November 6, 2015
by Tricia
1 Comment

Being vs. Doing

“When you offer a moment, you offer a piece of yourself.”

~Rachel Macy Stafford

hands together

A mischievous smile creeps across her face as I cross through the kitchen. I can see the purple balloon in hands tucked behind her back. Her entire body vibrates as she bounces onto her toes, though I can tell she is trying to stand still. She loves surprises, this one, and more and more she loves the silly, the goofy, and the feeling of a light heart. It’s in these moments when she truly glows. I can see the life in her, her creativity blossoming. I can see a long line of relationships strengthened by her desire to keep those around her smiling.

As I walk closer her excitement tumbles over just before she hurls the balloon at me and dissolves into a peal of uncontrollable giggles.

I have a choice.

Before her smile and the balloon and her giggles, I was on my way to another of the many tasks I cram into these 15 afternoon minutes. Between school and ballet I clean up breakfast dishes, prep afternoon snacks and dinner simultaneously, and try to return some order to the house that has settled into a mess since breakfast. If I’m lucky I can get a jump on lunch packing and tomorrow morning will run that much more smoothly. Being able to productively exploit these minutes was part of the trade-off I struck when I made this part of our routine. I bring her home so that she doesn’t have to change in the ballet studio changing room (which she hated doing) and I don’t loose productive daytime minutes (which I hate doing). Presto: efficiency.

But I didn’t account for her needing help pulling on her tights.

Or for her bringing home a new book and being unable to breathe another minute until she cracked its spine.

Or for her asking me to sit next to her while she snacks.

I certainly didn’t account for the balloons.

Life with small kids requires so much Doing. It’s Doing that puts lunches in lunch boxes and turns dirty clothes into clean ones. It’s Doing that fills backpacks with homework, library books and permission slips and it’s Doing that makes it possible for her to go to these ballet classes. It’s Doing that makes this home comfortable and cozy and comforting when we all return to it at night.

And Doing feels really good. I swear sometimes I can feel a satisfying click when I cross off a to-do item and man do I love that click. And when I reach the end of these 15 afternoon minutes and see an empty sink and a clean kitchen counter and a living room ready to welcome my people, it just feels so darned good.

Doing feels so good, in fact, that it beckons us. Just one more thing, it promises. Just five more minutes. Think of how many things you can cross off in five minutes! Just keep going. Doing knows its physics. It knows an object in motion stays in motion and it doesn’t want us to stop.

But then there is Being. Being is far more subtle. Doing likes to call Being unproductive and dress it up as a waste of time. Doing likes to needle us with how empty Being looks on a page. Being doesn’t show up on a line on our agenda.

But Being knows that none of that matters. Because Being shows up in more important places. It treads ground that Doing never could. Being shows up in the way that afternoons spent side by side on the couch with heads bent over the same book and legs entwined beneath blankets, adds another thread to this lifelong relationship. Being shows up when I curl up next to them at the end of the day and ask about their favorite moments and they tick off several that include me.

The choice between Doing and Being is rarely easy in the moment. And that afternoon was no exception. Standing in my kitchen with a balloon at my feet, a sink still full of dirty dishes, a little girl whose mess of hair needed to be organized into a bun, and just five minutes left, the choice was real.

I bend down and pick up the balloon from the floor, still deciding. And then I hurl that thing back at her. Her giggles trail her around the house as I dash into the playroom for more ammo.

“I swear I could read her mind – not her present mind, but her future mind. I could practically hear the words she would say to herself one Sunday afternoon as she drove home from the grocery store or while she walked her child to school or while she stared at the ceiling counting useless sheep.” ~Rachel Macy Stafford

My girl won’t remember the sink or the breakfast dishes or how often boxes of toys littered our playroom floor. But she will remember those balloons and the story of this afternoon is the story she’ll tell herself.

~~~~~

handsfreelife_lived

Almost two years ago, I read Rachel Macy Stafford’s Hands Free Mama and it forever changed the way I think about moments with my kids. This Fall, Rachel released her next book, Hands Free Life and her words continue to shape how I think about time with the people I love. Thanks to these books, I think much more about the tug of war between Being and Doing. Thanks to these books, I think I make the right decision far more often. And thanks to these books, my relationships are far stronger than I dreamed they could be.

October 1, 2015
by Tricia
3 Comments

A life with margin

kids in swing

I’ve been quite ragged for three years.

For three years, every day has felt rather unpredictable. As though the hours between breakfast and bedtime might throw anything at me. And by anything, I of course don’t mean physical things like balls or socks or pillows (although…). And I also don’t mean expected things like illness or conflict or struggle (and still…).

I mean the unexpected things. I mean the needs that smash into each other in the very same nanosecond. He needs water, she needs shoes, he needs to know where the socks are and I need a cup of coffee all very, very stat. You can’t prepare for four simultaneous and spontaneous needs, no matter how many hours you spend setting up your morning the night before. And I mean the neediness. He needs to cuddle with me while I read a story while she needs me to cozy up next to her and color and I need to revise an article and I love to multitask but even I know that I will neither color nor read nor revise very well if I am trying to do all at once. And I also mean the loud. The shrieking and the shouting and the desperate attempt to be the loudest, to win by the very nature of the fact that only one voice can rise above the rest.

For three years, I’ve lived a life without margin. Every little thing so tightly squeezed onto the day’s page. Flip to tomorrow and it looks just the same. Running from one appointment to the next, squeezing phone calls during my commute, writing headlines in the grocery store check out line, making to-do lists while she colors and he pushes trucks. I’ve had library fines so large I may as well have just bought the book, forms turned into school so late that they came dripping in apologies, and laundry that has laid wrinkling in my laundry basket for days.

And I’ve become a pro at saying ‘no.’ No I cannot volunteer. No I cannot help out. No we cannot make it to that event. Saying ‘no’ is supposed to be a thing that is hard but, for the past three years, it has come to my lips quite easily. And, I suppose, at least there’s that. At least I knew enough to not try to squeeze more margin out of this inky page.

But now. Now is the moment I held onto at the height of that raggedness. On the nights when I’d fall into bed overwhelmed by the things on today’s page that never got done and would have to be carried over to tomorrow’s already very full slate, I’d dream about now and the freedom of space. I’d dream about filling the center of the page, covering only from this red line to that one, and then admiring those inches of white space on either side where I could smile and laugh and cuddle and maybe even breathe or think. I’d imagine what it would feel like to have time to myself again to fill up between my times with them.

Of course, in my imagination, it was glorious. In my imagination, my life easily separated into paragraphs that would fit neatly on the page in the blocks I set up for them. No run-on sentences would wind from one to the other. I’d fulfill work obligations during work hours, writing my headlines from my desk. And I’d fulfill family obligations during family hours, actually coloring next to her or pushing a truck across the floor myself without a pen or a phone in my hand.

Waking up on the days you only used to dream about can be a bit unnerving. It is one thing to say, “When I have more time, I am going to write more and think more and be more. I’ll do yoga and breathe and find new clients and write this book and do all the things I’ve been dreaming of doing for the last three years.” But it is always a completely different thing to do it. Adjusting to a life with margin not as easy as you think it should be. It’s hard to not rush through work because your muscles are programmed to move while they can. It’s hard to not reach for your phone or your pen or tick off to-do items in your head at all hours of the day and night because your mind was programmed to forever be ticking. It’s hard to sit for five minutes and be still, and breathe, and let the words come to you rather than rushing them out by force because stillness is just something you dream about, not something you experience. It’s hard to not say ‘no’ to the volunteering and the events and all the rest because in your brain, the page still looks quite full.

So this is where I’m at. All this quiet  felt eery on day one, actually throughout all of week one, but now it’s starting to feel quite cozy. This big space to spread out still feels a little scary, in the way that big spaces always feel big and scary until you fill them. And what a gift to be able to fill them as I choose.

September 14, 2015
by Tricia
2 Comments

Shifting

kids and bike

“Mommy!” he squeals. His eyes light up. His cheeks get puffy in a way that looks slightly stiff. Muscles engaging that have lied dormant all day long.

I lift him to my hip and his arms clasp tightly around my neck. As I talk with his teachers, trying to fill in the blanks since his curls last tickled my shoulder (hours I’ve spent praying that those blanks are filled with more than just tears), he continues to squeal, though more quietly now, right into my ear as if he is sharing a secret between just the two of us. “Mommy!” My name seems to flow from his mouth without effort or thought, fueled by an intoxicating mixture of delight and relief. He squishes his face against my cheek as if to squeeze apart the distance he’s felt for hours.

“How was your day, bud?”

“I cwied and cwied and cwied por you Mommy.”

~~~~~

She breaks into a smile when we finally lock onto one another across the huge and crowded space where I feel awkward and unsure and, honestly, quite lost but where she already walks around with a comfort and a confidence that looks brand new and also perfectly placed. The air smells like school in a way that I haven’t experienced in years, decades, and I push through random childhood memories as kids swarm around. She runs towards me and I pick her up instinctively, long, lanky, almost six-year-old legs stretching down to dangling feet that reach my knees. She is somehow still so easy to lift, very likely because she wants to be lifted and she knows she is too big now. So she makes it easy on me.

I can tell by her bounce and her lightness that she has smiled today. She has laughed. Her eyes have ignited, a half dozen times? A full dozen? More? I’ll never know for sure but I’m becoming better at deciphering her afternoon mood, deconstructing it and then piecing it back together into a picture of her day. She’ll only share pieces when I catch lightening in a bottle, usually right before sleep. But I am so anxious for details I can’t help myself from digging as we clasp hands and walk to the car.

“How was your day, love?”

“Good.”

“Second day better than the first?”

“Yeah!”

~~~~~

I worried about them both as these days approached. But I worried about her more. Brand new school. New kids. New routines. Leaving something so amazing and comfortable behind to launch into something new and completely unknown. I expected her muscles to remember the way they clung to me back when she was three and small. I expected drop offs to be hard, the way they were then. I prepared myself for weeks of struggle and tears and intensity of emotion. She is my small one. My quiet one. My one who is slow to adjust and jump in and sparkle. I can’t keep up with the pace of growth, so much so that I’ve almost given up, so I prepared for the little girl she used to be.

~~~~~

“I don’t want to go to school!” he wails as I set his breakfast in front of him. “I cwy por you.” He moans as I pour another cup of coffee. I pull him onto my lap and I spoon Cheerios into his mouth because in an hour he’ll have to be big and brave but here he can always be my baby. I manage to distract him for a bit but when it is time to go he demands to be carried. Everywhere. So I do. With him on my hip we help sister into her backpack. We gather our things while I struggle because he, too, is too big to be carried. He is heavy and I’m embarrassed to say that I get winded by the weight of him. But his whining hurts me and I know he will spend the day in sadness and that breaks my heart. So I ignore the mud stains on my pants in the place where his feet bounce against my legs and I hush the pain in my arm and we trudge along.

She is ready and by the door. Complaints about carrying her things have disappeared and that backpack with the butterflies and the flashing lights finds a happy home on her shoulders. She even climbs into the car with it all on her own and I swear it’s a morning-routine miracle. First grade, I admire your work so far.

~~~~~

It took three days for me to realize I had prepared all wrong. Three days before I realized I was investing my time in the wrong place. Three days before I even began to shift. And then, of course, the shift had to be slight. Slightly less attention on her, less worry, less preparation. Slightly more on him. But not too much shifting. Can’t mess up her good thing and can’t smother him either.

~~~~~

He sobs as I unbuckle his belts and lift him out of the car. His head burrows into my shoulder as we walk and I know they can already hear him coming, down on the playground. He sobs words into the air as if he believes that they will have the effect of taking us both home. “I don’t want to go to school.” “I don’t want you to leave.” So I kneel next to him and I tell him to squeeze. And he does. I squeeze back and cover his wet face in kisses. His teachers are so sweet and he walks willingly onto the playground, no peeling him off of me like we used to do with his sister. But he is still sobbing.

~~~~~

As we walk away from the gate, his wails only becoming slightly less loud in my ears as we go, I pull in gulps of air. “I love this school.” I breathe out, thankful for the people and the familiarity and the way I know he will be so very cared for until I come back.

“I don’t” she replies lightly, “because I don’t go here anymore and I like my new school better.”

Her words knock me over but I instinctively smile. I know she still loves this place and always will. But here we are on day three and her sights have risen to the new heights she is traveling towards. She’s walking there bravely and confidently and actually she bounces more than walks. And I worry about them both a little bit less.

August 12, 2015
by Tricia
5 Comments

No silence these days

“Remember when we used to wonder what he was thinking?”

boy in window

I make this joke all the time, these days. I make it so much it’s not funny anymore. Maybe it never really was and my friends and family have just been humoring me. That’s ok. I think I’ve earned it.

These days, our home is louder. Much louder. Sometimes, even, higher pitched. Lively, yes. Chaotic, you bet. I mean it when I say there is no silence. Because one of us is no longer silent. One of us has a voice and thoughts and ideas and needs. He’s always had these things, of course. But now he’s not afraid to use them. Share them. Explode with them.

These days he and I have conversations in the car on the way home from camp drop off. These days he tells us about his day during dinner and shares what he is thankful for at bedtime. These days I answer the most impossible of questions (Why is it raining? Why do cars not fly in the air? Why can’t I eat cookies all day long?) and find myself in the most impossible of arguments. These days people look at me with eyes as big as saucers when he opens his mouth. These days I hear a lot of, “I can’t believe how much he’s talking!”

These days are the days I spent last year wondering if I’d ever see. Or hear, as the case may be.

And I should be clear that these days still aren’t perfect. Obviously. These days I don’t always understand what he’s saying. These days I breathe deep for patience while he struggles to get his words out as we’re late on our way out the door. These days I get flustered by his frantic need to say all the words. The way he fumbles and sometimes screeches. These days conversations with him sometimes leave me feeling like I just got off a merry-go-round gone wild. He is so excited to use his words that sometimes he hurls them on top of everyone else’s and my brain can’t take the overwhelm of inputs (and certain big sisters can’t take the way attention sometimes splinters). These days he does fight with his sister for air time and there isn’t so much a squeezing of stories and needs and wants as there is a big jumble of them.

These days, there are new challenges. There is potty training. Moving to a big boy bed. Getting ready for preschool. Learning, continually, what it means to be a four-person family now that all four people can fill the airspace with thoughts and ideas. And these days there are still old challenges. There is refining and encouraging and work. He, we, still have work to do.

These days my struggle is that I am just fine with the way he talks. Yes can be yesh forever as long as I’m concerned. Pia instead of pizza? I love it. Hepacopter, pire truck, these words make me smile. And when he wants to waffle in my ear, my heart melts. (He means whisper, of course). I see no problem with any of it. I’m delighted that he forms these words because my heart is still bruised from the days when he couldn’t. It is still novel to hear his ideas and answer his questions and volley a conversation back and forth between us. I feel giddy every time it happens, as though I’m living a once-in-a-lifetime moment every single time. These days my struggle is that I forget we should all want more.

But, of course, we should. The reason we took his speech delay so seriously to begin with is because we want more for him. But, for now, I’m just happy to be here. Even if here is a little loud.

~~~~~

linking up with Lisa.

August 3, 2015
by Tricia
1 Comment

The tear-inducing magic of tidying up

dreses

I was folding my shirts into rectangles of approximate drawer height when she appeared in the doorway.

“Hi my love. I’m organizing my closet.”

She paused, looking at the clothes piled on the floor. Then she smiled. “I want to help you!”

Technically, it was against the rules. But despite evidence to the contrary, I kinda like breaking the rules. So I finished folding my tops and began to explain The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up to my five-year-old.

“So here’s the deal. I read this book on how to organize my closet. You start with tops, which I just did. What do you think is next?”

“Probably bottoms!” she said with a giggle. She was right. So we dragged every skirt and pair of pants I own into a pile on my closet floor.

I explained the art of joy-based decision making and she immediately understood because if there is anything a little girl can understand, it’s joy. She gave herself the job of pile making and she named them. Happy pile. Sad pile.

As one pile became two, I began to think the rules were wrong. Her sweet, “But does it bring you joy?” every time I lingered over a pair of pants I haven’t worn in years helped move us along. We were onto the next category in no time, tumbling every dress and jacket I own into a pile at my feet.

“This one,” I said, holding a striped maxi dress that just doesn’t fit like it used to, “it used to bring me joy. But it doesn’t anymore.”  I handed it to her for the sad pile.

Her eyes grew big. “But I like that dress!”

“I did too. But it doesn’t really work for me anymore.”

We moved on until a gold satin dress rose to the top. “This dress has brought me so much joy!” I said, hugging it to my chest, “I’ve worn it to so many big occasions.”

“You wore it to the wedding!” she said. ‘The Wedding’ is the only wedding she’s been to in her short life.

“I did! But I don’t really like to wear it anymore. It brought me a lot of joy but I think we’re done.” Her face fell as gold satin landed in the sad pile.

When every item had been sorted, she helped me toss the sad clothes into a bag. But when we got to those dresses, she stopped for a final plea on behalf of  gold satin and stripes. I walked her through the goodbye ritual I’d read in the book. We held each dress and thanked it for it’s work, for the joy. I thought the ceremonial goodbye would be good for us both.

But she burst into tears.

I reminded her what we were doing. “We’re just cleaning up, and some things will go. These dresses brought me joy but don’t anymore. And that’s ok. They can go bring someone else joy now.”

“But they bring me joy!” she wailed through her sobs.

So I broke another rule. I let her take the dresses. They now live on a couple of hooks her closet.

I sometimes forget how much of my children’s lives are wrapped up around me. Not just the things I say and do, though that’s where I put so much of my focus. The knowledge of how my words and actions mold their lives is what holds my tongue when I’m about to say something I shouldn’t. It’s the inspiration for all of the good words that leave my lips. But I forget that so much of their worlds are also made of the tangibles of me. The dress I wear on a regular rotation all summer, the blankets I curl up under in the winter, the t-shirt that is my favorite lazy day uniform. These make the fabric of their worlds. They have favorites among the things I wear and they tell me so when I wear those things. They’ve begun dye threads with memories.

And, of course, I can’t blame them. I’ve saved a box-full of baby clothes for each of them. Not every outfit that ever graced their floppy bodies but the pieces that hold a special place in my heart for one reason or another. The outfits they wore home from the hospital. The dress she wore on her first Christmas. The pajamas that he lived in his first days at home. These things bring me joy when I hold them, smell them, look at them. Seeing that bit of lace peeking out of the box or running my hand along the soft fleece calls up those early memories better than anything else I know. I rest that onesie in my lap and suddenly I can feel how small they used to be, how new they were. I can smell their milky breath and see their big eyes flutter to sleep. Sometimes we need that clothesline back to moments past.

mommy shoes

She’ll probably never wear those dresses. In a few months she might forget why she wanted them in the first place. They might eventually make their way to the donation pile. Or maybe not. Maybe she’ll keep them. Maybe she’ll never wear them but she’ll keep them simply because they remind her of me. Because when she runs her fingers along the gold satin she’ll travel back to the weekend we drove to the beach for a wedding, just her and I, and she’ll feel sand between her toes. And when she wraps those rainbow stripes around herself, she’ll remember summers of long dresses and she’ll smell the grass and see bubbles floating in the air and sidewalks covered with chalk.

And she’ll feel joy.

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