To feel the dash and dance of the thing

Surely I’m not the only one. Surely you’ve felt it too? The weight of another life? A path not chosen?

When I was in 7th or 8th grade I read a memoir of a girl who grew up outside of New York City, always looking in on the bustling streets and bright lights. This girl grew up to be an editor at a publishing house, and the book followed her years in the city, commuting home, life as she made her way up the corporate publishing ladder.

This book wasn’t particularly glamorous in its portrayal of either the city or the publishing industry. Still. From the time I closed the paperback cover, my eyes lingering over The End for a breathless moment, I knew. I had never been to New York before, and I didn’t really have a clue as to the job specifications of an editor or agent or any other position in publishing for that matter, but I wanted that city, that job. This desire, this image, never left me. It shaped the path on which I tried to steer my life.

One year after Zach and I were married (four years after a summer internship in New York), I surprised him.

Guess what? I asked.

He was probably marinating chicken breasts or plucking parsley from our balcony garden, or sharpening his paring knife, or doing whatever it is cooks do.

I got a job. In New York. We have to be there in two weeks.

That last part of my sentence trailed off as I probably ducked behind the counter to avoid a slip of the paring knife. This wasn’t exactly a thoughtful surprise to spring on him, being that he already had a job. In Indiana. Where we lived.

He said Okay. He went on basting the chicken, stirring the spaghetti sauce. He never questioned it, not once.

And he never questioned me when I was pregnant with Mia and confessed that I wanted to move back to Indiana to be near our families as we started our own family.

When I told my boss at the time, a fellow Midwesterner, she said, “I feel like if I moved back I would know exactly what my life would be like, and I think I’d rather not know, you know?”

I did, and I didn’t. To me, embarking on this new journey of motherhood was an adventure. I had no idea what I was getting into and yet I already viscerally felt the tug-and-pull of this new role in both its urgency and tediousness. The task of securing a new apartment (our 450 square-foot one bedroom wouldn’t cut it) and navigating the childcare system in the city, I had decided, was just too much to conquer.

I remember the exact moment I made this decision. I was at my doctor’s office in a building off Central Park West, standing at the front desk to schedule my next appointment, when a cockroach ran across the receptionist’s calendar. I must have squealed because she looked up from her phone call and when I gestured to the cockroach that scurried into a dark corner of the desk, she just roller her eyes and went back to her conversation. That, combined with the numerous mothers I saw laboriously struggling to schlep a stroller, diaper bag, and baby up the subway steps while grasping fiercely to the hand of a toddler, was enough to scare me away from raising a family in the city. I had been removed from the suburbs long enough to covet backyards, room to breathe, and wide open spaces to roam.

The thing is, my boss’s words haunt me sometimes as I drive familiar streets, pointing out my high school to Mia, the house where we lived until I was in fifth grade, and I swallow the acid taste of a memory that’s always, always just under the surface. If one thought shaped my middle school and high school years it was this: I’m going to get out of this landlocked, cornfield hell someday. (So very teen angst of me, yes?) I can still access that teenager who so badly wanted another world to call her own. I still feel her below my skin. Some days she floats so close to the surface that our fibers and marrows fuse, and I can no longer tell the difference.

(I should tell you that this isn’t just about place. It isn’t just that I chose to leave a city I love to make my home in a city I spent a good part of my life wanting to leave. That job that I accepted when we moved to New York? I loved that job. I have a passion for the industry and I had the privilege of calling one of the best in the business my mentor. I would have been a damn good literary agent.)

Shortly after Mia was born, I swaddled her in blankets and we set off for a walk around our new neighborhood, the slight chill of early spring at my back. The neighborhood we now lived in was built for families with a pool, tennis courts, a day care, a running path and soccer fields, yet we were alone on our walk. Not one person crossed our path. Maybe it was postpartum hormones but it all seemed so desolate and sad, and my body, my everything, ached for the dash and dance of the city I abandoned, for the work I loved, for the person I was only a short time ago.

Mia was fast asleep when we returned home. I sat on our big front porch in the silence of midmorning suburbia and wondered, What had I done? Why did I think that to mother my child I had to surrender all the other parts of me? Mia awoke with the bleating, angry cry of a newborn just as tears slipped down my cheeks. Suddenly, I wasn’t at all sure that could do this, and there we sat, both of us new and nothing right.

When I think back to my first few months as a new mother, aside from the moment my daughter was born this is the memory that takes center stage. It is still so palpable that I can go back to that place without effort. In a wink, I am on that porch again, questioning everything.

“I would know exactly what my life would be like, and I think I’d rather not know…”

A couple weeks ago (right around the summer solstice, hmm…), I told Zach that I felt the pressing of this path not chosen. I felt stifled by it. Do you think we could do it again? Move back to New York? He entertained my idea, as he always does, and his willingness to play along set my mind in overdrive and suddenly I was planning out the logistics of such a move.

Zach has a saying about our relationship: I keep his head in the clouds and he keeps my feet on the ground.

chiidhood

So here I am, feet planted in the place I call home now. I know deep down that uprooting our family isn’t in everyone’s best interest, that it would be a purely selfish move, but I also know that something’s shifting. The teenage version of myself who set a plan in motion and the new wife who didn’t hesitate when that plan materialized are still part of me. I still believe in growth and movement, in stretching and exploring, in stepping out of the comfort zone every now and then to feel the dash and dance of the thing that quickens your pulse.

Made of stars (a love note)

How is it that you sleep through thunderstorms with raindrops as heavy as tiny cannonballs, thunder as loud as a forest of ancient trees felled with one swift thwack? And yet the moment I creep in…you must feel a shift in the molecular structure of air, added weight in the darkness, a breath separate from your own.

Mama.

A whimper, as though you had been expecting me all along. Just as suddenly, you topple over onto your blanket and your eyes close. I slip out, restoring the molecular structure, subtracting my weight from the dark space, leaving you to the lull of a forest collapsing.

twin boys

Tell me the story of a girl who grew up to be a queen, a giant, a mother. Speak to me of flat-footed marches two-by-two down hallways, of snowflakes falling onto outstretched mittens in moonlight, of fingers that trace my ear as we slow dance to a bedtime lullaby, of palms streaked yellow from dandelions offered at my feet, of fingernails caked in the earth of summer, of I-love-you whispers traded under blankets, of pockets stuffed full of treasures and smiles laced with mischief.

twin boys

Tell me a love story.

mom and twin boys

Tell me how two boys with starfish eyes and pirate smiles appear at the queen’s door, and the moment their hands fall into hers, she becomes the star-filled night, bestowing her light on the path her boys will tread.

twin boys

Tell me how the star-filled night becomes the sun — a giant — capable of slaying dragons, foiling the huntsman, deceiving the witch. Tell me how the sun becomes a ray of light that touches the temples of her boys and warms their skin.

twin boys

Tell me how that light becomes a mother who shines the porch light to call her starfish-pirate boys home. And when her boys lean in for a kiss, she whispers “I love you” into their parted lips so the words might travel deep into their bellies and they’ll have food for years, even when the porch light grows dim, even when the star-filled night feels unimaginably far.

twin boys

Tell me how thunder shook the queen from sleep, so she tiptoed into the room of her slumbering boys to watch them dream. For never is it so clear that they are made of stars than in the half-light of the moon.

 

Here & Now (a rambling post on the topic of presence)

here and now

Mia missed the bus the other morning because she was being a bit dramatic about which shoes to wear, so I might have slightly overreacted by not-so-subtly huffing and puffing as we clambered into the car and drove to school. She was teary because she knew I was upset. And honestly, the problem wasn’t that I had to drive her to school. I love the quiet few minutes in the car with her.

The problem was that I had a deadline that afternoon, and due to a tag-team nap boycott the day before and a certain boy who refused to sleep the previous night, causing me to sleep through my alarm the next morning, I was no closer to meeting that deadline than I was 24 hours prior. This was just the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back.

The problem, clearly, was me.

Cars snaked around the parking lot as we pulled in and fell in line. I reached back, ready to apologize for my behavior, and she grabbed my hand. “I don’t want to go to school,” she said. “I already miss you.”

I put the car in park (the line wasn’t moving) and turned to look at her. We counted the days until summer break, and I told her that she’d be sick of me soon enough. But she shook just her head. I squeezed her hand and she squeezed back. I apologized and she said, “It’s okay, Mommy. Sometimes I get grumpy too.” It was a good moment. One that I was fully immersed in and one that I likely won’t forget soon.

And then the line started moving and Mia began recounting her beanie boo collection and my eyes kind of glazed over as my mind drifted…to the project I needed to conquer by day’s end…to a character who’s imploring me to write her story. My mind was no longer in the car with my daughter who was happily yapping away in the backseat.

Should we strive for authentic presence during the big moments of life? Of course. The magic-in-the-mundane moments? You betcha. The moments when our children need/want/beg for our attention? Absolutely. The moments that zip and sing and soar whether we catch them or not? Only if we’re quick and nimble enough. And that’s part of the trouble with being present in parenthood – these moments are so swift, traveling as they do at the speed of life.

here and now

Observing a caterpillar

I think, for me, I have had this false notion that if I can just be here and now and in the thick of it without distraction; if I can just pay attention and honor these moments fully, then I will somehow have the power to slow time. I’m beginning to learn that this simply just isn’t possible. Likewise, I used to misinterpret presence for happiness and joyfulness, subscribing to this misaligned belief that if we aren’t seeking joy in the mundane then we’re failing at being fully immersed in the moment. But sometimes life (and parenthood) is just mundane. There isn’t a lot of joy to be found in sitting in rush hour traffic as your gas meter hovers just barely over empty, or in realizing that your toddler unfastened his pull-up and dumped its contents onto the floor of your closet. Or meeting a deadline on very little sleep as you navigate the schedules and personalities/needs/wants of three little lives.

I recently read a post by Aidan at Ivy League Insecurities in which she presented 13 Ways to be (More) Here & (More) Happy. Aidan (along with Lindsey from A Design so Vast) has embarked upon a year of exploring what it means to be present in life, and has been generous enough to bring her readers along, so far offering up seemingly universal themes and discoveries. Number 2 in Aidan’s post, “Forgive Yourself for Not Being Perfectly There” struck a chord with me as I often perceive myself as failing more than succeeding in terms of relinquishing my conscious mind to the here and now. Aidan wrote:

I recently went on a wonderful field trip with Middle Girl and her class to the Brooklyn Bridge. The weather was perfect and we had such a good time and I loved being with my girl and her friends and her teachers and fellow parents. BUT. I went in and out of being really quite present. There were powerful moments when I looked around me and felt her hand in my hand and the bridge under my feet. But then there were lost moments when I was on my phone or wondering if I will ever finish my novel. This is life. And this is huge. We must forgive ourselves for not being 100% tuned to each moment. We are busy creatures with full plates and we must work with reality. I strongly believe that if we are so hard on ourselves for being present at every moment, we will have difficulty being present in any moment.

But maybe the “lost” moments of which Aidan speaks (and which I’m sure we’ve all felt) aren’t lost at all. Sure, there are times when we can (and should) put the phone down and look our children in the eyes and get on the floor to play with them and engage in conversation when conversation presents itself. There are times when we need to put the car in park and turn to our children and offer an apology. But on the other hand, maybe some moments are meant for surrendering to our thoughts. Maybe some moments are the equivalent of white noise, in which case checking our phones (or pondering a work in progress) is perfectly permissible. Maybe our lives are better enriched by honoring these moments too.

I think the trick is in determining which area of our life has the right to claim ownership of the greatest portion of each moment – a feat, I realize, that’s sometimes best accomplished in hindsight.

My favorite line(s) of Aidan’s post is this:

Life is tricky, but there are gorgeous moments where we feel happy. We must not ignore these moments because they have the power to sustain us through less gorgeous times.

Swoon.

Happy Friday, friends. (It’s good to be back.)

 

Hello, 7

Dear Mia,

Once upon a time, I read Three Little Kittens as you climbed onto my lap and gingerly plucked from a bowl strawberries that I had painstakingly chopped into thin slivers for fear of clogging a tiny, miraculous airway.

You came across Three Little Kittens in an anthology the other night and I had to remind you that it used to be your favorite. We read it when you woke up in the morning and before you went to bed at night and a dozen times in between. You carried it with you everywhere, cradling it under your arm or resting it on your lap, a constant companion through your toddling hours. One day, just as you cracked the book wide, a stomach bug presented itself. Our old, frail Golden Book copy was done. That night, after I put you to bed whimpering for your beloved book, I scoured the internet for a comparable copy less than $50.00. I finally found one. It still sits on your bookshelf, lost between thicker spines.

Now, you read about mummies and polar bears or the latest escapades of Ivy & Bean. You tell me about King Tut’s tomb as I paint your toenails. You proffer a guess at the culprit’s identity in the new Nancy Clancy book while you dip whole strawberries in Nutella because the time when I needed to slice them tissue thin is long gone.

Hello, 7

Hello, 7.

Hello, teeth that wiggle, rainbow loom bracelets that fall to the bottom of your backpack, cowgirl boots that lead you into a day separate from mine. The other day when we were out, I noticed your lips were chapped so I dug around the bottom of my purse to find chapstick but all I came up with was a tube of dark cherry lip gloss. I dabbed my finger with the sticky stuff then smeared some on your lips, much to your delight. Instantly, I saw you ten years into the future, plump lips coated candy red, cornflower curls shading stormy eyes, your own purse with your own chapstick, a swift smear of lip gloss no longer a thrill.

Sometimes you catch me staring at you. “What?”

“Nothing,” I say, though I want to ask, “Who are you?”

I’ve memorized all of you — the coffee stain birthmark on your ankle, the lashes that fall over sleeping starfish eyes, the tickle of curls that slip through my fingers, the butter skin of your arms as they drape around my neck — but you surprise me every day. Thoughts and ideas and questions tumble from your lips in forms I didn’t realize you were capable of articulating, illustrating more clearly than ever the slope of time and a point along its continuum when you will ask this question yourself: Who am I?

This answer will change and take many forms. You will explore options and challenge beliefs and seek understanding and test boundaries and make mistakes and question your capabilities all in the quest to find yourself, and all of this is okay as long as you don’t lose sight of this one constant: you are loved.

You are loved.

xoxo,

Mommy

P.S. Hello, 6

My Favorite Oscars Moments

Let’s talk about last night, shall we?

I don’t know about you, but I was totally blown away by Lupita Nyong’o. I have to admit that I haven’t yet seen 12 Years a Slave and I didn’t know much about the actress other than her current reputation for killing it on the red carpet during this awards season. And last night was no exception. She was my “Best Dressed” pick by far. That pale blue Prada gown popped beautifully against her skin tone, and the Fred Leighton headband added a whimsical touch for the girl whose first acting job out of school landed her an Oscar nomination. I especially loved that she chose the pastel blue because it reminded her of Nairobi, and she wanted to have a little bit of home with her.

Lupita Nyong'o joy, lovely joy

And then she won for Best Supporting Actress and her inspiring acceptance speech only made me love her more. Stunning (and stunned) and full of joy and grace, she nailed it.

“When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.”

 

Cate Blanchett, whose dress and styling I also loved, took home the Oscar for Best Actress for Blue Jasmine (another film I’ve yet to see), and delivered an inspiring speech of her own.

“…And to those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people.”

 

And then there was Matthew McConaughey. I was a little surprised to find this morning that some media outlets were calling his speech for Best Actor for his performance in Dallas Buyers Club “bizarre” and felt the need to interpret it. Some even twisted his words and message to claim that he was “thanking himself in his acceptance speech”.

Joy lovely joy Oscars Matthew McConaughey

At the beginning of his speech, McConaughey said that there are three things he needs each day: someone to look up to, something to look forward to, and someone to chase. The someone he looks up to is God (“He’s shown me that it’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates.”). The something he looks forward to is his family (“You are the four people in my life that I want to make the most proud of me.”). The someone he chases is a hero who he sees as himself ten years into the future. He knows he’ll never attain “hero” status, but it gives him something for which to keep striving, someone to keep chasing.

Seems pretty clear to me.

“So, to any of us, whatever those things are, whatever it is we look up to, whatever it is we look forward to, and whoever it is we’re chasing, to that I say, ‘Amen’. To that I say, ‘Alright, alright, alright’. To that I say. ‘Just keep livin’. Thank you.”

 

Did you watch the show? What moments stood out to you? Who was your “best dressed” pick? Did you find McConaughey’s speech bizarre?