the essay I never wrote

I plopped the baby on the ground beside me, mail already scattered across the grass like clumsy confetti. He lunged for the letters; I snatched them up and sighed. A long, muggy summer afternoon; too-hot kids whining about everything under the sultry sun and still hours to go before dinner.

The baby grabbed the envelopes again. I gave in. Junk mail; who cares; he was happy.

So I reached for the magazine instead, the one that made my heart skip whenever I saw its spine curved in the mailbox, the one my husband and I secretly race to read ahead of each other, leaving favorite pages folded open on the counter so the other doesn’t miss the good stuff.

I flipped to the back page. Always the prized place for the best essay.

And oh – a small glimmer on a dragging afternoon – a favorite author’s byline! This would be so good. This would be the cool breeze on the sweaty neck. This would be the moment’s peace in the feuding brothers’ backyard war. This would be my five-minute reward for making it through the longest hour before dinner.

I read the whole essay. Start to finish. Five minutes flat.

And it sucked.

It sucked? It was not supposed to suck! It was supposed to enlighten, escape, and enthrall. It was supposed to whisk me away for a moment and drop me lightly back to earth better for having read it.

But it sucked. It was just plain bad: unimaginative, predictable, boring, blah.

I closed the cover and frowned, tossing the disappointment to the grass-clipping strewn mess of a lawn. And I felt that rotten familiar swell within me.

I could have written something better than that, maybe. If only I would try.

If I only could sit down and finish that stupid essay, I could send it off somewhere.

If only I made the time. 

If only I didn’t waste so much time on stupid things.

If only I sat down and did the work that really mattered.

It’s been a whole stupid year since I started it. And I’ve barely touched it. It’ll never go anywhere. 

Stupid essay I never wrote. Mine probably sucks, too. At least he gets his published.

I heaved out the whole jagged breath I’d been holding, annoyed at everything. The baby stared up at me, wide-eyed, silently gumming a credit card bill. I turned and squinted up into the crab apple tree, shielding my eyes from the glaring sun.

And then I saw it.

A messy, muddy nest of dried grass and tiny twigs. Hidden high in the tree, thick and hidden in the dense tangle of branches and leaves. I had passed this tree ten times a day, all spring and summer, and never noticed it once.

Of course the lump formed in my throat, the metaphor hanging above my head. Of course the baby crawled over on cue, grabbed a fistful of my hair to pull himself up to my face, eye to eye. He grinned, drooling.

“Ma-ma!” he delighted. “Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma” babbling into my ear as he wobbled next to me.

Of course the throat lump swelled into tears. Of course it was a nest and a baby and a wry reminder from the universe. A mother bird swooping back home and a mama-babble in my ear and a clear quiet voice speaking see?

He is the essay you did not write.

They are the book you have only started.

This is the life you are already writing.

the nest of motherhood

There will always be all the un-dones before me: sparkling intentions paving the road, ideal habits waiting to be picked up, lofty goals reaching to be grabbed. The essay I never wrote. The workout routine I never started. The room I never painted. The discipline I never tried. The book I never finished.

And cruelest temptation of all, the mythical person I never became because of it.

But all the undones only blind me from the goodness of the dones. Like this small nest in a tangled world that I am helping to build day by day, mud by twig, for these children I love.

Lost in the brambled branches, I busy myself right around it, not noticing its sheer, silent, sacred existence. And like a predictable proverb, I miss the forest for the trees.

What I want to give my life to will never be flashy and sexy. It will never make anyone’s Top 30 under-30. It will never be a NYT Bestseller.

But it is a worthy enough love to fill every last one of my days.

It will be worth every essay I never write.

15 thoughts on “the essay I never wrote

  1. Beautiful, Laura. I definitely needed those wise words this morning. It is so easy to get down on yourself for the things undone, but so hard to see all we’ve accomplished. But so much has been done!

  2. Kitchen island. Coffee. Finished egg and toast. These words of yours. Tears.

    “He is the essay you did not write.

    They are the book you have only started.

    This is the life you are already writing.”

    Amen.

  3. Thank you for expressing what I was feeling this week. I may never know about the what ifs but right now I’m their mom and I have to see all the things I’ve done with them and for them.

  4. This has been a big frustration – the personal goals that I am too worn out to work on once the baby is asleep and dishes are put away. Thank you for putting it in perspective. She is my most important work and no amount of productivity is worth more than wasting time together.

  5. Yes, thank you for this post! I too have trouble living in the moment sometimes. I fully identify with that loud aggravated sigh. I love a good, honest, heartfelt post.

  6. Laura, your essay IS “the cool breeze on the sweaty neck, the moment’s peace, the five-minute reward that never disappoints.”
    I felt inspired to share your post on my own blog here: http://unchartedgroundblog.com/2015/07/17/the-siren-song
    where I wrote of your writing:
    “She has a way – needless to say, a gift – of speaking the crux of things that I haven’t yet found the right words for and when I see them typed out my heart cries silently “YES! Yes, That’s exactly it!” Like a string of pearls she’s dropped into my hand, like precious gemstones I roll over in my palm to carry with me for strength, are Laura’s words.”

  7. Laura,
    Thank you! I was introduced to your writing through a piece you wrote for the Notre Dame Gospel Reflections about when you were young. It was so beautiful, sad, real, hopeful.
    This post was so beautiful as well. Yesterday evening my 2 year old said, ‘Look! A wish in the window!’ which I took to mean a lettter of some sort, but she was pointing to a dandelion, which we then went to pick so she could make a wish. Moments like these are so rich and disarming! Thank you for sharing yours!
    My moms’ book group will start reading your book this fall, and we’re excited!

  8. This was so beautiful and so fitting for me right now. I struggle so much in finding the balance between writing/work and motherhood as a SAHM and I get bitter about what I could be doing if I didn’t have a munchkin to chase sometimes. This helped rein me in tonight. Thank you.

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