Tess is six going on sixteen. She lost two teeth and can tie her own shoes and I already embarrass her. Sure, mostly that is when I am standing halfway out the sun roof screaming "Let it Go" in a grocery store parking lot …but….still she used to think I was cooler than Barbie. Now, not only do I have to compete with Anna and Elsa for her attention but now I have to compete with her teacher, Mrs. Morrison. Tess started kindergarten this year and she thinks her teacher is the single greatest person on the planet. I have seen this teacher in action, and Tess just might be right. She can get my daughter to sit still, use her inside voice, raise her hand and share, which are all things I failed miserably at for the first 5 years of her life. The thing I hate most about kinder is shockingly not the other moms, the pick up line or even one more folder to forget to sign but the 20 minutes of reading a night. Tess sounding out words in super slow motion. Stumbling through them insisting that she is right. When sometimes she isn’t even close. It is torture. And magical all at the same time. As the semester has gone on she is getting better. Finally reading. Slowly, painfully, sounding out words and butchering a good portion of them. And needing me a bit less with every word. Which is what I want and resist all at the same time. It is also a reminder at how gradual most things come. How many mistakes and stumbles and much practice goes into the process of learning. Anything. Which is a pretty good nightly 20 minute mandated reminder for the grown up girl who wants everything to come so much faster. Tess has learned all kinds things like how to add, take selfies and a ton of new big words. Tess will now tell me that it is “critical” that I pack her lunch tomorrow and that she would be “elated” if I cut off the crusts. Lord help me. Tess is fluent in all things Frozen but can also tell you more than you ever wanted to know about Dr. Who and Star Wars. She loves to cook but still only wants to eat cheetos puffs and chicken nuggets. However, I still occasionally catch her eating her own boogers. The transition to kinder hasn't been all rainbows and purple on the color chart. It is like she saves up all her good behavior for the school day and unleashes a tired hungry beast the second she gets in the car. I throw snacks at her, turn up the radio and pray that the falls asleep before her head spins around.
Owen is 9. Nine. And I fear the day when I have to start typing double digits by his name. He is tiny, but smart and funny but loses things faster than he can multiply. He is in robotics and math club and when I listen to him talk with other 9 year olds it is all Pokemon and Minecraft with the occasional fart reference. He knows more science than I do, but I swear can not match his own clothes if his life depended on it. He went to summer camp for the first time…I lost sleep worrying that he'd have an asthma attack or forget to change his underwear but he came home in one piece and asked me to sign him up again. As the year goes on he has started to spend larger amount on time on combing his hair. This can only mean one thing….he no longer thinks girls have cooties. He does, however still believe in Santa Claus. Tess however, has her doubts. Fourth grade started out rough. He got his folder signed every few days and the work was a lot harder. Getting him to read any book that was not about science or captain underwear took some serious bribing but I think it has finally started to pay off. He plays soccer and a lot of video games and still sleeps with his lights on. Currently as I type this Owen and Shaun are on their way to Taos to try out Owen’s snow legs. I’m sure he will do great on the slopes and already has the shaggy hair of a ski bum. As for his land legs, they may be the shortest in his entire grade but I am still struggling to keep up with him. The last time I ran a 5K with him….I chased him the entire way. Panting. Slow down. Wait up. I have a feeling this is the way it will be from now on. My kids out ahead with me trying to catch up.
When I reflect on the year as a family….we went to the lake, to the ocean and most memorably the happiest place on Earth. When it comes to trips my husband is in charge of the planning and getting our suitcases to actually close. I am in charge of the fun. He plans. I eat and explore my way through a new place. I insist on snow cones or dancing in the street or taking a million ridiculous pictures. I hate to miss out. He hates to not know.
We make a good team. Or for a good fight depending on how tired I am and the last time I had something to eat. This summer, we took our team to Disney.
Months. and I do not exaggerate. months before our trip he already seemed annoyed at my lack of interest in the planning. He had set up accounts and made reservations and walked our kids through video after video to see which rides they wanted to sign up for. I asked a few friends where to eat and what to do but mostly figured we’d figure it out when we got there. I braced myself for hot. sweaty. crowds and long long long lines.
I was afraid that we had build Disney up to be this amazing experience and that my kids and husband would be let down. That we would sweat and fight and my kids would just cry because they wanted everything in the million gift stores and cotton candy for dinner.
We did have some classic Disney moments.
The kind where I told my kids to hurry up. To stop whining. No, they could not have that piece of absolute crap they were selling for 18.95$ just because it glowed in the dark. That I am so glad that they LOVED riding the seven dwarfs mine train but …we were not riding it again because it had a 70 minute wait. And that 70 minutes did not come with air conditioning.
We got rained on.
We got our toes stepped on.
We lost a favorite hat on a ride, all sense of personal space, and our patience.
We also had the other classic Disney moments.
Screaming our faces off on Space Mountain.
Tess yelling the lyrics to Frozen at the sing along.
Owen battling Darth Maul.
We rode ride after ride, ate in castles and all kinds of things shaped like a mouse.
We rode trains, and trams and planes and boats.
Laughed until our stomachs hurt.
Had snow fall from the ceiling and the sky in the middle of August.
Danced the hula, swung our napkins in the air, blew bubbles and watched fireworks night after night. Sometimes from our hotel bed with feet so sore I wasn’t sure I could stand on them for one more minute.
Once, years ago…my school had us do a Disney book study on customer service. The book told all these stories about how fanatical they were about customer service and creating an “experience”. I've heard things like how there are no mosquitos at Disney, how they touch up paint every single day. How aggressively friendly the staff is trained to be. I’m sure that was all true. I mostly didn’t notice. I did however notice when my daughter met princesses who acted like there wasn’t a line of 500 people behind us. They asked her name or twirled her around.
It was like she was the only girl there and they were in no hurry.
That they weren’t sweating through their ballroom gown and perfect hair.
That is the magic. And it was worth every penny.
Every last penny that we spent on mouse ears and dole whips and I might have split my pants running to ride one more roller coaster. (and in that particular sentence pants really means panties...which is one way to get an unforgettable Disney experience).
Our kids are a little bit older, independent and easier which means me and Shaun seem to have a little bit more time to ourselves. We can banish them to the other room and watch Homeland on TV and only be interrupted 23 times. Occasionally we get to run together. We just got back from a grown up trip to Vegas….where we gambled, people watched and ate some pretty amazing waffles. With some coaching I managed to win more at BlackJack than I lost which is a casino first for me. We also ran a half marathon while we were there. We have both run more races than we can count by now and I have kind of lost my fear of them. Shaun trained well. I moderately trained. Shaun did awesome and finished a good 15 minutes ahead of me. I wanted to cry the last 4 miles. Actually, I would have cried except that I did not have the energy or the extra fluids. After the race my feet were covered in bloody blisters and my blood sugar crashed. I went back to the hotel, ordered a pizza and Shaun went to collect his winnings while my knee swelled up like a watermelon. My fear returned. We ran another half just last weekend. Shaun still beat me by 15 minutes, but I didn’t want to die afterwards. I just wanted a pepperoni roll and a beer.
This year we have all learned a ton. Tess has learned to read. Owen has learned long division and how to mow the yard. Shaun learned how to be a sorcerer….and I have learned all kinds of stuff...mostly about waiting, acceptance and community. Unfortunately how to say things briefly isn't one of them.
So much of my life feels like it is on repeat. The same. I love my job but I get easily discouraged. I want to be better at it, but it is also so easy to get sucked into a negative loop. In the past I have not really known how to combat that, who to talk to or how to go forward. Which way forward even is. How to get better and not stay stuck. I started reading books and having conversations and realizing that I was desperately hungry to have more. I applied for a doctoral program at A&M and waited for months to find out if I would be accepted into a place and an idea I have run from for a long time. And I got in. I just registered for my first graduate courses in over a decade. The program is long and hard and so much of me is wondering if I can cut it. I run and sometimes I hope it has to be the same. That this will be just like running a long race. Not quitting at mile 7. or 8. or 9 or 10 or when my feet literally fill with blood. I hope I have the same endurance, stubbornness and stupidity when it comes to getting a few more letters after my name. This is a big thing for me. Going to A&M means going home rather than running away. I went to a football game over Thanksgiving and it was the first time in almost twenty years I had stood in Kyle field wearing maroon instead of red and black. It felt weird. Like a little bit of betrayal. A little bit like coming home. And of course I could remember every single word to the songs and yells. When I was little my favorite part of the war hymn was getting to scream at the top of my lungs “sounds like hell”. I was getting to semi-cuss loudly and publicly. Now that phrase feels more like permission. Permission to screw up. To be imperfect and present and a part of things anyways. So I yelled it again and linked arms with my brother and a stranger next to me and begun swaying. The stadium holds over 100, 000 people and in that moment they are all linked and moving back and forth. The whole place is connected and moving. Maybe not forward but side to side is a pretty good start.
I have searched for a long time for community. And found it in bits and pieces. In people I adore here and there scattered over the metroplex and rest of the state.
But for the first time in I am not sure how long it feels closer and easier and more often than not around a table.
I have always felt like I was in the right place.
I love my street.
I love my church.
I love my school.
But I have never quite managed to find my people in any of those places.
I have great friends. The best friends. But our kids do not go to the same schools. We do not do the same things for fun. They are clearly my people. The ones I can count on. The ones that know what to say and do not require make up, small talk or a clean car. But sometimes it takes an act of God to get a date on the calendar. They have made me recognize real friendship and depth and struggle to accept anything less than that in those around me.
But the truth is I have settled. I have traded proximity for less.
I have settled for people who didn’t love me back.
And it has left me aching.
And hustling desperately for their approval.
Which only comes in enough tiny spurts to keep me hustling for more.
I have grown so tired of the hustle, the games and rejection.
I have learned a lot about who to keep, who to pursue and who to let slip quietly away.
It has left a lot of space in my life.
But that space has been unexpectedly filled.
I found community when I stopped trying to force it.
I found it at home with a husband that I get to spend more time with. With kids that are older and funnier and need me less everyday but still ask me to read to them or dance with them or put the damn straw in their capri sun.
I found it at work even when I was afraid of it.
And I found it around a table.
Or a coffee pot.
Or a meeting up with old friends even if it took a month to find a date that worked.
I have found what I have been looking for.
In many ways I have found what has been there all along.
In many ways I have found what has been there all along.
Usually once a week or more I find myself around a table. A table for three, four or often sixteen. Which can be a really long wait in a restaurant. But it is a wait that is worth it. Even when I am busy and have other things I should be doing I rarely pass up a dinner with friends. And the table is loud and often inappropriate. We pile our plates with homemade gnocchi or corn fritters from chicken express. Easy and Hard. Things that take time and things that don’t. Lots of laughter and occasional tears. We refill plates and glasses. We talk about important things. We talked about nonsense.
We get full in every sense of the word.
Community is not rushed.
It is slow. And time consuming. And goes through a lots of bottle of Moscatto.
It lets you grade papers at a party. It lets you cancel and reschedule and wear your pajama pants if you want..
I like this.
I like having people saving me seats at church.
Or to run races with.
Or to share my coffee with.
I especially love that my kids are seeing it as well. When I say we are going to dinner….now they ask what friends are coming? Whose house we are going to? We are busier and fatter than we have every been. And my kids are learning that our tables and kitchens our lives are meant to be shared.
Our imperfect lives.
Our messy kitchen.
It sounds like hell. Like the song.
It sounds like hell. Like the song.
But it is exactly the opposite.