Yesterday I watched my daughter open her arms wide, turn her face to the sun, and laugh with abandon. The reason for her joy? The wind. Every day we all experience these ordinary things. Our children, who are less conditioned than we are, can teach us the joy of living. The problem comes when our children push our buttons. So many things seem to go wrong in the day and they complain, whine, and cry. All families have conflicts and the very fact that our children are ours already makes it more challenging to feel joy with them, however much we would like to. That’s why it can sometimes be helpful to look to ordinary things to sense the aliveness we wish to share with our children. By waking up our senses to the ordinary things we encounter in our homes — the crease of a t-shirt we are folding, the shine on a counter we are wiping, the steam swirling off a cup of tea — we can touch the joy of living.
Author Louise Erdrich, in her book The Blue Jay’s Dance, gives the reader an opportunity to sense the aliveness in our homes and families. The book is a meditation on the beauty of daily life with a new baby. Erdrich’s observations create inner space in the reader by using simple, sensual prose that allow us to inhabit the beauty of our own domestic lives. The book is particularly powerful because it sheds light on a time that for many — especially those suffering from postpartum depression — can be a time of confusion, anxiety, and debilitating exhaustion.
No object is too trivial, and no experience too banal, to go unnoticed by Erdrich. She writes,
“My winter summer includes a child lying on a blanket, entranced at the spectacle of light, the arching clouds, the blaze of Arctic flame, a hardy subzero rose I have ordered, and will plant, and which is guaranteed to bloom in this baby’s first summer of life.”
This attention to the ordinary doesn’t mean that Erdrich bypasses the more muscular aspects of life. On the contrary, her prose share a quality with nature; Like nature, The Blue Jay’s Dance is paradoxically both gentle and fierce.
“Whatever else I do, when it comes to pregnancy I am my physical self first, as are all of us women. We can pump gas, lift weights, head a corporation, lead nations, and tune pianos. Still, our bodies are rounded vases of skin and bones and blood that seem impossibly engineered for birth. I look down into my smooth, huge lap, feel my baby twist, and I can’t figure out how I’ll ever stretch wide enough. I fear I’ve made a ship inside a bottle. I’ll have to break. I’m not me. I feel myself becoming less a person than a place, inhabited, a foreign land.”
We all fall on our parenting journeys. There’s no avoiding it. But a good writer can point us toward our common humanity, our strength as mothers, and enliven the ordinary objects that surround each and every one of us.