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Monday, July 25, 2011

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

"...sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I'm not living."


Oh boy.

I read this line. I put the book down. I run the line through my mind again to feel my way around inside it.  I read it again. And then, as my eyes grow misty and as I feel in my own bones the weight and sadness of the dilemma that this character was facing, I need to put the book down again.

Sometimes our reading takes us right into our own hurt and joy. And that's what happened for me as I read these words. My reaction was not only for the character, but for myself. It is my bones that have been straining under the weight of lives I haven't been living, and it is my bones that now groan through discomfort at the yet unknown lives I will live.

Life seems to have taken an unexpected turn for me. Not a surprising one. And not truly unexpected, but my response to it has been unexpected and surprising for me.

Next year our youngest will start school. She'll be 5 in September, and in every way for her starting school in February will be the right move. Of course this is not an unexpected thing. Not a surprising thing. But I'm bewildered about my response.

For years of the preschooler chapter of our lives, I've patiently adjusted myself to the restraint and constraint of being at home. After years of being in the workplace where my style was to be an instant responder who thrived on the adrenalin rush of getting onto a task as soon as I could, it took me literally years to change my body rhythms and gear down to life with children. Let's get into the car. Let's buckle into the car. Let's get out of the car to get the toy. Let's get into the car. Let's buckle into the car. Let's go back to get the bottles. Let's get into the car. Of course. The toilet.... Life moves slowly, oh so slowly with small children.

Slowly it moves, but with more intense moments of intense joy and delight than I had ever experienced or imagined. For years, I had heard wise older women saying, "Enjoy it. It won't last forever." So, I did. I milked every moment dry for all the good I could find in it. I savoured what I could of squeezing that little roll of fat that babes have at the top of their back/neck. I took long, deep breaths as I pressed my nose so, so close to the downy tops of their breastfed heads and deeply inhaled that sweet soft fragrance. I held plump little hands and marvelled at their softness and their fragile strength and capability. I reminded myself that such moments were precious and, in the long term view of life, fleeting.

But from time to time, I did feel my bones groaning under the weight of all the lives I wasn't living. I threw so many inner tantys, and sometimes not so inner ones, at washing, piles of washing, and crumbs and grot on the floor. Meals not eaten. Grizzly children.

And I'd think. There are other things I could be doing.

Reading. I could be immersed in a fabulous book. Or writing. Or teaching. Or I could be out there digging and earthing myself in the garden. Or anything. Anything but what's right here, right at this moment of misery.

But now. Now it's here. In a few months, Four won't be Four. She'll be Five, and then a few even shorter months later, she'll be School Girl.

And what then? Some of the dreams I've had for space and freedom will be realised. I'll have hours of space and hours of freedom.

Can you guess how that is for me?

You might guess it, but I've been surprised. I'm sad. Oh so sad. I'm really not ready to sign off on parenting preschoolers. Play dough has permanently held a place in our overcrowded fridge for 10 years now, and I'm not ready to say haere ra to it.

Now that I will soon start living some of the lives that I haven't been living, all I can feel in my bones is heaviness. Heaviness at the threat of having space to find what's good and right for me. Just for me. And heaviness at the end. The end of a precious time when I have learned more than I could ever have imagined from the "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" experience of being at home with small children.

PS The line is from "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathon Saffran Foer. I can't recommend it enough. What a marvellous story of wounding and the valiant search for healing. And of the deep drive we carry to find healing for ourselves. And of the resilience we have to grab onto hope when it wonderfully presences itself in our lives, even if it's just shining its light and warmth from a tiny, almost too far away, corner. Still, we feel it, and it stirs us back to life.

PPS Haere ra is Maori for a final, formal farewell.


  1. A new phase in your life. I'm sure you will make it a good one. It is clear that you understand the value of being present and truly residing in a moment. Not everyone remembers to do so.

  2. @ Denise: It will be a new phase. It is a curious thing to be able to make choices. Will I go where I've been before (long before) or forge out into new territory? (I almost let a Star Trek line out then!) I'm pleased I have plenty of time to sit with it and let things work through me.


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