When she was younger, my daughter had a pretty good poker face. She could be warm and chatty and unfailingly polite. But if she didn't like you, you wouldn't know it. If she adored you, you wouldn't know it. She'd maybe give a sidelong look and soft “thank you” before politely taking what you offer, whether words of praise or a chocolate chip cookie. But it didn't mean you'd made a lifelong ally of her. She is always in the process of consideration, always protective of that roiling sea inside her.
Because being a parent is often about being a performer, I've been hyper aware that this watchful, inscrutable child is my audience. I know she's looking for clues about how to be—or not be—in the world, and over the years, I've done my best rendition of a mother: I've lectured and cajoled. I've given advice and instructions. In more grandiose moments, I've concocted parables and metaphors. But unlike her, I'm easy to agitate, less deft at keeping my emotions in check.
She's ten years old now and only a half-a-foot shorter than me, a preadolescent assemblage of pointy joints and long limbs. She watches me react swiftly and passionately to things beyond my immediate control—things like bad luck and circumstance, like injustice and inequity. I worry that it can't be good for her to see her mother thrash and rail and struggle to make sense of the world. Some days I wonder if I can pull off being two different people: the messy, impulsive person I am when she's not in the room—the one who always seems on the verge of blurting out a half-formed thought or opinion—and the deliberate, capable person when she's there.
The other day as we were walking home from school, she casually mentioned that two boys playing kickball at recess that day—the only two boys—were the team captains. I paused a moment then, using my best calm-mom voice, asked, “Why were they the captains? Why not the girls?” I was holding her hand as we walked (something that sadly doesn't happen much anymore) and though my voice was steady, I'd clenched her hand tightly. In response, she wriggled her hand a bit, not to let go, but to remind me she was there—watching, listening.
The essays in this issue of Oregon Humanities magazine are about people in tough predicaments or dealing with conundrums. To get to the hearts of these quandaries, we pushed hard on the writers and, in the process, hit some very soft places, bruising an ego here and hurting some feelings there. So what you see on the pages that follow are naked emotions, struggle, doubt, and vulnerability. Because that's what it looks like to be perplexed about how to move forward or to lurch forward uncertainly and find on the other side regret or relief or resignation. It's messy, this business of deliberation and action and reflection, of making one's way through the world.
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