Wednesday, April 30, 2014
my great usefulness
by Sharon Olds
I'll play Ninja Death with you
tonight, if you buy new socks, I say
to our son. After supper he holds out his foot,
the sock with a hole for its heel, I whisk it
into the wastebasket. He is tired, allergic,
his hands full of Ninja Death leaflets,
I take a sock from the bag, heft his
Achilles tendon in my palm and pull the
cotton over the arch and instep,
I have not done this for years, I feel
intensely happy, drawing the sock
up the calf - Other foot -
as if we are back in the days of my great
We cast the dice
for how we will fight, I swing my mace,
he ducks, parries with his chain, I'm dazed, then
stunned. Day after day, year after
year I dressed our little beloveds
as if it were a life's work,
stretching the necks of the shirts to get them
over their heads, guarding the nape as I
swooped them on their back to slide overalls on -
back through the toddler clothes to the one-year
clothes to those gauzy infant-suits that un-
snapped along each seam to lie
fully open, like the body first offered to the
soul to clothe it, the mother given to the child.
Jeff describes Sharon Olds' poetry as accessible. I describe it as profound. For in this single work alone, Olds manages to capture the very essence, the being, the spirit of every mother who has felt the weight and heft of years and years and years of nurturing small people. In the tiny and seemingly insignificant act of changing her son's worn out sock, she brings us all the way back to the enormous and awesome act of growing that same son in her womb so many years before.
On this very day, ten years ago, I went "on hiatus" from teaching as I entered my last weeks of pregnancy with Aidan. Ten years since that day - and in addition to remembering exactly what I wore then (my favorite maternity jeans and a cheery red gingham button down shirt, a huge faux corsage affixed to one side) I also remember the deep uncertainty and skepticism I felt, not knowing if we'd even survive one year, financially speaking, let alone many years. And yet, to my astonishment, we did. Here we are. Ten years ago, I could not possibly have dreamed that this would be the composite of my life, my living. Ten years ago, I could not have even hoped for all of this. I hoped for three children. But I had no knowledge, no insight - ten years ago and only on the cusp of meeting my firstborn - to hope for a life that would be like this.
My "days of great usefulness," as Olds so poignantly observes, are drawing to a close. Although it is still more than a year away, I am keenly aware of the ticking clock counting down the time until Pax starts kindergarten. Unlike my teaching hiatus with the full intention to return to the classroom, there is no return to being an at-home mom to young children. Some days, I am filled with sadness; I do not want this to end.
But today was a day of my great usefulness. In the midst of a home improvement project (new hardwood floors to replace the upstairs carpet), Pax was worn out from lack of naps this week, crabby from being stuck inside during the monsoon rains, bored despite the dozen different activities we'd done that day, and mad that I wouldn't feed him candy. He threw a massive tantrum, wailing on the kitchen floor, until finally I picked him up and rocked him, rocked him, rocked him until he surrendered to sleep. I held him 45 minutes more, watching him sleep (even amid the nail gun noise and shop vac clean up).
And as I rocked him, reflecting on this beginning day 10 years ago, I preserved the memory of one more day of my great usefulness.