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.

Grace and Pancakes

Many years ago, while recounting my failed attempts to overcome a difficult task and resulting personal frustrations, a wise person told me, “Sometimes, you just have to give up and make waffles.” At the time my driven, goal-oriented nature failed to see the wisdom in these words, and I irrationally felt more worth as a person ramming my head repeatedly into the same obstacle than in surrender.

Our baby, who can cry and scream with impressive persistence, sometimes calms down while being held and danced to The Piano Guys song that mashes “Fight Song” with “Amazing Grace”. I have listened to this song countless times recently without thinking anything about the combination of these particular songs until the second consecutive night I spent as the only adult caring for a young child and a colicky baby. My husband had to be away for work for several days, and I felt pulled, as I am sure all new parents of two feel, between the needs of each child while my own needs whimpered forlornly from some cast-off place in my soul. Guilt overwhelmed me. I hated myself for having to insist that my son wait over and over, not because he had to practice patience, but because I failed my job at soothing his sister. Her screams became my internal voice’s anvils landing crushing blows to both my spirit and confidence in my abilities as a parent. A small, rational part of me whispered reassurance that we would get through this phase just as we had with our son, but fatigue easily drowned it out.

I glanced at the clock and noticed it, too, ticking off my failures while I stared void of ideas at the pantry with the smallest one still screaming in my ear. Dinner should have been ready an hour earlier, and my hope of bedtime on time whimpered and sighed as it walked dejectedly to join my dream of any moment of personal time in the hopeless part of my soul. I tried to yell at my dreams to come back, but they did not hear me, and my eyes started leaking tears of their own. I put my daughter in a soft sided carrier, turned on The Piano Guys music, and cranked the volume on the stereo. As the music mixed with my tears, I let go of my attempts to change my daughter’s emotional state and instead promised to hold her close as long as she needed to be held that night. There, I found a place of surrender and graceful acceptance that also felt strong. We swayed and danced in the kitchen while my son and I mixed batter for chocolate chip pancakes. My daughter eventually fell asleep on my chest, and my son and I both smiled eating the chocolate.

Gratitude

As I sit here attempting to type with one hand while holding a sleeping baby in my other, I think back on the past year. The difficulty of coping with the many endurance-testing challenges has not faded, but the strength of all those who supported us, knowingly and unknowingly, grows ever brighter in conjunction with our increasing gratitude.

Situations arose multiple times over many months causing us to doubt the likelihood of holding this beautiful gift, healthy, or at one point even at all. Further, I often felt like a failure for being incapable of providing the most basic nutrition to my unborn child. As I started losing weight, I wondered what I was taking from my child. What began as a goal for a balanced, nutritionally diverse diet quickly gave way to simply attempting to get calories to stay in me. The days, weeks, and months dragged on and dragged me with them. I felt trapped and spent five and a half of those nine months within five minutes of home.

To each of you who took a step on this journey with us, thank-you. Thank you to my husband who demonstrated selflessness in every way becoming the persona of the wedding vows we promised over a decade ago. You have truly been my strength. Thank you to my son who offered untaught compassion; I am in awe and proud to be your mom. The memory of the peanut butter sandwich you spontaneously made and brought me in bed will always bring me to tears. Thank you to my parents who have showed up my entire life each time I have said, “Help!” Thank you to those who took the time and effort to drive long distances to visit us, often repeatedly. You seemed to show up at the exact moment I doubted my ability to make it one more day. Thank you to all who scheduled and rescheduled gatherings to try to include us. Thank you to everyone who called, texted, and emailed offering words of encouragement and distraction from some monotonous weeks and months. Thank you to the brave souls who attempted to cook for me when I struggled to keep anything down.

I don’t know what I would have done without our library’s programs and the wonderful people who work and volunteer there. Because of all of you at the library who know us by name, I felt like I could still engage in some part of life and spend time around other people during the many months we stayed close to home. To our friends and family who remained ‘on-call’ day and night for two months with offers to care for our young son, we are forever grateful. You took away a massive stress relieving us from the burden of feeling torn between caring for our son and caring for our unborn child. Thank you to the doctors and nurses who cared for us, the ultrasonographers who helped us see our child, the lab technicians who attempted to stick my rolling veins, and the receptionists who remembered my name. Thank you for going beyond your job. Thank you to the woman who got out of her car to take my shopping cart back at the grocery store. I drove home with tears running down my face. To all of you who read this blog, thank you. You gave me an outlet and a focus outside of difficult moments.

I do not think I can ever see life’s challenges as known, pre-planned events that result in some future good. However, I see the responses to those challenges as proof that love’s light eclipses the darkest moments. Thank you to all of you for loving us so well. May our gratitude reach you from these words, and whenever you find yourself struggling in life, may you feel the depth of the love and support you have shown to us shining on you.  Thank you…

When I Fail

I am a super-model on resume paper. My lists of achievements, accolades, education, and certifications paint a picture of my life in air-brushed perfection. However, it is not an accurate picture of my life, but simply a list of successes with the struggles and failures brushed away. Nowhere on that shiny paper does it list my dreams or my hopes. I first wanted to be a writer in elementary school. I still have the first book I wrote with binding help from my mom using cardboard and wrapping paper, essays and short stories from 3rd grade, library poetry contest submissions, and essays from junior year English class. Yet, I took only one English course during my first four years in college – a required technical writing course. I took no creative writing classes, and the writing I entered in contests I wrote at the last minute claiming I wrote better with a deadline. I feared failure. I feared criticism. I feared someone telling me I could not write, and could never learn to write well.

I called writing a dream or a goal, but in truth, it was neither. It was a passion, a calling that whispered to me. But, I denied it. How could it be a calling when I spent so much time failing at it? I was supposed to be in some lofty academic field or living out a life of service to others. I felt guilty for my love of books. I loved the feel of books, the smell of books, and just sitting in a library or bookstore. I had a career I enjoyed that I was successful at. However, I still stared longingly at the covers of books at the library and wondered if my name would ever be on the cover of one of them.

I took a sabbatical from my career this past year to attempt to become a writer. I based my success on completing the book I have spent a decade working on with only a pile of failed attempts to show for it. During the earlier part of the year I decided that I needed to start a blog so that I would at least consistently write something read by others, but I never felt prepared enough to begin. I read information about blogs. I tried to find the answers to my questions of how to be a blogger, but I continued to run into my own doubt. My husband suggested I pretend to start a blog, and then write a month’s worth of posts just to see if I enjoyed blogging. I wrote two draft posts and started a third. I went to a writing conference. I ran a writers’ group. Then several months into this adventure, after nearly two years of unsuccessful efforts to have a second child, we found out we were pregnant. I developed relentless all-day, all-night morning sickness. Just basic life became more of a challenge than I ever imagined possible, and writing became non-existent. In the middle of all of this, I realized that counting on someday allowing me to have the time, ability, talent, and perseverance to achieve this dream only kept me counting on an imaginary, non-existent future. So, I started a blog without a perfect plan, without all the answers, and without assurance that I would succeed.

A year has passed, and I have not finished my book. I have received multiple rejection letters for essays and poems, and I hope much of what I write never leaves my laptop. I have a blog read mostly by kind family members and friends. By the definition of success I originally gave myself, I have failed to become a writer. However, I am a writer, not due to arbitrary success or failure, but simply because I write. Maybe I am not good at writing, but maybe I am a little better at writing than I was yesterday. Living a dream is more than simply dreaming it. I do not know where I am going – if I am going anywhere at all – but that doesn’t matter. This is an adventure – my adventure. If you are looking for the air-brushed version portrayed by my resume, I’m sorry – she does not exist. But, if you are looking for the person who listens to the calling in her heart even, and especially if, it is messy, challenging, and has no guarantee of success – I wave welcome to all who cease to hide behind the image of who they “should” be and instead embrace who they are with all the imperfections, blemishes, and journey-weary beauty.

Life is Messy – Bring a Vacuum

Last week, I went with our young son to an outdoor activity where he needed to bring a single snack for himself. I grabbed a box of raisins on the way out the door. When we arrived at the parking lot, I attempted to place them in my purse, but the box would not fit. I hastily started removing things out of my purse – old squeezer packages, handfuls of receipts, two containers of lotion (I couldn’t find any the day before!), and a plastic bag full of crackers that had evidently been punctured by the uncapped ink pin because mashed cracker crumbs flew across my front seat when I pulled the bag from my purse. Realizing that I needed to take more drastic action, but having no time at that moment to do anything, I tossed the raisins in my purse, and sighed at the mess of trash, paper, and crumbs now filling my cup holders and littered across my front seat.

In most areas of my life, I am extremely organized – I use a label maker for the pantry, my clothes are hung color-coded by season, and I color code our file folders. However, there are a few areas of my life that this organization seems to fail to inhabit like my purse. Though my purse is on the small to medium size, I come from a genetic line of women who have an extraordinary talent for packing large numbers of items into small spaces. Getting thanksgiving leftovers into the refrigerator and absurd amounts of holiday dishes into a single dishwasher load are no match for the women in my family. I carry this trait around in my purse and my continued insistence that I can use carry-on bags only on a plane trip while my husband shakes his head and tells me that my overstuffed backpack makes me look like a pack mule.

A few days after the crumb spraying incident I sat enjoying the fall weather and prepared to tackle my purse. The oldest receipt I found came from a restaurant we ate at last January, and I am extremely grateful that whatever punctured the cracker bag did not also puncture the applesauce squeezer container that I found buried at the bottom under a cloth tissue my son used when his nose ran persistently a couple of months ago. I also learned that over some unknown amount of time chewy granola bars rival holiday fruitcakes in their ability to turn rock solid. Eventually, I found the bottom of my purse filled with cracker crumbs and pieces of granola. Pondering only momentarily, I grabbed my purse and got the vacuum from the closet. With some amount of awkward maneuvering I managed to use the vacuum wand attachment to extricate all the crumbs.

I returned everything that belonged in my purse in perfectly organized fashion with the intention that the crumb catastrophe will never happen again. However, if I am honest, this sort of purse disaster has happened many times before and, unless I make some other change, will likely happen in the future. Sometimes, I find offering grace to others easier than offering it to myself. I “should” do better. This “shouldn’t” have happened. If only I… Why didn’t I… I am a supporter of pursuing excellence in my life and striving to make positive changes when warranted. Yet, acknowledging the imperfections that come along with my humanity without berating myself often proves a challenge. Maybe instead of telling myself all those “should” statements about finding my purse in catastrophe state, I could pat myself on the back for being prepared to take care of a child in various circumstances. Life is messy. Crumbs happen. We trip. We spill. Instead of belittling myself for life’s messes, I think I will acknowledge that I am strong and grateful to have the capability of cleaning up after myself. I will also make sure I have a good vacuum nearby!