This is a story about a fruit leather.
A squashed up fruit dried in the shape of a rectangle. That is what this story is about.
Why a fruit leather is more exciting than actual dried fruit, I am not sure, but it is. When we buy boxes of fruit leather, we have to keep them on a high shelf in the kitchen cupboard or else it all gets eaten up before the afternoon is out.
And Eli, who is five, was after a fruit leather.
Oh! Audrey said. You’ll have to grow really big first, before you can reach that.
She’s nine. She understands things like relative distance.
No, he told her. I will just ask someone big to lift me. I can ask mom.
If I know anything at all, it’s because I have been listening to my kids.
Sometimes I wonder if I used to know all the things, too. Did I forget? Did I let other voices start whispering in my ear until I couldn’t hear wisdom in the stillness?
Well. Yes. Lucky for me, I have these little teachers to remind me.
(If you don’t have any at your house, don’t worry. Just start listening at the grocery store and the coffee shop and wherever else you meet tiny humans. You can learn plenty that way, and you don’t have to wash nearly as many sticky fingers.)
Eli is small, but not only that: he knows he is small.
Most of the time, I feel small.
That’s because I am small. I am a tiny little grain of sand in this enormous universe. That’s what I’m supposed to be.
But sometimes—not being constantly reminded of my smallness by gravity and high kitchen cupboards—I get confused. I forget what smallness means, and I forget that smallness is okay.
I forget that I’m supposed to be small and I start trying to be big instead.
I am not big, not really. I do not make the weather. I cannot make a tree grow. If I forget to get out of bed tomorrow, the sun will still rise, and that is good news. I can do, like, three things, and two of them are pretty much invisible.
But I forget sometimes and I try to be bigger than I am. I try to control things that were never mine to control. I hold on and I dig in. This looks like gritting my teeth. This looks like frown lines and sharp voices. This looks like striving, and pushing, and grinding it out.
And then I fail. Without fail, I fail.
All my plans fall apart in a million little pieces around around my feet. Or maybe everything turns out how I was hoping it would, but not because of all my effort, and I know it.
I have two obvious choices at that point: I can hide, or I can pretend.
I can put on a mask (my favorite is the “Yes Everything Is Fine/Good/Great With Me, And How Are You?” mask) and hide behind a put-together shell. Or I can act like I’m bigger and more important than I am, and hope you don’t notice me trembling behind the curtain.
Either way, I can’t connect with other people, because I’ve forgotten who I am.
If I can’t even connect with me, how could anyone else?
So there I am, stuck and alone and embarrassed and ashamed because I was reminded that I’m not perfect, I’m not in control, and I can’t fix my own self, let alone anyone else.
But the truth is, I was never supposed to be big in the first place. When I fail at being big, when I fail at running the show, when I fail at controlling the universe, I’ve succeeded in reminding myself of who I am meant to be.
I’ve succeeded at tracing the limits of my smallness.
I’ve succeeded at being human.
I just have to remember that that’s all I was ever supposed to be. I have to remember that small things are enough, just as they are. Small things matter, just as they were made. Look at that.
We’re enough. We are loveable and loved just exactly as small as we are. We are small, and we are held, and we are not the center of all things, as maybe we might have imagined ourselves to be.
There’s not so much difference between Eli and I, not really. I can see that from where I am. The only thing that stands between us is time.
His body still reminds him of the truth mine sometimes forgets: we are small. Every one of us. There are more things we can’t do than things we can.
But we can still help each other.
What I can do is get down the fruit leather. I can help, and Eli will be happy. He can remind me about smallness, and I will be happy. These are not small things, even if they are done by one small person for another. And after we do them, we can sit down and be small together.
Outside, the flowers will keep blooming, and the wind will keep blowing, and the clouds will keep piling up and rolling over.
The children will keep growing, and the relationships will keep shifting, and the friends will keep moving in or moving away, and the laughter and conversation will spill out over the dinner table, and day will follow night will follow day, again and again, beautiful and terrible, exhausting and amazing, on and on and on, without my having one single thing to do with it.