on being a bell.

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Atticus tells stories now, complicated narratives about his trucks that usually end AND THEN THEY CRASHED! I try to understand them, but they seem to make sense only in his head, at least from the details I can hear. They pulled on the rope! We are coming to save you! There goes the fire truck! And then: BOOM or CRASH with stuff falling on the floor. And so I started telling him stories as well, Once upon a time there was a brave little boy named Atticus who lived in a magic castle in the middle of a beautiful kingdom. I have to admit that my stories have very few crashes and are more likely to end with Prince Atticus taking a nap or learning how to pee in the potty or hugging a dragon.

The first time I told him a story, he was enraptured. Oh, I thought, all his stories don’t have to come out of books. Mike and I have talked a lot this summer about politicians and race and poverty and gender and wouldn’t it be nice if the people who are making decisions had a little imagination? Maybe they could use a little bit more toddler in their lives.

I felt this poignantly when we captured a firefly in a mason jar and named him Gus. Atticus insisted that Gus sleep in his room, and when we set Gus free, Atticus hollered behind him, “Goodbye, Gus! Have fun with your friends!” Now every firefly is Gus or knows Gus, and each night Atticus tells us what Gus did during the day (spoiler: there is a lot of crashing). I have seen fireflies all my life, but now I am seeing them differently, with new stories to tell.

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One morning this week, Atticus woke up at 5:30. After it became clear that he was not going to settle back down, I decided to take him out to see the sun rise. When I told him we were going to the beach, he looked at me, eyes wide, and said, “We’re going to the beach, Mama?” I enjoy surprising him. He carried trucks and I carried a blanket and it turned out it was too cloudy to see the sun rise, but it was kind of magical anyway. Not all of my stories have to come from books, either (although I do get fun parenting ideas from novels of my childhood).

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This summer has had a different rhythm than in the past, in part because of the rainy weather (less pool time) and in part because of Atticus himself. His changes over the past two years are more pronounced than ours, and our family life has shifted to accommodate his needs.

This stage of parenting is much more enjoyable for me than babyhood, and not just because working as a middle school librarian is similar in many ways to parenting a toddler. Atticus is a fun and hilarious kid, and he is teaching me how to be more fun. At the beach I built a sand fire truck and a sand dinosaur and we took Atticus out to watch fireworks on the pier and I let myself be buried in the sand. These experiences resonate in my heart, giving me more confidence as a parent. As I carried Atticus down the beach after a too-long walk that left him tired out, I thought about these words from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:

“I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw a backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost, charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I’m still spending the power. Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells unflamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment when I was lifted and struck.” -Annie Dillard

Parenting is one of those things that I didn’t think I could do, and it has, at times, been an ill-fitting garment. I thought I was indoorsy and dirt-averse, but somehow my past experiences have shaped me into a sand-playing, water splashing, tickle monster mom. I am still ringing from the realization.

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