gratitude, kids, travel

ebb and flow

I spent most of last week on a little trip with the kids. We were only a three hour drive northward. But it felt like some place else entirely. How easy it can be to forget the beauty just outside your own backyard. It feels so good to rediscover it.

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We spent a few days in the Great Smoky Mountains, near the national park that straddles the line between Tennessee and North Carolina. The idea for this trip began a year ago when I realized that I have loads of memories in these mountains with my grandparents and cousins, filed deep in the back of my very best pieces of nostalgia. We went almost every summer, and yet my own kids still hadn’t seen it and experienced it like I did. I decided this summer was a good time to take them, and then my sister decided to bring her two along as well, and my mom and grandad even drove up for the last night. We found a perfect cabin on the river in the foothills of the mountains and more or less let the kids run wild.

We unloaded our things on the afternoon of the first day and indulged in s’mores that night. Campfires and cousins in a cabin are the very best ingredients for summer memories, I think. It doesn’t take much at all to make something feel special.
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Something unique happens when you get away as a family. Kids sense the tension easing from your own back, I think. They walk lighter, just like you do. Happy with the littlest things – porch swings and smooth river rocks and open windows when we sleep. Vacation always feels like such an indulgent place, even when it’s close to home.

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We braved an amusement park one day to appease the kids, standing in crowded lines with countless other travelers at Dollywood. I can remember loving thrill rides when I was growing up, but it’s been something like 18 years since I’ve been on a roller coaster. Jude dragged me through the line for a coaster that shoots you like a cannon at 73mph high above the rest of the park. I didn’t love it like I used to; in fact, I sort of clenched my teeth and my belly and went for it to please him, but it felt terrifying in this way that I definitely didn’t experience as a kid. Maybe it’s the time and distance between then and now? Maybe it’s the adult worry mind inside me? I don’t know. But I held my eyes shut the whole time and felt relief when my feet were firmly on the ground afterwards, holding an anxious fear I don’t remember feeling when I rode them before.

Both of my kids are daredevils on these rides, and I definitely used to be. But somehow it feels different to me now. Time and experience can have unexpected effects on our own sense of fear, and it can change what scares you. We ended the day with the drive back to our little cabin, and my kids were elated from the bustle of the park, but I was mostly just tired and relieved to be back to a slower pulse.
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The next morning we spent slow hours in the national park, touring Cade’s Cove, an isolated valley with a few preserved historical structures and some beautiful wide open spaces. Life feels so quiet when you are there, like there is nothing to fear at all. But as I walked through old family homes with rock chimneys and one room for 12 people or looked at cemetery markers to find countless children and infants alongside each other, I thought a lot about how their fears were completely different than mine are today but were more real than I will ever understand.

We ended the tour there with an hour-long horseback ride through the wooded trails in the national forest. These are trail horses with a guide, and the pace is a leisurely trot, so those of you who grew up riding horses will laugh at this for sure … but this is another thing that was outside of my comfort zone to say the least. (Which is extra ironic given that only one generation ago family property held horses, and my 82-year-old grandad hopped on the horse with us last week like it was no problem at all.) But even so, an hour on the back of an animal 10 times your size in the depths of a national park isn’t something in the realm of my usual experience, and I was jittery as we waited to get on.

Once again though, it was the urging of my own son who pushed me there, and it’s not the first time I’ve done something scary for my kids – and likely not the last either. So we mounted the horses and set off in the woods, crossing a rushing creek at the start of the trail and listening to the clop, clop, clop through the ferns and fallen trees. With every step that I went beyond my own comfort zone, it got easier and lighter until it didn’t feel scary at all.

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That’s the way it always goes, I’m finding. The definition of scary may be different for each one of us. What terrifies you may not bother me, and what gives me butterflies may not register on your list of worries at all. And even within my own mind, time has changed what my fear responds to. But all the good stuff is on the other side of what I fear. Always. Sometimes it’s a place you can only get to when you cross that bridge. And sometimes it’s just that quiet hum of satisfaction when you know you did what you’d thought was impossible.  But if I just push myself past that space I fear so much, it is never as scary as I’d imagined.

I am home to mounds of laundry and loads of pictures I am weeding through from our time away.  But I hope this is the lesson from our trip that sits with me for a long time – the value in that tension of bravery and rest. The satisfaction that comes from doing what you feared and pushing past your discomfort and the quiet space of rest that we need just as much as we need courage and challenges. The truth is in the ebb and flow between those two things, knowing when to forge ahead with courage and when to slow down and feel the solace that grows in quiet familiar places.

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still reeling

It has been two full weeks of silence in this space. I’ve come here once or twice this week but always leave it blank and unsure of what to say.

Like everyone else, I am still reeling from the election results. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say or that I am rendered speechless. It’s that I have so much to say that I don’t know where to begin.

I have learned volumes in this past 5 days. I have read and read and performed an autopsy of sorts on the Democratic party and the American political process to try and understand what happened. I have read a lot of enlightening things, and I am listing them at the end of this post for anyone who is as hungry for answers and information as I am.

I have learned that not everyone who voted for Trump is racist or misogynistic. They just turned their heads to it in efforts to champion their one or two issues that he represented – guns and abortion are at the top of that list here in the south, but healthcare and steel mills and immigration are on the list elsewhere in the country. I learned that there is a huge divide in this nation between rural and urban. An enormous distaste for the elite and even a bitterness toward academics and higher education that I never knew existed. Until now. The Democratic party will have to fix this to move on. My eyes have been opened this week for certain.

I have been called mean and condescending and accused of enthusiastically “killing babies” because of my major reservations about Trump’s promises. People probably wish I would shut up about it, but I am frightened.

To normalize this election as though it is no different than a usual pendulum swing is not okay. Trump is not a typical Republican, and we all know this. Would I be writing this if Rubio or Kasich won? Absolutely not. The pendulum swings, and I am okay with that. Donald Trump is not a typical pendulum swing. He’s not a typical anything.

Never before have we elected a President with absolutely no experience in public office. None. One who claims if we have nuclear weapons we should use them. Who asserts that he will deport 11 million immigrants, including young students who have never known any other home, and that he will do this swiftly and with force without any regard for how it will upset the civil peace or economy of our nation. A man who has not only been accused of sexual assault but claims that bragging about it is “locker room talk” to be excused. A man who humiliated Meghan Kelly on television and bullied Ted Cruz by publicly threatening to “spill the beans” about his wife’s personal medical struggle with depression. A man who wants more than three million Muslims living in the US to register themselves with the government to be tracked in a database. A man who is currently considering a leader of the Alt-Right movement to be his Chief of Staff. A man who claims global warming is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese and wants to handle the delicate balance of trade by taxing goods that come from there without regard for what implications a trade war will have on this nation.

To pretend we have done this before is laughable. To tell people to shut up and stop being scared is dangerous.

I think the most disappointing thing to me in this election is to watch how the Evangelical Church has handled it. Being a southerner, I am surrounded by those who hold that blend of faith closely, but their silence on these issues is deafening. And their support of him is shocking. I understand that the vast majority of them voted on abortion only and will always vote Republican on that issue. But I guess I was expecting them to have more open conversations on this – to explain that they voted on one issue but are appalled by other things he’s said and most importantly to hold him accountable. Now is the time they could stand up and have their voices heard and be a welcoming voice for the church and a comforting voice to those hurt and scared by Trump’s campaign, and yet I’m not hearing it at all. As someone who grew up surrounded by the church and still respecting and holding dear a lot of people who are part of that movement, it breaks my heart. And it saddens me because I see so clearly that history will look back to see that their silent support of Trump and refusal to openly denounce his hatred will be the end of their relevance and positive influence in modern America. There are voices within the church that are working hard to redeem it – Beth Moore, Max Lucado, Glennon Doyle Melton, Rachel Held Evans – but whether they can speak loudly enough, I don’t know. The whole thing breaks my heart.

I’m reaching the point where I am tired of hand-wringing and sadness and fear though. I want to act. I thought I’d leave you with a link on how to contact your local representative to voice your concerns. I hear phone calls and snail mail is best, so if you are concerned, then have your voice heard.

I also wanted to pass along these few essays which have bubbled to the surface of all I have combed through this week. They are worth a read if you have time.

Christian Blogger Shannon Dingle’s I Want to Help You to Understand My Lament

Harvard Business Review’s What So Many People Don’t Get About the US Working Class

NPR’s Fact Check of Trump’s First 100 Days (calmed me down a bit actually)

Voted For Trump? I Have Only One Plea

The New Yorker’s An American Tragedy 

Video of Christoph Walz speaking on normalizing Trump

 

Last night’s SNL aired past my bedtime, but I did see the opening song this morning, and Leonard Cohen’s words echoed in a way that brought me tears. There’s a blaze of light in every word, it doesn’t matter which you heard the holy or the broken hallelujah. Even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before he Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but hallelujah. 

This has been on my mind almost constantly since Tuesday night, and I know it will calm a little in the weeks to come. I’m trying hard to make space for peace and stillness at home. I will do what I have always done but with more conviction and dedication than before: read, teach my students to think critically, model strength for my own children, call out hatred and misogyny when I see it, write, laugh with my colleagues, teach my children kindness, and pray for a culture that has grown so used to sexism and anti-intellectualism that we prefer a spectacle over substance.

I pray that his outrageous promises were just false words to gain momentum and get voters and that it will be like any other Republican presidency. But if we take him at his word, it is a very scary thought.

I’m not giving up. Instead, I’m using this to wake up. No matter how you voted, let’s stop sleeping. Pay attention. Do good. Have your voice heard.

 

gratitude, Life and Randomness, motherhood

on fear and feeling

I’m writing in some stolen moments this week to get a few things out. There’s a change in the weather a bit, and the academic year is picking up. There’s a change in me too, somehow. I feel life moving forward, turning a page. I think it’s the one-year mark I am nearing, and it is set against the backdrop of this time of year when even nature reminds us that a chapter is closing. Letting the dead things fall is sometimes more beautiful than you expect it to be. I hope to feel lighter and lighter as the leaves change this year. Dead weight shedding from my own life. Making way for new skin.

Jude had his tonsils and adenoids removed on Monday. It’s a simple procedure, and kids get it done all the time. It’s his fall break this week, and I scheduled it now so that he wouldn’t be missing much school as a result. I’ve been anxious about it as I’m the first to admit I carry a little bit of an anesthesia phobia. (Hence that time I had a baby in a bathtub.) I woke him on Monday morning long before the sun and loaded him in the car to drive to the surgery center.

When we got there, I was blessed with a familiar face as my good friend and I figured out a little while prior that both of our kids were having procedures done that day. Their surgery was 2 hours before ours, so we didn’t get a lot of time together, but seeing her smiling face was such a clear reminder that I am not alone in this. And it was the most bizarre coincidence that we even ended up there together. We are in two different school systems, so she wasn’t scheduling around fall break as I was, and our kids were having different procedures performed by different doctors. And yet we ended up in the same waiting room.

Nothing is an accident. I’ve come to believe this so strongly in my recent year. Life places before us exactly what we need at the exact time that we need it. You just have to open your eyes to see the magic of timing even when it doesn’t at all coincide with your expectations.

So we went back to the pre-op room and got him in the gown to bribe him to choke down his meds, and they allowed me to accompany him to the OR to hold his hands as the anesthesia mask set in. Once he was safely asleep, I should leave and wait and they’d come find me. I knew it would be a little creepy, but I expected after our many conversations on what to expect that he’d just lie there while I comforted him and go to sleep calmly under the mask.

That is not at all what happened. He refused the mask, and they had to hold it on him. He was panicked and screaming and I was holding his hands. He wouldn’t connect with my eyes the way I wished he would, and he was darting all around the room with his anxious glance. The florescent lights and sterile smell of an OR. Panicked little boy on the operating table. Then just like that his little eyes closed and his screaming stopped. It’s only tonsil surgery. I knew he’d be fine. But I walked out of that operating room with such a lump in my throat.

I only waited 25 minutes before hearing from the surgeon that it all went well. Only another half hour after that before they wheeled him to me, all groggy and confused and sweet and tired. But during that hour, my mind went to the what if, what if, what if place that parents know all too well. And my thoughts meandered to parents who sit in waiting rooms with much more serious procedures and less guaranteed outcomes. It is hard. Having a child feels like part of you is just raw and open almost all the time. What I did before I had these two and where I’d be without them is something I cannot comprehend.

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It’s exhausting sometimes, isn’t it? Just to be a thinking and feeling person in the world. I think and feel too much, it seems. I’ve spent much of my life wishing I didn’t think so much, wishing I felt less deeply – because truthfully I can look at people who don’t think and do not feel below the surface level, and their lives look so much easier at times.

I was listening to Rob Bell recently (love his podcast), and he talked a bit about what he calls “the wisdom that lies beyond wisdom.” We have the first “wisdom,” the lessons we all want to know and teach our kids: be kind, work hard, choose a partner carefully, make good choices, take care of yourself, etc. Then we have the wisdom that lies beyond that. The wisdom that only comes when you do all those things and it still falls apart. That’s when you realize that really all that matters is now. That bad things happen to good people. That it is up to us to make the meaning of them.

There is no value in living in the past or wishing for the future. I’m realizing how tenuous it all is. All of it. None of us can say oh, that would never happen to me because there are no guarantees like that. Life never stops surprising me.

I’ve been so afraid (and in weak moments, I still am) that events in my life would leave me weaker than they found me, would leave me incapable of doing certain things in the future – like loving or trusting or feeling joy. I’m finding that the opposite is true though. I am a better lover than ever. Not in the modern vernacular sense of lover, obviously. But in that I love and love and love without expectation now. Loving on my kids, my experiences, my friends, and these singular passing moments in my life that won’t happen again. Because who knows where any of this is going or what lies ahead, and does that matter anyway? I can sink into a moment without wondering how it fits in some grand scheme. I can be grateful for the now without expectation of the next moment.

I look at Jude’s experience this week and think about how scared and panicked he was, how he looked for me when he woke up. How he needed me to be there and say things were good and not scary. And of course, I knew that it was simple and not scary, but now I also know deep down that really everything is scary. All the good stuff anyway. And as a kid, I think you assume that you grow up to feel in control at all times and never feel scared or vulnerable.

But feeling and thinking and staying open in a world with no guarantees is the opposite of fearlessness. I’m learning how good it feels to let it all in, to feel alive as all the dead weight sheds away.