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.)

 

My Caveat to Happily Ever After

“Despereaux squared his shoulders. He had made a decision. He would do as the threadmaster had suggested. He would be brave for the princess.

Even if (reader, could it be true?) there was no such thing as happily ever after.”

The above passage marks the end of chapter 11 in The Tale of Despereaux. As I put the bookmark on the page, Mia snorted. “Of course there is,” she said, referring, of course, to the narrator’s suggestion that happily ever after doesn’t exist. And then after a pause: “Isn’t there, Mommy?”

“Sure,” I said. “Of course.”

I said it without pause or trepidation. I said it wholeheartedly and convincingly. I said it because I want desperately for her to hold on to that innocence, to revel in that space of black and white, for as long as possible, and so I resisted the urge to add a caveat.

My husband has accused me before of being a pessimist but I think I’m just the opposite. I can’t stop myself from feeling emotions anymore than I can stop my cheeks from feeling the bite of a winter wind. But just as I am quick to turn to the darkness, to carry it and protect it until I can find a way to release it, so to do I seek the light. I can see this in Mia already — the way she honors the dark with the light, the revelation that there can’t be one without the other.

That caveat that wanted to slip from my tongue was this:

Sometimes, Mia, happiness isn’t black and white, and it isn’t ever final. If life became one even, pleasing note of happiness, it would cease to be happy. Anyway, life is best lived in the muted shades of gray, turning everything over to examine it on all sides, to ask questions and to answer questions and to push ourselves and to sometimes listen and be still and other times speak up even when it isn’t easy and to advocate for our beliefs (and the beliefs of others if they align with our moral codes) and to never stop growing. None of this is especially easy or even “happy”, but I promise you, Mia, your life will be fuller and you will be more fulfilled and you will start to construct your own definition of happiness and you will revise that definition as you go. Happily ever after will no longer be a goal or an endpoint because you can choose happiness wherever you are in life. Even if the glimmer of light is dwarfed by surrounding darkness, choose happiness. 

happily ever after

Someday I will tell her this. Someday.

*For more on happiness, Aidan at Ivy League Insecurities just wrote a fantastic post on 10 Ways to Be Happier.

8 blogs that rock (and why)

Blogs that Rock

*This post was originally published in March of 2013. The original post gets quite a bit of traffic so I decided to update it now, in February, 2015, to reflect some of the blogs that I currently read regularly.

This post is in response to a homework assignment for Holly Becker’s e-course titled Blog Boss. The objective is to feature 8 blogs that rock, two of which need to be fellow classmates’ blogs. I follow so many blogs (and rarely keep up with them on a daily basis), so this task seemed monumental at first. While there are plenty of blogs I check in on from time to time for their eye candy or crafty inspiration or practical purposes (for example, the more technical aspects of photography and writing), I decided, finally, to focus on the ones that speak to me. The ones that pull me in through writing or photography (or both), usually both reflective of kids and family and lifestyle and having it all and balancing it all and what does it all mean…you get the idea. These are the ones that tug at the heartstrings, magnify the little moments, find joy in the mundane and have something to say.

It was still really difficult and time-consuming to narrow the list down to just 8, but I made myself do it so that I could hone in on why these blogs speak to me and hopefully learn a little about myself as a blogger along the way. So, without further ado, I give you my top 8. Enjoy!

1. Girls Gone Child.

GGC was the very first blog I ever started following. I stumbled upon it shortly after Mia was born and I was instantly hooked. Her writing, her photos, her ability to capture the small moments in motherhood that add up to the savory memories of childhood are just beyond. She has a gift, this one. She also lays it all out there for her readers, she engages with them and truly wants to connect with them. Nothing is off limits, which keeps things fresh and interesting. Oh, and she has twins who are just a few months younger than mine, so obviously I stalk her I’ve developed an even greater connection to her.

2. Enjoying the Small Things

I came across this blog not too long ago, and the very first post I read was this one. Read it. Try not to cry. Then delve into this blog and find the joy she captures through words and pictures. This blog is full of so much…grace. I can’t help but be inspired.

3. A Design So Vast

What I love about Lindsey is that she’s completely honed in on that enigmatic thing called voice. If ever her name wasn’t attached to a piece of writing, I’m certain I could identify it as hers nonetheless. She also has the ability to tap into reservoirs of hearts and minds of mothers and women that make one think, “Yes, I hadn’t realized that I was feeling this way…or I could relate to this…or this was on my mind…or I needed to read this today.” She and her writing are such gifts, and I’m so grateful I found her in this wide and surprising ether.

4. Petunia Face

Again, the writing. The writing gets me every time. Susannah has a daughter who’s a year older than Mia and I’ve been reading her blog almost as long as I’ve been reading Girl’s Gone Child. She has the ability to connect through writing in a way that few do — a way that makes you think, “Yes, that. Exactly that.”

*Since I originally posted this, Susannah lost her mother to cancer, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and just recently traveled to Tel Aviv to undergo an aggressive treatment consisting of removing all stem cells and then replacing them and then suffering through chemo to hopefully eradicate said MS. Hop on over and you can read her day-by-day experience with this. In my opinion, I’m not sure anyone could have handled this with as much grace and humor as she. Not long ago, someone stumbled upon this post and remarked that they find Susannah to be narcissistic and then posted the definition of a narcissist. That’s it. Once sentence and a definition. I’m not sure if the included definition was intended for me or Susannah but I would like to thank that person because I’m sure we’re both much clearer now on the meaning of narcissism. And I’m going to add: We are all, just by being human, a little bit narcissistic, don’t you think?

5. Commonplace

Dina is whip smart and a truly gifted writer. She’s someone whose words I look forward to reading whenever her name pops up because I know no matter what topic of motherhood she’s exploring, I will always nod my head along with her words. She’s also just signed on as the blog editor for Literary Mama, and I’m really looking forward to seeing her influence and contributions there.

6. A Cup of Jo

Because everyone’s doing it. No, really, I love this lifestyle blog. Because Joanna was once an editor, her blog is very editorial, which always makes for a fun read, but it’s personal and conversational as well. Since becoming a mom, she also covers some parenting issues and insights. I loved her series that profiled moms who are trying to find the work/life balance. This series featured work-at-home moms (and included some of my other fave blogs that I’m not listing here because ahh! only 8) and this one features moms who work mostly outside the home.

7. Bluebirdsunshine

I found this blog through the Blog Boss course. She’s and Aussie-turned-Brit, and I love her photos of her little ones and her posts that are like little vignettes of daily life as a mom. Just someone I naturally relate to and a space that makes me want to revisit time and again.

8. Raising Humans

Tricia is one of the warmest people/mothers/writers I’ve had the privilege of getting to “know” in this vast WWW. Her posts are full of grace and familiarity, and as effective as sitting down over a cup of coffee with a great friend, even if the topic is something as controversial as vaccines. (I’m scratching my head over that last sentence. Vaccines a controversy? Sadly, it has come to that.) Anyway, her writing is beautiful and always leaves me with something to ponder as I go about my day.

BONUS: Ivy League Insecurities

This list felt incomplete without adding Aidan’s blog. She’s an effortless writer, totally fun, and always gets her readers thinking by posing great questions on life, self-discovery, and just existing (and growing) as humans/mothers/friends/writers/women/creatives. In a word, she is inspiring.