Beige carpet, a child's wooden table, and a vase of flowers. What's there now.
What was there: Play-Doh on beige carpet. Play-Doh on a child's wooden table. And Play-Doh on Play-Doh.
For two years John ate pureed spaghetti with pureed meat sauce. It was the only dinner food he would accept after he rejected his former, varied purees. He wouldn't eat any other pasta sauce, or eat unpureed pasta, or play with pasta. Finally this winter he played with wagon-wheel pasta; he was comfortable and even happy with whole pasta when it remained safely in its sealed box, the kind with the fascinating plastic window. When increasingly rough box-play eventually led to just a few pieces of dry pasta falling out of a crack for controlled exploration. And last week he progressed to a cookie sheet full of cooked angel hair pasta. He wasn't ready to eat it, but he was ready to drive Lightning McQueen in it.
I let him sit at the little table that stays on the carpet; it's trouble to move it, and the kitchen would be too small for it anyway. At first the pasta looked so stationary, stable, and tidy on its cookie sheet. But I was encouraging John to drive Lightning McQueen on the pasta to see how it would break into pieces (this is a sneaky way to get John to see how someday his own teeth will break up the cooked pasta).
Hours later most of the pasta was dried in bits all over the place. I cleaned it up, over a few days during which I learned that dried angel hair pasta infiltrates beige carpet with impossible cleverness.
This weekend it was Play-Doh. It started innocently at the same child's table, sans cookie sheet. The new dough coming out of the containers. Lightning McQueen, all cleaned up after his pasta adventure. John talking on and on about what he was doing, and over an hour making a gorgeous dark purple mountain by mixing, with dedication, the cylinders of Play-doh until there was no memory of the original four colors except in tiny fragments scattered on the carpet.
He was calm, engaged, and fully satisfied in working with his hands.
Time passed. We had to go somewhere. The Play-Doh was everywhere. I put the purple mountain in a container to save and left the surrounding doughscape to dry. A butter knife was going to be needed later.
I can do spaghetti and purple dough. There is so much I can't do. So much I can't make happen, can't explain, can't fix. Can't hold in my understanding. The day after Play-Doh day, it happened that I was experiencing all those can'ts. I was overwhelmed.
By accident I came across this and began watching, listening, following. Within about 20 minutes it all began to be okay again. Much more okay.
Later I saw: I could offer the Play-Doh, encourage the mess, be there to watch over John, and clean it up. I could span that; it was small enough.
The rest of everything, the can'ts - they are too big for me to span. But in doing that little bit of meditation I remembered that there is a place where I don't have to be able to span them. There is good in being there next to them, whether they are close or far, pushing hard on me or too elusive. It is possible, sometimes, to just be with what is there. And it works.
Later, I cleaned the Play-Doh gratefully.
Now that this piece has sat written for a couple of days, the flowers have died and are ready to be cleared away. For a short time at least, there will be an empty child's wooden table. Something else will be on it soon. And there will be more huge things I can't understand. They will overwhelm me again, probably, and there is no use pretending that I am large enough for them, but after all this, I am upright and ready, just in this one moment.