If you are sensitive to the f-word, click away right now. Really. I am begging you, just stop reading.
I ran across this hilarious but also insightful essay this week, and I had to share here. As an English Professor, I can recognize the value of a powerful word when it’s used correctly, and this essay uses f*ck 127 times to desensitize us to it and to further illustrate its point. It’s a masterful play on language, and if you can see it for what it really is, it is some amazing life advice.
Click here to read it if you’d like, and then come on back over to finish my words if you want.
Gloria Steinem once said, “The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn but to unlearn.” I’ve got so much to unlearn, and as I look at how I’ve changed in the past year and the ways I still need to change as I move forward, there is a lot left to do in that regard. I’ve unlearned a lot already as I’ve written about before. But there is still work to do.
I’ve spent so much of my life caring about things that do not matter. At all. It is what we are socialized to do in the First World — and especially as women in the First World. Do my shoes match my shirt? Do those draperies look wrong on that window? Is this meal good enough to serve company? Does she think I’m weird? Is he satisfied with my response to that question? I’m seeing now that I have had an almost constant soundtrack of questions and concerns in my mind for pretty much my whole life and definitely my past 15 years.
Last fall, my life blew up. And my past year has been learning to stand on my own feet and to separate my worthiness from someone else. Those lessons have been hard-won, and I feel proud to have seen them emerge for me. If I have one resolution for the next year of my life, it is to give less f*cks about nearly everything – or as this particular essay explains, to be careful how I allot them. In short, I need to stop caring so much about stupid stuff that is not worth my time.
This is happening on its own already. As my time and financial provisions and general life situation has shifted, I have started to care a whole lot less about stuff that doesn’t matter, simply because I do not have the time or brain room to devote to it. Do my kids clothes match? I don’t give a f*ck unless it’s picture day. Is my house messy? I don’t give a f*ck as long as I can find what I need. Does every single meal on my table include a variety of fruits and vegetables? I don’t give a f*ck as long as most of them do. This is a far cry from who I was a year ago, and it’s not the result of some impressive soul-searching and fantastic personal goals. It’s just life in this season with one working parent and two little kids. In short, they are taken care of and clearly thriving. I am, too. We do what works for us, and I really don’t care about the rest. I don’t have to validate myself with anyone’s stamp of approval. And I don’t have time or energy to do that even if I wanted to.
When it comes to parenting and explaining myself to my ex, I am pretty good about not caring too much. But it’s with the rest of the world that I still struggle. It’s natural, and as Mark Manson reminds us in his masterful essay, “The point is, most of us struggle throughout our lives by giving too many fucks in situations where fucks do not deserve to be given. […] Fucks given everywhere. Strewn about like seeds in mother-fucking spring time. And for what purpose? For what reason? … This is the problem, my friend. […] Indeed, the ability to reserve our fucks for only the most fuckworthy of situations would surely make life a hell of a lot easier. Failure would be less terrifying. Rejection less painful.”
As I type this, I am only four days out from my ex’s wedding which if I am being honest totally blows my mind given that I wrote this post one year ago and had no clue I was on the cliff about to fall off. No clue. My kids are in the wedding which if I am being honest totally stabs me and makes me feel like I could vomit all over this keyboard with its audacity to place these two tiny people who grew in my belly at the altar with the union that started as we all know it did. There will be a handful of people in that congregation who will watch him exchange vows that echo the vows he exchanged with me ten years ago when they watched the first time. How people can watch that with anything less than a bad taste and a bothered spirit is beyond me.
But here’s the thing I see happening. I am all out of f*cks to give. I have none left. I clearly gave a f*ck when I weeped for eight solid weeks every single day last fall. I clearly gave a f*ck when I sat in my attorney’s office and worked with a realtor to assure the easiest transition for my kids and me. But now? After a year of feeling broken and bruised and angry, I am all out of f*cks to give. What’s the expression? Not my circus, not my monkeys? Sure, I think you’d have to be completely insane to marry less than a year after leaving your family and without taking even a single week to live alone and reflect. But it’s not my circus. And can I be honest, friends? I can finally say that I don’t give a f*ck.
And Mark Mason reminds us, “Developing the ability to control and manage the fucks you give is the essence of strength and integrity. We must craft and hone our lack of fuckery over the course of years and decades. […] This is what is so admirable … The staring failure in the face and shoving your middle finger back at it. The people who don’t give a fuck about adversity or failure or embarrassing themselves or shitting the bed a few times. The people who just laugh and then do it anyway. Because they know it’s right. They know it’s more important than them and their own feelings and their own pride and their own needs. They say “Fuck it,” not to everything in life, but rather they say “Fuck it” to everything unimportant in life. They reserve their fucks for what truly fucking matters. Friends. Family. Purpose.”
There it is, friends. I care a lot. About a lot of things. My kids’ wellbeing. My own success and satisfaction. My friends’ needs and my extended family’s comfort. My students. My writing. My calling and my purpose and the ways that I manage to uncover those things as these years roll by. That swelling feeling inside when I am doing something that brings me real joy.
I care a lot about the things that matter and the things worth my time, but I am staring failure in the face now, and I’m seeing it’s about more than my own pride, as the passage above says. Everything unimportant is falling away, and much to my surprise, this includes things that seemed pretty insulting and significant a few short months ago. Right now, I know what’s right for me. If it insults my own soul, I dismiss it. (Thanks, Walt Whitman.) As for the rest, I can’t care right now. I just can’t.
I’m planning to spend the weekend burrowed in a mountain cabin with my closest friends. We planned this a while back to get me out-of-town for the wedding and get my mind on something else. But now that it’s here, I’m finding I need a lot less babysitting than I expected I would. I’m ready for a weekend of food and friends and wine and burning away the old to make way for the new.
I’m writing in some stolen moments this week to get a few things out. There’s a change in the weather a bit, and the academic year is picking up. There’s a change in me too, somehow. I feel life moving forward, turning a page. I think it’s the one-year mark I am nearing, and it is set against the backdrop of this time of year when even nature reminds us that a chapter is closing. Letting the dead things fall is sometimes more beautiful than you expect it to be. I hope to feel lighter and lighter as the leaves change this year. Dead weight shedding from my own life. Making way for new skin.
Jude had his tonsils and adenoids removed on Monday. It’s a simple procedure, and kids get it done all the time. It’s his fall break this week, and I scheduled it now so that he wouldn’t be missing much school as a result. I’ve been anxious about it as I’m the first to admit I carry a little bit of an anesthesia phobia. (Hence that time I had a baby in a bathtub.) I woke him on Monday morning long before the sun and loaded him in the car to drive to the surgery center.
When we got there, I was blessed with a familiar face as my good friend and I figured out a little while prior that both of our kids were having procedures done that day. Their surgery was 2 hours before ours, so we didn’t get a lot of time together, but seeing her smiling face was such a clear reminder that I am not alone in this. And it was the most bizarre coincidence that we even ended up there together. We are in two different school systems, so she wasn’t scheduling around fall break as I was, and our kids were having different procedures performed by different doctors. And yet we ended up in the same waiting room.
Nothing is an accident. I’ve come to believe this so strongly in my recent year. Life places before us exactly what we need at the exact time that we need it. You just have to open your eyes to see the magic of timing even when it doesn’t at all coincide with your expectations.
So we went back to the pre-op room and got him in the gown to bribe him to choke down his meds, and they allowed me to accompany him to the OR to hold his hands as the anesthesia mask set in. Once he was safely asleep, I should leave and wait and they’d come find me. I knew it would be a little creepy, but I expected after our many conversations on what to expect that he’d just lie there while I comforted him and go to sleep calmly under the mask.
That is not at all what happened. He refused the mask, and they had to hold it on him. He was panicked and screaming and I was holding his hands. He wouldn’t connect with my eyes the way I wished he would, and he was darting all around the room with his anxious glance. The florescent lights and sterile smell of an OR. Panicked little boy on the operating table. Then just like that his little eyes closed and his screaming stopped. It’s only tonsil surgery. I knew he’d be fine. But I walked out of that operating room with such a lump in my throat.
I only waited 25 minutes before hearing from the surgeon that it all went well. Only another half hour after that before they wheeled him to me, all groggy and confused and sweet and tired. But during that hour, my mind went to the what if, what if, what if place that parents know all too well. And my thoughts meandered to parents who sit in waiting rooms with much more serious procedures and less guaranteed outcomes. It is hard. Having a child feels like part of you is just raw and open almost all the time. What I did before I had these two and where I’d be without them is something I cannot comprehend.
It’s exhausting sometimes, isn’t it? Just to be a thinking and feeling person in the world. I think and feel too much, it seems. I’ve spent much of my life wishing I didn’t think so much, wishing I felt less deeply – because truthfully I can look at people who don’t think and do not feel below the surface level, and their lives look so much easier at times.
I was listening to Rob Bell recently (love his podcast), and he talked a bit about what he calls “the wisdom that lies beyond wisdom.” We have the first “wisdom,” the lessons we all want to know and teach our kids: be kind, work hard, choose a partner carefully, make good choices, take care of yourself, etc. Then we have the wisdom that lies beyond that. The wisdom that only comes when you do all those things and it still falls apart. That’s when you realize that really all that matters is now. That bad things happen to good people. That it is up to us to make the meaning of them.
There is no value in living in the past or wishing for the future. I’m realizing how tenuous it all is. All of it. None of us can say oh, that would never happen to me because there are no guarantees like that. Life never stops surprising me.
I’ve been so afraid (and in weak moments, I still am) that events in my life would leave me weaker than they found me, would leave me incapable of doing certain things in the future – like loving or trusting or feeling joy. I’m finding that the opposite is true though. I am a better lover than ever. Not in the modern vernacular sense of lover, obviously. But in that I love and love and love without expectation now. Loving on my kids, my experiences, my friends, and these singular passing moments in my life that won’t happen again. Because who knows where any of this is going or what lies ahead, and does that matter anyway? I can sink into a moment without wondering how it fits in some grand scheme. I can be grateful for the now without expectation of the next moment.
I look at Jude’s experience this week and think about how scared and panicked he was, how he looked for me when he woke up. How he needed me to be there and say things were good and not scary. And of course, I knew that it was simple and not scary, but now I also know deep down that really everything is scary. All the good stuff anyway. And as a kid, I think you assume that you grow up to feel in control at all times and never feel scared or vulnerable.
But feeling and thinking and staying open in a world with no guarantees is the opposite of fearlessness. I’m learning how good it feels to let it all in, to feel alive as all the dead weight sheds away.
Thanks so much for the kind comments, texts, and emails after my last post. It’s natural to become overwhelmed and feel buried beneath the weight of the everyday mundane sometimes, but we all forget to be kind to ourselves. Just hearing, “yes – me too” from a few of you plus the encouragement to take care of myself helps so much. Thank you.
This weekend picked me up a lot, and though it wasn’t restful with two kids and a busy schedule, it was a good reminder of what I’ve got. It’s more obvious to me in recent months that I am a part of a larger whole, a larger community, in a number of different ways. And a sense of belonging can make such a difference.
Friday afternoon brought Norah’s first soccer “practice” – or really soccer play time if we are being honest. She mostly wanted to do this simply because her brother does it as well. It’s a 6-week session for 3-year-olds, and it’s cute to watch.
They are both getting to these ages that are obviously still very young in the grand scheme of things, but feeling big to me in the immediate moment. We have real conversations and they are their own unique little people. Aside from that, I also see them developing their own relationship between the two of them as well. They know each other in a different way than I know them, if that makes sense. Their little world with their specific perceptions and observations. Sometimes I just try and stay out of the way as they feel that out.
When we got home, our neighbor was having an impromptu tea party that was decided the night before and casually mentioned in the driveway as the kids played. I’ve touched on this before, but I got so unbelievably lucky landing in this little spot. There’s no doubt in my mind that there was divine intervention guiding us here. Anytime I feel alone or overwhelmed in this parenting journey, I need to remember to open my back door or look out my window. It’s a village, and my kids feel the comfort of belonging here in the very best way.
Sunday brought a baby shower for a college friend of mine, and a few of us got to catch up over lunch just before the party. Including baby boy yet to arrive, there are ELEVEN (How did that happen!?) kids among us, I realized. We each have our own stories of triumph and loss and disappointment and new beginnings, and it’s created such a safe space free of judgment. I can tell these girls anything — and I often do. We talk parenting and life and nonsense when we are together. And we laugh a lot.
I ran across an Anne Lamott quote a week or two ago that I shared on Facebook that explains, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work. You don’t give up.” I’m gripping to this idea and knowing it has to be true, right? I keep doing the next right thing, and the next, and the next – as best I can with every move. And I know sometimes I miss the mark because I am human. But I’m trying hard.
I have no vision of exactly what my future will look like, but I assume if I keep stacking up all the good things around me, it has to work and all come together. Right now, I am waiting and watching and working, as Lamott says. The waiting is the hard part. It’s harder than the work. But sometimes I forget that I am not waiting for some blanket of grace and wholeness to cover my entire self all at once. It never works that way. It comes in tiny drops and little waves, and you have to keep your eyes open to see it.
Right now, I just have my finger on the pulse until the rest unfolds. I can hear that rhythm – thump, thump, thump. Good things are there when my eyes are open to see them. I’m still keeping up with my happiness jar and scribbling notes each night before I head up the stairs for bed. Sometimes I grab a handful and read what I’ve written. These tiny beautiful seconds I might have forgotten otherwise. How funny that they are what glimmers at the end of the day. August 23rd Clean house, rainstorm, midnight, in bed alone with a new book. // September 19th Grocery run with kids after dinner on a Saturday night. Both helpful, so sweet. Late summer sun perfect on them as they skip across the parking lot. // September 13 Kids back after a weekend away. Downstairs clean, soup in the crockpot, all of us home. // September 10 Jude drawing at the table while I wash dinner dishes. Quiet concentration, long eyelashes looking down at his paper. Last weeks of late daylight.
How strange that we all focus on the big things, those big moments of achievement. When really the pulse of my life – the moments that remind me I’m safe and alive – it is all held in the seconds we forget.
I’m not sure where I am going with this tonight – only that it has been more than a week since I’ve last written here, and I like to stay current in my journaling right now, so I want to check in for a moment and reflect.
The daily activities that make up my days leave so little room for breathing space. I’m not alone in this as so many working parents are in the same position. But it seems especially challenging in this past week when academic papers are flowing in and stacking up faster than I can grade them. Tuesday had us at the ENT for Jude’s appointment and Wednesday had Norah and I home for her school’s teacher work day, so I’ve missed desk time and the week has become disjointed and overwhelming. All the little things. They feel big this week.
We did make it to Jude’s school for lunch yesterday though. He was excited to see us, and they place you on the stage when parents come to eat with you. He felt special, I think. And Norah was fascinated with the experience of eating at “kindergarten school.” She walked in carrying her Frozen lunchbox and wearing a dress she chose for the occasion. Little things go a long way at these ages. I’m so grateful for that at a time when little things are all I can muster sometimes.
I’m fighting hard to rest in the good enoughs right now and stop demanding more more more of myself. But to be honest, I am failing miserably. I’m nearing the one year mark of when things changed for me, and things are finally settling in and smoothing out around here, and I’m feeling itchy. Feeling like I should be doing more than I am. I’m dancing on that line of comparison we all feel drawn to, and I need to work harder to fight that. I’m so tired of working hard though. I’ve learned immeasurable lessons and grown so much in this past year, but I’m tired. I’m ready for something to be easier, and I’m mostly talking about my relationship with that inner critic. I’m ready for her to quiet down for good. But I think maybe she never does for some of us. This is just life. Working hard to simply determine when to demand more of yourself and when to say you’ve done enough and rest in that for a while. It’s hard, right? To figure out when I need to push forward and when I need to take a seat.
I’m not sure this is making any sense at all tonight. But it’s been hard week. It’s been a hard year. I’m tired of hard. I know I’m not starting from scratch, but sometimes it feels like I am, and I’m exhausted at the notion that I am alone. I’m worried that the scars are too thick for anyone to see past them and I’ll be alone forever. Wouldn’t that be his final accomplishment to be proud of? I not only left you to begin again with two kids and married my new soulmate immediately, but I screwed you up so profoundly that you are too broken with self-doubt for someone else to deal with.
I’ve read that Rumi quote a thousand times The wound is the place where the Light enters you. I’ve felt the Light and I’ve seen it, and I know from the voices of my friends that I’ve illuminated that Light, too. That other people have seen it in me. But sometimes it just feels like a wound. This week it’s a wound, and it’s more dark than light. The smallest stabs still ache sometimes, and I want to know when that stops. When that skin thickens and the scars fade.
But I’m seeing – when I have the clarity to look without my distorted view – that I offer others so much more kindness than I offer myself. I’ll see the best in others, and never in myself. I give them the benefit of the doubt and not myself. I need to get better at this. It’s like the imposter syndrome I wrote about before, except worse because I inflate others and see the very best in them so much so that I often give them more credit than is due. And by contrast, I refuse to see myself without the faults screaming loudest.
I can learn so much from my kids sometimes. The way they don’t really care what others think unless you are in that circle they’ve come to trust and cherish. They don’t have an inner critic to silence yet. Past experiences haven’t given them a soundtrack of criticism on loop. They see only what is right in front of them. The start of a new day and all the chances that it brings to practice the very best of ourselves.
Norah was singing some song of her own Tuesday morning as I brushed her pigtails at the start of the day. It cracked me up, and I snapped a quick picture.
I’m so tired all the time – 5:30 am alarm, kids, work, life. All of it alone. It’s a lot. Some weeks it feels like more than others. But these little faces – their little stories and smiles and quirks – I can learn a lot from them. And I just want to see myself the way they see me, without the scars and baggage and doubts. Everyday new and worthy.
I spent time with old friends over the holiday weekend earlier this month, and they are both in the early stages of house hunting and preparing for a move. We talked a lot about houses and family life and why we make the choices we do to live as we choose to. Money is always the determining factor on this decision, of course. But I think within family budgets there’s always the question of just how much you want to devote to housing. And within the perimeters of each home, we choose what sort of things we want to surround ourselves with. Our conversation got me thinking about the choices and routines that make a house a home and how those things can differ for everyone.
I think one of the perks of single motherhood – if I am allowed to say that or “allowed” to see a silver lining here – is that you get to set the tone of the house on your own. You don’t have to ask someone else’s permission or opinion on decorative or practical choices. It’s something I didn’t expect to feel so liberating, but as I settle into our house and roots are beginning to grow five months after our move, I see how monumental this is to me as a mother in this chapter of my life. I can create the reality around me with intention and purpose without asking someone else – or the rest of society for that matter – what I’m “supposed” to do.
I was recently reading The Gifts of Imperfection (as I wrote about recently), and in that book, Brene Brown has a chapter on the importance of creativity. She reflects on her own childhood and sees it in retrospect as two distinct chapters: one with her family on a limited budget with her father in law school when they lived in New Orleans in a tiny duplex and the other when they graduated to a new lifestyle in Houston. I was struck so much by the simple description she gives that details how she remembers it through a child’s eyes. “In New Orleans, every wall was covered in art done by my mom or a relative or us kids… In Houston, I remember walking into some of my new neighbors’ houses and thinking that their living rooms looked like the lobby of a fancy hotel .. My parents were launched on that accomplishments-and-acquisitions track, and creativity gave way to the stifling combination of fitting in and being better than, also known as comparison.” Her description is much longer and more detailed as she explains the safety and comfort and encouragement she felt in the tiny New Orleans home (as her parents no doubt scraped together what little funds they had) and the more hollow feeling she absorbed in the Houston community when she was given a message to compete with others by striving for that shiny, unattainable perfection.
I’ve written a lot lately about how the comparison trap is losing it’s power over me as my life situation is not the “norm” anymore. The striving for a combination of fitting in and being better than? Not happening over here. In part because I’ve learned that comparison means nothing and you can turn yourself inside out to be as close to perfect as you can muster and someone will still deem you not good enough. And partly because I have broken the mold anyway. I know that I had the pressure before to create the pristine coordinated hotel lobby within my own house, and that pressure was coming from both outside my home and inside it as my partner wanted that life and prioritizes it so intensely. Like so many other things in my life, I didn’t realize the extent to which it was drowning me until I unloaded that weight from my back.
When I began reading blogs regularly, about five years ago as I was a stay-at-home mom, I stumbled on so many sites that detail how to create perfection in your home and what routines or purchases can achieve that for you. I now understand that it’s not that simple. Different things work for different people, and you have to decide what matters most to you and what routines bring the most comfort or benefit to your home. And the same goes for aesthetic choices. Like everyone else, I want my home to look nice. But I am beginning to see the difference between wanting it to look like a magazine because other people like that and wanting it to look like we live here – reflections of our own tastes and our own personalities in every room.
I’ve surprised myself at how quickly our home is feeling worn and comfortable, how these walls are already beginning to absorb and reflect the essence of my little family of three. The kids’ complete disregard for the “downgrade” in the size and newness and price of our home earlier this year speaks volumes. Much like the description that Brown remembers in her recollections, my kids clearly crave support and connection and space to feel a sense of belonging and a place to be creative. The rest is not important to them. It’s inspiring really. And a good reminder to parents and all the “grown-ups” in the world that the rest of it doesn’t matter. We are definitely not a shiny catalog over here, but it’s home to us.
Our house is busy and full of energy, and half the time it is also full of neighbor kids who run in and out as often as they can. The moment we walk in the door from school, my two are asking if they can head through the backyard to see what the neighbor kids are up to. Before long, they are into something here or somewhere else. Always imagining and always talking and always at play.
Jude woke up in the middle of the night last week and told me in a panicked tone that he had a bad dream. I did the usual shhhh and back rubs and asked him what happened so that I could soothe fears of imaginary monsters or catastrophes. He replied that “We were at the playground, and we came back home, and another family bought this house! They were living here! We had to leave!” It cracked me up. That was his nightmare. That I sold this house to another perfectly normal family.
And it is never exactly spotless in this house except for that one moment just before the kids come back from their dad’s house when I’ve had a day or two to catch up. But it never lasts long, and as soon as I’ve got them under my feet again, we just do the best we can. Each parent has her own routines that speak to her priorities. For me, food on the table and clean laundry in the drawers are the only demands I make of myself during the week. Beyond that it doesn’t happen, but I am okay with it. Bathroom counters are cluttered, and toys are strewn in the playroom a bit. But it’s lived in, and to me that feels better than a showroom. I want my kids to have memories of real life here. Moments when we are doing nothing at all or we are doing all the little things that regular life brings. No special agenda. Life moments as they happen in a house with two kids under six.
I make my bed before I leave each morning even if there’s clutter elsewhere. (It’s another routine that is a personal quirk and makes me feel better.) But by evening, it is crumpled as all three of us have piled on it to read and talk, and usually the dog joins us. This is my favorite part of the day. It might be a bedtime stalling technique, but it is definitely when Jude shares the most about his day and the details of school. We talk, all three of us, and even the most hectic of days can slow its pace a bit in that half hour or so before I turn the lights out and tell them to go to bed. The master bedroom in this house is ridiculously large, and it is sparse given that I don’t even have a headboard at this point. I’ve slowly added a lamp, an Ikea side table, repurposed some curtains from elsewhere. It feels like a safe spot despite the sprawling unused space. It’s lived in and comfortable.
I am fortunate that I was able to maintain a house in the town we were already residing in, with good schools and few worries about safety or peer groups for my kids. I am fortunate that I could purchase a house only ten years old with ample room for all of us. I understand this, and I can say with honesty that financial support from their father, combined with my own income, makes this possible (as it should, given that they are his children and we had a nearly ten-year marriage wherein I supported his demanding career). I don’t want to be dishonest in misrepresenting that, and I acknowledge that my situation is entirely different from single mothers who are given no financial support at all.
That said, I am still raising two kids in the suburbs on an income that is just enough to make this happen. And though I can’t spend money at whim, I am seeing value in this chapter and this lesson it is granting me. We live with so much more, on the whole, than what we truly need. We buy things to fill holes that can’t be filled with things. We see our worth in these material things, and I am not immune to this. It’s a lesson I am learning still. I am always asking myself why I want to buy something – if it is a want or a need. And if it’s a want, there is no shame in that, but I look honestly at why I want it. If we are honest with ourselves, the reasons are sometimes uncomfortable to admit. My restricted income has narrowed my purchases to only include things I really need or things I feel a connection to that I save for and consider for a while before buying them. It’s resulted in a home full of things I really love.
Necessity is the mother of invention, I hear. I am not at a place where I can spend volumes on making this house look like a magazine. But I’ve made conscious choices to do things with purpose and intention around here and create a space where my kids feel safe and valued and I feel inspired. I decided that a coat of paint that is far from professional but done is better than not done at all for fear of imperfection. I’ve asked the kids to weigh in on things along the way – what do you want here? do you like this color? what toys do you want to keep that you like to play with most? I want our home to be a place that continues to inspire them and make their friends want to gather here. A place that reflects who we are and also what we want to be.
I am human, and I look around and see so many things i want to replace or improve or touch up. My summer plants are waning, and the pine straw needs to be replaced outside. I have probably at most another two years left before I need to shell out money for a new exterior paint job. Sun has faded my wicker furniture and dried it out to chip away the paint, so I need to refresh that with the start of a new season. I still haven’t hung shelves in their bedrooms as I said I would. There are broken blinds that need to be replaced and curtain-less windows crying for attention. The table where we eat is old and scratched with stained upholstery. But I’m finding my kids don’t care at all. Not about any of these details. All they see is home and mom and friends and all the familiar comforts that come from belonging somewhere. We are making memories here. Special occasions and everyday moments.
I have moved three times in the past eight years. I am tired of it. Each time I move, I think this is it – this is where we are staying. But obviously it hasn’t turned out that way. This time, I don’t even know how long I will be here or if I will leave or what this house will be in my life path. I have no plan. Every day I wake up and do what needs to be done to keep the fires burning, so to speak. Mortgage paid, trash taken out, laundry done, school lunch packed, papers filed away, kids dressed, food on the table. I have no grand plan.
But as I wrote about earlier this summer, it’s liberating in ways. All that matters is here and now, and I scrape by with the routines that work for me and that grant us comfort and make us feel safe and cared for. I’m not sure where the story leads, but I know that home is where is starts, and this place is starting to feel pretty special. I look around and all I see is abundance – pictures on the wall, crayon art cluttering the fridge, plenty of food on the table, little voices always chattering. All I need is here and now.
Labor Day weekend is here, and though it is still hot in Atlanta, it somehow represents the beginning of fall. It’s weird the things you recall years later, the things that stick. This weekend marks four years ago that I found out I was pregnant with Norah. Four years is not all that long ago, not at all. Yet so much has changed since then. Everything.
I am here in this season with two kids and their own little personalities and quirks. Life is busy busy. Out the door each day at 7:30, all three of us dressed and breakfast eaten. Wave Jude on the bus. Drive in listening to Norah’s daily chatter. (And that girl shares A LOT!) Prep and grade and teach, pick up Norah. Head home. Get Jude. And sink into those glorious three or so hours between the end of our school day and bedtime. Bathe both kids. Bedtime stories. An hour to myself downstairs. Sleep. Repeat. A month into the school year, and we have a rhythm. It feels good – busy but comfortable. Weekends are a slow and easy pace when they are here, and even the smallest outings can become special. We have so much time just the three of us, and I’m grateful for the bonds it’s cementing.
I think back to four years ago and finding out I was expecting a second child and all the questions that I examined in light of that. Will I be a good mom to two? Can I handle all the demands of a second? Will my relationship with my first feel different? And even stranger to me is to consider all the questions I didn’t even know to ask. I never expected to be back at work when she was only fifteen months, and at the time I found a little plus sign on a stick, I saw a stretch of years in front of me as a stay-at-home mom. I certainly never expected that I would find the strength to raise these two as a single parent, nor did I know it would be necessary. What blows my mind more than this is that I could have a reality in another four years that is completely different from the one I’m experiencing now. We really have no clue what the future holds, if we are doing it right anyway.
I see now, as I look back, that I was so busy making other plans for my future that I didn’t allow space for the magic to happen as it could have. So many of my growing pains this past year are a result of my counting too much on the future I was planning with someone else. Listening to what the world tells me I need – a bigger house, a nicer car, vacations, expensive things – and not allowing my inner consciousness to play around a bit and unfold what can be. When Life issued an ax to all those plans and dreams, and I was left to start over alone, it took a little while to listen to my own voice again. I’m listening now.
Our upstairs a/c broke on Wednesday when I was at work, and I didn’t find this out until I walked the kids up at 7:15 for a bath, and as I neared the last step, I felt an almost nauseating heat wave. Obviously I knew immediately what it was and looked at the thermostat to see a reading of 84. A humid 84. Inside my house. An hour before the kids’ bedtime and after a long day that had us out until 6pm for speech therapy after school. It almost broke me.
And some people might be reading this to say shut up. It’s only air conditioning. Don’t be overdramatic and deal with it. But really, sometimes it is the little things that almost kill you. When I look back at my past few months, it is always the little things that feel heavy. The car trouble. The trips to doctor with sick kids. The broken air conditioner. Sometimes single motherhood can feel like a grand adventure, and as I said this week on Instagram, sometimes it can feel like a pile of shit. The daily grind alone.
But I plugged in a large fan that my mom brought over for us to use, and I opened a window. The kids came in with arms full of stuffed animals and flashlights and saw this as some fun adventure, a night out of the ordinary. We all piled in the one room with a fan and a bed, and I wished for just a moment that I could see this season through the lens of my future self looking back. When I know I will see the shimmers and adventures and not always remember the pain of daily struggles. One day those rough edges will smooth in nostalgia, and I will just remember the roar of an electric fan and the window open to the rain outside and the two little bodies breathing softly next to me. I won’t remember the sweat and tears and money woes and panic. I really see clearly already that this is the best of times and the worst of times. Sometimes all in one day.
I read or hear things everyday that work together with other ideas circulating in my head, and it gives me further assurance that there is a greater force at work here and that a new reality emerges when we have the eyes to see it. I hang on to every word, every idea. I’ve got things scrawled on paper and hanging on my walls. Pinned online, saved anywhere I can. The written word is a life raft to me. I ran across a Rumi quote this week that says, “You have seen your own strength. You have seen your own beauty. You have seen your golden wings. Why do you worry?” And I have seen it – my own strength and beauty. I have seen it in these months, and I am counting on it to lead me to some place new that I can’t even imagine right now. And I don’t mean a new house or a nicer wardrobe or a world where I don’t have money panic when things break – because I have seen firsthand how little that matters. But I mean that my entire reality is changing little by little each day to create something richer and fuller, and outside circumstances are losing their power over me. That well of stillness and joy inside is growing louder and deeper everyday.
I follow a couple of yogi Instagram accounts that offer inspiration to me, and I ran across a passage last week from Pink Roses Yogi that spoke to me so much that I couldn’t let it go. “I believe that your tragedies, your losses, your sorrows, your hurt happened for you, not to you. And I bless the thing that broke you down and cracked you open because the world needs you open. I believe that life lessons are less about getting it right and more about getting it wrong. I believe that you are more on track than you feel, even if you don’t feel it – especially if you don’t feel it. For the further you get off track, the closer you actually are to abandoning the wrong path and leaping onto the right one. I believe that you are closer than you think and more qualified in your message than you could ever fathom. … I believe that the darkness is a birthing process and that, in order to find your light, first you need to venture through the shadows of your ego. I believe that in order to be a light in the world, you first need to come home to who you truly are and then bravely show it to all those around you.”
I’m starting to bless the things that cracked me open. They’ve shown me my own strength in ways I didn’t expect. By Friday, I’d lined up an air conditioning repair service that luckily was not too expensive. We ventured to Jude’s first soccer practice of the season in the hot sun and followed that with a quick dinner out. Then on Saturday I nursed a sick kid yet again with cool washcloths and cartoons and kale smoothies. Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is just put one foot in front of the other, again and again. Doing what is needed this very minute and giving little thought to the distant future. But that is harder than you think in a world that tells us we should always be planning for something bigger and better. We should always be climbing some ladder to a more prominent place. Preferably one with new hardwood floors and granite kitchens and Tory Burch shoes and expensive purses. Because that’s what shows that you are worth something and you don’t have cracks and bruises.
Broken air conditioning and overflowing laundry baskets and feverish kids and exhausted moments are not what we show the world, but they happen. And sometimes I feel like I just want a break from the daily woes, but I see that this is where it happens. Where it gets real and where my strength is made. I’m waving my hand to you today to say that I’m knee-deep in all of these challenges everyday, but I am making it. And I can see the strange beauty in this season.
I’m reading Daring Greatly right now, and in the early chapters of the book, Brene Brown assures us that “the willingness to show up changes us. It makes us a little braver each time. […] It’s daring greatly. And often the result of daring greatly isn’t a victory march as much as it is a quiet sense of freedom mixed with a little battle fatigue.”
I feel this everyday. Battle fatigue punctuated with little moments of joy and a quiet freedom that assures me that my path has already led me to something greater when I just do the task in front of me with love and awareness.
I can’t believe it has been well over a year since I last posted a recipe here. This blog’s content has changed so much over the past 5 years, and it’s revealing to look back and see that. But while I have been distracted with big things and heavy questions and major life changes, I have still been cooking as much as ever.
It’s important to me – as you know if you’ve been reading here for a while – that my family stays healthy and makes good choices at the table as often as we can. And I’m also seeing that there can be so much comfort found in the kitchen. A warmth and familiarity that is really helpful when other things can feel out of our control.
That said, I also have realistic expectations. I am the only adult in my house with two little kids, one large dog, a million tasks and activities to tend to, and a full time job that I love and want to do well. If it takes longer than 30 minutes to cook, it’s not going to happen on a weeknight. (On that subject, we are out of the house from 7:30am until 6pm on Wednesdays, and I’d love it if you post your favorite crockpot recipes in the comments. I need ideas!)
The weather is soon changing from summer to fall, and you can sometimes feel it even here in the Atlanta heat. I’m ready. Both Jude and Norah came down with a little mystery fever at the end of last week, and it has extended to me. (Thanks, kindergarten germs!) There’s nothing like soup when you feel under the weather, and both kids love this and gobbled it up last weekend. I’ve enjoyed leftovers for the past two days at lunch as well. It’s loosely inspired by a recipe my friend Laura passed on to me as Whole 30 compliant when I completed Whole 30 last year, but I have modified it a lot to suit our tastes, and it has become a favorite of ours. It’s one of those clean-out-the-fridge recipes, and it always turns out just a little different than the last time I made it, but it’s always reliably good. I’m convinced that the combination of garlic, coconut oil, homemade chicken broth, and 5 veggies can fix almost anything.
Thai Vegetable Soup
- 5 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
- dash of dried ginger
- spoonful of coconut oil
- 1 chopped onion
- 1 sliced red bell pepper (I often leave this out if I don’t have it handy.)
- handful of chopped or shredded carrots
- 8 ounces sliced mushrooms
- 1 chicken breast (or 1 cup of previously cooked shredded chicken)
- 4 cups of chicken broth (Homemade is best.)
- 1 can coconut milk
- 2-3 cups of chopped greens (bok choy or swiss chard is my usual choice)
Add the coconut oil to a skillet, and then saute the onion and garlic. Add carrots, mushrooms, red pepper, and ginger.
If your chicken is not yet cooked, boil broth separately and cook chicken breast while veggies are sauteing. Remove chicken, shred, and set it aside.
Combine broth and coconut milk in a pot and add your cooked veggies. Stir. Add shredded chicken. Let it simmer for 10 minutes or so. Lastly, add chopped greens and cook another 10 minutes.
Serve hot and save the leftovers! It reheats well. (I’ve also doubled this and frozen it, and I portion it in quart ziplock bags for a great lunch option straight from your freezer.)
*** As a side note, two of these ingredients are already in my freezer. About once a month, I use the method detailed here to cook a whole chicken in the crockpot. I then freeze shredded chicken to have on hand for tacos, casseroles, soups, salad toppers, etc. And I make bone broth the following day to freeze as well. Freezer options get dinner on the table during busy weeknights!