so therefore, there is a distinction to be made between what I know and what I know.

Once I knew this — once I knew this — I looked at life very differently. My experience of life and people changed when I understood “I know what I know” and when I accepted “I know there are things I will never know.”

There are things I cannot possibly know no matter how loving, how compassionate, how empathetic, how caring, how interested, how hungry I am. And this matters because it impacts my point of view, it affects how I see the world, people, opportunities, challenges, and risks.

My life changed because I stepped out towards life then as a curious observer; the kind of curious observer we are all born as and remain until life teaches us over and over again to be afraid.

Afraid of being out of control.

Afraid of being in danger.

Afraid of looking stupid.

Afraid of being stupid.

Afraid of being unloved.

Afraid of being unloveable.

You know the list … it’s longer than this.

This isn’t to say I am always acting as the curious observer. Today, for instance, as a man walked out into the street directly in front of my moving car, I thought immediately, “idiot!” But the curious observer now sits in the passenger seat and says, “maybe he had a belly ache and was rushing to the bathroom.” What she doesn’t say, but I know is, “Remember when you did that once?”

The thing is: the frightened know-it-all is constantly whispering from the passenger seat. Remnants of her will float up from deep inside me as ego-scented vibrational waves. Usually this happens when I am on social media or in heated conversations with my husband or my mother. The frightened know-it-all is sensitive to emotions, especially rejection and accusation. She is reactive, especially when under duress. She is only, after all, trying to keep me safe.

But she no longer can hang out there ruling like a queen bee on the playground of my life, one that is indeed filled with mines, but probably less dangerous than I perceive. The curious observer is there, too, asking questions; waiting for answers before stepping out.

 

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In this world, there is a fragile child

There is a cry lodged
There at the farthest most upper reaches
There at the roof of my mouth.

There, its origin may be found in between
There in between an exhale and an inhale
There where an ujjiyai breath washes over it.

There is not a wet cry
There lies a very ancient dry cry
There where it’s drier than a long suckled Japanese well.

There is nothing to do
There but notice how stuck
There to the roof is a cry.

There must be a way to dislodge such a cry from
There so I may be free from the horrors
There seem to be inhabiting the world of all children.

There in Nigeria
There in Syria
There in Hannaton

There once was a girl
There still is a boy
There are children who stick to the roof of my mouth like peanut butter choking me so that the word guttural rhymes with suffering rhymes with flutter in my chest rhymes with a man muttering

“do you want a ride?”

There is nothing to do
There but notice how stuck
There to the roof of my throat is

There really no place for my child
There or here  for my inner child?
There is only a lodged cry

There where
There should be
There could be flowing wet breath.

In the dark

I was one of those kids who was afraid of the dark.

Now, when I say “one of those kids” I do pause for a moment and wonder what kid isn’t afraid of the dark.

What adult isn’t still?

I think most of us are afraid of the dark. Even grownups.  We just pretend we’re not or drug ourselves or sex ourselves up to believe otherwise. We do something to smother the very innate fear we have of unknown monsters creeping like fog through the slats of our windows or more corporeal, through a locked door with the help of a plastic credit card.

There’s a reason why dark thoughts float to the surface of our mind at night.

I am still afraid of the dark. My bedtime routine? I read a book in bed with the light on until my eyes are practically closed and then I reach for the light and quickly fall to sleep. On the nights when I can’t fall asleep quickly, I’m troubled.

The dark is simply not a place I enjoy being.

It’s possible that not everyone is afraid of the dark.

If you’re one of these people, I’d be curious to hear from you. I wonder if it’s just us: Those of us with overactive imaginations; those of us with stress-related ulcers or migraines; those of us who jump at the sound of a ceramic plate falling to the ground; those of us who are afraid of the shadow we see at the corner of our eye when we’re drying our hair in the mirror. Is there a human being who welcomes the dark? Are you one?

My discomfort with the dark presents a quandary for me at bedtime with my kids. They all want me — still — to lie with them til they fall asleep. If they had their druthers, they’d sleep up against me all night long like spoons. One against the other in a row like a cartoon Tom & Jerry sandwich.

I can’t really blame them for that.

As much as I need space from them, space from people, space to be alone, I hardly ever want it at my own bedtime. This is not to say I enjoy tiny feet in my face at 3 am, but this is to say that I might, in some alternate Blade Runner reality, pay for someone to tickle my back and comb their fingers through my hair til I fell asleep. I might like that. It might be something I’d consider voting for in an election.

I want to know someone is near in the dark. But more important, I want to know someone is there to protect me.

I just want to know I am safe. Even if it’s a false knowing. Because, come on, do our kids really believe deep down we could protect them from ghouls, intruders, burglars?

No. I don’t think so.

They just want someone to whisper softly in their ears as they drift down into a subconscious that will take over for a time. They want the whispers to be true enough:

“You are safe. The world is safe. You are free to drift away. You are safe.”

I’ve been whispering these words to my middle son these past few nights. He had been having trouble sleeping the few nights before and our bedtime routine had become quite anguished, for both him and me.  I could continue to fight him; try for the 50th time to “sleep train” him successfully; or I could just acknowledge that my son is like me, afraid of the dark, not just the absence of light in his room but of the dark thoughts I know bubble up for him, too, at bedtime. Thoughts about people he loves. Thoughts about the fragility of life.

Who should have to be alone with such thoughts?

So at the end of an evening meditation I take him through, I speak the words I wish someone would speak to me as dreams carry me away.

“You are safe. The world is safe.”

Perhaps the more I speak them, the more the words will be true.

The less the dark will overpower me…and him…and you.

 

 

 

 

A trail of pebbles

I hardly blog about parenting anymore.

It’s not because I don’t have opinions to share or thoughts to express. It’s that I finally arrived at a place where I understand that most of what I say or think about parenting is either obvious or worthless.

Obvious to the older or more veteran demographic who, at best, might compassionately respond to what I write with a nod, “Oh yes, I remember that time of life.”

Worthless to the younger or less experienced demographic who, at best, can’t possibly imagine ever being in my situation, so focused they are on the stage of life, couplehood or parenting they are in right now.

I suppose, too, when it comes to parenting, I find my voice so boring I can’t even stand to read what I write.

This is when you should stop writing about a topic.

At least, this is when I should.

So I did. For a while.

Instead, I expressed my Parent Self through photographs and filters; as I tried to filter through what it meant that I no longer wanted to express myself as a parent.

My little Israeli hansel and grettl

I think I figured it out.

I stopped caring so much.

Which is unimaginable to me considering how much I used to

CARE.

How all-consumed I was as a mother.

How all-consuming my children were.

(“Yes, you were,” say my Greek chorus of family and friends in unison from the shadows of my not-so-distant past.)

But I got tired of caring.

Literally. Physically.

Tired.

Wiped out. Sucked dry. Milk gone.

From my breasts. From my galaxy.

There I was (there I am)

a heap of flesh, in desperate need of my own nourishment.

In need of someone like me to care so much about my needs, my safety, my future.

To hang my art on the refrigerator door.

To give me a Time Out.

To tie my hair back in a long, silky ribbon

and kiss me softly, with no expectations, in that region of my neck below the ear.

 

* * *

I just finished reading Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld, an author whose work I always love, always connect to. In the book, the main character is a mother of two very young children. She, like I was when my kids were infants and toddlers, is all-consumed by her role as mother. She wants to be not just a good mother, not only the best mother, but a mother IN CONTROL.

Because life, and more specifically parenting, is too overwhelming otherwise. At least for those of us like Kate (the main character) whose lives are precariously balanced between intuition and anxious uncertainty. At least for those of us who believe our children are a reflection of our commitment to parenting them.

On the one hand, I related very much to this character. I used to be her, to the smallest, organic, breastfeeding detail. On the other hand, I found her annoying and shrill. It’s clear the author does, too. In fact, she references just how shrill Kate is and sounds on more than one occasion. It’s clear, too, Sittenfeld is on the otherside of “all-consuming motherhood.” She is, in a way, mocking Kate. Lovingly so.

It was in the reading of the book that I fully understood (and admitted to myself) how I feel a tiny bit embarrassed by her. Not by Kate, but my Me. The former Me. The one who cared too much.

And how I feel a tiny bit ashamed of Her. Not the Her I used to be. Me. Now. The Her who doesn’t care so much.

I don’t really want to be either of them. Her then or Me now.

I want to be somewhere else.

Someone else.

But who?

* * *

The older demographic of my readers will likely nod at this post, “Oh yes, I remember that time of life.” That in between space. That desperation for nourishment. That guilt for wanting Me back so badly. The conflict between loving these children so much I can’t stand it and wanting them to leave the house RIGHT NOW so i can write so I can read so I can nourish myself. Me Me Me.

The younger demographic of my readers will likely have already stopped reading at the first paragraph, so all-consumed and convinced they are that their choices today directly impact tomorrow. So sure they are, as I was, that tomorrow will be intact and unassailable for their children if only they pay close enough attention.

And again, I am bored by my words. Turned off even as I write them. Swearing off, once again, blogging about parenting.

But I won’t forsake my Greek Chorus their collective voice. Their somewhat smug, somewhat compassionate nods.

I won’t assume that I am the only mother in that in between space.

I’ll leave a trail of pebbles so that you may find your way to me and tell me I’m not alone.

Tell me you remember that time.

Tell me you are in it right now.

Tell me you too are tired.

Tell me my children will forgive me my selfishness.

Tell me I will fill up again.

Tell me I will be more than this.

Tell me.

I give up knowing it all.

I give it up.