That’s a Wrap

It hasn’t been easy for me to find time, or energy, or words, or creativity inspiration or motivation or whatever this year to be present in this space, to think and write and share life. But as 2016 draws to a close and I’m peeking into 2017 I thought it was worth taking note of how I’ve been shaped by this past year.

I actually really relish the new year for this prescribed reflection.  And to really reflect, thoughtfully, about the year, I need to remember what this year held.

In 2016:

– Mark got to show off his work to the whole family when we took a trip into the city to see the luxury apartments at the top of Liberty 2.  Big, big project for him; hard, hard work.  To see it in person blew me away.  The view from the 57th is probably worth the steep price tag of these apartments, and to think it was he view every day for a long time.

– We had one lone snow storm, though it was colossal.  Two feet, plus, of snow, all at once.  We shoveled, and shoveled, and shoveled.  Then we played.

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– Mark learned how to brew beer with Mike, our brother-in-law.  It’s challenged their creativity and problem solving in the ever-evolving process, and given them a whole new level to find connection.

– My cousin, Jess, turned 40.  Again, another moment to pause and reflect, to honor and exhort.  Above all else, to celebrate.

– My own birthday initiated a “Supper Club” with dear friends that are just like family to us.  Super thankful for the mostly once-a-month chance to connect with people who have been part of our lives a very, very long time, but who live too far away to be part of our everyday lives.

– We cheered Tobin’s rugby team into playoffs, and our hearts broke when they lost in the semi-finals.  The grit and heart and sportsmanship that these women display in inspiring.

– Emily graduated from Temple.  Not only did she graduate, but she was the speaker for the School of Education graduation!  So many big feelings on this day.  So, so glad to watch in happen.

– Mark and I celebrated 14 years of marriage.  We took a hike, just the two of us, and had a mediocre super-expensive steak.  We keep walking, one foot in front of the other, to the 15 year mark. Some days are better than others, but they are our days, and trade them I would not.

– We traveled, and traipsed, and traversed.  We adventured and explored.  Camping at Hickory Run, beach time in Avalon and Long Beach Island.  Setting out to the mountains of Vermont.  Like most adventures, these were all punctuated with moments of true glory and joy, though sometimes it was real work to get there (Looking at you, six hour car drive.  And you, too, thunderstorms).

– We had small adventures, too. Taking local hikes, playing and sliding and climbing at Kids Castle, tasting fresh-off-the-conveyor belt potato chips at the Herr Factory, making our own art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

– By far one of the highlights of this year was the giant 200 foot Slip and Slide down the hill at the Connetts, with my bible study women and our families.  I love the ingenuity and creativity that made it come together, and the spirit of fun and play.  What a gift to have the freedom to be silly and brave, together with my family, but also with these grown women that are dear to me.  But, oh the bruises I had the day after!  My body is not as resilient as those of the kids.

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– I attended Hippocamp 2016.  I don’t even know how to talk about this, honestly.  It was such a stretch for me to say yes to this writing conference, to take the time and money away from the family and do something that was so clearly just for me.  But I am so glad that I did.  I felt like a grown up.  A person with interests and opinions and a brain of my own.  Mary Karr signed my copy of her book, and took a picture with me.  I came home with pages of notes, validated and inspired to write.

– I’ve continued to be on the reading panel for Hippocampus Magazine, as I did for part of last year.  I’ve taken on increasing responsibility with Hippocampus, and now also serve as a copy-editor for the press side of things.  Turns out, I really love the behind-the-scenes business of what makes a literary magazine, and I especially love the online community of readers as we hash out pieces.  There is brave, life-affirming art being done in these quiet places and I’m honored to have a small part in giving breath and space to this art.

– In the Fall, Grant began third grade; Renee, first; and Griffin, pre-k.  I cried when the big kids climbed the school bus steps, not because I’m sad that they are growing up, but because I truly miss their company when they are gone all day.  And so does Griffin.

– We made dreams a reality by enclosing our front porch and adding space to our family room.  This project certainly will carry into 2017, but I am proud of our vision and our bravery to commit to this house, to this space.  I’m proud of my do-it-all husband, and the amount of time and energy he has poured into our home.  It’s a happy home.

– There was the the disaster of the 2016 election. I rode a roller coaster of emotion that day and the days that follow, and I’m proud to have saved my Hillary Clinton yard sign.  We at least have each other, people.

– I took on a chairperson role in the Angel Committee at the elementary school.  I’m super thankful for my co-chair, Danielle.  We made a really good team, and I’m really proud of the work that we did – organizing the food drive to make Thanksgiving baskets for families within our own school community, and the gift drive to so that these families can be blessed at Christmastime.  I’m thankful for the generous spirit of our school, and I’m proud of our work.

-Mark has continued to lead in his work, I think surprising even himself when he steps out of his comfort zone to tackle new types of construction projects.  His success caught the eye of his big boss, which is always a good thing.

– We continue to deepen our roots and relationship in our own small community.  Often it’s been by investing in the relationships inspired by the kids’ own friends.  I love that I almost never go to the grocery store without running into a familiar face.  We now know our neighbors on our road, which is kind of a miracle considering the busy road we live on! And an old, old friend moved close enough to be considered an almost-neighbor (at under a mile away, I think it counts).

Something that stands out to me about 2016 is how important our relationships are and how we continue to prioritize them above most other things.  Whether it’s committed family time, date nights, backyard barbecues, or impromptu play-dates our time reflects our desire to see and to know each other and the people in our lives.  I hope we continue in this vein in 2017.

Another thing that is less obvious from this list, but obvious to me as I look back on our pictures and stories of 2016, is our continued love for being outside.  Our backyard, the woods, camping, hiking, playing soccer, sitting on the sand next to the ocean, exploring tidal pools in the back bay, bundled up in cooler weather – it remains our happy place, the pure drug of fresh air and vitamin D.

A list of events and accomplishments, even one as diverse as this, only gives a certain two-dimensional picture of the year.  It’s helpful to look at these black and white, concrete things to get a sense of growth and find appreciation and gratitude for where we’ve come.  But it fails to color-in the nuance of our emotional, mental, spiritual, psychological energetic growth and challenges, which often don’t match up to the more black and white picture of things.  This is where I get to do my own deeper thinking and reflecting.  I have felt a sort of psychological itching and discomfort this year, and I think I’m on the edge of some sort growth spurt, something like a cocooning before a metamorphosis.

Cheers to 2017, friends.

{If you’re interested in seeing what I’ve said about previous years, check out: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015}

 

 

 

Our Old House

I’ve told you before about our house – this sweet cape cod house, nestled high on the hill, tall trees towering over us like giants, nesting crows cawing to us like rowdy neighbors.  This house has been home to us for over ten years, now.  Ten growing, stretching, becoming years.

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Six weeks ago, I took a sledgehammer to the cinderblock wall of our front porch.  I was surprised by the weight of the sledgehammer, heavier than I expected.  The heft of it made it hard to cock back for a good swing.  But I did, over and over, knocking a full row of blocks to crumble into the front garden.  I smiled with satisfaction, then handed the sledgehammer back to Mark, leaving him to do the muscle work.  The kids and I put gloves on and, careful to avoid the men at work, carried block and pieces of house away and into the dumpster in the driveway.

The porch was coming down.

Mark and I have talked ’round and round this house for years.  For years, the conversations have spiraled in and out and around the options – moving, building, adding, sacrificing, surviving, thriving.  And we landed here, on this day, with sledgehammers and gloves, knocking down to rebuild.  Our awkward, paint-peeling red front porch was being re-purposed, given new life, by enclosing it and making it part of our living space.  Addition.  The former exterior wall was coming down, doubling our family room, our main living space.  Subtraction.

Because this project has lived in Mark’s head for close to two years, the details have been nailed into place meticulously, delicately.  Each phase has gone well, with limited surprises.  That first day, porch demolition day, the kids and I hung around enough of the day to see many exciting things happen, but knew well enough to mostly leave Mark and his friends to their work.

The transformation has been breath-taking, and life giving (and also patience-pushing, and time-consuming).

We’re living in the middle of a construction zone. I have to stand on a ladder to flick the switch on the plastic cage covering a single light bulb to light the family room.  The exposed stucco of one former exterior wall is just looking for knuckles to scrape.  There is dust and dirt everywhere.  And bugs.  Lady bugs and stink bugs find every hole from the outside and come in to check the place out, too.

My carpenter-husband still has a day job.  Family responsibilities still tie us up, pulling us away from this space, away from the next thing on the list.  It’s a work in progress, like anything else in life.

I’ve told the kids no to play dates for fear that the exposed insulation, the sharp edges of metal, the rough-hewn surfaces would be too hard to explain, to difficult to keep kids safe.  I’m not sure where all the toys have gotten to, things boxed up and cast off into every corner of every room.  I’ve hesitated hosting friends for dinner because the space is unfinished, and disorganized.

Lying in bed at night, I arrange furniture in my head.  I pick paint colors, wonder about flooring.  Change my mind a hundred times. Throw out every thing we own and start again.  I’m eager to make the space feel like home.  I envision the holiday gatherings we’ll have here, the turkey on the table, mismatched chairs gathered from other rooms, holding our loved ones. I see the kids on their bellies playing board games, warming themselves by the wood stove that will eventually go in the corner.  There will be space enough.

I get so caught up in my visioning, my dreaming and hoping and planning, that what I really want is the big “ta-da” moment.  The emotional equivalent to pulling the blindfold off to the drumroll for the big reveal, your hand over your mouth as you gasp in amazement.  I want to hold out, to wait, until it’s polished and ready, to welcome you in.  I want to give you the before picture and have you walk right into the after, finished and topped off with mood lighting and delicious smells coming from the kitchen, the big impressive sweep of change.

I don’t want you to see the work-in-progress. It’s not that I want to hide our hard work.   I’m not embarrassed by the grit, the mess.  That’s not it at all.  It’s that it feels unimpressive to me, less dramatic.  Seeing each step along the way, walking through the back door because there are no front stairs yet, there is no “ta-da” moment, no drama of the reveal. But reality is not always dramatic.  It’s work.  It’s the work of sledgehammer and saws.  It’s the work of hundreds of trips to the dumpster, another run to Home Depot.  It’s the reality that depends on the strong backs of good friends.  Friends that have shown up each step of the way, to pound hammers, to sweep floors, to share tools and expertise.  The reality is that the each step of the way, we are dependent on this community of people.

So maybe each step of the way I need to open my doors, my house, my construction zone to my people.

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Here’s what I think: you want to see the work in progress.  Are you dying to see what it looks like, now that the wall is down?  Maybe you want to help brainstorm what to do about that light fixture, or what color you like best for the walls.  You want to know what went in to building this space, shaping our home each phase of the project.  When you come to the dressed-up table, with its candles and jewels, you’ll be able to look around and know what it took to build this space.  You’ll see my fingerprints in it, maybe even yours.

Less dramatic, sure.  But absolutely real.

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The kids have begun to have friends over again.  We’ll celebrate Renee’s birthday with family here this week.  So welcome to the hard work and the mess – won’t you come in and see?

Hi.

Knock, knock.  Anyone home?

I know, I know.  It’s been a while.  Ok, more than a while.  Are we still friends?  Will you still listen?

Man, my mind has been busy.  I’ve written a thousand times, in the car, in the grocery store, pushing a kid on the swing.  Sometimes just to say, this.  This is beautiful.  (Sometimes to say I am a mess, a mess, a mess).  But how would you know, friend?  Because it hasn’t been here, in this space.

The words in my head have not made it very far.

There’s writing, and then there’s writing.   I have lost track, really, of why I started this blog to begin with, and I’ve become frozen by this idea that my words here need to be big, important, and polished.  That I need to say SOMETHING.  But really, really, what I was doing here when I first started writing this blog years ago was noticing.  Paying attention.  Writing it down.  Trying to understand it.  Telling you about it.

Instagram is hugely popular, maybe for this reason.  I don’t know, I’m not on Instagram.  But I get the sense from those who are that it helps them notice.  Pay attention to the world.  Notice the beauty.  Notice the broken.  Notice that the broken and the beautiful are often the same thing.  By taking a picture, hashtagging it and sharing it across a social network, it becomes noteworthy, and holds a record. Maybe even begins to make sense of something.  Now I’m sure that not everything Instagrammed is beautiful or particularly noteworthy, but that’s where it starts, right?  With turning the lens to something, focusing in, framing it somehow to make meaning. Sharing it with the world.

Photos aren’t my thing.  Words are.

This is exactly what this blog did in the beginning.  It gave me a way focus my lens, a frame with which to see my beautiful, broken, tiny world.  It was a way to record moments, small moments and big ones, so that I could go back and see.  See the journey I was on, note it’s wanderings, connect the emotions with a greater arc, imbue them maybe even with a sense of meaning.

I started this blog five and a half years ago.  I hardly recognize myself in those early posts.  I had a three-and-a-half-year old, and an 18-month old.  Only two kids.  My life was small in the way teeny tiny children can make it, days divided by naps and baths and snacks.  Simple, though never easy.  I found meaning, in those small days, by opening my eyes to the smallness, letting it become bigness.

I could not have anticipated the busted-up hearts that would come.  I could never have guessed the people that would walk into my heart, my life, my kitchen or count the ones that don’t hold the same place anymore.  The things my lens focused on then are so very different from where my gaze rests now.  There are moments here that are so small that had I not laid it out here, in this space, I don’t think I’d remember it.  I would have lost that small beauty.  These small beauties all add up to tell a story, one that I need to go back and read every once in a while.

All of this just reminds me, convicts me really, of why it is important to show up in this space.  The sun rises, the sun sets, we put away our summer shorts and pull out our wool sweaters.  And with every moment we are growing, stretching, learning – honoring and witnessing the beauty.

I have three kids (have for a while, now).  8, 6 (almost, almost 7) and 4.  We are busy in ways I couldn’t have guessed five years ago.  But it’s a different pace, an awkward pace at times.  I have struggled more than I thought I would to find my stride in this awkward pace.  I have more “free” time than I did when I started this blog, but more guilt about how to use that time.  I am still just as frustrated by bedtime, and probably just as tired.  The kids say less funny things, and ask harder questions.  I still cry more than most people, and have yet to find the balance between saying not enough and too much.

I haven’t given up trying to polish up my words, rubbing down the rough edges to make them better, best.  But that’s not what this space is for.  This is where it all begins.

Aiming my lens, focusing in, seeing the small moments before they are gone.

Friend, I’m back, if you’ll have me.

 

sunshine on my shoulders

sunThis weather feels like a drug to me, or more specifically, it is this autumn sun that is my vice. I’m pulled outside, away from chores like laundry and dishes, cooking dinner even, because I cannot resist that tang of fresh air, that low flying sun, shooting rays directly onto my face, tingling my skin. I can’t turn away. I know that it’s leaving, going, turning towards the gray of November that eventually becomes February, and the threat is more than I can bear.

I’m like a lunatic, kicking the kids out, away from books and art projects, homework even, insisting that they, too, must feel what I feel. They are glad for it, I think. Like a drug, the energy of this particular sun is taking over my everything and I’m eschewing responsibilities left and right.

It was one of these days, the sun slung low following its autumn arc. Bright and direct, it warmed the earth, releasing the musky smell of decaying leaves. It’s these days exactly where the sun makes all the difference – one step to the shadow and you feel the brisk air threatening its bite, but the sun entices you to pull off layers, strip bare to reveal skin, as careless as a teenager in summer. I think of it as storing up Vitamin D, like a squirrel hustles acorns.

The kids were home early, released from school to free up their teachers from conferences. Because of these conferences, Mark was home early, too, and after we returned home from meeting with teachers, I made it no option to the kids but to be out. Some days you just have to run for the hills, turn your back on those daily habits that slog you down. Some days, that sunshine promises freedom like a drug.

At the park, I told the kids I didn’t care so much what they wanted to do – swing, climb, run – but I was going to find the sun and sit in it until I couldn’t anymore. My eyes followed the stream of light to just one bench, a bit further away than I normally would be from the action, but the only one in the sun. I claimed it as mine. Grant grabbed his bike, snapped his helmet, and took off for the path. Renee and Griffin ran towards the slides, chasing and climbing and shouting in some fascinated game of imagination. Mark sat beside me for a few moments, but sensing I had few words to share, he chased his own energy back to puttering with the kids.

I sat in the sun.

Griffin ran back to me, breathless and glowing for a moment as he crossed into the path of the sun stream. He grabbed at the bench for balance, paused, looked at me.

“Mama,” he panted, “l love you,” he declared. He didn’t stick around long enough to hear my response, instead pushed off the bench once again to chase Renee. My words, “Griffin, I love you, too” were shouted into the streaming sunshine behind him, but they’re there. I knew that he’d catch them some time around.

Lulled into a different kind of peace, sitting there on that bench, I flipped my sunglasses up on top of my head, to really feel the sun on my face. I closed my eyes for a moment, not in rest, but more in adoration and gratitude. The kids were happy, and occupied. Their chatter faded from the forefront of my brain, now more like a holy chant swirling in my consciousness. The sun had already begun to move; I moved to angle my body again towards it and breathed deeply.

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Even with my eyes closed, feeling the charge of sun on my face, I knew when to look up and wave to Grant on his bike, hearing the rhythmic racket of him pedaling on past. He waved, too, happy at his speed and balance, showing off with only one hand. I watched him longer than he watched me, as he and his bike cross the path of the sunshine. There he was, turned black in my vision, silhouetted by this lowering sun behind him. For a moment I was reminded of that iconic scene from ET where Elliot and ET are biking, high in the sky, across the face of the moon. Grant may as well be on that same journey, lifting off the ground in ways that defy my mind. The moment lingered, suspended, time immemorial.

Maybe this is what it means to be wholly present: to sit in this perfect moment, and see it for what it is. It was not a struggle for me to be awake to that moment, to watch Grant pedal harder, gaining momentum to push himself up that hill, then cascading back down again. To watch him find a freedom that exists nowhere else. I saw Grant’s perfect being lit up by that sun, for all he is, and all he will be. In this thinly veiled state, it’s almost as if I could hold the tiny body that was Grant as a baby, hear his tender mewing cry, and see, too, the young man he will be, lanky and muscular, a warrior of love in this hard world. I know, I know – it’s crazy. I’m just a mom on a bench in a park watching my kid ride his bike, but in that moment, staying right there, it was the whole world.

In time, the sun dipped past the edge of the tree-deckled horizon and the warmth left my face. A shiver ran down my spine, and I was in the shadows once again. Imminent concerns trickled back in, no longer able to push off figuring out what to feed the family for dinner. The prickly edges of familiar angst crept back into my body, tensing up already in anticipation of homework have-to’s and bedtime battles. I closed my eyes, trying to bring back the sensation of peace and warmth. All I felt was the empty breeze.

A week later, now, and November has settled in, unpacked its bags, here to stay. Its bleak gray and heavy tones have brought the sky close enough that I feel like I can touch it, but unlike last week I’m not sure that I want to. My shoulders ache from the tight clench of warding off the shivers. That drug that was the sun is a wisp of a memory. I am grateful for the memory, for my instinct to prioritize that glory. It is much harder to be wholly present, equally thankful, for the darkness. Shadows are easy to find; the sun is low and I’m folded into the creases of the earth.

 

 

 

this, too, shall pass

When Grant was a baby, not so teeny tiny but probably about eight months old, I was incredibly sleep deprived. Grant hardly napped, and when he did it was a hard fought battle, a mixture of finding the right pattern and casting the right spell. The same could be said of bedtime as well, and his middle of the night wakings were taking a toll on both Mark and I. I was losing my mind and desperate for reprieve.

Somehow (I shall call this a miracle) Grant slept during the day for about an hour while I talked with my cousin, Beth, on the phone (I think the universe knew that I needed intervention). Beth was in the thick of parenting her own two boys – Elias, who was only two weeks younger than Grant, and her then four year old, Will. Elias was an easy baby, a peaceful sleeper who went along with whatever the day or night may bring. But Beth knew difficult babies. Will had not been so easy and peaceful. She was ready to talk me off the ledge.

I remember this all so well because I took notes. Copious scribble on a journalist-style notepad, as if researching for a project, this project that would save my sanity. I don’t have that notepad anymore, can’t remember most of the things that we talked about, her tips for sleep and naps and peace and love. There is one thing that sticks with me, though.

As we talked, I watched the lights on the baby monitor, willing it to stay quiet so that maybe, just maybe, I could get enough tips and pointers, this beacon of hope, before Grant woke up. Walking in circles around the sun porch that we knocked down some years later, the sun bathed me in light and warmth, and through the phone Beth spoke this truth: It won’t always be like this. She didn’t say it gets better, or easier (or harder). She didn’t promise me a formula. She didn’t minimize this anguish that I was feeling. But she did promise me that things change. This, too, shall pass.

That they do.

Grant is almost 8 years old, and while I can say that bedtime remains a difficult time for us, it looks very different than it did 7 years ago.

Last night (or was it the night before? Or last week?), sunk in my own self-pity and weariness, I whined my latest worry and weary to Mark. At the end of pouring out my mind to him, I heard myself say, “One day looks just like the last, and I feel like it’s never going to change.”

It’s easy to feel stuck. To feel as though bedtime will always be treacherous. That I will never any substantial writing done because it’s always interrupted every few minutes. That the kids will never learn to keep their hands to themselves, or that I will never learn to stop yelling at them. To feel as though my wells of patience and love are almost, almost run dry. The wheels are spinning, working ruts in the mud, and there is little other than sheer force to push this heavy one out.

It won’t always be like this, she told me.

This summer was hard. Hard in ways that I didn’t want it to be, in ways I don’t want to admit. Hard in disappointments. Hard is lessons learned. Hard in battles fought, and most often not won. I felt weary and heavy, the weight of it all pressing me deep into those mudded out ruts. It was with this weariness and a heaviness that I opened the door to fall.

Yesterday, while waiting for the bus a gust of wind swooped down our hill. As it did, the kids and I watched a flutter of yellow leaves lift briefly in the gust and the tinkle down to the ground. This, too, shall pass. There is significant beauty in its delicateness, in its fleeting presence.

This beautiful will pass. This hard will pass. There will be more beauty. There will be more hard.

Though I may feel like I’m driving down rutted out roads, caked thick with dried mud, spinning my wheels hardly moving, it won’t always be like this. Maybe this is the trick. Watch, this minute: watch it become the next. Stop spinning those wheels, digging myself deeper down, rutted in. Be still a moment. Feel it, learn it, know it.  Notice what is passing, how it is all changing.

This, too, shall pass: those crocodile tears with the flailing legs on the floor, pounding, pounding about some injustice in the life of the three year old. This, too, shall pass: the way she holds my hand, confidently and proudly, as we walk along the sidewalk to her kindergarten classroom. This, too, shall pass: the nervous wave from the soccer field while he checks, again and again, to make sure we are standing stalwart and watching before his game begins. This, too, shall pass: the curtain calls after lights out, just one more drink of water, and then can you walk me back up, too? And check my bed for snakes.

The clouds push through the bright blue sky, the sun rises and sets each day. One moment passes into the next, the river washing grit from beneath rocks, rounding out sharp edges.

Isn’t everything that’s ever been written trying to say just this?

 

changing landscapes

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The storm came in quickly. I remember seeing a warning for a thunderstorm at some point, but had written it off as a typical summer’s day – hot and humid and always a threat of impending doom to ruin afternoon plans. Mark was working late, which is something that we as a family have adjusted to, another familiar landscape that is changing. The kids were watching a few minutes of TV to simmer themselves into quiet after a day of summer play and swimming lessons. After finishing some quick work on the computer, I snuggled into the couch between them all, hoping that maybe it would go unnoticed if I closed my eyes for a brief moment before making dinner.

The lights pulsed, dimming and then coming bright again. I hadn’t even noticed the sky grow dark, but it certainly had. I couldn’t see any rain, yet, but knew it was only a matter of time. The wind was picking up, and I could see the tell-tale sign of the pale green underside of the leaves waving around. With the next gust of wind, the TV flickered off, and that is when the shrieks and cries of worry began. First, it was the disappointment of losing their show, but it quickly escalated to a tizzy of panic when the lights didn’t immediately come back on. Renee looked out the window just in time to see power lines dance with a wildness none of had ever seen.

Then everything happened all at once. My phone screamed at me to tell me of a tornado warning. I chased the kids, all crying, into the basement, dragging Maggie, the family dog, and a lantern with us. Passing the kitchen windows, we could see already a huge branch from one of the giant tulip poplars had blown down, crashing into one of our pear trees, where it stuck, entangled in the branches. Through the crying, the questions from the kids were rapid fire, leaving little pause for me to answer: “Is it a tornado? Will our house blow away? But we don’t live in Kansas! What’s going to happen? What about the electricity? Will we have to sleep down here? Will Daddy be able to get home? What are we going to do?” It’s in these moments of panic that I find myself most at home in my mothering. I stay calm. I hold hands, answer questions, do the next thing. The adrenaline roars through my body, and I think I know what my cave-mother ancestor must feel. Only after the storm is over do I let myself succumb to my own inner anxiety, and sheer exhaustion of mothering.

After the storm, we crept into the yard to inspect the damage. It’s not evident at first, but tends to reveal itself in the days following. This storm was destructive. A branch I had thought was fine turns brown quickly, an indication of its break from its life-giving tree. We spend the next few days driving some back country roads to survey the toll of the storm, the kids pointing strongly, shouting “damage!” every time they see a tree down. Some transformations are slight – the branch, still full and lush and green, that is outside my bedroom window hangs closer than it did, pushed lower and out by the storm. We spend days dragging limbs into the woods. I pay the kids a penny per twig to clean up the driveway.   The skyline of my back yard is different. Changed.

It has been a season of changing landscapes. Things that were once as familiar as the freckles and veins on the back of my hand seem foreign to me now.

It continues to change.

As long as we’ve lived in this little house-on-the-hill we have had a vacant wooded lot catty-corner to our property. We have long used these woods to cut through to the neighborhood behind us, and further still to the sports center and beyond. These dense woods have afforded deer and other animals the cover that they seek out, and the tall, thick trees have added density to the canopy that hems us in.

Someone bought that plot of land this spring. Then, just last week, they began cutting down trees, tying pink ribbons on the giant ones marked to come down, clearing space for a house. One hot morning, I opened the back door to sit on the patio with my coffee and I heard the roar of chainsaws. Thinking not much of it at first (after all, chainsaws have been roaring strong and fierce in the aftermath of that storm), I then heard the creak and crack and then the crash of a felled tree. This was not simply clearing debris. The kids and I stormed up the hill, to see with our own eyes. Dozens upon dozens trees, already down or marked as such.

I wanted to wave my hands, shout at the top of my lungs. I wanted to say that nobody had asked me! I didn’t get any warning! Tears stung at my eyes, and I couldn’t quite rationalize why. I slowly walked back down the hill, turning to look back when I reached my patio. Already, there was more sky than I was used to seeing, big holes in the canopy cover of green.

It has unnerved me, this change in my view.

Sure, I feel this grief for big important reasons, like the ecology of my intimate environment. The kids keep talking about the squirrels and the birds, and I feel swirled into the idea of growth and life and death.

But deep down I know it shakes me on a more personal level. Falsely, I had come to know this landscape as mine. These trees were my view, with my morning coffee on the patio, the backdrop as the kids run through the sprinkler and leap into the splash pool. It is what I see at night, the moon descending below the trees, when I sit with Mark around the fire pit.

But I don’t own those trees. Don’t own them any more than I own the sun and the clouds.

I came inside, to my familiar family room with its familiar piles of paper and same old furniture, and I began moving things. My desk went from one end of the room to the other. The TV is at the opposite end now. Little things, baskets of books, end tables, all rearranged. Standing back to survey the change, I realized how crazy this all seemed.

Isn’t that how it is, though? When the outside landscape changes in ways that seem so dramatic and sudden and out of my control, I go inward and insist on control in my interior space.

My scenery is constantly changing in such minute ways, too. The flowers in the front garden bloom and, overnight, fade. Grant tells me that his hair grows one millimeter every ten days. There countless ways that the things that I look upon are in constant flux – birth, growth, death, decay. Perhaps it’s refreshing to experience the shock and intensity of this present destruction. It forces me to see it for what it is, instead of growing numb to change over time.

This landscape has changed. The skyline up the hill and beyond my house is different. It will take time to learn the shape of it, but I will. It feels all wrong now – light in the wrong places, shadows drifting unfamiliarly across the grass. But it won’t always.   Someday this new landscape will feel as familiar as the veins and freckles on the back of my hand.

 

lessons from a hawk

I can sit on my front porch, or perch on the hill in my back yard, and most always I will see some type of raptor.  Lured by the tall canopy of tulip poplars that create a fairy tale forest, or sometimes just the stink of rotting roadkill, the hawks and vultures love to soar where I can see them.  They easily display their magnificence with their wings stretched wide, and underneath them and the towering trees, I am made small in my world.

*

I find myself in this strange new phase of mothering.  Griffin is now three, and is so much more of a three year old kid than Grant ever was, and probably Renee, too.  What I mean is this: he chased those big kids right into their territory.  I would not call him so much of a toddler, because that sounds way too primary.  Grant as a three year old was sedate and mild compared to this small-bodied faux-big-kid.  He does not want a hovering mother telling him what he can and can’t do.  It’s lovely, and scary.

It’s lovely, because for the first time in seven years the demands on my physical presence are so much less.  I don’t have to have eyes on everyone all the time.  They can all handle the stairs on their own, the bathroom (mostly) on their own, can build forts on their own.  For the first time in a long time, I have some breathing room.  This is lovely.

(It’s scary, too, because Griffin has no fear, and doesn’t back down from a challenge, nor suffer from lack of imagination.  He’s been climbing trees now for a full year, and it’s perplexing to me that he’s the child who has yet to see the inside of the ER).

This transition, like my experience with most transitions, has filled me with angst.  During those earlier, physically demanding years, their sun rose and set with me, pretty literally.  Especially with Grant, when it was just the two of us, I was the whole show.  Whatever his experience, it was a good bet that I had orchestrated it.  At times feeling suffocated, or at least limited, I didn’t always embrace my starring role, but there I was, nonetheless.   As the kids grow, however, they have learned to take charge of their own experiences, mostly.  Throw a few siblings in there, and I’m hardly the center of the show anymore.  No longer the central character in their story, I much prefer a supporting role.

Though of course I do still spend time playing with the kids, reading books, building towers, doing puzzles, so much more of their time is play that is all their own.  They don’t need me to build a fort for them – they do it themselves.  They don’t need me to entertain them with activities or arts and crafts – they have their own ideas and initiate their own games.  I’m called on to tie something up, or to reach a box way up on a high shelf.  They don’t want me hovering or interfering.

This is beautiful, and magical, and I love to see their true selves come out through this type of play. But left out of this part of the equation, I have yet to find exactly my place in all of it.  It’s an awkward transition, to find one’s self pushed from center stage to the wings, however welcomed it is.  Released from the starring role in their lives, I know have to find my way back as the central character in my own story.

When the kids run off upstairs, lost in a world of imagination, I’m left behind downstairs.  I strain my ear to catch snippets of their play, at once grateful that we have dragged our feet to put away baby monitors, not to monitor their safety, but to allow me the joy to hear them play so uncensored.  After a few moments, it’s clear they aren’t coming down for a while, and this is where my angst swirls in.  My supporting role as mother leaves me here, ready and waiting for when they need a snack, or help unbuttoning a dress, or to work through squabbles, but until then I spin pointless circles around the kitchen.  I empty the dishwasher, prep for dinner.  I busy myself with housework, needing to feel productive, but eventually I feel utterly dissatisfied.  Because a pile of laundry can’t give cuddles and kisses, and the kitchen counters, no matter how shiny, don’t ever say I love you.

Recently, I was reminded of the idiom “work before play” and I crinkled my nose at the thought. It’s not that I don’t possess a strong work ethic, or want to teach my kids the importance of earnest dedication.  It’s because I recognize how unfair and misleading it is.  There is inherent wisdom in this, of course, that have-to’s trump want-to’s, but in my world, as in most of ours, the work is never done. There is always something else that needs to be taken care of, and by continually chasing that dangling carrot, trying to finish it all before rewarding myself with leisure and enjoyment, I succumb to burn out.

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My world swings on the pendulum from acedia to freneticism, so while it may sounds luxurious or indulgent to spend an afternoon in the sunshine reading a book while the kids play on the swing set in my periphery, I know that I’m warding off mothering fatigue and storing up for the next challenge.

Though I can’t drift far, I can involve myself in things that are my own – an art project just for me, a cup of tea and a book, work in the garden.  The constraints are still there – I still need to be flexible enough to change directions, dropping it all in response to arisen needs.  And we all know how it is: the minute my hands are deep in raw chicken prepping for dinner, I’m needed in a thousand directions all at once.

I know that my work as a mother is just as important now as it was in those earlier years, and that this time I have is a gift to strengthen myself for whatever season may be next.  I know that, out of the trenches of such physically demanding mothering, next I face into years of harder emotional parenting, navigating problems that grow as their bodies and brains do. Some days, even, the next hard thing is homework battles in the afternoon or bedtime whack-a-mole. I take seriously this responsibility, then, to find the beauty for myself in the gift of this freedom.

*

I’ve been watching this hawk for a while, now.  He seems so peaceful, soaring above the noise and grit of it all.  He beats his wings once, twice, and then not again for minutes and minutes.  Conserving his energy, he reads the air, observes the breeze, then tips his wings and rises with the wind.  He soars, and he soars, higher and higher, then lower again, waiting, and watching.