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… )

 

Remembering and Sharing

As parents there are certain conversations we dread: explaining divorce. Explaining sex. Explaining death.

They strike fear in our hearts and send shivers up our spines. We avoid them until we can’t. We try to water down topics to age appropriate language and comparisons in order to tell just enough without guaranteeing our children are blaming us for their future adult therapy. Some go better than others and some are told out of necessity. We offer the comfort we can and we love our children through it all, hoping it will be enough.

I had one of these conversations this week.

My third grader came home with an “I Survived” book. These historical fiction vignettes take a moment in history and retells it through the eyes of a young boy survivor. T loves facts and adventure and escapes, so I wasn’t surprised to see the “I Survived the San Francisco Earthquake 1906” come home from the school’s media center. I was, however, surprised when “I Survived 9/11” appeared on my dining room table.

I read it while he was at school. It stuck to the facts. It focused on the firefighters and their bravery. And I died a little inside knowing that if he could read this book, I needed to talk to him about it. I needed him to know things. Understand. This wasn’t just another adventure some fictional boy survived. This one touched his family and this nation in unique and permanent ways.

And so while the little guy was at a play date, I sat my nine year old down and we talked. I let him ask me questions. I had to explain why the plane crashed in Pennsylvania. I had to confirm that no, it didn’t just land nicely when the good guys took over the plane. That they died. That they were heroes. That they saved so many more people.

I shared what it was like to leave DC. That people helped each other. That my friend took me home with her when I didn’t want to get on the train. That I saw the smoke from the Pentagon. That firefighters and police did their jobs in New York and went in when everyone was trying to get out. That people helped carry colleagues and strangers down numerous flights of stairs. That someone that went to my high school helped people. That he lived. That he helped other people live, too. That they have built a museum where the buildings once stood to honor the lives lost. That there is a new building there now that is taller and stronger and maybe one day we’ll go see it. That they fixed the Pentagon. That planes are safer now.

Then I showed him pictures of a trip I took on a high school band trip to New York City in 1992. We went to the top of the World Trade Center. It was a cloudy day. In the photos you can see the heavy mist hanging in the air between where I stood on the top of the world in that observation deck and the tops of tall buildings below.

We talked about doing something on 9/11 to honor the day. And so we are making brownies today that we will take to our local fire department this afternoon.

And then I cried. Alone. In the bathroom. The farther away it gets, the easier to distance myself from the visceral memories. But honestly, I don’t ever want to lose that pain, that grief. I can’t afford to. None of us can. We have to remember. We have to honor those we lost.

This year, in addition to remembering, I am sharing it with my child. Not sharing too much. He doesn’t need to see too much, understand too much. But now he knows. He knows that 9/11 was real. That 9/11 is still real. And as hard as that conversation was, I’m glad. How we teach our children what we learned that day will define how they handle their generation’s event in the future. Because it will come. Whatever it is. There is no stopping it. Something horrible will happen. And if my guy remembers the kindnesses, the comfort and the bravery that outweighed the fear and mitigated the tiniest speck of the grief in one of our nation’s worst moments, then he will be well prepared.

Remembering and sharing.

2:00 pm

2:00 pm.

One hour until the bus returns my tired, sweaty, fidgety, hungry children back to me. In the hours since they have left, I’ve made the bed, done the dishes, walked three miles, showered, eaten two meals and attempted some semblance of work.

With the one hour mark comes the pressure. Did I do enough? What else can I get done? Will a cup of coffee or a 15 minute power nap be more effective to get me through the afternoon? More often than not, however, the last hour is filled with the kind of pressure that nearly feels like regret. I think of everything I didn’t get done. I ponder was my day worth it? Did I do enough to justify this at home existence I have? Is the house clean enough (never)? Did I write enough? Did I move the arrow forward on anything? Did I cross off anything on the list? Could I have done more?

A lot of this pressure is born of the fact that I’m currently in a writer’s purgatory. The manuscript has been in the hands of beta readers for the last month. I’ve been purposefully avoiding the manuscript in the hopes of giving it fresh eyes with the fresh perspectives and comments of these readers. Instead, I’ve focused my efforts and time on the busy work of writing – query letters, synopsis writing, agent research, comp research, endless time reading forums and articles and Q&As to help assuage some amount of the anxiety building up as I near a time when I will eventually have to let this baby go out into the world for judgement.

Unfortunately, that leads me to many two o’clocks filled with am I doing enough? angst. I know in my heart what I’ve been doing is not lost work. It’s not pointless. It’s an investment. It’s necessary, mandatory, even. But it’s not writing. And I miss it. The writing. I have a plan that I need to trust. A plan for editing, for querying, for closing the door on this manuscript in order to move into the research for the next. I need to have faith in the process. Faith in myself for creating it. Faith it’s not all for naught.

But the clock ticks. Another minute gone. Another possibility of productivity drifting into the past. I realize I am not a patient person.

And that today, I’ll go with the cup of coffee.

Do For You

I remember when my first was born and someone told me about the airplane model of parenting – attach your own oxygen mask first before assisting others. Seemed like a no brainer in that last month of pregnancy, but it wasn’t until I realized I was dashing out of the shower with barely rinsed out shampoo, trailing water and suds down the hall to his room in response to his smallest whimper on more than one occasion that I realized it was easier said than done.

By the second time around, I had two little people’s needs to balance as well as my own, and after landing in the emergency room when the little guy was only twelve days old, I had no choice but to take care of myself. And it was heartbreaking. Honestly. I felt like I was letting someone down. That the new baby wasn’t getting the best of me. The most of me. But I also learned that I’d be letting everyone else down if I didn’t take care of myself.

As they’ve gotten older, it’s gotten easier. If I know I need a quiet moment or a change of scenery or a drink of water or a nap, I know how to take care of the physical things in order to keep myself the most sane, healthy, taken care of. But it can still be a challenge. When I’m sick and I watch the house fall to ruins around my inability to follow behind setting the world right. Or when they play together nicely while I’m writing but that play includes fire engine noises and loud truck crashes and an inevitable war of words that distract me from the work in progress. Or when I feel like I need to choose between family time and something i want to do. By myself.

This past weekend, it was with great trepidation that I asked to leave our weekend at home in NC for two hours to go to an author’s book launch party 20 minutes away in Hillsborough with an old college friend. We don’t see our families as often as we’d like and fitting in all the necessary family combinations of visits is already a challenge. But we’d added an extra day to the trip and the timing was perfect in the late afternoon, I’d still be home for dinner.

So, after much agonizing, I went. And it was wonderful. The author was witty and funny and honest and real. My friend knew her and introduced us and she offered wonderful advice and a lead on a writer community for me. I caught up with my friend as much as you can in line to get tea and tarts and a book signed. I still made it home for dinner with my parents and sister and niece.

It can be hard to justify taking care of the creative part of myself when the humdrum daily life is pulsing and demanding attention around me. I know that it’s imperative that when these events come up I honor them and give myself the time to indulge, to learn, to absorb. I left the reading with some new thoughts on my own work in progress, things that weren’t strong enough yet, characters that aren’t clearly articulated. But choosing me, choosing the creative part of me specifically, is a constant struggle. Through the years of career and family, I’ve gotten really good at squashing it and putting it on a shelf for later. Since I’ve opened the gates and really committed, however, it’s become harder to ignore. It needles me in the ribs, it whispers in my ear, it swirls my dreams at night and taunts me in the rare moments of silence.

Taking time for yourself, for your true self, the self you aspire to be, not the errands self or the job self or the parent self or the friend self or the daughter self. We all have something we want to be, whether it’s a rock climber or a reader or an entrepreneur or a good cook or a woodworker or a DIY designer or a painter. It can be a big thing that defines your trajectory or simply a hobby that gives you joy a few minutes each day. Whatever that true thing is, it is the thing we can’t afford to ignore.

Writing is my true thing. My oxygen mask. I took two hours out of our family visit to indulge it. Two hours that resulted in a lead, inspiration and a new contact. Today I took 30 minutes to write this blog post. Tomorrow? We’ll see. But I’ll try my best not to ignore it.

What is your oxygen mask? How do you make sure it’s attached? 

The Weight of my Son

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My son stands in the surf regarding the horizon. His face is calm as he receives the waves, the wind, the sun. The lip of the ocean kisses his toes, embraces his ankles. He looks so small against the stretch of sand, the girth of the Atlantic, the enormity of the horizon. But there he is. Two legs, two arms, strong torso, blonde hair short but still tousled by the breeze. He is a piece. A piece smaller than the world but larger than the grains of sand under his toes. A part of the whole. He has touched the Earth, tasted its salt, felt its caress. He is my world wrapped in the blanket that Mother Earth provides. He is strong. He is smiling. He is mine. He is hers. He is here.  He has yet to make his mark, to consider his steps. For now he runs, he kicks, he plays, he breathes. He is free. I watch him in wonder and envy, remembering the safety that freedom provides before the reality and the worry and the routine colored my view of the same vista. He stands singular and becoming. A promise I made to the world. One day, many, many years from now, when he is grown and gone, the world will be older and different in some small way because of him. And somewhere, tumbling about in the ocean, there will be a few grains of sand that remember the weight of my son.

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.

Parenting in the Big Picture

I had a crisis of confidence last week. My already truncated available time for writing was being impinged by a dental appointment for one kid, a canceled after school activity for the other and some sort of malaise that had me off for about 24 hours. As I forced myself into the seat to try writing something, anything, I simply just didn’t feel good and I felt the panic start to rise. I called the hubby for a moment of venting, frustrated that this creative life I desperately want, I seemed to sabotage at every turn. It’s interrupted and pushed aside and then when I have a few hours or moments and don’t feel well and simply want to sit my butt on the couch to rest, I feel guilty. Like desperately, beat myself up mentally, ready to give up guilty because aren’t I just wasting everyone’s time and forcing us into this crazy budget tightening onto one salary for my own selfish desires?

Yeah. That.

Luckily, I’m married to a guy who is not only practical but insanely supportive of this journey I’m on and knows me better than I probably know myself. His response floored me. Not just ebbed the panic or stopped the gush of guilt or placated, but stopped me in my tracks. It was an epiphany moment that not only cleared my own vision about my specific writing challenge in that moment, but opened my eyes to a larger understanding.

What he told me was that writing was like investing in your 401(k). You invest your money, but you don’t check it every day. It’s built for the long term. You will have up days and down days, but overall, you want a pattern of growth over the long term so that when you’re ready to retire, it’s ready for you. That doesn’t mean ignore it, it doesn’t mean throw your hands up the moment it gets tough, it means that some days are good, some days are bad, but no one day defines the entirety.

Mind blowing, right? Maybe just for me.

Then, I realized, not only did this long term view apply to my writing, but it applies to my parenting as well. There are some days when I just don’t feel in it to win it. The kids are at each other’s throats. The questions are endless. The answers are ignored. The crankiness is turned up. The lack of sleep catches up. The toys aren’t right. The screen time is taken away. The patience is short. The time is fractured. The desires misaligned. The schedules busy. The fridge is empty. The weather is rainy.

Then there are days that are just magic. The complaining is limited. The helping is rampant. The hugs are everywhere. The reminding is brief. The giggles are silly. The laughter is ongoing. The playtime is peaceful. The patience is plentiful. The chatter is two-way. The games are all-inclusive.

Regardless of whether it’s a bad parenting day or a good one, it’s the long term strategy, right? The child you’re turning into an adult. The memories you’re building that have little to do with whatever homework you’re nagging about or if the dishes were piled in the sink on Tuesday. The love that you’re sharing. The stories you’re reading. The time you’re spending. Yes, there are days we just want to end, tasks we wish we didn’t have to complete, schedules we wish we could free, but our ultimate commitment, our children, is still the top priority. And so we keep trying. We put them to bed and we binge watch something on TV and shake our heads when our spouse asks if we want to talk about one of those days and we go to sleep that night and try again the next day. We pack the lunches, make the breakfasts, drive the carpools and take deep breaths. We keep trying. We learn from yesterday’s mistakes. We put away the bad day before, we work on the day we’re in and remember there are more days in front.

Then, hopefully one day we’ll look back over this long trajectory of parenthood and our kids will tell us we did a good job. Not a perfect job. But a good job. Maybe even a great job. You’ll sit around a wedding rehearsal dinner table or a hospital bed as you meet a new grandchild or a Christmas tree with paper strewn about and toys underfoot again and your grown children will reminisce and laugh and tell stories and they won’t be about the days you hurried through, the days you didn’t feel the magic. They will be about the love. The fun.

We watched our youngest in a preschool performance this morning. He’ll only do this performance once. He’ll only be five for 9 more months. He’ll only be at preschool until May. As stressful as it was to create a costume and arrange our schedules to be there on a day where I’m also scheduled to be at the older’s school later and plan and run an adult meeting tonight, it was the big picture that granted serenity — time is fleeting and I want this moment to appear in my mind’s eye when I look back, not the remainder of the day’s logistics.

So, if you’re struggling today with today, focus on the end goal. Today might be a wash. That’s okay. There’s always tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. Let’s give ourselves permission to let go of the minutia and instead live our lives focused on the bigger picture, the overall portfolio of their childhood that turns them into these strangely independent, individual adults that will jump onto their own roller coasters of life. That’s the end goal. Let’s make the long term investment.