Thursday, April 8, 2010

Down on the Farm

My daughter cloppity-clopped down the stairs last night around 10 and skidded into the den where I was reclined on the couch watching embarrassingly bad TV. When Christopher is away, I tend to watch marathons of What Not to Wear and Criminal Minds—it’s a way to remind my brainy self not to be so uppity. My daughter, for once, wasn’t at all interested in what was on the screen.

“Momma,” she gasped, “I know what I want for my birthday!”

I sighed, ready to end that conversation before it could even start. Her birthday isn’t until July and recently, my daughter has become, and I say this with all maternal love, annoyingly obsessed with the immediate acquisition of things: stuffed animals, video games, and dollar bills.

But she continued in a rush, “I don’t want a laptop and I don’t want any more Webkinz. I want a farm! A real live farm that we can live on.”

I nodded, gave an oblique “UhHmm,” and hoped that was it so I could get back to my silly disengagement.

“No, Momma. Really. I could take care of all the big animals—like the horses and cows. And my brother could take care of the little animals—like the chickens and ducks. And Daddy could build a barn and plant vegetables. And you could use the wool from the sheep and knit us clothes! And we could call the horse Trotty, and the cow Dairy. Do you think we can? Please? All I want is to live on a farm!”

By the time she finished describing this Arcadian, agrarian vision (one in which my feminist self notes, I am tied to my spinning wheel and consigned to knitting underpants), her eyes were glassy and wet. She was so excited by this future vision that she was quivering with gleeful anticipation.

“I would love to live on a farm," I said, "but the only ones around here are scraggly, broken-down ones. The nice ones aren’t for sale.” (As Dr. B. would later point out, “I can only see you on the Pottery Barn farm.”)

That didn’t deter her, and she followed me into the bathroom, waited a moment for me to pee, and then she said, matter-of-factly, “We’ll just hire builders and they can fix it up. And Daddy can mow the grass and you can make the curtains.” (Again with the archetypal Farmer’s Wife. Whatever happened to Momma the Professor? Or Momma the Writer who can’t sew on a button?) “Oh, I can’t wait, Momma. I can see it. I really can see our farm,” she said.

And even though I was in an awkward, pants-down position, I pulled her to me and gave her a hug. “I love you,” I said, “and maybe someday we’ll move to a farm.”

A very distant proposition but there was no way I could disabuse my daughter of such an extraordinary vision. And I mean vision: she sees her future and it is so moving, so emotionally real, that she cries. That’s the kind of vision Dr. B. has been asking me to work on these past few years: what would a life without IT look like? (Not a life without the Bipolar disorder, that’s here for good but is not synonymous with IT, which is the big bad voice in my head that likes it when I destroy myself.) Most of the time, my vision is distorted by IT—I see my body as if reflected in a fun house mirror, I see my arms covered in scars and feel compelled to add to the horrifying (100) total, I don’t see how much I am needed and loved. So I have to be deliberate and work on my angle of vision; see around and through IT to that vision of a light-filled, sloppy-love life.

So here it is. My vision of a perfect day. And I won’t badger you into the bathroom.

It is early, just past dawn and I’m awake. But instead of the sinking feeling, instead of wanting to crawl back under the covers and try to pretend I don’t have to get up and move into my day, I reach for Christopher and we make love and I am at ease with my body, with him. The room fills with light, darkness lifts. I hear the kids down the hall, their feet thumping. They tumble into our room, still sleepy, tired smiles, tousled hair. They climb up into our bed and snuggle between Christopher and me. Their bodies are warm and soft, like baby rabbits. The four of us stay spooned together for a while, and then it’s up and out of bed and into the day.

Breakfast for everyone, myself included. I am not anxious, am not thinking about how little I should eat or how fat I am. Instead, it is oatmeal, steaming hot, with brown sugar and raisins and I spoon it up, slowly, enjoying it. The kids go off to school, and instead of panicking over preparing for class (I am after all prepared), I sit at my computer and write for a few hours. The last chapter of my novel. I feel like myself. I feel complete. I have a purpose. I am creating, imagining, am caught up in the story’s possibilities.

Then I go for a run—feel my legs moving, pushing me forward. I round the curves of the track in a weightless gallop. Happiness. I forget to keep count of the laps, am running just for the sake of running, for the lightness, for the floating.

Lunch. My favorite: tuna salad on rye toast. I don’t worry about the mayonnaise or the bread. I am hungry so I eat.

Then class. A writing workshop. I am energized by my morning of writing and running and family cuddling. I laugh with my students, though we are serious in our intent. Once again, I feel larger than myself, feel like an arrow quivering in the bow, ready to hit the bull’s eye.

Home. Helping the kids with homework and crafts and maybe we dance and sing a silly made-up song at the top of our lungs. Walk the dogs—acknowledge Athena’s athletic exuberance, her delirious joy; acknowledge Daphne’s staid, slow progress, her need to sniff every tree. Appreciate the sun, the magnanimous light, the leaves bursting.

Dinner. Christopher fires up the pizza oven. Once again, my favorites: arugula and egg pizza, wild mushroom pizza with truffle oil, pear and gorgonzola pizza. All of it delicious.

Baths then bed for the kids. We cuddle again, and my son falls asleep while I am rubbing his back. My daughter is propped up in bed reading a book, listening to Norah Jones on her cd player. She gives me an exuberant hug. We play our “How much do I love you game.”

Meanwhile, Christopher has lit a fire in the fireplace and we curl up on the couch, feet touching, unwinding from the day. Finish up class preparations, watch a movie, then tired, crawl into bed, Christopher pulling me close as I drift off the sleep.

So what does this day suggest? Closeness and warmth. Love and desire. Routine and inspiration. Pleasure and Happiness. The order of love and contentment.

And just because I can, here’s one of my favorite poems that proposes its own perfect vision:
Late Fragment, by Raymond Carver

And did you get what
You wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on earth.