15 stronger

I’ve been writing a story that involves a lavender thistle, and last week at a café on Broughton St., I sat at a table with numerous lavender thistle centerpieces.

Photo by A.I

I wrote a story that begins with a careful observation about cemeteries, and then two weeks later, a tour guide explained to me how Abercorn St. was built over hundreds of graves, that cemeteries, like Colonial Park Cemetery in Savannah, shrunk under concrete.

Photo by A.I.

I’ve listened to Maroon 5 to motivate most afternoon runs the past 7 weeks, and then last Sunday their latest hit was playing as I approached the finish line of the Hot Chocolate Run in Atlanta.

These didn’t happen for me. Like Emerson says, I recognize that what dresses as happiness today can be mournful tomorrow. But I thank their coincidence. How things interact can heighten a mood or bend a thought. I’m down for that.

What’s not a coincidence is my friend asking me to do 15k with her. I stammered out a yes, willing that I’d try. It would be my first race. In the last few years, my commitment to running has been intermittent. Knowing I was going to run at a distance I’d never run and knowing I’d do it alongside a fit, competitive woman motivated me to commit to training for 7 weeks thereafter.

Every single time I went for a practice run, I’d be at heel of how incapable I was, how I’d probably end up steering to the 5k route instead. For some reason, that talk also pushed me—not in the way you see in movies. This push was thick with sometimes lead feet and down-talking nerves. But it also got me into running stores to get the right shoes or talking to runners around me for advice on shins and cadence and such. In short time, I built a small wardrobe and toolkit for how to make this work. And since I hadn’t run 7.5 miles straight, the suggested mileage to practice before a 15k, I was super nervous about dropping shy of my goal. What I didn’t suspect was that it wasn’t my ability that would bring me to the finish line; it would be my determination not to fail.


The early morning of our race, runners in their race bibs and running gear gathered at Centennial Olympic Park. The quiet energy followed us in the morning dark. We walked to our corrals and waited. We moved forward as waves of runners were released to the run. As our hoard got closer to the start line, I squealed at my running partner and pulled her close for an excited hug.


In that 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 moment, I caught my breath and recognized that when you’re an adult, it’s less common to become sharply excited about something in that way. For instance, when it snowed earlier this month, my kids screamed and charged out the door to play, carried away on that lightning expectation of fun. I think adulating can suck that out of us. Instead of high-heartbeat excitement, we may instead choose to get carried away with the opposite energy—the calm, curled up and sedentary moments of quiet where we can decompress.

But when the MC yelled, “GO!” and our time started, I felt raw, uninhibited excitement even though I knew there was only work ahead. I think it’s because I was about to figure out something about myself.

There’s something to be said about getting to mile 2 when you know there’s so much left to go, and in that instant you’re aware that there is nothing else to do but to move forward, to push beyond what your body is used to doing. The race path yields such truth about life.

What is a coincidence is what happened the day after the race.

In Farsi, when there is irreparable, grimy damage between you and someone else, you may say that there is “shisheh khoordeh,” which means broken glass. Over two years ago I got hit with a really negative situation that I won’t go into too much to respect members in my family. In short I was misunderstood and mistreated, and it has taken me [is still taking me] too long to loosen its grip. I would think about the incidents in the shower, on drives, over too many personal moments. Its memory made my hands feel numb; it created these electric shocks in my stomach. This situation affected my marriage and took a lot of self-control and friendship to endure that first year.

I still have those uncontrollable aftershocks that run through my stomach, or “del” in Farsi. The beauty of it in Farsi is that “del” is, in matters of emotions, interchangeable with heart. Breaking your heart or your stomach carry a similar weight—“delamoh sheekoondy” (you broke my heart). The phrase both represents and captures the core.

Early in the evening after race day, I was forced to face a true catalyst of that time I try so hard to let go. I hated that the old and awful shit once again infected such a triumphant day, but I felt too strong to be passive yet again. I didn’t want to feel hurt; instead, I wanted to take charge of it. In Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Manson talks about taking responsibility for anything that happens in your life—even if you’re a victim, you are responsible for the decisions you make afterward. In his own way, Manson encourages that something good can be done with those aftershocks.

The following day, with that feeling of shattered glass, I took steps to help control part of the dilemma that affects my family the most in the form of uncomfortable but open conversation. I’ve decided to move forward without the ghost of unworthy causes, without the loss of precious energy, but with, instead, the grab and plump of boundaries. And now I feel there is a chance for that.

And where we place our energy is the big life question.

My friend is gearing her year towards a specific word, one that will draw lines that will help her claim and enact her vision. To do the same task, I would say that my pinpoint word is Stronger. I feel a might inside that I want to protect. I think my biggest fear of the year, then, is anything that will make me disappointed in myself, that will diminish that strength, because I know now—for miles and miles—that it is determination matched with coincidence that helps me be more capable than I thought.

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There is a light purple rose in half bloom near an entrance to my house. It caught my eye tonight.

I had just put pajamas on Zade and tapered the bedtime routine. I opened my laptop and set my mug of hot green tea next to it. I looked out the window and saw what we’ve been waiting for today: snow. I yelled “Snow!” like a sailor at sea who just spotted land, and the house went a blur. Kids put boots and coats on faster than I’ve ever seen. Socks became mittens; pajamas became snowsuits. And off they went.

They played with Kal outside while I took the warmer approach and made hot chocolate for them. When the kids came in, they were utterly exhilarated. Layla said it was one of the best endings to a night. Zade was so excited he knocked over his drink. Frost still in their hair–with the kitchen looking like a chocolate crime scene–the kids jumped about undeterred by anything less real than the magical effects of that first lain snow.

Just minutes before, it was Zade who called to me so I could see his makeshift shovel (red solo cup) filled with snow, and that solo bloom and I stared at each other for a minute. She was handling the snow like some of those dried Georgia leaves still swinging on their trees. Maybe she opened up when I was wearing flip-flops just 3 days ago. Maybe she’s part of those hybrid minis that is ever-blooming.

Last year brought us four new seasons with different windows to look out of. This month marks the end of that one year of new.  In fact, we were snowed in last year around this time. I was in another world of excitement then. But other natural things have happened here, too.  We’ve tenderly broken in this new place. The dishwasher broke and the kids cracked the new sink in their bathroom, for example. I think I wrote less in my favorite room with the view. But I wrote more in a leather journal I keep near me instead and started taking ideas in different rooms comfortably. The house became a home, the relationship changed. My year-long date has now changed its status.

I’m trying out new relationships as well, and this includes new books that feel so right, people who I’ve spent quality time with, this first-ever Mac I’m typing on now (total self-discovery adjustment coming from PC world; even scrolling up and down is somewhat painful right now), a newly-fitted pair of running shoes to which I’ve proposed marriage, and a deeper look at Georgia’s breadth (which includes a small town and a real and true train ride that my friend made happen).

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I want to be like that free-blooming flower who figures, what the heck. I’ll give this a try because, well, it feels right to do so right now. A little more present, a little less inhibited, and with the wisdom to let it roll. I tasted this last year, and now I want more.

All commitments in life should give us the freedom to make wider and wider snow angels like the ones I’d get lost in under the gray Chicago sky spread over my backyard. I’d raise my arms up and down, up and down. The feeling alone spun outside me for a minute. I’d look to the side and exhale. I’d hear silence and feel seen. It was a purposeful magic.

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Reading Countdown

The alchemy of the school year has simmered down now. English teachers are in a pressure cooker the last month of any semester. We’re assigning and then grading and then upset at ourselves for not leaving that one last essay out of the curriculum this year. I had nightmares that last week during final exams. They woke me up in bed and had me saying the old and true: it was just a dream; go back to sleep. Let it go.

I don’t envy being a student during finals, and I’m sure being a teacher is not any easier. But in the context of how so many careers work, teaching rewards us with long breaks which keep us at the pulse of our own high school days. That ensuring rhythm keeps an aging part of us connected to youth through its pattern and exposure.

Crazily, I’ve experienced two novels as an escape when I couldn’t squeeze any more time from a turnip to devote to social and work commitments: Camus’ The Stranger and Morrison’s Sula. Both texts have me looking at the fire glowing and steaming in the fireplace a little longer, a little deeper. 

Even as an English teacher, I appreciate this reminder of what I tell my students all the time: we read to be human. It’s through a gifted artist’s perception and patience that humans get a private chance to become better humans, to understand where our judgments come from and how at a tip of an angle, they can change distinctly, offering just enough pause that can redirect our lens just so. 

If you’re still out there shopping today and don’t know what to get, consider two things: one is any version of this keyboard (which I’m using now as one tributary-goal to be more tech efficient), and second is this short list of texts, mostly oldies and some of which I’ve referenced here before, to complement your generous heart:
1) Ann Morrow Lindberg’s Gift from the Sea. This is hands down one of my favorite ones to share. It’s perfect for a woman to read, and it’s even better for a man to know. I’ve written with it countless times. Buy a thousand copies. 
2) Albert Camus The Stranger. This is not for the friend who likes to read books on how to increase revenue, although maybe he or she could use a break in thought. This one will take you through a philosophy by way of man, murder, and indifference. 
3) Toni Morrison’s Sula. There’s a reason why she won the Nobel Prize. This book distinguishes between a writer and a writer. You’ll be thinking of her language for acres and acres. Buy a copy for yourself, too. And then buy Song of Soloman, and…
4) Janisse Ray’s Ecology of a Cracker Childhood. This one is perfect for neutral readers who maybe didn’t know they like a little science mixed in with their literature. If your recipient lives in The South, this could be another connection. Beautifully written, one of a kind. 
5) Waguih Ghali’s Beer in the Snooker Club. This one is random and complicated. If you have a friend who enjoys somewhat obscure world literature or who has a tinge of certain literary snobbery, this could be a treat. I read this in grad school but found myself more preoccupied with the autobiographical nature of this text and with the author himself, who committed suicide in 1968., after reading it. It’s memorable even if you read it only once. 

6) Alice Munro’s Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You. This a collection of 13 eloquent short stories. This can be a one-short-story-at-a-time read. Read and savor. Savor and repeat. Each story leaves a distinct scene in your mind. It’s yet another Canadian contribution to art and wonder. 
This list could easily spiral into disseminating rings, all shining in different categories. 
What is your go-to gift book? What have you read recently? 
That’s all I got today, folks. I hope to come back with some experiences to share, one of which includes a cabin, another includes a changing savannah, and the last one includes new running shoes. 
Happy Holidays, friends. 

Clocks, Knots, and 2017

There is an absurdity to daylight savings time. The clock’s rigidity dictates our day every day, and it bends for no one living in the same place, except for twice a year when we casually, uniformly move it forwards or backwards. My friend Tally pointed out once how she finds it odd that something so foundational just magically changes, uneasy in trying to keep the balance: changing the clock without altering our perception of it.

Maybe I’m remembering this random twig from a tangential conversation because I think I’ve been thinking in resolution format the last two weeks. It wasn’t on my mind like a buzz feed. My natural reflections have been rounding into declarative sentences, and I realized them for what they are this dark morning with grey rain dribbling around the house.

For those of us who make New Year’s resolutions at the end of the year, I think we’re doing two things:

  • playing with our perception of time both physically and mentally
  • working out the knots of the current year.

If you’re like I am, the end of the day has your left arm crooked over your right shoulder as you rub between your neck and your shoulder blade. I’m not lying when I say my physical knot and my mental knot have been greeting each other.

2016 gave me 4 seasons in an imperfect house that I truly love. It’s got a crack in the old stain glass door that has too much character to be replaced, and it’s a representative of the ways prayers are answered sometimes. I have so much gratitude for this year, but you already know that I hope.

The small list for 2017 I share here doesn’t include the usual stuff regarding, for example, healthier living or career goals. It’s also not focused on motherhood because I’m confident I’ll keep major tabs on that and come back here to work out the stuff that’s on my mind. Also, long resolution lists can leave us feeling that we didn’t instead of we tried, no? I guess this list is truly personal.

I’m keeping the focus short so that a long year’s path has more chance to bear fruit.

  1. Have 3 trips however basic or grand they can be. One with my family. One with Kal. One with me. I’ve envisioned going by myself to the Grand Canyon. A renewed mom can go a long way for the family. Also, I relationshiped and married young, and I’d like to still learn more about myself independently of marriage and children during these years. I want to sit on the edge of somewhere beautiful and be my own company. Listening/viewing this song  from my friend inspires that feeling each time.
  1. Make real, steadfast, true, and just-as-important block-out dates. I’ve only done this three times this year, and one of those times was for my friend. I grabbed her calendar and wrote something similar to, “Do not plan anything for this weekend. Family/Me time!” A month later, she thanked me for that clearing. God willing and the creek don’t rise, before January, I’m setting up my phone calendar with block-out dates and times that are first for me and second for my family. I say it in this order because I know I’ll naturally give up any of the me for the family, and I’m going to try to balance out that tendency with written word. I encourage Kal to do the same thing. My consistent personal goals will stall if I parcel out time pockets liberally. The block-out times will be just as observed as the “Bday party for ___ @ 2-4 at Catch Air” or “Dinner with ladies @ 7 pm.”
  1. Part ways with self-deprecating humor. I think I tend to poke fun of myself to make conversation or to make people feel at ease, and sometimes I warp some of my biggest insecurities through that natural habit. Wanting to be real and identify with people may give other people ease (or maybe it does the opposite, really), but it can leave me with a residue, making me wonder what picture I’ve created, what eighth of a story I’ve told flippantly. I think I’m done with my 20s (well, of course), where being real in that way made me feel I was being down to earth. I’ll try to stay grounded down and earthy without making myself feel bad in the process. There’s so many other ways that conversation can hold hands and feel the sun.

I’ll leave you with this definition as you appreciate your year and then work out your knots:

Definition of resolution

  1. 1:  the act or process of resolving as

a :  the act of analyzing a complex notion into simpler ones

b :  the act of answering solving

c :  the act of determining

What part of the process do you want to focus on? What is something your 2016 knots has revealed to you?

As always, I’d love to be inspired by you.

Real and Snapshots

Last year at this time, we had half of our old house packed up—that type of packing where evidence that there was so much more left to do outweighed any of our frantic progress to get our house ready for the market. Kal was at the apex of a huge work project while I was at the top of my school blues and my anxiety at our next steps. But we had scheduled a trip to Seattle months before to visit one of my best friends and her family, so we swept up our little the tornado to Washington.

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We were stressed out to the max despite the beauty around us. On the way to see a waterfall, for example, there was an odd tension between us, that type of marital tension you could slice open to see both our minds on other things, both our focus not matching up with the picture. I remember stress mixed with gratitude mixed with disappointment mixed with relief. It’s a strange combination that feels more and more normal as I hear and read stories of families around me. The snapshot of a moment is a gift since so much more of the hard stuff happens behind the scenes.

I choose not to focus on those parts when I explain the trip to myself or to the kids.  I am a better, more appreciative person because of them, but I’m old enough to know the hard is just as part of the good as the good is.

Those hard-life tensions were there, and they were real, but we ended in a better place. Within a few days, the warmth of our hosts, the chance to connect our families together, the ability to show our kids something different let us settle into our vacation despite the inopportune timing.

D’s family and mine spent Thanksgiving together that year. I helped prepare the food while D, whose child got sick that morning, tended to her baby girl. Since we’d been there for several days prior, I had already adjusted to her kitchen. I opened up drawers to get the kids plates and knew where she kept the pan to warm up the stuffing. There was a small beauty in feeling so familiar. That alone was almost as beautiful as watching our kids make Pike’s Market their little playground. Somehow and eventually, we rallied and sat down to eat. She had the weight of guests and a sick daughter on her back while I brought to the table my own baggage. But eat we did; pictures we took; and gosh darn’t we had our irreplaceable memories.

A year later now and we’re at 2016’s Thanksgiving. My grandparents and favorite aunt are visiting. They’ve paused their lives to connect with us. The grit behind their visit is the stress I put on myself to get things just perfect. You know, that way you have in your mind you want it all to be before guests arrive. Also, I have always been awful at self-scrutiny in the face of my relatives, no matter how much we love each other. I judge my steps with a heavy hand on the inside even I may appear blithe and confident. My mantra has been to experience them, not stress myself out. But, alas, I’d be lying if I said, it hasn’t been hard that my kids bicker in endless loops 75% of the time and that my introverted side has been running on empty. I’ve been trying to connect to so many things that I worry that I’m neither on point here nor on point there. That’s all the real stuff.

The truth is that I love a clean house. I feel like I should do more about mostly everything all the time. But I am super grateful for the snapshots.

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The snapshots of this time together include my aunt and me buying lotto tickets and cigarettes at 11 pm and us running inside off the porch because we heard weird breathing coming at us. It includes long, enlightening conversations that happened in the dark. It includes me baking at 2 am and listening to Sean Hayes. It includes my grandparents, hunched over with mischief, sneaking off to see the well on our property. It includes my friend dropping off homemade pie and joy to the kids during the day, and the kids playing with their friends at night. It includes my son transcribing a letter from my grandpa, who wishes “for a good year” to Santa.

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It includes my head on my grandmother’s shoulder when she answered my question, “What would you change about your life if you had the chance to go back in time?” She replied without hesitation, “I’d bring my boy back to life.”

The snapshots also include Layla playing violin in front of the fireplace. It includes my mom handling life while her husband is out of the country. It includes a tiny Asian grandmother straying into my parent’s kitchen while we were cooking. She talked to us in Chinese (true story, I swear) until we recognized she didn’t know where she was but also wasn’t worried about it. The best snapshot of that would be when Kal asked her if she’d like to hold his hand as he walked her down the road back to her grandchildren’s’ house.She did.

The house is quiet again. A candle crackles behind me, and the house smells like pumpkin and vanilla. My most special aunt has her feet up near me, and a show is on that we both like to watch. A throw drapes over her, and I’m warm in my oversized, knitted cardigan. My hands, however, smell of Vicks since Zade keeps coughing. Every few sentences, I hear him cough, and I go from calm to nervous, back to calm again.

In the moments, we have the moments.

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Natural Links

nature-walk-2A tide of dried leaves on an expanse is similar to waves folding back and forth. My student observed the similarity between the sound of ocean waves and wind on leaves when we went on a nature walk during my literary magazine class. We started with a few minutes of stillness and meditation, and ventured into a free-walk where each person was encouraged to walk alone and observe. Students, now calmer, brought the same stillness back with them and wrote something new or wrote through something else that moved them. Nature walks aren’t new additions to pedagogy, and not everyone ventured openly into the woods, but the big picture worked well. For me it was refreshing and reminded me of how important it is to breathe fresh and be still.

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I experienced frantic energy last week. The presidential election drama made it worse. In fact, it sent me straight to the polls to vote early on Thursday. After a day of work minutia, I met a 2.5 hour line straight to my civic duty. I lucked out though. My unexpected line mate was an older woman with a yoga t-shirt (we joked about how the leaf logo on it looked like marijuana). She is was a teacher of young kids and mother of a musician. It was a perfect fit. We talked freely and shared ponds of our life stories, even so far as sharing some challenges we’ve had lately. Then, we voted and said our good-byes–the way one does when you’ve met someone at the airport because your flight was delayed and wonder-hope if your paths will cross again. I finished a hairline away from missing a guest speaker I’d wanted to hear who was presenting at a private school nearby.

Dr. Madeline Levine who is known mostly for texts like the Price of Privilege and Teach Your Children Well engaged the audience in “An Evening with Madeline Levine.” I walked in and slid to the back of the room as the MC introduced her. Another boon came my way when I saw my friend and concert buddy sitting at the edge of a bench. She had her notepad out like many other parents and took notes diligently. The talk was fascinating—about emotional distress in young adults from relatively good homes, the constant pre-college push, the ways children can be categorized to help us understand them, etc.  I nodded a lot and made some mental notes. Two takeaways stood out mainly because they are very personal.

She states that often when we’re scolding our children, our reaction can be very personal. While the catalyst—an argument, a bad grade, a lapse in judgement—is valid, our reaction can be smeared with our own issues. She used an example of her reaction to one of her son’s grades dropping after taking a final exam. She went off on him and recognized 6 therapy sessions later that he was the same age she was when she recognized she had to fend for herself, family on welfare and future looking bleak. She needed him to thwart and appreciate. It made me think of the times I am short with my kids. It’s not that they aren’t doing something wrong, but if I analyze why I may snap, it’s because of things unrelated to them—work exhaustion, my concave fear of embarrassment, or my longing for some introverted quiet.

With other talk points, she offers that parents should sift through her message through their own moral codes. However, one message was perfect. Levine ended the night with a simple PowerPoint slide. Since people ask her what her definition of success is, she constructed this (squint a bit; the message is worth it):

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I read it twice. It was a long day, so I was already positioned to be emotional. Before I could realize it, I felt tears in my eyes. Not for my own children, but for my parents. Not according to a salary scale, but in accordance with this definition, my parents raised me to do well in life. They never criticized me or made me feel that I should choose any career path that didn’t fulfill me. My father was the one who steered me off law and into teaching. My mother was the one who always said I was the best at literature. I think my parents believed so hard that I was special, that despite my squirming out from under it, maybe I started to believe it–at least through their eyes. Power of parents, seriously, since so much of it was out of love and not out of data. My mom never went to college, and my parents just did their best to survive in a new place and then to assimilate while protecting their kids. And in that process—without guide books or guest speakers—raised me to a place where I can say that I feel connected to Dr. Levine’s message.

I called my mom as soon as I got in the car and thanked her for shaping me so my soul could grow and my eyes could see. She cried and said it’s easy to take for granted the fruits of their labors but that she appreciated our childhood and did the best she could.

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The kids waited up for me and fell asleep a few minutes after I came home. While they closed their eyes and slumped over on the couch, I relayed all this to Kal. I’m sure I had smeared eye makeup and my hair was probably wilted on the side after a long day, but he listened. We came to the resolution that there’s so much we can’t predict, but we’re trying our best and will try to remember the pressure we put on ourselves to be active, open parents even at this young stage.

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Let our kids get messier than we did– we hope–and give us the wisdom to remember that mud is good.

Oh, October

There is no rest in October. This is my student’s mom’s saying. She has obviously gotten it figured out after 18 years of no-rest Octobers.

Before I delve into this post, I have to be honest. What I’m about to write betrays some really touching moments that I’ve experienced since my last post.

Like this one

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Walking to the falls

And this one

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Getting back to my comfort place

And this

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Gettin’ dolled up for a fancy night

A parent’s day can be filled with the beauty, the juggle, and the spikes.One moment you’re dressed up and ready for the world, and the next you’re trying to convince your girl to please, please take the Tylenol.

There is a weird elixir coming off those falling leaves that’s making the no-rest October something removed from Halloween orange and on point with feeling midway. I may be grading essays (agh!) or washing dishes (agh!), but if you look closely, between the myriad, I’m kind of just blah. If you’ve seen HBO’s Westworld, my insides are the equivalent of that look the hosts have on their faces when their coders are talking to them. Blank, but hearing.

It’s my experience that my generation of women is always busy. Ladies, if you’re feeling this hybrid of to-do vacuums with this incomprehensible state of restlessness and inquiry, know that I’m right there with you. And if you’re a writer or have any type of creative spirit, this feeling is probably causing major daydreams. It’s the writer hormones going crazy. I’m having fantasies of throwing ungraded essays in a bonfire and spending a week fixing up my house in the mornings, writing all through the day, rocking on my porch in the early evenings, and watching movies like Say Anything at night. I know, I know. This sounds like the life of a retired school teacher. But, hey! It’s more accessible than the alternative side of this coin: running to the nearest travel agent—yes, I want the experience of doing that—and buying a ticket to Antibes, France so I can eat, experience, and repeat.

For the occasions I’ve actually traveled without my kids, I started a tradition of leaving treasure hunt notes for them. They get a series of notes for each day I’m gone, which gives them something for which to look forward.  “Go to the place where Zade loves to play Legos,” and “Great job! You’ll find the next note at the place Layla keeps her erasers.” It gives me joy to imagine the kids running like squirrels to figure out and gather each clue. They go all over the house, trudging over toys and drawers filled with unfamiliar terrain. When the hunt is over, usually culminating at a bag of treats, I get a sense they feel pride but really that they prefer the journey.

Through inevitable terrain, I’ve hit some treasure in this no-rest October, some which reminded me of life years ago, and some that came in the form of advice.

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After hearing about us apple picking, my mom’s friend, Shohreh, talked fondly of when she used to run around taking her kids, who are all college graduates now, to this party and that activity, to Disneyworld and Fall Festivals.

But then she said, “I get so frustrated because they don’t remember any of it. I have to remind them of stuff they once did.” This feeds at my worry since there are distinct times I feel we’re chasing memory-making, filling in slots with valuable activities too often. In my defense, our time with them in this way is short. Still, I worry my kids won’t remember or appreciate all the stretching and consideration that makes things happen for them. Even worse, I wonder if all this effort is pointless.

Shohreh saged me. We stood in my parent’s kitchen and she rounded out, “It’s okay. Maybe all those things still did something to change them and make them who they are even if they don’t remember it.” Simple, right? I’m ashamed to say that this line comforted me immensely. I know our goal is to expose them to as much as we can, but I guess I hadn’t put as much stock in the experience as a whole as I did the lasting effects of a memory.

We’ve taken our turns lingering on a nasty cold, and we’ve also managed to find spaces to make memories. I’m looking forward to no-rest October taking an Ambien and having some mercy on us. Until I regain my optimism, I’m going to remember this gesture.

On on a ragged mid-week day, my friend knocked at the door with a get-well basket with homemade soup, all the means and dressings included, and play stuff to get a little girl back on her feet. I was caught completely off guard, and I marvel at the surprise even as I type this. No-rest October, beware of beautiful friends helping to take us through to the next step even as their own backs need some rubbing. #womenrock

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Love in a basket

Contrast

A hurricane has gravely affected millions of people including many in the American Southeast. News reports have shown tragic photos both of devastated areas in Haiti and of flooded streets in Savannah. By Friday, it was normal to hear people at work say that a relative or friend was evacuating his or her home near the coast to stay with them during Hurricane Matthew.

The last few nights have been iconic, October-evening weather in our part of Georgia. It feels strange to tilt my chin up, hollowing the curve of the cool breeze undoubtedly affected by the hurricane. A destruction was caused by this fragment we’re feeling here. This light wind that I admired tonight cooled down humidity and worked without guilt despite its previous red center. The contrast of where it came from and how it affects is both unfair and undeniable.

It is a leap to connect this contrast with a place I find our family in currently, but there is the shade of peripheral truth in the most benign sense of this connection.  We see contrast past the time. 

In the last few weeks, the most important members of my family have celebrated their birthdays. Since their birth dates are so close together, they alternate between who gets a home celebration and who gets an outside birthday party. While Zade had a casual home celebration this year, Layla had her bowling birthday party. She insisted having it at the same location we celebrated 2 years ago. During her party, Zade had more flickers of sibling jealousy than he had a few years ago; Layla socialized like a tween, not relying on Kal or me to participate. She looked like she preferred to be with her friends, really.  Looking at the pictures lets me see the difference the two years make.

Contrary to the quick default talk parents are used to, it doesn’t feel like I’ve just “blinked and my kids are older.” I know I can’t remember 365 x 7 in any fine detail, but the blend since Layla and Zade were born has felt close to time–like a blur of what we can somehow remember paired with what we felt during parts of it. 

At this party, her shoe size was bigger by 3, her guest list changed to include her new friends, and she picked out her dress and decided on how to wear it. I was caught off guard when one parent asked me, “Is this a drop-off party?” I had no idea we’d entered into the age-stage where this was mostly normal. It hadn’t even occurred to me that this independence is more common now. I can guarantee this wasn’t a question my mom ever heard when I was growing up.

This year Zade’s home celebration was in our new house. It’s not new by move-in date standards, but experiencing little milestones here is, like I’ve inferred before, like being in a relationship where one mentally records, “oh, this is the first time he held my hand, we heard this song, we went there, etc.” I raced home from work to make it festive for him. We ate on Batman plates. We had double-chocolate cake, his favorite. And he took over 40 turns at breaking the Minion pinata that he and Layla stuffed together an hour before Minion’s demise.

Zade uses his hands when he speaks all animated and such. When I visited him at school on his birthday, he accepted my departure and didn’t hold on to my leg. He takes stand-up showers like a little man. And he reads signs while we’re driving.

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Two years ago feels like two years ago. This site chronicles some of the places I’ve been physically and emotionally. Two years ago around this time, I wrote about how I wanted to reconnect with writing, and I posted about getting Halloween decor. Also, I wrote about how we just separated the kids rooms and got them new sets.

Much of that language is true now–home style changes, Halloween decorations, writing goals–and yet the contrast is significant because the edges that meet together from this space have felt movement and growth.

What started out for me on this blog has moved into another tier; what notes I’ve captured about my family has evolved into chronicles I can juxtapose when it’s necessary. Contrast reminds us of what is irreversible. It encourages us to nestle up to that one defining effect–change. 

Flow

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Today one of my best friends, D, had her second baby. She sent us a picture of her second little girl, bundled dry and clean, held up by a nurse. Baby girl looks like she is certain of the camera in front of her. I wish I could share it with you here, but if I remember my own commitment to privacy the first few months my kids were born, I know it’s not my picture to post. My mom described the image just right: you can’t help but see it and not laugh a little because there she is, a new baby girl all surprisingly alert and with the perks of a smile saying, “I’m here, guys.”

The ripple effect of hearing the news of a new baby inspires conversations along many households. My parents probably said something to each other like, “Remember when these girls were just kids sleeping over at our house? Laughing in the basement? Now they have two kids.” D, dressed in a blue hospital gown, still looks like that young girl in my memory. Maybe it’s because I didn’t consider my mom as a woman in her 30s the way I am today that I’m still in awe of my childhood icons being real adults.

In another household, maybe someone wonders if or when this type of moment will be one of her own memories or if there are other joys that are waiting to be born. In my household, though, the news created electricity as my kids stared eagerly into my phone. They loved seeing the baby held by their cousin, who Zade said with marvel is “not a baby anymore. She’s a kid now, Mama!” Their reaction brought to surface sincere memories of when Zade was born.

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For example, D sent me a picture of herself right before getting to the hospital. I could tell she’d been crying; her adorable chin looked like it housed small rain drops beneath the skin. She said simply, “I’m excited but also feel bad. I can’t explain it…lots to process.”

If you’re lucky enough to have the chance to say bye to your first child before you leave for the hospital, you know that feeling. You know in your head that you’re doing something good for the family, that she won’t be alone in her life, that you’ll be back in a few days with memories. And yet you may fear you’re choosing something else over your child or that something so big is happening, and she is innocently left out of it; or even worse, you wonder if you’d been worrying about the wrong thing all along and that maybe things won’t turn out right.

When I left Layla to deliver Zade, I felt a hollow carve up inside, like when you swallow water too fast and there’s a bubble trying to force its way down. Like so many mother guilts, it’s not logical, but it is an ache you don’t forget.

And life goes on after those hospital days. It did for us, and now the kids are approaching birthdays. Layla will be 7 soon; she’d barely turned 2 when her brother was born.

Before my maternity leave was up in the winter, we went to Rosemary Beach. We snuggled in a green and white carriage house, all of us in one king size bed, the smell of steak still coming through the cool cracks. Beach winters are the best kept secret.

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Last week we went to Panama City, which is close to Rosemary. Needing a family trip in the worst way, we rented a huge minivan and drove toward a tropical depression that was incredibly merciful to us.

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On the only rainy day we had at the beach, we took a day trip back to Rosemary and visited our usual spots: the park at the town’s peripheral, the nooks between each unique, designer home, and a coastal book shop (it’s one of my favorites and never disappoints). The kids looked like kids and like grown people at the same time.

Seeing them up against the scale of memory, the scale of the swing Zade looked like a giant potato in a few years ago, made Kal and I start talking in tongues of the future. That type of talk where you plan and say God willing, where you try to face realities of what could be while also chanting why you’re so appreciative of what is.

Time is moving us forwards in whichever way it wants. Seems like I’m swinging backwards here in this post. I’ll keep that momentum going and end back to the first day at the beach.

After nearly 2 weeks that tested the Murphy’s law adage,  we thought we’d barely make it on our last-minute trip. We were so sick the night before our departure that we couldn’t pack or clean the house in preparation. Instead, we did all that in the morning and didn’t leave until the afternoon on the next day. Finally, we arrived to Florida at familiar surroundings. We dropped our stuff in the condo and went down to the beach. The kids who’d begged for the beach the whole summer were short of shrieking with joy when they felt sand.

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Even though we’ve done many things as a family, this year felt different. As Kal drove, I crossed my legs out in front of me above the dashboard and looked out the window over familiar bridges, familiar long-leaf pines, familiar road stops, familiar faded homes. I told Kal that we used to sit in the back seat with my parents driving at one point in our lives, yet here we are in the front seat, making our way. I handed kids their snacks; he put gas in the car.

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In this life of constant work and rotation, I’m grateful beyond measure for what the new brings and what the familiar holds. I can say with certainty that I’m curious about how things will look against today’s scales, markers that show us so much during the rippling ebb and flow of our lives.

 

 

Spikes


Seems to me on the days when the grind gets the hardest, I experience everything in spikes.

I drove to work this morning with one hand on the wheel and the other hand inside of a box of Oatmeal Squares. Cereal was all I could grab on my way out of the house. It was mercy I even managed that before I wobbled to my car with Layla’s breakfast, slippery water bottles—one tucked under my arm and the other balanced on a plate, two backpacks, and my make-up bag. It was 6:45 and I couldn’t squash my defeat. It’s so early, but I’m still so late, I thought dejectedly.

I tried so hard not to be—begging Layla the night before to sleep early and wake up without constant nudging; putting everyone’s clothes out and packing lunches; making dinner and ensuring enough for leftovers the next day; doing work for an hour after everyone else was asleep. Preparing. I tried to get it all done, but it wasn’t enough.

In fact, the last few weeks have piled on top of each other so much so that I have been glued to each monkey bar—aware of the metal lines to come but also only able to reach out so far.  Tasks are getting done, and lists keep piling up. Judging from people around me, it very well could be just that time in September.

Last night after everything was undone and done (maybe not even in that order), I had a hoarse throat and a weight on my chest. I was upset at how the kids bickered on and off all night, causing spikes of tension that hit me the way it feels when you stop abruptly after running fast, your body all confused and breathless.

My body couldn’t handle a single more argument. By the final time I told Layla to stop coming out of her room, that enough was enough, especially since I’d read the story and fixed the light and fed that last snack, I had nothing left to give. And then just as I had quieted, I saw her run out of her room. I was afraid that if I nagged or yelled one more time, I’d unravel. Instead, I sat angry, transfixed on why I couldn’t just let it go. She’s being a kid. I’m a working mom. This is how it is. You know this. Just put on Downton Abbey and screw doing the dishes.

Thirty minutes later, I found her asleep on the guest bed. I walked towards it to carry her to her own room, but a feeling spiked up on me. I sat on the edge of an ottoman in my living room instead and just cried.  So many women are familiar with that good-cry-in-the-shower moment, only this time I was just sitting in a quiet room, grateful for some relief.

So that was last night. And my Oatmeal Square morning was this morning. The rest of today brought me to a better place. It’s the last official day of summer, so maybe there’s something to that.

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My student editors made smart calls; my classes are liking The Crucible.  I found my groove, so I felt the power to walk into the house with blinders on. We hung out in Layla’s room and loomed bracelets. Kal did his own thing while we held onto the moment.

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At bedtime, I told Zade stories about when he was a baby. His new orange and black bracelet glowed against his blue LED night light, causing curiosity and joy—so sweet on his face. I leaned against his little stomach and laughed genuinely with him. Parents’ emotions are insanity. I am so tired, but I want to wake him up and relive how he laughed, an extended laugh that pleasantly surprises me when coming from a child.

This morning I was certain this post would be only about how the struggle catches up with us some days. But then just a few hours ago, I put the kids, skin shiny from a bath, to bed and felt tired, yes, but also better. A spike of affection and appreciation replaced what I felt 24 hours before.

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So, I’ll leave you with this last anecdote if nothing but for my own memory:

My kids’ exuberance to see me come home from work is is really touching. They’re naturally loving greeters until it becomes a competition between who can run for the hug the fastest or hang on my neck the longest. Usually, my arms are filled with the same things I loaded my car up with in the morning, so the greeting becomes an awkward mashup of good intentions, the necessities, joy, and disappointment.

I decided two weeks ago that I’d walk into the house with only my car keys in hand. Arms open and able to reduce my own frustration with trying to make the scene what I want, I am able to give them what they need from the second I walk in. I gave up telling them to hang on and adjust. I just added a couple trips to the car. Something so simple solved one small element of the evening for me.

Tonight, I’m grateful to not end the night sitting on the edge of an ottoman. Those nights happen, and that’s life. But I’ll keep searching within for small adjustments that can help end the evening with an LED glow,  some time to write, and a little more peace.