Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Ritual to Read to (and parent) Each Other

At one point last night I was sitting around a table with 7 other women. Most of our children were home sleeping but some of them were playing on the floor.  We were talking and laughing and making ourselves really decadent cups of hot chocolate (mine had nutella and marshmallows in it).  There may have also been donuts present.

We were telling stories and jokes in the way that women do and the story of the one time that my friend Lu got attacked by a bear in Denali National Forrest came up (she survived the incident with nothing but some scratches but the story is incredible).  Some of us had heard the story, some had not.  Another friend said, "I took Casey (her 3-year-old) hiking the other evening and she got so scared of bears that I had to tell her your story and I reminded her of how you were protected.  When I finished it she had me tell it again."  They had been hiking on UCSD campus and the library had been visible the whole time they walked along the paved path.  We all laughed at the imagined fear of bears that a child can illicit in a major city. 

Lu cleared her throat to begin telling the story for the friends who hadn't heard it when from the corner of the table came a tiny little voice.  Casey, dressed in pink footie pajamas which she had then crammed into brown Mary Janes--the very image of Cindy Lu Hoo--started to tell her story.  It took her a few minutes to get out the details.  They had been hiking.  She was scared.  It was night.  It was dark. And when they were done their dad picked them up in the car.  As Casey was telling her story I looked around the table.  Every one of women there was completely focused on the story she was telling.  There was head nodding and verbal acknowledgement of the dramatic parts.  No one rolled their eyes as if we just had to get through this part to hear the exciting bear attack story. 

It brought me to tears.

Being a parent is humbling. 

Being in a room full of women who are taking the time and effort to collectively love and parent another child is a reminder that we don't have to do it all.  There is a whole crowd, a whole room of people who are there to help you along. 

And when I came home I read this poem:

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider--
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give--yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

William Stafford


  1. One of my favorite poems...and the story of Casey's story is just as sweet. Thanks for sending it on...and for thinking the way you do.