Safety Nets

Fall is ending. Our last unseasonably warm stretch is behind us, and I’ve traded my straw hat for wool.

The highlight of her evening is Octonauts. She likes it because Dashy (or is it Tweak?) talks like a Country-Western star and Bee has, since, adopted this trait for herself. Where’s mah coat? I need mah water! Do you have mah water? I’m late for mah party!

But the other reason she likes Octonauts is because she gets not one show, but two shows. Genius are the television producers who flatten two shows into a 26-minute time frame, who understand the most basic principle of toddlerdom: That if one thing is good, two things are way, way better.

When I turn on her show, each time she announces, I think another one’s going to come on after this one! There are two! There are two!

It happens to me, too, the anticipation of it all. After six months of typing until my fingers grew calloused (specifically the third one on my right hand, which perhaps means I use too many “io” combinations?), I pressed “send” on the manuscript of my book last month. The house was silent. Bernie might have stirred, but it could have been my imagination. A block away, my neighbor mowed his lawn. Bee was at her Chinese lesson and Ken was napping after an all-nighter with photo edits and look, did a tumbleweed blow in the kitchen or what? It was a ghost town in there.

No champagne, no confetti, no pomp and circumstance. I thought for certain my editor would receive the manuscript instantaneously, waiting by her inbox clicking refresh-refresh-refresh with baited breath, but even she was, you know, out living.

I did get a return email right away, although not the one I’d wanted:

Thank you for your email! I am currently out of the office, and appreciate your patience with email replies.

I often spend my days in anticipation for things that never happen. What if I didn’t turn off the curling iron and the house burns down while we’re at dinner? What would it feel like to pull up into the driveway and see the garage engulfed in flames, knowing I could have prevented it, knowing my mistake caused the wreckage? What then?

I’ve always thought that if I could anticipate any surprises, if I could just ready myself, I’d be braced for the blow. My friend calls this living in my head. She calls this irrational, saying that if I’m anticipating something bad that is going to happen and it happens, I have to live through it twice.

I hadn’t thought of that.

The first Octonauts is over and Bee wants me to know another is going to come next. She’s reassuring me that it’s okay, the fun isn’t over, there’s a last hurrah.

She’s reassuring herself, too.

Ken’s family used to road trip to the beach in the summertime. They’d spend a week camping and swimming and tucking sandy feet into clean sheets, and on the way home, they’d keep the post-vacation blues at bay with a stop at the theme park for a mini-vacation from their vacation.

It was the best part of the whole trip, Ken would say. Just knowing we weren’t going straight home, that the vacation wasn’t over.

We had a setback with our adoption paperwork this week, and I’m doing my fair share of anticipating. I’m sifting through the stack, re-reading the forms, double-checking dates and facts and logistical details. I’m over-thinking the questionnaires, wondering how they sound to another person, how my small truths hold up to the sun, how my thoughts might be skewed one way, or a different way, or still a different way.

I hit delete and try again.

Octonauts is over. Bee is sad, and I’m cutting carrots for a snack. The dogs start barking and I am distracted – is someone at the front door? is the block party tonight? where did i put that invitation? – and with a quick slice, I cut right into the tip of my middle finger.

I’ve done it before, enough for Ken to establish a protocol during dinner parties that no one is encouraged to ask me any questions if I’m chopping basil or garlic or mushrooms. It’s just that there’s the slicing and the thinking and the anticipating and the re-thinking and soon enough, there’s blood all over the flatbread and I still haven’t registered my response.

Do you feel better Mom? she asks. My finger is bandaged and all is well, and I’m tucking her in for the night.

She tells me that Peso had tried to fix a squid on Octonauts once, that he had tried to bandage him over and over but he kept sliding all over the place, kept running away, impossible to pin down.

I think to myself that the squid sounds a lot like my head. The sliding, the running, the impossible to pin down.

You ready for bedtime prayers? I say.

Hey, did Peso ever fix the squid? I ask the next morning over breakfast.

Huh? she says. She’s stacking a tower with her apple slices.

The squid you told me about last night. Did Peso fix it?

Oh yeah! she says, the tower falling over. He called his friends. They did it together. It took a lot of days.

And I suppose it’s just that everything we do – whether writing a book or adopting a child or moving across the country or grieving a loss or celebrating a win or painting the house or having the surgery – all of it calls for friends. For doing it together.

For taking a lot of days, if we’re lucky.

If we can remember this long enough, I think, we might be able to stop living in our heads. We might be able to stop thinking of our own anticipation as the safety net and see a wide, woven circle of people instead.

We might see our friends on the shore, waiting for our squiddy little selves.

Bandages in hand.

Just in case.

  • Love this post. It is so easy to live in our heads and forget to live the life that’s going on right around us. Thank you for your sharing!

  • “It was the best part of the whole trip, Ken would say. Just knowing we weren’t going straight home, that the vacation wasn’t over.”

    There is so much sweetness in this idea. I love it.

  • Erin, I can say with absolute confidence I know exactly what it means to live in one’s head. I have a hard time getting started for the “what-ifs” and have a heard time reaching for my dreams for the “what-ifs” too. I’ll remind you to Live in the Moment, Erin! if you’ll keep writing these lovely, honest and heartfelt pieces that continue to remind me the same. xoxo (ps around here’s it’s all about Scooby Doo and solving mysteries/smashing the creatures down… = )

  • Sometimes I feel like this blog is being especially written for me, at this time. So many of your words and ideas are just nailing it on the head for me right now. So thank you for the time you spend putting these thoughts out there, in the midst of toddlers asking for one more show and evaluating fingers for their need for the ER.

    • Wholeheartedly agree with Liz. Every post seems to reflect my life. It is such a comfort knowing that someone else is going through similar things.

    • Oh Liz – this is a really kind thing to read. Thank you for sharing such encouragement with me!!!!

  • This is what I needed to hear today. Thank you. The paperwork, bandaids, what-if’s, two for the price of one, emailed responses…little things and lots of things all at once.

Comments are closed.