Children, The Inner Landscape

From the Top

This morning I'm trying to finish a scholarship application for Snowman. While at camp, he auditioned for "From the Top," and we've received word that he passed the initial talent screening, which is exciting. One of the appeals of being on the show is the chance to receive a scholarship, and that's the paperwork before me this morning.

The thing is, we probably make too much money, so as I gather the material needed, I wonder why I am bothering? Snowman has three parents for financial aid purposes, and I have no idea how the people who decide these things weigh in the divorce, or how much his stepdad's resources work against us.

On the other hand, if we don't apply, we'll never know.

I'm not sure why these forms continue to seem nearly insurmountable to me. I've been doing them ever since #1 Son applied to colleges, so this is nothing new. But for some reason official paperwork makes me a little sick to my stomach. I have to work myself into the right mood and then blast through it, usually at the last possible moment.

I probably have another choice, intellectually, perhaps doing these things a little bit at a time, or sitting down to them the moment they are in my hands.

But I'm not like that.

I don't always think things through, I don't always make the best choices.

I screw up from time to time, too.

Yesterday I took Snowman to our new dentist and just after we left the house I realized I had forgotten his x-rays, sitting in an envelope on our kitchen table. I forgot them despite the fact I had been sitting at the kitchen table, following the Internet chatter about the Republican V-P nominee while listening to MSNBC with one ear; I forgot them despite the fact I had a calendar reminder on the computer and saw it pop up: "1 p.m. Snowman to Dentist–bring x-rays."

I made a quick turn off to circle a block and go home again, but I didn't think it through, and I ended up at a bad re-entry point, a left turn across traffic on a well-traveled street, on a hill with poor visibility. To make things worse, a city bus pulled up and stopped half in front of me, to put down its special step and pick up a lady using a walker.

You would have to be a worse screw-up than I am to be irritated by waiting for the bus to meet the lady's needs. So I just got mad at myself for picking the wrong route. And this led to a lengthy reflection, all day and into the night and still with me this morning, about the choices I've made, the ways I've circled back, the time I've spent waiting at a corner, trying to make an awkward turn, to do something for my family or to make up for something I didn't take into consideration.

Snowman, who has a very different personality type, is much better-organized than his mother. He's the sort of kid you hope will come to your school or play in your band or be in your family. He seems to be soaring past us, just as he will fly away to school again next week in the Mitten-Shaped State.

I'm finding it very hard to have him leave again after such a short time at home. I think the papers here on the kitchen table demanding my attention remind me of the life we have now, a life in which a high school senior will cast his first vote via absentee ballot, a life in which I may not be able to both hear his Senior Recital and go to his graduation, because I already have a ticket to Parents' Weekend.

My life as a mother, which began when I was 24, contains many trips around the block to double back. I sometimes wonder if I made *any* of the right choices. I put off my seminary education and then took it slowly in order to be present for my children. I made choices that allowed me to be with them but used up the resources my parents left behind. I took a first call that probably set the tone for the rest of my career, which is to say that even when there are no children left at home, I am probably on the mommy track forever, unlikely to "rise" to serve larger churches, left on the risky shore of smaller church life where the only certainty may be that storms will hit, we just don't know when or how hard, where we don't know whether it will be possible to evacuate and return to begin again.

We have Snowman at home for a few more days, a few more days of laughing with him at the dinner table, of listening to his clarinet from upstairs, of wondering whether he will nail the Libby Larsen piece at his placement audition and get a chair in the orchestra instead of the band this year. When he doesn't like where it's going, he goes around the block and starts over.

In the larger picture, I don't get to go back and take it from the top. This is the life I have, built on choices that may have been impulsive, that were certainly instinctive, that were rarely strictly rational or practical. Were they good choices? Would God approve? Or is there a certain uncomfortable irony in making conservative choices, family values choices, that leave me at a disadvantage professionally while a more overtly conservative woman goes back to work three days after giving birth and is rewarded with incredible (and I choose that word carefully) opportunities?


Today I find myself at the inner corner, trying to figure out how to turn across the traffic of my mind to accomplish a practical task, trying not to let my interior disorganization impede my child. I've been here before; I'll likely find myself here again. What can I learn from this morning, from yesterday? The easy answer, the one that come from the internalized voice of the Negative Mother, always sounds something like this: "If only you were better-organized, you would be a better person, and you would never have to feel this way."

But maybe, just maybe, even when I cannot take the events from the top, I need to find a way to reset the thought process. Maybe I need to tell that voice to hush, to point out that no tragedies have occurred, that the dentist will still be there five minutes later, that there is still time to finish the forms, that even a boy who goes away will return.

For goodness sake, we already have his ticket.

7 thoughts on “From the Top”

  1. I’m not a mom but I have that same “if only you were better organized” inner voice. You are not alone!
    I hope all goes well today–thinking of you and Snowman getting ready for another leg on an adventure.

  2. I’ll wager that Sisyphus found his lot extremely tedious. The difference here is that you are making it to the mountain top. With God cheering the entire way.

  3. I know “From the Top!” It’s a great show. But I didn’t realize that getting on was dependent on financial need as well as talent. I hope Snowman makes it on, just because I would love to hear him.

  4. How clearly you escribe the turmoil I think we all feel – the second guessing, the choices we make. “Did I make ‘any’ of the right choices?” Wow. I have days like that, too. Lots of them. Thanks for sharing your heart.

  5. Oh, organization. I had an appointment on my calendar that I checked for two straight weeks, just making sure I knew it was there. I also had an afterschool activity scheduled at the same time. But it was not until the day of the appointment that I realized I could not do both at once. Sigh. I also have the “If only I were a better housekeeper,” and “If only I were more involved in the girls’ schools,” and “If only I had more direction.” It goes on and on. I think this is why Kafka appeals to me. Yes, somehow you will get through it.

  6. I had a lot of those if only’s too. And still do. But — my kids have turned out great whether because or in spite of me, and probably both.
    Be sure to let us know if we’ll be able to hear Snowman on From the Top. And Libby Larsen — both Cordeliaknits and Sisterfilms have sung her work, as she’s a Minnesota composer.

  7. If it comes to that, Auntie Knickers, you can be sure I’ll be shouting it from the, well, the blog-tops!

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