December 2nd – I Envy Bears

I envy bears that hibernate. They go to sleep at the end of fall and wake up in time for spring. I do wonder if this system applies to mama bears. The “Is it time to get up yet?” questions could go on for weeks. We have bad mornings at our house when I lose an hour or more of sleep to such questions, but the idea of waking up three weeks early sounds especially brutal. Next time we go camping, I am securing the food, but I am leaving out the coffee pot. Moms stick together.

Despite human DNA not granting me an extended nap through winter, I do feel like I can participate in things in cold weather that would seem bizarre in the middle of July. Today, I snuggled up on the couch next to my kids at 10am and read stories to them until we got hungry for lunch. We had chores to do outside, but instead of trying to beat the heat of summer racing outside at first light we waited for a few degree warm-up that would allow us to shed a layer. My toddler and I both appreciate not having to battle putting on mittens repeatedly every few minutes for the duration of our outdoor stay. Maybe mama bears spend all winter sweeping loose fur out the cave repeating, “I told you no shedding until spring! Do you want your paws to fall off?” I am leaving a Roomba with the coffee pot.

If I had a hibernation cave, I probably would not spend a season sleeping, but I would spend mornings, afternoons, and evenings wrapped in blankets enjoying book after book. The chore lists of parenthood grow faster than my children, but winter seems to find moments of pause that summer cannot spare. The chores step aside for cups of cocoa sipped slow enough for marshmallows to melt and library book stacks read unplanned for an entire morning. Sleep may not happen for me or the bears, but the book stack offers itself anytime night or day, alone or with the cozy, company of others. Mama bear, if the cubs get up early, I’ll leave a book as well. No need to rush spring; the sweeping can wait.

December 1st

I find the next 100 (give or take) days challenging. The sun sets before dinner. The grass crunches beneath my boots in muted shades of yellow and brown. The temperature rarely climbs to a number I enjoy, and the sky stays blanketed in gray clouds as if the planet itself cannot find a good reason to get out of bed. Each year I try something different to combat my doldrums. Some things, like exercise, help. This year I would like to try spending the next three months on a tropical island, but since that is not possible, I am writing. Each day, I will attempt to find something positive about this season.

We turned on our outside Christmas lights this evening. I love everything about them – the sounds of the lights banging against the gutter when the wind blows, the multiple colors, and the safe, cozy warmth I feel when I look at them. Sometimes, I think the lights must hold memories. When I look at them, I feel like I am seven again excitedly watching my mom unbox a set of ceramic Christmas mice that slide onto taper candles, holding the cover of the “Sesame Street Christmas Sing-Along” album fully convinced Bert and Ernie are at that moment singing in the snow, and smelling the turkey baking when I walk through my grandparents’ front door on Christmas afternoon.

I look forward to the dark in December because the lights shining in, around, and through it hold so much beauty and give me so much joy. So, to my husband who gets on the ladder every year, to our son who helps with this crazy project, and to our daughter who endures putting up lights with minimal protest, and to all of our neighbors who add lights to their homes, thank you. Thank you for the smile on my face, and the hope in my heart.

If Boats Could Talk

“I am so proud of you girls for just popping out of the water on those skis at your ages.”

Prior to my dad’s comment, I had never considered pushing him off a dock.

“Did you just call me old!”

My parents bought their boat not too long after they married each other and made us four girls, sisters. Despite the challenges that plagued blended families, we all loved the lake. My parents, my sisters, and I spent countless Saturdays water skiing. We left with a cooler of turkey sandwiches, a sand box pail of sunblock, and a roll of hot pink flagging to tie in our french braided hair to increase our visibility after a wipe out. Dad could, and still can, teach anyone to ski, and we often brought friends. We stayed out until we could ski no more or ran out of food, and no one had a cell phone. Every once in a while, someone brought a film camera along, but mostly our wipeouts lived on through stories that grew like fish with each retelling.

This past week, we found ourselves twenty-six years later sitting on the same boat. We still have a favorite blue ski, and the same favorite wide-v ski rope. My older sister’s ski gloves, now a bit crispy, live in the glove box. Pink flagging still makes us visible in the water, and we all still have hair long enough to braid. I laughed to myself as I listened to conversations about reapplying sunblock, sharing knee braces, and the need for adequate hydration.

When we were younger, we obsessed about tans; now we obsess about skin cancer. Sometimes, we still talk about boys though they have grown into their own rights as men, flirting by washing dishes instead of driving fast, sporty cars. Conversations over the years have, for the most part, lost sisterly bickering and the need to one-up each other. Though life gradually humbled us and wiped away our youthful views of invincibility, we gained trust in and love for each other. We learned to cheer for one another and ask if someone was okay. We adjusted ski sizes, rolled up ropes, and tried not to admit when we peed in the lake. We put sunblock on each other’s backs and braided each other’s hair.

Perhaps, I had been in the sun too long while ignoring my older sister’s insistence that I should drink more water, but I wondered what the boat might say to us now if it could talk. I think it would say we are welcome when the water is perfect and smooth as glass and when the waves white cap. We have a place here. We belong. The old boat may sputter to start every now and again, but so do we. We need knee braces to ski, obsess about drinking enough water in the heat, and have conversations that address the hard parts of life like fear, illness, and loss. It’s funny to call a boat home since we never lived there, but it’s where we learned to live together. Perhaps, it is fitting that home for our family is not a place on a concrete foundation but rather floating together in a little less certainty. In lake water, we found what blood didn’t give us – each other.

So, yes, Dad, twenty-six years later, we can still pop up on skis, but more importantly we still have each other’s backs with more than just sunblock. We may not have always listened to what you said to us, but we learned to love by the life you lived in front of us. You taught us about so much more than skiing.

Happy Father’s Day.

100 Days of Summer

Despite not having an official summer vacation in many years, my brain still feels last day of school excitement around the end of May. I dream of playing with friends in a swimming pool floating aimlessly on rafts and eating too many of those flavored ice popsicles we had to squeeze up from plastic bags. My inner nerd thinks of the endless hours I spent happily buried in a stack of library books so engrossed that I often forgot meals. I looked forward to the week of Girl Scout camp and the annual family vacation to the lake, but I most loved the possibility and potential of each day. The day could be anything – a bike ride, roller blading, playing board games, or a slumber party with popcorn and movies.

Now, as an adult and a mom of the five and under crowd, my days lack the carefree feeling of my memories. In fact, the only thing that really changes with the seasons is which environmental challenge I must conquer in order to get us all from one place to another. Cold and snow? We all need coats, but the car seat straps cannot buckle over the coats. So, we either deal with getting coats off and on repeatedly, or we make mad dashes in and out of stores with me drowning in mom guilt wanting to yell at innocent bystanders, “They would have gotten colder standing outside the car waiting for me to help with coats.” Rain? We need raincoats, boots, and maybe even rain pants because let’s face it, my children view puddles as a mandate from God for them to attempt to splash so hard that the water returns to the clouds. Sunshine and heat? We need water bottles that say leakproof though my one year old can conquer any non leakable engineering, and sunblock. Oh, sunblock. We enjoy being outside but have fair enough skin that our son got a mild sunburn in our backyard in March. So, especially in the summer sunblock is a part of our daily routine though, when it comes to our toddler, applying sunblock is more of an event than a routine.

In my wave of summer nostalgia, I realized I wanted to experience summer (and the rest of the seasons for that matter) rather than each season just serving as a signpost for which outdoor gear to haul out of the closet. As a dedicated type A person, I immediately came up with a plan which quickly turned into a project I called “100 Days of Summer with Five and Under”. I would have an epic summer with kids by planning everything. I pictured myself doing some social media post worthy summer activity each day and spending leisurely time blogging about it. My mind started racing. What if my blog posts went viral? What if the posts turned into a book? A movie? I could inspire parents all over the world. Then, two things happened. First, both of my kids caught a virus that resulted in several non photo worthy, sleep deprived nights for all involved. No problem. I thought, I can simply double up on fun summer activities for a few days and still get to one hundred. Second, I looked at my kids who sometimes answer my large life questions by just being themselves. As I was packing bags for an upcoming throwback family trip to the lake, my daughter repeatedly asked to go outside, and my son asked if we could set a day each week to go to the park. We never made it outside that day because I was too busy trying to make sure we had enough board games for rainy days and outdoor lawn games to have a good time on the next week. But, my children do not care about perfect or tomorrow. They are not counting one hundred days of summer or analyzing how many amazing things we do or do not do. They want to go outside, and when they get too hot, they will ask to add water which they will find delightful coming straight from the garden hose.

They do not need me to teach them how to have a carefree summer; they need me to remember what summer feels like to a child. The hot days meander along sometimes leading toward a goal and sometimes leading nowhere at all, but it does not matter because summer is not a countdown timer or a checklist. It is today, outside, a game of freeze tag, and a garden hose…handfuls of little, everyday moments bathed in unrushed sunshine.

So, maybe we will float on pool noodles in a backyard kiddie pool. Maybe we will read so many books that we forget lunch. Maybe one hot July day, when the sidewalk fries eggs, we will eat ice cream for breakfast. Maybe we will barrel roll down hills. Maybe we will run through the sprinkler where the grass gave up and make mud pies out of the pooling puddles. Maybe….possibly….potentially…  It is summer after all.

Monkeys

Parenting is like signing up to become the live-in caretaker of an uninhabited, breathtakingly beautiful tropical island…full of dependent monkeys.  Wherever you go and whatever you do, you have to bring the monkeys with you.

Earlier this summer my husband and I sat in a pizza restaurant with members of our extended family including four children under the age of five.   The kids behaved reasonably.  No one threw food, screamed, or ran in circles around tables.  The adults only occasionally repeated age-old phrases like “use your inside voice”, and “keep your hands to yourself”.  Not to be outdone by the adults, the two four year-olds used age-old phrases of their own like, “I have to go potty.”  The babies used the sense of smell to communicate similar needs.

On my third trip to the bathroom I passed three young women sitting at a high table.  They looked unrushed and unfrazzled.  They wore made up faces and outfits that lacked the utility of needing to easily wipe clean of vomit while enabling nursing an infant in public without flashing anyone.  Small, cute purses occupied little spaces between them rather than backpacks of parenting in public survival gear.  While time ticked down at me counting seconds until someone needed something – hot pizza cut up, a crayon that fell on the floor, or a nursing session on my right side leaving me with laughable attempts to use a fork with my left hand, time seemed to count up for these ladies multiplying their enjoyment of the evening with each moment that passed.

From somewhere in my mind memories of girls’ trips and girls’ nights out flooded around me.  We took silly pictures on a rock wall overlooking the Pacific Ocean, had weekly “Dawson’s Creek” watching parties, went on midnight ice cream runs, and had secret water balloon fights (for which we were never caught) in the hallway of a dorm.  We had no monkeys.  In fact, we were the monkeys sometimes finding laughter, sometimes finding mischief, and oftentimes finding both.

Minutes earlier while holding our infant daughter in the aisle so I could give her to my husband while I went to the bathroom, an older lady from a nearby table spontaneously brought a handful of napkins and wiped baby spit-up off my shoulder.  She smiled, squeezed my shoulder, and told me she didn’t want the spit-up to get in my hair.  Perhaps her interaction with me flooded her with her own memories of holding sweet smelling babies and sticky hands.  This part of life, this crazy, beautiful, and exhausting island, sometimes plays out like an episode of “Survivor”, and sometimes it pauses with watercolor sunsets, swirling blue ocean waters, and the feel of the sand between my toes.  That evening, as my path crossed with generations of women reminding me of both my past and my future, I thought about monkeys and smiled.

Happy Blog New Year!

I started this blog a year ago. In some ways the beginning felt similar to signing up for a gym membership on New Year’s Day. In my mind, I could without difficulty find time to write posts every five or six days and certainly one of those posts would gain enough attention to go viral. But, just like the person without a regular running routine, who signs up in January to run a marathon in June, I failed to meet my original goals. I ran into the writer’s equivalent of overuse injuries, unaccounted for weather, and poor planning.

Despite that, I have not failed completely. I have learned. I have grown. I put my words in a public place where I could not shelter them from criticism. I have reasonable excuses for not meeting my own deadlines including infant induced sleep deprivation. However, excuses do not help me move forward. They only give me permission to stay where I am. To move forward, I must acknowledge my successes and my failures and learn from both.

Blog posts typically fall with a certain word count and occur at a specified frequency. At this point, due to a variety of factors, I cannot meet those expectations, but I can pursue them by starting with smaller, more manageable goals like aiming for the equivalent of the 5K blog rather than the marathon blog. My posts may not reach a word count, but the words I do write count. Each attempt marks a step, a completed workout, and progress forward.

As I continue my wandering through life in this second year in the blog world, I want to thank each of you for reading my words. I will continue to pursue my writing dream, and I wish all the best to each of you as you pursue dreams of your own. All steps, even the missteps, count as they all have have lessons to teach us and help propel us forward as we navigate the roads to our dreams.

To My Daughter…

Somewhere between late at night and early in the morning my arms wrap around you, and we rock in this chair.  Sometimes, you cry.  Sometimes, so do I.  This time is ours alone both beautiful and lonely.

When you cry uncertain of how to fall asleep, we rock, and I sing.  I sing songs my mom sang to me rocking in another chair on another night not so long ago.  I sing songs I learned on a quiet evening overlooking a lake at summer camp, and I hum the wordless melodies from my own heart.

Like you, I feel tired, and like you, when I feel very tired, I cry.  I feel uncertain of how to find moments for sleep.  I feel overwhelmed at the responsibility of caring for one so small.  I wonder how I will answer your years of youthful questions spoken and unspoken when I do not know the answers myself.  I wonder how to keep you safe in a world full of uncertainty and change.  I wonder, and I worry.

Several weeks ago, my mom sat with me as I nursed and rocked you late into the night.  I wonder what she saw as she watched her adult daughter soothing her granddaughter.  Did she wonder how the slow moments had passed so quickly?  Did she see herself in me and me in her?  She did not tell me, and I did not ask.  But, her presence comforted and calmed me just as it had decades ago in a rocking chair.  She no longer sang me “Silent Night”, but she sat in the quiet darkness with me.  She did not give me answers to my questions, but she gave me permission to ask them, to doubt, to wonder, and most importantly, to grow.  Because my dear daughter, growing never stops.  It always takes struggle and effort. It requires you to push and reach into places you have never been.  Sometimes, growing feels exciting.  Sometimes, it feels frightening.  Mostly, it feels a little of both.

Your mind will never remember these moments which, strung together, make up long, short nights, but I hope your heart never forgets.  I have whispered, “I love you,” countless times, and I will whisper it countless more.  I say your name aloud as I run my fingers through your silky, soft hair.  Your milky breath, emitted like little puffs of clouds while you sleep on my shoulder, smells better than fields of flowers.  Your features, so tiny and so perfectly human, give me reason to marvel, not once or twice but for the rest of my life.

So, my smallest one, keep reaching and keep growing.  Feel excited, and feel afraid.  Cry, giggle, doubt, and wonder.  Whether rocking you now or someday watching you as the rocker, my own adult daughter, at you I will always love and marvel.