Midwestern Lodestar is hosting this month’s Carnival of Children’s Literature. The CCL has been going strong for over a year now. I always look forward to exploring a new collection of posts. Perusing my archives yesterday, I was mildly chagrined to realize that I haven’t posted anything about children’s books all month. I guess I’ve been too busy reading books and writing books to write about, um, reading books or writing books.
I am reading a lot of books these days; my drafts file is bursting with reviews-in-progress. Maybe after I get my taxes done, I’ll have a chance to finish up some of those posts. I’m in one of those moods where I feel like everything needs tweaking. The housework schedule, the rhythm of our days, the reading lists. The pansies on my patio are looking ragged; time to retire them and find out what San Diego folks plant in March. Back in Virginia, we’d be trying to get our peas into the ground right about now.
I was digging through a box in the garage and found another stash of old notebooks. I have dozens of these small spiral notebooks stored away. For years, I have carried one around in my diaper bag or purse. Because, you know, I might die if I got stuck sitting somewhere with nothing to write on. This particular batch takes me waaay back. My goodness. When I was packing for the move last fall, I found the journal I began when Jane was first diagnosed with cancer in 1997. Alice brought it to the hospital on her Easter visit, about a week after the diagnosis. It was a nice bound, lined, hardcover journal from a bookstore. The one I found in the garage yesterday is the cheap, beat-up spiral I was using at the time of the diagnosis. It is bizarre to look back at how abruptly everything changed.
The first page is dated 12/2 (would have been 1996) and has a list of volunteer organizations. Covenant House, Recording for the Blind. I was looking for a way to give something back to the community, I recall, feeling so blessed to be home with my delicious baby. Then there’s a list of the people I sent Christmas cards to that year. Oh, what a cute little thing I was! So organized! Ha! Don’t get uppity, young me; it won’t last.
There are shopping notes for Christmas presents, and then a detour into a crash course on sewing machines. I remember getting paid for a freelance job and treating myself to a Singer, which I think I used about three times during the next five years.
Turn another page, and I must burst out laughing, because in the middle of a list of groceries is a large giraffe head. I remember that giraffe! Jane had a board book with a few simple line drawings of animals, and one day she wanted me to draw the pictures in that book. She was teeny tiny, maybe 18 months old. I practiced, I really did. I learned to sketch two animals on demand: an alligator and a giraffe. They are the only things I can whip out on a moment’s notice. Now fast forward about a year. I must have kept on drawing Jane’s giraffe and alligator well into her chemo days, because at one point during her hospital stay, the staff was painting a mural in the playroom and they were looking for someone to draw a rocketship. One of the nurses said, "Oh, get Jane’s mom, she’s a great artist." The playroom staff hunted me up and asked for my help, and I had to say, Sorry, I’m no help at all! Unless you’d like a giraffe in outer space!
Anyway, here is my giraffe head. Contented creature, isn’t she?
Flipping on, I find notes for another freelance project, a list of emails to write (even then, I must have been behind on mail—who bothers to handwrite a list of people to whom one owes an email?), a phone number for someone named Becky, and then, goosebumps, pages and pages of notes about houses in North Carolina. We were planning to leave New York, you see. Scott was ready to go freelance, and we were heading for the country. My moving plans take up a quarter of the notebook.
But it was a plan-in-progress, and meanwhile, busy life went on. Here’s a page about a Carmen Sandiego book I wrote, a page—what am I, fourteen?—covered with my signature and the alphabet in italic. Perhaps I felt that my penmanship needed an overhaul; I have no recollection of this.
Flight plans: Jane and I were booked for a scouting trip to NC. Drawings of hands! Margin notes indicate I was working through Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Gosh, sewing, drawing, volunteering, writing; what a busy little bee I was.
Scrawled directions to my friend’s house in NC. (I guess the italics didn’t take.) Jane has ornamented this page with green marker, which probably explains why I got lost when we drove from the airport to this location. This means we’re now in early March of ’97. I am blithely filling pages with travel notes. I have no idea what’s about to hit us.
Oh, ouch. A draft of a thank-you note I wrote the regal old woman who owned the little rental house I picked out. The rental had once been a small train station on a prosperous farm in Greensboro, NC. Mrs. R. still lived in the "big house" and rented the farm and other buildings to various artsy types: a poet, a sculptor, a young couple who planned to homeschool their small brood. Scott and I were going to fit right in.
It was v. nice to meet you last Sat during my visit w/ Louise. Jane & I really enjoyed seeing the farm. I will visit Gboro again in June, and I will check in with you then. Until then, my best wishes for a beautiful spring!
A blank page.
3/15—Sat. Write: Aunt Bettye, Pam, S & D, Holly
And then some empty lines, and at the bottom of the page, my mother-in-law’s handwriting.
3/24 moved to room 215 Hem/Onc unit
I must have handed her the notebook at some point, and she opened at random, because the next pages are my own notes from our first days in the hospital, which began on March 22nd. We are plunged into lists of antibiotics and blood counts. It seems to have taken me a few days to figure out Jane was getting "prednisone," not "pregnisone." Each new drug name is followed by a list of side effects. I must have been scribbling down as fast as I could to keep up with the doctors.
But the hospital notes break off as abruptly as they began, because, as I said, Alice brought me the nice journal sometime that first week. Perhaps stranger than the sudden advent of the cancer pages is the equally sudden return to humdrum chore lists. I seem to have grabbed this notebook off the shelf about a year and a half later, for there is a page dated November 1998 which details a Staples shopping list, people to whom I owed thank-you notes, and subscription renewal info for Mothering magazine.
—check Mary Beth’s address
— Lifetime Books return
—order science kit for Samantha
It’s been a long time since I thought of it, but I remember feeling soaringly happy one day about a year into Jane’s treatment, when there was a nasty foul-up on our credit-card statement that had me sputtering with six kinds of indignation, and then suddenly I realized what a luxury it was to be worried about nothing more serious than a billing error. For a long, long time afterward, I looked at to-do lists with a fresh perspective. Each nitpicky little task on the list seemed a kind of gift: here, Lissa, you are free to get caught up in the mundanities of life once more. But first go kiss that girl of yours.
Somewhere in my garage is a spiral, I’m sure, containing notes about planting peas in Virginia in March. One day, years from now, I’ll no doubt stumble upon the notebook I’m scribbling in this month. I’ll find notes about Wonderboy’s speech therapy and last week’s house closing, and, yes, that same silly giraffe smiling coyly beneath long-lashed eyes. Will I laugh at myself, the young scatterbrain I was, all wrapped up in transient daily details, oblivious to the surprises lurking beyond the turn of the page?
I hope so.
Jane and Rilla. Blurry, because like life, they do not stand still.