That Very Word


          We’ve been looking for a new house for a year and a half, and in that time we’ve seen all sorts.  One option included a pool.  That got me thinking about whether I’d even want a pool if we could afford one.  And it made me consider the value of our summer trips to the public pool.  When I was a kid that consisted of a large rectangle filled with water and gagillions of peeing kids.  Now it has a zero depth entry, water “features”, a giant swirly slide, and water-squirting ride-on animals for the toddlers.  Slightly more upscale.  But some things (including the peeing kids) remain the same.


Lessons I’ve Learned from the Public Pool:


1.  I look just fine in a bathing suit.  Sometimes it’s a bikini day, and other times a one-piece is in order, but either way I can rest assured that the assortment of body shapes at the downtown pool are varied enough to include one such as mine.  The standards aren’t too high.  I’m not sunbathing poolside in Vegas, or at a country club, or in the protected confines of my own backyard.  I’m out in the world, being part of it, just one among all sorts.

2.  The pool is a microcosm of life in the outside world.  Kids play, kids get in trouble, people argue, people make out, there are beauties and nerds, jocks and bullies, black and white and yellow and brown, pale and tan, people with tattoos and those who would never get one, people who eat from the snack bar and people who think that’s gross.  And they’re all together in the same water, having a good time, accepting each other enough not to leave, learning a little about humanity in general.  Perhaps an enormous pool is the solution for peace in the Middle East.

3.  Sunscreen is important.  There are always a few at the pool who have turned to leather from years of baking in the summer sun.  These people are walking reminders to slather on the spf 30.  And to reapply in a few hours.  And to take a day off every once in a while to sit indoors and read.

4.  Always wear your flip-flops to the bathroom.  It’s not as clean as one might like, which forces some thinking ahead – a skill that everyone can use.

5.  People are people.  With worries and joys and values of their own.  They’re sitting in the pool chairs all around you – you hear their conversations, see them with their kids, observe how they act around others.  You get a glimpse into their lives and, therefore, view them as more “us” than “them”, which is always a good thing.

6.  Never disturb the lap lanes.  In the midst of the chaos – the big kids roughhousing in the deep end, the little ones screaming in the shallow one – the lap lanes remain a protected, peaceful area.  If you want that, pick a lane, put your head down and begin.  If not, stay the heck out so that those who do can freestyle in peace.  It’s a simple rule but does wonders for everyone.

7.  To everything there is a season.  Inevitably the novelty of the pool wears off.  In May, opening day can’t come soon enough.  By August the kids are bored of the swirly slide and sit on their towels eating peanut butter pretzels.  I have to remind them that they only have a few more days.  That soon the pool will close for the year and our only option will be indoors.  School will start.  Hours of free time will cease to exist.  But the thrill is gone and school doesn’t sound so bad.  Halloween costumes are already being imagined.  The pool’s shelf life has come to an end for another summer.  Turn, turn, turn; Solomon and Pete Seeger were right.

I, for one, am not ready to let the summer go; I wish I could hang on for a few more weeks.  Until I’m sick of it myself and ready for the cool weather to begin.  For my kids to be gone for a while during the day.  For earlier bedtimes and ritual to re-enter our lives.  But I can’t, and I’m not.  Even the frequent evacuations due to poop in the three-foot area haven’t soured me on the place, so I’m making this ode to the Public Pool.  That miniature version of the outside world, in all its diversity and imperfection.

Here’s to humanity being brought together by chlorinated water and a diving board.

Here’s to that very word –


Ever So Glad

          I attended my 20th high school reunion last weekend.  Gulp.  When I was in high school I couldn’t imagine ever being old enough to have a 20th reunion.  I still can’t actually.  I was describing a woman to a friend recently and said she was “old, like in her 40s,” to which my friend replied with a laugh “Uh, you’re almost 40.”  Oh yeah; I forget that sometimes.  Because I don’t feel that old.  Because 18 seems like yesterday.  Until I take a few moments to really remember myself at that age.  So insecure, so uncomfortable in my own body.  Looking ahead to the next stage when I would go to college, get married, have kids, start my grown-up life.  And here I am fully engulfed in adulthood and a world away from that unsure young woman.
          I can’t think of one thing I miss from being in high school.  Zits?  My mom being sick?  Short-term, immature boyfriends?  Drinking til I puked?  Never having the most popular clothes?  Always feeling dumb compared to my uber-smart friends?  Pegged pant legs?  Nope, nothing.  I kind of came alive in college, as many people do, and even more after I graduated, got married, moved away, had babies and felt the fulfillment of my maternal longings.  That’s what really did it.  Being pregnant, giving birth and raising kids.  It made me feel like a woman instead of a girl.  Made my relationship with my body about more than the way it looked – it could make people, which was amazing.  And empowering.  My child-bearing hips didn’t just make jeans shopping suck.  They were, in fact, made for a purpose.  So, I discovered, they were beautiful.
          I walked into the reunion with the familiar butterflies of 20 years ago, wondering if I would recognize anyone, if they would recognize me, if anyone would care.  I went with my best friend, which helped – two women, nearly 40 but annoyingly submerged in our 18-year-old insecurity, leaning on one another for support.  Soon, though, I saw old friends, people whose very faces brought a smile to mine, people I hadn’t thought of for years but was happy to remember.  There were some I didn’t recognize at all, and many of the people I’d hoped to catch up with were absent.  But I didn’t have any zits, no one made me feel dumb, I had a sweet husband at home with the kids instead of a short-term boyfriend, and I wasn’t anywhere near puking, so all was well.  I quickly left behind my 18 year-old self and welcomed back the current Me, just fine with who I am and what life looks like these days.
          When I was fifteen I got a perm.  Oh yes.  A perm.  I’d had very long hair since I was little, with body but no curls since my two-year-old ringlets, and when I entered high school I decided I needed a change.  I chopped it off and permed it in one fell swoop which, in retrospect, was probably a little drastic.  I cried all the way home, and I never really warmed to my new look.  Not the best way to begin sophomore year.  And from then on it was curly.  A freak chemical reaction with my pubescent hair follicles?  The natural consequence of cutting off so much weight?  I’ll never know, but my hair remained curly from that day on, to my chagrin.  I still straighten it – you always want what you don’t have.  But seeing that perm in photos instantly takes me back to the way I felt when I got it, and every day of my high school career: ill at ease in my own skin.  Oh the blessedness of growing up.
          I left the reunion rejoicing in my life.  Glad for my family and friends, my health, my faith, the experiences I’ve had, the very block I live on.  The whole 38-year-old package.  I much prefer being nearly 40 to being 18.  My knees feel their age at times, and I can’t say I am excited about wrinkles, but I’m happy to have traded my young body for a more secure one.  As most do, I wasted that smooth skin and super stretchy cartilage on unfounded fears and worries.  I cared too much what people (as human as myself) thought of me.  I’m trying to help my kids see what’s great about them, even if no one else notices, but they are human too and will struggle to find their place in the world, just as I did.  As we all do.  I hope they will be able to avoid some of the drama – surround themselves with encouraging voices and ignore the negative ones.  I’m sure all parents hope for this.  I wish I could transport them to the self-assuredness of nearly 40, but I’ll just have to wait and see.  Pray lots, be an encouraging voice myself, and remember what it was like to figure Me out.  And be ever so glad I’m not in high school anymore.
20 Years Later
20 Years Later



          On our recent family vacation to Florida Marc and I listened to bits of a few audio books, one being The Secret of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler which gives tips on making family life work better, and thus, be more pleasant.  We’ll be implementing many of the morning ritual suggestions when school starts again in the fall. (For now we’re going with the “Get up whenever you feel like it and see what happens” plan for the summer.  We’re executing it perfectly.)  We also liked the idea of having a weekly family meeting to discuss what worked and didn’t work so well in our clan throughout the week.  But I think the biggest thing I took away from the intro and first two chapters was the importance of telling our family story to our kids.  In the book the author tells of a study done by two psychologists about how children deal with stress.  They found that “The more children knew their family’s history the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and more successfully they believed their families functioned.”  After 911 they studied the same families, and found the same thing to be true.  “The children who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress.”  Sounds good to me.  This is one child-rearing technique at which I should be able to succeed.
          Lily often asks me to tell her about things I did as a child, and I remember asking the same of my mom.  Even the smallest tale of summertime walks to the fountains on the KU campus, or where my brother and I went sledding as kids, or my childhood family vacations bring joy to her heart.  I loved my own mother’s stories of picking apples in my great-grandmother’s orchard, fighting with her brothers, floating on a raft at the lake on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  I didn’t know then that I was asking her to fill up my family-history tank so I could moderate stress, and neither does Lily.  I just knew I liked it.  Even the stories of mistakes and mess-ups were interesting to me.  In Feiler’s book he also points out that of the three types of family narratives – the ascending narrative (we came from nothing), the descending narrative (we used to have it all) and the oscillating narrative (ups and downs), the last is the most helpful.  The book states that “…children who have the most self-confidence have…a strong ‘intergenerational self.’ They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.”  I want that for my children.
          I have always had a solid sense of my heritage.  We have a hard-bound book on the history of one side of my family, and my grandmother on the other side was, until her nineties, a walking encyclopedia of the other half of my roots. I didn’t always appreciate this wealth of information growing up.  I took it for granted, thinking everyone knew that their great, great grandfather came to America in 1877 escaping religious persecution from the Russians.  That everyone had family reunions with hundreds of people, where the oldest generation sang hymns in German and you could view photos of the family’s first homestead.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, my teenage self thought.  But though I didn’t appreciate it, I felt grounded.  I didn’t know that my family history was a gift – to understand what came before and how it might shape my future.  How it explained me.
          I hope my children have the same sense of heritage.  I want them to know what our family is and was, so that they can decide what it will be.  They can continue the story with confidence and freedom.  Moderate stress, feel part of a larger narrative, know that the ups and downs of life are to be expected. So I’ll be telling and re-telling the stories of my past to my kids.  As much as they want, even when they don’t want, even when I’m tired and I’d rather not, even the parts that aren’t so pretty.  My husband and I will be the story-tellers until they can take over.  Until they see the big picture – the story arc of their ancestry – and begin adding the next chapter.
          Let the storytelling begin.

The Homestead
The Homestead

Golden Age

          The other night we were taking a walk with the kids – older two on bikes, Mae in the stroller, temperature warm and the breeze balmy – when I had an epiphany: this is an amazing time in life.  I voiced this revelation to Marc, and he agreed.  “None of them are  teenagers yet,” I said, “None of them are newborns.  Everybody sleeps through the night, they all still think we’re kind of cool.  They’re all cute.  This is awesome.”  As I watched my older ones pedaling ahead of me and my little one sucking her thumb in the stroller seat I felt content.  Right now is pretty fabulous.
          We’re leaving for our family vacation to Florida soon and I can’t wait for the warmth and concentrated fun.  We’ll pick up Luke from his last day of school and keep on going til we hit the beach.  17 hours of family road trip awesomeness, a week of beachy nothingness, then 17 hours back.  To some (maybe most) that sounds equivalent to torture, but I am thrilled.   There will be a few hiccups, yes – someone will throw up, or pitch a fit in a restaurant or fall off a bike and cry -or all of the above – but I can deal with that.  Getting away together, just us, is worth the headache of packing for a family of five, driving for three days and vacuuming sand out of the minivan for a week.  We did this last year – same town in the panhandle, same rented house, same beach – and it was one of our best vacations ever.  Not because it was void of problems, but because it was long, it was lazy, and it was time spent together.  There’s a commercial Marc and I saw recently on Vimeo that masterfully puts pictures, words and music to the importance of taking a family trip.  It’s for a travel company in London, so clearly they have an agenda, but they get it.  Those Europeans know the value of a holiday.  Here it is.  Watch, enjoy, and then keep reading…
          “Let this be a lesson.”  That wise little boy.  “Holidays are the most precious time of all.”  Yes, I’m quoting a commercial. But it’s more than that to me.  In fact I’m claiming it as my theme commercial for summer.  Never had one before, but it’s that good.  That’s how much I love it.  That’s how much vacations with my family matter to me.  Just yesterday Luke asked if I could play a game with him, and I said no, I had to put clothes away and clean the kitchen.  It was sad but true.  That’s what’s great about being away, or even on a staycation at home.  I can play a game.  “It’s time you stopped.  Switched off.  Forgot about time.”  Yes, it is.  I want to enjoy exactly what’s happening now – my family at this very stage.  And though I can do better about that in my every day experience, I can totally rock at it on vacation.
          Last night Marc had me read the last chapter of the book he just finished.  It’s called The Idle Parent, by Tom Hodgkinson, and from what Marc and the cover of the book say it’s about enjoying being a parent and how it will benefit your kids.  I haven’t read it, so I can’t give a review, but here’s the beginning of the last paragraph (sorry if I’m giving anything away):
                    I am now in the golden age of family life.  The baby years are over.  No more diapers.  Much more
                    sleep.  The children are now three, six and eight.  We have a few more years to go before the trials
                    of teenagers.  I have reflected deeply on family life, made many mistakes, and while I am still
                    confused, I am at least certain that I want to enjoy it…
Sounds familiar.  I am at least certain of that, too.  I’m so thankful for moments like the one the other night where I am somehow able to mentally step back and see my life.  And for a longer, extended pause in time to sit still with my family for a moment.  To squish sand between our toes, watch the clouds drift over the ocean, build a sandcastle,  play Go Fish and Uno, eat ice cream every single day, go night swimming in the pool, find out our fake Captain-Underpants-determined names.  Poopsi Wafflebuns – that was me last year.
          The Golden Age is here, and I’m ready to stop, and enjoy, and actually see what’s right in front of me.  Let this be a lesson.

These Clouds That Lie

         I wrote this one in college, but I still kinda dig it…
          It’s a chilly March afternoon, and the clouds seem to have settled into the piece of sky outside this library window.  They do not want to leave.  They are weary from travel and deem this a fine spot to rest their airy bones, so they have stopped and now hang in stillness over the city.  The wind has made them thin against the sky, carrying away the weaker members and leaving the most defiant ones to nap where they are.  The clouds have halted time, forbidding it to march on it its typical, pitiless manner, and this disturbs me.    It bothers me because it cannot be true.  As much as I long for a pause in the passage of time, a period to inhale and exhale at a casual speed, knowing I will end up right where I left off, i know that it cannot happen.  Time never stops, not even for a moment.  That is the reality.  These clouds are liars.
          I much prefer the honest, cumulous clouds–the fat, white billows of precipitation that grow and expand as they move.  They carry sunlight on their backs, and their bellies bulge with the possibility of rain.  These clouds tell the truth about time.  As they travel across the stratosphere, they depict the way life moves, constantly changing, looking lighter one moment and darker the next, depending on the atmospheric pressure and their position in the sky.  I respect their honesty.  When I was a child, I had a tendency to restrict my imagination to what I perceived to be “real life.”  When playing house with my brother, I denied his request to be a magician by trade, as that did not qualify as a real job.  And the few times that I convinced him to play Barbies with me, I fumed when he prompted them to do triple flips off my Barbie mansion, because that would not happen in the real world.  Perhaps this stole some of the fun of pretending out of my childhood, and from my brother’s as well, but perhaps it also prepared me for growing up and watching clouds, and knowing the difference between those that lie and those that tell the truth.
          A friend of mine who studied meteorology in college once educated me about clouds.  We lay on the grass near the pond on campus and he explained the different types.  I failed to retain the information, save that of the cumulous clouds I admire so much.  They are the clouds we watched that day, the ones that traveled over our heads slowly and put us in a nostalgic mood.  The end of another academic year approached, and we were relishing an afternoon in the slightly warm sun, avoiding our homework and loving it.  The clouds were alive and on the move.  They held the promise of the future in their gleaming crowns and the melancholy of another year gone in their dark tummies.  We knew time, and life, were passing as we watched the clouds leave.
          Today the clouds deceive.  They appear to have quit their journey, but in reality they have crept through the sky all along.  I took my eyes away for a few minutes, and now a completely different pattern covers the sky.  A moment ago there was a gap in the blanket of white to the far right side, but now that gap sits far off to the left, its shape contorted from what it was before.  The persistence of the wind has made the clouds look like the thinning, grey hair on an old man’s head.  A new portrait has been painted and I missed the process.  Time passed, but the clouds pretended it stopped.  This is their duplicity.
          My problem, then, is not the passage of time itself, but the tricks that time plays on us who live, to make us believe that life is not slipping away.  My heart stops when I think of how much older my grandparents seem now than they did five years ago, and how I didn’t notice their decline.  I hate that when I was ten I thought twenty would never come, and now I know that forty will come before I know it.  I ran through the sprinkler in summer with bare feet while cumulous clouds dotted the sky overhead.  I didn’t notice them then.  I knew only the cool washing on a hot day, when time was measured by supper and when the pool opened.  Now, suddenly, I am twenty-three, about to face “real life” and wondering where the time has gone.
          That’s what I despise about time — that it sneaks up on you.  Living in a place without seasons would be awful for me.  In Kansas you know when spring and fall have arrived, by the look of the trees and the feel of the air.  But in a seasonless place, like Honolulu or L.A., the years can slip by without a hint of their travel, and you are fooled into thinking that everything is the same.  The lazy clouds outside this library window enjoy their lies.  They crawl so slowly that you don’t recognize they’ve moved until the scene has changed.
          I have watched clouds from many windows.  I remember the sunsets I could see from my dorm room, coloring the clouds with flaming pinks and reds from dust.  I have gazed out of car windows at low, brooding clouds just before a storm in the western ends of Kansas.  Clouds of all sorts roll over the tops of the trees in my back yard, revealing the weather forecast to me before the rest of the city knows, and surprising me with their mood swings.  And now I sit in the library, surveying these flat, deceitful clouds and wishing they would be honest and hurry up.
          In two months I will have a college degree.  It will feel good to be finished after all the papers, and tests, and the mononucleosis.  But it seems that I just moved into my freshman-year dorm room, with the pink walls and the heater that knew no moderation.  I was just getting used to the lay of the campus, and mid-afternoon naps, and the blessing of late-night pizza delivery.  The college experience was mine, and it seemed timeless, wrapped in a protective saran from reality.  But now I am sitting before a wide-open range of possibilities, none of which include naps, and I am bewildered that five years have passed and I didn’t think to prepare myself for what comes next.
          I blame time with its quiet speed.  It blindsided me.  I should have learned from the clouds I saw that day with my friend.  They warned us.  But time’s deceit made me a fool.  I suppose all we can hope for in the passage of time is to find some sort of comfort in the steady hands of reality.  And when we look at clouds such as the liars in the sky today, we can call their bluff and anticipate that life will move and change, like fat, bright cumulous clouds that tell it like it is.

A Thud or a Blast

          I read E.B. White’s short essay The Thud of Ideas today, printed in the The New Yorker 9/23/1950, and holy smokes was it relevant.  Eerily so.  It is about the freedom of expression we have here, that other countries, such as Russia (yep), don’t.  About the letters-to-the-editor page of the New York Times, he writes,
                    …it…is one of the chief adornments of the society we love and seek to
                    clarify for the world.  The privilege of writing to the editor is basic; the
                    product is the hot dish of scrambled eggs that is America.
Even more so today – lots of ingredients have been thrown into the scramble since the mid-1900s – but we have retained the right to voice our opinions.
          White’s essay was a great read after such horrific events in Boston last week.  My initial response to the bombing was of course, sadness and anger.  There are some who can immediately move on to the big picture when a tragedy occurs – America can’t be terrorized, we the people will carry on, Bostonians are tough as nails.  But I have to say it takes me a while.  I’m stuck in the grief of the situation, the unsolved mystery of who’s responsible, the sorrow over violence in our world.  All gloom and doom for a day or so.  Eventually my hopefulness kicks in and I’m pointed toward heaven again.
          Then I can see the big picture.  I can recall that not all people want to kill everyone who disagrees with them, or even those who hate them.  That Martin Luther King Jr. made his point in peace.  That E.B. White highlights what makes America great: “We can safely leave Truth to the Kremlin, and can broadcast instead the splendid fact of difference of opinion, the thud of ideas in collision.”  I was hanging out with friends yesterday, talking a bit about politics.  We didn’t get too deep, but I know we don’t all agree on every political topic.  And that makes this place great – I can sit in a group and say what I want, knowing someone disagrees and that’s okay.  No one will arrest me for my opinions, no one them for theirs.  The men who apparently dropped the bomb-filled backpacks at the end of the Boston Marathon route, inspired by hate and malice, didn’t appreciate this.  A thud wasn’t strong enough – they used a blast to let the world know they had something to say.
          White’s essay begins “Americans are willing to go to enormous trouble and expense defending their principles with arms, very little trouble and expense advocating them with words.”  How true this rings today, sixty-three years later.  Same country, same problem.  I suppose you could read that and feel hopeless, thinking of how little progress we’ve made on the issue of violence.  But people are a stubborn, slow-to-learn group.  We have wars, tell lies, oppress others, act grouchy to our families, eat too many Christmas cookies, think that today we will be ready for work on time even though we hit the snooze button six times.  History repeats itself because, for all our intelligence – we’ve explored outer space, figured out how to replace a heart with a machine, learned that high fructose corn syrup is bad for you –  humans are dense.  But.  Sometimes something sticks.  Sometimes we make changes.  Sometimes we emancipate slaves. Sometimes we’re kinder to our spouses.  Sometimes we only hit snooze three times, and a chosen few learn to avoid the button altogether.
          In light of the hate that was demonstrated last week, I’m glad to have read this essay today.  White finishes with mention of Korea and Russia; the correlation between his world and ours is profound.  He writes that “…neither can unsettle this land whose citizens’ torments and hopes, big and little, are aired daily in the press.”  No matter the contempt that some feel for our freedoms, I’m thankful for the one that gives words power, and us the power to use them.  I choose the thud.  What a calm and lovely sound.
Thank you for this one, E.B.
Thank you for this one, E.B.

Deep Dark River

Written January, 2013
         This morning I felt a familiar weight bear down on me, like an unwelcome blanket in the heat of summer.  I woke up with it and knew today would be a fight.  The cloudy brain, the anger at tiny annoyances, the ridiculous outlook on life that makes no rational sense but feels so real.  Maybe it’s my hormones, maybe it’s because we’ve all been sick and stuck inside for a week, maybe it’s the winter blues, or maybe it’s a perfect storm of all three.  No matter, it sucks.
          “There’s a deep, dark river rising on the inside.”  I heard that in a Matthew Perryman Jones song today and nodded my head.  Yes.  I could feel the river rising, I was trying to swim for the banks, but my arms and legs were useless in the cold water.  I was sad, I was mean, I was the ugly version of me and I hated every second of it, but I couldn’t make it stop.  I had to leave the house – my sweet family – and try to regroup.  It frightens me when I feel like this.  When I can’t reason my way out of a downer, can’t swing my arms fast enough at the moving target of my sinking emotions.  When I feel so close to falling off the cliff.
          I hate feeling depressed.  Because you don’t know when relief will come, or if things will get worse before it does, or if every day after will be full of deep sorrow.  The minutes drag on and hopelessness sets in.  I have yet to lose a close friend or family member, so I’m sure I haven’t scratched the surface of true sadness, but I’ve felt enough of it to know I despise depression and fear it more than most things in this world.
          The only good I see from sorrow (unwelcome, even so) is the wisdom a person can gain.  I’ve witnessed it soften the hard-hearted, strengthen the weak, fill the judgmental with grace – mostly when the light at the end of the tunnel is somewhat visible.  But many don’t make it that far.  Some people become bitter or mean, and some get swallowed whole and never see the light at all.  I’ve seen that, too, and I don’t want to end up there.  If I have to suffer sadness, wisdom sounds like a better ending.
          Once in Hawaii – yes, Hawaii of all places – I felt the weight of true depression for the first time.  Marc and I were on vacation in Kauai.  This was before kids and in-between a job change within the non-profit I worked for in L.A.  It should have been a joyful trip, a mix of exciting discovery and welcome relaxation, but it followed a year of increasing sadness inside me.  My funk reached it’s climax while I was in paradise.  Terribly bad timing.  It felt strange driving around in such beauty, the top of our rented convertible down, balmy breezes blowing through our hair, knowing I should be happy.  But I wasn’t.  I was sadder than any rational thinking could explain.  A hole had slowly been dug in my heart for months and was now hitting bottom.  In freaking Hawaii.  I touched a hot plate at dinner one night and burst into tears that didn’t stop for fifteen minutes.  We drove through Waimea Canyon one afternoon – like a smaller version of the Grand Canyon, full of color and astounding views – and I cried the entire time.  My whole body hurt.  My brain felt cloudy.  At times I couldn’t imagine not being sad.
          I don’t remember when I started the climb back up to normal after our trip, but the worst was over.  I remember that.  Starting my new job was wonderful.  I felt purpose again and was surrounded by co-workers instead of being isolated off-site.  But it didn’t explain the total rebound I experienced.  Maybe my hormones were out of whack.  Maybe I needed a good cry over a hot plate.  But whatever the reason for the descent and eventual return, I don’t want to go back.  I have not worked through this one yet.  I would be glad to never experience that hopelessness again, no matter what it teaches me or the great artistic material it provides.
          I know that’s an impossibility, though.  Like today’s weird state of mind, I will find myself in the dumps occasionally.  Possibly for an extended period of time.  But the good news is that each new day is exactly that.  New.  Thank goodness.
          So really, this new year is full of promise.  The light of it might be a tiny speck in the distance, but it is there.  I may have to squint to make it out.  I may have to pray and reach beyond my own brain for help.  And I may need a few hours away from my sweet but loud children to write, ingest caffeine, and be alone.  Today, they would all agree.  I will certainly face a day like this one again, and I hate that.  But at least I can remember that when my strength and reason and serotonin are gone, hope is not.  As my mother and grandmother always say, “This too shall pass.”  That’s wisdom gained from years of the same hard, sad stuff of life.  The longer I live, the more I understand it’s quiet strength.

Rightly Considered


Written March 24th, 2013
          We just returned from a week-long trip to San Diego and Los Angeles for spring break and went from 75 degrees and sunshine to 35 degrees and snow.  Our bodies had started to think it truly was spring and relished the welcomed warmth on our skin.  And then, this morning, I scraped ice off the windshield for ten minutes.  Blech.  An hour later I read an essay by G.K. Chesterton about re-thinking inconveniences.  The best quote, which I’ll be writing on a sticky pad and placing on my kitchen window to glance at as I do the dishes, is this: “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.  And inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”  From a flood in his neighborhood in London to chasing a hat, he turns each annoyance on it’s head and looks at it from the other side.  From the perspective of a child at one point…
                    For instance, we often hear grown-up people complaining of having to hang about a railway
                    station and wait for a train.  Did you ever hear a small boy complain of having to hang about a
                    railway station and wait for a train?  No; for to him to be inside a railway station is to be inside a
                    cavern of wonder and a palace of poetical pleasures.  Because to him the red light and the green
                    light on the signal are like a new sun and a new moon.  Because to him when the wooden arm of
                    the signal falls down suddenly, it is as if a great king had thrown down his staff as a signal and
                    started a shrieking tournament of trains.  I myself am of the little boys’ habit in this matter. (On
                    Running After One’s Hat)

          Marc and I should have read this essay before we left.  We could have used the kids’ perspective in two long days at Legoland, or in our five-hour rush-hour trip from San Diego to Pasadena, or when Mae puked all over herself just before we reached our friends’ house but after we’d eaten at In-N-Out.  Actually, I’m not sure how to make that an adventure.  She was miserable and thrown-up hamburger is just gross.
          Marc and I are pretty good at going with the flow.  We deal well with the inevitable craziness and not-as-we-planned-it ways of a family vacation.  And of life in general.  After three kids, we let most inconveniences roll off our backs, but I can’t say we’ve actually reached the point that we enjoy them.  That we look at what would generally be frustrating events as adventures.  We can get over them quickly, but things like leaving our very expensive train passes on the Shinkansen in Japan, or losing Marc’s wedding ring in central California, or getting lost from one another at an enormous outdoor market in Bangkok (and me trying to plan how I would get home to America without my presumedly dead husband) – these things did not fill us with child-like wonder.  They made us argue.  And freak out.
          I remember driving through a blizzard to my grandparents’ house at Thanksgiving when I was five or six years old.  We got stuck in a snow drift at nightfall, and my dad had to walk to the nearest house (not so near in rural Nebraska) for help.  My brother and I were understandably nervous, snuggled up in a blanket with Mom.  “This is an adventure!” she said with enthusiasm.  “Oh,” I thought.  “I guess it is.”  And then it was.  I don’t remember it as scary.  I remember it as exciting.  I’m sure we got cold, I don’t remember how we got out, and my poor dad probably didn’t think it was thrilling, but it sticks in my mind as a fun experience from childhood.  Because my mom knew to make it that way.
          When we were getting ready to leave L.A. Luke said he wanted to live in California.  Legoland had a great deal to do with it, but also the weather, the excitement of being somewhere new, the ocean, our friends’ kids he met, and seeing the place he was born.  The whole thing was an adventure for him.  Southern California is an inconvenient place – the traffic, the smog, the amount of people, the cost of living, the traffic.  But he didn’t see those things.  Or he did and just looked at them with a kid’s eyes. He and Lily have a game they play in the car imagining they are racing all the others on the road (yep, G.K. Chesterton was right) that they played on our trip, too.  It was just a bigger race track.  A super slow one at times, but that didn’t ruin the experience for them.  If you ask me what I remember most from the trip, it’s the bad cold we all caught, the puking, the traffic, and then the fun stuff.  But if you ask the kids, it’s only the fun.  They had a grand adventure.  I could learn a few things from my children and G.K. Chesterton about rightly considering inconveniences.  Life would be a lot more exciting if I did.

Long View

     Real Simple Magazine is having an essay contest, asking readers to write about their biggest regrets in life.  This got me thinking about the subject in some depth.  I know that it’s a popular view to believe in “no regrets” – that it is what it is, and you wouldn’t be the person you are now without the mistakes you’ve made in the past.  In and of itself this is true.  However that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look back and evaluate.  That you can’t have insight into your past and weigh it against what you know now.
     My biggest regret is made up of a thousand tiny regrets, a thousand tiny choices I made as a child and adolescent, to not try new things, to not try hard enough.  I look back and see the experiences I missed, the things I could have done that would have made me happy, or more well-rounded, or more involved with life.  I missed so many opportunities because I let fear hold me back.  I wish I had stayed with dance as I grew up.  I took ballet for six years, and was about to start pointe.  And then I quit.  I was bored and lazy and didn’t know to try another form.  I wish I had tried out for basketball and volleyball, but out of fear I didn’t.  I refused to take piano lessons as a kid.  My parents tried to tell me I’d regret it, but I was sure they knew nothing.  I, on the other hand, knew that Who’s The Boss reruns were totally essential.  Good thing I listened to me.
     When you’re a kid, you don’t take the long view.  You take the right now view of things.  I looked ahead a day or two and saw the fun I wanted to have, or the boring things I wanted to avoid.  I didn’t want braces because in the short run it would be ugly.  Now I wish I had put up with metal mouth for a year or two to have straight teeth forever.  In the long run, that’s a pretty good deal.  So many little regrets, when added up, equal one big wish-I-woulda.  One big life lesson: take the long view.  I’m not sure I could have done that as a kid, but maybe?
     My seven year old son, Luke, and I share many of the same fears.  Trying new things, especially things that go really fast, is at the top of the list.  We talk about our fears sometimes – what they are and how to tackle them; he knows this is going to be one of his challenges in life.
     Last summer we made a trip to Silver Dollar City.  He was scared to go on the ubiquitous log ride, so I made him a deal.  If he would ride that, I’d ride the biggest roller coaster they had.  And he’d get a treat.  He rode it, saying “I hate this, I hate this, I hate this”  the whole time.  He got Dippin’ Dots for his act of bravery.  I went on Wildfire with five loop-de-loops and got a stomach ache for an hour.  But he saw me taking on something new and scary (I hid the sick feeling afterward) and he later told me he was glad he tried the American Plunge.  “Next time I bet I won’t be as scared of it,” he said with hope in his voice.  We worked on our fear together, as a team.  Because I regret mine and I’d like to help him overcome his.  It’s that simple.  He doesn’t see the long view, but I do now.  I’m trying to give him a glimpse.
     As an adult I decided to try modern dance.  But my body wasn’t as bendy as before.  I’d had a baby, my balance was wonky, and I could only go once a week.  By the time I realized life is short, it was too late.  A professional dancer I would never be, but I enjoyed my class for what it was – a chance to do something I loved while I was still able.  I played basketball as a grown up, too.  On a team of women of all ages with all sorts of reasons for playing.  Again, I wasn’t amazing, but I felt the adrenaline of blocking a shot.  In. Your. Face.
     I had learned my lesson.  I took the long view.
     Regret is a gift.  Wishing you could take back the insult, the lost opportunity, the time you threw up in your shoe after a high school party (I admit nothing) spurs you on to better things.  But you can’t stay there.  It does no good to sit and wallow in the mistakes you’ve made.  Regret is a teacher; It is a useful tool, but it is not a way of living.  The wisdom that it gives brings promise for tomorrow, if you can use it for your good and for others’.  That’s the blessing of regret.  The hope in the middle of the sadness.  So until the long view is no longer possible, I’ll be looking back, taking stock, and being thankful for second chances.

Early Morning

     On an early-morning walk with my kids, I was scrolling through my playlist for something to shake off the sleep, and Lily said “Why are you listening to music?  Don’t you want to hear the birds singing?”  Well then.  Of course I did.  I took the headphones off, put the ipod in the cup holder of the stroller and listened to the birds.  And to Luke and Lily talking the entire time.
     I should know by now that trying to listen to music while on a walk with my kids only ends in frustration, on my part and theirs.  Because as soon as Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ makes me happy to be awake,  I will begin the every-other minute routine of taking off the headphones to hear what they are asking or telling me.  About what the neighbors are doing in their back yard, why there are cracks in the sidewalk, how the rainwater drainage system works.  Until I take the headphones off one last time, with a huff, and give up.  It never ends well.
     As is normal of late, Mae pooped at the break of dawn, so she and I went on a long walk to let the others sleep.  I popped the headphones on, knowing that this time I would actually be able to listen since my third child knows the virtue of peace and quiet.  I know I’ve played a part in this, and in the fact that the other two are chatty at all times.  When Luke and Lily were babies I would have felt the need to treat the walk as a lesson in nature, or sing songs, or just comment on the weather to stimulate their brains.  Thus the constant question asking of my older two now.  But I’ve learned my lesson and just let Mae think about whatever her baby brain wishes.  She knows how to simply take things in, without commenting on it all.  She only says twelve words, so that helps.
     I started off with some Mindy Smith to ease into the morning, then switched to Jonsi to get things moving, and by the time I got to his third song I saw a bird.  I thought of Lily.  I was missing everything.
     I took the headphones off, put the ipod in the cup holder and listened.  Instantly, everything opened up.  It was as if I had been in a tunnel of noise (great noise, but…) and was suddenly let loose into the open expanse of the day.  I noticed things.  Crickets chirping, dogs’ chains jingling and their toenails clicking on the pavement.  The cool breeze.  How had I not noticed that before?  It has been 100 degrees for two weeks, so a breeze after ten in the morning is like a blow dryer.  But this was lovely.  Lovely, I tell you, and I had missed it altogether.
     For the rest of the walk I took it in.  The early risers jogging, the bunnies hopping in the grass, the dude with hair in his face who walked in slow motion and creeped me out.  It was great.  I was alive and here and part of it.  Of course I also noticed the dog poop, the old shirt left in the park, the small animal guts next to the sidewalk covered in flies.  Those things were there too, and taking it in meant including them in my day, but that’s reality.  The bad with the good.  The guts with the bunnies.  The real right now.
     My walk today hasn’t made me swear off music when I exercise.  Sometimes the music is what gets you going, or keeps you going, or helps you forget about the real right now for a bit.  Sometimes you need that.  And sometimes it’s good to go on a walk with your kids, fully knowing that they will be talking the entire way.  To give them that time, your brain, your responses as a gift of engagement in their lives.  That’s necessary, and even fun.  But there are also times that you need to be quiet and notice the world around you.  When I saw that bird, I knew today was one of them.  And my sweet baby didn’t make a peep.  Just sucked her thumb and drank her milk and enjoyed the day right along with me.