Karen Rivers

you can add up the parts but you won't have the sum.

Karen Rivers

I have some things that I've been thinking about.   I will write them down and the list of sentences will not total anything, or maybe it will by the time I finish blogging them.    

The word 'blog' makes me think of an air bubble that has been swallowed, those ones that hurt in that certain way, all the way down.   The ones that make you aware of words you don't usually think about, like "trachea" and "epiglottis".

My kids are not sleeping.   Even now, The Birdy (age 4), 2 1/2 hours after going to bed, is lying in her bed shouting, "Mummy, I need you."  Over and over again.  It's on a loop.   Maybe she has recorded it.  Perhaps she has been asleep for hours.   MUMMY.  I.  NEED.  YOU.   One day, she won't need me, but that does not make these nights easier, these nights where it is constant, every five or ten minutes, a shout that wakes her brother, The Bun (age 6).  And being woken makes him worry.  "Mummy?  I've left something in my desk.  Mummy?  I think I forgot something.  Mummy?"

"We'll sort it out in the morning," I say.  "Go to sleep.  I love you."

MUMMY I NEED YOU.  MUMMY I NEED YOU.    There is The Birdy.   Again.   Still.

"What do you need, love?"  

"Um," she says.  "Nothing."

"Then STOP," I say.  "No more talking time is NO MORE TALKING time.  OK?  No more.  No talking."  I add, "I love you."  I am starting to get mad, but somehow "I LOVE YOU" seems important, even in a snappy tone.

She waits until I'm on the stairs.

"MUMMY?" she shouts.

"What?" I say.  

"I love you," she says.

"I love you, too," I sigh.

"MUMMY?" she says.

"What?" I say.

"Um," she says.  "Nothing.   I need you.   Nothing."

I keep going.   Just as I close the door, she shouts, "MUMMY!"

"WHAT, Birdy?" I say.

"I LOVE YOU," she shouts.  "I REALLY LOVE YOU."

I was walking up my favourite mountain today and I was thinking about how Leonard Cohen wrote this song with the words, "Everything has a crack in it, that's how the light gets in."  And now people post it millions of times a day on Twitter, as their facebook status, in grafitti on the bathroom wall.   And it irks me.  It does.  It is the quote equivalent of rubbing tinfoil on my fillings, or would be if I had fillings and if it was something tangible and not just words.  


Not EVERYTHING has a crack.   Some things are dark.   There are plenty of things that are not cracked.   There is a lot in life that is not illuminated, and never has been, and never will be.

As I was walking, I got increasingly annoyed by this quote.  I don't know why.  It was stuck in my head, like a song, which it actually is, but I'm not sure of the tune.   I wished that before I left, I'd read some really amazing, magical poetry.   Something to get that quote unstuck.  But I hadn't.  

So as I walked, I looked around in the woods at all the things that were not cracked:   tree trunks and rocks and the hard, packed dirt on the trail.   And I thought, "Hmph!   Look at that!  And that!  NOT cracked."  

I was very self-righteous as I walked.   Or at least, very RIGHT.   I looked at dark things and felt vindicated.

I took my kids for a hike on this same mountain on Sunday.   We got stuck on a ledge and I had to call for help.  I called the police.  I explained that I was desperately embarrassed and sorry to bother them, but actually, there I was, stuck on a ledge with a four year old and a six year old.   I called it a "ledge" because it sounded better than what it was, which was simply a place where we found we could not go either up or down without risk.

It was more of a plateau, I suppose. 

When the first officer found us, he said, "I'm not really sure that you're stuck."  

He didn't have kids.  He didn't understand the impossibility of climbing down an impossibly steep grade with small legs, or scaling a rock face that was so high off the ground.   He was about twenty-one and had a stride like a giraffe.   "It's fine," he sighed.  "I'll help you get the rest of the way."

"I'm sorry," I said.

The things he did not say included, but are not limited to:  "You did the right thing."  "Better safe than sorry."  "We are glad to help."   

Other officers said those things.   He just shrugged and grimaced in a half-sort-of-smile and strode onwards, like he couldn't -- really couldn't -- believe some people.    I was the some people.   That was me.  

I'm not good at asking for help and rarely do it, even when I need it.  I was quite surprised to be the person who had asked this man for too much.   I smiled, even though it wasn't funny.   (It was a bit funny, actually, the way that most things are if you look at them from a slightly different angle.)

What I wanted to explain to him, but didn't, was that up was easier than down, and that we had kept going UP, expecting to hit a trail or the top or a road. And we would have.  Eventually.

But then.   THEN.  

Then, The Birdy fell.  Not far, only a few feet.  And what happened was that I lost my nerve.  I just couldn't stop picturing her going over the edge, and the look on her face of shock as she went.   Her exact expression.   My knees started shaking.   Once that happens, you can't get back to where you were, confident and moving upwards.   You become stuck.   

That was the truth that I couldn't explain to this man.  This boy-man.   Our reluctant rescuer.

The whole experience made me think of the ferris wheel and how I wanted nothing more than to say to the operator, "Excuse me?  I've changed my mind.   Would you mind stopping?  I'd like to get off."

I wanted to get off the mountain, but no one was operating it.   It was just there, being a mountain.  And the light was fading.   I did not want to be on the mountain, frozen in place, alone with two kids, after dark.   That would be worse, much worse.   

The dark is scary.   Ask anyone.   Ask a kid.   They'll tell you.

The mountain is one of my favourite places in Victoria.  I've hiked it twice since Sunday, walked up and down and over and stared at the place where we were stuck.  I took pictures, which I haven't uploaded.  I'll post some later.

I've thought about how I'd do it differently if I had it to do over.   How I would just have lifted the kids up the last rock face so that we would have found ourselves, once again, safe.   I think about why I didn't do that.   Why did I call the POLICE?  

We rode down the mountain eventually in a police car.   The officer let The Bun use the lights.   The Bun was so happy, sitting in the back of that car.   I kept thinking about all the people who probably had bled and puked on the hard plastic seat where he was sitting, wide-eyed, staring at the flashing lights with joy.  

Probably the backseat of that car hadn't seen a lot of joy. 

I admire people who vlog.   Which is blogging, but with a camera.   (Vlog is even more of a word than blog.  It makes me think of VHS tapes and static.   Or old video games in black and white.  It's a new word that transports me immediately to 1982.)   

People who vlog are not scared to see themselves on camera, their faces moving and awkward as they speak.   I don't think that I could do it.  When I hear my voice on someone else's answering machine, I cringe so ferociously inside, I probably experience some kind of internal bruising.  

I am so hard on myself.  If I were to see myself actually talking, I would go crazy.   I would think, "That one eye!  Why is it half-closed!"  I would never want to speak or move in front of anyone again.   I think that I'm kidding, but I'm also not.   I know I would internalize it, and I would judge myself so harshly that I would be hard-pressed to let myself be filmed ever again.   Skype does that to me.   When I see myself on Skype, I forget what I'm saying.   I think, "Really, is that your CHIN?  Look at your CHIN!   What are you doing with your MOUTH?  Why do you have such a strange ACCENT?  Are you WINKING?  What is WRONG with you?"  

Most of the time, I'm not vain at all, so I don't know where this comes from, this Skype-phobia, this anti-vlog sentiment.   

The Bun is like me, but different.  His version of being hard on himself has become so big and ugly that it breaks my heart to watch.  "I'M STUPID!" he screams.  "I AM THE DUMBEST DUMB!"   He can't read well and he's struggling in a classroom of genius readers, or kids who he perceives to be genius readers.  "I AM THE IDIOT," he shouts at me, like it's my fault.  "WHY AM I SO STUPID?"

We practice reading at home.  "You're doing great," I say.  "You are so smart, honey.  You are.  You are in the first month of first grade, you are doing GREAT."  

But I know he doesn't believe me.   He's not being coy.  When he says, "I am not," he is not wanting me to reassure him, he is correcting me.  "I'm dumb," he whispers.

I want to dismantle it so much, but maybe I am not equipped to do so.  After all, I am a person who cannot see herself on Skype without obsessively worrying for days about how awful I look.   And I am a person who does not, for a second, believe that looks matter.   I do not think about what I look like 99.9% of the time.   

I wonder if it is true for The Bun.   I hope that at least 99.9% of the time, he is not shouting at himself on the inside, "I AM DUMBER THAN ANYONE EVER."  

Most of the time, I think he's OK.   I think he's happy.  

He looks happy in pictures.   

So do I.

I am happy.   

I hope he is happy, too.   I want to believe he is, 99.9% of the time.  That the other bits are just the loudest, not the truest.

Today, The Bun was pushed off the top of the big slide, which is tall, maybe 8 or 9 feet off the ground, by a bully in his class.   They were allowed to play on the second graders playground as a treat.  

Some treat.

The bully wanted to go first, so he simply removed the obstacle, which happened to be The Bun.  It's a long way down from the top of that slide, when you are falling off the side of it and not actually sliding.

The Bun has a sprained ankle.  

My patience for the school system was already thinning, and now it is cracked.  The light is getting in there and showing up some things that I don't want to see.  

When we were driving home, The Bun started punching The Birdy in the head.   There was nowhere I could pull over.  He was waling on her like a crazy person with a movie box.   Punch punch punch.   When I asked him why he did it, he said, "She wasn't happy.  She had on a mad face."   

"So you PUNCHED her?"  I was incredulous.   My gentle, lovely boy.   This wasn't him.   She was usually the first to lash out.   

"She made me," he insisted.

I wondered if the bully, when confronted by his parents, was saying the same thing.  "He made me push him," he probably said.  "He wouldn't get out of my way, so I had to."   Or, "He had on a mean face, I didn't have a choice."

Sometimes the path from A to B is so short and straight and obvious.   And so well lit.

The Bun was in his room for the rest of the day.    I hope the bully was, too.   But I'm betting he wasn't.  

Did this just circle back to anything?   I don't know.  

Sometimes there is no sum, there are just mountains and help (if you ask for it) and there are bullies and fists and words.   And then there is love.   That's all, really.   The love matters more than all of the rest.   I might not have mentioned that earlier in this post, but that's what I meant to say when I began.