In my MFA program, one of my first composition assignments was to create a dance from a newspaper article. I chose an obituary from the New York Times.
I began by mapping out a chronological timeline of significant milestones in the deceased man’s life. Next, I choreographed a movement sequence for each landmark. Then, I used chance to deconstruct the order of events and intermingle them in a series of unpredictable arrangements, lengths, tempos, and momentums.
After I performed the piece, I walked my professor and classmates through my creative process. I don’t remember anything specific about the man whose obituary was the springboard for my assignment, but I’ll never forget the looks on everyone’s faces when I finished my presentation.
I had made something special. (Or, I had made something bizarre, but I’ll stick with special because it’s my story.)
I disassembled a person’s life and put the pieces back together differently. I tossed time in the air and let all of its fragments land in new places and blend in new ways. I hypothesized not only that a life is the sum of all of its parts, but also that people carry each part with them to and from every stop on their journey.
I lost myself in the movement and the method while making that dance, and I had a blast doing it, but it wasn’t until many years and many parts of my own life later that I truly understood the meaning of the assignment.
Weekends are hard for me. As much as I love not setting the alarm or making school lunches, I get antsy when everyone is home and no one wants to do anything. It ignites my anxiety. About everything. I have a lot of anxiety. About everything.
“I’m a horrible mom,” I blurted out to my husband (unfairly).
“What are you talking about. You’re an amazing mom,” he said.
I went on to itemize all of the ways I’m falling short with my kids.
“I’m failing them,” I said.
“They’re in a tough place,” he said. “Give it time. Give them time. You’re an amazing mother.”
“I don’t feel like one,” I said.
Nothing feels right lately. We are in a tough place. The last year has been fraught with change. Everything is new and different and hard, and I’m terrified that I’m screwing up the lives of the people who mean more to me than I can even begin to comprehend.
I went for a run to try to clear my head. When I returned, my seven-year-old appeared and said, “Mommy, you have to come downstairs.”
In the basement, my husband was transferring files from one computer to another. In the process, he found a bunch of videos from an old iPhone that were backed up on his computer. We sat glued in our chairs watching priceless snippets of time from when the boys were babies.
My squishy little boys and their precious little voices and their delicious little smiles were right in front of me again. I wanted the computer screen to swallow me whole. To bring me back to that uncomplicated (in hindsight) time.
In one particular video, I narrated from behind the lens an epic (i.e. long, arduous, hilarious, and never-ending) journey from one end of our house to the other to brush the boys’ teeth and get them to bed.
I was filled with patience when every step we took forward was followed by three (or 30) clumsy, distracted steps back.
I was filled with encouragement (and patience!) when I asked Dylan to move his brother’s step stool closer to the sink.
I was filled with praise (and patience!) when I congratulated him for putting toothpaste on his toothbrush all by himself.
I was filled with gratitude when I thanked him for putting toothpaste on Riley’s toothbrush, too, even though most of it landed in the sink.
I was filled with silliness (and patience!) when I sang our nightly brushing song, “Brush and a brush and a brush brush brush…” over and over again.
I was filled with amusement when Riley declared, “I done now, I done now, I done NOW!” before his toothbrush ever entered his mouth.
I was filled with laughter when Riley poured his cup of water on the counter and licked it like a dog.
I barely recognized the patient, encouraging, gracious, grateful, funny, entertained, and laughing (and did I mention patient?) mom in the video. But she was me. She is me. I was a good mom that night. A great mom, actually. Maybe even an amazing one.
If it’s true that a life is the sum of all of its parts and that we carry each part with us to and from every stop along the way, then even though my light and joy are currently buried underneath restlessness, anxiety, and fear, they’re still there. They’re all of my parts and they’re all a part of me. If I toss time in the air like I did in my composition class nearly two decades ago, a new combination of fragments will land at my feet and just might inspire a whole new dance.