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Mississippi Magic

How am I doing this?

“I’m having scary thoughts,” newly Ten slumps against me as we stroll and I wrap my arm around her. I can feel my own brain rearrange itself around this revelation. It’s a bright, beautiful, warm afternoon, the sky above all blue. I’ve done the unprecedented and enjoyed a martini with my lunch. We’ve been to a matinee and have just ridden down a steep hill in a funicular and bought the children ice cream. Four children, two mommies, a weekend getaway. We’re each relaxing in our own way, in the company of friends, and I’m not anticipating anything close to a metaphysical conversation.

“What kind of scary thoughts?” I have checked my impulse to laugh at her remark and my second impulse to dodge the subject, something about the straight tone in her voice made me.

“Like, how am I doing this? How am I even thinking these thoughts?”

Oh. Those kind of scary thoughts. I start my answer by hugging her tighter.

Ten plays hard and sometimes is so silly that she has more than once utterly surprised me with deep thinking. Once when she was very, very little she told me she remembered being in my tummy. When I asked her what it was like, she thought only briefly before a list came tumbling out: “dark. warm. noisy. nice. a big squeeze.” Later, when she was perhaps six and necessarily informed about the death of a relative, she nodded slowly up and down, a deep, thoughtful look on her face: “There’s a lot of death in life.”

But until recently, her big questions have only required a simple answer, no explanations. She hasn’t wanted to sit still mentally or physically to discuss ins and outs. Even the dreaded, “where do babies come from?” or, more specifically, “but how does the baby get into the mommy’s tummy?” could be softened away with something vague like “big love.”

We are in Dubuque for our getaway and have coincided with the summer’s largest mayfly hatch. They cling to the window screens outside our hotel room, cover every inch of the harbor welcome sign, and at night are so thick flying around the streetlights that they look like static. Adult mayflies live only about twenty-four hours, long enough to come up out of the river, dry their wings, mate, and lay their eggs. They have, whether male or female (we have become instant mayfly experts), four wings, two reproductive organs and no mouths.

At the hotel they have handouts about the mayflies prepped and ready to go. The doors from the lounge to the river walk are blocked off to keep the bugs out. Everyone we encounter has some bit of mayfly wisdom to share, including the one that is both macabre and my favorite: during a heavy hatch such as this the bridge across the river to Illinois can become so slick with dying mayflies, their mating drive exhausted, that it can be akin to driving on ice in the winter.

This temporal quality infuses our weekend—a reminder to be in the present and enjoy whatever we are doing—although our party is decidedly divided on whether the presence of the bugs is a delight or reason to pack our bags and head out of town. Nonetheless, it’s a reminder that life is short, and since we’re here to have fun we’d better have some. Mostly we do.

The ride in the funicular down the steep incline connects us to Dubuque’s history. We learn that the original elevator was built by a man whose horse and buggy took him half an hour from the bottom of the hill to the top. At that time, the city of Dubuque closed at noon, allowing its citizens an hour and a half for lunch. Mr. JK Graves, banker, former mayor and former state senator, liked to take half an hour to eat and followed by a half-hour nap. Once the elevator was built, his gardener would lower him down the hill in the morning, draw him back up like a pail of water from a well at noon, send him down again after his nap, and bring him up for the evening. It was not long before they were charging for the service, 5¢ in 1894. Still a good deal, adult ride today for $1 each way.

Those in our party who aren’t enjoying the mayflies are particularly glad the funicular is far enough from the river that there is no sign of the bugs as we admire the spectacular view. I surmise that it must be the contrast—no time at all for the bugs versus riding an elevator that was first installed more than a hundred years ago—that is working on Ten’s brain. I can tell she’s waiting for me to help her.

“How do we think thoughts … Do you want the physical explanation or the energetic one?”

Honestly? I’m expecting her to say physical and I’m calling to mind what I know about brainwaves and neurons and synapses when she surprises me: “energetic.”

“Okay,” and as always I’m grateful for the language of yoga and the gift of gab that combine to offer an answer. “I believe that we’re filled with energy, a kind of light. I don’t think we know or need to know whether this energy comes from within you or another source—what I know is that you are one of the brightest lights imaginable and it radiates out of you. And this light shows a kind of connectedness in you, like that circuit board Thirteen made for science a couple of years ago with batteries and a paperclip lighting a light bulb?” She remembers, that sage nod again. “You take care of the body that contains that light by eating good food and exercising and resting and playing and the light makes everything inside of you work like it’s supposed to, so you grow and think important thoughts and do everything you like to do.”

My answer is just enough. She unpeels from my side, flashes me her most beaming smile, and bounces off to walk with her bestie. I watch them walk together, breaking into giggles over who knows what. I make a mental note to put more money in her college fund and hope against hope I can keep up with her until then.

Half chocolate, half cookies-n-cream. All delicious on a hot, thoughtful day.

Happy full Thunder Moon—July already. And hooray for the red, white & blue. Thanks, as always, for taking the journey with me, Rxo


About Robin Bourjaily

I currently perform my own stunts as a mother, writer, editor, yoga instructor, and certified Yoga As Muse facilitator. Overneath It All is a medium for sharing my stories--my commitment is to post on the full and new moons, plus or minus a day or two, and the occasional personal holiday. My novel, Throwing Like a Girl, is now available in e-formats on Smashwords. Please visit to download. Thanks for checking in. xoR

5 responses »

  1. I love this blog. It’s a way to stay connected to your light, Robin, no matter where you or I are at the moment. Traveling mercies home to the 515. Namaste.

    • Dearest Angie–near or far I never post without thinking, gulp, Angie hasn’t seen this one yet! But certainly connection is what writing gives us and I’m always grateful for my connection to you. Namaste.

  2. Thanks for sharing! Here’s to that enlightening energy, beaming smiles, and mothers & daughters (and sons, too!) : )

  3. Ah, yes. “Keeping up with her until she goes to college” or high school or fifth grade!
    I should start writing down answers to some of those hard questions so when Ellie asks I won’t be flumoxed.


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