In the footprints of dinosaurs

The stomping grows louder and closer. The leaves of the forest are shaking, and a deep growl rumbles behind me. The tyrant lizard jumps onto my back and its claws wrap around me. The roar erupts again, crescendoing briefly before devolving into a fit of giggles. “I got you!” my dinosaur cries, rolling onto the floor, laughing in preparation for the impeding tickles.

My boys love dinosaurs.

The fascination with animals they will never meet is no mystery. It is the romance of the unknown, legends of grandeur, size and unfathomable power cloaked in the promise of reality. They were larger than life, larger than our timid imaginations, yet they were real. Dinosaurs ate from the tops of trees while my sons’ feet have rarely left the ground to climb into the branches. Their footsteps thundered; their presence was known. Whether or not they let out mighty roars is inconsequential to my sons who love to bellow like the beasts themselves.

One weekend when the sun shone and the snow remained at bay, we traveled across the same land the Tyrannosaurs did in search of a museum that housed their bones. We munched on donuts and stopped along windy roadsides for urgent business. We arrived and the boys proudly sported fossil stickers on their shirt to prove their admission. Finally they saw it – bones stacked on top of bones. Hours upon hours of meticulous work, dug, cleaned, preserved, and oh so carefully pieced together. They stared at millions of years of history that had been brushed aside to unearth a single being, a life memorialized into an age it could have never believed. It towered above them, lifetimes upon lifetimes, epochs upon epochs above them. The Tyrannosaurus Rex, the king of every boy’s imagination, loomed large in its reality.

“Pat-saur! Pat-saur!” my youngest yelled over and over, in hopes that I would free him from the confines of his crib, trading the imprisonment of naptime for another reading of the library book on Apatosaurs. Skeletonized figures cover my sons’ t-shirts captioned with names that cause their tongues to trip. Ankylosaur, Diplodocus, Spinosaurus, Pteranadon. Tiny plastic recreations of their bodies are clutched by jelly covered fingers and carried as entertainment on boring errands. We eat our sandwiches and my oldest son asks if we are herbivores or carnivores. He asks me to tell him about the big meteor, to explain what extinction means, to answer the question of death.

In the library, there is a mold of a Maisaura foot print. The boys briefly run their hands over it before bounding off for storytime. I pause a moment longer, feeling the bumpy stone for myself. These enormous beings have evaporated in time, living on in scientific journals, Hollywood, and the imaginations of young children. They left behind bones to be rebuilt and stared at in wonder. They gave us footprints, their weight leaving behind something real.

Maisaura means good mother, as paleontologists believe they took care of their young still in nests. I have one job now, to leave behind something real. The world is quickly moving and much of what I say and do, feel and believe, will roll off of it as it spins. My body will crumble and fade away. The impressions I leave will not be preserved in mud turned to stone, but in my children. They will carry my legacy, eventually turning it into their own to leave behind.

I understand why my children ran past the fossil in the library. There is no grand statue to stare up at in wonder, no bones of enormous size at which to gaze. I do not need the world to remember me, but I hope to leave it changed, for my existence to leave behind something real. The bones of the Maisaura have disappeared, but her footprint remains.

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A Minor Faith

imageThe notes of the cantor’s dark and haunting songs call out this time of year, resonating through the gray and barren landscape. The minor chords ring through the chilling winds, fall down with cool rain drops, and my heart beats in response. It is a time of darkness, when the ease of spring is held at bay by the melancholy of the slow thaw. It is in these moments, I believe the deepest.

I have a minor faith.

My faith is small, stretched thin like the skin on a timpani drum, resonating when struck. It is real, engrained through muscle memory; years of standing, kneeling, singing, responding, have carved a home deep within my heart for faith to reside. Doubt has made its residence there as well, and the two have become close companions, an odd couple that govern my minor faith.

With belief comes answers, but more questions still. I have seen no more pain than anyone in this world, but have lived it just the same. I have watched a grown man cry, left homeless by the world and forgotten on a sidewalk. I have seen flies buzz around a baby’s head, no mother left alive to shoo them away. I have felt my own body fail me time and again, and baptized my children through the tears that fell on their heads as I waited for the heavy fog of early motherhood to part and set me free. My faith provides little answers to these unformed questions, but in these moments, only it makes sense.

In school my loves were anthropology and religion, as I was fascinated by the multitude of answers we have created to the same questions, questions that have vibrated through generations since humans first walked the earth. Who are we. Where did we come from. Where are we going. We have quenched the thirst these questions create with food, bread grown from dirt, with prayers shouted from mountaintops and whispered in hearts, with songs that shout joy, and songs that taste more bitter than sweet. Nevertheless, the thirst remains, and the thirst is my answer.

I believe. I believe in one God, and in bread broken, eaten with strangers sharing soup suppers in church basements. I believe in wine, in bottles passed between friends and spilled in laughter. I believe in songs sung in minor chords, candles that shine in dark moments, and a faith too vast for answers to be so easily found. I believe in the symbols, and in the questions which they answer.

Faith takes its place in this minor chord, singing softly between hope and love, notes I can hit more easily. My faith is not the greatest of these or of anyone’s, but it is my own. I will continue to  give it a home and find mine in it, whether I have more questions than answers, whether the world houses more pain than relief. It is my center.

I have a grand and minor faith.

My House

My house is covered in a fine layer of baby socks and matchbox cars. The baseboards are trimmed with dust and graham cracker crumbs. Well used pacifiers have crawled away behind dressers and under beds to rest in their retirement. Books lounge on the floor in front of bookshelves. Stacks of magazines that will never be read and bills that will eventually be paid are climbing towards the ceiling. Last week’s menu plan has dripped in the fridge – pasta sauce, split pea soup, beef au jus.

My house is not clean.

I don’t know how the housewives of the fifties did it, keeping houses clean, children fed, and husbands cocktailed, all while sporting heels, pearls, and manicured nails. I barely have time to cut my nails and the last time I wore heels was my wedding day.

According to people who study this kind of thing, women today spend more time with their children and less time on housework than women of previous generations. I want to know how. The boys and I do get lots of quality time together – going for walks, playing at the children’s museum, everybody staring at me while I sit on the toilet. But other than these special moments, I feel like a good chunk of my day is spent begging them to please, please, please go play in another room for five minutes so I can wipe applesauce off of the kitchen floor.

I really want to know how they did it. Maybe they did it after the kids went to sleep. Netflix streaming had not been invented, so it seems plausible. But worse. So much worse.

People love to tell parents of newborns not to worry about housework, to enjoy the snuggles and let the dust bunnies multiply like rabbits. We loosely followed this advice after my second was born, until we ended up with an infestation of fruit flies. It’s not practical guidance anyway, invading armies of tiny creatures or not. It won’t take long for a newborn to spit up on every article of clothing that you both own, and snuggles just aren’t effective at getting the spoiled milk smell out.

By the time people stop telling you things like, “Don’t worry about vacuuming! Babies grow up so fast,” they have turned into children who are actually capable of making their own messes, transporting toys from the toy box to the floor, and eating food that produces crumbs. I’m now supposed to have an immaculate, or even just tidy, well at least sanitary, house at the same time a tornado descends upon it.

I’m revising the advice we give to parents of young children. If you have a dishwasher, unload it once a day. Do a load of laundry most (or some) days of the week, and immediately put away the pieces you don’t want your toddler to drag around the house in case your in-laws stop by. Keep the walkway relatively clear of toys lest the FedEx man sue you. And don’t worry about the rest. Toddlers grow up fast too. Well, I’m assuming that’s true. But I do know they move fast, faster than me, so there is really no point in trying anything more.

Mud and Bread

My children are made of mud and bread.

The mud creeps up their knees, caking shoes and enveloping fingers. Dirt may be inviting to children, but mud is a calling. It is wrong and it is wonderful; it is a nightmare and it is heaven. In mud, destruction and creation are married. In mud, my children play.

They splash and drops land on their noses. They fling it back and forth, shouting and giggling. Children are made to play, to explore, to fall, to fail. They are meant to change, to grow, to redirect, to try once more. Children are meant for mud.

The bath is long and in the midday. The mud has hidden itself, unashamed of its wrongdoing, yet wanting to escape the forthcoming and punishment. I eek it out of ears, hair, noses and it heads down the drain, rejoining its rightful spot on the earth. My children are scrubbed pink again. Bathed in dirt, they become alive. Bathed in water, they become tired, heads heading heavily towards pillows.

In hours, they will awake again, hungry from adventure, hungry for food. I mix flour and water, salt and yeast, watching the pale muck and mire transform into sustenance.  The loaf rests on the counter, pallid and unattractive. Three light slashes from the knife across the top and it has room to rise and grow. In fire, it will harden and be made beautiful. At the table it will be broken and shared, sustaining the lives I once created.

They wake, and demand pieces of crust to be gnawed on and ultimately abandoned behind couch cushions.

Mud and bread. It is the process of creation we witness daily. Life becomes death and death becomes life. Children splash in puddles and grow in and out of mud. Messes become memories and bread is made, eaten, and forgotten. This is the ashes to ashes and dust to dust. We are made of mud and bread.

 

On the question of why

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I wish I had paid more attention in eighth grade earth science class. I was pretty convinced my teacher was wrong at the time; I would never need to know what a cold front had to do with the creation of wind, or how the moon’s gravity affected the tides. Surely the practice of teaching children nomenclature and the classification of creatures was simply an exercise in tedium, meant to keep us stationary in desks until we reached the age of eighteen and could be released into the wild.

 “Mama, why is it snowing?” my three year old asks. I really should have paid more attention in class.

“Well, honey, because it’s cold, and when it’s cold out, it doesn’t rain, it snows,” I reply, feeling that should be sufficient.

“But why? Why does it not rain? Why does it snow?” Foiled again.

I rack my brain. I don’t mind the questions. Part of me enjoys the exercise, seeing if it is possible to reach into the deep recesses of my brain and see if I can dust off anything I accidentally kept from those middle school classes. Another part of me enjoys that he is old enough for conversation, a break from the long quiet days with an infant, with only the sound of my own voice and his laughs to pass the time. But it is becoming increasingly rare that I actually know the answer.

“I don’t know honey,” I reply. This has not been an acceptable answer for at least the last six months, but I give it a shot anyway.

A higher pitched voice joins the chorus, and the younger brother throws in his own “Why?” Growing up next to a curious toddler has caused the little one to enter into the “why?” stage prematurely, assuming it is the acceptable response to any declaratory statement. Now they both interrogate me, giggling between their yelps of, “why?”

I try again. “Well, everything is made out of molecules. Or atoms, or uh, little things, well, anyway, when the air gets really cold it’s hard to move. So the little drops of water get really cold and stop moving and freeze together and form crystalline structures called snowflakes, and then those accumulate in clouds and when there is enough of them, or maybe when there is a cold front, or wind, or, well, anyway they start to fall out of the clouds onto the ground and that’s called snow.” I wonder if any of what I am saying is even remotely accurate. At least its sounds pseudo-scientific. Language development is the benefit of these conversations, I convince myself, and not actual scientific knowledge.

Perhaps I should have taken a class on the geosciences in college. Eighteen year old me would have scoffed at the idea of choosing a class that would help me be a better stay-at-home mother. If only my sons would ask me to extemporize on things like the influence of political economy on the development of critical medical anthropology, then I could put my education to use and answer effectively.

“Why?” they chorus together.

The questions are constant. Why is it sunny today, why do birds fly, why do dogs have fur, why does bread rise, why do astronauts fly to the moon, why is there no gravity in space, why can’t I have cookies before dinner, why do we ride in car seats, why is that tree so tall?

To them, the world is fascinating, it is shiny and new and, if one only asks the right questions, it will become understandable. For me, it is ancient and well-traveled, and ultimately unexplainable. The crevices of time have cracked the earth and have been filled with more questions than answers. I have not travelled much of the world, but enough to learn that there is much I do not know.

My boys do not believe this. To them, I am their mother, the storehouse of all answers. And so they call to me, unendingly, asking why, over and over again. They will soon learn that I do not hold the answers they are looking for, and strike out on their own. I hope they find what they are looking for, but more than anything, I hope they fall in love with the search.