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Settle down

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear.
Trouble it might drag you down,
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
Cause I’m going to make this place your home.  — Home, Philip Phillips


The air smells like wood smoke, nearly freezing rain, and wet pine needles.  The stroller wheels slosh through the river running down the sidewalk, kicking mud and decaying leaf bits onto the front of my snow boots and jeans. Nate sobs, hunched low under a bright red and blue blanket, his face pressed into the canvas at his side, and periodically emits a high-pitched keen of protest that resonates in the hollow spaces inside.

“I want to finish the puzzle,” he howls again.

“We need to pick up Saige and Garrett at school, baby, but when we get home I’ll help you.”

Home sticks in my throat.  Something in me rejects the word lately, though I accepted this sweet, north-facing, snow-kissed city as my home years ago. My first instinct – maybe born during my childhood as a military brat, moving every two years, able to leave behind small embarrassments, mistakes, and relationships grown complicated – is to run as far and as fast as I can.  It’s worked in the past.  I ran so fast after college, I was on a beach in Greece three months later before I looked back.  Matt and I grabbed hands, held tight, and ran half way around the world when life as big-city lawyers threaten to drown us. I ran to Haiti when we lost our first baby and when that wasn’t far enough, we ran to Saipan together.

The urge to flee starts with the heavy feeling that something is irrevocably broken, beyond repair, and slinking away in the night is the best option.  Best not to even try and pick up the pieces.  Fresh start.  Bright morning.  New vistas.  Slowly, over a life time, you realize that the broken things can’t be fled.  They are inside of you, chips in your fire-hardened porcelain surfaces. The knowledge that you can try your very hardest and fail, that babies die, that friends get sick, and life’s most vicious aspects are its most unexpected has twisted something in your chest until it snaps under the tension.

We wish it would reach the surface and bleed because then it would be recognized for the crisis that it is.  A spiral fracture.  Terrible.  Weeks of rest.  Months of rehabilitation.  But our souls accept no casts beyond the smell of woodsmoke, puzzle pieces laid out across a flat table in the middle of the hot schoolroom, a baby’s bright, tear-stained cheeks under a red and blue blanket, frozen feet in sturdy snow boots, and icy rain melting on our faces.

At home, we carefully match colors and patterns, looking for clues in the shading and shape.  The puzzle is an ornate folk art depiction of Pike Street Market with 500 tiny pieces.  I show them how to test each piece when the colors are the same, keeping the ones that don’t fit in a little pile so we don’t try them over and over, separating bits of birds from bits of buildings, and flowers spilling over pots.

“I can’t do it,” Quinn complains in his high-pitched, fluted voice.  “They won’t go.”  He throws the piece he holds onto the table and our organized piles scatter in the face of his ire.

“You have to be patient,” I say.  “You have to keep trying.  It’s like someone dropped the picture and broke it.  The pieces are all there, they just need to fit.  Take a break, but don’t give up and don’t throw all your hard work away.”

We concentrate, arms touching, for fifteen minutes. Pike Street Market takes shape beneath our fingers with seagulls wheeling in the air above it and fish flying between fishmongers on the brick pavement.  The pieces fit faster toward the end as the piles dwindle and the picture forms around the holes.

Quinn places a hard piece where I tap with the end of my finger and gives me a huge smile.  “You’re better at this than me.  You’re good with broken things, Momma.”

“Well,” I tell him, “I’ve had a lot more practice.”

Pike Street Market, Seattle.

28 Responses to Settle down
  1. Stephanie Precourt
    December 3, 2012 | 12:03 pm

    Oh my gosh Stacey this is stunning. I see my reflection a time or two or a hundred in your words, realizations of things I am or have done that I haven’t paid attention to. And I think I can finally put my finger on what I’ve been feeling since our move- it’s like I ran away from home and haven’t been caught yet.


  2. tracy@sellabitmum
    December 3, 2012 | 12:32 pm

    Your writing lately has left me with nothing to say in my comment that would be worthy. I love you. So much. xoxo

  3. andy
    December 3, 2012 | 1:56 pm

    You have such an amazing way with words. Thank you for sharing such a lovely moment with us.

  4. Korinthia Klein
    December 3, 2012 | 3:32 pm

    Lovely post.

  5. Christine
    December 3, 2012 | 4:09 pm

    Well now I’m crying. You have powerful, strong words.

  6. anna see
    December 3, 2012 | 4:39 pm

    So beautiful. So true. So helpful to me today. xo

  7. anna see
    December 3, 2012 | 4:40 pm

    SO beautiful and wrenching and true. Love you.

  8. But Why Mommy
    December 3, 2012 | 4:42 pm

    So beautiful. You have an amazing gift to capture the beauty and sadness of a moment.

  9. Gayle
    December 3, 2012 | 6:52 pm

    So often in the last four years I’ve wanted to run away from all that has gone wrong, hurts or is embarassing. Not possible with many small hands to hold so even though I physically can’t run, I’m pretty sure I ran away in my mind. I should go back… there were things I didn’t take care of.

    I wish you were wearing flip flops instead of snow boots.

  10. Issa
    December 3, 2012 | 8:18 pm

    This is lovely friend. Just plain lovely.

    I think the hardest thing when you feel broken is standing still. Sometimes, it’s the only way to heal.

  11. melanie
    December 3, 2012 | 9:45 pm

    Do you know how much your words reach out to others? I have felt that way, that everything is broken and it is time to get the heck outta dodge. I am just not brave enough to go. But sometimes I think that going is just what I need to “fix it”.

  12. annabelle
    December 4, 2012 | 12:45 am

    god i am so sorry everything is broken. (i hope even as you read it you know its not really ‘every’thing..but only mostly feels that way)

  13. Mama D
    December 4, 2012 | 3:02 am

    So true! I had a wandering sort of childhood as well (not military, but might as well have been) and was able to leave behind hurts and messes and reinvent myself every year or two. Now that I am stably settled, which was what I thought I wanted way back then, I look wistfully at the horizon when reality becomes painful, awkward, or stifling!

  14. Mama D
    December 4, 2012 | 3:04 am

    So true! I had a wandering sort of childhood as well (not military, but might as well have been) and was able to leave behind hurts and messes and reinvent myself every year or two. Now that I am stably settled, which was what I thought I wanted way back then, I look wistfully at the horizon when reality becomes painful, awkward, or stifling!

  15. jen
    December 4, 2012 | 4:31 am

    your words grab the collar of my shirt and shake me. you are amazing, dear friend.

  16. Laurel
    December 4, 2012 | 6:49 am

    Powerful! I so understand. I am so in that place right now . . . wanting to run . . . wanting to leave . . . wanting to “start a new life” somewhere. I am tired, exhausted really. I don’t have the energy to fight the good fight. I don’t have the energy to fight the naysayers that take joy in pouring condemnation upon my head. I want to find a place that my husband and I and younger children can move to, where life will be filled with Sunshine & Daisies . . . a magical place where we can forget all of the pain of the past 5 years.

    Lead the way, friend . . .

    :) :) :)

  17. Kirsten
    December 4, 2012 | 8:02 am

    I’ve never thought about the moving thing before. But it’s true. I moved every two years between 6 weeks old and 11 years old. I’ve always felt the need to rearrange furniture in the house. A fresh perspective. I never thought about leaving behind the hard parts that I didn’t want to deal with.


  18. Jen @ And Two More Makes FIVE
    December 4, 2012 | 5:17 pm

    “You’re good with broken things, Momma.”

    Ah. Such truth from such innocence.

    And life really wouldn’t be worth living if we didn’t have anything we treasured enough that we didn’t want it to break.

    Beautifully written.

  19. Kate
    December 4, 2012 | 10:04 pm

    Puzzles are such a ripe and beautiful metaphor. The patience, the faith that all the pieces are here, the née for focus to put it together.

    My feet have been a bit itchy lately. Things are not quite as
    I want them. Still, those things will follow wherever I go. Best to sit, settle in and piece it together, slowly. And if I’m lucky sitting shoulder to shoulder with a lovely one.

  20. Galit Breen
    December 5, 2012 | 2:21 am

    I don’t have any words.

    It’s too stunning, too raw, too real.

    Love this, love you.

    That’s all I’ve got.


  21. Jessica
    December 5, 2012 | 2:23 am

    So gorgeous as always Stacey, lately there has been a turn to your words that leaves me just shaking my head in knowing but not quite being able to put the right comment into words.

  22. maggie may
    December 5, 2012 | 3:32 am

    I love the word keen, the descriptions of how it FEELS to live where you do, your compassionate, clean eye, and your words. xo

  23. Roshni
    December 5, 2012 | 6:02 am

    Heartfelt words! Honestly, I can’t express how beautifully you write!

  24. tracey
    December 5, 2012 | 4:19 pm

    I do so love how you capture what you’re feeling, but are you ok? I mean, I know you’re not “ok”, but you know what I mean. I hope you are finding peace in your heart, Stacey. I care about you. email me or call (HA! I know how much you love the phone) if you want to talk.

  25. Meg
    December 5, 2012 | 8:03 pm

    Beautiful yet heartbreaking. Hope that your heart is healing.

  26. Clare
    December 6, 2012 | 8:36 pm

    “You’re better at this than me. You’re good with broken things, Momma.”

    “Well,” I tell him, “I’ve had a lot more practice.””

    I just loved this part… (and the photo of pike’s… I too have a long list of ‘homes’ from my past, and my original one has magically grown in my mind to include Seattle)

  27. Lady Jennie
    December 12, 2012 | 7:05 pm

    I run too. I’ve always run. And here I finally have roots. I think I’ve given up my urge to run. Wouldn’t mind a bit of that elusive perfection though.

  28. Tara Livesay
    December 15, 2012 | 3:43 pm

    Beautifully expressed and shared.
    Thank you, Stacey.

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