Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Grit Into Gold Dust: The Gift of Right Now

There was a time in my life when I thought I might be an engineer, or a pilot.  Perhaps I could have been a lawyer.  I have pictured myself as a professor, comfortable in a sinecure somewhere, elucidating the vagaries of Misesian praxeology or describing the subtle distinctions between Rembrandt's etchings and those of his followers.  At one point I was quite certain that I would be an equity analyst in some large New York firm; I chased that dream to the towers of lower Manhattan before backing slowly away.

Somewhere in the current of that stream I got married and had two children.  The life I pictured began to have other people at its center.  Wallace sawing away on a tiny violin, my children participating in the musical culture that is the center of our social life.  Staying up late watching nature documentaries with the older child, while John and the baby sleep, sharing fantasies about sailing to exotic places.  Someday, preparing food and offering solace to people struggling with the illogic of serious illness.
In my picture, my children don't attend school.  We sleep late on a Monday, make a snowman and a bowl of soup on a winter Wednesday; we never have the Sunday Blues.  So when I found myself too sick and too exhausted to be the primary source of a social structure and activity that my older child was craving, I fought against the option of offering him the local pre-K program; my children don't go to school.  As I began to look forward to the end of my treatment, though, I imagined recovering slowly, caring for a young toddler and a five year old without the amazing assistance upon which I had been so dependent during the Fall.  I suggested the school to my then-four-year-old, and was startled at his immediate embrace of it.

The school in this town makes it hard to be hostile to school.  With only about a thousand permanent residents and a strong social fabric, its little pre-K-to-sixth grade school is responsive, transparent, and nurturing.  Wallace can attend as many or as few days as he would like (this continues past pre-K, as well).  The peer environment is much like the ones I witness in families of many children, where everyone is a new friend and the older children willingly take the younger ones under their wings. 

With some trepidation, I enrolled him one day a week.  At his request, he is now up to three.  I think he would go all five if I encouraged it, but I miss him.  Childhood is short; I don't want him to spend his somewhere else, and I don't want it to end before it needs to.  That said, he is thriving, and he adores it. 

I woke in the quarter-light of pre-dawn the other morning, struggling with a strange conundrum. Why, if my child is so happy in school, and the school is such a positive place, am I still so resistant to it?  What are my fears?  As I began to parse them out, I realized that, although there are specific details and rationales, the root of it is that I had a different vision.  By spending my time in some other place in my mind, I forgot to be in the place where I am.  The place where everything is working, and everyone is happy, and every problem seems to solve itself.  That is always this place, when I remember to stay here.   

The person in the mirror always looks a little different than the one in the photograph; I struggle to reconcile the images.  It's like looking at one of those Magic Eye pictures, crossing my eyes until the real Sarah Thompson emerges (she appears to have crossed eyes).  A close friend once remarked that referring to past gaffes is a way of distancing ourselves from them, desperately hoping that the ability to recognize the errors proves that we are "cool" now, incapable of similar stumbles.  I think it can go the other way, too: by imagining a fantasy future we can fall into the trap of treating the grit of our present as a shortcoming from which we plan to escape.  The thing is, it only looks like grit beneath the broom; if I hold it in my hand, it turns to gold dust.

Do you experience friction between your reality and your vision?

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