Be Curious

Everything, and nothing at all, happens in summer. Plants burst out of tidy rows and create a a canopy over black dirt. Songbirds in my yard perform like it’s the encore at their final concert, as if they know this gig won’t last for long. We pack for camp, for sleepovers with grandma, for the beach, and for a whole new round of firsts with Vivian. It’s hard to believe the sun won’t always shine while we get ready for bed or that our cooler won’t forever rotate from the kitchen to our car. The regular hum of life is a pitch higher as we try to squeeze every drop of life out of these nine weeks, but yet, it also seems quieter. There’s nothing new in my inbox. I haven’t checked facebook since last week. People are away. I have no schedule, no daily routine.
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The girls and their friends adopt a fledgling crow for a few hours, before they realize it isn’t hurt and their google search shows they should return it to where they found it.

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Retreating to the basement on a hot afternoon to sew doll clothes

This suits us all just fine for now. Especially Vivian. She thinks she has died and gone to a place where school buses never take big sisters away. It’s not a bad deal for me either. The other day I went to sleep after putting Vivian down for her nap and when I awoke I saw her crib was empty. No Vivian; she had disappeared. I looked around until I heard voices coming from the playroom. They were playing “house” and filled the necessary roles (mom, puppy, and baby) perfectly. So far, Vivi doesn’t seem to mind being typecasted.
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It’s not all bird-song and sunshine though. On the first day of summer holidays somebody jumped out of bed at 5:30 am. By 8:30 family relations had deteriorated significantly, and at 9:00 they were writing down rules, which I titled “Summer-long Slumber Party” in an effort to re-frame the concept. (I keep telling them this is their chance to be together and that in a few short years they will likely travel just to spend time with each other, like my sister and I do now, but I’m not sure it’s working.) I’ve also noticed a pattern with the strife; it’s exacerbated by any kind of cleaning or daily chores. On one hand it might be worth it to let them lounge around all summer, there would be less screaming and it might even be less tiring to do it all myself, but I have a feeling this is part of my job-description as a parent. Foster work ethic is right down there with scrub toilets according to me. Only worse. Which is why I suggested we think of it as “getting ready for our slumber party”. Is that corny? Yes. Was I desperate only 3 hours into the holidays? Definitely.
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Fortunately, fighting gives us an opportunity to learn about forgiveness. One evening, I climb up to Belén’s top bunk to say goodnight and she asks me a question.
“Mom, do you know how I pray sometimes?”
“No. Tell me.”
“I don’t just pray that God would forgive me but also the other people who have done bad things to me.”
Upon hearing this Susanna pipes up from below with a suggestion that may indicate a conflict of interest on her part. “Belén! Belén! I think you should be more specific in your prayers. Like I think you should say exactly who it is that has done mean things to you so God can forgive them.”
I wonder if she has anyone in mind.
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First canoe ride for Vivian; she was mostly mesmerized by the paddling, or asleep.

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my mom and dad

We’re also learning about how curiosity affects the way we relate to each other. Dave, a marriage and family counselor at our church, says it helps to look at your spouse the way you did when you were trying to get to know them. Then, it was easy to think of questions and things you wanted to more about. Tapping into that same curiosity during an argument can help change the dynamic. Why are they saying what they are saying? What makes them react that way? What do they need or want?

When I hear stomping or mimicking, see eye rolls or huffy faces, I have a new line now. “Be curious!” I command through gritted teeth. Perhaps Dave didn’t intend it to be a threat, but it’s novel enough that it thwarts the arguing. After a day when all of us run out of curiosity at one point or another Belén sums it up this way: Being curious is hard–it’s tiring and takes more time. We all agree.

Curiosity isn’t always onerous. Sometimes it’s exactly what we need, like opening the window and letting fresh air into the stuffy room of self-absorption. Pull back the curtains and watch her face when she talks to you. Throw up the blinds and ask him what he needs you to know!

Before leaving for book club one night I read this quote about another way to open the window: “There are two types of people – those who walk into a room and say: Here I am! and those who walk into a room and say: There you are.” Of course that’s how I want to be, but it’s easier to agree with than implement. You have to swing the heavy inner spotlight off self and pass on the microphone. You have to stop monitoring how you sound to hear what others are saying. I’ve got an advantage tonight because I haven’t read either of the suggested books so I can focus on “finding” who I am with.

We sit on lawn chairs around a fire. There is sangria and chips, marshmallows and snap peas. I see Sara* through the flames. She is laughing and slapping the plastic arm of her chair. She just tacked a one-liner on to someone’s story and now everyone else is laughing too; her mini-epilogues make people seem funnier than they are. There she is. The skin on Amanda’s chin tightens. She is wearing sunglasses but there must be tears in her eyes. She is telling us about post-traumatic stress and diagnoses and the fear of not knowing. She is the one I was intimidated by at first, but now I see her more clearly. There she is. I see Karen make fun of herself, vocalizing her inner dialogue with perfect expression and intonation; an actress Hollywood never found. There she is. Erin summarizes a book we read a while back–something about how the author humanizes the villain, and articulates exactly what I was trying to say. There she is. Christine recounts her last parenting battle and how she turned around (right in the ice cream shop!) and took her children home without treats. I am in awe. There she is.

I don’t sit back and study faces faces all night. I interrupt and interject like usual, but I come home happy. Happy for the chance to listen. Happy to have found the people I was with.

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Trying to stay curious,

Tricia

*names changed

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