Sounds of Silence

Every day, I tuck myself into my office. From 10 to noon, I ignore the outside world and enter another. This is my protected writing time. My work in progress time. My focus on the novel time. I keep the house quiet during this time. The door is shut. The heat clicks on. A bird chirps outside. A construction vehicle beeps as it backs up down the street. I settle in for the work. The silence is mine. I shape it and fill it with words on the page.

The afternoons are not silent. There is usually music or a podcast in my ears as I edit or run an errand or work through a plot problem. There is chatter and thought and ideas clattering up against my ear drums.

Then, it is 3:30. The focus shifts.

School dismisses at 3:45. At 3:46, the school’s bus alerts start dinging on my phone. One ding at a time.

The buses arrive on campus – ding by ding.

The buses depart – ding by ding.

My children’s bus is one of the last to arrive back at school (thanks to bus sharing between schools) and so I wait and wait for the bus three ding. My ding. The ding that means I should head for the bus stop.

And while I wait, I finish whatever task I’m working on. I click off the music, pause the podcast, turn away from the book’s voices. The house settles and is suddenly quiet again in a way it isn’t the rest of the day. The heat clicks on again. I hear car doors slam at my neighbors houses as older kids return home. Someone laughs or hollers at another kid across the street. I hear the trash cans being dragged up a driveway.

This silence is no longer the same as the writing silence. This silence is the quiet pull back of the tide before it returns the quiet water in a rush and crash of a wave.

I suddenly long for my boys, crave them, can’t wait to see their bodies and minds return to me to tell me about their day. The attention they grant me is fleeting. Sometimes only as long as it takes for us to walk back from the bus stop or for me to help get them a snack. I remind them to put their bags and lunch boxes away. They pull out their homework. They disappear to play.

But their breath, their laughter, their stomping feet, the rustle of their turning pages, their whirring brains fill my silence and I wrap it around me like a blanket. My mother silence is anything but quiet, and yet it stills my soul and calms my anxieties.

It is 3:34 and the house is too quiet again.

I wait. For the boys to fill the silence.

I crave it. Like a drug.

I wait.


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.





There’s a Hole in the Bucket

Yesterday evening, I went to wash my hands to start preparing our dinner. Only a small trickle of water sputtered out of the faucet, slowly dribbling into nothing. Apparently, our neighborhood’s water had been shut off to repair a water main break on the street. Bulldozers and trucks converged on the problem, city workers stood around and watched as a portion of the sidewalk was dug up, mud piled to the side, cracked concrete dumped into another truck until finally they had access to the problem. This morning, the mud is packed down where the sidewalk used to be, orange traffic cones and yellow caution tape square off the missing sidewalk and our water is flowing again.

I have been sitting here in this chair for an hour now managing to do many things other than write. I feel a great compulsion to be writing, that I should be writing, that the weekend excuses of kids and tasks and family fun are gone, that the quiet morning is here, ready to be seized, and yet all I am seized with is paralysis. My fingers typed and deleted many things. The work in progress stalled mid sentence since Friday, I am unable to complete whatever that thought is. And so I am here. Where typically the words flow. A thought takes root and blooms into something. Some kind of stream of consciousness thought that allows me to find the words and keep working.

Today? Even that’s empty. I have started (and abandoned) two posts already and now I’m here on this now semi-blank page and hoping this one sticks, but I just won’t know until I hit the publish button. Jury’s still out.

Like my faucet yesterday, there is nothing coming. As much as I twist and turn at the handles, there is only a small trickle easing its way through the pipes, an insufficient amount to fill the tub of creativity. Where is all that water? Where is my leak?

Honestly, the water feels lost in the mundane repetition of the rest of my life. There are some weeks when the chores take over. When the laundry and the weekly meal planning and grocery shopping and straightening become too much. When having to determine what to do with one more piece of paper or come up with one more healthy meal to make or pick up one more errant sock languishing in the hallway for who knows what reason seems to suddenly not be just tasks to accomplish but the only things I actually accomplish. I am the keeper of the things, the executor of the schedule, the organizer of the home. And somewhere, in all of that, I let too much of myself leak into the chores bucket. Too much leaked into the domesticity column. The chores haven’t increased. I do the same amount of housework and child care as any other week, but when I get this irritated about it, as opposed to simply realistic about things that need to get done in the care of our home and family, it’s because I’ve been ignoring other things. I’ve been ignoring self, perhaps, ignoring personal needs, yup. I’ve been letting the chores and the schedule dictate too much of the reward, which is frustrating when the reward is simply another week of paper pushing, grocery procurement and baseball carpool.

I think I need to shut off the water to make repairs. I need to reset the meter, allow for water to reach all my buckets. Even just typing this makes me feel lighter. I will take the pressure off and give myself an assignment to plan an outing this week that isn’t related to an existing commitment. Perhaps it will be to finally make it to yoga this week or work at a coffee shop between volunteering and carpool on Wednesday or maybe a more ambitious excursion to a museum or garden on Thursday when the little guy stays after school.

I let the creativity bucket leak and so the other buckets were too heavy. Before I am forced to do some serious repairs, I need to take a break, shut off the water and recalibrate. Then, I can carry all the buckets and let the water run free.

After all, I certainly don’t want to end up like Liza:

HGTV and Me: Love it or Leave it?

Growing up with a father who designs houses for a living meant we spent a lot of weekends at home shows and touring open houses on Sundays and parading through homes. When I was in elementary school, he designed for a national company and worked in an office located in the local model home. My sister and I would spend the occasional teacher work day or minor sick day playing house in a life-sized version. The home we moved into when I was in the fourth grade was one of the neighborhood’s older homes while new houses were being built on the neighboring street and a pack of us kids would explore the home sites as they went from foundations to frame outs until they finally had doors and we were effectively, and literally, shut out. By high school, dad had struck out on his own and his office was in our home. After school, I’d typically pull up a chair to the drafting table and see what he was working on, occasionally offering input or pointing out what I loved and, very rarely, hated, about what the client wanted. Watching his work go from paper to completed home has always been fascinating and a process I love.

Now, decades later, I still love perusing an open house, flipping through Architectural Digest in a waiting room or watching HGTV. It was with some amount of pride that the 8 year old seems to share my obsession with homes. We’ll look up random houses for sale on Zillow with ridiculous parameters in different parts of the country or try to guess which house the couple will pick on House Hunters or wait for the big renovation reveal on Property Brothers, Rehab Addict or Treehouse Masters (on Animal Planet). But the boys seem to be taking it with a spoonful of envy lately. They’ll see a sparkling kitchen or a swimming pool in a large backyard or a huge fireplace and say, “Ooooo, I want that in our house!”

We live in a small ranch home. And living in Atlanta provides opportunities for house envy around every turn. I began to wonder lately, though, if instead of inspiring house pride with these types of programs, I was creating an opportunity for comparison and our house was falling short.

Yes. A new kitchen would not just be nice, but more efficient. Giving each boy their own bedroom would make bedtime less stressful those nights they decide constructing elaborate race tracks and block structures is more beneficial than sleep in their shared bedroom. A guest room would certainly be well used and loved for our out of town family instead of sleeping in the playroom. A master bathroom would be a revelation. But I actually take immense pride in how we do use our available space, in how we can accommodate four family members and our varied interests in our home. I always know where the boys are and what they are up to (with two boys, it’s imperative to have an eye and ear on what is happening in the silences so you don’t wind up with your stock of TP completely used up in wrapping each other up as mummies). We are masters at creatively using space and finding storage. Instead of the boys retreating to opposite ends of a larger home when they get on each other’s nerves, we’re forced outside, reinvigorating our bodies and attitudes. All pluses to our smaller home.

Recently, while watching one of these renovation programs, B wistfully wished for a “house with stairs” (i.e., a second story) and the gourmet chef’s kitchen. I snuggled him into me and told him we already had the perfect house because it had something that no other house in the world had. He was intrigued.

“Really, mommy? What?”

“You. Your brother. Your dad. Me. And that’s what makes our house perfect.”

No renovation budget or demolition needed.