i hold between two words.

“You Begin” by Margaret Atwood

You begin this way:
this is your hand,
this is your eye,
this is a fish, blue and flat
on the paper, almost
the shape of an eye
This is your mouth, this is an O
or a moon, whichever
you like. This is yellow.

Outside the window
is the rain, green
because it is summer, and beyond that
the trees and then the world,
which is round and has only
the colors of these nine crayons.

This is the world, which is fuller
and more difficult to learn than I have said.
You are right to smudge it that way
with the red and then
the orange: the world burns.

Once you have learned these words
you will learn that there are more
words than you can ever learn.
The word hand floats above your hand
like a small cloud over a lake.
The word hand anchors
your hand to this table
your hand is a warm stone
I hold between two words.

This is your hand, these are my hands, this is the world,
which is round but not flat and has more colors
than we can see.

It begins, it has an end,
this is what you will
come back to, this is your hand.

Mike and I would never be accused of being helicopter parents. Atticus clings more to his daddy than to me, but both of us do our fair share of grown-up things like phone checking and book reading. So far, Atticus has been a champ at being an only child, preferring for one of us to be in the room but not demanding all of our attention all of the time. We tell him to share, but we also model a little bit of selfishness.

I think I am okay with that. I want Atticus to stand up for what is right, and part of that is knowing his own boundaries and caring for himself. As a parent, I am constantly learning about balance and listening to my body’s messages. One of the reasons that the first year of motherhood was so hard for me was that I was unprepared for the sheer physicality of nursing and I longed to have some space to myself. I was lost in my new role.

In an effort to find my way, I spent a year saying yes to new things. It was hard and fun and when I look back at 2012, I think I will remember it as one of those golden years. All of us were sleeping better and therefore feeling better. My family helped me learn how to take care of myself in new ways.

Atticus and I had a difficult March. He had an ear infection, and before we realized that the first round of antibiotics didn’t work, he was frustrating to deal with. Everything was No, Mama, go in the other room, Mama, I want Daddy, Mama. I couldn’t do anything to please him. At times it felt like he was being deliberately cruel.

This is where saying yes is simply not enough. It’s where I face the hardness of my own heart and the end of my reserves. But we got through it. Since that second round of antibiotics started, the edge has been taken off our relationship and we have had some more normal days. The pendulum swings back and forth, but we eventually find peace in the middle.

With new skills, we must also learn new forms of temperance. When I first started working in the school system, I struggled with the question of boundaries. I learned quickly that schools can take as much time as you are willing to give. At first, I guarded my time carefully, but now I am better at the balance of protecting my family and giving myself to my students. I could not have dreamed of going on an overnight trip a few years ago, but it was a fun and tiring adventure last month.

In the same way, I am learning how to give to Atticus in ways that keep both of us healthy. This is what I am learning about being soft-hearted this year: how to say yes to others after having said yes to myself.

I am attempting to check in on my one word – soft-hearted – for 2013 at the end of each month. This is March.

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