On The Stairs

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My toddler on the stairs.

I looked up at my toddler, who stood at the top of the hard, honey stairs. His dimpled hands balled up at his sides. One fist clenched a yellow cap. The other held a matching tube. A breath later, I smelled mint. 

“One, two, three, come with me,” I beckoned. “Let’s go.”

He swayed, then stomped his feet. He pushed the chapstick’s cap and tube together. Like two opposing magnets, they failed to meet.

“It’s time to come,” I told him. 

He moved the yellow pieces some more. Plunged a finger into the scented wax and pressed it to his soft cheek. Smiled. Pushed the cap and cylinder toward each other again. Another miss. He swayed happily. 

“We’ve got to go,” I said, stepping down.

He pointed up at the window on the landing. And then the scene flicked. I had one of those moments of clarity where you’re yourself and watching yourself at the same time.

I saw our impasse. 

Me: Time traveling to the next task. Breakfast dishes. Dinner prep. The call I had to make. The invoice I had to send. Responsibilities that existed without shape or heft but whose swirling weight pulled me all the same. 

Him: Here. Present to the smell of mint. To the tentative warmth of the March sun through the window. To the thrill of being high up. To the pleasure of seeing your mom is right there to catch you. 

Why would you rush past all that? Of course you wouldn’t. 

In that moment, looking at the two of us, I felt a swell of affection for my son. How dear his impossibly smooth cheeks! How pure his heart!

That morning in the bathroom mirror, I had discovered another sunspot near my nose. Now I saw myself: Not young anymore but not wise either. The picture of a fool – clumsily perched on uneven steps, body angled away from the gifts in front of her, turning toward all the wrong things. 

My faults, I thought as I stood on the maple stairs, are so trite. I worry a lot. My brain thinks the same dumb thoughts over and over. Even after 36 years on this planet and 16 years of meditation practice, I fail in the most basic of tasks: Be here now. 

And then, another flicker. 

Of course. 

Of course I’m rushing. I’m no toddler. I’m a parent. I’m the one who has to make dinner. I must send the invoices so that I am paid for the work that helps to buy the chapstick. Of course. 

At first, this recognition doesn’t make my heart warm in the same way. It doesn’t catch my breath like the curve of my one-year-old’s cheek. But it carries the same honeyed truth: This is how it is. To be a child. To be a mother. To be human. It’s all worth treating kindly.

When he tried a third time to bring the chapstick cap and container together, they connected. He squealed and clapped his sticky hands, and I smiled because, right then, I was there too.

A version of this essay appears on Medium here

New Writing From Me

Emily P.G. Erickson setting up a business bank account

I filed an LLC! Having it feels like a no-big-deal-big-deal all at once. Freelancers take all sorts of different approaches to running their businesses — you can organize legally, bank, budget, book keep, and more in all sorts of ways. This month, I decided to (begin to) formalize my business systems. This meant doing a deep dive on the options, poling peers, talking to professionals, and even taking some free small business webinars (Thanks, Twin Cities SCORE!). Completing these tasks don’t yield new bylines, but I’m still counting them as a writing-life milestones.

Unsnarling the Psyche, a Substack newsletter by Emily P.G. Erickson

Since so many of my favorite writers are on Substack now, I decided to join them! You can find me here: https://emilypgerickson.substack.com/. Subscribe to my monthy-ish newsletter, Unsnarling the Psyche, for insights to help you make sense of the space inside your head.

Books I Think You’ll Like

 These Trees, Those Leaves, This Flower, That Fruit: Poems by Hayan Charara in Emily P.G. Erickson's Bookshop

I am absolutely the kind of reader who melts over a gorgeous title and cover. When that lovely title and cover is published by a favorite local publishing house (in this case, Milkweed Editions), well, I don’t stand a chance. These Trees, Those Leaves, This Flower, That Fruit: Poems by Hayan Charara is deeply delicious, above and beyond those somewhat superficial draws. The poems pulled me in on their own merit. There are all kinds of ways I read — audiobook while walking, on my kindle before bed, curled up with a paper copy on the couch. These poems, I saved to read when I had enough time to put up my hammock and really sink in.

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad  in Emily P.G. Erickson's Bookshop

If the title of Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted, by Suleika Jaouad sounds familiar, it might be because she authored a viral column for The New York Times about a decade ago called Life, Interrupted. It, like this memoir, is about what’s it’s like to be a young adult with a terrible cancer. I had read the column once or twice, but hadn’t retained much. I confess, while reading this book, I did sometimes feel like I was missing some context that the column or a better grasp of Jaouad’s career might have provided. Even so, memoir is a hard genre, and I admired the honesty and fairness of her writing. The way she circled back to her behavior and thinking to take a more complex accounting of what she was doing and how it impacted her relationships. Even though I’ve never been in her position and learned a lot, I found a lot to relate to and reflect on, something I selfishly always appreciate in a book.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow
Gabrielle Zevin (Author) in Emily P.G. Erickson's Bookshop

Don’t sleep on this one like I did. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin came out in July 2022, and I heard buzz about it then. But I also heard it was about video games. I couldn’t imagine reading a whole novel about video games so I passed. But wow. This novel is not really about video games. Like the best books, it’s really about people and relationships and time and imperfection and what it’s like to be alive. Plus, like the best storytelling, the plot isn’t even the most amazing part. It’s the way Zevin unspools the story and carries you someplace else.

Check out my Bookshop here for more excellent reads!

Let’s Connect!

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Published by Emily P.G. Erickson

Emily P.G. Erickson is a freelance writer specializing in mental health and parenting. She has written for popular digital publications, including Everyday Health, Health, The New York Times, Parents, Romper, Verywell Mind, WIRED, and more. Emily is a professional member of the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), and the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ). Previously, Emily researched PTSD for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and earned a master's in psychology. You can find the latest from Emily at www.emilypgerickson.com.

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