Saturday, July 21, 2018

Finding Delight

I've always seen humanity as broken  – all I have to do is read the news for five minutes, drive through the city, look at our leaders, watch a divorce up close, not to mention sit quietly with myself, and it's all there: poverty, violence, selfishness, lies.  Gross.  It's enough to choke out the rest. 

But in the last few weeks, I've been struck by the rest, by humanity's light and brightness. I followed the story of the soccer boys trapped in the Thailand caves play-by-play, and was bowled over by the divers risking their lives, one losing his life, the rallying and sheer work of so many to rescue strangers.  And then I was struck by my own surprise at their self-sacrificing care.

I'm sitting on the beach right now with my two girls. The sand and ocean are packed: small bodies, large bodies, dark bodies, light bodies bare bums (so many thoughts about that as I raise a 12 year old boy -- for another time) and covered. We are all here for the delight of it. Several kites dance overhead for the fun of seeing a red octopus or blue superhero fly.  People jump and float over the waves, masks and goggles for san dollar hunting, a white-haired grandmother paddles in full snorkel gear with kids: this is a place of play.

A few weeks ago I watched Hotel Transylvania (and the sequels) for the first time and I felt this same marveling appreciation.  Dozens and dozens of people made this movie just for silliness and the delight of seeing a green translucent blob get squirrels and sticks and fish lodged in it without pain.  The mummy personifies joy with all his spontaneous dancing and singing -- the whole thing is fun(ny) and creative.  

Entering the  world of children story tellers (SCBWI) has reinforced my delight* in humans!  Thousands of writers are telling stories because of the power and the light of a story, of a character we love, for pure hilarity, to help us knit sense out of our own feelings, to give us maps as we navigate days.  The kids and I just finished reading Steve Bramucci's The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo!  I heard him speak recently and instantly became a fan.  He's funny, honest, shameless and full of shame at the same time -- he brings it all.  And as we read the book, the wild beauty of Borneo came to life through fencing, papaya-pelting-orangutans, and blooming friendships. 

Some days I feel scared (terrified) about my kids getting older and moving into this world. I’ve been feeling that acutely with the end of school year shifts, especially having kids in 5th grade and junior high -- OLD and moody, a little sassy and very sorry about it, curious, social, and sometimes emotionally unstable; the thought of setting theses lacking-prefrontal-cortex creatures free to navigate by their own judgment makes me a little panicky.  Or at least sad.  It's a new season of having to let them try and fail and discover, rather than simply protect them. 

I *know* it's the order of parenting and growth and growing up, but it's HARD, which makes me doubly grateful for these summer weeks of seeing the sparkling fun and bravery of people (especially adults).  Rather than focusing on what might happen when Silas ever likes a girl (who is not wearing a complete bathing suit bottom), I am wondering about the beauty of who these kids are, and how they’ll bring their own humor and sense of wonder to life for other people.  

I use the word "delight" quite a few times here because it's the only word I can think of that captures the whimsy-joy I am talking about.  Merriam Webster's definition helps (the squealing -- pure happy response):
delight: 1
a high degree of gratification or pleasure joy 
  • children squealing in delight
; also extreme satisfaction 

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Acts of Defiance (laundry monster)

Right now I am sitting next to a pile of laundry so high I can't see over it.  Literally.  And it keeps growing because I keep washing clothes (victory) and throwing them into this room, which, incidentally, isn't even a bedroom, it's a living room.


That's happening.

I started to feel overwhelmed, almost panicky, about it because on top of the laundry, there are snow clothes and goggles and coats and snow pants and suitcases all over the place with no time for folding or sorting in sight.  The days are mapped out tight this month.  So what to do?

I have lots of limitations right now and am *doing* lots of things (sometimes I forget that the limitations are partially there because of all the good movement, they aren't just a shortcoming).  And to be fair, laundry isn't on my list (though milk should be because we are out of it -- again).  So I've decided to go with it.  Instead of freaking out or feeling like a failure or like I'm strapped to a fast-moving train with no time to jump off (because straps), I am choosing to write and am currently sitting ON the laundry and beside, befriending it.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Januaries: Ordinary Time

I've had a case of The Januaries since I came back from DC.  This shouldn't surprise me.  I think it happens every year.  The adjustment between coasts, semesters, vacation and routine, plus all the New Year messaging to *make everything new* -- which can be both energizing and discontenting. 

The other day while I was driving, I flipped on "Pray as you Go" -- an app with a daily prayer I sometimes listen to.  The prayers always start the same way: "Today is (whatever date) in the (whatever week of the liturgical calendar)..."  Most days I'm hit simply by the date being spoken.  It's grounding, a calm voice naming the day of the week and date aloud.  Half of the time I don't actually know what day it is.  I even found myself staring to write 2009 on a check last week...

Clearly I need the ritual of saying the day and date aloud every morning, like Kindergartners across the nation.

So the other day I started it up: "Today is Monday, January 22nd, in the third week of Ordinary Time." 

"Ordinary Time."  I don't know a lot about the liturgical calendar, but I know this "time" comes after the holidays.  Ordinary Time.  Yes.  Since I've been back from DC Christmas, the days have oozed by, felt long, hazy, and, yes, ordinary.  I've felt ordinary.  Routine's felt ordinary.  Even the blahness has felt ordinary and isolating <>

But there, in the midst of my friction, a calm certain voice claimed "ordinary time," as if it were worth remarking upon.

This has started me thinking about the Ordinary, about who I am in the Ordinary, and what life means when it's Ordinary.  Because I don't always love "ordinary time." 

The fact is, though, that most of our hours are stitched into ordinary.  Tish Harrison Warren in Liturgy of the Ordinary says it pretty well:

So much of life, unavoidably, is just maintenance.  Things need upkeep or they fall apart.  We spend most of our days and much of our energy simply staving off inevitable entropy and decay.  This is especially true of our bodies... we have to clean them. feed them, deal with their wastes, exercise them and give them rest again and again, every day. And that's when we are well and things are running smoothly. 

How true.  Add a kid to the mix, or a dog, or anyone else we're helping care for, and all the dentist/ haircut/doctor/food shopping/lunch making/feeding/scheduling/reading to/walking etc.  -- and it's a wonder we get anything else done. 

But such is life.  It's a beautiful and messy reality that our daily work restarts every day.

I've landed on no tidy insight that's calmed my January angst.  I'm still wrestling from moment to moment.  But sort of in the same way the voice on the app locates me in Monday January 22nd, the third week of Ordinary Time, so that for a second I feel firmer ground and see myself within a framework, I've been trying to locate myself physically, too, in this ordinary time. 

When my mind starts its January spinning (which is constantly), I'm sucking in the air in front of me (it's taking at least four deep breaths to reach my diaphragm).  I'm making myself notice and name right now: Thursday, January 25, in the 3rd week of ordinary time, sitting on my couch, the girls' voices at the end of the hall, Silas chuckling at Garfield in his room, my feet cold, lips chapped, the sound of cars passing the house behind me, wind chimes clanging -- and stop there. 

This is in no way a habit yet, just an effort.  But it's my work of the Januaries, to climb into the moment and inhabit it, breathe there, and let the rest go (even if it's just for that second).

Monday, January 08, 2018

We Need Words in 2018

Thursday I am going to a metal stamping workshop to make a key chain with my "word of the year" on it.  So, I've been thinking about a word for 2018.  As my friends and I've brainstormed, we've made lots of jokes about how the f-word wouldn't be appropriate (or would it?).  Finally, I've landed on "Word."

Words are power.  They've always been, and in this climate I'm reminded more than ever of the weight they carry.  Words of the American president are arguably some of the most noted and weighty words in the world, and for the first time in my life, they've been wildly reckless and unexamined.  They continue to taunt nuclear powers, to refuse to condemn white supremacy, and to to blur together people of whole nations and religions.

Our words matter.

I've been dazzled by the women's voices rising one after another, speaking into long-held silence.  It's terrifying to tell vulnerable stories, laced with shame, to crowds who may or may not want to hear them.  It takes guts to break silence and to demand justice.  It takes guts to demand change

Our words matter.

This last year, our collective words have been loose and reckless.  We've flooded ourselves with fake news and others' opinions.  We've thrown words at other nations and erased words that marked protection, equality, freedom.  We've spoken instead of listened.

This last year, our collective words have been united and strong.  We've questioned unspoken beliefs and national identity.  We've apologized and fought for protection, equality, freedom.  We've listened and taken time to think.

Our words matter.

Maya Angelou talked about words as physical objects; the words we speak, or read, or hear, actually fill the spaces around us: they obstruct or construct; they pollute or clarify.

Our words within and without us matter.

May this be a year of true words: may we be brave enough to think beyond labels.  May we be brave enough to speak our own stories.  May we be brave enough to keep asking and listening to others' stories.  May we construct fortresses of good words -- mortar to door frame -- and bring others in.  May we keep speaking.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Resets and Thanks

Sometimes small things can reset order.  Today I finally picked up potato starch and finished the batch of gluten free flour I've had half-made for a week.  I bought groceries (this morning, the only fruit or vegetable choices for lunches were applesauce, an onion, and celery that Silas has been soaking in dark blue food coloring).  I filled the car with gas.  I changed my post-class pastel-smeared shirt.

And now I can breathe better.

There is something profound to the small resets.  This fall with all the new and the busy -- opening an art studio/learning to run a business and work with a partner/living in a new house/ sending my youngest to school -- I've noticed lots of stress twined through my body.  All the sudden, I'll notice I'm not breathing deeper than my chest and can't push the breaths deeper.  Or feel the demands are overwhelming and I just want to burrow somewhere dark.  Over and over I've stared at my calendar wondering if I'm doing something wrong -- what should I cut?

As changes usually do, my latest ones have highlighted bothy my strengths and my deep inner ugliness.  So despite the full days, I've been doing some inner work:  the Examen, the Enneagram. 

It turns out that much of the time, my the problem isn't doing too many things; it's doing too many things at once.  I don't drive some place, I drive dictating texts and emails, checking responses at the red lights, messing with Waze, and posting on Instagram (which doesn't really have to be instant). 

For ages I've prided myself in being a masterful multi-tasker, as most mothers of young children do.  (It's called necessity -- otherwise I probably would have died of overwhelm-paralysis).  But as most of us have heard by now from an onslaught of research, there's no such things as multi-tasking.  An article about Dan Harris explains it this way:

What we think of as multitasking is really..."doing many things poorly." The reason for this lies partly in semantics and partly in neurology:
"Multitasking is a computer derived term. Computers have many processors. We have only one processor. We literally neurologically cannot do more than one thing at a time."
Because "doing many things poorly" feels bad, I've been thinking about this and trying to smooth out some habits.  I've begun pulling over (at least some of the time) if I need to use my phone in the car (which I always do).  I've been trying to set down my phone, close my computer, and turn my body toward the kid who's talking, to plan today rather than two months from now.  And what's been shocking is that rather than feeling like there's even less time, the days have felt wider.  Even the days when I start out hyperventilating about what's on my plate, doing things one at a time sifts it out. 

Practicing doing one thing at a time also usually means I'm paying attention (hard not to pay attention to the one thing you are doing...).  It feels gross to be searching google and saying, 'mmhmmm" "yeah" with exactly 6% of my attention while my kids are talking.  It feels gross not to stop and look at someone who's helping me at the register because I'm texting.  And yet, I do both daily. 

I think that's why I started thinking about the daily resets.  How often in a day do I wish for a do-over?

The fact is, we have them: we wash our hands, refill a mug, start an email, pull out a blank piece of paper, open a blank document spreadsheet.  We say sorry.  We pull on clean socks.  We peel a perfect banana.  We walk outside and see the sky.  We open the office door.  We take a breath that reaches all the way to our diaphragm.  We begin a phone call.  The light turns green.  We start the car.  We wake up in the morning.

The fresh beginnings are right there, waiting for me to notice and accept them. 

Yes, thank you, I will start again with clean hands.  Yes, thank you, I will collect my thoughts before I dial.  Yes, thank you, I will breathe before I speak.  Yes, thank you, I will wash my windshield and see more clearly.  All day long, the invitation to thank. 

Thank you.

Friday, September 22, 2017


Five years ago today, Maeve, the third child I'd grieved and given up hope of having, was born, flashing her Ben-dimple and sucking at her tiny thumb.  For a full year, I could hardly absorb that fact of her.  Never had I basked in a baby's presence like that, with such perspective and gratefulness.  Because we lived in DC for this baby, my mom and Annemarie, Maeve's soon-to-be-godmother, met us at the hospital and stood at my side for her entire birth (while my dad held down the fort with Eden and Silas).

Right after Maeve was born, Annemarie pointed out that she came into the world during the exact hour when summer became fall; she taught me the word liminal, and later wrote this beautiful piece.

maeve magnolia

It seems impossible to say that I had never witnessed a birth before Maeve's on Saturday, but I hadn't.
Birthing is not the same as witnessing. Birthing is work, pain, love, desperation, and focus.  Birthing
is breathing, squeezing a hand, yelling, riding the wave of the contraction, pacing, showering, walking,
balancing on the balance ball, sinking into Greg's chest, swearing never to do this again, hoping, waiting,
enduring. Birthing is becoming- it's both becoming someone and allowing someone to become.

Witnessing is different. Witnessing is standing on sacred ground. It's making the coffee run, grabbing the
camera,  emailing the list, standing still, waiting.  Witnessing is standing in a space so holy that it feels
strange to ask or do anything mundane. Witnessing is silently praying, filling the space of the room that
is about to be full of new life, with blessings, thanksgiving, praise. Witnessing is to be overcome, undone,
by the power of it all.

Sweet Maeve,

I am so honored to have witnessed your arrival into this world.  I'm sure they've already told you, but you
were born in the hour between summer and fall. As that morning dawned, while your Mama was working
so hard, loving you here, birthing you, the word that came to my mind was "liminal."

liminal: 1. relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process 
2. occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or a threshold.

It means to be in between: and what an in between space that day was! What a lot of waiting and
wondering there have been these past months!  Your family has been in a lot of in between spaces this
year (coasts, houses, friends, seasons.) But now, it is fall and you are HERE! - in all your delicious, perfect, 
teensy glory. I'm so glad you're not in between anymore, but here: to love and be loved.

Welcome dear one! I love you so,
Your fairy Godmama

Annemarie Mott Ewing

Wednesday, September 06, 2017


I am lying on my old neighbors' front porch across the street from soccer practice. They are not home, and Maeve is playing on their swing, while I fully recline.

Today is the first day of school, the first time I've had all kids at school, for a full day, in 11 years.  So far I have no *feelings* about that; I'm opening an art studio in a week and a half and unpacking a house we just moved into.  There's plenty clamoring for my attention, a bells and whistles parade.  I have no doubt, though, the feelings will come eventually (they always do...).

This afternoon, I had plans to go to the grocery store to restock the house, the drugstore for school binders, and the library with Maeve, while the other two had activities. Instead, I am here lying on this porch couch.

Saturday night running over to the pool, my legs flew out from under me, and I crashed to the concrete, hard.  Hard enough, it turns out, that I fractured my tailbone.

Soooooooooooo, life is running at a different pace than I'd anticipated.

Before I left DC, my mom and I talked over the word "unhurried."  That's her word for the semester. We talked about what it feels like to be unhurried, how it opens us to the present, and what a gift it can be when we can encounter other people without hurry.  Sitting on her couch in summer's sun, I could see it -- living days unhurried.  And then I pictured going home in two days: a house of boxes, a curriculum to write, the start of school, new routines, making lunches, coordinating activities, launching a business -- and I laughed, half out of the panic rising in my chest.   Unhurried readjusted to a shining ideal, and I steeled myself to tackle real life September.

And yet, here I am, slowed down to an almost literal crawl.

I have no idea what we will eat for dinner. We are low on milk and out of butter. We have no meat in the house except for a pack of lil smokies the kids begged for, and little to no produce.  Silas has neither binder nor dividers. And yet, I'm just sitting here, no, to be precise, lying here, at a house that isn't even mine.  I'm achy and uncomfortable, trying to prop myself up on skinned elbows, and angry that it hurts to drive (the reason we pulled over here).  It's beyond frustrating to slam into my own limitations.  But lying here, I'm watching the sun lower. I'm having intermittent conversation with Maeve, who's slowly unraveling the details of her first day at school, and I'm aware of the breeze.  Maybe, somehow, this forced slowing will be an unexpected gift...