Thursday, August 4, 2016

Dumbo After All

Both of my children, blessed or cursed with vivid imaginations, struggled with movies in their preschool years. They’d fall into the movie, totally immersed in the story and its outcome. Any dubious outcome stressed them out, so I searched high and low to find low-suspense movies for them in those years.

With Little A. a newborn and Big A. traveling for work again, I really, really needed three-year-old S. to watch the occasional video. Don’t judge me. Dinner and a movie for her meant I could feed Little A. and eat my own dinner, too. Win-win-win.

So I tried her on all the lightweight Disney films I could think of—I mean, Cinderella has no bad guys, really. Right? It’s not the legendary source of endless children’s traumas, like Snow White or Bambi. Nope. She wouldn’t go for Cinderella. I tried movie after movie. Finally, she asked to see the Dumbo video we’d inherited from a friend. I had never seen the film, so I just gave thanks for my good fortune and popped in the cassette.

Well, if you have seen Dumbo, then I don’t need to say anymore. If you haven’t, well…it’s not my favorite movie of all time. So many aspects of that movie, while perhaps standard when it was made, are just…profoundly troubling to me. On top of ALL kinds of bullying, including “adults” bullying a child, this stunning children’s film includes an imprisoned mother, nefarious scheming, surreptitious drinking, hallucinations, racial stereotypes, and a disturbing look into the treatment of circus workers and animals in the past.

And my determined three-year-old daughter picked THIS movie to love over all others. She asked for THIS movie every time Big A. traveled for work…which was about once a week that year. And so I watched it far more times than I ever wanted. And she watched it far more times that I wanted her to, which worried me. What would she make of all thatstuff?

And yet, nearly nine years later, it occurs to me that maybe I owe Dumbo after all.

My daughter’s confidence leaves me in awe. Her amazing personal integrity gives her a rare natural acceptance of others. She’s literally so comfortable with herself (in most ways; no one’s perfect) that she just appreciates other people as they come. Okay, I hope some of that comes from her parents’ unending and unconditional love. I know her first school overtly encouraged students to love and appreciate each other in all their differences. And I give credit to her current school, where peer pressure reinforces individuality.

But, you know, Dumbo gets seriously dumped on from the moment of his birth. Yet the movie makes it clear that he, his mother, and Timothy have the right idea—Dumbo’s awesome. He rocks, no matter what anyone else says or does.

Best of all, Dumbo doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone but himself to succeed. Without even speaking a word, he finds his “wings” and soars. His unique abilities have value; he learns that without devaluing anyone else.

Maybe that’s not such a bad message to be exposed to over and over in your formative years.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Just Keep Doing

I did my best. I do my best.

Hard on the heels of the grateful euphoria I felt over returning home from a fantastic, long trip came…brokenness.

Yes, there’s a lot going on. Life’s logistical vagaries wait for no one. Banking, home repair, school, and extracurricular activities all clamor for attention. My work calls to me constantly. Housework beckons. Odd items acquired need to find homes; outgrown clothes must go. Windows 10 demands to be installed. There is a lot of noise.

I get that. I expected that. It’s always the unexpected that trips us up, though, isn’t it?

As the kids and I tried to take up our usual summer schedule in our first week home, things…faltered. Let’s face it, I faltered. A few variables here and there and I just couldn’t handle it.

We set up our summer schedule a few years ago to prevent nagging. Okay, yeah, there were some other reasons behind it, but that one REALLY motivated us me. We came up with a way to get all the stuff the kids wanted to do into our weeks, but still leave me time to work (since I work at home and it is NOT the glamorous life you may have seen in laptop ads).

The deal is that we do fun stuff together in the mornings, then they have “quiet time” in their rooms for part of the afternoon and then swim and have screen time for the rest, all of which I can supervise while working. And it works! Knowing they will for sure, definitely, almost always get to do these things keeps them from getting naggish. They can just look at the list and see when it will happen.

It’s pretty cool, actually. We have Chore Day, Movie Day, Library Day, Beach Day, and Adventure Day. Lots of summer fun fit neatly into one efficient and predictable package. Yay!

You know I forgot? Playdates.

Actually, I didn’t forget. They really didn’t come up that often until this year. And that one little variable, while an admirable and desirable thing in and of itself, throws the whole system out of whack. Or, let’s face it, throws me out of whack.

I have a lot of quirks and I know it. I’m an introvert, I crave predictability, I have a hard time concentrating when exposed to certain odd environmental conditions—the list goes on.

And that’s okay. I know why all of those things are true and I’m okay with it. I just don’t feel okay with it when my kids clearly feel disappointment because of my limitations.

I KNOW it’s not good for anyone to get everything that they want. I KNOW they need to learn to work with others. I KNOW I’m clear with them about what’s my issue and what’s a universal issue—“I just can’t handle this” vs. “No, that’s a totally rude thing to do to anyone.” And I KNOW they have pretty darn good lives. I just FEEL like the ultimate party pooper.

So here’s what I’m saying to me—and to them, should they ever wonder:
I did my best, kids. I do my best. I chose this profession so I could stay home with you 100% of the time. It means a lot to your dad and me that you've always had one of us around. But, yes, my job creates limits on us and now you’re old enough to feel them. Soon you’ll be old enough to be free of them. For now, just understand that I do my best.

And, yes, I have some personal quirks that limit us a bit more. I try to stretch myself every day—get out more, make more phone calls, try something new. I didn’t used to be very good at it, but you know what seriously motivates me? You do. I do my best because I love you, because I want you to see life as an opportunity to shine, because I want to be an example for you—at least on the first steps of the path.

I hope you leave me in the dust someday! I hope no fear or scar twinges when you spread your wings. I hope you soar around this wonderful world of ours, solving problems and creating joy. I hope you love and are loved, limitlessly. And that is why I do my best.

P.S. I felt all of the above at the time, but I didn't actually say it. I just kept doing my best. And you know what happened? One of the kids' friends was super happy to see me. My husband gave me extra hugs. A friend asked us to go to the beach with her, so we spent a gorgeous morning in little kid world. And life felt much more do-able.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Home, Happy, Grateful

Best traveling companions I know!

After my third round of travels in three months, I’ve come home. I feel that so deeply—I’ve come home.

It’s been twelve years since I became a mom and more than that since I’ve been away from my daily life as much as I have recently. The new perspective has taught me—is teaching me (I process slowly)!—many things.

Right now, I’m profoundly grateful for so much that I can’t turn around without being thankful!

I deeply appreciate
-my freedom to travel
-this amazing country—even seeing a bit of it filled me with new experiences!
-my friends and family
-hotel pools
-my roots
-the infinite variety of human beings
-summer produce
-intellectual puzzles
-seeing childhood places through my children’s eyes
-finding a good mechanic
-driving Green Car again
-fresh eyes seeing solutions where there used to be problems
-our amazing public schools
-my puppy
-our home

And this is just a partial list! We have amazing people in our lives, family and friends, who made our travels so rich. Home is where the heart is; I'm glad our hearts expanded on our journeys with you all this summer!

My favorite pun of the trip: "Hello from the otter slide!"

Adventures with friends.

Our camp home.

Adventures with family.

Travelin' on....

Home again! Doing what, I won't guess. But home.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”
John Lubbock, The Use Of Life

It turns out I have completely lost the knack of resting.

I’ve traveled a bit lately and I have another long trip coming up. It’s amazing how different rhythms, different landscapes, and tastes of a different lifestyle shake up the mind!

On one long trip I traveled by myself, as an individual, not as a wife or mother. On one trip, a cruise, I traveled with family, but surrendered my chef’s hat, my housekeeping apron, and my dishwashing gloves. In both cases, I had a chance to let part of my brain take a break…and in both cases, I found I lacked skills.

It would probably be more accurate to say my skills are rusty. I KNOW I used to be expert at dropping out of the world back in the day. Even as recently as S.’s toddler years, I had to tell my husband to put Harry Potter new releases on a high shelf in the evening, so I could be totally present for dinner, bath, and bed. Otherwise, I would have been inhabiting Hogwarts, mind, body, and soul.

Somehow, in the intervening years, I’ve changed. I’ve become this person who constantly asks, What next? What else could I be doing?

I recently committed to get a full night’s sleep. It took some time to get my body back on an eight-hour schedule—and, boy, did I hate shutting down a mere hour after the kids went to bed!—but I did it. And it’s paying off. I feel so much more focused and capable during the day. So I know I can learn to mono-task again. I know I can learn to do “nothing” again. But, wow, it’s tough!

Yes, all the usual suspects try to trip me up. This crazy, information-stuffed world with lots of opportunities to compare our life to others’ lives feeds our FOMO. I was born with a fair share of that anyway—I routinely hid illnesses so I could go to school rather than miss out—so this is definitely a factor. I could blame a bunch of societal ills like that, but I always believe in looking closer to home first.

As unhip as it may be to admit, I have wanted to be a mom my whole life. I love loving on my kids, I love doing for them, I love teaching them, and I love watching their personalities unfold.

I’m also not a huge fan of conflict, which is, alas, a necessary tool in parenting. It’s pretty straightforward when they’re little. Can I have a seventh piece of cake? No. ß That’s conflict. But it’s just not optional. The child clearly needs to be stopped for his or her own good. They start it and I’m okay with finishing it.

Now we’re getting into more…gray areas. More areas where I feel like I’m starting it and they will never, ever finish it. Like, never.

Let me just say that I firmly believe in teaching responsibility. Our kids will NOT be those kids that get to college and try to tell a professor they missed the final exam because Mom didn’t call to wake them up so can they please have a make-up exam. Unh-unh. No way. Forget it.

Right now, they’re not asking for a whole cake to eat, but they’re not exactly being responsible either. S. does great with taking care of HER stuff—she does her homework, keeps track of her belongings, gets ready on time for her activities. And that’s great for someone going into seventh grade! Goodness only knows Little A. is working on learning all those things right now. She’s just terrible at integrating any of that with anyone else. When she’s ready to do what she needs to do, she charges ahead with no regard for the casualties.

I’m a giver, like I’ve said. I love taking care of my family. So I could just keep on going, reminding Little A. to practice piano, practice tae kwon do, practice guitar, do his homework, charge his electronics, turn off his light, brush his teeth… OR I could go through the conflict of saying, “It’s your responsibility” and then letting him mess up. ßThat right there. That’s what I’m not into. But I know it’s so necessary!

I could just stop what I’m doing every time S. can’t find a certain leotard she needs to pack or run to the store every time she needs a glue stick because she decides to work on a school project. I could do that. OR I could say, “Now’s not a good time. If you give me some advance notice, I can work it into my day.” I could even say, “You have a perfectly good bike in the garage. The store’s a mile away—go for it!” And there would be much whining and pouting and gnashing of teeth. ß That right there. That’s what I’m not into. But I know it’s so necessary!

But here’s the thing. If I follow through on those ORs, not only will I be giving our kids the opportunity to be confident, responsible, resilient people, I will get to rest. I’ll go back to carrying one person’s load of responsibilities, not three. If I can hold on through the whining and the messing up, I can rest.

So basically I am doing the parental equivalent of promising myself a cookie if I eat my vegetables. I can relax a little more every day if I set this responsibility train in motion.

Here I go. Eating those conflict veggies. Dreaming of that rest cookie.

I’m doing it. I swear.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Visiting and Revisiting

It's easy to get into ruts--habits, schedules, patterns, views. And I work from home, so my horizon can get pretty narrow.

Last week, I had the chance to Go Places. It felt monumental. Big A. took over the routine, like the amazing dad he is, and I flew away. I visited family and friends and family. I had so much fun! And it shook me up.

I watched many different people in many different places, revisited life on a college campus, went to an art museum, walked in a new city, ate different foods, breathed different air. I needed it.

I'm still not sure what will shake out--that's a lot of input for me!--but I know my thinking has changed. In the moment, on the plane home, I wrote a poem. I'm tempted to try to explain it, but that's not the point. As I sat quietly, alone for the first time in a while, I looked around inside me at all the swirling ideas and feelings and impressions I'd absorbed in the last week.

These words trickled out. That's all and that's everything.

As my soulship sank
Sailed and sank
Hull worn thin
And thinner
By the ceaseless
Wearing water
I stashed treasure
Caches of cargo

As I packed each piece
Tight in a chest
Safe ashore
With loving guards
My ship rode higher
For a while
Then thinner
And lower
Sinking until
Another deposit
Another soul scrap
Left on
Another shore

I left my latest
And revisited my
First troves and
Then traveled
High in the air
With no way
To navigate
To either familiar
Charted course
Cut adrift
And above
My hold empty
I saw

I need
To walk
Like Grandma Gatewood
Or along the
Camina de Santiago
I need to seek
I need to find
Each scattered piece
Along a land route
My toes in the dirt
All my eggs in
One basket
In my basket
In me