The apartment is messy again. Socks on the floor. Toys on the table. Dust on the shelves. Laundry hamper full. I finished my coffee and brought the girls to gan. I am working up the energy to put my swollen feet on the floor and start cleaning up. But as much as I pretend it's about my swollen feet, I feel like there's more to my reluctance than that.
Sometimes I feel like I'm going around in circles. I love having a clean apartment, fresh food on the table. I equate it with happy faces around me, knowing that I am providing a haven for my husband and girls. But this aimless feeling, this feeling that I am not Doing That Which I Should Be Doing is so strong sometimes that I don't actually do that which needs to be done. Is this what I am really here for? To make dirty dishes clean and then dirty them again? To sweep against the never-ending tide of dust? To pick up the toys and then encourage the girls to take them out again?
What happened to the girl with a mission, marching off to the Emerald City armed with nothing but a certainty that she was supposed to be Somewhere, anywhere, but here?
Should I not be having a midlife crisis when I'm only in my twenties?
Yesterday, as I was putting on my shaitel for shabbas, Princess and Coco-pop, my fashion consultants, were eyeing me critically.
"Make the pony a little higher, Ima," Princess dictated. I did so.
"You look so pretty, Ima," Coco-pop beamed at me. I beamed back.
"Ima," Princess inquired and I braced myself for another emergency change of my earings, "What are those line on your forehead?"
Eh? Say what?
"What lines, sweety?" I kept my voice light.
"Those lines." She touched my forehead lightly.
I looked at her smooth, umblemished skin. Then I looked at myself, hard, in the mirror. And for the first time, instead of a slightly bewildered 16 year-old, a woman, aged 28, looked back at me. She looked a little tired, or were those bags permenant? And yes, when I stood even closer to the mirror, I saw the lines. On my forehead. But no time to panic. There is a little girl at my side, and she is waiting, fingers rubbing her own forehead anxiously, for an answer.
"Oh! These lines," I said. "You'll get them when you are as old as me. Should we go to the kiddush now?"
And the woman, limping with age, escorted the children out of the house.
There is going to be a gap in this post, after these lines. I will not bridge it, not yet. I need to actually feel the smooth transition from my fears, from my questions, from my domestic reluctance to the beautiful poem that I have hanging in my kitchen and that I so love. So for now, I will simply skip a few lines, write the poem down for you, and then finish this post with my daughter's innocent ending line to the above conversation. Then I will turn on the sink and start the dishes. And after a few minutes of warm soapy water and the house starting to put itself back in order, I will get there. I will feel the poem.
I always do.
Maybe it's all about the doing. Maybe it's about being. Maybe it's not so much about Emerald City and far more about what you can learn on the yellow brick road.
I Stop Writing the Poem
by Tess Gallagher
to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I'm still a woman.
I'll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I'll get back
to the poem. I'll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there's a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it's done.
As we walked to shul, Princess touched her forehead again and looked at me. "Maybe when I'm six, and I'm so big, I'll get them?"