human being, human doing

In the onslaught of texts I passed back and forth with two friends of mine this summer, one of them said And just think, we’ll remember this as the easy part. We were trading questions and worries about the upcoming school year, and though I knew she was right, I couldn’t truly swallow that fact and sink my heels in the pace of summer like I usually do. As a teacher, my years are marked in summers, and it feels like this one was stolen from me. I “borrowed troubles” from tomorrow as some people say. I was too consumed with questions about what was coming to see the relative ease of what was in front of me. And yet here I am, writing this post hurriedly among the frantic pace of an August weekend when I should be reviewing The Scarlet Letter instead so that I feel ready for Monday.

I started school July 31st. My students came back August 6. My own two kids in the public school system here began the week after that. We are in Georgia, with the highest per capita infection rate in the country, and for the first few days back at work, I felt violated by so much human contact after five months of relatively intense caution. I was watchful of my body temperature and every tingle in my throat. But now, to be honest, I never even think much about getting sick because I’m just too busy moving from one task to another to ruminate on it. This is good, maybe? I’m focused on other things. Or maybe it’s not good at all, and it’s ridiculous that I’m chugging along as usual when most epidemiologists say this isn’t the best idea. Masks are encouraged at my own kids’ school, and most students there wear them. Masks are mandatory at my school, and I enforce them in the classroom. There is extra sanitation and a large portable plexiglass shield that I teach behind. There is that bit of added protection, but at the end of the day, is this a sustainable plan to be in classrooms full of people when infection rates are spiking? Probably not. Right now it just feels like I’m waiting on the other shoe to drop.

We are all having a hard time in this, every single one of us. I am not saying anything you don’t know. It feels pointless to be writing about it when we all know what this chapter feels like, and I’m telling you nothing new. But half the reason I write here is for my own self to look back and know what happened and hopefully see the thread through the larger story that connects all these months and years. So here we go.

This is hard. I have been through hard times before, lots of them. Like that time I started over all together, or that time I lost someone irreplaceable, or that time the ceiling fell in, or just a few months ago when my son was so sick. But this is hard in a different way because I cannot see the end of it, and none of us can. I can’t say when we get to that next season around the corner, things will be fine. Or well things are hard now, but at least we have that trip planned soon or those concert tickets or that dinner with friends next weekend. There is no now and later. There is just now, and it stretches to some unknown end we cannot see yet.

That is hard enough, but add the parenting piece of this equation — the school decisions (or not even truly a decision if you’re a working parent) and trying to constantly choose between their physical health and their mental health as we decide whether or not to participate in an activity or play with a friend. It’s so much to carry everyday.

I heard someone in a podcast this week say that this time is the “Great Pause” that we can use to sift out all the things we don’t need in our own lives. Usually that way of thinking is helpful for me, and I cling to those ideas as a way to search for meaning. But when I heard her say that, I felt an unfamiliar resistance to it. Covid landed in each of our lives at its own time, and like grief, it’s affecting each of us a little differently depending on whatever other things are circulating in our lives. But for me, I can’t help but feel that I paused enough. I’ve sifted enough. I have spent the better part of 2015-2018 pausing and sifting and rearranging my whole life and then spent 2019 doing the heavy lifting and beginning to stretch my arms wide enough to take in whatever was coming for me. When I look back at last year and the amazing ways I stretched and moved — traveling internationally with the kids, spending a monumental week with other writers, finally securing a literary agent, taking a leap of faith to start a new job — it feels like some other lifetime, some other person, some other world where new things were not only possible but the momentum was building and new things were coming. And then this abrupt stop. It feels like I was cheated which is such a selfish thing say when I am healthy and my kids are okay, and as I write this 176,000 Americans have lost their lives. It is selfish to say that, but it is the truth of this moment in time and the way this landed on my particular life, so I will say it anyway and lay it all down here.

I am not sifting and reordering my life much these days, and maybe I’m missing the point by not doing that. But I feel like I have done what I can long ago in that regard, and I know where my priorities lie and what I want. Instead I’m beauty hunting as Jen Pastiloff says, I am looking anywhere I can for inspiration and that nameless feeling that happens when your heart moves a little. I’ve binged television (Outlander and Poldark and then Sex Education and Better Things) and I’ve played new albums on repeat. I’ve tried new recipes. I’ve pulled out old paper journals and read through my ramblings on past years that felt hard, and I have added new words there to mark this one. I’ve stretched creative muscles in lesson planning this past few weeks to try and make each day something fun. Sometimes survival mode is laying on the couch under a weighted blanket for a day and sometimes it’s voraciously searching for artistic inspiration like I’m starving. I seem to waver between those extremes at all times.

Everything about me is changing shape to something without structured edges. I cannot pin down my calendar with any certainty. I cannot tell you where I will be on that spectrum between weighted blanket and artistic hunger. In January when I scribbled in my 2020 journal that my words were allow, soften, create, I didn’t expect to arrive at it this way. I thought it would look a lot more graceful, like some beautiful surrender. But I arrived here nonetheless.

For once, I am not searching for meaning in this challenge. I’m sure it’s there, and maybe one day I’ll see it, but I am not looking for it now. Instead, I’m being more forgiving with my own self. I didn’t accomplish my usual summer list of tasks, and I’m okay with that. I spent July watching more television that I have in years, and I’m not ashamed to write that here. I’ve generally been outrageously cautious, but there were a few times this summer that I broke the rules of distancing to forget, just for a moment, that we are in this chapter of history where we fear closeness to other people and to remember what it feels like to be human. And I don’t regret those moments at all. The kids had a summer that felt a whole lot like 1988, climbing trees and riding bikes, and coming in with layers of dirt caked on their hands from playing in the creek in the woods. It was the summer of no rules and of finding pockets of happiness anywhere we could. For the first time in years, my body feels softer, and my pants feel a little bit tighter, and I think I’m done with resenting that and decided to embrace it instead.

We are in the waiting and life is hard enough outside with the unknown and the scary and the relentless news cycle. I guess in hindsight, though I resisted the urge to search for meaning here, I found it anyway by writing this, and I can see that now that I am arriving to the end of these words. I’ve jumped off the train of productivity because it’s going nowhere right now anyhow. I’ve dropped down from my head space to my heart space and sometimes further still until I’m back in my body again and I remember what it feels like to be a human being instead of a human doing. It is not here to stay, but maybe it’s alright for this one moment in my life to just let it all go.

Notice that.

Week Two of summer vacation is nearly over. By now, I’m used to the rhythm of my summers. One week “off duty” with a quiet house and no demands other than those I impose on myself. Then the next week is a whirlwind of kids and neighbors and pool time and crafts and noise. Rinse and repeat, alternating between both extremes all summer. It’s the perfect balance, and I’m grateful for both extremes — the noise and the quiet. I guess in hindsight I’ve come a long way since that first summer of restlessness. It’s our fifth summer in this house, and we have settled in another layer deeper this year. The kids remember nothing else, and lately neither do I.

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I’m juggling too many things at once (my own doing) in my weeks away from the kids. I get excited about the empty time in front of me to accomplish what has been on the back burner all school year. A few house projects happening at once and a few writing efforts, too. And of course reading two books at the same time as well — Only Love Can Break Your Heart for a dose of fiction and The Body Keeps the Score for my non-fiction itch. Both of these, when I think about it, carry different hues of the same message: the many ways the past can still talk to us and what choices we are left with when we don’t want it to invade the present.

I’m moving faster through the non-fiction work than I expected. It’s an incredible read. Van Der Kolk somehow manages to present his scientific findings and his own valuable experience as a psychotherapist in a way that’s grounded in complex research but readable for all of us. I’ve seen this book mentioned in a million places for years, but I think I needed this particular moment in my life and this specific amount of space from my own past experiences to dive in.

This topic is too huge and too complicated and too personal to paint all of it here for you, but there are small take-aways in his book that are useful for any one of us. His basic premise is that trauma resides in the body and that you can’t think your way past it. You have to look to the body for the gateway to move former trauma out of yourself and reclaim your relationship to the present.

So many of us think of trauma as only the kind with a capital T, the one terrifying, catastrophic moment that happens. Sometimes it is exactly that. But small traumas are stored in the body as well. There are endless examples of these kinds of things — relentless stress in a period of your life that places unreachable demands on you, battling an illness, bullying, betrayal, childhood neglect, the death of someone close to you, situations where someone was deliberately cruel to you or deeply humiliating, etc. Van Der Kolk walks the reader through stories from decades of his own practice that have demonstrated this brain-body connection and given him the tools to help patients move past their own traumas.

We all know that these mind-body-spirit connections exist. You get a stomach ache when you’re anxious. Your pulse races when you’re angry. Your cheeks get pink when you’re embarrassed. But to read his volumes of research and experience on how trauma hides in the body illustrates it in a new way for me. He says, “As I often tell my students, the two most important phrases in therapy, as in yoga, are ‘Notice that’ and ‘What happens next?’ Once you start approaching your body with curiosity rather than with fear, everything shifts.”

Curiosity over fear is a mantra I’m working towards in 2019 anyway, and lately I’m trying to be especially mindful of that concept when looking at my own self and even my own body. Instead of holding self-judgment about something, I’m leaning in with curiosity.  When my pulse races about an imagined future outcome that hasn’t even occurred yet or my heart sinks with that heavy feeling of sadness, I don’t resist it anymore but instead I say notice that and then what happens next? It’s amazing how losing that resistance lessens the power of the thing that was causing me pain to begin with.

I suppose Notice that and What happens next? are good phrases for nearly every challenge in life. I’m in a transitional space this summer as I move from one job to the next. That major change began with my own subtle discomfort and then a few months of giving myself the space to notice what was beneath it. I have no idea what will happen next in the big picture of my life. But I can watch what happens in small moments when I pay attention to what is brewing in my own heart and head.

I’m stretching wider than I have before in the next couple of months with some travel in June and a writing workshop in July. I feel the familiar gnawing voices of fear and anxiety when I stretch wider than a familiar, prescribed circle. I’m working to notice those voices, give them space and look at them with curiosity. But then I just wait with patience for what happens next as I reach beyond what I’ve known before. The beauty always lies just beyond the fear.

 

unknowable appetite

I ran across a word the other day that I don’t hear much anymore – wistful. It’s been ringing in my ears ever since. The dictionary tells us it means full of yearning or desire tinged with melancholy. Always the word girl, I go one layer deeper for a closer look at yearning, and I find a tender longing.

Tenderness, gentleness, warmth.  Longing, craving, pining, wishful, ravenous.

The synonym game always gets me somewhere.

I realized as I unloaded our mounds of sandy laundry yesterday that it is somehow July again already. High summer always finds me square in the middle of this place – this weird restlessness. Maybe it’s the stale heat, maybe it’s that June is a little lazy with my teacher schedule, and then I get itchy for something else. Maybe it is my natural rhythm. I am not sure the answer, but I accept it now. I know it comes in and goes out, and I let it move on through. The July Restlessness, the wistful undercurrent.

I want so many things for my life – things that are crystal clear for me. Goals and aspirations and plans. But under that, there is this other pool of swirling desires that shows up every now and then, and it is something I cannot name. Is it possible to want things to change but also kind of want them to stay the same forever and forever? That is what this time of year does for me.

Childhood is always counted in summers somehow. Last week was the very best of it for us.

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Lazy mornings when we’d drag our things to the beach and stay until late lunchtime. Sandcastle building, seashell hunting, and a million refrains of “Mom, watch this!” Nightly Redbox rentals piled on the sleeper sofa in a tiny condo.

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Vacationing with kids is really just parenting in a different location, but once you accept that and loosen the usual reins a bit, it becomes fun again. Summers mark the passage of time in that way that Christmas does. You know it will come around again, but it is guaranteed to look completely different. It’s like trying to hold water in your hand and watching it flow through your fingers. 

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I have so much time away from them in the summers that it changes the dynamic between us a little bit. We miss each other, I think. I am better at slowing it down knowing that they will walk out the door at the end of the week. Maybe that contributes to this wistfulness, too. More time and space to think about what I want, and sometimes that list is very specific and goal-oriented, but sometimes it is harder to pin down. It is something just barely beyond the reach of where I am.

I’m surprised to find ravenous at the end of the list of synonyms for longing. But ravenous is exactly how I feel sometimes lately. Swallowing books whole, watching films in the early evening hours with a quiet house and a table set for one, podcasts and music (so much Ryan Adams lately) and new ideas and content anywhere I can find them. Hungry for something I cannot name, but words and art always satisfy the appetite.

Desire is a strong force. It unlocks everything for us. Even when it swirls in some unknowable place, it feels good to know it’s here — calling me on to whatever is out there beyond my reach. Or whatever is inside that I haven’t given words to yet.

 

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being before doing

It’s the day after Memorial Day, and summer break is officially here for the kids. It somehow doesn’t feel like I’m on break yet, but they are away next week, and I’m sure my 7-day stream of solitude will let summer’s real feeling come soon enough.

For now, it has been end-of-the-year awards and Boy Scout ceremonies and pool parties and a revolving door of neighborhood friends coming in and out. Popsicles and bare feet. It rained most of the day yesterday, and it is still falling as I type this. The house is a mess of legos and crayons, and I am trying to remember how numbered these days are to prevent my going crazy about the tiny doses of chaos.  I have such high hopes for this summer. Books to read and lines to write and spaces in my life and my house that need a reset. And yet I haven’t done a single piece of that yet because I’m chasing kids and making lunch to clean it up and then making a snack to clean it up and then making dinner to clean it up. And rinse and repeat.

My Richard Rohr emails come every night while I’m sleeping, and I use them to center myself before the chaos of the day. Every week, he takes a different focus, and for a good three years now, I have watched my life unfold in ways that always seem to parallel what he is writing about that particular week.  This week’s focus is on purpose and vocation, and he’s been providing passages from Parker Palmer’s work.

Palmer says, “[My newborn granddaughter] did not show up as raw material to be shaped into whatever image the world might want her to take. She arrived with her own gifted form, with the shape of her own sacred soul. . . . Thomas Merton calls it true self. Quakers call it the inner light, or ‘that of God’ in every person. The humanist tradition calls it identity and integrity. No matter what you call it, it is a pearl of great price. . . .The deepest vocational question is not ‘What ought I to do with my life?’ It is the more elemental and demanding ‘Who am I? What is my nature?'”

I know all of this and have heard it in so many forms and ways, and yet I still forget sometimes. It’s so easy to get caught up in the lists and the goals and the specific hopes and forget the essence of all of it, forget what runs underneath all of that. That who you are is the platform under what you do. That being comes before doing.

Palmer also references Frederick Buchner who insists that vocation is “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” It’s a line that keeps running through my head as guidance for big picture questions – like what is my path – and little moment dilemmas – like how to find a happy balance in these four walls. Where my gladness meets what is needed is where the sweet spot exists. (I re-listened to Rob Bell’s “You Listening to You” last week, and he comments on this as well. My purpose cannot be different than what brings me gladness. God doesn’t design us that way.)

I’m not sure if it is a woman thing or a parent thing or just an aspect of my personality that I can sometimes be a little scared of following gladness for the sake of joy and nothing else. I have viewed it as an extra, a bonus, instead of a guidepost to determine if I am on the right track. I lean in and I exhale and I have fun in the moment, but then it’s easy to roll that soundtrack in the back of your head that tells you that it’s not that simple. But what if it is? I’m not talking about the low level happy pursuits that bounce in and out and don’t linger. But that hum where the real stuff is, that rushing current underneath, the one that’s quiet but real.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this today except to say that this season always brings out the urge to slow it down. Hot afternoons and late daylight and no pressing schedules or school night routines. I’m vowing now to remember the who before the what, the being before the doing. And I guess most of all, just allow myself to follow the gladness and let that guide me. As Rilke says, “Let life happen to you. Believe me; life is in the right, always.”

the long view

I’ve thought a few times about how I needed to sit down to write here, but it is always in passing. When we are in the car and headed somewhere, when I’m chasing them at the pool, stirring something on the stove. Summer is a different kind of busy.

I went on a quick beach trip last week with my mom and my sister – a stretch of coastal highway I have vacationed at a million times before. Every year, it looks different than the year before. New buildings everywhere you look, but a few staples remaining the same. And the ocean never changes, which is why it’s always so soothing to us, I think. Big and vast, inhale and exhale. Farther than you can see.

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It’s weird how much things change, even when parts of them stay the same. I am late to the party on this film, but I finally watched Boyhood while the kids were away as well.  You’ve likely heard by now, but it was filmed with the same actors over a period of 12 years.  The director apparently had a general idea that he wanted to capture one boy’s coming of age from a first grader to a college freshman, and he had the ending shot in mind. But the pieces in between were written as they went along, meeting once a year to review previous footage and film new pieces. All of these moments that are ordinary childhood milestones – birthdays and classrooms and graduations and vacations – seem the opposite of ordinary when you see them presented on the screen like this as part of one boy’s life.

I think part of the reason the movie is so extraordinary is that it forces the audience to take the long view, so to speak. How seldom we do that. It’s human nature to look around at wherever you are and see it as permanent and immovable. Sometimes you look in the rearview mirror and see major moments that unfolded change for you, and sometimes it just creeps up more subtly. But life is changing all the time.

I was revisiting some Pema Chodron last night before bed, The Places that Scare You this time, and a few passages I’d underlined before caught my eye with new meaning now … “Everything is in process. Everything — every tree, every blade of grass, all the animals, insects, human beings, buildings, the animate and the inanimate — is always changing moment to moment. […] Our natural tendency is to seek security. We believe we can find it. We cling to a fixed idea of who we are, and it cripples us. Nothing and no one is fixed.” 

I see what she means when she tells us not to look at ourselves as set and secure and permanently what we are right now, and I’m getting better at that these past few years as changes have forced me to grow and move and transform to something else. But I’m realizing what I need to work on is the realization that others are not fixed either. Who someone was yesterday is not who they are today, and tomorrow will reveal something else. It’s so hard to just leave room to let life move and change around you without gripping tighter to whatever your current perception is.

Yesterday was summer solstice, but the weather was not typical for late June in Georgia. The longest day of the year was clouded and dim and hardly 80 degrees. I woke up this morning to more steady rain outside my window. We end up with a few tomatoes everyday, brought in from the patio and lined up on the windowsill side by side. There’s so much that is good and fresh and lazy and easy about summer. So much time to just be and just rest. But it teaches us patience a little as well. You wait on peaches to ripen until they are exactly where you want them to be before you indulge. You tend and water and pluck and prune and know that your efforts will pay off when it’s time.

I think the thing about getting older is that, even as you sink your heels into wherever you are right now, you know there are other seasons around the corner. You can feel them tugging a little just ahead, reminding you to find what’s good right now because it’s always unfolding to something else.

 

 

summer story

I’m refusing to do that thing teachers do – that summer countdown that we have in the back of our minds that chases us throughout July and August.  It is June 9th around 6:10pm — that’s all that matters, not how much time has passed already or how much we have left. Just right now.

As I type this, the dog is snoring at my feet, and I hear the dryer tumbling with sleeping bags I just unpacked from the car. I spent some time with the kids at a state park a couple hours away, and now I’m home to loads of dirty laundry, sore legs, and a cooler to clean. But it was worth every bit of trouble.

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We arrived just after lunch and unpacked our things and then took off on one of the waterfall hiking trails. I was a little nervous about Norah’s tiny legs handling the rocks and stairs required, but she did so well. It’s funny how something you don’t foresee as a problem brings a meltdown when you least expect it, and every now and then, they can surprise you equally on the other side of things and completely exceed your expectations. Parenting is so unpredictable. I’m learning that more and more as the years roll by. You just jump and hope for the best.

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We spent hours in the woods exploring Cloudland Canyon, making our way over wooden bridges and around rocks piled high and lush green everywhere. The breeze from the water plus the shade made it such a welcome break from the Georgia heat. When we made it to the end of the trail, we decided to stay a while. The kids claimed rocks as their own to sit on while we watched and listened to the falls, and they collected moss and snails in little bug jars before letting them go again on the way back.
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At one point, Jude said, “Mama, this feels like a movie.” It made me laugh, but I knew exactly what he meant. That way that nature can catch you off guard for a minute with just the perfect slant of sunlight or a breeze at the right moment. It makes you want to pinch yourself in that surreal beauty.

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We made our way back to the campsite to roast hot dogs and s’mores and wait on the sun to set. I reserved a yurt, and it was pretty magical for them, I think. Our own little space to hunker down for the night with a few games and toys they brought along. There was a playground in the middle of the campground, and I could see it from where I stood when cleaning up after dinner, so I told them they could go play. There were other kids there from Florida, passing through for a night or two. I could hear them making little introductions and sharing details about their day.  Crickets were loud, and the big full moon was rising, and it was such a simple moment of perfection for me. Here we are – the three of us. These two little humans with their own personalities and their own memories forming.

You can’t always predict what will stick on the surface of their own nostalgia years from now, and who knows if this week’s little adventure will stick for them, but I know it will for me. Sometimes what it takes to find the magic is to strip everything else away, and we did that this week in a way that delivered beyond what I expected.

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We slept to the sounds of the forest and woke up when the sunlight came through to meet us. It was 60 degrees or so this morning – which feels like a vacation from southern heat, even when it only lasts an hour or two. I’d packed some strawberry muffins I’d made earlier this week, and we ate them bundled up on the porch with a little iced coffee I’d packed for me.

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Once we got moving, Jude was begging to explore an attraction or two in nearby Chattanooga, so we spent a little time there before coming home. Sometimes the very best seconds of a summer are the ones you didn’t plan that carefully.

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I ran across a post on Instagram the other day that said something like every summer tells a story, and I reflected a minute to let that sink in and realize it was true. Most of us can look back on childhood or adolescence or college years and define time by certain summers and what they held for us.

Two summers ago, I was flailing through this new life alone and hardly coming up for air in all the itchy discomfort. Last summer was spent with my grandmother, and I have so much gratitude it all happened when I was away from work and could be there, but it swallowed up everything in those months, and I will always look at summer of 2016 as a time defined by her. So now here I am — just here, with these two and the life we know. It took me a long time to get here, and it is not a final destination, but it just feels like such a welcome oasis. It doesn’t take much at all to make it magical these days. I’ve made it through a storm that lasted long enough that I don’t ever think I’ll take for granted times of shelter like this.

The full moon rose to meet us last night as we put out the campfire and went in for bed – another serendipitous event I didn’t expect or plan at all. In old Farmer’s Almanacs, the June full moon is called the strawberry moon, a marker for all the sweet ripening fruit that’s there for the picking this time of year. I couldn’t help but see the connection in my own timing as I laid down alongside Norah last night, her little head on my shoulder and our tired bodies resting after a long day.  This life, this season, feels good and strong and real and true and like nothing else but its own self.  I’ve waited a long time for what is simple and ripe and sweet.  It feels so good just to be here.

rhythm and echo

We are two days away from the end of the school year, and our pace has been non-stop. In a two-week period, I’ve dragged both kids to swim lessons, hosted a birthday party, and attended a pre-k graduation, an elementary school field day, a ballet rehearsal and recital, and a first grade awards day. I guess this is how May works when you have school-aged kids. It’s a lot.

The Georgia weather is heating up, but every now and then, we get a break with some cloudy skies and cool rain. I love where I live always but especially this time of year with so many things to see and do. We’ve been planting summer herbs and flowers this week, and we have a little patio tomato plant the kids check on every day. When dinner time rolls around, I have to work hard to convince them to come in. Late sunsets are driving our rhythm.

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The Dog Days will be here soon enough, but right now, warm sun feels like such a novelty. I am bone tired though. I think the adrenaline of this past month’s events has worn off a bit, and now I’m just exhausted. I have a lot of goals for my own self, but life lately revolves around these two in a way that doesn’t really leave space for my desires. It’s an eternal conflict for moms everywhere, and I’m not alone in this. But boy is it hard to make room for me sometimes.

I’m reading a pretty incredible little book right now called On Living, a hospice chaplain’s reflection on stories her patients have shared with her and her observations of what matters as people ready themselves to cross that bridge. It sounds sad as I’m describing it, but it’s not at all. It’s a reminder in the best and clearest way about what matters and what doesn’t.

The author reveals in an early chapter that she was surprised when she began that role to find that dying people almost always just talk about their families – more so than some big, lofty conversation about spirituality and the great beyond. She claims that people talk about their families at the end because “that is how we talk about God. That is how we talk about the meaning of our lives. […] This is where we create our lives, this is where we find meaning, and this is where our purpose becomes clear.”

This week marks the first anniversary of my Grandmother’s stroke, and the first year of any tragedy is so hard. All those what I was doing last year and what I didn’t know then thoughts bounce around every day. And I’m expecting it to be this way a bit for the next month or so. It was a year ago that I wrote this post, and every word still rings true even though everything has changed.

It seems strange and confusing to be sitting on my patio today watching my two with sidewalk chalk and listening to their laughter with neighborhood friends – knowing that one year ago I was at the hospital and so sad and confused and disheartened. Life moves on, and especially as a mother, it fills up with all these tiny moments like watering patio tomatoes and setting the table and listening to explanations of sidewalk art and playground games. I guess what you eventually figure out is that the little stuff is actually the big stuff.  It grounds us and restores us and even defines us.

Last summer, I saw first hand the role of family as a way to talk about God and meaning and the way we create our lives. I saw how my Grandmother had created hers over decades of all these tiny tasks that probably seemed meaningless in the moment as she was doing them but echo so loudly now that she’s gone. I still hear it everyday.  I want the echo I leave one day to be just as deep and wide.

 

 

mural

It is late July. Almost the end of the summer. How did that happen?

I got the kids back last weekend, and we spent a little time at my grandparents’ house as they helped my Granddad gather corn from the garden. We all have our own associations with passing months and seasons, but this will always be July to me. Hot as Hell and feeling the epitome of the lethargic, lazy days of summer. Plates full of corn and tomatoes. Heads full of thoughts that move a little slower now than they do the rest of the year.

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We fumbled into the car with a bag of fresh corn to shuck at home and a box with a new pet turtle that we kept for a day or two before releasing him to the woods again. I could hear the kids talking with their neighbor friends on the patio when we brought him home, trading elaborate stories about what life is like for the turtle and what sort of family he’d find in the woods.

Our shoulders are pink almost every afternoon, and we are spotted with mosquito bites and exhausted when we finally hit the pillow each night. I love the energy of summer. So much opportunity for imagination in the spaces left by the abandoned schedule.

Jude participated in a little “Drawing and Painting” class each morning this week with our local recreation department. He was so proud of his creations, and I ended up with a heap of fun kid art to display at home.

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They learned all kinds of fun techniques like how to create texture and use hydro-dipping for certain effects. He loves creating things with his own two hands, and it’s inspiring to watch. It’s so satisfying to make something of your own, isn’t it?

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Norah was talking a few days ago with me in the car about my grandmother, asking me if I was still sad. I told her that of course I feel that sadness sometimes, but that I am so thankful I had her at all and thankful for all she taught me. When Norah asked what she taught me and I had to rattle off the list as it occurred to me, I realized that one of the things she showed me is how good it feels to make something. I’ve incorporated these things in my daily life without even realizing it — nurturing the plants on my porch and watching them grow to something bigger than I expected, baking muffins to deliver to the new neighbors, and sometimes when I’m lucky, even doing something tangible like knitting or writing. What we create somehow comes to mean so much more, doesn’t it?

I read Rob Bell’s How to Be Here back in April, and I’m not sure that I ever commented on it here, but it was such a great exploration into what it feels like to be here in the truest sense and make something of your life. He asks, “What would it look like for you to approach tomorrow with a sense of honor and privilege, believing that you have work to do in the world, that it matters, that it’s needed, that you have a path and you’re working your craft?” Our craft is our everyday experience, and I’m seeing this more and more. But actual crafts, actual handiwork, have a place in my life as well. I don’t think I always give that enough credit.

I feel lucky that someone else’s mid-life crisis essentially led to my own mid-life awakening. I see creation everywhere. In my own home, my own life, my own family. What I have to say contributes to something greater, and that sound echos farther than I can ever see or understand.

In that same book, Bell tells me, “How we respond to what happens to us – especially the painful, excruciating things that we never wanted and we have no control over – is a creative act.” I’m seeing that now as I create something new by simply staying open and curious.

I can’t see the whole mural yet, but I think it’s something beautiful.

 

 

 

 

soundtrack

I saw the Indigo Girls last night at the botanical gardens close to home. The amphitheater was fairly small, and listeners brought blankets and chairs to set up in the grass. It was warm, even after the Georgia July sun went down. The moon was bright, and the stars were out.

It was the seventh time I’ve seen them live. And as they began with a song that instantly took me back to 2004, I was telling my friend how crazy it is that it only takes a few opening chords on some of their songs to take me back to very specific moments in my life. “Galileo” and I’m in the back seat of a high school friend’s car while we sing with the windows down and eat Cherry Garcia ice cream we bought at a gas station on the way home from their concert the very first time I saw them. “Fill It Up Again” has me in my little grad school apartment writing papers I feared weren’t good enough and reading all day long on a Sunday afternoon. “Second Time Around” brings memories of a wiggly two-year-old and a big belly with another on the way and the quiet loneliness of a big house in the woods and a husband who was never home. It’s funny how music can do that, right? One chord or one line can take you right back and bring it all up again.

Their music has influenced me like no other, and it’s truly the soundtrack of the past 19 years of my life. They have one liners that work like mantras for me. We are better off for all the we let in.– Truth of the matter comes around one day. It’s alright. — The hardest to learn was the least complicated. — That’s the thing about compromise. Don’t do it if it hurts inside.  The list goes on and on. It swells within me in that place where good art resonates, and their words have woven their way into my own inner landscape and my life story.

As I listened last night, I was struck so much by the ways my life has changed. The long list of things I’ve had to let go. The ways I am still changing. But it feels so good sometimes to exhale and lean back in the arms of something constant.

In her Dear Sugar column, Cheryl Strayed claims, “Eight of the ten things you have decided about yourself at the age of twenty will, over time, prove to be false. The other two things will prove to be so true you will look back in twenty years and howl.” I have changed in immeasurable ways, but as I look back at my life in the grand rearview, I see that really all I am doing is returning. Those things I knew in my core to be true, they are still true. There are a million other things I believed that I now understand are false, but my core?  It’s the same. I’m just coming home.

Music feels like prophecy sometimes. They sang “Love’s Recovery” last night, a song I’ve sung along with too many times to count. I’ve always loved it, but last night she sang, “There I am in younger days, star gazing, painting picture perfect maps of how my life and love would be. Not counting the unmarked paths of misdirection, my compass, faith in love’s perfection, I missed ten million miles of road I should have seen … Though it’s storming out I feel safe within the arms of love’s discovery.” And I heard the story of my recent life in exact proportions. It’s crazy to think about, isn’t it? It’s that strange sense of deja vu that I’ve written about before. Those moments when I feel in my deepest places that I somehow both knew and did not know what would manifest in my life.

I came home alone to my quiet house and climbed in the empty bed with my dog snoring at my feet. I fell asleep to that familiar noise of crickets so loud that you can hear them through the window panes. Summer in the deep south is sweltering and miserable for some; it’s comfort to me.

I’m grateful for love’s recovery and the new discoveries. And the re-discoveries most of all. It feels good to be 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.