Lately I’ve been thinking that all of parenting is a decision-making practice and this is why it’s terrible for some people. Not only do I have to pick the school, the menu and the medical provider, but I also have to teach my child how to make decisions, how to listen to his own inner voice. I wish there was a year abroad option that included a meal plan. It becomes exhausting to pick dinner, level of academic ambition, hours of screen time, social priorities, and books to read for a person whose entire future seems to rest in my hands.
There is no unchanging life.
The untaken path lies under the golden leaves and maybe a few winters of snow. Thomas di Piero’s cool black and white shoes. They looked like a groovy place I would want to work. So I took that job in Western New York in the fleets of snow and ice and found husband and sons. Or maybe we should go back to the beautiful Cornell summer before all of that when I read little German stories aloud to D in bed and translated them and I fell in love with his listening and he with my whimsical linguistic skills.
The little girl in the courtyard is squeaking, almost whining, about something. Her mother keeps talking, a flow of words that fails because now the little girl is shrieking. Maman! Maman! And the mother has given up talking. It’s evening. We will all go to bed in a little while. Some with our needs met, some with our needs rethought, reevaluated, set aside to air out or get a good watering during the night.
Today I had a strange nostalgic salad but you were never there. What I really want to say is that you don’t know me and you don’t know the rich fabric of the world that made me. You didn’t know me when I rowed across Lake Geneva, crashing through whitecaps, getting gusted ashore. You weren’t there when we took the honeycomb from the bees with smoke. You don’t know about méchoui and the little crop of plantar warts on J’s young heels. You don’t remember when D grew so fast that all of his pants became ankle pants. You don’t even know the kinds of pants the boys preferred, soft and a little too thin for the New York winter.
What I really want to say is the world is full of soft thready green mosses, and the lightest rain on a still warm summer feeling afternoon and big dried sycamore leaves blowing into the subway station and down the stairs so we know we are still in this place with the Napoleonic trees.
I have been given a deadline, February 28, to make a decision about August 2020. Before I left my teaching job a student asked me the following question, very seriously, and I have been thinking about it all year: Is it better to leave something, to go away from something, or to move toward something, to be motivated by what is to come? It is such an interesting question. I left Rochester to leave it, the horrid weather, the record-breaking sprawl, the bad colleagues and the unsustainable marriage. I was just going, going, gone. I do not know if that was a good way to make a decision but it was a very clear decision and not a difficult one to make. Many years ago, on a beautiful May evening in Paris when the trees were just leafing out and the sidewalks were full of people who just didn’t want to go home, I decided to stay. I had a plane ticket to go back to the US the next day after several years in France but sitting outside with friends on the Boulevard Saint-Germain on the first balmy spring evening, I thought to myself, why would I leave? I like it here. This is magic. And so I cancelled the ticket and stayed another half a year. A twenty-something romantic can’t leave Paris in the month of May.
So how do we make the myriad decisions that turn our lives into stories worth telling? Here I sit in my pretty blue cotton sweater and I feel like I am gathering up handfuls of soap bubbles when what I really want is to make a marble bust. Just yesterday a crystalline slightly sticky drop of sap landed on my finger from high above, a place we can’t even reach to cut. I’ll never have the patience to tend a new tree, to stay put for 20 years until it finally casts shade. Let me see the beauty in the scraggly gray sticks, the achingly visible injuries and the delicate tiny leaves catching the sun.
In my life I have consulted many friends (I’m not sure if I listened to their advice), tarot card readers, astrologers (and I know some good ones) as well as the animal kingdom, my gut feelings, and then sometimes I write lists. I envy those who have certainty and rootedness but I am not them. I could make the rest of my life here or there, with or without this or that. Even if I make the perfect rational intuitive decision this month, it doesn’t mean I won’t have another ten thousand decisions to make in the years to come. If only the hypertext novel of my life, the choose your own adventure, had one shining golden path. What would that feel like?
Which decisions did I make for myself and which were made by circumstance or by my inability to see other options? West coast US culture privileges freedom of choice to such a degree that some of us get frozen in the myriad of possibilities or trapped in minutia. Sometimes fewer choices are liberating but we grow up thinking this can be an affront to our individuality, to our own menu of possibilities. Living in the US has made me so worried about missing my chance at the golden ring, at somehow being passed by.
We can only breathe right now, in this moment, not in our future or our past. I came to Toulouse to see things differently and right now I am interested in changing my relationship to the future. It was much easier to make decisions when I was desperate (broke or miserable), when I was all alone or when I still had fantasies that a whole new life could pop out of a random encounter. I have taught yoga to adults long enough to know that we change extremely slowly and sometimes not at all. So my future decisions are for the good of my child, obviously, which suggests I know something about the ways of the world which I may not. I want to be here now. Where do I want to be in the future? Where is the best place for my son?
Perdre tous ses repères comme cela me tonifie, m’apaise et me met vraiment en face de toutes les constructions que nous portons en nous.
Sometimes I prefer my abstract thoughts in French. I need a decision-making box and I’m not sure if it’s inside my left heel all folded-up, out in the ether of my various contacts or if I need to make it out of all my stories and conversations.