on making magic

The holidays are officially here. It is snowing outside (!!!) in Georgia as I type this. We occasionally have icy snow in February or so, but these are fluffy flakes that are melting as they hit the roadways but covering branches in white this morning. As a native southerner, I will never think it’s anything less than magical to see snow out my window. I’m drinking coffee to armor up for a long day of grading essays while the kids are at school, but I wanted to take a minute to write first.

I took Norah to a Nutcracker tea party last weekend hosted by her ballet studio. We had treats and tea and watched the “big girls” perform Nutcracker variations. I caught a glimpse of her face watching them, and it is everything I love about ballet condensed to one expression – the awe and the dreaming and the bewilderment at the grace of it all.

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She watches the older girls practice in the studio sometimes and looks at them like they are celebrities. I try to use it as an opportunity to talk about hard work and perseverance, but she mainly just sees it as some kind of magic they have that she hopes to grasp one day.

I see parallels there in my own self. As humans, we tend to look at success in any area – career, health, relationships, anything – as some kind of magic sauce, but when we break anything down to see the smaller pieces, it’s clear that we make our own magic, don’t we? Or at least we make it bloom where the spark began. It starts like some magnetic thing we can’t quite put words to, and it grows when we decide to lean in and make it our own.

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Our elf is not typically very exciting or creative, but he brought a skittle rainbow today. (I can’t take all the credit. I had help on this idea.) Both kids stood enamored this morning with their bed heads and sleepy eyes watching the colors swirl. Seeing Christmas through the eyes of kids is such a reminder that enchantment is there for us if we are just willing to open our eyes to see it. And as a parent pulling all the strings, it also emphasizes my role in creating my life’s magic.

It always requires leaning in a little past where I normally would, laying bare what I usually shy away from showing, and letting that spark ignite without judgement or expectation or cynicism. I think as I get older I am finally understanding that magic does not simply fall from the sky fully formed and ready to bestow itself on the lucky few. It starts with a spark, and it evolves to some kind of fascinating alchemy when we show up for our own lives with a true curiosity, a clear voice, and an open heart.

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ebb and flow

I spent most of last week on a little trip with the kids. We were only a three hour drive northward. But it felt like some place else entirely. How easy it can be to forget the beauty just outside your own backyard. It feels so good to rediscover it.

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We spent a few days in the Great Smoky Mountains, near the national park that straddles the line between Tennessee and North Carolina. The idea for this trip began a year ago when I realized that I have loads of memories in these mountains with my grandparents and cousins, filed deep in the back of my very best pieces of nostalgia. We went almost every summer, and yet my own kids still hadn’t seen it and experienced it like I did. I decided this summer was a good time to take them, and then my sister decided to bring her two along as well, and my mom and grandad even drove up for the last night. We found a perfect cabin on the river in the foothills of the mountains and more or less let the kids run wild.

We unloaded our things on the afternoon of the first day and indulged in s’mores that night. Campfires and cousins in a cabin are the very best ingredients for summer memories, I think. It doesn’t take much at all to make something feel special.
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Something unique happens when you get away as a family. Kids sense the tension easing from your own back, I think. They walk lighter, just like you do. Happy with the littlest things – porch swings and smooth river rocks and open windows when we sleep. Vacation always feels like such an indulgent place, even when it’s close to home.

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We braved an amusement park one day to appease the kids, standing in crowded lines with countless other travelers at Dollywood. I can remember loving thrill rides when I was growing up, but it’s been something like 18 years since I’ve been on a roller coaster. Jude dragged me through the line for a coaster that shoots you like a cannon at 73mph high above the rest of the park. I didn’t love it like I used to; in fact, I sort of clenched my teeth and my belly and went for it to please him, but it felt terrifying in this way that I definitely didn’t experience as a kid. Maybe it’s the time and distance between then and now? Maybe it’s the adult worry mind inside me? I don’t know. But I held my eyes shut the whole time and felt relief when my feet were firmly on the ground afterwards, holding an anxious fear I don’t remember feeling when I rode them before.

Both of my kids are daredevils on these rides, and I definitely used to be. But somehow it feels different to me now. Time and experience can have unexpected effects on our own sense of fear, and it can change what scares you. We ended the day with the drive back to our little cabin, and my kids were elated from the bustle of the park, but I was mostly just tired and relieved to be back to a slower pulse.
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The next morning we spent slow hours in the national park, touring Cade’s Cove, an isolated valley with a few preserved historical structures and some beautiful wide open spaces. Life feels so quiet when you are there, like there is nothing to fear at all. But as I walked through old family homes with rock chimneys and one room for 12 people or looked at cemetery markers to find countless children and infants alongside each other, I thought a lot about how their fears were completely different than mine are today but were more real than I will ever understand.

We ended the tour there with an hour-long horseback ride through the wooded trails in the national forest. These are trail horses with a guide, and the pace is a leisurely trot, so those of you who grew up riding horses will laugh at this for sure … but this is another thing that was outside of my comfort zone to say the least. (Which is extra ironic given that only one generation ago family property held horses, and my 82-year-old grandad hopped on the horse with us last week like it was no problem at all.) But even so, an hour on the back of an animal 10 times your size in the depths of a national park isn’t something in the realm of my usual experience, and I was jittery as we waited to get on.

Once again though, it was the urging of my own son who pushed me there, and it’s not the first time I’ve done something scary for my kids – and likely not the last either. So we mounted the horses and set off in the woods, crossing a rushing creek at the start of the trail and listening to the clop, clop, clop through the ferns and fallen trees. With every step that I went beyond my own comfort zone, it got easier and lighter until it didn’t feel scary at all.

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That’s the way it always goes, I’m finding. The definition of scary may be different for each one of us. What terrifies you may not bother me, and what gives me butterflies may not register on your list of worries at all. And even within my own mind, time has changed what my fear responds to. But all the good stuff is on the other side of what I fear. Always. Sometimes it’s a place you can only get to when you cross that bridge. And sometimes it’s just that quiet hum of satisfaction when you know you did what you’d thought was impossible.  But if I just push myself past that space I fear so much, it is never as scary as I’d imagined.

I am home to mounds of laundry and loads of pictures I am weeding through from our time away.  But I hope this is the lesson from our trip that sits with me for a long time – the value in that tension of bravery and rest. The satisfaction that comes from doing what you feared and pushing past your discomfort and the quiet space of rest that we need just as much as we need courage and challenges. The truth is in the ebb and flow between those two things, knowing when to forge ahead with courage and when to slow down and feel the solace that grows in quiet familiar places.

home again

This week marks spring/midterm break for me, and it’s a welcome pause from the crazy pace of the semester. The sunshine has delivered a perfect dose of spring fever this past few days, and I’m grateful for the boost it gives.

Most of my time has been with Norah as she’s out with me this week, and Jude is still in school all day. (He won’t get his spring break until April when I’m in the midst of the final push of the semester.) Monday, she and I spent almost the entire day outside – the backyard and then the neighborhood playground and then back home to eat lunch and head back outside to the patio again. Tuesday was a few errands, and then today I took her to get her hair trimmed, and we managed to accomplish a few things around the house.

She’s getting older and more verbal and observant. So much imaginary play at this age, and it’s a treat to listen to her get lost in her own stories. There’s a lot to be shared between mother and daughter and a very specific connection that is already different from anything else in my life. I’m excited to see what the future holds – and most of all, just grateful to have her company, now and always.

Spring is coming, and I’m ready for it. I’m approaching the one-year mark of moving into this house (early April), and it feels like home in every sense. The pops and creaks on a particular floorboard in the kitchen, the slant of the sunlight through the back glass doors in the mornings and through the playroom window in the afternoon, the familiar tones of neighborhood voices we’ve come to know and recognize. I remember so well the sheer exhaustion amidst the overwhelming process of moving here, what felt like countless obstacles and unknown territory in my way. But underneath it, I felt such a sense of gratitude for this little place. I’m determined to keep those gratitude filters on as I look around me in the next year. Sometimes the farther you get from a gift, the more you forget it’s miraculousness.

I was remarking to a friend recently that the line from Dear Sugar when she refers to the lives we don’t lead as the “ghost ship that didn’t carry us” keeps running through my mind these days. That ship is getting farther and farther from my shore, and its outline is fuzzy. I don’t know what I’d be doing right now if I was on a different path, but I know for certain that I wouldn’t be in this house, nestled between these two warm bodies breathing like an ocean in my ears with the weight of the dog on my feet. I wouldn’t be writing this sentence. I wouldn’t be leading this life.

Jumping from that ship can feel like the scariest thing you’ve ever done. But when you are standing on the other shore much later, grounded in the new life that followed, you wonder how anything but this ever felt like home.

crazytown

There are so many reasons I’m glad I have this little corner of the internet.  I’ve spent more than 5 years of my life writing things down in this space, and I’ve written myself through a number of hard transitions and some of my happiest times, too.  But I also love that things are written here at all – because otherwise I’d forget them.

Like when it’s the end of July, and the kids are going a little nutty, and it’s hot as Hell outside, and part of me is scared for summer to end, but the other part of me is ready for a schedule again and just generally feeling exhausted and languid and unmotivated compared to usual me.  I think we’ve all gone completely nuts and that this is like no other year ever in the history of mankind until I look back to see that this is every year. Every July. Forever and ever, amen.  So that makes me feel better. It’s just the general late July insanity back again as it always is.

I joked last night that my week included 3 bee stings, a trip to the periodontist (with a recommendation for an expensive and unpleasant surgery), an escaped pet worm, and an emergency that required 4 staples in Norah’s head. Every last bit of that and more is true. It has been A WEEK, y’all. To say the least.

Jude has been enrolled in “Nature Camp” at a local nature preserve close to home, and he loved it! I’d pick him up each day at noon covered in caked-on dirt and gabbing about the size of a dragonfly’s mouth or the responsibility of picking up litter or what kind of art you can make with pine cones. Norah and I filled the time doing a few things at home, playing at a playground where I got stung by a wasp, and eating donuts not once but twice this week.

On Wednesday, we got together with old friends of mine who now have kids of their own so our little group has grown to a big group and babies have grown to kids and it’s crazy. In the best way. But it’s crazy. We never finish sentences. Or food. Or remember to leave with whatever belongings we arrived with because we are so busy tending to questions or to cries of “maaaa-maaaaaaa” that we all turn our heads to because we can’t tell whom that voice belongs to.  Jude also got stung by a wasp that day – two tiny side-by-side stings – and I know it hurt. I do.  But when I asked if I could rub in a little first-aid cream my kind friend offered, he ran and screamed and looked so fearful, like I had dynamite in my hand and I was asking him to hold onto it. Frantic “NOOOO!  Mom, NOOOOO!” and full on running. So we ditched the cream and opted for Lego distractions instead, and he was fine.

Get home to rinse, repeat for the next day – and nature camp leaves him dirtier than ever before, but he had fun. I persuaded the kids to go for a drive and head to a farm about an hour away to get peaches and blackberries, and it was our one moment of zen for the week, I think.

UntitledIt was cloudy driving up, and we got inside just in time for the perfect summer afternoon rain. Heavy downpours, but sunshine peeking through, and the doors of the market were open so that you could smell that summer rain smell and feel it blowing in a bit. Add boiled peanuts and homemade ice cream we bought there, and it was perfect for a few tiny moments.

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Once the storm passed, I loaded both kids in the car with our peaches, cherries, plums, and the best blackberries I’ve ever had.  (I’m rationing them from the fridge now that we are home, wishing I’d bought more.)  I gave the kids the quart of boiled peanuts to split among them, and we headed home.  One hour trapped in a car with two chatty kids on a summer afternoon is both hilarious and ridiculously annoying – if I am being totally honest here. “Hey, mom. Did you know it’s not littering to throw peanut shells. We can do that. Let’s roll down the window.”  [Cue the window rolling up, down, up, down, up, down. Each time they have a tiny shell.]  Sister laughing hysterically, steamy wind and searing heat pouring in the car because seriously July in Georgia is almost miserable. Fast forward twenty miles or so, and Norah accidentally dumped the rest of her boiled peanuts in the car floor, and I am not ashamed to tell you most of those are still there now.

We get home, and Jude flies outside to get his neighbor friend to play, and they both come back to my house for a game of hide-and-seek until they get bored with it and decide to opt for an iPad. Somewhere in here (not sure when) Jude’s pet worm escapes, and we discover him hours later in the kitchen floor.

Norah asks if she can watch Mother Goose Club which if you don’t know what that is, you can see it on YouTube when your kid is not near because they will develop an undying loyalty for it, and now Netflix carries it much to the dismay of at least one million parents out there who have to hear it every night like I do.  So I’m starting dinner, and I see her dancing on the couch and at least three times I tell her to get down and be careful, and I probably should have been more forceful about it, but it is 6:30pm of a very long day, and I am making dinner and it’s a couch and we have carpet, what can go wrong, right?

I’ll spare you the details – screams! blood! traumatized neighbor child! – and I’ll tell you that she is fine but has four staples in the back of her head.

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The doctor asked her what happened, and she responded that “the hard floor fell on my head.”  Which I guess is pretty much the same thing as “I was practicing ballet on the couch and got carried away and lost my balance.”  For the record, she did not flinch a bit when they inserted the staples, and she woke this morning to ask if she can “do a flip on the couch? Please, Mom? Because flipping is not the same as dancing, right?”

We are fine, all of us. The last day of nature camp was today. It’s 10pm and both kids are asleep, and my floor is cluttered with Legos and naked baby dolls.  But we are fed and happy and loved and had some fun moments this week, despite the insanity. But KIDS!  Motherhood is no joke, is it?

I follow Momastery on Instagram, and a few weeks ago, she said something that made me laugh and also made me nod my head, “I spent time in a mental hospital, and I am here to report that every single one of the beautiful folks in there with me was more reasonable than the small people I live with now. Truth. YOU ARE GOOD AND REASONABLE AND NORMAL. IT’S THEM. The crazy is not in your head. IT’S IN YOUR HOUSE. We have to wait them out. We just have to smile and wait them out. We have fought too hard for our sanity to lose it now. Repeat after me: It’s not me, It’s THEM.”

Many days, it is all I can do to smile and wait it out.  So much of my day is spent directing them or correcting them or putting smiley faces on a calendar chart just to make bedtime happen reasonably smoothly.  Or making dinner and sitting down to eat only to hear “I’m not hungry.”  They are crazy little people, and it is never boring. But I’m keeping my head above water over here somehow – knowing I will laugh and look back and wonder how on Earth I managed keeping my sanity and their safety and my house intact in these years. But also knowing I might look back and miss some of the insanity. So much life in these little people. So much surprise.