spin cylce


College Station is the land of tradition. I’m not Aggie….but I like to make up my own.

In the middle of town there is a big giant big open Christmas tree made out of lights. Most people just drive through the park. But I always like to get out and go stand under it. Right in the middle.
And spin.
I probably started this self imposed tradition with a good buzz as a teenager and didn’t need to spin to make the lights all run together. And I have to admit it kind of feels like flying.
Spinning, swirling, lights blurring, like one of those speedy action shots in a big city.

I didn’t know this was unusual until I asked some friends to spin right in the middle of the Garylord Texan and they stared at me like I was crazy. One reluctantly put her arms out, the other I am pretty sure prayed that no one would see us.
I didn’t care who was watching, I wanted to feel like that. Like flying. Like I was somehow right in the middle of all that light.
Maybe even a little bit like I was home.

Last Christmas me and one of those rare kinds of friends where you can not talk in months and months and pick right back up where you left off were sitting at my dad’s big kitchen table. Her girls in bed, mine getting their jammies on and after a glass of wine,  I managed to talk her into a little field trip. We hopped into the car and went straight to Central Park. I parked and even though it was wet and cold we got out and stood under the tree.
And spun.
Arms out because that is the only way to do it. (and helps prevent you from busting your rear…although that is likely to happen anyways).
And all I could see were colors spinning.
And I’m heard my friend say she had to stop but I kept spinning.
Eventually I slowed but the lights didn’t stop moving.
I tried to walk and wasn’t very successful.
My friend laughed as I stumbled back to the car.

I don’t like the not being able to walk straight feeling, but I do like the few seconds where everything is still spinning even when I’m not.
Your inner ear is filled with fluid and it is the vibrations in this fluid that helps us to hear. But twirl a glass of water and the fluid inside will continue to circle even after you stop it. Rotational inertia. Things want to maintain motion. To keep going, Even if it is in a circle. Maybe this is why it is so hard for most of us to be still.

This town is never the same to me.
It looks different every time I visit.
It keeps changing, even when I don’t.

And my life is like that too. I keep moving, In all kinds of directions. Even when I try to stop, things keep moving. Blurring together. Just like the lights, leaving me occasionally lost, disoriented and dizzy.
But. if you just take a minute to look up.
All you see is color.
All I see is beautiful.
And it doesn’t seem to matter if I will stumble when it all stops.

This year, I took my kids back to the tree.
We parked the car. Got in the middle and I told them to spin.
There were several other families and groups of teenagers right there in the middle doing the same thing.
Our arms spread wide, looking up rather than at each other, we often hit each other.
We were all strangers spinning under the lights.
Some of us kids, the rest of us giggling like we were.
Stumbling a bit, but no one seemed to mind.
Looking up. Moving in circles. Falling down.
Getting back up and doing it all over again.


wrecked


Santa brought Owen a go-kart.

Santa was reluctant, despite Mrs. Claus’s pleadings that it is what he asked for and that this might be the last year he believes in him. And doesn't he have any Christmas spirit. Even a little bit.
Santa was caught up in details, like who was going to put it together, how safe it was, how were we going to get it under the tree and the hefty pricetag.
Mrs. Claus only thought of her son excited on Christmas morning or driving little circles around our cul-de-sac and sent him text after text that they were on sale. And to hurry up before they were all gone.

We did Christmas morning a day early at our house. Due to Santa’s demaning travel schedule and things like how impossible it would be a to sneak an entire person sized gokart into my car before heading over the river and through the woods.
He was not as excited as Mrs. Claus had hoped.
His sleepy eyes took it for a few spins around the living room and then we all piled into our real car and headed South.

When we got to my parents house, it was a different story. They live on a circular street, kind of like we do. But instead of ending in a a cul de sac, there street has a parking island in the middle. Their entire street makes for a perfect race loop.

Even before hugging Annie and PawPaw hello, he wanted to put on my old bike helmet Mr. Claus had insisted on and hitting the pavement for a few loops. (clearly, Mrs. Claus is a safety second kind of girl).

The other cousins lined up for there turn, they wore the tires down to the thread and drained the battery in the course of one afternoon.
Tess has happy to watch or chase it for a stretch.
I insisted that she try it out.
I grabbed the bike helmet from whatever 8 year old was next in line for the keys.
She said No! That she was scared as I clipped the buckle under her chin and let the way too big helmet slide over her eyebrows. She told me that she didn’t know how to drive yet.
I told her not to be scared. That it would be fun. Just to try it out.
In retrospect I now realize I sound like a horrible picture of the bad friend in an after school special. I might as well have been trying to give my 5 year old daughter pot. Instead, I was just trying to push her to not let fear win. To stop watching from the sidelines. To literally get in the drivers seat.

I showed her how to push the throttle forward a bit and off zoomed down the driveway.

Screaming. Straight into my already been in too many accidents new car.

I chased after her, but was no match for the now recharged battery. She screamed. My husband kept yelling “let her go”. I thought maybe he knew about some magic go kart air bag or crumple zones.
Instead, he had really been yelling “let it go” to Tess. As in let go of the throttle. Stop giving it gas and it will stop. As usual I misunderstood. And apparently he didn’t realize that he was talking to this little tiny miniature version of me, that even at 5 only knows how to go at one speed.

Tess hit the rear bumber of my car at full speed, and flopped forward a bit. There were no skinned knees. No broken bones. No missing teeth and not even any new dents in my car.

But she cried and carried on like she had just been cut out of the go kart with the jaws of life.I couldn’t believe how foolish I’d been. How I’d pushed her without teaching her the most important things.
How to use the breaks.
How to slow down.
To stop.
To turn.
How to do anything except hit the gas.

She had wrecked for the same exact reason I often do.
For going full speed even when I realize I should slow down.
For jumping in without caution.
For not stopping or bailing even when it is time.
Not knowing how to simply let it go.
 

Tess isn’t interested in driving for a while. And, lets honest, my driving record is less than stellar. I am literally on defensivedriving.com’s Christmas list.

It might be time we both work on finding our brakes.

 
 (speaking of driving....last night I drove around the block an extra two times just to hear this song again)

The annual REAL Christmas letter

I started writing REAL Christmas letters about 5 years as ago. As a joke, in response to all the fake and cheesy ones people send out about how perfect their lives appeared on paper. A friend and I laughed about how refreshing it would be if people wrote real Christmas letters. Confessed to filing for bankruptcy or their kids straight C report card. A place where they shared the highs, but didn't ignore the lows. It would be way more honest and a whole lot more entertaining.

Most people don't write Christmas letters any more, and the Christmas cards themselves have even started to dwindle. These days we do not save our perfect lives for yearly updates. We post them in our Facebook status and on Instagram 365 days a year. And I am just as guilty. I post pictures of my kids scoring a soccer goal, not the giant tantrum they threw in the Target checkout line because I refused to buy those little toys they put on the bottom shelf. (Well played Target). I post pics of my perfect cup of coffee, not the 8 cake balls I ate for breakfast with it. I post pics of all the fun places I go and eat, not all the nights I am in pjs before the evening news.

So. Here is my year in review. The highs. The lows and some of the boring stuff in between.

I'll start with the youngest. Tess is in pre-K this year. Again. Had she been born just a few weeks earlier we would have gotten a 700$ a month raise in August. Instead, she is learning to color and stay quiet at nap time for one more year. She does not seem that interested in numbers or letters but is all about "arting" (what she calls coloring, painting or mostly making a mess and drawing on things she shouldn't with a sharpie) and singing Katy Perry songs. She is still taking dance and I can not wait for the day that she can put on her own tights. I swear those things are from the devil. Her hair is finally starting to grow. And she is so damn cute with those freckles except when she says things like "you're not the boss of me" and I send her to her room and dock her allowance or ground her from Taylor Swift tunes or her American girl dolls.
Speaking of American girls, Tess has added to her collection and now Kit has here best friend at her side. Ruthie or as Tess pronounces it, "rufie" and I am thinking she must have slipped us one because over spring break we actually took her to the American Girl store to get her dolls ears pierced. Next time I'll save the 15$ and use the drill in the garage. She started playing soccer this year too. I was afraid she'd hate it. But. She is a natural defender and not afraid to push a girl to the ground. All in all, she got pneumonia twice and has only wet the bed once and has more opinions on makeup shoes and outfits than most teenagers.

Owen is now in the 3rd grade. He is in the chess club and book club and if those things are t dorky enough he spends every spare minute playing minecraft. Or watching videos about playing minecraft. Or watching videos about watching videos about playing minecraft. Unfortunately all this us unmonitored YouTube finally payed its price by Owen dropping some un 8 year old appropriate language at the dinner table. In front of my mother in law. It was hilarious and horrible all at the same time. Thankfully he blamed his dad rather than me, my music or even Tess's Katy Perry obsession for his new vocabulary. We love 3rd grade. He multiplies like crazy, knows all kinds of ridiculous science facts, everything you never wanted to know about Pokémon. He has seemed to make more friends and is humiliated by my dancing and singing in public. He also had his first girlfriend. She is the only girl in the third grade who wore a bump it and wanted to sit next to him at lunch. After a long meaningful relationship ( one week) Owen had enough of her bossy ways and big hair and did what any self respecting 8 year old would do. He told a friend to tell her not to sit by him any more. And wise beyond his years he waited until the end of the day on a Friday to do this so he could make a quick drama free exit. It was completely considerate and chicken at the same time. He will make a great teenage boy.
He played baseball in the spring and soccer in the fall clocked some speedy 5K times and was movie goer #3 in his latest school play. Despite the lack of actual title, he had quite a few lines. Most of which he even got right. He loves to fish and hates to shower. He often forgets to turn in his homework and brush his hair but never forgets how much money I borrowed from his allowance.

Shaun, had quite a year too. He ran several races, grew a hideous beard, almost quit his job and  took up coaching owen's soccer team. I couldn't wait to see the beard go. The job decision finally paid off a few days ago with a long over due raise and promotion and he got red carded and kicked out of his first soccer game as a coach.
I also ran several races, unintentionally grew out the hair on my legs did not get promoted or much of a raise and did not take up coaching again...but managed to not forget snack duty even once. I read a lot of books, binge watched all 3 seasons of downton abbey, avoided grading papers and despite many things in my life being exactly the same have managed to learn plenty of lessons. Some of them for about the 10th time.
The highs: getting a new car, days on the beach, Texas wine country and getting the classes I like teaching back.
The lows: Pretty much the entire month of June, backing my new car into a telephone pole and then a few months later backing it into a Porsche.

You see, despite my attempts at an "authentic" and real Christmas letter...I've written considerably less over the last few years because it is harder and harder for me to be exposed. I have to fight the urge to protect and hide and cover up. I've been trying to figure out who deserves the whole story and who doesn't. Because maybe it isn't for everyone. I have learned that being real takes practice. Being real and letting the people around you be real takes an incredible amount of grace. For yourself and for letting the people you love be who they are and not who you want them to be. It is not an excuse to be mean and call that "honesty" or an excuse to say whatever you want. Rather it is a chance to let people see you and love you on the good days as well as the bad. To not count the likes or comments on our Instagram and Facebook feeds but to cherish the ones that check on us when we have had an awful day. The people who say "me too" or "or how can I help". It is hard to do, to be naked and real in a world where so many people are trying so hard to present their most perfect selves.
I'm sure their perfect self didn't go to dinner, the post office and the grocery store with a huge giant rip in the back of their pants yesterday with several inches of my colorful panties on display for the world to see....but I did. And it was embarrassing, but also hilarious. And it is whole lot more fun to laugh about it than to hide in shame.

In summary, I'll leave you with the two most important things I have learned in 2013
Wear good underwear.
Look before you put your car in reverse.





and if you are interested...here is last year's letter
http://idontbelieveingrammar.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-annual-real-christmas-letter.html
and the year before that
http://idontbelieveingrammar.blogspot.com/2011/12/real-christmas-letter.html
and the year before that
http://idontbelieveingrammar.blogspot.com/2010/12/real-christmas-letter-take-2.html
and the original
http://idontbelieveingrammar.blogspot.com/2008/12/christmas-letter.html

I'm also feeling a little guilty about not mentioning...jesus at all in my Christmas letter...and turns out it is HIS holiday...so I'll close with the verse I put on my cards

 
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." John 14:27

 

make like a tree


Something rare and unusual happened this year where I live.

 Fall.

Here, we usually we go straight from summer to a few ice storms that we like to call winter. Spring is also known as Tornado Season and then we go right back to summer’s so hot you can literally fry an egg on your driveway and make cookies on your dashboard. (I have done both).

 But Autumn around here usually lasts about a week. That small sliver of time that Target takes down the Halloween decorations and puts up the Christmas ones.

This year, however, the crisp weather has lasted a little bit longer. Even if it is erratic.
One week I am bundled up in blankets, coats and hats in the freezing rain for my girl’s soccer game, and the next I am worried that I should have put sunscreen on her.
Two Sundays ago my kids rolled up their pants, slipped off their shoes and played in the new fountains downtown for well over an hour. They were soaked. My son laid out his shirt to dry in the sun while we licked the frosting off our cupcakes. (ok, I rolled up my pants and took my shoes off too, but I kept my shirt on!).
Two days ago -Sunday, we got up early, loaded up our car with suitcases and gifts and headed north to see family for the holidays. Less than an hour out of town, our windshield froze over. The wipers got stuck on the ice and sleet covered the roadways.

Reluctantly we headed back home.  And looked at pictures of snow and ice just North of us, but the first snowpocalypse of the season didn’t make it this far down 35. (I should also note that Target was completely out of Fritos, because if it drops below 35° here …everything shuts down and we all make chili for dinner).

One word explains it all. Texas.

Today I was thankful for the electric seat warmers in my car. By the end of the week, the weatherman swears we will be back in short sleeves and I guess I will have to shave my legs again.

 One thing that doesn’t need to dress for the weather, is the trees. And this year they have been spectacularly bright. For a state that doesn’t really do Fall well, the trees have turned red and orange and yellow and stayed that way for longer than usual.

 I’ve read up before on why leaves change color. Scientifically and metaphorically. For me it is hard to separate. We do a lab every year in my AP biology class where my students take a bright green piece of spinach and use a solvent to pull out all the pigments within the leaf. There are four in spinach. Chlorophyll a, chlorophyll b, xanthophyll and carotene.  (dark green, light green, yellow and orange).  The green chlorophyll’s job is to make food for the plant, but it is really only good at doing that within a pretty limited range of lightwaves. (color). The other accessory pigments help the plant absorb and use a broader range of light. In other words, they aren’t nearly as efficient but they are a whole lot more pretty. And that is just spinach.

Produce isn’t generally known for it’s beautiful foliage. The trees I ran past in the park today I’m pretty sure were just showing off.

 I make no secret that I am a summer girl. I like sweaters, but not nearly as much as I like sunshine.  When winter comes, the days are short, my kids are cooped up in doors and I have a hard time getting off the couch.

I think trees are the same way.  When winter comes, sunshine is in short supply and they pretty much decide to take the winter off. All the photosynthesizing parts (the green ones) decide that with sunshine in short supply that maybe they should cut their losses for a while and wait around for spring to do any more work.  They shut down their green little food making factories for a long winter’s rest and live off all the food they made in the Spring and Summer. The first thing that happens is that the chlorophyll starts to degrdade, the plant doesn’t bother to make more and instead of green the plants turn all kinds of fabulous yellows and oranges and reds before eventually dying and falling off.

 (and if you are a botanist – I know I just completely oversimplified things and left out how the red gets there…bare with me, I'm not really here to talk about plants...that is what Wikipedia is for)

As I ran today, I thought about that.
Less about the science of why, but mostly that the red and the yellow and the orange that is there all along.
We just can’t see it.

I am not good at letting things fade.
I want to keep them and hold onto them and make them look like I think they should.

And maybe sometimes that keeps me from seeing what has been there all along.
This way of nature resetting.
Of resting.
Of letting go of things.
Of preparing to grow. For the new that will be Spring.
Of reminding us to look for those things that often get overlooked. Overshadowed.
Deemed less important.
It is like God is saying as beautifully as only He can to pay attention to those things.
To Notice.
To find them in others. And in ourselves.

Maybe that is why the leaves change colors.
To remind us of the beauty we often forget has been there all along.

 

Rocks for jocks

I have zero interest in rocks. None. Unless it is one on my finger, and even then I don't really care that much about carrots or cut.
Whoever wrote my degree plans, however, thought I should take a few geology classes in both undergrad and grad school. For multiple semesters in college I sat through lectures on rocks, the age of the Earth, talked about fossils and what really killed off the dinosaurs.
I stayed awake. But. Just barely.
I also remember in labs, having to classify types of rocks. chert, sandstone, obsidian.
A few were pretty...but most were just brown stones to me.
One of the ways we had to identify them was based on the Mohs scale of hardness.
You would scratch the surface of one rock or mineral on another to see which one was harder. The values range from 1 - 10, depending on how easily it is scratched.

In the hospital they always ask you to rate your pain. On a scale of 1-10.

And those scales and numbers and ways of classifying things are useful. Sometimes.

Yesterday I watched a ted talk that i haven't been able to shake. (this one) The topic was how we approach hard conversations.  The things we hide. The struggles we have to sometimes just be who we are and say what needs to be said.

She said something that totally disputed what I learned in my college geology classes.
She said this.

"Hard is not relative. Hard is just hard."

Unfortunately, I think most of the time I go around classifying, comparing and rating and justifying.

I am amazed at some of the things others have overcome. I am shamed at how little it sometimes takes to make me weep in the car.  I think my life experience (or lack there of) makes me expert enough to decide what others should feel, push through, shake off, face or break them.

I have no right.

Whose to say which is harder?
math or painting.
singing or baking a cake.
rejection or failure.
sickness or addiction.
calling back or hanging up.
saying yes or saying no.
living with lies or facing consequences.
giving or accepting grace.

Maybe you can't put a number on it. And maybe we shouldn't even try.
Hard is just hard.

What if I tried to not classify other people's hard. or hurts. and instead just acknowledged when others were in that place and tried to walk along side them.
Or,  if when I find myself in that same place that I allow myself the grace to be there for just a moment.
Rather than trying to decide if it is hard enough before telling myself to suck it up and get off the couch.

Back to my geology lab, the only way your could test a rock or minerals hardness was to scratch it against another surface and see if it left a mark.
To press one into the other and see which one gave.
And maybe when we feel the need to rate and compare and classify our own hardness, we cause this same kind of damage.

Maybe these scales are best suited for rocks and doctors.
Not our own hearts.



(photo at top credit found here http://www.makingthishome.com/2012/07/31/where-does-your-heart-lie/)

reverse


Somehow over, “Mom I need to tell you something” which my daughter says no less than 347 times a day and the radio…I heard a sickening crunch. The one that sounds like money and insurance claims and fiberglass bending in ways it shouldn't.

Even though I couldn’t see a thing, I was pretty sure that I had just backed into something.

Again.

And yes, my car does have one of those little back up mirrors. Apparently I need one that beeps as well.

I pulled forward and got out to inspect the damage.

It was dark and late and all I want to do on a Friday night is crawl into bed, so I never noticed that some little car slipped into a space perpendicular to my own. So close in fact that I couldn’t back out at all and eventually would have to move cones out of the way to escape through the front.

Immediately I saw a volleyball size dent in the side of the parked car.

I looked around and the parking lot was empty. Everyone was still inside the stands intently waiting for the second half of the game. I was the only one dreaming of an early bedtime. Instead of doing what I really wanted…which was to get back in my car and drive the hell out of there before anyone saw me, I dug in my purse for some paper. I wrote down my insurance information, name and phone number and tucked it securely on the dashboard.

One minor detail I am leaving out.  I placed it on the dashboard of what looked like a nice shiny new perfect Porsche convertible.

 I dialed my insurance provider to give them the details before pulling out of the parking lot and heading home already in a downward spiral.

My husband was incredibly patient and kind, telling me that is what insurance was for.
I took a Tylonal PM. Turned off my phone because I was not ready to face a very angry dented Porsche owner and climbed into bed. I didn’t hardly sleep all night. My stomach was in knots. Anxiety ran over me. I tossed. I turned. I played out a million different scenarios in my head. I wondered why I couldn’t have just backed into an old minivan, or even another telephone pole like the last time. I worried about the voicemails I was going to have to reply to in the morning. I even imagined the police coming to knock on my door. I considered never driving again. I tried to talk sense into myself. That it was an accident. That I have insurance. That I did the responsible thing and owned up to my mistake. But, there is very little talking sense into anyone’s self in the middle of the night. Shame and fear and anxiety always seem to win out in the early a.m.

 At 6 am I gave up and crawled out of bed to make some coffee and face whatever was on my cell phone. I couldn’t keep the coffee down and my voicemail was totally empty.

Saturdays at my house usually involve donuts, a good long run and cheering on my favorite teams.  I skipped the run, didn’t dare trying to eat a donut and watched my kids from the sidelines despite giant bags under my eyes and a knot in my stomach that was at least getting lighter as the day went on.

Still no voicemails cursing me. No police coming to take me away. I screwed up and I kept waiting for someone to yell at me. To punish me. To make me feel like less, even though I was doing a pretty damn good job of that myself.  Eventually the claims adjustor called, told me I had all the details they needed that they need from both parties and that was the end of that.

The knot got even smaller and I took a quick nap and woke up to watch my undefeated alma mater try to keep their winning streak alive.  They lost. Their perfect record smeared. But the game was exciting and they fought it out until the end and I imagine that they still got on the bus with their heads held high.

My car, by the way, had absolutely no damage. Because, like most acts of carelessness we usually damage the ones around us more than we harm ourselves.

However, my car still has a large crack that snakes up most of my windshield. A stray rock hit the window on a road trip this summer and left it’s mark. I haven’t bothered to get it fixed because I just haven’t wanted to deal with the hassle of taking it in. For months, I have been driving around a car with a giant crack in it. Today, someone else was driving around town in their dream car with an Outlander-sized dent in the driver’s side.

The knot in my stomach is mostly gone. I slept for 10 straight hours last night. I am still embarrassed and double and triple checked my mirrors every time I put my car in reverse today. And my town isn't that big...and it was at a school event. I am sure the owner will have a face soon enough.

But.
Windows break.
Cars get dented.
Records get broken

We are all out their with our own cracks and dents and defeats.  Doing our best to hide them or repair them.
But what if, for a change we just acknowledged them.
Stopped making, ourselves and everyone else, feel shitty for mistakes or failures.
Picked each other up. Were a little more careful with the broken pieces. Our own and everyone else's.
Held our heads high anyways.
That, and always check our mirrors before putting it in reverse.

 

“There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.”
Leonard Cohen


pablo and maria



I love summer. I love the smell of chlorine on my kids skin and sunscreen and an excuse to eat ice cream every single day. Not setting the alarm and no nagging papers that I should be grading. Time to actually eat breakfast. To stay up late. Time to put away the laundry and be completely caught up on my TiVo daily. Going out on a weeknight. I even like all the sweating.
Summer is my season.

The summer before last was pretty epic (and I know I am too old to use that word and be taken seriously). But, really it was uh-mazing. I spent a week in the mountains, a week in Vancouver and pretty much the rest of the time at the pool and the lake. It left a lot to live up to. I pushed through a long Spring and an exhausting school year just trying to make it. To summer. I had high hopes for cleaning out my house. Room by room. All the lessons I would plan. All the friends I would see and all the adventures my family would have.

And it was a big fat let down.

June couldn't have sucked more.
Tess had pneumonia twice.
Owen had a weird but serious infection (in the middle of our vacation) that put us in the ER twice.
Someone I loved was murdered.
And my dog died.
Mumford canceled their show and I had tickets.
Many of my friends were going through there own trials which completely dwarfed my own. And even though this is usually my specialty, I was struggling to show up. To know how to help.
I had a bible study fail.
We canceled the cleaning lady.
I waited too long and some of the camps my kids wanted to go to were full. Which is just as good because my bank account was the opposite.
Some new opportunities fell through.
And my kids did not get the memo that during the summer you were supposed to sleep at least until 8 am.

The medical bills added up. Loss surrounded me. And I struggled to figure out how to show up.

The days were long. I did loads of laundry and dishes and swept and took out the trash.
My kids watched hours of cartoons. I watched hours of TNT. And went to dozens of doctors appointments. I read a book a day. It was the summer of my discontent.

Fast forward 3 or so months. Yesterday morning I needed a hoodie for the first time, and not just because my classroom could double as a meat locker.
The first day of fall came and went without me noticing, although I did see a million pictures of pumpkin spice lattes on Instagram. This is pretty much how I knew to go buy my kids a Halloween costume. September was gone before I got used to writing 9s in the date line.  Before I realized it, while I was writing lesson plans, summer completely slipped away. Flip flops have been traded in for really cute boots.
I'm not that into the lattes but I do love long sleeves, soup and not having to shave my legs more than once a week.

Tonight I went for a run. I was enjoying the fact that it was not 100 degrees outside and the first song that came on my ipod was the song that was sang at my friend's funeral. In June.
The tears came before I could stop them, before I even made it off my street and suddenly June felt like a million years ago.

I missed my friend. And his loss has not entirely left me.
And it shouldn't.
But something about that sadness and ache felt foreign. Like it was from a different season.
Because it was.

My summer didn't stay hard.
We went to the beach in July. And the weather reports warned of tropical storms. It predicted rain for days. I packed a pair of blue jeans and checked movie releases.
Instead, the sun shone. We all grew more freckles, got salt in our eyes and sand in between our toes.
I've heard that there are few things in life that salt water can't cure: sweat, tears or the ocean.
My summer was heavy in all three.

I kept running, and missing my friend.
But appreciating how things have changed.
How the hardness of that month has eased. How seasons aren't always marked on the calendar or with flavored syrups at coffee shops. Sometimes they are marked in our hearts.
And sometimes it takes longer than others.
But they change.
Hard days sometimes turn into hard weeks and occasionally into hard months.
Occasionally those months stick together.

But they are seasons.
And seasons are temporary.

The weather changes.
The stores redecorate.
The coffee shops sell you pumpkin spice or peppermint mochas.

It. Gets. Better.
Or maybe it gets worse.
But then it gets better again.

Either way, I am getting coffee.
 

(this song makes me cry every. single. time. Zane sang it live, and I just remember his slumped shoulders in the pew in front of me.)

Are zombies nice?

For months now my daughter has been playing an annoying little game, asking me if everything is nice or not.
From the back seat I hear, " mom, are cats nice?"
"Most are, but you should always ask the owner or approach a pet carefully."
"So some cats are bad?"
"Not necessarily, some just don't want to be petted."

I turn up my music back up.

But again, she pipes up from the backseat, "princesses are nice right?"
"Well, I've never met one but I'd guess most of them are nice."

And it goes on like this for weeks.
"Are grasshoppers nice? Are frogs nice? Is the neighbor's dog nice? Are zombies nice? My American girl doll? Chickens?"

"Yes. Yes. Yes. No. The price isn't. They make nice nuggets."

"What about a tiger?"
"Well, a tiger might try to eat you."
"So it is mean?"
"Not necessarily, it just might be hungry."

Owen growing even more annoyed than I am, looks up from playing plants vs zombies and tries to explain that not everything is mean or nice.
That a tiger is not mean or nice. It is a predator.

She is quiet momentarily.
Owen goes back to his game. I go back to singing to the radio,

"Mom, are predators nice?"
"Tess, do you even know what a predator is?"
"No. Are they nice??"

A long sigh.

Let's save the biology lesson for another day, sometimes tigers are just tigers. Chickens are just chickens. They aren't mean or nice. They just are.

"Ok, so. But Ariel IS nice right? She is my favorite princess."
Yes. I bet she is the nicest Disney princess that ever had a bra made out of sea shells.

She still asks this question. Daily. Once I even gave her a long complicated answer about why cannibals aren't nice, but turns out she said "camel". On the bright side she now has a clear anti-people eating stand. Although she did ask if they ate the brains or if that was just zombies.
This conversation wears me out.
But I see what she is doing.
She needs to be able to classify things. Group them. Label them. Decide what team they are on.

And if she is like the rest of us, it is a skill she will use her entire life.
On everyone she comes in contact with and worst of all, on herself.
In. Out.
Popular. Nerdy.
Democrat. Republican.
Hot. Not.

But, it is a system I am trying to cloud and complicate and confuse. Even if it makes me occasionally want to pound my head against the steering wheel.
I tell her that these labels she has made don't always work. That they are handy and occasionally necessary, but there is usually more to the story than if something is nice or bad.
That some cats are nice, some are mean, sometimes they just have a bad day.
That a tiger might try to eat you, but that doesn't make it nice or mean. It is just being a tiger.
And of course, that maybe zombies aren't really mean that they are just misunderstood.

Tess, just turned five. She was thrilled with the gifts, the cupcakes, the attention and the party.
But she was reluctant about actually being five.
From the backseat again she tells me that she still wants to be Little Tess.
That she wants all her dresses to fit. That she does not want to be Big Tess. That she wants to play with her Barbies. She wants to be Silly Tess and wear pants on her head not Mommy Tess who has to have babies and get a job.

Whooo. Hold your really nice horses. You turned 5 not 35.  First, I'd suggest getting a job, a husband and then having babies but for now...
Don't worry about being Big Tess or Little Tess. Young and Carefree Tess or Tired and exhausted what am I going to make for dinner and when am I going to grade papers mom...I mean Tess.
Try being Just Tess.
Be who you are right now.
I love that girl, mean or nice. Four or five.
Tiered and cranky or sweet and kind.
That I'm sure her dresses will still fit, and thankfully they make dresses in all kinds of sizes.
Lose the adjectives and just be you.

Mom, can Just Tess have a snowcone?
"Sure, I hear snowcones taste even better when you are five."

"Mom, are snowcones nice?"


Third


Dear Owen,

You have gotten used to sleeping in all summer. Not wearing shirts or shoes that require laces. 6:30 am will come as a rude awakening. Your dad will wake you up. Hopefully give you the outfit I picked out and give you a poptart or eggo or something, because chances are good you will all be in a hurry and grumpy. But hopefully he will remember to get a quick picture of you before you go. Because it is a momentous day.

Your first day of third grade. And third grade seems so much bigger and older but still has just a bit of that innocence left. Like you still might like me to be the chaperone on your field trip or show up to eat lunch with you in the cafeteria. And I am well aware that these days are numbered.

I don't want to do the math on how long ago my own third grade days were. They warned us that third grade would be hard. There were times tables, long division and cursive writing to learn. And I want you to learn those things (except for long division, I think that is about as useless as learning how to use a card catalog now). And these days there are probably high stakes state standarized tests. You will learn to bubble and make your marks neat and dark. You will be reminded over and over that it counts. That you are getting a grade.  And of course I want you to ace the hell out of that dumb test.
But.
I hope you learn that there are more important things than tests and times tables and curvy writing that no one uses anyways.

I hope you learn to speak up, to ask questions, to answer, to introduce yourself, to ask for help and to let someone know if things are not ok. Your voice is more important than any test or that writing prompt.

I figure it is time that you learn that Santa and the tooth fairy aren't real. And I can't help but think that surely you already know this and are just playing along because you think that the presents will stop if you do. 8 is old enough to know the truth. That it isn't about some man in a silly suit. And in the same breath, I hope you learn to not let go of all the magic and mystery and excitement. That is something no one can teach you. Kids come by it naturally. It is us grown ups who forget.

I hope you learn that being brave isn't something you are. It is something you do, with your knees knocking. Learn to do the things you are afraid of or aren't good at.  Make peace with that fear so it can't stop you. Now, it is writing and bike riding and asking to join in. If you can learn how to do something anyways. Even when you don't want to. Even when you are afraid. Even if you might not be very good at it. You can do anything.
And, you don't have to be great at something to enjoy it. Need some examples of this --just watch me ski or golf or dance (I could keep going with this list for awhile).

I hope you learn to tell the truth. Unless the truth is just to be mean. Then I hope you learn to keep your mouth shut.

I don't teach 3rd grade but I do teach and I notice that most good kids do exactly what I ask. If I ask them to define 10 words, the good kids define 10. If I ask them to write a one page essay, the good kids turn in a one page essay. Don't be a good kid. Be a great one. Don't just do the minimum. Do more.

Last year you really wanted more friends at school. The best way to accomplish this is the be one. To ask. To invite. Go first. Not everyone will want to be your friend. Sometimes your friends might not want to stay your friends. Love them anyways. If you have a crush on that sweet girl 2 desks over. Write her a note (but don't expect to be allowed to have a girlfriend!). Rejection really stinks. It hurts worse than stepping on your legos. But hearts always heal. I hope you learn that it is better to be kind, than cool. That no one likes a know-it-all or a braggart.  I know that the next decade of your school career will teach  you more about fitting in than anything else. But try to forget all that. Fitting in only teaches you how to be someone else. And that someone else isn't nearly as great as this silly 8 year I know.

I hope you learn that there will always be kids that are bigger, taller, faster, smarter, have more video games, have more friends or maybe even know more science facts than you.
You are no less than them.
I also hope you learn that there are kids that aren't as smart, don't always have clean clothes, aren't nearly as cute or funny or can't remember what 3X4 is to save their life.
You are no more than them.

I adore it when you bring home straight As, or win an award, score a goal or are front and center in the school play. I want to bust with pride. Put it on facebook and tell everyone that you are my kid. But here is a little secret -- how much I love you doesn't depend on those things.  I love you the same on the days where your folder gets signed, your shirt is on backwards, you forget your homework and are mean to your sister. I love you the same even if you eat the last Oreo or I step on your legos in the middle of the floor which hurts like a few words that I hope you haven't learned yet.

Those things might not make it to your report card, but I swear they will get you further in life than writing in cursive ever will. Also, you might want to learn how to sign my initials, because some times this less than perfect mom of yours forgets to sign your homework folder.
                                                                               
                                     Sincerely,
your mom who promises to try not to dance or run into other cars in the pickup line this year.




(and if you have read Carry On Warrior by Glennon Doyle you know that I completely ripped off her concept. Her own letter to her son on his first day of third grade. There is a copy of it here:
http://momastery.com/blog/2013/08/14/it-gets-better/
I read it last Spring and couldn't wait to read it to my own son on his third-grade-eve.  He completely ignored me and kept playing mindcraft. So I figured I should write my own. I'd slip it in his lunchbox....but I'm pretty sure the I love you notecard I put in with his sandwich might already be a little too much. Go read her letter -- it is greatness. Actually, you should read the whole book.)

downsizing


I am easily inspired and influenced.
Once I watched an omni movie about climbing Mr. Kilamanjaro and suddenly I wanted to climb a giant mountain. (sidenote - I hate peeing outside). I read books on simplicity and I take half the things in my closet to goodwill. (sidenote - I have a small zulily addiction).  I watch an episode of the barefoot contessa and suddenly I want to throw a dinner party. (sidenote - I hate cleaning my house which can put a damper on having people over). I go to the gym and suddenly I want arms like Jillian Micheals. (I hate protein shakes and group fitness classes scare me). I read some Shane Claiborne and suddenly want to quit my job and serve homeless people. ( sidenote -I love Starbucks, my job and do not know how to sew on a button much less my own clothes). The workshops and speakers that 90% people I work with roll their eyes at and think are silly make me want to take notes and be the next Ron Clark (sidenote - It is summer but I'm pretty sure that I am behind on grading papers).

I want to do all these big things.
I want to run really far and climb mountains and serve selflessly. I want to be different and unafraid and make memories and change people and cook a perfect risotto and be teacher of the year.
I don't need recognition I tell myself.
But I should be doing more.
Because I never do big things.
My dishes pile high in the sink. I won't be winning any church attendance or volunteer awards. Everyone at work seems to be going back to school for more degrees while I wonder what I want to do when I grow up, rather than how to move up a ladder. I fed my kids microwave corndogs for lunch. I watch way too much TNT. I couldn't do a pullup to save my life. It has been a long time since I saw that omni movie, I'm not even sure what country Mt. Kilamanjaro is in.

When I make excuses, I tell myself that I am not very ambitious. That I am socially motivated not task oriented. I have small children. And a husband. I have limited funds. And time. And I get sick quickly when I don't get enough sleep. I choose sleep or coffee with friends over mountain climbing, crossfit classes or grading papers.

When it is worse than that, I start all the negative self talk.
The kind we don't want to admit but that we all do. The narrator in my head that I'd like to put a hit out on. The one that tells me I can't. I'll never. I shouldn't even try.
That I can't do big things. That I can't even find my keys. The one that tells me just to stay on the couch and watch another episode of Psych.

But lately, I've been thinking that maybe I could just do small things.
That small things don't make me small, despite what that lame narrator has to say.

And that the truth is. I've never done any of those grand things I listed in the first paragraph. But I have climbed mountains (that is plural). I have lost count of the half marathons I've run. I can cook better than many of my friends (who I hope aren't mad at me after reading that). I look homeless people in the eyes and I give what I can. I have good ideas at work and love kids more that I hate paperwork (and that is saying a lot).
And that is more than I realize.

I do a lot of small things.
Some well. Some poorly. Some I'm getting better at.

I struggle to be productive. I get through my days with lots of lists. My lists are embarrassing. I am the girl that writes things down that she has already done just so I can cross them off. I write down silly little tasks that take almost as long to do as they do to write down. And on it I put ridiculous things like - hang up 10 pieces of laundry.  Today that was on my list four times and sadly, there is still more in the basket.  But I if I keep putting it away 10 pieces at a time....the pile stays smaller than I am tall and more often than not we have clean underwear in the mornings. My husband does not do laundry like this. He brings in weeks worth of heaping clean clothes to the living ro
 
om and puts it in piles all over the place, then takes it to the appropriate closet until it is gone. It takes hours. And all of it, even just trying to find a place to sit on the couch while he does, this overwhelms me. But I can put away 10 pieces at a time.

I feel like I am living this mediocre life when I say that I should pursue small things in stead of big ones, but that isn't true. I still have big dreams. I may, or may not, ever make it up Mt. Kilamanjaro. Chances are good that I'll have new hopes and goals dream vacations by the time I bother googling what country it is in. But. If I keeping doing the small things....
like putting up laundry 10 peices at a time. or writing 20 minutes a day. or trying a new recipe. or running 5 miles in the rain...
Well I'm good at math.
Small things add up.

The laundry gets done.
And eventually the small things become the big things.


with room


Preface: I have been pretty absent in this place for a while. Writing has been a struggle. Something I want to do, yet I just don't. I think it is less about the writing and more about reisisting being seen. They are both getting harder.....which makes me feel like I better force myself to do both before I forget how. I'm writing again...but it is a struggle. What is coming out is a little forced. Some are writing exercises. (This was, it said to write for 10 minutes on coffee). But I've been learning something else in this season.... that many of the character traits we admire are not innate. They are practice. I've been re-reading The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene Brown and she lists 10 traits of people who live wholeheartedly. These traits aren't things we are born with. They are things we chose to practice...over and over...daily to become. I used to think that patience and gratitude and authenticity were those kinds of things. Gifts we were given. Not things practiced like scales on a piano. I took piano when I was 6. My teacher, I thought was about a million years old and smelled a little bit like moth balls and the inside of a Merle Norman. She always asked if I had practice everyday. I said yes even when it wasn't true. But she could always tell when it wan't. I thought perhaps, it wasn't because I was not a very good liar....but most likely it was the way my hands fumbled on the keys.  If I put in the time everyday my fingers knew where to go. Some people are more apt to be musically talented than others. But no one is going to be a musician without lots of practice. Any athlete would tell you the same thing about their sport. And apparently I will not be patient or real or grateful without practice as well. As far as I know there are not workbooks or drills for those things....but the writing practice is easy. You just sit down and do it. Even if what comes out sounds like a bad étude. Even if it is left with room for improvement. I order my coffee like that these days too. With room.

(10 minutes on coffee)

Every Sunday we wait in the hall until they are done praying...then we stream in . Going straight to the back right hand corner. Hoping for a white and red box because if we are lucky, someone brought donuts. But even if they didn't we still fill our cups from the silver urn. Most of the other kids mixing in more creamer and sugar than coffee.
I added nothing.
And drank quick hot sips. The coffee burned my tongue and throat and the bitterness shocked my taste buds.
But I still took my coffee black.
I was 10 years old. And in a church dress with skinned knees and scuffed white sandals.

I never drank coffee at home. But on Sundays I would pour a cup and take hot courting sips while picking at the styrofoam edge.

Something about taking my coffee black made me feel tough.
Tough as I sipped it in my floral dress.
The bitterness I pushed down my throat felt somehow familiar. And it would be something I forced myself to swallow for years.

This was years before coffee shops or Starbucks and no one would dream of paying more than 50 cents for a cup.

My dad had spent some years in Italy, and later. When we would go to fancy resturaunts he'd take an espresso or a caffe corretto. And occasionally they'd bring him those tiny cups filled with strong black espresso and add a shot of cognac. He'd pass it to me. This time maybe I was 16. After he had stirred in two sugar cubes. The cognac burned as much as the heat.

He bought an espresso maker an a whim, upstairs in the home goods department of Foleys. Mostly I think because he wanted an excuse to buy those cute and tiny cups and saucers.
Expresso was hard to find. But their was a specialty shop in town that carried it and occasionally he'd buy a bag. Ask the to grind it fine for espresso. And I'd drink those
things while I stayed up late cramming for my calculus tests. My stomach had already started to bleed. From the coffee. From the alcohol. And all the other things I kept inside.

Coffee shops were now a thing. And me and my friends trying to act older and sophisticated would go to the college coffee shops and order snickers lattes and talk about music or boys or where we were going to college and what we might major in. Our drinks filled with whipped cream and chocolate syrup were about us immature and unsophisticated as we were.

Eventually I went off to college. And there were more coffee shops and late nights at ihop stirring those cups and sipping coffee well into the am.
I drank espresso shake. And machiatos. Until my stomach burned. Because I was not made for all the bitterness I had been swallowing hidden in syrups and whipped cream.
Eventually I had to switch to tea.

I drank tea for years. And took my bitterness in other forms.
But eventually Starbucks won out. There was one on every corner. And I'd order a machiato and sit and read ôr chat with friends until my coffee had grown cold.

Eventually those syrupy drinks got to sweet. And I switched to lattes. But the milk often made me sick. So for the last few years I've ordered Americanos.
Dark strong espresso, with hot water.
Unlike my 10 year old self. I had a little bit of cream and a little bit of sweet. Because I am done with bitter.


wishin and hopin

My kids are constantly asking me for quarters. They want to put them in anything that has a slot for it and a nob to turn. I swear you could put broccoli in those coin machines and my kids would beg for change and gobble it up.

I remember being the same way. Always wanting the crap in the little machines strategically placed by the exit of most restaurants and grocery stores. My dad usually had a pocket full of change and more often than not handed it over so I could buy stickers, jewelry that turned my fingers green and gum so hard and stale that I am lucky I didn't break any teeth.
 
Eventually I outgrew this and realized that these machines were full of crap and I started placing my change in denim purse zipper pocket to save for more important things like a banana fudge popsicle or a giant pickle at lunch.
Later when I turned 16 the change pooled in the cupholders of my car for half price drinks at Sonic or 59cent tacos. In college quarters were in even higher demand saved for the laundry machines....or pretty much anything I could collect enough coins for.
I've paid for all kinds of things in change...entire meals, a shirt on sale at the gap, cds, movie tickets, the xerox machine to copy someone's notes for a class that i missed (oh, iphone where were you then??) and even recently I'm afraid...I paid a baby sitter almost entirely in quarters.
The quarters still pool in my cup holder or in my desk drawer at work and I buy a diet dr pepper to help me get through the last few periods, or if there is enough a grande Americano or lately...snowcones for my kids because they are about the only place left that only takes cash.
 
I try to teach my kids the value of money, but let's be honest....I am not exactly the best role model here.  I have made them save up for some purchase.  I try not to say yes everytime they ask for something at the store. I teach them to put money into the offering plate. I give them ways to earn money with extra chores and I steal any cash that my son just leaves lying around.  He is starting to judge new toys by how many teeth he'd have to lose or how much laundry he'd have to put away. I am only slightly older and wiser and buy way less crap than I used to.  But, I do however spend way too much on coffee, itunes and zulily. Which all seems small and inconsequential until you start adding it up. Like change.  My kids however have different ideas about money. To Tess a penny is bigger than a dime so surely it is worth more. A putt putt token, a looney from canada or one of those annoying dollar coins that the post office gives you as change all have about the same value and possibility as cheetah bucks or monopoly money.  And they always want whatever crap is in the machines by the door. I am reluctant to hand over my change for a bouncy ball, a fuzzy fake mustache or 7 skittles...half of which will spill over the floor. The last thing we need in our house is more crap. (although, of course...I occasionally give in...I mean....I look pretty good in a fuzzy mustache).
 
My kids always ask me for change anytime they see a fountain. at the park, a resturaunt, a museum. They beg for any and all of my coins. Instead of getting to turn the knob and collect candy or junk, this time they only get a wish.
And unlike the candy machines I dig deep in my pockets or fish the bottom of my purse and hand over whatever coinage I can find. I know this is silly and that I am literally letting my kids throw away money. I watch as they toss their coins and close their eyes and make a wish. I am pretty sure  that my very literal and cynical 8 year old doesn't really believe them but he closes his eyes just the same....and that Tess probably always wishes for a pony. My coins hit the bottom and are gone without even a crummy friendship bracelet or one direction sticker in return. But I am ok with that.
Because for now, I love that my kids value wishes more than money.  Even if it is my dollars that they are wishing with.



 

Like riding a bike


Sometimes when I am overwhelmed I just start typing. And often I don't even know how I feel until I see it typed on the screen. The words fly out faster than my fingers can keep up. I rarely take the time to capitalize letters or spell things correctly. I just type. Because  somehow everything seems to make more sense when I do.

My son on the other hand, seems to be physically in pain any time he has to write something that comes from his head rather than from the passage. If you ask him to write 10 things about spiders --he would write 20, but If you ask him to write about his day or favorite food he gets a stomach ache, breaks his pencil, and just stares at the blank page. I try to help him offering topics, ideas, even leading sentences.
He tells me that they won't work.
They they are no good.
That he can't write about that.
That I don't know what a "hook" is. Or that it isn't "expository" writing.
These are the nights of homework I dread.
Not that I like any of them. but give me math problems or spelling words or reading logs anyday over a simple paragraph.

The first few weeks of school my son kept missing recess. He had to stay inside and finish coloring and filling out all those ridiculous beginning of the year papers. I didn't understand why he wasn't finishing. He makes top grades. He can multiply and divide and tell me the difference between a dolphin and a porpoise. He aces spelling tests, he flies through his math homework I didn't understand why he wasn't finishing his work. I assumed he was socializing and horsing around.
Eventually I got it out of him. Those papers all asked things like "what do you want to do when you grow up" ...and my son was still thinking about it.

Please for the love of four square just make something up so you can go outside and play already. No one will hold you to it when you are 22. You can figure out your life later, just fill in your blanks and go to recess.

The school year has flown by and we haven't had homework since field day. And  frankly that is fine by me. I even stopped checking his binder. Which apparently was a big mistake because with only 6 days of school left his class is writing essays. Expository and narrative essays to go in his file for the next year's teachers. and my son. my usually compliant rule following teacher's pet of a son didn't bother to write a single line in two whole school days. His teacher begged, pleaded, bribed him, punished him, gave him ideas and still his paper remained blank.

The prompt was to describe something that he had struggled with but was eventually successful at.

I got home from a long day of school and was already used to this new no homework policy and wanted nothing more than to melt into  the couch and watch TV or read a book.
Instead, my TV watching was interupted by what sounded like a small animal being slaughtered at the kitchen table.
Long horrid sighs. Whimpers. Belly aches. Sore throats. Broken pencils. Death throws.
So I walked in there and tried to help with a few ideas.
They were all shot down.
He sighed even bigger sighs and told me he just didn't know what to write. Despite the 50 ideas I had just given him. If I could master his messy 7 year old boy hand writing I would have taken his chewed up pencil and written the ridiculous thing myself.

I was starting to think that maybe the topic of his big struggle that he overcame could be about writing this very essay.
Again, he said no.

But. The topic was really an obvious one.
He needed to write about learning to ride his bike.

Owen rides his bike about as well as he experesses his ideas with the written word.
Terribly.

Because he won't get started.
He is afraid of looking bad.
He makes excuses.
We live in a cul de sac that is filled with boys. When I drive down my street I usually have to dodge the bike ramps, cones, go-karts, obstacle courses and the occasional kickball game. Our neighbors, all younger are pros on the bike. They can hop curbs take jumps and race down the street.
Owen's feet still barely reach the pedals.

He knows they are better.
So he always rides his scooter, or races them on foot.

He will not get on his bike if there are kids out front.
He is embarrassed. He wobbles and struggles up hills and can't stop the thing without hopping awkwardly off. So the thing mostly stays parked in the garage.
I try to encourage him to ride and practice when no one is around...but  am always met with an incredible amount of resistance.
I've seen him ride up and down the street dozens of times. He can do it. He just lacks the confidence and the practice to do it without being forced. That and it would help if he grew just one more inch. Every time I get out the bike out I struggle to find the balance between encouraging him and pushing him. I don't know if he needs tough love or an enormous amount of patience. It is a beating for all of us.

Just like this essay he is supposed to write.

So despite the fact that it sprinkling outside and because it is unusually quiet in the culdesac. I open the garage door and tell my son to go outside.

He thinks he is off the hook and all but runs out the door.
Until I tell him we are outside to ride his bike.
Tess hops on her pink Barbie one with streamers down the handlebars but Owen is again full of excuses. And sighs.

I assure him that no one can see. That he needs to practice. That he has grown a little since the last time and that it will be easier. He is still shaking. I hold the bike steady while he gets on and he takes off. Wobbly at first but then with ease down the driveway and down the street. And then of course he panicked and bailed. The fall has him reluctant to get back on. It starts raining a little bit harder but I refuse to call it a day.  We make him get back on. By himself and cruise up and down the street a few times. He never got comfortable or confident but he did get at least a tiny bit better.

Eventually, we parked the bike back in the garage and headed back into the kitchen.

His paper was still there.  Blank.

I told him to write about that. What just happened. Everything he felt and remembered about the last 15 minutes. Being scared. Being wobbly. The wind in his hair. The rain starting to come down. Struggling to find his balance and to reach the peddles. Hoping none of his friends came out and saw him. Falling off. Getting back on. Making slow progress.

He still sighed and whimpered and had a half dozen excuses but eventually the pencil started moving.
It was painful. and took a million times longer than it should have and will never win him a Pulitzer. but. It got done.

I have no trouble riding a bike. And most days I have no trouble finding words.

Still, occasionally, I get my own version of writer's block. I feel like I have nothing to say. Nothing worth sharing.
Maybe I have found the solution to that.

Sometimes you have to put the pencil down. Or the keyboard. And go outside and live.
To write what you know. You have to know.
You have to get on the bike.
 

mamacita


The hospital hall looked long and daunting and I stepped into a bathroom to wait out the contraction. Because by this point walking and talking through them was out of the questions. I didn’t bother to change out of my pajamas because I was certain, despite the steady and consistent pain coming every few minutes. That this was a false alarm. The nurses were going to send me right back home. Clearly, I didn’t know a single thing. About labor or being a mom.

Eventually I made it to triage and realized that I wasn’t going anywhere. I was dilated and this kid was ready to make an appearance. A few short hours, and an epidural later, I was at a 10. But she told me not to push. That the baby was not in the right place or location or something like that. All I know is that it hurt like hell and that I had thrown up for the first four months of my pregnancy. I was down to about one pair of pants and two shirts I was comfortable in and I could not sleep for more than 45 minutes without getting up to pee.  I was ready to not be pregnant and the meet this baby who I imagined would come out looking exactly like my husband and I couldn’t wait to hold.
You do not tell a girl in this position to “hold tight” unless you give her epidural a refill.

I had read the books. I had backed my bags complete with a fuzzy socks and a mix cd.
My husband and I had discussed that he would stay away from the business end of things, but around 5 am after hours of hard labor and one sided epidurals and uncomfortable rearranging that still had not led my son to move down properly – when the nurse told him to grab a leg and count. He did. And gave me to go ahead. Pregnancy and especially delivery are an exercise in stripping the mother of all dignity and privacy, because after leaving the hospital you will not get to go to the bathroom alone for approximately 3-5 years.

 I had gone to the birthing class and recalled something about finding a focal point in the room and breathing. But those things didn’t help. I pushed and pushed. My friends waiting in the hall took bets with the nurses on time of arrival. They lost and eventually, the next doctor came in for the morning shift and told everyone to prep me for surgery.
Things moved quickly after that and it gets a little blurry, until I remember the doctor pushing and pulling and tugging and this pink rugged thing being pulled out of me.
There was a pause. Longer than I wanted but I’m sure it was just a few seconds and then a much expected wail.

 They cleaned him up and stitched my abdomen back up and the nurses manhandled him, like he was a rugged tough animal who had been around for awhile, rather than just an 8 lb boy only a few minutes old.  I waited on whatever painkillers they would give me, he waited for someone to explain why they hell he was no longer in the safe comforts of my womb. He came out with hair that was almost black, dark skin and pale blue eyes. This was not the blond haired child we were expecting. This was not the birth we had planned. And that has to be part of the beauty of motherhood and life. It never goes as planned.

 And everytime the nurses came in, they were so incredibly rough with this little tiny man that me and my husband had made. The hit him hard on the back to loosen up the fluid still in his lungs and flung him around like a bag of flour. The first time I had to dress him or change a diaper – I remember being so fearful that his little arms or legs would snap. That I was going to break him.  This fear didn’t leave me until carrying him down the stairs from his one year check up.  Thinking the nurse should have given me a sticker and a dum dum. Because I had somehow kept this kid alive for an entire year.

Nurses know way more than new moms.
They know that babies are tough. And strong. And that they can handle a strong pat on the back to burb them and being a little firm grip during a diaper change.
And still, to this day, I sometimes need a little reminding that my kids are stronger than I give them credit for. Strong enough apparently, that they actually let us take him home.

 He ate and pooped and slept in short spurts and cried. On repeat. Just like that for days. Months even.
And I mostly did exactly the same thing. Camped out on my couch, while watching bad TV or reading books. I was niave and new at this, so I thought that my life wasn’t going to change so much. I hosted a small dinner party less than a week from bringing him home from the hospital. I dressed him in onsies and lugged him on coffee dates and to restaurants and my arm muscles grew from lugging that infant carrier around all summer.
And I wasn’t sure what motherhood was all about. It had to be more than sore nipples and bad daytime TV and even worse TV in the middle of the night.

And he grew. Quickly. Eating faster than I could keep up with. It seemed like everytime I did laundry I had new clothes to pack and give away that no longer fit. The newborn Pampers seemed so tiny and I wondered how long I could get away with wearing pants with an elastic waistline. My heart swelled when he squeezed my little finger, when his mouth made that little O that only babies make and even more when I got more than 2 hours of sleep in a row. And I loved him more than I knew possible.
But I was also so incredibly tired.
Because growing your heart apparently takes an awful lot out of a girl.

My life did change more than I had prepared for of course. I could not keep up with it all, and around the four month mark when my hormones plummeted and my hair started falling out in fistfuls. I gave in.

I slept more. I went out less. And I decided maybe I should join a gym.

Then next time I became a mother was completely different. The pregnancy harder. I threw up for six months instead of only four and had a myriad of other unfun symptoms including the most disqusting set of varicose viens that everytime I consider wearing shorts I think I should probably do everyone a favor and cover them up. (that and what mother of two has the energy to shave their legs). The delivery, this time a scheduled c-section I thought would be so much easier. But an excess of scar tissue, lots of bleeding and an overnight nurse who didn’t quite set up my catheter correctly did not leaving me feeling any better than the last time. This time, I didn’t shutter too much when the nurses beat on her back or jerked her around. And again, she came out looking nothing like we expected. Her brother had a thick full head of dark hair and long eyelashes and dark olive skin. Tess was completely bald, had ivory skin and came out letting everyone know exactly what she wanted and when. Even the experienced nurses weren’t sure what to do with her.

This time, I packed less for the hospital and had less of a plan. But I still thought it would be so much easier the second time around. Because I knew what to do.
Wrong.
The first year of her life, my daughter taught me nothing else, other than how little sleep I could live on, how to make the pediatrician fit you in even if they are full and that people, even when they have almost exactly the same DNA couldn’t be more different.

 I’ve read before that the days and long but the years are short. And today, while my daughter calls me “mamacita” because she is learning to speak some "spinich" at school and offers to set the table by sticking an opened stick of butter right smack in the middle of the table and nothing else. It has been a fantastic, but long day and I want to pour myself one more glass of wine. And break off another hunk of crusty bread and wipe it right across the butter she laid out.

 And maybe that is what motherhood is about.
Seeing strength in these little tiny fragile things that you have been entrusted to keep alive. If they are stronger than they look, than so am I. Even tired with very little sleep after a night of ear infections or bad dreams or last minute school projects.
That the plan is good, but be ready to watch it slip away. Along with your skinny jeans and birth plans and papers that will never get all the way graded. The days will unfold exactly as they should and it is best to find a reason to laugh and dance in the living room anyways. And that on those long days, I remind myself to look at the doorframe, where the sharpie markers inch their way higher and higher. The carseats and onsies are long gone and one day very very soon I  will have to start shopping at god-forbid Justice. Because my kids grow and learn all the time. I can't stop it or slow it down and as bittersweet as it is, I really don't want to. They no longer smell like lavender baby lotion or even apple juice and graham crackers – but usually my boy smells like sweat from baseball practice and my daughter smells like whatever perfume or chocolote she snuck. It is us grownups that sometimes forget to grow and learn. We don't do it automatically anymore but is still I believe how we are made. To constantly be growing and learning and pursuing. And my kids remind me to do this too, everytime  I put away pair of shoes that no longer fit or hear my son spell a word that I don't know how to spell myself. There are no marks on the doorframe to measure what has grown the most in our home, even more than the piles of laundry. This mamacita’s heart.


happy plates and kangaroos

My daughter occasionally tells me that she made a happy plate. Which I predict is a phrase she learned at school to encourage them to eat everything that they are given.
Which I'm also guessing is something that doesn't happen very often unless they serve up regular doses of Oreos, chicken nuggets, French fries, and crazy bread. Because that is pretty much what my daughter considers a balanced meal.

My son will eat anything except chocolate. I thought this was due to my fantastic parenting and mature and adventerous palate. Then I had another kid and she blew that theory completely out of the water. Despite the fact that she would be happy to live on a diet of cheetos and fruit snacks, I refuse to really make meals a battle. I'm no short order cook, but if she'd rather eat a corn dog than the pad thai the rest of us are partaking...what is an extra 30 seconds in the microwave. My kids are tiny and I want them to grow, but I know better than to force them to clean their plates. That mentality and the huge portion sizes at Pappasitos are why none of you should want to see me in a bathing suit.

Last week, we skipped church and we took our kids to the zoo. It was a perfect day. Not too hot and the threat of rain kept the big crowds away. We had our run of the place and saw plenty of animals up close. When we got to the Australian exhibit, the zookeeper was out giving a little talk. My kids were right up front and I hung in the back but caught one thing she said.
That kangaroos can't hop backwards. It is impossible for them. Their tail gets in the way. If they want to go back --they have to stop completely. Hop awkwardly around in several little side jumps and then go back. It is a slow awkward process and you rarely see kangaroos do it. They'd much rather just keep going forward. I remember thinking that was profound and that I should come back to that later.

The very next day, I backed my new car into a telephone pole. It was undrivable and I have spent the last few days in a rental.
Because maybe, I am much better at going forwards than backwards.

This week, I figured we better go to Sunday school since we played hooky last week. The actual lesson was taken from an old episode of Mayberry that we watched.  I spent most of the show trying to prove to my husband that Barney Fife was the same guy as Mr. Farley on Three's  Company (a show I'd rather watch over the Andy Griffith show anyday)...that I missed some of the premise. But I know the overall theme was about living in the present. Not getting caught up in the past. And being happy with the things right in front of you.

Moving forwards instead of backwards.
and being content with what we are given.
A lesson, apparently that the kangaroos already have down. Then the teacher said something that made me think of Tess and her happy plate.

"He was happy with the plate that he was given"
Even if it isn't chicken nuggets.
And that is the challenge for us all.


on the catwalk


I am afraid of heights. I close my eyes on roller coasters. I spend most of my time on a ski lift trying to decide If I fell off if I would survive. I choose an aisle seat on an airplane over a window one - even if it means that my big toe will get run over by the beverage cart or I will get woken up every time my seatmate needs to potty. The London Eye made me want to hypervenelate...and didn't feel the need to linger too long on the observation decks of the Sears tower, the Space Needle or the Empire States Building. The Capilon Suspension bridge in Vancuver almost made me throw up. It didn't help that my husband and brother tried to make it sway and bounce as I attempted to make it across while not soiling myself. In the rain.

When I was 11 my parents sent me to camp. Sleep away classic summer camp for most of July. I loved it so much that I went back almost every summer until I was 21 and still keep up with some of the people I met there. I vividly remember pulling in that first Sunday with my footlocker in the back of my dad's suburban. We parked at the guest center and someone pointed us to the dormatories. They said that they were just  across the catwalk.

This catwalk was no fashion runway. But a very long faded red bridge that spanned at least the length of two football fields with the main road running underneath it. It was wide enough for girls to walk 3-4 across linking arms and high enough that at least a few times each summer to see people repelling right off the middle. The part you walked on however was not solid, but more of series of grates with lots of tiny holes so that you could see everything beneath you. My stomach dropped. And my dad, who I must have inherited this fear from, hopped right back in the car and suggested that we drive across.

After all those summers I am not sure, he ever walked across it.

I on the other hand learned to conquer many high places in that zipcode. There was the ropes course that ended with you climbing up a telphone pole and jumping off in hopes of catching a trapeeze dangling several feet in front of you.  A giant slide that you hauled a heavy wooden sled up and went flying down into the Guadalupe on. And later on nights off, after a little liquid encouragement, a real bridge on FM 1340 that people would dare you to jump off into the frigid river that was high enough that your bathing suit, upon force of impact, would literally cut you in places that you. did. not. want. the. camp. nurse. to apply ointment. And church service on a ledge so high that you could see the birds all flying beneath you and wonder if you couldn't breath because the air was so much thinner up that high or that you were just out of breath from the long ass hike up the hill.
I may have been afraid. but. I jumped and missed, I dropped that damn sled on my toe, I made it up the hill in my sunday whites week after week and I learned that nothing sobers you up faster than having your bathing suit slice your crack as you hit the river in the middle of the night.

The catwalk was taller than all those things. And my first trip across was made quick and fast, not looking or trying to look afraid. But anxious to get some hard solid concrete beneath my feet. It had to be conquered at least a dozen times a day because the dining hall, the tennis courts, the swimming pool,  any building with ariconditioning or a TV and the boys camp were all on the other side.
The paint was always chipping and to this day I can still tell you exactly which panels were loose. Because if you jumped on them, the whole bridge felt like it was ratlling. At some point in time we all carved our names into the middle, as well as spelled out messages in the rocks below and in the middle of the night you could usually find someone there sucking quickly on a cigarette hoping not to get caught. And at the end of our term we'd all lay across it, getting grid marks pressed into our arms, legs and even our faces as we waited to see our family cars make the climb up the big hill.

This was not a place that fear lived. We had to leave it at home. With our make up and boyfriends or lack of boyfriends and the latest YM magazine. So every morning after flag we skipped or ran or banged loudly across that red bridge. Often with our arms linked. Everyone's favorite trick, was to walk very quickly (you weren't allowed to run, and most people who did ended up looking like someone attacked their legs with a cheese grater) while looking down. If you walked  fast enough the little criss cross panels holding you up blurred and disappeared and it looked and almost felt like you were walking on air. It was scary and thrilling until you eventually ran into the person in front of you. Scared or not, when else do you get the chance to walk on air. So daily --- you would see guests or girls, faces down, speed walking across that bridge. Because really, for just a few moments, they were flying.

I haven't set foot on that bridge in well over a decade, but I imagine that the 3rd panel from the middle still rattles. That the paint is still chipped and that there are all new sets of initials carved in the bench and on the rails. And that it would still scare me a little to walk across it.

And I often walk through hard things in my life just like I walked across the bridge that first time.that walking across it quickly and with my eyes closed is no way to live for very long. And sometimes life calls for just getting through it. (like the line at the DMV). But it is not a good way to live for very long. With your eyes closed.
I'm sure I'd try the walking on air trick and linger in the middle to read what people wrote in the rocks.
But, these days, I see the value in walking a little slower. In looking down. Not so much at the cars beneath me, but so I could notice of all the things holding me up.