I would write, "my feet are pounding," but it is those small bones near the apex of my shoelaces pounding, my feet perhaps throbbing, grasping, down this 'Private Drive' just east of Reed College.
Monroe. Not-quite-two, his bright brown eyes have not lessened their mirth but have developed behind them a knotty repercussion, an instant and magnified requital for any emotion felt in his presence. And today, I think, he has broken bones in my left foot.
I had been angry, just minutes before, and now, I was snatching a near-empty bag of potato chips out of his hand. Lays, the ones I inveigh against on a finance blog, and here, my asparagus-eater, my sharer of salads, is reaching inside for a handful, crumbs of a nation's worst nutritional sins. I tell him, in what I think is a calm voice, to leave garbage in garbage, and he throws a harsh squeal, a tall wooden stool, and it lands there, on the base of my big toe, I coil into myself on the floor, sobbing in pain.
What happens next is not the model of parenting or adult human relationships, in caring for me Jonathan tells me all I've done wrong, lectures, I am sagging under pain and guilt, I swear and put on my socks and shoes, throwing the frozen edamame beans at him in anger. He won't pick them up, so Everett does, solicitous, a model son for the moment. I run, run away. And I am angry, and because of my anger Monroe has broken my foot.
And so I am here, running through pain, stressing my shin splints and my other muscles, already aching from coming back into training just Thursday. I am running and contemplating: passion, art, parenting.
It was last night, listening to Terry Gross in her famously nectared voice quoting John Updike one minute, who was only seeking to "record what seems to me important about my own life, and try to treat this life... as a specimen life, representative in its odd uniqueness of all the oddly unique lives in the world" and another minute saying that she could never have done this, had her own show demonstrating the odd uniqueness of people without having foregone having children. It is anxiousness electronically palpable in a chat with Tobias, who has just had twins come into his life, as he worries about all he hasn't accomplished this spring, and plans for a future of balancing better, of scheduling his writing and child rearing with high hopes he will be neither distant nor resentful. It is Cheryl, whose delicately beautiful children I happen to see at the park with their Dad, chattering about how mommy is away getting so much writing done, and I do not know whether to be jealous of her time alone or sad for how they miss her, and instead see only the loveliness of blonde braids in the hot afternoon sun, the ineffectiveness of my parenting on Everett, who has run away from me to climb a fence he should not be climbing, then to open a door he should not be opening, to go inside.
It is Nancy, who I meet on Twitter and whose storytelling I instantly savor, and who is deeply enmeshed in a story of maternal sins, who must leave her children at home while she drives to the Sellwood Bridge. It is Donaleen, who happens to talk to my pork vendor at the farmer's market of how she wishes I'd write, instead of Twittering, and I think, yes, you are right, but... ? ... I do not have an end to that story. It is Denise, whose sweet son has begged for playdates with Everett, and we go to her house and it is a dark, quiet, high-ceilinged delight, above every doorway and built-in a world of a collection, she tells me how she sometimes copes with challenges by plastering her walls, I see the intricately exquisite craft she has produced while mother of two quixotic boys in spare disbelief. It is Jeff Goldblum's character on Law & Order, saying of a suspect that he has not had enough praise as a child, saying that he had too much praise.
For once I have no judgment because I am asking myself, who am I?, I am wondering if I am artist/storyteller or mother, if I can do two, at once, both well. I do not think I can, and I do not know how to reconcile this with the need to tell these stories: this one, of my broken bones, this one, of art that may not be juxtaposed with excellence in motherhood.
As I run, cringing, I consider the crumbling plaster in the walls of my house which I cannot be bothered to patch, the way I place sourdough toast with marmalade before most all, the ways words scatter through my mind, billiard balls well-shot, dropping one by one into unseen pockets, perhaps to be recovered or perhaps to spiral down, down, down, endlessly in a dream-like chute, goodbye, fragment, I wish I could capture it all, render it all perfect, to give my children just the right amount of praise, just enough structure, an abundance of beauty, prodigal quantities of time.
When I arrive home, Monroe runs to my arms for an outsized squish of love, and the next time I run up the stairs in anger Truman cries, screams in terror, and Everett comforts him: "Mama's just going upstairs, Truman, she's not leaving!" and I am shamed utterly and I still, still have no solution, the universe has not provided an answer key.