Saturday, August 16

On being away from home and turning sixteen: a letter to my son

Dear Josh,
 
I missed your sixteenth birthday.  I'm sure you recall - or maybe it wasn't so bad because you spent the whole day with your friend watching movies.  Godzilla and Guardians of the Galaxy, you've said.  It's no surprise to me that Godzilla was your favorite of the two.  That atomic green monster holds a special place in your heart.

It was very difficult for me to be away from you when you crossed this threshold in your life.  I remember turning sixteen, being sixteen, and wondering when I would feel like I was actually sixteen.  When I was sixteen, I went and found my first job, I started driving myself around, and I pretty much felt like I was in the wrong skin.  I'm only now, at 37, beginning to feel in the right skin.  Or at least comfortable with the skin I'm in.  But you - well, you don't seem to have a problem being you.  I can't explain how very happy that makes me feel, how very reassured.  Because it can be really hard not to like yourself.  When I see that you do like yourself, most of the time, I feel like maybe I didn't totally screw this mom thing up, like maybe - somehow - despite all the missed moments, raised voices, frustrations, and mistakes, I did okay (so far).  Like maybe, after all, loving you was enough to make up the difference for what I've done wrong.

Sixteen marks a turning point for me, too.  I can feel the clock ticking now, drawing you ever closer to the edge of my nest.  Your wings are almost too big to keep folded and you're testing them out, stretching them before the big leap over the side.  You're almost through high school and you're planning and waiting to serve your mission.  You're driving sometimes and taking more responsibility for your actions and health.  You're taller than all of us, by far, and still going.  Your voice has gone deeper, your eyes more thoughtful, and you've started planning your first date.  At times it is hard for me to resolve the two pictures of you that I hold in my mind: the you that once fit in the hollow of my arms, and the you that can now hold me in yours.  And it's wonderfully bittersweet.

This week, off on my own taking care of other people's kids, I ached inside for my children.  For your sweet, silly self and your sister.  For the arguments and teasing, for the messes and noise.  A week away from home made me realize just how very blessed I truly am, made me see that all I ever need is right here in this place where I call you son, and you call me mother, and we belong to each other.  The days and weeks and months and years will roll on, without stopping, and though soon (sooner than I'm prepared for) you'll leap from this nest and take flight, I will still keep this place for you.  Here, in the hollow of my heart, where you were born.

Love,

Mom

Monday, August 4

Dear Carly (on your 9th birthday),

 I can't remember what it is like to turn nine years old.  From watching you turn nine, it must have been difficult because it seems like everything is either really, really greator really, really bad.  Some days I think I might get whiplash from the mood swings (and you're not a teenager yet!).   But overall, I think nine must also be really wonderful.  You seem to be full of joy, even moments after being full of woe.  It's as if the joy just pushes the other stuff out.  It practically oozes from your pores.  More than that, on the days you choose to be happy, the whole world sings with you.  People are infected by it, drawn in to your sweet smile and shining eyes.  Attracted like bugs to a light.  You shine, dear little diva, so brightly sometimes it's blinding.

We just spent three weeks together in California, and I must have complained too much about your behavior because your dad believes we are oil and water right now.  I'd prefer to see us as oil and vinegar - spicy, but delicious when combined correctly.  Yes, sometimes I do believe we slide right off each other and bounce around listlessly, unable to combine.  But, other times I can almost see inside your head to what you're thinking of doing next - in fact, your Aunt Cha Cha and I were able to predict your next actions with a fairly high rate of accuracy some days.  For all that I might have been frustrated or that I might have complained, I was also really proud of you and happy to be with you.  Before we left for California, someone told me that you had the nicest manners and were so polite.  They told me that parents/aunts/uncles/grandparents/etc don't seem to spend enough time teaching their kids how to behave, but you were so "well-spoken."  And, yes, I agree.  Okay, so maybe you forget to say please as often as you might - and thank you - but overall, I think you're a pretty nice girl.  Also a pretty, nice girl.  The distinction is important.  We can have all sorts of things in life - clothes, looks, money, friends - and we can be all sorts of things in life - kind, rich, silly, strange, funny, mean, crazy.  Most of us are some of those things in combination.  But, if you can be kind, if you can be thoughtful, if you can be generous and faithful - those things will mean much more than any of the rest, I think.

As I often do on your birthday, I think back to your entry to this world.  I think about how I didn't know you were here yet, and how I wish I could have known.  I think about holding you the first time, not on this day, but later.  I think about how I missed the moment where you first blinked and looked out into a wide world that now you are exploring, making your own.  Your birthdays are bittersweet, but I am so grateful for each one.  For each day that I can hold you close, push back the hair from your face, look into your eyes and see myself reflected.  If we are oil and water (or oil and vinegar), it is mostly because you are so very much like me.  Stubborn and rash, dramatic and controlling, silly and creative, wishful and sometimes shy.  We share these and more, little things maybe.  Perhaps we cannot, do not, will not, share eye color or the shape of our nose.  Instead, we share the little things that make up the shape of our souls.

Tonight, as you sit next to me playing with a collection of birthday toys, I can only think to say how lucky I am, how grateful I am for all that you were, all that you are, all that you will be.  I am grateful for each hour, day, month, and year we spend.  I am grateful for ties that go beyond blood and the rough road that winds behind and before us.  I am grateful for all this.  I am grateful for you.

All my love,

Mom

Wednesday, July 30

Workin' It: A List with Addendums

This summer, instead of blogging (which, let's be honest, I haven't been doing much when it's not summer.  But, I digress), I have been:

- Job hunting (found one!)
- Having repeated teacher nightmares (one last night!)
- Looking for free resources to use in my classroom (need more!)
- Watching too much TV (an accomplishment given that we only have about five channels!)
- Building an addiction to Longmire (hooray for Amazon Prime and Netflix!)
- Not cleaning the house much (who cares!)
- Visiting California (first world problems!)
- Scrapbook shop hopping with my sister (charms ahoy!)
- Wondering where Carly's next mood swing will take me (and she's not even a teenager!)
- Freaking out about how tall Josh suddenly seems to be (holy cow!)
- Questioning so many of my life decisions that they've all started to swim together into one (yikes!)
- Reading too much BuzzFeed (see above!)
- Eating an unusually large quantity of cinnamon gummy bears (I blame my sister!)
- Being glad about the little things like sharing with my sister (see above!)
- Eating too much (Volcano!)
- Doing a really bad job of making lists (like this one!)

And that brings us to today.

You're welcome.

Sunday, June 8

So, you want to be a writer

I am currently looking for a job (you hiring?  No?  too bad...).  It's an interesting experience.  Technically, I have been offered one position so far, but I had to turn it down.  Because, seriously, I can't move my family a few hundred miles south to a place with little to no housing that happens to also smell like over-cooked beans if you are going to pay me a ridiculously low salary to teach kids all day long...Oh wait, I got off track.

So, I keep applying at various places and hoping for a call.  (Funny story, another school down south in the same town that already offered me a job called me for an interview...goodness.)  Otherwise, so far I've had one email saying basically 'thanks and we'll be in touch when we start interviewing' which was better than the non-response from all the others.  It's gotten me to thinking - maybe, just maybe, I don't really want a job and so I keep putting non-job vibes out into the universe.  And instead of picking up on the oh-gosh-my-family-needs-me-to-have-a-job vibes, the universe is picking up the oh-gosh-I-want-to-write-not-teach vibes.

I do really want to write and be paid for it.  I do, I do.

Problem is, I don't, I don't.  Write, that is.  Not as much as I could or should.  I dabble in it, despite my previous commitments to it otherwise.  I'm proud to say my dabbling was twice published this spring, quite flattering.  But, neither paid.  My dabbling has me to about 28,000 words of a YA fantasy novel I've been working on for nine years (I keep count by Carly's age because I started it just before she arrived).  I've also got another novel in the works.  And another young reader fiction book stewing.  And a picture book that needs illustrating by someone talented.  And an idea for another YA novel.  And another young reader novel.  Some of these have been vetted here.  And some haven't.  (Are you interested in being a reader and giving actual feedback because it would really help me to have some outside perspective?  No?  Moving on...)

Thing is, I'm scared.  Ruled by fear.  What if people don't like what I write?  What if I can't finish the story.  What if no publishers think it's worthwhile to sell?  What if I really just don't have it in me to write something beautiful?  Does it have to be beautiful?  What if I never make it?  Is this all wasted time?  Wasted words?

Anything worth doing is worth risking, perhaps.  I'm trying hard not to be afraid.  And I'm trying hard to sit down and write for more than 10 minutes at a time.  I'm thinking about how to make myself a real office space where I go "work" (because the couch doesn't work for "work").  And, despite all the fear, I'm fairly positively sure that I want to be a writer, and perhaps a teacher on the side.

It's the how of making that happen that's tripping me up.

That, and the fear.

Sunday, May 11

Searching

People move through our lives in often very small and simple ways.  Sometimes we meet for a moment, an hour, a week, a year, a decade.  We make friends, lose friends, remain friends though distance pulls us apart.  We affect others.  That means act upon, cause, change.  The effect is what comes after.  It's the ripples and waves that follow the storm.  Or the warmth that follows the sun rising.  The chill that follows its setting.
Here I am at the end of another semester.  Closing things up, putting things aside that never got done.  This time, I have an unsettled feeling, everything in limbo.  I'm not sure what's next and it's very hard to sit back and wait for the future to come.  Every hour, every moment rolling closer like a train on it's track during a midnight ride.  I cannot see the horizon, only these tracks right in front of me as I push on forward.
And it's scary.
I'm supposed to wait upon the Lord.  I'm sorry for not warning you I might wax religious.  It's difficult for me to separate my every day from the un-explainable right now because right now, I'm in the dark.  I've gotten used to being in the light, to planning every next step carefully - or at least, having some sort of idea of what lies ahead.  I like order, I like predictability, I like routine (to a certain extent).  And everything is in chaos.  All around me, pieces of everyday things are littered like so much confetti - only I'm not celebrating.  Not yet.
I know this doesn't make much sense, and I'm not really sorry for that.  Sometimes life doesn't make much sense.  Death certainly seems to make less.
My husband and I were talking last night about mortality.
"This better all be worth it," he said, meaning life, this thing we're doing.
And I realized, first, that I think it is all worth it.  And second, that mortality has a very high price.  We pay for this thing called life in ways that seem impossible.  In joy, in sorrow, in pain and fear, in passion and principles, in suffering, in confusion, in prayer.  We drop these things like pennies into the bucket of experience, tallying them up until we've created an experience, until we've lived.  And sometimes, that living doesn't seem like enough.  Like maybe it was cut too short.  Like maybe it was just too hard.
But, that's only because we can't see past the now.  There IS more than this, more than these moments, more than these prices we've paid.  We don't stop here, we keep going.  We follow that sun past it's setting and we see it rise again, illuminating that tracks that lead on and on until we are filled with true life, with glorious expectation, with peace.

--

For Jake.

A story unfinished
A book half-filled with white pages
Clean sheets
A sentence part written
left incomplete

A story unfinished
Characters in mid-motion
Sounds left unsaid
Music still playing
Answers un-spoken
silence instead

A story unfinished
The mighty warrior still armed
Hope burning bright
His weapon held high
Battle cry in his throat
victory nigh

And yet, it's not over
There are words to be written
Pages to fill
The warrior fights still.
A story unfinished
playing on

Monday, April 14

In the silent hours

The house is still, though it never seems to be exactly silent.  Always there is a buzz, a sigh, a whirl.  Fans spinning or washing machines, dogs snoring or people turning over.  In the night, we are at our most vulnerable.  And yet, we trust.

In my heart there is a persistence of hope during these silent hours.  It changes from day to day, that thing I hope for.  Some days it is a small hope for better weather or maybe some rain.  Other days, it is a heavy burden holding me down and I just want it to float away.  I turn this way and that, searching searching, I'm not sure what for.  I keep wondering when I'll find it, that thing that makes the pieces come together in the right order.  I often think that, perhaps, that thing is already here and I've just gotten really good at ignoring it.  Whatever IT is.

In these silent hours, mind spinning and thoughts a blur, I let my body slow down into that pattern of just before sleep.  Heavy eyes, beating heart, aching bones.  I look into the darkened rooms and outline their sleeping shapes under blankets.  Sweet faces mellowed by the dreams they're having.  Carly likes to turn over, talking all the way in half-made sentences.  Tonight it was something about money, I think.  Josh likes to bend himself into impossible angles, head and feet out of whack.  The silent dark surrounds them, buries them, cradles them.  And through it, they trust.

A funny thing, this sleeping silent world.  I am at once grateful and annoyed.  I search for order and perfection, finding very little and also very much.  A paradox.  I'm just beginning to know this friend/enemy called paradox.  It's hard to live with.  Some slow, silent nights I am almost eaten alive by it.  By the waiting and the wishing and the wanting, all unsatisfied.  I am troubled by it, finding my faith on shaky ground, finding my hope eroded away.  In the midnight hour, I look this paradox in the face and find more questions there.  And still, I trust.

Tuesday, April 8

On turning 37

Dear me,

I'd like to say a few words about what this day means.  This day of birth wherein I (you?) entered the world some thirty seven years ago, asleep.  Yes, asleep.  And still trying to catch up where I left off when so rudely interrupted by a smack on the behind.

I'd like to say there is some magic formula or perfect sentence that sums up what it means to advance another year older and wiser, but if anything I've learned that most days (including birthdays) go on basically like the ones before.  Sure, there are the frilly types of days mixed in: celebrations, births, surprises, and the like.  But, really it all mixes together into memory-soup and it's hard to separate the strands.

The year of thirty-six was spent largely learning to become a teacher.  Interestingly enough, I learned that I already pretty much am one (a teacher) and that there is a lot more fuss and bother than actual teaching on some days.  (Freshman - need I say more? (Okay, maybe I do - freshman are like tiny little humans who haven't grown into their heads yet (both figuratively and physically.))).  I've learned some things about myself in the process of learning to teach.  Mainly, I am more patient with other people's kids.  Fascinating and alarming, to be sure.  I've tried to bring this patience home with me, but there are days when I just can't/won't/can't.  I've also learned that I don't much like the nuts and bolts of paperwork, planning (planning, planning), getting kids to be-quiet-already-I-don't-know-how-to-make-you-shut-up, and starting over tomorrow.  I keep reminding myself that teaching secondary school is only meant to be a step up and out into post-secondary school.  I find myself wondering if I have the stamina.  I also find myself wondering why I don't just get to it and write something.  Do you know the answer?

This year of thirty-six also involved watching my (your?) children grow with alarming rate.  That day your son officially gets taller than you (and then keeps going so that you have to look up to make eye contact) - it's a little disturbing.  But also, exhilarating.  As in, "I did that" or "he made it this far despite my doing that!"  If that makes sense.  And your girl, your lovely crazy curious girl, well she's not a baby anymore.  How did that happen?  When I look at her, I feel inadequate.  Will that ever go away?  Just today she was asking me about the colors of her skin ("Why are my hands a different color on the bottom side?") and about an ant that was carrying a paper clip.  A paper clip!?  In my head, I just had a metaphorical moment wherein she is the ant carrying the paper clip...but, that's another story for another day.

Some notes to self in closing (lest I run off the tracks and never find a conclusion to write):

- First, be kind.  To others, to your family, to yourself.
- Second, stop and take in the moment.  Things are blurry because you haven't put them in focus.
- Third, you can do hard things.  Look how far you've come!
- Last, there will always be things you want to change, but can't.  Be happy with what you have, even when what you have feels like it's not enough.  You can be happy anywhere - if you choose it.

Happy birthday!

Love,

Me

Saturday, February 22

Testimony, in pieces

The vast blue sky
And golden rays
Turtle dove songs outside my window
The smell of freshly washed hair
My daughter's soft skin
Brown eyes

A roof that hasn't leaked
A painted picture of the sea
The taste of beans and chile
Clanging heater vents, alive with warm air
Rosy, heart-shaped lips
Chocolate

The ocean pulsing on the sand
White snow laid freshly down
Skeleton arms of trees
Dogs barking over the cat's meow
A quilt made of favorite shirts
And dreams.