I have a whole book living in inside of me about uncertainty and change and tension bridges; so it is not lost on me that she was building a bridge during our conversation.
The girls participate in after-school science academies a few times a month—architecture, coding, and most recently, engineering. During their last session, they were using household materials to engineer simple machines and tension bridges, and they brought home string and wooden spools to keep experimenting.
The other morning, on one of our many recent days home from school, they each strung some twine with their spool and pulled the ends taut between the legs of my dining chairs. The idea was to create enough tension in the “bridge” that the spool, the pulley, could bear the weight of their water bottles. I was just mesmerized by their enthusiasm, their memory to recreate what they’d learned.
Edith was a little frustrated, though. She’d constructed her bridge just as her sister had, wound the pulley as her teacher had taught; but what she wasn’t noticing was how the chair slipped each time she tugged the pulley, releasing the tension from her bridge. It infuriated her.
“I’m doing it right!” she kept proclaiming, and I couldn’t blame her. She really was following all the steps.
I see so much of myself in Edith, which feels weird to say. I don’t mean the traits that I, as her mother, have passed along to her; rather that six years ago, I birthed some sort of small mirror, and in her bright reflection, I have discovered new pieces of myself. The truth is, I knew her frustration on that deep, gut-wrenching soul level. “I’m doing it right,” I haven’t just wanted to shout—I have shouted, as if there is some formula we plug into and that’s that. Never mind sneaky, slipping chair legs; but so, my bridge is flaccid. Funny how we need the tension to make it all work, and yet we are constantly trying to escape it.
I once wrote about the contradictions in parenting, and about how, without any mal-intent, our children turn into projects. It’s the work we should be doing on our own hearts, projected on to them because they are fresh and willing and not jaded. In this vein, I breathed deeply and calmly instructed her, “Look for a small adjustment you can make. You’re not doing anything wrong, just look for a way to redirect.”
I’m really hung up on a professional goal I’ve had hanging over my head for awhile. I am weary from the effort; but also, my ass is tired from sitting on it and pouting. Maybe I did follow the so-called formula, and maybe it hasn’t worked so far. Still, I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m just trying to force the tension out even though it’s probably exactly what I need.
The mirror mouthed back to me, “Look for a small adjustment you can make. Look for a way to redirect.” I scribbled that down and stared at it. I picked up my phone and messaged a friend—called in a favor I’d been holding out on for no good reason other than that I was afraid and flailing. I don’t know if anything will come of it. I don’t know if it was the answer, the small redirection to keep the whole thing from slipping. But if nothing else, it was an adjustment in my attitude, and sometimes that counts.
Someday I’ll have the clarity to write that whole bridges book, and won’t that be a strange thing? To have reached the outer edge of one uncertainty? I’m sure there will be another bridge waiting, held up on trust and the confident patience it takes to keep placing one foot in front of the other and yield to those insignificant shifts that can actually make all the difference. And maybe then I’ll remember, it’s the tension that holds the whole thing together.