Nose to The Grindstone

I’ve hesitated to write about my children here not because there isn’t material to write, but because so much of my life is about mothering and there are times when I feel it literally consumes me. My writing has become a place where I can think about some of the other aspects of myself…some of my fundamental formative aspects…the experiences that in many ways made me who I am as a person, and of course, as a mother.

Today however, I’m finding it necessary to reflect on a part of myself that is a work in progress. I need to come to present day in order to remind myself of the beauty of present time.

It snowed last night and when I woke up, I went instantly into the planning, prioritizing, situating mindset. I created The Plan along with back-up plans based on geometric laws of “if this, then that.” I took my younger daughter to school, then I got home and helped my older daughter with her school. “…hurry, hurry…focus, listen to me, what is going ON with you?” I made lunch, checking the clock constantly – we’re on a tight schedule – and then before putting the toddler down for his nap, I gave the nine-year old her instructions: do your flashcards, read the story, work on the study skills. As I rocked with the toddler, I continued to form The Plan. We would run out and shovel while he was asleep and then I’d get my shower in before having to pick up my younger daughter from school.

After laying the toddler down I ran downstairs, grabbing my gloves and hat. My older daughter couldn’t find her snowpants, then her gloves. I was frustrated and told her to figure it out. I ran outside and started shoveling frantically, desperate to finish. Finally, she sauntered out, smiling, almost gleefully running in the snow. I managed a tight smile then told her to find the other shovel. I appreciated her enthusiasm, but had no patience for it – couldn’t she see we were in a hurry? She ran down the driveway and then threw herself in the snowbank, laughing. I tried not to clench my teeth at the sight of the snow I had just shoveled being thrown back into the driveway through her excitement. I kept my head down, nose to the grindstone, lifting the snow and throwing – over my head in some areas. The snow was sticky and clung to my shovel, frustrating me. I ignored the ache in my back and my wet gloves and pushed on. Meanwhile, she floated around yelling “Look, mom!” Every once in a while I would look up for a second to nod as she threw more snow into the air, watching it come down in soft flakes.

Finally, sensing my rigidity, she came over with the other shovel and started pushing the heavy load of snow to the side. In my peripheral vision I could see her working hard, a miniature version of myself, bent down, nose to the grindstone. I was at first proud- we were parallel in our work ethic, pushing, lifting, grunting. She stopped once more to comment on how heavy the snow sat on the pine tree, bending the entire branch almost to the ground, but, not receiving much response, she just kept shoveling. As we worked I listened to the scrape of our shovels on the ground. The noise, monotonous at first, began to grow heavy in my ears as I slowly realized there was no other noise. My nine-year-old was no longer shouting excitedly or making observations. The beauty was gone; there was only work now.

I’d like to say that I instantly threw the shovel aside and began making snowballs and reveling in the wonder of the day, but this is not reality. I still felt the weight of the chore and the silent ticking of the clock in my head as the day wore on…so much to do and it’s always one step forward, two steps back. I have this image of myself as Sisyphus, rolling that boulder up the mountain on my back only to roll back down just before reaching the top. But of course, what is so important about the top? What are the imaginary accolades bestowed on us for getting there when the hike itself is the actual trip? And what message was I giving my daughter about life and work and beauty and joy? It’s fine to observe momentarily from afar, but then get back on that horse and find Point B?

So I didn’t stop and fling myself to the ground to make a snow angel. But I took the shovel from my daughter and pointed out some tracks in the snow. I told her to stop and listen for the birds chirping in the trees – subtle signs of spring even in the midst of the white world around us. I brought us back to the present moment and I started breathing again. I smiled. I did my best.

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