farewell, summer

August is here. I can’t believe it. Then again, I can. This summer has been the perfect mix of slow sunny days and relaxation and some really fun and busy moments, too.  I’ve learned so much and grown in immeasurable ways during these past few months.

I learned for certain that the most enjoyable moments for my kids are always the simplest ones. Bugs in mason jars, backyard play, lakeside exploring.  We didn’t take off on any big trips this summer. We just used the time to slow down and be together in simple ways.  After a year that turned us upside down and inside out in every way imaginable, it felt good to just be.

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When our school break began, I was so scared and uncertain about how this summer’s custody schedule was going to be tolerable for me, and reading my earlier post about how hard it was in those early moments, I am honestly proud of the work I’ve done internally to grasp a sense of peace about all of this. And it has no doubt been work in the truest sense.

I was reminded recently of that Italian phrase referenced in Eat Pray Love, Devo farm le ossa.  It means I need to make my bones. Italians use this phrase as a response to someone who is in a difficult time or starting from scratch in some way. And this summer, that is precisely what I did.  I built my bones myself. I’m standing on my own two feet. I’m managing not to hide from the discomfort and to be honest about my own heart and how I’m changing.  That honesty isn’t always easy. Sadness and brokenness erupt sometimes still, but they don’t permeate me the way they did before.  They come; I acknowledge them; I have a rough hour or day or week, and then those feelings leave and I move on in the only way that I know how.

I’m grateful for so many moments of this summer. Many I recorded here, and some I did not – time with friends, concerts, poolside reading. I feel like not a single minute was wasted, and I used every second to fill my tank.

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Connor Oberst - June 3, 2015  I’ve read countless pages this summer – books, essays, poetry.  I’ve listened to podcasts. I’ve talked to friends. I’ve written and written almost every day. I’ve held every single thing up to the light to give it a good look and decide how it feels, or if it fits with my own ideas and experiences. I’ve learned so much.

 

One of the last books I read is Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea.  It’s a classic I’d never been turned onto in the past, but at the persistence of a friend, I finally picked it up it, and I’m so glad I did.  Lindbergh reflects on her role as a wife and mother in 1950’s America, and her reality is so vastly different from mine, but the spirit of her challenge is the same. She writes, “When the noise stops, there is no inner music to take its place. We must re-learn how to be alone … Only when one is connected to one’s own core is one connected to others, I’m beginning to discover. And, for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be found through solitude … Eternally, woman spills herself away in driblets to the thirsty, seldom being allowed the time, the quiet, the peace, to let the pitcher fill up to the brim.” Looking back, my pitcher was empty for so long. And this summer I filled it up.

I know for certain that nobody else can fill it up for you, and you have to do that work yourself. If you don’t make your own bones, so to speak, you suffer many times over — again and again until you figure it out. The sanctuary is inside, and there’s no other way. And the most surprising aspect of all of this is that the summer left me feeling more full and grateful than I was before and ready to give back what I’ve learned and face the future. Admitting my pain and vulnerability and resting in it somehow granted power to my strength. It’s amazing how that works, right?

 

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Today was a perfect finish to this season — one of those exhausting, quintessentially summer days.  We spent the morning at the lake with friends and packed picnic lunches. The kids explored, and moms chatted in between the usual interruptions. The sun was steady, the lake felt like bath water, and the kids found so many details to examine. Untitled

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After that, we drove to my grandparents’ house where we spent time with family who are here from Texas for a funeral. It’s been years since I’ve seen many of them. You know time passes; it’s the only constant in life. But some moments, it just slaps you in a way that makes your heart ache. We ate and laughed and told stories.  The kids played outside and climbed trees, and we stayed until dark so that Jude could gather fireflies. I drove home playing Patty Griffin on the speakers: When you get there you’ll know that’s as far as you go. When you get there you’ll see you were already free. Norah fell asleep, and I carried her tired body up the stairs when we got home. Now I’m sleepy and writing in the comfort of cool sheets after a day in the hot Georgia sun.

I feel different than I was in May.  I don’t have the same taste in my mouth when I say I’m a single mother.  I don’t see this house as our “new house” anymore – just home. I’m sinking my heels in and growing used to the view from where I stand.  I don’t feel old and empty and tired and used up. I feel new and infinitely stronger and bigger than I was before. I’ve learned that life will be a lot easier if I just accept an apology that will never be given to me and understand that there’s a reason things unfold the way they do, and every experience of my life has worked to bring me to this moment.  I have arrived where I’m supposed to be – not a stepping stone, but a destination in the present.

There are so many things I’m supposed to do, and I’m not even sure what they are, but I feel them tugging.  I’m ready to say goodbye to summer and to this season of my life and usher in a new one.

summer harvest

Last weekend, we went early on Saturday morning to a local blueberry farm, and I planned to arrive at 9am to avoid the hot Georgia sun.  We arrived at 9:15, and it was already hot, but that’s the way it goes this time of year. And after a lifetime in Georgia, I’ve learned to embrace it.

 

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The bushes were tall and tangled, and every now and then you could find some shade. The kids wandered in and out of them trying to find the darkest berries.

They both took the task pretty seriously, only choosing the best ones and getting excited when they found a surprise blackberry or two hidden among the blueberries.

When we pick apples or strawberries, it only takes us a few minutes to get more than we can easily consume just the three of us. But tiny blueberries are a hard-won prize. We can pick and pick and still only have little to show for it. Especially when Norah crouches low to hide and eat them rather than take them home to share.

She then found the irrigation sprinkler and decided to go for a run to cool off, and who could blame her?  July in Georgia is no joke.

I love this time of year for so many reasons, but July and August at a roadside produce stand is enough of a reward to pay for any amount of heat or discomfort. Our plates are colorful and vibrant, and I always think about how much I’ll miss these tastes and smells — sun-ripened tomatoes, sweet corn, mellow peaches — when winter hits and soup loses its luster.

We’ve been playing around with a little backyard gardening as well. I’ve frozen so much pesto from my over-producing basil and will do another round this week. And we’re trying our hand at beans for the first time this year. A tiny effort for a tiny patio for a tiny family, but it feels good to let both kids have a hand in what makes it to the table and understand the idea of seasons and growth and where food comes from.

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And, of course, I can’t neglect to mention my grandparents’ amazing garden only a half-hour away which they share with the rest of us. I’ve got big plans to freeze gallons of this squash soup tomorrow for us to enjoy this fall and winter.

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The kids are mostly with their dad this week, but I had them for a few hours today, and I was disappointed to find dozens of worms on my bean leaves.  (The perils of organic gardening, I guess!)  But Jude and Norah were fascinated, of course – placing them in a vented mason jar with leaves to keep them fed and happy.

There was a time when I would have focused on the inconvenience of a garden pest and the potential it holds to ruin the beans I’m spending effort tending to. A time when I would have been too distracted by the sweltering heat to enjoy picking berries.  Disheartened by “the small irritations like salt on melon” as Linda Pastan says in that poem I love so dearly.

But the upheaval of my previous year, among many other things, put these annoyances in clearer perspective for me.  It’s never perfect. None of it is seamless.  But these things come so seldom, and I’ll miss it if I’m not paying attention because I’m distracted by discomfort or reminders of what could have been. This is now – tomatoes, berries, sweet corn, cold cucumbers, fresh beans, bright basil. It only lasts a moment before time moves us to another season.

 

morning at the lake

I can’t believe July is nearly halfway over.  Every teacher I know gets a little panicked as she sees August draw closer, and I am no exception.  August is official back-to-school mode (here in the south anyway), and July always feels like I’m in a race somehow. You can only handle the notion of carpe diem a little bit before it can drive you crazy. Am I doing as many things as I can to hold on to summer? Am I moving fast enough on that list of house tasks I was determined to complete? Am I providing enough fodder for memories for my own kids to reflect on one day?  It’s enough to make you feel tired sometimes – just thinking of what you want to accomplish before the academic year begins and wondering how summer is passing by so quickly.

I spent yesterday at the lake with my kids, and we had the best time.  Just the three of us and a lot of stillness… which to be truthful is not a word I typically associate with my time with these two. But yesterday was about as close to relaxation and serenity as you can get with two kids under six and one adult tagging along.

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They loved exploring the shore to find sticks and smooth rocks and a few swimming minnows and drifting feathers.

 You can get overwhelmed with the to-do list when you’re parenting kids of any age, but especially kids this small.  Last week had us at the ENT office for a consultation on a tonsillectomy, communicating details about an upcoming summer camp for Jude, and working to find a new speech therapist as a result of a pending kindergarten schedule – plus the usual balance of books and naps and meals and sunscreen and laundry and miles of other regular daily routines. But for once, I ignored most of it for a day, packed a bag with towels and snacks and drove somewhere simple that I know they love.  We arrived before it became crowded, and watching them watch the world around us granted me the biggest exhale I had all week.     

 

It was such a great day, and I left feeling full and grateful for a lot of things – my summers off, where I live, and these two.  I’m thankful for all of it, and I’m trying deliberately to avoid the hurried feeling of not enough to rest in the right now.

looking forward, looking back

We’ve been busy this week. It’s Thursday somehow – though I feel like the week just started.  Life is happening so fast, it seems.  In light of many changes for me this year, it is especially unsettling if I think about it too much.  If I close my eyes for a minute and think back to being 29 years old as a stay-at-home-mom with a toddler and a house (two houses ago now) and a husband and what I assumed to be a predictable life plan stretched out in front of me, it makes me dizzy to even think about the speed at which life has changed for me.  It catches me off guard sometimes, to look around at what I’m encountering every day and know this is my life. Right now. It’s happening now.

Norah is going to a little “ballet camp” this week at my hometown dance studio.  It’s a 30 minute drive to get her there, and it’s not a practical solution for a busy school year schedule if she chooses to dance in the future, but for a summer camp, it’s worth the extra trouble to see her learn from my old instructor and interact in that same environment where I spent years growing.  I was helping her get ready in a tiny pink leotard and twisting her wispy hair into a bun on Monday morning when I realized that this is it. Life is happening – not at all the way I planned it, but that almost doesn’t seem to matter anymore. It’s still my life, my one shot.  And it’s happening now.  The day I found out I was having a girl, about a dozen moments filled my head, and this was one of them.

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Who knows what the future holds and if she will choose to dance long term as I did, but it was one of those out-of-body moments I’ve discussed before when it makes you catch your breath a bit.  This is real. This is life.  I’m gong to remember this.  Happiness catches you off guard when you aren’t looking. How am I thirty-four years old and dressing a tiny ballerina for her first lessons?  I don’t know.  Where the past decade of my life has gone is a mystery to me. So fast.

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I’ve thought a little this week about nostalgia and that lens we tend to use when we examine the past.  I can’t believe it was almost exactly a year ago that I wrote this post.  Looking back now, I remember that night and all its details (only because I wrote them down here), and it feels like a thousand lifetimes ago.  I feel so much older and a little wiser but mostly just weathered and broken in.

I can’t help but wonder what lens I will see this summer through – as I look back years from now.  I know what stings now might not be most memorable in the future. The scrounging food from the freezer to make cheap meals as I’m still paying off attorney bills.  The cluttered garage and late-night painting projects. The almost audible, heavy silence I can hear when kids are gone and I’m still not quite used to it. The itchy newness of all of it.  I’m wondering if I will look back and see those details, or maybe only remember the sweetness of a new chapter and the exciting newness of being alone and the thrill of possibility.

I don’t know what I will see as I look back, but I do know this is pivotal.  This is meaningful.  This is life happening as quick as it ever has, and it feels long now as I look ahead and can’t imagine my way forward and what that reality will look like.  But I think in the grand scheme of things, so to speak, this is a moment in time, only a little one.  And though it is really, really hard not to wish this time away, I am trying to feel it all.  To see it all.

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As Norah was at ballet today, Jude and I spent some time at a local spot we’ve grown to love.  It was fun to play with only him for a while. One of those moments when you look at them and they seem all grown and fearless; it’s amazing really.  I’ve blinked and we are here.  There is only one summer I will ever have when they are 3 and 5, and I am in this moment in my own life.  I don’t want to miss it.  Today is all I have right now.  Every day is new, and I don’t know how long this period will last for me.  Something tells me, like every other season of my life, the things I will miss the very most are the things I don’t even notice or cherish right now.

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UntitledI’m exploring and observing new terrain everyday.  I have no idea where it will lead, but it has to be somewhere good, right?  (I’m asking mostly for reassurance as I look at unfamiliar waters.)   I bought my mom Glennon Melton’s book for Mother’s Day, and I was flipping through it before I wrapped it up.  There’s a chapter when she describes her sister’s divorce and the transition period before her sister moved on, and she explains, “Now we know that in order for love to be real and true and good, you need to have had your heart shattered.  We know now that a broken heart is not the end of the world, but a beginning.”  I’m not always sure where I am on that timeline, and maybe it’s a fluid thing.  But I think I’m moving a bit from shattered pieces to new starts, and I will look back at this summer as the beginning.

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.

summertime

School officially let out a week ago for the kids, and I’ve been home with them all week. God knows I will never get rich in academics, but it is fulfilling to me in the best way, and I love what I do.  It’s the icing on the cake that I get summers off to spend time with my kids. The first month of summer is always the very best for me. I don’t feel guilty about being lazy.  We aren’t itchy yet from the languid heat or lack of routine.  And the weeks ahead stretch before us in a long view that seems like the season will last forever.  And it won’t, of course.  It will come and go, and I will look back through the lens of nostalgia that always colors our memories in the sweetest way.

We started with a little birthday celebration on Memorial Day weekend. Norah has been requesting a party at this little girls’ hair salon near us. The concept is half ridiculous and half adorable, but it’s what she wanted, so I obliged. We kept it simple with just a few close friends, and the girls had a great time.

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It cracks me up that she is into this stuff already. She is so much fun at this age, and it’s a challenge for me to lean into all of this – princesses, nail polish, pink everywhere – so that she can love what she loves without apology. But at the same time, the women’s studies reader inside me is always trying to maintain some kind of balance. I want her to always feel loved and accepted though, and I think she does. So much fun, this one.

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The day after that event, the kids were invited to a little classmate’s party at a horse farm a half hour north of us. The drive was rural, and the weather was beautiful. The party invitation said they’d be painting horses, and I thought surely I was misunderstanding something, but no. We painted horses. The kids loved it. They painted them, rode them, and then they helped bathe the horses at the end. It was a lot of excitement and such a fun experience.

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We followed that party with some family time to celebrate my granddad’s birthday, and I watched my kids get dirty and chase lightening bugs with their little cousins as adults sat on my grandparents’ back porch and talked until way past dark. It fills me up in the very best way to see my kids enjoying these experiences that echo my own childhood. We drove home exhausted and filthy, and I carried each of their sleeping bodies up the stairs to plop them in bed after a full day.

It’s taken me a while to embrace the suburban yet rural (I once heard it called “suburba-rural”) feel of where I live. I’ve come to love it though. At a certain age, you finally begin to love what you love and know who you are without apologies. I am a small town girl at heart, and I have no desire left in me to live intown, regardless of how uncool it is to say that. We have such beautiful places just down the road, and it’s important to me that my kids get outside and see life as more than a strip mall.

In the past week, we’ve explored a bit at a nearby park with small hiking trails and a covered bridge; we’ve enjoyed the neighborhood pool, and we’ve had the chance to ride horses yet again for a second birthday party yesterday.

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Life with these two never stops. But I feel so lucky to be here for all of it. To watch them grow and learn in that unstructured, wide-open way that summer provides. So much to see and do.

That said, this summer also gives me a lot of time away. They are with their father every other week as school breaks are split 50/50 in most custody agreements.  This is such an odd feeling for me – to be alone and left to my own schedules and desires. Half of me is relieved given that the pace of the last few months has been insane, and I have so much left to catch up on inside my house. Boxes still left unpacked, rooms to paint and organize. But the other part of me is sad a bit. I miss them terribly, and I hate this aspect of divorce. The two homes they have to bounce between, the lack of insight about what they see or do when I am not there and who they are with.  It is what it is though, and life is never perfect. I am trying to embrace the time alone, and my friends are so great about checking in with me and planning a few fun things for us.  I also picked up some editing work which will help fill the time and provide a small boost for my finances after what has been a very expensive year.

On the whole, I am looking at the days stretched before me with hope for lots of possibilities. Being mom feels comfortable, and it’s where I am happiest. But now, I need to get comfortable in the old skin a bit and explore who and what that is to be in the years ahead. I’m grateful the pace of summer leaves time and space for that. And I’m so excited for what lies ahead.

graduation day

Big news in our house this week!  Jude graduated pre-k yesterday with a little ceremony with his classmates.  I snapped a quick picture of the kids before we got in the car in the morning so that I could compare it with last August’s “first day” photo, and it’s hard to believe how much they’ve grown in the past 9 or so months. It’s been such a tremendous time of growth and change for all of us.  And when I see these smiling faces and happy kids, I feel such a swell of peace and pride.

last day of pre-k

As teachers, I think we approach life through the lens of the academic year a bit. January brings a fresh start for most people, but we run along in an August to May pattern sometimes. So to look back at the insane changes that happened this year and what we had before us (unknown to me) last August, it feels SO GOOD to have it all behind me.  We did it!  I can’t wait to exhale this summer.

I took care of a few last minute things in my office on Friday morning, and then I picked up the kids from school at 2:00 – meaning of course that I walked the tiny distance to get them from my campus’s on-site child development center. We walked around a bit to enjoy the weather, and the kids played with the sculptures near the fine arts building as we waited for family to show up for the big ceremony.

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I could write a novel-length post here about how amazing my job is and how much I value my community there and how insanely and divinely perfect this opportunity was for me in light of my current situation.  But I should also mention that the very best thing about my job is that the kids are plugged in right where I am. I’m grateful that they get to see art exhibits or plays or ballets or whatever is happening on campus at any given moment, but I’m also thankful for caring teachers and the sense of community that exists there. I can pop in whenever I’m needed or want to check on something or help with things.  It is such a gift to see these moments in the middle of my workday – birthday celebrations with classes, reading a favorite book, trick or treating on Halloween.  All of it right there with me.  I never take it for granted.

The ceremony was adorable, and Jude received a diploma and a folder showcasing much of his work for the year.  He has grown so incredibly much this year, and I know he’s still little and it’s only pre-k, but you really can’t help but feel unbelievably proud of your kids as you watch them achieve milestones like this one.  He has so much ahead of him and a bright future waiting. I’m excited to watch it unfold.  But for yesterday, I was also just happy to celebrate what he’s done already. Five is such a great age.  The world is wide open for him.

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On the whole, as I finish this school year and this stage with my oldest, I’m just feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Yes, there are things that seem pretty unfair and certainly unexpected about this past few months, but those details are fading and bothering me less and less every day. I don’t have to fight those thoughts from my head much anymore as I did in the beginning.

There’s too much happiness and promise waiting down the road for me to dwell on anything else for too long. Everyone has her own road to walk, so to speak – her own path and purpose. Mine feels pretty good lately. I love these kids. I love my community. I love my job. And yesterday, I was so grateful for all of those things and how much they are shaping my life as I know it.

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Cheers to summer! To rest and resetting my thoughts and priorities. To celebrating and appreciating these two kids and my little life. It’s a good one.