familiar landscape

I went to bed last night exhausted and deflated in that perfect way that a full weekend can leave you. I wish I had another day to recover from this past week, but Monday waits for no one, and my alarm felt even earlier than usual today.

I took half a day off last week to chaperone a kindergarten field trip with Jude. Apparently there’s a small wildlife preserve and zoo nearby that I hadn’t even heard of until the permission slip made its way home. I couldn’t believe a few northbound, winding roads lead me to lions and alligators and white tigers and all sorts of unique creatures to look at.

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It was far smaller and less crowded than a city zoo, and the walking trails were leisurely – even with the madness of a group of school kids. It was so rewarding to watch him play and interact with his classmates as they laughed in disbelief at how close they came to some of the animals. The unusual cool snap was weird for Georgia May, but its short-lived timing made for a fun day.

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It was close to 9pm when I got home from our graduation ceremony on Friday night. That event usually brings relief as it always signifies the end of the academic year, but somehow I’m not really slowing down yet. Assessment tasks lie ahead and a few committee meetings, and I’m realizing that my calendar doesn’t really slow down until the kids’ lives reach a slower pace. To be honest, I am counting down the days (18 to be exact) until we are officially on break.

Saturday morning brought a birthday party for Norah’s classmate at what is unarguably her favorite place on earth. She was in heaven.

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I’d already promised her a trip there and a new doll for her own birthday before this invitation came, so this made for a lucky chance to celebrate a little friend and also get Norah’s gift as we left. She wanted a boy baby this time, and she named him Daniel.

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It makes me laugh to see how much she loves this place, but I admit there is something so weirdly charming about it. Maybe it’s the memories from my own childhood summer trips there with my sister and cousins. Or that very particular powdery smell on a Cabbage Patch Doll. Maybe it’s the feel of the space on the side of the road growing wider and wider as you drive northward toward the mountains and find it perched on a hill around absolutely nothing else.
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Whatever the case, it might as well be Disney World to her. It’s just as special seeing it through her eyes as it was to me as a child. We drove home tired and happy, and I spent the rest of Saturday afternoon planting flowers and herbs in containers on my back patio. Summer is almost here.

Sunday brought Mother’s Day which – as all the holidays go – was not so hard this year at all. The “firsts” are over, and here we go again. I don’t care in the least about the gifts or lack thereof, especially at this stage of life with such young kids. (I’m certain gifts were never at the top of my love languages anyhow.) We settled in for a picnic at the lake which is exactly what I wanted. Just time with the three of us doing something that felt special.

This spot never feels ordinary, but we haven’t been since last July, so it felt especially good to spend a few hours there yesterday. An inauguration of long summer days to come.

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I feel incredibly lucky about so many things in my life, and where I live is pretty close to the top of the list. We are an hour’s drive from the mountains and minutes from the lake, and the longer we are here, the more we discover sweet spots hidden here and there.

 

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I have a lot of love for my home state, and we are fairly close to where I grew up, but this particular space is all ours with sights that are becoming more comfortable and familiar with every passing month. I’m watching the two of them develop roots here and know places by name, and it feels good to see their budding familiarity. There’s a lot of freedom that comes with belonging.

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We left the lake sandy and sleepy and stopped for boiled peanuts on the way home. A couple hours later, we headed to my grandparents’ place to celebrate Mother’s Day with family. You can create a sense of home anywhere in the world; I’m sure of that. But there is something to be said for watching your own kids grow up among the same familiar landscape you did. They played outside with their cousins for hours, and we got home just in time for bed.

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Jude awoke with a night terror last night around 11. He’s done this three or four times in the past few weeks, and it’s scary to witness. He shakes all over and cries and mumbles nonsense, and though his eyes are open, he’s not really awake. The shaking was so terrible last night that I turned on a light and got him water to drink, hoping he’d snap out of it and settle back down. (And of course now I’m reading today that you aren’t really supposed to do that, but it’s better to just be there so they don’t get hurt and try to guide them back to bed.)

He has no idea where he is when this is happening – mostly because he is not awake at all but still in a state of deep sleep. I know I’ve felt that panic on a much lesser scale at moments in my past when I felt like I wasn’t quite sure where I was, figuratively speaking. But our feet are on solid ground now with familiar spaces and sights but also familiar routines that belong to the three of us. There’s so much space to be found in belonging somewhere.  The circle we know can somehow give us the strength and permission to reach outside of it to something bigger and brighter.

 

 

 

 

Open. Alive. Here. So far. Now.

We spent part of our day at the small strawberry farm that we visit every year. It is close to home and familiar, and by now, the kids know its hilly landscape and gravel drive. We arrived around 11:00am today, and Georgia springtime showed up for us in her very best way.

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It’s the beginning of the growing season here, so many of the berries are still firm and green, and it took some hunting to find red ones. They were there though, shining like jewels under the wide green leaves. The kids would spot one far away and take off running to get it. It took us a while to fill two large buckets, but eventually we did.

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We followed berry picking with a little time in the farm’s petting zoo and playground, and we ended up on a wagon ride where we ran into neighbor friends. I can hardly believe the community that emerged for us in the past year or so. It’s a natural thing, nothing spectacular. But this house and these sweet spots so close to home and these friends we’ve made — they’ve all worked together to build roots when I didn’t even see it happening. And now here we are, settled in our lives as a family of three. Watching seasons come with familiar sights and faces. It’s all so ordinary, but it feels miraculous sometimes.

Simple things fascinate kids at these ages. I know this is a limited window in the grand scheme of things. I’m glad that — despite the chaos and demands of life with two little ones — the joy is easy to come by. Any little trip to see something new can feel like such a treat to them.

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We arrived home three hours later with pink cheeks and more strawberries than I know what to do with. My two shared berries with neighborhood kids on the back patio while playing with sidewalk chalk all afternoon. I could hear them scheming elaborate ideas with friends just as I remember doing the same with my cousins when I was younger. They made their own bird feeders from ice cream cones with peanut butter and birdseed while we were at the farm, and this afternoon, we hung them on the tree I can see from our kitchen window.

Today wasn’t all perfection. Their sibling bickering this morning almost killed me. I’m bone tired and was relieved to get them in bed asleep tonight. I’m listening to the dryer hum right now as I’ve settled in to write a bit, and I’m thinking of the mountains of laundry still left to do this weekend. The sticky floors I need to deal with tomorrow. I’ve got stacks of essays to grade and more coming in on Monday, and the final deadlines of the semester are looming over me and feeling impossible. I’ve got bills and worries and so many unanswered questions as I look at the stretch of weeks in front of me.

But the universe just delivers sometimes when you’re paying attention enough to see it. The sunshine, the spring breeze outside all day, the berries, their intent little faces as they hunted for the ripest ones. It pierces in the best way when I let it. As for the never-ending stress amidst the rest of my life, I don’t know. But spring Saturdays don’t happen often, and today we honored what was here for us.

In her poem “Landscape,” Mary Oliver writes, “Every morning I walk like this around / the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart / ever close, I am as good as dead. / Every morning, so far, I’m alive.” That’s all I can say sometimes, but I’m finding that it’s all that matters, too. Open. Alive. Here. So far. Now.

Summer is coming. It’s about to bust wide open in that way it always does in the deep south. Produce stands are popping up along roadsides already, and soon enough the days will stretch long and hot. Here we go again. Like every year before but like something completely new.

 

 

 

 

 

truth and beauty

I’m slowly reading Anne Patchett’s Truth and Beauty right now. There’s a line when she explains, “Writing is a job, a talent, but it’s also the place to go in your head. It is the imaginary friend you drink your tea with in the afternoon.” It made me smile as that’s pretty much a summary of this space for me – all of those things – a job, a talent, and a diary that works like an imaginary friend with a cup of tea. It’s cold and rainy here today, and I am dumping some thoughts in this space to shed a little warmth.

Jude stayed with his father last Thursday and Friday night because of a student holiday on Friday, so I only had Norah for part of this weekend. I decided to indulge us in a visit to a spot that resides deep in my childhood memories.

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UntitledIt’s sometimes disappointing to head back to a place you remember as magical – only to see it as less shimmery as an adult. But to watch your daughter experience it and be enthralled makes up for it. Babyland General is a Georgia staple, but without the nostalgia and place in my own personal history, it might feel more like an overblown gift shop. But last Friday, as we drove northward toward the mountains and found it perched at the end of a long driveway in the Georgia fall sun, it seemed pretty magical.  We crossed the big covered porch to step into the foyer and sign the guest book. Within ten minutes, Norah had locked eyes with one particular doll she chose to name “Molly Lou.” An hour or two later, we left with Molly Lou, her adoption certificate, and one very happy three-year-old.
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On the way back, we stopped at Mountain Fresh Creamery for an ice cream and a place to stretch our legs.  These moments – these little seconds – why do kids give them their proper praise and we neglect to see the magic? Fall air and mountains in the distance and homemade ice cream. For just a minute, I took it all in. We are fools for not seeing the extraordinary sometimes. I’m working hard at this lately, letting my jaded nature fall away a bit to stop thinking ahead to the next thing and just breathe in these simple magic seconds. Tiny pieces of paradise given to me in the real world.

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I’ve babbled on and on before about my love of John Keats, and the Keats poem that Anne Patchett’s title references ends with the famous line “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Keats, of course, was dying of tuberculosis at only 24 and is said to have grown up knowing he’d die young. So much of his poetry is about the role of art and beauty and how they are the only link to immortality, the only real things in this temporary existence.

I think about this a lot lately. What is truth and how my version of “truth” in my story is different from others’ perceptions of me perhaps. We all see the world in our own ways, and none of us wear the same lenses. My kids will see these years with their own eyes, too.

Being human is a weird thing. On the one hand, we are not the same – no two of us alike. In this way, it seems there is no universal truth when it comes to seeing the world around us and living in our own skin. I’m getting better at leaving room for this and exhaling my need for control, knowing that I cannot determine someone else’s perceptions, and they cannot control mine. It’s my own skin I’m living in, my own story I’m writing. And you have yours.

But yet there are some truths that emerge for all of us, I think. The awareness felt in moments of stillness if you’re willing to sit with yourself without distraction. The soft response of your own heart that you sometimes have to strain really hard to hear. The tangible strings between a mother and her kids. The persistent effort life makes to reward you when you embrace the real and the authentic and stop clutching so hard at your identity. It’s all there when I take the time to see it.

mountain weekend

I spent the weekend in the north Georgia mountains with my closest friends. Fall is just beginning here in Georgia, and it still reaches close to 80 degrees on some days. But it’s close, and you can feel it. A chill in the mornings, and when the sun is dimmed by clouds, it feels like October. We are just on the cusp of something new.

 

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It was almost dark by the time we got to the cabin on Friday. We arrived to turn on the oven and bake the dinner I’d prepped. We lit candles and opened wine and settled into the cozy space that was ours for the weekend. I never miss a beat with these few. It can be days or weeks or months between get-togethers, and it feels like it always ever did. After dinner, we explored the outside of the cabin a bit. Jittery like a little kid with all the darkness and isolation around us. I live in a fairly roomy area of the Atlanta suburbs, but even so, I can forget what it really feels like to be removed from lights and houses and shopping centers and restaurants until I venture somewhere like this.
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We talked a lot on Friday about changes and thresholds in life. I read once that we have rituals for all kinds of experiences – weddings, funerals, birthday parties, etc. You use those rituals to remind yourself that a chapter is done and another is beginning, and sometimes if a ritual doesn’t exist for something you are encountering, you just have to invent one. We decided to create some rituals of our own this weekend as each of us, in her own way, is moving forward to something new and burning away the old. The landscape of fog and barely tinged leaves was a perfect backdrop for that idea. A moment to settle in to the reality of what is left behind and what is to come.

 

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Saturday was drizzly and gray all day, but it didn’t bother us in the least. We ventured to a couple of local wineries and enjoyed back country roads.
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The second winery we stopped at was tiny and quaint, and they had a small fridge of cheeses and a fireplace when you walked in. After a little tasting, the woman who worked there suggested we buy a bottle and head around the back to the small “grotto” they have with live music. We followed her suggestion, and the rain scared away much of a crowd, so it was almost empty. We talked and laughed and just lingered in that way that wine and music and gray skies inspires. It was perfect.

After staying there for a while, we drove a bit more to find funky roadside pottery and fun spaces.

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The very best parts of the weekend were those little nondescript moments though. Huddled in a cabin with rain outside and space to breathe. Space to talk and laugh and share without judgment or expectation.

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A friend sent me a text last January with that Cynthia Occelli quote that reads, “For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” Since then, I’ve thought a lot about the rhythm of seasons and the metaphor of growth in my own life. You go through periods, I think, when all you can do is the next right thing. One after the other. And you do the best you can, but it is painful and you feel buried, so to speak. Your shell cracks and it’s rough there for a while. It feels like complete destruction for certain. But the growth emerges eventually. Seasons change. Life moves forward. You find yourself different and bigger and stronger.

 

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I’m still so uncertain. But I know I’m bigger and stronger, and I know love exists in so many forms. Joy exists in so many places.  And nothing feels better than a new season.

renewed, ready to begin again {a quick post}

I just got home from a quick trip with some of my favorite people, my very closest friends. And it always amazes me how little time it takes to renew yourself when you are surrounded by the right people.

 

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We decided to book a suite at a winery and resort in north Georgia and pile in it together, and though it was incredibly close to home for most of us, it somehow feels far away when you unplug from your usual responsibilities and surroundings and go somewhere new.

A little wine and sunshine don’t hurt either.

I’ve thought a lot these past few weeks about the perfection masks we wear all the time, the “performance mode” I’ve written about here before. I’m so done with that and the loads of energy it entails, but it’s still scary to show the real face or any trace of vulnerability and pain when I’m with people who don’t know me well.  But these women are the exception. I share things with them that I share with no one else in my life right now, and I think we lean on each other in a way that only becomes even more valuable as time marches on.

In short, I love them.  And I love who I am when I am with them. I don’t know if there’s anything else better than that really. To make someone better and stronger and to say to that person’s real self, I see you and I hear you and I feel it, too. 

 

 

I read recently that psychologists say if a friendship lasts seven years, it will likely last a lifetime. And by that rule, I have a number of people who knew me when and know me now and will know me in the distant future when I’ve evolved to something else, too.  We are lucky – all of us – to have each other and to have weathered the storms together.

Their stories are not mine to tell, but they are in many ways much harder than the one I’ve weathered this year.  I’m beginning to see that everyone is shaped by her own experiences and everyone is fighting her own battle most just never know about, and I feel lucky that this group just keeps fastening even closer together as we change shape with our own life experiences.

As we packed up today and began the ride home, I was thinking about how little of summer is left and how close the school year is. I have anxiousness a bit about Jude starting kindergarten. (Big changes are always a little scary.)  But I think in a weird way, I’m ready to begin a new year with a new routine that will soon feel worn and comfortable.

People are always changing, always in a time of growth – if you are doing it right anyway.  I don’t want to become complacent. That said, I feel like the intense period of transition is coming to a close for me. I’m something very different from what I was a year ago, but I’m feeling more settled now. I’m finally feeling ready for regular life to take hold again and excited to see what’s ahead.

This summer has been the perfect finish to all of it. Resting in the discomfort a bit, embracing it for what it is, and feeling my way around all of it. This trip was the perfect finale for it as well, resting and renewing my spirit with my favorite people. Onward and upward.  I think I’m ready.

morning at the lake

I can’t believe July is nearly halfway over.  Every teacher I know gets a little panicked as she sees August draw closer, and I am no exception.  August is official back-to-school mode (here in the south anyway), and July always feels like I’m in a race somehow. You can only handle the notion of carpe diem a little bit before it can drive you crazy. Am I doing as many things as I can to hold on to summer? Am I moving fast enough on that list of house tasks I was determined to complete? Am I providing enough fodder for memories for my own kids to reflect on one day?  It’s enough to make you feel tired sometimes – just thinking of what you want to accomplish before the academic year begins and wondering how summer is passing by so quickly.

I spent yesterday at the lake with my kids, and we had the best time.  Just the three of us and a lot of stillness… which to be truthful is not a word I typically associate with my time with these two. But yesterday was about as close to relaxation and serenity as you can get with two kids under six and one adult tagging along.

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They loved exploring the shore to find sticks and smooth rocks and a few swimming minnows and drifting feathers.

 You can get overwhelmed with the to-do list when you’re parenting kids of any age, but especially kids this small.  Last week had us at the ENT office for a consultation on a tonsillectomy, communicating details about an upcoming summer camp for Jude, and working to find a new speech therapist as a result of a pending kindergarten schedule – plus the usual balance of books and naps and meals and sunscreen and laundry and miles of other regular daily routines. But for once, I ignored most of it for a day, packed a bag with towels and snacks and drove somewhere simple that I know they love.  We arrived before it became crowded, and watching them watch the world around us granted me the biggest exhale I had all week.     

 

It was such a great day, and I left feeling full and grateful for a lot of things – my summers off, where I live, and these two.  I’m thankful for all of it, and I’m trying deliberately to avoid the hurried feeling of not enough to rest in the right now.

looking forward, looking back

We’ve been busy this week. It’s Thursday somehow – though I feel like the week just started.  Life is happening so fast, it seems.  In light of many changes for me this year, it is especially unsettling if I think about it too much.  If I close my eyes for a minute and think back to being 29 years old as a stay-at-home-mom with a toddler and a house (two houses ago now) and a husband and what I assumed to be a predictable life plan stretched out in front of me, it makes me dizzy to even think about the speed at which life has changed for me.  It catches me off guard sometimes, to look around at what I’m encountering every day and know this is my life. Right now. It’s happening now.

Norah is going to a little “ballet camp” this week at my hometown dance studio.  It’s a 30 minute drive to get her there, and it’s not a practical solution for a busy school year schedule if she chooses to dance in the future, but for a summer camp, it’s worth the extra trouble to see her learn from my old instructor and interact in that same environment where I spent years growing.  I was helping her get ready in a tiny pink leotard and twisting her wispy hair into a bun on Monday morning when I realized that this is it. Life is happening – not at all the way I planned it, but that almost doesn’t seem to matter anymore. It’s still my life, my one shot.  And it’s happening now.  The day I found out I was having a girl, about a dozen moments filled my head, and this was one of them.

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Who knows what the future holds and if she will choose to dance long term as I did, but it was one of those out-of-body moments I’ve discussed before when it makes you catch your breath a bit.  This is real. This is life.  I’m gong to remember this.  Happiness catches you off guard when you aren’t looking. How am I thirty-four years old and dressing a tiny ballerina for her first lessons?  I don’t know.  Where the past decade of my life has gone is a mystery to me. So fast.

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I’ve thought a little this week about nostalgia and that lens we tend to use when we examine the past.  I can’t believe it was almost exactly a year ago that I wrote this post.  Looking back now, I remember that night and all its details (only because I wrote them down here), and it feels like a thousand lifetimes ago.  I feel so much older and a little wiser but mostly just weathered and broken in.

I can’t help but wonder what lens I will see this summer through – as I look back years from now.  I know what stings now might not be most memorable in the future. The scrounging food from the freezer to make cheap meals as I’m still paying off attorney bills.  The cluttered garage and late-night painting projects. The almost audible, heavy silence I can hear when kids are gone and I’m still not quite used to it. The itchy newness of all of it.  I’m wondering if I will look back and see those details, or maybe only remember the sweetness of a new chapter and the exciting newness of being alone and the thrill of possibility.

I don’t know what I will see as I look back, but I do know this is pivotal.  This is meaningful.  This is life happening as quick as it ever has, and it feels long now as I look ahead and can’t imagine my way forward and what that reality will look like.  But I think in the grand scheme of things, so to speak, this is a moment in time, only a little one.  And though it is really, really hard not to wish this time away, I am trying to feel it all.  To see it all.

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As Norah was at ballet today, Jude and I spent some time at a local spot we’ve grown to love.  It was fun to play with only him for a while. One of those moments when you look at them and they seem all grown and fearless; it’s amazing really.  I’ve blinked and we are here.  There is only one summer I will ever have when they are 3 and 5, and I am in this moment in my own life.  I don’t want to miss it.  Today is all I have right now.  Every day is new, and I don’t know how long this period will last for me.  Something tells me, like every other season of my life, the things I will miss the very most are the things I don’t even notice or cherish right now.

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UntitledI’m exploring and observing new terrain everyday.  I have no idea where it will lead, but it has to be somewhere good, right?  (I’m asking mostly for reassurance as I look at unfamiliar waters.)   I bought my mom Glennon Melton’s book for Mother’s Day, and I was flipping through it before I wrapped it up.  There’s a chapter when she describes her sister’s divorce and the transition period before her sister moved on, and she explains, “Now we know that in order for love to be real and true and good, you need to have had your heart shattered.  We know now that a broken heart is not the end of the world, but a beginning.”  I’m not always sure where I am on that timeline, and maybe it’s a fluid thing.  But I think I’m moving a bit from shattered pieces to new starts, and I will look back at this summer as the beginning.