Friday, December 02, 2016

"Forgetting How Easily Children Soil Clothes"

This beautiful, totally unedited fresh writing came from a student this week, Priscilla Matthews, in response to a prompt where they selected a single line of poetry from various poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Priscilla had no idea this was what she was going to write - as is true to the practice, she simply put pen to paper, and this homage emerged.

There's not much I want to say about it, except to point out the incredible ordinary-ness of it: clothing, stains, children, laundry. And so powerful - all the details, and the way she connects it back to her mother and herself. Direct. Clear. Universal. Specific.

I will also point out that Priscilla stated some things I can relate to, having also lost my parents when I was young. I relate in particular to these lines: "If she had lived, she may have died by now," and, "Does this mean I'm finally in sync with my peers?"

Please enjoy this poignant grief and pleasure mixture.

forgetting how easily children soil clothesI just remembered that today would have been my Mom’s birthday.  She would have been 87 years old.  If she had lived, she may have died by now.  Having a parent pass at my age now is “normal.” It’s part of the process many people my age are going through.  Does this mean I’m finally in sync with my peers?  No.  I don’t understand their expressions of grief.  But I am more compassionate and patient with them than I was with myself.“forgetting how easily children soil clothes”My mom had 8 children within 9 years.  The other day I imagined how joyful it must have been for her with one child…the time she had to dress her, play in the grass, share her growth with my Dad.  And then my brother was born, and the work grew, the balancing act.  And then another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another.I imagine how she delegated work to my older siblings, how they shared responsibility to take care of the younger ones.  How they tussled and fought over who got to play, to hold, to feed, to changed diapers, to wipe dribble from chins.At night my sisters would argue over who got to sleep with me.  I snuggled, and I listened without judgment to stories of how they spent their days, which of their friends were nice and who wasn’t, what they planned on wearing the next and what they wanted to be when they grew up.And they grew up and went away and to me my Mom just seemed tired.  Quiet and tired. But also peaceful. Calm. And fiercely strong as she died.Forgetting how easily children soil clothes.And remembering the grass stains on jeans, the holes in tennies worn through the seasons, the warm bodies packed together in car seats, on couches, in tangles wrestling on the floor.  Warm breath and warm bodies, a sticky finger sliding jelly down the front of a white shirt.Eight children bathed, and dressed, and in a row in a church pew on Sunday mornings. Sit, stand, kneel, pray.  Say your prayers. Stop talking. Be kind. And if you can’t be kind, be quiet.Our washing machine and dryer were in our basement, a cool, damp place that smelled musky and sheltered spiders.Our laundry covered the floor. We sorted them – darks, lights, whites, towels, jeans, sheets.  We jammed them into the washer until it was full, turned the machine on and went upstairs.In the Spring and Summer we hung the clothes on the line outside to dry. The sunshine and breeze stiffened and snapped the clothes, warmed them and baked in the smell of sunshine and life.I loved my method of pinning them to the clothesline in a way to reduce wrinkles and bunches from the clothespins. And taking them from the line, one by one down the row, letting the clothes fall like angels into my arms.Forgetting how easily children soil clothes.

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