wait it out, find the shine

Continuing my funk from earlier this week with my distaste of the stubborn Georgia heat, I’ve also ended up with some kind of allergy to the fall blooms or maybe the latest incarnation of my kids’ school germs. Whatever the cause, my throat is gravely and my eyes sting.

I rallied for Jude’s soccer game today, but other than that, I’m indulging in a lot of self care this weekend. I dropped in for a yoga nidra workshop Friday night at a local studio, which was essentially a long guided meditation. I found some homemade chicken soup hiding in the very back of the freezer today for lunch. I walked in the garden with my grandad pinching off early shoots of fall greens and fresh peas. I’ve listened to podcasts and read in a quiet house. And now I am writing a bit before an early bedtime.

I caught the latest On Being this afternoon and was completely hooked on a stunning interview with Ruby Sales, a prominent player in the early civil rights movement who still works as the Director of the Spirit House Project.

Being white and growing up at the end of the twentieth century, my life has little in common with the life of Ruby Sales in most noticeable ways, but she spoke so much about faith and optimism and anger and hard work and where those things intersect. It is in some surprising ways actually very reflective of the conflict I feel present for me now, the outer pressures I wrote about earlier this week when your own inner landscape doesn’t always match what you see in front of you.

She explained that she “grew up in the heart of Southern apartheid, and I’m not saying that I didn’t realize that it existed, but our parents were spiritual geniuses who created a world and a language where the notion that I was inadequate or inferior or less than never touched my consciousness.” Can you imagine? There are countless examples throughout history of these families who somehow created a new world in their own home. A place that was a respite from the pressures and opinions of the outside world and inspired social change that influenced generations. How do you do that?  How do you achieve that spiritual genius she speaks of and create a reality for your family that is so counter to the outside world?

She explained something that became a truth for her, an unarguable mantra. One I could use more of in my own life: “I can’t control the world, but I can control myself. And you are not going to coerce me into hating.”

Remember that this world she speaks of was a world where violence was an everyday act. Spiteful words and actions everywhere. Hate marches and constant messages of your own inferiority and yet, as she says when referencing an old spiritual, “That’s the meaning of the song ‘I love everybody. I love everybody in my heart. And you can’t make me hate you. And you can’t make me hate you in my heart.’ Now, that’s very powerful because you have to understand that this spiritual — it was an acknowledgement not only that we control our internal lives, but also it contested the notion of the omnipotent power of the white enslaver. That was very revolutionary and very profound.”

Revolutionary indeed. This is common sense, I know. But it is not in our human nature to respond to discomfort or conflict by just not participating in it. We always want to push back, but no conflict can exist if you choose not to participate in it. For whatever reason, today is the day my ears needed to hear this, and it turned a light on for me in a big way.

I can learn to use this with people around me who expect me to respond to resistance or hate with more of the same. I can use this in my own practice of self-compassion by not resisting my own growth, even when it is ugly. I can use this with my own kids by not resisting their own ways when it’s often just an expression of childhood and not purposeful rebellion anyway. We control our internal lives for sure. But we don’t control much else.

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Ruby Sales closed the interview with some reflections on lessons learned, and she said, “I don’t like aging a whole lot. The ankles, the knees hurt, et cetera. But one of the things I do like is that from where I sit on my front porch, I have hindsight, insight, and foresight. And that’s a beautiful gift of aging.” Ain’t that the truth? I am half her age and just beginning to see it unfold. Hindsight and insight are coming easily now, foresight is yet to come. But one thing I am learning is that love and truth always prevail. Always. Sometimes I just have to wait them out, I guess. Sit through the funk and wait out the discomfort. Try to find some shine in the meantime.

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Refusing to participate in hate or resistance and looking for the shine is actually a revolutionary act, I’m finding. People don’t know what to do with you when you don’t buy into the conflict or the constant messages of inadequacy that we hear everywhere. This is me, same as I ever was but different. I don’t believe in “happy” as a goal or a real state of being. I believe in surrender and honesty and all the things that come with that. I believe in grief and pain and having to wait it out until a new season arrives.

The hardest part about parenting is that you really don’t know if you are doing a good job or not until your job is all over, and then it’s too late. I want to create that world of spiritual genius for my own kids, that space in our hearts and homes where we don’t recognize the world’s messages of inadequacy or its false promises of happiness in all the predictable places. That’s not where joy lives anyway.

In “A Brief for the Defense,” John Gilbert writes , “Sorrow everywhere…But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants. Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women at the fountain are laughing together between the suffering they have known and the awfulness in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody in the village is very sick. … We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world. …  We must admit there will be music despite everything.”

Despite everything, I hear the music sometimes. It’s faint but it’s there.

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rinse, repeat

My eyes are so heavy, and I am bone-tired. I’m not even certain why I’m writing except to know that this span of days happened. Otherwise it’s just a blur. This is always my way of pushing the pause button. Stop. Slow down. Inhale, exhale. Write.

This week was a full plate for me at work – classes in gear, new text for my composition class, tutor training in the writing center, more meetings than I can make time for. Then there was the usuals of ballet class and preschool drop-off, school bus stop and soccer practice. We ate fast food tonight. Rolled in the driveway at 8:05 pm after soccer practice, brown bags in hand. Bathtime to wash away the day’s grit and settled in bed by 9.

Rinse, repeat. Rinse, repeat. Rinse, repeat.

I’m looking forward to slow coffee and waffles tomorrow morning as my chance to breathe for a minute. Lately I’m relying on the tiniest minutes of empty space to provide me fuel for the rest of it.

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Sunday night, just before dinner, we planted our kale and cauliflower in the little Growboxes I have on my patio. I never feel as close to my grandmother as when my hands are in the dirt. The smell of it and the feel of it and the ways she taught me to care for something small and have patience for it to grow.

I always felt loved by her when I was a child, nothing but love all the time. But as I see what it’s like on this side of motherhood, I see that love doesn’t always feel like love when you’re in it. It feels like loads of laundry and packing lunches in a dimly lit kitchen when everyone else is fast asleep. It looks like lots of tending and lots of patience, and I just hope they feel it like I did and don’t see the work and exhaustion yet.

I’m still ever-so-slowly making my way through Krista Tippet’s Becoming Wise.  And she has a chapter on love. She explains, “Love is the superstar of virtues, and the most watered down word in the English language. I love this weather. I love your dress. And what we’ve done with the word, we’ve done with this thing — this possibility, this essential bond, this act. … We’ve fetishized it into romance, when it’s true measure is a quality of sustained, practical care. We’ve lived it as a feeling, when it is a way of being.” 

Practical care isn’t all that exciting. Being instead of feeling isn’t always enthralling and worth writing about. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about love in this season of my life it’s that it’s not about elaborate gestures or what you say or swear. Instead it lives and thrives in those practical tasks of care and attention.

I hang on to those little moments of feeling as best I can though. Bedtime hugs, hand squeezes, and even sunlight on my shoulders with my hands in the dirt — a gesture from the other side to say I see you, I hear you, you’re doing it right.

reflecting and absorbing

My alarm rang at 5:30 yesterday morning to begin the daily grind, and the very first thought that bounced through my head was I’m so thankful it’s Friday. Jude barged in the bathroom soon after I got out of the shower and asked if he could go downstairs to watch television while I got dressed. He’s obsessed with these Minecraft tutorials on Youtube lately. I made coffee and took the dog out, and then soon enough Norah came down the stairs in her underwear. She claimed she was hot in the middle of the night and took off  her nightgown to throw it on the floor.

So there we were: tired mom with coffee in hand, kindergartener watching Minecraft tutorials, and almost-naked preschooler piled on the couch before sunrise. She picked It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown from the shelf – of all things – and asked me to read it. A Halloween book in April at 6:20am wearing nothing but underwear. It’s how we roll these days.

When you grow older and look back on your own childhood, the smallest details can bring nostalgia – the particular plates you ate dinner from every night, the music you listened to on a certain road trip one summer, the curtains that hung in a kitchen window for years, or that singular dish your mom would make in a way that only she can.

I wonder sometimes about the bizarre list of things my kids will one day remember about our daily lives together: the loud hum of the wheat grinder because it’s how I insist we make Saturday waffles, the predawn cuddles on the couch, my books scattered everywhere and stacked on every surface, the board games we always spill out in the same spot on the foyer rug after school, the lettuce pots we pick from on the patio in the spring, the lakeside spot we visit in the summer, the old graying dog that snores loudly enough to drown conversation and follows us from room to room.

Some routines are habits I’m happy to see them absorbing. Norah draws pictures on tiny scraps of paper sometimes to add to my gratitude jar and calls it her “happy thing,” knowing what it means for me as a nightly ritual. And I’m sure there are other habits that I don’t even realize they are observing and taking on as their own patterns. It’s one of the scariest things about parenthood, a concept you can’t dwell on too heavily. The notion that they are always mirrors, always sponges. Reflecting and absorbing.

Truthfully, this house feels like Crazytown more often than not. I cling to routines because they give me something to hold onto. But in between the daily milestones and markers on the clock and calendar, we walk a path that closely borders chaos.

Sometimes I would give my right arm for some help in this house. I crave the comfort and certainty of having a partner to discuss parenthood with, and more than that, a partner to lend a hand when bath time and dinner time and clean up and homework are all happening at the same time. Single parenthood is no joke – especially for the primary custodial parent doing the daily work required to get everyone where they need to be, literally and figuratively.

But sometimes I feel so clearly that this is a unique season. Even if I stay single forever, this is our only time that he will be 6 and she will be approaching 4 and I will be exactly where I am in my own life and it is just the three of us. Always, just the three of us. I’m grateful for this time and the memories it’s giving us.

We had something to do almost every night this week – a neighbor who stayed with us as his parents needed help one night, the usual speech therapy appointment, and an annual art show at Jude’s school. I pushed aside the usual dinner plans one night for an impulsive stop at a Chinese restaurant the kids love. It is greasy. And predictable. And mediocre at best. But it felt like a treat as I pulled in the parking lot unplanned on a school night and the kids fumbled out of the car and ran in to look at the fish tank while we waited on a booth. We indulged in whatever made us happy in that moment. It felt good.

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We were reading descriptions of all the Chinese zodiac signs that were printed on the place mat and assigning them to each other based on birth years. And Jude said of one of the descriptions (The rabbit, maybe? Now I’ve forgotten.) you are that one, mom. It says shy and a peacemaker and you are those things. It’s funny that he sees these things in me. I am not shy with them as I have to be the voice asking questions and moving and advocating for them, but he’s right in a sense. I’m an introvert at heart, and I hate conflict. When life’s demands calm down and I can breathe a minute, I am exactly as he sees me. I worry that they will only ever remember me as the frantic orchestra director, the air traffic controller, the drill sergeant, the one giving orders to everyone else to keep all the balls in the air in our crazy juggling act. But kids see your true nature, I think. Even when you have to push it aside to tend to all the fires that await you as a parent. I guess they can see it shining through a bit.

It’s tiring. And one day, I hope to arrive back on a sure footing with less worry and uncertainty and perfectly balanced meals on the table every night and a house that stays clean more than chaotic. But maybe that never happens until they leave home, and I’m starting to accept that with gratitude. I find the glimmers in the smallest seconds, pausing images in my own mind and recording them here. And I’m just going to trust that they can sometimes see the real me through the madness.

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It’s becoming even more obvious to me lately how much of a lifeline writing was for me in some darker moments because as I settle in to life in our little circle of three and things become comforting habit instead of constant chaos, I have to remind myself to make time to write – whereas there were stretches of months at a time when I felt a burning need to record things here and couldn’t rest until I did. So this is me showing up tonight with no grand agenda.

Right now the kids are asleep, and I am in recovery mode from a week which was insane in every way. The summary is that Jude got sick which is no big deal, but it was the flu. And it required close to 8 days of care before he could finally act relatively normal again (just this morning). I feel like if you walked into my house on most days, you’d think we have it all together here with a good system, not that things are perfect or spotless, but that we are out the door at the same time everyday and doing our usual routines to get my kids where they need to be. Kid sickness is the fastest way to derail the train though. It’s on those days that I suddenly realize it is all held together with twine and just barely balanced.

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I love that Norah can come to work with me. Our on-site preschool is amazing in pretty much every way. Great teachers, caring environment, and steps from my office. But it inevitably creates this dynamic that I am the only one who really knows her schedule and how to get her there and has reason to drive that direction. It’s a haul from both her father and my mom who are the two people I have to call on when things happen that interrupt the daily grind. Jude’s school is 6 minutes from home, but it is much the same scenario. I am the one who knows what he is doing and when and what days he needs after-school care and how to pack his lunch and all the other details. I’m not special for this. It is almost always moms in this position somehow.

But then something happens that prevents you from doing the usual, and it feels like nobody can do things the way you can because you are the one to always do it. And the whole scenario ends up heaping more stress than necessary on everyone involved but especially mom. And truth be told, nobody else can orchestrate the schedule the way you can, and you are right about that. But it gets done anyway. Or most of it. We survive.

I save yoga and any semblance of relaxation for the hours after kids are in bed. But Thursday, I attempted to do a quick video while they were up. Sukhasana is not so relaxing with a three year old crashing in your lap.

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How do we get it done with little kids underfoot? Do you ever think of these things? (Talking mostly to those of you in my “season” of little ones at home.) I get frustrated with myself for not quite being the teacher I wanted to be on any given day or not cleaning that closet that I’ve been staring at for months or not prioritizing exercise or not writing something for a particular submission I have my eye on… But then I take a step back and realize that this entire three-ring circus is so ridiculously batty that it’s actually funny sometimes when you are brave enough to laugh. The fact that I shower and show up for work and make complete sentences on this screen is actually an accomplishment in light of what I encounter on a daily basis.

On Sunday evening, I made a whole chicken in the pressure cooker and had my weekly meals planned around it. I left the plate on the counter when I went upstairs for a minute and came back down to see that our dog had eaten every last bit of it. Jude spent all day Tuesday cuddled up next to me on the couch when I had loads of midterms to grade that were not happening due to his constant demands. Norah’s classmate bit her on the hand on Wednesday, and instead of telling her teacher, she bit him back. On the face. On Thursday, she got in trouble for calling someone “Stinkybutt” in the bathroom.  I awoke on my 35th birthday with 4 hours of sleep in the midst of a kid with a scorching fever who woke up so many times the night before that I lost count.

It makes me laugh when I stop to think about how I like to say lately that my life has calmed down exponentially since this time last year. It has. I’ve moved and settled and don’t feel the least bit of strangeness signing my maiden name. I’ve trudged head-first through the murkiest waters to arrive in a solid place on the other side. I’m feeling a burning sense of fulfillment and curiosity that I haven’t felt in years. But I still live in a zoo. I tend to overlook that sometimes.

And we all do, I think. So if you are reading this in the midst of caring for your own little people and juggling school and work and baseball practice and therapy appointments and mortgage payments and PTA meetings and grocery budgets, this is me waving from my own version of that tale to say I see you and I feel you, and you are doing a great job. I am too, I think. Even among the madness.

 

right, left, right, left

Monday night I did my usual routine with the kids. Read a couple books, talk a bit, say our “blessings” as we call it, and relax a minute as they drift off. I normally let them drift to sleep and then head back downstairs for a little time on my own – practical things like cleaning the kitchen and packing lunches or necessary things like yoga or writing. But Monday I laid there with them a minute, noticed the clock said 8:20, and then woke up to see 1:40 staring back at me.

I’m not sure how I can feel so exhausted and heavy when I just had a weekend snowed in alone and 48 hours to reset. How does that happen? The energy reserves seem to drain faster than they refill in my life.

There is always something to do. Always. I got a reminder email about a kindergarten reading incentive chart that is due next week, and tonight I managed to look at our bookshelf and scribble in the titles of what we’ve read recently as Jude was bathing and Norah was brushing her teeth. It’s the tiniest thing, just a list of books. But all the little things make your life so crowded. There is always something.

Sometimes I want to know who these moms are with pristine homes and matching clothes and cars that aren’t littered with water bottles and food wrappers. Do they have less on their to-do list than I do? Probably not. But the older I get and the farther I get into parenthood, the less I even strive for that anymore.

My kids are clean! Their lunches are packed, and their bellies are full! We have a house where I can keep all the things we need! And we occasionally have fun! All of these things feel like accomplishments lately. I’m grateful for all of it.

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Right, left, right, left. Just keep walking. They look to me for these million things that have to get checked off the list as we engage in our daily lives. And sometimes that can feel like a thankless task, as any mom will tell you. But the daily grind is where it’s at. I think one day they will see that more clearly. And even now, it’s in between these million busy moments that you can steal seconds of insight. It’s easy to get tired of being the glue that holds together this delicate balance. The chauffeur, the chef, the maid, the tutor, the event planner. So many heavy roles we carry. But without all of these things, I’d have no front row seat to their lives and the million subtle ways they grow and change with every experience.

Now that my two are getting a little older, I think a lot about what they will remember about this time in our lives. I don’t know what they will recall, what they will associate with me and with these years. But I think we are seeing each other in the truest way, even among the busy daily demands. They see me for what I really am and give me space to grow into something else. And I strive to do the same for them in return.

The hump is over, and we are completely in a new normal. Our rhythm feels worn and comfortable, even among the chaos.

 

 

on day 341

I’m hearing the word adulting all the time lately. We’ve somehow turned “adult” into a verb, it seems. Like other trendy words (literally, random, totally) it will have its moment in our modern lexicon and then fade. It’s starting to wear on me a bit, and it’s mildly annoying to hear my students using it all the time. But I see the value in having a word that captures the essence of all those practical, not-fun tasks we have to check off the list.

I’m writing this as I recover from periodontal surgery. Which was every bit as unpleasant as it sounds. But it was necessary, and though I could have perhaps put it off one more year, I decided I might as well bite the bullet and do it. Fork over the $700 (gulp) that I would much rather spend on something else or save. But sometimes life demands that you put on your big girl panties, as some people say, and tackle the unpleasant mess in front of you.

I have done a lot of that this year. Countless unpleasant tasks: meeting with attorneys, paying said attorney, selling a house and dealing with the hassle of showing it with 2 little kids and a full-time job, buying another house, changing my name on a million legal documents, trading in a car, dealing with insurance hassle when an inattentive driver hit the car I bought only 9 months earlier. … The list goes on and on and on and includes managing a thousand tiny details to make my life run smoothly on a daily basis. …. Kids, house, work, all of it….  At the risk of using that trendy word one too many times, I have been doing nothing but adulting for the vast majority of 2015. Frankly, I’m growing weary from it.

One of the biggest lessons of growing up – especially in America in our puritanically based, capitalistic, work harder to do better kind of society – is to learn that you don’t always get a prize. This is life. It can be full of stuff you don’t want to do, and you don’t check a bunch of things off the list and then never have to struggle again. You aren’t doing something wrong if you have difficult tasks in front of you. You don’t somehow arrive at a place where everything is magic and sunshine and roses. Perfection is an unattainable quest. The beauty lies in those tiny seconds in between, and it’s our job to find it among the mess.

I think I like it better here in real life anyway.

 

Family Pics 2015   Family Pics 2015

 

Family Pics 2015

We worked with Andrew Thomas Lee again for photos a couple of weeks ago. I’ve known him for years, and I have his images of my growing kids all over my walls. His work has grown a different direction recently, and he doesn’t do family photo sessions any longer. But he was kind enough to meet up with the kids and me at a green space in Atlanta a few days before Thanksgiving and get some images I will cherish for a long time.

Family Pics 2015

Family Pics 2015   Family Pics 2015

The kids were far from cooperative in the traditional sense. It took a lot of coaxing for Norah to get down from my arms, and at one point they ran off to play with someone’s dog on the other side of the park. By the end of the session, Norah’s hair bow was ripped out, and her shoes were off. Andrew is incredibly patient and such a talent though. He always manages to get some really authentic images that convey the real us.

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I live with these two kids everyday, and it’s sometimes a blur. But I look at these photos, and I can see it how I feel it in those still moments, those tiny spaces in between the chaos.

Family Pics 2015

 

Family Pics 2015

 

Family Pics 2015

Family Pics 2015

So here I am on the 341st day of 2015. My mouth is swollen. I’m a little fuzzy from post-surgery meds. My house is usually messy, and my plate is always too full. But there will never be another December 7, 2015 again.

I am really thankful to see 2015 make its way out as it’s been so full of hard things. But I can’t bring myself to see it as a terrible year. More than any other year in my life, it has been a year when I know I’m really alive. The pain and growth and change – all of it for the better. I see that now.

Jen Pastiloff posted something this morning urging readers to “Take a picture of your face. Remember that in ten years’ time, you will be amazed at how gorgeous you WERE. Be amazed NOW.” This is so true, not just about what we look like, but about all the other details in our lives that seem overwhelmingly difficult in the moment. Sometimes we miss the forest for the trees. So just for today, I’m seeing it.

I’m looking past all the challenges to see my beautiful little family – all three of us. To see the life we’ve created this year.

Family Pics 2015

I’m still standing. And the view from here is pretty spectacular. Bring it, 2016. I’m ready.

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.

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

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

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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.

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

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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.