I tell the librarian (our favorite librarian) that she has just read the first three Harry Potter books in quick succession. What next? (She wants to read the forth Harry Potter book, of course, but we think it wise to wait.) He pulls a few books of the shelves, describing them to us. Perceptive librarian that he is, he says, “I’ll just leave them here and anything you aren’t interested in, you can put in that basket for re-shelving.” She feigns disinterest until he walks out of view. After some encouragement from me, she reluctantly picks up The Invention of Hugo Cabret. She turns it over a few times, feeling the weight of it in her hands. She opens the cover as I begin to gather up our stack of books and check out. By the time I look back at her, she is immersed in the book, and by the time she goes to bed later that night, she is on page 247. (There are a lot of full-page pictures in this book, but still!) As a great lover of books, I couldn’t be happier. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I have waited for years for my girl to become a voracious reader.
I’m sitting on the couch, nursing Wallace. I look across the room and see them at the table — one on each end — absorbed in their respective projects. Amie is finishing the last chapter of the third Harry Potter book. Ellen is coloring a page in an “adult coloring book” that I was given for Christmas (oh, the joy of being a child allowed to color in a book “for adults”!). These are the moments when I think, we could homeschool again, right?
*Yesterday was the only day (so far during this project) that I’ve taken just one photo. Just one! It was a snow day and I took my photo early in the morning and then immediatly thought, this is it; this tells the story of the day.
Everything is white outside. We started out in the car to go to a cousin’s birthday party but had to turn back because I didn’t feel safe driving in white-out conditions. So now we are home, playing a game that involves bamboo and pandas, which Jeffrey discovered last year. Jeffrey likes to search out the best games and give them to the girls for Christmas. And all winter long we play around the kitchen table. This game, Takenoko, is one of my favorites because of its complexities and because I like to watch how different aspects of our personalities emerge as we take our turns.
As baby Wallace is passed from one lap to another, I wonder what kind of game player he will be?
I’m watching my Dad build snowmen with my girls. He loves to build snowmen. We have photos of snow families in front of all the houses I lived in growing up. Rows and rows of snow fathers and snow mothers and snow sons and snow daughters — snow dogs and snow cats — all made by my Dad, the snow sculptor. When the temperature rises above freezing in the winter, he looses no time; he starts to build. He and the girls start by making a little snow family up by the house but soon they are rolling a snowball down the hill until it is so big they can no longer push it. The snowball becomes the bottom of a giant snow shrek, ready to greet everyone who comes up our driveway.
In the middle of the rolling and the building, I hand the camera to Amabel. She snaps a few pictures (Jenny has inspired me to get in the frame now and then instead of always being the “invisible photographer.”). I fully admit to being camera shy, but as it turns out, I like the photo she took of me and the photographer’s assistant. So now you can see that Wallace and I were there too, out in the melty snow, watching Grandfather and the girls sculpt with snow.
I’m looking at his delicate baby fingers. He is just figuring out how to use his hands, and he has a new trick. With his right fist he grips the index finger of his left hand, which he finds delightful . . . until he can’t figure out how to let go. Sometimes he hits himself in the face with this finger grip formation as he wiggles around his short little baby arms. I love this stage when his arms can barely reach to the top of his head and the simplest movements are major discoveries.
I am thinking about framing. How we frame our images. And our stories. How sometimes what we leave out of the frame is as important as what we keep in. This photo, for example, looks quite peaceful. We have a lovely blanket of snow, and Harry wants to come in out of the cold. What you don’t see is the room around the frame of the door — our kitchen and dinning area that is still disheveled from the oven fire on Monday (Jeffrey put it out with a fire extinguisher, thank goodness, but if you’ve ever used one you may know that a fire extinguisher can make even more of a mess than the fire itself! And although we’ve spent a lot of time cleaning, we both have other work to do.). This is one reason why I find photography to be meditative, in a sense. It helps me to focus on the simple beauty of the day by framing a moment and eliminating some of the chaos around the edges. This isn’t always the goal, of course. But sometimes it is. And it helps.
I am in the midst of chaos. Taco shells warming in the oven caused a fire, which filled the kitchen with smoke and set off the smoke alarm. Holding a half-dressed baby, I throw open the front door (which is normally closed for the winter) and giant clouds of snow blow in while two children run out. And the dog. He goes out too. I try to open a window in the back of the house — but I cannot push it up with enough force because I am trying to plug my baby’s ears to lessen the deafening beeps. I shift my position and manage to get the window open, causing even more snow to whirl inside. The alarm finally stops and my head is clear enough now to realize that my children are still out. Standing at the wide open door, I yell, “COME BACK IN! YOU DON’T HAVE YOUR BOOTS ON!”
“But Mama,” they yell back, “the snow feels like a giant pillow!”
At least they are wearing wool socks.
I am sitting next to Ellen listening to her chattering, when suddenly she turns to me with a question: “Mama, what is your favorite word?” She pauses and then adds, “The last time I asked you this, you said ‘Love’.”
“Hmmm . . .” I say, thinking.
“My favorite word today,” Ellen says, “is membranes. Is that a word, Mama?”
“Yes, membranes is a word. I like how that sounds,” I reply, smiling. I realize now that she mostly wanted to tell me about her favorite word. But as for my favorite, I think I still choose Love.