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.

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mid June phone dump and a little rambling

The kids head out to the beach early tomorrow morning, and I’m on my own for 8 days.  Such a long time – longer than I’ve ever been without them before actually.  I’m soothing that sting a little bit this afternoon by looking back at photos of our week together.  We had so much fun doing things close to home, and it makes me feel grateful for their ages as they are now.  All the magic is still here, but much of the difficulty of a diaper bag or sleep struggles or broken toddler vocabulary is gone.  It’s easy to have fun with them, and they are so much easier to handle on my own than they were a year or two ago.  I mentioned on my Instagram feed recently that it feels unnatural when they are gone, and I can’t imagine how I will do this for a total of 4 weeks this summer.  A friend commented that it would make my time with the kids even better, and though I hate the separation in many ways, that is true. I miss them like crazy, and we make up for it with a lot of quality time – just the three of us – when they are around.

So last week they got to pet baby chickens with my grandad.

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It never once passes me by how lucky I am that they get to maintain close connections with my family and especially my grandparents. Not many kids can say they know their great-grandparents well and see them often, but mine can. They are leaving such a mark on my own kids the same way they did for me as I grew up. In a world where everything changes, it feels immeasurably good to see something stay the same.

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We also spent an afternoon at the lake with a close friend of mine who is always such a comfort to me. It’s surreal and beyond beautiful to see our kids playing together when our own paths first crossed about 16 years ago.

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We caught a puppet show at a nearby theater yesterday, and I got to listen to little kid cackles for the hour-long production which was a treat. There’s a special energy when you’re in a room with dozens of little kids like that – all fidgety and full of energy and feeding off each other’s laughter.

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Kids are so unguarded. It amazes me. They will hug someone they met on the playground only ten minutes ago. They will laugh without any regard for how loud they are or who hears them. They will cry without shame or apology. We shed that innocence along the way as we learn about what behavior is appropriate or acceptable. Life will be easier when I can count on them to filter their actions a bit, but the payoff now is that I get to watch this wide open enthusiasm.

While the kids attended a birthday dinner with their father’s family, I got to top off my week with a quick meet-up with some college friends to celebrate one of them returning to Atlanta for the weekend. Conversation with this group always meanders from little things to weightier topics, and it feels so good to have a friend or two who are true thinkers and see into the life of things, so to speak. We talked a lot about the events that shape our lives and how some of them feel so tragic and heavy in their immediacy, but they change our perspective in the very best way.

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There is no doubt that has happened to me this year, but I’m finding that I’m ready to move forward. Ready to discern what the next chapter will hold for me. One very good thing about so much alone time this summer is time to think clearly and deeply about what is next. Experience makes you no wiser without self-reflection. Not at all. My path took an abrupt turn, but I feel certain my destination is not shaping up to look much at all like where I came from.

I’m reading a lot, and I hope to finish some half-written creative non-fiction while the kids are away this week. I’m deep in memoir and non-fiction lately and fascinated by how people’s stories shape their own lives and then touch the lives around them through the written page. There was a time when I ran away from non-fiction, but I think teaching it so much in my composition courses these past couple years has given me a better appreciation.

Summer Reading

It’s all we can hope for really – that our own pain and experiences are not wasted on us because our lives become fuller and richer, and then the reward is multiplied when you can shed light on someone else’s path a little bit.

summertime

School officially let out a week ago for the kids, and I’ve been home with them all week. God knows I will never get rich in academics, but it is fulfilling to me in the best way, and I love what I do.  It’s the icing on the cake that I get summers off to spend time with my kids. The first month of summer is always the very best for me. I don’t feel guilty about being lazy.  We aren’t itchy yet from the languid heat or lack of routine.  And the weeks ahead stretch before us in a long view that seems like the season will last forever.  And it won’t, of course.  It will come and go, and I will look back through the lens of nostalgia that always colors our memories in the sweetest way.

We started with a little birthday celebration on Memorial Day weekend. Norah has been requesting a party at this little girls’ hair salon near us. The concept is half ridiculous and half adorable, but it’s what she wanted, so I obliged. We kept it simple with just a few close friends, and the girls had a great time.

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It cracks me up that she is into this stuff already. She is so much fun at this age, and it’s a challenge for me to lean into all of this – princesses, nail polish, pink everywhere – so that she can love what she loves without apology. But at the same time, the women’s studies reader inside me is always trying to maintain some kind of balance. I want her to always feel loved and accepted though, and I think she does. So much fun, this one.

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The day after that event, the kids were invited to a little classmate’s party at a horse farm a half hour north of us. The drive was rural, and the weather was beautiful. The party invitation said they’d be painting horses, and I thought surely I was misunderstanding something, but no. We painted horses. The kids loved it. They painted them, rode them, and then they helped bathe the horses at the end. It was a lot of excitement and such a fun experience.

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We followed that party with some family time to celebrate my granddad’s birthday, and I watched my kids get dirty and chase lightening bugs with their little cousins as adults sat on my grandparents’ back porch and talked until way past dark. It fills me up in the very best way to see my kids enjoying these experiences that echo my own childhood. We drove home exhausted and filthy, and I carried each of their sleeping bodies up the stairs to plop them in bed after a full day.

It’s taken me a while to embrace the suburban yet rural (I once heard it called “suburba-rural”) feel of where I live. I’ve come to love it though. At a certain age, you finally begin to love what you love and know who you are without apologies. I am a small town girl at heart, and I have no desire left in me to live intown, regardless of how uncool it is to say that. We have such beautiful places just down the road, and it’s important to me that my kids get outside and see life as more than a strip mall.

In the past week, we’ve explored a bit at a nearby park with small hiking trails and a covered bridge; we’ve enjoyed the neighborhood pool, and we’ve had the chance to ride horses yet again for a second birthday party yesterday.

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Life with these two never stops. But I feel so lucky to be here for all of it. To watch them grow and learn in that unstructured, wide-open way that summer provides. So much to see and do.

That said, this summer also gives me a lot of time away. They are with their father every other week as school breaks are split 50/50 in most custody agreements.  This is such an odd feeling for me – to be alone and left to my own schedules and desires. Half of me is relieved given that the pace of the last few months has been insane, and I have so much left to catch up on inside my house. Boxes still left unpacked, rooms to paint and organize. But the other part of me is sad a bit. I miss them terribly, and I hate this aspect of divorce. The two homes they have to bounce between, the lack of insight about what they see or do when I am not there and who they are with.  It is what it is though, and life is never perfect. I am trying to embrace the time alone, and my friends are so great about checking in with me and planning a few fun things for us.  I also picked up some editing work which will help fill the time and provide a small boost for my finances after what has been a very expensive year.

On the whole, I am looking at the days stretched before me with hope for lots of possibilities. Being mom feels comfortable, and it’s where I am happiest. But now, I need to get comfortable in the old skin a bit and explore who and what that is to be in the years ahead. I’m grateful the pace of summer leaves time and space for that. And I’m so excited for what lies ahead.

graduation day

Big news in our house this week!  Jude graduated pre-k yesterday with a little ceremony with his classmates.  I snapped a quick picture of the kids before we got in the car in the morning so that I could compare it with last August’s “first day” photo, and it’s hard to believe how much they’ve grown in the past 9 or so months. It’s been such a tremendous time of growth and change for all of us.  And when I see these smiling faces and happy kids, I feel such a swell of peace and pride.

last day of pre-k

As teachers, I think we approach life through the lens of the academic year a bit. January brings a fresh start for most people, but we run along in an August to May pattern sometimes. So to look back at the insane changes that happened this year and what we had before us (unknown to me) last August, it feels SO GOOD to have it all behind me.  We did it!  I can’t wait to exhale this summer.

I took care of a few last minute things in my office on Friday morning, and then I picked up the kids from school at 2:00 – meaning of course that I walked the tiny distance to get them from my campus’s on-site child development center. We walked around a bit to enjoy the weather, and the kids played with the sculptures near the fine arts building as we waited for family to show up for the big ceremony.

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I could write a novel-length post here about how amazing my job is and how much I value my community there and how insanely and divinely perfect this opportunity was for me in light of my current situation.  But I should also mention that the very best thing about my job is that the kids are plugged in right where I am. I’m grateful that they get to see art exhibits or plays or ballets or whatever is happening on campus at any given moment, but I’m also thankful for caring teachers and the sense of community that exists there. I can pop in whenever I’m needed or want to check on something or help with things.  It is such a gift to see these moments in the middle of my workday – birthday celebrations with classes, reading a favorite book, trick or treating on Halloween.  All of it right there with me.  I never take it for granted.

The ceremony was adorable, and Jude received a diploma and a folder showcasing much of his work for the year.  He has grown so incredibly much this year, and I know he’s still little and it’s only pre-k, but you really can’t help but feel unbelievably proud of your kids as you watch them achieve milestones like this one.  He has so much ahead of him and a bright future waiting. I’m excited to watch it unfold.  But for yesterday, I was also just happy to celebrate what he’s done already. Five is such a great age.  The world is wide open for him.

last day of pre-k

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On the whole, as I finish this school year and this stage with my oldest, I’m just feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Yes, there are things that seem pretty unfair and certainly unexpected about this past few months, but those details are fading and bothering me less and less every day. I don’t have to fight those thoughts from my head much anymore as I did in the beginning.

There’s too much happiness and promise waiting down the road for me to dwell on anything else for too long. Everyone has her own road to walk, so to speak – her own path and purpose. Mine feels pretty good lately. I love these kids. I love my community. I love my job. And yesterday, I was so grateful for all of those things and how much they are shaping my life as I know it.

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Cheers to summer! To rest and resetting my thoughts and priorities. To celebrating and appreciating these two kids and my little life. It’s a good one.

mother’s day weekend

It’s 10pm, and the kids are asleep after a full day in the hot May sunshine. We visited a local strawberry farm for their strawberry festival as opposed to just picking berries like we did last year.  The kids were serious about finding the ripest ones, and they had such a good time.

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We left with A TON of strawberries, and I need to get baking this week to do something with them.  The kids also enjoyed time with their cousins who came with us and indulged in face painting and tractor rides and all sorts of fun distractions.  Schlepping kids through a festival in the hot sun always takes some effort, but I am so glad that we did it this year.

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One would think that Mother’s Day without another adult in the house can feel a little weird, I guess. But frankly, it doesn’t feel all that different than the past few years for me. I’ve never had a big celebration or major gifts or breakfast in bed or whatever other images are presented all around us.  This year feels special for a lot of reasons though. Jude is starting to understand it much more clearly. He’s made me all kinds of things – some with the guidance of a teacher or my mother – and lots of other spontaneous drawings and pictures that he explains elaborately to me.  I think he said “Happy Mother’s Day!” with a tight hug at least ten times today, and it’s not even Mother’s Day yet. They’ve been talking about it a lot at school, and he’s entering that age where he loves helping and doing things for other people.

It’s so crazy as my kids get older.  So weird to look at them and see them as little people with their own ideas and opinions. I love it, but it is scary – especially in light of recent happenings for them.  I’m going to be honest in this space and say that every single day I wonder how to handle all of this with them and if they will emerge relatively unscathed.  I worry everyday that the transition is too much and that no source of security here in our own walls can mitigate that confusion. Frankly, I feel lost and overwhelmed pretty often when it comes to answering their questions and explaining what has happened this past few months and why it is happening so fast.

For now, I just keep loving on them and moving on with our routine as we always have.  The one very good thing about their father’s previous travel schedule these past few years is that, to be honest, absolutely nothing in our daily routines has changed in the midst of this. Nothing.  We moved, and the house is different, of course. But I’m still getting them out the door each morning and to school and we eat around our table just the three of us as we always have and enjoy evenings and bedtime routines together just as we always have, and that consistency is helping us all to adjust pretty easily – myself included, I think. There is such comfort in routine.  Such peace in what we know. And if I am being completely honest here, what I know (and have known for these past couple years especially) is my children.

I know every little thing about them. And I’m not special for this. Mothers always do.  It’s knowing what they like and dislike. The names of their little friends and whom they most love playing with on the playground.  Their teachers’ names and school tasks.  Their favorite foods – which can change daily. The music they request on the car radio. But there’s also the physical traits mothers know so well that make me ache these days as I see them changing.  Jude’s legs elongating and his toddler belly disappearing.  His hands lately look like a school boy – no chub as they navigate legos, playground dirt under his fingernails at the end of the day.  Norah’s hair changing texture to feel like a big kid and not so wispy anymore. The list goes on – the cheeks and eyelashes and all the details you carve in your memory as they are cuddled up nursing and rocking at some ungodly hour when they are so new.

In Perfect Match, Jodi Piccoult says, “Sometimes when you pick up your child you can feel the map of your own bones beneath your hands, or smell the scent of your skin in the nape of his neck. This is the most extraordinary thing about motherhood – finding a piece of yourself separate and apart that all the same you could not live without.”  I’m feeling that these days for certain.  They are separate and apart, but a piece of myself that I could not live without.

Early days seem like so long ago now.  I hardly remember the feeling of changing diapers all day and stumbling across a dark hallway in the middle of the night to nurse a crying baby.  And more than that, it is so strange and surreal to think back to that new mom in that house – 2 houses ago now – and that she really had no clue what change and chaos was coming. How ridiculously certain she was in her worldview and expectations. It all seems so hollow now except for the memories with my babies.  They feel like the only real in my life then, and in many ways, they are the most real now.

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I’ve babbled on and on before about how amazingly supportive my friends have been and how I could’t have made it without them. But these kids are the other side of that for me.  They are my compass and my center, and I sometimes think they are the reason for all of it. The past ten years of my life is the only way that these two souls could find their way to me.  I have no idea what the future holds, and I’ve learned enough about life these past 6 months that I know it’s pointless to guess.  But whatever unfolds, these two will be central to it. And for the moment, it is the three of us running along as best we can, and I think we are actually doing alright.

Motherhood is hard. And I am not sure that I do things right every step of every day. But right now, we are doing some very hard things. And we are making it.  They know I love them, and I know they love me in a way that is unique to the three of us and always has been. It’s been a hell of a year, but we are making it. And this weekend I’m celebrating that. To motherhood and all its difficulties – all its gifts, too.  There’s no place I’d rather be than with these two.

and life goes on

I’m finding so much comfort in the little things lately. My happiness jar is a fun way to reflect on what makes me feel joy. But another great distraction lies in my kids.  The funny things they say and do, the way they interact with each other. Every little bit of it heals me lately.

Atlanta weather, as usual, is nuts.  It’s icy this week with school closings, and a couple Saturdays ago, we were at the park with a sunny 68 degrees. I take what I can get these days though.

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Jude’s class also celebrated 100 days of school earlier this month with “Dress Like You Are a Hundred Years Old” Day. He loved it. Such an old soul, this one.

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And Norah is pretty much always my shadow lately. Never a private moment away from her, but I do love this stage. So much curiosity and observation. And a lot of joy.

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I’ve always heard that the divine is felt most in everyday moments, and I’ve written before about how I’ve known that to be true. I’m finding healing begins with these everyday moments, too. Perfection is never found when I think too much or look around. There is so much chaos and disappointment happening in my life right now. But in these little moments here and there? A glimmer of peace and contentment.

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I’m working very hard to trust the timing of my own life and know a bigger plan is in store with brighter things ahead. I don’t feel it all the time or everyday. But sometimes it’s the slightest little tug, like a knock at the door.  A whole new world on the horizon when I get there.

my two

Thank you for all the kind words, emails, and texts since my last post. I do hope to be more specific in the months to come, but for now, keep holding me in your thoughts as 2014 comes to a close. I am not certain I’m ready for all the changes 2015 will bring for me.

I’m realizing we had family photos done almost 2 months ago, and I never shared here. I’m sharing a few of my kids for you to see.

Pro Pics 2014

Pro Pics 2014

Pro Pics 2014

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It’s so crazy seeing them grow older and change with every passing month. This feeling that time escapes me is something I am getting used to, and it’s something I want to focus on countering in the coming year. I feel like I’ve missed so much with them these past few weeks as I focus on other things. It’s a heaviness that I only feel in retrospect. … Realizing I was not listening to that conversation or question Jude asked me because my mind was elsewhere. Knowing I didn’t hold Norah as closely and as long as I could have because I was ready to move on to the next task on my list.  Just the sting of realizing after the moment has passed that you have not been present for it as it deserved.  That has happened far too much lately.

Pro Pics 2014

Pro Pics 2014

And these two?  Of all the gifts I have received, the lessons learned, the grace I’ve been rewarded – they are the thing I am most grateful for.  In all my life.  I sometimes think that absolutely anything – any pain or sacrifice – is worth the reward of knowing and guiding these two.  I hope I can treat that role with as much respect and dedication as it deserves in the coming year.