Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A New Home

I have a new home for my thoughts and my words.

As it is with moves, I find myself experiencing a mishmosh of emotion. So excited for my new home, complete with all the things I wanted in a new, updated space. Then, suddenly nostalgic for the old home, complete with virtual pencil marks on the walls measuring my growth.

Consider this your invitation to come visit my new place. I can't wait to see you there: Universal Grit

Peace,
Denise

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wisdom From Trees

The steam rose out of the sink, holding my hands and the dish they washed. The dish and I were in a warm cloud of the water's vapors while my hands deftly cleaned the bowl. I placed it on the white, waffle drying towel and picked up the next vessel to wash.

As I cleaned, I breathed. I slowly inhaled and luxuriously exhaled. I felt the fingers of oxygen infiltrate my mind, my legs, my arms. The air, laced with steam, filled me. I encompassed that moment so fully. It was so decadent. Simple.

*****

Lately, my mind noodles the concept of balance. Ah, the ethereal life Balance. I've often mused that balance is a lot like the steam that surrounded me at that moment with my dishes--vaporous and impossible to sustain.

Last year, I frequently felt rushed. I often unknowingly held my breath, switching from one To Do to the next, harried and somewhat frazzled. Like time just passed through my fingers. Definitely not peaceful or balanced. I often thought,

If I could just do it all better, more efficiently, I'd feel better and have more time. IF I could better balance my responsibilities and desires, I'd be like those other people who get So. Much. More. Accomplished. Than. Me. I'd have more air. More space.

So, I tried moving faster, but instead of registering balance, I found scattered and not-present. I know life doesn't have to be either-or, but I kept feeling as if I wasn't doing any one thing well. When I was trying to eek out some writing, I should've been starting dinner. When I was putting my sweet kiddos to bed, sentences, aching to be written, danced temptingly in my head. My desire to enjoy my writing career chaffed up against my desire to manage my family, our home and our lives.

My truest desires were at odds with each other.

*****

As this school year began to churn to its own cadence, I listened to my own beat. One rhythm dominated and repeated: Balance. Balance. Balance. It chimed as frequently as the Yoga beats I heard this summer. I quietly challenged myself to find a different way. This different way has manifested in: decluttering closets and my calendar. Cleaning and organizing work spaces. Planning meals and actually cooking them (don't laugh). Sitting in the red andirondack chairs in the driveway while watching the kids make chalk dust, and listening to their aimless chit chat.

An easiness that has been missing started to soften my edges. But. I wasn't writing.

I've been thinking about writing. A LOT. And I've been writing in my notebooks, spinning pitches, thinking on paper. But that fodder isn't making its way into posts here, in this space.

*****

As I stood at the sink, with my steam and my dishes, I suddenly thought of one of my favorite yoga poses, Tree (or Vrksasana, whose Sanskrit name I include because I'm trying to learn the beautiful words for these poses). When I am in Vrksasansa, I feel the grounding of my foot on the earth. I stretch up, body in unison and totally balanced. I focus on my my body. My breath. THE MOMENT. From the not-very-shocking department, the minute I mentally leave the pose--when my brain wanders to dinner, to writing, to cobwebs--I fall. Balance gone.

Balance.
Balance.
Balance.

The definition I used to attribute to balance was something like:

I will achieve balance when I figure out how to do it all well and effortlessly.
I just need to try harder.

Uh, no. I'm finding my way to a new definition:

Balance is not proficient multi-tasking. It. Is. The. Opposite. Balance is doing one thing, whatever THE thing is, well. Fully and wholly. Balance is acceptance of the current moment. Balance is being there, foot and mind firmly planted in the present.

*****

I put my last dish on the dish towel to dry. I dried my hands on the soft, faded green hand towel, noticing the ridges of my prune-like fingertips. Outside my kitchen window, a small brown leaf drifted from a tree. Thoughts for this post percolated. I turned to my next moment, and my children, and smiled.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Limbo in September

Such is the passage of time
Too fast to fold
And suddenly swallowed by signs
Low and behold
(Eddie Vedder, Rise)

One morning last week, I found myself in a pissy mood. For no obvious reason, I felt agitated, annoyed and cranky. The mood would not abate. So, I sought refuge in the trees. I pulled on my hiking shoes and forced the kids to the forest with me. They wanted to stay home and play on the iPad.

We got to the hiking spot and pulled into the nestled parking spot. Often, just the crunch of the tires on the gravel of the parking space will ricochet me from any funk into the woods, into the present moment. Not today. Nature immediately swallowed Abby and Henry, however, and engulfed them with her magic. They transformed, high from just being there, surrounded by vast stretches of oak and maple, ferns and the pungent smell of the earth. The iPad was long forgotten. I, however, wasn't so easily swayed. My persistent crankiness held on with a firm grip. No matter how hard I pounded the ground, feeling my feet contact the Earth, I could not escape the nagging swirl.

The kids found inspiration at every turn--mud from the hurricane rains! Downed tree trunks became draw bridges carrying us from one side of the muddy trail to the other. Bridges allowed us to safely cross a coursing stream, her water's path carrying tinctures of conversation and bubbling laughter.

As we neared the end of our hike, Abby asked that we all give thanks. In her beautiful eight-year-old voice, she spoke clearly and purposefully,

Thank you for our oxygen, for the trees, for the ground and this beautiful day.

Her words softened me. I felt like I was finally able to leave my head and join the hike. Her words allowed me to offer my own less-gracious but just-as-sincere silent supplication,

I am grateful to be. Be full of everything and anything that I bring to this moment, even this annoyance, this mood. I am open.

I softened just a bit . I opened.

*****

The morning was warm. And although the sky still held the summer sun, the first traces of autumn hid in the shade of the tall, tall trees. I stopped. I inhaled the scent of fall. I looked down and noticed the first colored leaf of fall:

My funk began became less random and began to make sense. I realized that I was in limbo. Straddling a bridge between two seasons, two parts of the trail, two intermingling realities, two different, yet overlapped, scenes of life.

Summer and fall. Tan lines and backpacks, filled to the brim with crisp notebooks and unsharpened pencils. Beach chairs crusted with white sand and a soft rain of falling leaves. Children home and children gone. Euphoria about once again having time to myself (craving it, able to taste my need for it, counting-down-the-days-until-I-have-it) co-mingling with a creeping sadness about Abby and Henry's return to school. The cold rush of realization swooshed in, time's swift passage lingering in its shadows.

Such is the passage of time
too fast to fold

Swallowed by opposing emotions. Hooray for the start of school! But if school starts, it's another year. A sign that Abby and Henry are one year older. Swallowed by signs marking the constant growth of my children and my constant desire to slow. it. the. fuck. down. All highlighted by my sudden, unexpected tears, also swallowed, surprising me with their force.

*****

Last week, I volunteered at Welcome Night at Abby's elementary school. This is a night for new students to visit and become more comfortable with the school's layout. I was stationed at the front door, welcoming families as they came in. Most of the visiting families came with starting Kindergarteners. In their faces, I saw timid smiles. I found searching, nervous eyes. I saw white-knuckled hands of parents holding soft, still-pudgy hands of their babies. I found jubilant skips and boisterous, barely-able-to-contain-it excitement. More than once, I saw myself.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sun and Corn

I snapped this photo after the kids husked the corn before dinner one night. It's rare that I appreciate anything that looks messy or unkempt--but this site of summer stopped me. I love how the late afternoon sun angles in on a summer tradition. Strewn husks, hundreds of pieces of corn silk. An unspoken promise of deliciousness.

Soon, that sun will be long gone at this time of day.



Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Letter from the Tooth Fairy

P(re) Script: Abby, at 8, still amazingly believes in the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I am shocked, as I think she's sat on the precipice of NOT believing for a year or more. Today, she lost another tooth. Last week, she asked some tough questions. I believe that along with the Tooth Fairy loot, tomorrow morning she will also find this letter under her pillow.

August 23, 2011

Dearest Abby,

I know you've been having some questions about me--about whether or not I'm real. When you asked your mommy if I was real, or if she and your daddy were really the Tooth Fairy, your mom asked you if you believe that I'm real. You answered,

I believe the Tooth Fairy is real because you said she is ... and you always tell me the truth.

I understand your questions. Let me tell you a little secret:

I ask parents all over the world to help me make childhood more fun and magical for their kids. My goal: help young kids learn about faith. Faith is believing in something or someone even when you cannot see or touch those things. Sometimes, we believe in things, feelings or people without having proof that those things exist. Faith is a powerful, important force in our lives.

Think about Love, for example. You believe in Love, right? You can't see it, yet you know it's real because you feel it in a beaming smile, in a safe hug, or in whispered hushes when you're sad. You're surrounded by it, from your dad, your mom, your family, your friends. Those things that are real? They live in your heart, give you goosebumps and make your stomach tingle with hundreds of beautiful, quick-winged butterflies.

Please always remember that life is full of magic if you choose to see and believe it is so. And understand that your mom and dad didn't lie to you. Quite the contrary. They merely followed the pledge to help make your life beautiful.

Now, that you're so wise and mature, will you take the pledge? If so, please raise your right hand (the one you write with) and say the following out loud:

I promise to keep alive the magic and spirit of the Tooth Fairy
for Henry and younger children everywhere.

*****


My memory will always be flitting about on gossamer wings, spreading magic and faith to kids. Now, I invite you to believe. Listen to your heart to find the best ways to continue the beautiful faith in magic, and magic in faith.

Keep up the great brushing,
With love,
The Tooth Fairy

Post Script: My heart feels a bit heavy with the realization that Abby is here. I remember when I figured it out--I was devastated. And I know that after she reads this letter, which she is more-than-ready-to-read, Santa will be next. When did she get so old? I will just continue to reinforce:

I still believe.
I still believe.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Like Sea Shells, I Collected Thoughts

*****************
1
Gray clouds spitting. White capped, charcoal green waves spraying.
Sunglasses covered in rain drops. Refuge sought under the strained beach umbrellas, usually poised to block the sun. Four adults, crouching for warmth and dry.

Four lone children, oblivious to the inclement with the empty expanse of the beach their canvas. Architects, city planners, politicians, mayors. Navigating the perils of childhood--anarchy and disappointment, lines drawn in the sand. Compromise and resolution follow and copacetic rhythms return.

Raw weather beckons powerfully--pulsing and yelling. Daring us to stay, daring us to leave, to seek shelter under roof and within four walls. Gulls cry, warning of the storm's arrival.

We ignore them.

We stake our beach claim. Kids play. We observe. Souls settle into the space, the calm, the yield of beach vacation.

******************
2
Sand. Prehistoric, jumbled particles of recycled rock and shell, shifting between toes. Adhering to body parts. Building beaches, play places.

Round rumps, saluting the sun. Busy hands below, engulfed in the sand. Digging. Building. Nothing and everything, small cities, leaning castles, shifting alphabets.

Long arms of the ocean, like white ruffles, pounding and dancing, creating my beloved beach. Past physical moments journeying to this point, my point, our point. Meeting and moving together.

Stepping into the ocean, I feel like I'm entering another's home. At the door steps of the magnificent sea. Benevolent, brutal, beautiful--hosting one and all, visitors, inhabitants and herself.

How long have these sandy crystalline, beautiful specks traveled to get here? Much longer than I. Intensely understanding the smallness of my life, as microscopic as those pieces of sand. Yet unlike those sandy bits, I am fleeting, impermanent.

Intoxicating, hypnotic and banal, the ocean sings to me. With a sand-embossed invitation, she implores me to be. Begs me to watch. Insists that I ponder, wonder.

And I do.

**************************
3
Stretching shadow of western sun elongating my smudge on the sand. Communing with the raw, pure ocean while the evening ritual unfolds back at the beach house--
shake and hang the towels
remove the sand
shower the body
climb into softest cottons
pour cocktails

I sit, solo, with her. The ocean. And her symphony. I've missed her. Reunited, my heart now swelling, tide-like, spilling into my chest, legs and arms.

Painful trepidation surrounding tomorrow's departure. But now, I'm here. Full. Salt-soaked. Sand covered. Wind tousled. Damp bathing suit. Crazy hair. Now.

The patterned randomness of the pounding Atlantic, simultaneously rhythmic and sporadic. An artful cornucopia of vastness and dichotomies. She sings to me again. Syncapatic melodies traced with the undertow of dissonance.

Scattered sea weed. Resilient piers. Taut flags. Stalwart gulls. White caps far onto the royal blue horizon, meeting the robins egg blue above.

I am captive.

******
I'm at the beach this weekend. I wrote this almost exactly a year ago, at the same beach. I am still captive.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Vacation Views

I am in one of my favorite places, EVER. Rocky Mountains, Colorado. Vacation bliss. Some of the things I get to set my eyes on every day, every morning, every moment.

*****

View from Fionna.

*****


Abby contemplating life. And how to talk her parents into riding lessons.

*****


Colorado wild flowers.

*****

Nine years ago, my hubby and I met on this road just before our wedding.

*****

Reward after day of hiking. Or sitting. Or horseback riding.


Friday, August 5, 2011

Where I Am

Strong, slanted afternoon summer rays reached into my water-spotted kitchen window and threw themselves across my kitchen table. As the sunlight rested on this wooden surface, it highlighted the crumbs of a previous meal and old swirl marks of many aggressive wipe-downs. Various diluted paint stains--magenta, blue, green-- mingled with the crumbs.

Hubby and the kids worked on their rockets (a project that all three love--I love my husband for thinking of it and doing it and carving out a special space with the kids). I watched them and watched the sunlight dancing in their space. I took air into my lungs and held onto it for just awhile. I released. I lazily unloaded the dishwasher and meandered to the couch to finish reading a magazine.

Slow.
Deliberate.
Lazy.

Another afternoon, I climbed into a cushioned chair on the deck, shaded by the thick leaves of the wisteria. The cool breeze tickled the edge of the leaves and I read. The words from the magazine began to blur and my head began to nod and sleep sneaked up and caught me in her arms. My magazine rested precariously my rising, falling, rising chest. I felt like I heard a swoosh of words, faintly whispering: Yoga.

Summer.

This is the summer I hoped for and imagined. Family happily moving through their days. Copacetic moments rolling one into the next. Deftly prepared dinners of grilled meats and fresh veggies served with lingering conversations. Spying ruby red tomatoes on their emerald green vines and plucking them off.

Aside from the expected rough day here and there, the days have unfolded pleasantly. Last summer proved challenging. Very. And this summer, I've wondered why our moments are different than their predecessors. And then, I realized that finally, finally, Abby and Henry are old enough.


*****

The last months I've been dealing with some health issues. I've been in tremendous pain from endometriosis and suffering symptoms from what just might be Celiac disease. As I've researched both conditions, the information I read continues to tell me what I've long suspected:

1. I need to stop eating wheat
2. I must practice yoga
3. Not Knowing is groovy and I must relinquish my white-knuckled grasp on my irrational assumption that I can control things, people, and the tidiness of the kitchen counter.

Yoga.

I reached out to friends who study yoga and asked them what resources they'd recommend. (This, by the way, was hard for me to do. The asking-for-help part. But I did it. And although it felt rough and unnatural at first, I settled into the innate knowledge of opening myself to the wisdom of others.) My friend Katrina wisely emailed me this:

My advice is to embark on this new path with a spirit of inquiry, and trust that you will find everything you need to know along the way...and savor even these first small steps. Just learning to bring your awareness to your breath, to come into a place of stillness, to tune in to all the physical and emotional sensations in your body is a good beginning.

I got goosebumps reading her sage, salve-like words. I kept coming back to this phrase: bring your awareness to your breath, come into a place of stillness. Yes. Yoga. Everything about this resonated with me. At times, I will find myself just holding my breath. For no reason.

I reached out to Pamela, too, who offered kind words and insight. She suggested poses and this section on YogaJournal.com. When I read this particular part about chakras, and the second chakra which is associated with endometriosis, more goosebumps arose:

Trying to influence the outer world is not the province of the second chakra. Instead of demanding that our body or a relationship be different, the second chakra encourages us to feel the feelings that arise as we open to life just as it is. As we allow ourselves to accept what is, we taste the sweetness (and bittersweetness) of life.

Huh. Controlling. What don't I try to control? My mood. My children. The mess. My hair. The house. Our schedule. Other's reactions. The older I get the more controlling I realize I am. My futile attempts at control remind me just how much I rail against the polarity of life. The bitter. The sweet. The vitriol. The kindness. The life. The death.

I know that I must relax into it all. Open-armed.

Yoga.

With spaces.

With breaths.

With awareness.

With bittersweet life swinging with wild abandon.

Apparently, my own evolution and awareness led me to this summer with Abby and Henry. Their maturation and my evolution delivered us to this easier now. Their age, combined with my loosened grip, allowed these days to articulate themselves. Materializing in their own time.

I let go. I let go of my need to control it all. Released the need for constant order. And allowed space for my children to be.... (wait for it....) children. And space for me to be...me. Every bit of me.

*****

I unrolled my yoga mat for the first time this week. The purple padded rectangle thwaped as it hit the basement carpet. I started with the base-level yoga poses that I know. Downward-facing dog. Thoughts came along--negative judgments about my body. Gosh my knees are wrinkly at this angle. Tree. I wish my stomach always looked like this, like it does when I'm stretched to the sky. Shoulder stand. Head-to-knee bend. Look at that stomach flab. Geesh. Cut down on the sugar, lady. Child's pose.

Those negative, snitty thoughts tried. But instead of quickly nodding my conspiratorial agreement, I took note of their editorial quips and let them slide. Which each long-held stretch, I relaxed into the beginning. Not knowing. A fledgling acceptance of the bitter and sweet parts of my body started to swirl. I heard a faint swoosh, maybe a whisper. Be open. Try.

I found an uncharted map of possibility and growth.

A start.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Visit With Christa

Something really, really cool happened. Christa, from Carry It Forward asked me if I would like to guest post on her blog.

Like To???? Hardly.

Thrilled To is more accurate.

And so, today, my post is up at her lovely space. Go visit. I always leave inspired. Or filled with patience for life. Or holding a new question. Or with a refreshed sense of connection. I hope you do, too.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Montage


As summer continues to amble along, I continue to amble with it. My mind is rich with thoughts and ideas, but they're not making their way onto paper (or blog post) much. So I'll share with you some images from our vacation--the lake leg of the trip. Hope summer is treating you well.

no. 1: the path to the lake

***


no. 2: contemplative slide perch

***

no. 3: carnival ferris wheel holding waving daughter and niece.
***


no. 4: my perch at the lake, aka: bliss on weathered wood
(yes, there's wine in that plastic cup)



no. 5: self-portrait

***


no. 6: newt gingrich waving at 4th of July parade

***


no. 7: ron paul supporters
(love their panache)

***

no. 8: seen the next day, titled bull-headed
(my attempt at political humor)

***

no. 9: my camera lens was dirty (thanks, Coppertone) but
I love the way the smear reflects the sun off their brass
***


no. 10: cows divided
(also-known-as my second attempt at political humor)
***


no. 11:
PS: What would Don Quixote make of these power wind mills in Iowa?
Would he fight them? Would he win?


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Travels

We drove and drove and drove west. 1,270 miles to be exact (and that's just one-way). Wide expanses of black, yellow-dashed interstate stretched out in front of and behind us. The first 17 hours of the trip I drove solo, just me and my kids. Although I felt trepidation about the driving before we left, the time in the car ended up being quite peaceful. The hum of the tires. The whir of the DVD player. The long, long playlist of songs on my iPod. Outside my windows a moving meditation of diverse landscapes unfolded at 72 MPH. My own personal wonderland.

I watched as the mountains of western New Jersey gave way to the slope and rolling interstate of Pennsylvania. And as I drove west on I-80, Pennsylvania yielded to Ohio. Western Ohio still held the slight hills of the previous state but I knew, because I lived my younger years in northern Ohio, that the paths of the ancient glaciers would soon make their journey evident as we traveled into the flatest of flats.

I still find it strange to be an adult where I used to be a kid. And, for the record, I find it strange that I find this strange. Since my family moved so often when I was growing up, a different place is home now than it was when I was young. I moved five times before I was in Kindergarten. I moved in 7th, 9th and 11th grades. I went to college. I moved eight times since I graduated from college. I've so often craved a familiar, physical home--the place I can navigate with my eyes closed. But. Instead I have a cornucopia of homes, places I hold dear sprinkled with memories of living. I can see them like red push-pins dotted all over a map.

*****

It's funny where some memories reside. Some live in expected places--for me, in the scent of garlic and onions sauteeing in butter. In the arms of my husband and in the sleeping bodies of my children. In the coolness of my mother's hand. Memories sit in the smell of chlorine and old photographs, boxed and filed in the basement.

But others reside in complex, unexpected places. As I drove through Ohio, I began to see the inky tails of memories, zipping by, their traces like car exhaust in the cold of January. Pungent. Nearly invisible. Daring me to see them.

These memories lurked under concrete underpasses. In the accordian fans of corn. In the flat expanse of black highway. They congregated on the low-hanging power lines, like black birds. Memories lived here. The ones that I don't often visit. It makes me wonder: are they really memories if they don't reside in my brain? Or are they blips, nascent experiences just waiting to be reclaimed, ready to graduate to memory status?

*****

When I used to travel these roads, I rode as a passenger. In the back on a red, vinyl bench seat with a lap belt holding me safely in place. My parents consulted a map to determine their direction--I can still see my mom's hands and arms folding a map of Ohio into submission. Now, I drive. Airbags and car seats fill my minivan. I consult my phone and my navigation system for directions. Straw wrappers litter the floor mats. My kids watch movies and slightly scuffed DVDs join the wrappers on the floors. I send up a mother's wish that the little-finger smudges and scratches don't prevent the DVDs from playing. When I look down quickly at the steering wheel, I can see a pair of hands that would pass as my mother's. But they're mine.

Now what used to legitimately be called laugh-lines are well-deserved wrinkles covered in a shroud of SPF 70 trying to undo years of sun damage garnered in the 70s and 80s. When I used to live here. When these roads were home.

*****

Now I'm driving my kids to my dear friends' and family's houses and I brief my kids before we arrive:

The last time you saw Myles you were both in diapers and you stole toys from him.

You last met this family two years ago. Remember--she was pregnant? Well, now that baby is
almost two.

She was a bridesmaid at Daddy's and my wedding. Yes, I was one at hers, too.

We stop. Many times. At houses we've stopped at many times before. Familiar driveways and strong, safe, knowing arms greet us. These people know all my nooks and crannies because they lived a lot of them with me. At each predetermined stop, we gorge ourselves on hugs and kisses and so many stories. Told in person, instead of over the phone. Complete with live facial expressions and shiny eyes. We share stories of our families. Of challenges and triumphs. Of life. Of children's successes and, shall we say, quirks. And of ours.

I get to hold and squeeze the little bodies whose sweet faces fill my Christmas card stack.

I remember...

I hear these words emerging from my mouth, directed lovingly toward my friend's children, just as I heard my mother say before me.

I remember when I held you in my arms and you were only this big
I remember the last time I saw you and you were a bump in your Mama's belly.

I kiss their sweet heads and enjoy highly fractured conversations with their moms.

Suddenly, hours and days have passed and it's time to go. Again. We exchange teary, long-held goodbyes with many repeats. We try to shove two years of living into days, hours, lunches.

Each time the kids and I walk into the driveways and climb back into the blue minivan, we hug our friends again.

They say,
Oh, take this kettle corn
and
Here are some snacks for the road
and
Do you need any other food
and
Text me when you get there

and they love through their outstretched offerings of food stuffs, through their outstretched arms, as women do by mothering and nurturing and caring. At each stop, we pull out of the driveway loaded with teary goodbyes, more food than we could possibly eat and a strong reserve of hugs. Physical reminders that friendship perseveres miles and 365-day-stretches-of-days.

My heart and stomach lurch. We pull out of the many driveways, windows open to the Midwestern summer air. Our tanned arms waving, tears regathering, horn honking.

We see their hands waving back, waving so many simultaneous wishes. Indentations of our memories bind us, holding us together, connected until we met again.

And we move on. Our four wheels carrying us to the next state, the next stop, the next set of welcoming arms. Home.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Road Trip

Well, my friends, the time of year has come when my writing and blogging slow to a crawl. It's a bittersweet time: bitter because I adore writing, blogging and this on-line space we all inhabit. Sweet because it's summer and we have nothing but Time and we're preparing for a nice long, old-fashioned road trip. (I put those words like nice and old-fashioned in there to trick myself into believing that 23 hours in the car will be nice. And old-fashioned? Well, Will from Will & Grace once said something like, "Why is it that when you put the word old-fashioned in front of anything, it becomes wonderful?" )

I will miss our connections. So I'm hoping (fingers crossed tightly) that we'll reconnect where I drop off. And I'll still post occasionally. I know I won't be able to stay away for too long from this space that I love.

So happy trails to you (and to me--please, please let me have happy trails) and enjoy the summer solstice.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Into Focus

I can't remember when I first visited Christine's blog, Coffees and Commutes. But I can tell you that now, I can't imagine a week when I don't seek out her words, rich with truth and insight.

Christine writes candidly about her life as a mother, her career and her life with depression. We both unfortunately walk this life of depression. But gratefully, after reading her posts, I feel human. Normal. Not alone. Her words are like a hand, stretching through my screen and into my soul.

Today's guest post is by Christine. Please read her powerful words and if you don't already, visit her wonderful blog. I'm sure you'll be so glad you did.

Into Focus

I felt a flash of optimism today. Actually it announced itself like a flash, but steadied itself quickly into a flickering light. There it was, dancing calmly in front of me, small, but resolute and strong. With it comes clarity, the kind of clarity that comes with a new set of glasses, my life finally vibrant and crisp.

Because I wasn’t expecting it, it felt delicious and wondrous.

When you start to come out of a dense fog, the glint of transparency seems to sparkle brilliantly. You reflect and realize how overcome your life was by sadness and despair. The new clarity stands completely juxtaposed to the more familiar grey oppression, tantalizing with the freshness of a sunny spring day. For a short time, I reveled in it and was reminded how good life could feel.

When I first fell into my personal abyss and realized that I would need medication to help me out of the sludge of my mind, it wasn’t long before I started to feel better. Within a week the haze started to life, my energy slowly rebounded, my heart’s cadence slowed to a more manageable rhythm.

Now, many weeks later, I believe I may actually be getting better. I’m more myself than I have been in a very long time. It feels like the return of an old friend who you didn’t even realize you had missed, the familiarity bringing a new sensation full of ripe possibilities.

It’s very difficult to describe how pervasive my depression was. Now with clarity, comes the benefit of hindsight and a feeling of sadness for the self who was lost for so long and all that was missed because of it. I feel like whole pockets of the past couple of years have been taken from me, particularly the last 5 or 6 months.

I’m told this is common, that when people begin to feel better they recognize that the struggle was there far longer than they ever knew. The slide was gradual of course, but it was deep. I think that’s the true horror of this illness—how it squeezes a person’s wellbeing in the most secretive way, so that it’s not obvious to the one who matters most—yourself.

But here’s what I now know. At the beginning of this year I set out to find myself. In the process I completely lost myself. Now I believe this is exactly what was supposed to happen.

Until recently I fought it, refusing to allow myself to be lost. That is precisely where the sadness and confusion came from. I was afraid to let go and just be. I thought self-understanding came like an achievement, something to reach. Like a place of souls. When all along it was inside me—right now—right here.

It seems cliché, but I really did need to lose myself before I could truly find myself.

I was so blind I almost missed itI floundered and sputtered and practically snuffed out my own breath in a desperate attempt to discover something that didn’t exist.

A self beyond myself.

So here I am, trying this realization on for size and reminding myself to breathe in the simplicity of a live lived each day. This very moment. Consciously reminding myself, as I do so often with my children—stop, breathe, focus. I feeling my thoughts and allow them without judgment. Testing it out, learning it.

Simple, and yet so hard. Practicing.

Acknowledging that what I feel is real and okay. And then moving on. Deeper. But within the self who I already am.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ties That Bind

We pulled into our driveway and parked. I got the grocery bags and made multiple trips into the house with them. In and out, up the stairs and down, open and close the door. I got back to the car and found Henry, still sitting in his car seat, staring into the air. I stood just outside the door of our blue minivan. I bit my tongue. My usual strings of sentences ached to pop out, Come on, Henry, get out of your car seat. Come on, hurry up. UNBUCKLE. Get your things. Come on, come on COME ON!

But.


This time, my words stalled, dissolving on my tongue. I don't know why I was able to stop. Typically, when the mental list of To Dos swirls, I cannot stop its throbbing beat. Maybe, on this day, I was able because we had no pressing plans. Or maybe I just got lucky. Instead of issuing my usual litany of instructions, I surrendered and slowly lowered my head to rest it on top of his. Striations of dappled, warm sunlight danced around us, holding us in a sling of suspended time. A dry breeze blew, capturing Henry's boyish scent and distilling it around us. His blond hair tickled my forehead. I rested. He rested. Henry was still. We were still, together.
The light, stippled through the variegated cornucopia of green leaves, made silly designs on our bodies. The sun poured warmly around us. I felt the shift--the shift from mental minutia to this life, this now. I felt the swell of the sacred and its enormity caught in my throat. Our connectedness felt primal and familiar--like we'd been here before. And of course, we had.


*****


Our very first connection was an umbilical cord which gave life and oxygen and nutrition. Just five years ago, the contractions racked my body, coursing in synchronicity with the Earth's pull. Just five years ago, Henry was born.
I planned to have an epidural--the anesthesiologists merely awaited the word from my doctor and nurses, and my doctors and nurses awaited the word from me. Hubby went to get a huge shot of caffeine and I lay in my hospital bed, contractions rushing me like tidal waves. As the pain ricocheted through my body, my finger sat poised to push the button to call them. But I waited. Something stopped me--a primal urge to connect with my body, the inherent power within me to grow and deliver a life. I hadn't been able to experience this when I delivered Abby so this time, I waited. My body coursed with the primitive synchronicity of life. I felt at that moment more connected to a bigger world than I ever had before. I was plugged into it all. There. Participating in his arrival.


I finally asked for (and gratefully received) my epidural.


When he arrived, time stopped. It was him and me. With the umbilical cord cut, we experienced the first severing of our first bond. A first of many partings and meetings. I didn't know then, on the day he arrived, that our relationship would morph and reconstitute so many times.


The shift from nursing to formula. From milk to solids. From my feeding him to him feeding himself. To now, when I'll be upstairs and hear him in the kitchen below, food bags crinkling, while he rummages for his own sustenance. I know one day, when he lives his own life, I will yearn for the crinkling of those bags.
The bonds of our physicality change and morph daily, coupled with conjugations of emotion to continually tether us. This evolution of the relationship between mother and child, particularly thismother and these children, forces me to ponder the future. I reflect on my adult relationship with my mother. The physical distance between us now makes my heart ache for that inexorable, future parting of my children.


I know that the shifting occurs, in small, almost transparent bits, daily. I live within these evolving parameters of our life. First nights in their rooms. First sleepovers. First weekends away. And then, firsts of their young-adult lives will barrel down upon us. I know that our future points of connection are unpredictable but when these blissful blips come--10, 20, 30 years from now--I will lean into them with a fierce gratitude and faith that they will continue.


*****


The night before Henry's fifth birthday, I sat on my deck. I sipped my gin and tonic (double lime, please and thank you). The winds played their melodies on the leaves, each different green and shape yielding a rapturous, natural cacauphony. The sound was reminiscent of waves rolling onto the shore. And I'm reminded of the powerful waves that signaled the arrival of Henry. These waves of wind signaled the arrival of this now. On the undercurrent of those winds flew vestiges of time past, five days ago when Henry and I sat in the driveway, locked in our moment. And five years ago, when Henry joined me on this journey. Together.
On that evening, the world felt so big. Carbonated gratitude bubbled through my veins. I peered out into the western sky--the palest robin's-egg blue tinged with the silvery promise of twilight. The silhouettes of trees, leaves, pine needles and branches punctuated the horizon. The wind continued to roll, playing the symphonic hush of night. The decadent scent of a neighbor's bonfire hopped onto one of the wind streams.
Right above me, in a room on the second floor of my home, a still-four-year-old Henry slept. Almost five years after his birth, our physicality still continues to shift, to roll, to morph. On the eve of his birthday, bricks and wood separate us only physically. Our lasting ties permeate, radiate.


Far off in the west, an airplane heads east, glimmering in the last remaining rays of daylight. A soft hush of supplication leaves my lips. A whisper of contentment. A nod to the extraordinary union of all that is. Henry. Me. The world around us. I relaxed into the tapestry of it all.


The sky slowly lost its pigmentation and deepened in its simplicity. Charcoal swirls of night formed where the sun left its vacancies, giving billing to the delicate silver crescent moon, subtly glowing. I got up from my perch and walked through the night into my home.


*****


Before I go to bed each night, I always check on my children. This night unfolded no differently. I padded down the hall in my socked feet, guided by faint strains of night lights spilling their glow onto the hardwood floors, groaning at my late-night intrusion.


The night arrived cool--in the 50s--and our windows were open to the night. First I kissed Abby, cozy and zonked in her hot pink bed. Then I opened Henry's door. I lay down in his bed next to him. For the thousandth time, I studied his blond-tousled hair. I cupped his round cheek, I stared at his long lashes.


An achy pit of not being able to remember this moment grew in my stomach. Maybe missing something before it is even gone is a good thing--a mark of reverence and insatiable gratitude. So I did what all mothers do--made myself an empty promise that I would remember it all. His scent. His quirky word choices. His heart.


I knew that now matter how I tried that these details would one day fade. I knew that despite my noble efforts I might not be able to conger the silkiness of his skin. They would escape my memory like fog. I awoke, an hour later, to Henry's face just inches from mine. He slept. My arm was flung over his chest, rising and falling with the cadence of his breathing. His knees were tucked into my stomach. Together. Connected.


I kissed my four-year-old one last time. Reluctantly, I got up and padded back down the hardwood hall to my cool, crisp white sheets. The memory of Henry at four already fraying at its edges. I slept.


The next morning, I awoke to Henry's beaming face inches from mine, proudly holding up five fingers.
I'm FIVE!, he smiled.


I reached over to him, and held his free hand. It was still silky. I breathed a sigh of relief. I know, I replied, I know! Happy Birthday, sweet boy. I brushed his hair from his eyes and returned his smile.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Parallels

As the school year wraps, I'm keenly aware of the merging presence of both the end and the beginning. The end of the school year and the beginning of the summer, mingling in the same space.


Yesterday, I walked the halls of Abby's elementary school.

What is it about the palpable, tangible energy during those last school days? The students and teachers all wear a mix of exhaustion and anticipatory joy on their faces. As my feet moved me down the hall, I recalled organizing all the shiny, crisp school supplies into Abby's backpack for the first day of school. Now, I peeked into classrooms and saw children haphazardly shoving old, worn folders, well-loved crayons and papers into their packs.

I inhaled the school unique essence of school: tempera paint, paper reams, glue and sweaty gym shoes. The scent of freshly-cut grass wafted in through the open windows. Blank hall walls, which just last week proudly displayed students' work, now looked so stark, punctuated with the occasional ripped corner of some well-thought-out project, pierced with one stalwart thumbtack. I could almost hear the scuffed, well-traveled floors saying, I thought they'd never leave... while simultaneously trying to commit the kids' beloved footsteps and hum to memory. As if they could sense the impending, inevitable solemn quiet of summer and were already yearning for the freshness of fall. I know how they feel.

Endings end and beginnings really begin, meshing and paralleling each other. I suspect the edges are always gray, frayed and ambiguous. Like those hallowed halls, like those worn school supplies. Like me. Simultaneously yearning for quiet and embracing the noise.

A repost from June 2010.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Carry On

I'm so persnickety--a bag of contradictions and nuances. So many thoughts rush, stop and course through my head lately. Nothing too notable, nothing too monumental. Just idiosyncrasies and minutia rolling like waves through my brain.

And so, in no particular order, I give a partial list of Me:

1. I am a neat freak. Clutter and messes can actually paralyze me. And since Murphy's Law likes to prevail, I live with three, lovely, wonderful, lovable NON-neat-freaks. (This morning, hubby called and asked what I was doing. I told him I was cleaning so I could write. He was definitely not surprised.)

2. I compare myself to others too much. Wondering why they can get so much done in a day, or write so many blog posts (ahem) and I can't. Wondering how she manages life with four kids so effortlessly and calmly while I stumble and bumble with two. I know that in the comparison game, there is no winner, just a stressed-out, paralyzed me haggardly sitting on the side of someone else's life. But it seems I like to torture myself. I am trying to stop.

3. When I get too caught up in my own thoughts (which happens more than I'd like to admit), I try to stop and say to myself,

All is well.
Breathe in. Out.
Observe.
Absorb.
Just be.

I become grounded in the now.

4. Sometimes I am as slow as a drip of molasses. Ideas and questions must be left to simmer in my brain before I can give answers or direction. I find this infuriating! I see my friends (again, with the comparisons) who make rapid-fire decisions and I flood with envy. Why can't I??

5. Often I have to do push-ups before I can write.

6. I still struggle with depression. When in a depressive episode, I feel like I'm in a well. Sounds and actions waft down into my small space. It takes awhile for my thoughts and responses to form--my words travel slowly back up the damp, dark well walls. Normal synapse activity slows to a low boil, trudging through viscosity of my brain.

6. My children's art work adorns many rooms in our home. Always makes me way-down-in-my-soul happy.





7. My idea of a heavenly afternoon: surrounding myself with boxes of old photos, sifting through them all. Laughing and crying as the moments hop out of the photos and into my memories. (When at my mom's house, sometimes I'll disappear. My mom will find me, in the basement, hunched over and pouring over old albums.)

8. I go to bed each night with a huge tumbler of ice water.

9. I adore old items with memories attached to them. For instance, my wedding band was created from my husband's great Aunt's wedding band. When I rub my finger over the small, pave diamonds, I love the feel of their unsymmetrical, imperfect topography. It seems like I can unlock years of lingering real history--the stories untold--which each pass of my finger tip. Fights. Hopes. Reconciliations. Sunscreen. Dinner. Tears. Sunlight.



10. Some random things that make my heart sing:

The melodic rustling of the wind over leaves
McDonald's French fries and magic diet coke
Just-out-of-the-tub hugs from my kids
A crisp flag on a slight breeze

A sunny perch to contemplate whatever begs for contemplation


12. I am an imperfect, average mother. Each day, I try to embrace this. Each day, I try to see the good in what I do. Each day I fail, and succeed. This gem greets and grounds me each time I leave my office:
So I'm off. Keeping calm and carrying on.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Seen


A path, leading. Like any other path, road, walk, drive. Leading somewhere. Anywhere.
Pure decadence.

*****

I stopped. I finally stopped and pulled over. Camera poised to
capture the dogwood
Resting her image
so certainly on the stream below.

*****


So small. So tender. Pushing through the rough facade
and topography of its environs
Surviving. Reaching up.
Growing.


*****


Another storm rolling in. Charcoal layered on
rumbling thunder. The air held the pungent
familiar scent of impending rain.

*****


My dear friend's rockin' yellow rain boots.

*****


Blowing some magic bubbles into the air.

*****


One day, maybe two weeks ago, we finally had a day
of sun and cornflower blue sky.
I took this photo through the sunroof
of my car.
It makes me smile.