Looking for Signs of Life

A brown curled claw
skittering along the ground

Singular movement amidst
the frozen expanse of pavement

Only when you get close enough to see the fingers,
knuckles scraping the rocky surface,
can you distinguish the knobs of an oak leaf,
stem protruding like a tail

Propelled by the wind

a legion of birds wrapped in wing
a chipmunk
a squirrel,
a lizard scampering by

All alive according to the eye

But in this cold raw place between snow and spring
dry, brittle leaves are all that dance
born on the rhythm of weather patterns and wishful thinking

One Big Blob

The past few weeks have been a little trying. Our family seems to be on the cusp of something big. I can only say that now after these last few weeks. In the midst of running, running, running, it was all I could do to put one foot in the front of the other – or shuffle them along. I knew things were crazy, and was reacting accordingly, but I didn’t know why.

Now I wonder if my elevated stress levels and difficulty in calming them were not a direct result: my subconscious reaction to what my conscious self wasn’t ready to admit was a huge deal.

My five year-old, in her last year of preschool, more and more frequently laments the fact that she cannot ride the bus to big-kid school like the others. She wants to stay at preschool and eat lunch with her friends. She’s ‘reading’ books to me and asking how to spell different words.

My seven year-old is coming into her own, blossoming with independent applications of math reasoning she’s learned at school. She reads books aloud with an expression well beyond her years and worthy of an audio recording. She’s requesting and engaging in social interactions and activities – on her own.

My nine year-old has joined two after school activities, doubling her previous involvement. She is in her last year of elementary school; her last year of recess; her last year of riding the bus with her sisters. She is looking longer and leaner every day.

And me? I am nearing the destination of days full of adult time. All three of them will be in school full-day next year. I will be free to . . . earn the money we’ve sorely been missing since I’ve been at home? Write my way into posterity? Query until they can no longer say no?

I haven’t been gazing longingly at this point in time as the end all and be all. But it hovered like some kind of talisman – a time when, my life would go back to normal? When adult life (ie working, I guess) would resume? When I’d be able to exhale that breath I’ve been holding since the first labor pain of the first child?

And though my mind has set up the first day of the next academic year as the first day of this new life, I’ve finally realized that we’re all in the transition to it now. My five year-old is prepping to be the big girl – already a little too cool for preschool. My seven year-old is branching out in social groups – excited and a little less apprehensive to do so on her own. My nine year-old is claiming activities and beliefs as her own – independent from her parents and sisters.

Friends, acquaintances, and other parents always asked what activities my kids were in. I always thought I saw some semblance of shock when I answered, “None.” We didn’t do adorable dance classes at three years-old. We didn’t do t-ball, and soccer, and gymnastics, oh my. They never expressed an dire interest in any of these things and my husband and I never pushed it. There was plenty of time for that – and they would determine the time.

The time is now.

We may have avoided the cost and inconvenient schedules of such activities up to this point, but now it’s on. I’ve started the taxi-driver lifestyle I’ve avoided thus far.

It hit me like a ton of bricks last week when I rushed to finish an on-line Girl Scout leader training, compile fund raising monies, feed the kids dinner before we rushed to a Girl Scout meeting, dress them in Halloween costumes for a Girl Scout Halloween party, babysit one of their classmates, see my husband, help (nag) the kids to finish their homework, steal Halloween candy they’d acquired before even Trick-or-Treating, talk to my husband, smear their faces and hair with foul chemicals to turn them into unrecognizable ghouls for Halloween and rush late to another party after peeling countless tangelos to make festive pumpkin snacks – all while suffering from a compound case of sleep deprivation and PMS.

Unbelievably, it took me awhile to realize why last week was so hard for me to handle. Any week has the potential to be miserable. But when the everyday congeals into one big blob of ‘life is about to get a whole lot more complicated’, sometimes the blob is so frickin’ big it takes awhile to digest.

My girls are growing up! As wistful as I was watching them walk away from me for the first time, leaving them in the classroom alone for the first time, hearing ‘Mom’ instead of ‘Mama’ for the first time, those were mere speed bumps compared to this swift elevation. I have entered the ‘Mom, could you drop me off at so-and-so’s’ part of motherhood; the ‘Mom, pick me up after school’ part; the ‘We’ll be done at 4:15, Ma’ part; the ‘But I want to eat lunch with my friends, Mom’ part.

In addition to my ambivalent mom underbelly, I also have my own personal fears to fight. I’ve been home exclusively since 2008. The thought of returning to my previous job, even if I could even secure it, makes me want to vomit. Launching the totally exciting, yet daunting new idea I have for employment makes me want to seize. Not only am I being forced out of my old ‘job’ with all these developments, but forced into a totally new one.

All of our times, they are a-changin’. No wonder the woman, mom, worker in me is revolting.

from Blue-Cat00

from Blue-Cat00

Unintentional Hiatus

 

My month-long series on maternal mental health ran up to the end on a high-note. It organically happened that I took Sundays off (which happened last year, too, I believe) and I missed one Monday. But the second to the last day of the month led into a multi-day outdoor assault – my own family’s feet on the rocky outcroppings of a letter-boxing trail and my husband and I splitting wood like the lesser versions of Paul Bunyan that we are – keeping me away from blogging for much longer than I anticipated.

Shouldn’t have been a big deal, missing that last day of the month, right? Wouldn’t have been – save my anal-retentive perfectionist tendencies and overbearing need to summarize. I couldn’t post any inane essay on my pre-series schedule before concluding the series. And life was ratcheting up, not allowing me to sit and form any cohesive set of thoughts.

My youngest’s preschool program finished for the year, also ending those blessed two and three-quarter hours of writing time twice a week. Some of it had also become crush tortilla chips while surfing the web after writing time, but it was alone time nonetheless.

image from Peggy Lampman

image from Peggy Lampman

Perhaps the biggest challenge to my settled psyche, however, is the change in schedule itself. I can hear the words of my wise LICSW repeating in my head, telling me the beginnings and endings of school years are transitional times for everyone in the household. I still try to tell myself it’s no big deal, but apparently it is. Yes, we’ll all be liberated from hectic mornings and rigid schedules, but we’ll all have to get used to spending all day everyday with each other. None of us will have freedom from each other. No alone time. No individual activities. No uninterrupted playtime with friends – be it other children or corn chips.

Then it started raining. I half-heartedly set myself to chipping away at the piles of laundry and dishes that had accumulated whilst we frolicked with sharpened woodland tools outside. And I went and read this amazing – in its content, expression, and ability to scare the bejeezus out of me – article about motherhood that messed with my already fragile state of juju (which may, in fact, become the starting point for the summary posthumous post of my series).

So I’m here. In some state of transition. But aren’t we all. God damn walking the tightrope/balancing life again. Isn’t there just some set state of equilibrium I can have installed in my inner ear?

 

Swinging into Home

It’s true that you wake up one morning and suddenly realize you’re a different person.  In the midst of the transition, you’re usually at the bottom of some pit, miserable, whiny, and thinking the end will never be in sight.  But even when you’re able to say definitively that a change occurred, you still can’t pinpoint exactly when it did.  It just happened at some point and now things will forever be different.

view from the top

We put up a swing set in our backyard.  It was a grand neighborhood adventure.  We purchased it from a neighbor whose children had outgrown it, but who had kept it in fabulous condition.  He organized its transport to our yard, two houses over and one up.  I met a neighbor – and his much-appreciated motorcycle-turned-tree-house-trailer – that I never had before.  Two other neighbors brought their children to play and watch with mine while they helped the other men.  The seller and his son stayed on to help my husband finish assembling it while the kids called to them, saying hello and ‘can we go on it yet?’  Many hands make light work and I was so appreciative of their efforts and how happy they made my children.

After the excitement died down and just our three children swung and my husband and I surveyed the scene, I realized it.  I realized our life is forever altered.  We are different people here.

But in a totally positive, wide-open way.

We ask for and accept offers of help from our neighbors.  We relax on our porch and watch the trees blow in the breeze.  We have places to sit and read, whilst our children do some other activity nearby.  We have spots on the floor perfect for laying out vintage matchbox car tracks complete with loop-de-loops.  We have hooks for towels.  And room to swing around in the bathroom without smashing into some manner of porcelain.  There are dormers and transoms and skylights and fanlights.  There are angles and peaks, nooks and crannies.

Our entire perspective has changed.

The neighbor who sold us the swing set said it still feels like vacation even after living in his home for nearly two decades.  The light, airy feeling of vacation is nice, wonderful indeed.

But looking at that swing set to the profile of our home beside it, I realize this plot of land, this place and time we’ve landed in is a dream come true.  The realization of some nebulous idea I formed as a child.

Suddenly and unequivocally, this is home.  I can’t say exactly when it happened, but I can now say with certainty, we are home.

It never is a straight path ;-)

It never is a straight path 😉

Scene from September 14

The first time we viewed this house, our realtor said she could picture our girls climbing all over this boulder on the property.  Mere seconds later, their little bodies ranged all over it.  She apologized for jinxing us!  After removing several trees from the yard and only recently removing the leftover wood, the girls rediscovered it and, today, turned it into their canvas.  Remembering that first day and seeing how they’ve made it their own, I can’t help but see the cyclical quality of this year’s passage and how our little corner of the world becomes home.

Calcium carbonate comes home

Calcium carbonate comes home

Scenes from September 3

The first day of school dawned misty and mournful, just like the groan that came from my daughter’s bedroom as the alarm’s buzzer issued.  But the drive in was filtered by sunlight and these moments of clarity on the way home.

bridge

Bi-way

trees

I loved the way the trees and various shades and textures of green filled the frame

waterfall1

Time flows on, just like water, but there is the moment just before the plunge; the pause, the reflection, the leaves poised on the brink. And then the plunge.

Liminal and Beyond

“The Waiting Place . . . [a most useless place]

for people just waiting.

Waiting for a train to come or go

or a bus to come, or a plane to go

or the mail to come, or the rain to go

or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow

or waiting around for a Yes or No

or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting.

 

Waiting for the fish to bite

or waiting for wind to fly a kite

or waiting around for Friday night

or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake

or a pot to boil, or a Better Break

or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants

or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.

Everyone is just waiting.”

As I was waiting for the will to write a positive blog entry today, these lines from Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go rang through my head.

I’m waiting.  For the end of PMS.  For the washing machine to finish its cycle.  For an expected tradesperson to show up.  My husband to come home from work.  My children to stream up the stairs and into the corner in which I’m hiding (which took one more line of typing, by the way).  For this new place in life to feel ‘normal’, to reach some sort of stasis.

Well into On Moving by Louise DeSalvo now, I’ve read about “liminal life – the life that is neither here nor there . . . These difficult-to-live-through interstices, I’ve read, are necessary for growth: the psychic spaces where the old self is shed and the new one begins to develop (DeSalvo 72).

A few weeks ago, I said that I felt I could become my authentic self in this house.  I didn’t realize how much the move would shake things up though – both our physical possessions and my own psychological foundations.  Everything can’t feel just as it did in the other house, though, because then I’d fall into familiar routines and frustrating ways of being.  Now’s the chance to fix things that are broken.  Discard things that are hindrances.  Create new ways of living and doing and being that improve our life, not just get us through it.  I wouldn’t have done that in the comfortable nest of my other home.

On the flip side, I cannot ignore the pieces of myself that will remain no matter where I am, those rituals that will follow and sustain me wherever I go.  DeSalvo said, “I’ve been waiting to ‘settle in’ before I start writing.  But writing will help me ‘settle in’.” (DeSalvo 88)  Just as there are certain beloved objects that will travel from home to home and comfort with their mere presence, so must I make time to practice these rituals that will soothe me.

I cannot wait for everything in my home to be set up perfectly before I roll out the yoga mat.  I cannot avoid writing until the perfectly appointed writing desk sits in its nook.  I cannot avoid ‘living’ while I run through my unpacking/set-up list.  If I ignore those foundational elements of myself that will indeed make anywhere I live a home, the window of liminal time will close and this chaos will become my life.

No more waiting.

This is not ‘the waiting place’.  These are the living rooms.  This is home.  It’s time to start feeling it.

Next Stop: Transition Town

Ironically, the section of the book I’m reading right now is all about transitions.

To ease the transition of moving for our children, I gathered a thematic collection of books to borrow from the library:

  • Fred Rogers’ Moving (classic – right down to the 80s fashion in the photos!)
  • Mo Willems’ City Dog, Country Frog (we are going from city to country – though I didn’t expect the heartbreaking twist!)
  • Our House by Emma and Paul Rogers (inspired my daughter to suggest leaving a time capsule; guess it translated my idea of legacy and different chapters in life)
  • Moving by Michael Rosen (the cat giving his family the cold shoulder b/c of the move didn’t quite get across the positive vibe I was going for, but I guess it shows that even ambivalence can be won over with food!)

As I sifted through the on-line card catalog, I extended my search to books for me.  I think originally I was looking for books on the logistics of moving, tips and tricks.  Maybe.  Who knows?  I’m all over the road lately.  But in any event, I found two titles that sounded interesting.  The first, Moving On by Sarah Ban Breathnach, caught my eye because I’ve had Simple Abundance on my shelf for years.  I figured the universe might be giving me a nudge if I was seeking books on moving and here was one by the woman who first introduced the idea of a gratitude journal to me.  Though I know her other title to be more of a self-help, for some reason I expected a memoir on the rigors and epiphanies of moving.  There are personal anecdotes, but it’s also about finding one’s true home regardless of physicality; being comfortable with one’s space in the world regardless of where she calls home.  The idea of home and making the space within those four walls enjoyable is tackled, but it’s really more about letting go of excess baggage to make room for that enjoyment.

Ha, ha, ha.  So funny as my days are filled with purging and packing.  I am totally in limbo.  This home no longer looks like my own as the boxes begin to outnumber the intentional home décor.  My new home is still occupied by someone else.  So I’m hanging out somewhere in the ‘twain’.  I can’t do any of those exercises she suggests for finding what works about your home because I don’t know which one to focus on!  I know the chaos that surrounds me right now certainly isn’t working.

So I get about halfway through this book and reach the section on transitions.  A major thrust of it is that we actually make these difficult times even harder for ourselves by refusing to let go, go with the new flow of things, honor the past and appreciate the future.  Who, me?  I hate change.  There are some people who have wondered if I want to move.  Yes, of course.  And another scared, change-hating part of me, says, this is so freakin’ hard.  I lay in bed one night and realized I’d have to leave the blades of grass I’d stenciled onto the walls of our first nursery (affectionately known as the grassy knoll).  So between the stress of actually making the move a reality and the mental and emotional preparation, I probably do come across as a little ambivalent at times.

But not because I’m not looking forward to settling in our great new house and setting up shop, exploring the community, meeting people.  It’s just because I’m apparently really good at setting up roadblocks on the way to transition town.

And so this is where another highly appropriate quote from Moving On comes into play.  Ban Breathnach shares the words of Mary McCarthy, who says,

“There are no new truths, but only truths that have not been recognized by those who have perceived them without noticing.”

Ha!  If that does not describe me in nearly every aspect of my life, I don’t know what does.  How often have I relearned something I’d already known?  How often have I ignored what needed to be done though the answer was staring me in the face?  Human frailty, I suppose.  That damn weak free will.  We know what’s best and yet take the easier, more convenient, if insanely repetitive and possibly destructive, path.

I know I need to focus on the amazing truths on my doorstep.  A rich life lived in this beautiful little house with many pleasant memories to pack.  A lovely, airy, hope-filled home waiting for us to fill it with sights and sounds and silliness.  I know I can be my authentic self there.  I know this transition will make me stronger and truer.  It’s just a hell of a lot easier to feel it when you’re at the other end of the journey.

 

In a somewhat related vein, the other book I chose to read is a memoir: On Moving: A Writer’s Meditation on New Houses, Old Haunts, and Finding Home Again by Louise DeSalvo.  I have yet to read it.  I’ll let you know what epiphanies that unveils ☺

What books have helped you and your children make a successful transition when moving?

This House is My Baby

Three years ago, I was in the midst of the maelstrom known as kitchen renovation while designing my own dream space in utero.  In a house too small for three children and no money to move, we decided to do what we could about the logistics of our life.

We messed them up even more.

We ripped out the kitchen, thinking a more streamlined area would ease prepping and feeding three little mouths.  Streamlined is not a word to describe a kitchen reno or raising three children.

Demo started one month and one week before my due date.  Anal retentive to begin with and unknowingly suffering from a fledging case of postpartum depression, my list-making, obsessive planning, and futile attempts at control began.  I created calendars scheduling every detail.  I pushed my father-in-law to speed things up.  I perpetually pissed off our floor installer for constant e-mail updates.

I wanted that kitchen done before the baby came.  I needed running water to clean bottles and babies.  I needed the nasty mastic under the formerly linoleum floor covered up so any residual dust wouldn’t assault my newborn’s fragile airways.  I needed life in some kind of stasis before all hell broke loose.

How a finished kitchen would have prepared me for what happened in the delivery room and beyond is beyond me.  But I felt that some measure of control over my physical world would provide me some sense of control over everything else.  Well, I may not have known that then, but I can certainly see it now – especially since I’m trying to do it again.

Nearly three years to the day after the first pull of a crowbar in our kitchen, we’ve contracted a purchase and sales agreement on a new house.  Gorgeous kitchen aside, we’ve reached the limits of this house.  With one daughter just starting kindergarten and another young enough to make the switch to a new school hopefully not too traumatic, it seems like the perfect time.  Well, sort of.

With interest rates historically low, causing a backlog in bank closings, and a seller who has a cat with special needs (don’t ask), getting into this new house in time for the first day of school is becoming increasingly difficult.  And I can feel the anxiety ratcheting up as a result.  I can feel that nag mechanism gearing up for e-mail assaults on my realtor, unrealistic expectations from our loan officer, and an overall sense of unrest at the universe’s apparent disregard for my wishes.

Every fiber of my being is screaming – make it happen!  It must happen!  You have to get these kids in that house so they can find a home for their lunch boxes and a place to lay our their clothes for the first day of school, make a dry run to the bus stop, and get a feel for that new place as home before they have to figure out a new school, too.  It’s mommy guilt and good planning and type-A personality all rolled into one.  It’s also unrealistic.  Well, sort of.

If I felt any different, I wouldn’t be myself.  I just don’t roll that way.  And it’s coming from a desire to have the best for my children.

It also feels incredibly familiar.

Since 2004, I’ve been pregnant in two and a half year cycles.  When my youngest passed two years and seven months, I realized that was the oldest I’d ever had a child without expecting the next.  And I held my breath for the next three months.  No child number four, but we still embarked on a tumultuous endeavor: this whole house-buying thing.

This house has become my baby.

Apparently I cannot live through a two and half-year cycle without giving myself something to obsess about until it comes to fruition.  But while I see the parallels between my behavior now and then, at least there’s no such thing as post-house-buying depression – not until the first mortgage payment is due anyway.

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