Adjustment Period

It’s been awhile since I posted. Part of that was calculated. The election season was fraught. The aftermath even more so.

And a lot of why I wasn’t here wasn’t on purpose. Not consciously. But the fact was, I was struggling with what to say. Struggling with a lot of things.

Struggling since the move.

A few weeks ago, some ladies on my street got together for breakfast and invited me. I had a wonderful time getting to know these different and wonderful women I can see as part of my new village. They are good people. Fun people. People that get it – most of them have also moved here from somewhere else at some point. But I got in my car afterwards and felt a strange compulsion to cry.

And I didn’t know why.

The next day, I was meeting up with some ladies that also live in my neighborhood that I had only met through an online exchange about helping to coordinate an upcoming event for the neighborhood kids. I was a little nervous about this meeting. I didn’t know these people.

My husband told me to try to have fun as I walked out the door.

Try.

That’s what it was. I was just so tired of trying.

We are settling into our new lives, but there is a constant amount of trying. At our old school, I had already gone through the random volunteering to finally land the position I wanted as newsletter writer for the PTA. A position I sadly had to abandon after a year of shadowing when we moved. Now I’m starting over. I’m back to randomly picking up shifts at the book fair and spirit night events. It’s all great – these are all events I love – but I’m taste testing, meeting folks, working out where I best fit here.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s all great. I love our neighborhood. I’m in love with our school. Everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) has been nothing but welcoming and supportive.

But it’s still all new. All the time.

Even yesterday, I wanted to take the boys Christmas shopping to pick out gifts for the cousins. I had to Google where the independent toy shops were. Then map them so I wouldn’t get lost.

And Facebook reminds me daily of all the Christmas traditions we had in Atlanta. The santa we visited every year. The lights at the Botanical Garden we visited each Friday after Thanksgiving with the rest of the city and their out of town guests. The neighborhood Christmas party. The streets with the best lights. We knew how early to get to church on Christmas Eve and to head straight for the cathedral’s gym since the cathedral itself and overflow room were filled hours in advance.

Now, I feel like I’m starting from scratch again. And while the boys are just happy that their Elf on the Shelf is back and our advent calendar of activities is as comforting and fun as usual, I’m left trying to make sure that I find a Santa with a real beard since my kids have never been to one with a fake one (something that probably means nothing to them and I have latched onto as being of the utmost importance).

Trying. Again.

Then there’s today. Today the boys went back to school. They’ve been out since Veteran’s Day. Adjusting to year round school means adjusting to their three week breaks every nine weeks. The bonus was we took a nice trip to Washington, DC – partly because we love our old stomping grounds, partly so I could do some research for the current book and partly because most everything to do in DC is free (yay Smithsonian!), we hosted Thanksgiving in our new home, we hung out with my sister-in-law in town from Louisiana, we went for walks, the boys learned how to ride their bikes (no more training wheels here), we shopped small business Saturday with my sister in our new, adorable downtown. But through it all, I didn’t do a lick of writing except for scrawling down on a post it note the physical descriptions and mannerisms of a guitar player at a concert the hubby and I went to who will most definitely be showing up in the work in progress.

But when I sat down in the chair today. Ugh. I had lost it. Three weeks was too long to be away. I reread the last two sections I wrote, determined not to edit as I went but to find the thread. I went back to some research materials I collected on our trip. And hopefully the words will start to come back tomorrow.

So I sit here blogging instead. Trying.

And that’s all I can do. I keep trying. Trying to meet people. Trying to find new experiences. Trying to balance being near family during a time of year when we were used to being alone. Trying to write this impossibly daunting work in progress.

The trying isn’t bad. It’s everything really. It’s just that sometimes the trying can be, well, trying.

So if I’ve been missing or I’ve been distant, it’s not you. It’s me. Trying.

 

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10

Ten years ago, I spent 30 of the most excruciating, boring, horrible, wonderful hours in labor with my first. I could probably recount in infinitesimal detail those 30 hours, how I felt, what happened, what didn’t, and who said what to finally get me through the finish line of labor. It felt like forever.

And yet, somehow the last ten years have flown by. First teeth, first steps, preschool, kindergarten, soccer, baseball. Now he’s a fully formed person with his own sense of humor, anxieties, skills and dreams. He’s lovely. Truly. Sure, he’s got his foibles, but I love those, too. As much as one can. And I do my best to help him navigate this world with them so that one day those weaknesses can be strengths.

Ten.

Five years ago he was five, barely able to read.

Five years from now he’ll be a freshman in high school with a driver’s permit.

Ten years ago he was swaddled and safe in my arms.

Ten years from now he’ll be twenty and making his own decisions in a big world where I won’t be able to protect him.

We are here in the middle at ten. And it is glorious. He is funny and smart and annoying and goofy and tries too hard at some things and not hard enough at others. He is finding his way in this world. He is rereading Harry Potter while begging to read The Hunger Games. He’s trying to stay a kid and trying to grow up all at the same time. He loves Battlebots and Jeopardy. He hates taking showers, his feet smell and he’s got morning breath. He would eat a breakfast burrito, PB&J at lunch and cheeseburger for dinner every day if I let him. He still wants me to sit with him on the porch swing while he’s having a popsicle and snuggle with him at bed time.

He mirrors the best and worst of me. He teaches me every day how to best be his mother, if I’m paying close enough attention. He is curious. He is introverted and kind. He has set the tone for this family by his mere arrival into the world and every day I work to earn him.

Ten.

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Amazing.

I am in awe of all that he is and all that he has yet to become. Mostly, though, I’m just grateful that he’s mine. Today, I will do my best to make sure he feels special, that it’s not just an ordinary day. Because his mere presence has made my life extraordinary.

When I Grow Up, I Want to be Like my Kids

We’ve been on a hamster wheel of non-stop activity and change since spring. Every day I keep thinking that’s the day my real life will start. The day when I own my life again. The day when I feel comfortable and ready and the hours stretch ahead of me in an organized and productive way.

Instead, I wake up to boxes that still need unpacking, blank walls begging for pictures to be hung, a worn out GPS app from needing directions to everything, and an ever-growing list of errands. To top it off, our school registration plan backfired a bit and the boys started their new year-round school this week. Our school district offers a variety of traditional and year-round schools. Unfortunately, the traditional options were closed to us and although we had been hoping to keep them on a traditional calendar because, you know, creatures of habit, it wasn’t meant to be. So a week to the day of our furniture being delivered to the new house, the boys packed up their school supplies into their back packs and started a new school.

The boys? They’ve been fine. Excited even. They were unfazed about starting school several days into the new school year. They have rolled with the change to their summer schedule. My boys are happy, optimistic, content. They play between the boxes. They sleep in their make-shift beds. They explore the new spaces. They still hug us tight, maybe a little tighter. But they come home excited about things they did at school, people they’ve met, ways that the new school is different.

And I wish I could be more like them. Instead, I’m still hungering for a normal. The school routine starting earlier than I expected threw my non-routine into further non-ness. I’m wandering the house tackling projects that never seem to get finished and wondering when I will ever get back to writing.

But the boys? They’re good.

We might have been the ones to initiate this great and risky plan to move to a new state, start a new school, uproot our entire lives for something bigger in the grand scheme. But in the little ways, my kids are showing me daily how to actually do it by being brave and open and receptive to this new life.

So I will follow their example. I will do what I can when I can. I will start to learn what the quiet feels like in this new space without their feet on the stairs. I will take a deep breath and realize that the non-routine is where I am and where I am is still pretty damn good. Because every day is different. Every day is an adventure. Every day is an opportunity.

My boys taught me that.

 

 

Saying Goodbye Begins

I am in pain today. Tears and heartache. I am raw and vulnerable. My soul feels exposed and uncomfortable as it tries to hide from the harsh light and dry air of the outside. I want to crawl back into my bed and pretend it’s all not happening.

But it is.

We are moving. Away from Atlanta. Back to North Carolina. A choice we made of our own free will and with excitement. As much as we are looking forward to all that this move means for our family, I am sitting here today devastated. For 18 years we have been away from “home.” For 12, we have been here in Atlanta. Building a life. Having babies. Surviving late night feedings and preschool and first days of kindergarten. We have made trips to the emergency room (one trip per person). We have made friends and changed jobs. We have laughed and drank with friends and chased the ice cream truck down the street. We have spent Christmases with neighbors, made casseroles for new babies and illnesses, gossiped on street corners and around fire pits, shared stories and histories and filled our neighbor’s yard with tacky inflatable Christmas decor. We have hiked the banks of the Chattahoochee and plodded down the sidewalks of Peachtree Street. We have seen art and exhibits and eaten in the best restaurants. We have taken our fill of Atlanta, will carry it with us always and be back for it will always be my children’s origination point, their home, their stories’ beginning.

But today there is an end.

Today is the last day of school. The last day the boys will ride bus 752. The last day they will walk the halls of their precious, wonderful, amazing elementary school. The last day they will hang with their friends in the silly goofy way that they do when they are all together on the most euphoric day of the school year. And I am an emotional mess.

In my logical head, I know they will again ride a bus to school. They will make friends. They will have a new wonderful school. They – we – will be fine.

In my heart? Well, there’s no telling my heart anything today. And that’s okay. Today I am taking care of me by wallowing. By allowing all of the emotion to be whatever it needs to be. I will cry when I have a private moment. I will feel joy at the Kindergarten last day of school splash down as the local fire men spray my giggling bundle of six year old boy with the fire hose. I will pass out the popsicles when the afternoon bus brings them home. I will cheer my nine year old on in his league’s AA baseball championship game tonight. I will hug the teachers and the moms and the kids that cross my path. I will not avoid the pain. I will invite it in because it only proves how wonderful this journey has been.

And, Atlanta, it has been wonder-full.

 

 

 

 

Learning to Write From my Kindergartner

 

Somehow I lost October and November. Sixty-one days evaporated from my calendar. Erased like dust in an etch-a-sketch. There one minute. Gone the next.

Between the great kitchen renovation project of 2015 followed closely on its heels by Thanksgiving, two months are a blur of construction dust, paint fumes, shopping and chopping.

December eased its way in this week and I welcomed it with open arms. I felt wide eyed and eager. Ready to return to the page and suss out the next work.

Yet, somehow, I’ve been as bad as the boys when I tell them to go brush their teeth and I find them in their room half undressed reading books or picking at the peeling skin on the bottoms of their feet claiming they were too distracted to do what I’d asked.

I’ve allowed myself to be distracted by holiday planning, grocery runs, Facebook, that episode of reality television on my DVR. It’s like I’ve lost all the discipline and work I’ve built up over the last year and am starting all over again.

Which I’m not. I have ideas. Too many ideas. Ideas seemingly so disparate I can’t figure out how they match up yet. And so I ignore them instead of sitting with them. Which is what I should be doing. Sitting with them. Listening to their whispers. Allowing them to marinate until they culminate into something.

But I’ve lost my trust. Part of it is the first work. As more distance is between me and it, I wonder if it’s “THE” work. The right work. The best work. It might be. But this idea of another. A new. A next. Maybe that’s where the magic is? Or not. Or maybe the magic is years from now and all of this is just training.

My six year old has been periodically writing a series of books (I think he’s up to six now) about a character he created called “Horsey Borsey.” Now Horsey Borsey tends to have adventures very similar to trips we take or events happening in our lives. He doesn’t let the fact that he just learned to read or that he can’t spell very many words stop him. He sits down and writes these stories as best he can. It might be a book of 20 pages where Horsey Borsey eats a lot of breakfast, then lunch, then dinner, then goes to bed before waking up to repeat it all again and again (and maybe even again) before the end. But he keeps writing. He writes and draws and staples them and then reads them over and over again.

I need to write like my six year old. Like I don’t know what I’m doing and that it doesn’t matter. That the mistakes and the repetition and the simplicity are part and parcel of the work.

For B, it’s all good. He knows that there will always be another Horsey Borsey book waiting to be written. And so he keeps writing them. Because that’s what he does.

I need to trust the momentum and keep moving forward. I need to trust my own fingers to deliver these new ideas and characters to a new page.

I need to keep writing. Because that’s what I do.

Distractions be damned.

(Right after lunch… )

 

Teaching Boys About Girl Power

I will be the first to say that I love all that is girl power. Whether it’s Dove’s real beauty campaign or Always’ Like a Girl or Lean In circles or A Mighty Girl or petitioning to finally getting a woman on some US currency or LEGO finally adding more female minifigures. I’m with it. I’m there. Sign me up. Count me in. Girls rock.

However…

(Sorry. I think there is a but missing to these conversations. A big one. And I’m not body shaming here.) Most of these conversations are girls talking to girls. Or parents talking to girls. Encouraging girls. Telling girls they are as good as if not better than. That they are worth it. That they can be and do anything.

And they can. This is an important conversation. We, myself included, need to hear it. Again and again and again and again.

BUT.

Where are the messages to little boys about girls? Why aren’t we including the next generation of boys so that they can finally break the cycle of misogynistic thinking?

Case in point: My husband is not a misogynistic thinker. If asked point blank, he’d tell you girls and women can do whatever they want, would vote for a political leader based on qualifications, not gender, would have no trouble reporting to women (not that he ever has in the tech industry) and certainly holds my professional and personal value as no less equal to his own.

However.

He was surprised to watch me fight for an equal salary to a male colleague and lose. He never had to get off the Metro in DC and change trains because he was afraid of the handsy guy saying inappropriate things to him in a train full of people who all turned their heads instead of helping. He never had his ass grabbed on a Metro escalator. He doesn’t have to hold his keys like a weapon in a parking lot or scan a pathway for the blue emergency boxes. Being married to a woman who speaks up about these things helped him to hear all that he had been missing. Now he sees it. In a variety of places. It’s easy to say you support women, it’s another to understand what exactly it is that women are dealing with in a culture that demeans, objectifies and marginalizes them in big and small ways every day.

I don’t want my boys to be blinded to it. I don’t ever want them to think that a certain job is a boy job versus a girl job. I don’t want them to imply that certain tasks are for women and others men. I don’t want stereotypes and cultural bias to influence how they see themselves or others in this world. I don’t want them to consider a difference between women’s sports and men’s because right now, they only see sports. My greatest joy this summer has been watching them cheer for the US Women’s Soccer team – the five year old taking a victory lap through the house after the first corner kick score in the match against Japan only to be awed by the following 15 minutes of epic soccer. This summer, I have also watched them cheer just as loudly for the women on American Ninja Warrior as the men. Accomplishment is accomplishment. Period. The eight year old asked what we were talking about once when I was bemoaning the inability of equal pay for equal work to pass and his response was simple: “That’s not fair.” Nope. It isn’t.

But.

I know it’s not that easy. I know they don’t live in a bubble. I know they see toy aisles separated by gender. I know our nation’s lexicon is biased and that the media they are exposed to is lazy, relying on stereotypes and base humor to create their characters and perpetuate a storyline. I know they could probably name 20 male superheroes before ever landing on Wonder Woman. I know they see me doing laundry and dishes and putting on make up and internalize those differences.

So.

I will continue to talk to my boys openly about what I think is fair and unfair and unabashedly tell you I plan on raising two boy feminists with the support and help of their father. But I think the conversation to our boys needs to be larger. I think we can’t forget them in all our talk to girls. I don’t think it needs to be or should be at the expense of our girl power chatter. I think it needs to simply include them. All kids should feel able to realize their utmost potential and we need to teach our children how they can help each other to do that.

Let’s find a way to talk to our boys about girls. Let’s teach our boys how to work with girls. Let’s stop separating their play and thinking and teams. Let’s stop creating dress codes that punish girls for wearing leggings or shorts and start explaining to boys what their responsibilities are in the world as people of decency, integrity and fairness. I don’t know how we start doing that. All I know is that in my experience, it has started with simply talking about it with the men in my life. And so I will. I hope you do, too.

As women, we need to speak up. Not only because we have something worthy to say, but because there are a lot of men and boys out there who need to hear it. And, frankly, who else is going to tell them?

Rites of Passage Part 2

It’s happening. Today, the little guy will “graduate” from preschool. In some ways, it’s been a long time coming. This is our sixth year at this preschool between the two boys and what I know for sure is that I will not miss that tuition payment. I’ve sat in countless carpool lines, attended a number of Christmas programs and Halloween parades and Easter egg hunts. I’ve received numerous laminated lists of things about mom on Mother’s Day. I have piles of artwork and a handful of Handwriting Without Tears workbooks. I have made mom friends that have carried through to other aspects of our community life – elementary school. church, sports, neighbors. It has been a wonderful experience and I cherish the time both boys spent there (minus that tuition payment, of course).

But getting both boys in the same school, on the same bus, with the same schedule? Can’t lie. I’m desperately looking forward to it.

And yet, this week, I have been weighed down. Slow. Going through the motions. I wanted to celebrate this week. I’d finished the rough draft. I was ahead of the game. I’ve been knocking out little projects the last few days that have festered while I immersed myself in my daily writing cocoon. None of it mattered though. Come 2pm every afternoon, I find myself floundering. Bored. Lonely. Not giving the kids my all or even what feels like a significant percentage of it.

I think some of this malaise is the milestone of preschool matriculation. My baby isn’t a baby anymore. I think some of it is anxiety about the summer. The time to fill. The fights to referee. The patience to stockpile. The activities to plan. The revision work to try to do while two active boys bounce off the walls and into each other.

But what I realized today is that our family is changing. Again. We haven’t had this big of a change since B joined us to make our family of three a family of four. I am now the mom of two school aged children. It’s a subtle change, but no less important. I can in no way be considered a  new mommy no matter how many new challenges present themselves on a daily basis. I am joining the ranks of PTA and sports leagues and real growing up. I’ve kept them safe and taught them their alphabet and prepared them for a world outside of our four walls. Now comes the emotional growing up that is fraught with peer pressure and real failures and stinging embarrassments and sparks of excitement and undercurrents of desires that will make my children the people they will grow into. I’ve had a toe in these waters the last three years, but somehow, sending a second child into this big, noisy elementary school world pushes me all the way in. I have no more split allegiances, no more conflicting commitments.

While I am ready for this, and even in some ways welcoming it, I am also feeling a bit unsure. My mom went back to work when my younger sister started kindergarten. In my 20s, when the future seemed simply to be a matter of making a plan and it would happen, I assumed I’d take time off from my career to have kids then go back when they were all in school just like my mom did. That’s what I knew. That seemed to work. That was a balance I felt I could achieve, manage, enjoy.

Life has a funny way of responding to plans, though, doesn’t it? I started having kids later than I thought I would (although by no means “late”) based on jobs, moves, money. Then I went back to work while B was still little. Something I never thought I’d do, but enjoyed and managed. Then that ended. So now, here I am. Back at square one with that deadline approaching at the end of summer.

The good part of going back when I did and being let go when I was is that I am much clearer on what I do want to be doing (and what I don’t). I have a direction, inspiration, goals. They aren’t the goals I was planning for eight years ago when I made the decision to stay home initially, but I’m at peace with that. So I’m curious as to why this angst seems to be creeping up as I head into this new stage of our family life. Is it the lack of a paycheck? The perception of not having a real day job? Or simply fear at no longer having any excuses? Or is it that sneaky doubt lady whispering again already?

I’m not sure I have an answer, or will any time soon. If parenting has taught me anything it’s that you can’t always be prepared for what’s ahead. Sometimes you just have to pack what you can, hope for the best and keep your eyes open for the bumps and detours that will become your greatest memories.

So if you see me this week, be a little gentle. I’m dealing with stuff. Stuff that doesn’t always have a name or an easy solution, or perhaps doesn’t have a solution at all, but just needs to be acknowledged with a head nod as you keep on walking towards your destination and understanding that wherever you are is not always where you end up and that where you end up might just be where you were supposed to go all along.

What I know for sure is that I will watch a happy, healthy, boisterous boy graduate from preschool today. Tomorrow I will greet my 8 year old off the bus from his last day of second grade officially marking the halfway point of his elementary school career. After that? Who knows for sure? There will be pool time and ice cream and probably more yelling than I want and sweat and smelly feet and movies and vacation. Through it all, we will grow into our next selves, our new school aged family, and come August, I’ll make a new plan and wait for life to laugh at it knowing that I will be prepared to see what she has in store for me next.

As long as these two precious babies boys and their dad are by my side, however, I think it will be a wonderful journey.

*************

Click here to read the original Rites of Passage.

Faces of a Child

When the first born, T, was an infant, I stared at his little mug for hours. Nursing. Napping. Strolling. Playing. Really. Whatever he was doing, I was watching. That smile? Total gas. That perplexed look? Definitely spit up coming. That adorable pensive face? Oh, well, that’s his little boy face.

Every so often, T would give us this look that I would gasp at and clutch my metaphorical pearls. I just knew that was what my baby, my darling, chunky-cheeked, goofy-smiled baby would look like as a little boy when he’d shucked the chubby skin of infancy and toddlerhood. I would point at pictures and label them to the hubby: “There. Little boy face.”

And damn if I wasn’t right. Because here he is. In front of me now. All boy. All that look.

Part of me was pleased as punch to be right about something. To have that motherly instinct so early prove correct. And not about the bad feeling in the pit of my stomach as they cruised along the coffee table only to bash their face into the corner of the sofa and bawl for the next 15 minutes. But about something good. Something sweet. Something I just felt in my bones was right.

Then today. Oh, today. Today, I took my 8 year old big boy shopping for a suit for his upcoming First Communion. Buttering him up with frozen yogurt, off we went to take advantage of the season’s Easter dress-up sales. And he was surprisingly helpful at picking out what he wanted and then I forced him into the fitting room to ensure a good fit on my skinny minny little man. And there it was. In a tie and glasses and the pull of a cuff as he shrugged on that jacket. A face. Not the little boy face anymore, but the grown-up man face. In the mirror of a department store, in pants that need a belt to stay on his nonexistent hips, in a tie he picked by himself, I saw a new future.

I wasn’t ready. I’m still not ready as I type this, acknowledging the momentousness that occurred in between scuffed walls, on well worn brown carpet strewn with the detritus of dress shirt packaging. I know it’s a long way off. I know I have no reason to worry and every fart joke to still look forward to. But glimpses of the future. This big, independent future where I am probably not solving problems with frozen yogurt or needed to help prepare for anything? Not ready for it.

And so I become the keeper of the faces. The serious baby face. The joy filled toddler face. The no teeth first grade face. The awkward big toothed second grader face. The sad faces. The excited faces. The relieved faces. The I’m-so-glad-you’re-here faces. And every face that is in between. Someday my son will gaze at his own little one’s face with wonder and name what he sees in this new little being. I will join him and smile, knowing that I, too, see faces. Faces of the past. Faces of babies and toddlers and little boys and men-to-be that have become.

Maybe then I will be ready to accept the future faces. But I doubt it.

A Glimpse Into the Future

The five year old (B) had his best girl friend (K) over for a play date yesterday afternoon. They are both silly personalities and I was already giggling from their ongoing conversations and negotiations when during lunch I witnessed this conversation:

K: What’s your favorite, favorite, favorite thing in the world?

B: I don’t know.

(Thinking)

B: I know who my favorite, favorite, favorite person in the world is.

Me/K: Who?

B: (Points at K, giant smile).

And now I understand every mother-in-law who looks at their daughter-in-law sideways. I was the boys’ first love. Now they are making room for others. I have years before I’m reassigned in their hearts, but it was humbling to see a glimpse into my future when someone else takes priority in their hearts.

For now, I’ll take my snuggles and my kisses and know that when they get hurt, I’m still the first person they want. One day that will change. And I’ll do my best to let go. Until then, I’m hanging on tight.