mostly standing still

It’s Thanksgiving Day, mid afternoon. The kids return to me at 5, and then we will head out to celebrate with my family. I woke up alone today after the best night of sleep I’ve had in ages. I sipped coffee and read a little bit before breakfast, and then I did a yoga session twice as long as my usual one before I began cooking cranberry pie and putting a few sides together to take to my family potluck dinner.

Untitled

Tonight we will eat with cousins and grandparents, and four generations will be together. Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday. It’s just food and fun and no pressure to wrap gifts quite yet. It signals the start of the advent season, and for the kids, it’s the signal to get started decorating in our house. We will pull out the Christmas tree this Sunday and sip hot chocolate and eat leftover pie and watch movies in our pajamas.

My hope for the rest of the year is just to notice the ordinary, the everyday. I ran across Mary Oliver’s “Messenger” this morning, and my eyes ran back to the first line of the poem as soon as I reached the bottom to read it again and again. She insists, “Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.” Standing still is hard. Especially for me with the never-ending motion of that reel inside my head that spins and spins. I think maybe I just need to remember that I cannot mess anything up if I just stand still and be astonished. I think maybe in the past my expectations are actually what missed the mark because goodness can’t always find its way through the tough exterior of perfectionism.

Holidays find me faster and faster every year. And every time they say the same thing. All you need is right here.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Advertisements

how the story ends

My university closes for Good Friday every year, so I’m off today. Norah is with my mom so that I can volunteer in Jude’s class this afternoon. I rolled out of bed later than usual, and I walked Jude to the bus stop this morning in jeans and a hoodie and came back to write a bit in a quiet house when I’d normally be commuting to work and planning for a full day. Space to breathe and sit in silence is so rare this time of year, but even little bits of time can create the opening I need to regain perspective.

Birds are busy outside as I type this, and I can hear them singing. The grass is greening up. April always feels like a swollen bud that’s about to bust wide open. I felt it so intensely last year as I moved into this new space, and I feel it now again.

Yesterday was Norah’s egg hunt at school. I slipped out of my office for a bit to join her.

Untitled

I noticed a few colleagues and university staff stepping out to the front steps to watch the madness. Dozens of kids running as fast as they can to gather what they find. It’s the simplest of ideas, and yet they get so excited.

Untitled

She dug right in and ate more candy than I should have agreed to, but indulgence and celebration can do so much to carry us through the mundane, so I gave her no limits. There’s more value in these indulgences the older I get. Life, responsibilities, worries, bills, chores, expectations – it all feels like a lot sometimes. But it fades to the background in these little moments of celebration.

Untitled

Untitled
I clamored into work yesterday with 2 crates of strawberries I’d hurriedly bought on the way in. Norah’s class was having a picnic after the egg hunt, and I volunteered for that item. It was spring picture day as well, and my fervent scrubbing of her St. Patty’s Day tattoo didn’t remove it, so I had to ask her teacher to tilt her in the photo pose so as not to show her right arm. This week, I have also stuffed 96 Easter eggs for 3 different celebrations – each set with its own slightly different instructions. Like “add a few pennies to each egg for a math activity.” “No chocolate, please.” etc etc. Last week, Jude had to make a “leprechaun trap” as a “family project.” And there are at least three different forms sitting on my kitchen counter right now informing me of field day and fundraisers and field trips.

My coworker was laughing along with me yesterday as I unloaded my strawberries in the office kitchen to rinse and cut them for the picnic while lamenting over the everlasting tattoo featured on picture day. Her kids are grown, but she remembers this season and the thousand demands it brings. She dug up a passage from her office bookshelf with a copy of Jenny Offill’s Department of Speculation about the “rememberers” and the “non-rememberers.” I recall a time when I was a rememberer, always on time for everything. But lately I feel like a non-rememberer. A mom who throws supplies on the table as I make dinner so that my son can finish the “family project” assigned 6 days ago that is due tomorrow. My “family project” at the moment is keeping us alive and fed and reasonably happy. That is all I can manage.

I haven’t had much time for dreaming lately, for looking at the big picture or what is ahead. This is good in ways; it keeps me grounded in the present moment because I only have room in my mind for this minute and the next 72 hours or so. Beyond that, I cannot tell you much.

But I’m feeling a tension emerge in that way lately that I haven’t felt in a long time. I sometimes feel a huge opening and such immense gratitude for the open road in front of me. That sense of possibility I’ve written about here before. But I am also surprised, in some less steady moments, to find myself craving a sense of certainty. It’s human nature to do so, but I’ve grown so accustomed to the mystery in my past year that I always find myself surprised when the old discomfort of uncertainty creeps up again. Jenny Offill also says, “You think you want the blue skies, the open road, but really you want the tunnel, you want to know how the story ends.” I think that is true for each and every one of us. It’s human nature to want certainty. But I’ve made so much progress in the past year, become so comfortable with the not-knowing. Anytime I step into new territory though, it’s back again.

I picked up Things Fall Apart again this week to revisit some passages that brought me so much last summer when I read them for the first time. Chodron insists, “As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don’t deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.”  She’s right. The middle way, the questions, have brought me so much. It’s staying in them after the bulk of the storm passes that is the hard part. To stay here, to be here in the truest way, to not get anxious or itchy or hurry for resolution. That is the difficult work at hand for me right now, but it’s where the magic happens. I don’t have to know how my story ends to know it’s a good one.

__________________

Thanks for sharing your passages on my last post here and over on Facebook! The winning number was 9, so Melissa is our winner! Interestingly, she shared one of my favorite passages I encountered when reading Tiny Beautiful Things:It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.” Congrats, Melissa! And thanks for reading. I will message you soon to ship the gifts to you.

to remember

I said I’m taking a break, and that is still the case. I’ve been doing my writing elsewhere and I’ll return to more regular posting soon. But this is my journal – with every major moment of my past 5 or more years chronicled here. I’m writing here tonight to look back and remember, to fill in the spaces when I look through the eye of nostalgia to piece it all back together.

It’s almost midnight on Christmas Eve. The house is quiet. The kids are upstairs asleep, and the presents are laid out by the tree. It’s 64 degrees outside, even now at this hour. We wore short sleeves today. It’s raining, and we are sleeping with the windows open on Christmas Eve. It doesn’t feel like Christmas this year.

The timing of my major life shift sort of straddled across two years. It was November of 2014 when it all exploded, and last year was the hardest Christmas of my life, hands down. It was right in the middle of the eight week stretch when I cried every single day. Everyday. This year is easier, but it is still my first Christmas on my own with the kids. In a new house – with everything else new as well. The last of many firsts. We are about to turn the page past the firsts, and I am so ready.

I was prepping holiday food yesterday and listened to this podcast that pierced me straight through. Rob Bell interviews Alexander Shaia about the first century details and interpretations within the Christmas story that modern audiences tend to miss.  It was pretty illuminating to hear him speak about the metaphorical significance of the angel appearing first to shepherds in the night, and I found so many parallels to this season of my life. “This radiance is born in darkness. Actually the only place this great radiance can be born is in the depths of great darkness. And the only place this great radiance is born in us is in our own darkness where we feel so raw and perhaps unworthy, where we feel so much that we have lost our standing and our privilege before society, whatever that is. Whatever the raw places in ourselves [are] this is where we go to look for the new radiance. … That’s where the radiance begins, in the dark places, in the low places within ourselves…. This is where it begins. And you may not believe me and that’s okay, but lean on my knowing and the Christ’s knowing and just act as if right now, and God will take it the rest of the way. This is where it begins. Mary is this incredible presence of knowing a positive future, and if you know a positive future, no matter what you are going through today, know that this is not the end. This is the beginning.”

It’s so much this time of year – Christmas and the closing of one year and the dawn of another. It’s no accident that it falls in line with the winter solstice as well (on this side of the globe anyway). The contrast of the darkest day of the year punctuated with little twinkling lights everywhere.

Joy works that way as well, I think. Powered by gratitude and mindfulness, it twinkles and shines through the mud of whatever is aching you.

We made cookies this afternoon. The kids played loudly upstairs while I finished up some kitchen tasks, and they were exploding with excitement all afternoon. We went to my grandparents’ house where I have spent each and every Christmas Eve of my 34 years. We ate and laughed and talked above the chaos of happy kids. My two played with their cousins in the same way I played with mine more than two decades ago. So much has changed, and so much has stayed the same.

Untitled

We drove home, bellies full. The kids looked at Christmas lights out the car windows. They brushed their teeth when we got home and then set out a snack for Santa and headed straight to bed. We huddled, all three of us, in my big bed with the window open in this bizarre rainy heat wave. Norah fell asleep first, and Jude was almost there but jolted up for a minute when the dog shook his collar. I thought that was a reindeer, mama. I kissed his head, he finally fell asleep, and I came downstairs to set up gifts and record a few things here for you – and mostly just for me.

I’m grateful for every single minute. All of it. This Christmas, more than ever, I feel broken but also whole and real. And I see the light unfolding in front of me. The lights are flickering in the smallest of spaces, and this is the beginning.

Advent

Thanksgiving came and went, and Christmas time is here. I know this is cliche, but how is 2015 nearly over already? I can hardly believe tomorrow begins December.

My mom indulged my kids and all their little cousins with a pretty fun surprise on Thanksgiving night as we celebrated at my grandparents’ house.

Untitled Untitled

My normally energetic boy got pretty shy when it was his turn to talk to Santa.

Untitled

But Norah talked his ear off as expected. Like most siblings, my two are opposite in so many ways.

Untitled

We drove home in the dark seeing a few houses already lit up, and they talked a mile a minute – about Christmas and Santa and a million other things. I thought for sure they’d be asleep by the time we got home, but they weren’t. The holidays bring so much wonder and excitement for kids. It brings it all back in the best way.

They spent the next couple of days with their dad, and I got to use the time to wrap up some grading piles and get out the decor. When they arrived home on Sunday morning, we got started on the tree. It’s little and covered with kid-crafted things and nothing is symmetrical, but it’s ours. Our little tree and our little house. And a house never feels as cozy as when it’s twinkling inside with Christmas lights.

Untitled   Untitled

We finished the afternoon with hot chocolate and a movie, and they were content and happy.

Untitled

Tonight I’m filling the Advent calendar with our little activities for the month of December, gems we can enjoy everyday for the next few weeks…. make cards for your teachers, eat pancakes for dinner, wrap a present, go driving in pj’s and look at Christmas lights…. The smallest things can make them so happy. And me, too.

I see the value of tradition during the holidays more than ever. These are the moments they will remember as they grow, and that idea of creating memories for your kids is both the heaviest and the most beautiful part of motherhood to me. I’m creating the soundtrack and images that will replay for them in moments of nostalgia decades from now. And truthfully I don’t even know what will stick, what will survive the years and emerge as the things they love the most.

It’s the smallest things that they seem to remember so far – never the gifts under the tree. It’s the moments shared among the three of us that are creating a home and a life for them.

I hope I can calm myself for a few sacred minutes everyday in this last stretch of 2015 to remember that. I look around and see so much comfort and abundance. This is it. Not a year into the future and certainly not my past. This is life as it’s really happening and not a stepping stone to something else. I’m grateful for all of it  – for the two little people I get to share these traditions with and for all the magic that December holds.

Thanksgiving

I’m officially on Thanksgiving Break – minus the twenty research papers I need to grade and the hundred or so house tasks I need to accomplish. I stayed home with the kids on Monday, and now they are at their dad’s for a few days but get to return to me for Thanksgiving itself and the Sunday after.

We have a rhythm now with our weekend visitation schedule. I can handle two little nights alone, but the holiday breaks still feel weird to split it all 50/50. My empty house and me.

I had a student once who was falling behind, unable to focus and complete assignments. She cried big tears to me after class one day (after weeks of struggling) and told me that she was stressed and anxious and that she was raped the year prior and currently involved in the court proceedings about that incident. I remember stopping her just after she said that and holding her hand for a minute and telling her to take a deep breath and give herself some credit. She was getting out of bed everyday. She was coming to class. She was holding a part-time job outside of school. She was bearing so much more than anyone should ever have to. Stop being so hard on yourself and understand that this is a lot.

I cannot begin to know that pain, and I am not comparing my grief and trauma to hers. But I am comparing my resistance to admit that something is hard. Sometimes things are painful, and you just have to say this sucks. This is a lot. I’m doing the best I can.

The holidays are heavy sometimes. Even in their very best moments — wide-eyes walking down the stairs on Christmas morning or aging relatives around the table at Thanksgiving dinner — it is all tinted with that bittersweet, happy-sad feeling of nostalgia and transience. It’s like you already long for these seconds even though they haven’t left you yet. Or that’s how it is for me anyway. An awareness that this year, this moment, is not going to happen again.

Last year’s holidays were hard. I was in the middle of the hurricane, honestly unable to really see my way out at that point. I can remember arriving home from a grocery run all red and swollen in the eyes, unable to stop sobbing. The car time in the short ten minutes from the store was a little slice of solitude I had to feel what I felt without judgment and questions and demands from someone.

This year’s will be easier, I think. In ways at least. But it is painful, if I am being honest as I always am in this space. It’s still a lot. I am taking my own advice given to my student before and telling myself congratulations for getting out of bed on some days. For baking the pies and mixing the hot chocolate and pulling out the advent calendar and doing all the things I have always done even though I’m doing them alone now.

Sometimes I can’t look at a day or an occasion with too much significance. It feels much better to find the miracle moments in the everyday than to put an occasion on a pedestal and expect it to be perfect. I’m already finding myself focusing more on the mundane this season. Weeknight dinners around the table. Popcorn and a bedtime movie with the kids. Pajama cuddles on the couch. The little seconds are bringing healing more than the big milestones, I think.

Untitled

I saw someone at a little gathering recently, and I hadn’t seen her in over a year. She asked how I was, and I had a hard time answering that question in small talk. What about my life hasn’t changed in the past 12 months? Not much. Everything is different. Inside out and upside down and I’m still standing.

I have shed the comparison trap this year in that I no longer compare myself to other women or other mothers. I no longer compete for worthiness and perfection. I stand in my own truth in a way I never have – like I am with this post when I say this time of year is hard. But what I need to shed next, I think, is my constant bewilderment and comparison over how the other side has moved forward with such speed and excitement and intensity. There are no feelings, no remorse, no compassion. Instead of praying so hard for that situation to change, I am going to focus more on removing myself from it. I’m writing that here so that I can hold myself accountable.

I am a thinking and feeling person in the world. I refuse to apologize for that or be made to feel less than others who don’t appear to feel much at all. I don’t shut it off – not my own pain or my students’ stories or my kids’ perceptions. I let it all in and I let it pierce. I roll it over in my own mind and heart, and I let it change me and then use that change of perspective as fuel for my own actions and decisions. As I see this last piece that I need to shed, this confusion and comparison of how the other side has dealt with 2015, I see so clearly that I’m shamed for feeling pain and talking about that pain. It’s a game I need to remove myself from a bit to remember that I am not embarrassed to be a human. To act like a real living and breathing person with real imperfections and insecurities and hard moments.

There’s a Kate Light poem I know that says, “There comes the strangest moment in your life / when everything you thought before breaks free / what you relied upon as ground rule and rite / looks upside down from how it used to be. […] How many people thought you’d never change? / But here you have. It’s beautiful. It’s strange.”

It is beautiful and strange, right? All of it. Life is not hard all of the time, but it is all mixed up together. The good and the bad and the heavy and the light. This week is all about celebrating gratitude, and I’m thankful for so much in my life.  There have been some moments in 2015 that are nothing short of miraculous. Coincidences that are divinely orchestrated and moments that pierced me straight through. And in hindsight, even the other moments that felt like nothing but pain when I was in them have molded my heart and my character to emerge completely different than when I walked into the fire.

But I don’t feel like I am done, and I am grateful for that most of all. Thankful that my story doesn’t end here and that I am continuing to change and grow and move forward to a plan that I can feel unfolding in ways I never expected.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Prayers for peace and joy in these last few weeks of 2015.

 

 

 

fall traditions

It was quite a weekend. Soccer on Saturday morning, a quick stop at our favorite pumpkin patch close to home, and a neighborhood fall festival on Saturday afternoon. Life rarely slows this time of year.  Fall is brief in Georgia, and it’s gone in a flash if you don’t squeeze out every last bit of it.

Untitled

I love to watch them try and pick the perfect pumpkin. They all look the same to my jaded eyes, but my kids will grow attached to one particular one because of the shape of its stem or its particular size. It’s a meticulous process.
Untitled

The weather was absolute perfection for us all weekend long. Chilly mornings and evenings, but perfect breezy sunshine during the day.  You could tell everyone else was high on fall sunshine, too. Kids and parents alike. All smiles.

Untitled

And it’s never a dull moment with these two. They are gaining on each other in the best way. I love watching them play together and walk at the same pace these days. Even though I am usually lagging behind a bit.

Untitled

Untitled

I had a hard time deciding what moment to record in my happiness jar on Saturday night. There were so many seconds I snapped in my head, stepped out of the frame to say pause, perfection.  Thank you, God. I see what you did there, and I feel it.

Saturday’s lunch was boiled peanuts in a wagon. You know you are a southerner through and through when your kids turn down popcorn for boiled peanuts. I love sharing traditions with them, and I know nostalgia will tint their lenses as they grow older. And mine, too.

Untitled

Sunday brought Jude’s birthday party. This kid is obsessed with Legos, so it seemed the obvious choice. He saw the idea in the pages of an Oriental Trading Company catalog a while ago, and I ran with it. It was cheap and easy, and he had a great time with his little friends.

Untitled

I kept it simple with my favorite spinach dip, pizza bites for the kids, and a veggie tray.  I ordered cups and napkins from Oriental Trading Company, and this cool Twister game which the kids used as a playmat on the back patio rather than a game, but who cares. The weather outperformed herself, and there was warm apple cider and good conversation and kids running everywhere. It was a perfect way to ring in Jude’s sixth year.
Untitled

A friend of mine made the cake which totally stole the show. Jude added Lego men to the top before guests arrived, but the rest was totally edible with tiny fondant Legos. So cool, right? She dropped it off late Saturday night after she finished it, and the kids were already sleeping upstairs. So he came down the stairs Sunday morning to find it in the dining room and was SO excited.

Untitled

By 5pm or so, guests were gone, and Norah played outside while I cleaned up and Jude cracked open some new Legos to busy himself.
Untitled

It was a crazy weekend to say the least, but as I said on Instagram last night, the rearview perspective is always kinder somehow. I’m thankful for these familiar traditions and big milestones to remind me of how far we’ve come and what we have to celebrate.

Something clicked this month as life feels as normal as it ever was. We are a family anyway – just shaped a little differently than many others. I’m still sharing my same traditions and memories with my two, and I finally don’t feel like some huge piece is missing. The wheels don’t feel lopsided anymore. I can hold my own balance, and there are no empty spaces when I’m alone with these two. As I looked around at the happy chaos this weekend, I realize that we’ve created a community somehow. When I wasn’t looking, it emerged. My closest sphere takes the shape of just the three of us, but beyond that, there’s a bigger orbit we are a part of. I’m grateful for all of it.

catching up and settling in

It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted, so Halloween feels like old news now.  But considering I use this as a journal of sorts… a few pictures of my Minnie Mouse and Luke Skywalker trick-or-treating around campus on Halloween morning.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

And then we did it all over again on Halloween night and invited a few cousins to join us.  It was unseasonably cold and eventually started drizzling a bit, so I was glad we headed out to the neighborhood earlier rather than later.

Untitled

Untitled

Life is settling down, and fall is settling in. The colors are perfect right now, and I finally got around to putting out the last of my pansies yesterday afternoon in the backyard. I had a couple helpers using their own little fingers to get flowers in the dirt.

Untitled

I walked inside to fill the watering can, and when I returned to the back again, Jude was singing something I didn’t recognize. I asked him what it was and he said a “lullaby for the plants, mama.” It is never still with these two lately, but I do hope I can remember some of their little quirks and sweet comments. This journal helps me to stop and take notice. Jude has a favorite tree, he says. And he loves to study leaves this year.

Untitled

The kids have been learning all about autumn and the details of the season lately at school, and everyday I drive home with turkey crafts or pumpkins or pilgrim hats. Early sunsets and chilly mornings feel inspiring instead of tiresome right now. Soup is on the menu at least twice a week. I love November.