Ellen — five years ago you were our little one-year-old knee walker. Today you are six.
I remember you rocking back and forth on your knees while Amabel literally ran circles around you. I remember you babbling your first words while Amabel litterally talked circles around you. You watched and listened to her for so long — and then finally stood up and started to walk and talk yourself. And now, if I dare say, your sister watches and listens to you with a measure of attention equal to what you’ve always given her.
This is a gift of mothering: to watch the give and take between my girls. It is as if you were made for each other. To challenge one another. To support one another. To act as a steady counterbalance as you both grow and learn. Or maybe you are so close because of the sheer volume of time you’ve spent together from the very beginning? You’ve grown like two sister trees, side-by-side.
I was afraid that going to school last fall would change the dynamic between you and Amabel. But it hasn’t. Not really. Not any more than the constant shifts you both experience — the ebbs and flows of moods and needs. Actually, I see how school has brought you closer in many ways. One of my favorite parts of the school day is listening to you exchange stories in the back of the car on our way home. I learn so much about your experience at school when I hear you and Amabel compare notes. You have new friends, new teachers, new questions, new stories. But at the end of each school day, you have each other. You share a frame of reference, a home, and a family. And school makes us all even more grateful for our time together.
Happy Birthday, little knee walker. We love you.
Reading to Amabel and Ellen at bedtime is my favorite part of the day. Snuggled up between my girls, warm and wiggly, lost in the adventures of our imaginations . . . this is bliss. But last night, I took our bedtime ritual a step further and read three chapters from a book I’m writing. A book I’m writing for them. I’ve been working on a chapter book, on and off, for over a year — ebbing and flowing with the seasons of mothering and work. I started in a yellow composition book two summers ago, but it was only this fall that I began (reluctantly) to transcribe the chapters into digital files. I love to write by hand; I’m very old-school that way. But my story was becoming unruly and I couldn’t hold all the threads together in a paper notebook anymore. I needed to type them up in an organized fashion to get my head around the plot. So I’ve been spending (roughly) one afternoon a week in my parents’ guest house, where I set up my little iPad alongside this reassuringly solid, powder-blue typewriter. Writing in this peaceful space, with nothing else calling for my attention, is another sort of bliss. Reading and writing . . . perhaps my two favorite things?
As much as I love the writing part, I was nervous to start reading the story — still so young and raw — aloud to my daughters. What if it didn’t hold their attention? What if it was too serious? What if speaking the voices of the characters out loud didn’t match the life I’d imagined into them on the pages?
I needn’t have worried. I couldn’t have asked for a better pair of listeners. Amabel and Ellen piped up with simple, honest reactions and curious questions. And after they fell asleep, each girl breathing in her own rhythm beside me, I snuck out of the bed and took notes. I have an idea now for the next scene; maybe the aunt could be a bit funnier — if I can exaggerate the dialogue without going overboard? Ellen said she liked the part in the woods best. And Amabel tactfully pointed out that I used the word “lips” too many times. My budding editor!
After we finished reading, Amabel asked, “Do you ever get writer’s block?” Her question caught me so off guard that I didn’t answer directly. Writers block? Where did that question come from? Well, to tell you the truth Amabel, it’s not so much that I have trouble with the writing part — it’s more that I have trouble with the sharing part. But reading and writing go together! How could I forget? Thank you and Ellen, for reminding me why I started to write this story in the first place. This project is a lot more exciting now that I’m sharing it with you.
Inside tiny bottles, the girls and I have been creating little worlds. We’ve fallen in love with terrariums, particularly those of the smallest variety.
My interest in these little jars of life seems somehow tied up with my recent questions over my work and my future. It is as if I can let myself imagine a series of different worlds — each completely contained. While my fingers are occupied with tiny bits of moss and lichen, I sift through possibilities in my mind and imagine a dozen different paths. How can I be simultaneously so centered and so utterly unsure?
One by one, we’ve given the terrariums away, and I’ve watched the bottles on our window stills and dinning room table dwindle . . .
What will I do when I am left with just one? One container? One life?