gratitude, Life and Randomness

on the daily

The kids are snoozing soundly, and I can hear their stuffy snores as I type this. I haven’t done this in forever – writing aimlessly just because I feel like it.

I’ve been listening to this incredible book of essays on my way to and from work lately. I laugh out loud and tear up and just generally get reminded everyday why I love words so much and why I love home so much, too.

I have a lot of thoughts tumbling and nowhere to put them. Because I’ve been spending my writing hours lately exploring things that have long passed, I tend to pay less attention to what is happening here and now – which has always been the aim of this space, to just record events as they happen and my feelings about them as those feelings pass through. I miss that. But there are only so many hours in the day, only so many stores of creative energy to use. As a result though, I tend to find myself surprised when an emotion sneaks up on me these days. I think writing is my mindfulness practice in ways I didn’t realize until my pace has slowed down with this journal.

One thing I’ve been pretty dedicated to lately is a daily yoga practice. I use the early morning hours to make this happen, and if you’d told me years ago that I’d be up at 5am rolling out my yoga mat while my kids slept – every single day – I wouldn’t have believed you. And I’m realistic enough to know that this is not a permanent thing that will happen for me 365 days a year forever after. But for now, it is floating me through the coldest and darkest days of the year which is something.

It ignites certain muscles, I’m finding. It’s an odd feeling — to be sore somewhere you didn’t realize you even had a muscle. How can I live in this body and be surprised at how it works like this? But it feels so good for me to turn that energy on as I begin my day. It somehow makes me feel like my spinning pieces are going somewhere, like there is a place here in the center pushing it all forward and welcoming it back home at the end of the day. It makes the rest of the world matter a little less.

I’ve practiced more intensely than this once or twice a week and not experienced nearly the benefit I’m getting now with a daily ritual. It is this way with absolutely everything in life, I’ve found. The daily rhythm matters. There is no replacement for it. Want to be a better cook? Do it everyday. Want to be in better shape? Move your body everyday. Want to be a better writer? Write everyday. Want to know someone better? Connect with that person everyday. All of life rests in what happens repeatedly, not what we do once in a while when we feel like it. That is a hard thing to swallow sometimes when it’s not always easy to do these things, but that is the truth.

My kids’ father is traveling across the ocean with his current wife this week. They land this weekend to spend it with the kids and then fly out again somewhere else a few days later. As always, I am here with the regular, predictable rhythm.

They call the kids every evening with the daily report of sights seen and presents purchased. I hear the chatter as they explain these things to the kids, and I wonder if this ever stops being strange. I stir dinner on the stove and unpack the backpacks and wash the clothes, and the ocean between us feels more like a universe because I just cannot imagine any other daily life than this one. Sunrise at the bus stop, school days ticking by, dinner at a table for three, and warm bedtime stories before we do it all again the next day.

Travel can bring all kinds of exciting things, and home (especially in the dead of winter) is not always so exciting to say the least. But I’ve been doing so much reading and writing lately about this place I call home, so much reflecting on the stories that float to the surface of my 36 years on this spinning planet, and I think maybe home doesn’t get enough credit for discovery either. I drive the same winding roads everyday to and from work. We lean on the same schedule everyday before and after school. It’s hard not to feel restless sometimes, but that’s the thing about home. You cannot run when you are here. My roots are deep enough in this place that I’ve come to see what self-accountability means. And at the end of the day, life is only made of what you use to create it with your own two hands.

As I stirred the soup tonight waiting for us in the slow cooker, I called my grandad to check in on him and on another family member. I could hear clucking in the background, and he explained he was “fastenin’ up the chickens” as he does every night at the same time. He is from a time that doesn’t seem to exist anymore – one when accountability and honesty were the measure of a man and consistency was paramount. Sometimes it feels like in all the beautiful, wide open possibility of what we see before us in the 21st century, we have lost that touchstone somehow. Jude loves pinto beans, and now that my grandad knows that, he’s asking when we can come for dinner so that he can make them for him. (He was never the cook in the family, but in my grandmother’s absence, he’s somehow absorbed her insistence on feeding legions of people and memorizing our food preferences and sending us out the door with arms full of food… It is hilarious and another post for another day.)

It made me smile to think of every bit of this. The daily task of “fastening the chickens” and gathering the eggs. The way he predicts the weather more accurately than any meteorologist just by the cumulative wisdom of a lifetime of paying attention. The generous offer to feed a growing boy with what he loves and a nod to the days when beans cooked all day were served in a single bowl with homemade bread in a skillet and that alone was called dinner (still works for us).

It is the simplicity of what happens every single day that illuminates the core of your character and offers a rhythm for your life. I need to remember this among the early wake-ups and the packed lunch boxes and the evening rituals. Home is here for you when you need it, but it only blooms when you plant it. You have to tend a garden to watch it grow.

 

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In the Home

on creating a home

I spent time with old friends over the holiday weekend earlier this month, and they are both in the early stages of house hunting and preparing for a move.  We talked a lot about houses and family life and why we make the choices we do to live as we choose to.  Money is always the determining factor on this decision, of course. But I think within family budgets there’s always the question of just how much you want to devote to housing. And within the perimeters of each home, we choose what sort of things we want to surround ourselves with. Our conversation got me thinking about the choices and routines that make a house a home and how those things can differ for everyone.

I think one of the perks of single motherhood – if I am allowed to say that or “allowed” to see a silver lining here – is that you get to set the tone of the house on your own. You don’t have to ask someone else’s permission or opinion on decorative or practical choices. It’s something I didn’t expect to feel so liberating, but as I settle into our house and roots are beginning to grow five months after our move, I see how monumental this is to me as a mother in this chapter of my life. I can create the reality around me with intention and purpose without asking someone else – or the rest of society for that matter – what I’m “supposed” to do.

I was recently reading The Gifts of Imperfection (as I wrote about recently), and in that book, Brene Brown has a chapter on the importance of creativity.  She reflects on her own childhood and sees it in retrospect as two distinct chapters: one with her family on a limited budget with her father in law school when they lived in New Orleans in a tiny duplex and the other when they graduated to a new lifestyle in Houston. I was struck so much by the simple description she gives that details how she remembers it through a child’s eyes. “In New Orleans, every wall was covered in art done by my mom or a relative or us kids… In Houston, I remember walking into some of my new neighbors’ houses and thinking that their living rooms looked like the lobby of a fancy hotel .. My parents were launched on that accomplishments-and-acquisitions track, and creativity gave way to the stifling combination of fitting in and being better than, also known as comparison.”  Her description is much longer and more detailed as she explains the safety and comfort and encouragement she felt in the tiny New Orleans home (as her parents no doubt scraped together what little funds they had) and the more hollow feeling she absorbed in the Houston community when she was given a message to compete with others by striving for that shiny, unattainable perfection.

I’ve written a lot lately about how the comparison trap is losing it’s power over me as my life situation is not the “norm” anymore. The striving for a combination of fitting in and being better than? Not happening over here. In part because I’ve learned that comparison means nothing and you can turn yourself inside out to be as close to perfect as you can muster and someone will still deem you not good enough.  And partly because I have broken the mold anyway. I know that I had the pressure before to create the pristine coordinated hotel lobby within my own house, and that pressure was coming from both outside my home and inside it as my partner wanted that life and prioritizes it so intensely. Like so many other things in my life, I didn’t realize the extent to which it was drowning me until I unloaded that weight from my back.

When I began reading blogs regularly, about five years ago as I was a stay-at-home mom, I stumbled on so many sites that detail how to create perfection in your home and what routines or purchases can achieve that for you. I now understand that it’s not that simple. Different things work for different people, and you have to decide what matters most to you and what routines bring the most comfort or benefit to your home. And the same goes for aesthetic choices. Like everyone else, I want my home to look nice. But I am beginning to see the difference between wanting it to look like a magazine because other people like that and wanting it to look like we live here – reflections of our own tastes and our own personalities in every room.

I’ve surprised myself at how quickly our home is feeling worn and comfortable, how these walls are already beginning to absorb and reflect the essence of my little family of three. The kids’ complete disregard for the “downgrade” in the size and newness and price of our home earlier this year speaks volumes. Much like the description that Brown remembers in her recollections, my kids clearly crave support and connection and space to feel a sense of belonging and a place to be creative.  The rest is not important to them. It’s inspiring really. And a good reminder to parents and all the “grown-ups” in the world that the rest of it doesn’t matter.  We are definitely not a shiny catalog over here, but it’s home to us.

Our house is busy and full of energy, and half the time it is also full of neighbor kids who run in and out as often as they can. The moment we walk in the door from school, my two are asking if they can head through the backyard to see what the neighbor kids are up to. Before long, they are into something here or somewhere else. Always imagining and always talking and always at play.

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Jude woke up in the middle of the night last week and told me in a panicked tone that he had a bad dream.  I did the usual shhhh and back rubs and asked him what happened so that I could soothe fears of imaginary monsters or catastrophes. He replied that “We were at the playground, and we came back home, and another family bought this house! They were living here! We had to leave!” It cracked me up. That was his nightmare. That I sold this house to another perfectly normal family.

And it is never exactly spotless in this house except for that one moment just before the kids come back from their dad’s house when I’ve had a day or two to catch up. But it never lasts long, and as soon as I’ve got them under my feet again, we just do the best we can. Each parent has her own routines that speak to her priorities. For me, food on the table and clean laundry in the drawers are the only demands I make of myself during the week.  Beyond that it doesn’t happen, but I am okay with it. Bathroom counters are cluttered, and toys are strewn in the playroom a bit. But it’s lived in, and to me that feels better than a showroom.  I want my kids to have memories of real life here. Moments when we are doing nothing at all or we are doing all the little things that regular life brings. No special agenda. Life moments as they happen in a house with two kids under six.
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I make my bed before I leave each morning even if there’s clutter elsewhere. (It’s another routine that is a personal quirk and makes me feel better.) But by evening, it is crumpled as all three of us have piled on it to read and talk, and usually the dog joins us. This is my favorite part of the day. It might be a bedtime stalling technique, but it is definitely when Jude shares the most about his day and the details of school. We talk, all three of us, and even the most hectic of days can slow its pace a bit in that half hour or so before I turn the lights out and tell them to go to bed. The master bedroom in this house is ridiculously large, and it is sparse given that I don’t even have a headboard at this point. I’ve slowly added a lamp, an Ikea side table, repurposed some curtains from elsewhere.  It feels like a safe spot despite the sprawling unused space. It’s lived in and comfortable.

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I am fortunate that I was able to maintain a house in the town we were already residing in, with good schools and few worries about safety or peer groups for my kids. I am fortunate that I could purchase a house only ten years old with ample room for all of us. I understand this, and I can say with honesty that financial support from their father, combined with my own income, makes this possible (as it should, given that they are his children and we had a nearly ten-year marriage wherein I supported his demanding career).  I don’t want to be dishonest in misrepresenting that, and I acknowledge that my situation is entirely different from single mothers who are given no financial support at all.

That said, I am still raising two kids in the suburbs on an income that is just enough to make this happen. And though I can’t spend money at whim, I am seeing value in this chapter and this lesson it is granting me. We live with so much more, on the whole, than what we truly need. We buy things to fill holes that can’t be filled with things. We see our worth in these material things, and I am not immune to this. It’s a lesson I am learning still.  I am always asking myself why I want to buy something – if it is a want or a need. And if it’s a want, there is no shame in that, but I look honestly at why I want it. If we are honest with ourselves, the reasons are sometimes uncomfortable to admit.  My restricted income has narrowed my purchases to only include things I really need or things I feel a connection to that I save for and consider for a while before buying them.  It’s resulted in a home full of things I really love.

Necessity is the mother of invention, I hear. I am not at a place where I can spend volumes on making this house look like a magazine.  But I’ve made conscious choices to do things with purpose and intention around here and create a space where my kids feel safe and valued and I feel inspired. I decided that a coat of paint that is far from professional but done is better than not done at all for fear of imperfection. I’ve asked the kids to weigh in on things along the way – what do you want here? do you like this color? what toys do you want to keep that you like to play with most? I want our home to be a place that continues to inspire them and make their friends want to gather here. A place that reflects who we are and also what we want to be.

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I am human, and I look around and see so many things i want to replace or improve or touch up. My summer plants are waning, and the pine straw needs to be replaced outside. I have probably at most another two years left before I need to shell out money for a new exterior paint job. Sun has faded my wicker furniture and dried it out to chip away the paint, so I need to refresh that with the start of a new season.  I still haven’t hung shelves in their bedrooms as I said I would. There are broken blinds that need to be replaced and curtain-less windows crying for attention. The table where we eat is old and scratched with stained upholstery.  But I’m finding my kids don’t care at all. Not about any of these details. All they see is home and mom and friends and all the familiar comforts that come from belonging somewhere. We are making memories here.  Special occasions and everyday moments.

 

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I have moved three times in the past eight years. I am tired of it. Each time I move, I think this is it – this is where we are staying. But obviously it hasn’t turned out that way. This time, I don’t even know how long I will be here or if I will leave or what this house will be in my life path. I have no plan. Every day I wake up and do what needs to be done to keep the fires burning, so to speak. Mortgage paid, trash taken out, laundry done, school lunch packed, papers filed away, kids dressed, food on the table. I have no grand plan.

But as I wrote about earlier this summer, it’s liberating in ways. All that matters is here and now, and I scrape by with the routines that work for me and that grant us comfort and make us feel safe and cared for. I’m not sure where the story leads, but I know that home is where is starts, and this place is starting to feel pretty special. I look around and all I see is abundance – pictures on the wall, crayon art cluttering the fridge, plenty of food on the table, little voices always chattering.  All I need is here and now.

 

In the Home

home is where

We’ve been in this house 17 days, and I am – as expected – still tripping over boxes occasionally and looking endlessly for things I remember packing but can’t quite remember where they ended up.  I moved in 2004, 2005, 2007, 2013, and now again in 2015.  Frankly, I am really tired of it.  That said, at least this is a familiar dance for me.  I can remember having that feeling that  I’ll never be settled or never have things looking the way I want them only to find things exactly as they should be with the passage of time. Time.  The answer to everything lately it seems. It all takes time.

We are getting settled little by little.  I’m using what is, I’m assuming, a formal living room space at the entryway as a kids’ reading area.  They are loving it. (Yes, I’m careful to secure bookcases as best I can with this little monkey.)

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It’s funny how liberating some of this feels.  That I get to set the tone of the house, for instance.  I don’t have to get anyone else’s opinion or approval before making decorative choices.  I have been veto’d in the past when I wanted any sign of kids’ and play spaces near the common areas of the house.  So it feels good to have this little space greet us as we walk in the door.  Yes, children live here. Yes, you can tell.  It feels authentic and lived in and comfortable that I am not trying and hide that.  I want this to feel like their space as well.

Their rooms have a lot left to be desired. But beds are there. Clothes are in closets, and as of this weekend, I began putting a couple of things on their walls. I am hoping to paint a bit this summer when I have the time. We shall see.

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We settled in earlier tonight with a movie and a huge bowl of popcorn after their bath time.  The comfort of old routines feels good, and this rainy weather we’ve had all week has encouraged some cozy indoor hours anyhow.

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I’m also finally feeling my kitchen motivation emerge again.  Moving is so terrible on dietary habits. I hated that we went a good 7-10 days of mostly eating out as we packed away anything left in the old house and took a day or two to get unpacked here.  The kitchen is always the first thing I unpack when I move. I feel like the moment I can cook a meal and sit at my table to eat is the moment the house really starts to feel like home, you know?  My fridge and pantry are stocked now, and I shopped today for some really great meals I have lined up this week.  It feels good to eat and cook like my old self again.  I’ve also got two lettuce pots on the patio, thanks to my grandparents and their gardening expertise, so we’ve got salad for days and days ahead.  I love spring and seeing all the fresh food return to my table.

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A new house is like any other new relationship.  It takes a while to see what you value most about it and what annoys you or drives you crazy. The eccentricities and sounds and details aren’t apparent yet, and for that reason, it still feels a little foreign here. But we’ll get there. I’m learning its patterns and quirks a little already.  The best light is late morning through the back side of the house, especially the patio door.  The laundry room is my favorite of any house I’ve ever lived in. My bedroom feels perfect and safe and cozy, even though it’s hardly got any furniture in it. The kitchen window makes washing dishes tolerable and even a little pleasant. Most notably, the neighbors are kind and showering us with gifts and hellos already.  I have absolutely no idea what the future holds, but I think I want to stay here a good long while.

Life and Randomness

My Possibly Heat-Induced Zen Hallucinations

So I’ve been keeping up with the Bikram, and I’m really liking it.  It’s challenging, but the heat really leads me to focus and still my head in a way that I find difficult with other yoga practices.  There have been so many times I’ve attempted to empty my head and lie in Savasana the way you are instructed to, but instead I’m counting off some to-do list in my mind or thinking about what I’ll make for dinner this week or rehashing an earlier uncomfortable conversation I had or basically doing anything but meditating as you are supposed to.  With Bikram though it’s all heat and sweat, and you can’t muster the energy to meander through your mental maze.  On the wall of the yoga studio I’ve been visiting, there is a quote by Dharma Mittra that stares at you as you sweat and breathe.  It says Everything is perfect, and nothing is permanent.  And of course my first reaction is that everything is not perfect.  My restless and critical self can tell you five things that are imperfect at any given moment.  Right now?  My hair, my house, my unconfirmed fall travel plans, my half-finished craft projects lying around here, and the ridiculous mess of an American educational system that is completely broken.

That’s off the top of my head, but I can certainly keep going if I choose to.  Imperfections are everywhere it seems.

It’s one thing to be as glass-half-full as you can be and list out gratitudes in a journal somewhere, but it’s quite another to convince yourself that your right now is perfect and just what is needed and that things are transient in a way that inevitably brings more change and more of what you need and more assurance that what happened before was indeed perfect.  And on this topic, I pinned this lovely print this week on Pinterest.

How lovely is that?  To bring you to the now that is right on time just sinks in for me.  It’s a constant battle for most of us, I think, no matter the age, to convince ourselves that certain detours or seasons in our lives are not “lost” time, but they offer us something that was necessary and worthy.  So my usual questions of what is good today?  and what can I offer today? are morphing into what perfections do I see? and gratitude for not only little lovely things but also ways that my days are all seamed into a bigger picture I might not even fully understand yet but one day I will.  I feel my restlessness creeping in lately, and I’m trying to battle it with some affirmations about enjoying right here and right now without planning and dreaming and scheming as I tend to do.  Restlessness is a curse of the human condition, I think. Or this human’s anyway.  Stillness is hard sometimes.

We’ve been gone so much these past few months with our recent travels that it does feel good to dig our heels in again at home though.  Sometimes I think travel is a rescue from doldrums and restlessness, and other times it seems that it can inspire even more restlessness if you fail to see the good in home because you’ve had a little too much time away.  I think that’s where I’ve been lately.  Some gypsy nomad family life would probably be much better in the imagination than in real life because you wouldn’t have moments like finger-painting over coffee.

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Or hearing someone say, “mama hide!” from somewhere under the table and finding this.

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Which in case you are wondering why he’s hiding under the table with a graham cracker, this might shed some light on that equation.

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Never a dull moment around here, even in these familiar four walls.  So for now, we are sinking a little deeper in the sofa seats and using these weeks before fall to try and savor the end of summer.  Maybe some more swimming or popsicles on the porch or garden raiding or margarita drinking or lightning bug watching. Whatever we need to remind us that right here is perfect for our right now.

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