My psyche is not a democracy. My fears and anxieties are the oppressed majority, and my tiny but fierce spark of optimism rules with an iron fist. Night is a precarious time for this balance, and so I try to spend the night asleep. Maybe my fears rule the night, but I don’t usually remember in the morning. I am lucky and I have a nice life, but there are bad days, of course. Everyone has bad days, but this was a good day.
My seven-year-old is a morning person. Well, he’s basically an any-time-of-day-or-night person, and the rest of us depend so heavily on his good nature that when he has a bad day we all fall apart. The five-year-old is not a morning person, but this morning he woke up and he was a sugar-glider hatching out of an egg. Sugar-gliders are easier to deal with than your average 5-year-old on a school morning, even newly hatched sugar-gliders, so that was a good start to the day.
(Note: sugar-gliders are mammals and do not hatch out of eggs, we know this, but this particular sugar-glider loves to hatch in the mornings and is good at it. We stick to our joys, flying in the bleak and joyless face of The Truth.)
Mornings are peak gratitude, when fear is at its lowest ebb. I am a whirlwind in the mornings, making breakfasts and lunches, herding child and sugar-glider into clothes coats shoes backpacks ready out the door. It was sunny and windy but no tree branches fell on our heads and we didn’t get hit by a car on the way to school. I walked home, made coffee, washed up the breakfast things, opened my computer. This was tucked inside my typing glove like a love note, because my sugar-glider shares my love of monsters:
Some days I write and write and then I stop and think, what is all this? Am I writing a book, or what am I writing? This day, I stopped and I felt like I was definitely writing a book.
I took the laundry down to the basement. We still had quarters for the machines in the jar and I didn’t drop my underwear in the gross cobwebby space between the washer and the dryer. The mail had come, and this was in it:
I opened it up and the first line has dragon eggs in it, which made me happy. Dragons rank even higher than witches and pirates as far as I’m concerned. Every book I write has a dragon in it, but at some point I usually have to take the dragon out, because not every story really needs a dragon. That’s my version of killing my darlings. I kill a lot of darling dragons.
I read about Genghis Khan for a while – “research,” but whatta guy, srsly – and went to pick the kids up.
After school it was so warm that the kids ran around in t-shirts even though snow is forecasted for the weekend. I sat against the brick wall that we call “the beach” because the sun hits it in the afternoon, one in a long row of nannies and mothers, and all of us were tired because we’re always tired, but we were warm and that was nice. I ate all the snacks I’d packed for the kids, who wouldn’t pause from pretending to kill each other in order to eat, and I read this poem by the incredible Ada Limon:
Let this photo serve as my confession: I dog-ear pages. But I promise I will not dog-ear your pages if you lend me a book.
I didn’t have to cook dinner because I’d made a huge casserole on Monday and we still had leftovers – enough to stretch into a proper meal with rice for one more night. The kids did not complain about their homework. My five-year-old read me this book.
If I am very honest, being read to by a five-year-old, even a five-year-old I utterly adore, makes me want to down a whole bottle of bourbon. I settled for a small glass of bourbon and tried to breathe deeply and thought about the poem. Yesterday I was nice, but in truth I resented the contentment of the field. That’s how it is sometimes. I’m thirty-five and remember all that I’ve done wrong. I counted my misdeeds while he read, and then we were done.
As soon as my husband got home, I changed my clothes, looked in the mirror and realized there was nothing to do about my hair except stuff it in a hat and refuse to take the hat off, and then I went downtown with two dear friends to The Institute Library to hear Min Jin Lee talking about her new book PACHINKO.
The talk was fascinating and funny and Min Jin Lee was so smart and so charming and I came home hugging my signed copy of the book, happy about the heft of it and the new-book smell.
The kids were still awake when I got in. I lay down with them and the little one wrapped his hands in my hair and the older one whispered his plans for a stop-motion lego war movie, soft like a lullaby in my ear, and I fell asleep. I didn’t mean to fall asleep just then, of course, and I woke up in the middle of the night in their bed, fully dressed and bewildered. Because it was the middle of the night, Fear seized its moment. My tiny spark of optimism toppled off her throne. My fears ran amok, buzzing through me, freezing me in place, painting vivid, horrible images of everything that could happen to us, all the things that could destroy us and our fragile peace. I tried to think about other things. I got a glass of water and tried wash the fear away. I thought about the poem I’d read – all these needs met, then unmet again – and tried to read a book, and failed, and failed, and was ruled by fear until sleep came to save me.
But that bit doesn’t count as part of the day because I think it was after midnight.
Like most days, I was happy and interested and lucky, and also disappointed in myself because I am never quite the person I mean to be and there is so much in the world that’s wrong and I don’t know how best to live and act or whether I’m raising my kids right.
I wish I knew how to do something productive with fear, but I don’t. It’s just something to endure. In the morning, I right the toppled throne, put Optimism back in her proper place, a little rumpled and frazzled but ready to rule, ready to build another day out of words and books and love, which is how I like it and how I try to keep it.
That’s what a good day looks like.