January 28, 2015
by Tricia
11 Comments

This strange January feeling

snow angel

snow angel

I can’t get started.

It’s that winter feeling. That feeling of the second and third and fourth weeks of January when the glow of new starts and freshly written resolutions has started to fade beneath inches (or feet) of snow and layers of sweaters and socks that fail to warm against the cold. It’s strange that all year I ache for the quiet and the calm and the clear calendar that January brings so that I can focus and reflect and write. And then when January gets here, the quiet and the calm and the clear calendar make me want to leap out of my skin.

It’s also strange to me that I find myself here, in this place, every year. The bigness of the plans I make and dreams I commit to overwhelms me until I can’t even get a word on the page. The weather never helps. Just one week with a consistent schedule, the predictability that helps my fingers do their thing, could set me straight, I swear it. It’s hard to focus when you’re perched on the edge of a fleeting hour in which to write before the TV show entertaining the kids will end and they will, once again, beg to make cookies or play in the snow. It’s also hard to focus when you’d much rather be cozied up in slipper feet dropping chocolate chips into sugar and butter than staring at a blank screen.

I’ve started this post a half dozen times in the past several days but just can’t seem to get it going. So now I’ve resorted to the thing that all writers do as a last-ditch effort to remove the block. I’m just writing. Without editing or thought or inserting ideas about where I hope this will go or what it will do. Because it won’t go far but what it will do is remind my fingers that January will end in a matter of days and we have to keep moving forward. That this strange feeling of wanting and trying to reach but not being able to lift my arms above my head will pass when the month changes and we can feel a little bit of momentum into the year, closer to spring. I’m just writing and I will just publish not because this is the best thing I’ve ever written (you feel that pressure too, sometimes, right?) but because it needs to get out and make way for the next which, also, will not be the best thing I’ve ever written but we’re going somewhere as soon as we remove this block.

It’s this strange January feeling I’ve got right now. And with decades of Januarys behind me, I believe I’m finally giving into it. Finally not berating myself for the difficulty I have dealing with the strangeness. Finally just saying yes, it’s January and it’s strange right now. But next week we’ll be hanging hearts from the ceiling and powering through the shortest month of the year on our way to days when the sun shines for longer and the grass grows brighter and we can wiggle out of the strange place ready to take on the world.

~~~~~

Linking up with Lisa for One Word Prompts

January 27, 2015
by Tricia
6 Comments

Paradise

sunrise in the winter

There is a calm there, over the hill, where I believe paradise lies. There is a calm filled with the most beautiful celebration of noise. Laughter and sounds of love ring out into the clear, still air. The sky is mostly dark but light at the edges and I can’t tell if it is dusk or dawn. And I don’t really care. Because I love both just the same. Dawn with its freshness, the light bursting with new and possibility, it sparkles with everything in the world that could be. And dusk with it’s low hum that soothes and calms and quiets the bustle into low lights and slow bodies. I’ve always loved both dusk and dawn equally, always longed to capture daylight’s first moments and it’s last as often as I can. And I’ve always been drawn to both chaos and calm. Celebration and reflection. And I didn’t realize, until now, that these polar opposite loves are related. They are the same.

I didn’t realize, until now, that dusk and dawn are where my paradise lies. Where dawn brings in the day with a party of possibility, showering down a confetti of sunbeams, a dazzle for my sleep-laden eyes. And dusk soothes my soul and my day-weary muscles and plays a sweet lullaby, a soft farewell to the day as the sun dips below the horizon. And in between the two is life, where the dusk and dawn, chaos and calm, battle it out, not a fight, not violent, but a playful tug of war for each moment before it passes.

Of course, what must follow is the realization that my paradise is not a far away place. It is not there over the hill that I feel I’ve been climbing forever with still no view of the peak. It is here. It is now. Right here, this place from which I gaze at the sun and its movements across the sky, is my paradise. Because we are always living in either chaos or calm. Always edging towards dusk or dawn.

Of course, paradise is a thing that can only be seen from a distance, isn’t it? I don’t remember my love of dawn when my son cries out well before it. I don’t recognize the gift of a front row seat to the sun’s rise into the sky. No, I dread the early hour and grumble about sleep and how badly I miss my bed. And I don’t remember my love of chaos when the children are running and yelling and playing and their joyful noise feels harsh as it hits my ears. I don’t savor these moments or see them as sounds of laughter and love. I retreat to the quietest place I can find.

But in between, I remember. The quiet, pre-dawn moment feels soft in my hands as I turn it over and over as the sun arches overhead. And the chaos tastes sweet in my memory as I recall the hints of beauty spread out before me. And eventually, if I keep looking and working and climbing towards this paradise, I’ll be able to see it up close and here.

~~~~~

At the end of 2014, I signed up for Jena Schwartz’ self-paced writing course. I got 10 writing prompts to spend 10 minutes on each across 10 days. And I haven’t finished them all yet but this one spoke to me and what I found on the page when my ten minutes were up on this day felt like something I wanted to share. So here it is. If you’re looking for inspiration to put pen to paper this year, sign up for Jena’s course. It’s been a wonderful thing for my writing.

January 22, 2015
by Tricia
16 Comments

Growing Together: He is Me

growing together

I’ve always believed that each of us has more than one soul mate walking the planet at the same time. Because things change and life is fragile and souls need to find their matches.

I’ve also been delighted to find out, since beginning to write and live online as well as off, that each of us has more than one kindred spirit. More than one person who gets us in this quiet subtle way. Who seems to be walking our path and stopping at the same trees and flowers and moments so full of thought and emotion at just the same time.

Dina is one of those people. Almost without fail, I’ll be feeling or thinking something and then turn to her words, be they on Twitter or her blog, and find her pausing at the same thing. So I am delighted that she is here today, sharing a beautiful story about her and her son. If you’ve ever felt that you are parenting a smaller version of yourself, this one will speak to you. Enjoy Dina’s words here and then go visit her at her Commonplace.

~~~~~

He Is Me

DSC_8604

His wailing cries echoed in the hollow staircase and bounced off the closed bedroom door of his sleeping baby brother.

“It’s not faaaiiiiiirrrrr….” Over and over, he cried. No, it wasn’t. I had accidentally deleted an apparently epic recording of “Down By The Bay” that my oldest son had just sung into a discarded iPhone. Instead of helping him name the voice memo, I’d hit an errant key and it was gone.

Once, as a senior in college, I lost the majority of a lengthy take-home exam. It was a 24-hour open book thing in one of my most challenging Philosophy courses. I’d been working on it straight since picking up the prompt at 9am that morning. It was 2am the following day when it disappeared. It was due in 7 hours and it was gone. I went numb. I worked hard. I wrote brilliant words on British Empiricism never to be seen again.

It wasn’t fair.

Weeks later, from the rear of the minivan, my son asked how we can get it back. The voice recording. The finality of the ‘delete’ key was still lost on him.

He asked again. And then again.

Upon his second or third meltdown, I bristled and hardened, anger bubbling up beyond reason. I’m sure I shouted, and I’m sure it was loud—I was irritated; he needed to move on.

And just as swiftly, I collapsed, softening with a sympathy that can only come from intimate familiarity, deep understanding.

He doesn’t let go easily.

We go through erasers like candy, because “I don’t like when it’s wrong, Mommy.”

He won’t move away from the bullies on the school bus because “that’s my seat.”

He is determined. He is headstrong. He is passionate. He is fixated on fairness.

He is me.

I often wonder if it’s easier or harder to parent a child so much like you. For me, it’s eye-opening. Every day, I face a mirror that requires a reaction. As parents, we make split-second decisions; we act without forethought. We harness instincts we never knew we had. And in grasping daily at answers for my son, I find that often, we share the same questions.

As I muddle through motherhood, I’m often mystified by how little I’ve changed.

I’m still the awkward middle school girl who trips on every curb rather than sails through the hallways of preschool pickup.

I’m sentimental to a fault, saving every scrap of paper that comes home with my children from school (for now).

I get irrationally incensed at minor injustices—always the little things—like half a bag of air where there should be chips, a typo on the school newsletter, or homework over the holidays.

But now I’m the one my son turns to with searching eyes. I’m expected to stay steady, speak with reason. To believe firmly enough in the ways of the world and our place within it to teach these to him.

Back in college, after losing the bulk of my take-home exam, I pulled it together. I arranged scraps from rough drafts I’d sent to a classmate earlier in the night (this was permitted). I brewed more coffee and feverishly filled in the gaps. I raced to the printing stations in the campus center, found a stray stapler, handed it over to the professor 10 minutes before the deadline.

It wasn’t fair. Things often aren’t. But we learn to cope. With disappointment, imperfection, a life that’s all too often beyond our control.

Our children grow, and we grow right along with them. And also, we don’t. In many ways, we stay the same. We are who we are, after all. We simply get better, savvier about fitting our idiosyncratic piece into the world’s puzzle.

~

One morning, he slept late. We were all jet-lagged from a trip to California over winter break and this was the first day back to school. His bus would be here soon, so I gently tiptoed into his bedroom to wake him. I pulled him up out of bed and held him close. For a moment, his head rested on my chest, the fingers on his left hand splayed at the base of my neck. Like when he was a newborn.

“Let’s go, Mom,” he suddenly spoke. He’s always been quick to rise.

I carefully touched his feet to the floor, and he took off ahead of me. I paused to steady myself and recalled that he’s been adept at this walking thing for years.

Soon we were standing together at the front doorway looking out for the bus. I crouched down to his eye level.

“Are you ready?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Well, we haven’t had school in a while.”

“I know,” I offered, “It always feels funny in the beginning. It’ll get better once you’re there and are a few hours in.”

He dutifully trod out in the cool dark morning. I stood behind, gutted but hopeful. That he’ll find his way. That he’ll know how to respond. How to face whatever crosses his path.

We are all learning—still learning—every day, how to walk through this world that stretches out beyond and all around us. How to find our footing, steady our steps.

At least in this way, we’re walking together.

~~~~~

unnamed-3

Dina Relles is a lawyer, writer, and mother of three young sons. Her essays can be found in The Atlantic, Brain, Child Magazine, Literary Mama, Scary Mommy, The Huffington Post, and elsewhere, as well as on her own site, Commonplace. She loves connecting with other mother-writers, drinking coffee, and people-watching from her front stoop. You can find her on Twitter @DinaLRelles.

January 21, 2015
by Tricia
11 Comments

When motherhood felt magical

For some time now, I’ve been looking back, wistfully, to the days when motherhood felt magical.

boy with umbrella

Not that it was ever all pixie dust and unicorns. I don’t have to tell you that it’s really never been that way. And my memory has a way of tinting every moment with just the right shade of sepia and the right hue of rose to make even the toughest times glow with a beauty to which the present day will never compare. That’s human nature, I think, a self-preservation mechanism that helps us continue to put feet to the ground and eyes to the sky. It’s oh so crucial for parenthood.

But when I wipe away the filters of memory, I’m still left looking back on days when the balanced tilted noticeably more towards magic and away from reality. The days when I had just one child, only one little person needing and wanting and demanding all of my attention. The days when I left my house to go to work everyday and came home to be a mother everyday and I could keep a nice, dark, thick line between the two. The days when motherhood was new and milestones were new and I had the time in my life and space in my heart and attention in my mind to notice the smallest details of those milestones, track the micro-movements towards them, and celebrate each individual accomplishment, no matter how small. And then the days when mothering siblings was new and the world burst with possibilities for a budding new relationship and all of the things our little family of four, finally complete, would be. The days before school and forms and policies and schedules (and friends, and playmates, and birthday parties, and after school activities (and on, and on, and on)) crowded the margins of our world so fully that they eventually spilled over and swarmed the whole page with responsibilities and obligations. The days before we needed two sets of child care. Before we doubled the numbers of doctors and appointments. Before everything just simply grew and it didn’t just double, it quadrupled.

kids at the park

Those days, when motherhood felt magical, were simpler. They were easier. And even when I wipe away the sepia, I forget that they didn’t feel so at the time. That, in those days, all of the challenges of new parenthood were as new as our school and schedules feel today. That, even in those days, there were decisions to make that I felt completely unprepared to face and new worlds to plan for that were completely ambiguous.

Yes, today is more complicated than those days I’ve been aching for. But those days were not the simple breezes I like to think they were.

Still, I’ve been letting these feelings and this ache for a simpler time ground me on a path that feels dull and unavoidably burrowed in reality. Motherhood has not felt magical for quite some time. It has felt like to-do lists and disciplining, yelling and corralling, making and cleaning and fixing and starting every day all over again in all of the senses of that phrase that are drudgery and none of the ones that are renewal. For some time now, I’ve been feeling that I’ve lost my motherhood spark. I’ve lost my zeal for this life that I really do love when I can look past the complexities that would be there regardless, just in different form.

At first, I just gave into the situation. I simply accepted that this time is challenging and there is nothing to do but live through it and wait for the other side. I had faith that there is another side and enough time and movement will get us there, to where the things that are challenging today slow down and subside or become second nature and I can once again forget about big decisions and all the what-to-dos and what-is-bests and focus simply on laying in the grass with my babies beside me or curling up on the couch for an hour of stories and pictures. I’ve been waiting for the day to come when I have nothing more to do than to breathe in my children and their pixie dust and wrap myself in their magic.

handprints

Of course, that is the unicorn. The mythical day when everything is sorted and the time is there and readily available for the taking, rather than demanding to be a product of the making. That day does not exist in my future. There will always be a decision to make, a plan to formulate. To live with intent as I have vowed to do this year (and every year to come), I’ll have to think and choose and do.

So what about the magic? Is it lost forever, to be packed away with the the high chair that we just booted from the kitchen and the crib that will soon follow?

I don’t think so. Or, at least, I’m not ready to believe so. Not just yet. For now, I like to think about that motherhood magic as I do the receiving blankets that are still scattered around our house. We’ve kept most of our receiving blankets from our two sets of newborn days. In the years since we’ve swaddled a human, they’ve served a blankets for babies and bears and monkeys, not to mention capes and sarongs and shrouds to conspicuously hide toddlers. I pick them all up every so often, wash them, and believe that I’ve packed them all away in a dress up box somewhere. But then one turns up. At the bottom of the hamper. Snuggled under the couch. It just appears out of nowhere, it seems, and before I know it I’m turning it over in my hands and remembering when I could tuck tiny feet inside it, as those feet thunder through the house. And then one of my children comes along and snatches it from my hands and suddenly, it’s found itself inside playtime once again.

For now, I’m deciding to believe that the magic is still there. I just have to look for it and hold onto it when it happens along.

~~~~~

It’s one-word prompt day. I chose ‘magic’

January 14, 2015
by Tricia
11 Comments

Bored

lego time

She never actually says the word. And good for us all that she doesn’t. Because the words that come next, from me, have been plotted out in my brain for years. Most of the things we believe about parenthood, the ways we plan to be as mothers, the ideals with which we’ll raise our children, fade as reality makes clear what dreams do not. But on this topic? On this one I have not wavered. The word ‘bored’ is not to be uttered in my presence.

Nevermind that our shelves are stacked from floor to ceiling with toys, a sight that causes my eyes to ache almost daily, because oh, the clutter. I don’t even have to point to the plethora of materials at her fingertips, just waiting to be maneuvered and transformed. Because the size of her imagination rivals them all. She knows it. I know it. And she knows I know it. So she rarely tells me that she is bored.

feet and playdough

Instead, she’ll occasionally utter, “I don’t know what to do.” Call it a matter of semantics but I’ll take “I don’t know what to do.” over “I’m bored.” any day. Not just because it doesn’t grate on my ears the same way. But because, to me, it conveys something different. “I don’t know what to do” tells me that she knows she has options. She knows there is a whole world of possibilities and, though she stands a mere three feet off the ground, she knows they are all within her reach. She knows that the moment she takes a first step, she’ll be doing something and the minutes will fly by like seconds. She knows there are always things to do. She just can’t choose. Her brain is still forming and she needs help with the planning. “I don’t know what to do.” is a statement I can answer with a reasonably sized list with just a couple of options to make the selection easier. We do a lot of toy-related decision brackets in our living room.

I’m bored, on the other hand is a two-syllable white flag of defeat. It is a declarative statement that opens no doors, requires no response. It conveys to me that she has given no thought about how to fill her time or what she feels called to do and she’d rather that someone just plop an activity into her lap. (And she’d prefer that activity to be watching TV). I’m bored is not a planning problem. It’s a motivation problem. It’s a problem of refusing to engage. It’s a problem because I refuse to do the work for her.

Parenting is, of course, a long game. The trick is to think ahead to what today’s lesson does for tomorrow’s life. What am I teaching her now that will help her years from now when she is working, living, thriving on her own? I’m, admittedly, bad at this, partly because I much prefer to live in the current moment and partly because I don’t want to spend much time thinking about the days when she lives under her own roof. But years from now she will start a new job. She will want to impress her boss who will probably give her scant details and vague instructions and expect her to get started on her own, ignited by a fire she lights. And when that day comes, I want her to have no idea where to find a white flag of defeat. I want her to take a stand, recognize the options in front of her, and engage.

~~~~~

Linking up with Lisa for One-word prompts. I chose ‘Bored.’

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