Books

a line between this and that

I’ve finished Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things this weekend after beginning it over the holiday break. I flipped the last few pages last night, long after I should have been asleep. I was sad to finish it. Don’t you love it when that happens with a book? I was sad to turn the last page and put it away, but I will return to this one again and again.

There are numerous letters and stories and quotable paragraphs in it. It is impossible to choose only one to hold as a favorite.

I think the thing that pierces me so deeply about this book is her belief and her many examples of both knowing and not knowing the things that present themselves in our lives. It’s so hard to put this into words– the surprise yet the deep-down understanding– but she manages to say what I am feeling so often these days.

These full circle moments happen in life sometimes. If we pay attention, we see them.

She explains in one letter, “There’s a line by the Italian writer Carlo Levi that I think is apt here: ‘The future has an ancient heart.’ I love it because it expresses with such grace and economy what is certainly true—that who we become is born of who we most primitively are; that we both know and cannot possibly know what it is we’ve yet to make manifest in our lives.”

Do you feel that sometimes? That we both know and cannot possibly know what will manifest in our lives. I do. I feel it all the time, and in hindsight I have felt that in the past about my current reality.  It’s like these strangest sensations of deja vu, but not exactly. I’m not sure I’m explaining myself well tonight as it’s late and I’m tired and these moments are so hard to put into words.

It’s beyond hard to explain, but I am feeling so clearly that I’m where I’m meant to be.Where I’ve always been destined for, though it was such a painful bend in the road to make it to this spot. It’s what she describes as being “surprised and knowing at once.” And I’ve felt it enough times in my life to see the beauty in it, the wonder.

When I heaved and moaned in that bathtub and brought my squinting daughter in the world, it was the most surprising but known moment of my life at that point. The thing I didn’t think I could do, but when I did it, I realized I knew all along that it was going to happen exactly as it did in that instant. I always knew.

When I teach now in a classroom where I sat sixteen years ago – I am surprised and knowing at once. A moment I never saw coming, but somehow it feels so real and worn-in and familiar that it had to be that way.

When I lie down at night cuddled between these two and it is only the three of us, it seems. Only the three of us in the entire world. It feels like it always was that way, yet it is something I never expected – to be alone with them with no real plan as to where we are headed. Just the here and now.

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There are other moments, too. Too many or too intimate to share. Moments when life hands you such full circle perfection that it brings you this low hum of knowing underneath the surprise. A vibration that you can feel if you are still enough to notice.

I think this is what people mean when they say you are where you’re meant to be. It doesn’t always fill our ideas of what we thought we wanted, but underneath the shock or the pain or the confusion, it’s a calm surrender and a comfort. A voice that wraps us up in the smallest way to tell us we are on the right path.

In one of my favorite columns in this same book, she explains what it felt like to see her daughter wearing a dress purchased by her mother before her mother passed, one she’d saved for years in a box though she couldn’t decide why it needed saving at the time. And she says upon seeing her daughter in it, she could only think, “How beautiful. How ugly. How little. How big. How painful. How sweet” and then realizes, “It’s almost never until later that we can draw a line between this and that.”  How true that is.

I think I look calm on the surface to others, but in reality, when I look ahead, I am filled with immense anxiety. It is something I’m working on and wanting hard to change about myself. When I have a few days that are especially busy or filled with “future-oriented thinking” as my therapist likes to say, I can get a knot in my stomach that will not soften. A tremor in my hands, truly. The busy nature of day-to-day life plus the unforeseen status of what lies ahead for me (after years of what I assumed was a secure and held future) is a cocktail for mayhem on my nervous system. It is a physiological reaction I can feel when this happens, and it’s easy to get trapped in that scary and circular pattern of thinking. What now? What is next?  What now? What is next?  What now? What is next? 

But when I sit down to write, or I take a minute to think about my past and reflect on how it is intersecting with my present, I “draw the line between this and that” as Strayed says, and it brings a tangible calm to me that soothes every bit of what makes me quiver and hold fear in the pit of my stomach. It’s like a voice that says, this is not how you thought it was going to happen, but it’s how you knew it was supposed to be. It’s what I already knew.

In the closing paragraph of that same chapter she asserts,“We cannot possibly know what will manifest in our lives. We live and have experiences and leave people we love and get left by them. People we thought would be with us forever aren’t and people we didn’t know would come into our lives do. Our work here is to keep faith with that, to put it in a box and wait. To trust that someday we will know what it means, so that when the ordinary miraculous is revealed to us we will be there, standing before the baby girl in the pretty dress, grateful for the smallest things.”

The ordinary miraculous. It’s such a beautiful thing. And I see it everyday, I do– sometimes even in the biggest moments that make me catch my breath with their perfect unforeseen familiarity. But the hardest part is putting uncertainties in a box to wait. The waiting is hard.

 

 

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Books

written word

Jude has been working on phonetic sounds for quite some time, but we had a big moment last Tuesday night at our house. He read a book to Norah and me for the first time. For this English Professor mom, that is right up there with the very biggest accomplishments. It’s the beginning of so much, kiddo!  I’m excited to see where the written word will take him, the ways it will encourage him to expand and grow throughout his life.

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Books saved my life this year. Not that I would be dead without them in the literal sense, but I would be stagnant and stale – which to me is the definition of death and despair even if you are still breathing.

This week, I got Cheryl Strayed’s latest work in the mail which is actually a compilation of quotes from her previous publications and interviews. It’s easy to flip through and packaged like a handy little portable life guide –  the perfect gift for graduations and birthdays and such. I think I’ll be passing this one on a lot in the future.

In the preface to the book, she explains her lifelong affinity for quotes: they “don’t speak to one particular truth, but rather to universal truths that resonate … they lift us momentarily out of the confused and conflicted human muddle. Most of all, they tell us that we are not alone.”

If you walked in my house, you’d see how much I agree with her. Words everywhere. Scribbled on notes on my fridge. Hanging in frames on my walls. Stamped on cards in a stack on my bathroom counter. And even tattooed discreetly on my body. I find it nearly impossible to read a book without writing notes in the margins, highlighting passages, and dog-earing pages. I have books I revisit like old friends and sentences I read again and again like a meditation.

I guess in hindsight, I was bound to be an English teacher and a writer. I really can’t see myself doing anything else.

But this year, it seems as though books crossed the line from casually inspiring me to essentially serving as my life raft, something to cling to when everything else was swirling and beyond my control. They are reminders that others have done things similar to or far more difficult than what I’m doing now and that there is value in suffering — meaning to be found amidst the madness. And because of books, I feel like I am finding that meaning everyday, even as life is smoothing out for me a bit now and I’m healing.

I’ve already passed on certain pages of Strayed’s latest work to a couple of friends of mine who are encountering their own challenges right now, and I can’t help but share when I read something that I know would resonate with someone else. Nothing makes me smile more deeply than when a friend reads something and passes it along to me to say, “This made me think of you.”

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It’s simply human connection. And that’s really what it’s all about anyway, why we read and write, why we study literature. I feel as though my first task as a teacher is to teach my students to communicate effectively, but my very next task – a close second to that one – is to teach them to broaden their perspective, to glean wisdom and advice from the multitudes of people who have come before us. Billy Collins once said that all literature is about the very same thing, “Life is beautiful. Then you die.” He’s right actually. Every novel or poem or memoir touches on that very idea, but there is so much richness in that one sentiment. When we share the human experience, we see that there is unimaginable beauty and wisdom in the gray areas of life. Absolutes don’t exist.  Humans are complicated. And life is long and unpredictable and messy.

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And that’s really what reading has done for me in my past year. It’s allowed me to feel like I am simply a part of the human experience by feeling what I feel, rather than the message society often screams at us which is that you only suffer when you did something to deserve it or when you feel too much too deeply. Books reaffirm that I shouldn’t run away from feeling and questioning because feeling and questioning are the catalysts that will change your life. That is a universal truth.

Voices around us tell us that we are doing it wrong if we feel sad or lost or broken. Literature tells me that brokenness is just when I know I’m doing it right and that joy can reverberate like a bass note under all that mess.

Books, divorce

ramblings on love and marriage

As I’m looking at the last few weeks of summer, I’m seeing that I’ve focused most of my reading efforts on non-fiction this summer. That’s a change from what I used to read, but I’ve gained a better appreciation for it in the past few years as I’ve been teaching composition classes.  In addition to that, it helps me to write better as well, I think.  And of course it encourages me beyond measure to read about someone’s life challenges and how he/she overcomes it and evolves to be better and stronger.

This week, I’ve read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed — which is part love story and part history of the institution of marriage.  I found myself underlining so many passages and nodding in agreement. I feel some guilt for saying this, and I am fully aware that it casts a shadow on my former marriage, but I was just telling some friends days ago that I know with all certainty that my life is easier now than it was a year ago. Easier.  Think about that.  I am a single mother, the only adult in the house with two children under six years old. It’s the dreaded outcome for so many, and there are things that are undoubtedly heavier – finances, the lack of security in reference to my future as I have no idea what lies ahead – but speaking strictly in terms of my day-to-day life, it is easier without a husband.

I can’t believe I just wrote that aloud here, but that’s the truth as I’m experiencing it right now.

I’ve been rolling this realization over and over in my head trying to make sense of it. I mean all relationships (and especially marriage) are work, right? So is it a bad thing that it was more work when I was with him? Do all wives feel this way and if I remarry, I just have to get used to that?  But as I’m reading this book and talking with friends about their own experiences, I’m seeing that the answer to those questions is an undoubted NO.  A relationship is work, certainly. But it should not be a constant demand for more work and effort on your part with little payoff for emotional connection and happiness. That’s the hard truth of it as I reflect on the past few years of my life.

I know many people think it doesn’t really matter if the child-rearing and domestic chores are unbalanced in a relationship, and to be honest, I didn’t used to think that mattered either. It makes it even more complicated for me because I love so many aspects of domesticity – I love to cook, I love making a home, I love tending to sick kids (well better than the alternative of having someone else tend to my sick kid).  But in hindsight, I established this pattern in my former life when I did every single one of those tasks every single day along with other things that became my” duty.”  It began with the insistence that these things were my “job” because I was choosing to quit work and stay at home with my son, but of course as a whole new person was added in the mix with a second child and then a full-time job was added as well, no responsibilities changed at all. They just grew and grew. Combine this with some very heavy work travel for the other adult in the house, and I can’t believe I made it as long as I did, frankly, and with my mental fortitude somewhat in tact.  If I am being honest here about some things I have never written about before, my mental fortitude was hanging by a thread.

My anxiety had slowly increased in the last two years of my marriage, and it would flare and subside with no easily identifiable pattern. I thought it was because I was a mom of two small children and every mother must feel that way.  I countered it with healthy approaches like meditation tracks on my podcast queue and natural supplements and unhealthy approaches like trying to control my food to an almost extreme obsession which I can even see here in my archived posts as I look back. It came to a head last fall when I ended up with a mild (as ulcers go) stomach ulcer and an almost constant quivering in my belly that made food hard to keep in for long. I was up at night unable to sleep, crying in the bathroom at 2am.   Or crying to my spouse on the phone at 7:30 am as he was states away in a hotel with the woman he’s now set to marry, and I was driving to work and looking at another string of days caring for kids alone and trying to do all the things I was expected to do.  It felt like living in a vacuum.

It ramped up so severely and so quickly that I sometimes feel like perhaps my body and intuition were warning me early last fall of what was set to explode in November, but I don’t know. Maybe it’s not that mystical, and I was just a nervous wreck.

But here’s the weird thing: I am not a nervous wreck now. Our bodies talk to us and the brain manifests itself in a physical manner often, and if you don’t respond to a whisper, the universe sends you a scream. I had whispers for years I never responded to. That’s the honest truth.

So friends and family are sometimes commenting recently –and especially back in the spring –that  they can’t believe I am doing so well in my current situation and seeming to adjust quickly, and the missing piece that answers that puzzle is that I cannot think of a single daily activity that I do now that I didn’t do before. Not one. [Emotionally I am a different story; I’ve had to paddle my way through some deep waters to start the process of figuring it all out and healing.] But in regards to the simple daily routines? It’s exactly the same. And maybe even easier because I get the occasional weekend to reboot and catch-up when my kids are gone, and I don’t have to satisfy someone else’s demands for what he wants me to be on top of the motherhood tasks and domestic lists.

I don’t want to come across as pointing fingers or blaming all of this on my former spouse either. I take full responsibility for establishing that pattern and allowing it to leave a trail of stress and emptiness behind it without seeing it as the issue it was. Writing something down always grants it power, and I’m giving that weight by saying it here. I hold myself accountable for not seeing and addressing that the little things were crushing me, and in all honesty and in hindsight, they were making me feel less valued and appreciated and increasingly disrespected in my own home. It was my job to show up for my own life and address it, and I didn’t.

But back to my original direction with this post, Gilbert’s book left me feeling validated on my feelings about the role of the little things in a household and the effect it can have on marriage and happiness. As Gilbert sadly concedes, “To get anywhere close to unraveling this subject – women and marriage – we have to start with the cold, ugly fact that marriage does not benefit women as much as it benefits men. I didn’t invent this fact, and I don’t like saying it, but it is a sad truth, backed up by study after study” (166). She then goes on to explain that married men accumulate more wealth, report themselves as happier, suffer less from depression, and even live longer than single men. Married women? The reverse is true…. They accumulate less wealth and do not thrive in their careers as much as their single counterparts, are more likely to suffer depression than single women are, and are less healthy and do not live longer than single women. All of this is supported by research and sociologists even have a name for it: The Marriage Benefit Imbalance. And if you think this research shows grim results in other god-forsaken places, but not in modern America, you are wrong.

Ladies!  Can we think about that for a minute?  Am I saying marriage is terrible and I never want to do it again? Absolutely not. But as a societal institution, even in the modern world in these modern times, it is not beneficial for us in the traditional model. And maybe you are okay with poorer health and less happiness and a greater propensity for anxiety and depression because you are blinded by love for that incredible husband and will do anything to make him happy. I am not in that position at all.

It seems as though when you are young, or when I was young anyhow, I was blinded more by youth and idealism than anything else. The thought that if you love one another, the marriage will never falter and that someone will never betray you and you will never betray yourself by getting lost in all of it. Truthfully, I think there are couples who go on like this for eternity. They are either the lucky ones or the blissfully ignorant ones – I’m not certain which way I see it yet. Or maybe they don’t exist, and these women lie in bed at night counting the ways they threw away their own fulfillment on that particular day and turned themselves inside out to make others happy. I am not talking so much about career vs children here (the debate that gets all the attention), but about true partnership and true equal ground that allows another adult to see you as you really are and value your contributions to the world and to your own household. It felt like infidelity issued some unforeseen blow on my marriage like a sledgehammer with no warning, but now as the dust settles and I look back, I see I had no partnership. Nobody to talk to everyday who saw me for what I really was and weathered the little moments with me. Much of this was circumstantial as I was the lone adult much of the time and had no one to talk to everyday about anything at all for that matter.  But circumstantial or not, it is what it is.

So where does this leave me on the prospect of marriage again? I don’t know. I know I won’t take it lightly or impulsively, and I won’t enter into a partnership with someone who does not contribute daily to all the million tiny things it takes to run a family. I guess you can never say never, but it would shock me beyond all belief if I ever embarked on a marriage again with someone who traveled regularly for work. Marriage is not the highs and the holidays; it’s the Tuesday night dinners and the Thursday morning coffee, and the million tiny moments that happen in daily life. And to be frank and hold myself accountable for the past few years, let me say without question that by that definition, I had no marriage at all.

It’s a fine line taking responsibility for your role in something yet refusing to beat yourself up about it. Should I have been clearer in my cries for help and been honest that I was drowning under the weight of someone’s expectations and feeling unseen and disrespected? Absolutely. Does that justify all the injustices done to me? Probably not. But both sides of the committed sins have illuminated lessons for me.

In Committed, Gilbert states, “To ask a twenty-year-old girl to automatically know things about life that most forty-year-old women needed decades to understand is expecting an awful lot of wisdom from very young person” (105).  Or as Maya Angelou said so famously, “When you know better, you do better.” And next time I will. Next time I will show up for my own life from the very beginning and expect someone who sees and respects me for who I am and what I do and helps me pull the weight of life because he wants to, not just because I ask it.

Some lessons take time, I think. And Gilbert alludes to this as well when she explains falling in love with her second husband and how that was different from her marriage at 25 years old. …. “It was not an infatuation and here’s how I can tell: because I did not demand that he become my Great Emancipator or my Source of All Life, nor did I immediately vanish into that man’s chest cavity like a twisted, unrecognizable, parasitical homunculus. During our long period of courtship, I remained intact with my own personality and allowed myself to meet Fellipe for who he was….To this day, I refuse to burden Fellipe with the tremendous responsibility of somehow completing me.  By this point in my life, I have figured out that he cannot complete me, even if he wanted to. I’ve faced enough of my own incompletions to recognize that they belong solely to me. Having learned this essential truth, I can now tell where I end and where someone else begins” (106).

There are so many things I am learning for sure in my current season. First is that you cannot learn and grow in the truest sense without time alone to reflect. And secondly, you cannot love someone else or even be loved in return in a way that truly fulfills you when you don’t recognize where you end and where that person begins. It’s my responsibility to see myself for what I truly am, call it what it is (even if those words are ugly like anxiety and unhappiness), and show up for myself in the truest sense.

Books, divorce, gratitude

waking up

My kids are home with me after a week away.  For once, the time without them did not drag by slowly last week.  I took dance class two nights in a row (sore muscles to say the least), finished up an editing project I’d taken on for extra income, and did a little reading and writing of my own choosing as well. I got some incredibly encouraging news on the freelance writing front with a submission that was accepted quickly, and I hope to expand on the details for that when it is published.  It’s been a goal of mine to submit some personal essays to a few publications for quite some time, so this gives me the motivation to keep writing and keep submitting.  On the whole, it was a really great week.

I’ve heard of Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart for years, and a good friend of mine mentioned it yet again recently, so I decided to pick it up this weekend.  It’s a quick read, and I settled in one afternoon to read most of it in one sitting and then finished it up Sunday morning.  I’m getting better at enjoying the perks of solitude.  A quiet house, cooking a solo dinner of my own choosing, reading for pleasure more than I have in ages, or even small gems like having a house relatively clean and listening to music at my own whim.  These things don’t make up for the kids being gone, and I am happiest for certain when we are together, but I’m finding that recognizing the positives of my situation is helping me to ease into it a little deeper and not long for this season to be over.  This summer is also affording me so much time to think and reflect on the past decade of my life, and I can’t begin to describe the difference that is making in my ability to process things positively and move forward to make things better.

This recent change of perspective relates to Chodron’s book as well.  It’s hard – especially now with social networking to let us know what others are up to – to rest in your own imperfections and your own transitions and not feel lame or worthless.  People are in performance mode almost always, and I know that.  But I fall for it everyday and have to shield its impact a bit from myself if I can.  I see it with friends and acquaintances – and yes even strangers – on the internet.  I see it with my children’s father who is excitedly planning a wedding that is only three months away and relishing in a lot of happiness right now. I see it everywhere.  But the point Chodron makes so well in this book is that change is the only constant in life and that suffering serves a purpose in the grand scheme of things.  When you rest in your discomfort and use stillness to do that, you truly evolve from your pain or experience.

She explains near the beginning of the book that “Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy” (8).  Allowing space is the hard part for sure. I’m working hard in my current life to include fun experiences that take my mind off things for a while. Dinner with girlfriends, fun outings with the kids, trips to the bookstore, late night Netflix, weekends away, and lots of other things.  But these past few weeks, I’m also letting myself sink into the loneliness and the feeling of being completely not in control, completely clueless about what lies ahead for me. Before I read this book and could give a name to it, I could feel what Pema Chodron is talking about already – the healing that only comes from allowing space for it all to be felt in the truest sense.

This idea of admitting and feeling suffering without fighting it is contrary to our nature. Chodron speaks at length about our culture’s tendency to avoid pain and suffering by covering it up with a multitude of things – alcohol, excessive spending and a desire for worldly attention, new romantic relationships – and more specifically, she explains how ineffective those distractions are if we really want to grow from our pain and become fuller and richer as a result; “We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering we are being kind to ourselves. The truth is, we only become more fearful, more hardened, and more alienated … When we protect ourselves so we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes like armor, like armor that imprisons the softness of the heart.  We do everything we can not to feel anything threatening … When we breathe in pain, somehow it penetrates that armor. The way we guard ourselves is getting softened up” (89).  I’ve seen this firsthand with friends of mine who have suffered unimaginable losses or pain or disappointment. They have emerged as completely different people than they were before. Life softens and deepens you if you let it, but only when you allow yourself the time to sink into your suffering a little and learn your way around what it all means.  And though it is really inconvenient, I’m seeing more and more that you really can’t do that at all when you try to fill up the pain with something else.

I’ve let go of so many things this past few months.  Material things – my car and house and leisure space in our family budget.  But also I’ve lost so many assumptions about people and about life and about myself.  It’s crazy to look back at the first post I wrote six months ago when I finally explained what had been happening for me, and even then I alluded to this act of letting go and the things I was still clinging to. And though that was only about six months ago, I feel like I’ve changed so much at my core. It’s like being completely emptied of everything you had and everything you assumed only to start filling yourself up again in a totally new way.

I wish there were other ways in life to experience this groundlessness as Pema Chodron calls it, but it usually only comes in these painful experiences of loss or profound disappointment. As she says, “We are killing the moment by controlling our experience. Doing this is setting ourselves up for failure because sooner or later, we are going to have an experience we can’t control. … We can give up on being perfect and experience each moment to its fullest. Trying to run away is never the answer to being a full human being. Running away from the immediacy of our experience is like preferring death to life (72).  There are so many ways we “run away from the immediacy of our experience,” and they seldom look like running. They often look like distractions or like “moving on,” “staying busy,” or “having it all together” as I hear people say from time to time.

The biggest change that has happened for me is that I’m done with that. I don’t have it all together. I am not starting some brand new life that will align perfectly by my expectations and look just like my old life but with a different person. The perfection veil was pulled away for me. I didn’t choose the actions that began that avalanche.  But in the aftermath of all of that, it feels so liberating to have it removed and simply be in a moment in my life when I have no master plan and no grand storyline I’m trying to write. All there is in front of me is the here and now.  I worried so much in these past few months that I was missing life with my kids because I was so overwhelmed and busy with life tasks and cleaning the mess in front of me.  But now, in a weird way, I feel like I am missing less than ever because I have no idea what is ahead and I have nobody to answer to but my own calling and these two little people. That’s it. I woke up to that new lens as I finally reached the other side of all that has happened.  I’m here, right now. I don’t know about the rest, but the rest doesn’t matter.

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And I feel as though it has taken a lot of internal work to get to this statement, but I am finally beginning to feel genuinely grateful for it all – every moment and where I am now. I’m starting to look less at my current situation as a stepping stone to something else and see it as simply life and what I am. Yes, it is all part of who I will be and where I will go and forever changes the way I see the world, but really it’s just the path I’m on to learn what I am meant to learn in the only way I could learn it. I am exactly what I feared when I made decisions seven months ago – alone and completely unsure where I am headed next. But ironically, now I don’t fear where I am at all.  I’m almost beginning to fear the other end because I don’t want to lose this lens if I move forward to something else.

Everything is at its most essential and distilled moment.  Everything is immediate right now.  It’s like waking up, and I want to remember these lessons and these moments – even the hard ones – in my years ahead. In hindsight, I had years and years of ease and happiness, and I was asleep for so much of it. As Chodron says, “When we feel lonely, when we feel hopeless, what we want to do is move to the right or the left. We don’t want to sit and feel what we feel. We don’t want to go through the detox. Yet the middle way encourages us to do just that. It encourages us to awaken the bravery that exists in everyone without exception, even you and me” (54).  I’m awake to all of it now, it seems.  Awake to the bravery and the kindness and the softness and all of it. I’m seeing it all in a way I haven’t witnessed when things were easy. I’m becoming grateful for the hard part, and I guess what I am trying to say – if this makes any sense at all – is that I’m enjoying the middle way as Chodron calls it.  There’s so much good I’m uncovering, and even more waiting down the road if I can keep these eyes to see it.

Books, motherhood

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.

Fun Finds, In the Kitchen

2012 Christmas Gifts Round-Up

I’ve really enjoyed reading about gifts some of you have received, and I love learning about new books and products from fellow bloggers, so I thought I’d write a little about our goods, too!

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All Jude really wanted for Christmas was a violin.  He’s been really interested in instruments of all kinds lately, and he’s watched a ridiculous amount of Little Einsteins since sister came along, so I’m guessing that’s what led to the obsession. Or maybe it is my adoration of Andrew Bird who pretty much played on repeat throughout my entire pregnancy with Jude. Ha.  Who knows?  Whatever the case, he was so amazed to see this toy one left by Santa on Christmas morning.  What did parents do before Amazon?  In addition to that, we picked up a train on Groupon Goods a while ago and this Batman toy has received A LOT of playtime this week.  We threw in a few other little things here and there, but those were his big items, and I think he seems pretty happy with them.

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Norah, on the other hand, is just happy to have a few toys that are new and not hand-me-downs.  We kept it simple with her … a couple new cloth diapers, a Kicky Pants sleeper I found on Zulily a while ago, and a Sophie the Giraffe teether.  We also brought up the doorway bouncer from the basement and gave Santa the credit, and she LOVES bouncing in that thing.

I scored some great stuff myself as well.  Scot surprised me with a Kindle Paperwhite and a pretty new case for it. I have a first generation Kindle, and I know they’ve come out with all sorts of multi-functional readers now.  But I only use mine for reading books, so the Paperwhite is a perfect fit for me.  I complain a lot these days that I don’t have time to read with my current responsibilities in life, and my old light that I’d use on my Kindle was far too bright to take with me while rocking or nursing Norah.  This one is backlit very faintly though, so I can read while I am rocking her to sleep.  In the past 2 days, I’ve plowed though a quarter of The Chaperone in my little spurts of 20 minutes here or there to nurse and rock the baby. So this is a gift that got me reading again, and for that I’m really grateful!

Scott also took Jude shopping a while ago with the purpose of buying me something from Jude, and Jude insisted he purchase “a teacup” for me.  Apparently it’s all he would consider for mama.  So they went to Teavana, and I got an awesome loose tea infuser that I love  – coupled with the best tea I have ever had.  Ever.  I am not exaggerating.  It’s all I can do to limit myself to a cup or two a day.  Yum.  Add some Starbucks Christmas blend and this collection of stories from the gift exchange on my side of the family, and I am a happy girl.

 

I’ve got a little cash to spend as well, and Amazon should be arriving today with two cookbooks (this one and this one) I’ve been wanting for a while, and some kitchen odds and ends I need (hand blender and a pizza stone).  I’m vaguely thinking of purchasing an essential oils diffuser with the bit that’s left, but I am confused at the options.  Anyone with experience or interest in aromatherapy?  What kind of diffuser do you use?  I need some advice on that one.

 

So what’d ya get?  Anything fun or interesting for you or the kiddos?

Books, gratitude

Lucky Winner

I’m happy to say that the lucky winner of the giveaway is comment number 11.  Congrats, Tally! I know you’ll rock the beautiful handcrafted set.  I really enjoyed reading all of your answers on this one, and I have another interested Etsy shop, so I think I’ll do additional gratitude giveaway in a few months.

And a funny side note: I finally dove in to One Thousand Gifts that everyone has been raving about, and it is absolutely not a typical read for me at all, but I started it yesterday and cannot put it down.  (Bleary -eyed this morning because of it!)  It’s Ann Voskamp’s story of challenging herself to write down 1,000 things she is thankful for and how that changes her life.  This woman is a seriously beautiful writer, and I love her way of describing things.  I’ve been reading on my Kindle a lot lately, but I ordered the “real” book because I knew I’d want to underline and come back to it again and again on my shelf.  She describes how transforming it can be to write down your list of things you are thankful for, “I mean, they are just common things and maybe I don’t even know they are gifts really until I write them down and that is really what they look like.  Gifts He bestows.  This writing it down – it is sort of like …. unwrapping love” (45)  Such an apt description of the value of gratitude.

So basically this book is all about recognizing the beauty in the everyday, and look at the cover.

And again, look at Tally’s new jewelry that she won by practicing some gratitude herself.

Funny, huh? So, I don’t know….. it’s just a weird little cosmic connection with this whole bird’s nest, gratitude, life-is-full-of-possibilities-when-you-look-around kind of thing. Now I have an association with bird’s nests and am reminded to say thanks when I see them.  And I might have already searched Etsy and found a million bird’s nest things I want now.

Enjoy your new bling, Tally. And enjoy your weekend, readers. Be full and happy.