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.
Cay G. says:
Your writing never fails to engulf and warm my soul. Bless you!
On March 14, 2007 at 9:46 pm
There is a term used in sociology and anthropology that might help you out here — diffuse reciprocity. Here is an example from my life.
A graduate student friend of ours was feeling bad that my partner often bought the beers when they went out. He wanted to be able to reciprocate. I explained that when we were graduate students there were professors that bought beer for us. And we assume that when he is a professor he will buy beer for his graduate students.
Same thing with the meals and errands and stuff. When you have little kids (esp. sick little kids) you receive more than you give. But some day, your kids will be older and you will have friends and neighbours with liittle kids or other needs and you will give more than you receive.
Similarly, your friend Lisa has probably had lots of help at other times of her life, and will again.
You don’t give back to the same person that gave to you but over time it roughly evens out. Hence “diffuse”. And yes, telling great stories and having books available to lend or browse through counts as help.
On March 15, 2007 at 7:01 am
Mary Beth P says:
You inspire me sooo MUCH- If I lived in California, I would bring you dinner EVERY night! You are like Frederick: on those cold,gray, dreary days of homeschooling (when all the “grains” of ideas are gone), I log onto your blog & get refreshed!
Oh, yeah, you ARE really fun to talk to too (not that I’ve had that pleasure in many years). And that beautiful baby of yours is enough to make anyone’s day!
On March 15, 2007 at 12:52 pm
Stop!! I’ve been witness to not one, but two dinners you made in the past week for dear friends in the process of moving away! And please, all the books, videos, games, and even the writing program that you’ve passed my way in these few short months are equal if not better than a meal! You’ve got a lot on your plate at the moment, but the house is sold and calmer days are coming….unless someone schedules one more party! 🙂 God bless!
On March 15, 2007 at 11:59 pm
Anyone could do the things I’ve done for you, Lissa! The gifts you possess and share freely as a friend are rare, indeed. I’m so grateful that you are who you are and that I was in this place and time so I could have the pleasure of making your life a little easier! So much love ~
On March 24, 2007 at 2:58 am