Sunday, December 19, 2010

Yes, Denise, There IS a Santa Claus

...There is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding. No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
- Francis Pharcellus Church, September 21, 1897, The New York Sun

I remember the Christmas that I decided that Santa Claus wasn't real. I remember it clearly as if it happened just yesterday, yet it was 31 years ago. It was a very, very sad moment, when the brilliance of faith and belief were temporarily snuffed.

I was seven. It was Christmas Eve, 1979. That afternoon, I played over at a neighbor's house. My friend and I created this fun activity where we jumped over the couch in the basement. On my last trip over the couch, instead of landing on my feet, I landed on my chin. And my chin landed on the marble floor.

My parents were called; my chin was inspected. They made the executive decision: to the ER. So my mom, dad, three-month-old baby brother and I piled in the Impala and drove to the ER. I received seven stitches in my chin. My chin hurt. A lot. That evening, I sat in the family room. The multi-colored lights of the Christmas tree cast a magical glow across the rainbow shag carpet. I looked at my Mom. Tears streamed down my face.

"Mommy?" I said.

"Yes, Denise?" she replied.

"Is Santa Claus real?" I asked.

Her calm reply, "I believe in Santa Claus."

"Yes," I persisted, "but is he REAL? Do you and Daddy put the presents under the tree? And in the stockings?"

She looked at me, with crestfallen pain in her eyes. "Yes, we do."

Through hot tears, I choked out, "And what about the Easter Bunny? The Toothfairy?"

She sadly shook her head. "But. I believe, Denise. Faith is believing in things you can't see or touch. I have faith. I believe."

I went to bed, chin and heart throbbing, stitches bulging under wrapped bandages. The next morning, Christmas morning, felt dull. Numb. My heart ached. I remember my dad saying to me, through his own sheen of tears, "You know, Denise, I will always believe. Santa will always live inside my heart." And he invited me to continue believing, too.

That moment, I decided. I believed. And would always, always believe. To this day, I believe. I have a built-in talisman, the scar on my chin, to forever remind me that belief and faith are choices. Ones that I consciously choose every day. Now, in 2010, Abby sits on the precipice of her very own Christmas of 1979. She straddles the innocence of pure, blissful belief and the more arcane equation of faith. I can see the lightening bolts of uncertainty knit themselves into her eyebrows.

She's seven.

And when she asks me, as I know she will, "Mommy, is there a Santa Clause?" I will answer, with conviction,

"Yes, Abby. There IS a Santa Claus. I believe. I believe in Santa, magic and power and an abiding force larger than any one of us. I believe in forgiveness and wonder and love that swells larger than the largest ocean wave. I believe in faith--I choose to believe. I believe in a spot that simultaneously resides in your body, and tethers to a universal symphony and cadence of the human experience. I believe. I believe in Christmas, Santa and the mystic twinkling of Santa's sleigh bells. Santa will always live in my heart, and yours. If you so choose."

And I will invite her. Through my own curtain of tears, I'll invite her to believe.


Friday, December 17, 2010

Henry and Me and the Drive

I drove Henry to school the other morning, like I do most mornings. The road holds an eclectic mix of houses--small, quaint, farm, colonial, suburban, dilapidated--and a distinct New England air that I adore. This road opens to a cemetery, a pumpkin and Christmas tree farm, as well as a soccer field. The road curves, dips and moves with abandon. Old, distinct trees border the road--tall, stretching sentries lining our way.


The drive usually fills up a part of my soul that I often didn't know needed filling. This road provides a moving sanctuary for Henry and me--it's our quiet time, our alone time. For us. After the bustle of lunch boxes, hats, backpacks and shoe-tying, H and I enjoy our drive, when we co-exist, watching the wonder unfold outside our windows.


The car is usually quiet. I alternate between watching Henry and watching the evolving landscape. Although I've memorized the dips and topography of the land, it still manages to grab me each and every day. I admire the slope of his nose, the rose of his cheeks, the swath of his eyelashes.

Typically, Henry clasps his hands and he peacefully rests his head on his carseat. He absorbs everything. The creek. The horses. The trees. The cows. The birds. My heart usually soars and repeats this silent song: I love you I love you I love you. We sit silently together, yet alone.

"I love you, Henry" I tell him, finally out-loud.

After a thoughtful pause, he says, "I love you, too, Mommy." Our eyes meet for a moment in the rear-view mirror. Sometimes I reach back and hold his still soft, still (but-not-for-much-longer) pudgy hand.

Then, the world continues by. And we watch. Together. And alone.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

5 Minutes

I haven't Reverbed in way too long. So today, I did.

Reberb10, December 15 – 5 Minutes. Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010. (Author: Patti Digh)
*
The enlightenment spreading through Abby's eyes as I finally shift the way in which I explain something, and she finally shifts the was she receives it.
*
When Hubby and I first started dating, we lived in two different cities. Surprise visits were the best. thing. ever. The other night, the kids and I had dinner at one of dear friend's homes while Hubby had a work dinner. His dinner finished before we got home, and he came over to our friends' house to surprise us. I didn't hear the doorbell, but as I passed from one room to the next, I peripherally saw Hubby waving wildly in the front door's side windows. The giddy delight that bubbled up seemed to come from 1999, the year we first started dating, and the time of many surprises.
*
Bear hugs from Henry.
*
Forgiveness leads to brightness, enlightenment and freedom.
*
My children's love, at times, crushes my lungs with its power and force.
*
New kindred friendships bless my minutes and days.
*
This lesson: when I focus my energy on something, it grows.
*
(Oops. That was 6 1/2 minutes.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Suffused With Peace

In the meantime, the answer to every question really does seem to lie in letting go, settling into the long, spacious days and restful nights...and trusting that, for the moment, anyway, we are exactly where we need to be. Whenever I manage to do that, when I can give myself over to the moment at hand, I am suffused with peace. - Katrina Kenison, The Gift of an Ordinary Day

The last weeks have provided much fodder for my mind. A normal time, but not an easy one. Periods of change and transformation aren't necessarily my shining moments. Big swings of life's pendulum tend to render me weary, with uncertain footing. My kids change and therefore I, too, must change. Adaptable, pliable, flexible. I have to work hard to embody these things because often, I'm just curmudgeonly and happy in the ways of yesterday.

Katrina's warm, wise words above remind me. Guide me. Provide a beacon during this somewhat melancholy time of consideration and personal growth:

giving myself over to the moment can suffuse me with peace.

Especially the quotidian moments, the pedestrian moments, that pad my life with meaning:

During last's week deluge of, ummm, parental growth for me, this moment wowed me. There it was, patiently awaiting my attention. No bickering. No jockeying. Just peace. Peace, a fire, a book and a moment, predicated on the always-underlying connection and love Abby and Henry share.


***
Henry loves paper hats, made in the style of Pilgrims (I mean, didn't all Pilgrims wear hats made out of The New York Times?). His teachers made him one in school for Thanksgiving. He wanted one for his Orange Dog. So I said, "Sure, I'll make Orange Dog a newspaper hat." Henry was so overcome with happiness that he took many pictures of me making said hat.


***
As I continued to make Orange Dog's newspaper hat, Henry continued his photo shoot of many things. Peripherally, I watched him take up-close photos. Simple photos. Blurry photos. This one, of his snowman snow globe, well, its simplistic beauty and pure composition just threw all my bottled emotion into my throat. Tears gathered into the corners of my eyes. The snowman seems resolute. Strong. A bit lonely. Moving forward. Maybe even a bit sad. A metaphor of me.

And I remember. That melancholy moments can be tinged with grace, suffused with peace, sprinkled with seeds of possibility. I must give myself over to each moment. Every one. And the grace will await me.
***

(An aside: my Mom recently said to me that she senses an overriding theme of sadness in my posts. I believe that she's right...I do often write about the complexity of sadness, or of melancholy days. And I believe that I do so because although I experience many euphoric, joyful, happy and peaceful moments, those are easier to comprehend. It's the others, like those I dissect above, that sometimes confound and confuse me. And so, I write. To understand. To make sure, like Katrina says, that I give myself over fully to each moment. xo)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wonder

Reverb10, December 4 – Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year? (Author: Jeffrey Davis)

*****

My year has been littered with wonder, laced with exquisite luminosity and ordinariness. I love the myriad of ways wonder arrives...in gallant leaps, in gradual steeping, with practiced patience, like a seasoned parent. Wonder dipped and bounced throughout each day, frequently sprinkling its stop-you-in-your-tracks splendor.

The juxtaposition of 2010 against past years made me realize that in the past, I didn't tap into wonder as much as I could've. I felt it--the wonder reached me--but I know that many moments passed, carrying wonder in its midst, when I could've experienced more but did not. Thankfully, wonder can hide under layers and layers of expired, antiquated beliefs. Unforgiven grievances. Road blocks.

Wonder's tenacity permeated the finicky caverns of my sometimes fearful, or negative, mind and allowed for wonder cameos. It radiated through melancholy and doldrums. Wonder provided the pinnacle of belief and the tenacity of hope.

*****

Wonder sits in the midst of explicit ordinariness. For me, there exists an intrinsic relationship between wonder and gratitude. The more I give thanks, the more awe and wonder I experience.

So, I've contemplated wonder. Why has this year been so laden with wonder? I believe it began with forgiveness of decades-old hurts. And a purposeful cultivation and prioritization of self. Wonder--a splendid, phosphorescent jewel, just waiting to wow me. (I do wonder (predictable pun intended): do I cultivate it, or does it cultivate me? Carefully plodding and awaiting my recognition of its power?)

And so I sit, in wonder. Of each day I wake and stretch. Of the evolving complexity of my seven-year-old daughter. Of the constant progression of time. Of the smell of baking cookies. Of the power of the wind. For the much-needed embrace. Of forgiveness. Of darkness. Of the multitude of permutations of the sun's light.

Friday, December 3, 2010

One Moment

Reverb10, Dec 3 – Moment.

Today's prompt: Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors). (Author: Ali Edwards)

A solitary blanket of snow, a 40-foot pine tree and me. Cold punctuated my cheeks, blazing red--yes, from the northerly winds, but flush predominantly with unbridled joy. My black parka camouflaged into the inky night, steeping me further into the raw now. I peered from my hood, my eyes belying my calm exterior: my soul bubbled with giddy delight. Giant snowflakes, laden with hope, steadily fell. The pine tree soared, all-powerful, intoxicating with it's delicious scent. I stood, mesmerized, at the base of the pine tree. I was alone. Pores open, awareness heightened, alive. Just me, the tree, the night and the snow. My legs and feet buried in the gorgeous white accumulation. The genuine, mystical beauty quietly whispered promises of possibility--of this, of anything, of everything.

In these moments, I feel a kindred connectedness, like historical synapses, or strings of white twinkle lights, linking to the magic and possibility of the millions of brilliant moments preceding this one. Time moves, moments flee but magic always returns. I keep company with this knowledge, heeding its comfort.

(Luckily, I had my camera in my pocket, and snapped this photo.)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

You Don't Love Me

This morning started out cheerfully, as most mornings do. Breakfast proved a bit dicey, as it always does. I should just record myself and hit play:

"Sit down. No, I will not cut the crust off of your toast. Don't touch your sister. A touch is not a hit. Sit down. I'm not serving candy for breakfast. I don't care that your brother looked at you. The next person who removes their hiney from their seat will enter their schools hungry. Now SIT DOWN."

(I'm pretty sure that I have an amazing opportunity for improvement here, but...I'm so ensconced in the cadence of our rituals that I'm finding it hard to feel the rhythm of a new way.)

Anywhoo, the morning proceeded as usual. I asked them to please just get along. And to get ready for school. Kids went upstairs to brush, comb, wash and dress. Arguing began. Luckily for me, from my perch at the breakfast bar, the floor between us muffled the actual words. Abby then appeared in the kitchen to announce the following transgression:

"Henry stuck his tongue out at me."

As I chewed my cereal, I sat in awe. And chewed on this thought: Really? She's tattling on her four-year-old brother for that? (Side note: I've been encouraging my children to work through these arguments on their own. Another side note: You can see how successfully I've deployed said encouragement.)

So, I told Abby that I thought she was being ridiculous and tattling.

Folks, that's when the wheels fell off the bus.

Her voice went up two octaves. And the rampage began:

"You don't love me as much as you love Henry. (Sob, sob.) Everyone likes him more. (Drip, drip.) You don't love me. No one in this house loves me. I'm going to run away from EVERYONE and from this house."

And my lovely maternal response? Silence.

And Abby screamed, "Why aren't you answering me?!"

So I said,

"Are you done? Cause if you're not, could you go somewhere else and cry?" (Another aside: Does my response seem harsh? Mean? Well, let me tell you, it may have been. But it was better than the response running through my head. Yup. Much better. I am just SO done with the wha wha wha whining. Every morning I'm asked to mitigate some grievous, outrageous event that is neither grievous nor outrageous. Usually totally benign. And I'm done. I'm toast. DONE.)

"NO!", she hollered. "I'm telling you HOW I FEEL!!!! You don't love me and aren't even saying that you're sorry I feel this way." Huge tears continue their descent.

And I responded, "I'm sorry you feel that way." (And I then thought that maybe I should actually feel sorry that she felt that way. But it all seemed so nonsensical to me. Henry's tongue sticking out to nobody loves me? Huh? Maybe this is how hubby felt when I was preggers. Huh. Spinning head. Check. Crazy irrationality? Check. Hormones? CHECK.)

Where does she pick up these theatrics?

The good news? I stayed calm. The bad news: I stayed calm. She saw my actions as insensitive, uncaring and mean.

The storm clouds passed. I offered a conciliatory hug with these words:

"I love you."

When she got out of the car, I told her that there was one thing she needed to remember today: That I love her.

I've spent my quiet hours today digesting her outburst. A ploy? Displaced emotion? Her truth? I'll excavate, gently, trying to find clues providing insight and tender awareness. I'll try my best. I'll look for that different rhythm, a new synchronicity to guide us through. And I'll love her. Whether she thinks I do, or not.
********************************************************

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Encapsulating 2010

Reverb10, December 1 One Word.
Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?
(Author: Gwen Bell)

Trying to choose one word to describe and encapsulate my 2010 proved a difficult challenge. But, since I am completely smitten with the
Reverb10 initiative, I bit. (In summary, they serve up a writing prompt each day to inspire reflection "on your year and manifest what’s next. The end of the year is an opportunity to reflect on what's happened, and to send out reverberations for the year ahead". Perfect.)

As I reflected on 2010, I cringed, I cried, I giggled...a small smile tugged at my lips. Many fabulous and descriptive words danced and shouted in my mind, cajoling and begging for selection.

I can best describe your year! Choose me! they yelled.

Shhhh
, I told them. You're all lovely, but I can only choose one of you. (Ummm, yes, I just admitted that I talked to words.)

Finally, the most appropos, the most singularly accurate word came to me:

NOW.

In past years, I skirted the edges of living presently. Although I physically attended each moment, I didn't mentally inhabit each moment. Many moments I spent thinking about the past or the upcoming, and in so doing, I missed the Now.

But in 2010, I inhabited Now. The ugly nows. The epiphany nows. The blah nows. The euphoric nows. The grieving nows.

There are so many wise people and objects whom I wish I could thank for this awakening. The writers I read, the books I inhale, my children, the trees, my friends. I must especially thank Karen Maezen Miller. During her Boston Plunge Retreat, she welcomed us to Now. And then asked, "Have you ever been anywhere else?"

Yes! I wanted to shout. Many times, too many times, I wasn't in the Now because I was There, rehatching, rethinking, redoing...or I was There....planning, worrying, wondering. Not Now, but Then.

Her words reverberated with truth, and acted as a catalyst, a spark of sage connectedness in which all the messages and reminders culminated, returning me to my Nows. I was in that moment. And this one. Now. Wicked winds. Hypnotic candle flame. Classical music. Warm glow of my favorite lamp illuminating my white desk top, littered with cookie crumbs. Words flowing. Fingers typing. Now.

As for the future, in 2011 and beyond, well, I'd like live presently, in each Now that each of those years delivers. Perfect, on time and satiated in the present.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Not Like Before



In my past, when I gave thanks, I always expressed explicit gratitude for the explicitly good stuff:

The job. The love. My husband, my family, my kids. Money. The big win. My health. Kindred friends.
********

As years and wisdom started inspiring my gratitude, new layers and permutations of thanks began. I started a new practice, one in which I offered thanks for the less flamboyant, but equally powerful:

Sunlit, spring-breeze dried clothing.

Still pudgy toes resting on a dusty baseboard.

Raw, barren wind chapping my skin, pulsing like life itself.

Muscles in legs that carry my body through each step.

Chocolate chip cookies (and the dough. Especially the dough.)

A laugh shattering a once-tense moment.

A pile of dishes representing a warm meal, time together and full bellies.

A stranger, smiling warmly and gently.
********

And as I continue to practice, and become more seasoned, I implement a twist on my tradition of thanks. One which I hope will provide freedom and more space in my lungs, more room for the flux of life: there is a gift in each phase, each moment of my life.

In piles of snotty tissues.

In a broken HVAC system.

In a parent's divorce.

In panicked sadness.

In a dead car battery.

In an argument with Hubby.

In stomped feet, slammed doors, eye rolls and picky eaters.

In messes.

I recognize, although nascent in this discipline, that it all unfolds, exactly as it should. In each, a reflection of myself. In each, growth. In each, grace. In me, gratitude.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Where I'm From

I am from Midwestern sensibilities, frugality and Spanish ocean breezes.

I am from a Bicentennial celebration of the Liberty Bell, a brick ranch, a Georgia colonial, and the wafting scents of sauteed garlic and onion. I am from everywhere and nowhere, from many sturdy oak-lined streets with well-traveled sidewalks.

I am from zinc oxide and a plethora of satin swim team ribbons.

I am from the red tulips of Maine, the blizzard of 1979 and countless grains of white sand lining the blissful shores of Lake Michigan.

I am from homemade cinnamon rolls, ingrained curiosity and an English teacher. From Three Dog Night and the Muppets. From unchaperoned games of Ghost in the Graveyard, and parents who rang a cow bell when the time arrived to come in from the dark.

I am from the the incense filled vestibules of Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris, lit prayer candles and and an unwavering cadence of strength.

I am from a family who staunchly believes in Santa Claus. From a love of shoes, Waterford crystal and twisted corkscrew willows.

I am from devout Catholics, an almost-nun and baptized atheists. From the intoxicating scent of crisp sheets line-dried on a sunny day and Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends.

I'm from the oldest of five and the oldest of two, from him and from her. From chicken paprikash with handmade spatzel, countless potatoes and a staunch love of college football. From metallic foil wallpaper and gold, wide-whale corduroy couches.

From a woman who worked for the Red Cross in Korea, wearing crisp white uniforms with quaint hats. I am from nurses, pilots, dentists and electricians. I'm from careful, faded love letters, intricate unions and complex dissolutions.

I am from monogrammed sweaters, Bermuda bags and a well-read copy of The Preppy Handbook. I am from hippies, Republicans, Democrats and Vietnam vets. I am from a myriad of exhalations, sacrifices and shoveled walks. I am from a raven-haired, violet-eyed homecoming queen and hearty immigrants. I am from each experience of my many families, and profound belief in something more profound than me. I am from each step to now and the hum of a faithful dishwasher. I am from them all; I am me.

Thanks to Lindsey, and the many other bloggers whose execution of this exercise inspired me to write my own. You can go here to find the Where I Am From template. The original poem, Where I Am From, by George Ella Lyon, is beautiful and can be read here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Q & A

My pal Lindsey posted a fun Vanity Fair questionnaire yesterday with her responses (as she said, "Vanity Fair has two questionnaires every month – the famous Proust Questionnaire (meaty questions, back page) and the lighter list in the Culture section in the middle of the book."). Lindsey and I delved into the lighter fair and because I love the trivial not-so-trivial, here are my answers. Would love to hear your answers, too!

LIVING
Where do you live: New Jersey
Favorite art: Picasso (a new addition after seeing his work in Spain), Georgia O’Keeffe, My daughter's paintings, Monet
Pets: Not now...but still miss our big red dog Ruby
Favorite neighborhood restaurant: Oh, if only there were restaurants in my neighborhood....
Favorite cocktail: dry Cabernet Sauvignon
Who inspires you: Those who choose to smile. Musician/songwriters: not only do the write the words but also build the entire song?...crazy. Gifted writers. Strength in the face of diversity. People who share their experiences with raw honesty.
Necessary extravagance: My life coach.
Favorite place in the world: Can't pick just one. Driving in my car, music blaring, singing like I'm with the band. Snuggled in bed with Henry. Laughing with Abby. Cozy-movie watching with hubby.

CLOTHES
Designer: J Crew, Tory Burch
Jeans: Ummmm....new favorite? Brace yourself: Faded Glory, WalMart. Curvy Bootcut. $12. You're welcome.
Underwear: Hanes
Sneakers: Adidas
Watch: Swiss Army
T-shirt: Gap Supersoft
Day bag: since I don't have enough space to bore you with my multitude of purses, let's just say there are many.
Evening bag: Dark green patent leather croc clutch from Forever 21
Favorite city to shop: Chicago

BEAUTY
Lipstick: Lip gloss (currently love E.L.F. glosses from Target. $1!)
Mascara: Max Factor 2000 calorie (no longer made so searching for replacement)
Shampoo: Pantene
Moisturizer: Cetaphil at night, Olay spf 30 at day
Perfume: Winter: WISH Sugar Pastille. Summer: Bath and Body Works Cucumber Melon
Toothpaste: Colgate
Soap: Lever 2000 and Unscented Dove
Nail-polish color: IF my hands are painted, super neutral or a new fav, Sally Hansen Complete Manicure, Commander in Chic. Toes--anything dark and fun.
Who cuts your hair: Right now, me. Had so many bad hair cuts in the last year I'm utterly petrified to have anyone else cut it.
Who colors your hair: Brenda. (What's that? You're shocked to hear that I'm not a natural blond? Thought so.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Writer's Block and the Wind

Last night, I lay in bed, ridiculously tired, but not sleeping, listening to the howling wind. From my red flannel cocoon, I watched the now-bare trees, just outside my window, take a beating from the wind. And I got giddy knowing the empty branches provided the outline for winter snow and ice and frigidity. I LOVE winter. I LOVE inclement weather. Abby and Henry share this winter embrace; we all highly anticipate the first snow fall...typically with noses pressed up to cold windows, willing the first fluffy flakes to take hold.

Anyway, as I lay there, not sleeping, my mind coursed with rapid thoughts. Mostly about writing, or, in my case lately, my lack thereof. My mind, like an empty chalk board. Clean. Void. Vacant. I've been fretting over the lack of creative sparks. I'd settle for a light smolder. With the aid of slanted light cast from evening lamps, I stared at the stack of reading on my nightstand. The lime green cover of the 1998 edition of The Best American Short Stories edited by the uber-talented Katrina Kenison, and Garrison Keillor). Then my eyes traveled down to Gail Caldwell's gorgeous A Strong West Wind. And then to the magazines and the papers sitting in the "I-read-it-and-thought-it-was-worth-dog-earring-and-then-ripping-out-and-placing-in-this-pile" pile.

Beautiful words, sturdy covers, deliciously sitting, awaiting my attention.

The books, usually inspiring and warm like old friends, seemed instead to taunt me. Sitting there, full of talented writing, published writing, interesting writing. The books lamented my lack of writing discipline, my disregard of the truths I know to be true: write everyday. No matter what. But at this moment, 10:29 PM, I exactly didn't feel inspired by other inspiration. Instead, the bound pages of beauty reminded me of everything I'm not doing. Writing. Word after word after word. In this particular hobbled corner of my writer's block moment, these books illuminated the depths of my desire to write, write, write and forced me to question why I just don't do so.

At this point, the wind took a vicious turn. 50 mph, blowing straight at my bedroom window. Blowing straight at me and, it seemed, straight into my contorted brain. And then it whisked me to a flat plane...a new moment. Perhaps a sign from the writing gods. Perhaps just a powerful jet stream. Or maybe both--it wouldn't be the first time the elements delivered a divine slap in the noggin.

I stared at the trees, watching as they allowed the wind to mold them into complex yoga poses. I felt as if I could see the wind. And the words, well, they slipped in on the edges of those winds. In a true effort to practice, I will write. I'll see that clean, blank chalk board as a vast, endless canvas of opportunity. And I will remember these words of Natalie Goldberg's, which I've applied like a salve to my wordless wounds:

"...have a tenderness and determination toward your writing, a sense of humor and a deep patience that you are doing the right thing. Avoid getting caught by that small gnawing mouse of doubt. See beyond it to the vastness of life and the belief in time and practice." (Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones)

Yes. Vast indeed.

Please, tell me, how do you deal with writer's block? Do you have any inspired questions to ask me or prompts to share?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Gratitude, Tumbleweed and Flannel Sheets

Lately, I've been sputtering about, grasping and searching for words. Words to describe my journey, my days, my thoughts. Words, brief sentences and vaporous phrases visit. But they blow in on the edges of a jagged tumbleweed. They tease me, and then depart, more swiftly than they arrived.

***************************************

Last week, Henry got sick. A raging ear infection took hold and he couldn't tolerate food or water for 36 hours. (The upside to a kid throwing up in a different spot every hour: house, couch, family room, bathrooms and bedrooms (and all linens) are now very, very clean.) After watching Henry writhe and throw up for more than a day, we bundled into the car, with bucket in tow, and headed to the ER. An expertly administered IV coursed Zofram, antibiotics and saline into his limp little body. Henry and I curled up in that tiny little ER bed and he lay limply on my chest.

Just six hours after we returned from the ER visit,
Henry migrated from his gray-faced, listless heap on the couch to standing. He chased Abby. He laughed and pleaded for food. A satisfied smile played at the corners of my mouth. After 48 hours of his palpable misery, I gave thanks for the return of his health.

As our family came up for air after a very minor, but painful 48 hours with Henry, I paused. I saw the strains of order and regularity begin to gently resurface. I am pleased with how freely calm coursed through my veins, just like the magic drugs that coursed through Henry, delivering him back to health. In the past, I feel as if I sputtered and choked through challenging times, with a prevalent feeling of discord instead of gratitude. This time, no discord. Just peace.

*****************************************

Saturday afternoon, I sat in front of a fire (well, a nascent fire) which tried desperately to burn and produce licking flames to warm our cold, tired, post-sick bodies. All it could churn was a warm glow. It was enough.

I went upstairs to put clean sheets on my and Hubby's bed and the flannel sheets made their debut. I pulled the red flannels from their quiet resting spot in the linen closet and spread them out. I took solace in their tightly lined creases, whispering promises of a cozy, warm November slumber.

*****************************************
That evening, I stood in our laundry room. As I folded the heaps of sick laundry, I smiled to myself. Our faithful washing machine carried us through the maelstrom of sick and yuck. Despite the layers of tired and dark circles orbiting my eyes, the gratitude swelled from my heart and soul during, especially during, a bad sickness.

Both kids bathed. I could hear the strains of their individual chatter and singing.
Peripherally, I spied a stripe of resting sun peeking through a frigid, charcoal-stippled evening sky. One of Abby's watercolor paintings cheerfully beckoned from the laundry room wall. I stood, surrounded by the sturdy solace at the final curve of sick days. Alive with the evidence of life: warmth generated from the constantly spinning dryer. The click click clack of a zipper hitting the sides of the dryer drum hummed to me. I folded the five sets of clothes Henry wore yesterday. I folded many well-loved pajamas.

I garnered incredible solace handling all of their laundry--knowing what each stain represented,
what each of their days held, and knowing that they returned to me at the end of each one. I stood, saturated in the almost primitive workings of my home, my family. I stood, steeped in peace. Because I knew, with clarity, that these days will pass. My future holds many days of not knowing what they wore or where they were or what stained their clothes. My relationships with them will grow and morph, mirroring the children themselves. I know that when I look back on these years with my children, I will miss the complexity, simplicity, sureness and uncertainty of these times. And know that our current rhythms will be replaced by other shades of unrest, growth and certainty.

The kids exited the bathrooms. I dried Henry's body, pink with re-emerging health. I doused him with lotion and pulled fresh, still-warm jammies over his wet hair. He chattered away, describing how he'll detail his ER adventure to his teachers on Monday. I threw a pair of clean PJs to Abby, who ran stark-ass naked down the hall. Hubby would soon pull into the driveway, enter the house and bring with him a warm, delicious pizza.

Full. Contended calm. It was enough.

Malaise over past moments, when I didn't feel this calm, tried to sneak into and shatter my contended bliss. Tried to scold and condemn me for seemingly wasting away moments wrought with frustration and annoyance. At needy kids and heaps of laundry and little time. But instead of acquiescing to this judgmental chatter, I felt indebted to the past. For the evolving changes. For the grace of thankfulness. For the learning I've garnered as I traverse this life of mine. My steps surely delivered me to this moment of gratitude, for everything, as is. Enough.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Check List

1. Change my sheets yesterday. Check.
2. Make prediction to hubby that Henry is getting sick. Check.
3. Enjoy fresh sheets while sleeping last night. Check.
4. Wake up to pathetic, sick little boy whose tummy huwt and ear huwt. Check.
5. Proof of huwt tummy all over sheets. Check.
6. Strip previously fresh sheets, my pajamas and his pajamas for washing. Check.
6. Wash Henry and me. Check.
7. Repeat. Check.

Addendum:
1. Grateful we possess health insurance to go to the doctor. Check.
2. Grateful I have a working washer and dryer to clean up said messes. Check.
3. Grateful that I am here, caring for my sick son. Double check.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Dearest Baby Brother

Dearest baby brother,

Today, I celebrate 31 fabulous years of you. The night and day of your arrival defy my usually horrible memory. It was late night, October 28, 1979:

I was seven years old. Mom and I slept on the family room floor (yes, she slept on the floor even then), under a garish, muli-colored afghan. (Maybe Grandma knitted it to match our rainbow shag carpet...ahhh, the 70s). Suddenly, Mom bolted up because her water broke.

(Side note: I know that most guys don't really enjoy thinking about exactly how they entered this world, so I won't dwell here. But it bears mentioning because I'm profoundly moved, even 31 years later, to know I was there when you decided it was time to arrive.)

Someone drove me to a pre-appointed friend's house. My senses continued on high alert: the cold of the red, vinyl Chevy seats seeping through my pajamas. The craggy branches of the emptying trees boldly stretching into the dark October sky. The palpable anticipation--and my sense of co-conspirator in the whole event--fluttered wildly in my belly. It seemed as if the entire world pulsed in chorus: The baby's coming! The baby's coming!

The next morning, I sat in my second grade class. Suddenly, the PA system crackled and the principal called me to his office. (Thank you for that, dear brother, for that was the only time in my entire goody-two-shoes life that I ever got called to the principal's office. But, I digress...)

And then they told me. My baby brother had arrived.

I could hardly wait to meet you, to hold you. To see you. In honor of the occasion, I chose a super special outfit consisting of one red and blue plaid wool kilt, tights, pig tails, a toothless-smile and brownish-tanish cork wedge sandals. Absolutely smashing.

I remember walking through the long, antiseptic hospital halls which seemed to stretch on forever.

And then, finally, you.

You. You're such an amalgamation. I've so many swirling memories of you bringing laughter and tears. You gifted your first smile of your life to me. You, at two, wearing my doll's tiny straw hat, while riding your Crayola crayon bike. You, also at two, throwing a temper tantrum because I wouldn't let you play in the drinking fountain (by the way, dude--Mom's rule, not mine.) You, at 10, wildly independent. You, at 12, visiting my sorority house in one of your black Megadeath tshirts. (A unique juxtaposition to my circa 1992 Laura Ashley floral print dress with a peter pan collar.) Your talent and love of drawing: if you didn't have a pencil and paper, you drew imaginary pictures in the air. You, at 30, preparing to marry a beautiful, intelligent, warm woman whose love of you rivals mine.

Sometimes the polarity in our personalities confounds me:

You: stoic (Me: not so much)
You: long black eyelashes (Me: blond eyelashes...WTF?)
You: let's say, not as concerned with putting things away (Me: Type A neat freak)

Your crazy intelligence. I always knew you were smart, but will never forget the time I figured out that you were wicked smart. You and I visited with some of my friends at a bar. You were an undergrad. Someone mentioned religious theory and you calmly interspersed details and themes of all worldly religions like you were just talkin' about the weather. Totally a "how 'bout them apples" moment.

I admire your integrity. And your solid moral compass. And your knowledge of self. You knew, with absolute certainty, how you wanted to craft your career--you refused to take any job unless it filled your soul and made your heart sing (ok, those are my words, not yours, but you get my drift).

You're an amazing uncle. Remember when Abby was about four-months-old and we were at Mom's? I ate salt and vinegar potato chips near her and you worried about the crumbs getting into her tiny eyes; you were concerned that the vinegar could harm her. Honestly...what 20-something guy thinks about those things? And you still have some amazing karmic gift coming your way for babysitting Abby, just 13-weeks old, when you got doused with breast milk. (Dads don't even like that. Sorry man.) You last winter, playing in the snow with Abby and Henry for hours.

You cried when I asked you if you'd walk me down the aisle at my wedding.

I am honored to have you as my brother and my friend. The sureness of our bond, the intricacy of our roots, well...as they say, run deep. I love knowing that I've got you in my corner. You are one of the most upstanding, strong men I know. And, in case I have't told you, you restored my faith--kept my faith--in the male persuasion when others did their best to tarnish that faith.

I love you, baby brother. Happy Birthday.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Blessings

Today, I am part of the From the Heart Guest Author series. So, if you'd like, head over to their site to read my post, Blessings. (And while you're there, consider purchasing a book...all proceeds go to Children's Hospitals and St. Jude's Research Center. And then, not only will you support those amazing causes, you'll have a book with my first published book essay in it--and that is SUPER cool.)

And a sincere thank you to Katrina Kenison--whose words spoke to me from the deep, eternal wells of truth--for inspiring me to take the time, on an ordinary Tuesday to let my dearest friend know, in no uncertain terms, just blessed I am to have her on this journey with me.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Autumnal Gifts


The raw beauty of this year's autumnal display squeezes the air out of my lungs to prepare for the inhalation of the vibrancy of the next breath-taking display.

Hypnotized and spellbound by the crimsons, goldens, purples, brazen oranges and firey yellows, I stay still. Struck by the stark newness of the trees' ornamentation, a rumbling of nostalgia washes over me.

Humbled by the ancient, predictable yet always glorious dance.

(Thank you, Lindsey, for frequently reminding me to take a look up at the sky.)


Friday, October 22, 2010

I Celebrate Me

I am not the same person I was a year ago. Of course, I am. But yet I'm not. I embarked on a fabulous journey of excavation and introspection, quieting and forward action. I've unearthed many insights, from the seemingly slight to the profound. One tidbit I learned is this: most of my life, I've searched for, and expected, validation from eternal sources. When I accomplished something, I looked for grades, raises, flowers, praise and/or presents from others. I think this is partly societal. But I can't blame it all on our ever-powerful society because I believe it is also just inherently me.

So, outwardly I looked. Seeking accolades from my parents, teachers, friends, bosses, boyfriends, strangers walking down the street. I placed the fulcrum of my happiness under the lever of other's unpredictable cadences. Understandable, I guess, but in retrospect, not very smart. Not really smart at all.

One random smack or capricious whim could easily crumble me.

When I accomplished something, or reached a big goal, I looked to others to celebrate me. Not too surprisingly, looking for validation in exterior places littered my life with many disappointments. And ultimately left me empty. Because I so busily looked (and looked and looked and looked) for acclaim, I forgot to look within.

So. With careful recalibration and awareness, I stopped. I now rejoice and celebrate my wins and successes. If others
want to join in (and bring presents), I'm certainly not going to stop them. But I own the celebration. It's critical for me...and I've realized, critical for my children. I want their compasses to encourage inward celebratory introspection rather than outward validation.

Recently, I met a huge goal of mine. So, after much mental high-fiving and giddy excitement, I drove myself to the store. I walked (maybe even strutted) into the jewelry department and located
the necklace. The one I've coveted. Simplistically gorgeous, perfectly commemorating my success.

I bought that necklace. I wear it proudly. Everyday. It will forever remind me of my accomplishment. And, it will act as a talisman of this truth: that looking frantically for things outside ignores the wealth and bounty within...and leaves me with. out. anything.

Every accolade I want and need comes from within.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Remembering A Dear Friend's Baby

On this day, seven years ago, a baby was born. Three short days later, he died.

Today, like many days, I remember him.

At his funeral, one of his aunts read this excerpt from The Little Prince by
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night... you, only you, will have stars that can laugh!

When I look at the night sky, I see you shining in the stars, sweet boy. I see your bright light and your sparkle. I wish we'd had more time together. Please continue to shine for us. Your mom and dad, your sister and brothers miss you. Your whole family misses you. I miss you.

Thank you for the laughing stars.