Acceptance (Kendra)

You Begin

You begin this way:
this is your hand,
this is your eye,
this is a fish, blue and flat
on the paper, almost
the shape of an eye
This is your mouth, this is an O
or a moon, whichever
you like. This is yellow.

Outside the window
is the rain, green
because it is summer, and beyond that
the trees and then the world,
which is round and has only
the colors of these nine crayons.

This is the world, which is fuller
and more difficult to learn than I have said.
You are right to smudge it that way
with the red and then
the orange: the world burns.

Once you have learned these words
you will learn that there are more
words than you can ever learn.
The word hand floats above your hand
like a small cloud over a lake.
The word hand anchors
your hand to this table
your hand is a warm stone
I hold between two words.

This is your hand, these are my hands, this is the world,
which is round but not flat and has more colors
than we can see.

It begins, it has an end,
this is what you will
come back to, this is your hand.

Margaret Atwood 1978

I have been working on acceptance.  Working so hard to notice, observe and accept. 
The acceptance I am working on comes without judgment.  Things don't have to be good or bad or sad or wrong or desperate or horrible or content or joyful or happy or brave.  They just have to be and I just have to be willing to see it that way.  Without expecting anything. 

At Bank Street I was trained to observe and record what students do in the classroom and as a progressive educator I have embraced descriptive review, a process of observing a student or a piece of work and describing it without judgment.  To name and observe and describe with words that sometimes seem cold and removed from the subject.  To say, “There is a thick blue band of color along the top part of the page.” Not to say, “The child painted a blue sky.”

To observe and describe without judgment means to look and see without allowing preconceived notions, assumptions or conclusions to get in the way of seeing what is actually there.  It is incredibly powerful and has helped me identify hidden strengths in my students and to understand them and their work more deeply than I ever would if I immediately looked for the problems or answers or understanding.  I eventually get there, but first I observe and describe. 

Since February, I have done a lot of observing and describing of my own life.  I was on the other side of the anniversary of Magnolia’s death and I felt different.  I was sad, but my sadness felt so hollow suddenly.  A year past Magnolia’s last hug, last kiss, last “goo nigh!”, last blown kisses, last smile, last laugh, last book read, last everything. I felt so hollow.  It all felt so far away and passing the year mark felt awful.  It was a confirmation that we were very far away from her, and that the distance would continue to grow forever. 

I was pregnant, but finally feeling better physically after feeling so horrible for the first 5 months.  I had gone to bed in September and only emerged to walk Delphinium to school or to pick her up.  I stayed cocooned under the covers, close to the toilet for 5 long months of emotional and physical misery.  Not really wanting the baby that was growing inside of me and making me feel so sick; missing the little girl I really wanted and feeling guilty about it all. 

In February I slowly emerged from my cocoon.  I went to the grocery store.  I went to see my therapist, instead of talking on the phone.  I joined Sasha and Delphinium on some weekend adventures in the city.  We planned a trip to Guatemala for some aggressive family fun.  I felt like an ugly, limp, sad butterfly slowly testing my soggy wings.  It felt bad.  I hated leaving the house and didn’t really want to see anyone or do anything.  My cocoon was safe, the self-pity and sadness was so comforting.  I was leaving the dark and heading toward the bright light of day and I felt really overwhelmed.  Being in the world was hard.

Our family trip to Guatemala helped.  We were out and about every day, but it didn’t feel like my life.  The sights were beautiful and the places were interesting and we had so much to talk about and appreciate.  We laughed a lot and really enjoyed being together.  It was a brighter and warmer cocoon, away from our world and social obligations and responsibility. 

On the final plane ride home to NYC from Houston, I was watching a movie with Delphinium.  When it ended she asked if we had time to watch something else.  I said maybe a short video.  She picked the video of Magnolia clips that we played at her memorial services.  We watched together for about a minute and then Delphinium started wailing.  I turned the ipad off and held her while she cried.  She looked at me and Sasha and said, “We’re never going to see her again.”  I was crying and Sasha was crying and Delphinium was crying so hard.  It was a hard smack in the face reminder that we were returning to our “real” life where I just wanted to hide under the covers because our daughter was dead and everything felt really hard.  It was a harsh crash landing back into our life. 

I was dreading the coming months:
·      March would bring Delphinium and Magnolia’s birthdays on the first day of spring.  I loved that both of our daughters were born on the same day and I really loved NYC in the spring, but that day just sucks now and I was dreading it. 
·      Then April would arrive, the weather would turn and the sky would be blue and sunny and flowers would pop up everywhere.  The magnolia trees would bloom brilliantly and that would feel really awful. 
·      I was already hating May.  We were having this baby sometime then, whether I wanted to or not and I just didn’t want to deal with it. 

I decided that something needed to change.  I couldn’t really avoid all of the dread, sadness, guilt and apprehension, but I was hoping to find a way to feel less overwhelmed by it.  To have more control over my feelings and the way I was experiencing my life. 

I remembered this poem, “This is your hand,/This is your eye,/This is a fish” When I went looking for the poem, I was surprised to see that it was titled You Begin. It seemed so simple, the process of beginning to know the world.  Again.  So I began describing the world in my head.

I would walk out the door in the morning and in my head I would begin listing my observations, “The sky is blue, the air is warmer than yesterday, there is a crocus sprouting in the yard, Delphinium is skipping, I’m feeling hot in my coat…”  I was careful not to wander beyond the description—not to wonder what I thought about those things.  It didn’t matter.  The point was to notice and describe WITHOUT reacting.  On most days, the descriptions managed to take up the space that was usually filled with overwhelming emotional response. 

After weeks of describing my walk through the world, I realized that my relationship to everything around me was changing.  It all felt less threatening.  I saw my first magnolia tree in full bloom and noticed the open blossoms and the pale pink and the contrast of dark branch and bright bloom.  And then I thought that it was beautiful.  I felt my sadness too, but I could accept that it was beautiful, without being angry or overwhelmed by it. 

My descriptions of the world around me slowly morphed into acceptance.  I would smell the wet pavement after a soaking rain and notice how familiar the smell was and how it reminded me of other spring rains and that it smelled good to me.  I accepted all of that and moved on.  I didn’t have to love it like I used to, take great joy in the smell or gnash my teeth in anger.  It was enough to notice it and accept what it was. 

Writing this, it seems like such a small thing to spend so many words on, but it has really changed me.  It has been so hard to really accept that the world is moving forward without Magnolia.  I don’t have to love it, but I also don’t have to hate it all the time.  And when I do hate it, when I look at a small child playing in the sprinklers and wish so badly that Magnolia was here to play in the sprinklers, I notice that feeling and accept it.  It sucks. 

I still feel hollow a lot of time—like this is a temporary personality adjustment that isn’t as substantial as my real self.  I am hopeful that eventually I will find some balance between acceptance and enjoyment without being overwhelmed by sadness, doubt and guilt. 

But I am grateful that all of this describing and accepting prepared me to welcome Azalea into our life. It has also allowed me to parent her with tenderness and love.  I am not the same mother I was when I held Magnolia in her sleepy newborn days, but I am present for Azalea in a way that I worried I wouldn’t be. 

I spend a lot of time watching her and describing her and accepting what she needs from me.  And I still feel the ache for the girl I wish was here instead, but it doesn’t drown me like it used to.  I notice the way I nuzzle Azalea’s neck, and the way she giggles each time.  I describe the feeling of her short, silky hairs as I rub my cheek against her head.  I observe her smile, the way her eyes crinkle at the corners and her tongue pokes out of her mouth.

I observe these things, notice all of this and then I can accept that I love her.


1 comment:

  1. There are no words good enough to encapsulate what your writing inspires and touches. But I just wanted to leave a note of thanks, for putting forth your exquisite sadness and truth and inviting us in, as you continue to evolve forth and transform and create. Much love you K. Maria-Stella