Of Mice and Moms
When I log into my Typepad account, a little box on the screen says "Remember me," and today I could swear there was a question mark after the words. Remember me? I blog here sometimes? When I am not spending my days glued to the phone because we are finally about to sell our house in Virginia?
Since the house is there, and we are here, the inevitable flurry of last-minute things-that-need-attending-to has resulted in a spate of phone calls to dear and PATIENT and UNDERSTANDING and did I mention AWESOME friends in the old neighborhood. Could you check on this? Could you unlock the door for that? Could you arrange for the removal of a big ole piece of furniture I forgot was still sitting in the garage? Um? Still love me?
In the middle of one of these conversations I was feeling rather humbled by the number of times I’ve had to call upon friends to help in a pinch. Sometimes it seems like we are ALWAYS in a pinch. Jane’s illness, Wonderboy’s many medical adventures, new-baby meals, living without Scott all last summer, packing for the move…sheesh! "Don’t you ever get sick of helping me?" I wailed to fabulous Lisa, friend of friends.
Because Lisa has a heart as big as Texas, she assured me that no, she never gets tired of lending a hand (actually it’s more like both hands, both feet, and a strong back!) and wishes I were still there to need her help all the time. Which is awfully sweet of her. But still, I worry sometimes. Am I "that friend," the one who is always on the receiving end of the relationship? I mean, sure, I’m fun to talk to. And I suppose my book-junkie tendencies make me a handy person to visit when you want to peruse the latest selections from your favorite homeschooling catalog. But let’s face it. I am seldom the friend who brings you dinner when you need it most, because I am probably scrambling to get my own brood fed. (I am famous for feeding my own children cereal on the night I delivered a new-baby meal to a family in our neighborhood.) And you’ll never call me to help you move furniture. You’ll be too afraid I’ll injure my little wimpy self and you’ll wind up having to run all my errands while I convalesce.
I was lamenting to Lisa about all this when suddenly it hit me: I know who I am. I am Frederick the Mouse. You know, from the picture book by Leo Lionni. While all the other mice are busy gathering grains and seeds all summer, ole Fred is sitting on a rock, soaking up the sun and the colors. Oh, sure, he might seem like a shirker, but really he’s a poet. In the winter, when all is gray and dreary, it will be Frederick who brings color and warmth to the mouse den by spinning tales and chanting poems. And then all the other mice will love him and be so glad he sat on that rock all summer while they did all the physical labor.
The irony here is that Frederick has always irritated me a bit. I mean, no matter how many dinners my wonderful friends may bring me, I do still work my tail off—like any mother of little ones—taking care of my younguns, my husband, my home. Come on, Freddy, I used to think, if I can raise babies and write novels at the same time, surely you can lug a few grains of wheat to the nest while you’re marveling at how many shades of gold there are between sun and meadow. Poets can think while they work, you know. I’ve teased out many a metaphor while scrubbing the kitchen floor. You’re giving artists a bad name, little mouse.
But I am beginning to wonder if the difference between Frederick and me isn’t just a matter of scale. Of course I know I’ve had some darn good excuses for shouldering less than my full share of the grain harvest; and also I know that this is just a season of my life (albeit a long one), and hopefully a day will come when I’m the friend everyone calls in a pinch. Still, it brings a chagrined smile to my face. This is what I get for my years of scoffing at a beloved and classic picture-book character. Sorry about throwing all those stones, Frederick. I bet you can come up with a brilliant poem about how the sunlight glints off the shards of my glass house.