gratitude, writing

Stretch

I’ve passed another birthday on the calendar since I last wrote here. 38 now. A year away from the 9-number which always seems heavier somehow than just flipping the official page to the next decade.

I started this blog when I was just celebrating 29. I divorced at 33. I have shed at least a thousand skins in this span of time. To me, that is the strangest thing about aging (so far) — that you just keep becoming these new versions of yourself, refining and evolving all the time. We really have no clue what we will become in another ten years, if we are doing it right.

I felt such a shift this year, though not much changed on the outside. It’s ironic how some years work like that. Things can change on the outside in huge ways and you pass your birthday and feel mostly the same. Or years like this come along where things look mostly the same from the outside view, but I’ve evolved more inside than I have in quite a while — an enormous shift beneath my skin, like pieces of a puzzle moving closer to where they should be or the plates of the earth settling tightly along fault lines. I commented last weekend on my birthday that this is the year that I learned that no ship is coming to save me because I’m already on the boat. It is the closest I can come to explaining what this feels like.

I didn’t set out to be particularly brave as I turn the page to my 38th year, but that is what has happened this past few months anyhow. As the year closed, I finally felt ready to send my book proposal out to literary agents, and that process continues now. In January, I submitted some other writing to a few publications that are a tier above what I have aspired to before. I applied for a couple of summer workshops which is a terrifying concept if I think too much about it — to travel alone to a place where I know no one and sit in a room with writers and instructors and revise my own work according to their observations. But I just took a leap and decided to lean in to something scary. Acceptance rates are low, and it is extraordinarily competitive, but I figured why not. This weekend I’ve worked a little on a submission to a new (to me) academic conference as well. I’m just casting a large, wide net out to the edge of what I’m comfortable with, stepping out on a limb a little farther than I usually do. And now I guess I just wait to see what sticks, see where it all lands me.

This theme is following me everywhere — courage and risk. I’m taking an online course with a group of women, and last week’s focus was on courage and fear. I attended a work event on Friday, our annual Women’s Leadership Colloquium, and heard an author and business expert speak about the behaviors that transform careers and create leaders, and as expected, a willingness to take a risk was the thread that ran through much of the data she presented. The event closed with a chamber choir singing an arrangement of that Eleanor Roosevelt passage where she tells us, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face … You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

I think the thing you think you cannot do looks different for every one of us. And it has looked different for me at different chapters in my life. I can think back to all the moments in my life that rise to the top for me because of their joy or their ecstasy or their beauty or their strength or their reward or just the amazement of it all. Most of them occurred as I did the thing that I thought I couldn’t do. When I pulled my daughter to my own chest in the dimly lit water of a hospital tub instead of a bright operating room. When I went back to work with two toddlers at home and wondered if my brain had shriveled too much to work in academics any longer. When I left a marriage behind, a relationship of 15 years, without any plan or idea of what was ahead for me. When I swallowed my own sorrow long enough to sit with my grandmother in her last weeks and watch with real eyes what was unfolding as she transitioned. And little moments too, the smallest things that can bring the biggest shifts — the conversations I have mustered the courage to have, the essays I have mustered the courage to write and submit.

Spring is here finally. The window is open behind me as I’m typing this, and I can hear neighborhood kids on the trampoline next door. My own two will walk in the door in one more hour, and my quiet house will be noisy again. Every night, the sun is hanging on for just a little longer before setting, and summer is on its way eventually. I am ready to shed another layer — that hardest one perhaps. That one that hangs on longer than you’d like, the fear and trepidation. I want to stretch as far as I can reach, and then stretch a little more, just beyond what is comfortable and one step closer to the horizon beyond what I can imagine. I want to stretch everyday, relentlessly, just one inch at a time, until my span is wider than ever.

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gratitude, Life and Randomness

threshold

The forecast calls for springtime this week, and I turn 35 years old in three days. So much new lies ahead.

Jude’s school celebrated Read Across America last week with a theme each day. Friday was “Dress Like a Dr. Seuss Character Day,” so Thursday night had me painting a t-shirt to resemble Thing 2. (He specified that he preferred Thing 2 rather than Thing 1 for whatever reason.) I ordered a wig on Amazon, and I’m sure it will make a yearly appearance and be shared among both kids in the years to come as this seems to be a regular thing. I was on spring break last week, so we could take a leisurely walk to the bus stop that morning, and the sun was parting the clouds a bit. He was so happy to be doing something special. Routine is what keeps me sane, but little celebrations and moments where we reach beyond the ordinary can encourage and energize us so much, too.

DrSeuss Day! DrSeuss Day!

I’m a planner. I know this about myself, and I genuinely cannot remember a time when that wasn’t true. I’ve always been a forward-thinker, and motherhood has only multiplied that exponentially. I make a list every Sunday detailing what we will eat the entire week. I can look ahead on my calendar and tell you what I’m doing weeks from now. The minute one of the kids gets sick, I go into planning mode and think ahead to my week and when I can take off and when I can’t and start making plans to make the delicate balance of our lives make sense in the chaos.

As I’m typing this, I hear the hum of the dryer tumbling laundry, and I’m cooking a chicken in the pressure cooker. And in the back of my mind is the constant soundtrack of what else I need to do this afternoon. It’s always a tightrope I’m walking. Juggling balls in the air to accommodate a job and students and kids at home and the million little things like an oil change or a visit to the accountant at tax time or a follow-up email that is still waiting to be written or the kitchen floor that desperately needs mopping. It’s easy to sometimes worry that one little thing can knock it all down like dominoes. The dance has persistent potential for chaos.

I’m hoping to get better at a few things in my 35th year. And one of those is to allow myself to stop planning in those rare moments of rest, to turn off the “mom brain” and just let it come to me as it will. The little tasks have to be crossed off the list, but I’m hoping to make a conscious effort to bring mindfulness a little further into my daily life. Forward thinking has to happen to get by from week to week, but there is so much value in the here-and-now.

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Norah and I were playing around with my phone camera last week, and I was struck my how different we look and feel in those photos – when compared to how we looked and felt just a couple of short years ago. She is nothing like a toddler anymore. All pre-school kid. I’ve got some laugh lines that are creased a little deeper than they used to be. I’ve weathered a few storms in this season of my life and learned lessons I couldn’t have learned any other way. I’m watching the landscape of my face change as my heart gains folds and creases, too. But I’m okay with it. I’m okay with learning and growing and changing, and I wouldn’t turn back to 25 if given the chance. Today feels so much better than a decade ago, and I know myself in ways I certainly didn’t before. I’m on the threshold of something new, I think. And that’s how I want to feel forever and forever.

There’s a quote from the film version of Michael Cunningham’s The Hours that sets me on fire in the best way every time I hear it. One character is asking her own midlife questions and explains to her daughter, “I remember one morning getting up at dawn. There was such a sense of possibility. You know, that feeling. And I remember thinking to myself: So this is the beginning of happiness, this is where it starts. And of course there will always be more…It never occurred to me it wasn’t the beginning. It was happiness. It was the moment, right then.”

That thrill of possibility is it. That big empty page. And I don’t think you have to abandon that feeling when your life is more solid and contained within particular perimeters. We can always hold on to that. But now, at the dawn of my 35th year as I cross the threshold to the second half of this decade for me, I feel grateful for this season that reminds me so tangibly what it feels like to dwell in possibility. I have things to write that I haven’t written yet. Places to go that I’ve never been. I have feelings to feel that I haven’t felt yet. So much awaits.

birthday letters

Year Three: A Letter

Norah,

You are three today, and as usual, I’m not sure how it happened. I blinked, and you are here. Potty-learning far behind us, talking clearly to anyone and everyone who will listen – including grocery store clerks, strangers in line with us, waiters in restaurants. You are three going on twenty-three lately.  When we leave for school each morning, you apply lipstick you steal from my bathroom, choose your own accessories, and grab a purse with a tiny toy cell phone and sunglasses.  You request Katy Perry and Taylor Swift on the radio, and your dancing never stops. For all the times I swore I’d never have a prissy girl, you are proving me wrong.  Determined to be your own person and reminding me everyday that you are an independent being separate from me and unlike anyone else I know.

Untitled I have a feeling I’m in for it, so to speak, when you enter adolescence. But in my view, my greatest goal is not to teach you obedience as your chief characteristic but to teach you how to really care for others in kindness and listen to your own voice above all the other noise. Your spunk is my favorite thing about you. It doesn’t always make our days easy, but if there is anything I’ve learned in the last year of my life, it’s that grit and determination will push you through the hardest trials. And though it pains me to say this to you now, there are hard things in your future. They are there for all of us, and the best you can do is plow through. For now though, I’m grateful to watch you enjoying the little things everyday, oblivious to the bitter or boring tasks of grown-up life. You have been such a comfort to me this year, food for my spirit even in my most exhausted moments.

Untitled Your joy is contagious, and your humor is unmatched of any other kid your age that I’ve known. You’re learning already how to time your jokes in a way that can make your brother laugh, and the two of you are a tight pair. Your possessive way of referring to him as “my Jude” makes me feel like I must be doing something right in my home. I worry a lot that I’ve been in such a mode of survival this year that I’ve forgotten about the art of mothering, so to speak. It’s been mostly just one foot in front of the other for me lately. But we’re emerging as quite the team, the three of us. There’s a lot of love here, and I’m grateful I get to watch you share it with us.

Untitled I’m not sure how much, if anything, you will remember about this time in your life, but I have no doubt that it still leaves an indelible mark. I’m trying to model for you the things I want you to know one day – perseverance and responsibility, honesty and vulnerability, love and loyalty, and most of all a joy that is not reliant on material things or outside circumstances. Happiness in the moment is fleeting, but true joy is something else entirely. You inspire that joy for me everyday, and I pray I can return that favor with the understanding and comfort that only a mom can give.

Tea Time You’ve grown up so much this year. You love school and are a social butterfly with your little friends. You are beginning to better understand abstract concepts, and you have an amazing memory that is very inconvenient sometimes. I’ve learned already that if I promise you something in the moment, you will not forget it.  Days or weeks can pass by, and you’ll still be reminding me I owe you something. It’s both impressive and frightening, and you don’t miss a thing. You have such sharp observations of the world around you, and your social awareness is extraordinary.  You are blooming in your own little way so different from your brother or anyone else. It’s incredible to watch it happen.


Pro Pics 2014

You are honest in the most brutal ways these days, and though the usual toddler shouts or tantrums can wear me out, I feel good knowing that you feel enough safety and comfort with me to show when you are angry or upset or disappointed. I wish for us that it will always be this way – that you’ll tell me when you’re sad and why you’re angry and show me even the darker corners of your heart because some days they are there for all of us. There’s a lot of companionship to be had between mother and daughter, and I’m so lucky to have you. It’s tea parties and baby dolls and playgrounds for us now, but I know school worries and friend advice and broken hearts and all the hard stuff comes later. But know that our way of being together – my love and acceptance of you in your ugly toddler moments – that’s not going anywhere. Family is for helping each other move through even our ugliest times, and moms never stop catching you in those moments and feeling what you’re feeling.  This is hard when you are sad or angry and I feel it, too. But to witness your joy and feel your enthusiasm is the greatest gift of my life right now. Everything else suddenly feels a lot less complicated or overwhelming when I’m in the simplest of moments with your brother and you.

Untitled You are so many things in your third year – independent but still attached and cuddly, sweet and soft but with a backbone of steel and an unbendable will, carefully observant but active and curious. Above all, you are simply Norah – in all your quirks and qualities. And I cannot imagine life in my little family of three without you.  From the moment you arrived with such a special birth, you’ve been teaching me that I’m capable of hard things. You are doing that for me now as well. Any moment my confidence shakes or my spirit feels broken from life’s storms, your sweet smile reminds me why I’m here and how the simplest little moments can fulfill our divine purpose on any given day.

Untitled I love you, Norah. Life has great things in store for you. If there’s one thing I know for sure in all of life’s uncertainties, it’s that I was meant to be your mother. I’m so grateful your little soul made its way to my belly and through my body, and now I get the honor of watching you grow and move mountains in a way that only you are meant to do. Happy Birthday, big girl.

Love,

Mama

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I write birthday letters to each of my kids on their birthdays to give them when they are older. For now, I also post them here as well. You can read my others here.

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Holidays and Parties, Jude

Our Pirate Party

Jude has been nothing short of obsessed with “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” for the better part of the past year or so.  Truth be told, I don’t mind it that much.  It’s Disney and it’s cute and there could be much worse things to watch.  So when he wanted a pirate party this year, I jumped on board.

We invited only family and a couple of close friends this time.  I know everyone has her own ideas of how to do birthdays, and that’s fine.  Whatever works for your family.  But for us, it feels like the first couple of years are all about the parents in a way.  I mean it’s obviously about the baby or toddler, but at the end of the day, parents and loved ones are the ones celebrating the milestone.  The one or two-year-old has no clue what’s going on.  But as kids grow older, it seems best to ask what they want and how they want to celebrate.  Jude wanted a pirate party with a few friends, so that’s what we did.  It was fairly low key and laid back, and with my being back at full-time work, that was a good thing anyway.

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We had party sandwiches (these simple ones) with pirate flags I found on Amazon. I added fruit and cheese, chicken tortilla soup from the slow cooker, cupcakes, and the apple cake I’ve blogged before, plus I threw some chocolate coins on the table as well. And of course, I copied Pinterest with some pirate bananas.

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The weather was perfect for soup, and it really feels like fall finally arrived here in Georgia. Actual sock weather and a real need for a jacket!  Jude had a blast and was really excited about every little thing with the party. He really understands birthdays in a way he didn’t get last year, I think.

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The cupcakes (with toppers I found on Etsy) were the same chocolate cake with buttercream that I do for every single birthday party since the dawn of time, but he loved them… and had way too many of them.

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On the whole, it was a great time, and a perfect party for our little pirate.

Life and Randomness

thirty.

I am thirty years old today.

And I have typed a little here on this page just to backspace and delete every single time. As is the case with most other monumental occasions, it’s hard to decide exactly what to say, to put your own feelings and ideas into words.
thirty

I’ll say something I didn’t expect to say: I’m happy to be at this number.  Your twenties are such a glittery decade, but I feel like I’m ready to turn the page.  When you reach the next step concerning life or career or education or age or whatever, you can’t help but look back and think about what you learned and how you’ve changed. So I hate to be all I-know-everything-now-that-I-am-older about things because surely I don’t. Surely I’ll look at this post sometime later and laugh at my naivety and what I didn’t know, but that’s the joy of life – growth and change and gratitude along the way.  Nevertheless, a list of 30 things I’ve learned in 30 years:

  1. I’ve learned that you can wait around for your life to start, but really , this is it. Wherever the this is for you right now, it won’t happen again. There have been moments, I’m ashamed to say, when I thought when I graduate, things really begin.  When this semester is over, I can do that.  When we move, life will be different.  Blah blah blah.  In the words of Wordsworth, “To begin, begin.”
  2. I’ve learned to be what you are. Even if you’re not tan or you don’t wear heels or you aren’t always where you expected to be.
  3. I’ve learned that people should wear sunscreen.
  4. And eat more vegetables.
  5. I know that travel is the best reset button for any amount of monotony or restlessness.
  6. Give me a movie with thick British accents and some period costumes, and I’m a happy girl.
  7. Every now and then you should do something just because you feel like it.
  8. But life definitely isn’t only about what you feel like doing.
  9. I’ve learned that I love literature, and I don’t care that you think it’s nerdy.
  10. I love poetry, and I don’t care that you think it’s pretentious.
  11. While we’re at it, I also love Simon and Garfunkel.
  12. And slow, sad movies that make you cry.
  13. I know that I don’t like roasted red peppers.
  14. Or cantaloupe.
  15. I know that cooking dinner is my favorite part of the day, and I use real butter and heavy cream, and I don’t care that they’re not fashionable right now.
  16. I know that, at the end of the day, there aren’t many things that a glass of Cabernet and a long bath can’t fix.
  17. I’ve learned that creating something feels so good.
  18. Cooking dinner with a glass of wine and good music on the stereo is an unfiltered, heavy dose of happy.
  19. Food is far more than sustenance.
  20. Live music is good for you.
  21. Teaching is a profession you can love and hate at the same time.
  22. Kindness usually pays off.
  23. It’s sometimes really hard to be honest or genuine, but good people are always attracted to the “real” in someone.
  24. I know that life isn’t fair, but the happy outweighs the sad.
  25. To be more specific, there have been some painfully unfair elements about my own little life, but it’s a happy one nonetheless. I am still a lucky girl.
  26. I’ve learned that there are many types of love, so many different manifestations.
  27. Loving someone, with any type of love, is the best feeling in the whole world.
  28. I know that birth is a heavy transformation.
  29. I know, with all certainty, that of all the incarnations I’ve been, of all the hats I’ve worn, motherhood is clearly the best. It is fulfillment and wonder every single day, and it drowns out all the white noise in my life.
  30. I’ve learned that those tiny, seemingly insignificant moments actually emerge as the most powerful for me, the most meaningful of my life.  So stressing and pontificating over milestones like this one are really useless tasks.  It’s all the everyday life in between these things that gives me meaning.

So I’ll leave it at that.  Life is calling my name – the fun stuff and the boring stuff.  And I’ve got no time to think about younger years when my ass was tighter or my days were more carefree, except to be grateful for them.  I’ll pack them up and move right along to this new place.