Sunday, November 23, 2008

Serenity and Sunshine

We lock ourselves away in our castles, pull up the drawbridges and man the ramparts against the unusual, the unforeseen and the unexpected. We’re clouded by the norm, that safe feeling of status quo we all feel so comfortable having weighted down on our shoulders. I don’t even think about it anymore, until today at least, that we mire in a routine of activities only because they achieve a desired and predictable result; what worked for us yesterday is bound to do the same today and probably will tomorrow. In expected events there’s shelter from the storms of capriciousness, what strange things may come if we no long follow our own footprints down a familiar path?

The average weekday goes like this: I wake up, spend the morning in the house with Matthew, pick up Natalie from school, eat lunch, wile away the afternoon until Kara comes home. Then dinner, baths, work, Internet wastefulness, TV, sleep… sleep that merely acts as a buffer, a bookend, to the infinity of stagnation. It’s comfortable, safe, well rehearsed, practiced and unsurprising.

Today would have been no different, except that it started with me waking up on the couch with the blue glow of the TV filling the living room. I wasn’t sure where I was for a moment, and the clock was in those single-digit numbers that is almost too late to go back to sleep but too early to get up for the day. Much like most nights, I have trouble sleeping. My mind races, cluttered with the what ifs and the could haves, what haves, and what might be. I run through the events of my day and what might be expected of me in the next. I plan. I debate. I’ve even tested myself with complex math problems. I think about songs I like, movies I’ve watched and books I’ve read. Everyone’s asleep, so I share these things with myself. I stare at the ceiling fan whirling in the darkness, glancing over periodically to watch my alarm clock march up towards midnight only to fall down the other side towards sunrise.

Finally, I sleep. Morning comes and I drag myself out of bed, regretting my conscious, cursing my own brain for not doing what’s best for my body. I’m a zombie, the walking dead expected to function responsibly, rationally. Sometime between “Higglytown Heroes” and “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” I nap with Matthew usually sitting in what he calls “the triangle,” that space on the couch my bent legs make when I’m laying on my side.

Today was different. Though I didn’t get up until 10am, my head rang and rattled like marbles in a jar and everything was bright, crisp, the kind of sharpness found in Autumn. Kara suggested, while she was at the movies, that I take the kids out so they could ride their bikes for an hour or so, to get a little more exercise and some fresh air.

I didn’t want to. I never want to. I don’t like the outside, and the older I get, the more agoraphobic I feel, the more of a challenge it is for me to step outside and do things I wouldn’t normally do. Why? I don’t know. A fear of the unknown, change, the environment, placing myself and my kids in possible harm’s way… the noise, the constant confrontations with strangers and the asinine things I always see them do.

Mostly, I fear for the safety of my children. It sounds foolish, I know, especially since it is my front yard, my street, my driveway, but as a pessimist, I’ve taught myself to think about the worst case scenario and how likely it will happen. Bad things happen everywhere, and I think that I am always on the verge of stepping on a land mine at any moment. Because of this, I create boundaries, solid structural boundaries the help maintain order for me, help define the rules. They can’t go in the street. They can’t go past the neighbors’ walls on either side of our house. But why? When I was that age, I’m sure my parents were perfectly fine with us running around the street with little to no supervision, and there is a girl Natalie’s age that lives five houses down the street who is always trolling the neighborhood… I don’t think anyone knows where she is on most afternoons, but I won’t let the kids out of my site when they’re playing in the front yard.

Is this my fault? Am I being a good parent? Maybe too good of a parent that I’ve circled around to an overbearing parent? Matthew’s nearly three, so he really doesn’t count in this discussion—as I’d still watch him like a hawk—but the little girl from down the street asked if Natalie could play in front of her house and I said no. Natalie didn’t debate the matter, she didn’t say anything, and I don’t think Natalie even wanted to, as she likes to be home (she even likes to play inside more so).

Did I create that?

While they were riding their bikes back and forth from the driveway of one neighbor’s house, past ours to the driveway of the other, I dragged one of the chairs off of the porch and set it up at the edge of the grass so I could clearly see down both ways of the street. I brought a book with me, thinking it would be a nice time to get a little reading done, but I could hardly read a paragraph without glancing up to make sure everything was clear, that no child abductors were prowling around, that no stray dogs were tugging on Matthew’s legs or that they minded the limits of the boundaries.

When they got tired of riding, both Natalie and Matthew got baskets and began to collect the falling leaves from the trees in our front yard. It being Autumn, they are all aglow with reds, oranges and purples. Since I was still sitting by the sidewalk, they were playing on the grass and porch behind me. I couldn’t stand not seeing what they were doing, not being able to observe their activities, lord over their well being. Not because I enjoy the laughter of my children and I’m delighted to see them have so much fun doing something as simple as collecting a basket full of leaves, but I wanted to make sure nobody was jumping off of the wall or getting to close to the spike-bristled palm trees or climbing on the several boulders in the yard.

I try everything in my power to keep them from getting hurt that I almost see myself as stifling their fun day even when the possibility of injury is so far removed from actuality that it only resides in my negative and distrustful mind.

That is what I stay up late brooding about. There’s a book for people like me and here it is. I’ve read it so many times over the years, ever since I was a kid (it came out in 1976). A lot of it I can relate to, and a lot of it haunts me; either I'm the way I am because of the book or I like the book because of the way I am.

However, as you can see, the kids had a blast outside today. We stayed out there for about four hours, until the sky grew purple and the air cold.

So, why don’t we do it more often?

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