I woke curmudgeonly grumpy from a tangle of blankets, one son’s knees grazing my spine, husband and Husky hugging the far wall. At my feet, my middle son. Parallel to the bed on the floor, my twelve year old daughter, hair smothered by pillows as I turned off the alarm. Transplanted from northern to southern California, I should have been overjoyed after three years of two-city living without my husband to be reunited under one roof.
But I’d acquired a hyper-vigilance due to raising our children alone–a “too-little-to-go-around” self whose reaction to any sentence starting with, “Mom” opened with, “What?…can’t you see I’m….” x, y, z. My daughter, with infinite patience last year, drew note after note decorated with rainbow letters, “Can I come down for tea with you tonight?” Fatigued, as hard as I tried, I felt locked in internal sorrow, afraid I’d never rise above our circumstances to be larger of heart.
I feel my shortcomings as a mom most intensely in relation to my daughter. Because we are both firstborns? Female? Because her brothers’ needs seem easier? I only know I’m more conflicted with her. And she has no qualms about letting me know how I’ve failed her. Which took me to some dark places last year (given the struggle to raise the children, work, hold down the fort, and stave off the ever present poet’s dream of writing a poem worthy of eternity).
But even as we wrangled, I understood the only way was “through”–not over, not around, not under, but through. The sun would rise; I’d try again. Some nights we had tea; others I deferred to stacks of student papers, dishes, or her brothers, especially during the month the littlest broke his elbow and needed surgery.
We’ve only been in the new city for two weeks, but my shoulders have dropped several inches now that two adults absorb the field of the kids’ needs. The one place that soothes all of us remains the ocean, mercifully close by here as it was up north, so instinctively, we keep the ritual.
Within moments, I’m photographing patterns–the retreating waves make sand angels below each beached pebble everywhere I look. My girl comes abreast of me and delights in the find. My husband salvages a purple bucket and one tiny green plastic soldier; the boys catapult down the sand dunes. The Husky runs leashless in wide arcs, nipping at the waves.
Dusk finds my daughter and I walking together. She’s willowy, lovely, inching towards adolescence. Hard to believe soon she’ll yearn less and less for my attention. I ask her to stop long enough for a double self-portrait. Finally, we get it right, shoulder to shoulder, positioning the setting sun so it crowns half of her face. We found that when you tilt just far enough apart, the light of the sun breaks into a gold-red fan of spokes across both faces like a blessing.
Tania lives in southern California with her husband, three children, husky, and two disoriented housecats still recovering from the move. A poet by night (MFA, Iowa Writers’ Workshop) and a writing teacher by day, she is heading into her second year of teaching Transformative Blogging for SCN (next class starts February 4th) and is writing a book for women bloggers.