Reading and I have an interesting relationship. While I love to read, I am so easily distracted by life that reading doesn’t get near as much of my time as I wish it did. I buy a book every week or two, but if I don’t read it immediately, I forget that I bought it and move on to my next one. I tried the Kindle thing and have about 200 books in my collection, but I’ve recently gone back to the crisp, tangible feel and smell of paper. It’s just better.
When I was a kid, I vividly remember a few books from the library like Superfudge, Oh The Places You Will Go, and Where The Wild Things Are. Wild Things was my favorite, probably because it’s barely 300 words, but also because of the imagination of Max the main character. When they turned it into a movie in 2009, I was so excited to watch it with the girls. We read the book (because you’re always supposed to read the book first) and then sat down to watch the movie one night. The girls were 4 and 5 and I found myself splitting my attention between the movie and their attention, laser focused on the screen, the images bouncing off of their eyes. The movie was darker than the book. Max retreated to the land of the Wild Things to eschew the brokenness of his life. I assumed the heavier elements went over the girls’ heads, but when the movie ended they both immediately burst into tears. No warning, no obvious cause, “Why are you crying?” I asked, startled and confused.
“I don’t know,” they both replied.
“Is it because of Max or his mom or the Wild Things?”
“I don’t know,” they repeated. Somehow they had seen bigger-than-life puppets, explored Max’s imagination, heard the voices of the Wild Things, but felt the heaviness of the movie and didn’t even realize it. They were sad but didn’t have the point of reference for brokenness from family dysfunction. Their insulated lives’ first experience with grief. Like trying to describe the color blue to a blind person, they couldn’t describe the new emotions that they felt. So, they cried.
Last week I went to a viewing for a close family friend’s gone-too-soon brother. It was a long drive and Carsyn asked to ride with me. Her brother sick and her sister at cheer practice, the thought of piddling around the house in boredom was somehow ousted by the prospect of riding in a car with me for two hours, only to watch me visit with friends around a casket for another.
I took advantage of the impromptu date and Carsyn and I went to a nice dinner at a seafood restaurant on the way home. I could tell that she realized the significance as well because she didn’t even look at the kids’ menu. Just us, good food, and all the time we wanted. One area that Tiffanni and I, and now my parents and I place importance on is meals. Meals are sacred. There’s something both mystical and practical about farming, preparing, and eating food together. It’s that one place that my family can disconnect from everything, stare at each other and take enough time to just see what comes up. Unfortunately, when an entire culture fills every reflective space with technology and distraction, we actually lose the discipline of introspection and thought- both individually and familial. Mealtime is our attempt to re-connect, every day, to think, to converse, to celebrate, to laugh, and to love. And we’re pretty good at it.
We stayed for nearly two hours and conversation filled every moment that it needed to. I couldn’t tell you who we sat next to or what the decor of the restaurant was because Carsyn had all of my attention. And not because I forced myself to focus, because she hijacked my attention from the minute we sat down. She told me stories, asked questions, made me laugh, and exceeded her word quota for the week. Unforced, easy, natural conversation from my thoughtful baby girl- it was a beautiful evening.
On the way home she asked me why I never let her and her siblings read my blog. “Some of my friends and my teachers read it and talk to me about it.” I didn’t have an answer. I think it’s less a conscious choice and more that they don’t have access to the internet. “Can I read it?”
“Some of it is pretty heavy, but I’ll let you read one with me right now.” I handed her my phone and asked her to read aloud. She’s a great reader and I smiled as she caught some of my nuance and tone, how she grinned at some of the subtle jokes. As she read through last week’s The Giver, the ending was heavy. I wrote about how the kids would never know their mom the way that I do, but that because of them I will never forget her. As she finished the last word, and before I could ask what she thought, she burst into tears. Like full on, wept. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. But I knew. I knew that I had held a mirror up to her own grief. Her own loss. The sense of growing up without a mom must be suffocating at times, and at others- numbing. Tears filled my eyes as I parked the car. Conversation was over, yet communication at its peak. And we cried together. Both for loss. She for the understanding that things are not as they should be and me for the realization that she understands that now. Now more than ever in her short life.
At one point in Wild Things, Max declares, “There should be a place where only the things you want to happen, happen!” When I’m at my best, I create those moments for myself and my kids. But more times than not, I am not at my best, so I can’t create them- but I see them. I name them. I recognize them. I don’t see them all, but I see just enough to capitalize on a once in a lifetime moment, a sacred meal with the most beautiful eleven year old in the world who just so happens to be wrestling her own Wild Things. And while we can’t make them disappear, I can’t insulate her from them, we can love each other through them. One conversation-filled sacred meal, one silent car ride at a time.