Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Rest



“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.
Rest.

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
Ashore

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

Lately
I left my latest
Fragments
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
Grounded
Rooted
Connected
All my eggs in
One basket
In my basket
In me

Monday, May 9, 2016

Reverse Engineering


Before you think I’m a total freaking jerk because of this post, please remember that our very wily kids have both been debating (arguing) about everything from the moment they could talk. I swear Little A’s toddler tantrums came from not being able to talk well enough to argue. They practice on each other, on their very bright friends, and on us. It’s how they learn.

S. has developed her skills so fully that she reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite books, Belles on Their Toes. Anne, the oldest of twelve children, addresses her siblings.

“You all know,” she said in her best oratorical style, “that I don’t enjoy making speeches.”

This was something we didn’t know at all because there were few things Anne enjoyed more. Before she went to college, she had been the mainstay of the high school debating team, and drove her arguments home with such enthusiasm that her coach used tell her that she was supposed merely to stump her opponents, not tree them.

Our kids love to stump, tree, or otherwise shrubbery us whenever possible. So it’s only good parenting for me to, as good martial arts instructors do, occasionally dazzle them with my wicked moves and remind them that *I* am the master. (Darth Vader voice.)
 
From some of my darkest parenting moments often come some of my purest moments of genius.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I take no credit. Whether it’s angels, my subconscious, “those who have gone before,” or the healing energy of the universe, it usually feels like someone opens the top of my skull, drops the idea in, then walks away. I’m profoundly grateful, every single time.

We all got a little snarly before spring break. The kids felt tired and overworked, I was wrapping up a major project, and Big A. had been working hard and a lot, traveling frequently. Getting ready for school seldom feels fun under those circumstances and, on that particular day, I’d had it.

I felt like I kept walking a circle around the house, picking up, putting away, turning off, shutting, wiping, straightening, moving, and otherwise compensating for things the kids were or were not doing.

Before I totally lost my ever-loving mind (because I could see the headlight from that train barreling down the tunnel!), I remembered some classics: counting to ten, entrapment, and the Socratic method.

Counting to ten allowed me to get everyone calmly out of the house and calmly—you guessed it—trapped in the car. For the five-minute drive to the bus stop, they were strapped down in hearing distance of my voice with no excuse not to answer. Gotcha, suckers!

The Socratic method, which is, if you think about it, an educational form of entrapment, allowed me to set them up oh-so-beautifully for a huge fall. I opened slowly.

“So, guys, would you throw plastic bags and soda cans out the window right now?”

“No? Well, what about at the beach—would you put grocery bags in the water?”

“No? Hmmm, well, why not?”

“That’s great. You respect the wildlife that live there. Me, too. And you want the world to be nice in the future, for the animals and people to live in? That’s a fantastic goal.”

I continued this way for a bit, then wound up and delivered the biggest grand slam ever.

“So, do you respect me and Dad? Yeah? We respect you, too. Do you want our home to be nice to live in, now and in the future?”

I checked the rear view mirror. Judging by the slightly hunted look around their eyes, they knew they were stumped. I proceeded to fully tree and shrubbery them with specific changes I’d like to see. Game, set, match—me.

But you’ll never guess the part that really got to me. During this whole process, half of my brain was locked up in a brain room, snickering into its brain elbow. Why? Because I was using my kids’ horror at the thought of disrespecting nature to motivate them to treat their home decently!

For crying out loud, when I was born, the only reason anyone recycled anything was to get a nickel! This whole experience adds to the “reduce, reuse, and recycle” lifestyle. They forgot, “Reverse engineer motivational slogans about not littering to convince your kids to keep their actual homes clean.”

Farewell, from the home of “Give a hoot; laundry in the chute.”

If you need further reasons to believe that I’m not a jerk for enjoying that moment, please see this awesome comic that sums up our lives right now. Except that our kids do appreciate the irony. They just don’t stop the arguing!


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Coming Home



Where have I been?

I’ve been coming home from my Lenten journey. 

Part of that involves the blossoming of the seeds planted as I traveled. Many of those seeds appear in my blogs, so I’m sure it’s no surprise to you that, like Dorothy before me, I’ve discovered that “If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with.”

Walking to the cow field didn’t enable me to find peace; walking out into the world from our home did. Maybe I didn’t see it until I realized that the most beautiful sunrises happen right behind our roof, but our home holds everything I need.

Will I always love a pasture more than a high rise? Sure. Do I hope someday my husband and I fulfill our dream of being hermits on an island or a mountain or just in the middle of nowhere? I sure do! But whatever world I walk through when I leave our nest, I carry our love with me. 

The other part of my homecoming is even closer to my heart—literally. I feel healthy for the first time in years. The whys and hows signify, but not nearly as much as the gratitude. I am heart-burstingly, mind-alteringly, ephiphany-creatingly thankful for so much right now!

I’m grateful that I can take a full, deep breath
And because of that, I can sleep again
And because of that, I can run again
And because of that, I can laugh again
And because of that, I can sing again
And because of that, I can remember again

A little while ago, one of the kids was hurt because I’d forgotten something important. I would never forget voluntarily, but it still stung. After all, I'm mom and mom, of all people, should remember. This time I could say, “I know I’ve forgotten more than I’d like lately. I promise I’m getting better.”

I’m eternally grateful that my mind works again
And because of that, I can work confidently again
And because of that, I can read books for pleasure again
And because of that, I can prioritize again
And because of that, I have free time again
And because of that, I feel satisfaction again
 
I’m grateful that my body can move again
And because of that, exercise energizes me again
And because of that, I can work without constant breaks again
And because of that, I can trust my appetite again
And because of that, I can reach the top shelf again
And because of that, I can stretch out in bed again

This isn’t even remotely a complete list! Right now, for example, Bruno and I are hanging in the kitchen waiting for the newly cleaned carpets to dry. I’m grateful the thunderstorms arrived yesterday, so Bruno’s latest Pee from Fright happened the day before the cleaning. I’m grateful for the cleaners coming on the exact day I needed and the family coming to celebrate with us this weekend. I’m grateful I work from home with a view of sunshine on forest and that it's a gorgeous, barely humid day with a breeze. It's a joy to open the windows.
 
It’s like a happy hydra—every time I name something I love, two more spring to mind!

Yes, it’s been a long road. Yes, I’ve felt other things. And, yes, I’m still healing. I can’t do ALL THE THINGS. RIGHT NOW. REALLY WELL.

Actually…I can. But I won’t. Here’s the thing about going from feeling really rotten to miraculously well in a matter of weeks—nope, here come a couple of things about that.

One, I ask myself constantly how I ever wasted this gift of health on anything miserable. How? I don’t know and I really don’t care because I am done with that. Done. With. That.

Two, I value this precious gift of healing and this beautiful body of mine far too much to squander now! If something feels off or draining or not good for me, I’m not doing it. I’m going to listen to one of my favorite characters in all literature: “Treat it with care. Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.”

Three, I limped along doing only a few things, barely on time, and just well enough to get by—with a poorly functioning mind in a barely functioning body—and everyone is still Just Fine. The earth turns, the seasons come and go, people live and die, my family’s amazing. So do ALL THE THINGS even need to be done? RIGHT NOW? REALLY WELL? Apparently not. We have proof to the contrary. 

Slàinte, everybody! Adopt a happy hydra! Go do something you love—I will. And I promise you a fun, funny kid blog next time.