3:41 am

I woke somewhere in the middle of the night, knowing one thing, absolutely: it’s time to get back.

All over the internet are scattered blogs that have been abandoned, mid-thought, like the ghosts of people’s aspirations. I see these blogs. I return to them sometimes, hoping to find something, a little nugget of wisdom, of hope, a few choice words. On a friend’s blog, the title of the most recent post is, “Has it been over a month?” It is a short post that apologizes for not keeping up with the blog. “Regardless,” he concludes, “I will be back to regular blogging from the left bank of my mountain stream in the next couple of days.” This post is dated May 5.

Something has happened, it feels, in the blogosphere. Life, I suppose. There are so many reasons not to write, and I have sensed a kind of wearying among so many bloggers. There are children that need tending. There are walls that need painting. There are dogs that need training, family members who need phone calls, deadlines that need to be met.

There is real life, and there is virtual life. What motivates someone to continue pursuing the latter, in the face of a never-ending former? One needs motivation. In the last few months, I discovered what my motivation was not.

And yet, at three in the morning, I awoke. I lay there, staring into the darkness. Everything was quiet, save for the constant whir of crickets outside the window, the hum of an aging refrigerator down the hall. Occasionally, a car passed (who is that, driving through a tiny New England town at three in the morning? What does their real life look like?). My husband turned over in his sleep. I reached down to touch a slumbering dog, feel a furry back rise and fall.

Recently, I got a call from a magazine, wanting me to serve as an “expert voice,” said the writer on the other end, on kids and nutrition.

“I’m happy to talk,” I said. I’m always happy to talk. “Just know that any so-called ‘expertise’ comes from a sample size of two.”

Truth is, I felt like more of an expert when my sample size was one. Back then, when my sole child did something positive — ate her kale, brushed her teeth willingly, went to sleep without fuss —  I swelled with pride, knowing that I’d done my job “right.” Then came Charlotte, who pursed her lips at anything that wasn’t a white carbohydrate,  ran screaming from the bathroom when the toothbrush came out, and remained awake, infuriatingly, hours upon hours after Lights Out.

I’ve learned not to swell with pride about much — I simply offer up a little prayer of gratitude now and then.

Anyhow, I spoke to this writer, and shared what some of the research says about kids and healthy food. But I also told her something else I have learned: that every child is unique, every family is unique. That people, even tiny people who have been on this planet just a short while, are infinitely complex. In the end, we’re all just fumbling through, trying to do the best we can with the love and good intentions we have.

Becoming an “expert,” using this space to tell people how to get their kids to do this or that: this is not my motivation for blogging.

Some people blog because they are rallying for a cause. That one feels a little closer to home, but not 100% right, either. There are things I believe in — living soil, thriving communities, power to the people!, and so on. But I watch the truly activist bloggers, and I see something that I do not recognize in myself — a kind of missionary zeal, a conviction about their own rightness that is so firm, so tangible, that it borders on evangelism. Do things this way, they are saying. This, right here, is THE way.

There is, in me, always some niggling doubt. The more I delve into any one subject, after all, the murkier everything seems. Who am I to say what THE way is? The best I can do is to say, simply, “here’s what makes sense to me, today.”

There other non-motivators. I don’t blog as a way to seek community — I am one of the lucky ones that has an incredible, supportive community, all around me, day upon day. Nor do I blog to showcase my professional skills, or to attract more clients — I am barely keeping up with my existing clients.  I don’t blog to document the adorable things my children have done, to keep some kind of virtual scrapbook of their lives. I admire the parents who can do that, and I suspect my kids will someday wish I’d been one of those parents. But that’s never been me.

There are so many reasons not to blog, to say “eff it,” and just return to the stuff of real life, to the cereal bowls on the table, to the missing shoe that can’t be found as we’re rushing kids off to camp, or to school. So why, then, the middle of the night wake-up? What compelled me to get out of bed, when I was already exhausted, running on fumes, a full day ahead, and months’ worth of sleep deprivation behind me?

I keep thinking about Our Town, the play by Thornton Wilder. I saw it recently, right down the road, at a theater festival in…well…our town, our non-fictional one, a real town once described on Six Feet Under as the place “where celebrities go to play Chekhov.” (and there were celebrities, sure enough, but no matter). In case you didn’t perform the play in your high school drama club, I’ll simply tell you that it is not, as I had assumed, a sweet little play about daily life in a quaint New England town. It is about a quaint New England town, mind you. It’s just that Our Town is, as one writer once said, “one of the toughest, saddest plays ever written.”

I’m telling you, this play cracked my heart into pieces.

The play is about living and dying, about stringing beans and falling in love, about getting breakfast on the table and getting married, about the thwack of newspapers hitting a doorstep, and the cry of grief as a loved one is lowered into the ground. It is about everything that matters, and all the ways we fail to recognize those things, every single day.

“This is the way we were,” says the narrator, “in the provinces north of New York at the beginning of the twentieth century.—This is the way we were: in our growing up and in our marrying and in our living and in our dying.”

The play is a plea to wake up, and to pay attention. To stop moving through this world and to really  pay attention. And that, right there, is at once the promise and pain of documenting life, virtually or otherwise. A blog can offer a chance to stop, and to pay attention. But caveat emptor: it also removes you from the very world to which you’re trying to pay attention.

So that’s the delicate balance: there’s the motivation, and the threat, all at once. If I can do this right, I can record, somehow, like a time capsule of sorts, what it is to be a parent, right now, in this time and place. To seek something authentic, something that matters, for both me and my family. To understand better my own attempt to raise human beings who are healthy enough, in mind, and in body, to realize life as they live it. To stop and appreciate the act of putting a meal on the table, of getting a child out the door, of tasting a summer peach, of putting a seed in the ground and marveling as it sprouts upward, propelled by the simplest and most magnificent magic.

So here I sit. This is what it is to be here, now, as the dog’s back rises and falls, as the evening crickets give way to morning birds, as the wind rustles late summer leaves, and the as the sound of fingers on a keyboard — my fingers, my keyboard — cut through the early morning of a new day.

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9 Responses to 3:41 am

  1. Sis B says:

    So very wonderful to see you back. I have missed your writing. (I have recently come back as well, after very sporadic writing for a year.) Hadn’t thought of “Our Town” for ages. It makes much more sense now than it did in high school. :)

  2. Kelly says:

    It’s nice to see you here. And I agree it is a delicate balance, one I have been thinking about a lot lately.

    I recently read “Our Town” and loved it and it broke my heart too. I would love to *see* it.

  3. My mom and I want to create a blogging site much like this for our web site, I stumbled across your site trying to get some ideas on the theme along with layout. I am taking some html coding class in college however, not certain that I would be capable of create a blog like this one just yet. Did you code this blog all by yourself or employ a qualified?

  4. Amy says:

    Welcome back, I’ve missed your writing, more than I realized until I read this. I also miss your awesome header, but understand the change :-)

  5. Katherine Myers says:

    What a great post Ali. Thanks for sharing. We all loved Our Town, including Ten who seemed quite surprisingly to really get it.

  6. What a lovely synopsis of why you blog. I love this: “the motivation and the threat.” That’s true for me, too.

    Even with a laptop! One may not be physically chained to a desk but one’s attention is definitely chained.

  7. What a beautiful post. I so missed you during your break.. and am dying to see pictures of the inside of your house.. maybe just your kitchen please ;o)

    Your post gave me pause and made me think. I often take blogging breaks and find it quite refreshing. My blog is my creative outlet to record recipes and maybe inspire someone to try one of them. Everyone needs a spot to explore & create – some craft, some write, some read, some blog! I admit though, it is a little creepy when you come upon a blog that has suddenly stopped.

    Thanks for the early morning post and inspiration. I love your writing and you always make me laugh. You’re one of the few blogs that I’ll read top to bottom and never skip a line.. yes, I do that to other blogs sometimes ;op

    Thank you for “paying attention” and inspiring many :)

  8. tinnitis says:

    Thanks for the advice. Will put it to work. Tom

  9. Nicole says:

    Good work

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