It’s Raining Again….

The rain is coming down again, but this time only forecasted for a short window tonight and tomorrow morning, before we finally get an opening in this drear. Today was a lovely day, and I welcome this rain as the last kiss on the greenery before the dry. I love dry spells in the rainforest, but I am unsettled by them. Last year’s climate change SOS of a summer still looms in memory and when I see a whole extended forecast without rain I can’t help but get a little worried.

It’s strange how my gut-wrenching grief over climate change gave way, for this window of time, to the immediate fear of the pandemic and the awakening horror around the murder of George Floyd and the uncountable other Black, brown and indigenous men and women. Tonight I happened on a new paper by Jem Bendell, whose Deep Adaptation ripped off my blinders and sent me into a crushing existential crisis. I’ve yet to dip into the 10,000 words of the new paper, but I happened across it in the Positive Deep Adaptation Facebook page, where I spent some time reading a very thoughtful and respectful discussion/exchange between page participants and came away reminded again of this crisis we will all live through.

It’s impossibly difficult for a mortal of human-scale intelligence (read: me) to keep their head wrapped around all of these overlapping griefs. It seems like I can really feel into one, or at best two, of these things, without the overwhelm reducing me to something less-than-useful. I’m also constantly mired in the paradoxical thinking required of any parent or would-be parent who is awakened to any of these frightful truths. I must believe in a good future for my child. I also believe I know something of what is coming. I think often of Mr. Smith in the Matrix, talking about humans as a virus. But even if I knew with certainty we’re all in the Matrix, I wouldn’t and couldn’t give up the beauty of having a child. I read this article by Meehan Crist in the last week, and found much in it that was old, but I love paragraph, and especially the quote from Erdrich.

I can understand why some people might see having a child as a turn towards death – a fatal complicity with the death spiral of global fossil capitalism. But, for me, having a child has been a commitment to life, and a commitment to the possibilities of a human future on this warming planet. It means giving up claims to moral purity, not because nothing matters, but because things do. ‘Staying open and willing is difficult,’ Louise Erdrich writes. ‘Very often in labour one must fight the instinct to resist pain and instead embrace it, move towards it, work with what hurts the most.’

Is it OK to have a child? by Meehan Crist. London Review of Books, Vol. 42 No. 5 · 5 March 2020

This helps put language around my continuing desire to have a second child. Though it’s probably insane in many ways, I also can’t separate myself from the pure, pulsing biological desire of the thing.

Whether biology itself actually permits me a second child is another thing entirely. I’ve dithered in uncertain spaces around my own parenthood for excessive amounts of my adult life, making the question one that is now quite, quite real. But no matter how much I read, how much my imagination can conjure up the hardships and grief of +1 more human, I am unable to sever the animal wanting. Call it stupidity, or outrageous selfishness, or whatever it is. It’s entirely real.

Also real: the real laughter that Auggie conjures up in me when he sits on the potty for the umpteenth consecutive night, after bedtime and reading and tuck-ins and kisses, manifesting (how!?!) yet another last-ditch sleep-postponing poop. How is it possible that the pooping of a three-year-old can make me love him so much. Is it his up-and-down eyebrow wiggling, the pure satisfaction he feels as he demonstrates for me that, in fact, he is right, and there is a poo-poo coming? I can’t help but laugh out loud, dropping my head into my hands as I sit on the edge of the bathtub across from him. Then he reaches out and rubs my newly cropped hair and says, “There Mama, when I rub your hair, does that make you happy?” “Yes,” I tell him. “And you make me happy.” He does. So much. And also, how does he know so well that his mama is oftentimes sad? I don’t want him to feel that he must perform miracles (ha!) to erase my sadness. I don’t want him to feel that my happiness is contingent on him. I don’t want him to feel that… But also, to no small extent, it turns out to be true.

In any case, this hour of dusk and soft rain, with all the myriad trees in our old neighborhood shaking and dancing in this small weather system — this is a gift for me, tonight. I am so grateful to this life-giving rain. I do not take it for granted. I see it, feel it, and am humbled by it every time the sky opens up and lets it come down upon us. May it remain relentless for many, many years into our future.

The Boys Rode Bikes

The boys rode bikes today. Letting this happen takes a tremendous effort in letting go. There are all of the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” that run in the head. And then there’s the simplicity of three 2- and 3-year olds learning to accelerate and careen. Learning that wind makes their hair blow when they go even faster. Learning what it feels like to be part of a pack. The contrast in experience for them utterly joyful, and so natural, even after all these months–these not-insignificant percentages of their lives–gone by. A delicious two hours of completely normal boyhood.

I could feel my body relaxing.

It’s such a relief to see the normalcy.

Their return, if fleeting, to normal takes place against the backdrop of Juneteenth. I will confess to be one of the white Americans who had no idea that Juneteenth existed. I’m glad to know of it now. In this complicated moment I’m glad for anything I can learn that can guide me to be of better service in the world. My view is so appallingly narrow. But I see and accept the privileged grounds on which I build my life and that of my son, and it’s not acceptable to do nothing, or the near-to-nothing I’ve been doing for all of my life up until now.

This interview between Krista Tippett and Resmaa Menakem laid down some solid guidance for a starting point.

… White people, don’t look for a black guru. Don’t look for an Indigenous guru. Find other white people, and start creating a container by which you can begin to work race specifically; not race in this and race in that and break bread together and do all that — not that; not a book club. You specifically deal with the embodiment of race and the energy that’s stored with that.

Resmaa Menakem, Notice the Rage on OnBeing

I have his book on order, and while I recognize that we can’t just solve this problem intellectually, I also know I have to start somewhere.

All of the overlapping confusions and pains and intensity of this moment conspire to undermine the beauty of today. But I also cannot let that be. My little one deserves the gift of joy in wheeled flight. And I, his mother, can be allowed to love that moment. To adore him unendingly, and weep when I hold him in my arms for the sheer magnificence of his little being. I also must recall in every moment the love that every mother has for every magnificent, perfect child. I must learn to do whatever I can to make sure the losses and griefs we experience are those of Life, and not those of an oppressing heel–or knee–stepping on our children’s necks.

A Lesson from the Dinosaurs

Last fall my academic, left-brained understanding that climate change was a real thing turned into a right-brained, slow rolling and visceral horror. It was kicked off by Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation paper and fed by the dark, woeful months of winter. It took me about six weeks to get through the crushing misery of it—the terror of the realization that, in fact, climate change is not going to get better and, no, we are not going to pull it together in the 12, no 11, no 10, no 9 years that remain for us to “mobilize like we did during WWII.” Yeah, we could. But we won’t. And everything is going to happen that shouldn’t have to, and my son is going to live through it.

I’ve been drawn to the dystopian writers for nearly all my life. I read Stephen King’s The Stand at a critical moment of intellectual development, maybe age 13, and my whole imagination was shaped around the fantasy-slash-inevitability of catastrophic collapse. Cormac McCarthy and Margaret Atwood and James Howard Kunstler, even Justin Cronin, paint possible futures that seem realistic, if full of monsters—literal or figurative. I’ve been fascinated and have turned pages hungrily, drawn in to the chaos of the world blown to bits, trying to imagine how that would feel and be to live through something like end times, or something like the time After.

But all of that curiosity and morbid fascination gives way to something very different in this space of parenthood. If I allow myself to stay with the reality of our current, very real horror, my heart shatters into a million pieces. If I don’t pull away from it, but let myself actually feel it, it hurts so much.

I’m not afraid of death, but I’m afraid of watching my child suffer.

I spent my late 20s and early 30s, the years of one’s life that are so steeped in optimism and hope, reading Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver and Bill McKibben and thinking that it was good, we were figuring out, we could move forward armed with knowledge and conviction. In the months after Obama was elected, as the economic system was melting down and the disconnect between our consumption-crazed lifestyles and the actual (lack of) sustainability of our ways of life seemed so very apparent, I waited with bated breath for him to speak the truth to us, from his solid seat of clear electoral mandate. I wanted him to stand up and use his rumbling voice to tell us that we had lived too extravagantly, in a way too out of touch with what the Earth could actually sustain, and in ways too disconnected from the real constraints of economies and natural systems. I wanted him to summon the vision of Kunstler in The World Made by Hand, and let us know that it was okay to let go of the fantasy of endless growth, and to live well and with less.

He didn’t, and it broke something in me that has continued breaking ever since. I guess that’s hope, or belief in the possibility to right this massive system, or optimism. But it has given way to something else that feels more calm.

This winter, in the depths of my grieving, in the aftermath of Bendell’s paper and David Wallace Wells’ Uninhabitable Earth, Auggie and I picked up Thunderfeet, a children’s book about Alaska’s dinosaurs. And in reading and rereading it, I found a measure of peace.

Somehow, I managed to make it through my first four decades without really wrapping my head around the fact that dinosaurs once lived on the land that has become Alaska. And certainly I had not considered what the climate might have been like in our prehistoric neighborhood, or given much thought to what other animals or flora had lived here, or how the air felt, how the sun felt on those prehistoric backs. Reading Thunderfeet over and over, with that monotonous zeal that only a toddler can compel, allowed me to let go bit by bit, and relearn the lesson that things will rise and fall over the eons, and that our presence here on this planet in this moment is just a tiny blip. Yes, we are wiping out so many more of the planet’s beautiful species in this horror we have created. But we will go, and something else will rise up, and so it has always been.

The Alaska State Museum just opened a new exhibit on this very topic—dinosaurs and climate change. The Alaska polymath Ray Troll paired up with paleontologist Kirk Johnson and created a wild, imaginative backward look and a clear-eyed, call-it-like-it-is examination of this, the 6th extinction. It’s a beautiful exhibit, and I left feeling like I was breathing fresh air. This year, 2019, seems like the year when we’re all waking up to our climate disaster on planet Earth. But I find it such a relief to finally feel like I’m not alone in my concern. I know many or most people will still march blindly along but, more and more, some of us will no longer be by ourselves. I’ve been thinking of it as realism, but recently I’ve heard Margaret Wheatley refer to it as clarity. I prefer this. To call it realism sounds like an admonishment. Clarity is a personal state, and also an invitation to kinship with others who feel that something is clear.

We’ve brought Auggie into a world that will be starkly enumerated—140 million climate refugees by mid-century, 10 billion people on the planet, 2 or 3 or 5 degrees warming. It is my job now to do what I can—teach him what I can—that he may live through this experience with clarity and his spirit intact. It’s possible his will be the last generation of humans, though it’s not likely. But his world will be incredibly different from mine, and my work as his parent is to give him what he needs to live in it as a whole world. It’s the only world he will know, until the day that he or it gives way to what is next.

Relieved?

Two nights ago Auggie slept the best night sleep he has had since his birth. Asleep at 8:30pm, awake once for some light stirring and inquiries (“Mom? Immy? Papa?”) before returning quickly to slumber. I woke at 5:00am to find Chris gone from our bed—into Auggie’s room during some night waking, I assume. I picked up my Kindle and read in the growing light while listening for the sounds of the two of them. Then at 6:15am I heard Auggie’s bright bell of a voice: “Uh oh!” I popped up and went to him. No Chris! Just my beautiful little son sitting in the glow of daylight that seeped around his blinds. Another day begun, and a solid night of sleep under his belt.

Eventually Chris emerged from the basement guest room and I shared the news. A few minutes later he asked me if I was relieved. It took a minute before I realized what he was asking, which was whether this felt like a milestone.

I suppose it could, and I appreciate him framing it as such. It’s funny that it didn’t strike me as that right away, though. I suppose everything feels like a meandering stream of progress, rather than a set of major accomplishments. I knew one night he would sleep soundly the whole night through. Yes, at times that seemed impossible or impossibly far away. But I have never doubted that one day we would arrive. And I suppose that day may have been yesterday.

It’s easy to place caveats on one’s so-called parenting successes. Maybe it would have felt more monumental had I not crept into his room when I heard him stirring in the night and spoken softly to him for 5 minutes, before falling asleep in his chair. Or, maybe it would count if I had been able to return to sleep quickly once I moved to my bed, rather than lying there focusing on my breathing for another hour. Maybe it would have felt important had I slept all the way until his waking hour, rather than coming awake at 5:00 and being unable to fall back asleep.

In any case, dreams of relief and major corners turned did not endure. Last night he woke four times, and I staggered to his room each time to try to resettle him. He grasped my hand in the dark, holding it to his chest as his breath would slow and sleep would retake him. My longest stretch was four hours, and this morning I have the familiar weariness of the long work of parenthood.

But right now he’s asking me to use my knees to make a fort of the blanket on his bed. So I will put down this computer and do so, because his sweet little smile is the sunshine in my life.

Exercising the Muscle

I miss this blog.

I miss the exercise of pondering something, then sitting down and crafting it into words and paragraphs and ideas that make me feel proud.

I think nearly every day about writing. And I think nearly every day about things that I want to share, discuss, expand upon. Perhaps part of my paralysis comes from the meatiness of the things that are on my mind. I have the daily swirl, yes—the new words from little AHK, the daily task of getting me and him out of the house for something that fulfills one or both of us. But I also spend a lot of time, these recent months, thinking about the big picture of the world, and the intimidating future we are creating for ourselves here on Planet Earth. At the advisement of a wonderful mentor I’ve been trying to make daily notes of “unexpectednesses” that come at me on this subject. But that’s to prime my pump and get my brain churning. Three lines scribbled nightly doesn’t qualify as writing.

So I miss this blog.

As I type right now, little AHK is sleeping in the next room. I don’t know if he’ll give me 20 minutes or 2 or 75. But I think to exercise this muscle I’m going to start by hitting “publish.” Then I can return and write about something else, something more. But the baby step is to publish. So here it goes……