Thursday, May 23, 2019


This morning, a green bird leaps from the fig tree outside my bedroom window and slams its small body against the glass—thunk—over and over, some twenty times. It will leave and come back again, shortly. It will do this all day long, every day, as it has done for weeks. Madness, routine, or game—does it want in? Later, long after dark, a different bird will visit. A night bird that sings a variety of melodies and so beautifully, I wish I could see it.

The first alarm sounds from my phone. I have alarms for everything. Alarm to get up. Alarm in case I didn’t get up. Alarms to take the kids to school. Alarms to pick them up. Alarms for baseball, cartooning class, the kids’ appointments, my appointments, choir, swim lessons, lunch dates, play dates, date nights with my husband, school events, birthdays. Alarms, two calendars I ignore, and sticky notes with bold lettering in conspicuous places. I am a late rememberer and an early forgetter; also, a constant dreamer, obsessed with details. I set alarms; not reminders. I’d love to be a lists person, but that would require basic constancy and a leash.

Mornings are for the kids. One or both are usually at my side before I’ve risen. I read emails. Before coffee, I make breakfast, pack lunches, help the kids get ready for school, review for tests, find lost things. Make the coffee, pick up the house, do dishes. My oldest son’s friend arrives for carpool. Corral the kids loaded with stuffed animals and backpacks and school projects into the car. Drop off the older kids. My youngest son attends two schools: pre-k specialized academic instruction, three days per week; gen-ed preschool, two days. Drop off and pick up times are all different. Alarms. Drink the coffee, gone cold, in the car.

I spend the rest of the morning with my youngest. I am tired (I don’t sleep well at night), but I cherish this time. Sometimes we go to the park at the beach. We build forts, we play in the backyard, we play restaurant, we go to the library and the secret garden there, we put on records and dance, we make banana bread, we go to play dates, we chill and watch a movie. We argue about many things, but he runs the show, he has always run the show.

One day a week, I watch my niece who is now five months old. When my two are at school, between feedings and naps, we play and I read to her. We sit outside on a rug under the fig tree and tell stories and pound drums and a broken xylophone; we talk about what’s growing in the vegetable garden, birds and squirrels and spiderwebs, butterflies and clouds and planes, the loquat trees with big solar lanterns swinging in their branches, bugs in the grass. She is already caterpillaring all over the place.

Slivers of time between tasks, I read or scroll news and social media, Google whatever. I take notes in my notebook or phone or screenshot things I want to draw, paint, or write about later. Notes are the best way to keep track of where my mind has flown and momentarily landed; a map and catalog for later reference.

There are two glorious days per week my youngest is at preschool four hours when I get the most creative work done. Art, writing. I play the keyboard, go for a bike ride or walk, dance, and sometimes, though rarely, take myself to the beach with a book and a lunch picnic. I try not to do cleaning or laundry during this time, but I am maniacally tidy. I operate better as a creator, a mother, a partner, a nicer person in general if I am able to maintain a clean and orderly home environment. I am also most friendly if I have taken care to feed myself, and if not, I am a Snickers commercial.

The place I work is one I have grown into over the years from a 1950s dinette table in the basement to a larger kitchen table to a seven-foot-long worktable in a section of the living room. The workroom—I call it that because “studio” feels either pretentious or like something I haven’t yet earned—is filled with things I wouldn’t put out in other parts of the house, things personal, superstitious, and inspiring—though that last word is fruitless to me, so I’d rather add things musical. Music, of course. A self-portrait my oldest drew; Polaroids of my husband, our children, me as Alice in Wonderland, and Andie (our dearly departed cat); a small blue and white plane I found in the grass at school that reminds me of The Little Prince; books…Dare Wright/Lona, Alice Notley, Ghost Towns of the West, a garden encyclopedia, Hollywood Costume, and a picture book of present choice propped open in a recipe stand; carts of art and sewing supplies, rolls of specialty papers; and an orphaned organ bench, whereupon I sit and write, lovingly, to you now. Here, I am a magnet to joy.

Afternoons are for the kids. Homework. Minecraft and basketball with my oldest. Catching up on laundry, dishes, cleaning. Evenings we all do our own thing for a bit. Weekends for birthday parties, helping people move, working in the garden, cleaning out the garage, family outings, outings with friends. Summers? A wholly different time and task structure. But if I’m working on a project, solicited or not, with or without a deadline, one that I am deeply embedded in, well, I become selfish and greedy and am a stronger magnet to work.

Nights are for TV shows and movies the kids can’t watch. Revising written work or digitalizing and cleaning up artwork in Photoshop. Reading until melatonin, wine or whiskey, and nighttime tea are at the door. Melatonin dumps me off between 2:00 and 4:00am. I read or stare at nothing. If I don’t let guilt keep me in bed, I go to the workroom. I turn on a small, warm lamp. I won’t write but I may pick up where I’ve left off on an art project.

Tonight I may hear the night bird, its colorful, genetic repertoire. A mockingbird, perhaps? To whom does it sing and for what purpose? Not to me. For another’s appreciation, for love. Whom does it seek in the dark? I cannot tell. I only know it is a visitor, like me, and that one night, suddenly, it won’t be there. And one morning, the little green bird will not return to my window. But each of us will have given something of ourselves to the same world and, perhaps, something to each other.

Sarah Shields is a writer, artist, and mother of two living in Southern California. She is lost and sometimes found on Twitter @saraheshields. Publications, illustratio portfolio, abandoned blog, and what she looks like via selfie are here:

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