Tuesday, February 5, 2013

An Unkindness of Ravens

Jacob and I were sitting in the dentist's waiting room yesterday morning discussing the Super Bowl. Well, not exactly the Super Bowl.

Neither of us cares about football and, admittedly, I only watched the halftime show and a few commercials. Until Sunday, I honestly didn't know the two teams were the Ravens and the 49ers. But I did pick up one interesting piece of knowledge along the way.

"Did you know a group of ravens is called an unkindness?"

"Really?" Jacob said.

"Like how there can be a murder of crows, there can be an unkindness of ravens."

 I love the names for animal groups. A pride of lions. A bloat of hippopotamuses. A shrewdness of apes.


We waited some more.

"Hey, what if Chris came over and gave you a shaving lesson?"

"Why don't you just show me how? You shave your legs."

"My legs are basically straight lines. Your face is all curvy. We could Google it and find a video."

"Sure." Laughing. "Let's have some strange man on the Internet show me how."

I had a moment when I thought about how it's sad that he doesn't have his dad here to show him things like that. But we were laughing about weirdos on YouTube, and it occurred to me that so many things are about timing and delivery. If you say something in the right way, people don't even notice the sad thing beneath the surface.

I decided I'd buy him a razor and shaving cream, and we'll just figure it out, as with most things.

After Jacob went back to a treatment room, a young couple came into the waiting room with a four-year-old boy and a baby girl. The dad was wearing brown work pants and boots. The little boy had on a button-down striped shirt and blue jeans and his own boots.

There are times when you feel very strongly the passage of time and I think it often happens when you spot people who remind you of certain times in your past. Younger with small children. Lugging an infant carrier around. Married to a "working man." Taking someone to his first dental appointment.

When Jacob was that little boy's age, he called the pest control guy the "Workin' man" and he followed him around the house and the yard. He called everyone who went to work in boots and who had to wash up first thing when they got home from a long day "workin' men." His dad was a "workin' man."

Jacob as a four-year-old with bright red hair seems to me like a million years ago and yesterday at the same time.

Kate as a baby in an infant carrier seems like another world, because now she dances around the house and asks me to watch her perform routines to the beat of the latest pop song. She steals my hair straightener and leaves bobby pins all over the house. She applies her makeup better than I do. She's the embodiment of everything I thought would make me happy when I was her age, the personification of my belief that "if only" I had blond hair and green eyes and was gorgeous all would be right with the world. She believes in all sorts of things like true love and her ever-changing dreams of what adulthood will bring. She rolls her eyes at me when I accidentally refer to the boy band One Direction as One Dimension. She pleads with me to please stop, Mom when I wave my arms around and sing the lyrics to "Thrift Shop" in the car pool line at the middle school.

Another parent came into the waiting room. She had a four-year-old daughter with bright red hair who immediately started climbing over the chairs. At the same time, the four-year-old boy started tossing magazines on the ground. The toddlers were in charge of the room. I think a group of toddlers would be called a chaos.

His mom caught my eye and we started laughing. I said if I was four I'd come in this room and do exactly the same thing. I would climb over the chairs that are begging to be climbed over and I would throw magazines on the floor.

The little boy's dad said, "That's why we're here. He's a climber. He fell down and broke a tooth."

There are a million ways that we will be broken in this life. Broken again and then fixed again. If you are a human being capable of loving other human beings, it can be overwhelming to imagine all the ways those you love will climb and fall and get up again and throw magazines on the floor.

When Jacob's appointment was finished, I went back to the treatment room and spoke to the dentist. I told him Jacob has given up soda. I hope next time you'll notice a big improvement, I told him. He approved, of course. The official dentist belief system is that soda is the worst and flossing is the greatest thing ever invented. I bet dentists think if only people would stop drinking soda and floss every evening that all would be right with the world.

Jacob and Kate have been going to the same dentist since we moved to Birmingham nearly a decade ago. When Jacob was 7, I brought him in to have a tooth pulled and they gave him something to relax him. When I took him home, he was like a belligerent little drunk. I made him get in his bed upstairs. I told him not to come downstairs until he felt better, and he aimed his out-of-focus gaze on me and said, in an intoxicated slur, "You won't let me do anything!"

It's a cliche that time goes by quickly, but - damn - it goes by so quickly. Everyone knows this but people don't really get it until they reach their 30s, and then it really starts going by more swiftly. My dad is a grandpa and, if you ask him, only a second ago he was a five-year-old watching his mother dance to American Bandstand. My mom is a grandmother and, if you ask her, only a second ago she was a little girl watching her elegant mother with the tiny waist and red hair go out for the evening with the little girl's tall, handsome father with the amazing grin.

Jacob is 16 now and he is everything I ever wanted to bring into the world. He's smart and funny and kind. He recognizes hypocrisy. He delights in irony. He's calm in the face of pretty much everything except his sister's requests to drive her and her friends to the mall. He asks me math questions just to watch me get flustered.

There are days when you realize you are OK with where you are and where you've been. The knowledge settles in your chest, the frenzied fluttering of a thousand wings stills for a moment. You feel the relief of it and hope it lasts. You realize it has been many months since you asked yourself what you did wrong or how you could change the past. You open yourself up to the truth that so many lovely things have happened and will happen. Is there a sadness beneath the surface? Of course. From time to time, everyone is visited by an unkindness of ravens.

But sometimes if you sit still for a minute and look around, you'll see that, at this moment, all is right with the world.


  1. Love this entry, and glad to hear it.

  2. Beautiful writing. It's these moments that make it worth going through the tough times.

    1. Thank you, Sheena! I expect to see you next weekend for some not-so-tough times in Nashville!

  3. That was beautiful. If I was a book editor or publishing house or whatever I would totally publish your stuff. (btw - my favorite is a business of ferrets) Gotta run - time for a 3 year old's living room imaginary picnic...

    1. Thank you!

      A living room picnic sounds wonderful! I hope an army of (imaginary) ants doesn't crash the party.

  4. A tsunami of toddlers?

  5. A business of ferrets?! Thank you for a fascinating new googling habit. And for being willing to tell it like it is and knowing the words to use to make the rest of us feel it.

    1. Thank you for reading! Your support means everything. If I could present you with a flamboyance of flamingos, I would!

  6. Amy, please stop makin' me feel stuff.

    (Really good piece, girl.)


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